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Archive for the ‘autism’ Category


Beatrice Potter — Mice at work threading the needle

This morning I was thinking I find it much harder to be alone during the summer or hot months than the cold. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the hot weather signals to one you are supposed to be outside with others having a good time?

Then Robert Reich whose warm compassionate deeply humane and political newsletters I get each day wrote about how a third grade teacher named Alice Camp made a big difference in his life

So I wrote in reply:

I was never lucky enough to have a teacher truly helping me at a young age. But twice when a bit older, a teacher took an interest and made a difference in my life. At age 15 I was intensely miserable and alone, and an English teacher quietly took pity on me: she got me a school job in the library (something you were told you were supposed to get and I had no idea how), and as one of the students monitoring people late to school so I sat with a group of other students every morning for a year. Both helped against the crying jags. She never openly admitted this. I don’t know why I know this but she was said to be a spinster.

Then age 18 the first English class I had in college a Black man who was very elegant, upper class (from one of the West Indian islands) openly was friendly to me in class, and once asked me to come to his office where he encouraged me to be an English major and told me I was very talented in writing and reading. Because of this meeting I did that — so it was not just reading a passage in Wordsworth that gave me the courage. I remember ever after how he was Black and was probably the only Black teacher I ever had in school — I went to all NYC public schools, Queens College, CUNY and a year at Leeds University (UK). One day someone bought in lollipops and gave to one to everyone but me.  I did look different: I was anorexic and very thin, dressed differently, sat apart.  Prof Oliver went over to the guy and asked for 2 lollipops and then came over to me and gave me one and went to the front of the class and unwrapped and sucked on his.

Oh I don’t remember the woman’s name but I can see her kind face even now. She had soft silvery blonde hair. The man’s name was Clinton F. Oliver, and his scholarly specialty was Henry James.

A very long time friend on the Internet who lives in Iran, Farideh Hassanzadeh, wrote this poem the other day and sent it to me:

They are the only ones
who are free.

They stay
on that dark side of the cities
where the most remote stones
rest on their bodies,
covered with dust.

When news is broadcast at regular time
by beautiful international women,
wearing colorful clothing and gaudy smiles,
the dead hear nothing but deep silence
as if all the international languages
are without sound.

Even when the bombs start to rain
on far and near cities
they are safe in their eternal shelters
while their souls are suffering
from the long-lost dreams.

The only voice that reaches them
to shake their bones
is the torture screams
from the solitary confinement
just like the graves
where the freedom is condemned to survival.

Ellen

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I have learnt since Jim died, always knew, I would be very lonely were I to have to live alone. Not only do I have Izzy with me but during the day I maintain contact with lots of people on the Net — through the listservs I moderate, on the FB pages I join in on, even twitter I have a few acquaintances now. Then there are nowadays these zooms. People respond to my blogs; sometimes even now to my website. So I’m rarely w/o company.  Hardly ever, if you include Clarycat, ever by my side.

Dear friends and readers,

A sort of milestone. If 3/4s of a century is not a milestone, where are milestones to be found.? I am amazed I’ve reached this age, but here I am. Above you see the silly present I bought for myself. This must be my third doll of this type:  Colin, my penguin; a doll I bought at the Native American museum who I was also charmed by; and a silver Christmas squirrel.

Saturday, November 27th, I bought sweet Rudolph while wandering around the local CVS pharmacy waiting for Izzy to get her third booster: process includes presenting an identity card, her vaccination card, 5 minute wait, and then the vaccination jab, then fifteen minutes more. We decided not to wait until Kaiser called her (they had said soon, but no appts offered) when we read of Omicron Covid. The name is ominous. While there, I counted 7 people arriving, waiting for, getting jabs, waiting 15 minutes again. There was one who had just left. As we left, I saw another person coming up. A steady stream for this pharmacist.

November the 29th was a cold and short day, but pretty. I managed to be happy a good deal of the day — it was a kind of work but I did it. Many wishes for a happy birthday to me on FB and a few on twitter. some with real warmth. I put on FB this poem by Johnson to Mrs Thrale which Jim once wrote out to me:

Oft in danger yet still alive
We are come to seventy-five!

Remembering when Jim copied out Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale ….

Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at seventy-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from seventy-five …

Mrs Thrale had been pregnant by that time 10 times. By age 40 I had had three hemorrhages, two as a result of miscarriage or childbirth. In the evening Laura came and drove us to Il Porto Ristorante. Laura is now mature and she showed us a good evening. We had good talk, my central dish lobster in creamy sauce with pasta (I didn’t eat enough of it), and then a walk by the Potomac. Since I can no longer drive, I go out at night very rarely. Thus it was a treat. I remembered the last time I had been in Old Towne late at night: one summer night with Vivian where I had had to park the car in a difficult space. Vivian is gone now. Here is Izzy’s photo that morning.


Getting ready for work — she is looking more like a traditional librarian every day.

In the mid-afternoon I attended the Barchester Cathedral Trollope Society zoom: John Christopher Briscoe has imagined a history of Barchester Cathedral from Anglo-Saxon era through the Roman into the English gothic and then 19th century. He’s an architect and historian, used picturesque drawings of cathedrals (with cats) from the Anglo-Saxon to the 19th century eras. The charm is also Mr Briscoe is a fan of Trollope’s and has done this out of love for the books.


An original illustration of M.R. James’s story, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral”


Clive Swift playing the central role of curate

Afterwards much talk of (among other things) other writers who have written up cathedrals. I mentioned Joanna Trollope as someone who might have — under another pseudonym, Caroline Harvey, she has written stories that are take-offs from Trollope — she uses Trollope characters’ names. They are sort of sequels — sequels come in many varieties; she updates, but then also uses the clerical milieu for similar sorts of psychological-social stories and uses names of Trollope’s characters transposed — there’s a Mr Harding and an Eleanor &c&c. One person said there is a cathedral in her The Choir and it’s based on several cathedrals in England (especially Rochester); that’s written under her own name of Joanna Trollope, and is an original fiction.

I also remembered that M.R. James, a writer of uncanny unnerving ghost stories — truly finely written, subtle – has one set in a Barchester Cathedral — “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” it’s called; it was adapted by the BBC for an hour’s film and starred Clive Swift who played Mr Proudie in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles. Some of M.R. James’s books are beautifully produced — lovely paper, illustrations, introductions, the lot. Jim enjoyed them mightily and bought the beautiful books. He read aloud a couple of the stories to me.

I have Joanna Trollope’s The Choir and will read it next: there is an audiobook still available on CDs, & there was a film adaptation. I started it last night Very readable in her usual way. You can recognize her too. Hers are stories that deal with the social-psychological traumas of the 20th century, which are also political issues too, using the troubles and contradictions of middle class family life in milieus that recall Anthony Trollope’s.

Trollope’s Orley Farm is the next “big read” for the zoom group; it will start mid-January, and I did volunteer to do a talk on Millais’s illustrations — I wrote about the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels in my book, the chapter I’m most proud of, which was praised by Mark Turner (a respected Trollope scholar). Dominic Edwards promised he’s do the necessary for the share screens.

As I described above, evening Laura came and we went out and we did have a good time. She is now grown up at last. She is leading a happy life for her, but she knows she is not developing her talent for real. She says there will be no great book — and no children. So she lives with her choices. She has a full social life with Rob. She tells me some of their friends have died and it is NOT unusual in the US for adults to die in their 40s or 50s — overwork, despair, sickness not treated or badly treated. The US a cruel society to its ordinary people — unqualified uncontrolled capitalism (now in danger of creeping into dictatorship of a religious-based fascism).

Another reminder of Jim that day: Stephen Sondheim died. How Jim loved the music, the lyrics, the books, the full-blown musicals. We went to so many; one summer the Kennedy Center became a temple to Sondheim, and the last night there was spontaneous singing groups around the building. For two Christmases in a row I bought Jim Sondheim’s memoir as edition of his musical scripts, photos, writing all about them. Here’s the blog I wrote about 2 months after Jim died: I begin with Into the Woods.

And then a clever parody:

This is unfair but funny. It is true this is the kind of Sondheim song that gets to be very popular and that people try to belt out or listen to Elaine Stritch belt out (or Bernadette Peters croon), but he is far more varied than that. Still Alan Chapman has caught something; on Sunday Lin Manuel Miranda led a group of singers and actors from Broadway to have a songfest on Times Square.

The Chapman seems to me hostile. “On an Ordinary Sunday” made me choke up because it is about what a New Yorker walking in Central Park might see on an ordinary Sunday. I remember the first time Jim, I & the girls saw the musical — at the Arena, the astonishment at the picture, and the beauty, harmony and hope of it all … the poignancy of not appreciating the little joy we have in life.

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Not done yet. Yesterday I had another rare treat: went out with a friend to lunch, to a restaurant of the day time type which caters to “ladies who lunch,” and the food was a wonderful half sandwich and cream of tomato basil soup. Afterwards we went to see Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. I admit I wanted to see my heroine-actress Caitriona Balfe, and knew Ciarhan Hinds might steal the show. He did, but Judi Dench was given the central moments for her speeches. My review:

Alas, it is not a great film — Branagh just never seems to reach that point of direction, conceptions, work a writer  where the film transcends. And it is also over-produced in the way of most movies that turn up in movie-theaters. The movie must jump out at you viscerally; the audience must feel there’s nothing too subtle for you here, not to worry. It’s being over-rated but it does have power.

The problem is what’s interesting; Branagh pretends to be doing a 1950s movie in part. It’s not only in black-and-white, but done on built sets. This reminds me of Hitchcock, but it’s not to have total control — it’s to convey something about the 1950s. I’m not sure it convinces because of the modern over-producing — despite heroic efforts to make a period film, to recreate  the 1950s visually, by sets. The acting by Balfe, Hinds and Dench (she is given less but what she is given is central) terrific — I almost didn’t recognize Balfe as her voice is so different from Outlander. Maybe she over-does the working class Irish accent.


Caitriona Balfe as Branagh’s mother and Jamie Dornan as his father — enjoying dancing on an old-fashioned rock ‘n roll dance floor

Critics have said it’s too distanced but I am not sure they said why or how. One example, throughout the movie we see famous 1950s kinds of movie (maybe 40s) on the TV set. Several against violence but I suspect they are Branagh’s favorites. He is there as a little boy and we see how smart he is (there are literary allusions) but the how much movies meant to him is kept detached from him. The movies are just part of what is watched. Well at one high point of violence, we hear strains of High Noon (which we’ve already glimpsed on TV); this breaks the suspension of belief, and I think destroys the scene which is not over-the-top in emotion. We needed to be left in the scene to made to care.

It is also somehow upbeat with the opening in color of modern Belfast and the closing. And the fable itself which has the most purchase on our emotions through Balfe’s irrational attachment to Belfast – she should want to get out. The theme is a contrast between those who leave (and all they gain, including the child Branagh who grows up to be an actor, director, movie-producer) and those who stay (the grandparents who must).  Branagh’s father, the husband of the film has a job in London and he’s been offered help to transfer. Only because he is in danger of his life if he doesn’t join the Ulsters and his sons too does his mother agree to go. All her roots are in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I remembered how I hated coming to Virginia and understood why even if NYC at the time was a terrible existence for us I found myself so isolated alone an outsider here, and still am.

But then cannot have a downer or it won’t sell. So we return to the tourist and rich part of Belfast at the end and Dench’s stoic endurance as she stays,  now a widow. The film is dedicated to those who left, those who stayed and those whose lives were suffering and ruin. A charitable way to see this is Branagh thanking his parents.

It has an archetype:  Cinema Paradiso, where a similarly appealing boy-child finds comfort and meaning in movies and grows up to make it big in the industry ….  Will we never stop focusing on the troubled background of white successful males … ?

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I have been reading away, wonderful deep fulfilling books by Iris Origo, Christa Wolf, and on them: my winter course will be a continuation of last spring: 20th century women’s political writing. Both trace the rise of fascism, and the thwarting of women, the limited roles allowed them – much more. Latest iteration:

Retelling Traditional History from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking coping with war as experienced by civilians as the chatelaine of a large Tuscan estate. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing. I will also recommend people see an acclaimed film about the GDR’s Stasi, The Lives of Others (available on Amazon prime): the heroine’s story is partly based on the life of Christa Wolf.

The heroine of Quest for Christa T is Christa Wolf, and also the Lila of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which I have at long last finished reading, but by no means finished writing about or reading her (next The Lying Life of Adults). Ferrante’s rage ignored by the muddled critical Ferrante Letters. Of course it’s all by a woman. Deep alikeness and despair extends to Hannah Arendt, Bachmann’s Malina, Anna Segher’s The Seventh Cross. Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44 the male equivalent of War in Val D’Orcia.

Alas, omnicron-covid is making the spring look more problematic at OLLI at Mason, where I have been surprised to discover the people are not eager to get back in person, so I said if my spring Anglo-Indian novels gets less than 10 registering in person, I’ll switch to wholly online, and learn about hybrids by attending one in the spring. It looks like at OLLI at AU, doing it in person is what’s wanted. The two places differ: unlike OLLI at AU, OLLI at Mason cannot get academics enough to truly teach a literature course for 8 weeks. My zoom chat tonight with kindly Aspergers friends we all talked of the uncertainties to come, worries about omicron …

How did I get here? I never expected to but I do understand more now.  I am 75.

