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Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe


La Peste by Camus

Friends,

These two books are those that come to mind when I try to think of literary treatments where you can find both an experience of a deadly epidemic and profound meditations on the meaning of what happens to individuals and a society when such a calamity occurs. I’ve taught them both (La Peste Englished as The Plague). I’ve read others where the deadly epidemic is either secondary, something creating an atmosphere of devastation and despair (Mann’s Death in Venice), or there as a direct cause of utterly irrational destructive and from a pragmatic standpoint useless behavior (the opening of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, where an epidemic is turned into a mass hunt for human scapegoats to blame).

The New York Times today laid out what is happening in US society as the viral infection, COVID-19 or coronavirus spreads.

My friend, Bryan Alexander’s blog laying out the global story, continually updated.
Each of us will be affected differently once it begins to spread inside the nation state and particular region of a country we live in; beyond larger social political and economic decisions made by people who can control large groups of human behavior, and a multitude of individual reactions by those not sick (some people will rush out and buy large amounts of groceries, or pharmacy supplies) and those sick. Self-protective measures (self-isolating, washing your hands to the soliloquy of Lady Macbeth beginning “Out, damned spot!”) are also socially responsible. What kind of housing you have, with whom, your age and state of health. What you do usually to occupy yourself, make a living, keep sane.

For myself I’m 73, I live in what in NYC we called a private house, with my 36 year old daughter. She is well, I have had a mild cold for about two weeks now, and I cannot throw it, but it gets no worse. What I do to occupy myself is to teach voluntarily at life-long learning organizations for older retired people so I feel I am contributing to the lives to those who appreciate this the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime of study (of literature) in an enjoyable social situation. A form of school and social club combined. Well we have been hard-hit because 1) the Trump administration so cut the budget of medical agencies there to temper, ward off, and care for people during emergencies as well as daily life, that no general testing has been done (thus the only safety measure that can be taken is mass social distancing), and 2) refused to make available for free or securely affordable such tests, or treatments as are needed so to contain the spread. Not only are most social places closing down in order to prevent masses or groups of people from getting together indiscriminately and infecting one another. Also since the demographics of one group especially at risk (past age 60) is precisely the age of OLLI groups (most people somewhere between 55 and 85), the two classes I began to teach last week (The Novels of E.M. Forster) and the three classes I was beginning to attend (on Louisa May Alcott’s books but especially Little Women/Good Wives, Italian Jewish writing, Hamlet) and was scheduled to begin (Difficult Women with Elaine Showalter) are cancelled as face-to-face classroom in person experiences.

I am told that I can try to teach by remote access using a program called Zoom. I am crucially without confidence in my ability to pull off such a thing as in all previous experience I have failed (e.g., online Webinars). There are going to be training sessions for those who agree to use this technology to reach students this coming Monday. When I have gone to such training sessions (say in how to do wikipedia) I have not learned anything as the speed, lack of precision, and assumptions about what I know and can do to start with preclude my learning. I am also very reluctant to expose myself visually and orally that way. I would “virtually” “be there,” supposedly with people in a teaching situation at a distance through videos they can study except they are not there, not themselves physically involved, not at risk themselves in the same way, and thus can react differently to. I worry what others will pick up about me. Two of the three people teaching other classes are willing to try to do this zoom. I am willing to try to be a student in a class where someone else is teacher so that I could join in the class with others but more so I can understand what this experience is before I would ever volunteer to be the person in the center. I hope that I will be able to reach one of these people: the paragraphs sent imply this will be easy. I have no confidence in that and have asked my older daughter to come over if I need help, and I will try the IT guy if he can do it by remote if I cannot. I have to wait and see.

