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Faye Vanderveer — an idealized Alexandria City street

Dear friends,

One should not be astonished either at what people are willing to do to one another nor what they will accept as living conditions. Only a realization that conveniency and self-interest when it comes to economic circumstances conquer all objections can explain how Washington, D.C. has grown to this large metropolis when every summer we have weeks & weeks of weather that is hard to breath in. I’m told not that it’s just as hot in New York City, but that you can be miserable there too — indeed 89 degree with lower 70s humidity is not fun, but it’s still not as deadly as temperatures in high 90s with 81% humidity. That’s what it’s been for over a week now and we are promised temperatures in the 100s this weekend.

I dream of Maine, and look forward to my 10 days in Inverness, Scotland in August. I tell myself if I find I like the Road Scholar program truly, next summer not only will I go to the Lake District in August but if I don’t go on a Jane Austen tour in June (that’s when most of them are), I will find something for a widow with no friends to travel with for June to New England — one of the packages which include many plays. That’s what Jim used to concoct for him and me — with Izzy sometimes. Rent a Landmark house from the 19th century in Vermont, go to a lake for swimming when not on the road to a good play in the Berkshires (including one summer Lillian Hellman’s Summer Garden, other years Stoppard, Turgenev, Shakespeare, Shaw …)

Road, a feminist blog I follow included one of more perceptive essays on “ages of grief” I’ve read. It seemed to be my case: once surrounded by parents, with husband, two daughters, now alone with memories

These days when I read or hear about the death of anyone at any age and think about those who loved them, I have more than a glimmer as to how those left behind might be feeling. One of the many wonders of old age is what happens when your mind encounters sad, perhaps devastating, events. It sweeps over your knowledge of such things, whether personal or through friendships, like a strong breeze passing over a variety of prairie grasses: Big bluestem, salt grass, bottlebrush, porcupine, rice grass, foxtail, timothy, cupgrass, tufted lovegrass, wild rye. You ask, Which one is this? And then comes a moment when a known grief springs up green and fresh. Oh yes, this kind again.

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

Here are the two extraordinary experiences I hope you can reach:

I’m writing to recommend daring the heat — enduring it — and going to the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts or wherever the next place the exhibit of Yves St Laurent’s extraordinary art in dresses, costumes, jewelry, accessories, shoes, hats, headdresses, capes, cloaks, just about everything you can dress a woman in, which art includes the cloth he himself makes a first version of, the weave of each material, the designs and colors of the objects. I am naturally inclined to be sceptical and see “fashion” and “high couture” as commercial art (which it is) aimed at making huge amounts of money from the super-rich. That would take attracting the lowest common denominator in that class’s taste. But that’s not what this man did. Over the course of a long life-time he invented deeply appealing costumes for women. He begins as a homosexual boy making cut-outs (yes dressing paper dolls), which his parents don’t discourage him from.

Quickly he learns to sew, make patterns and his first fashion costumes. His parents were upper middle class people with good connections in Algeria, and before Yves was in his twenties he had a central position in Christian Dior’s firm. He lived a highly unconventional life in Paris, traveling, partying with all the important people in the arts, and so his artistry, talent, and by this time intuitive ability to make costumes that mirrored the spirit of each decade or helped create it brought him within a few years management of the firm when Dior died early unexpectedly. I’d say the exhibit has at least 8 rooms of mannequins which take you through the phases of his career, the different emphases of fashion.

Along the walls one sees his drawings and designs; the items are numbered so you can follow along with a free slender catalogue. There are on-going films of famous fashion shows here and there — like when Laurent broke with the constructed clothing of the 50s


Not that these are not fashioning the self

Or the costume-like fashions of more recent decades..

Within each staged presentation of a kind of fashion, the costumes are arranged to reinforce and contrast with one another. Two huge staged presentations of earring, necklaces, chokers, bracelet jewelry, from the beautifully tasteful to gorgeously bizarre. I was with a friend and we discussed and talked as we went through: we could see he didn’t lived a troubled life (he succumbed to drug addiction for periods).
It was the poetry of fashion. I kept coming across a dress, or full outfit, or cloak I could see myself not only wearing but quietly reveling in.

It was a 2 hour trip by car there — in the broiling heat — we got lost at one point. The museum does have a good cafe (and better restaurant but by the time we got to lunch, well after 3:30 it was closed). Then 2 hours back by car. This museum (like the Brooklyn Academy of Arts), specializes in the unusual so that it draws people to come from all over. A few years ago Jim drove us down to the museum to see a huge exhibit of Picasso’s art. The collection is not big but what they have is well-culled — and this time smaller exhibits (Tiffany art glass).

Then two nights ago I saw at the Folger the RSC Live production of Antony & Cleopatra, from Stratford-upon-Avon. It started slow and in the middle of the first act seemed to drag, but as it move on (it was three full hours, with one brief intermission) the actors playing Antony (Antony Byrne), Cleopatra (Josette Simon), their entourages, her women, his men, Enobarbus were viscerally deeply affecting, engaged. I had read the play as erotic, imagined aging wildly adoring and playful lovers, who cut down, rise to heights of ecstatic poetry. Also that it was a political parable about the effectiveness of cold ambition, hypocrisy, ruthlessness, heartlessness (Caesar). But I had not taken into account how it explores the lives of women (Octavia is not a small part), their relationships with one another. More important I didn’t know it dramatizes defeat at length. Yes it’s about characters who make bad self-sabotaging decisions. As if they wanted to blow away public life. I was so moved by Antony’s speeches berating himself, Cleopatra’s turn to suicide, and all the other characters’ failed attempts to rescue this pair or themselves. It explores the inner anguish of tragedy spread out before us. An black English actress played Cleopatra, and dressed exotically; the older great male actor (I’ve seen him many times before) was self-ripped up loss in dignity. Their costumes terrific; doubtless what would draw S Laurent to go.

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My class at the OLLI at George Mason this summer ended Tuesday around 1:30. All those who stayed the course, and that included nearly 25, said how much they enjoyed the two contrasting historical fictions, DuMaurier’s King’s General and Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover. They said they loved how I choose books slightly off beaten path. I had found on the Internet a YoutTube of a remarkable lecture on why Sontag wrote and lived the life of a radically activist public intellectual as well as writer, poet, film-maker. I summarized for them the content of this remarkable lecture on Sontag’s work by Savanna Illinger which I here share with you:

Brief high points: Sontag felt literature should advance our understanding of the real, and denounce things which conceal human misery under the cover of sentimentalism. What Mary Wollstonecraft said was the justification for literature (poetry) to extend the sympathetic imagination in Sontag’s words is we have a duty to reveal other people’s true reality, warts and all, and suffering. Very hard because we have a hard time taking the sufferng of another as real. We cannot understand what war or battle is unless we have lived in a war zone. Photographs often constitute a barrier because while they acknowledge what is seen, they offer no understanding of what they picture, no admission of how photos are artificially framed; they promote emotional detachment and thus inauthenticity. For the imaginative contemplating the art work to be a fully ethical experience, you should be moved to translate your empathy into action. Early on, she thought essays, discourse, verse were much better at conveying reality, reason, against sentimentalism; but around time of Volcano Lover and In America, she saw in stories an ability to lead readers to enter into, ponder the lives of others. In the 18th century the significant moment pictured occurred just before or after the trauma; nowadays the deeply traumatic, wildly violent without dignity is what we show to disturb our readers. There is a superb essay on Sontag by A. S. Byatt.