Ellen

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I still buy books faster than I can read them. But again, this feels completely normal: how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life … And I remain deeply attached to the physical book and the physical bookstore [not so much that latter as the days of vast caverns of books, floors of them, you were left to explore on your own, i.e., the Argosy in NYC, 2nd Hand Bookstor in Alexandria, Va are gone forever, or so it seems mostly …] — Julian Barnes, A Life with Books

Friends,

I thought I’d begin with an autumnal poem, W.B. Yeats’s “When You are Old” as read by Tobias Menzies:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Equally moving for me is Izzy’s latest song, “All I want” by Toad the Wet Sprocket:

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Last night was Halloween, and from my hour-long zoom chat with Aspergers friends, to the few people I talk and email with, I was wished a happy Halloween. We did try: Izzy thought she was invited to go to a party on Saturday night by a man in her Wednesday in-person Dungeons and Dragons group, but when the time came close it seemed the party was to be an hour long or so, after which it would break up into people doing different things together, among these, bar-hopping. This is not for her, especially as getting there was an Uber (and back). So she thought the better of it – she is now getting older than many of the late 20s people who would show up, several gay (as the man was gay), what she had to wear was the regency dress she wore for JASNA (not appropriate for this, too naive). Instead she recorded her song.

I had hoped to join in on giving out candy for the first time in years as I still have the battery-operated candles I had found for Biden’s night-before-inauguration so I could light up my pottery pumpkin, put the stoop light on and be all welcoming. Well I got three groups and one lone girl in a clown’s outfit. Next door and across the street from me are older women too, who also had welcoming light and symbolic objects — they seem to have gotten the same groups. And then it was over.

As has happened to me before, I discovered that there is little to join in on if you are trying simply to be part of a neighborhood community. Halloween you must go to a party, some 15 years ago, for two years running at the Torpedo Factory museum in old town, a Halloween dance was held, for the public & Jim and I went; one year we traveled to NYC to go to a Halloween dance at the Princeton club (as members of the Williams — old-fashioned rock for people mostly in their 50s too).  Thirty-five, say 1980s when we still had a (what I called) Welfare project down the hill, endless children and adolescents came, many Black. Thirty years ago in this neighborhood (all private houses, as we say in NYC) there were several floods of children coming through this neighborhood, and I’d give out candy, chocolates, cookies, pretzels with Izzy.  Twenty I went myself with Laura and Izzy (age 15 say and 9) with them in costume trick-or-treating. I’d stay back on the sidewalk and there were really lots of people. But this neighborhood changes every 7 years, and about twenty years ago, the welfare project was knocked down, super-expensive houses and condos with what’s called a few row of “scatter-site housing” for people getting subsidized rents, built in its place. Ten years ago or more a scheme in my neighborhood not to let most of their children trick-or-treat but make a party. Immediately it’s exclusionary of course. Excuses like strangers put razors in children’s candy. Tonight I wondered if the upper class mostly whites here did not like the children from elsewhere


A photo Izzy took that lovely afternoon as she stood by the Potomac in Old Town

I was advised to watch movies, told by others that’s what they did — horror ones — so I told myself I’d watch movies too and my choice was Shades of Darkness, a 1980s series of hour long adaptations of ghost stories, all but one by women, done with great delicacy, insight, mood creation. I bought it sometime after 2000 as a DVD — I watched one I’d seen before and one I probably hadn’t. Elizabeth Bowen’s “Demon Lover,” very well done, as much about WW2 in England, the Blitz as about this ghost that seems a distilled eruption of senseless indifferent harm I’d seen it before but have forgotten how well done. Dorothy Tutin, the central figure. This is a traditional ghost tale where the ghost is malign and we are made nervous because the whole experience is regarded as fearful, hostile — popular Kafka stuff in a way.


Dorothy Tutin as our Every ordinary women profoundly disquieted as she sees him across the room …

The other May Sinclair’s “The Intercessor” (first time seen), to me a strange ghost stories to me because the ghost is simply accepted as part of universe and the theme is we are supposed to understand the revenants, accept them — not pitiless mischief, but the ghost a redemptive pitiful ghost. The human story is dreadful — people can be dreadful and have very bad luck, but the ghost, unprepossessing as she is, brings renewal. John Duttine, the hero, often played deeply sensitive men in the 1970s-80s BBC dramas. I’ve read other Sinclairs of this type. This set includes two superb hard gothic Whartons, “Lady’s Maid’s Bell” and “Afterward” (stunning). This was an era of fine dramas from the BBC — and there are other series of this type — all June Wyndham Davis produced.

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Lucy Worsley getting to sit behind Austen’s writing desk with some paraphernalia Austen would have used

So my teaching and scholarly life went on. Some successes: my two classes on The Prime Minister are going very well. My paper, “A Woman and her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen,” went over very well and I much enjoyed the virtual EC/ASECS. I’ve not yet returned to Anne Finch, though the term is winding down, because I changed one of my books for my coming 4 week winter course teaching at OLLI at Mason, and am very much engaged by the books:

Retelling Traditional Tales from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her Tuscan estates during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing.

I’d get a crowd if I were doing Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, but no one needs me to teach these. I’ve learnt that Florence Nightingale wrote a novella turned into polemic essay, Cassandra, only published recently: beyond protesting the restrictive life of an upper class Victorian young woman, exploring her own depression, it’s an exposure of the Crimean war. Finally an excuse to read away books on and by these two brilliant serious women.


A modern Cassandra: Wolf has Aeschylus’s proud victim in mind

I got involved in a wonderful thread on Victoria when I told of my coming Anglo-Indian Novels: Raj, Aftermath and Diaspora (I’ve told you of this one before), this spring at both OLLIs and in person. I told of books and they told of books, and we all dreamed in imagined company. My thanking people included this:

I did send away for the Metcalfs’ Concise History of India, and Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India (2016 in the UK). I have the Dalrymple volume on the East India Company and am grateful to the pointed to the specific chapters. There’s nothing I like better than articles when I’m looking for concision and I have access to the George Mason University database and their interlibrary loan.

My course itself is not on the Victorian period as all three books were written in the 20th century: the first is Forster’s Passage to India, and I have got hold of his Hills of Devi, and a book of essays published in India about the relationship of his time there and books to India. One book I have read and is about 19th century colonialism through 19th into 20th century books (novels and memoirs) is Nancy Paxton’s superb Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947

Not for this course but about the 19th century and colonialism through another and classic 19th century novel is the Dutch Max Havelaar; or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Eduard Douwes Dekker (1859), using the pseudonym he often used Multatuli . Now this is a superb book where you will learn that not only the British were stunningly brutal to native populations when they took over, but also how the colonialists did it. It’s a novel that is heavily true history (disguised only somewhat) – a peculiar imitation of Scott as if through a lens like that of Sterne in Tristram Shandy. Dekker risked his life while a resident manager in Indonesia (and other places) and came home to write this novel.

I strongly recommend it – and it’s available in a beautiful new edition by New York Review of Books, paperback, good translation. I just so happen to have written a blog last night half of which is on this novel – the other half a film adaptation which descends (in a way) from it, Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (by way of an intermediary 1964 novel). Arguably MH is most important one volume 19th historical novel about the Dutch in Indonesia. The volume includes an interesting introduction by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an important writer and political activist (spent too much time in prisons).

The other two for my course are Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, the 1st volume of his Raj Quartet (a historical novel, familiar to many people through the superb BBC TV serial in the later 1980s); and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake (a book showing the diaspora). The movie I’ll assign is Merchant-Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah, which I also cannot praise too highly


Outlander begins in Scotland, Inverness, at Samhain or Halloween — it is also a ghost story

I’ve splurged on two beautifully made copies of the first two books of Outlander (Outlander & DragonFly in Amber) for my birthday and am back reading these books at midnight after realizing I’d been dreaming for sometime of myself in an Outlander adventure. By the time I was fully awake, I had forgotten the particulars and wonder what was the prompting: it’s been weeks and weeks since I last watched an Outlander TV episode and months since I read in one of the books. Maybe it bothers me that I don’t have Starz so will have to wait to see Season 6 until the season comes out as a DVD.

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The cat meowed — the first voice of the series

I do most days need some cheering up, so often so sad that right now my movie-watching includes this year’s All Creatures Great and Small, the set of DVDs sent me by my friend Rory. They still my heart with the strong projection of love, understanding, kindness between one another. I am especially fond of the direct emphasis on the animals the Vets and everyone else too are caring so tenderly for. The first episode opened with an temporarily ill cat being taken care of by James (Herriot, Nicholas Ralph). As my daughter Laura (Anibundel) wrote: “Snuggling down in the Yorkshire Dales to save a few cows turned out to be just what the doctor ordered last winter.”. I regret only that there are only six for this year, so I’m re-watching last year’s seven. Re-watching beloved series is what I do a lot.

Izzy and I did vote early, this past Saturday at our local library. We got there early and found a reasonably long line. We were told turnout is high. Everything was done peacefully and democratically. No one there to intimidate anyone. My neighborhood is showing signs for Youngren and I’ve encountered the seething racism in many of these rich whites — they will vote GOP because they are most of all about their status (and feel it’s threatened by not having whites in charge), see Black people as dangerous and inferior, and yes the campaign against Toni Morrison’s Beloved has traction. The GOP even has a mother-type inveighing against the book in a campaign commercial.

One reason for this is it’s not a good choice for a high school class. It’s too hard (not linear at all); its content is problematic: the use of the ghost is part of a skein of irrationality and violence justified in ways that most high school students will not understand. But she won the Nobel, and this is the most famous one: much better, more appropriate are Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (varied, sane, also about economic structuring to keep people poor), Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun, August Wilson’s Piano (Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is rightly assigned in junior (3rd year high) years. But this is an argument for people teaching literature to think about. Youngren is insinuating profound resentment, implying this book teaches white children to hate themselves and their parents. The reality is it’s a book too hard for students to take in, with some of the same problems of vindicating violence you see in popular US movies. I never assigned Twain’s Huckleberry Finn after seeing a Black young man get up and do a talk about how painful it was for him to read such a book and hearing white boys in the class snicker at him. The choice of Beloved tells about the conformity and non-thinking of US high school curricula than anything else.  And now it’s weaponized against Democrats and liberal gov’t.

If I could bring Jim back, I’d give up all I do — for I wouldn’t be doing much of this probably, wouldn’t have known of the OLLIs, of the Smithsonians, become part of these zooms, but I admit it does make me feel good that I prove to myself and do cope with so much nowadays. Today I resolved two bill problems from goofs I made in using websites to pay my bills — I now get e-bills for seven of my bills (post office becomes worse each week). I’m not as afraid as I used to be — though still frightened some (terrified at what could be done if the GOP cabal does take over), at least I know so much more about all that I need and do related directly to my life, who to go to (AARP, EJO-solutions for my computer, Schwabb guys for money). It is good to feel capable and useful and appreciated – though I began with the Yeats poem because Jim was and will be the one person in the world who loved the pilgrim soul in me. And every day, every night I feel his lack. So much I could do were he here, so much I miss out on (the new Met Meistersinger 6 hours!) how he would have reveled in it.

Ellen

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Sophie Thomson as Miss Bates: in the 1996 Emma: I dislike most of the movie, but her performance as Miss Bates and the way she is filmed is the best Miss Bates of all I’ve seen

My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. — Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798)

Friends,

On October 9th of this year, Jim will have been dead 8 years. I have learned many things since he died (because I had to or die myself), and much has seemed to change or alter in the world over these years (not fundamentally but surface changes make a lot of difference to individual ordinary relatively powerless lives). I wish sometimes I had behaved differently when Jim was alive but I do not believe that anything I refused to do or was lacking in fundamentally hurt or deprived him of anything he wanted.

For myself I am again not not sleeping well. I have periods where I sleep fine (5 hours and a bit more on average) and periods where I don’t (waking in the night, up after 3-4 hours). Just now it is the stress of returning to these classes via zoom, worry the two classes I teach won’t go well, the new relationships, and seeing out in the world that the present peaceful seeming settlement in the US is at risk.

The lack of a close relationship such as I had with Jim is, though, what is very wearing to me. I am not made to be alone I need someone to confide in, to turn to for advice, support. I’ve now tried several friendships and friendship is not a substitute for a partner/loving spouse. I have had a hard time even sustaining these, most have broken up, attenuated, the person moved away or died. No man I’ve met or briefly gone out with (3?) or known more at a distance comes near him for compatibility, intelligent understanding and of course love for me. Nor will there ever be.

I’ll mention this:

For the last few days I’ve had a persistent pain in my chest; for a few days before that side (right) arm has been too painful to lift
sometimes. I did take a weaker pill, one I’m told to take twice a day at 12 hour intervals, and while it helped, the pain did not go away. I don’t feel the pain when I’m standing or sitting up most of the time, some movement brings it out. So I couldn’t do my full set of exercises yesterday. And do them but one a day, trying to walk (earlier) in later afternoon or evening. I should phone the doctor and go. I have said I’m told I have a aneuryism in my aorta.