For the one of my two E.M. Forster classes that started two weeks ago — going splendidly in the class — I offered to communicate through email. You could as alternatives communicate through conference calls or email. Thus far 12 people have said they would rather the class be canceled and given the usual classroom way another time (several of them tactful enough to say they enjoyed the in-class so much more in comparison to a silent email) compared to 4 who liked my email letters — I wrote a more detailed one today where probably as to content I conveyed far more and precisely than I do in a classroom. Most of the people who come to these classes come for the social experience primarily; so do I but perhaps I also value the literary content I learn from (when there is something new or insightful in a way I had not thought of or understood) somewhat more than the average person in these classes. Hard to say. Any way it does not seem to me the email alternative will “fly.” I feel one must have 8 people communicating to one another in a listserv situation for it to be socially enjoyable as well as educational.

As you know I find life alone without Jim difficult to endure or enjoy all by itself.


Izzy noticed this walking into the front garden on her way home from work: she walks up a hill from a bus stop. It is a baby cherry blossom tree that she and I bought last spring and a man who does my mowing and some gardening planted for us. It’s a bit behind the others, just beginning to bud. So there was a leavening moment of cheer.

Nonetheless, this week stress from this situation was added to because by Tuesday of this week I realized that the Fairfax Regional Libraries could close; that is where I have been having my taxes done for 2 years. I have not mentioned that I cancelled my trip to ASECS last week: the paper was not going well, and I could no longer live with the idea I would have to find the restaurant and the place where the Marivaux play was being done after three times getting lost attempting to go on a 7 minute trip from the OLLI at AU to Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest Washington, and once because the usual entrance to South 110 which takes me to the Virginia highway I use was closed off and I could not work my Waze right. Once I decided not to go to ASECS, I had free time to go and made an appt with my financial advisor for today to go over what he withheld and Izzy and I would go next week. But I began to dread that the library would close before we could get there. The alternative is an awful abrasive shyster lawyer who I paid $500 to for two years to do the taxes. He produces them last thing. When we went to H&R, they asked $400 and made mistakes.

I woke this past Wednesday morning shaking. I’d had enough. I determined Izzy and I would go that evening to that library and get those taxes done & transmitted. I spent the morning calling the library to make sure it was still open, and what time the AARP people who do your taxes for free with you would be there. I called my financial adviser so he could explain to me what he had withheld from my IRA investment distribution and I explain it to the AARP person. Izzy and I set off by 4:15 am (she came home early) and (as the last two times) mine took 2 and 1/2 hours. Izzy’s takes a much shorter time. You sit there with a person who does the form with you out of all the papers you bring; then a third person evaluates what has been done. All done online. I could never do it. Then I pay direct deposit through my routing number at my bank. They print out the forms I have done; everything is put neatly in an envelope and the next year I can bring it back. It was dark when we got out and I did make one bad mistake as I tried to turn onto a lane and instead turned onto the place by the edge of the street where you can stop if your car is in trouble. I was able to get back into the traffic but it was a scary moment. But if we had waited for the weekend, when Izzy can go during the day, it would now be too late. As of tomorrow or Monday all schools and libraries are closed for the next two weeks or more.

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

There have been some good moments, even hours and half days or evenings, stretches of time.


This is the cover of the British edition and a limited one of 300 copies signed by the author — I have an uglier duller design but like contemplating this image

I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me — brilliant, true, inspiring, comparable to James Baldwin. Paradoxically I agree with Coates’s comparison: “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.” His book explained to me how African-American people are voting for Biden when his record over crucial African-American issues has been bad (voted for mass incarceration, to cut social security, engineered the Iraq war): they do not believe the white world will share their power and wealth with blacks and so they do not believe that Sanders can win ever since Sanders will take from the white supremacy and make the US into a social democracy with effective measures to make people equal and life’s necessities affordable for real.

Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. It arrived two days ago and my copy is sturdy, lovely good quality paper, sewn. A fine book.

