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It is an odd feeling, writing against the current: difficult to entirely disregard the current — Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

mapletreeendofsummer
Maple tree on front lawn — end of summer colors

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! — George Eliot in her letters

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been puzzling over the term “friendship” more than usual for the last couple of weeks, and this morning thought I’d help myself by reading what Samuel Johnson has to say in two of his journalistic essays memories of which have stayed with me down the years (Idler No 23; Rambler 99). In my mid-twenties studied Johnson for my orals for my Ph.D, and again in my mid-forties I used to teach at George Mason university a volume of his writing (in the Penguin series, edited by Patrick Cruttwell): we’d read his Journey to the Western Islands,” his literary biographies (especially the life of Savage), his journalism, letters, poetry

The one I recalled better starts with the sentence (now I’ve found it) “Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than friendship,” only to devolve into how fragile are such relationships: how frighteningly easy (“very slender differences”) can “part” people after “long reciprocation of” courtesy or generosity. Sometimes people long to meet after years of being apart (or let’s say Internet friends) to find there is no similitude where it counts such as had been imagined. He talks of more than “opposition of interest:” his focus are “a thousand secret and slight competitions, scarcely known to the mind upon which they operate,” and how “minute ambition” once found out (and “vulnerable” to the other) will be become a sort of fear, and resentment and the shame felt will not be explained as the last thing the person wants is discovery. This “slow malignity” can be obviated if you know your friend (frenemy?) well enough.

But then there is “a dispute begun in jest” becomes a desire to triumph, then vanity takes over as anger grows, and before you know it you are in the midst of strong “enmity:” “Against this hasty mischief I know now what security can be obtained: men will be sometimes surprized into quarrels.” Friendship appears to have so many “enemies:” caution becomes suspicion; delicacy becomes and repels disgust; people grow angry that compliance with another’s taste is “exacted.” The most “fatal disease” is “gradual decay:” when gradually people just don’t want to or are “unwilling to be pleased.” He regards this situation as “hopeless.”

To become friends in the first place requires “mutual pleasure” in one another’s company. This is not always in our power to feel. To be “fond and long-last” it seems there must be “conformity of inclination.” People must share tastes; I’d put it have a closely similar sensibility. Appreciate how the friend spends his or her days (and/or nights). People practicing the same profession can understand and respect one another. They must enjoy one another’s conversation is another area I’d bring in. Contradictorily, Johnson does say (just briefly) people who are (as we might say) stuck together (families, in his era that would include coerced marriage) should try to “approach towards the inclination of each other,” see if you can conform in things that don’t carry a weight of need, show curiosity. By his own admission this is hard. Jane Austen would have us consider Mrs Smith:

“Even the smooth surface of family-union seems worth preserving though there may be nothing durable underneath” — Persuasion

I am now touched (as I probably was not when young) by how he says we all “require” acts of “tenderness” because we have “grievances which only the solicitude of friendship will discover and remedy.” (The need for and offering of tenderness is seen in grandparents.) Johnson says people have to care about you beyond the usual need, have bothered to know, recognize, try to “remedy” miseries usually “unheeded in the mighty heap of human calamity.” Again, hard.

My reader will scarcely believe that I used to read disquisitions like these I’ve paraphrased and quoted from to find some comfort and strength. But I did.

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Henri-Jean Martin (1860-1943), La Tonnelle (an imaginary gazebo)

It happened that later in the day a kind friend here on the Net pointed me to an essay by Audrey Lorde in which she suggests that we wrongly avoid the erotic in life; the emotions that comprise eroticism can provide power for creative and good change (“The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Sexualities and Communication”). My first reaction was to remember Carol Gilligan’s In a Different voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development and Lyn Mikel Brown’s Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development, two of many books on female psychology where the authors argue women have and further develop out of their innate nature and the experiences of life our social organization imposes on them an “ethic of care,” of concern for one another; instead of interacting through competition, as individuals vying to be superior to others, to wrest the necessities and luxuries of life by purchase (after doing what one must to get money), act as one in a community looking out for one another to enjoy in companionship without regard to status. This could be norm encouraged which Gilligan and Browne feel would give the deepest pleasure and gradual security were it central to structured experiences in life.

But then I thought it’s not “care” and “love” but “erotic,” and the use of the term erotic changes the idea. Lorde wants us to enjoy sex with one another, or sensual experience and says if we do so, we will open up to one another, feel good and then be powerful to do something. Tonight I find myself worrying over that second word, “power.” After all the context seems to have something to do with competition, and control over someone else, getting them to do something out of the sensual and sexual. She is trying to get power out of nature and to manipulate. In my experience opening up to most people, and especially sexually has ended in their trying to take something, and a feeling of self-directed self-felt triumph is central to the erotic. The sexual postures and things we do are or can be humiliating when I’ve felt the other person feeling this triumph. Can we ever rid ourselves of our position literally as well as figuratively to one another.

In classic characters from Don Juan to Lovelace to Austen’s Lady Susan, what is actuating the character when they proceed to move through erotic experience is a desire to triumph and use. My experience has taught me there is yet worse: the person takes over your character as your self-control may dissolve away, as you start to trust; and what they call cooperation with them becomes form of submission. The next step is bullying.

This relates to my theme of friendship tonight as my experience since becoming a widow is people do their best to avoid getting deep with one another to be safe, not to be obliged, not to get into troubles and ignite all those enemies to friendship Johnson surveys (I particularized only a few of these, admittedly the ones that have causes me most hurt). Lorde seems to suggest people are refusing to be loving; refusing what comes natural. Does it? The world is filled with people completely oblivious to other people’s actual minds, who cannot participate in another’s experience unless they have known it in a literally similar way. They begin with a fierce egoism. They hear and interpret what you say in terms of their particular attitudes of mind. They enjoy aggression and threatening hurt and get a kick out of avoiding someone aggressing at them. People who go out hunting to kill animals are not doing that to protect themselves.

There are dozens of great stories about this — from the old movie, The Servant (if you’ve ever seen that one with Dirk Bogarde and James Fox where the servant becomes the master) to the Lord of the Flies — the person who ends up the scapegoat and whipping bag for others. People go so far to justify these happenings by claiming the hurt person is masochistic; they want to be hurt, they enjoy it. I am here to say they do not. The woman who does not try to escape her abusive husband fears if she does she will suffer more from it; she will not be rescued; if she is freed of him, the authorities will see her weakness and take her children from her.

