Archive for March, 2015

A cat sniffing early spring (ignore words to the lower right)

Dear friends and readers,

Early mornings before I get out of bed are the saddest time of the day for me. I no longer bound out of bed; it takes time to come out of my slightly groggy sleep, and at this time of year I am waiting for the sky to become light. I have my cats curled up round my body, but my thoughts come from intense missing of Jim. Often though, once I get up, put on NPR (for music), kettle to boil water for breakfast and tea, and then my computer, I am cheered. Why? because often I have letters from friends, postings from the listservs I’m on that are of interest to me, responses to any blogs I’ve written. Yesterday on the Trollope region of my facebook page I found this:



My spirits lifted a bit, I go off to my kitchen and make breakfast. Some of the periodical I get have articles that mean something to me, are satisfying in some ways: these include my mostly paper subscriptions, copies of issues on the living room coffee table. Poems.

Again the trees remembered
to make leaves.
In the forest of their recollection
many birds returned
They sang, they sang
because they forgave themselves
the winter, and all that remained
still bitter.
Yet it was early spring,
when the days were touch and go,
and a late snow could nip a shoot,
or freeze a fledgling in its nest.
And where would we be then?
But that’s not the point.
Do you think the magpie doesn’t know
that its chicks are at risk,
or the peach trees, their too-frail blossoms,
the new-awakened bees, all that is
incipient within us?
We know, but we can’t help ourselves
any more than they can,
any more than the earth can
stop hurtling through the night
of its own absence.
Must be something in the sap,
the blood, a force like gravity,
a trick called memory.
You name it. Or leave it nameless
that’s better—
how something returns
and keeps on returning
through a gap,
through a dimensional gate,
through a tear in the veil.
And there it is again.
Another spring.
To woo loss into song
— Richard Schiffmann, “Late March”

Today in the Times literary Supplement (March 20, 2015 issue, pp. 7-8) I read a review article by David Winters of Deirdre Lynch’s Loving Literature. Wonderful argument: that literary criticism as a discipline and way of writing first emerged in the 18th century because it was an age of “sensibility,” because literary criticism far from arid at the time, and even if written in technical jargon (by some very foolishly) now, is “emotion is deeply embedded.” Lynch suggests modern literary criticism was invented in the 18th century, and emerged from a process of personalization. Writings were seen as coming from authors and the contexts of their personal lives. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets (I’d add his “Preface to Shakespeare”) and Thomas Warton’s History of English Poetry (Scott carried this on for the romantics) defined a way of framing a canon bound up with a writer’s and a culture’s identity. So reading becomes a social relation in which we “sustain the company of other people” and are subject to “emotional obligations.” Says Winter love is often not a healthy emotion, it can be edgy, confusing, possessive. I recall here that Lynch edited the remarkable volume of Austen writings called Janeites (the term includes the scholars) which has some invaluable articles (one on Virago Jane, those few authors published by Virago who do follow closely in Austen’s footsteps). Book love can be dysfunctional too.

So one can enter cyberspace and use it wisely and unwisely. Lynch shows how in the 18th century books were openly (we see this in letters and diaries) “woven into the fabric of family life,” part of routines, inforcing the “domestic schedule,” ways of keeping time. TV used to do that for many; now that TV is individually curated and many do not watch it on TV sets (I watch most of my TV, films and news included, on my PC computer), we have to turn back to the sun’s phases through the sky and nightfall. The seasons.

A medieval book of hours with a grumpy cat whose playing of a rebec has been interrupted.

On NPR just now some lovely lute music, whence the above picture which my Net-friend Sixtine put on facebook the other day. Today I teach Graham’s Demelza and talk about 18th century medicine at the OLLI at AU. I am beginning to understand what’s wanted in these retirement semi-college reading groups; it’s a lot of work but its aim is not quite what I was doing. Now I am doing it. The first lecture is an introduction, but then we go carefully over the book each week and I bring in topics. Of course they have to like the book: the people at OLLI at Mason did not like the gothic, at least not by women and modern books.  You cannot go too far outside their expectations, so Trollope is Barsetshire and the Palliser or Parliamentary novels. The difficulty will be that I must like the book too, and I am not mainstream exactly. But both classes are thus far going well; I am enjoying them and the reading. And that’s what I wanted: to share my learning and be with others and have some enjoyable as well as get out of my house and be with fairly intelligent people. Teaching never did come naturally to me; it was something I learned to do well, now I have to take this persona in a slightly new direction.

Tonight I go to the Folger Shakespeare library for an HD broadcast (I am curious to find out where the new screen is) of the Royal Shakespeare production of Love’s Labor’s Lost; next week I go to their Much Ado About Nothing, which I learned about and saw bits of in a recent 4 week Future Learn, from which a few notes:

Among its strengths is how it concentrates on particular productions. So what they talk about is concrete. The theme is that the play is dark — even if it’s Love’s Labor’s Won, and how it’s acted/filmed/directed/set. It’s often been set in different places and ages. It’s been fine course the way discussion, clips, photos and linked in lectures have been combined, with background photos of setting, videos moving in and out of stages. That made what was said imaginable and of course visualized and heard. The actors were extraordinary and we saw them rehearsing bits over and over in different ways as well as a final “product.”

4 weeks

The first: four darker productions – Trevor Nunn’s 1968 production, John Barton’s 1976 production Di Teven’s 1988 production and Gregory Doran’ s2002 with Harriet Walter as Beatrice; 1976 Judi Dench as Beatrice

Second week: Shakespeare Re-told, 2005, Brian Percival the director, David Nicholls, the screenplay writer a movie changing the words, with Billie Piper as Beatrice, Damien Lewish as Benedict, Martin Jarvis as Leonard

Third: Current production Christophers Luscombe as director, takes place in Warwickshire, chose Charlecote Park near Stratford, a Renaissance building, much renovated inside so it could be an Edwardian era just after WW1. It became a movie 2015 – made real rooms afterward; it’s just a play filme.d

The fourth week was a fulfillment of all that had gone before. One week on the darker productions stressing an interpretation of the play that made it deep and serious; then Shakespeare Re-told how modern language and attitudes re-filter the play and bring out its living universality; then a distanced and wholistic study of the current production from the perspective of place, staging, era, as a movie. Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett discussed their characters from the point of view of how to prepare to act it and what you did while you acted. She was better at this than him; opened up her heart and showed her conception of the character was consistent and gave remarkable depths; then they discussed the crucial scene at the chapel after Claudio tries to destroy Hero at the church; then we watched them act it on a YouTube.

