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Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, drawing gazing on a Devonshire cliff (2009 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies) – a very favorite still for me

Friends and readers,

To one such as I most of whose working life — child, adult, and now older widow – has been spent in some version of school, there’s no firmer sign of fall than the “term” (or semester) is about to begin. Online OLLI at AU, three courses beyond the one I’m teaching, one on foreign films, one on race in America, from end of Reconstruction to 1965, and a third on the Theban Plays. Online at OLLI at Mason, one course beyond a repeat of the same one at OLLI at AU, Anne Bronte’s magnificent feminist The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begin on the same week. From Politics and Prose a week after that one 5 session cours on Wilkie Collins’s No Name with a superb teacher who enabled me to read Collins’s Woman In White some 3 years ago now. By October I hope to have enjoyed at least one of several sessions/lectures (a combination of books, art, music, architecture) I’ve signed up for online at the Smithsonian. The course I teach, two sections in effect, will be on Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5) as qualified by a book of Victorian Women’s Writing, edited by Susan Hamilton, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minor — the groundswell of proto-feminist essays and columns as the century evolved (on work, law, custom, the quality & circumstances of real women’s real lives)


The Pallisers, Episode 20, the two friends, Duchess & Mrs Finn, just before they meet Ferdinand Lopez who quotes a Swinburne poem at them, which Mrs Finn knows well is homoerotic (Susan Hampshire, Barbara Murray, Stuart Wilson)

The sky is darkening quickly just now (7:49) so you would not be able to see my new chrysanthemum bushes (4 larger, two dark colors, and 4 small around the miniature Maple): faithful watering twice a day, early morning and dusk has brought out more of the poppies (I put a photo of one of the bushes on the last diary entry) on my several bushes of these, and red berries on the holly (are they?) bushes

I did manage two more in-person events. Both rejuvenating and linked to the coming term. I had a late lunch with another new friend, a scholar-acquaintance this time, Maria Frawley who taught the Middlemarch at Politics & Prose this summer — the store slowly coming alive again. It was quite a trek to get there & back once again. Another happy couple of hours. I think I’ve gone to lunch over these past 6 weeks something like 10 times! (I haven’t told them all). I’m a lady who lunches. DC itself filled with traffic jams.

Then this past Thursday, the Pizza party across the street from OLLI at AU was to me delightful. These are people I’m comfortable with. I’m also respected by them — as I never was when I worked at universities as an adjunct (for over 30 years). Not invisible any more. Only 30 allowed and I recognized three people I also have seen and one person talked to at Politics and Prose too. I had found a small parking lot where I could park for 4 hours for $12 so I could have peace of mind — it’s an area where the city tows you away if you violate parking regulations, which are strict and user-unfriendly.

The last time I was in a group of people like this was Dec 2019, the OLLI at AU Christmas party. Then we had a band and dancing. I began to wish I had registered for the one class in person that attracted me but there was only an hour between its ending and the beginning of the class I teach at OLLI at Mason so I did the right thing.

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But what is heralding fall emotionally this year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There has been a pouring out of memories, on twitter, on News programs, emails, blogs, news-sites, newspapers. One of the more powerful and poignant was written by the gentle author at Spitalfields. My comment to him (he didn’t let it appear):

It is untrue that the world was changed by this single event. It was and remains an incident on an on-going cruel capitalist world, however scary and unusual on who was killed; a circus symbolic spectacular stunt pulled off by people who loathed the US for its imperialist and colonialist policies and actions; it was a horrific tragedy for those who died and all those connected to them; for those who became terribly injured and sickened working on the site in the days that followed — and were often refused decent health care because that would make it obvious that that NYC, and the stock market should have shut down for weeks. It made manifest what was and still is the underlying realities of US political policies.

The world did not change even if some of the policies of these gov’ts did. The Internet has changed some aspects of the world in this time of the pandemic but by no means the basic attitudes of the right wing capitalists who seem to hold the real power in any situation..
After 9/11, many corporations and individuals went on to make a lot of money in Iraq and Afghanistan and the real individual particular states who were involved (Bin Laden could not have done it just with with his Al-Quaeda — Saudi Arabian groups were part of this) were never exposed.

So here’s mine, all too ordinary: as has been true for most of these catastrophic world-as-village events, seen at one time on TV, and now this PC computer, I was at or near home, leaving a dentist’s office a little after 9:30.   I had felt suddenly & seen a commotion, excitement among the other people waiting, and asked the reception what was happening. I was told airplanes were hitting the World Trade Center!  I am ashamed to say I dismissed this as typical of this gullible receptionist. Could not be.

I went out to my car and found myself in a mounting traffic jam, so instead of 5 minutes to get home, it was 20. The phone was ringing as I reached the door, and I ran in and picked up, and it was Jim, in a drawn voice, “Not to worry. I’m just fine. I’m in the basement of the Australian embassy where we were all told to go, and scary huge men armed heavily are filling the building.” He had to get off his flip phone, but said quickly “put on the TV, CNN.” I did and I saw the first of the two tall buildings sliding down. Horror, shock, as I saw the fire line in the middle, and the camera switching way below to see a man shrugging intensely.

Soon from CNN I knew a story of  these two planes and that there was a third that hit the Pentagon. As it happened the library was hit — since rebuilt as a small annex where Izzy works today. I went onto the Internet, queried friends at C18-l and read the name of Osama Bin Laden as the perpetrator for the first time. I had never heard this name before.

The rest is quickly told. A phone call from T.C.Williams telling me the school was in “lockdown” and of course “not to worry,” as the young adults would probable be let out at the usual time. Another from Laura, frightened; she surprised me by coming over about two hours later with Wally (with whom she was living at the time, and whom she would marry the following year). She needed to see me and Jim and the house and that all was the same, as it ever was. The news shows had less news as time went on.

Two friends called for the first time in years to express anxiety over Jim.  I said he was not in the Pentagon that day, and my cousin contacted me.  The next day I did have bad pains in my chest, suggesting I was experiencing more stress that I admitted to myself.

I did think to myself what Susan Sontag wrote in a newspaper and was castigated for: “well, what do people expect — the US for decades stops social democracies, foments civil wars, pulls off coups, creates situations where no young native men can get a good job and itself bombs, strafes, this is the afflicted world hitting back. But astonishment at the audacity and effectiveness of this plan to take down the center of capitalism (Wall Street has no such hubristic building), of the US military (the magically numbered Pentagon), and a fourth plane (never hit) to set on fire and destroy the central imperialist house in classical style, painted white … ”

Now 20 years on, two horrible wars later, instigated by George W Bush and his cronies and associates in crime (making oodles of money as unscrupulous oil and other corporations), carried on to no reasonable purpose (at least in aims originally by this crew), hundreds of thousands of people killed, untold billions spent, with “surges” by Barack Obama as president in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then the institution of these inhumane murderous drones aka killing people without trial and often getting “the wrong target” so even the last day in Afghanistan a whole family was murdered, the US support of an utterly corrupt puppet regime in Afghanistan, laying waste a country and leaving a life-long psychological maiming of countless young adult Americans — I met two of these when I taught in the years past 2003 – a young woman and a young man.

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Last night I re-watched a candid history for a second time, with informed (insofar as he could) and perceptive and humane analysis, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. He streamed it from his corner of YouTube. In my judgement it should be required watching for everyone. Wikipedia offers a precise accurate summary.

I want to call attention especially to the unknown and uninvestigated business and political connections between Bush fils and the Saudi Arabian ambassador and gov’t leaders, to how most of the “terrorists” were Egyptian or Saudi Muslims, to the creation of an atmosphere of fear and dread around the US by Bush’s gov’t for two years in order to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 but has vast oil fields and Saddam Hussein, who disdained Bush senior. The years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan where the US built up the origins of the Taliban (to defeat “communist” Russia). The lying forms of recruitment, the horrific treatment of Afghans. One scene stays with me that flashes through: a beheading of a man in Saudi Arabia. The legless young men in Veteran’s hospitals whose funds Bush was cutting.

Three other films to be watched in order to learn what happened and what the war in Afghanistan is rooted in. 9/11’s Unsettled, is second in importance because of its perspective: the first responders. Alas, apparently not being distributed anywhere I can find. This is about the thousands of people who grew very sick, and developed serious diseases in the time after 9/11 when they worked at ground zero with inadequate protection, and within days Wall Street was opened again, a local high school, Stuyvesant, because what was wanted was to be seen to be carrying on making money. And to make money. From Rudi Giuliani to Christine Todd Whitman, ironically the head of the EPA, what was then wanted was a cover-up and not only did the US health insurance companies fight back and refuse to pay for people’s treatments and injuries, refuse to acknowledge they were the result of 9/11, those who protested were maligned and punished. Read the story of Joe Zadroga, after whom one of the bills to provide for compensation was named, his wife, his father. One of the important reporters on the stories was Juan Gonzalez.


Lisa Katzman

The third is a Netflix serial, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, directed by Brian Knappenberger. This is an unflinching look at what was done by three administrations, but especially Bush, where the incident was used to extend surveillance, legitimize torture (Black sites), the nature of the Patriot Act, what came from it, Guantanomo, and again Drones.

There is a fourth, a Frontline series on PBS too: American After 9/11, directed by Michael Kirk. There is no reason anyone in the US should be ignorant of what happened, how it relates to what came before, and how it relates to how the GOP went extreme and is following Donald Trump (if it can and it’s going far) into destroying the US democracy, such as it still is (very oligarchic) and was (thoroughly racist, punitive in outlook, deeply anti-social individualism promoted).


Also talking about Biden

This might all lead to my reader wondering why I insist 9/11 didn’t change the world. It happened as a result of all the US gov’t had done since 1947, and the reaction to it was to intensify what led to it. 9/11 was the result of what the world had become since WW2 and the reaction just intensified those conditions and attitudes of mind towards empire and money.  I’m now thinking of the GOP efforts (thus far successful) of stifling the vote, and on that you can read Heather Cox Richardson and listen and watch over many days and weeks. Here is just one

A graver and more overtly political blog than usual. But it’s appropriate. Not to say anything would be deeply wrong, reprehensible to me who does care about what happens to myself, my family and friends, all the people I know, the thousands and thousands inside the US whose destinies are intertwined with mine, and by extrapolation (since especially since the pandemic) our connection to all those vulnerable and powerless people who are not making oodles of money but at risk or suffering badly because of the people in these gov’ts, their allies, their donors, and parties’ behavior. Silence could be construed as consent.

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That’s a volcano — the islands are volcanic

To return to my small life among books. Although it fails to bring me in, Edward Douwes Dekker’s Max Havelaar, a mid-19th century Dutch novel has taught me more about colonialism’s workings, how it’s done, than any single book previous: stunning cruelty of the Dutch in Indonesia and all around India, the southasian pacific. The brave life of the introducer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

I attended a Bronte conference last Saturday, wonderful, and I’ve yet to write up my notes, which I’ll couple with a couple of Gaskell and Bronte sessions from Gaskell house, and a May Sinclair session at Cambridge (profound talk, Sinclair also much influenced by the Brontes). I promise myself I will write up a blog about the Brontes, Sinclair and Gaskell next on Austen Reveries.  I’ve been astonished by what I’ve found in Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, reading it daily with a group on FB – I certainly will write about it, together with John Caldigate, as unexpected radical social, justice and sexual politics.

