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Archive for January, 2020


From Durrells of Corfu (2016, first season, first episode): family on boat coming to Corfu


St Michael’s Mount, at first I thought Cornwall but now I know it’s Normandy? — it has this odd darkness because it is the screen image I see on my computer when I first rise and I used my cell phone to snap the picture; so it lacked the luminosity of the computer light

Friends and readers,

Hard as I try to find activities which keep me cheerful and feeling I have a meaning, in this 7th year of widowhood — maybe starting this past fall, I have had to face once again I am so deeply lonely. Last night I re-watched the second episode of the first season of The Durrells in Corfu and despite their troubles (they are real in the fiction and reflect real individual people’s lives) I find my spirit lifted and then last night I dreamt of them. As I woke in the night and again this morning I knew I had. I know I often dream of movies where I re-watch or if it’s a series and it gets under my skin (to use a metaphor), and then if there is a love relationship or character I can bond with, the vivid images and memory of sounds and places helps. I put one of the early stills at the head of this blog. Those who have watched the series remember how the headmaster caned Gerry and then was utterly unrepetent and how Mrs Durells (Keeley Hawes) refused to accept; but maybe we forget upon coming home how the next-door male neighbor speaks to her friendly-like and before you know it he is offering to marry her and telling her how he approves of boarding schools, and then her walk on the beach where she sees a girl running ahead of her parents from the sea and a tired old woman next to her on a bench, and makes up her mind to take Larry’s suggestion:

Trying to avoid taxi, she tells her four children Larry (Josh O’Connor), Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), Margo ( and Jerry they are not on vacation, they have come here to live on a meagre widow’s annuity, to escape the culture of civilization, which as far as she can tell is one of alienation and cruelty. But a generous taxi man who wants a fare comes along and he shows her respect: the mother, an important person:

To day I am working on this short paper for the coming conference – I hated getting the plane, will hate getting there, will be alone a lot as I have no rank and have not made any close connections or relationships where individuals are willing to go to a planned lunch or dinner with me, hate grand hotels and their anonymous rooms, but I will enjoy the sessions and doing papers gives me something to do on and off for weeks. I love the books I’ve chosen: Sontag’s Volcano Lover and DuMaurier’s King’s General and other books by them to make out my thesis with evidence. Last night I began to find what I needed for DuMaurier in her Enchanted Corwall and Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik’s collection of essays on her work. So you see how I manage.

I also today go to a movie an HD screening of Miller’s All My Sons – I’ve joined the OLLI at Mason theater group. One doesn’t go with these groups but arrives alone (so I must find the place) and because I can’t drive at night I won’t be able to go to a meal with them afterwards, but I’ll see friendly faces and probably a great play well done — it’s from the National theater in London at the Angelika theater in Fairfax (I ignore the ambiance and gimmicks as far as I can). Yesterday I was at the OLLI at AU main building to hear an hour talk by Helen Zughaib: she has had a hard life — born in Syria, an Arab family in a war zone, terrible experiences; they survived to weather life elsewhere — they were originally upper class and she grew up in Paris after they fled and then came to the US. She was enacting too much a sweet girl about to cry from trauma for my taste (there was something false about the way she performed her grief — apologizing for showing us torture in pictures when they were no such thing), but I felt what she has known, and all the people like her continuing endlessly to suffer & die so horrifically, in such squalid death camps (which are taken down if they become habitable civilized places) from ultimately US and powerful people’s ruthlessly greedy and crazed religious-grab power behavior.


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

Those in charge of so many powerful gov’ts and militaries across the globe are making a befouled burning flooded global dystopia — they are just now doing all they can to destroy and steal from the people of Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Brazil, the list goes on and on.