A few of my comments across the weeks:

I’ve not made any comment on this before but as this is the last week I am bothered by this re-naming of Shakespeare’s play. Heminges and Condell knew what its name was. it’s a theory or speculation that this is the play in a list called Love’s Labor’s Won.

This focusing in on the two principle in-depth characters, a crucial scene and letting the actors tell us how they felt they did it, and watch them fulfilled the “plot” of the course beautifully.
was absolutely torn with intense emotions of all sorts because of the surging emotions from the actors; their body language, just everything. The only false note was that melodramatic music at the end and the fat overdone shot. She could collapse to the ground and then silence.

Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand is a strking line and on the surface is contradicted by what we’ve seen before. Benedict has not been loving; Beatrice has been prudently wryly self-controlled. It’s a deep buried perception. Many thanks to Michelle Terry for opening herself to give us that explication. Brilliant and moving. No wonder she played the part greatly. I found this commentary insightful too. Yes was Beatrice confident her friend Hero would be treated well?

Again this is really excellent — I’m not sure it’s important whether this is a hinge-point scene; what’s important is how the actors articulate the trajectories of emotions they are interacting and sharing

The best way to “do” this course was all four in a row, immersion. I saw the weeks too far apart. The disappointment was most of these productions are unavailable even if tapes were made at the time;I did suspect at least the 2002 and this 2015 are recorded. Only the non-Shakespeare text available as an expensive DVD. And now I see I was accurate: the Folger has gotten hold of this last production and Love’s Labour’s Lost. I will now keep an eye out for DVDs of those productions discussed.

Michelle Terry as Beatrice in the production I hope to see tonight (found on the RSC website)

None of this brings Jim back; none of it makes me forget him even for an hour; but these are the sorts of things I used to do when he was here. I rather think he would have liked the OLLI at Mason for its bridge club. I grieve to think I never thought of looking for such programs; he loved bridge and tried to find a local group but the Alexandria Y wouldn’t do. At once not select and not finding enough people who would want to and be good at it, and know each week they could return. He might have gone to the weekly lectures at the OLLI at AU — many are liberal-left political, on all sorts of subjects, including film and theater. How I yearn over how we did not have enough time to begin to build a new retired life together; eventually we would have branched out from the activities we had while I was teaching for money so regularly (with papers, exams and the rest of it). He would have been coming with me tonight.

Miss Drake

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All summer all the time …

Dear friends and readers,

I write under a difficulty: I did not take any photos and we are not supposed to tell much of private conversations on the Net among friends and I have it on good authority that people like pictures and concrete conversation best. But unlike Jane Austen who claimed to have nothing at all to say when she wrote her letters, I have a few unseasonal thoughts on the place, the trip, and my experience of going to the ASECS conference for a second time since Jim died, and of the success of my paper and a book club meeting (a rare face-to-face experience of such for me). So I’ve found a few promotional and official photos of a couple of the places I was at, one book cover for Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee which I read preparatory to meeting with a book club in Santa Monica on this past Saturday evening. Not to omit stills from the 1999 mini-series, The Aristocrats, adapted from Stella Tillyard’s non-fictional study of the Lennox sisters and their worlds. I also can tell a little of the talk and more of a couple of books and movies. 3/29/15: a friend sent a photo of John O’Neill and I in the Wm Andrews Clark Memorial library


Unseasonal because I found myself in another summer world. As the plane descended and I looked out, I saw a landscape that reminded me of Florida. Flat, meadows, a body of water stretched out, these tall palm trees, and trees whose trunks looked like upside pineapples. It differed because all around the plain were mountains. I began to wonder was my view of the US hopelessly parochial: until I was 33 I lived where winter was long, very cold, and often tough (two pairs of gloves on my hands during January), with an exception for a couple of years in Leeds, England, where it cannot be said to have been summery. And we can have bitter winters here in Virginia and long lovely falls. Perhaps much more of the US is this summer world than I ever realized. My norm is still winter and rain. I remember one February day in Leeds in 1969 walking to the bus and the sun came out, and I looked up and felt so glad. I had not seen that circle for ever so long. My good friend, Diana Birchall, who I stayed with for a full day and a morning and one night assured me that in summer one does not need air-conditioning; the humidity is not what it was even in January in Florida. Maybe. 60 to 70 degrees on average, blue skies, light winds, what’s not to like. We went to an old-fashioned thrift shop where people seemed to know one another and were friendly. She and her son took me for a walk along the beaches of Santa Monica and how alluring it all looked, complete with a boardwalk, ferris wheel and rose garden.

I had been there one night in 2001 when at an International ECS Jim drove me and Yvette to precisely that spot one afternoon, walked along the beach with us, ate out, and then drove us much further along to a beach where we tried to go into the Pacific. I remembered that ferris wheel and boardwalk. Memories. Not the cliffs and whole scene and not its context. This time I visited with Diana three other friends and saw how different people lived around there. I stared out at the sky once more and remembered.


Nonetheless, gentle reader I don’t want to live in a summer world. I felt everyone was in such a state of undress. Maybe it was too much of a holiday world. It was also even when I was there outside the hotel too hot for me inside the various apartments and houses. LA of course differs from the places Jim and I found ourselves in most ASECS meetings: I was not in an isolated oasis of middle class life with all around me a vast hinderland of poverty. LA seems a huge city where much is higgledy-piggledy, some thriving, some middling, some impoverished, lots of cultural places, beaches, strips of restaurants, malls, parks. North of Montana Avenue it was all exquisite outrageously expensive homes, south apartment houses (or vice versa). A long-time friend who was part of the book club I participated in told me if you know LA it has a wonderful music, intellectual and theater world: concerts, lectures, plays, (and I added movies). You just have to know where to go.