I carry on reading Anne Finch’s poetry, going more thoroughly immersed into it, so that my old inner relationship with her is returning: extraordinary masterpiece Poems never published by her; and Poems she chose to publish or let others publish. I will read or read in the important books about her once again. And I listen on to Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, even poorly translated by Anne Goldstein and dully read by Hillary Havens, I am so drawn in I am continually thinking to myself well I would do that but not this. They are both me, Lila and Lenu. Ferrante hates fascism and misogyny (they are one and the same she says in her Frantumaglia

Good Heav’en I thank thee, Since it was design’d
I shou’d be fram’d but of the weaker kind,
That yet my Soul, is rescu’d from the Love
Of all those trifles, which their passions move
Pleasures, and Praises, and Company with me
Have their Just Vallue, if allow’d they be;
Freely, and thankfully, as much I taste
As will not reason, nor Religion waste,
If they’re deny’d, I on my Selfe can live
Without the aids a cheating World can give
When in the Sun, my wings can be display’d
And in retirement I can have the shade.
— Anne Finch, early in the first ms book

Ellen


A duck on the Potomac — photo taken by Izzy

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and is gone forever — how else shall David Nicholl’s One Day end?

Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, the movie does not manage the depth of truth or more occasional fun of the book

Dear friends and readers,

I would not have believed I could ever say of a day where it was 97F at 5 pm, the air literally hot on my skin, that I was at long last recognizing autumn on its way, but after 33 years in this southern city, I can: it’s dark by 8:15 at night, and dawn does not come until well after 6 am. Some late summer events I’ve had and to come:

I have had three very enjoyable lunch dates, with two more to come. With an ex-student, grown older man. We had been meeting once a year; well we renewed our date three weeks ago — an wonderful two hours of talk at Copperwood Tavern. I experienced intense distress getting there but once there all was well. Shirlington where parking is a nightmare. Then twice to a lovely local cafe, Fontaine here in Alexandria, first with my old friend, Mary Lee, whose idea this place was; second with a new friend, Betty, from OLLI at AU, whom I took there. Yummy quiche, lovely light salad vinegar dressing both times, camomile tea. I will meet her at Pain Quotidian this Friday across the street from OLLI at AU. Would you believe I had to look up the instructions to get there to re-visualize. This is a place I’ve gone to for years on end. Maria Frawley, the teacher of Middlemarch I believe I’ve not spoken about an inspiriting inspiring 8 sessions at Politics & Prose with her as teacher; how they lit up my June and July each Thursday evening for an hour and a half. I have signed up for an in-person meeting with 29 other OLLI at AU people, a pizza and Italian food place, also across the street from OLLI at AU. For this I’ll wear one of my two cloth masks with drawings of cats all over them.


Copperwood Tavern with Lloyd


La Fontaine in Old Towne

And one precious evening out at Wolf Trap, where with a friend I saw and heard Renee Fleming singing inimitably with the National Symphony Orchestra. Alas all too short — just one hour and about 10 minutes. Mozart, Haydyn, Gershwin, a perfect Carousel Overture, and her songs were exquisitely beautiful — from Puccini, favorites and also lesser known, then popular, one about never leaving

About 50% of the audience in masks (which were optional).  It was marred by a tiresome, ridiculous and dangerous trip there: the person I was with was determined to avoid the toll ($3!), and drove round and round (her GPS actually programmed not to make the correct turn) and coming back in the dark streets unknown with no lights, and then speeding crazily on the highway. I do have to give up Wolf Trap if I can’t drive myself safely so this may have been my farewell time.

I grieved at another profounder loss: Nanci Griffith has died at the relatively young age of 68; so did Izzy find herself crying. We replayed our favorite songs that night we learned of her death as we prepared supper and ate together.

Otherwise the days and nights go by. I do manage most days 20 minutes of exercise on bike and cathesthenics around 9:00 am, then 5:00 pm, then 20 minutes walk by myself around the neighborhood at dusk


Unexpected flowers: I water my outside plants (in garden in ground) twice a day, and some have bloomed twice

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It’s not as fiercely breathlessly hot as it was few weeks ago, and of course I’m now engaged in reading towards my course for this fall, have signed up for various fall classes and events, all online for me still – and how grateful and relieved I am that much of what I enjoyed these 17 months online will still be so. Beyond the London Society every-other-week zooms, I’ve found there is nowadays a once-a-month-and-more schedule for talks from Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester. Would you believe I’m just about reading three Trollope novels at once, and truly enjoying them all?: The Prime Minister, The Vicar of Bullhampton and soon The American Senator. I am seeing so much more than I ever did in PM (the exploitative colonialism Ferdinand Lopez is trying to leap upon I had not noticed) and the darkness of V of B: the strong critique of the Vicar and his friends over their class as well as prejudiced blind injustice.

At this week’s Trollope zoom we were asked when, how, did you discover Trollope and come to read him avidly? why do you enjoy his books so much? This was the question — or something like it — posed and about 14 or so people volunteered to answer for about 3-5 minutes each. I was one of them. I typed out the first paragraph below and read it so as to be concise and keep it to under 3 minutes. The second paragraph was not written out, just spoken. So although that is the quotation I used (Dominic Edwards, the chair, had asked in a letter could we quote from Trollope), the last couple of sentences I said were not so clear. I saw that most of the people wanted to say why they loved Trollope as much as how they came to him and also uttered various truths that they liked best, told stories they liked so much from the novels — many also liked how Trollope seems to break the novel conventions suddenly and talk directly to the reader — like tell the reader some secret of the novel well ahead of time (so, do they in fact love spoilers?) So I added the second paragraph. I admit I did leave out a couple of intermediary reads between the cited dates & books For example, In 1994 I went to Rome with my family and it was The Last Chronicle of Barset that got me through that partly ordeal of an experience. I found an old copy in a marketplace which I still cherish.


Cover of 1970s edition of Penguin English library paperbacks


From Pallisers Episode 1: the young Lady Glen, with Burgo, her infatuation, encounters the young Mr Palliser, with Lady Griselda, his

I’ve told how as an undergraduate in a class on the Victorian novel I read Dr Thorne for the first time and fell in love with it (say 1965). But I didn’t go on to read more. The Professor had discouraged me from doing a paper on the novel. Then about 10 years later (1975) I watched the Pallisers on PBS TV (in black-and-white) and fell in love with that, and with my husband we read all six novels. But we were busy doing Ph.Ds on something else and I didn’t go any further than The Duke’s Children. Then 1989 I was in a fearful car accident in NYC and landed in Metropolitan Hospital on the upper East Side. I spent a week in that place: it has one man to do all x-rays; Jim promptly labelled him the bottleneck of the hospital. My father brought me a Dover copy of The Vicar of Bullhampton saying Trollope was very wise. It helped me get through that week. Finally in 1993 Jim and I got onto the Net through a phone line and he said he would find something called a listserv for me: he found one on Trollope, and I started leading groups reading Trollope. First up was Macdermots of Ballycloran. I loved it and have not stopped reading Trollope since. Partly I was invited to write a book, then an essay. Note, each and every time there was an outside prompt. Immersion in Trollope did not come from within in any of these cases.

Dominic asked us for a quotation, an utterance: mine is “Great and terrible is the power of money” from An Eye for an Eye. What I love about Trollope is the accuracy with which he sees the world and people, how people interact with one another and in themselves – truly – and he remains calm! What’s more he offers advice, explains things well. I love the characters too, but I keep in mind they are not him and it’s from his narrator/implied author these startling truths come.

I can add here that Trollope’s utterance seems to me to provide a central explanation for what happened in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Trollope is also an astoundingly perceptive political novelist. How much meaning he can pour into a few words if you listening hard or for real

Have I told you about the talk I gave on Malachi’s Cove?

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My header refers to continuities deep and longer than the continuation of a zoom group. I find after all I don’t or can’t change my taste. I like best earlier serious literature — for example,for a fourth time, Eliot’s Middlemarch (thus the above coming lunch with Maria Frawley — see above), which I also re-saw — the 1994 Andrew Davies’s film adaptation. I just love the BBC dramatic serials of the 1970s (which begin, illogically, with the 1967-68 Forsyte Saga (I read 6 of the 9 novels years ago), which I’m watching avidly, an hour each night just now), to early 2000s, and those few nowadays which keep up the tradition of long thoughtful scenes, complicated dialogues, true novelization on film; I prefer Anglo literature and European art, realism, melodic classical music, modern only until say pre-rap, mid-20th century country. And my way of interacting with people, however inadequate, is grounded in polite manners.


Kenneth Moore, inimitable as narrator and Jolyon Forsyte (he’d never get the part today as too old and ugly)


Eric Porter as the aging softened affectionate Soames with his beloved daughter, Fleur aka Susan Hampshire once again

A zoom on Walter Scott:

Who produced more fine and influential work than Walter Scott? think of so many English, French, German, Italian, Russian historical novelists for a start.

I attended a 2 and 1/2 hour session on Scott: it’s part of the Scottish celebration of Scott’s 250 year anniversary (though I’m not sure of what — he was born August 15, 1771)
It was not as good as it could have been — three remarkable Scotts scholars and people involved in the U of Aberdeen exhibition and all sorts of events around Scotland and elsewhere — for example, in Italy, because of the number of operas (93) that have been adapted from Scott’s novels. I think to enjoy it, you have to have been a reader of Scott at some point, read a number of his novels and about him. I have so like the Gaskell session from Gaskell House, Manchester, last week I very much enjoyed what they presented. They had first editions and illustrations and talked of how prolific he was — how much he wrote, and how his position wealth prestige enabled him to do important things still not unimportant — like saving the ability of Scotland to print its own currency. One scholar outlined what are central to Scott’s novels: processes of historical change, political arrangements, people on the edges of society for different reasons (very high up and thrown out, marginalized, disabled, lawless rogues). She brought out Scott’s interest in his characters’ mental health (as we’d call it). Then a lovely film from Italy about two productions; one from the Lady of the Lake, by Rossetti, Donna del Lago, and the other by Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor — one must keep an open mind. I’ve seen good movies — one scholar said her love for Scott began as a girl watching the BBC serial Ivanhoe with Anthony Andrews. They insisted Scott’s work is politically very involved, aware, that underneath “it all” souls of people drive economic and political arrangements.

They did recommend the Future Learn 3 week lecture course: Scott, the man behind the Monument. I saw that and it included wonderful clips. I don’t know if you can find it there any more as the site has gone distressingly commercialized. Andrew Marr’s 3 episode series on Scots writers devotes one hour to an exhilarating somehow ironic hour on Scott. I regret to say the videos I linked in to a blog on Marr which includes good descriptions of the hours on Scots literature have been removed — I shall have to delete the URLs and substitute pictures — but the content by me is still there and what is central to the blog

They omitted what a reactionary Tory he was; how he was vindictive to any family members who didn’t marry for aggrandizement; was behind the worst political attacks of literary journalism.


John Brett — Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily (1870), another edge place; in lieu of Northern Scotland, the south, the Mediterranean — put on twitter

This new material but now aware of colonialism:  Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River (with two accompanying movies).  About her too.

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I have had a renewal of a worry: my cat, Ian, again has a heavy discharge from his right eye. Last time I took him to the local Vet I’ve been going to since we adopted the cats, I was charged $350+, told how serious this was and that he needed a series of heart tests (a couple of thousand dollars), and then if the tests warranted this, give him a pill every day of his life ever after. It is impossible for me to force pills down either of my cats.

To say I don’t trust these (or any) vets is an understatement: previously I was told to clean his teeth, we needed to anesthetize him (a $500 bill and dangerous), did I want to install a sort of tag in his neck which will help if he gets lost (surgical insertion of course). When I tried to buy a local gel recommended online and in a book I have on cats, I found local pharmacies refused to sell it except with a prescription from a Vet. I was told it’s “against the law” for pharmacists in drug stories as well as vets working for the ASPCA to give a pet owner advice on an eye discharge: that sort of thing forbidden.

I call round today to three different vet places, and was greeted with indifference, appts a long time away and oh yes this is an emergency, so clinics I could go and wait at. Petsmart a store seemed more sensible but no appts until later September. Vets are kept to small numbers but vet lobbyists seem to be very busy. And we hear about the corruption of the Afghanistan govt. What are lobbyists but allowed bribers? We have whole organizations dedicating to bribing politicians in office. As for today’s Vets as a group far more important is the money they can wrench from pet owners than safe harmless care which reaches all pets.

