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Archive for March, 2019


Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey — the “vicious sick” heroines of Winston Graham’s suspense novels, often use several names too, but here we learn why

I watched Aisling Walsh’s rewrite of Priestley’s wonderful An Inspector Calls (2015) late one night week, and when I’ve renewed my attachment to underated because communist and no snob J.B. Priestley will write a separate blog on his Angel Pavement, Good Companions, and once again that the way to rescue thrillers is to turn them inside out and pay attention to the trauma and make of the central woman victim, the heroine

Back home again, and trying to resettle in ….

Dear Friends,

Ian pussycat was just having a good dream. He woke in his nearby cat bed, murmured and jumped over here, and came into my lap and then hurriedly pushed his body against mine, his face after my arms, chest, nudging away, his paws on either side of my neck. When I came home Saturday, Clarycat came trotting over, and back to lick me thoroughly. Glad I was back.

I arrived home late Saturday evening, and since then have been first working on my teaching Can You Forgive Her?, and now today begun to pick up my projects of study and towards books and/or papers and blogs amid my teaching and going to courses for the next few weeks.

On the trips to the ASECS hotel in Denver, Colorado and back: uneventful — one plane delayed going home, but my last so that I didn’t miss the next as there was no next. My bag made it with me to Denver and back. I want to report one new (or new to me) development on Southwest. A overt courtesy, an attempt at least to voice that these conditions in which we travel are dreadful, and even attempts to improve them where it didn’t cost Southwest anything.

So the airport space very small with not enough seats for everyone in the plane to sit near the hangar and plane while waiting; the chairs in the plane are as tiny (maybe tinier); the space between the two rows of seats so narrow only one person can walk through standing forwards at a time, the use even there of “business” seats — some seats in front not yet sold but on the spot for another hundred or so you could sit in one of them. Not that they looked bigger only you got to get on first. But questions answered politely and quickly and as if the person cared about your problem; when you got aboard, jokes like “sit anywhere folks it’s just like church;” free snacks (very small and little choice of snack, but plenty of juice, coffee, tea, sodas), wifi when it works. Instead of (as I’ve seen) jeering at people or doing whatever necessary to stop people lining up to go to the bathroom, cajoling remarks which took into account that this “made the aisles hard to pass,” or you can if you (see this) put your coat or jacket or whatever cloth thing under your feet, keep this with you because the overhead cabinets are needed for rolling baggage. As if we were all in this together folks and it was some mysterious power giving us these conditions, and they too (which is partly true) were “in it with us.”

I told a woman sitting next to me how in the African-American museum I noticed the chairs so much larger and two sets of seats facing one another and water-fountains and toilets made available to “coloureds” in railroad cars where they were segregated from people with European genetic heritage, and she produced a list of improvements for the conditions we were in and said how wonderful and inspiring it was to see how people were so polite and patient, but without ever acknowledging this was a choice on the part of southwest. I said you could take this quiescent behavior very differently; this was a choice and for profit and (as I now know this) that plane that killed 157 people in Ethiopia and the one in October was missing a “safety” feature made optional (costing $8000) and had in both cases, it been there the people would have lived. There was an acknowledgement in her face but all she said was she had not been to that museum as yet.

All four cab drivers immigrants: two Ethiopian men, one Mexican, with stories of their own hard-working lives, children, grandchildren, and countries.


What I could see from a high window —  I don’t go anywhere usually outside the hotel hardly when I go on trips to conferences unless there is a group tour or someone invites me along or says let’s go to X. Why? I fear getting lost. I become highly anxious when I don’t recognize where I am. New streets confuse me. I read signs wrongly, choose wrongly. I fear I won’t be able to get back. There is no getting round this. What’s why trips themselves are an ordeal. I must not step out of the planned rout.

Central downtown Denver where the hotel was cold and dreary, many impersonal buildings. A nearby public park filled with homeless people. I did twice get up to the 38th floor and could see the city from wide windows and the snow-covered mountain tops encircling. Wide flat beige-colored plains like those of New Mexico where Jim and I attended another ASECS, only these had factories and some industries. A big city with its own mid-west cultural life glimpsed from cab, hotel window, and talk I overheard. I am learning how to do these conferences at long last, becoming inured to the impersonal lonely room when I stay in one, as I managed this time, only to late at night, three at most. Food as usual very bad, scarce, expensive, but I stocked up at a Starbucks, and just ate very sparingly at the reception, luncheon, & dinner I attended. My ipad worked so I could reach friends on the Net, and I renewed a couple of friendships briefly and many acquaintanceships. I received a resounding applause when I finished reading my paper: I had worked hard on it, and the two sessions of “factual fictions” I was involved with (the other I was supposedly chairing) went over very well. Lots of good talk. On the conference sessions themselves, meaning their matter I mean to make a brief blog, but here I’ll say a wondrous keynote lecture on two unknown 18th century women painters did not get enough time! and I acquired a new good edition of Charlotte Smith’s poetry published by Broadview so it has excellent notes and contemporary and recent commentary

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Another OLLI: Vanderbilt

My essay on my experiences at the OLLIs at Mason and AU will be published soon in the 18th century newletter-journal, The Intelligencer