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One good enough experience, and one thrown-away opportunity

With Izzy this past Sunday night I went again to the Kennedy Center. This time to see Cabaret, in the Eisenhower theater in the 2nd balcony where we remembered sitting with Jim for Sondheim many a time, and our last New Year’s Eve together — a group of actors/singers imitated the rock stars of the 1950s, with “Elvis” the chief personality. The terrace was again beautiful, but now too warm to walk much. We’d never seen this famous musical: it is very much mainstream Broadway (or at least this production was), all gussied up and partly disguised by the imitation of German Weimar culture of the 1920s. It was a very humdrum production and I could see through to where its numbers resembled all sorts of others in other mainstream sweet and sentimental musicals. For example, “Money makes the world go round” is the equivalent of “Money doesn’t grow on trees in Oliver Twist. Now I know the context for the different songs: so “What good is sitting alone in your room” is sardonically ironic in context. I knew it was based on stories by Christopher Isherwood with an invented Bohemian heroine, Sally Bowles, who becomes involved with one of your white, blond virtuous American males (as appeared in this production). I had not realized there is a poignant story of an aging German landlady who is frightened out of marrying a deeply tenderly kind aging Jewish tenant. I now know why the musical appeals.’

Tonight I betook myself to the Smithsonian for what looked like a good lecture on George Orwell in the 21st century but most unusually the speaker was dull: Andrew Rubin was very cautious and all qualification, so I wondered who he was worried he was offending. He read his paper without attempting to reach the audience; he was disdainful of said audience too — not that their questions did not show utter misapprehensions, likening ISIS for example to the Republicans in Spain who were for a decent humane secular life — showed real obtuseness. As Rubin said, ISIS is pathological destruction. Read The New Yorker on the destruction of the Mosul library, or irrelevant an about their own identity, such as was Orwell anti-semitic?).


What’s left of the millions of wonderful books, ms’s, art, several heritages found together — now a site filled with landmines

I thought of a question I didn’t get to ask: on surveillance. Winston Smith is famously being watched, monitored, is in danger of being destroyed. Ruben didn’t broach this topic. I wondered what specifically in Orwell’s era was he worried about, and was he ever threatened. He broadcast for the BBC, and perhaps had had his fill of timid and political censorship. Despite this disappointment, I saw in the catalogue the institution has some good lectures on literary (one on a Sylvia Plath exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London) and film people coming up (Mingle with Marlene Dietrich), and I’ll try to go in the coming summer evenings.


Susan Herbert

And that’s the news from this Lake Woebegone, where my cats are my good companions and my younger daughter my beloved. Still listening to Gaskell’s Ruth read aloud: what a painful book. Next up: Woolf’s Night and Day.

Miss Drake


The Potomac, photographed by me from the Kennedy Center terrace the night Izzy and I went to the Art Garfunkel concert


Land’s End, a lake in Vermont where in 2006 we came with Izzy and she would swim

Ghosts linger in one place because it contains somebody they love and can no longer have — Anthony Lane, on the just released movie, A Ghost Story

The question of all questions … the question which underlies all others and is more deeply interesting than any other – is the ascertainment of the place which man [and woman] occupy in nature — Thomas Huxley

Friends and readers,

It’s been about 2 weeks since I last wrote a diary entry. My word is how I feel now in this fourth summer without Jim. No one can have done more to root herself, to find and be with friends and acquaintances, to create some sort of meaning and usefulness for myself but I cannot find a replacement within myself or anything I do to make myself feel what before I didn’t have to think about, so much was he central to the very air that supports my body. I don’t know why I do what I do, none of it seems to connect me.

I can tell of a few more experiences snatched in air-conditioned places or brief strolls late in the evening. Izzy and I again went to a concert we both enjoyed, probably I more intensely than she. Last year with Vivian I heard Paul Simon make strikingly effective new and old music at Wolf Trap, so now his old partner (old is true too), Art Garfunkel sang movingly, old songs and rendered new versions of great favorites (from Sondheim, James Taylor, Gershwin), read some of his poetry (he’s publishing an autobiography it seems) for over two hours. He was not at Wolf Trap, but the Kennedy Center and in the concert hall, but the price was low for the Kennedy Center, and I couldn’t resist. I realized by the end he aspires to hymns. As it turned out, we seemed to be surrounded by the usual Wolf Trap crowd who had somehow decamped from Virginia and come to DC. Casually dressed, slightly bohemian, they just didn’t have their picnics and blankets with them.

I’ve gone to lunch with a new friend from the OLLI at Mason (where my class on 18th century historical fiction, old and new-fashioned, DuMaurier’s King’s General and Sontag’s Volcano Lover are going over very well — we are having a good time), seen with her a powerful wonderful film, Maudie, causing me to return to my women artists blogs (an acquire a touching fat biography telling all you could know about Maud Lewis, with her Heart on the Door), and this Friday Panorea and I are going for a one day trip to Richmond to explore the Richmond Art Gallery and have lunch together. I haven’t told her but if we get back in time, I may then betake myself alone to Wolf Trap to hear Tosca whose music Sontag makes brilliant use of in her novel. Last minute, what the hell.


A picture in the Richmond Art Gallery

I’m still planning to visit a friend in New York City, the last day of July, and first four of August, and may meet with a new friend in Gaskell in Pennsylvania Amish country — not yet concrete. I had long good sessions with last week, my therapist, and today (even better) my financial adviser who I spent two hours with today, being reassured and having some good talk. It was a relatively quiet empty day for him, and this is what he is partly paid for. The best — beloved friends on the Net, the correspondences with them —

I’ve not told you the worst of this summer: I’ve lost my last three teeth and have been suffering for three weeks with an ill-fitting denture on the bottom gum I can hardly keep in place to eat. The adhesive tastes awful, sour and hot at once. I wanted to spare myself writing out our “solution” of four implants and a new semi-permanent denture to be installed surgically July 26th, in time for some healing before my Scottish tour. And my visits to two other dentists (one super-expensive in DC) for second and third opinions. I have discovered the deliciousness of lasagna with cheese interwoven: cheese filling, goes down easy. What an old woman with her two loving cats clinging to her, playing by her side I am. My African-American woman dentist (bless her heart) is so excited at this new technology we are using, not just the implants but guided ways of putting them in, and the new easy kinds of wax to make impressions. Sigh. Surely something has gone askew here with medicine — though some would say it’s only old age, an old woman toothless with aging skin and gums and two cats.


To this am I reduced Lasagna with ricotta cheese …

For now what is being done to the US democracy, attempted here on the Internet (which may bring an end to these blogs) is unspeakable (deeply shaming, destructive of us all) if I am to maintain a personal tone of calm.