My friend said Audrey Lorde used the term “erotic” instead of “care” because she feared her reader could ridicule the term and vision. To use use the word “erotic” is sexier, more provocative (ah! so now we are provoking some one) and would gain attention (as sex usually does). This reminded me of why George McGovern was quickly labelled as “out of the question” someone no one could vote in for president the way Jeremy Corbyn is described in the British press. No one will go for such a person because they are too nice. My father said most people in their minds are mean, small, operate out of what they see as justifiable mistrust, expecting others to try to take all they can. If someone behaves better than this, they resent this as an indictment of their own nature, as “hypocritical.” That’s not fair. I have seen groups of people work together for the common good in narrow causes, and they are helped along enormously if values like care and concern as in our mutual interest and leading to good things coming, and not promoting hardness, competition and especially any kind of violence. Here you need to be in a middle status group that does this.

So to return to Johnson who is trying to explain friendship so we may by lower expectations have what our natures will allow of it, although repression of an instinct to have and find and share love is impoverishing the best we can know, cuts us off from the best and deepest fulfillment people can have in one part of their natures, leaves us so alone, more at risk, it is also a necessary guard. Gilligan and Browne believe (or affect to) that the “masculine” psychology that has been allowed to rule the world and have full play into the very privatest of our moments together (as in relationships set up on the basis of what each gets out of it materially) can be offset, modified, qualified by the feminine, even overturned — as it is for some when they are bringing up their children. They feel we can extend what can happen in mother-child, parent-child, friend-friend, lover-lover relationships beyond these. That we should try.

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Jean Lucy Pratt and her cats (see “Blunted Joy” by Catherine Morris, TLS, Sept 7, 2016)

Mac is one of the men Jean loves and loses (later, she records that he has been killed in a car crash). Her loneliness is oppressive, at times – almost crushing; but as the years go by, her yearning starts to dissipate, or evolve. “Why does anyone worry about ‘love’,” she writes in 1958, “about being loved and finding the Right Person, and about missed opportunities and ‘I’ve never had a chance?’ and ‘It isn’t fair!’? There is no need to let these moods ­colour your life. Love can illumine every moment of it, whether you are ‘loved’ or not. But let us not nail that poor butterfly. Make your own discoveries and keep them secret” — Jean Pratt

All very solemn you may think or say — if you have got this far. But I have been very hurt this past month, a kind of culmination, or hammering blow, after much less stunning events and trivial ones too over the past three years, and as the third anniversary of Jim’s death draws near, I want to understand what has happened since my world fell apart and I tried to build a new one for myself, and gain strength to pull back. i said the fourth wall of my house had vanished; well now I have to rebuild that wall.

Two long-time friends, mostly known by years of letters here on the Net, told me when I told them I had been accused of being a “false friend,” offering “false friendship” for years, and offered a clause the person refused to explain (“you threw my friendship back in my face”) that this was senseless, not using words meaningfully. By going over what Johnson wrote I feel I have been enabled to understand what happened recently and over the course of all the cases I’ve been brooding about, and this helps because I feel what happened was not my unique doing or fault. In these various instances I see a general version of what has happened to me, what I’ve seen and been told happens to others. So myu case is that of many others. I feel like Austen heroines who will sometimes say they have looked and looked and find nothing crucial to reproach themselves with, and that helps. Sometimes eighteenth century texts really do help against large and petty pain too.

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An later 18th into 19th century (?) illustration

I nowadays divide my days into three types (most of the time): quiet reading days, days where I am writing either on and for people on the Internet, or for teaching, or for papers and reviews. And days where I go out somewhere to something social (teaching), sort of (a lecture) or a movie, play, concert, HD opera, a reading of poetry. Here is something hopeful: for nearly three years now I’ve also been taking a pill to help me sleep at night and in the last year I think I now get deep sleep (REM sleep) each night: I’ve not experienced such a period like this since maybe before I was 12. And I find I can read at night, understand what I am reading and even more wonderful, remember what I read the next day. Gentle reader, that is why I am blogging less. Tonight I was reading Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina’s biography of Dora Carrington, about whom I hope (that word) to write my next “woman artist” blog.

To show affection is to comfort oneself — From Kobayashi, Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees

Miss Drake

lovelyflowingbushes
Last summer flowering bush, still holding out on right side of house

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we read and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendez-vous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, shawl,
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth
A light …. (Wallace Stevens, from “The Final Soliloquy”)

Dear friends and readers,

The year is turning, the mornings dark until 6:30 am, evening dark by 8 pm, by next week what will I be doing in this room of mine? and inside a shawl?

I’ll be rereading Fielding’s Tom Jones with one class, and by the following the novels of four 19th century women of letters (Shelley’s Frankenstein, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance,” and Oliphant’s Hester) with another. I’m back to working on my paper on Charlotte Smith for the October Chawton conference. This past couple of books my companions in solitude have been Miranda Seymour’s superb biography of Mary Shelley, Jenny Uglow’s concise study of Eliot, Ahdaf Soueif’s fiction, and poetry by Dahlia Ravikovitch and Margaret Atwood. A good way to spend my time. For company I’m now truly delighting in Tolstoy’s War and Peace with a small group of like-minded people on the Trollope19thCStudies Yahoo listserv. I compare the Maud/Mandelker translation in English to the Elisabeth Guernik one in French as I go: I so enjoy reading French or Italian translations of books written in yet a third language not English. One person in our group who lives in Cologne, Germany, is reading two different German translations. On Wwtta we slowly make our way through Hermione Lee’s biography, Virginia Woolf.

Beyond reading, there is the movies on DVD, the flickering light of the screen. Well, I’ve embarked on the second season of Poldark and am still dwelling on the first of Outlander (because I can’t get the second) and this time I’ve had real pleasure talking to some of the face-book Poldark watchers, reaers, viewers.

tom-hiddleston-as-jonathan-pine
Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine — he was superb as Hal and Henry V in the Hollow Crown plays

I finished The Night Manager and think to myself I’d like to re-see it slowly. Made for TV, it’s an effective pace-y, all edge thriller, much much simpler than the usual LeCarre, so we have a few good people trying saving the world against those running the vile arms industry, but acted suggestively, exquisitely well, with even a qualified happy ending, where the hero of many and therefore no name succeeds, together with his “intelligence “control” agent, Angela Burr (burrs stick, she’s an angel), all the while heavily pregnant, in destroying at least these evil men. Emerging as our Jonathan Pine, no longer the subservient Night Manager, but his own person, having committed to achieve the noble quest of destroying a man who manufactures and sells the most vicious of weaponry (napalm, bombs of all sorts, gas poison), made a decision to no longer be so reclusive, and can say to the new Night Manager, he wants “nothing at all.” Jed, our heroine will leave off her whorish ways and return to her family and child and will wait for him to come to her (“I promise,” says he). If you think a little you do remember this hero murdered two people (themselves murderers, very bad men, but it’s still murder), and if Angela Burr won this one, those supporting the arms industry inside the gov’t are there, waiting to sell out again on the justification this wanton destruction of people who don’t count after all is sound strategy for their cliques in their nation-state.