March into May provides much for me to go out for at both OLLIs, I have two lovely events at the Folger coming up (one evening, an HD screening of a magnificent production of Shakespeare and then a lecture, and one Saturday Folger concert), one Smithsonian lecture (on the Poldark serial drama) and the tasks of daily (tidy up, eating during the day, wash up after dinner, shopping, taking cleaning in) and monthly or yearly life (bills, coping with taxes and investments), the cats to keep company (sometimes I feel I am keeping them company, helping them to be active not the other way round), Izzy to be with for a time each evening. Once again the Trollope fiction (Can You Forgive Her?) just about teaches itself, the people in both classes have so much to say, and my proposal of Phineas Finn accepted for the fall in both places:

Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, the Irish Member (Palliser 2)

We continue our journey through Trollope’s 6 Palliser novels over several terms. The 2nd Palliser differs from the first (CYFH?) in making central stories from how politics works from inside Parliamentary circles to outside in society & elsewhere. Phineas Finn dramatizes fights over crucial transformations in law & electorate politics that occurred in the mid-19th century UK, and also belongs to Trollope’s Anglo-Irish fiction because it adds to its recurring characters, & English landscapes, Ireland as a place, Irish characters & issues. Trollope again examines sexual and marital conflicts & produces extraordinary psychological portraiture in socially complex situations. We’ll watch clips from the segments of the 1970s film adaptation that realize this second book. There is no need to have read CYFH? Recommended edition: Trollope, Phineas Finn, ed S Dentieth. Oxford 2011. ISBN 978-0199581436

Teaching Can You Forgive Her? in two places, one class four sessions behind the other, reading two sets of 10 chapters and listening to Simon Vance reading it aloud wherever I’m getting to know the book by heart.

I’m taking a film noir course (have watched M for real for the first time, and next week we’ll have The Maltese Falcon and the man does provide insightful informative 20 minute lectures), a course on the American revolution from the British point of view, a Shakespeare Lear/Tempest pairing and August Wilson. The continual insecurity, you cannot know you will be alive two hours from now, the prison systems, the re-enslavement, until recently and once again the prevention of money-making, accumulation. The effect on a people of being treated as inferior. I wish I could convey how stunningly effective and to me utterly new riveting, instructive (I find I knew little of what black people have gone through) poetic these plays: a new desire, a new set of texts to somehow get to are Afro-ones, African-American, African-British, African-Carribean, these are all deeply linked by the way whites around the world have oppressed, victimized, rendered anguished these brave people who somehow come through (some of them) to develop and enjoy life as a gift. I have also at long last understood Toni Morrison in one of her essays on Wilson.

The latest has been The Piano Lesson, a filmed version of which I watched and listened to online at YouTube:

Gentle reader, take the time to watch it. I feel inadequate as a white to comment on it but found myself for the first time in a long time finding American literature deeply absorbing and expressing realities of life that matter. I love the soaring introspective passages all of his plays seem to be filled with. I want to read and see more of Baldwin, I’m into Caryl Phillips, and tell myself I’m going to read more Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith.

Rita Dove: Canary

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

Audre Lord: A litany for survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Recently as a result of my Anomaly project, I’ve been wanting to know far more than I do about American woman writers: they do seem to have lived independent lives earlier than their British counterparts. Also as a result of courses at OLLI more about American history in the 18th century than I do.  Often the lectures can be too simple (even for someone like me who knows a little but not much), but what’s implied fascinates me. I know so little of the realities on the ground in the era.

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Storia del nuovo cognome – a central sequence occurs on Ischia

For myself here now tonight, other nights, up in bed betimes, I think of another older woman alone moved in next door: this block has not changed that much after all; older women living alone in the smaller houses still common after 39 years. Of friends and acquaintances: a dear friend’s husband has died the same kind of grueling ordeal death Jim did and she suffered it alongside him; both in their early sixties, she now in the first throes of grief. I made a fourth highly intelligent male friend (I talk in those social space provided at OLLI), remarkable guy, but he told me he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago; as yet it has not shown up much, but his wife also severely disabled, no children, what will they do when he weakens? My one friend, Panorea,  I sse regularly outside these group organizations, recovering from her dreadful operation, but still in pain and it’s very hard for her to move (no lifting, bending, twisting her body)

I made a date with David to go to his house where he has promised to help me learn to use laptop in front of others to play clips from DVDs; today I go to financial advisor in the intense hope he will help me change my withholding: show me how to do it, what to do, help me understand what sum I should withhold. My hepitatis C has disappeared from my blood so medicine working. At ASECS I told my story to a couple of people and they told me worse horror stories: a woman with a child with cancer, may be cut off from his medicine next week; people dying, going without medicine they need. The US society arrangements have become one of the worst in the so-called developed world. Roads just pitted with holes is a symbol of this.

I carry on my Andrew Davies marathon: I finished Little Dorrit, but Bleak House seemed to overwhelm me tonight so must try again. Midnight I read Outlander (Novel 1) and try to remember love-making. An article in The Women’s Review of Books on a recent anthology of erotic poems by women shows me that Gabaldon is far discreeter than these younger and older women poets today and I again prefer her: centrally a love story, by which gradually he makes her part of him, for me enough intimate sexual gestures, images, feelings to identify with. And I’m four-fifths through Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name and Lila and Lenu continue to express not ideas analogous to those I’ve thought when younger, but those I actually had. Ellen in Italian.