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Nothing much more to say unless you want to hear of my reading and preparing to write: three books I’m reading towards my Road Scholar tour in August to Inverness, Scotland, the Aigas Field Center:

I’m cheered because all three I picked are good. The first, a history of Scotland, very fat, by Magnus Magnusson: Scotland, the Story of a Nation, on my Irish friend, Rory’s advice, a long-time BBC personality (doing documentaries); he’s a gift for capturing in a familiar anecdote essential feels or truths about phases of history. It’s fast reading — not that I will be able to finish it, but it reminds me of the Cornwall book I read by begnning with geology, pre-history.
    The second is by the “leader” of the tour: John Lister-Kaye, Song of the Rolling Earth. At first I was put off by the flowery language and something too upbeat, but he’s won me over — he’s an interesting thoughtful enlightened serious environmentalist, lover of animals and plants and the earth too, naturalist and this book tells how slowly he came to create and now maintains the Aigas field center. It’s politically aware. This morning I was especially delighted to read his invocation of the earliest history of his Aigas field center — in neolithic and later ages but not into history quite. It’s the third chapter called “the Loftier Ash;’ the next is “the Iron Age Fort,” which it was before becoming a ruin in the 18th century and then a Victorian country house not very well disguised as a castle/fortress: he describes the landscape and especially the creatures and plants then (way back, theoretical projection) and now It ends on a description of two fearsome (poisonous) snakes copulating, which is so beautiful and poetic and yet grounded in scientific observation that I recalled for the first time in years a book I regularly assigned to my Adv Comp in the Natural Science and Tech classes: Loren Eiseley’s The Star-Thrower. I thought no one was writing this way any more: Eiseley combined a deep humanism of which his environmentalism was one arm (and animals rights) with science to produce inspirational passages that — probing meditations on the natural world we are not seeing any more because we won’t or there are only remnants where we live. It’s a measure of how far we’ve come away from deep adherence to true science for sheer commercialism and technology divorced from the natural world that I would have been laughed at and the book cancelled if I had.

    The third a genuine exposure of how the Highlands were emptied of people, the terrible treatment of the Scots by their own Scots leaders as well as the British and various corporations. John Prebble’s The Highland Clearances it’s called. I’ve been trying to find the old 1967 The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil on Youtube — a 2 hour rousing interactive performance play which I watched not all that long ago, but alas cannot find it there any more.


An excerpt from Cheviot, Stag, and Black black oil

I believe I’ve spoken of our summer books on the three listservs I join in on. I am enjoying the three film adaptations of Far from the Madding Crowd more than Hardy’s book; I carry on with Virginia Woolf (I’m now thinking next spring at the OLLI at AU maybe I’ll “do” “The Later Woolf: Orlando, The Years, Between the Acts“); we are having themes on Janeites to carry us through the summer and I stay in touch so that I was able to upload on my blog Chris Brindle’s beautiful song for Jane on the 200th anniversary of her death. I have been trying to write the paper on Smith’s Ethelinde and The Emigrants that the conference people wanted from me, but I’ve given it up for now: I find I’m tedious, it just does not come natural to write in this narrow slant on two texts. I’ll try to go back to it, but for now I’ve been reading Winston Graham’s non-Poldark books and soon will try to make sense of them in a blog (thus far The Forgotten Story, The Little Walls, Marnie, The Walking Stick, Greek Fire) and actually forced myself through two Hitchcock (sickening misogynist, a maker of voyeuristic thrills).

But I’ve not yet said, did not tell you I’ve been reading (and now finished) Nick Holland’s new (and it is, an original outlook on her) portrait of Anne Bronte in his In Search of Anne Bronte (I’ve promised a review for the Victorian Web this summer). He has an individual thesis — or so I think — that Anne was hurt badly by Charlotte in a number of ways. Also about her personality — and her religious beliefs (as far more benign and liberal than her sisters). I don’t know enough about what is usually said about her life so I’m going to do a little sleuthing into the other biographies and find a review of a recent volume of essays on Anne Bronte. Then I’ll write it. I’ve known most peace and rejuvenation from this book (and before it Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte). It’s maybe when I’m immersed in one of the Scots books or this Bronte reading that I seem to regain some center to my existence and feel my old identity, raison d’etre for remaining alive come back to me.

Two poems by Anne Bronte: she did love someone, William Weightman his name, who predeceased her while yet young too:

Lines written at Thorp Green

O! I am very weary
Though tears no longer flow;
My eyes are tired of weeping,
My heart is sick of woe.
My life is very lonely,
My days pass heavily;
I’m weary of repining,
Wilt thou not come to me?
Oh didst thou know my longings
For thee from day to day,
My hopes so often blighted,
Thou wouldst not thus delay.

To —

I will not mourn thee, lovely one,
Though thou art torn away.
‘Tis said that if the morning sun
Arise with dazzling ray
And shed a bright and burning beam
Athwart the glittering main,
‘Ere noon shall fall that laughing gleam
Engulfed in clouds and rain …
And yet I cannot check my sighs,
Thou wert so young and fair,
More bright than summer morning skies,
But stern death would not spare;
He would not pass our darling by
Nor grant one hour’s delay,
But rudely closed his shining eye
And frowned his smile away.
That angel smile that late so much
Could my fond heart rejoice;
And he has silenced by his touch
The music of thy voice.
I’ll weep no more thine early doom.
But O! I still must mourn
The pleasures buried in thy tomb,
For they will not return …

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Jim during a time in Vermont, the Amos Brown house, perhaps summer 2012 (or 2006)

I know Jim would never have renovated this house; he would not spend the money to make it respectable; he would not himself work hard for no money (maybe he’d take a course at an OLLI, or do an occasional hour); perhaps he would have long ago, sold this house, got rid of half the books, moved back to NYC and start going to older people’s single bars and found a new partner by now.

Some of the most painful moments for me during Jim’s brief mortal illness were when he’d say suddenly I’d find another man and in no time. Finally I said to him, please don’t say that; you have no idea how much it hurts me to hear you say because it could be you think that. How could you think you are replaceable. Don’t you know it’s your unique self I have stayed with, lived by, and loved all these years. And finally he stopped voicing this insecurity. But to tell the candid truth, yes I wish I could find a new partner, not just any one, any male, but someone like him, the dream of Stewart in My Brother Michael (thanks to Mirable Dictu). But I live in a world of women; the men I come across are all “taken,” good people long ago married, and now with children, grandchildren. Those widows, later divorcees who seem to find a partner (it happens) seem to meet someone they knew long ago, or a male who has hung around as a friend for years, a work colleague. Statistics tell me it’s rare for women to form relationship with a new male partner after she has passed 50; for men even common. And I’ve seen why in the eyes of men I do come across who I catch quietly looking at me or who in passing what’s called flirt (at which I’ve ever been very awkward) and rejecting me as too old very swiftly. Of course I’d love a loving genuine friend-partner once more.


Jim, aged 24, our apartment on Columbus Avenue, just off Central Park — how much I’d give to be able to re-live life with Llyr, I know I’d be so much better to her

It is dreadfully hot here, day after day in the high 90s into the 100s in the afternoon. There is an argument for selling up too, moving north, though I daresay the isolation would kill me. I am part of worlds here, have people who help me directly (courteous young males, my IT guy, a Trumpite, my financial adviser who voted for Clinton, even a mechanic who takes my car every time). But I loathe this heat and long for a beach 30 minutes away to escape to of a morning.

