Absence, hear thou my protestation
against thy strengh,
distance and length.
Do what thou canst for alteration:
For hearts of truest mettle,
Absence doth still and time doth settle …
== John Donne, from “What Time and Absence Prove,” spoken by Claire and Ned Gowan (Outlander, see below)
Dear friends and readers,
Last night I took myself to Wolf Trap to join in on the last (we are told) of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion concert/shows and heard this line as a refrain in one of his songs. By this third year I know how to drive to Wolf Trap, and I bought myself a picnic supper for the first time.
It seems silly to say I was alone. No more than any one else even if I was not paired or in a group. Alas, this my only second time participating is Keillor’s last season. He was less buoyant this year than last, and his irreplaceable form of gallows humor included the usual autobiographical sequence, this time about a visit to the Mayo clinic with prostate cancer. (I read the other day 1 in 4 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer before they die.) I laughed uncontrollably at moments, especially his genial mockery of our dependence on gadgets: his relationship with his garmin was likened to an imaginary spouse who gives directions, but does not recriminate when you get it wrong. Instead his (an Australian voice) says “recalcuating”). A British voice in one Jim and I used while in England would say “Make a U-Turn at the next available place … ” His moving themes were all about death, decay, a song about how few hours we have, taking stopgap measures to gild our moments.
I’ve been at a number of stopgap measures since I last wrote 16 days ago. Two others also musical: Keillor’s ironic routines are a high point, a momentary sceptical turning round and round in words, in a musical and skit evening. Friday (5/20) at the Abramson Recital Hall, the OLLI at Mason hosted “an evening with the Dick Budson Jazz Quartet.” I’d never been to a jazz quartet evening before. Jazz had seemed to me so formless. The members of his band improvized, but the rhythms and structure and songs were anything but formless. Lena Seikaly, billed as a vocalist, was there to bring the moments velvety variations on musically-projected experiences of life. The Days of Wine and Roses stayed with me. The whole stage seemed alive with harmonies.
Ireland 100 is at the Kennedy Center (it’s 100 years since the Easter Rising), concerts, plays, skits, dance, instrumental music. On Sunday (5/22), Camille O’Sullivan in the Terrace Theater. Before in the hall outside, people were very friendly, not all Irish. While she began slow, all dressed up in a long lace gown, about a quarter of the way in, I was roused to an exhilaration that her varied program of Irish, folk, recently famous and new original with her songs projected. A four man band, many props .She gradually stripped down. I ought to go there more often: it’s less than the big houses in the center, and probably more fun for me.
This Tuesday evening (5/29) I go again to hear Fiona Shaw read Irish poetry, sing songs, provide food for thought. I’ve loved her since I watched her as Mrs Crofts in the 1995 BBC Persuasion, listened to her read aloud (on CDs) and acted in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September.
I am sometimes distraught on my way home, so aware of how he’s gone, comparing myself to couples I’ve seen, and I come home and pour a large glass of Robert Shaw Shiraz and subside to watch Amy Goodman with her remarkable interviews and/or Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill and Hari Srinavasan on the news, and team’s human interest exposes around the world (Fred de Sam Lazaro, Malcolm from Australia, Jeffrey Brown).
I carried on with Shakespeare: The Hollow Crown, this time three plays Henry VI parts 1 and 2 (condensed from Parts 1-3) and Richard III. The dramaturgy across the series is the first consideration. Then dramatic scenes and landscapes. The former is harder – to get in, my bore. the deaths of the two Talbots is emblematical, allegorical, ritual and cannot come close to the development of Hotspur and his death at the hand of Hal (he was trying himself to slaugther Hal). But ritual worked: the presentation, capturing and horrifying death of Joan of Arc (which closes the actual Henry VI part 1 with the manipulated wedding. As in the one time I saw it previously (decades ago at the Delacorte theater in Central) park, Henry VI is abridged and turned into a 2 act drama.
The BBC is showing it can do the same superb dramas they once did — given money enough, great actors, a fabulous script. They are consciously advertising themselves too as doing English history, English heritage.