Since Levy’s Small Island filmed one of my favorite black actresses, Naomie Harris OBE by Elizabeth II

So I’ve begun to blog again, I do this, gentle reader, so as to keep myself up until 1 o’clock. I can sleep at most 6 hours a night, more usually 4-5 and this guarantees I will not be up at 3-4 to have bad thoughts unless I take a sleeping pill …. And to talk to the world and put my thoughts together to remember them. It’s a form of being alive, of making my life more vivid to me, of living it, and reaching a few people.  And I so enjoy writing.

Ellen

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“Daffodils/That come before the swallow dares, and take/The winds of March with beauty” … aka spring. Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (Act 4), once my favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays: I once taught it.

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve rewritten, re-framed this blog so as to give it an adequate framework: recuperating the self:

Get leave to work/In this world — ’tis the best you get at all — Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1853-56).

This morning I took this photograph of some of the daffodils in my front garden — under the miniature maple tree not yet in bloom …. There are other circles of tiny daffodils on both sides of the house (two circles of flowers and bushes are there), and there are some tiny white crocuses in another part of this circle under the tree, and tiny buds here and there in all the plants that survived and have now popped up green … To me they are living images of hope and each individually has delicate beauty.

I need to see them this way.


The British are not the only group of people being forced to leap into risk

For these past two weeks I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that the externals of life have hit me hard: I have been rightly terrified over the coming plane trip since I am flying Southwest: we now know that added to egregious abuse of passengers to wring the last dime out of them, planes are being rebuilt to hold more people and things and thus becoming unsafe.  Then I was reeling after coming home from the AARP having made out my tax forms and uncovered an unexpected and large tax bill such that I must change my withholding on my monthly annuity and social security checks so as to live on less from here on and pay it bit-by-bit over the year. I am floored by the online boilerplate and relieved my financial adviser has promised really to help me do this when I get back from my trip. The obscenely expensive pills for hepitatis C are working (no sign of the infection in the latest tests) but I’m tired, head-achy (have again scraped my car badly), but each night sleep more deeply than I’ve down for years, except when waked by anxiety-dreams stemming from the coming trip- and conference-ordeal, these renewed money fears.

Ian also has had a hard time recovering, in his case from the new cleaning team, with their loud machines and quick work, now here twice and left a truly clean house (for the first time in years my windows are clean); it won’t do to think about the sums this switch cost me. The business is run by women and only works the first 2/3s of each workday.


After a many hour disappearance, walking about so lightly that his bell did not tinkle: he hoped to escape notice and at first would not eat or drink.

So where to find that peace and trust I can live out what future I’ve left in my quiet ways in this house.

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L. Scott Caldwell, left, and Shinelle Azoroh in Gem of the Ocean in Costa Mesa.

Well throwing myself into what I am capable of succeeding at doing, and thus enjoying. This past two weeks I have taught/led a class of some 23 retired adults reading (apparently with real enjoyment) Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and myself as a class member felt new interest in rereading the first three acts of King Lear and watching the 2008 Ian McKellen version (director Trevor Nunn, with outstanding performances by the actresses playing Goneril and Regan) and the 2016 Anthony Hopkins (director Richard Eyre, with outstanding performances by too many to mention). Despite the cutting, the Hopkins-Eyre one is the vastly superior by original direction and Hopkins’s performance). I’m stunned by Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner Come & Gone, only beginning to realize the lack of fundamental safety, security, ability to accumulate, and radically de-stablized relationships and lives this causes — a journey through the century from an African-American perspective. With my two list communities, I’m reading EBB’s Aurora Leigh, which I know I ought to be more affected than I am, and Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart, which, by contrast, I’m having a visceral personal response to the point I find myself blaming the heroine for not caring enough about her children, for in effect abandoning them, while on what seems a sort of whim at first, she pursues a divorce.

Wednesday I leave for Denver, Colorado, to endure a three-day conference on the 18th century (ASECS) and have my paper, “After the Jump:” Winston Graham’s use of documented facts and silences,” down to 19 minutes. Winston Graham has taken up much of my time therefore, with intervals filled by absorption (when I can) with Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart. I’ve added Somerset Maugham as an author who would shed light on Graham’s peculiar story of a blind man in internecine post-WW2 southern France (the hero stalks a heroine of the resistance), Night Without Stars, and am into Jeremy Poldark, a deeply melancholy troubled yet loving book once again. I now see that the murdered young woman in his Take My Life (I understand the title as a cry of the soul) and this heroine as seeking safety, the first women was destroyed by cruelty, meanness, the tunneled ambition of a schoolmaster; the second rescued as a fellow disabled person to return to quietude in a quiet corner of England. I came to this by watching a modern so-called “thriller:” In a Better World: To call it a thriller is so wrong, it’s hilarious: The film brings out the trauma underlying some thrillers which the thriller distorts in order to sell widely, and there are authors who appear not quite to understand the fundamental groundwork of such texts. I must write this up separately.

I’ve gone on to the intelligent Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies (which begins in the 19th century and takes the story to the 21st) and Ann Rioux’s Writing for Immortality, on four American women writers whose determination to write well for the sake of their art will be explicated as a fight for self-esteem and creating works of integrity, so am now eager to include at least one 19th century American women writer amid my Anomaly women. When I read Traister, I realize I am somewhat compensating for the loss of Jim: in small ways I am learning to live the way she has, learning about a world outside my coupled life. It is as yet on the edges of my existence because I have not managed to hold onto friends or a group of friends locally. Throughout my life with Jim, though, if the truth be told I would have one girlfriend usually, a kind of best friend, and so this pattern is one I know, only now I see this in a different context. I know I am right to value my FB women friends (and men too). I understand Laura’s life choices better too.

