“The calm and polite unconcern [cold indifference] of Lady Middleton on the occasion [of Marianne Dashwood’s breakdown because of the public betrayal of her by Willoughby] was an happy relief to Elinor’s spirits, oppressed as they often were by the clamorous kindness of the others. It was a great comfort to her to be sure of exciting no interest in one person at least among their circle of friends; a great comfort to know that there was one who would meet her without feeling any curiosity after particulars, or any anxiety for her sister’s health. Every qualification is raised at times, by the circumstances of the moment, to more than its real value; and she was sometimes worried down by officious condolence to rate good-breeding as more indispensable to comfort than good-nature — Austen, Sense and Sensibility.”
Dear friends and readers,
All depends on your point of view. While for Izzy and me, graduating from last year’s indoor tiny tree to this year’s small tree was an expansion of cheer, for our pussycats it means they just cannot see out of the window over the credenza.
Shall I tell you how I acquired that credenza. Laura and I used to drive to a local Salvation Army center and buy used clothes, toys. This was when Izzy was around 2 and in a daycare school for a few hours each day. One day we saw this lovely cream-colored credenza and I know I needed some sort of furniture in the dining room besides the wooden dining table. It was $10. Cash down. Laura and I lifted it together, carried it along the pathway and somehow jammed it into my car, and I drove us home. It has sat under the window since then.
My cats have shown exemplary patience though.
They are old enough to know we don’t want that tree to come down, and so they sniff hesitantly around it seeking to find if there’s a place they can sit right next to the window. I have thwarted them some more by putting a small stack of book on one side, and a glass decanter of wine on the other so there is no hope to get round — if there was they’d have long ago knocked the whole thing over. But as it is, we’ve lost but one hanging gold bell thus far. And it didn’t break when it hit the floor.
For the first time ever — since 2005 when my then next-door neighbor (she’s moved away since) bought for me a plastic Penguin dressed absurdly as a small child gussied up for winter to go sledding, whom if you plug him in, glitters away — for the first time I say Colin is illumed:
I had no electrical outlet until last year when my now across-the-street neighbor helped me buy a long outdoor chord, and the year the previous neighbor who bought Colin as a gift came over the next morning to warn me not to put him out. It seems her partner had put up a splendiferous sleigh with reindeer, plugged it in, and went inside. The next morning, it was gone. Stolen. An inside job – within the neighborhood. He was shocked. Now he had to think badly of some neighbor, who couldn’t put the thing out on his or her lawn. Perhaps they gave it away as a gift or sold it. I worried about Colin, had an irrational affection for the piece, so kept him inside the house.
He’s still inside, inside the outside screened porch whose door is not easy to open (so safe I hope), and that seems to be enough. He looks like he’s waving to passers-by, so eagerly out there, all alone — I used to dream him the son never had, now I know he’s me …
Izzy and I did go to see an enjoyable Second Shepherd’s Play this past Sunday, and for the afternoon of Christmas Eve will go to the Kennedy Center for Sondheim’s Into the Woods. But other than that, it’s reading, listening to a book read aloud, movie-watching, time with pussycats — and of course writing.
A few nutshells:
Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover for a book I’m reviewing on historical fiction; truly engaging, even possibly great. Soon Colin Simpson’s superb life of Emma, Lady Hamilton, one of the characters. In the book this inscription: “Being a Christmas Gift from Jim, 1992.” This inscription and the characters the book presents led me to three volumes Jim loved and would read in again and again: the journals and memoirs of Charles Greville, an MP, courtier, and brilliant raconteur of the 1790s and Regency world of England; he was nephew to William, Lord Hamilton, who married Emma (born Amy Lyon) after Greville “unloaded” her onto his collector-uncle. I felt so bad for an afternoon that I didn’t pay enough attention to Jim when he’d read aloud from it. I didn’t realize quite what Greville this man was; I would get him confused with Fulke Greville, Philip Sidney’s best friend, another poet. Small grief amid the larger.
The only character I have been able to bond with or care about is one monkey,Jack, whom William Lord Hamilton buys and at first loves him abjectly and shows it. Hamilton doesn’t want that and teases and is cruel to the poor animal who then does a turn-about and becomes the performing anxious doll-like creature Hamilton wanted. I felt the cruelty of Hamilton’s teasing and so bad for the monkey who died, partly of neglect (the servants would not care for it when Hamilton was away) and partly of a broken heart. Sontag has made this effect deliberately because she has Hamilton think to himself how he has been told to buy two creatures so they will not be lonely as they need their own species but he coolly will not do it. There are depictions of the slaughtering of animals on these false hunts (the animals have no chance, so that the king never misses a shot) and then the desperately poor jumping on the carcasses and tearing them to pieces to eat them. Horrible horrible oh most horrible. Hamilton’s first wife has died and that too is partly a broken heart – so alone the woman. So now we are set up for Emma to enter the stage.