I suppose you (those who read this frankly autobiographical blog) know that writing itself cheers me up. Writing helps buoy my spirits after I wake and as the day begins. I don’t need the helps visualized in this film adaptation of Mansfield Park (1983), with Sylvestre Le Touzel as Fanny but I know why the picture of her beloved’s ship as drawn by him, the transparencies, and other meaningful objects are set around her on her desk near a window

I am feeling slightly overwhelmed just now. Take this past Monday:

I had 4 zooms. I was dizzy by the end but I will stay with all 4. One, mine (I taught, The Prime Minister at OLLI at AU online), went well, but too many men. I don’t do that well with men. And my anthology is all women and my desire for truer representation on behalf of women, so I may have a small class eventually. 3 people were already not there. They emailed to say they had a conflict and they would watch the recording later in the day. 3 people for the repeat tomorrow later afternoon at OLLI at Mason online have already sent messages to this effect. So recording has a down side in a sense — the classroom experience must be redefined.

I had suspected the teacher for the Theban Plays would be very good — that she is very intelligent and, alone (not with the usual partner) a good teacher whatever she does – and she was — though she did not handle the zoom aspects of calling on people or any of it at all, which did make her presence less felt, less effective (she seems to erect barriers between herself and others). There was the London Trollope Society Zoom at 3 (BST 8 pm) on The American Senator (with two talkers) and then at 6:30 pm EDT another fine teacher (from Politics & Prose) on Wilkie Collins’s No Name. I was probably too tired by that time to take it all in coherently.

No London Trollope Society zoom next Monday and the No Name class is only 4 more. So it will be only 3 more Mondays this 4 zoom line-up will happen.

Meanwhile last night I was reading the book by Fagles (translator, editor, introducer) the Theban Plays teacher had suggested. Wonderfully naturalistically translated. I thought of Philoctetes and how Sophocles made marginalized powerless people his central figures: a woman (all 15,000 spectators men, all actors men) and a cripple. I loved it and wrote my one paper on an ancient classical work on it (with a little bit of help from my father): the teache, a long=timed tenured person hated it and gave me a B. “How could you talk about heroes in this vein?” I am fascinated by Collins’s power of description of the 19th century cityscapes (walking on a wall) and charged feminism of No Name (two heroines completely cut off from any money because their parents married after the father made out his will), and am reading a new edition of Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, early feminist masterpiece, by Stevie Davies (Unbridled Spirits, effective half fictionalized accounting of 17th century women involved in the civil war; Impassioned Clay, with its insight into how historical fiction is ghostly, about the now dead and vanished bought back (one feels that in Gabaldon’s Outlander serials).

I napped twice to do it that day. Just fell asleep around 4:20 (I did lay down on the bed telling myself I was just laying down) and then woke at 5. Again around 8:30 and woke at 9 pm — watching PBS, Judy Woodruff had put me to sleep.

I also “visited” the National Book Festival and for a while listened to & watched Ishiguro manage to make intelligent talk. On a JASNA channel of some sort for about a third of a session, listened to Janet Todd, some of whose books as a scholar I admire, who has written a new novel on Jane Austen (and Shelley I thought but not quite) and whose fantasy I thought might be like Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth, where early 19th century Germany romantic figures who never met meet. Alas, not so; it’s a re-hash of a biography she did of the Shelley women (Fanny Godwin who killed herself, Mary Shelley).

Tuesday so much easier. I re-make lecture notes for tomorrow’s class at OLLI at Mason on PM, and I’ve a later afternoon class at OLLI at Mason on Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall (I’ll be writing a blog on this book & the Brontes, Gaskell & Scott later next week).


Egon Schiele, Four Trees (1917)

So Anne Finch has been put to the side again, and I’m struggling to do the reading for a paper centered on Austen I’ve promised for October 16th: A Woman and her Box: space and personal identity. Luckily the book I agreed to review for Peter Lang was on Jane Austen, Non-Portable Property and Possessions (not the exact title). (They have not acknowledged receipt of my report nor paid me in the books they said they would. I love getting back to Austen (as you can see from the stills I’m using for this blog), and the books I’ve read for it (Barbara Harding, A Reading of JA; Amanda Vickery on what Katherine Shackleton bought, lived in, made a life out of; Lucy Worseley on JA’s life through her houses once again. I’ve learned about traveling libraries: books put in boxes that are bookcases! A sudden spurt:

Which of us is not familiar with the much-attested to story of Jane Austen hard at work on one of her novels, toiling over tiny squares of paper held together by pins, crossing out, putting carrots and arrows into the lines, second thoughts or words over the lines, on one of her novels in draft. Where?  on that tiny round table, sometimes referred to as her desk, a relic now found in the Jane Austen House museum. We are told that she did not want a creak in the door to the room fixed because it functioned as a warning. Upon hearing the door open she would of course stash these papers away – perhaps in that writing desk, which, another famous story tells us, was filled with many such manuscripts and was almost lost forever on a trip where it landed in the wrong coach? The writing desk is another relic to be found in the Chawton Jane Austen House museum.

The inferences I take from these are that Jane Austen was a woman who had no control over her space and no control over her portable seeming property. She had not been able to place the writing desk on her lap in the coach.  Remember Fanny Price seated in her unheated attic room amid her nest of comforts, not one of which she actually owned, not even the row of workboxes abandoned by the Mansfield Park heir when someone was trying to instuct him using them as a device for organization and storage.

Still it won’t do to say I don’t believe in the first story because I cannot conceive how anyone could produce the artful and controlled four novels.  The first two, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, to some extant flawed, when studied carefully, now and then revealing curious gaps which can be explained by too many revisions, but on the whole extraordinary.  Much less all six famous books, including the posthumous, to some extent, not finished or truncated, named by Austen’s brother and sister, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. For these she must have had far more consistent hours of time free of anxious worry lest someone coming with the right to interrupt create an embarrassed moment to find this woman writing. Is not Emma virtuoso perfection in its use of ironic perspective and voice? Despite what some today might feel to be a narrow rigidity of moral judgment actuating aspects of Mansfield Park, it is arguably as strong a protest and radically questioning as well as aesthetically exquisite book as any of the 19th century novel masterpieces produced in Victorian England.

But there is the table, there the desk and document describing the second incident refuting me.

Such a warm comfortable scene by Joe Wright from P&P — filled with food and things for the table, in a relaxed comfortable aging home:


Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike, Keira Knightley and Jena Malone as Mrs Bennet, Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice (2006, Joe Wright)

I am pushing myself every minute I have extra around my other commitments to get this done. I don’t know if I’ll make it as I feel I must go through her letters once more — skimming but taking them in. E. M. Forster wrote one problem he had in reading Austen was he tended to be like someone in a beloved church; I’m like someone scrambling in a coach with her by my side, me holding onto to that writing desk and those papers.

So now I’ll subside into a movie:

I’ve understood that Simon Raven in his 1975 26 part serial of The Pallisers tried to turn the secondary story of The Prime Minister (Lopez, Sexty Parker, Emily Wharton, her foolish brother and strong wise father) into a sort of Washington Square, Lopez into a sort of lion-feline gay and violent macho male cad, Emily a Catherine Sloper who is loved by her father, and was sexually entranced and excited by Lopez, but does not succeed in understanding him, or growing up so at the end she does not set her face to the wall (a la Catherine Sloper) but turned from the world to her father’s arms. Olivia de Haviland would have done justice to this as she could not to the 1940s Washington Square movie (The Heiress) she was inserted into. So you see I’ve been keeping up with watching The Pallisers for this course I’m teaching too — for insights into the novels. For lovely pictures go to: syllabus for reading The Prime Minister together. Here we see both the Duke and the Duchess miserable from the social life they have kept up: it’s from the political story:


Her hands are shaking with tiredness (Susan Hampshire as the Duchess, Philip Latham as the Duke)

All this is the usual screen to what I let you see in my opening paragraphs today as I approach the 8th anniversary of my widowhood. Deep loneliness with a wish I could do the sort of things I could with him. I like the teaching and classes very much  but they are no substitute for the fulfilled reality I had with him, and the sense of security and peace and understanding his presence provided.

Izzy has been without him too. Tonight we watched on her ipad as we ate together a soothing episode of Critical Choice as lovely cartoon, Mighty Vibes: two siblings sitting close, she reading, he working on the computer, keeping us and themselves company. She’s got a new bed coming in early November, and Mr Christbel will take apart her present one (Jim and mine from 1983 to 2000) and put it in the attic with the beautiful crib (first Laura’s and then Izzy’s) no one will ever use again …


Laura’s Charlotte, in a chair, making a mighty mew — one of my grandchildren with 4 paws


Maxx as snugglicious — another

Saturday night our monthly Aspergers meeting online. The topic “personal safety and emergency preparedness.”

Ellen

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A duck on the Potomac — photo taken by Izzy

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and is gone forever — how else shall David Nicholl’s One Day end?

Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, the movie does not manage the depth of truth or more occasional fun of the book

Dear friends and readers,

I would not have believed I could ever say of a day where it was 97F at 5 pm, the air literally hot on my skin, that I was at long last recognizing autumn on its way, but after 33 years in this southern city, I can: it’s dark by 8:15 at night, and dawn does not come until well after 6 am. Some late summer events I’ve had and to come:

I have had three very enjoyable lunch dates, with two more to come. With an ex-student, grown older man. We had been meeting once a year; well we renewed our date three weeks ago — an wonderful two hours of talk at Copperwood Tavern. I experienced intense distress getting there but once there all was well. Shirlington where parking is a nightmare. Then twice to a lovely local cafe, Fontaine here in Alexandria, first with my old friend, Mary Lee, whose idea this place was; second with a new friend, Betty, from OLLI at AU, whom I took there. Yummy quiche, lovely light salad vinegar dressing both times, camomile tea. I will meet her at Pain Quotidian this Friday across the street from OLLI at AU. Would you believe I had to look up the instructions to get there to re-visualize. This is a place I’ve gone to for years on end. Maria Frawley, the teacher of Middlemarch I believe I’ve not spoken about an inspiriting inspiring 8 sessions at Politics & Prose with her as teacher; how they lit up my June and July each Thursday evening for an hour and a half. I have signed up for an in-person meeting with 29 other OLLI at AU people, a pizza and Italian food place, also across the street from OLLI at AU. For this I’ll wear one of my two cloth masks with drawings of cats all over them.


Copperwood Tavern with Lloyd


La Fontaine in Old Towne

And one precious evening out at Wolf Trap, where with a friend I saw and heard Renee Fleming singing inimitably with the National Symphony Orchestra. Alas all too short — just one hour and about 10 minutes. Mozart, Haydyn, Gershwin, a perfect Carousel Overture, and her songs were exquisitely beautiful — from Puccini, favorites and also lesser known, then popular, one about never leaving

About 50% of the audience in masks (which were optional).  It was marred by a tiresome, ridiculous and dangerous trip there: the person I was with was determined to avoid the toll ($3!), and drove round and round (her GPS actually programmed not to make the correct turn) and coming back in the dark streets unknown with no lights, and then speeding crazily on the highway. I do have to give up Wolf Trap if I can’t drive myself safely so this may have been my farewell time.

I grieved at another profounder loss: Nanci Griffith has died at the relatively young age of 68; so did Izzy find herself crying. We replayed our favorite songs that night we learned of her death as we prepared supper and ate together.

Otherwise the days and nights go by. I do manage most days 20 minutes of exercise on bike and cathesthenics around 9:00 am, then 5:00 pm, then 20 minutes walk by myself around the neighborhood at dusk


Unexpected flowers: I water my outside plants (in garden in ground) twice a day, and some have bloomed twice

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It’s not as fiercely breathlessly hot as it was few weeks ago, and of course I’m now engaged in reading towards my course for this fall, have signed up for various fall classes and events, all online for me still – and how grateful and relieved I am that much of what I enjoyed these 17 months online will still be so. Beyond the London Society every-other-week zooms, I’ve found there is nowadays a once-a-month-and-more schedule for talks from Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester. Would you believe I’m just about reading three Trollope novels at once, and truly enjoying them all?: The Prime Minister, The Vicar of Bullhampton and soon The American Senator. I am seeing so much more than I ever did in PM (the exploitative colonialism Ferdinand Lopez is trying to leap upon I had not noticed) and the darkness of V of B: the strong critique of the Vicar and his friends over their class as well as prejudiced blind injustice.

At this week’s Trollope zoom we were asked when, how, did you discover Trollope and come to read him avidly? why do you enjoy his books so much? This was the question — or something like it — posed and about 14 or so people volunteered to answer for about 3-5 minutes each. I was one of them. I typed out the first paragraph below and read it so as to be concise and keep it to under 3 minutes. The second paragraph was not written out, just spoken. So although that is the quotation I used (Dominic Edwards, the chair, had asked in a letter could we quote from Trollope), the last couple of sentences I said were not so clear. I saw that most of the people wanted to say why they loved Trollope as much as how they came to him and also uttered various truths that they liked best, told stories they liked so much from the novels — many also liked how Trollope seems to break the novel conventions suddenly and talk directly to the reader — like tell the reader some secret of the novel well ahead of time (so, do they in fact love spoilers?) So I added the second paragraph. I admit I did leave out a couple of intermediary reads between the cited dates & books For example, In 1994 I went to Rome with my family and it was The Last Chronicle of Barset that got me through that partly ordeal of an experience. I found an old copy in a marketplace which I still cherish.