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A photograph from Berry’s older honest Portrait of Cornwall — one of the more obtuse desires of tourists is to shut out contemporary realities

I have decided not to write any more blogs on my Cornwall holiday. I’ve been stunned by the Jekyll-turning-into-Hyde behavior, post-holiday from the woman I visited, and haven’t got the heart. I had wanted to tell more of the three sites that I saw one learns most from: the grim Bodmin jail, the mind-pausing Greevor mine, and the small and symbolic re-enactments of life among aristocrats and servant a Lanhydrock House. What distinguished them is that the previous life they stage was not that long ago and much of the original buildings stand with the original objects as used found, manufactured of just left there. This is not the first time I’ve discovered the older the site, or the less to see and experience (archeaological digs are very old but there is much to see), the less impact on the viewer’s imagination and sensibility. I’ll come back to some of this when I’ve finished Claude Berry’s marvelous county book, A Portrait of Cornwall when I’m stronger in spirit.

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Another from this book

Another friend I told about this said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’m not so sure: after nearly 3 years of trying hard. I endure more stoically than before, but each loss weakens me, makes me move more into protective mode. I’m a person now who knows how she loves her life in her house but has lost her loving true companion.

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Clarycat this morning

There’s been a semi-attack on cats in the NYRB in the form of a review by Natalie Angier of Cat Wars: Peter P Mella and Chris Santella’s The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. The title gives away that the authors’ ostensible campaign to stop cat owners from allowing their cats to go outside and kill birds includes a determination to ridicule human behavior towards cats as pet-companions. Readers of this blog who agree that this ridicule stems from not being smart enough to respond to another species might want to read and respond too. Much better is Rachel Cusk in the NYT Book Review on two recent books by women who so long for children they have themselves artificially inseminated. What Cusk has to say is as pertinent, truthful and searing about women and motherhood still (the hypocrisies, the miseries) as anything Badinter has written. Cusk seeks to free women.

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A photo of Geraldine Jewsbury

In developing a new point of view for a course, one reads all sorts of new books and for 19th Century Women of Letters I’ve been led to understand and think anew by Norma Clarke in her Ambitious Heights: Writing, Friendship Love: The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans, and Jane Carlyle): I can’t speak too highly of how she explains why women wrote these endorsements of what crippled their existence, and her accounts of the two Jewsbury sisters, Maria (1800-33), the poet, essayist and editor (the Athenaeum), Geraldine (1812-80), novelist and then for decades the great decider on who got published by Hurst and Blackett and Richard Bentley; and Jane Carlyle (1801-66) who never got to write originally in forms beyond her great private letters. I thought I’d end this evening’s entry with some lines from a very Victorian poem by Maria, “To My Own Heart,” hoping my reader will find them something you can grow stronger from too:

Come , let me sound thy depths, unquiet sea
Of thought and passion; let thy wild waves be
Calm for a moment. Thou mysterious mind—
No human eye may see, no fetters bind;
Within me, ever near me as a friend
That whilst I know I fail to comprehend …
Come let me talk with thee, allotted part …
I know a calmer mood, a brighter view:
The restless ocean hath its hours of rest,
And sleep may visit those by pain opprest;
More shade than sunlight o’er his heart may sweep,
Who yet is cheerful, nay, may seldom weep;
And he may learn, though late, and by degrees …
Life she may look on with a sobered eye,
And how to live, think less than how to die …

These:

Home !—home!—vain wanderer, why that murmured plaint,
Breaking the quiet of thy green retreat?

A Summer Eve’s Vision

I heard last night a lovely lute,
I heard it in the sunset hour,
When every jarring sound was mute …
I dreamt that I again was young,
With merry heart and frolic will,
That hopes around my spirit clung …
I saw ambition’s heights arise,
Fame’s pathway o’er it spread sublime,
Nor feared the coming night of time …

Unwearied up the steep I prest,
And vainly deemed my home would be [with him] …
But soon came on a darker mood,
Fame’s lingering sunbeam ceased to glow,
The heights grew barren where I stood,
And Death’s wide Ocean roared below.

Then waking from that troubled dream,
This lesson did my heart imbue,
In every earthly hope and scheme,
How far the seeming from the true!

I like LeCarre’s novels best in those moments where the hero is living apart, as in The Night Manager Jonathan Pine does for a while until he finds something worthwhile to commit to, and then he decides.

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Surviving on the left

Miss Drake

A card for Caturday

somepeoplehavecats

Remembering Jenny Diski and her What I don’t Know about Animals.

Miss Drake

Wonderwall by Oasis

While I was gone, Izzy added another performance on video to her repertoire:

Sylvia

EllenCornwallAugust2016
Myself standing on a cliff not far from our Padstow cottage

I do like to be beside the seaside — John A. Glover-Kind

Dear friends and readers,

For a long time now I’ve wanted to go to Cornwall. I date it from my first reading of Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark. Perhaps it was the chapter on the pilchards coming late to the coast

They set off for Nampara Cove shortly after nine. It was a _ warm still evening with the three-quarter moon already high. In Nampara Cove they dragged their small boat from the cave where it was kept, across the pale firm sand the sea’s edge. Demelza got in and Ross pushed the boat through the fringe of whispering surf and jumped in as it floated.
    The sea was very calm tonight and the light craft was quite steady as he pulled towards the open sea … They skirted the high bleak cliffs between Nampara Cove and Sawle Bay, and the jutting rocks stood in sharp silhouette against the moonlit sky. The water sucked and slithered about the base of the cliffs. They passed two inlets which were inaccessible except by boat at any tide, being surrounded by steep cliffs . . . She had only once been out in a boat before.

I had never felt immersed in the natural world of Cornwall in Daphne DuMaurier’s novels the way I had in Graham’s Poldarks, where Graham seems never to have Cornwall as a place far from his consciousness. For Graham Cornwall is not just some rural fantasy backdrop, a historical setting which becomes archetypal, but a concrete beloved place whose rhythms, human patterns, particular way of life figure forth an ethical meaning dear to his heart about human and British past and present.

So they all went to look, at least as far as the stile leading down to the beach; further it was unsafe to go. Where the beach would have been at any time except the highest of tides, was a battlefield of giant waves. The sea was washing away the lower sandhills and the roots of marram grass. As they stood there a wave came rushing up over the rough stony ground and licked at the foot of the stile, leaving a trail of froth to overflow and smear their boots. Surf in the ordinary sense progresses from deep water to shallow, losing height as it comes. Today waves were hitting the rocks below Wheal Leisure with such weight that they generated a new surf running at right angles to the flow of the sea, with geysers of water spouting high from the collisions. A new and irrational surf broke against the gentler rocks below the Long Field. Mountains of spume collected wherever the sea drew breath, and then blew like bursting shells across the land. The sea was so high there was no horizon and the clouds so low that they sagged into the sea (The Angry Tide).