********************************

My solitude, my self … at night (when I write these blogs too, gentle reader)


Shadow of the Tower: Episode 4: The Serpent and the Comforter

I’m riveted nightly by yet another episode of the truly astonishing 1970 BBC multi-episode studio drama, The Shadow of the Tower, with James Maxwell — why is not this more famous? A blog will follow when I’ve gone through all 13 hours twice. I started it after it was recommended by an uneven Future Learn on the Tudors I’m following just now.

Episode 4 is a study of people about to burn alive a man who has a set of radical common sense beliefs — one guard becomes unwilling and realizes this is all wrong and so does the king but goes through with it — so it’s idealized but this allows for conversations between the man and guard and king. We don’t see the torture off stage as they attempt to make him recant — just hear it and it’s agonizing to hear and then see all the signs on the man’s body. The real thrust is to shove in our faces at length the deep inhumanity of man to man and also the fierce unreasoning religiosity of the era as a cover up for power plays and fierce demands for obedience to strict conformity. James Maxwell is brilliant as the king throughout the series: witty, somehow likable, warmly human in his closest relationships, subtly intelligent yet peevish, neurotic, but effective, slowly becoming a terrifying inexorable monster to others because he has been given such power

I am also nightly now making my way through all Andrew Davies’s films, beginning with deeply mourning from within as I sit up and feel with Claire Foy’s inch-by-inch agon as she copes with her half-mad neurotic father played by Tim Courtney. Half hour by hour I am her — as I am Lila and Lenu.

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On the Net, I’ve been stirred by the life and work of another woman artist, one I won’t write a blog for (as I would be wholly inadequate) but can here invite my readers to dwell in the Spitalfields bloggers’ essays: on Dorothy Rendell:


Dorothy Rendell, View from Standhead (1955)

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/an-exhibition-of-dorothy-ren…/

Then Stephen Watts, described as a poet and novelist, wrote about her art, the legacy of what’s left:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/the-legacy-of-dorothy-rendell/


Rendell, Studio Parrot (1960)

Now the gentle author preparing for a lecture, shares with us the Rendell’s drawings and illustrations:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/03/12/dorothy-rendells-london/

Her first (posthumous) solo exhibit:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/16/dorothy-rendells-solo-show/

The gentle author is pseudonymous; I originally assumed the writer is a woman, but recently I’ve become aware the writer is a man — he has begun to use a pronoun for himself. Also that more than one person writes this blog (Gillian Tindall has written here) — it’s astonishing high quality, frequency and point of view are all outstanding, but also the amount of knowledge displayed. Probably it’s find-out-able if I tried or asked someone who knows people who are part of real art worlds in London.

One we learned in another blog that a pub that has been on the site since the 17th century, with one period of total obsolescene and desuetude (between 1970s and 2000) is now to be razed and replaced with a hideous mall that will look like a thousand others

http://spitalfieldslife.com/20…/…/13/so-long-the-water-poet/

This touches me because in one of my periods of being alive I spent all my time reading and writing about the early modern Renaissance and 17th century. Anne Finch was a later 17th century poet who lived into the 18th century. This blog is or should be of interest to anyone interested in the long 18th century.

Most recently, at and on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/03/17/dorothy-rendell-at-whitechapel-bell-foundry/


Camille Cottage, Castle Hedingham with red chair (1970)

W.S. Merwin has died, and an FB friend pointed me and others to a New York Review of Books essay-review by Ange Mlinko on Merwin’s life and poetry as that of an whole earth troubadour, who learned his art by the humble practice of learning other languages and translating wonderful poetry in them. I liked this (though I taught myself Italian enough to read and to translate it, and now need to return to it and to French

There is nothing for you to say. You must
Learn first to listen. Because it is dead
It will not come to you of itself, nor would you
Of yourself master it. You must therefore
Learn to be still when it is imparted,
And, though you may not yet understand, to remember.

What you remember is saved. To understand
The least thing fully you would have to perceive
The whole grammar in all its accidence
And all its system, in the perfect singleness
Of intention it has because it is dead.
You can only learn one part at a time.

The ghost of a sestina (invented, they say, by the troubadour Arnaut Daniel) haunts these six-line stanzas, with their repetitions of individual words (though they don’t repeat mechanically at the ends of the lines, as they do in the sestina). What is repeated? Learn, dead, remember, understand. As the poem goes on, it repeats saved, intention, order, passion. Here is the fifth and final stanza:

What you remember saves you. To remember
Is not to rehearse, but to hear what never
Has fallen silent. So your learning is,
From the dead, order, and what sense of yourself
Is memorable, what passion may be heard
When there is nothing for you to say.


Merwin in his last year of life

The question is, how to recuperate the self. Mlinko believes translation is the suppression of self and that in poetry at its finest we suppress the self, we make something from nothing tangible or new as I have done tonight: Guilhem IX’s “Farai un vers de dreit nien” (“Sheer nothing’s what I’m singing of”)

This reminds me of Virginia Woolf: she wanted Anne Finch to transcend herself. This is mistaken, or need to be put another way. We can never leave ourselves, but what we can do is throw off the attacks and pressures from all around us (the wolves of society) and recuperate by following our true bends with integrity. That is the work of a lifetime. Finding who we are, and as Pope said, following nature, our nature. Making what we can. Recuperating by flowering out. I can link August Wilson’s plays to Shakespeare’s this way too: although we do not know what was his private life, only that he is incarnate in his plays.