As Jim and I once did when we lived in upper Manhattan; Tuesdays and Thursdays early morning we and Llyr our dog (long long dead, and what a grief to me) off to Jones beach with coffee and croissants bought on the way, in 40 minutes there, hardly anyone around but us three. So what I sometimes think Jim would have done in my place is perhaps the selfish (=wise) smart thing. But I cannot do without Izzy nor desert her (she forgot to go to her once a summer pool party this past Sunday so I will return to keeping track of these occasions for and with her), nor Laura.

Dissolve this world away that’s around me? Unmoored already. Why live on? is the sweet air enough on the top of a mountain or in a city near a performing arts center? Maybe it’s my conviction that on the other side of silence is oblivion, endless nothingness and if anything of my body is left it will rot. I do like to read … and write … and watch movies … to be with a friend — and other such like reasons keep me here — as long as I’m safe in my house. Someone asked on face-book what was people’s idea of fun?

Gentle reader, is it any wonder I write few diary entries nowadays. Vedova parlando.

Miss Drake


Autumn Trees — the Maple — either Emily Carr or Georgia O’Keefe

Friends,

ON this day of strong heat (yet another) in Alexandria (Va), when you either go to a pool, or a lake, or the beach or some park, or drive far north into New England, or stay in an air-conditioned house, we are doing the last, and Izzy has recorded another song, this time Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose:”

Kiss From A Rose

There used to be a graying tower alone on the sea.
You became the light on the dark side of me.
Love remained a drug that’s the high and not the pill.

But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes become large
And the light that you shine can be seen.

Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Ooh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
And now that your rose is in bloom.
A light hits the gloom
On the gray.

There is so much a man can tell you, so much he can say.
You remain my power, my pleasure, my pain, baby.
To me you’re like a growing addiction that I can’t deny.
Won’t you tell me is that healthy, baby?

But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes become large
And the light that you shine can be seen.

Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Ooh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
Now that your rose is in bloom.
A light hits the gloom
On the gray.

I’ve been kissed by a rose on the gray,
I’ve been kissed by a rose on the gray,
I’ve been kissed by a rose on the gray.
If I should fall along the way.
I’ve been kissed by a rose on the gray.

There is so much a man can tell you, so much he can say.
You remain my power, my pleasure, my pain.
To me you’re like a growing addiction that I can’t deny, yeah.
Won’t you tell me is that healthy, baby.

But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes become large
And the light that you shine can be seen.

Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Ooh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
Now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom
On the gray.

Yes, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Ooh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
And now that your rose is in bloom
A light hits the gloom
On the gray

Now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom
On the gray.

You can also click on the bottom and you will be at YouTube to hear.

Miss Drake


Summer flowers — I’ve not got many this year as I had no help and after all don’t know much about flowers … this is my prettiest

All this does & will so derange the nerves — and so empty the pocketbook (partly from Austen’s Sanditon)

Friends,

A few summer pleasures amid this dark bleak (indeed hopeless) time. (After Trump and his rump re-invigorated the horrible puppy mills, they attacked long-distance trains: isolate and strand’em — all in each long day’s harm.) Read Tracy K Smith’s Watershed.

Each Saturday morning I go to Farmer’s Market. I’ve decided we will buy and eat less meat, and what I do buy will come from farms where the animals are given decent lives (before slaughtering). I will no longer participate in the horrific cruelties visited on farm animals in the US. I can’t do much but I can refrain from supporting evil in my eating habits. In our local marketplace, there are three different farm animal farms represented and I’m finding what kinds of cuts of chicken, pork, beef, they sell which Izzy and I can cook successfully and eat. I buy fresh vegetables I’m trying to get myself to learn to cook, and (soft) fruit. It’s a bright way to start each Saturday: the market goes on from 7-11 a.m. Farmer’s Market carries on all year long and if I can I will carry on buying meat this way, but much of the rest of the square become emptier. The crafts people I’m told remain, perhaps the breakfast people, but all others vanish by later November, to return in mid-April.

Two outings this past weekend: at the last minute, I bought tickets for my friend, Vivian, and me, to attend the Friday night Classics Album Live performance this year: their choice, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart club band. I was attracted partly because a couple of weeks before I had watched a sterling hour lecture/documentary on just this album on my BBC iplayer, revealing just how original and rooted in musical traditions from as far away as India, and as close as local folk songs in Liverpool, with lyrics autobiographical and contemporary was this music. Last year I attended a remarkable 6 hour set of lectures on the career, history, individuals (you name) and music of the Beatles. So we went. I bought a picnic supper for us, which I was not myself able to eat much of — I’ve lost three more teeth, gentle reader, and after another week’s misery, in two week I shall pay an outrageous sum for 4 implants and a semi-permanent denture in my lower gum. For now it’s deeply uncomfortable for me with an ill-fitting denture and aching, sore gums. We had decided to go to cheer ourselves. My friend has had cancer, and chemotherapy treatments for the past 6-7 months; she appears to be going into remission and will know for sure in about the same two weeks.


Wolf Trap stage — cell phone photo

I brought wine and a pretty new blanket which I’ve acquired as part of my “Yoga” apparatus (a lot of mystic silly language goes along with this form of exercise intended to relax and rejuvenate the body somehow or other). The evening was not too hot. We had good talk and the performance was rousing. About 16 young people on the stage, with all sorts of instruments, for the first hour did a straight imitation of the songs and comments in the order presented in the famous music-changing 1967 album. They were not as good as the original Beatles of course: mostly they couldn’t do the poignant, and stumbled on witticisms, but all those numbers rhythm, belting it out loud, and sheer energy could put across, with plenty of heart, they did superbly. The second hour was made up of various Beatle songs, from their earliest to latest recordings: I had forgotten how many really superb numbers they did and in such a relatively short. By the end much of the audience was standing, swaying, clapping. Many older people remembering. One must mourn their break-up.

Saturday the same kind of last minute deal. Different plans fell through. Vivian and I were to go to an Aspergers adult meeting, but she was not up to it after all. I decided it was far too hot to reach where I go to swim. I put off my plans for Maudie, and will go with another friend, a new one, Panorea, to see this film, this coming Saturday (Angelica Art Festival theater) with lunch before and a snack out afterwards. Izzy decided against her plan and came out with me for dinner and a walk in Old Town. Buggsby, a pizza place appeared to have several wedding parties reserving the place, and we were thrown back to the more expensive Il Porto. But how I love that place. Quiet, tasteful and I had a meal I could eat: Lasagna, with ricotta rice, and soft vegetables in a lovely tomato sauce, washed down by Riesling wine. It was sunny and we walked by the Potomac amind the crowd. Street musicians everywhere.


Over the years Jim and I have been there for celebrations (Laura and Izzy’s graduations from high school), taken special friends’ visits — rare treats — and just gone of an evening or for lunch — it’s been there for over 40 years now

The second of the monthly summer Cinema Arts film club: a very great movie: Afterimage, how to take away someone’s existence (so relevant to what is happening in US federal gov’t today).

