Archive for September 16th, 2016

Last summer flowering bush, still holding out on right side of house

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we read and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendez-vous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, shawl,
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth
A light …. (Wallace Stevens, from “The Final Soliloquy”)

Dear friends and readers,

The year is turning, the mornings dark until 6:30 am, evening dark by 8 pm, by next week what will I be doing in this room of mine? and inside a shawl?

I’ll be rereading Fielding’s Tom Jones with one class, and by the following the novels of four 19th century women of letters (Shelley’s Frankenstein, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance,” and Oliphant’s Hester) with another. I’m back to working on my paper on Charlotte Smith for the October Chawton conference. This past couple of books my companions in solitude have been Miranda Seymour’s superb biography of Mary Shelley, Jenny Uglow’s concise study of Eliot, Ahdaf Soueif’s fiction, and poetry by Dahlia Ravikovitch and Margaret Atwood. A good way to spend my time. For company I’m now truly delighting in Tolstoy’s War and Peace with a small group of like-minded people on the Trollope19thCStudies Yahoo listserv. I compare the Maud/Mandelker translation in English to the Elisabeth Guernik one in French as I go: I so enjoy reading French or Italian translations of books written in yet a third language not English. One person in our group who lives in Cologne, Germany, is reading two different German translations. On Wwtta we slowly make our way through Hermione Lee’s biography, Virginia Woolf.

Beyond reading, there is the movies on DVD, the flickering light of the screen. Well, I’ve embarked on the second season of Poldark and am still dwelling on the first of Outlander (because I can’t get the second) and this time I’ve had real pleasure talking to some of the face-book Poldark watchers, reaers, viewers.

Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine — he was superb as Hal and Henry V in the Hollow Crown plays

I finished The Night Manager and think to myself I’d like to re-see it slowly. Made for TV, it’s an effective pace-y, all edge thriller, much much simpler than the usual LeCarre, so we have a few good people trying saving the world against those running the vile arms industry, but acted suggestively, exquisitely well, with even a qualified happy ending, where the hero of many and therefore no name succeeds, together with his “intelligence “control” agent, Angela Burr (burrs stick, she’s an angel), all the while heavily pregnant, in destroying at least these evil men. Emerging as our Jonathan Pine, no longer the subservient Night Manager, but his own person, having committed to achieve the noble quest of destroying a man who manufactures and sells the most vicious of weaponry (napalm, bombs of all sorts, gas poison), made a decision to no longer be so reclusive, and can say to the new Night Manager, he wants “nothing at all.” Jed, our heroine will leave off her whorish ways and return to her family and child and will wait for him to come to her (“I promise,” says he). If you think a little you do remember this hero murdered two people (themselves murderers, very bad men, but it’s still murder), and if Angela Burr won this one, those supporting the arms industry inside the gov’t are there, waiting to sell out again on the justification this wanton destruction of people who don’t count after all is sound strategy for their cliques in their nation-state.

A photograph from Berry’s older honest Portrait of Cornwall — one of the more obtuse desires of tourists is to shut out contemporary realities

I have decided not to write any more blogs on my Cornwall holiday. I’ve been stunned by the Jekyll-turning-into-Hyde behavior, post-holiday from the woman I visited, and haven’t got the heart. I had wanted to tell more of the three sites that I saw one learns most from: the grim Bodmin jail, the mind-pausing Greevor mine, and the small and symbolic re-enactments of life among aristocrats and servant a Lanhydrock House. What distinguished them is that the previous life they stage was not that long ago and much of the original buildings stand with the original objects as used found, manufactured of just left there. This is not the first time I’ve discovered the older the site, or the less to see and experience (archeaological digs are very old but there is much to see), the less impact on the viewer’s imagination and sensibility. I’ll come back to some of this when I’ve finished Claude Berry’s marvelous county book, A Portrait of Cornwall when I’m stronger in spirit.

Another from this book

Another friend I told about this said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’m not so sure: after nearly 3 years of trying hard. I endure more stoically than before, but each loss weakens me, makes me move more into protective mode. I’m a person now who knows how she loves her life in her house but has lost her loving true companion.

Clarycat this morning

There’s been a semi-attack on cats in the NYRB in the form of a review by Natalie Angier of Cat Wars: Peter P Mella and Chris Santella’s The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. The title gives away that the authors’ ostensible campaign to stop cat owners from allowing their cats to go outside and kill birds includes a determination to ridicule human behavior towards cats as pet-companions. Readers of this blog who agree that this ridicule stems from not being smart enough to respond to another species might want to read and respond too. Much better is Rachel Cusk in the NYT Book Review on two recent books by women who so long for children they have themselves artificially inseminated. What Cusk has to say is as pertinent, truthful and searing about women and motherhood still (the hypocrisies, the miseries) as anything Badinter has written. Cusk seeks to free women.

A photo of Geraldine Jewsbury

In developing a new point of view for a course, one reads all sorts of new books and for 19th Century Women of Letters I’ve been led to understand and think anew by Norma Clarke in her Ambitious Heights: Writing, Friendship Love: The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans, and Jane Carlyle): I can’t speak too highly of how she explains why women wrote these endorsements of what crippled their existence, and her accounts of the two Jewsbury sisters, Maria (1800-33), the poet, essayist and editor (the Athenaeum), Geraldine (1812-80), novelist and then for decades the great decider on who got published by Hurst and Blackett and Richard Bentley; and Jane Carlyle (1801-66) who never got to write originally in forms beyond her great private letters. I thought I’d end this evening’s entry with some lines from a very Victorian poem by Maria, “To My Own Heart,” hoping my reader will find them something you can grow stronger from too:

Come , let me sound thy depths, unquiet sea
Of thought and passion; let thy wild waves be
Calm for a moment. Thou mysterious mind—
No human eye may see, no fetters bind;
Within me, ever near me as a friend
That whilst I know I fail to comprehend …
Come let me talk with thee, allotted part …
I know a calmer mood, a brighter view:
The restless ocean hath its hours of rest,
And sleep may visit those by pain opprest;
More shade than sunlight o’er his heart may sweep,
Who yet is cheerful, nay, may seldom weep;
And he may learn, though late, and by degrees …
Life she may look on with a sobered eye,
And how to live, think less than how to die …


Home !—home!—vain wanderer, why that murmured plaint,
Breaking the quiet of thy green retreat?

A Summer Eve’s Vision

I heard last night a lovely lute,
I heard it in the sunset hour,
When every jarring sound was mute …
I dreamt that I again was young,
With merry heart and frolic will,
That hopes around my spirit clung …
I saw ambition’s heights arise,
Fame’s pathway o’er it spread sublime,
Nor feared the coming night of time …

Unwearied up the steep I prest,
And vainly deemed my home would be [with him] …
But soon came on a darker mood,
Fame’s lingering sunbeam ceased to glow,
The heights grew barren where I stood,
And Death’s wide Ocean roared below.

Then waking from that troubled dream,
This lesson did my heart imbue,
In every earthly hope and scheme,
How far the seeming from the true!

I like LeCarre’s novels best in those moments where the hero is living apart, as in The Night Manager Jonathan Pine does for a while until he finds something worthwhile to commit to, and then he decides.

Surviving on the left

Miss Drake


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