Dorothy Rendell, Jerena at Harry Gosling School (1960): recuperating the self — look how beautifully Rendell has caught the child’s hands, the textures of her jacket and skirt, her body inside them ….

I have taken to going to Evolution Home, a consignment shop for furniture where older things are rescued. I am making my home comfortable by buying appropriate (for my needs) tables, retro clocks, rugs, baskets for my library of DVDS (kindly sent by a friend so that I have such a collection of splendid wonderful movies, often BBC). Rearranging furniture, making corners for pretty things and where I do my work. All recuperating the self, having respect and concern for myself and what I see. I hope you don’t need photos of these, for there’s not much to see. It’s the inward experience behind such changes I’m trying to steady myself with.

Ellen

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She bought a new keyboard about three weeks ago now, and I hope you can hear the difference:

The song comes from a movie called Once, made a couple of musicians who made a movie about how they met and fell in love. John Carney, the film’s director built the movie around this song provided for him by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The song won an Oscar the year of the movie. They made a second album about dealing with fame. The third is about how they broke up.

Here are the words of the lyrics for “Falling Slowly:”

I don’t know you
but I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me and always fool me
And I can’t react
And games that never amount
To more than they’re meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly sing your melody
I’ll sing along

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This morning I was thinking about earlier stretches of my life. The phrase “long ago” is so common to my imagined conversation in my mind. So long ago Jim and I did this, Izzy would do that. I saw a child walk by from my window, on his back a carry-pack, shouldering a musical instrument. That once was Izzy going to junior high, to high school.

Last night (not atypical day and evening), alerted to it by a book on British TV costume drama I’d been reading, Conflicting Masculinities (one I sent a proposal for on Wolf Hall but was rejected, because I’m not a Brit, have no title or position in a university and my thesis was too much about deeper humanity and attributing the way men are presented in costume drama to an era), I watched Banished, a serial drama which was cancelled but is powerfully about one group of men destroying the manliness and humanity of another group, treating them like enslaved beasts; also showing how one group of people can be so cruel to another when no wider public eyes are upon them. Banished is a parable about how people in our modern societies are now pulverizing the poorer, vulnerable, ethnicities that are not in the majority among them, and refugees from countries these same groups of people are busy destroying so they can steal their natural resources. Unlike Poldark there is no fundamental place, home, knowledge of one another and known community whose interest it is to support one another they can turn to.

Yesterday during the day I read one third of an immensely sad novel, Crossing the River, nominated for the Booker (when it still didn’t accept imitative crap, hadn’t become a sheer advertisement mechanism), by Caryl Phillips. Crossing the River a related book about a white man sending a beloved black man who was enslaved in the US to Liberia (both die of grief as the people they are surrounded by live these punitive lives) made me realize what a fantasy of escape Outlander becomes in this story of Jamie and Claire and Ian making a secure home so readily (he is a wanted ex-convict). I also thought of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people. Phillips’s message is do anything but separate yourself from a beloved and send them somewhere where life is said to be better — all you are doing is breaking your two hearts. I’m drawn to Phillips: born in St Kitts, yet British, he grew up in Leeds, a place I did love.

Both together — serial drama and book — made me think of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people, and a book about the Acadia diaspora when threatened by “ethic cleansing,”

“Falling slowly” is a song that cries out for help (as some tweets really do). In retrospect, its framing is a young couple who broke up.

It is March now, signs of spring — such a sweet moment from Emily Dickinson: No 1320, just the first stanza:

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell —

How I wish I could find a choir for Izzy to belong to. The only ones in my area are part of churches Izzy won’t go near — and she’s probably right not to, reactionary Catholicism she would be a very much outsider in all ways in. With that man I went out briefly with I saw an episcopal church, almost non-denominational, eucumenical, which had a poster looking for people to join their choir. A modern building, maybe enlightened people running the place. But it’s a 45 minute drive and would be at night so I can’t provide a way for her to get there, if I could get her to go. She did say yes when I showed her the place. Too far. But this is her home too.


Writing Last lines ….

Miss Drake

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Clara Brown, a statue I saw in the African-American museum this past Tuesday:

Born enslaved in Virginia, Clara Brown married at age 18, and had to endure all four children being taken from her and sold; after the Civil War she moved to Colorado and worked as a cook, laundress and midwife; she invested her money in mines and land, and used it to help support community organizations. All her life she searched for her four children, and when quite old was re-united with one daughter.

Dear Friends,

It becomes harder and harder to keep this blog up because I don’t change very much within, and I find that I’m driven to be more upbeat or cheerful than I usually feel in order to present something enjoyable, pleasant, instructive to my reader friends here. If I say that it is true I have grown a lot inwardly, had quite a number of strengthening and fun and comforting experiences in the five years since Jim died (I am now in my sixth year of widowhood), I suspect that congratulations would seem to me a grating response. If I say I have a lot of new enjoyable experiences I’d never have had, learnt I am more capable, am calmer, I still would not respond well to people saying that’s good. Because I don’t change: travel remains an ordeal.  Things don’t get easier. I didn’t ask for this new understanding of the world I didn’t have before. OTOH, if I say that occasionally now Jim’s dying and death seems a mad nightmare, and I can hardly believe he’s not around the corner, and how empty the world seems, how alone I am most of the time.  How I just don’t make or sustain friendships (as I understand these they including going out together and visiting). How can he have vanished so completely? only of course he’s not vanished completely at all: I am surrounded by all that is left by him of our lives together and I’m carrying on the play he and I began so many years ago, but by myself now.