Tom Sturridge is playing Henry VI right — he was at the time called “feeble minded,” and some say he was epileptic; he was weak and could not contend with his courtiers once Gloucester fell from power. I did not know the story of his wife — Sally Hawkins was superb — but it’s believable the wife would be attacked first. Also Sophie Okonedo — extraordinary as an evolving personality. I’m not sure that in Shakespeare she openly goes to bed with Somerset — in the play it is a salacious flirtation. I was glad to see Hugh Bonneville so successfully shake off Lord Grantham and return to the great actor he is — it’s a mark of his greatness that he’s given one of the best older male parts; so too Suchet as York in Richard II, Anton Lesser as Exeter. Order your priorities. hey did overdo the coming of R3 — over the top melodramatic to the point of humor. I’ve an idea it was camped up in the original theater now and again.
I watched this one using my BBC iplayer. Like Henry IV, part 2, the film-makers did this part so as to make a new amalgam and bring out new themes (so reflecting the plays). In this one the battle scenes were powerfully done – perhaps they overdid the violence, but this is nowadays par for the course. No one can say “old Shakespeare” was staid and safe now. I did think they brought out Shakespeare’s own development or growth. I mentioned in my recommendation of Henry VI, part 1 that powerful and effective as the deaths of Talbot and his son are, they are primitive against the depiction of the death of Hotspur in the context of the whole play (with Hal and Falstaff as the comparison). So apart from the cuts they’ve done (the rebellion of Cade for example), there is growth and development once Richard III or, in this play, the Duke of Gloucester takes the stage. Hugh Bonneville gave all he could to the part of the first Duke of Gloucester (Humphry) as a man of real integrity and strength who Henry VI is too young, idle, weak, to protect but the depth of insight into the intricacies of thought and human nature found in the last act of Henry VI part 2 (as parceled out by the BBC) suddenly brings us into the psychological world of Richard II. Sally Hawkins also delivered a terrific performance making of the hitherto arrogant Duchess of Gloucester, a frantically terrified woman now accused of madness and witchery and destroyed:
Bernard Cumberbatch has done it again: a complex, seething, humanly disabled deformed man, as physically violent as he is emotionally half-insane. He is a great actor.
Judi Dench his mother, Cecily, Duchess of York, in a couple of scenes bests him for a moment:
The problem in dramatizing these plays is you must show Shakesepeare’s later work first as Richard II and Henry IV came before Henry VI and Richard III in history so you can miss the progression within Shakespeare himself. His deep melancholy and questioning of war itself, of these political figures emerges slowly, his bonding with the outsider and poetic figures too. Richard III anticipates Macbeth, Hotspur figures like Anthony. I was glad to see Keely Hawes got the role of Elizabeth – she did very well with it. They’ve had a very strong cast of women. Margaret did (it is said) come onto the battle field; whether she wielded a sword and killed is probably not so. Shakespeare has her witness the cruel death of her son and that has become history for us.
From Carol Ann Duffy’s poem for Richard on the day his mangled corpse and bones were finally buried:
My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; your own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name
That I say it seems to me people are just now finally learning to make great films from Shakespeare may suggest to others solipsism. I long to see the DVD of Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in The Winter’s tale.
I’ve gotten a disk-player back onto my PC computer so can now watch movies on my PC computer — which has a reasonably big screen, though not as big as my TV — again. So back to my three different film versions of War and Peace too, looking forward to our summer project on Trollope19thCStudies at Yahoo: we’re reading War and Peace, biographies and criticism and people are invited to watch movies and write about them.
I’ve carried on with this summer’s post-colonial reading and writing project, this time focused on Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and her poetry. I’ve finished Oliphant’s superb Ladies Lindores and am into her Autobiography, am considering as post-colonial women’s texts: Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan (later 18th, early 19th century) The Missionary (about a rape), Ahdaf Soueif’s Map of Love. I’m deeply engaged by Smith’s one full-length novel I’ve not read (and I’ve not read them all so carefully): Marchmont, and the author Constance Fenimore Woolson. Or Adha Soueif’s Map of Love. Scott’s Surgeon’s Daughter appears to be an exquisite foray into a post-colonial empire text. I queried Shaksper-l and have now a list of recent good essays on the Henry VI plays and some citations of other DVD performances worth seeing. One cannot have too many holds to stay on. Listserves are not what they were (they have no writing selves – a person has to recognize he or she is that.
I semi-hired a contractor to replace the linoleum on my kitchen with pretty vinyl tiles, the white (ugly) cabinets (like a hospital) with dark honey brown ones, a new countertop, new sink faucet, paint 7 doors of this house (2 outdoor to the porch), remove two, and replace the front and back door. For the first time in decades the spigot on the side of my house is not a corroded unusable pipe, but a brass working spigot with a wheel, and I’ve attached a working hose. I have to wait a month: when he went on holiday last week with his wife, once in the water his wife could not breathe; rushed to the hospital, she was diagnosed with a large growth on her lungs. The man is devastated and cannot work this week, has two jobs before mine.