It’s how they frighten me that angers me. It makes me angry to be told I have to do this to Ian’s heart and give him this preparation every day for the rest of his life; or to clean his teeth risk his life (he must sedated by an anesthesiologist — the vet said she had lost only one cat – i.e., she killed a cat). They could tell me Ian could go blind or something — and I no longer trust them. Only if the condition really seems threatening do I want to go. I will try Petsmart next month.

In the US the climate is money-driven medicine. Just imagine outlawing, forbidding by law a pharmacist to advise a customer on which prescription to use. Jim said to me as he lay dying, protect me from these people. It was by then too late because he had agreed to that godawful operation which removed his esophagus (I didn’t understand that that would not stop the metatasis), but I kept clear of all in-hospital, in clinic and anything else that seemed to me we could avoid. So I’ll wait for this ointment and if it helps, spare the cat and myself any visits to Vets I don’t trust. But meanwhile I feel bad for the cat and wish I had someone I could turn to — that there was a Kaiser Permanente type organization for animals.


Ian close-up, sleeping peacefully on cat blanket given me by another friend

I wonder why people are so naive not to see how these Vets take advantage of social norms for human beings to push painful procedures (and sometimes an early death) on pets.

I’ve semi-adopted another third cat, also grey like the first who has now vanished. This one also comes from the very rich mansion across the road from me where they are deep reactionaries (snide comments on neighborhood listserv); also semi-abused. I am also calling this new one Fiona, and she also behaves in ways that show a craving for affection but when you respond she quickly spits at you, hisses — I think they mean-tease her and she does not know how to carry on a relationship with a person. She is very thin. Poignant when she is crying out there – not kept in during rain; sometimes I daresay the owners of that collar go away for weeks or days. I can do so little for her — I inquired into this last time. I feed her whenever I feed my two and talk to and pet her when I pass her by — she stays in a near hedge or my porch — as you see her peeping out.

How to close? My own naivetes of course. An important story in the New Yorker. Sam Knight hints at the hideous things, heinous crimes owners and builders of these idyllic country estate houses which so dominate these costume dramas I’ve loved — did for decades, nay full centuries in the subject colonies to support these “wondrous” places, where some of the art was stolen from too. Famines inflicted on people forced to grow crops to sell elsewhere so they have nothing themselves to eat; forced to pay taxes they cannot afford. Removed outright. Enslaved. This does not include the conditions under which the servants in such houses worked, their pittance wage. What is happening is the National Trust has been at long last trying to tell the truth, and the UK gov’t and present descendants of the owners of such places, and those who just want to carry on these delusions (as patriotism) are being successful in stopping them or getting them to mute or qualify their knowledge. I will be sure to assign this story to my class in Anglo-Indian novels in the spring. Where did the money for Dryham Park where The Remains of the Day was filmed come from: what were the politics of its owner. How about the dream houses of Howards End in reality?

At Dryham Park:

On the second floor is the Balcony Room, which affords fine views of the gardens. … Facing into the room, with their backs to the wall, are two statues of kneeling Black men with rings around their necks. …

The slave figures hold scallop shells over their heads. These were probably filled with rosewater, so guests could wash their hands. …

They were probably made in London, inspired by Venetian “blackamoor” art, but they are unquestionably depictions of enslaved men, in idealized page’s costumes, with gilt chains tumbling from their right ankles. … They have knelt in the same place for more than three hundred years. …

When Sobers [a Black professor] and his group entered the Balcony Room, they came face to face with the slave stands and stood there, listening politely. “I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it was happening,” Sobers told me. “And the tour guide talked about every single thing in that room, you know, talked about everything for a good ten, fifteen minutes and not once mentioned it.” A rope cordons off most of the Balcony Room, so visitors stand on a narrow walkway, facing the stands. There is nowhere else to look. “There wasn’t even a kind of a, you know, ‘Yeah, we don’t know what those are. . . .’ There wasn’t even an explaining it away,” Sobers said. “They just acted as if they just weren’t there at all.”


The strained tragic existences of the butler (Hopkins) and housekeeper (Thompson) at Darlington Hall (Dyrham Park)

Ellen


I’m making a habit of buying cut flowers each week from whatever supermarkets I go to and putting them in the dining room as cheering, lovely, emblems of pleasure

Maggie Smith of her widowhood: “it seems a bit pointless, going on on one’s own, and not having someone to share it with” — some of what I’m feeling is me missing my friend and companion, the support and comfort of my life, how he was able to make me laugh ….

Friends and readers,

I suppose you know that after all the pandemic is far from over. Izzy has happily returned to work in her office (the library at the Pentagon) five days a week, and the world is again filling with people and cars coming and going day and evening; the two OLLIs I teach and attend classes at are going to be a mix of hybrid, in person and online in fall. But with far too many people (some 40 to 80% in some states) refusing to get vaccinated or doing it ever so slowly, the delta variant has spread and the numbers of people in the US becoming ill has risen even alarmingly, though thus far it’s the unvaccinated who are going to hospital and dying. This is a ridiculous choice these people are making, but nonetheless they are making it. Plus outside the richer countries, a huge proportion of people remain unvaccinated. As long as this is the situation, all of us are in danger from Delta and new mutations/variants, which could be even more easily transmissible and lethal.

I should admit I don’t trust any US medical establishment — and this deep background is part of why US people don’t come forward for shots. I guess I don’t trust them to be on my side — Laura says my attitude towards hospitals especially reminds her of Black Americans. I was thrown (not literally) out a hospital when I was 9 after the people there did stop a hemorrhage because my father hadn’t any insurance. The procedure was over and maybe an hour had gone by. I remember the incident myself — my father begged them to let me stay; if they’d wait until 9 am when banks opened he’d get out the $200 (at the time no small sum) and bring it to the hospital. They really put me out on the street. They did call a cab — now nice of them my father always said. Then I had a hemorrhage … My life was saved after another traumatic trip, just.

I do trust Dr Wiltz but he is not the person who would do procedures or vaccinate (that I did as it is so minor a thing – a jab). I can’t change my insurance as I could get nothing near as good — everything is covered, only small co-pays for visits (and sometimes now with medicare none at all) and for drugs. One time I didn’t understand what a barium enema was and when I was on the table and got it, I tried to get off, and the people held me down (they really did) and tied me there, and then poured this horrible stuff into my cavity. I screamed and they didn’t care. When they were done, I said to them if I knew them personally I’d never forgive them. That I knew sending a letter of complaint would do me no good. Since then I am very careful before I accede to anything. Once I remember thinking to myself I should not have come in here for this appt because the doctor was talking of how she had to send me to hospital — as if I had no will to say no. I told her I wouldn’t go and began to get off the dolly. I don’t remember what happened after that but I didn’t go to any hospital. I’m in charge of me.

I call this Journey’s End because that phrase is the one that leaps to mind as I think about how I feel about my life just now. Sure I have done some good and satisfying work, work I enjoyed doing this summer: my two courses, Novels of Longing and Colonialist Writing (see also Caryl Phillips), and this past Monday a good talk on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove,” and Henry Herbert’s film adaptation of it went over very well. (I will be putting it up and linking it in before the next few days.) This fall I will “do” Trollope’s The Prime Minister with a few political essays by 19th century women writers. I’ve thought of Wollf’s Cassandra and Four Essays (the Trojan war seen by a woman usually dismissed as a nut-case) and Eve Figes’s Seven Ages of Women (another reversal perspective) and now I’ve thought of a good course for next spring, one I’ll enjoy very much: Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, aftermath and diaspora (Forster’s A Passage to India, Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, Jhabvala’s Heat & Dust, with their wonderful movie adaptations.  My paper-talk for the coming EC/ASECS will be “A Woman and Her Box,” how the battered box a woman carried her life’s identity around in as so many had no control over any private space (I’ll use Amanda Vickery’s work).   I’m to have lunch out with a friend this Friday, perhaps go with another friend (I can’t go without her as she must do the driving or I would go alone) to hear and see Renee Fleming and the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap (!) August 6th (I’m sure I’ll love the show) … I’m reading books and watching movies for sheer pleasure: David Nicholls’ Us.

I have prided myself on trying to tell the truth about myself insofar as this is possible in a public media. Yes I might have two decades left of life, I will probably be here for the rest of this year.

Still I’m in the coda of my life. I am finding this second summer harder — for I am still in partial quarantine. I asked the doctor if I should return to swimming, and he suggested caution: just swim laps, keep away from people, wear a mask. I then faced the truth I don’t enjoy swimming any more: my arms are so weak I can’t go far, the water is cold, the building inside to me pure functionality, dank in the pool area, the water cold — a lot of trouble to wash afterwards. I would get as much exercise, probably more by walking in the evening. I feel like I did that first summer Jim died. For seven summers I did have no one to travel anywhere with or go out the way Jim and I used to (we would wander on long walks in the later evening), but I could drive at night & went to Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center, with a friend (who has died since too) in Old Town, and going to classes helped enormously. Zooms are rewarding but something is missing I do need. Starting 2nd summer each August I took trips w/Road Scholar, which were to UK (Scotland, Lake District, Cornwall), 2019 Calais by the beach w/daughters. Nothing this year. Strain bad. Heat loathsome so stay inside w/air conditioning & cats.


Laura and Izzy this summer …

That’s part of why I’m feeling this way. But also I’ve faced I haven’t got what it takes to do the travel research to do a book any more — I never did. Never knew how to negotiate (Jim did that for my Trollope on the Net book with Hambledon Press); I experience intense anxiety attacks when in new places or liminal experiences, the expense would be very high (because library hours in some places so limited). And I can’t conquer the Word writing program. Laura came over and I tried but this second week I find I’m forgetting what to do all over again. So I can’t composite documents on Chicago Manual style.   I must just take pleasure in learning, teaching about it, sharing on the Net (blogging). I could try a book if I find some ability that enables me to teach suddenly vanishes — for several abilities are involved and I know how these suddenly disappear. I do miss going out at night regularly; I realize that when and if the later afternoon evening parties held at the OLLI at AU begin I won’t be able to go because I’d be driving back in the dark. I also have to hope that Politics and Prose keeps up online classes for evenings/nights. Another related sad truth I’ve faced is I often don’t enjoy the zoom classes at either P&P or the OLLIs: it’s a much less educated and much less serious audience they aim at. My own courses are the less common serious literature courses at both OLLIs (especially the one at Mason).

I’m also tiring of some of these zooms. At OLLI at Mason the default setting or “norm” in their minds is often a TV show — the webinar where you meet and talk to no one. These power-presentations themselves a substitute for real thought. At the conferences the compliments given to all talkers (“amazing” and “fantastically wonderful” talk) are embarrassing. This term I dropped out of all the courses at OLLI at Mason I had signed up for. To be fair, I did have two very good ones at the OLLI at AU in June (one on federalism by a very intelligent man and the other on the Reconstruction period in the US), and each Thursday Maria Frawley on Middlemarch is just an inspiration to me. My spirits soar as I listen to her talk with such a generous ethical approach, bringing out the language patterns and depths of thought in the book, and prompting from the people in the class deeply reciprocal responses. This past Saturday just a beautiful and moving discussion of Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer with Alison Hennegan as teacher from Cambridge: I don’t care for the book that much, but what she had to say about it and later the conversation over lesbian literature was moving, truthful, just took me out of myself into another realm of recognition, and renewal.


By the Sea — Sara Sittig (Scapes) – a favorite picture for me, one which expresses what I feel somehow

Would I be happier if I had a “boyfriend” (the word seems so silly)? I’ve dated sort of four men thus far and none attracted me physically or I didn’t attract them — anyway no one made any move to kiss me — except the first (a fifth early on) and he distressed me by trying to start sexual interaction. I felt ashamed, thinking of Jim — it was actually that first year Jim had died. Two of them were mensplaining to me, condescending and worse yet, correcting me for my outlook on life — how dare I be an atheist? or pessimistic? Far from enjoying conversation with these people, I was repressed and irritated. The man I partly accompanied to Cornwall was irritated by me because he felt I could see he’d have a better time mixing with the general crowd who began to leave us alone — and he was reactionary politically. I would not want to lose Izzy and I would were a man to move in — and I wouldn’t want anyone to break my 30 years’ pattern (with Jim doing his pattern) of reading and writing for most of my hours.