First response to first 50 or so pages. Spoiler warning in the unlikely case the reader does not know how Cromwell ended up. She’s done it again —

Let me put a couple of early responses in: It’s deeply inward attempt to try to explain to us (it’s historical) how inside 4 years a man so leant upon and seemingly central to Henry had his head cut off (a terrifying act) by this same man. Mantel has the problem that unlike the first book were at first Cromwell is a nobody and unknown, now he has his finger in so many famous pies. In the second here was a single trajectory and stealth heroine, Anne Boleyn. This time what she is doing is laying the groundwork for his downfall – which she laid in the first book too. He is nobody still and worse he has an agenda that has a conscience at its heart. He is a genuine Protestant — protester — and secular. Array ed against him are everyone, just about. the Boleyns were Protestant and Anne and George seriously so — so too Catherine Parr, wife 6, married to Thomas Seymour and bringing up Elizabeth. Henry came near to beheading Catherine Parr over her paraphrases of the Psalms.

The Howards (remember the duke of Norfolk, the Plantagenets, the Scots group) — all fervent Catholics. Then there are the old lines families — all Catholic — Chapuys, from the Emperor, catholic, Mary’s allies, bloody catholic, Spanish ambassadors catholic and france Catholic too.

Now why was Cromwell beheaded inside 4 years. I repeat that’s astonishing. Yes he got too powerful — and rich — like Wolsey and Forche in the time of Louis XIV. But Henry was attached.
Well he tried to get Henry to marry Anne of Cleves; it’s talked about how ugly she was – but to Cromwell she was a female from the Protestant German groups. Wife No 5: Catherine Howard, beheaded, was Catholic. She was in way over her head (stupid) and promiscuous. The day Cromwell was beheaded Henry married Catherine Howard.

Henry wanted to be all powerful (think of a contemporary — this fiction is about our world too) but he knew intuitively Catholicism was the ideology that supported mindless power and he believed in the older faith. Ghosts for example. So does Cromwell. Henry too and Henry shown as continually unstable

This is a haunted book. It is hard to get into — I had to look up who Henry’s sister was, Meg, and who she married, who she went to bed with, because her heirs are rivals to Henry — Mary Queens of Scots is her grand-daughter. You miss much if you don’t know what is behind a joke about Meg’s promiscuity and lack of legal secure marriage.

All arrayed against this man – who stands also for a secular state.

So in the opening we are watching Mantel preparing the ground. but also re-realizing this female hero in male drag. For then we go with him into his home: there’s Rafe off to Helen, Richard Cromwell ….

It does restore my faith in historical fiction and its great variety too.

It seemed to me (excuse vanity) that some of these first responses (not Mantel’s herself though she is talking out of a need to perform) are missing the inner life of the book. It is a woman’s novel as well as a superb historical fiction.

An online friendship that means a lot to me has been renewed. I spent afternoon with friend from OLLI at Mason watching David Lean’s Passage to India: we talked of Forster, books and life, and ate grilled cheese sandwiches, drank tea …. The week before we went out to Cinema Art movie-house and saw The portrait of a Lady On Fire, written and directed by Céline Sciamma — about the relationship of three women, one hired to paint another who is about to be coerced into a loveless marriage, and a third, their servant, whom the painter helps obtain a safe abortion. Deeply satisfying portrait of slowly growing friendship, equality, depth of feeling. Beautiful colors, landscape of Northern Brittany, appealing seascapes. It goes a bit slow, is a bit over-produced, pompous, self-important but these do not detract from the core experience. My favorite scene is the three playing cards by the fire

I am more immersed in Forster studies than ever: reading a superb biography at last: Wendy Moffat: A Great Unrecorded History. I joined a local neighborhood book club! We met at Panera; that’s where I began to read Ta Nehisi-Coates. They are mostly women and intelligent enough. I persuaded them to make Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices their choice in two months. At the last minute I changed my courses at the OLLIs for the summer, which I still hope will be realized in classrooms (that this plague time will be over). The Eustace Diamonds is way too long: I can’t stand how Trollope hates his awful heroine or the anti-semitism; I do like the governess-Lucy Morris story, and what we see of parliament as well as the choral group at Matching Priory but that’s not enough to hold me or a class. Here it is — it was written with the cancellation of this E.M. Forster class in mind.