Cover of 1970s edition of Penguin English library paperbacks


From Pallisers Episode 1: the young Lady Glen, with Burgo, her infatuation, encounters the young Mr Palliser, with Lady Griselda, his

I’ve told how as an undergraduate in a class on the Victorian novel I read Dr Thorne for the first time and fell in love with it (say 1965). But I didn’t go on to read more. The Professor had discouraged me from doing a paper on the novel. Then about 10 years later (1975) I watched the Pallisers on PBS TV (in black-and-white) and fell in love with that, and with my husband we read all six novels. But we were busy doing Ph.Ds on something else and I didn’t go any further than The Duke’s Children. Then 1989 I was in a fearful car accident in NYC and landed in Metropolitan Hospital on the upper East Side. I spent a week in that place: it has one man to do all x-rays; Jim promptly labelled him the bottleneck of the hospital. My father brought me a Dover copy of The Vicar of Bullhampton saying Trollope was very wise. It helped me get through that week. Finally in 1993 Jim and I got onto the Net through a phone line and he said he would find something called a listserv for me: he found one on Trollope, and I started leading groups reading Trollope. First up was Macdermots of Ballycloran. I loved it and have not stopped reading Trollope since. Partly I was invited to write a book, then an essay. Note, each and every time there was an outside prompt. Immersion in Trollope did not come from within in any of these cases.

Dominic asked us for a quotation, an utterance: mine is “Great and terrible is the power of money” from An Eye for an Eye. What I love about Trollope is the accuracy with which he sees the world and people, how people interact with one another and in themselves – truly – and he remains calm! What’s more he offers advice, explains things well. I love the characters too, but I keep in mind they are not him and it’s from his narrator/implied author these startling truths come.

I can add here that Trollope’s utterance seems to me to provide a central explanation for what happened in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Trollope is also an astoundingly perceptive political novelist. How much meaning he can pour into a few words if you listening hard or for real

Have I told you about the talk I gave on Malachi’s Cove?

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My header refers to continuities deep and longer than the continuation of a zoom group. I find after all I don’t or can’t change my taste. I like best earlier serious literature — for example,for a fourth time, Eliot’s Middlemarch (thus the above coming lunch with Maria Frawley — see above), which I also re-saw — the 1994 Andrew Davies’s film adaptation. I just love the BBC dramatic serials of the 1970s (which begin, illogically, with the 1967-68 Forsyte Saga (I read 6 of the 9 novels years ago), which I’m watching avidly, an hour each night just now), to early 2000s, and those few nowadays which keep up the tradition of long thoughtful scenes, complicated dialogues, true novelization on film; I prefer Anglo literature and European art, realism, melodic classical music, modern only until say pre-rap, mid-20th century country. And my way of interacting with people, however inadequate, is grounded in polite manners.


Kenneth Moore, inimitable as narrator and Jolyon Forsyte (he’d never get the part today as too old and ugly)


Eric Porter as the aging softened affectionate Soames with his beloved daughter, Fleur aka Susan Hampshire once again

A zoom on Walter Scott:

Who produced more fine and influential work than Walter Scott? think of so many English, French, German, Italian, Russian historical novelists for a start.

I attended a 2 and 1/2 hour session on Scott: it’s part of the Scottish celebration of Scott’s 250 year anniversary (though I’m not sure of what — he was born August 15, 1771)
It was not as good as it could have been — three remarkable Scotts scholars and people involved in the U of Aberdeen exhibition and all sorts of events around Scotland and elsewhere — for example, in Italy, because of the number of operas (93) that have been adapted from Scott’s novels. I think to enjoy it, you have to have been a reader of Scott at some point, read a number of his novels and about him. I have so like the Gaskell session from Gaskell House, Manchester, last week I very much enjoyed what they presented. They had first editions and illustrations and talked of how prolific he was — how much he wrote, and how his position wealth prestige enabled him to do important things still not unimportant — like saving the ability of Scotland to print its own currency. One scholar outlined what are central to Scott’s novels: processes of historical change, political arrangements, people on the edges of society for different reasons (very high up and thrown out, marginalized, disabled, lawless rogues). She brought out Scott’s interest in his characters’ mental health (as we’d call it). Then a lovely film from Italy about two productions; one from the Lady of the Lake, by Rossetti, Donna del Lago, and the other by Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor — one must keep an open mind. I’ve seen good movies — one scholar said her love for Scott began as a girl watching the BBC serial Ivanhoe with Anthony Andrews. They insisted Scott’s work is politically very involved, aware, that underneath “it all” souls of people drive economic and political arrangements.

They did recommend the Future Learn 3 week lecture course: Scott, the man behind the Monument. I saw that and it included wonderful clips. I don’t know if you can find it there any more as the site has gone distressingly commercialized. Andrew Marr’s 3 episode series on Scots writers devotes one hour to an exhilarating somehow ironic hour on Scott. I regret to say the videos I linked in to a blog on Marr which includes good descriptions of the hours on Scots literature have been removed — I shall have to delete the URLs and substitute pictures — but the content by me is still there and what is central to the blog

They omitted what a reactionary Tory he was; how he was vindictive to any family members who didn’t marry for aggrandizement; was behind the worst political attacks of literary journalism.


John Brett — Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily (1870), another edge place; in lieu of Northern Scotland, the south, the Mediterranean — put on twitter

This new material but now aware of colonialism:  Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River (with two accompanying movies).  About her too.

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I have had a renewal of a worry: my cat, Ian, again has a heavy discharge from his right eye. Last time I took him to the local Vet I’ve been going to since we adopted the cats, I was charged $350+, told how serious this was and that he needed a series of heart tests (a couple of thousand dollars), and then if the tests warranted this, give him a pill every day of his life ever after. It is impossible for me to force pills down either of my cats.

To say I don’t trust these (or any) vets is an understatement: previously I was told to clean his teeth, we needed to anesthetize him (a $500 bill and dangerous), did I want to install a sort of tag in his neck which will help if he gets lost (surgical insertion of course). When I tried to buy a local gel recommended online and in a book I have on cats, I found local pharmacies refused to sell it except with a prescription from a Vet. I was told it’s “against the law” for pharmacists in drug stories as well as vets working for the ASPCA to give a pet owner advice on an eye discharge: that sort of thing forbidden.

I call round today to three different vet places, and was greeted with indifference, appts a long time away and oh yes this is an emergency, so clinics I could go and wait at. Petsmart a store seemed more sensible but no appts until later September. Vets are kept to small numbers but vet lobbyists seem to be very busy. And we hear about the corruption of the Afghanistan govt. What are lobbyists but allowed bribers? We have whole organizations dedicating to bribing politicians in office. As for today’s Vets as a group far more important is the money they can wrench from pet owners than safe harmless care which reaches all pets.

It’s how they frighten me that angers me. It makes me angry to be told I have to do this to Ian’s heart and give him this preparation every day for the rest of his life; or to clean his teeth risk his life (he must sedated by an anesthesiologist — the vet said she had lost only one cat – i.e., she killed a cat). They could tell me Ian could go blind or something — and I no longer trust them. Only if the condition really seems threatening do I want to go. I will try Petsmart next month.

In the US the climate is money-driven medicine. Just imagine outlawing, forbidding by law a pharmacist to advise a customer on which prescription to use. Jim said to me as he lay dying, protect me from these people. It was by then too late because he had agreed to that godawful operation which removed his esophagus (I didn’t understand that that would not stop the metatasis), but I kept clear of all in-hospital, in clinic and anything else that seemed to me we could avoid. So I’ll wait for this ointment and if it helps, spare the cat and myself any visits to Vets I don’t trust. But meanwhile I feel bad for the cat and wish I had someone I could turn to — that there was a Kaiser Permanente type organization for animals.


Ian close-up, sleeping peacefully on cat blanket given me by another friend

I wonder why people are so naive not to see how these Vets take advantage of social norms for human beings to push painful procedures (and sometimes an early death) on pets.

I’ve semi-adopted another third cat, also grey like the first who has now vanished. This one also comes from the very rich mansion across the road from me where they are deep reactionaries (snide comments on neighborhood listserv); also semi-abused. I am also calling this new one Fiona, and she also behaves in ways that show a craving for affection but when you respond she quickly spits at you, hisses — I think they mean-tease her and she does not know how to carry on a relationship with a person. She is very thin. Poignant when she is crying out there – not kept in during rain; sometimes I daresay the owners of that collar go away for weeks or days. I can do so little for her — I inquired into this last time. I feed her whenever I feed my two and talk to and pet her when I pass her by — she stays in a near hedge or my porch — as you see her peeping out.

How to close? My own naivetes of course. An important story in the New Yorker. Sam Knight hints at the hideous things, heinous crimes owners and builders of these idyllic country estate houses which so dominate these costume dramas I’ve loved — did for decades, nay full centuries in the subject colonies to support these “wondrous” places, where some of the art was stolen from too. Famines inflicted on people forced to grow crops to sell elsewhere so they have nothing themselves to eat; forced to pay taxes they cannot afford. Removed outright. Enslaved. This does not include the conditions under which the servants in such houses worked, their pittance wage. What is happening is the National Trust has been at long last trying to tell the truth, and the UK gov’t and present descendants of the owners of such places, and those who just want to carry on these delusions (as patriotism) are being successful in stopping them or getting them to mute or qualify their knowledge. I will be sure to assign this story to my class in Anglo-Indian novels in the spring. Where did the money for Dryham Park where The Remains of the Day was filmed come from: what were the politics of its owner. How about the dream houses of Howards End in reality?

At Dryham Park:

On the second floor is the Balcony Room, which affords fine views of the gardens. … Facing into the room, with their backs to the wall, are two statues of kneeling Black men with rings around their necks. …

The slave figures hold scallop shells over their heads. These were probably filled with rosewater, so guests could wash their hands. …

They were probably made in London, inspired by Venetian “blackamoor” art, but they are unquestionably depictions of enslaved men, in idealized page’s costumes, with gilt chains tumbling from their right ankles. … They have knelt in the same place for more than three hundred years. …

When Sobers [a Black professor] and his group entered the Balcony Room, they came face to face with the slave stands and stood there, listening politely. “I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it was happening,” Sobers told me. “And the tour guide talked about every single thing in that room, you know, talked about everything for a good ten, fifteen minutes and not once mentioned it.” A rope cordons off most of the Balcony Room, so visitors stand on a narrow walkway, facing the stands. There is nowhere else to look. “There wasn’t even a kind of a, you know, ‘Yeah, we don’t know what those are. . . .’ There wasn’t even an explaining it away,” Sobers said. “They just acted as if they just weren’t there at all.”


The strained tragic existences of the butler (Hopkins) and housekeeper (Thompson) at Darlington Hall (Dyrham Park)

Ellen

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For the sake of the cafetiere by Mark Hall who specializes in tables by windows with a view

“Mi chiamo Isabella,” said Izzy to a group of 8-9 year olds like herself on the beach at Ischia, summer 1994

Friends and readers,

How to tell if it’s summer? In Virginia not by an intense heat as that may happen from anytime in April on; even if I find myself longing to be at a quiet beach or doing some out-of-doors activity (walking in the park, once upon a time a concert) signaling Memorial Day weekend, truth to tell that was not common in my life.

I can tell because summer school starts, and after 3 quiet weeks of reading towards my teaching and starting some reading for the courses I’m taking, OLLI at AU starts this coming week, as does one of my Politics and Prose courses (Middlemarch!), and I’ve a few sessions coming up from the English summer Hays Festival and nowadays the Yorkshire Festival (on Elena Ferrante) too. What a treat I never thought to participate in in any way — I’d love to be there, to be back in England each time has roused my spirit so as here I met and married Jim.

Tonight I began Mary McCarthy’s Stones of Florence, a book I read years ago, and again (I can see from my marginalia) marvel at how well she captures the atmosphere and feel of the city where I once spent 9 days too, and have seen so many photos and movies and read other books of.

I’ve a story behind this one, which I tell for the sake of reminiscing and also giving a more candid sense of these courses I take than maybe I usually do:

It may be that the course on Florence I signed up for at OLLI at AU is going to be very poor. Sometimes courses at both places are. The teacher is a journalist and claims to have taught and sent an offhand set of paragraphs on books on Florence as a substitute for a syllabus, using the words “required reading” between scare quotes as I just did. Apparently someone else in the course asked if there would a syllabus and he produces four paragraphs which seemed to have divisions that made sense but not really.

So I replied I hoped he was ironic or semi-ironic, to which he replied how this shows how difficult irony on the Internet.

So here is my TMI reply: Well I’m glad you were ironic — semi-ironic I thought. I read the Mary McCarthy (Stones of Florence was one of the books cited) years ago and was about to re-read it. In a previous existence I was a Renaissance literary scholar and read a lot about Florence — have a few books just on Renaissance Florence. I read Italian haltingly but used to be able to read more fluently and loved to read Italian books from the later 19th and then the two sets of war years and inbetween time too and right after (WW 2) Elsa Morante’s extraordinary La Storia. I know a couple of the authors and read one of the books you mentioned (the poignant Galileo’s Daughter). But all my real or serious knowledge of Florence is of the medieval through 17th century era so I was hoping you would give equal weight to all that has happened since.