Today’s picture is my present screen image of Mount St Michael, which I had thought the one in Cornwall but is actually be the one off the Normandy coast; I’ve now been to the one in Cornwall there twice (I read years ago in Henry Adams’s famous meditative Mont St Michel & Chartres,  funny to remember all these years later and how I wondered if I’d ever see it). In Cornwall, once for real with two kind friends (who however dropped me afterwards) and once fakely (a Road Scholar group where we saw it from across the water in a sort of bus stop place and all the people took photos — but me). I still work on my Winston Graham-Poldark paper and am now reading his excellent (though so narrowly conceived, too apolitical) history narrative, The Spanish Armadas.

More on the upset, cynicism over, and defense and excoriation of Megham Markle and Andrew Windsor’s decision to live a different kind of life from that of dolls in rigid repeated silly rituals:

Yes. I agree. Misogyny. And also virulent racism aimed at Meghan Markle. It’s just fine for Andrew X to join with a vicious sexual predator and trapper of women like Epstein — you can stay POTUS even after breaking central laws intended to control the POTUS so he works for the American people. But say you don’t want your wife and child to be vilified racially in the press and you are a pariah. You upset everybody. Indeed.

I wrote a blog remembering Martin Luther King the other day, the tragedies of American racism, especially for African-Americans (Baldwin’s If Beale Street could Talk, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, on cat literature, cat art, studies of cats and other animals, what I read this year, made a start on my women actresses and artists series (Susannah Arne Cibber and Adelaide Labille-Guiard). Isobel, bless her strong heart, started her art course (once a week, 10 weeks at the Torpedo factory) and cancelled her membership to JASNA (I haven’t quite done that but getting there, as in my “Hardly Any Women at All!”). I am saving my re-watching of Sanditon for a separate blog,


The two friends, Crystal Clarke as Georgiana Lambe and Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood

But here can talk more briefly of The Two Popes and Edge of Democracy on Netflix


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

I endorsed Laura’s very sceptical (robust as they say) take on Netflix’s new line-up and choices of what to advertise, but I have to say they are also using their money to make some superb films. Last night I watched Mereilles’s latest, The Two Popes. Of course the two actors are unbeatable: Jonathan Pryce as the Argentinian priest and bishop who became Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Benedict 16. The film has a deep appeal of humanity — kindliness, two old men remembering mistakes — especially Pryce. Not so much Hopkins who does have a scary piercing look in his eye.

What is valuable is their relationship enables them to offer up memories of horrific scenes in Argentina when the US backed junta took over and slaughtered so many and destroyed all social progress that had been hoped for — since then there has been a real change and progress but the US with its instrument the OAS is again trying to create a real life dystopia

We see two people exchanging views, talking to one another.

Apparently, though, we are again in The Crown and Downton Abbey areas, for much is fantasy and idealization, especially of the retired pope (the real story)

I (honestly) personally don’t take the Catholic Church’s pronouncements seriously, so it didn’t bother me that except for the return to approving or disapproving homosexuality (part of the celibacy controversy), there was no resolution. I was interested – very much — in Bergoglio’s history and his behavior during the 1980s when the US backed coup destroyed so many people and a country for say 20 years. Human life is so short so 20 years means a lot to any individual living then. Maybe it was Mereilles in a relaxed mood. I do see that it can be called “cute” or a buddy film: it even ended in an absurd scene of them drinking beer together and watching football.
I was carried away by the good feeling of Jonathan Pryce’s character, the quietude, the whole ambiance of conversation. So many movies move frantically (including Little women) are violent, this was like The Crown in this way, a relief. There was no implicit endorsement of violence or capitalism, which most films (including the new Little Women) endorse.


Not a dream, a photo of one of these mass street demonstrations — where many are killed, maimed, and then imprisoned or disappeared for life ….

As for the Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa (she also co-wrote the script and co-produced and she narrates and is the over-voice). As a film, it was not as entertaining or absorbing as The Two Popes, but as an explanation of what happened in Brazil recently it is superb, how democratically-elected social democratic gov’t whose leaders (especially Lulu) were on the side of the people, had succeeded in improving their standard of living, had spread literacy from a dearth to almost everyone going to school and learning to read and to write and a profession or useful skill of some sort, could get thrown out — successfully! overlooking an election. And then how a cruel monster, Bolsonaro, another killer for capitalism, and for destroying whole tribes of people and a vast swatch of the earth’s environment (the rain forests of Brazil) could get into power was startling.

