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Archive for June 29th, 2019


A flowering bush in my front garden

“Sitting alone in a room reading a book, with no one to interrupt me. That is all I ever consciously wanted out of life.” — Anne Tyler’s novel, Celestial Navigations

Friends,

The quotation that begins this blog comes from a long wonderful thread we had on Trollope&Peers in which members told one another about ourselves: it was headed: “Introductions,” but since we all knew one another in some ways, what we were really doing was telling of the significant choices and moments and the roles we played in the social world in our pasts (where you a librarian? a musician? a computer software specialist? and many other jobs), and to some extent why, and how, and where, and also why we post to one another, read and watch movies together, why we read one another’s posts (and blogs too). It was a deeply inspiriting conversation to begin a new season together. This list or our group has been going in one form or other since 1995 or 1997 depending on whether you want to count the beginning on a usenet site (majordomo software) as simply “Trollope” or our breakaway to a site run by Mike Powe with the more coherent explicit name Trollope and His Contemporaries (Trollope-l). So 24 or 22 years; with a few of our original 11-12 having died, and many changes in people, and at least 5 different places in cyberspace. Someone summed up what I said of my “career goal” with the Anne Tyler utterance.


Bookermania

It’s odd to imply (by my header) that summer has just started, for I’ve had my Cornwall early summer holiday, and now the first course I was scheduled to teach (at OLLI at AU, The Mann Booker Prize: Short and Short-listed) is over. I think the class went splendidly for all of us there — we began with 40 and about 35 stayed the course, everyone seemed to be deeply engaged by the books and enjoyed the movies, especially J L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and Pat O’Connor and Simon Gray’s film. We had new insights into Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, and people loved that film too (I showed clips). The applause and praise were music to my soul, and (not to be too ethereal) I had again cleared over $300 in the honorarium envelope I was given in the last session as a parting gift.

A course I was taking came to an end too: Hitchcock films, four of them: the teacher is gifted in his ability to analyze the films (he had studied these for years) and prompt many people in a class to talk. He assigned four (Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Psycho). He demonstrated that as film art, they are fascinating experiences, lending themselves to Freudian psychoanalysis, and very intricate aesthetically, but (I think) did not prove his case that they are meant to expose and critique fundamental patriarchal and cruel paradigms that shape human lives through customs and laws. Yes Hitchcock has a gift for intuiting what is unnerving, uncanny, and presenting the amorality and appetites of people, but he is also misogynistic, homophobic, enjoys marshaling stories and images that prey on, do hostile mischief against the peace of his audience.

I watched six Hitchcock movies this time altogether. I added two to those the teacher discussed (voluntarily — as extras) The Lady Vanishes, Vertigo; and two I fell asleep on: 39 Steps and The Trouble with Harry, i.e., what shall we do with this corpse of a man who had a stroke after his silly wife hit him over the head with a milk bottle. You have to admit this was a mighty amount of film watching — I did it all after 11 at night. I have also seen and remember Marnie (very well, I’ve read a book in it) and The Birds (the latter of which is especially cruel — perhaps to the birds traumatized to behave that way too); vaguely I remember Rebecca; of the TV program Alcoa Presents many years ago I remember being frightened and Hitchcock getting a kick out of frigthenting people with uncanny stories that could arouse their atavism. So I did give Hitchcock a fair shake.

Of all ten I now remember the only one I enjoyed was The Lady Vanishes. I could say why I didn’t like each of them, but it’s a thankless task. Let me just write of Psycho and The Lady Vanishes.

I felt in the case of Psycho that Catherine MacKinnon’s argument that violent pornography aimed at hurting women violates real women’s rights to life, liberty and safety and should be controlled is well taken. It’s a mean cruel picture where a reductive Freudian explanation for people’s sexual and emotional misery is used to make a story that exemplifies that paradigm; after the homosexual man dressed as his hag-mother murders the fleeing woman in her shower, a psychiatrist is produced who explains what we have seen by the myth that was used to put the story together.