Another Mark Hall, this one redolent of sunny Italy

I was once in Florence, again a long time ago, 1969, for about 9 days and I remember some of what I experienced. I also spent 2 days and nights on a nearby island I was told Byron stayed. I managed Venice for an inadequate 3 days as my next stop. I did stay in Rome in 1994 or so with my husband and children for some 5 weeks and we traveled about from Rome to other places as well as we could. We drove to Pompeii, to Naples, to Ischia. We took a train to the Colonna lair at Marina in the campagna. Very recently to Milan one spring with my two now grown daughters (4 years ago in my way of looking at time is very recently). I do love the “high” art of all the cities. Now it’s just books in English translation Once upon a time it was Norman Douglas’s South Wind I read (I loved his book on what was it “Old Calabria” with photos), more recently I read Elena Ferrante. Two very good books on Italy I’ve read are by Sean O’Faolain — I still own these — I’d say recommend them but they are probably hard to get nowadays.

At this OLLI twice Judith Plotz gave a splendid course In Jewish Italian authors — mostly from Turin (implying not like his). I took once of them’

So I was looking forward to being reminded but also to learning about Florence somewhat seriously. Forgive this letter which is me reminiscing. Of course he did not reply. Perhaps after this I should take it that any class where the content is learning about a place may well be touristic. There is still time to add on another, and to change the OLLI at Mason too. What I most dislike is misinformation presented as truth; the kind of thing where the person half-knows something but not enough about it to avoid giving a wrong impression. When that happens, I drop right away. Some of the teachers think we are ignorant mainstream conventional fools, glad to waste away time frivolously. Alas, some of the people at the OLLIs and P&P are


The major part of my DVD collection, all gifts sent by a friend who lives in Ireland – what purports the reprinting of this picture on my blog?

Adventures in the parts of the US gov’t still maimed and sabotaged by the Trump seeping poison legacy.

I wanted to send a gift, a book (cost under $20) to an Irish friend who has sent me countless copies of DVDs over the past year and one half filling three woven baskets, two shelf like containers, and bunches more on my DVD and book shelves according to their title or the author of the book or director of a bunch, or writer, e.g., Andrew Davies). All superb movies or serials, many of them of the older or classic type. His parents worked for the BBC a long time ago. I thought to go to Parcel Post because they usually don’t have much of a line — being a bit more expensive.

What do I find? It costs $200 (that’s right, two hundred dollars) to send a small package internationally. The word “international” is now intoned as if this was a leprous procedure. When I admitted that was too much , I was semi-jeered at — the American way. I did notice that the previous older white man who was owner is not there any more.

So today because the post office nowadays has a very long line I arrived at 8:45 am. It used to open at 8 am; now it opens at 9 (used to shut at 5 pm, now 4 pm).
The way it’s done is only one person is supposed to go in at a time. This is spiteful of Louis DeJoy — as the governor of Virginia has allowed full capacity as long as people are 6 feet apart for gov’t places & everyone wears masks. This post office area (an old one) accommodates at least 6 or 7 in the waiting area.
But when I came up to the counter (I was first on line) I discovered more shenanigans, now I must fill out a form which just repeats the information on the envelope, so I was told to go outside. People repeat the word “international” as if it had some leprous quality (they did that at the Parcel Post office). Of course nowadays there is no place to write in the lobby (all removed) so I squatted on the floor and dumped my stuff next to me. The form is tiny (of course) and I’m struggling because my handwriting is bad; in a couple of minutes someone came over and said I could come inside where there is a counter. It seems I was embarrassing the others. I look old? He had a courteous look on his face. The atmosphere in the place nowadays is usually awful, hard angry faces — not their fault but makes the experience not one I am eager to repeat.

I could not do the whole form. I didn’t have my friend’s phone number. There is no need for a phone number and they waived that. Good of them. They kept repeating the word “international” in this special conjuring tone. They also wanted his email but I had that in my purse. I bought two books of stamps, but after this I will buy stamps online.

I succeeded in sending my friend a small gift, a token of my appreciation for all his DVDs and letters over this period of more solitude than usual — with a card.
Fascism is not only a form of gov’t which is racist and cruel; it exists to serve corporations and gouge the average person so outrageous (as in US hospitals) are everyday and if you can’t perform a everyday task because someone’s profit motive counts more, tough luck. There are no public schools in Louisiana any more.
Below are just some of the DVDs he’s sent me. I have small gatherings in rubber bands next to the books or authors the films adapt (a bunch for Little Women alone; a big bunch for Anna Karenina; for Hardy’s novels ….)


Alice and Asia Roland (mother and daughter) have become Ada and Flora McGrath — the mother and daughter relationship is central to the novel, with the daughter by the end becoming very like Jo March as she is towards the end of Good Wives

For the courses I teach I read far more than the set books and I watch movies. I have mentioned how fine, interesting, rich I have found Jane Mander’s story of early colonialist experience in The Story of a New Zealand River.

Well several nights ago I re-watched Jane Campion’s The Piano — for the first time in more than 15 years. And for the first time I realized how shocking it might be to conventional people and students.

I once enraged a student by showing it in class. I remember that I understood it was outside the range of many people and told them before hand told quite literally all the sex that was there and invited them to skip the class. But when one of the male characters’ penis was seen, this student (it was a he) was horrified and told me he was a “Christian” as if that was some special sect and hardly anyone in the US was Christian. He was forever “polluted” (that was the word he used) because he had seen this movie. I had not realized how the overall effect of what they saw might hit the mind of a fanatically religious male — concerned with the “holiness of his body” (as he put it). He had a girlfriend with him and they agreed that she was not polluted. I never asked why she was not also forever “ruined.” I had never met this type of person before — he is probably today a Trumpite — paradoxically religious fanatics vote for Trump who is utterly amoral sexually and in all other ways too.

Since Jim died, and as the years have gone by on the Net and through the Internet, I’ve met so many people I never would have any other way that I see how shocking it must be to others now. It still is not to me (nor professional reviewers) — it’s what a lot of people (much less theatrically) do. It is a wild extrapolation from Campion’s imagination of what the inner repressed life’s imaginings of the heroine of Jane Mander’s River story might feel married to one man she does not love, living side-by-side in love with another, a close associate of her husband’s whom she does love and loves her.

Here is an insightful review in The Guardian: the reviewer are like me: don’t find it shocking. I also see why it was called Brontesque — she seems a refugee from a Wuthering Heights movie gotten lost at a strange beach; or the feeling like Jane Eyre. But it is also a modern fantastical development out of an idea about the inner life of the woman settler colonialist at the center of a classic 1920 novel.

I was shaken today when I came to the end of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I began it as the best way to enlarge my understanding of Ishiguro as he has not published any non-fiction, life-writing or literary criticism, and there are as yet few books on him. Well, I had a hard time putting the book down. My intensity and its irresistibility for me reminded me of when I first read The Remains of the Day or read When We Were Orphans for the first time (as a page-turner! to see if our hero-detective can find his parents). I call these compulsive reading books. It’s not that common with me that this happens.


Carey Mulligan again, this time as Kathy H.

I keep wanting to go on and it’s not because I don’t know what’s to come as I saw the movie.

It is nowhere as chilling or terrifying as the movie was to me: the story gradually unfolds as a science fiction of the kind Michel Faber wrote in Under the Skin — not obvious at first and then devastating: our beloved characters turn out to be clones invented so their organs can be harvested for the human race with each one of them dying as their “donations” deplete them literally. As in The Remains of the Day (and When we were Orphans) the “person” of the novel is a “you” — the narrator, Kathy H., addresses herself in this case to the reader whose “right” to be in the book is questionable. I become involved with type of character and mood Ishiguro is so successful at creating (as far as I am concerned: I’d call it harrowing haunted without knowing quite why. I am not anguished; I identify and find that the narrator is having good and deep experiences growing up (the book is about adolescence in a generous school environment) but somehow I’m unnerved by these hints of what’s to come, the way the book swerves back and forth on intangible incidents of a kind I recognize are almost everyday. There are also so many beautiful landscapes (as in Remains of the Day) that we are invited to revel in. Ishiguro’s are symbolic books with what Judith Wilt said were “ghosts of the gothic.”

So I came to the end later this afternoon. At the close Ruth has “completed” (died), Kathy’s best friend, and she and Tommy, who has become her lover, desperately try for a “deferral” — to be allowed to live together for three extra years because they truly love. They are turned down inexorably. It’s like being rejected without recourse, and punished without having done anything wrong: they and all other “students” (clones) stand for the powerless in our world as did he butler, Mr Stevens and housekeeper, Miss Kenton, Remains. The allegory had so many applications (petty but important ones, as I cannot get into my Washington Gas website and the company inexorably will not answer a phone, offers no help by email, insists you do whatever it is online &c) as did many social psychological talk incidents and so many thoughts were familiar (like George Eliot’s Dorothea at times). An allegory of life itself. In the end Kathy and Tommy were Jim and of course I’ll never let him go. I found I could not sit still; I could not turn to another book. I needed to calm down, needed to come into contact with something more cheering. So I went for a walk.

Then emailed the friend from OLLI at Mason who in a zoom class spoken so highly of the book, saying don’t let the (quietly) horror genre film turn you off. She responded beautifully:

I’m happy to be your sounding post anytime! I’m glad you also found this novel compelling- and we all have persons who are no longer a physical presence. What a rich literary background you possess to be able to make those connections! And we have come through those stages of adolescence and shared the development of our own two daughters, so that adds its own poignancy.

She connected Ishiguro to Susan Hill’s detective Simon Serailler books, saying rightly these books are literate, detailed, and full of drama – standing head and shoulders above the majority of crime novels. I’ve read the first, The Various Haunts of Men (almost compulsively, certainly consecutively on the train, anywhere as I did the first four Poldarks), and it so unnerved me, that I became frightened at the thought of someone stalking me. I’ve read and taught her purer gothic and grief-striken books, The Woman in Black, In the Springtime of the Year (a young woman’s young husband dies unexpectedly and suddenly) and The Bird of Night. She once irritated me by telling one of my students (who wrote her!) that her books are not gothic (don’t listen to silly English teachers), thus undermining his respect for me, and there is a certain repetitiveness about her work; but she does have power and insight to evoke the uncanny.

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A highpoint in movie-watching this week I’d like to share is the one hour and one half documentary about Eric Hobsbawm: his four history books tell us all we need to know and understand about our world today politically, socially, economically and give far deeper sense of the dangers we face from authoritarian fascism:

I have all four books. Jim read them and respected the man so. He comes across as so good — how lucky his wife was to live alongside him. I stayed up to nearly 2 am watching it. Never fell asleep, not once.

I’ve provided too many descriptions of what are these courses I’m teaching and taking and talks attending.  So just particularize one I’m stumped over (as I am over Ruth Prawer Jhabvala recent neutral amoral stories)): Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts, in which I discovered show she is like her young characters in her Namesake, trying to make an identity for herself out of her sheer language and place study. A friend wrote to me: “She wrote the book in Italian and translated it herself. It consists of vignettes from the life of a single woman/academic. The narrator is an outsider living in an unnamed Italian city. Her writing has a pellucid simplicity, very little happens, yet some of the chapters have a haunting quality …” I replied:

Is it not a very strange text? I am very puzzled by it. Here we have this woman who appears to be living totally alone, and each time she explains something about her background it is devastating: husband an absolute continual cheat (did he have another family or mistress, yes), mother continually berating her. Children dullards. How is she living? We are told she is a teacher and marks papers

But as to real explanation half-way through there is none. Is she depressed? would you say this is a natural life style for many people today? I know that Elena Ferrante’s short novel ( but it is a full real novel in a way this is not) La Figlia oscura translated as The Lost Daughter presents a similarly isolated woman who is driven to steal the doll belonging to a near by family on the beach to which our narrator goes very day on a holiday. But we are told what happened to her marriage. She is still connected to her daughters. This time of isolation is not permanent. It is a similar text but not utterly unexplained — as yet. All tiny chapters, with titles recording a moment.


Vanessa Bell’s Bird in Cage, my new header picture on FB and twitter

Reading also Caryl Phillips’s deeply compassionate tales of women, of the enslaved, with Elizabeth Bowen as my cheerer (she has a deep congenial sanity, a laughter and reaching out for life that does me good — I read well into her A Time in Rome, companion volume for McCarthy’s — only somehow far deeper into or from the soul responding). I’ve told you also I’ve promised a talk for a video for the Trollope London Society zoom reading group on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove” and its brilliant film adaptation.

I segue here into a new sense of my end of life that is making me curiously both emptier and sadder and yet so less harassed and self-induced hectic and allowing me to read more freely more books — as I please for my courses, and just like this — I returned to the female detective this week (The Lady Investigates by Patricia Craig), partly the result of watching Miss Scarlet and the Duke, two weeks ago it was four Olivia Manning novels in a row (ending for now on The Rain Forest, a coda to her brilliant trilogies). Last diary entry (or the one before) I said I foresaw time to return to my book project on Winston Graham and the one on life-long unmarried women. I do, but only if I push myself, work intensely and then don’t follow through on reading that comes up from my teaching studies and other group activities. I have it seems decided I don’t want to push myself for nothing, to no sensible end. I didn’t decide, but (like Trollope says) I found that this is the way I’m acting.

I have this extra time for books, movies, YouTube also — because I find myself at long last giving up book projects. Looking at them. In the case of Graham, his son is dead against it; in the case of the women, there is little sympathy for the angle I want which includes belief in innate qualities in women and l’ecriture-femme (a strong gender faultline in writing as naturally emerging). No more of these will I dream of, plan, attempt to do. Face reality. Face my age. Face where I live. It’s over for me: I don’t have the wherewithal of connections, of ability to know how to draw people to help me, to attract a publisher, fear travel, strange or new places so. I’m taking real and what pleasure I can from what is available to me. Not forcing myself to do what is so painful, stressful, difficult.