So now I know. And it’s demoralizing. It seems all one has to do is lie, lie very effectively — after having managed to squeeze the country into a financial crisis (this takes the help of other gov’ts and agencies also determined to wipe out any social progress or indents on their profits) so the average person is now suffering — just what Trump is doing to Venezuela, Cuba (and Puerto Rico too – see above) right now. Then the people themselves deluded, with no understanding they are putting devils in place, ignore the previous election, say a coup is fine, put the good people in prison. So the decent parties of this earth have to figure out a way to fight these new sets of behaviors and tools that have brought us dictatorship everywhere (and it’s here with us in Trump’s gov’t in front of us) and misery and destruction of much that we hold dear in principle and eventually for each of us in reality in various ways.

So I recommend The Edge of Democracy. It’s told as a story of the director from her personal standpoint — that provides the line of narrative.

One afternoon, suddenly Oh I was chuffed. A beautiful book (on art paper like the last) — The Making of Outlander: the Series, The Official Guide to Seasons Three and Four by Tara Bennett — arrived on my stoop. It was all I could do to stop myself from putting everything down and just luxuriating in it. I am on my third or fourth watching of the second season. I’ve read Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, but thus far only listened, skimned and dipped and read in Voyager and Drums of Autumn, but I do think some of her best writing I’ve read thus far is in Voyager and it must’ve given them the most headaches — they filmed in South Africa as well as Scotland — to turn into a genuine movie.


How I dream of her and him too at night …

I wish there were something like this for Poldark. The scripts for the first two seasons were published and a single Companion, but the Companion swung between historical short essays (some of them very good) and fluff about stars, then towards the end about the settings, and costumes (paintings used). What these Outlander volumes do is closely compare novel and film. The Outlandish Companions for the first six novels provide the historical background as Gabaldon understands and sees it — with dictionary style sections, and a wide purview on culture, lots of illustrations, bibliographies &c

Someone (or a couple of people) have suggested to me that Outlander is more popular: more books sold and the series too. It may be more books have been sold, but I doubt the series was at first more popular. It is slowly gaining recognition: they had it on expensive high tier channels. For my part I think the series is done much better than the Poldark series, but the Poldark books are very much superior to the Outlander ones. Probably the difference (my view again) between what’s available comes from WG himself being dead and his son very unsympathetic to his father’s work and the public, while Gabaldon is there all the time trying to promote and involve herself productively.

Still lower budget is not responsible for the poorer scripts for Poldark— though it is true that Outlander had several superior writers, and a crew of superior directors. Another factor (this is again my subjective judgement) is that the leads (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson) were just not as convincing as a couple as the principal pair (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) in Outlander. The Outlander books have power but they remain romances whose central raison d’etre is the intense love of Jamie and Claire for one another (that is what fuels whatever there is of deep life) and they are structurally after the first book or so a mess. Poldarks are much more seriously historical fiction and the central relationships all have a realistic or more common ambiguity. Neither compares as historical fiction to Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levantine trilogies or Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet … as DuMaurier’s King’s General does not to Sontag’s Volcano Lover: the good ones are brilliant history too, not slackened softened history as romance. With a friend I am eagerly awaiting the last volume of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

Signed up for Italian Jewish writing for the spring at OLLI at AU (books like Christ Stopped at Eboli — I’ve read it in Carlo Levi’s Italian –, Primo Levi’s Periodic Table, Natalia Ginzburg, Lampedusa’s Gattopardo (I will add that last), shut of out but still hoping for “Difficult Women” (I’m first on the wait list I’m told) with Elaine Showalter at Politics & Prose Bookstore (MacCarthy’s The Company We Keep, Patricia Highsmith’s scary angry-depressed Edith’s Chair — maybe she will explain to me why people read cruel mean spiteful mysteries — a Joan Didion and a Susan Sontag anthology). Cross your fingers for me.