Slowly at night Debbie Horsfield’s scripts for the new Poldark mini-series, the first season (and I have the second): like novels. I then watch the episodes one by one, book in hand. Alas they are insufficiently annotated (no camera angles told, not enough description of settings, and other film decisions). The texts are trying to approximate novels when they should much more like shooting scripts. I’ve changed my mind and find the new Poldarks better (if not different in theme and approach) than I felt originally. I was and am strongly attached to the 1970s conceptions (liking three of the screenplay writers’ work too), but find just watching the new ones and using the screenplays as intermediate texts for the novels, a woman’s and deeply egalitarian point of view emerges, bring home to me a thought-out vision of what is integrity and how should we live, for what, in a hard world. Little omitted in the British DVDs, nothing rearranged.
Squeezing in very late at night: The Hollow Crown, truly remarkable. I have read all 37 plays (numbers of them several times and the sonnets and at least once the other poems, and at one time longed to major in Shakespeare and write my dissertation on Cymbeline; I taught Richard II, The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet a couple of times each. And i used to read the older criticism — not the last 20 years or so and I know “the conversation” as it’s put has changed a lot, and from what I’ve seen I can guess where it’s at: feminism, reading against the grain, the plays as theater and so on. I say this just to say where I come from (as we used to say). I just love Shakespeare and each time I read a play or go to one well-done I am astonished at how his achievement just towers in thought, language, dramatic interest, the characters, poetry and so on.
The new BBC films are making the plays so accessible: the actors speak the lines as if it were today’s English and yet they make clear what they are saying (by action too). I once saw the original 3 Henry VI plays done (at the Papp theater) followed by Richard III (an all nighter), and I’ve read the Henry VI plays through but once. I’d like to watch the older BBC series available on Netflix. What this one did was make the play far more shapely too. The two adapters turned it into a tragedy with the fall of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester as the central linchpin of the king’s weakness and turning to corrupt advisors. Hugh Bonneville was so good at this kind of part (he can do evil men too), and they somehow rearranged so Dame Eleanor was leading figure in this onslaught clearly. Sally Hawkins does the distraught and disturbed personality to a T; she did it in Persuasion. On the other side to Somerset, the Plantagenet Duke of York is made from the outset to be intensely ambitious and wanting to take the throne when Henry V died.It’s all there in Shakespeare but not so clear. The death of the Talbots (Philip Glenister outstanding) becomes another instance of how the ambitious destroy the good: neither Somerset or York would send men or money. Sophie Okenedo is extraordinary as Margaret of Anjou: of course they added the explicit sex. The way the play is done you don’t see Joan of Arc as opposed to her or a parallel (the latter is felt in Shakespeare) but sympathetically — which is startling but they are Shakespeare’s words.
It seemed so relevant to what’s happening to day as I watched the intense hypocritical councils. How astonishing is how dark Shakespeare is — an easy word but it does — even at the outset. People so rarely today (they used to in the later 19th century when biographical criticism of Shakespeare was common) talk of his relationship to his plays: but here he is at the beginning of his career emphasizing the tragedy of sensitive good people (he develops from that), weak (Henry VI and the actor was very good in it, he did it as a boy out of his depths). This melancholy perspective and the attack on the ambitious as deeply untrustworthy stays throughout the career.
Next “door” to Charles Greville on my shelf, Fulke Greville’s poetry — Greville was in the audiences to Shakespeare’s plays when done live in the 1590s:
In night when colours all to black are cast,
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light;
The eye a watch to inward senses plac’d,
Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,
Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
Where fear stirr’d up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offence,
Doth forge and raise impossibility:
Such as in thick depriving darknesses,
Proper reflections of the error be,
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see;
Who says the humanities are not relevant to our world today:
Coming to the end of our group read and talk on Tolstoy’s War and Peace and for me also a third time through Pulman’s 20 45 minute episode mini-series: what a rich pleasurable deeply moving experience these together with Andrew Davies’s 2016 6 75 minute episode mini-series (I just sit and weep over Andrey’s death done so well and realistically) and some few good books on the novel have been these 5 months for me.
This was on the Victorian Web this week:
And so we come to the mid-winter darkness
shivering while the killing goes on elsewhere