What a trouble I had purchasing the right kind of hose and getting the thing allowing water to course through it. I got myself two before I landed on the right one to reach around the property. I will eventually change the color of the house to a quiet cream (after 20 years of embarrassment from a blue I couldn’t get the contractor to change) and probably enclose the porch. The area is not usable though too small to make much of it. No doubt an essential part of the house before air-conditioning.
I need routine. Without a routine, I am at a loss. I’ve used routines since the 1980s. Since Jim died, I am also desolate without feeling some kind of connection or contact with the world outside my house. I have no local friends, and have discovered I would be developing any, just acquaintances I see once in a while to say go to a concert or do something specific. After all I’m not a lady who lunches. I have discovered I’m a person who needs real companionship though.
If left to my own devices I probably would eventually develop a project out of early modern women: Tudor matter, and queens and gradually develop some for the 18th century as well as nowadays women of letters for the 19th. I’d read Elena Ferrante in the Italian and another of Francoise Kermina’s wonderful biographies (hers on Madame Roland is the best thing there is in print): the French have women biographers too. But I would not know what to read first. I’m not sure I have the hope and confidence to write a book unless I know I could publish it and have learnt the way to publish a book is to embed yourself in some social context where the publisher sees an interest in publishing the content of this book. I don’t know now to begin to start a collection of essays. I don’t have the know-how to contact people nor know what to say and I’ve not got any kind of title or affiliation to gather good essays on a variety of aspeces of Henry Fielding’s work and especially Tom Jones.
I just need some sort of meaning in life, some sort of routine I can follow over a day. Since Jim died, I’ve discovered I need this more than ever or I will go to pieces, and have found that without Jim some sense I am active in the world. The only way I can do this is through books and writing. Teaching of course also takes me out, provides an imposed or enforced routine: it too is the result of books and writing (the lecture notes after thinking and reading). There I can immerse myself and discover new presences or renew old ones, deepen the relationship in my mind, new themes for me to understand the world.
Memorial Day weekend, the third of my widowhood — widowhood is a special condition, one if you’ve not been a widow and experienced private and social life from this perspective you cannot understand.
Izzy and I took Ian and Clarycat to the vet this morning for Rabies shots, a wellness visit and nail clipping. We captured them quickly but I could see Clarycat was very upset for hours afterward when we returned, skulking against the walls, hidden, not trusting me, slowly emerging to sit on the bed and then enacting a circle of anxiety. Ian perked up more quickly and sought reassurance. She’d had the harder time: a test of her kidneys (blood was taken).
Very late at night I wallow in Outlander on my big TV, never tire of it, see more of the female angle each time. The film-makers should begin with an homage to Daphne DuMaurier: Gabaldon combines King’s General (later 17th century civil war courts) with House on the Hill (traveling from present to 14th century and back again). Gabaldon either is unaware that her way of time-traveling, the choice of landscape, ethnic civil war, is ripe for post-colonialism or (more likely) is hypocritically not allowing any sense of this to come through lest it put off her common readers. I’ve half fallen in love with Sam Heughan as Jamie.
You need not be scared to me nor anyone else here as long as I’m with ye
Clare: You know John Donne?
Ned: — Oh, aye. He’s one of my favorites.
Jim used to read Donne aloud to me in spontaneous moments.
The cats come and sit next to me on the piano stool watching too.
She got up and went away
Should she not have? Not have what?
got up and gone away.
Yes, I think she should have
Because it was getting darker.
Getting what? Darker. Well,
There was still some
Day left when she went away,
enough to see the way
And it was the last time she would have been able
Able? …. to get up and go away.
It was the last time the very last time for
After that she could not
Have got up and gone away any more.
— Stevie Smith
Widowhood for me I’ve learned from experience is a life apart for the most part. This is what it is to be. What companionship I have is here on the Net with Net friends. The silent days pass slowly, each one, and sometimes I feel there has been time to move into and be with the presences of my books; yet each week flies by, and I feel every time I turn round it’s Sunday again. NPR music is best Sunday morning, then and each night after midnight they play beautiful classical music. I have a small radio in 4 of the rooms in the house now and when I’m doing chores, walking about, I have all of them playing on this station. Can Jim be dead 2 years, 8 months and 20 days?
Widowhood is what I do now.