Here is one of many photographs by Simon McBride, from the first edition (1983) of Graham’s Poldark’s Cornwall, of the north coast above Boscastle (which I and my friends visited), called Crackington Haven:

NOrthCoastaboveBoscastleCrackingtonhaven (Large)

Nevertheless, DuMaurier’s and other evocations of this edge of a sophisticated world, its (nowadays) holiday periphery for those lucky enough to have money and the wherewithal (time, a car) to get there, had had their effect. In her non-fiction today you peer through railway viaducts, in the best fiction, a deeply melancholy distraught past to the quiet of an aloofness, unpeopled ridges of the world at the edge of dangerous seas, neolithic and slate stones, bent trees, canopies of wild flowers, Celtic crosses and churches, walls built as a needed defenses:

enchantedcornwallboatundrtree

At age 10 or 11, I fell in love with the Arthurian matter (stories of Arthur, Guinevere, followed by Tristram and Isolde) because of the pictures; in the summer of 2004 Jim and I had dragged our daughters up and down hills (following Jacquenetta Hawkes and other Arthurian naturalists and geologers) seeking Cadbury, what’s left of the dungeons of medieval and early modern kings (like Richard III):

enchantedr3

We’d locate plaques, or some small landmark confirming this is an as yet unearthed archaeological sites, or remains of monasteries on top of hills (now I know that is what Tintagel is). Jim liked the poetry of Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells (Betjeman was born in Cornwall) and would read to me poems like “Trebetherick” aloud to me

We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge;
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.

Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea,
Sun on our bathing dresses heavy with the wet,
Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea,
Fleas around the tamarisk, an early cigarette.

From where the coastguard houses stood
One used to see below the hill,
The lichened branches of a wood
In summer silver cool and still …

Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat.

But when a storm was at its height,
And feathery slate was black in rain,
And tamarisks were hung with light
And golden sand was brown again,
Spring tide and blizzard would unite
And sea come flooding up the lane.

Waves full of treasure then were roaring up the beach,
Ropes round our mackintoshes, waders warm and dry,
We waited for the wreckage to come swirling into reach,
Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and I.

Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,
And we were in a water world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray,
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blesséd be St Enodoc, blesséd be the wave,
Blesséd be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee …

One of Betjeman’s poems I had printed on Jim’s funeral cards.

I had read Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: the Stephens family holidayed each year in St Ives, and her famous novel is set on a coastline there (though I did not find an evocation of Cornwall by her that I remembered until I began to read her short memoirs, e.g. “A Sketch of the Past” and life-writing pieces):

lighthouse
Hamlyn Bay, near St Merryn, Lancarrow in a cottage not far from Padstow where I stayed with friends last week (8/24-8/31).

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

A few tellable moments:

Another English friend (so many of my friends are English, live in England, with whom I correspond here on the Net) had told me to walk past Padstow into a long lane that takes one into an estuary which by boat can lead to St Enoch and then Bejteman’s burial place. My friends were agreeable but because of time constraints (it takes time to drive to each place), we contented ourselves with walking in the town, along the harbor. I climbed on a wall across the way from the town called Rock, and watched people take hour-long “cruises” around the bay.

I and my friend, Clare, went into the Lobster Hatchery and a good art museum (beautiful local scenes of Padstow), which I’ll talk about in separate blogs devoted to the various remarkable places. (This blog is a general account situating what’s to come.)

Similarly we made it to Fowey, a town perched on the side of a steep cliff; you almost have to hold onto the shops as you walk down to the waters where many private boats are harbored.

Here’s the estuary from Fowey which we managed to drive too, and where one can take to the house DuMaurier rented after Menabilly, Kilmarth: again we didn’t do it, not enough time, and wow were those streets steep.

Estuary (Large)
(from DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall)

From there you can reach Menabilly (Du Maurier’s Manderley today), though as it’s still in private hands, you cannot visit; you can also take a ferry to Kilmarth, the house she rented after she was forced out of Menabilly (Manderley’s legal name) when her lease was up (and after she had invested considerable money fixing what had been utterly derelict). We didn’t have the time, so again I perched on a wall and looked outwards to see the people taking hour-long “cruises” in the bay and imagined Du Maurier’s house.

In Fowey we did find two good bookstores (they still exist in England, though far fewer than once where there, and small most of them), where I purchased The Daphne DuMaurier Companion, a very good collection by Sarah Waters, Claude Berry’s old substantial county book, Portrait of Cornwall, and an absolute treasure I will be using for my blogs on this coming season’s Poldarks: Debbie Horsfield’s Poldark: The Complete Scripts, Series 1: what a revelation I have had, learned how much better a set of films the scripts call for, it’s nuanced, the characters developed far more slowly and fully than the mini-series director and producer permitted and some of the actors were able to realize.

I took snaps of people bathing and boating wherever they could, as Clare, I and her partner, Mark ferried along from Truro to Falmouth and back again. At Falmouth we saw the remains of a once vital government port (badly bombed by the Germans as was Southampton), and a maritime museum which has become a child’s playground in its effort to make the shipping and industrial history appeal broadly:

Ontheboat
On the two-hour (each way) ferry

Fromtheboat
We saw many boats, some working fisherman, some leisurely yachts

We saw people boating, one man pulling his three children behind him on a speech motor boat, they holding onto a large raft for dear life. Fishermen in alcoves. It was in these waters that I felt myself here alone now, a deep sense of how here my life’s great adventure began when I married Jim and now I was back, standing there alone. I used to stand on my spot in the world by Jim’s side, now I must stand alone. That is the meaning of the photo at the opening of this blog, of how I was holding myself firm.

