We’ll meet nae mair at sunset, when the weary day is dune,
Nor wander hame thegither, by the lee licht 0′ the mune!
I’ll hear your step nae longer amang the dewy corn,
For we’ll meet nae mair, my bonniest, either at eve or morn.
The yellow broom is waving, abune the sunny brae,
And the rowan berries dancing, where the sparkling waters play
Tho’ a’ is bright and bonnie, it’s an eerie place to me,
For we’ll meet nae mair, my dearest, either by burn or tree.
Far up into the wild hills, there’s a kirkyard auld and still,
Where the frosts lie ilka morning, and the mists hang low and chill
And there ye sleep in silence, while I wander here my lane,
Till we meet ance mair in Heaven, never to part again.
— Alicia Anne Spottiswoode (Lady John Scott, 1810-1900), from An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets, ed. Catherine Kerrigan, where I found Anne Hunter, Anne Grant, Kathleen Raine …
Dear friends and readers,
One way or another immersed in Scotland or Australia since I last wrote — all imagined to be sure.
So it’s been an eventful week here in my house. Last week a series of incidents and this week the aftermath in test diagnoses and symptoms suggests I’m not going to make “old bones” (as my father would have said) after all. I need not be haunted by what’s to come, about being a burden to others or losing my independence, need not be sure to have enough for 25 years from now. I feel a certain relief at this. Less stress.
Among other conditions, I now have a weak right arm, so license to indulge myself. Yesterday there arrived two women from Maid Brigade who (I paid to) spend 5 hours here cleaning my house. It’s cleaner than I ever remember it. I can now conceive of having a guest. I naturalmente wish Jim were here to see it. I’m going to have them come to do their thing twice a month from now on. Our 26 year-old air-conditioning system and machine from 1989 has been pronounced by a man from Michael and Sons to be dying an honorable death. Whether true or no, it certainly makes worrying whirring and wasp-like sounds so on Friday will arrive a couple of men to install a new system.
For two nights I watched episodes of a Starz mini-series called Outlander; women’s romance history-fantasy, Scottish, based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon, it’s updated Daphne DuMaurier; a sort of cross between DuMaurier’s Hungry Hill where the narrator-hero crosses several times between southwest England in the 1950s and the 13th century and and the heroine’s thrill-romances of Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and A King’s General (set in the later 17th century, the heroine crippled in a wheelchair, in my judgement her best) and Rebecca, all interwoven.
The Outlander resembles the new (2015) Poldark in its grimness, brutal violence, grimyness, the POV from below, the peasants and outlaws, not the elegant and fringe people of the older (1975) Poldark, Oneddin Line. DuMaurier’s Hungry Hill, one source, an enfeebled book because the narrator is one of these unconvincing males — a sort of neuter figure (rather like the later George Sand when vilification drove her from her Indianas, Valentines and Lelias). By keeping the central consciousness a woman’s, the narrator a heroine, Gabaldon kept all the intense ambiguity about a woman’s helplessness in pre-19th century eras against males, who then in reaction to the heroine manifest unashamed or shall I say unhidden attitudes towards her sexuality (the film is written, directed and produced mostly by men): upon meeting Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) the film’s 18th century men, British soldiers and aristocrats, Irish thugs and clansmen alike promptly think her or ask if she is a whore because she is alone.
As our story begins, Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) has been a nurse in WW2 and presided over and helped in horrifying operations, and the war now over, she and her her academic archaeologist husband, Frank (set for a professorship in Oxford), meet again after a near 5 year absence. They visit Scotland for its ruins, look at neolithic sites. Left to herself one day she melts into history. Her first encounter is her husband’s relative (mentioned by him), a snarling redcoat, Jonathan (Black Jack) Randall (Tobias Menzies plays both parts), and finds herself shot at, is taken up, rescued (or herself takes up, saves), the wounded Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), and soon she is riding in front of him (anticipating Turner and Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza). The band comes to a stone castle that she and her 20th century husband explored now become fully inhabitated. I thought I was back with Frank Yerby’s The Border Lord, Book-of-the-Month club special,also from the 1950s.
It’s the voice-over that I found especially compelling, Catrionia Balfe’s voice perfect for Rebecca. A sophisticated use of old-fashioned realism smashed together with fantasy gothic and superb cinematography, a richly colored Scotland complete, with the themed music part minor key bagpipes, make for an undercurrent of thrill.