I could repeat this paragraph as an entry endlessly.

I am probably not for as long as I live (smiling), headach-y and tired from these obscenely expensive pills to scotch this hepitatis C infection. I sleep more deeply with cats right by me, but I don’t wake rested. I am reading Outlander  (the first volume) just before going to bed each night — trying to dream of Jim. Came across excellent essay on Outlander and Poldark. Do read it; it’s not long or hard.


Is not Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser made to resemble Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark working in the fields shirtless — it is after colder in Scotland (joke alert)

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The interior of an early log cabin that housed freed slaves, the photo by Jahi Chikwendiu makes the inside look a lot larger than it is

I could list books, movies, some things I’ve done: I did get to the African-American museum. I found it by going to the Smithsonian stop (so glad I had wit enough to chose that one of the three cited on the website), and with the help of a man who works in the Metro: he came up the escalator with me and walked into the Mall park and pointed to the building. I just had to walk in that direction and it took about 10 minutes. As part of my attempt to learn more about African-American life and culture, before going I watched Moonlight (two years too late) written by Alvin Tarrell McCraney, and while it showed truthfully aspects of African-American male lives, I found it misogynistic in its portrayal of the mother as a helpless hateful and then pitiful drug addict. I know why the brilliant Naomi Harris was at first unwilling to take on the role. An hour long Smithsonian documentary, Green Book, tells of how hard it was as a black person in the US throughout most of the 20th century to go anywhere safely. I’ve much to say about the museum, and when the Guide comes through the mail I shall: I am waiting to make sure I don’t make mistakes in what I describe and comment on.

The Slave Mother by Frances Ellen Walker Harper (1825-1911), born of African-American parents who were not enslaved and lived in Baltimore, Maryland; a chronology of her life and work

Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seemed as if a burden’d heart
Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped–
The bowed and feeble head–
The shuddering of that fragile form–
That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kirtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light
That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one–
Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair

I bought the Vintage Book of African American Poetry, edd by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton in the museum shop, and have promised myself to make my last poem for the day each night one from this volume so as to learn the history of black people through this poetical volume. All the poems in this blog are taken from this anthology.

I also saw an extraordinary film about the German Stasi, finely acted, written, filmed, The Lives of Others, and was much moved by the hero’s transformation and sacrifice, but could hardly believe thousands of people could spy on one another to such a nth degree and then turn around to stop when a wall was pulled down.

I am into some wonderful books again, a lucid inspiriting deeply researched “biography” of Hugo’s Les Miserables by David Bellos, a similarly intelligent account of Diderot’s life and “art of thinking” by Andrew Curran (he teaches me about Voltaire and Rousseau and other writers books as well as Diderot’s friends and life), the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, The Story of a New Name. On Trollope&Peers we are about to begin a 9 week reading of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, and on WomenWriters are reading Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart.


Virginia Nicholson

On my and my friend’s Anomaly book project: I’ve finished Liberty: A Better Husband: Single women in the US, 1780-1830 by Schiller-Chambery and hope to write a full blog-review on it in a couple of days. I know I must read and learn more about 19th century American women alone and as writers. Next up: Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Ladies and the rise of an Independent Nation, and then Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality: Women Writers and the Emergence of High Literary Culture in America and Virginia Nicolson’s Singled Out, a history of the real lives of single women in the UK for the 2 years after World War One — their generation of men had been killed in huge numbers — Nicolson has written on the books written in this era about single women. I still have not finalized my five candidates for five chapters: as of now they remain Anne Murray Halkett (very late marriage), Charlotte Smith (fit in uncomfortably as separated, an example of what happens when you are not permitted independence), Frances Power Cobbe, Constance Fennimore Woolson (both never married), and Margaret Oliphant (as widow).

Learning to Read by Frances E. W. Harper

Very soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,—
It was agin’ their rule.

Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery—
’Twould make us all too wise.

But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book.
And put the words together,
And learn by hook or crook.

I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his hat.

And had his master ever seen
The leaves upon his head,
He’d have thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.

And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,
Who heard the children spell,
And picked the words right up by heart,
And learned to read ’em well.

Well, the Northern folks kept sending
The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
Though Rebs did sneer and frown.

And I longed to read my Bible,
For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
Folks just shook their heads,

And said there is no use trying,
Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;
But as I was rising sixty,
I had no time to wait.

So I got a pair of glasses,
And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
The hymns and Testament.

Then I got a little cabin
A place to call my own—
And I felt independent
As the queen upon her throne.

Next week OLLI at AU starts and I will be this weekend watching King Lear (either the 2016 version with Anthony Hopkins once again, or the 2008 version with Ian McKellen (in the mode of the famous Macbeth he did with Judi Dench), for the Shakespeare, King Lear/Tempest course I am registered for on Monday, for next Friday, read my first August Wilson play, The Gem of the Ocean (I have seen Fences as a movie).