Taking a Future Learn course at Night: How to Read a Novel. Actually teaching me something, insightful, and useful for teaching. Very contemporary novels and topics (autofiction) under discussion (Olivia Lang’s plagiaristic distasteful novel, which, much to my disillusioned grief, told me that Ian Patterson, the poet-husband of “my” Jenny Diski has already re-married), but I used as an example of powerful art using free indirect discourse, complicated presences for characers, and POV, Anthony Trollope:

Anthony Trollope uses shifts in perspective a lot; these shifts make for fascinating different interpretations of the same story matter that makes up the novel. Also the characters change so a perspective a character has at the beginning is gradually altered. In Small House at Allington, Lily Dale intelligent, wry, clear-sighted and non-pompous says of the man she will fall in love with: “I’ll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell.” Later she will see him so differently and use highly emotional language when in love; when he betrays her, she changes again — her idiom the same but her understanding of this man altering. I love how he uses letters: the letter is clearly by someone whose language is utterly that person but is read by someone whose perspective is quite different, and then we have the narrator’s impersonal ironic voice joining in. This kind of thing to my mind makes Trollope one of the great novelists in the English language.

Listening in my car to Juliet Stevenson reading aloud Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day still and sometimes reveling in the descriptions and Mary Gatchet, coming spinster, and Katharine Hilbury, enduring slavery to her family.

It is very cold out just now, Winter, the air closing in round my skin deeply chilled, fridge-like. A hollow sound from the damp edgy quiet winds pushing at my robe as I step out to get the paper or feel the air.


Outside Izzy’s window


My beloved Clary warming herself on the Cable Box and my multi-regional DVD player

So that’s for this past week or so. To end on cheer, I am re-watching Mary Beard‘s intelligent enlightened humane deep history, Ultimate Rome  (also called Empire without Limits) and will soon make a separate blog — what makes for real prosperity for human kind, a good world is her underlying theme. You also get to visit places far apart in the middle and at the edges of the empire; two I’ve been to: Hadrian’s Wall and Rome itself.


I am fond of her act, how she dresses, her tone

I — & Mary Beard — have been lucky.  She so much more.  I am alone, she is anything but. == at least as to her outer existence.  Good thing my mother and father worked all their lives, spent so little of what they accumulated, for now I have it to do such things with as assuage and compensate — buy books, join groups, go places. And keep Izzy company in her good spinster life. Widow and spinster, mother & daughter.

Be well, take care, do good work, and keep in touch (I miss Garrison Keillor)

Ellen

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Izzy now guest-blogging:

“The ironic thing is, Megan Markle’s marrying Prince Harry really was a real life Cinderella story; she might not have been a lowly servant girl, but she was the woman considered unsuited for the hand of a prince, but she got to marry him anyway. Had the United Kingdom been a smarter place, instead of the sort of country to vote for Brexit and Boris Johnson, they would’ve capitalized on that fact.

We should’ve paid more attention to the fates of some of the women unfortunate enough to fall in love with and/or marry his father or brother. Camilla, forced to spend much of her life as the other woman, and still viewed that way by many even after she got to marry her prince. The less said about poor Diana, the better. And now the stories go around that even though William got to marry the woman he wanted, he still hasn’t been faithful.

In short, no woman should dream of marrying a prince. Your life will be taken over, and may well be ruined.

Really, Megan’s lucky, that her prince is low enough in the line he can walk away from his racist country and manipulative family with a clean conscience, and values her well-being enough to do so. But that they felt the need to walk away says everything.