May Whittie, Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes)

As for The Lady Vanishes, the film centers on an older woman (played by Dame May Whitty) who vanishes and turns out to be a working spy for the UK gov’t; she is rescued from murder by the heroine (Margaret Lockwood) who will not believe the woman never existed, and her witty romantic male companion (Michael Redgrave). There is light good-natured (!) comedy; an unusual (for the time) use of camera tricks of all sorts, some beautiful filming of sets and scenes. As in other movies of this era, central is the danger and excitement and “awesomeness” of a train all the characters are on.

This film is not misogynistic at all — it has several brave women who are treated with dignity and respect. A sort of jokey-ness surrounds sex and the men are not predators. Nor are they little boys gone wrong, or wronged, or super-vulnerable or intent on controlling the identity and body of the heroine. The heroine was going to marry for money and rank but is very reluctant and in the end marries the hero because she likes him as a companion and he her.


1972 cast — that’s Diana Quick in the key role of Marion Halcombe


2018 — Jessie Buckley and Dougray Scott as Marion and Laura

Very good hours went into reading (with friends on Trollope&Peers @ groups.io Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White, which I now think an underrated masterpiece, and watching both the 1972 and 2018 BBC five part serial dramas. I will be blogging on this on EllenandJim have a blog, two. We are about to begin Anne Boyd Rioux’s Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, a bit early for yet another Little Women movie, we have been told is coming out next Christmas: directed by Gerta Gerwig, with Saonise Ronan as Jo, Meryl Streep as Aunt March (this is what age does to us). I’m just ending Rioux’s brilliant Writing for Immortality (again full blog to follow separately on Austen Reveries, two). Soon to try on Womenwriters@groups.io Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and then Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: topics are Afro-women writers, and mother-daughter paradigms as central to women’s lives and art.

And the second phase of summer teaching and courses began: I started my second course (at OLLI at Mason, The Enlightenment: At Risk?) and the class is much much more enthusiastic, we had a rousing time this past Wednesday. Even I am surprised. And the Cinema Art Theater film club began with the wonderfully enjoyable Hampstead (blog to follow) while the Folger Theater ended its marvelous year with an HD screening of Ghost Light, a poignant comic appropriation of Macbeth.

NB: I took the Metro to get there as 7 pm is an awkward time for me. Many shuttle buses are there for the ride back and forth from National Airport or Crystal City to King Street, but the ride is in traffic and takes longer. I got home after midnight. I had enjoyed myself, even had a friend to talk to coming back — another widow like myself. But the next day I was so tired I found myself ever so slightly nodding off as I drove. Can’t have that so this may be the last time I venture forth at night where I need to take the Metro until it’s fixed. So I am back to bouts of Outlander, books and serial drama at midnight …

I am happy to say my Anomaly project with my friend is back on track and I’ve begun to immerse myself in my first subject: Margaret Oliphant, a life-long self- and family-supporting widow as writer. I love her Autobiography and Letters as edited by her niece Annie Walker (1899 edition). Am not giving up on my Poldark studies. I listen to David Rintoul reading aloud Scott’s Waverley with such genius that he almost makes the book wholly delightful (as well as a serious presentation of cultural politics in Scotland around the time of Culloden). I came up with a proposal for the coming EC/ASECS in October: At the Crossroad of my Life; although Izzy and I will probably be excluded from the coming Williamsbury JASNA, for her sake, for the next one in Cleveland I am going to write one out of the blog I made on Austen’s History of England: “Tudor and Stuart Queens of Jane Austen ….”, as in

It is however but Justice, and my Duty to declare that this amiable Woman [Anne Bullen] was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, of which her Beauty, her Elegance, and her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the Charges against her, and the King’s Character; all of which add some confirmation, tho’ perhaps slight ones when in comparison with those before alledged in her favour … His Majesty’s 5th Wife was the Duke of Norfolk’s Neice who, tho’ universally acquitted of the crimes for which she was beheaded, has been by many people supposed to have led an abandoned Life before her Marriage — Of this however I have many doubts … The King’s last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it (her History of England)

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On my family and physical companionship life, I shall say the obvious, which needs more to be said than people admit (but I often do and can feel others responding with a “well, duh ….”)