I like to read archaeological post-modern musings like Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of the Place, this one too in Cornwall, in ex-mining country, and desperate political polemics like Rob Shields’s Place on the Margin; Alternative geographies of modernity, with its chapters on “the true north” in the UK, the “North-South” divide, Margate and other marginalized places from the viewpoint of marginalized people. Shields reprints semi-facetious cartoons

marginsbathing
This “papa sees us bathing” reminds me of Orwell’s postcards in his depictions of popular culture

and quiet illustrations: This one puts me in mind of how people in NYC will sit themselves down on stretches of grass by a highway or under a bridge and picnic too:

marginsbathingillustration

I took snaps of people swimming and lying on beaches by walls, on the edge of whatever body of water they were near (and water is everywhere seeping in close up in Cornwall), or picnicking by some old building now transformed into an inn or hotel or tourist attraction:

peopleenjoyingthemselves

I had not realized until this visit how Cornwall is a seashore of jagged edges, a land of slates that dug into china clay pits turns lunar, how it’s an edge, one of the sophisticated world’s peripheries not too far for its denizens to reach. LeCarre has lived here for years (his residence a well-kept secret). (On the way home because I had bought Economy Premium, not quite the abusive conditions of sheer Economy I was able to watch the astonishing Night Manager (HBO mini-series which mixes the best of recent Shakespearean actors, with BBC stalwarts), and noticed (as I have many times before) how magical in LeCarre are the words, Devon, Cornwall, as a places to refuge, hide yourself in.

EdgeofWorld

It took five hours to get there. When I told a friend on the Net (she lives 10 minutes away from me by car) the trip to and from, door (mine) to door (this cottage) took well over 30 hours, she remarked “You could have gone to Australia for crying out loud..” Much of this is the train wending its way through this country around its coast, and one knew this was Cornwall when right below there were these steep steep rock cliffs, from which were growing ancient dark evergreens, with the sea just over an expanse of land and further rocks. One can see how a flood, a strong snow storm, ice, could cut this place off, at any rate for a day or so.

This keeps out day-trippers, but there seems to be real snobbery about the proliferation of cheaper eateries, stores selling junk memorabilia, or ice-cream, (I admit) awful (from the outside) looking bungalows. They do spoil the atmosphere if you are seeking silence and solitude. Not just around the most famous landmarks (Tintagel), and the over-praised St Ives — you must hunt out the exquisite art shops, and artists’ studios, the museums (of which there are many), between the usual eateries, cheap shoe shops (yes even here).

But these are as natural as drain pipes installed all about another famous site, St Michael’s Mount: this photo was taken before the causeway filled with water (as it does daily)

StMichelsMountacrosscauseway

Here’s one my friend took of me half-way up that stupendous climb inbetween bouts of people climbing between her and me:

BetweenDrainedatMountmichel

So humanly speaking what I liked best about the famous Jamaica Inn were the cheese-filled Cornish pasties they served. I like the traditional spicey-oniony-meat pasty, but prefer the cheese

JamaicaInn

The inn itself is a fine restaurant, next to which a museum is not about smuggling so much (though it tries, and is serious about the dangerous conditions of smuggling, why done, and has a good film) as a site to show us aspects of Du Maurier’s life and family and books. I can grow weak with hunger if I go too many hours with no food, and the pasty afterward cheered my body and heart.

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Shall I say what it’s like to be in these towns whose primary business is now tourism in summer, and what they connect to at the center through educational institutions: it’s as if some cataclysm has occurred in a world of violence and hard work for most. All the reasons for the vast fortresses and shipping, mining, agricultural work except sheep, and cows (which I saw in abundance) have gone. What’s left is all of us, the 99% wandering about these sites, passing time as (if we are lucky) we have income from where we lived in the centers of finance and social services. The remnants of the past have become the settings for costume dramas set in the past. Or we imagine the back-breaking, youth-destroying work of a mine, or the horrifying punishments meted out in prisons — alas, in the US prisons today privatized are in some ways actually worse than Bodmin or Launceston.

The past is a leisure activity; landscape places to play and muse in: We walked along many a beach, on cliffs, my friends standing together on the same one I am photographed above from:

Clareandmarkoncliff

Mark is an excellent cook. All good men should be.

There are extraordinary and ordinary sites to visit in Cornwall: Greevor Mine, first opened in the 16th century and kept going until 1987; an afternoon exploring Landhyrock House (basically now an later 19th century mansion) and another afternoon at Trerice (a more modest early 18th century variety of manor house): both of these were filmed and inspirations for the 1970s Poldark mini-series.

LanydrockFrancisBassethouse
Lanhydrock House was Francis Basset’s house where the characters dine at a political gathering and Demelza is momentarily bewitched by the poetry and romance of a young romantic nephew Hugh.

We went to the manor house of Trerice which was the model for Trenwith in the first season

Verityaskingforhelp
Norma Streader as Verity asks Robin Ellis as Ross for help in meeting Captain Blamey: in the background you see Trenwith (Poldark mini-series)

Bodmin jail, a grim place where you are allowed to gather the horrific injustices and devastatingly hard conditions prisoners lived and died in, and by contrast, the juvenating St Juliot’s Church, where Thomas Hardy met his wife Emma, and which he renovated:

Here is a lovely photo of perpendicular Cornish gothic in churches, a window, used in the 1970s mini-series (the window of the church where Dwight Enys marries Caroline Penvenenen. from the 1983 Poldark’s Cornwall) modelled on such a church:

StWinowsPerpendicularCornishGothic

Here’s a photo of my friends sitting on bench just outside the St Juliot’s church, which is still offering services for parishioners and help-group support for the bereaved:

clareMark

From the height of deep mining in the later 18th and early 19th century the southwest coast has many ruined towers and engine houses. It is well ever to remember how dangerous mining was and is, what hard work. A few of the last men who worked in these mines are now guides at Greevor (which nowadays also hosts a Poldark day where employees dress up as Poldark characters and perform 18th century activities for visitors).

An extraordinary good exhibit of paintings, at Penlee House, in Penzance: Encompassed by the Inviolate Sea, from which I show here but one of many pictures:

EncompasssedbyCliff

some by a superb Pre-Raphaelite John Brett, famous ones by Stanford Forbes, though I was dismayed to discover out of many rooms, but three pictures by women, and only a print of Elizabeth Forbes Armstrong in the woman’s bathroom:

We did not neglect the Eden Project;a high ideal of environmentalism is often found in the good tourist sites:

EdenProject
A modern sculpture

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As during the five weeks in 1994 when Jim and I and our daughters lived in Rome in an apartment and used buses, trains and a boat to visit other nearby places as well as the sights of Rome, not to omit one memorable three days in Ischia, so in Cornwall in 2016 when different parts of one large place are built centuries apart, I feel I’m in a palimpsest of time, in its layers. In one room one can find objects from the 6th through the 20th century, each there not to represent some era, but to function today, as a chair, a sculpture, a bed, toys, gardening implements, and forms of guns. I saw from our car, Bronze age Cornwall:

BronzeAgeTombCornwall1700-1500

Elizabethan and 17th century Cornwall:

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Godolphin House (these pictures are from Winston Graham’s mistitled Spanish Armada: it should be called “The Spanish Armada as experienced in Cornwall”)

It was last year when I and Izzy returned from Leuven, Belgium, instead of returning to London, we took a detour to Exeter, and for two days then with my friend, Clare and her partner, we exhausted ourselves doing much in such a few spaces; it was Devon, though, and (I have a customer — stage voice) while we ferried across, and explored one castle-cum wealthy man’s estate. We decided to return next year if Clare could rent a cottage; she did.