I also just don’t fit in American values or norms. I find with the one girlfriend I see she dominates me because I can’t think of an intermediate level of language to tell her to stop trying to get me to do things I don’t want to do, or think things I don’t think at all (all very conservative, demanding of aggression) — I’ve now been told that this slowness of response and inability to be nuanced is part of the spectrum. Of course I did know that but didn’t think of speed, or intuitive uptake as part of this. I went to have “cocktails” with the new Iranian woman friend I’ve made in this neighborhood. Two other women there whose conversation was so stupid and at times racist that I found myself remembering Austen writing of how one needs children to make a conversation go: we had their three dogs. I had dressed up for it

I am trying to think of a study plan I could follow inbetween teaching, reading with others on listservs and for teaching, writing reviews (in a few days I will return to Anne Finch and women’s poetry and the later 17th century into the 18th). Thus far what I’ve fitted in is reading Italian an hour each day. I have been so enjoying and getting so much more out of Ferrante’s Those who Leave and Those who Stay the second time round (now I see it as deeply realistic with Lenu at the center, and I marvel at how she behaves to her husband whom she seems not to love anything like I loved Jim, am startled and appalled at the fascism and political and economic life of Naples so I wonder if she hid her identity from whoever is the source of these characters). I sit with Storia de chi fugge edi chi resta in front of me on my desk. The English translation to one side as a crib; my Italian dictionary and verb book on the other. My French is better than my Italian and I would have far less need of an English copy for a crib but find I’m more allured by my Italian books than my French ones. I did choose Italian (not French) Renaissance women poets to translate. But it would take such time to bring back my ability to read Italian without a crib so am trying to get myself back without the intermediate steps and hope an hour a day consistently will do the trick.

So I’m finding there is almost no comparison between the lightness of the English and sense of dense intense meaning, passion, suggestion, and sheer syntactical interconnections in the Italian. I love the vocabulary in Italian which brings to mind far other metaphoric connections than the simple English barer plain words. I am wondering if after all Ann Goldstein is one of those translators who deliberately modernizes and makes more accessible the texts she translates. I would have thought that not necessary with a contemporary one but now I’m thinking maybe just as much. Goldstein offers very poor commentary on the novels in every group talk I’ve heard — ideas like the first book is the best. Thus Ferrante’s Italian is not being truly represented. There is much less need to defend Ferrante as an important Italian writer (woman) when you are in the Italian. She is so much better in the original — in fact she is not plain in her language at all. If and when a third season of Italian TV resumes the serial here in the US, I’ll pay for HBO Max to see it.

I’ve managed about ten pages or so after three days. And my desire is to do a French book by a woman, a good memoir next.

I’m at Journey’s End and thus how can I offer you valuable thought from my life. I can do as I’ve done, write literary and film criticism from the heart as filler but I’ve not had the spirit to do that here these past three weeks, too tired at night, too exhausted the next day after blogging, giving of myself. I’m going slower and finish less books and movies and put that matter on my two other blogs, Ellen & Jim Have a Blog, Two, and Reveries Under the Sign of Austen. So my dear friends who have been reading this blog for at least 10 years now, this is why I write so infrequently and telling you this, explaining this to you is why I have written this blog.


The latest flowering bushes in my front garden. I’m watering them twice a day during this dreadful hot time.

Ellen


This is what I see on my screen when I first put on my computer (before I type in my password): it’s a hotel on the Bray Dunes in France — I don’t deny I wish I were there this weekend, with say a beloved comforting novel like Eliot’s Middlemarch

From a friend:

I thought this important enough information put in a context (US health care capitalistic marketplace as I have experienced and seen it in operation) to break somewhat with my customary personal diary entries and offer explicit advice on this July 4th, a time when many Americans gather in groups, go to the beach, eat barbecue together, swim in pools, in short socialize in myriad ways.

From my Irish friend:

Much of the slowness to respond to the virus seems to have been the “ignore it and it will go away” syndrome. Also the WHO saying it was a pandemic – well, it is their job to say these things, and they could easily be overemphasising to justify their existence.

Currently the situation seems to be that a peak is expected from the Delta strain, but everyone hopes it will not lead to as serious illnesses as earlier peaks, as so many are vaccinated or possibly immune from earlier bouts of the virus. I think governments are currently trying to find a balance between allowing opening up, which will be popular, and cases of the virus; the governments can come back to the people and say “Well, you wanted opening up, so if you caught the virus, it is really your fault”.

The epidemiologists, to whom I prefer to listen, are more cautious – they advise keeping as much social distancing as possible, remaining masked in close contact public places, routine hygiene of handwashing on return from out (when out, I personally use a pair of surgical latex gloves, under a pair of light fabric running gloves). Their fear is that the Delta is so infectious it will run through the unvaccinated, and there are so many of these that the relatively small proportion needing hospital and intensive care will once again overwhelm the hospitals – everywhere, not merely in UK.

One sympathises with any family or workgroup who have had a bout of the virus; good that they emerge well from it. Hopefully, their encouragement will encourage some others (however few, but even if only one, it is better than none) of their social circle to get the vaccination. One of the encouragements not to get the virus is the risk of what is being called “Long Covid”. It is suggested that between 1 in 3 to 1 in 20 (exact number depends on definition and group doing analysis) who have had covid (even if not hospitalised) suffer persistent symptoms for more than twelve weeks

https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/post-covid-syndrome-long-covid/

I don’t think there is anything in the US which comes close to providing the kind of protocols and thus care that the NHS outlines — however you can read what they say. Why not? The profit motive (money-driven) has made a “health care industry,” which is utterly divided into different “providers” and sub-industries so no one can take such a thorough initiative across a population.

That’s why US people die younger and so many died during the height of the pandemic — I did tell here how Jim came near death one night because his care was so subdivided that one group did not know what another group was doing, and they were enacting this criminal procedure of having someone supposedly care for you by phone — a pharmacist whom Jim never saw and who never saw Jim had prescribed blood thinners to the point Jim was about to ooze out all his blood. Supposedly the man was controlling Jim’s blood count by studying tests. Right. Now how many people was this pharmacist calling a day? how much did he make for each person or batch of people for a company. I had that when I had Hepatitis C — there was nothing I could do — it was only through a person who phoned me I finally got the bottles and advice and injections and she never gave me her number.

Also to get the payment okayed (because there is a payment over everything or a bill made out to keep track) you have to have several people sign. Welcome to what passes for care of the sick in the US still.  It was not just Trump’s incompetence, malevolence, and counter-productive measures from the federal gov’t (like intervening to snatch ventilators from state trucks), but this deeply anti-social inhumane way of delivering any medicine (once payment is made or thought to be secured) that keeps Americans away from physicians.

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I had told my friend how my hairdresser, Sheila, and her family all had COVID last July. They had been to the beach. She is just my age, 74 and she weathered it very well — exhausted, no taste buds, felt terrible, sleeping all the time — frightening her son (in his early 50s) who took her into his house and hired a nurse 24/7. What happened was this son got it – he’s a (was a) restaurator and didn’t stay home, didn’t wear a mask at first. He has lost 3 of his 5 restaurants; what happened was his partner in business did something illegal to stay afloat or perhaps get money from the gov’t in that first partly phony bill in Trump’s regime (it was partly phony because like everything his regime did, it was aimed at giving billions at the rich and very little to anyone else), and he got scared and so divested himself, but he lost a lot of money. Now he has one bar that serves food and one restaurant. His wife (hispanic) then got it, then Sheila, then the grandchild, and then Sheila’s partner who became very ill. All of them. The wife had been the manager of at least 2 of these restaurants; during the Covid time she stayed home and tried to teach their son as he tried to connect to school through a good computer. Son’s wife became very sick (the nurse was there for her too), child mildly sick; Sheila’s partner was hospitalized with pneumonia, he did not have to be ventilated but he seems to have recovered – he is 78. He might have long covid. Ripped through the whole family. Sheila has Trumpite relatives she knows and while she, her partner, her son now scream at these people to get vaccinated, they refuse. I tell this as an exemplary anecdote of US social life.

My friend said that UK Sunday papers are suggesting that Boris will remove the requirements to wear masks in all locations, urging people to “take personal responsibility”.

In the US, here is the attitude as far as I can tell: the vaccine is there, everywhere (in blue and many non-blue states it is — it is again the vicious south culture where it is less accessible — they do want to kill Black people still, e.g., in Mississippi the GOP governor refused FEMA money and 4 counties which are heavily black people have no vaccination sites whatsoever). Pfizer and Moderna are 90% effective and against the Delta will protect you against serious serious attack, hospital and death. AstraZeneca is 60% and helps enormously. We cannot endlessly be in lockdown. So CDC says if fully vaccinated go out and live, but use caution – wear mask indoors, stay away from crowds (this is not enforced — football crowds, baseball and theaters are opening with full capacity). Then ads gently urging people not vaccinated to vaccinate. The worry is, and Dr Fauci said this, in non-vaccinated places these variants are emerging and he and Biden & whole administration repeatedly express concern for people in red racist states or rural ones.

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I re-watched the 6th part of Andrew Davies’s Middlemarch last night and cried and was suffused with painful emotion as imagined joy and from my own comparative loneliness at its end. It so moved me. Beautiful, intelligent truly adult book and serial drama: themes include the enemies of promise, and the deeper traumas of our existence which leave us so hurt and vulnerable along the journeys we have courage enough to take, with the very occasional (for me rare) company of a friend. Today movie-makers are almost afraid to show such true emotion. More hopefully that it’s the little things we do for one another that mean a lot to us, and we should accept what our lot gives us, and help others. Eliot was a deeply ethical writer and she counsels humility and forgiveness and sympathy too. I had a friend,  my Jim, for 45 years, now gone forever, but I surrounded by all he has provided for me, with some considerable support and what help I could give (monetarily I mean, always very small) to him on our now ended journey literally together.


Middlemarch – the happy ending for Fred Vince (Jonathan Firth) and Mary Garth (Rachel Power)

Ellen


Myself and my cousin, Pat, both age 8, Crotona Park, the Bronx


Me at a waterfall park in Maryland, age 72

Gentle readers and friends,

Above you see a photo of me from long ago, one I think I dimly remembered when my cousin, Pat sent it to me last week: I am 8 years old and so is Pat, we are in Crotona Park, in the Southeast Bronx, at a point where it intersects with Charlotte Street, on which I lived some 3 blocks down. My aunt, her mother, took the photo, behind us is her older brother (by one year), teasing us. The other is of me, age 72, spring, Maryland, at a waterfalls in a park.  What is remarkable to me is not only has my facial structure remained the same (allowing for my present fallen cheekbones, toothless state, wrinkled skin), the angle at which I hold my head when faced by a camera, my resort to nervous hand gestures has changed little. I couldn’t skate for the same reasons I was not able to bike ride about 20 years ago, and I now can’t do power point or share screens (or do any more beyond be there and talk) on zooms — too nervous, can’t let go, too unsure of myself, nowadays fear of embarrassment and making people impatient, allowing them to see (while I feel can be seen) aspects of my personality that make me very vulnerable. By contrast, there is Pat, looking out confident, smiling, the only barrier before her, the sun in her eyes, which she fends off.