This too is not only in summer, but rather this summer: Our book for this summer on Trollope19thCStudies is Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (there are four film adaptations), for Wwtta by myself I’m reading Woolf’s Between the Acts and with a friend, Woolf’s Short Fiction. Well quite unexpected I’ve discovered that Woolf’s fiction also encompasses deep affection, empathy for animals. “The Shooting Party” is startling. It is a pro-animal story: we have the viewpoint of one of these stifled women, Miss Antonia, indeed several are in the squire’s household as outside he and others destroy birds. All the imagery of the story moves between poignant aware descriptions of the agonies of animals, including those about to be eaten Other women at the table include Miss Rashleigh (a name I’m familiar with from DuMaurier). A mare dies on the road — beaten too often doubtless. I wondered what Flush is like. Voyage Out is post-colonialism, this is aware animal rights. It does make an implicit parallel between the stifled lady sewing and then waiting for the squire who we hear outside howling, cursing, things are being destroyed by falling off shelves. Knick-knacks include mermaids. A whole lashed forest is there. Woolf’s strong gerund style serves her well. It puts unnamed suffering birds and animals at the center with the terrified nervous Miss Antonia and wry Miss Rashleigh. Gaskell also has a strong parallel between a subjugated woman and other helpless beings in the sense that she feels for both from their point of view (“Lizzie Leigh”,”The Well of Pen Morpha”).

Gentle reader, it is dreadfully hot in the Washington DC area and the truth is summer pleasures for most include long hours indoors where life is enabled by air-conditioning. I’m watching The Crown on Netflix: reactionary in the extreme, it’s well-done (the film-makers remind us continually how the rest of the UK or the world is living) and presents a characterization of the young Elizabeth I can identity with: it’s not her, but a female archetype found in these mini-series, the self-contained woman feeling deeply what she has to do that’s wrong carries on more alone and quiet (a la Anne Elliot) than is realized. Claire Foy manages to communicate intensities of nuance in a role where most of the time she behaves with exquisite self-control. She is seen again and again from a distance walking away on her own


Here she is separating her sister from Townsend after having promised she would not, about which no one but herself (and Margaret and Townsend) appears really to care (I stress this is an idealization, but an appealing one)

Miss Drake


Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway — the most hopeful image on the Net I saw all week — many thanks to Sixtine for this one

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …

Friends,

Today was (according to the calendar in the US) father’s day: my father died in 1989; he was the most influential person in my life, with the considerable 45 year exception of Jim. Once I moved from NYC for years I would speak with him on the phone once a week for about an hour. My father’s face is clearly before me as I type this. Not from his young years or middle years, but the last ones. I cannot picture Jim on my own: yes, if I look at a photo, I recognize him but out of own brain I cannot see his face.

I’ve not written in so long because I wanted to convey some positive development, so have been gathering up (without intending to) a few cultural experiences I can recommend to others. The positive development (I hope) is that I’ve enrolled myself (and paid for) a Road Scholar trip this year and one for next. I say I hope because Sunday evening I had trouble reaching the place on the Net where I am to confirm my plane reservation, and this morning the Road Scholar representative on the phone said it’s not there yet probably because I just enrolled and give it to Wednesday; if not there then, call this number (Road Scholar Travel Service). A good friend had told me about a wondrous tour to the Hebrides organized by a Welsh company, but after their reply I decided the more thoroughly organized with Internet sites for email, phone calls and so on, would be Road Scholar. If I were going with a friend, let’s the better one. Looking at it, I think to myself Jim would have liked this. But he was an independent personality far more than I .So I put off Skye (which I have been longing to go to since I was 25 and read Johnson and Boswell’s twin books on their journey) for when I am more used to travel (I tell myself).

I had again tried the Road Scholar site and found that the chat people were infinitely more courteous, helpful, and did not pressure me at all. I began to feel comfortable, and after days of looking and email chats, went for my heart’s desire. Alas, I could book for the Lake District and Borders only as of August 2018 (which I had done before, but now with a down payment for a single), and turned to something in Cornwall or the Highlands. Cornwall was available only as of September and I start teaching by mid- to end September (so that must be put off for another time); most of the Highlands trips (three) were long and expensive or wai-tlisted (which I was told means “full up”) so I booked for new program: Scottish Highlands: A Stay at the Aigas Field Center. A magnificent place, beautiful landscape, the one spot suggests some depth.

I have been fascinated by Scottish wars and politics for years, beginning with my study of Anne Murray Halkett during the civil war and aftermath. There was room if I were willing to share a room. So I did. August 10-20th. On the site I was asked why I wanted to go there: I cited love of Scottish literature, from age 15 Robert Louis Stevenson. I didn’t cite my love of Scottish women poets and memoir writers, much less Margaret Oliphant. Nor how Outlander provoked my memories of the 1960s radical documentary, Culloden, or the extraordinary folk musical play, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil (with a very young Bill Patterson as lead guitarist).


Aigas Field Center, Scotland

I should say this does not come out of income but savings, my mother’s money and it is not endless.

I am hoping to visit a friend who lives in NYC for 4-5 days in August. So that should take care of what otherwise would have been 6 weeks home alone (so desolate) in the dreadful heat of a DC-Virginia summer. And because Izzy wanted it so, she and I will go to this year’s JASNA at Huntington Beach for 5 days and nights in early October. I see the hotel has a pool so I’ll bring my suit and see if I can get to swim. She has a pretty Regency ball dress, shawl, and I know how to fix her hair in a bun (very Emily Dickinson, but never mind, no one will be that conscious of the differences between what women did with their long hair in the later 18th and 19th centuries).

I have found for the past couple of months, I can no longer sit in this house for days on end with no one for company. I have to change my habits: I missed entirely three Fridays at the OLLI at AU where they held Bloomsbury events (seeing The Dead, rehearsing and then reading parts of Ulysses aloud over a 6 hour period). I was lamenting how Jim and I went to a Bloomsbury reading which he found out about and read at, and when I googled to see if it was still going I found the event at OLLI at AU. And I could have been part of it. I tell myself I’ll do better next year. With such things do I torment myself. I got to the point one day where I told myself I cannot undo the past 40 years which have left me so without groups I belong in outside institutions (I had no job where I was connected with others, Jim was so reclusive and so was I with him); but this had the salutary function of reminding me how happy I was with him, and that I would not want to undo any of the 40 years were he here still. It’s habit. There was no excuse as it was told about and more than once (if briefly) on the OLLI website. I had to click and didn’t. Closed my mind. I am not keen on Ulysses I said to myself. What a fool, what does that matter?

What have I seen and done: one weekend Izzy and I went to the Kennedy Center on a Saturday night to listen to a magnificent symphony, and the next day to the American Collects 18th century French Painting at the National Gallery. That night on the terrace the evening was a real pleasure. The next day, we found ourselves in a mammoth exhibit, many rooms of ancien regime art. While there were some powerful, great paintings and sculptures, and drawings, not to omit exhibits of landscape and gardening art, the interest of the collection was not in the pieces themselves — many of which thematically and artistically considered are dreadful. It was the identification of the super-rich of American with these people without fear of reprisal, of anything resembling a guillotine. Cited continually also were a group of influential galleries (a couple central to what was bought and displayed) and art connoisseurs. Amusing (if you have a thorough sense of humor) were photographs of NYC elite in 18th century costumes – off to balls. Izzy and I spent a couple of hours viewing this historically significant exhibit. I took by my cell phone camera a number of pictures I’d never seen before (“released” from private collections just for this exhibit one was told).