Miss Isobel

See Two weddings: in Windsor and in Charlottesville

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Saturday, January 4, 2020, the last day — the beautiful old reading room

In the reading room of the New York Public Library
All sorts of souls were bent over silence reading the past,
Of the present, or maybe it was the future, persons
Devoted to silence and the flowering of the imagination,
When all of a sudden I saw my love,
She was a faun with light steps and brilliant eye
And she came walking among the tables and the rows of persons.

Straight from the forest, to the center of New York,
And nobody noticed, or raised an eyelash . . .

The people of this world pay no attention to the fauns
Whether of this world or of another, but there she was …

Everybody was in the splendour of [her] imagination,
Nobody paid any attention to this splendour
Appearing in the New York Public Library,
Their eyes were on China, India, Arabia, or the Balearies,
While my faun was walking among the tables and eyes
Inventing their world of life, invisible and light,
In silence and sweet temper, loving the world.

— Richard Eberhart, lines from “Reading Room, The New York Public Library”

Friends and readers,

The first important event of this new year for me and others who have inhabited and done research in the Folger Library — as well perhaps as those who regularly go to the plays, concerts, and poetry readings in the Folger Theater — is the closing of the building for two years for various renovation projects — in and outside the building. On one of the listservs I’m still on that is productively active, EMW-L (Early Modern Women), one of the scholars remarked “if ever there was magic in modern scholarly space, it was there.” I felt that, and used to stay on the side of the desk you see photographed, the old side; another much more modern space, much more brightly lit, light weigh desk areas, with many plugs and outlets for PC computers, laptops, ipads, cell phones, never beckoned to me. All of us who wrote in agreed “it was very sad” — because although we know the library will open again, it will not be for some time, we’ll miss it, and have to go elsewhere, and because when they open again, they will renovate the look of that old room out of existence.

I chose Eberhart’s poem because I don’t know of an equivalent for the Folger; I first came across it when I was doing research at the New York Public Library for my dissertation, reading (as I recall) rare 18th century novels by women, with my own “shelf” tucked away with books kept for me, and “my own” carrel desk, mine as long as I got back to it within a week. The trouble was — for my memory’s sake — the research for that dissertation didn’t last that long, maybe two years. I have been going to the Folger, since the early 1990s and although I stopped going regularly about 15 years ago (in a way alas), for some 15 years before that it was a very familiar place indeed. I did my projects in Italian Renaissance poetry translation, the biographies I wrote, the texts I produced for Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara, and Anne Finch there. I did research in Trollope: yes his books of Jacobean drama are there, and a book on his annotations in them. My last project but one was the autobiographical writings of Anne Murray Lady Halkett. My last two weeks ago, a long full day reading what’s left of Catherine Clive’s letters towards a book review I’m doing, plus now planned blogs and some developing study of 18th century comedies, mostly of the more sentimental kind, as well as burlesque after-pieces. I can think of nothing I like to do better.

It’s not wholly closed as yet: Izzy and I have another theater play there, The Merry Wives, I have an HD screening of The Winter’s Tale (Kenneth Branagh as Leontes, Judi Dench Paulina). But then we will be bereft for two years. I hope whatever they do will take no longer than that. I imagine the staff also hopes for as short a time as possible – they don’t want to lose their general public either.


At opening of 1999 BBC film of The Clandestine Marriage, Fanny ((Natasha Little) and Lovewell (Paul Nicholls) marrying in Fleetwell prison, then half-way through talking aside privately in the sunny landscape

I could tell you about less gratifying things I’ve done over the last week than two evenings of full-length movie watching & study. The first, coming out of the research project: after reading carefully through a splendid Broadview edition of George Colman and David’s Garrick’s The Clandestine Marriage, followed by Catherine Clive’s The Rehearsal, or Bayes in Petticoats, finally watched the 1999 BBC version, director Christopher Miles, of Colman and Garrick’s Clandestine Marriage. Maybe I’m in a weak state but they managed to touch my heart. I felt my eyes shining with happiness for the benign kindness at the end. This one was believable. The play itself had been (in the 18th century mode) ironic and rough-house, everyone blatantly mercenary, innately selfish and would doubtless soon return to being so again. The joy was an erotic bless, in terms of an immediate future (the play historically speaking is defying the 1753 Marriage Act as the couple marries in Fleetwood prison) and our heroine is pregnant; beautiful landscape, music effective, acting very well done. Stellar cast, especially Natasha Little as the convincingly sweet innocent Fanny, Nigel Hawthorne (getting very old), Timothy Spall, Tom Hollander (early in his career). Paul Nicholls as Lovewell drop dead handsome. Trevor Bentham screenplay:


Nigel Hawthorne as the lecherous aging but finally benign Lord Ogleby, Joan Collins taking the Catherine Clive domineering older woman role, Mrs Heidelberg

I could find nothing in print on it (George Mason database), though articles on the 1753 Marriage act and its relationship to such plays. Tom Hollander in the Sir John Melvile part trying to pick which daughter he wants!

I believed in the ending because I knew something like this joy once — and after a life time of “digging in” together here is no substitute for my husband. I find many activities I enjoy and I throw myself into these — mostly reading books and writing projects that find fulfillment on the Net; also nowadays watching and re-watching, thus studying film, and then writing them film sometimes. I have not been able to sustain any close friendship locally — maybe one at a time. And as I age I deal less well with stress. OTOH, I’m getting better in some ways — more self-reliant and pragmatic in feel and slowly accepting my lot in ways I had not before. I want to watch again, read more and write a blog-essay. One cannot have too many holds on [what] happiness [comes our way] (saith Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey).


New York versus Los Angeles

The other directly related, a kind of modern contrast, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, also nearly 3 hours. I did not realize it has finished its movie-house release (functioned as an ad?) and is now on Netflix. I was very aware it’s by a man and felt as I watched that it was done very much from Charlie’s point of view (Adam Driver). That conceded, nonetheless (to be candid) to me it seemed at the end to be about a divorce that need not have happened. That this wife (Scarlet Johansson’s best performance, brilliant) put her husband through hell for no good reason but that she wanted out of the marriage situation. She just didn’t want this way of life any more. Nor the hardness of the city environment in NYC. Ever so much more comfortable in her LA rich person’s house. It was about a young woman who prefers to be single and live with her female relatives, to control her situation. I thought the depiction of the lawyer (Laura Dern) showed one of the most bitch-y women on screen, this utter hypocrite performative horror – a caricature but Dern carried it off — to be truthful more convincingly than she did the stereotypical Marmee of the (mostly very good) latest Little Women. The wife did not in the least give the husband any hint of what was to come, who she was for real. Real problem is no husband would be that abject and acquiescent and the ending would be bitter.

The two Sondheim songs at the end summed up the movie in much the way I have only in the softened mode of an acceptable commodity movie. Watch her song (all frivolity, escape, all about boundaries around her) and then his, “Being Alive”.

This too became involved in my subconscious dream life. I dreamed of Jim that night; it was a dream where there were other people, and I no longer remember the story. But there he was facing a long wall length window; I went over to him so rapidly and we hugged so strongly. The dream placed him in this weird atmosphere, I’d like to call it luminous except that is to elevate the sense of light as poetic when it was more like metal from some artificial light fixture. When I woke, at first I was still under the influence of this memory, and then of course I realized it was a dream, he is dead and is never coming back. I woke feeling cheered and looked about but then I realized I had had this dream and the morning was very bleak. A widow of four years told me today she used to have three presences in her life, three effective souls, him, him-and-her acting as one, and then her. Well said, yes. I was me, some of my acts were me-and-him, and some of what I lived intently through was him.  She feels like a knife has shorn off half her body.

***************************************
Closure of Christmas happened a few days before this movie-watching and read — on Monday, Twelfth Night — we put our tree out.