The trip there was interminable and an economy seat is not much fun. I discovered I should have somehow put some app on my cell phone and then I could have connected to movies — for which I would have had to pay. On an airplane nowadays all you get for your ticket is a seat, necessary (for your bodily health) offers of juice, coffee, tea, soda, water, and bathroom. I bought a lunch going; it was as bad as almost every meal that passed for food in restaurants for the next 5 days. To my taste Starbucks coffee is too bitter, and their idea of a croissant is bread roll somehow or other rolled to look like a croissant. The trip home included sitting in one of the noisiest areas of rows of uncomfortable seats I’ve endured thus far. I was grateful to sink into a taxicab upon leaving the labyrinthine makeshift and ugly hangars both times.

Most of the time I was in the hotel — for the talks, for a session on how to do wikipedia in honor of Adrianne Wadewitz. Her parents were there and I talked with her father at the William Clark Andrews Memorial library a couple of evenings later. I crossed the street the first night, Wednesday, in search of food — I’d had nothing edible on the plane and saw nothing edible in the hotel spread of supposed snacks. So I accompanied an acquaintance from this wikipedia to eat some soup and drink a glass of sangria and talk of our lives as scholars and teachers.

The hotel was one of these awful huge anonymous luxury hotels set up to extract as much cash from each individual as possible. Four towers, many circles of cement and glass. There were two levels on which there were affordable and cheap eateries, and from one Italian place I ate with two of the friends who came to my lecture. One of my happiest moments was with them then. There was a reception on a rooftop on Thursday night and I joined with a young male Austen and gothic scholar from Liverpool, just appointed as a teacher, to have a good meal on that terrace with two people who teach the 18th century in a western college. I again talked with others of our work and lives. Very late Friday night I went to a reception where I talked with people of Jim, to a couple where the man had been widowed young and remarried, to an Irish woman who was at a session where 2 people showed up for the talks, and one left. There were too many talks and sessions on against one another for the number of people who came. Indeed a fairly visible percentage of people did not show at the last minute.

The hardest moments for me this as last time at Williamsburg was being in the hotel room alone. When my ipad worked and I was able to receive and send emails to friends, it was not so bad. (Sometimes it would not work.) Someone I spoke to told me he looked at his email inbetween sessions too, and pronounced it in the way people do “mostly junk.” And indeed nowadays over 75% of my email are forms of ads, promotional, requests; of the 25% left some are daily newsletters I get (which I may read), digests from listservs I skim, maybe as much as 10% are genuine communications from a listserv, friend or blog. But they matter and I felt like Jane Fairfax coming back from the post office in the rain with her precious retrieval listening to John Knightley tease her about going out in the rain in her present state of weak health (she is consumptive):

Mr. John Knightley smiled, and replied … The post-office has a great charm at one period of our lives. When you have lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going through the rain for.”
There was a little blush, and then this answer, ‘”I must not hope to be ever situated as you are, in the midst of
every dearest connexion, and therefore I cannot expect that simply growing older should make me indifferent about letters.’
‘Indifferent! Oh! no–I never conceived you could become indifferent. Letters are no matter of indifference; they are generally a very positive curse.’
‘You are speaking of letters of business; mine are letters of friendship.’
‘I have often thought them the worst of the two,” replied he coolly. “Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does.’
‘Ah! you are not serious now. I know Mr. John Knightley too well — I am very sure he understands the value of friendship as well as any body. I can easily believe that letters are very little to you, much less than to me, but it is not your being ten years older than myself which makes the difference, it is not age, but situation. You have every body dearest to you always at hand, I, probably, never shall again; and therefore till I have outlived all my affections, a post-office, I think, must always have power to draw me out, in worse weather than to-day.”
‘When I talked of your being altered by time, by the progress of years,’ said John Knightley, “I meant to imply the change of situation which time usually brings. I consider one as including the other. Time will generally lessen the interest of every attachment not within the daily circle–but that is not the change I had in view for you. As an old friend, you will allow me to hope, Miss Fairfax, that ten years hence you may have as many concentrated objects as I have.”
It was kindly said, and very far from giving offence. A pleasant ‘thank you’ seemed meant to laugh it off, but a blush, a quivering lip, a tear in the eye, shewed that it was felt beyond a laugh (Emma, Volume 2, Chapter 16)

A side view of the Williams Andrews Clark Memorial Library

On Friday later afternoon I escaped that monstrous cavern for a couple of hours! This time I took a bus with other ASECS members to go to the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. For decades I was a member of this library receiving pamphlet publications of rare 18th century works — one I remember edited by my advisor, Robert Adams Day, one of the earliest sober, realistic epistolary novels — and then when these pamphlets stopped a newsletter telling of lectures, concerts, sometimes with informative essays about supported scholarship at the library. A long-18th-century oasis. It was much smaller than I imagined, and older. You cannot see the miles of books which are under the extensive lawn where parties, concerts and get-togethers are held. There is a concert room for the regular music and lecture events. Other rooms for exhibits and books. I did not know that the man who funded the place was gay: on the ceiling are figures of what look like classical gods, all resembling this man’s companion. A librarian took us round, telling us something of the history of the family then and more recently and how the library operates. They all seemed glad to escort the ASECS members around and tell them of the library, the man’s history, we were given wine or coffee and (the usual awful) snacks. This human dimension of the library made it come alive for me in a way it had never done before.

An exhibition hall with painted ceilings and walls

I mentioned my talk or paper and the book club. I am chuffed to say that my paper, “Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films” was well-received. My boast is that Jeffrey Hatcher, who writes screenplays for a living, and wrote and delivered a talk in a session the day before on writing and producing The Duchess, liked my paper and asked me questions. Just as important beyond my two friends, there were here about four people who I know and have spent time with, one of whom I was on a panel about rape with, and the other gave a paper on Charlotte Smith’s poetry which I attended. And the Austen and gothic novels guy from the night before. The day before there had been two sessions on film with semi-famous people: Stella Tillyard told about Aristocrats, how she novelizes to make her non-fictional and real people appealing, and the nature of the commercial changes in the BBC adaptation into a 1999 BBC mini-series, as well as her A Royal Affair and the art film adapted from it.

Lady Emily Lennox (Geraldine Somerville) and Lord Kildare, her husband, from the mini-series

Lady Emily as painted by Ramsay

A panel of six notable 18th century scholars and film people were commentators on her and Hatcher’s presentation. And the day after the panel I was on was another panel on Austen and media; I was told still another session on Austen was made up of papers mostly on Austen film adaptations. So over the course of these days there were numbers of people lingering from session to session. I will write about the content of these papers and comments on Austen Reveries soon.

Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee, Penguin edition

As to our Saturday book club meeting, one the women who was part of the club had made a delicious spread of food, and we did manage to talk of the book. Leading up to this for three weeks, a couple of people on Trollope19thCStudies had tried to read the book too — like me, and others they too felt it began well, hard satire on a foolish Anglo-Irish woman bankrupting herself to please a London English aristocratic gentry world made up of contemptible people who despised her. In the story, Lord Colambre returns to Ireland to discover to try recoup the family’s finances and recover a heritage. Edgeworth’s purpose is to educate the Anglo-Irish and English into acting more decently and humanely by the Catholic Irish because it’s in their interest to do so.

Here are a few notes from our discussion online at Trollope19thcStudies:

The hero’s foolish mother, the English woman whom an Irishman married for ther money, Lady Clonbrony, has given an extravagantly expensive evening party, dance, with cards, and for her pains all she got was sneers, derision, and is further wasting her husband’s property. She turns her house into a kind of Arabian Nights — rather like Miss Bates alludes to — only here the comparison is turned to genuine political and social account. The upper class English despise all Anglo-Irish, and anyone with a high rank such a woman as Lady Clonbury who rank is recent. Lady Clonbury’s good nature and inability to cope with nasty people is really why she is treated as badly as she is but the portrait is turned to make thematic points.

I can see why Austen would enjoy this book. She’d have loved the jaundiced sharp depiction of this party in London and felt for the son, Lord Colambre (his courtesy title) and his mother’s niece, companion, Miss Nugent who can stand up to the social cruelties of the crowd because (the fiction presumes this) her understanding of how worthless all this kowtowing and phoniness are protects her. Austen would have known better than to dramatize that idea — intuitively .But Edgeworth and she are on a same wave length — as she was on a different but alike wave length with Burney (an arch conservative consciously).

For Trollopians: there may be a character who influenced the depiction of Miss Dunstable in Dr Thorne. Miss Broadhurst has the same frank open sort of semi-masculine comic talk. She exposes with it – -she doesn’t care if she upsets others. Trollope does have two long sections of prose where he commends Edgeworth and hints influence. Miss Broadhurt is not as delighful as Miss Dunstable because Edgeworth is not as sparkling and clever as Trollope but the portrait does seem a sort of dry run; maybe it gave him the idea. Miss Broadhurst has the same frank open sort of semi-masculine comic talk. She does not exposes the values of others quite as sparklingly as Miss Dunstable – Edgeworth does not know how to frolic, but equally Miss Dunstable doesn’t care if she upsets most others. Maybe that’s the point. She also makes a friend of the hero when the hero’s mother wants the hero to propose to her because she’s rich. The portrait does seem a sort of dry run; maybe it gave Trollope an idea for the paradigm.

Chapters 5 and 6 showed me why many a modern Irish literature scholar say that Irish Literature begins with Lady Gregory. In chapter 6 Lord Colambre returns home. What has happened is the Irish Parliament has been abolished and whatever people met there must go to London. A sentence is devoted to Colambre’s sorrow for the Irish over their penal laws – these should be gotten rid of, but then that is forgotten over his noticing and begin grated upon by all these Irish people taking his bags, trying to get him to let them perform some service, any service to get little bits of money. They are disgusting beggars he says. Lord Colambre inveighs against the Jewish coachmaker and moneylenders. How dare they over-charge his friend. What amoral lousy people they are, crooks. Maybe they overcharge but the friend went for it. Why should these Jewish not get their money? They have to live and probably endure different penal laws than the Irish — just as bad or the same. We get this stream of antisemitism.

Edgeworth then proceeds to satirize how the middle classes ever so pretensious are taking over the houses and social places filled with super rich and powerful who went to London or back to their properties. This is what she doesn’t approve of. Right. That power is taken wholly from these people in effect and never even thought about for Catholics never reaches her mind. The women made fun of as deluded fools glamorising themselves senselessly, the man as throwing out money, not taking care of property. Perhaps so but what are the norms she wants to substitute here? It won’t do. It’s backhanded snobbishness as written. She never so much as mentioned the revolution of 1798, the failed French invasion, the savage put-down of the Irish, Wolf Tone’s execution. That’s the measure of this book. Read Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French, to see the vast world of Ireland absent from The AbsenteeNot only was there was 3rd but failed revolution; it defined and characterized the whole culture of Ireland for decades after — as the repression was so ruthless; part of the causes for starving the peasants and keeping away from them, were the exacerbated relationships amid the classes which had their nuances.

The Absentee is narrow and dated; but important novel for its era: maybe the first Anglo-Irish novel in the realistic tradition — for Edgeworth wrote Castle Rackrent before this. My friend at the book club said it got him reading about ireland at this peruiod. like the hard satire — I wish it had larger broader themes, and were not just aimed at social types that Edgeworth (rightly in my view) can’t stand, but she is painting a picture of this “illegitimate” society. In a way that’s the issue; these people are taking over and have no right to; they’ve been taking over for a couple of centuries so they don’t see it this way quite. Yet it’s unsettled; the upper crust has fled to London — maybe happy at the moving of the parliament.

There come so the fore two women, Lady Dashfort and her daughter. They are seeking a husband for the daughter. Lady Dashford reminds me strongly of Lady Delaforte in Belinda – -similar aggressive type. I’ve an idea that the female reader of the time woke up at this point and found this character compelling or appalling depending on their attitude. She is not the dragon lady Lady Catherine de Bourgh is and we could praise this as realer and thus more cogent for its audience, less frivolous if you will.

Edgeworth’s problem is she is not interested in romance at all – -Lisa Moore has it she’s a lesbian (closet? but knew her feelings and in Belinda one heroine is fascinated by another’s breasts) and so wrote sapphic fiction when she was following later 18th century conventions and types (like Leonora) but here she has no interest in romance either. It’s very hard prosaic depiction of these people’s houses and those they are dependent on. So there’s little Arabian Nights or fantasy here. The heroine is Grace Nugent who has to endure much slander as a dependent on Clonbury; at one point the hero thinks to break with her as of course he would not want to marry anyone tainted by illegitimacy; but in the end she is discovered to be an heiress. You see the level of Edgeworth’s interest.