Incomparably superior was Nick Cave and John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, filmed on location (a feat in itself), featuring a stellar cast and performances (as they say) by Ray Winstone as the British police officer determined to bring civilization to the Australian outback, which means not only keeping a kind of word with bushrangers (murderously violent whites, some ex-convicts transported, treated horribly themselves), but moderating the savage behaviors of the settlers and getting alone with the aborigines he needs to help him and his (intransigent) wife.
It’s such a worthwhile film, it demands study and a paper rather than a blog. Emily Watson was the English wife, Martha, determined to keep up elegant manners and customs, even Christmas complete with turkey dinner and a transposed Dorsetshire garden in the searing heat of a desert. I bond with her in every movie she’s in, her husband all in all to her, or why is she there?
Settler colonialism (interwoven are old photos of aborigines chained by the necks) is fully dramatized. John Hurt the wandering figure, belonging nowhere anymore. Danny Huston, the Burns brother:
Trollope would have understood it.
I watched because there are no film adaptations for Trollope’s colonialist writing which I’ve been reading for several weeks now. Cave and Hillcoat’s realization and themes, Watson’s acting against Winstone’s will help me (I hope) with my paper. Having finished reading John Caldigate, “Catherine Carmichael, or Three Years Running,” Harry Heathcote, to say nothing of the ginormous Australia and New Zealand (I even found myself companionable with his Twenty Letters from Liverpool, a tireless traveller indeed was Mr Trollope), and gone over some of the stories I read last fall with a class (especially “Aaron Trowe” and “Returning Home”), and some very good recent post-colonialist recent essays on Trollope, I’m on track for a paper for the coming Trollope conference: “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Settler Colonialism.” I should make room for a couple of Mann Booker books in this vein, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, to say nothing of Australian heroine’s texts (by Kate Grenville, 1890s new woman author, Barbara Baynton), and Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost Trollope goes to Sri Lanka too — the man left nothing in his path out. I want to take out the time to read John McCourt’s Writing the Frontier, on Trollope’s Anglo-Irish writing, but an abstract is due by the 30th of this month.
I seem not to be able to fit in returning to studying French and trying to speak it (for the sake of my new French friend, Sophie), much less Italian, which I’m drawn to just now by a book we’re reading and writing about on Trollope19thCStudies: Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian reminds me of how rich this literature is. I’m getting into a new 18th century women writer for me, Anne Grant (Scotswoman), who writes an anthropological (not to say colonialist) Memoirs of an American Lady, and not given up on my Tudor matter either: I’m up to Julia Fox’s Jane Boleyn, and listening to a brilliantly read Wolf Hall unabridged (Simon Slater).
Be not mistaken, gentle reader, it’s my second summer without Jim and I am now literally feeling it in my heart, but I feel more at peace. Maybe it will fall to me to sell or somehow or other de-access our whole library to a reputable place where the books will be appreciated and eventually find their way to other readers who value them.
I take courage because the women’s poetry I read shows me that my case is central to a lot of women’s poetry. It was Beatrice Didier’s L’Ecriture-Femme I told Sophie about: a chapter in which Didier cover Raine’s translations of Virginia Woolf. What if people paid attention to what is to be learned from the parallels between Raine and Woolf?
This too is an experience of the soul
The dismembered world that once was the whole god
Whose unbroken fragments now lie dead.
The passing of reality itself is real.
Gathering under my black cloak the remnants of life
That lie dishonoured among people and places
I search the twofold desert of my solitude,
The outward perished world, and the barren mind.
Once he was present, numinous, in the house of the world,
Wearing day like a garment, his beauty manifest
In corn and man as he journeyed down the fertile river.
With love he filled my distances of night …
I trace the contour of his hand fading upon a cloud,
And this his blood flows from a dying soldier’s wound,
In broken fields his body is scattered and his limbs lie
Spreadeagled like wrecked fuselage in the sand …
Oh in the kitchen-midden of my dreams
Turning over the potsherds of past days
Shall I uncover his loved desecrated face?
Are the unfathomed depths of sleep his grave? …
— Kathleen Raine, in An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets
This morning (6/18) I can report I slept better last night than I have done since I went to NYC.