This past week was a summer holiday, a summer vacation for me. All summer long here in Alexandria, Virginia, the heat has been intense; for a few weeks it was continually over 100 if you include the “index” (how it feels). Consequently I went out little, evening for Wolf Trap, once a week during the time I was teaching, out to a movie with a friend: it could have been winter. In Cornwall I sat on beaches and watched people swim, got my shoes all muddy, felt I was among people enjoying the summer.

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As one should not ignore what is going on around one in the here and now at any site (as a 13th century manor house is now a post office), so the traveling experience matters too. This is where ordinary people come up against the power of the corporation and the wealthy of our world. We are endlessly scrutinized, photographed, surveyed: the theater is now there for “security.”

So, as those who read this blog regularly know, I was fleeced by Expedia (ultimately it was the airlines who collude with these middlemen): paying my bills today I had the mortification of seeing how much I lost and on top of that what I had to pay for a non-stop ticket direct from the airline.

The price for me of such experiences is such ordeals and the anxiety I experience coming up to travel and stress I experience during (I’m not much on contingencies). Since I was flying British Airways I did note for the first time two planes (one going to the UK and one coming home for me to the US) which had an upstairs and downstairs utterly cut off from one another as far as passengers were concerned. Upstairs was first and business and other levels of super-expensive decent treatment. We downstairs were not permitted to see the disposition of space and service up there. We had some version of business class: it was seats that looked like time capsules facing one another, that came with tables, turned into beds but no room to walk about. Both ways I paid for Economy Plus or Premium, and was not treated abusively. Soon after we were seated, we were offered drinks, amenities in the form of hot towels, newspapers, free films, blankets, eye-covers, two lavatories. Further back the seats were smaller, very uncomfortable they looked for sleeping on night flights or a 7-8 hour day trip.

I have seen this before. What I have not seen is planes where I’d say over half the people were paying the huge prices. When it was time to line up, it took a long-time for “priority” people to be seated. They were more than half the plane. Hitherto recently I have flown airlines like Southwest (where once an obnoxious lead stewardess actually forbid people to use the bathroom for quite a time, and did it as if it were a joke) or Icelandic and thus perhaps been among a preponderance of people flying as cheaply as they could.

No more or never again and some such words for me. Either I buy a ticket direct, or pay a travel agent, or stay home. Inside the US when it’s feasible, drive, or as a second choice, train or comfortable bus, if there is such a thing in this land of inbuilt humiliations of crowding and long waits while one watches other people sail through– even on the highway due to the way E-Z pass is administered and the way far more lanes are offered to people with E-Z passes than people driving “for free”.

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Back to what we like to dwell on, one motive for going, the moments by the past where it can speak to us, and offer some meaning to existence by its attachment to some pattern. For me these come from books and humanized landscapes

flowersongrave
Fresh flowers on a grave in St Juliot’s churchyard which I’m glad to report has community services, which include grief-support. The church built first in the 15th century, its gravestones go back to the 6th century (Celtic crosses)

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there. That is, I suppose, that my memory supplies what I had forgotten, so that it seems as if it were happening independently, though I am really making it happen. In certain favourable moods, memories — what one has forgotten — come to the top. Now if this is so, is it not possible — I often wonder — that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them? … There … are the garden and the nursery. Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound. I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen to the past. I shall turn up August 1890. I feel that strong emoition must leave its trace; and it is only a question of discovering how we can get ourselves again attached to it, so that we shall be able to live our lives through from the start (Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being)

Sylvia

What helps

TheMillatTidmarshDCarrington
Carrington, The Mill at Tidmarsh — I watched the very great film, Carrington last night (written and directed by Christopher Hampton, featuring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce, with a moving performance by Samuel West)

In the morning when I wake up and go to the computer, put it on, it reaches the Internet and I have letters from friends.

When I read my gmail and find evidence that other people are carrying on cheerfully, doing different things in their lives and finding it worth while.

When in the blogs I read I see a like spirit has read a good book and is talking about it with real interest, has deeply felt thoughts about it, cares about the book or author, and clearly has spent at minimum an hour writing this and many hours, more, in preparation (in effect).

When on face-book I see friends telling some truths about their lives (not just presenting themselves as having achieved this, or see me in this group or that, happy), involved in various political and work-related causes, sending a note to me or someone else, offering up good-natured jokes, or interesting videos, or some political view that is humane. I feel I watch other people’s lives who I know and how they get through. Over the years I’ve watched lived change and evolve, some suffering a good deal (other widows, people deserted, cut off from a job, getting sick, losing connectivity) and others going on trips

When I go to my listservs (I read three at this point and have a fourth I wish I had time for) and find email about the topics under discussion, and people communicating. Just now on Trollope19thCStudies we are having such a good time with Tolstoy’s War and Peace and many threads connected. We are trying to stay together, 3 of us reading about Virginia Woolf (Hermione Lee) on Wwtta. Earlier this summer we read and discussed a good book written by one of us, published.

My daughter who lives with me. My cats. Izzy had on a video by Simon about cats as I woke this morning. One cat was laying next to me, and the other came over to nudge me and show affecion as I woke.

Clarycatonmylap
Clarycat on my lap while I read Oliphant’s powerfully truthful Hester

If I have someplace pleasant to go to, either the JCC gym classes, or during the term times go to teach, or go to a movie by myself or with a friend, a play (Shakespeare), an HD opera. The good lecture at the Smithsonian. The wonderful concert. These things cannot happen every day but when they do, they help.

Later in the day the superb book that keeps me sustaining company and validates my experience or extends it; in the evening, the great movie where I am led to feel I am not alone and I’m watching an intelligent group of people acting out important issues in life, or wonderful versions of this in love and adventure tales of the type the BBC does, and PBS used to play a lot of. Images Beautiful paintings, illustrations, drawings

The very occasional visit to a friend. I’ve had one friend visit me who lives in another state: four days. Once I’m at the friend’s and spending time with them in a beautiful or interesting place. This is necessarily rare.

My house. Sine qua non.

Routine, to keep me stable, a sane kind of motion over the day through time. Listening to good books read aloud beautifully, with full tones of all the characters so I am not out there forging ahead on the road alone. I feel I’m with someone. Comfort. My mind’s eye sees the characters in a kind of inward stage of my mind.

Solvency so I feel safe. Sine qua non.

Some food and wine so I don’t feel weak.