The book is too didactic, too obvious. She implies she cares about the Irish Catholics but her aim is the Anglo-Irish and the English reader. She probably down rightly reflects many attitudes towards class and family that Austen held. While some of the characters are composite people (men more) others are types (lady Dashfort and Isabel who as problems for the good man appear in Charlotte Smith. I thought I would query one house. Count O’Halloran and his menagerie. Edgeworth has a decent regard for animals so maybe that’s why the chapter on this man with a menagerie. But it is strange. Could there have been such a man or people who might keep so many animals — in their front room. Probably he’s meant to be an eccentric

The point of these chapters is literally to depict the world of the Anglo-Irish at this point. It’s written from the point of view of someone who does not expect her fellow Anglo-Irish ever to have been in Ireland. I suggest Jane Austen’s relatives would never have permitted her to write a book like this — they would have regarded it as dangerous for their reputations; it might and would offend. That she would have read it in an approving spirit as so realistic.

The plot-line that hangs the novel together is Lord Colambre’s investigation of Ireland as a place to live, for him to reside in, and the attempt of various older women to persuade him to marry their daughters, specifically Lady Dashfort over Isabel. In this part of the novel Edgeworth brings in the establishment men (Anglo-Irish again) who live in Ireland. Sportsmen mostly with semi-political views. I really do wonder why present-day Irish writers want to respect Edgeworth so unqualifiedly. She means well?

Edgeworth’s Absentee is a cross between the 18th century novel with its social satire (from generic “universal values”), both from the Fielding angle (now that the men are brought in, Squrire Western no longer a caricature) and the Richardson-Austen (courtship) and 19th novel with a turn to cultural and national analysis. What Edgeworth misses is much, among others things, the long sense of history and historical forces which we do get in Scott even if he indulges in much fantasy, myth, legend; he is himself as a novelist more openly melancholy and so his novels are today still readable (I recommend as a historical cultural study, Old Mortality).

That night I managed to reach friends on Diana’s PC computer in the room I was given to sleep in. The next morning she arose, we had a coffee and croissants at a Starbucks and then she drove me to the airport. I’ve already told of that screeching airport lounge. I omitted how Charles Krauthammer, the reactionary TV pundit was aboard, now paid by Fox News to spout vicious ideas elegantly put and plausible, and treated like a king. A young black woman next to me talking of how people don’t want public transportation; if we provided it, they would not use it. I asked her if she thought about the average income of US people and how much it costs to have and to run a car. Her face went blank: she sure had thought of this, but had been taught not to give any stranger her real thoughts.  Cant everywhere.

I came home to two off-standish cats who had missed me, Yvette said; she missed me too. They went wild one night in the front room; Clarycat would not sleep with Yvette, while Ian tried to. Diana has three cats and I witnessed how one of them, Tully, at night, goes to the front door, meows and paws at the doorknob in order to go to her son’s apartment and sleep with him. Pindy came into my room but decided it was too risky as yet to make friends. Who says cats don’t have souls? I was so relieved to see her and them. A can of tuna (shared with Clary and Ian), two hard boiled eggs, fresh bread, and wine just for me.

I had trouble sleeping that first night as my body clock was totally perplexed but I did make it to the Poldark class the next morning at AU and from sten notes I talked and it went well. Two new people! We covered the rest of Ross Poldark. I think I am finally getting the hang of this kind of teaching. I proposed Fielding’s Tom Jones for the fall at that OLLI at AU, and everyone appeared so delighted that it is now all set.


I then came home to the first unabridged complete The Duke’s Children as edited by Steven Armanick and Robert Wiseman. It came in a special bag which prevented it from being taken to a post office (since i was not at home when it arrived) which would have required a scavenger hunt by me to ferret it out. That’s what happened when I ordered a copy of a set of CDs of the whole of Framley Parsonage read aloud by Timothy West arrived. It is splendidly packaged — looks indestructible. The separate thin volume includes some of Steven Armanick’s essay notes on the cuts and editing, Wiseman’s textual apparatus, explanations of editing principles, and a description of the manuscript. No illustrations. I did it on the installment plan. It is outrageously expensive: they just couldn’t get a moderately priced academic or college-textbook kind of novel publisher to pick it up.

I wonder what Trollope would have said of this. Not the text itself, he would have been intensely gratified I imagine); as we know he cared about packaging from the customer’s point of view (I refer to a couple of cases where he gave a publisher a very hard time … I’ve just gotten off the phone with one of the board members of the NY Trollope society and we discussed the possibility of my giving a brief seminaor on Trollope’s great signature book, The Last Chronicle of Barset.

‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ There is not an hour goes by in my life when I am not regretting Jim’s absence, remembering, thinking of him, scarcely believing he’s not going ever to be here again. Unlike Jane Fairfax I cannot go to the post office to retrieve any letters from him ever more. I almost wrote him a letter before I left; let this be something of what I would have written.

Miss Drake

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Not exactly the books I chose — but they look like this on my ipad

Dear friends and readers,

Yet another trip, this time to Los Angeles, to the ASECS conference. I’ve kept myself busy preparing for all the things I had to do before I leave, and catching up when I return. I travel light, one bag on wheels so I won’t have to check it, and I will rely on my ipad for reading (I downloaded literally thousands of pages from its Store” onto a “Library” program) for all but three slim paperbacks (as backup), real writing pads to write my lectures for when I get back (for the Poldark and Barsetshire novels). My paper is a paper copy — I bring 3 copies stashed in different places. It’s but 5 pages. I look forward to joining in a book club with 3 friends on Saturday night. I will miss my pussycats and they me but will meet one of my friend’s 3 pussycats.


Despite all avowals, I did accept another book to review, one I couldn’t resist, on Chardin’s genre pictures: Pastiche, Fashion, and Galanterie in Chardin’s Genre Subjects: Looking Smart by Paula Radisich. I don’t usually think of him as painting the gay rococo world of the aristocracy, but here is one of his gestures in this direction: A Lady Sealing a Letter:


I’ve rejoined the Trollope Society and will go briefly to NYC in May to hear John Wirenius speak of his Phineas at Bay, which we read together on our Trollope19thCStudies list. I’m to teach Framley Parsonage at the OLLI at Mason in June and the first week of July. Yvette and I have now planned and booked our Belgium trip this coming September to include Torquay and another visit to a friend for a couple of days.