He is a beautiful cat — with yellow eyes. He tried to get Clarycat to play. And she hissed growled and spat at him: “I’m not in the mood just now.” So now he’s vanished, gone to hide because a contractor came … who said the life of a cat is easy …

That cats need companionship is not said often enough though. The other morning Ian was following Izzy about as she got ready for work. It was quietly done and not intrusive but persistent. He does often sit at her door when it’s closed and cry, whimper, whine, protest, scratch, until the door is open enough so he can go in and out when he wants. He is the kind of cat who loves to hide, especially high up places (like my kitchen cabinets) showing immense strength when he jumps up to them. He comes down by stages: loud thump and he is on the washing machine; another flatter thump is him hitting the floor. I worry for the machine and his underpaws. Yet when not hiding he is often with me or her and sometimes overly seeks play (brings a toy over) or sits in my lap and in effect makes love to me — murmuring, head rubbed against mine, body against my chest, his upper paws around my neck ….

Cats need companionship with people, their significant person and should not be left alone (with someone coming in to put down water and food) for any real length of time. They need another cat who they have bonded with, but both need their person too.

I also mean they grow ill without this — exhibit signs of self-harm to ward off anxiety and stress. One can read about this in better books about cats–and also occasionally see in an unfortunate cat.

Today Ian murmuring a lot at me. His way of saying I’m here and pay attention or talk to, somehow be with me.

The Cats of Outlander: Did you know the fifth season of Outlander will include cats: yes in Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross Jamie gifts Claire with a gray kitten, Adso, and the advertisement promotion photographs include the three kittens — to film a cat in a show, one needs three so as not to overwork any one cat.


The cats of Outlander — that’s Caitriona Balfe and Anita Anderson

Izzy spent two days at her first American Librarians Association conference (here in DC) last week, and now five days in New York City: among other things, she took the boat ride around Manhattan, spent a whole day at the Whitney and another at the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park. She saw a musical, a play, spent time at the Strand. We kept in touch by email.

I had a beautiful conversation with my scholarly Johnsonian friend, Tony tonight — three hours — and talk sometimes with Panorea.

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Some funny New Yorker cartoons: Victorian heroines with adequate birth control by Glynnis Fawkes:

Classical heroine who did not need birth control measures:

So I have recovered from the first of my two summer trips. Never say keeping sadness at bay is not hard work.

by Eugenio Montale, as translated from the Italian by Jonathan Galassi

The Lemons

Listen to me, the poets laureate
walk only among the plants
with rare names: boxwood, privet, and acanthus.
But I like roads that lead to grassy
ditches where boys
scoop up a few starved
eels out of half-dry puddles:
paths that run along the banks
come down among the tufted canes
and end in orchards, among the lemon trees.

Better if the hubbub of the birds
dies out, swallowed by the blue:
we can hear more of the whispering
of friendly branches in not-quite-quiet air,
and the sensations of this smell
that can’t divorce itself from earth
and rains a restless sweetness on the heart.
Here, by some miracle, the war
of troubled passions calls a truce;
here we poor, too, receive our share of riches,
which is the fragrance of the lemons.

See, in these silences where things
give over and seem on the verge of betraying
their final secret,
sometimes we feel we’re about
to uncover an error in Nature,
the still point of the world, the link that won’t hold,
the thread to untangle that will finally lead
to the heart of a truth.

The eye scans its surroundings,
the mind inquires aligns divides
in the perfume it gets diffused
at the day’s most languid
It’s in these silences you see
in every fleeting human
shadow some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion fails, and time returns to us
to noisy cities where the blue
is see in patches, up between the roofs.
The rain exhausts the earth then;
winter’s tedium weighs the houses down,
the light turns miserly — the soul bitter.
Till one day through a half-shut gate
in a courtyard, there among the trees,
we can see the yellow of the lemons;
and the chill in the heart
melts, and deep in us
the golden horns of sunlight
pelt their songs.

Ellen

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