After all all these writers need readers, people to write about them, ditto the movie-makers need watchers and critics, do they not?

And oddly I find I’m turning more to Jim, to memories of him, a sense that I am living out a life as his wife with his absent presence all around me, doing what I wish as if he were here with me. I have also made a home-life for Izzy and I, which we are both aware we are sharing. We both remember him; we both reciprocate with the cats.


Jim with Ian on his lap in July 2014 (the cancer had not yet metastasized)

I am living out his lifetime for him and with him in memory as best I can. This is partly what I would have done had he lived. The good thing that has come from all this (by which I refer to his death and now this pandemic solitude) is my finding the OLLIs and as yet fitting in, and finding other institutions and venues in my area where I enjoy the intellectual and social life.


A lovely idealization of a square in Bath Jim & I & Izzy walked together many a time for a week (there is the assembly room to the right) — it was spring 2002

Ellen

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From the mantelpiece in our front room

While writing what I did below, I did not forget what is happening to the Palestinians: Dahlia Ravikovitch

A Baby Can’t Be Killed Twice

On the sewage puddles of Sabra and Shatila
there you transferred masses of human beings
worthy of respect
from the world of the living to the world of the dead.
Night after night …

Dear friends and readers,

How can you tell when the pandemic is coming to an end? For us it has not been Biden and his CDC’s sudden switch in attitude: all the Fully Vaccinated can go without masks when they are outside, inside most places when not too crowded. To mask or not to mask? The point seems to be to make it clear that the vaccines work, and those who are not vaccinated are depriving themselves … keeping themselves at risk!  It’s for free, people, and available everywhere. Don’t you want to unmask thyself with a certainty you are safe from hard illness and/or death or maiming in some way?

So, no, the sense of release, of relief, has come from the stepping out. The last week or so we have gone out almost everyday and a couple of times out for a couple of hours! This past Friday evening we celebrated Izzy’s birthday (and mother’s day too) with Laura and Rob by going out together and eating a scrumptious meal in a nearby fine Italian restaurant (not that expensive but good food) where we ate outside. Happy talk and Saturday Laura returned to give Izzy her present, which is also for me: a funko pop Jane Austen doll. Izzy and I put it on our mantelpiece where we have other meaningful objects (some treasured). The Jane Austen doll does not wiggle and she is reading a tiny copy of Pride and Prejudice, wearing a long blue dress. Across the way (inbetween a Native American doll I bought in the American Indian museum 2 summers ago, Jim’s reading glasses, and a DVD picturing his life, and an issue of an 18th century newsletter, the Intelligencer where there appeared a lovely obituary for Jim; and a seashell Izzy picked up on some family vacation we had at a beach) an action figure I was given by a class of people at OLLI at AU: the notorious RBG, alas without her tiny gavel (which fell out of her hand).

Saturday all day the two girls went together to a mall (sans masks), buying sandal shoes for summer and had a lunch in cosy place. Mother sat home reading Howards End once again (how can one tire of such a book) so as not to intrude on sister time togetherness. It is spring and on the awning over my study room window, two sparrows, grey breasted (mother) and red (father) have built a nest and the mother bird now sits patiently for the eggs to hatch. We (the cats are part of this) hear them twittering (w/o being on twitter) and chirping. I wish I could take a photo of the two birds moving about, flying in and out, the cats trying to get at them but the screen in the way so settling down in the cat-bed to watch. At the moment I come to the awning, both birds fly away.


Laura and Izzy two years ago and many years ago

Win some, lose some though. I had one of my nervous failures yesterday. It was probably that I was ambiguous about going to the memorial service as after all Phyllis Furdell (a once friend from OLLI at Mason after Jim died) had dropped me, and when a couple of times I tried to make contact again she had spoken to me in ways that were mildly contemptuous. It was her ex-husband who found my name and called and asked me to come, so I felt I was letting him down — but I have never met him nor spoken to him before. Still it was the right thing to do even if I had been treated unkindly.

I realized as I got into my car it was the first time in a long time I was trying to find a new place. Mapquest said it was 15-20 minutes away and I left 40 minutes but the whole incident ended up that it was 10 to 2 and I was at least still 12 minutes away when I turned to go back home and the thing was to start at 2.

I had printed out street directions (Mapquest), determined to take the streets but then I put on the Waze too as back-up (but had had trouble doing that, I was sticking it the cord from the cellphone into the wrong place and Izzy had to come out to show me where was the right slot). Then I discovered I made a wrong turn (I don’t know my left from my right) by both the Waze and the paper so had to go all the way home again (lost well over 10 minutes) and tried again.

Now I encountered in the streets a horrendous accident — no one can get through. A mad house with trucks everywhere — crazy lights. Traffic piling up. The Waze is repeating I should get on the highway — I make a difficult UTurn to get to the other side of the street. I know if I follow the Waze directions, I’ll be going in the wrong direction on the nearby highway because I can’t get to the right direction but I don’t have a back up paper for the highway (remember what happened to me trying to get to Politics and Prose from OLLI at AU without the backup print-out). What if I do something wrong again?

I am so nervous by this time and I’ve now only 10 minutes to get there. I felt bad because I promised the ex-husband and also I know a couple of people from OllI at Mason might be there but I remember her sour sharp tongue to make me feel bad. I was going also to prove to myself I could do this — this has often been a motive in the last 8 years for going places — to prove to myself I can as much as anything. But as I drove towards the highway my nervousness increased — there was not enough time to return and get a Mapquest print-out for the highway. So I returned and now am home and went back to my usual quiet literary work — this time my last set of lecture notes for this spring.

This is me — why travel is an ordeal so I can’t do research in libraries around the world literally except someone comes with me — and Jim never really did. It’s a lot to ask and it costs money to do these things.

I did have to get one place by myself I didn’t know how to and had to use the Waze w/o a paper Mapquest and made a wrong turn at least twice but I truly needed to get there: Izzy was there waiting and it was to do our taxes with AARP. I did manage that though came later for the appt.

An image of the cover of the book I ended up reading after I finished my lecture notes and became calm. I do like Hattie MacDonald and Kenneth Lonergan’s film adaptation and am re-watching it too. Roslyn Sulcas’s take on book and film seems to me to be spot on insofar as it’s social POV about capitalism and hard-nosed realities — there are other emphases one could take (like on a home to live in).

Today though success. Izzy and I went to Sheila, my hairdresser who works in a salon about 7 minutes away by car. I’ve been there so many times before; even so, for a minute now and again I felt I could not imagine the next street. You see I know the way supposedly by heart, hardly know the names of the streets. Again I wish I could take photos, for Sheila has made my hair pretty again. After a several months the color of the Overtone on my hair had turned sour (orangey, brass). Sheila preferred not to peroxide (strip or bleach it) and instead cut it a bit shorter with her dye making the grey parts the lovely silver blonde again, and those parts with the dye still there are now a silver mahogany. I shall go back in 6 weeks (rather than nearly 3 months) to have it dyed and cut again. Izzy’s is lovely bowl of hair around her shoulders.

Then later in the afternoon I took myself to Dr Wiltz at Falls Church. I’ve had more deterioration. My arches have fallen (flat feet) and I am wearing bands around my feet with a flat cushion underneath, my legs are weaker I find, and the chest pains sometimes very strong. So I returned to Wiltz and he tested and found nothing awry — just being 74. That’s good news. I went home with a muscle relaxant pill. On the way back many more cars than I’ve seen in a long time, more people out and about, many without masks … all signs we are getting past this pandemic.

And late in the afternoon I was re-reading The Remains of the Day again. I seem to be getting so much more out of both books since I taught it so hard last winter; I sure hope this will shine out in close reading with the class at OLLI at AU I mean to do both with next month. How I love it, & Ishiguro’s early novels (including now the terrifying Never Let Me Go)

But it is not easy to step out again, out to work (Izzy loves going in once a week now), and many hesitate, not only worried at lingering mutant viruses, but that they’ve gotten used to being home, and are re-thinking how they’d like to spend their working lives.

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Still some more staying in pandemic experiences — the silver lining of watching productions from home, joining in on virtual lectures, book groups, theater. Two Friday nights ago, a magnificent Uncle Vanya on PBS “great performances” — they have too few of these. Don’t miss it. I was reminded of how I love theater and wish I could go to live performances regularly once again. (I cannot as I can no longer drive at night.) Cast outstanding: I re-watched the next night when I realized my friend, Rory, had sent it as a DVD. I’m beginning to have a better understanding of it than ever before: I have always bonded with Vanya: he is the man who cannot negotiate from the world what his talents and deep sense of responsibility procure and create; he asks only to be appreciated — and finds that’s too much. But some of his close associates love him.

This time I found myself also loving Sonya’s last words: they help me find the strength to get through life calmly: to bear it all patiently and while patient and thoughtful you find your peace. Two more reviews: Arifa Akbar from The Guardian; Demetrios Matheou in The Hollywood Reporter. If there had been no pandemic, it’s possible this production would not have been videoed, or the video would not have been made so generally available (in order to pressure people to come to the theaters).


Toby Jones as Uncle Vanya, and Richard Armitage as Dr Astrov


Again Armitage and as Yelena Rosalind Eleazar

The way we have been going to the theater just now (soon ending). Jonson’s Sejanus at the Red Bull (NYC, perhaps on 10th Avenue). I thought it was not as effective as Hannah Cowley’s Belle’s Strategem (sometime in February, this later 18th century play turned out to be picturesque and intensely passionate underneath the seemingly conventional wit) because Cowley’s play demanded so much stage business, the company had to come up with equivalents: they somehow manage to suggest dancing through the manipulation of the zoom images; they used heightened gestures, flamboyant costumes. That made the production livelier than this Sejanus — it must be admitted I once saw it as a Play of the Week on Channel 13 (pre-PBS, a year of magnificent plays on Friday evenings), with a young Patrick Stewart as Sejanus. I did find the use of imaged different and famous ancient backgrounds still extant around Rome and elsewhere (Mary Beard stuff) changing from time to time alluring and since the play is about something that occurred in the 1st century, written in the first year of the 17th and now played 2021, it added significance. And the second half held my attention more forcefully because of what had been built up and what was happening.

Yes to their assertion that it’s relevant. I found myself wondering what happens in the GOP as everyone stands around fawning over Trump. What are the secret cabals and thoughts people might have. They can’t go so far as to murder one another the way Tiberius can exile and/or murder his family members, and then Sejanus and his — but they can destroy one another’s careers or do some equivalent. Also how and why the individuals form groups or are seen to adhere to someone. The acting was good and the language strong and interesting — superb Renaissance verse. It’s been there for 4 days and still one to go, and you can watch for free — though I did pay the suggested amount ($44). The actors and company need the money. Next month: Jonson’s Volpone. Now how would I see this otherwise?


The use of just a mask sometimes for one of the heroines in Belle’s Strategem was effective


The Sejanus cast

And I must not forget the delightful every-other-week zoom meeting of the London Trollope Society. Right now we are reading The Way We Live Now — a truly powerful and great book. Dominic Edwards has asked me to do a talk on Trollope’s gem, the story Malachi’s Cove, whose film adaptation is suddenly once again (with the pandemic channels are seeking previous films) online. I’m to take it from my blog.


Mally and Barty gathering seaweed in competition

Late addition: the Great Performance Romeo and Juliet from the London National Theater via WETA Great Performances


Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor as our thwarted and destroyed lovers

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Sheila did tell me a couple of scarifying stories of people getting sick from Covid and almost dying. It last February seems her niece worked in an office where the boss was saying all had to come in — this was when Trump was still claiming the pandemic was a “Democrat hoax,” “just” a flu. Well, “everyone in the office caught it,” says Sheila, and her niece became very ill, began to have blood clots one day and phoned Sheila’s sister, who rushed over, and taking a look at her daughter, rushed her to the hospital. Saved her daughter’s life. This does give insight into what lies behind the statistic of over 550,000 dead. I don’t know enough people who had to go to work daily. Have I told you that I have been going to Sheila for my hairdos for 20 years, and that she and I first met when she was 53 and I 54? I came to her for Laura’s wedding. This year and one half is the longest I’ve never seen her. I know a lot about her life and she knows something about mine.


Laura’s Charlotte now near one year old — I have never seen them physically and they are (Laura says) singularly unused to being alone, and show it

So we slowly come back out, step out and begin life as traveling about to get together physically once again. I do hope that many of these zooms will stay. A zoom from OLLI at AU of the owners of Politics and Prose telling the history of their buying the store, what such a business is like, how they survived during this quarantine, and how successful the classes were even in a classroom that was small and how much more successful now spread beyond space and time. I just finished a satisfying course reading and discussing three novels by Edith Wharton and for the summer I’ve signed up for 7 or 8 weeks of Middlemarch and for two weeks of Jhumpa Lahiri. They will be given at night so there is no way I could take them unless they come via zoom on the computer.