I think watching other people go through their days enduring it, carrying on, seeming cheerful, saying hello, those who know my name and smile seems to me a reminder life’s okay, doable without Jim, a kind of relief comes over me. I don’t want to die. As Hamlet says, once you are led somehow to decide to be, so much kicks in. So when I am reminded life is a form of enjoyment for these people, of all kinds,it helps.

These are the things that help, that enable me to live on, from one day to the next. That give me strength to do the things that are so hard for me to do. To cope with the outward world when it demands practical things I must satisfy — bills, making things work.

And above all, writing itself. Just what I’m doing now. For its own sake. And then the reaching those parts of people who can respond to where they live within, the self that matters, bringing it out. When they write back. This is life itself as I do it with others.

Which is what I began with on this blog …

Instead of an alphabet,

Miss Drake

JMWTurnerJunctionofGretnaandTeesatRokeby1816to18
J. W. Turner, Junction of Gretna and Tess at Rokeby (1816-18)

Iwillreadbooks
Is this not a fine Dr Seuss T-shirt? (thanks to Glenn Shipway)

Dear friends,

Time for a little prosaic cheer. So, as we all know, people like lists. Why we can’t say, but they do. A meme has been going round, and for once I joined in:

My first 7 jobs:

(Does Unpaid library assistant in Richmond Hill high school count?)
Then paid, often not much:
1. Legal Secretary, FAA, JFK Airport (got there by bus, long ride, followed Contracting officer about taking down every word that man said in Pitman sten notebooks, then typing his great words up — I did this for 2 years, I was very young);
2. Personal Secretary/Administrative Assistant, John Waddington, Ltd, Leeds (worked for very nice chief engineer, and a sales manager; the company made toys, cards, packaged chocolate);
3. Executive Secretary, Warehousing Company. NYC (good salary! fancy office, bad people, cheating others; so quit);
4. Research Assistant to Prof Coleman Parson, Graduate School, CUNY (I loved it);
5 and 6. Adjunct lecturer twice, second time called Graduate Fellow (Brooklyn, then Queens College, CUNY);
7 Again and forever an adjunct lecturer and reader for a time of post-secondary schools applications for grants for FIPSE: 3 jobs at the same time: at Northern Regional Center for University of Va; at The American University (“professorial” – -the place had this pomposity but they were okay people), DC

This covers years from age 15 to 39, from NYC to Leeds, England, back to NYC and then Alexandria, Va, where I still reside).

JudithKlibanCats
Does anyone remember typing pools?

What were your first seven jobs, gentle reader?

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An Alphabet: Eden Rock does it, but not driving down to the core. This is a “One cannot have too many holds on happiness”[Henry Tilney, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey] alphabet:

A is for the air when it is balmy yet dry and cool, sunny

B is for books, good ones and I own so many many.

C is for my cats, Clarycat and IanPussycat.

D is for my daughters, Laura Caroline and Isobel Alice

E is for Ellen Robillard O’Hara: the first heroine I wrote about; my earliest writing to show to others. The mother in Mitchell’s GWTW.

An exchange on face-book: “I do feel this odd frisson of identification when I read a novel where I see an important character named Ellen. Ellen is not a common name for heroines; in middle class fiction, she’s the Irish servant. But in GWTW there is Ellen Robillard O’Hara, Scarlett’s mother and I once wrote a fiction about her (I was age 14) where I characterized her with sympathy. Radcliffe’s Italian’s heroine is named Ellen. I felt peculiar because the character is so foreign from my ways of thinking — now would I have done that had she had another name? My middle name is Nancy so I used to like that the character Nancy Drew was a Nancy.

Jane Smiley: The main character of my new kids’ horse series is named Ellen. She is very determined and very outspoken.

Me: I’d better not read that one then (as Jane knows I’ve read several of hers, liked them immensely and blogged on a couple). I characrerized Ellen Robillard O’Hara as a woman cold on the outside, controlling herself, but near the edge of cracking, still in love with the man she was parted from. I rewrote the death scene. Came second in a contest but almost does not win the race. Maybe I was unconsciously attempting a woman’s historical romance in little? I worked quite on it; I no longer have it.

Glenn (who runs the Trollope face-book page where this occurred): What would it cost to have a “Glenn” in your next book; not as the hero, just as a harmless drudge?

Me: I’d worry about naming a child after a favorite character lest I burden them. So I called my cat Clarissa (from Richardson’s novel) which has become Clarycat.

Jane Smiley: I would prefer Shipway. Very memorable name, I think for a naughty boy in Ellen’s class.

F is for friends, local and Internet

G is for Winston Graham (author of Poldark novels) and the gothic (a favorite subgenre with me)

H is for my house, home, nest of comforts, where I dwell with Isobel

I is for the Internet

J is for Jim, all he has left me with, all my memories

K is for kindness which we need far more of.

L is for libraries

M is for good book film adaptation, BBC, good PBS, mini-series and good movies and museums filled with art

N is for NPR radio

O is for Opera, HD and the OLLIs (so teaching adults my favorite books and topics)

P is for plays, serious dramatic and funny plays in the theater, filmed or now on DVDs. Poetry

Q “Fair Quiet, have I found thee here … ” (a poem by Andrew Marvell)

R is for rain, when it’s soft, gentle, easy on a cool windy day

S is for Shakespeare

T is for Trollope

U is for YouTube technologies, and all video streaming which enables me to watch TV when I choose, to watch all sorts of movies, documentaries, as in my BBC iplayer and PBS online and Future Learn courses from Open University

V is for the Voting Rights Act as originally passed by Congress. We must all vote: it’s all the powerless have; you must vote to defeat the dangerous demogague bankrupt billionaire, Trump. Hillary Clinton will choose honorable decent people for judges and we can overturn Citizens United, Hobby Lobby and get rid of the gutting of the Voting Rights act.

W is for so many women writers whose books I love

X ah well. I says it’s for brilliant and good books read aloud beautifully in unabridged texts of CDs, MP3s

Y for Yahoo listservs; I will grieve deeply if they are shut down; debased as they have become, they are still a small lifeline for reading and talking about wonderful books with friends

Z is for New Zealand as a beautiful place, and New Zealand and Australian films like (just this past week, see below) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (with one of my favorite actors, Sam Neil), The Piano (ditto), The Dish (ditto, how Izzy and I loved it years ago and came home and told Jim about it) and Last Orders (which I watched the night of Jim’s funeral).

australian-alphabet-posters-imageLynetteWeir

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I’ve paid two honest men to improve my house in the last few days. My gardening man removed two large trees, huge amounts of ivy, unkempt bushes from my back yard. So now all is neat. In the fall he’s sow grass on where there is just dirt for now. He doesn’t overcharge. He fixed my hose too, made an extension and set it up so it’s easy for me to use.