Utterly typical allegory for this type of collector: the improving patriotic myth …

Other live performances: last night I went to a delightful production in Arlington of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comic send-up and tribute to Chekhov’s plays and other Russian texts (not just Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, the Seagull, Tolstoy, not to omit renditions in American cinema of memories of Russian stories, one where Maggie Smith comes out in a tiara and sequins) — as I’ve said there are three good theater companies! Creative Cauldron, the Avant Bard group at Gunston (previously Washington Shakespeare Company) and the Providence Players of Fairfax, located mostly in the James Lee Community Center. My one (relatively new) friend, Phyllis, told me about it and we went together. Last year we saw in the same place a quietly poignant Almost Maine by John Cariani. What’s remarkable about this group is they are not content to re-do warhorse famous plays conventionally (very common) but take lesser known contemporary plays and do them originally. Almost Maine had a beautiful set. Durang’s play features extravagantly self-revealing soliloquies on stage by the major characters (when others are present too). It was exhilaratingly depressing. The ending was an imposed temporary happiness between the central brother and two sisters of the play’s nuclear family; it worked because good and charitable feelings were present throughout.

I go to the gym twice a week; one evening I’m taking yoga! would you believe? I’ve joined a monthly book club at the JCC (Peace is like a River is the first book I’ve encountered). Long range: I joined the Gaskell Society: their AGM looks like I might enjoy it.

As to my projects, I plug away and am reading a third of Graham’s remarkable non-Poldark fiction, Marni, Berry’s Portrait of Cornwell (though soon I will switch to books recommended on the Highlands). I have found some excellent books on Cornwall, books whose tone is strengthening because their historical outlook so wide: such a book is The History of Cornwall by F. E. Halliday. I discovered my proposal for a revision on the paper version I read aloud in the Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton Library was actually accepted back in April! it’s due September 30th so here I am driving myself again. I am rereading the book in a more genuine way than I’ve done in a long time, and wish there was a good affordable scholarly edition at a reasonable price.

Again, I have to change this habit of not looking carefully to see what’s happening — on the OLLI at AU as central staging for this year’s Bloomsbury readings, I just turned away from clicking, all the while in mourning over how Jim got to read but one year, time at a DC Irish bar, ending in a community-private barbecue. Instead I spent the long day alone re-reading Ethelinde, going to dentist, allowing cleaning maids to clean house — the week before had been a rehearsal, and the week before that a viewing of Huston’s film, The Dead. It was on the afternoon of the 16th by googling I read a description and could not reach it again. Well I won’t put anything aside for yet another book project I might not be able to finish. Just plug away at it more slowly.

I think about the one full-time job I was offered at LaGuardia and didn’t take lest I not finish my disseration. Why did I not see I could do it later? Why did I not see the job was the most important thing to get then? Other jobs I retreated from, other opportunities to be an editor on-line — that one I put down to fear and anxiety I would not be able to cope and make a fool out of myself. Yes I would not be paid but so what? Yes I’d be more online, but with others. I have to be braver and not be led by anxiety which when I obey just gets reinforced. Should I have tried that 10 hour car trip to Plattsburgh? by the time it came round, I had gotten myself into a such a state, it was beyond me. I have to stop that somehow or other. I am following a Future Learn course on Depression, Anxiety and CBT and think it is helping. Better than anti-depressant pills: very low points this two weeks, I took two different ones two weeks apart and both times became very ill, either traumatized and in a trance but still feeling anxiety and so on, or downright sick, nauseous, terrible taste in my mouth and other very unpleasant execretory symptoms. It’s what the US does: psychiatrists are there to give you pills; and therapists to urge conventional behaviors (I do have a more intelligent one this time, even shows sympathy). The second one may have made my acid reflux disease much worse.


Pete Singer

I’m taking a live, face-to-face course too — OLLI at AU has come alive this summer. An animal rights person, Edward Engebretsen. I began by attending a lecture in May given by Wayne Pacelle, who turns out to be the head of the Humane Society of the US. Probably the most important statement Pacelle made was transparency and regulation are needed to stop cruelty to animals; when you have these, the normalizing of routine great cruelty (especially to farm animals) stops. He named 5 freedoms that animals need to live a fulfilled life. He likened the position of animals to that of refugees, and said matters are complicated: zoos are a place where animals are imprisoned as exhibits; at the same time they can function as a place for rescuing animals.


John Berger

Thus far from the reading materials Engebretson’s given out and his lectures: it was in the 19th century that for modern western society animals receded from visibility for most people. He gave a history of depictions of animals in myth and philosophy from Homer to the 21st century. That sentimental depictions of animals (they are made cute) morphs quickly into displays of cruelty. How do we think about animals? first people experience anxiety around their identities; animals are part of our fantasy life. Someone’s fantasy is the cage in which we are imprisoned. We are distinctly connected to non-human animals in multiple ways. There are three relational positions: dominion, subordination, commodity (using someone). Power relationships govern our lives. In the west we are driven by a human-centered morality. As in the first session, he used a poem by Robert Frost, so now he went through a series of philosophers from Aristotle (there is a continuum between non-human and human animals) to Voltaire (a paragraph about a dog seeking a master because the dog so loves the master, and is then cut to bits for a vivisection when sold. Bentham: the question is not whether they can talk but that they suffer. This time a series of dates from the first legislation in later 18th century US where a bill called for civil rights for animals to early 19th century where the first animal protection act was passed.


Judi Dench and Lisa Dillon as Matty and Mary Smith (narrator of tales)

Much happy reading of Gaskell, yes. Cousin Phillis, Cranford, re-watching Cranford Chronicles late at night (Judi Dench as Matty helps). I have seen two great Daphne DuMaurier film adaptations: late at night by Netflix streaming (which I conquered at last, bought), the 2014 Jamaica Inn, scripted by Emma Frost, featuring Jessica Brown Findlay, and at the Cinema Art Theatre the 2017 My Cousin Rachel, scripted by Roger Michell (who’s done a number of Austen adaptations), featuring Rachel Weisz as Rebecca (she’s dressed to recall Olivia de Haviland in the first film adaptation where Richard Burton was the hero-villain-fool, a Hitchcock concoction). I’ll write about them on Austen reveries.

But how to change because I cannot bear this life without Jim. So that’s where I am. I miss Garrison Keillor on the radio. My largest regret is not having allowed Jim to move us to NYC no matter what the sacrifice in books. I didn’t because I worried for Izzy in college, where would she sleep, the apartments seemed so small, one hardly with windows. If I could go to Shakespeare in the Park, be a little cooler, in a culture I recognize at least parts of, it would help. At a minimum I loathe this enervating heat.