I’m into the Third Week of another Future Learn: Much Ado About Nothing in performance it’s called, but it’s about how the dark interpretation of it is the half-adequate one. I’ve sent away to Netflix for Shakespeare Re-done, which includes this play reworked in modern language, brought up to date with contemporary attitudes, Damien Lewis excellent as a slightly darkly brooding Benedick, and at long last Billie Piper rightly cast as an angry Hero.

Time keeps moving on. Each moment follows the one before, inexorable. I remember Dylan Thomas about time holding us all in its chains. Even after we are dead and live on in the memories of those who miss us.

Miss Drake

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John Constable, Landscape with Clouds (1821)

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight I was reading the hauntingly lovely section, Barchester by Moonlight, from Trollope’s Barchester Towers before I read Clive James’s latest poem:

The Star System

The stars in their magnificent array
Look down upon the Earth, their cynosure,
Or so it seems. They are too far away,
In fact, to see a thing; hence they look pure
To us. They lack the textures of our globe,
So only we, from cameras carried high,
Enjoy the beauty of the swirling robe
That wraps us up, the interplay of sky
And cloud, as if a Wedgwood plate of blue
And white should melt, and then, its surface stirred
With spoons, a treasure too good to be true,
Be placed, and hover like a hummingbird,
Drawing all eyes, though ours alone, to feast
On splendor as it turns west from the East.

There was a time when some of our young men
Walked plumply on the moon and saw Earth rise,
As stunning as the sun. The years since then
Have aged them. Now and then somebody dies.
It’s like a clock, for those of us who saw
The Saturn rockets going up as if
Mankind had energy to burn. The law
Is different for one man. Time is a cliff
You come to in the dark. Though you might fall
As easily as on a feather bed,
It is a sad farewell. You loved it all.
You dream that you might keep it in your head.
But memories, where can you take them to?
Take one last look at them. They end with you.

And still the Earth revolves, and still the blaze
Of stars maintains a show of vigilance.
It should, for long ago, in olden days,
We came from there. By luck, by fate, by chance,
All of the elements that form the world
Were sent by cataclysms deep in space,
And from their combination life unfurled
And stood up straight, and wore a human face.
I still can’t pass a mirror. Like a boy,
I check my looks, and now I see the shell
Of what I was. So why, then, this strange joy?
Perhaps an old man dying would do well
To smile as he rejoins the cosmic dust
Life comes from, for resign himself he must.

This the fourth of James’s poems written in these last months of his life: see Sentenced to Life (this includes Jim’s love for James and a biographical context); Rounded with a Sleep; Japanese Maple and Memories.

constable hampstead heath, looking towards harrow at sunset 1823
Again Constable: Hampstead Heath, looking towards Harrow (1823)

Miss Drake

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Tawny Owl, South Brent, photo by Lynn Thirtle

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve had a run of minor bad luck. I was again forced to cancel my coming Poldark Novels course. I am beginning to wonder if it can get off the ground. We meet (I hope) for the first time next week, 3 weeks late. Already one student has dropped (with regrets and a kind letter about my first lecture), and another says “Argh!” next week she is going away.

Why? Jury Duty, and for the first time in my life not only was I called and had to show up on Monday (hitherto when I phoned on Friday I was never in the groups called), but I ended up on a jury. This took two precious days out of a time I need to cut my paper down for the coming ASECS (it needs to be close to 15 minutes) and prepare for the Poldark course, the coming Barsetshire one all the while I go away for four days and four nights next week.

It was a learning experience for me: the other jury members saw the same phenomenon I did: an utterly untrustworthy women suing someone for her suffering triggered by a car accident — after having spent huge sums for doctors who made her worse, one of whom, a “pain management-therapist” struck me as an evasive, someone to whom people went because he’d say or do anything no matter how painful or dangerous or useless for a buck. Indeed they noticed more than I did, were more cynical. They noticed she did no physical therapy, yet paid enormously to have herself cut for tests. They did not care that there were things she said which seemed couldn’t be true, that she had a pending case with an accusation against herself for felony, which case (and two other things) probably caused her persistent pain too. One of the people struck off the jury had apparently said that one of her witnesses had sued him and his life was in tatters and he lost his job because of this. I had not fully comprehended this. They saw it and yet it moved them not. They did seem to care that she left out her psychiatrists and took medication for psychological distress. They mentioned twice she had asked for strong pain medication from two different doctors, and in one case lied about losing the prescription so she could get a second bottle. Apparently they resented this or thought badly of her for this. Her lawyer had worried about this and brought it up in his close.

Nonetheless they proposed and succeeded in giving her most of the money she asked for to pay her bills, the second half unnecessary. They also said that paradoxically once she was found for and money given her, her insurance company would ask for repayment. That’s how insurance companies work. After all the man who ran the red light and hit her car had done it, did not deny that, did not himself look prepossessing, but then again a couple of these same jurors thought that the reason we were not given photographs of the accident was that not that much damage had been done to her SUV by his truck. They then sat there and took seriously sums said to be the value of this or that. She wanted a couple of hundred thousand (!) more than the cost of her bills; the other jury members said she’d be very disappointed we had not even quite covered them all, and the man who was at fault (and whose insurance company would pay and whose career as a driver might not be over) would be relieved. And so it was.

If I had held out, we’d have been there all afternoon. I felt they rewarded her for suing because they felt they were expected to or identified with her as a someone seeking money she owed. I would have had to be aggressive, refuse to accede I had agreed to this or that when I really didn’t. Was it worth the time? or animosity? no. It was lesson on behalf of suing. She wanted more money from her pre-trial negotiations, and got more, though not enough. We had not covered her lawyer I suppose. I had some effect in stopping any attempt at huge sums — I felt for the man who was being hit this way. I am reading Graham’s Ross Poldark and see the sources of the miscarriage of justice in the case of Jim Carter as the same kinds of behaviors and feelings I saw in this case. I probably did not see a miscarriage of justice; one cruel one occurs in Ross Poldark – novels have to catch our attention, but the depiction of the characters of the judges and the assembled citizens in his novel is the same human nature. One asks oneself what the character of what happens reveals about the society?

Another angle: I felt as I had to listen to them that the decisions Jim had made over his cancer were after all had it been me the ones I would have made. He would not involve himself in such a sordid circus on the unlikely off-chance someone could have saved him. How sorely I missed his fine mind and noble understanding when I returned home.

