Dear friends and readers,
No I’m not teaching Austen films, and the excerpts I’ve chosen to go with the first three published Austen novels do not include Death Comes to Pemberley (scripted by Juliette Towhidi who also wrote the screenplay for Calendar Girls, directed by Daniel Percival), but I know that I got myself first to watch and then found I was enjoying myself mightily watching this mini-series twice through — where I bursting into tears near the close and feeling joy at the close because in its faery colors Darcy and Elizabeth’s love does indeed have a second spring
I know, I say, I began to watch these Austen movies again because I began teaching again last Thursday at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at AU and as far as I could tell it went well.
I had reread Sense and Sensibility once again and found it stronger than ever. That anguished so poignant long meditative chapter at the opening of Volume 2 where nothing happens but Elinor’s mind is at work under the shock of Lucy’s revelation that Lucy and Edward have been engaged for 4 years — thinking thinking and feeling as she goes over the past and is led to recognize that all she had thought true of Edward is not, and must revise her thoughts — for pages and pages. New, original in its way, daring, powerful — her first published book. I’ve gone beyond Darcy’s long letter of explanation to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and can’t get over the vivid strength of the utterances, the book’s controlled passion and irony, concision, packed in from so many revisions. I spent 5 hours making pages and pages of notes towards lecture and discussion with the students.
Well they were a delight — all ages 50 through 70. I had been so worried I would not pitch it right. I first moved all the chairs in a circle and began talking naturally and soon I was just with a group of people telling them what we were going to do this term, what read and all sorts of thoughts came naturally as I went through my notes as I went along. We learned one another’s names and told why we were here, how much Austen each had read. I was teacher too because they took notes and were clearly expecting me to give them real information and insight. I told them Tomalin was the most readable and accessible of the biographies and advised on other ones: the beauty of Jenkins, the original thought in Nokes. What a relief also to hear students say they long to read a book, hope to learn more about the subject. Say that’s why they are here. Two women have read all six books, two have read none (“not even Pride and Prejudice“), but one man in the midst of 11 women. I wish there were more men for his sake: he was the one who offered to give me a lift to the Metro, sparing me one of my waits for a bus.
I can’t do that every week so this coming one I will say I am going to the Bender library and I do mean to — to see if I can call for an interlibrary loan of a super-expensive book, Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade’s Jane Austen and the Art of Letter-Writing. The author appears to cover all the areas we’ve been doing on three list-servs as we made our way for 4 years through Austen’s letters, and I know she’s written perceptively on the diaries and journals of Frances Burney D’Ablay.
Alas though when I got home within an hour or so I was again as nervous as one of my cats, the stress at my new life and tears came again. I had had to leave at 5 to 11 am to get a bus that will get me to the station in time for the train to arrive half an hour early at AU (1:00); the next bus gets me there after 1. When I arrived I discovered no water — so no coffee and not even anything to drink. In Northwest DC — not told about on TV — the water was for several days unsafe to drink. The church provided no bottled water. So I did not eat or drink until I got home well after 4 — and suddenly felt too drowsy on the train to read, utterly exhausted, weak. So next time I have to bring a sandwich and bottled water with me. I am 67 and have always had low blood pressure — when I was pregnant with Yvette if I skipped a meal I would feel faint.
I found the courage the next day to take a cab to a nearby movie-house and see a movie. I wanted to see Gloria badly enough The movie house is 6 minutes away by car, an hour and one half by public transportation. The problem is it’s in Arlington and I am in a different district with a different local bus system, and the place across a highway. Anyway I used Uber there (was so worried waiting) and discovered (much to my relief) this movie-house (which knows it has a parking problem) is even eager to call cabs for patrons. So $18.00 there and back — if you count the cost of gas, the parking fee, wear and tear on the car and me finding parking, maybe it’s better to take a cab. I’ve seen others do it coming out of this movie-theater. I’ll do it again for the new Indian film, The Lunchbox (with Irrhan Khan). (It specializes in better and art films to draw an audience.) I’d never done such a thing before. I do not do new things easily.
Today dissolved away the small ray of hope I had from the first lawyer that the paralegal would phone me to tell me what’s happening with their attempt to “get you a restricted right to drive” may have been just putting me off. No one phoned and when I phoned, I was back to the secretary with a quick reply to my usual question; now it’s “she’ll be here tomorrow and you can call then.” So tomorrow morning I’ll have to find my way by bus tomorrow to a second lawyer, show my documents again. I have this lawyer through the lawyer who made our will who said “the thing to do is get the medical part out of the direct hands of the DMV if one can.” He confirmed there is no due process of law at the DMV because driving is not a right. In truth I’m 67 and live in a society that deals with ill people by punishing and silencing and (until the Affordable Health Care act tried to modify this a bit) ignoring them — hoping they will go away and die. That’s the social mechanism of the DMV and private medical care. Addendum written 3 hours later: I retained her and things are looking better. There are lines of actions we can do and I’ve discovered I never did drive illegally: my license was unsuspended on Jan 19th and remained so until a day after the unexplained rude phone call. I said too bad the founding fathers didn’t include the right to drive in the bill of rights. She laughed.
I came across an explanation in an intellectual history (Heffer, a strong conservative in his book on Victorian age, called High Minds) where he explained this mode of punitive reaction we see so common in the US as direct outgrowth of “individualism:” from one James Fitzjames Stephens (UK, 19th century): a state must impose on people standards and force them to abide by them, and if they can’t, determine to control them without the least concern for their wishes or feelings. Otherwise the sense of power from social liberty goes to their heads”. No chance of that in Virginia. Meantime the companies responsible for polluted water in Northwest DC are not even reported on in the media. The lack of water only appeared in the news on Saturday night when the water was said to be useable again :). And by the way what makes people think bottled water is any safer?
Still I have felt myself re-energized for the books, ready to try new literary criticism, and absorbed again in my movie project (which I’ll talk about separately on my Austen Reveries blog) at least during the day. I was reading about what makes for a cult movie and Umberto Eco (from a book Jim had bought and read, Travels in Hyperreality) gave me an adequate explanation on why I so love the Austen film canon – and Downton Abbey and certain mini-series costume dramas.
At night it’s different. Then I have to confront that he’s not here, that he’s dead and that there is nothing else, I can endure that urn because I don’t quite believe he’s dead. I keep saying it, I keep writing it, I keep doing things as a result of it, I did things in anticipation too, and yet I don’t quite believe all this has happened. I pace, ask myself why I stay.
I know I’m doing what I’m doing in order to do something that I’m able to do.
No more shall violets linger in the dell,
Or purple orchis variegate the plain …
Ah, poor humanity! so frail, so fair,
And the fond visions of thy early day ….
Bid all thy fairy colours flee away!
Another May new birds and flowers shall bring;
Ah! why has happiness no second spring?
— from Charlotte Smith’s Sonnets
Sometimes I’m walking up the block and see the house I live in, and realize it’s mine, that I own it; it’s the oddest feeling —