Miss Drake

Friends,

Strong sun, warm air, warm breezes, cats sitting in sunpuddles around the house, neighhors sitting out-of-doors, heard talking and playing ball (with lovely night lights strung across a yard), going on their boats all-day, biking, off to a beach, to a cruise, to another country …

I thought having been inspirited by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center tonight — Izzy and I went to hear them perform Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, “Resurrection” (the first half a magnificent dirge, a meditation on death) — that I could manage a brief blog to say I’m trying to survive. The performance was astonishingly beautiful, the evening on the terrace lovely.

It’s just become so hard to be alone most of the time, even if companioned to some extent by Net-friends. It’s should be unspeakable to describe my feelings as I watch others seeming good times, great travel experiences in these photos on face-book (well meant, celebratory for their friends doubtless): these fuel these sometimes unendurable tormented thoughts about my past decisions (so many, all in the same retreat direction, giving more firm thought and insight today to what was felt at the time than it had), which have landed me where I am today. So it’s become hard to blog, especially personally. True I had the 45 mostly happy years, and were Jim alive today, I would be carrying on with the same life, though I hope we would have started to do more for our retirement, but the 45 years is over, he’s dead, and I’m here without …

Not that I’ve not enough to do. I’ve had an almost permission and potential from the copyright holder and an editor to go forward with a literary biography of Winston Graham, now almost famous author of the Poldark novels whose matter is providing the material for a third season of the new Poldark. So I am reading far more of Graham, about Cornwall, and thinking of how I’m going to go to the UK and manage the negotiation and then research in three different libraries this coming fall and early winter. The expense is not nothing.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, from the 2nd season

I’m sustained emotionally by my Gaskell project: I’ve been reading her late Cousin Phillis and am astonished at how differently I read it when I consider her depiction of animal, farm, and agricultural economy as well as the new technologies (which the hero-narrator of the tale is involved with), of engineering, railways, machinery. How could I have seen it so superficially as simply pastoral?


Cary Mulligan in the most recent film adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd — on Trollope19thCStudies this has turned out to be our summer novel

Sunday I must get serious about my Historical Fiction set in the 18th century course for the OLLI at Mason. Write a (mercifully) brief syllabus and start to put together cogent thoughts on Daphne DuMaurier (which means again Cornwall), historical fiction before the Great Divide of Post-modernism, as our first book of two is her King’s General, set in the mid-17th century during the civil war as experienced in Cornwall. The second will be Sontag’s “anti-foundational” (though if she had lived to see Trump she might not have been so determined to undermine the foundations of US society insofar as they are civilized) The Volcano Lover.

I’ve gone to the first of five sessions at the OLLI at AU (again being a student, member of the class) on Animals and American culture. Despite the best efforts of the head of the Humane Society of the US (who came to speak), eradicating pathological indifference, exploitation and cruelty to non-human animals has a long way to go.


Early illustration of Jane Eyre

Reviews to do (including Nick Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte); today on Trollope19thCStudies, we begin Trollope’s Dr Wortle’s School –truly interesteing novella; we just finished his neglected Golden Lion of Granpere.

Mornings waking at 6 I read Claire Harman’s latest truly transformative biography, Charlotte Bronte: a Fiery Heart. the title gives no hint (doubtless due to the publisher or editor) what makes this book on the Brontes stand out. It’s much and rightly indebted to Gaskell’s magisterial, the first great biography of a woman writer (by a woman). Harman is one of our great biographers. Harman describes the inner heart of what sustained Charlotte while doing justice to Charlotte’s necessary (for self-preservation) social blindnesses. Harman quotes and understands Anne and Emily too to great effect, does not castigate Branwell as at fault for the family’s ethical (as they saw it) worldly failures. Anne was deeply engaged by a sensitive intelligent man, William Weightman, who came to be her father’s curate, but he is another person in the story who died so young. It was who they were and how their pride and lack of connections, money, lack of training in social experience, cut them off. Death stalked them too. Her kindly publisher (making a great deal of money on Jane Eyre especially), George Smith saw to it that Charlotte was wined, dined and befriended when she entered the small circles of middle-class people who read and were part of the vibrant world of London at the time. But when she turned back to Haworth, and her imagined world when she returned to the now empty (except for Patrick who needed continual placating) homeplace, Charlotte did not have enough in her to resist. She needed Ellen Nussey (one of her happiest trips was with Ellen) and Mary Taylor to have lived closer; her late blooming friendship with Elizabeth Gaskell more time. She did find peace with a male companion in Nicholls. Harman does not present her as finding fulfillment while writing enough.

I do look at the Road scholar tours but do not understand how to navigate the site and the one phone call I made I experienced a hard sell that was harrowing. I yearn to go on another small (or big) trip with a friend. If by next summer Micawber-like nothing turns I shall take one plunge and go on the Lake District tour (an old hard-to-kill dream). Today Izzy and I will go the National Gallery for their American collections show, many 18th century French paintings, some by women.

Jim had a dream of learning to sail, to sail around the world as a paid passenger on a commercial boat. Do they have these anymore? if I knew someone congenial to go with, I’d set off this morning for the next year …. In the meantime, swim every couple of days at the local Alexandria Community center and evenings I watch movies like Waterland listening to Jeremy Irons’s voice — thanks to the kindness of a Net-friend I shall soon have the first of the third season of Poldark.

Ellen


Laura and I — she often looked serene


Izzy and I – at her happiest laughing

To ache is human — not polite — Dickinson

I do like to be beside the seaside — Music Hall song

Friends,

Our holiday — me, Laura, Izzy — was not all we had hoped as after the first super-hot afternoon, the beach was chill, and subject to high winds, as were the central roads leading to said beach, but we managed to have a good time and even (stubbornly) sat there both days, the first near 2 hours in the morning, the second after noon. Izzy tried to go in as far as her knees, jeans pushed up, I tried to read a Daphne DuMaurier novel. We returned to walk along the boardwalk in the later afternoon the second day, and evening time, and in the darkness on the third where we said we wished we could believe Jim or Dad were looking down from somewhere.


Late twilight — the inscrutable sea

You should know we four had been to Rehoboth many years before: our first true family vacation probably in 1993 in a house rented inexpensively in Milton — the next year we went to Rome for 5 weeks. We did one year rent a cottage just off Lewes Beach and we remembered the ferry at Cape May; another year briefly a cottage in Duck, North Carolina (but a hurricane blew us away). So there were memories. This holiday was originally conceived as a mother’s day gift for me.

Luckily our hotel was filled with good service: a hot tub we sat in three times, two pools — we swam in one on the first day, a garden, and the third and last morning, a strong fire in the hearth in one of the two library-looking rooms. I sat by the fire two early mornings. There was an on-going huge puzzle on one table of that room where different people over the day sat and filled out the picture. Izzy did some for an hour. Each day a sumptuous breakfast (very good), all day coffee and snacks downstairs. We found outside much shopping (surprising amounts of clothing) — little side alleyways as malls, a splendid bookstore (really) with toys (one of which had a snoopy dog toy Laura and Izzy remembered from their childhood). We had some excellent meals for dinner, one unpretentious in a pizza place bar, the other rightly “awesome,” French, exquisitely well-cooked dishes (I had a rabbit dish, Laura lamb), a pile of ice cream for desert for all, lovely wine

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

all the while a pianist played familiar tunes. People could be heard making requests.