Cats have consciousness but no conversation. Perhaps I would not like what they’d have said if I could have explained myself. Caroline was here the night before and I’d had the satisfaction of telling her and her taking on an attitude closer to mine.

A photo of Caroline’s Ani and Drake last week huddling in blankets during the fierce cold

I admit that as opposed to my experience some 30 years ago in the federal courts for criminal trials in NYC (which were a kind of madhouse, with far too many people in far too small a space), I was treated courteously and with consideration. I had time off for breaks, for lunch, and the questions I was asked by the lawyers were reasonable — they were about bias. Perhaps it would have been different with a criminal case; maybe that, and the smallness of the city of Alexandria, in comparison to NYC, accounts for why the lawyers did not ask quite the same personal questions of jurors and experiences I endured in NYC.

So another new experience I never would have sought. This one I hope I do not have to repeat.

One result of these two days was my usual minor bad luck as spring begins because clock time is played games with: it’s common with me that my first experience of DAYLIGHT savings time is darkness. Monday morning forced to go to jury duty, I had to get up at 6 to make the right bus to get there by 8 am, and what do I see: pitch black sky. The powerful people who mess up clock time to make money at night push the clocks forward in March instead of May. I find it far worse in later fall. It’s really worse in early November when you wake in this long darkness so that it will be not so dark at 5:30 pm. These same powerful people will not put the clocks back until middle to late November instead of (as years ago, 1950s-60s) early October. Why? because people will spend more money at night. In the morning at dawn they are merely at peace seeing lovely skies.

It is true we now have in Virginia a bright blue sky at 5 pm but we were having a much lighter one already; the sky in Virginia was by this time of the year light until well after 6 EST. More is lost than was gained if you care about what your experience of the world is as you come out of sleep. Whose sky is it anyway? How far is it owned by the people who order flights of helicopter and bombing planes across the earth? It seems to me the people controlling and fucking about with clock time belong to the same interlinked groups as those controlling the skies.


That another hour of light is added on at the end seems irrelevant when it was getting lighter anyway. I’m told that the added hour enables people to shop more and they do. In the traffic jam coming home at night the sky is now daylight.

For me and at least a vocal minority of people more is lost than was gained. When the clocks were changes just before spring turned to summer (late May) and just after fall began (early October) the purpose was served without punishment at the other end.

Miss Drake

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Clarycat last night — she stays with me, playing, sitting, resting …

Dear friends and readers,

This was to have been a week where I began teaching again, resumed the dance fusion and core classes at the Jewish community Center, and went to another of the Washington Area Print group’s lectures. Snow and ice have cancelled out the first two, my own lack of alertness led to my car’s battery dying so I ordered a tow truck which took my Prius to the Toyota dealership for fixing, and tonight it’s looking like there will be more ice, snow and cancellations on the way. I’ll be lucky if I can pick my car up before Saturday. I discover I have a high tax bill this year so going to an accountant is no panacea there.

Small beer I know, my deep deep loneliness, all that Jim lost in comparison to skies filled with helicopters and bombs elsewhere, paramilitary police and so on. In news affecting large numbers of people: Very bad things to many threatened: loss of health care through the supreme court, yet worse war with Iran: if the elected mass murderer Israeli Prime Minister has his way he’ll kill & destroy with impunity some more. Is there a word bad enough for this criminal type (More’s “pest” sounds too trivialzing) seeking an aggressive war against the Iranian people? Have they not suffered enough? They are trying to build their country again. Hilary Clinton a bad choice for the president; Jackson Lear on identity politics. The college which provided Yvette with the happiest four years of her adult life thus far, Sweet Briar, has announced it will shut down — heart-breaking that. It is said to be ceasing operations before it reaches a bankrupt crisis so it can provide pensions and severance pay for its teachers, help students find other places, be responsible. But does it have to close? It is such a rare fine school for anyone, not quite unique as yet (as there are still some others) as just for women. But important victories too: Net Neutrality was affirmed by the FCC so this vast communication network will be preserved for all of us to reach one another, to find out information, to enjoy communication across time and space, as a utility, a lifeline.

On that note I’ve almost finished another Future Learn Course: Film-making: from Script to Screen, from Exeter University, in the UK. It’s been highly uneven but enormously helpful to me as I write my paper.

The first week dismaying: the people in charge were showing off who they were, and what they were going to tell us. There was some discussion of writing scripts — how you have to visualize — and sound design, but nothing developed. The talk and questions in the “learners'” discussion spaces, made me think about how I came to want to study (or make) films and suddenly remembered years of watching Channel 9 in NYC and the old films endlessly replaying and how I was deeply moved by The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara — especially two haunting moments: her up on the scaffold about to be hung, ethereal, beautiful, and him siting on the cathedral next to a gargoyle as the movie ends, weeping weeping and asking why no one can love him.

The second week was all I had hoped for — explanatory and for me transformative talk about the process of film-making as one moves from script to filming, what does the director do, Tony Grisoni and David Peace’s and Destiny Ekaragha’s films (about English Nigerian people, the careless spiteful murder of a Kurdistan young man in London, Kingsland) — I felt ashamed I had not gone to see the film about the young nun, Ida and the mini-series about Yorkshire, Red Riding, which Jim downloaded for me.

From Red Riding Trilogy — films by men are often about troubled young men

The third week the guide was Mike Figgis who talked about camera work in a concrete real way; he showed clips from one of his popular films, Leaving Las Vegas, and talked about what drove and shaped his decisions for where he filmed, how he visualized, when added sound; and then a powerful movie he had made: The Mass of Man. A man is 3 minutes late to his job center and is told by this merciless woman that he will be stopped from getting any money for a month unless he signs a form; if he signs it he will still be stopped for 2 weeks. He missed his bus. It is clear that the job center has no jobs to give out. This reminded me of what I saw in all the places said to be open to help disabled people find jobs. They are useless and the employees there punish the disabled people in order to shut them up and keep them cowed lest these employees lost their jobs. What happens is an infuriated person comes in and starts to shoot people with painful darts — we were meant to understand and feel for the infuriated man and see the cruelty of the whole arrangement, its hypocrisies. Figgis had his favorite producer there and we learned how a producer works with a film-director — funding his project. How to try to control what you write by asking yourself how much time each page will take to film. We were to try to see the distance from the script to visualizing the film

The fourth week was the worst Future Learn week I’ve experienced, the guide prurient without an ability to articulate anything about his (awful) film. There were two interviews worth watching: David Morrissey about his experience of acting in a film recently (in Georgia) and Martin Scorsese on the reaction to a film about a serial killer that offended people deeply in the 1950s (but today alas might pass without comment, much less anything adverse), Peeping Tom. Some film-makers have little intellectual understanding of what they are doing; they can understand how a camera works and what angles they could to produce certain effects. Often the actors understand more of their art as an art and its value than anyone else — I see this during interviews.