From thinking about and rereading Lahiri, I have added to my summer course at OLLI at Mason on “Post-Colonialism and the Novel,” Mira Nair’s Namesake, a movie I love still (nowadays especially for Irffan Khan, who died so young, only 53 this year): Nair says in its feature she was actuated to adapt the book in order to realize a story of people living in two different worlds, two different cultures at once, and the difficult of this blending/coping. As her hero, Gogol wants to escape the identities imposed on him (American or Indian) and her heroine does through becoming French out of her studies, so Lahiri is trying to make herself into an Italian – she speaks of it as if her parents imposed on her the culture they were when she was born. How to hold onto an identity, how to make a new one for yourself the way I have tried to do also — I believe I have partly succeeded in escaping my white working class US identity — and that I could only do not only by stepping out of my house but going to live in another country, England and marrying a person of another culture I so longed to be part of — out of or as I understood it from my books of course but then living there too.

My life is a now slow journey, inward with and by books (and good movies), for me to find my paths (several at a time), coping with, enduring, enjoying life. But it has been such a help to have supportive friends and most of them who have meant most (after Jim) have been made on the Internet. I teach so frequently at the two OLLIs because they give me a place to belong in the world and (I hope) a function useful to others as well as myself.

Ellen

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On J. R. Farrell’s Troubles [1971 novel set in Ireland 1920s] “Troubles is not a ‘period piece’; it is yesterday reflected in today’s consciousness. The ironies, the disparities,the dismay, the unavailingness are contemporary” (Elizabeth Bowen, a review published 1971)

Dear friends and readers,

You see the increasing good news for people in the US — also other countries, where vaccination is proceeding apace (Israel, the UK, Chile, the US, Bahrain are among these). Pressure is being put on the Biden administration to cooperate quickly over sharing our excess vaccine supply (AstraZeneca, as soon as the FDA approves it officially), and to use a temporary waiver on copyright. I hope people here are aware of how much we owe to Biden and his administration as we move into a post-pandemic era, which Biden is trying also to renovate through the first large and decent gov’t programs intended to reach everyone to enable us to improve our and all communities’ lives. He, his wife, the VP and the others working with and for them are my new paladins and heroines.

I do have some news. I’m near finishing teaching and following courses for this term (today my courses on the weather, Early Pulitzer Prize-winning Women Poets, and Edith Wharton ended) and within a month the summer’s teaching and new (though less than I have been taking) courses begin. For June at OLLI at AU, I will repeat my Two Novels of Longing Across an Imperialist Century, and for June-July (6 weeks) at OLLI at Mason I’ll continue my study of contemporary novels from a political POV, this time colonialist: my books will be Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, Caryl Philips’s Crossing the River and Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River. Although I do have my review of the standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry yet to do (I must buy the second very fat and very expensive volume), and am part of two reading groups on line (my Trollope&Peers, and an FB The Way We Read Now page) and via Zoom (Trollope Society), I fancy I have enough time to get back to my original projects, let go of this past winter.

But they have morphed from my reading and trying to be more realistic so I can envisage single volumes. Don’t imagine I seek to publish these; I’m returning to the way I was when I translated the poetry of Colonna and Gambara, and did all that original scholarship on Anne Finch, wrote a biography of her, did etext editions and so on. This is to give me a meaningful goal and extend myself, teach myself how to write a book regularly — so to speak. Even at age 74. So I rearranged my books, put many away, made the two stacks for the two courses, and fixed the others towards the projects and towards my sheer love of this or that topic or language or type book — some of the books I read relate very much to my movie-watching and love of travel books.

This was not a trivial task. Some still had their spaces waiting for them but others has lost ground, and I had to improvise shelves, turn the books this way and that, and it took hours to re-pile what I hope to go through this summer in a way that showed the trail or path ahead. Gentle reader, I chain-read.


In this remarkable book (which I’ve been reading) Bowen teaches us how to travel, enacts for us how to think and feel to get inside a place and understand its feeling, an extraordinary recreation of atmosphere

an evocation of a city – its history, its architecture and, above all, its atmosphere. She describes the famous classical sites, conjuring from the ruins visions of former inhabitants and their often bloody activities. She speculates about the immense noise of ancient Rome, the problems caused by the Romans’ dining posture, and the Roman temperament, which blended ‘constructive will with supine fatalism’. She envies the Vestal Virgins and admires the Empress Livia, who survived a barren marriage. She evokes the city’s moods – by day, when it is characterized by golden sunlight, and at night, when the blaze of the moon ‘annihilates history, turning everything into a get together spectacle for Tonight. [As good as Eleanor Clarke’s Rome and A Villa

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So I will work on, maybe write my Poldark book but not as a literary biography. I just don’t have the resources or personality to do what’s necessary to be done. My aim now will be to return to reading all his extant works, which I have, including re-reading the Poldarks, and then writing a book on historical fiction and romance. This will lead to me reading more 20th century books, probably mostly by women. I have this term been reading political novels by women, which I discover, to be like many men’s often, set back further in historical time. I need to get back to the Graham books and historical romance.


Lampedusa’s Gattopardo – which I read in the original Italian and at the time thought the best book in Italian extant

This connects to the other project, a book on life-long single women writers. I was having the hardest time deciding which ones — there are so many, as my definition of lifelong single women does not exclude women who have been married. The criteria is rather that they have lived independently, developing their own career or vocation for most of their lives. This term I discovered how much I love 20th century women writers — I just fell in love with two of the women, Bowen and Manning — and how many of these fit my definition. So here as in the other project I must not dwell on a limited number of people but see their work as part of groups, subgenres, and emerge with another related theme beyond this groundwork criteria of a long time alone. If nothing else, this will guide my chain-reading. Right now I’m so taken, exhilarated (by Bowen), interested touched by Olivia Manning and am finishing all of her Balkan and Levant trilogy.

It’s not only the franker and deepening depiction of what goes on between heroine and hero, Harriet and Guy (I may be wrong about Aiden but I’m thinking that Guy is also implicitly supposed to be having an affair with Edwina — the giving her of that rose diamond that Harriet treasured as a gift from Angela is singularly cruel as a careless act) but the actual events we are shown — in the desert and also the colonialist politics where the English are now outsiders, unwanted — for the Greeks divided into fascists who wanted them out and nationalists and communists types too. The gov’t such as it was made a pact with the Germans, who proceeded of course to invade anyway.

I’m finding the whole depiction of Alexandria in a book on far more than Manning: Eve Patten’s Imperial Refuges of such interest – there is a section on the people who lived there — this brings us back to the Durrells — Lawrence, EM Forster, Cavafy, and group of gay people as well as others leading fluid lives not just sexually but also financially (desperate poverty some of them, while others have the private income). She means to bring this group in to — so that’s why I wondered about Aiden Pratt — based on someone real. The matter flows into my interest in colonialism (above), the course I’ll give at OLLI at Mason June-July — and poetry below.


Episode 6 of The Fortunes of War where Harriet (Emma Thompson) visits Luxor conveys the profound pessimism of the symbolic statues Manning intuits
(I’ve been re-watching Alan Plater’s masterpieces of BBC/ITV films)

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More very sad news: one of the friends I mentioned last time who I’ve become close to since Jim died, and who dropped me, Phyllis Furdell, has died. At age 75: her third husband (ex) emailed and then I phoned him and I will be going to her funeral service May 18th. Cheerful on the surface, in her inner life she was a troubled and acid soul; she had only one son, now in his late 50s, who needs someone to help him survive psychologically. She was a good painter and left paintings of the Washington DC subway with people on it (studies). Also astute portraits. Her ex-husband is trying to get some institution or art-seller to take them.

A fellow 18th century scholar, in his later 80s, a colleague, Manny Schonhorn. I knew him only in his later years and as a friend-acquaintance at the EC/ASECS meetings. He was so friendly, kind, full of fun, and candid. Wonderfully pleasant over drinks, informative if you sat with him for a full lunch. He and I would exchange email missives too. I’ll miss his presence at our meetings. He was a Defoe, Swift and Pope, & Fielding man from before feminism and post-colonialism so changed the field.

And a young woman of 43, once Laura’s close intimate friend, the maid of honor at Laura’s first wedding, also died — probably of cancer. Jessie never was able to emerge from her working class deeply anti-intellectual Trumpite family environment; going to college did not help pull her out into other worlds. Her last job was that hard work, little pay install electricity for rich-people’s parties that Laura did for a couple of years. Jessie never got another job; both husband/partners were utter failures; she left a 16 year old daughter. She never traveled (as my 75 year old friend did), never had a chance to fulfill her considerable gifts, never discovered where she could put them to use. Very sad.


20 Years Ago: Laura (bottom to the left) Jessie (top row to the right) as part of a theatrical crew and production

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On the up side now that the pandemic seems to have lost its grip (and Biden is aiming at 70% vaccination by June), it does look like I’m managing to keep enough students taking my courses and either in the fall 2021 (I’ll do Trollope’s Prime Minister with a book of political writings by 19th century women) or spring 2022 teach in person once again. I hope zooms will continue (from the Trollope Society, from Cambridge, from other academic type environments), for they are a mainstay for me where I don’t have to waste time traveling and can reach more than I ever dreamed of — and where I used to go when my eyes were better, like Politics and Prose Bookstore community in DC where the classes are often at night and I can’t drive. And in less than 2 weeks Laura, Izzy and I will find an Italian restaurant where we can eat outdoors and commemorate Izzy’s birthday: she’ll be 37!


An Image of Stark Grief

That’s all I have to report that’s new of changing, moving on. Maybe I should close on a movie I recently saw which I found to be a dazzling masterpiece — costume drama, period piece, Martin Scorcese’s Age of Innocence out of Edith Wharton’s remarkable ironically titled novel of the same name. I usually tell, however briefly, of a book or movie I’ve recently read or re-read. I was bowled over. Truly. You do have to pay attention to nuances, and respond to the imagery and what happens — Daniel Day Lewis as a profoundly melancholic Newland Archer – and the narrator’s studied lines.

Suffice to say it seemed to me for a movie to be the closest thing I know to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: more adequate to Tolstoy’s book than the 1977 Anna Karenina (which, together with oe Wright’s AK do as much and more justice to a deeply felt and complicated story of human beings than I ever realized before — yes I’ve been reading in this one). Even if I found a class to be worse than a waste of time (parts of the book were dismissed as of no interest – Levin, the politics of the three men &c), I have stayed with the book insofar as skimming/reading and then watching and thinking is concerned.


Stuart Wilson as Beaufort


Joanthan Pryce, the dangerous (blackmailing ever-so-discreet) secretary

Stuart Wilson, the Vronsky of the 1977 AK is the Beaufort of this Age of Innocence: we are in the movie (never mind the book) to assume he and Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer as a nervous, neurotic, deeply passionate and in the end withdrawn to find “repos” woman) have been having an affair — that she succumbs to several men, including her brutal husbands secretary (played by Jonathan Pryce — only a few minutes but he manages to emerge from the costume to dominate the stage with an insinuating dangerous presence). Sian Phillips as the knowing mother who backs the manipulative winner May Welland (Winona Rylands) in order to hold onto her son. The old woman grandmother (the book is about a world of women, a matriarchy) played by Mariam Margoleyes who loves Ellen and knows she should marry Newland but let’s the repressive even spiteful world have its way and grants Ellen the allowance which allows her to live independently in peace, privately.

One of the miracles of the movie is how it alludes to other movies in the same spirit. It is intended to project 19th century or now collapsed attitudes towards marriage and sex – -and does this through presenting the characters as neurotic and near breakdowns as well as the society as incessantly nasty and oppressive. It’s a costume drama about costume dramas as much as anything

Ending on a poem by C. P. Cavafy as translated by Edumund Keeley (there are better translations, one by Lawrence Durrell):

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

This harsh ending means to convey to the person who wants to travel to entertain, flee themselves, provide substitute (tourist?) meaning, that the soul makes her own landscape, your own inner environment, out of ennui or social desperance, you can create your own forms of beauty. It might be you want to reach Ithaca, far away, but take a long time getting there. Olivia Manning returned from Egypt having learned from Luxor to write of Ireland, The Dreaming Shores, with these exquisite photographs of this green temperate world – which I’ve been reading and perusing too.

Ellen

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This year’s daffodils

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ Age of Phillis: Jeffers has written what we wish Phillis [Wheatley] had, a book length verse autobiography. The opening sequence very moving: imagined to be by Phillis’s mother when she realizes her baby has been stolen from her. Remembering the birth. Then the narrator on behalf of Phillis remembering the terror the child must have felt, the filth, vermin, disease,chains — unimaginable except by just citing facts that are known — of the middle passage. How she survived our narrator cannot say — she was purchased in the US not in Africa … [I read this a couple of poems at a time each night]

Dear friends,

It’s been a month since I last wrote. I haven’t had much to report about myself new or striking, anything different from what you might read elsewhere; I’ve been writing about the movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, online activities with others (discussing books mostly) on my other two wordpress blogs; politics I’ve been circulating Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletters and occasional insightful essays that might be overlooked on my livejournal blog or facebook/twitter. We passed the anniversary of the day we consciously began to self-isolate (March 13th). It was that week that the class I was to teach that spring, “The Novels of E.M. Forster” was cancelled. I had no idea if I could manage a zoom class and it was not until the end of the spring or that summer after I had attended a couple of classes regularly, that I agreed to teach remotely. It was that week Izzy began to work from home remotely as a Pentagon librarian. The gov’t laptop arrived around then.