We talked at lot, confided, read: in the room, Izzy her fat Chernow biography of Hamilton, me Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte while Laura blogged — she is now free-lancing. We watched some TV together. Our room had three TVs and I watched on the computer with Laura chosen selections from the (to me) slightly astonishing amalgam fantasy, pseudo-cynical and amoral American Gods. There were a couple of prologues or interludes which were telling: one of a slave ship come to the US in the later 17th century, with the focus on the slaves’ anguish fast forwarding to today’s anguish over killing of black people with impunity in the streets; the other the death of a Muslim woman living somewhere in Queens, circa perhaps 2017. Ian McShane was very amusing as the central “God” (Odin in disguise as a crass businessman I’m afraid), and (in a minor role) Chloris Leachman (not much disguise), providing affection.

And so we escaped a little, had a time away.

We hope to repeat this again, perhaps next spring for a much longer time (2 weekends and a week) in Milan where there will be a World’s Ice-Skating Championship. Laura and I will not spend all our time at the ice-skating rink, but use the trains and buses to see a bit of northern Italy.

I admit the cats did not enjoy their time at the Pet Boarding place — though they had a penthouse sized cage (3 linking ones, next to a window they were said to have looked out at)


A reproachful Ian brought home — at first Clarycat stood off from me, but later she could not kiss (lick) and cuddle up and play enough

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

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs …

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –


Cynthia Nixon as the strained Emily

Just before going off, Izzy and I went to see the film about Emily Dickinson’s life, A Quiet Passion, written and directed by Terence Davies. The older I become the harder it is to understand how Dickinson could have chosen so to isolate herself from her later 20s on. I have some reservations about the movie. It begins way too slowly and solemnly. The actors are made to enunciate lines as if they were reciting memorized passages from in a school play, and it seems are trading witticisms done so slowly it’s tedious in feel if the puns are if thought about well-taken. For a while the pace of speech stays the same, as serious psychological and other kinds of immediate content are read into the growing story, and then the story line of betrayal and sexual pain, of power relationships gone awry take over, and the film became for me gripping, mesmerizing and especially towards the end when the family is in internecine bitter quarrels over Austin’s life with his mistress, Mabel Dodd (Noemie Schellens), right in front of them all, including his wife, Susan (Jodhi May as ever so plangent), who however we see hates heterosexual sex, is a closet lesbian, and it’s suggested built a close relationship with Emily (Cynthia Nixon deserves an Oscar). In life they exchanged letters and poems across the space of the houses: “open me carefully” says one.

Perhaps the father was not as much a tyrant as is shown, but the mother’s life as a dishrag conforms to the passive abject lives of such women (Henry James’s mother seems to have lived similarly). The civil war’s disastrous slaughter is not omitted, but it felt as an interlude in this life (however abolitionist the family’s sentiments might have been). We see the father refuse his son permission to join the fighting, lest he lose his life. The father uses his power of purse over children, then Austin uses it over his sisters. A few friends Emily made early on, marry and depart this brooding place. You will come away with a sufficiently historically accurate portrayal of this family whose stifling hypocritical ritual but also genuinely self-flagellating ways seems central to Emily’s decision to retreat from life.


Duncan Duff as Austin Dickenson, Jennifer Ehle as Lavinia, Keith Carradine as the father, Edward, a visiting pastor, and Joanna Baker as the mother

The trajectory is Emily rebels in school and then at home this way and that,, refuses to compromise, and gradually is ostracized and then ostracizes herself. Girlfriend after girlfriend marries. Lavinia (whom I felt for as I have before) is left with this difficult sister; Emily appears to have been all Lavinia had to aid her in having a some sort of social life. Jennifer Ehle is too sweet, too forgiving but she fit the role as envisioned by the film. Emily is hard, difficult, stubborn, will not see people, will be rude. She seethes at Mabel as an evil mistress — what would she have said had she foreseen that Mabel would be the person that first saved her poems, published them. Lavinia to Todd and Higginson: “But for Mrs Todd & yourself, ‘the poems’ would die in the box where they were found.” An irony the movie hoped we realized. But by the end when Emily dies and we hear the famous “Because I could not stop for death,” followed by “I wrote a letter to the world who never wrote back to me,” I became slightly hysterical and started to sob violently for this woman’s grief and loss and strangely thwarted existence as voiced through this poem.

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

This prompted Izzy to cry too. Others around us as I got up I saw had been moved.

On the other hand, there was much too much suffering: did we have to have lengthy dramatizations of each person’s deathbed (father, mother) and then Emily’s slow decline, the excruciating pain of Wright’s Disease. The choice of poetry was too religious for my taste — everyone recites it as part of dialogues — but they included “wild nights” and some other striking subversive ones. Not enough beauty, gaiety, seasonal nature poems, the thoughtful questioning ones.


Nixon as questioning Emily again

I worry unsympathetic people if they sit through it will come out with prejudices reconfirmed: we see her refuse to talk to people except through a door at the top of the stairs — this to an admirer of her poetry of which only 7 were published with punctuation changed. Austin reads a cruel review of women poets writing of their misery, a mock, but I doubt it was aimed at Emily, but women’s protest poetry — they had a raw deal. They should have perhaps included the content of Susan and Emily’s poems and letters — it is slightly comic they should communicate this way. No comedy comes through, though the audience had people who persisted in laughing (the early puns, whatever could possibly be interpreted as meant to be funny. Anne Badlands as Aunt Elizabeth provides a few comic moments, worth a smile maybe. I didn’t detect anyone laughing at the film, but perhaps I was mistaken. I have read how Dickinson has been used as a conservative icon (apolitical, the solitary genius). I recommmend Anthony Lane’s review for the New Yorker.

At one time these two stanzas were among my most repeated Emily Dickinson lines:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

So there was enough for me to identify with (yes I can bond with Emily beyond the poetry) or anyone who cares about art and wants to understand the peculiar circumstances from which an original artist has emerged.


Emily Dickinson’s letter from The Dinner Party

After we returned home, we did pull down my volume of The Complete Poems and looked at a few. I read the opening article in a recent Cambridge Companion and discovered people are still arguing over how to punctuate the poetry. Who knew Jerome McGann’s return to the holograph manuscripts is doubted by some. The earliest editions by Todd and Higginson sold very well and she was popular as a 19th century poet, but she was lost from view during modernism, held no interest for socialist writers of the 1930s; the first elevation of her was due to the ultra-conservative white poets of the 1950s (John Crowe Ransom) and she came to the attention of the “close-readers” and humane people like Randall Jarrell. So it was in the 1960s (the same era that saw the first “rise” to real fame of Virginia Woolf) that Dickinson began to achieve the stature of Whitman’s counterpart that she holds today. She was no feminist darling until the 1980s, the discovery of her life-long affair with Susan and the attempt to carve out a l’ecriture-femme. She did make the cut for Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. Some of this may help account for the peculiarly neutral point of view of the film.


On the beach in the morning birds

Ellen