Wright concentrated on scenes of Meryl Streep Margaret Thatcher neither all powerful nor in dementia, but inbetween

Week 5 the guide, Justine Wright, articulate and insightful. She began as a person editing commercials; went on to documentaries (where the script is minimal making them very arduous to do as the amount of material gathered is often enormous) and recently features. She showed the script is a central prescriptive text everyone follows, as they went might alter, but kept to more or less generally as the plan of the shoot. She talked a lot about time and space in a movie and how you must zero in on specifics to tell a story. She showed clips from a film she had edited about Thatcher, the Iron Lady, where the question was how to show her needing to shop for breakfast things, shopping, then coming home, then eating. Lewis Arnold was next with a short Caroline about a girl compulsively reliving her grief over her father’s death in a car accident — I would not have understood it without his explanations, sheer cutting and editing of images and sequences.

Week 6: sound and music, added on last. The last week was excellent and as there is still time to register and follow the six, I recommend this series to all. The guides were Danny Hambrook, a sound editor, and John Keane, a composer; the films includes Kureishi’s Le Weekend, the 1999 mini-series Wives and Daughters (scripted by Andrew Davies), and a remarkable cartoon, The Hill Farm (nominated for an Oscar). I did notice once again that men film-makers just love to make violent films and enjoy presenting violence in the guise of “action-adventure.” As in previous weeks one reason I enjoyed most of the videos, extra lectures (one at the BFI site) and talk by the two guides was I liked the movies. It seems odd but sound and music are attached last; that seems to be a practuical necessity. It’s after the film is laid out you can attach the sound. Hambrook discussed how he made the sounds of Paris in Le Weekend; how he developed a thematic motif for Cynthia in Wives and Daughters and how that worked; Keane talked of many experiences of creating different kinds of sounds, tracks, atmosphere — cartoons are a special case because the sounds are often far more artificial than we realize and yet have to move us as natural. The story of the film was touching.



Idyllic drawing: The Poet’s Window by Pytor Konchalovsky (Russian, 1875-1956) – again from a Net-friend, Camille, on face-book, to cheer herself and others

I work away on my paper due for the coming ASECS conference at LA (Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films), genuinely begun and read with understanding some new or old books (Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chapter I) and others I was kidding myself I was managing (Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground on Cornwall); I’ve been mesmerized by movies by Victor Nunez, the older Poldark Series (the last 4 powerful episodes of the first season, 1975-76), watched yet more Downton Abbey, most precious of all good letters from and to friends, talk about art and politics and just anything and everything (visiting Godolphin House in Cornwall, large topiary cats) with acquaintances too on the Net, even spent time with my daughters, ate, slept, sat by my real sweet Clarycat and played with nudging pressing Ian. They seek companionship too.

On Marsden: What he’s exploring is why some people become mythic – and Cornwall has been one of these, the capacity of a place to create mythologies about them too. I just loved Wilkie Collins’s book on his time in Cornwall. It has to do with topography, with the distinctive space of the area, what it looks like and has enabled its history to be — and he had just gotten to the neolithic objects and stones and King Arthur when I left off. Cornwall is a place with many neolithic stones, and like elsewhere they are found in formations which suggest people moved them. Marsden meditates this too. Marsden shows how Cornwall can depress some people – not him, a friend who came with him. David Craig’s review in the LRB emphasizes Marsden’s use of previous writers from and on Cornwall from the 17th century on. This is an 18th century topic — as modern archealogy takes off then. I’ve read a couple of excellent books on Stonehenge and this review fits in there too — about theorizing these stones. Political geography can explain something of what happens in areas so “gifted” and returned to and written about — books and people who were there count too I should think as well as some literal history. Another great travel book of this type is Orphan Pamuk’s Istanbul — I’ve longed to go there and see the great sea by it.

View of Estuary from Fowey and Bodinnick — I dipped into DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall too

On Nunez: A Flash of Green, which may be watched whole through 5 YouTube sites. The 1980s film is about reporter who is partly seduced into operating as a mole on behalf of his friend, a corrupt politician, and destroying the individuals part of a movement to stop a corporation from turning a lake, woodlands into a development of expensive housing and malls. It’s the lack of sensationalism that is so striking.

I can see how Ruby in Paradise is an Austen adaptation: in comparison while deeply and truthfully seen, it is a simple coming of age story about a decent young girl, surrounded by mostly well-meaning people — in a rotten society (not explained how it got that way).

Ulee’s Gold (I rented a DVD from Netflix) — powerful and real. There is uplift towards the end; I see Nunez practices this for all his films I’ve seen thus far (including Gal Young’un, where a young man deludes an older woman into marrying him, mortifies her [“slack face”], takes her money, brings home a stupid sexy woman but she wins through threatening to kill him with a rifle, and the poor girl chooses to stay with her) The endings arenot tacked on and is believable. In Ulee’s Gold, what’s startling is the frank portrayal without any holding back of family relationships and especially drug addiction – without overdoing it (what Breaking Bad does about addiction, it’s too melodramatic, too crass awful).. There is a violent subplot where two of the grandfather’s (Peter Fonda)’s son’s buddies in crime threaten to and then come back to wrest a huge amount of money hidden away — they threaten to kill him, his daughter-in-law and grandchildren and they are rescued by a nurse across the way (who is becoming the grandfather’s half girl-friend by the end, she’s been divorced twice, no children). I can see how the story could have been presented so melodramatically and it’s not. Things emerge naturally — as every day life. This is like his other films. Beautiful shots of northern Florida and beekeeping.

Peter Fonda and Vanessa Zima as grandfather and daughter from a typical scene in Ulee’s Gold

Miss Drake

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