This evening I sat mesmerized as I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation (with a little help from Harold Pinter, i.e., most of the script) of The Remains of the Day for an umpteenth time. Ishiguro says he means us to take the butler as standing in for all of us: he gets to do a small job, but cannot control how his labor is used. He has little individual say in many major social and political and economic decisions affecting his life. He is also a man afraid of emotions, a man who failed to let his emotional life have any fulfillment. I do identify — and also with Miss Kenton — I’m a profound failure. It’s not that I threw it away, wasted it with no emotional satisfactions (I had my 45 years with Jim, have two daughters, have had a few friends, and continue to make one or two now and again, but barely sustain them), not that I didn’t get to make my own mistakes (which Mr Stevens laments he did not), enacted my own bad judgements. It’s that the disabilities which manifest themselves so clearly to my eyes so in the old photo have prevented me from doing the writing, achieving the book(s), having a social life that I have longed for, never had, never will. Why I am here all alone this evening and will be so for most until I die. Why I go few places.

The first time I watched this I burst into hysterical crying and it took something like 10 minutes for me to calm down. Jim was sleeping so I went into the bathroom in order to muffle the sounds.

I’ve been watching it again as part of re-teaching this course I called Two Novels of Longing etc. , and it is going very well for a second time. I love the books, and the second time through I am handling what I did well the first time even better.

I’ve thought over these couple of weeks since I last wrote how I have still not learned how to refer to saying something without saying it, still often cannot tell what is hinted at in general terms unless someone drops down a notch into something more concrete, that this middle class or level way of talking is beyond me. Each time I bump up against these ever-so-tactful ways of talk, I ask myself, now is this as Aspergers trait or is it rather than I’m not middle class, and a foundational (so to speak) working class identity that I have fled from in numerous ways (and am sitting her at peace because that I did succeed in with Jim’s help) cannot be eradicated. The pain this lack causes me, the mortification I know I’d feel if I had to watch myself teach on a video (my classes are now recorded), I have to hold in check. When I told someone I have not watched myself teaching, she sent me a written description.  I thanked her. Sometimes I think to myself so much has to be held in check. To get along with others pleasantly.

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Summer is definitely here, and in some ways we are post-pandemic, Izzy and I. We went out to a movie the other day, and I discovered that people are behaving very badly on the highways. At high speeds (65-70 mph) they dart in an out of the traffic lanes, move in front, around, speeding up to the side of other people in cars. I came home exhausted that day and another when I visited a friend. Calmed myself down, pulled my emotional temperature, excitement down by a glass of wine, but taking it too quickly, I found after supper I had to go to bed and sleep — for several in one case for a couple of hours in the other. So another response to the dissolution of quarantine, is collapsing, twice, from the effort I have not been called upon to give for quite some time. My first time out I got lost.  In some ways the pandemic is not gone. Both of us still working remotely from home, me still on zooms for teaching, courses, lectures, friends’ sessions. Still over 50% of Americans not vaccinated (what great fools), across the world in poor countries, only a tiny number of people vaccinated and this Delta variant (high contagious and the vaccines are not a total barrier against it) spreading across the globe.

Five of the nine shops that used to be next to the movie-house are now emptied of their businesses. Vanished. Went bankrupt. Who says we don’t need another giant stimulus bill?

The cleaning ladies have now been here three times and done a marvelous job each time – the first for well over 2 hours, which included washing from the inside all 14 windows. (One of them, a Black woman in her later 30s looks very well, all of her four children survived without getting sick.)

Ian the ginger tabby reacted with strong upset. He stayed in hiding under Izzy’s bed from 10:30 when he seemed to vanish until 8 or 9 pm. Then he came out steathily, standing there so still. Since then he has kept making these poignant dismal sounds, wandering about. Last night he wanted to go back under Izzy’s bed but she wanted to go to sleep and she doesn’t like to have the cats in the room with her when sleeping. She does let them in the times I’ve been away, but she prefers strongly to sleep alone. He sat at her door and kept up that mewing sound for quite a while, scratching on the door, and the next morning he was back to that mewing again. Not so frequent. It’s this insistent demanding sound or weak and so desolate And wandering about. I gave him tuna the day after. Two days and nights have gone by and he is now returned to his quiet routine patterns.

So cats have to re-adjust too. Clarycat has spent 15 months as my nearly perpetual companion and I find she does not like when I go out for a whole afternoon.


Clary my perpetual companion

I spent far too much money to have my front patches of flowers and yard once again weeded, mulched, cleaned up, new flower bed put in — I can’t keep this up I think to myself. The man a mean ignorant Trumpite not vaccinated at all, but his wife I’m discovering is a decent person.


Roses and daisies

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I have a book to tell you of, A. N. Wilson’s Stray; a new serial, Us, a four part BBC serial, based on a book by David Nicholls, which reviewers denigrated as a comfort book about divorce; a couple more thoughts on listening (once again) to a four book roman fleuve in translation: Elena Ferrante’s L’amica geniale (aka My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein who I’ve now seen often enough to know she is dumb when it comes to having ideas about literature) — and the opening spiel for the the course I’ll be teaching the next five weeks, now called more adequately called Writings about Colonial Experiences.

A.N. Wilson’s Stray is a gem in the animal story for adult kind, one which deserves a blog in its own right, together with another moving animal study I read before the pandemic, as thorough in the prose way, as sensitive, Roger A Caras, A Cat is Watching: how cats see us. But I’ve not the ambition so you’ll have to settle for this:

Pufftail has an outlook an outlook and experiences matched by Paul Auster in his book on Timbuktoo, a dog we first meet as “owned” by a mentally ill homeless man in Baltimore. The frame is this is a tale told by our narrator late in life to a grandkitten. This helps me as I know our narrator survived until old age Timbuktoo did not or several times it would have been too painful. The novel proper begins with this novel Puftail as a kitten with his brother taken far far too young from their mother –- the first tragic wrench. The animal store manager is a man interested in animals only insofar as he can make money. They soon are fed as minimally as possible and left in a cage. They realize – because he says so (how they understand English is not explained) – he will drown them. An elderly woman, Granny Harris, comes by and tries to negotiate for one by lying; offers too little, lies about why, and almost takes just one — the brother says goodbye to our hero so plaintively, but the owner throws in the other kitten for a pound. We see the old lady knows almost nothing of kittens for real.

They become indoor-outdoor cats – he and his brother who are named by her Fluffie (that’s our narrator because he has a very fluffy tail – -maybe he’s a middle haired cat) and his brother, Bootsie because his feet and ears are white. He dislikes these names. What is riveting is he tells of how he and his brother kill birds. In a very violent scene we see them stalk and kill a thrush, but not before they “tease” the poor bird a bit, and then we get a description of how they devour the bird. It’s upsetting yet we are distanced because our narrator stops to argue with us — why should we be put off when we eat animals every night. We have someone else do the killing for us. He said he thought Granny would be pleased if they presented the thrush to her. She was horrified – that’s when we get this argument about the hypocrisy of people. She even buried the bird – – and scolded both cats.

What happens is the kind of old lady dies and the cats have to learn about, confront death but the two younger adults are nowhere as responsible and they don’t remember to do things for the cats, yet lock them in. Her adult children come to visit and our narrator and his brother learn to stay away. They are not kind people, have no feel for animals for real, no imagination. Then a truly terrifying moment. I know from all previous cat literature of all kinds I’ve read it’s okay among human beings to kill cats for fun; they were persecuted for some centuries; in the 18th century there is recorded a great cat massacre; torture for entertainment of all sorts was common. Well, the male of the younger couple wants to get rid of these cats as a nuisance — outright kill them. We get this whole sequence as Bootsie, our narrator’s unfortunately named brother, dithers over plans to leave and then it’s too late; they are caught after a fierce struggle and put in bags and throw out of a moving car crazily. Bootsie is almost killed instantly and then run over by a bus.

It is at the same time intermittently very funny. Wilson keeps up a satire on human beings: he describes us as ridiculous from the POV of a cat: how we dress, our sports, out TVs, radios, cars (engines of murder); this undercuts the central story. We are only one-third through. For the rest see the comments. I’ll reread it and perhaps write another blog on compassionate animal books soon.


Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves)

Us is not really serious work as Wilson’s is (it’s made for money, finally all about celebrity, success, and glamour somehow), but it is interesting to watch. What resonated with me was the POV of the husband, Douglas Peterson. He has spent more than 20 years of love and marriage working as a serious scientist and has meant very well by his family. Connie offers no reason to leave him but that now the son is leaving home, she feels she need no longer stay — no other reason is cited (Saskia Reeves as an actress is given the most superficial of roles): it appears she is bored; he irritates her with his earnestness and conventional morality when for example (she says) he should be siding with his son (it seems no matter what, how badly behaved he is to an admittedly thuggish bunch.  He should, do more than tolerate the son’s equally outrageous sudden girlfriend (openly indifferent to everything but what suits her today), even like her because the son is attracted to her. So I don’t see the interesting element in the story as about how a man tries to win his wife back (with the implication he deserves to lose her, though I realize many a cold-hearted neurotypical coarse person would respond this way), but (as The Guardian reviewer says)

Us worked best as a study of a middle-aged man who has the rug of familiarity pulled out from underneath him … Hollander is superb as a man baffled by the need for change. His family want to eat adventurous meals, while he would like to stick with steak. He sees great works of art and can’t help but say that they’d be “a nightmare to frame”. He is everydad, just trying to get by. For all the joviality, though, it makes serious points about the damage that an inability to communicate can cause …

And the indifference of his family (how tiresome he is) to such a person. They wish they could drop him, but are conscious of how bad they look, and they do feel guilty.

It is curious how the focus is on the older husband and then the husband and son, and how thin the depiction of the husband when younger is (a different actor); all three actresses (wife and mother when old; Connie played by a different actress when she is young, and the obnoxious son’s girlfriend) are really dismissed or treated as so many troubles or soothing machines in life. I do wonder if the book is much better ….

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Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) (as to a third season?)

I’m more than half-way through Ferrante’s third book (Those who Leave and Those who Stay) for a second time. I find I underestimated the deep bonding of Elena and Lila – because Elena destroyed Lila’s notebooks and herself literally moved to live elsewhere, but Elena is repeatedly going back; she’s there at crucial moments for Lila and they are a doppelganger of sorts with Elena the Elinor Dashwood and Lila the Marianne. Both are sensibility figures. I feel Ferrante saw this — as she suggested in her introduction to an edition of Austen’s S&S. Sometimes I stop to compare the Italian to the English and often the Italian is not only much better but gives different slant, more political, more socialist, more desperate against the fascism and patronage society of Italy in the later 1960s.


Gilbert (David Oyelowo) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson) — from Small Island (which I’m not doing as too long but hope some to) — they cannot escape their identities

And as for the Literature of Colonialism, from my lecture notes:

But until a couple of months ago my reading was very narrowly focused. I did not realize what a large and varied picture if you start to read stories and essays about colonialism comprises. Hitherto I defined colonialism as usually one group of people traveling to a country say owned or lived on by another group to take over their land, control where they live, live upon it – settler colonialism. Or one group of people traveling to another country and taking over, controlling the reigns of government, and setting up let’s call a layer of powerful functionaries with armies to back them – often using a minority population in the country as their front, with the aim of extracting natural resources and selling them elsewhere or forcing the people there to form a marketplace to buy their goods, also trading with them.

It’s must much wider and concerns many kinds of experiences for many different reasons. I added to our blurb on the syllabus: What is it like to invent a new country? to live in a country that is being invented and excluding or exploiting you? Or a curiously isolated upper class who don’t belong to the country and yet are supposed to be in governing positions? Or to live in an old country where you are not allowed to belong?

But that just covers our books & movies. I will also try to bring out over the next sessions these other characteristics which are so important – repeating characteristics

migrancy (people moving about, and changing their home to another world, refugees, war) – the dangers of this as you don’t know the people you are landing among at all, unless you’re coming to a relative,

liminality (crossing all sorts of crucial and trivial thresholds from going on a trip to getting married to someone or going to live with someone or along) – opening new opportunities you couldn’t have where you were – what does this mean? How does it affect people

hybridity (several cultures and sometimes a new emerging one)

and last, multiculturalism (different groups of people originally separated geographically and now also by ethnicity, race, religion &c)

People do go for all sorts of reasons and a major one is simply war – to escape violence and death and poverty.