I also bought at the African-American Museum Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s edition of Classic Slave Narratives: The Life of Olaudah Equiano (which I’ve read in), The History of Mary Prince (which I’ve never read), Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (which I’ve taught) and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (which I’ve never read but now hope to). Centrally important to Jacobs’s life was her friendship with Lydia Maria Child, who helped her to write and to publish her book, and her relationship with her grandmother (as Oliphant’s was with her mother). Gates quotes this:

Yet the retrospection [into my years of bondage] is not altogether without solace; for with those gloomy recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother, like light fleecy clouds floating over a dark and troubled sea ….


Robin Damore: Carol Diane Brown — I thought this picture of a magnificently dressed African-American woman today appropriate for my blog this evening

I today finished another good draft of my paper for the coming ASECS at Denver: “After the Jump:’ Winston Graham’s Uses of Documentary Fact and Silences in his Poldark and other Cornish Fiction.”

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Said to be a photograph of cats waiting for fisherman to come to the pier in Greece

You see, gentle reader, this is turning into a list of “good things” and too upbeat, leaving out the true complexion of life. I had some not-so-petty troubles: the cleaning team who come every two weeks broke my study chair — they broke off one of the wheels and this happens to be a kind of chair where the wheel is not replaceable. Had the management told the truth I would have accepted this and tried to fix or buy another chair, but no, they lie and first say the chair was broken when they came in the room, and then another lie, and then offered to send one of their bully women here to look at my chair (I hope, gentle reader, you have read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed where she tells what it’s like to be on one of these cleaning teams and the bullies put in charge of working people), so I decided I must change my service. A happy ending: a new team came yesterday and they cleaned my house far more thoroughly than anyone ever did. They cost more, but the supervisor who came with them was not a bully but another nice Spanish woman.

The loss of the chair is no small thing. I am now using the second chair in this room, which was Jim’s, and under the fourth foot of my chair are two books. I can’t move the other chair easily and it will be for watching movies on Amazon prime on my laptop.

I could tell other things of this type. The class I am to teach Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? in at OLLI at AU was brought down to 21, and we were put in a small room. I had chosen less popular topics for two terms so had less people? but it was interesting for me to delve the 18th century and the later Virginia Woolf — and those who stayed with me. The new director is after prestige people for lectures and is trying to push people into classes they may not want. My class was waitlisted for 8 and he is trying to make these people take other courses. But these are not undergraduates who can be pressured this way.

I got something through my email from the airline I am to go to Denver with and I couldn’t tell if I needed to do something, and if I did, couldn’t figure out what to click on. Finally I told myself this is meant as what’s to come or ahead of time, and ignored it. I didn’t need to be made anxious a full month before the trip comes.

Bad dreams and foolish good ones.

But I refrain, I’d rather offer something more meaningful, than human stupidities, venalities, petty false values, nagging advertisemens, which at the same time is something you might not find elsewhere, about a work you don’t know or is not fashionable, which you might pursue.

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The Oxford Bodley Head edition or Cordelia (Bodley Head reprinted 12 of Graham’s books, including the first four Poldarks)


A rare Henry James looking image

So, just before returning to the paper, I read Graham’s 1949 historical novel, Cordelia, set in the mid-19th century, and thought maybe a review of it might be useful — for this book is again available in paperback and is worth the reading: for a reader who has not read the Poldark books or seen the films, you will find I draw parallels.

Cordelia is his one novel set in Manchester: Graham was born and grew up there in a genteel Edwardian family whose roots were strongly chartist, union, liberal, and who made their money first in drugs, chemistry.

It has interesting self-reflexive opening. Graham’s narrator sees the name Cordelia with the date 1869 carved on an old once richly- made mantelpiece and this occasions now and again thoughts on how hard it is to know what happened in the past. There is a first wife in the novel who leaves a diary and only after Cordelia has lived in the house for some time can she decipher that diary. In reality Graham was moved to write the novel because he had come across a corroded 19th century gravestone with just the name Cordelia and 1869 legible. I discovered that I wrote about this book in 2011 but since I’ve written again, this time with more knowledge of Graham, I’ll still share what I wrote tonight


The first page

The story: the heroine, Cordelia, is gently coaxed into and agrees for herself and her family (whose father owns a clock-maker and repair establishment) to marry for the aggrandizement the gentle son, Brook Fergusson, of a wealthy dye manufacturer, Frederick Fergusson. Brook’s first wife has died (in somewhat mysterious or questioned circumstances). He does not create Manchester with the full power that Gaskell does in her contemporary fiction or other writers of the 1930s and 40s say of Ireland but he does have strong political themes that are progressive. He deals with controversies in religion, the spiritualist movement &c. There is a reference to Palmerston whose significance you can get if you are aware of Palmerston as cruel Metternich kind of figure. Graham attempts to recreate the music hall world of the mid-19th century.