My last Christmas movie, John Huston’s The Dead, out of Joyce’s story, I watched on the Sunday. Here’s the Economist explaining why “The Dead” is a miraculous movie. I accompany it with Niall Williams’s contextual essay, “Is anyone happy anyway?” to the latter the answer is of course many people are or say and think they are, and the world has ever been filled with people who don’t appreciate small things.

We then had our first full winter storm, heavy damp white flakes covered the world lightly, then melted away from all but the grass. Coming home, Izzy took pictures, out of our dining room window and of Ian taking his first look from the side of her computer.

Two of us finished Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter this week on WomenWriters@groups.io (talk about a woman finding meaning in a man at the end; another destroyed by her mother); and three will go on for Toni Morrison, Margaret Drabble and then the Polish writer, Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. Would you believe we are reading Trollope’s Lord Palmerston on Trollope&Peers, soon to begin The Last Chronicle of Barset. I’ve begun another riveting novel by Oliphant: A Country Gentleman and his Family; the title doesn’t begin to suggest how the book centers on a brilliant but domineering male who with his refusal to compromise has lost an academic career, a widowed mother stifled and yearning for liberty, a widowed sister-in-law whose lout of a husband, betrayer, incompetent has died of an accident (she manages to tell us how he had affairs) — all set in this utterly real environment, moving slowly with naturalistic speech, inner intensities. I carry on listening to the immensely emotional deeply felt Night and Day (Woolf), how I love her heroines, the only ones I now realize who have come alive for me in her novels (Katharine Hilbury and Mary Datchett) and even more Juliet Stevenson for reading it aloud so wonderfully well and Julia Briggs for her notes. I find myself hurt for Wool when I read Katherine Mansfield’s strictures upon this book: it’s like someone has sneered at your soul for not coming up to her petty goals; although the comparison is unfair, since “Bliss” is a short story, it is in comparison mere gimmick. Woolf has poured heart and soul into Night and Day, she is genuinely exploring issues of young women trying to invent and live fulfilled lives, broaching all kinds of serious issues for the two male protagonists too.

And this week winter courses began. On Tuesday afternoon I went to the first session of the course I’m taking in World War II books — we were to have read Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune, the first of 6 novels now known as the Balkan and Levant trilogies.

I’m also re-watching another (more forgotten) masterpiece, the 1987 BBC Fortunes of War (Alan Plater scripted, James Cellan Jones, directed — he recently died), with its haunting music and superb cast. Book and film chilling and closely relevant to what is happening in the US, both those in power at different levels, and how people (civilians) in reaction are behaving. This first novel takes place in Rumania in 1939 to 1940 — we see the beginnings of the extermination machine going public. The novel ends with the fall of Paris, before which we have effective allusions to Dunkirk. It is seen out of the lens of an implicit private unhappiness of Harriet Pringle, the heroine-surrogate, though importantly unlike the author, Harriet has no job, no profession or occupation of her own, so her husband Guy Pringle’s tendency to forget she’s there for long periods (he a part surrogate for Reggie Smith who ran parts of the BBC eventually very effectively) is far felt directly than (cumulative in life). That Manning was Anglo-Irish is also important; she wrote novels set in Ireland and Palestine. She is just terrific in evoking atmosphere — I feel how cold it was in Rumania in 1939-40 in winter (probably still is) as I read the book.


The movie begins with the dark landscape of Rumania and the train, Guy and Harriet (Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, then newly weds) Pringle already facing from one another ….

One delicious part is that the British colony put on a production of Troilus and Cressida, rather brilliantly Manning brings out how what is in Shakespeare’s play tells us about political behavior in 1939 — good as it is (as literary criticism to bring out the real qualities of a text), David’s book overlooks the significance of 1970. The first book of The Balkan Trilogy is written in 1970 and is also about that era — historical fiction has many resonances. You could do far worse in seeking a relevant text to what is happening today in the US gov’t (a small gang or junta of people around Trump running an erratic gangster gov’t) than Shakespeare’s T&C — I’ve seen it twice as well as read it.