And last prejudice, this somehow deeply seated fear of the other – now you are the other or those coming in are the other. There’s an argument we should be doing as we did until 1900 – just let people come in – it would expand our economy, make for new kinds of businesses, new ideas – only controlling for the criminal types who I fear we now let in because they know how to appear rich

The literature also includes this intense yearning for something other, for landscape – yet roots are tremendously important – Simon Weil’s Needs for Roots, existentialism says a lot of what is at the heart of a modern malaise is a lack of meaning from a lack of belonging – but who do you want to belong to? Capitalism recognizes no obligation to anyone but the contract.

Later in the afternoon I was exhausted in the good way, not a collapse. The odd thing is that with all the intense anti-immigrant (because racist) talk, the way I’ve presented the material elicited lots of friendly responses. Of the 30 or so people there I’d say VERY FEW had ancestors who went back beyond their grandparents. Now they are grandparents (many) but their grandparents would be say 120 years old or so – and like me many came from places in Europe, but there were two hispanic people. Also the US has 800 bases around the world (Russia has 4); a huge diplomatic core and is incessantly itself imperialist whether aggressive and nasty and lying like Trump or friendly and let’s cooperate like Biden. All the reading I’ve done has made me expand my understanding and if I were to name the course today it’d be Writing about Colonialist Experiences and the literature since the 1970s is continually pouring out. I’ll include my lecture notes — look at the first three pages and you’ll see what I said — I left out religious persecution as a reason for migrancy, professional reasons (that’s someone else’s words — I’d call it your job). Not in there are spontaneous comments — I told of myself in the south east Bronx for example, Jim from England.

The real paradox is the US is still a nation of immigrants and the people among the US population who go back in time with the families the longest are Black people and a core of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Biden is Irish, Trump Scottish — Clinton represented a family here longer. If I had it to do all over again I might choose different books; but I’ll manage. I do think though a true present-day GOP person might well hate it — they don’t want the truth discussed at all, and the site assistant I know does not like me; she smiles at me with narrow eyes and a hard face — she was offended by me in one of the two previous courses I did where she was site assistant — maybe the Trollope but she could have been there for Bloomsbury. This is my fourth zoom at OLLI at Mason. But if there are (and there are) Republicans in the group they are of the old style “liberal” “moderate” type and no longer represented by the present GOP. Here and there a justification kind of comment or someone saying why this topic …


On my appts book calendar for July: Prendergast’s watercolor, Excursionists (1896)

To conclude: even if through the Internet I have a good deal of companionship when I think of the years ahead w/o Jim, all the daily happinesses I would have, the things we would do together, and now how empty in comparison — also that he’s gone (his own loss) – I’m very saddened. Life was actually easier for me as a widow, staying in. (Among the many comments I have to hear are tactless remarks about how it was our fault he died … ) And the reverse idea were he here I’d have far more to want to go out for, know the surprise joys again.

Ellen

Friends,

Izzy has re-arranged and produced a new song, this one originally song by David Bowie, Labyrinth, or As the World Falls Down

The lyrics:

There’s such a sad love
Deep in your eyes a kind of pale jewel
Open and closed
Within your eyes
I’ll place the sky
Within your eyes

There’s such a fooled heart
Beatin’ so fast
In search of new dreams
A love that will last
Within your heart
I’ll place the moon
Within your heart

As the pain sweeps through
Makes no sense for you
Every thrill is gone
Wasn’t too much fun at all
But I’ll be there for you-ou-ou
As the world falls down

Falling
As the world falls down
Falling
Falling in love

I’ll paint you mornings of gold
I’ll spin you Valentine evenings though we’re strangers ’til now
We’re choosing the path
Between the stars
I’ll leave my love
Between the stars

As the pain sweeps through
Makes no sense for you
Every thrill is gone
Wasn’t too much fun at all
But I’ll be there for you-ou-ou
As the world falls down
Falling
As the world falls down
Falling
Falling
As the world falls down
Falling
Falling
Falling
Falling in love
As the world falls down
Falling
Falling
Falling
Falling in love
As the world falls down
Makes no sense at all
Makes no sense to fall
Falling
As the world falls down
Falling
Falling
Falling in love
As the world falls down
Falling
Falling
Falling in love
Falling in love
Falling in love
Falling in love
Falling in love

The image on YouTube which accompanies this song as sung by David Bowie, is that of a nightmare kind of masquerade ball, people dressed up in very glittery fabulousl soft, much woven, silken clothes, wearing bizarre masks, loaded down with sparkling jewelry. This 18th century print (ca 1724) is not adequate but it will have to do. The original is ascribed to Giuseppi Grisoni and said to present a masquerade at the Kings Theater in Haymarket.

Posted by Ellen


For the sake of the cafetiere by Mark Hall who specializes in tables by windows with a view

“Mi chiamo Isabella,” said Izzy to a group of 8-9 year olds like herself on the beach at Ischia, summer 1994

Friends and readers,

How to tell if it’s summer? In Virginia not by an intense heat as that may happen from anytime in April on; even if I find myself longing to be at a quiet beach or doing some out-of-doors activity (walking in the park, once upon a time a concert) signaling Memorial Day weekend, truth to tell that was not common in my life.

I can tell because summer school starts, and after 3 quiet weeks of reading towards my teaching and starting some reading for the courses I’m taking, OLLI at AU starts this coming week, as does one of my Politics and Prose courses (Middlemarch!), and I’ve a few sessions coming up from the English summer Hays Festival and nowadays the Yorkshire Festival (on Elena Ferrante) too. What a treat I never thought to participate in in any way — I’d love to be there, to be back in England each time has roused my spirit so as here I met and married Jim.

Tonight I began Mary McCarthy’s Stones of Florence, a book I read years ago, and again (I can see from my marginalia) marvel at how well she captures the atmosphere and feel of the city where I once spent 9 days too, and have seen so many photos and movies and read other books of.

I’ve a story behind this one, which I tell for the sake of reminiscing and also giving a more candid sense of these courses I take than maybe I usually do:

It may be that the course on Florence I signed up for at OLLI at AU is going to be very poor. Sometimes courses at both places are. The teacher is a journalist and claims to have taught and sent an offhand set of paragraphs on books on Florence as a substitute for a syllabus, using the words “required reading” between scare quotes as I just did. Apparently someone else in the course asked if there would a syllabus and he produces four paragraphs which seemed to have divisions that made sense but not really.

So I replied I hoped he was ironic or semi-ironic, to which he replied how this shows how difficult irony on the Internet.

So here is my TMI reply: Well I’m glad you were ironic — semi-ironic I thought. I read the Mary McCarthy (Stones of Florence was one of the books cited) years ago and was about to re-read it. In a previous existence I was a Renaissance literary scholar and read a lot about Florence — have a few books just on Renaissance Florence. I read Italian haltingly but used to be able to read more fluently and loved to read Italian books from the later 19th and then the two sets of war years and inbetween time too and right after (WW 2) Elsa Morante’s extraordinary La Storia. I know a couple of the authors and read one of the books you mentioned (the poignant Galileo’s Daughter). But all my real or serious knowledge of Florence is of the medieval through 17th century era so I was hoping you would give equal weight to all that has happened since.


Another Mark Hall, this one redolent of sunny Italy

I was once in Florence, again a long time ago, 1969, for about 9 days and I remember some of what I experienced. I also spent 2 days and nights on a nearby island I was told Byron stayed. I managed Venice for an inadequate 3 days as my next stop. I did stay in Rome in 1994 or so with my husband and children for some 5 weeks and we traveled about from Rome to other places as well as we could. We drove to Pompeii, to Naples, to Ischia. We took a train to the Colonna lair at Marina in the campagna. Very recently to Milan one spring with my two now grown daughters (4 years ago in my way of looking at time is very recently). I do love the “high” art of all the cities. Now it’s just books in English translation Once upon a time it was Norman Douglas’s South Wind I read (I loved his book on what was it “Old Calabria” with photos), more recently I read Elena Ferrante. Two very good books on Italy I’ve read are by Sean O’Faolain — I still own these — I’d say recommend them but they are probably hard to get nowadays.

At this OLLI twice Judith Plotz gave a splendid course In Jewish Italian authors — mostly from Turin (implying not like his). I took once of them’

So I was looking forward to being reminded but also to learning about Florence somewhat seriously. Forgive this letter which is me reminiscing. Of course he did not reply. Perhaps after this I should take it that any class where the content is learning about a place may well be touristic. There is still time to add on another, and to change the OLLI at Mason too. What I most dislike is misinformation presented as truth; the kind of thing where the person half-knows something but not enough about it to avoid giving a wrong impression. When that happens, I drop right away. Some of the teachers think we are ignorant mainstream conventional fools, glad to waste away time frivolously. Alas, some of the people at the OLLIs and P&P are


The major part of my DVD collection, all gifts sent by a friend who lives in Ireland – what purports the reprinting of this picture on my blog?

Adventures in the parts of the US gov’t still maimed and sabotaged by the Trump seeping poison legacy.

I wanted to send a gift, a book (cost under $20) to an Irish friend who has sent me countless copies of DVDs over the past year and one half filling three woven baskets, two shelf like containers, and bunches more on my DVD and book shelves according to their title or the author of the book or director of a bunch, or writer, e.g., Andrew Davies). All superb movies or serials, many of them of the older or classic type. His parents worked for the BBC a long time ago. I thought to go to Parcel Post because they usually don’t have much of a line — being a bit more expensive.

What do I find? It costs $200 (that’s right, two hundred dollars) to send a small package internationally. The word “international” is now intoned as if this was a leprous procedure. When I admitted that was too much , I was semi-jeered at — the American way. I did notice that the previous older white man who was owner is not there any more.

So today because the post office nowadays has a very long line I arrived at 8:45 am. It used to open at 8 am; now it opens at 9 (used to shut at 5 pm, now 4 pm).
The way it’s done is only one person is supposed to go in at a time. This is spiteful of Louis DeJoy — as the governor of Virginia has allowed full capacity as long as people are 6 feet apart for gov’t places & everyone wears masks. This post office area (an old one) accommodates at least 6 or 7 in the waiting area.
But when I came up to the counter (I was first on line) I discovered more shenanigans, now I must fill out a form which just repeats the information on the envelope, so I was told to go outside. People repeat the word “international” as if it had some leprous quality (they did that at the Parcel Post office). Of course nowadays there is no place to write in the lobby (all removed) so I squatted on the floor and dumped my stuff next to me. The form is tiny (of course) and I’m struggling because my handwriting is bad; in a couple of minutes someone came over and said I could come inside where there is a counter. It seems I was embarrassing the others. I look old? He had a courteous look on his face. The atmosphere in the place nowadays is usually awful, hard angry faces — not their fault but makes the experience not one I am eager to repeat.

I could not do the whole form. I didn’t have my friend’s phone number. There is no need for a phone number and they waived that. Good of them. They kept repeating the word “international” in this special conjuring tone. They also wanted his email but I had that in my purse. I bought two books of stamps, but after this I will buy stamps online.

I succeeded in sending my friend a small gift, a token of my appreciation for all his DVDs and letters over this period of more solitude than usual — with a card.
Fascism is not only a form of gov’t which is racist and cruel; it exists to serve corporations and gouge the average person so outrageous (as in US hospitals) are everyday and if you can’t perform a everyday task because someone’s profit motive counts more, tough luck. There are no public schools in Louisiana any more.
Below are just some of the DVDs he’s sent me. I have small gatherings in rubber bands next to the books or authors the films adapt (a bunch for Little Women alone; a big bunch for Anna Karenina; for Hardy’s novels ….)