Once living in the mansion, Cordelia discovers that she and her husband are utterly domineered by his father: the choice of a Victorian ethos and time brings forth a story about repression and how it can destroy and pervert personalities, but in one way Graham is anachronistic in ways he is not in fiction set earlier: Cordelia falls in love with and has a brief liaison with a passing theater entrepreneur, Stephen Crossley by name: she almost runs away with Stephen. As presented her inner life is not agonized as it would have been in 1869 — she stays because an accident prevents her from going, and then she thinks better of it plus (convenient plot) her husband, Brook, whom she does like and feels loyalty toward, contracts pneumonia. Brook is a poet, probably named after Rupert Brooke whom Graham read (and quotes in another text). Cordelia stays to nurse Brook back to health. While I think Trollope represses and won’t tell us the full truth about the thoughts and feelings of women who long to leave a husband or difficult situation, this refusal to realize the trauma does not persuade me. There is a “Trollope sighting” in the book: Cordelia reads aloud The Warden to Brook, and they both so like the book, they follow it up with Barchester Towers.

Cordelia finds she is pregnant and it is obviously Stephen’s son. So this is a parallel with the Graham’s Elizabeth-Ross-George paradigm in the Poldark novels (Elizabeth becomes pregnant by Ross Poldark just before marrying George and when she gives birth to Ross’s son, every attempt is made to hide from George Valentine’s problematic parentage. This boy is named Ian (a name I happen to like — Izzy named our boy cat Ian.

A second opportunity arises between Cordelia and Stephen to perhaps elope but this time she discovers what we are told early on: he already has a wife. And here is another group of parallels: Cordelia in outlook and type and looks anticipates Clowance and the man she falls in love with, Stephen Crossley, anticipates Stephen Carrington, introduced who in the Poldark novels turns out to be a truly bad man in many ways. Carrington probably commits bigamy when he marries Clowance — not clear. Carrington is much worse than Crossley as Crossley is robber, thief, continual liar — Crossley is merely an unscrupulous manager of music halls and spiritual seance mountebanks. but then we do not know much about Crossley, only that he does have a wife and Cordelia learning of this in time stops her elopement. Cordelia is named after Shakespeare’s heroine and there are explicit passages about how this Cordelia’s initial flaw is Pride and her real virtue loyalty. Really she stays with Brook out of loyalty. Names mean a lot to Graham. The name Valentine turns up in a novel early on, Dangerous Pawns; the character types anticipates the older Valentine in the last Poldark novels.

There’s a wonderfully eccentric uncle who everyone despises — especially the tyrannical old man — Uncle Pridey, who half-way through is discovered by the London scientific world. Graham satirizes the literary world through Uncle Pridey who is valued (he says) for the wrong things; his work on shews, which supports the Darwinian thesis of pangenesis. It’s his work on mice, and his love of small animals that matters. He has been studying this monk’s work on heredity and corresponding with him (Mendel), whom no one seems aware of. Graham’s little joke. There is a character very like Uncle Pridey in A Forgotten Story but not presented truly sympathetically.

Through Pridey’s contacts, Brook makes some literary friends and has an offer to become a sub-editor in a London periodical but he must bring with him 5,000£ pounds; the domineering tyrannical father informs Brook that his father wrote a will which will permit his part of the partnership only to withdraw 500£ at a time, so he is tragically thwarted. Brook dies, in a sense of a broken spirit and heart (not from Cordelia’s doing). Pridey has moved to London, and terrified for her individuality, her son’s character, her future, Cordelia flees with little Ian to London to live with Pridey.

There she again goes to the music theater world (though Pridey’s auspices) and once again meets Stephen. She finds he has another girlfriend; that is to be expected as four years have gone by, but he lies about this and she now understands how completely untrustworthy, shallow and selfishly ambitious he is. Graham’s Clowance never has a chance to speak to or look at Stephen after he learns that his life was a lie and thus hers false because based on his lies; she knew he was a murderer, but she never learns the extent to which Stephen’s thievery helped destroy Clowance’s brother Jeremy’s life. Cordelia too doesn’t get to tell Stephen of her decision or why; she assumes he would not understand or empathize. But she does get to decide freely.

She returns to Manchester and her father-in-law’s house but now the terms of their existence together have been altered. She will be a partner on her terms. I’m told that a doctor with integrity, knowledge and skill, who has shown a warm friendship for Cordelia and been helpful, was originally going to be set up to become Cordelia’s husband by the end. I am glad for once that Graham listened to advice and ended instead on Cordelia as an independent woman determined to bring up her son to be independent too. It is, as some of the other readers of the Poldark novels and watchers of the Poldark films I’ve grown to know who have read the book said “a very satisfying ending.” One woman agreed with me that Brook is a tragic figure. One gap in the book is a lack of women friends, relationships among women — to me that suggests the male author who doesn’t realize quite how important women’s friendships are to one another.


Here is an early Book-of-the-Month club cover

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Gentle reader, on Saturday Izzy and I go to the Folger Shakespeare Library to see the contemporary play about Nell Gwynn, now there. Fingers crossed for us it will be very good.

My Grandfather walks in the Woods — by Marilyn Nelson (1946 — present)

Somewhere
in the light above the womb,
black trees
and white trees
populate the world.

It is a March landscape,
the only birds around are small
and black.
What do they eat, sitting in the birches
like warnings?

The branches of the trees
are black and white.
Their race is winter.
They thrive in cold.

There is my grandfather
walking among the trees.
He does not notice
his fingers are cold.
His black felt hat
covers his eyes.

He is knocking on each tree,
listening to their voices
as they answer slowly
deep, deep from their roots.
I am John, he says,
are you my father?

They answer
with voices like wind
blowing away from him …


August Macke, Still Life with Cat (1910, Germany, found on the Net over this past week) — I couldn’t find a good picture of March trees in black and white

Ellen

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