As to the first two hours at Politics & Prose course: it has the faults of another course they gave a while back on WW1 books. The explanaton for the war is utterly top down, and they accept the consensus narratives of today. They did have very particular information about Rumania I did not know at all. But unfortunately, the two women took the point of view that Manning’s fiction is not truly superior: we are reading it because it’s so accurate in what it shows and she has some terrific gifts for narrative and characters and dialogues. Women denigrating other women. One of the women is older and herself dogmatic and they are forthright when they don’t approve of sex lives — and just apply modern ideas at times and also notions of conventional marriage. They blamed Guy, the hero, for taking Harriet to Rumania. What could he be thinking of? What. Also did not like Manning, couldn’t sympathize with her. I did speak against these pronouncement.

Manning is much better than the way they framed her: there is a vision at the core of these books commensurate with having a single heroine lens: an ironic presentation of the unbound nature of individuals within cultural milieus, and how helpless they are against such powerful juntas with vast armies and fearful bigotry to back them up.

They didn’t even like Deirdre David’s marvelously intelligent (if aggressive) literary biography to all. I am especially fond of women biographers writing superbly about women writers. Manning was good friends with Stevie Smith, whose poems of friendship are unbeatable:

The pleasures of friendship are exquisite,
How pleasant to go to a friend on a visit!
I go to my friend, we walk on the grass
And the hours and moments like minutes pass.

I was told on a Face-book where I told a little of all this (a Fine Literature group page) to read Bowen’s The Heat of the Day: I have taught it a couple of times. Unfortunately, she was probably a fascist (a spy perhaps) and this shapes some of the presentation of the hero, but it’s an effective book. Also Henry Green; he’s often cited as very good; the one time I tried he seemed so affected but I should try again.

I’d love to go off on a WW2 women’s memoirs reading bout: from Marguerite Duras to Iris Origo to Naomi Mitchison, Women enduring war and making what is on the ground about them livable. Historical fiction by women in this era is also about WW2.

I live in worlds of older women: today I saw Gertwig’s Little Women for the second time in a movie-theater auditorium where every single seat was taken, most by women and most of them older; most of the people in this P&P class are women. I had lunch with three friends, two of us widows, one divorced twice.  Where have all the men gone by 70? They don’t form groups easily.

I have bought tickets for myself and my friend, Panorea, to go to the In-series, La Cabaret de Carmen (raw power, anyone?) next Saturday afternoon. I’ve seen Carmen done from Juan’s point of view (Roberto Alagna).

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

To end with, I was looking for something this morning, I scarce knew what, but I realized I had found it when I read Patricia Fargnoli’s “Old Woman Dreams.” I have three of her selections, but found this one in my The Widow’s Handbook (anthology of poetry), ed. J Lapidus and LMenn, under “Memories, Ghosts and Dreams.” It begins:

He came to her finally in his torn jeans and soft
tan jacket, came from feeding the horses,
their sweat still on his palms,
came redolent of hay, honey from his hives —
Solomon’s Song on his lips.
Came with the old scar on his cheek where
she left the chaste imprint of a kiss.
Younger, impossibly younger,
He told her what she wanted to hear.
But only in dream, night, the color of his black hair.

Around him, her arms wound like his branches,
his eyes were a garden she ached to lie down in.
They met in a wind-rush, and what she remembers
is a craving to follow where he was leading.
Also the impression of dissolving
against the astonishment of his chest.
Her desire seems to have its own life and will not be
expelled o matter how often she tries to banish it.

Somehow an old woman feels all this. Is it so odd?
She’s heard a dream embodies a message
from the totem spirit, like the fox
who emerges in flame from the forests
and goes to hide in the morning hours.

She is nowadays my favorite poet; and here is “A note PF’s work” by Ilya Kaminsky:

Someone asked me if I read 24 hours a day. No, said I.

I go for walks myself.

Another year.


Laura spotted this post-card perfect photo on twitter the afternoon of the storm

Ellen

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