Alice and Asia Roland (mother and daughter) have become Ada and Flora McGrath — the mother and daughter relationship is central to the novel, with the daughter by the end becoming very like Jo March as she is towards the end of Good Wives

For the courses I teach I read far more than the set books and I watch movies. I have mentioned how fine, interesting, rich I have found Jane Mander’s story of early colonialist experience in The Story of a New Zealand River.

Well several nights ago I re-watched Jane Campion’s The Piano — for the first time in more than 15 years. And for the first time I realized how shocking it might be to conventional people and students.

I once enraged a student by showing it in class. I remember that I understood it was outside the range of many people and told them before hand told quite literally all the sex that was there and invited them to skip the class. But when one of the male characters’ penis was seen, this student (it was a he) was horrified and told me he was a “Christian” as if that was some special sect and hardly anyone in the US was Christian. He was forever “polluted” (that was the word he used) because he had seen this movie. I had not realized how the overall effect of what they saw might hit the mind of a fanatically religious male — concerned with the “holiness of his body” (as he put it). He had a girlfriend with him and they agreed that she was not polluted. I never asked why she was not also forever “ruined.” I had never met this type of person before — he is probably today a Trumpite — paradoxically religious fanatics vote for Trump who is utterly amoral sexually and in all other ways too.

Since Jim died, and as the years have gone by on the Net and through the Internet, I’ve met so many people I never would have any other way that I see how shocking it must be to others now. It still is not to me (nor professional reviewers) — it’s what a lot of people (much less theatrically) do. It is a wild extrapolation from Campion’s imagination of what the inner repressed life’s imaginings of the heroine of Jane Mander’s River story might feel married to one man she does not love, living side-by-side in love with another, a close associate of her husband’s whom she does love and loves her.

Here is an insightful review in The Guardian: the reviewer are like me: don’t find it shocking. I also see why it was called Brontesque — she seems a refugee from a Wuthering Heights movie gotten lost at a strange beach; or the feeling like Jane Eyre. But it is also a modern fantastical development out of an idea about the inner life of the woman settler colonialist at the center of a classic 1920 novel.

I was shaken today when I came to the end of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I began it as the best way to enlarge my understanding of Ishiguro as he has not published any non-fiction, life-writing or literary criticism, and there are as yet few books on him. Well, I had a hard time putting the book down. My intensity and its irresistibility for me reminded me of when I first read The Remains of the Day or read When We Were Orphans for the first time (as a page-turner! to see if our hero-detective can find his parents). I call these compulsive reading books. It’s not that common with me that this happens.


Carey Mulligan again, this time as Kathy H.

I keep wanting to go on and it’s not because I don’t know what’s to come as I saw the movie.

It is nowhere as chilling or terrifying as the movie was to me: the story gradually unfolds as a science fiction of the kind Michel Faber wrote in Under the Skin — not obvious at first and then devastating: our beloved characters turn out to be clones invented so their organs can be harvested for the human race with each one of them dying as their “donations” deplete them literally. As in The Remains of the Day (and When we were Orphans) the “person” of the novel is a “you” — the narrator, Kathy H., addresses herself in this case to the reader whose “right” to be in the book is questionable. I become involved with type of character and mood Ishiguro is so successful at creating (as far as I am concerned: I’d call it harrowing haunted without knowing quite why. I am not anguished; I identify and find that the narrator is having good and deep experiences growing up (the book is about adolescence in a generous school environment) but somehow I’m unnerved by these hints of what’s to come, the way the book swerves back and forth on intangible incidents of a kind I recognize are almost everyday. There are also so many beautiful landscapes (as in Remains of the Day) that we are invited to revel in. Ishiguro’s are symbolic books with what Judith Wilt said were “ghosts of the gothic.”

So I came to the end later this afternoon. At the close Ruth has “completed” (died), Kathy’s best friend, and she and Tommy, who has become her lover, desperately try for a “deferral” — to be allowed to live together for three extra years because they truly love. They are turned down inexorably. It’s like being rejected without recourse, and punished without having done anything wrong: they and all other “students” (clones) stand for the powerless in our world as did he butler, Mr Stevens and housekeeper, Miss Kenton, Remains. The allegory had so many applications (petty but important ones, as I cannot get into my Washington Gas website and the company inexorably will not answer a phone, offers no help by email, insists you do whatever it is online &c) as did many social psychological talk incidents and so many thoughts were familiar (like George Eliot’s Dorothea at times). An allegory of life itself. In the end Kathy and Tommy were Jim and of course I’ll never let him go. I found I could not sit still; I could not turn to another book. I needed to calm down, needed to come into contact with something more cheering. So I went for a walk.

Then emailed the friend from OLLI at Mason who in a zoom class spoken so highly of the book, saying don’t let the (quietly) horror genre film turn you off. She responded beautifully:

I’m happy to be your sounding post anytime! I’m glad you also found this novel compelling- and we all have persons who are no longer a physical presence. What a rich literary background you possess to be able to make those connections! And we have come through those stages of adolescence and shared the development of our own two daughters, so that adds its own poignancy.

She connected Ishiguro to Susan Hill’s detective Simon Serailler books, saying rightly these books are literate, detailed, and full of drama – standing head and shoulders above the majority of crime novels. I’ve read the first, The Various Haunts of Men (almost compulsively, certainly consecutively on the train, anywhere as I did the first four Poldarks), and it so unnerved me, that I became frightened at the thought of someone stalking me. I’ve read and taught her purer gothic and grief-striken books, The Woman in Black, In the Springtime of the Year (a young woman’s young husband dies unexpectedly and suddenly) and The Bird of Night. She once irritated me by telling one of my students (who wrote her!) that her books are not gothic (don’t listen to silly English teachers), thus undermining his respect for me, and there is a certain repetitiveness about her work; but she does have power and insight to evoke the uncanny.

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A highpoint in movie-watching this week I’d like to share is the one hour and one half documentary about Eric Hobsbawm: his four history books tell us all we need to know and understand about our world today politically, socially, economically and give far deeper sense of the dangers we face from authoritarian fascism:

I have all four books. Jim read them and respected the man so. He comes across as so good — how lucky his wife was to live alongside him. I stayed up to nearly 2 am watching it. Never fell asleep, not once.

I’ve provided too many descriptions of what are these courses I’m teaching and taking and talks attending.  So just particularize one I’m stumped over (as I am over Ruth Prawer Jhabvala recent neutral amoral stories)): Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts, in which I discovered show she is like her young characters in her Namesake, trying to make an identity for herself out of her sheer language and place study. A friend wrote to me: “She wrote the book in Italian and translated it herself. It consists of vignettes from the life of a single woman/academic. The narrator is an outsider living in an unnamed Italian city. Her writing has a pellucid simplicity, very little happens, yet some of the chapters have a haunting quality …” I replied:

Is it not a very strange text? I am very puzzled by it. Here we have this woman who appears to be living totally alone, and each time she explains something about her background it is devastating: husband an absolute continual cheat (did he have another family or mistress, yes), mother continually berating her. Children dullards. How is she living? We are told she is a teacher and marks papers

But as to real explanation half-way through there is none. Is she depressed? would you say this is a natural life style for many people today? I know that Elena Ferrante’s short novel ( but it is a full real novel in a way this is not) La Figlia oscura translated as The Lost Daughter presents a similarly isolated woman who is driven to steal the doll belonging to a near by family on the beach to which our narrator goes very day on a holiday. But we are told what happened to her marriage. She is still connected to her daughters. This time of isolation is not permanent. It is a similar text but not utterly unexplained — as yet. All tiny chapters, with titles recording a moment.


Vanessa Bell’s Bird in Cage, my new header picture on FB and twitter

Reading also Caryl Phillips’s deeply compassionate tales of women, of the enslaved, with Elizabeth Bowen as my cheerer (she has a deep congenial sanity, a laughter and reaching out for life that does me good — I read well into her A Time in Rome, companion volume for McCarthy’s — only somehow far deeper into or from the soul responding). I’ve told you also I’ve promised a talk for a video for the Trollope London Society zoom reading group on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove” and its brilliant film adaptation.

I segue here into a new sense of my end of life that is making me curiously both emptier and sadder and yet so less harassed and self-induced hectic and allowing me to read more freely more books — as I please for my courses, and just like this — I returned to the female detective this week (The Lady Investigates by Patricia Craig), partly the result of watching Miss Scarlet and the Duke, two weeks ago it was four Olivia Manning novels in a row (ending for now on The Rain Forest, a coda to her brilliant trilogies). Last diary entry (or the one before) I said I foresaw time to return to my book project on Winston Graham and the one on life-long unmarried women. I do, but only if I push myself, work intensely and then don’t follow through on reading that comes up from my teaching studies and other group activities. I have it seems decided I don’t want to push myself for nothing, to no sensible end. I didn’t decide, but (like Trollope says) I found that this is the way I’m acting.

I have this extra time for books, movies, YouTube also — because I find myself at long last giving up book projects. Looking at them. In the case of Graham, his son is dead against it; in the case of the women, there is little sympathy for the angle I want which includes belief in innate qualities in women and l’ecriture-femme (a strong gender faultline in writing as naturally emerging). No more of these will I dream of, plan, attempt to do. Face reality. Face my age. Face where I live. It’s over for me: I don’t have the wherewithal of connections, of ability to know how to draw people to help me, to attract a publisher, fear travel, strange or new places so. I’m taking real and what pleasure I can from what is available to me. Not forcing myself to do what is so painful, stressful, difficult.

After all all these writers need readers, people to write about them, ditto the movie-makers need watchers and critics, do they not?

And oddly I find I’m turning more to Jim, to memories of him, a sense that I am living out a life as his wife with his absent presence all around me, doing what I wish as if he were here with me. I have also made a home-life for Izzy and I, which we are both aware we are sharing. We both remember him; we both reciprocate with the cats.


Jim with Ian on his lap in July 2014 (the cancer had not yet metastasized)

I am living out his lifetime for him and with him in memory as best I can. This is partly what I would have done had he lived. The good thing that has come from all this (by which I refer to his death and now this pandemic solitude) is my finding the OLLIs and as yet fitting in, and finding other institutions and venues in my area where I enjoy the intellectual and social life.


A lovely idealization of a square in Bath Jim & I & Izzy walked together many a time for a week (there is the assembly room to the right) — it was spring 2002

Ellen


From the mantelpiece in our front room

While writing what I did below, I did not forget what is happening to the Palestinians: Dahlia Ravikovitch

A Baby Can’t Be Killed Twice

On the sewage puddles of Sabra and Shatila
there you transferred masses of human beings
worthy of respect
from the world of the living to the world of the dead.
Night after night …

Dear friends and readers,

How can you tell when the pandemic is coming to an end? For us it has not been Biden and his CDC’s sudden switch in attitude: all the Fully Vaccinated can go without masks when they are outside, inside most places when not too crowded. To mask or not to mask? The point seems to be to make it clear that the vaccines work, and those who are not vaccinated are depriving themselves … keeping themselves at risk!  It’s for free, people, and available everywhere. Don’t you want to unmask thyself with a certainty you are safe from hard illness and/or death or maiming in some way?

So, no, the sense of release, of relief, has come from the stepping out. The last week or so we have gone out almost everyday and a couple of times out for a couple of hours! This past Friday evening we celebrated Izzy’s birthday (and mother’s day too) with Laura and Rob by going out together and eating a scrumptious meal in a nearby fine Italian restaurant (not that expensive but good food) where we ate outside. Happy talk and Saturday Laura returned to give Izzy her present, which is also for me: a funko pop Jane Austen doll. Izzy and I put it on our mantelpiece where we have other meaningful objects (some treasured). The Jane Austen doll does not wiggle and she is reading a tiny copy of Pride and Prejudice, wearing a long blue dress. Across the way (inbetween a Native American doll I bought in the American Indian museum 2 summers ago, Jim’s reading glasses, and a DVD picturing his life, and an issue of an 18th century newsletter, the Intelligencer where there appeared a lovely obituary for Jim; and a seashell Izzy picked up on some family vacation we had at a beach) an action figure I was given by a class of people at OLLI at AU: the notorious RBG, alas without her tiny gavel (which fell out of her hand).