A man who does kitchens, inside work of all kinds will soon be renovating my kitchen — modestly. I was told about him by my neighbor-friend, Sybille. This week, four of the house doors were painted so they are no longer eyesores; two removed (remarkable amount of doors in houses built in 1947); a new front and back door for the first time since 1947. Smoke detectors. Come September he’ll paint the kitchen, put down new tiles, new cabinets (a soft bright cream), re-arranged to be more appropriate for Izzy and I, some kind of lighting system, new countertop. He is not super-expensive and a man I can get along with, so I’m thinking I will at long last enclose the porch. And then have the whole house painted a soft cream color. And with that the renovation, fixing, I started when I first retired (remember when I cleaned out and ordered the attic upstairs), will be done. It will be easier on my eyes and self-esteem.

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From a medieval Books of Hours

The cats do not enjoy this though. On Tuesday I first had to keep them in the back room with one of those many doors shut. They are indoor cats, and I surmise if they (especially Ian) saw the men working out of terror of them they’d run out of the house, become confused and I’d never see them again. But they were very upset. Ian really wailed for quite a time. They were separated, one in each room for a time. Clarycat didn’t like that. When my younger daughter was sent to a pre-school at age 2 and 1/2 she was so terrified (we couldn’t explain what this was to her as she was not talking at the time) that after the hours gone (bus ride there and back, 5 hours there, 1 hour at a sitter), she literally pissed all over poor Jim when he picked her up. She had held herself in all that while and was so intensely relieved. Well I did put the cat litter in the room with them, but it was the next day I came to it and found it utterly soaked. They too must’ve held themselves in and only after much time had passed in the night, relaxed. Today after the contractor and his men had gone and I opened the door again, Clarycat was desperately affectionate.

They are my holds on happiness. During the interval before the contractor arrived and I put them each day in the room, I missed them. I am so used to their presence.

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And a cheering mythic fable of a movie.

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I hurried out to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople written and directed by Taiki Waititi after I read a couple of reviews (Manohla Dargis from the New Yorker from Rogerebert.com; Matt Goldberg); people whose columns I respect where they said, don’t miss it, it’s hilarious and makes for ethical thought too. “Oddball” they called it, that unexplained word. “Quirky.” What it is is original with genuine feeling. I managed it with a friend probably on the very last showing in my local theater.

It is one of the many that are advertised through trailers so off-putting that they misrepresent the movie. The trailer presented two conventionally unappetizing males, one of them a very chubby boy (Julian Dennison as Ricky), being made fun of, slapstick it seemed to me. I can’t think of what I would less like to see a movie making fun of someone’s body. It included the line where we learn that Hick or Uncle (played pitch perfect as he does all his roles, by Sam Neill) as someone who can’t read. har har. so until I read said reviews I wasn’t going. In fact it was in this art-movie theater for a number of weeks and it’s superb. It reminds me of The Dish, an Australian/New Zealand unusual sort of comedy too. Unexpected. We saw it years ago and brings tears to my eyes since I saw it with Izzy before she went to college and when we finished we came home to Jim to tell him of it. She remembers The Dish better than I.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fable something in the spirit of Thelma and Louise, and it’s not the first of this type this summer. But it is also in the tradition of Rabbit Proof Fence and the grave Philomena: in the first aborigines are torn from their families and put in an institution to be turned into obedient workers for the society. Two of the girls run away and make this extraordinary trek back to their home, all the while hunted down by the whites. The bush as perspective is central to the movie: there is a long history in Australian and NZ legends and books regarding the bush as a vastly superior terrain to live in and off of than (mean, hypocritical, inhumane] society.

Well, Ricki, an unprepossessing looking boy with no people to support him, no to care for him, to provide money or status, is dumped off by Paula (Rachel House), a caricature of a fierce cold institutional guardian type who catalogues Ricki’s sins ceaselessly to others, bad-mouthing him before anyone can know him — on Bella (Rima Te Waiti), who at first seems just a very poor woman living near the bush, looking to make money as a foster parent. We quickly learn that Bella is deeply good-hearted, kind, generous in the way she behaves, and the boy begins to thrive. Her partner or husband, Hick, seems solitary, looking askance at the proceedings, but going along with her. When she dies, he cries hysterically, our first sign of his affectionate nature. A letter arrives from Paula: she must take the boy back. Well, to cut to the story, after some difficulties with one another (Hick does not want to take Ricki, Ricki sets fire to the barn to suggest he killed himself, the two men flee together. Soom they are being hunted down. The pair begin to be part of a sensationalized story (Hick a molester) that sells newspapers and is good for TV chatter. The posse grow bigger and bigger from an original group of down-beat men seekin a ransom until at last there are helicopters, tanks, armed militiamen. It’s a self-reflexive film: the landscape of steep green hills and then in winter snow is gorgeous, and there are allusions to Lord of the Rings: Ricky says this is not all that occurs in New Zealand.

Hunt_for_the_Wilderpeoplewithmadman
Looking at Bushman

The film does not become too sentimental because it concentrates so on their improbable survival. As Bella did in the opening, so Hick kills with a knife an animal for them to eat. They are soon trapping animals, but Hick’s foot is broken (and improbably heals). Everyone seems to walk about with a rifle or some kind of weapon. One of the two dogs is attacked by a boar and has to be shot and hen buried. They both cherish Bella’s ashes in a box they carry with them, but at a beautiful waterfall Hick is induced to scatter them. There are extravagant bush people like Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) who help our heroes along the way — reminding me of characters in Dickens, like Barnaby Rudge and his raven, especially one bushman who wraps a bush around him and lives in a trailer. We are really frightened for them as an all out war ensues: these hunters are willing to kill. There is much over the top exaggeration and wild fantasy and also much reality: they meet improbably isolated up-to-date teenagers deep in the bush; but there is real heart: they come across a man who has had a heart attack and try to bring him help.

As they are gradually cornered, grab a car and go on a wild drive (chased by all in your exhilarating car chase) I feared it would end like Thelma and Louise, them going over a cliff. It does not: a gradual contented ending — after montage of court-room scenes, Hick going to prison (he has been there before, one reason he fled so stubbornly), Hick leaves his home for old people to join Ricky with the bush teenagers. Touching dialogues. If you want to have some experience of standing up to mad injustice, some creditable humanity, and a fable mirroring some aspects of our world today, it’s a fine summer movie: re-creative. The equivalent of last summer’s Mr Holmes.

It may be too late to see it in the theaters, but soon there will be Amazon Prime, Netflix, DVDs.

Miss Drake