I’ve now taught five and soon to begin my 6th zoom class, taken many and joined in countless zoom social experiences, conferences, lectures. I enjoy them — when not too many a day. This week the teachers at OLLI at AU gathered to discuss the possibility of hybrid teaching in the fall. Many did admit how lovely it is not to spend such time in traffic, not to have to find parking, to beat time and distance. Izzy has joined a dungeon and dragons group, has her identity and spent her first two and one half jours in this fantasy with others Saturday night.

Very unhappily, though, Izzy has not yet been vaccinated. It appears that Kaiser will not start up again as a vaccination center. There is no reasonable excuse for this: supplies are in. I truly suppose that medical groups who loathe HMOS and have since their start-up done everything to bad-mouth and hurt them succeeded in stopping their fair, orderly efficient vaccinating. This is similar to what happened to another similar group in Philadelphia. Kaiser is shamelessly cheerful in sending out messages about workshops. I have complained bitterly in some encrypted area, asking a representative what is the point of Kaiser’s existence if the organization is not going to operate as a bunch of doctors offering preventive health care.

This, along with the continuing sabotage of the post office, is probably my worst news, & I am still hopeful, believing in Biden’s promises and seeing more and more people getting vaccinated. She has pre-registered where she can. Hope for us we will not have to behave in debased ways chasing anyone by phone or email for an appointment. That she is not yet vaccinated is one of the reasons our lives have not changed much. We did get an appointment at the AARP for the people to make out our taxes; I gather we will bring the forms we have that we have made out as best we can and sit on one of a door, and the tax forms be done on the other.

Two weeks after Izzy is vaccinated, I will go to a hairdresser and have my hair cut and dyed. Then perhaps she and I can have some plan to go out, have a lunch outside with Laura. We will exercise care, still wear masks, socially distance, no museums as yet, and I will be cancelling my trip to Ireland once more, hoping for late summer 2022. But we will be a little freer — she to go look at the Cherry Blossom trees, me to visit a couple of friends more often (Mary Lee, Panorea)


Tom Hollander as Doctor Thorne in Julian Fellowes’s adaptation (I am growing quite fond of a number of the scenes)

My happy satisfying news is all from my participation in reading groups connected back to my love of Trollope and from my teaching at the two OLLIs. First, I did another online live talk, this one on Doctor Thorne. The Chairman of the Society, Dominic Edwardes graciously put the video on the Trollope website, and as well as the text of my talk. He does this so beautifully, especially the video with a photo of me, blurb about me and chosen quote, I urge those who come here regularly to go over and see what I look like and the bit of autobiography that is placed there.

I put the video her too, to have it on my blog, and if a reader would prefer to read it more conveniently here.

I did tell about my upcoming summer courses at both OLLIs: I’ll repeat Two Novels of Longing, which I did very successfully at the Mason OLLI in the winter, at the AU OLLI June 4 week summer study group; I’ll do Post-Colonialism and the Novel at the Mason OLLI 6 week summer course June/July (scroll down for description). This second is a new one, I’ll be teaching books and authors I’ve never taught before. And my proposal for fall at OLLI at AU has also been accepted:

Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5)

The 5th Palliser refocuses us on Plantagenet & Lady Glen, now Duke & Duchess of Omnium, Phineas & Marie (Madame Max) Finn are characters in the story of the Duke & Duchess’s political education as he takes office and she becomes a political hostess. We delve practical politics & philosophies asking what is political power, patronage, elections, how can you use these realities/events. A new group of characters provide a story of corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. And what power have women? We’ll also read Trollope’s short colonialist Orwellian The Fixed Period, & short online writing by Victorian women (Caroline Norton, Harriet Martineau, Francis Power Cobb, Margaret Oliphant).

I just hope I will enjoy all three as much as I’ve been enjoying reading and teaching the four women writers I’m doing in this 20th Century Women’s Political Novels. I have not enjoyed reading books so much in a long time, I just am loving Bowen, Manning, Hellman, and all the books about them and other 20th century women writers, mostly of the left, living through both world wars, traveling about — not just the novels and memoirs for the course but their essays, life-writing, and the movies adapted from these and about their lives. If you read what might seem a dry-as-dust supplementary reading list, you are grazing over profound treasures of thought, feeling, eloquence, activity. I think this is what spurred me on to write again.

How marvelous are women writers writing about politics in novels of the 20th century. I honestly can’t say which of the texts I’ve been reading I love more: Manning’s Balkan trilogy, Bowen’s Collected Impressions, Lillian Hellman‘s Unfinished Memoir and Pentimento, Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Bowen or Hermione Lee’s several books on the women I’m reading (Lee is a brilliant literary critic, no one close reads the way she does so entertainingly and profoundly), Eve Patten and Phyllis Lassner on these British and American women. I’ve read more of the poets of Alexandria at the time, including a few Greek women. I never tire of Fortunes of War. I hope to write a wondrous blog on Bowen, her prose is weighty with a world of feeling and precise intelligent thought, her style just brilliant, Shakespearean to me. I’ve bought myself several volumes of biographies of these women too — when I can make time for these I don’t know: I have to hope to live a long time after I can no longer teach.


I very much profited from and enjoyed watching the 2015 Suffragettes this week too (script writer, director, producers all women, my favorite actresses, including Carey Mulligan, Ann-Marie Duffy, Sally Hawkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai &c)

On twitter the question was asked, which actor resonates in your heart and body the most: for me it’s still Ralph Fiennes (a non-sequitor)


From the Dig, see my blog on Luxor, Oliver Sacks his life, and Dig: Et in Arcadia Ego

I was relieved that I could not give the paper I tried to write a year ago on historical romance (I would have had to do it this coming week), sometimes called “Trespassers in Time,” sometimes “Wheelchairs, Vases, and Neolithic Stones” because unless I could record myselfgiving it, the ASECS group would not have it, so I find my CFP for last year’s cancelled EC/ASECS is good again:

The function of material and still extant objects & places in historical fiction

Martha Bowden in her Descendents of Waverley argues that really there, or still extant recognizable and famous objects in a historical romance function to provide both authenticity and familiarity. I suggest such objects also function inspirationally for authors as well as enabling readers also to become trespassers in time, a phrase DuMaurier uses for her time- and place-traveling in her fiction. I call for papers which focus on material objects and places in historical fiction set in the 18th century and novels which time-travel to and from the 18th century. I also welcome treatments of books written in the 18th century where the focus is on past history as well as any encounters any of us have had with material objects (it’s fine to use manuscripts, paintings, and movies which set us off on our journeys into the 18th century or particular projects we’ve written essays or books or set up exhibits about).

I can use the paper now put aside,  and for the first time ever I’ve thought of people to ask to join the panel (myself! asking others): I shall email the guy who ran this panel this and last and the year before (each time with me giving a paper on it, once a very good one on the Poldark books) and ask him if he would give a paper. It will be virtual conference so it doesn’t matter if he lives and teaches in Montana, which he does. And I’ll ask him for names of the other people. Now he may say no. I even expect it, but that I have someone to ask is a sort of progress for someone like me. I am keeping up my reading on women’s historical romance and Outlander every word each night. I’ve finished the first volume and begun the second, Dragonfly in Amber.


There’s strength in this Cressid as there is strength in Harriet Pringle (who was originally to get the part), with Clarence Dawson’s selfish languid self perfect for Troilus

Anything else happen of note: I told the whole of the Trojan matter story from its opening in the Iliad, through material added in the Aeneid, to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, to Shakespeare’s — I told it in a half-mocking way when I discovered over half the class didn’t know this story matter well enough or at all to get the meaning of Oliva Manning having her British characters put this astonishingly disillusioned, bitter anti-war play on in The Great Fortune: and watching the 1981 BBC version directed by Jonathan Miller I decided here too Loraine Fletcher is right: Shakespeare shows us how Cressida never had a chance to remain inviolate or once “had” by Troilus faithful to him. Some extraordinary performances: a young Benjamin Whitlow as Ulysses, Charles Gray as Pandarus (many in the class did not know the origin of the term), Suzanne Burden as Cressida, Anton Lesser as Troilus – and many others.


Shcherbakova wins the “short” women’s dance — as in opera in Gorey the performers are known by last names ….

Izzy is home this week watching World’s — a championship ice-skating tournament in Sweden — and seems content. The zoom chat she had with a young man her age has not gone anywhere. I did tell you about the proposal of marriage I received, a half-serious one (?), well he was relieved that we would not be going literally to the EC/ASECS together after all. A little there of the feeling explored in Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, which I’ve come to some very different conclusions about in reading slowly with a group: like Trollope’s Miss Dunstable’s way of coping with her foolish self-involved suitors (Doctor Thorne), Brookner in Hotel du Lac has taught me something about older mistaken potentially harmful conventional goals using the allurement of marriage (companionship) too. I read to discover myself and take heed like my heroines. I hope Izzy has wisdom to feel good about what life has brought her this year too. She does yearn to go back to the office; she misses the casual continual contact and felt relationships. Old lady that I am I am so grateful to Jim and chance — and my own hard work for years (though I made so little money, I helped us a lot during harder times) for my comfortable home. I am happy among my books and with my computers working and my daughter and my cats ….

But we are not yet out of the pandemic nor had Biden truly been able to rescue us from the GOP fascist dictatorship threats (for example, stopping huge numbers of people from voting through the use of this filibuster). But we must trust as yet to keeping hope alive.


Clarycat appreciating spring too – what a noisy cat Ian has become! obstreperous, demanding, intensely affectionate bodily ….

Ellen

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Back from Trader Joe’s this morning, Izzy put the yellow flowers I bought on the credenza, my photo includes this year’s tree

Dear friends and readers,

Another year draws to a close, my 8th winter without Jim. I don’t have the ambition or confidence of previous years to review another year in books, or movies; instead I thought I’d mark the time by framing what stands out tonight, what I want to recommend, with just a couple of Louise Gluck’s poems from Averno, her 10th collection of poetry, wintry as its title. I am gradually learning to love her poetry, and understand why the Nobel committee awarded her their prize this year.

From October, No 5 drew my mind because I remembered myself at age 24 during a two-hour subway trip to Brooklyn College reading intently, a small volume of poems, Minor Poets of the Eighteenth Century, chosen and seemingly edited by Hugh L’Anson Faussett, immersing myself, shutting out the world around me (screeching with noise, very ugly) with the melancholy, picturesque poetry of retirement of the era (Anne Finch, John Dyer, especially). Gluck also refers to the “ornamental lights of the season” which are (those I can see) outside my house, to which I contribute two sets, one on each of my miniature magnolia trees.

October, No. 5

It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees: we are

companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private house,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a devise to refute
perception — At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world:

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.

I remember that particular morning because when I got to my stop, I jumped out of the train, and left my little book behind. Oh how I grieved. I had found it in the Strand; I could not duplicate it in any way. Well this evening another copy of this edition is on a shelf behind me, I took down, a faded green covered volume I re-bought many years later off bookfinder.com, through the internet. Although I have not chosen two poems which show this, she is especially effective in her use of classical mythic figures — Persephone her icon.

Gluck’s Persephone: someone abducted, raped, imprisoned, then a bargain struck by predator Pluto/Hades with her mother Ceres/Demeter so she spends 6 months free and it’s spring
on earth, and 6 months in hell. A wanderer. No focus on her and her mother that is intimate.


A ruined temple to Apollo near Lake Averno


Ian today, one of my mostly silent companions


Clarycat too


One of Laura’s adorably innocently loving kittens, Maxx (photo taken by her)

Then dwelling here for a moment to answer the question does one book stand out for you from all the year’s reading as what you’d like to remind others of or recommend because it has important knowledge, compassion, beauty and truth in it: well, J. R. Ackerley’s tribute to his canine beloved, My Dog Tulip (non-human animals living lives as valuable as worthy as ours), Marjolaine Boutet’s Un Village Francaise: Une histore de l’Occupation, Saisons 1 a 7 (telling sincere truths about French life, society, occupied France, what happened and the aftermath). Any movie or serial for TV, on the internet: at the opening of this year I was still watching The Durrells (profoundly humane, delightful comedy, the tragic there too, from Gerald’s fat book).


Keeley Hawes, one of several beloved actresses, reading aloud Dowson’s “Days of Wine and Roses” to her 4 children & her household (Season 2, Episode 4)

I gave myself a course in E.M. Forster, the Bloomsbury group in all their phases, and what I could read of Black (Afro-diaspora, several blogs) and post-colonial literature and biography (ditto).

So here we are again (31 days before Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office at last, and do what they can to rescue the people of the US from the results of a disastrous 4 years), winter solstice:

Louise Gluck, October, No 4:

The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.

This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared

The songs have changed; the unspeakable
has entered them.

This is the light of autumn, not the light that says
I am reborn.

Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered.
This is the present, an allegory of waste.

So much has changed. And still, you are
fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.

The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful.
They have been concentrated in a smaller space, the space of the mind.
They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish.

And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly
in anticipation of silence.
The ear gets used to them.
The eyes gets used to disappearances.

You will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared.

A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.

How privileged you are, to be passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.

Maestro, doloroso:

This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.

But I hope I will be spared, my two daughters and son-in-law — and all the friends and acquaintances I know — from COVID, impoverishment and despair,


A photograph I found on the Net this year: Amy Helen Johannsen, Woman Hitching Dangerous Ride, Bangladesh

Ellen

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