Saturday all day the two girls went together to a mall (sans masks), buying sandal shoes for summer and had a lunch in cosy place. Mother sat home reading Howards End once again (how can one tire of such a book) so as not to intrude on sister time togetherness. It is spring and on the awning over my study room window, two sparrows, grey breasted (mother) and red (father) have built a nest and the mother bird now sits patiently for the eggs to hatch. We (the cats are part of this) hear them twittering (w/o being on twitter) and chirping. I wish I could take a photo of the two birds moving about, flying in and out, the cats trying to get at them but the screen in the way so settling down in the cat-bed to watch. At the moment I come to the awning, both birds fly away.


Laura and Izzy two years ago and many years ago

Win some, lose some though. I had one of my nervous failures yesterday. It was probably that I was ambiguous about going to the memorial service as after all Phyllis Furdell (a once friend from OLLI at Mason after Jim died) had dropped me, and when a couple of times I tried to make contact again she had spoken to me in ways that were mildly contemptuous. It was her ex-husband who found my name and called and asked me to come, so I felt I was letting him down — but I have never met him nor spoken to him before. Still it was the right thing to do even if I had been treated unkindly.

I realized as I got into my car it was the first time in a long time I was trying to find a new place. Mapquest said it was 15-20 minutes away and I left 40 minutes but the whole incident ended up that it was 10 to 2 and I was at least still 12 minutes away when I turned to go back home and the thing was to start at 2.

I had printed out street directions (Mapquest), determined to take the streets but then I put on the Waze too as back-up (but had had trouble doing that, I was sticking it the cord from the cellphone into the wrong place and Izzy had to come out to show me where was the right slot). Then I discovered I made a wrong turn (I don’t know my left from my right) by both the Waze and the paper so had to go all the way home again (lost well over 10 minutes) and tried again.

Now I encountered in the streets a horrendous accident — no one can get through. A mad house with trucks everywhere — crazy lights. Traffic piling up. The Waze is repeating I should get on the highway — I make a difficult UTurn to get to the other side of the street. I know if I follow the Waze directions, I’ll be going in the wrong direction on the nearby highway because I can’t get to the right direction but I don’t have a back up paper for the highway (remember what happened to me trying to get to Politics and Prose from OLLI at AU without the backup print-out). What if I do something wrong again?

I am so nervous by this time and I’ve now only 10 minutes to get there. I felt bad because I promised the ex-husband and also I know a couple of people from OllI at Mason might be there but I remember her sour sharp tongue to make me feel bad. I was going also to prove to myself I could do this — this has often been a motive in the last 8 years for going places — to prove to myself I can as much as anything. But as I drove towards the highway my nervousness increased — there was not enough time to return and get a Mapquest print-out for the highway. So I returned and now am home and went back to my usual quiet literary work — this time my last set of lecture notes for this spring.

This is me — why travel is an ordeal so I can’t do research in libraries around the world literally except someone comes with me — and Jim never really did. It’s a lot to ask and it costs money to do these things.

I did have to get one place by myself I didn’t know how to and had to use the Waze w/o a paper Mapquest and made a wrong turn at least twice but I truly needed to get there: Izzy was there waiting and it was to do our taxes with AARP. I did manage that though came later for the appt.

An image of the cover of the book I ended up reading after I finished my lecture notes and became calm. I do like Hattie MacDonald and Kenneth Lonergan’s film adaptation and am re-watching it too. Roslyn Sulcas’s take on book and film seems to me to be spot on insofar as it’s social POV about capitalism and hard-nosed realities — there are other emphases one could take (like on a home to live in).

Today though success. Izzy and I went to Sheila, my hairdresser who works in a salon about 7 minutes away by car. I’ve been there so many times before; even so, for a minute now and again I felt I could not imagine the next street. You see I know the way supposedly by heart, hardly know the names of the streets. Again I wish I could take photos, for Sheila has made my hair pretty again. After a several months the color of the Overtone on my hair had turned sour (orangey, brass). Sheila preferred not to peroxide (strip or bleach it) and instead cut it a bit shorter with her dye making the grey parts the lovely silver blonde again, and those parts with the dye still there are now a silver mahogany. I shall go back in 6 weeks (rather than nearly 3 months) to have it dyed and cut again. Izzy’s is lovely bowl of hair around her shoulders.

Then later in the afternoon I took myself to Dr Wiltz at Falls Church. I’ve had more deterioration. My arches have fallen (flat feet) and I am wearing bands around my feet with a flat cushion underneath, my legs are weaker I find, and the chest pains sometimes very strong. So I returned to Wiltz and he tested and found nothing awry — just being 74. That’s good news. I went home with a muscle relaxant pill. On the way back many more cars than I’ve seen in a long time, more people out and about, many without masks … all signs we are getting past this pandemic.

And late in the afternoon I was re-reading The Remains of the Day again. I seem to be getting so much more out of both books since I taught it so hard last winter; I sure hope this will shine out in close reading with the class at OLLI at AU I mean to do both with next month. How I love it, & Ishiguro’s early novels (including now the terrifying Never Let Me Go)

But it is not easy to step out again, out to work (Izzy loves going in once a week now), and many hesitate, not only worried at lingering mutant viruses, but that they’ve gotten used to being home, and are re-thinking how they’d like to spend their working lives.

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Still some more staying in pandemic experiences — the silver lining of watching productions from home, joining in on virtual lectures, book groups, theater. Two Friday nights ago, a magnificent Uncle Vanya on PBS “great performances” — they have too few of these. Don’t miss it. I was reminded of how I love theater and wish I could go to live performances regularly once again. (I cannot as I can no longer drive at night.) Cast outstanding: I re-watched the next night when I realized my friend, Rory, had sent it as a DVD. I’m beginning to have a better understanding of it than ever before: I have always bonded with Vanya: he is the man who cannot negotiate from the world what his talents and deep sense of responsibility procure and create; he asks only to be appreciated — and finds that’s too much. But some of his close associates love him.

This time I found myself also loving Sonya’s last words: they help me find the strength to get through life calmly: to bear it all patiently and while patient and thoughtful you find your peace. Two more reviews: Arifa Akbar from The Guardian; Demetrios Matheou in The Hollywood Reporter. If there had been no pandemic, it’s possible this production would not have been videoed, or the video would not have been made so generally available (in order to pressure people to come to the theaters).


Toby Jones as Uncle Vanya, and Richard Armitage as Dr Astrov


Again Armitage and as Yelena Rosalind Eleazar

The way we have been going to the theater just now (soon ending). Jonson’s Sejanus at the Red Bull (NYC, perhaps on 10th Avenue). I thought it was not as effective as Hannah Cowley’s Belle’s Strategem (sometime in February, this later 18th century play turned out to be picturesque and intensely passionate underneath the seemingly conventional wit) because Cowley’s play demanded so much stage business, the company had to come up with equivalents: they somehow manage to suggest dancing through the manipulation of the zoom images; they used heightened gestures, flamboyant costumes. That made the production livelier than this Sejanus — it must be admitted I once saw it as a Play of the Week on Channel 13 (pre-PBS, a year of magnificent plays on Friday evenings), with a young Patrick Stewart as Sejanus. I did find the use of imaged different and famous ancient backgrounds still extant around Rome and elsewhere (Mary Beard stuff) changing from time to time alluring and since the play is about something that occurred in the 1st century, written in the first year of the 17th and now played 2021, it added significance. And the second half held my attention more forcefully because of what had been built up and what was happening.

Yes to their assertion that it’s relevant. I found myself wondering what happens in the GOP as everyone stands around fawning over Trump. What are the secret cabals and thoughts people might have. They can’t go so far as to murder one another the way Tiberius can exile and/or murder his family members, and then Sejanus and his — but they can destroy one another’s careers or do some equivalent. Also how and why the individuals form groups or are seen to adhere to someone. The acting was good and the language strong and interesting — superb Renaissance verse. It’s been there for 4 days and still one to go, and you can watch for free — though I did pay the suggested amount ($44). The actors and company need the money. Next month: Jonson’s Volpone. Now how would I see this otherwise?


The use of just a mask sometimes for one of the heroines in Belle’s Strategem was effective


The Sejanus cast

And I must not forget the delightful every-other-week zoom meeting of the London Trollope Society. Right now we are reading The Way We Live Now — a truly powerful and great book. Dominic Edwards has asked me to do a talk on Trollope’s gem, the story Malachi’s Cove, whose film adaptation is suddenly once again (with the pandemic channels are seeking previous films) online. I’m to take it from my blog.


Mally and Barty gathering seaweed in competition

Late addition: the Great Performance Romeo and Juliet from the London National Theater via WETA Great Performances


Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor as our thwarted and destroyed lovers

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Sheila did tell me a couple of scarifying stories of people getting sick from Covid and almost dying. It last February seems her niece worked in an office where the boss was saying all had to come in — this was when Trump was still claiming the pandemic was a “Democrat hoax,” “just” a flu. Well, “everyone in the office caught it,” says Sheila, and her niece became very ill, began to have blood clots one day and phoned Sheila’s sister, who rushed over, and taking a look at her daughter, rushed her to the hospital. Saved her daughter’s life. This does give insight into what lies behind the statistic of over 550,000 dead. I don’t know enough people who had to go to work daily. Have I told you that I have been going to Sheila for my hairdos for 20 years, and that she and I first met when she was 53 and I 54? I came to her for Laura’s wedding. This year and one half is the longest I’ve never seen her. I know a lot about her life and she knows something about mine.


Laura’s Charlotte now near one year old — I have never seen them physically and they are (Laura says) singularly unused to being alone, and show it

So we slowly come back out, step out and begin life as traveling about to get together physically once again. I do hope that many of these zooms will stay. A zoom from OLLI at AU of the owners of Politics and Prose telling the history of their buying the store, what such a business is like, how they survived during this quarantine, and how successful the classes were even in a classroom that was small and how much more successful now spread beyond space and time. I just finished a satisfying course reading and discussing three novels by Edith Wharton and for the summer I’ve signed up for 7 or 8 weeks of Middlemarch and for two weeks of Jhumpa Lahiri. They will be given at night so there is no way I could take them unless they come via zoom on the computer.

From thinking about and rereading Lahiri, I have added to my summer course at OLLI at Mason on “Post-Colonialism and the Novel,” Mira Nair’s Namesake, a movie I love still (nowadays especially for Irffan Khan, who died so young, only 53 this year): Nair says in its feature she was actuated to adapt the book in order to realize a story of people living in two different worlds, two different cultures at once, and the difficult of this blending/coping. As her hero, Gogol wants to escape the identities imposed on him (American or Indian) and her heroine does through becoming French out of her studies, so Lahiri is trying to make herself into an Italian – she speaks of it as if her parents imposed on her the culture they were when she was born. How to hold onto an identity, how to make a new one for yourself the way I have tried to do also — I believe I have partly succeeded in escaping my white working class US identity — and that I could only do not only by stepping out of my house but going to live in another country, England and marrying a person of another culture I so longed to be part of — out of or as I understood it from my books of course but then living there too.

My life is a now slow journey, inward with and by books (and good movies), for me to find my paths (several at a time), coping with, enduring, enjoying life. But it has been such a help to have supportive friends and most of them who have meant most (after Jim) have been made on the Internet. I teach so frequently at the two OLLIs because they give me a place to belong in the world and (I hope) a function useful to others as well as myself.

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


An Image of Stark Grief

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

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


Stuart Wilson as Beaufort


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

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

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

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

The City

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

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

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

Ellen


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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ian, not atypically, when we arrive home …

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

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

I experienced one relief.

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


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

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

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

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I have it in the English translation by Jan Van Heurk

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

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

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

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

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

Still spring is here.


My comforts in Jim’s absence-presence

Ellen