One of many favorite pictures by (Dora) Carrington An Artist’s Home and Garden

The Bloomsbury Novel

This course will examine a wide range of novels & art covered by the term Bloomsbury through three texts. We will read E.M. Forster’s Howards End, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. None are long, one very short. Bloomsbury novels are recognizable as written by people who belonged to this amorphous early 20th century creative group, or were printed at the Hogarth Press. Closer to the time if classes are not canceled for the spring, I may substitute Maurice for Howards End This subgenre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are three superlative movies for Howards End & All Passion Spent, (and if the substitute is made) one for Maurice from which we will view clips

I will include excerpts from Roger Fry’s art criticism and go over pictures by him, Douglas Grant, Carrington; excerpts from the books on biography by Andre Maurois and Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf’s autobiography.

Izzy finished her art class at the Torpedo Factory and at its end drew a lovely sketch of two birds she had photographed by the beach while we were at Calais this summer. It’s now on one of the walls of her room.

I’m reading Gita May’s biography of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. She often quotes Vigee-LeBrun’s Souvenirs, which I’ve read in the French; both books very good. Also Trollope’s brilliant and at times so uncomfortably relevant Last Chronicle of Barset in the story of the impoverished outcast Crawley accused of stealing, and then harassed and left to kill himself if he was minded to (no real help offered). In my car I listen to Caroline Moorehead’s somber A Time in Winter, and soon I watched the first episode of the French TV series, A French Village (2017) — also about the dire German occupation, the ferocious cruelties of fascism/Nazism. It speaks to our present struggles to cope with the latest version of ethno-nationalism/fascism. Many many movies in this realm but this stands out because of its sincerity, brilliant acting, and intelligence.” No excess violence. We do see enough — three children killed as the Nazis fly a plane over shooting everywhere everyone in sight — implacable bullying of men in trucks armed. We are introduced to three or four family groups plus others, one Jewish couple and child. Yes this is serious and worth your time and feelings and thoughts. Still watching Mary Beard’s documentaries and the British 9 part Civilisations, with Simon Schama too.

Real grief that is permanent when Sanders lost Michigan after SuperTuesday. No real reform and change in my life time — no going back to where we were in the 1960s and early 1970s. I felt for the loss of Elizabeth Warren too. Men would not vote for her. Imagine Sanders as president and Warren as his vice-president. He made a true presidential speech tonight about what needs to be done socially over this COVID-19 calamity crisis. She would work to prevent what happened to me these weeks too: the airline refused to refund my $365. Her Consumer’s Bureau is right now de-funded, its power legislated out of existence.

So there you have it, another diary entry, another 3 weeks. You must take this as understood: my loving cats playing, being with me on and off all the time, shoring up my existence with their affectionate attachment to me. No small thing. I try to reciprocate, be responsible by not leaving them alone for more than an afternoon and making them know now and again I am aware of and with them.


Lots of seagulls on the river — photo by Izzy on her way to work

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Let me admit at the end of all this I am very troubled. I cannot sleep for more than 4 hours unless I take sleeping pills, and sometimes not that. When I cannot sleep 4 hours,I do take a pill (zolpidem), but then I wake groggy, and distressed even more than when I wake after 4 hours with no pills. I am better rested with no pills, alert, and feel more healthy. I cannot help it that I am afraid and I don’t want to go in for “zoom training” if I show others that I am nervous and begin to cry. I was near crying after someone was unkind to me about this inability (or disability, which is what it is) yesterday. I am a depressive, with bad anxiety attacks, unable to travel without it becoming an ordeal (I had learnt to do it with Jim by my side). I don’t know if I could cope with life ordinarily were Izzy not here living with me. I help her too — she cannot drive for example, and sometimes she has meltdowns and my talk helps.

I am afraid for our society with a cruel sociopath at its head in such a position of authority and power. Many businesses might go under; many people go without money enough for food and medicine or other necessaries (like company. I wrote on twitter the other day everyone must vote for Biden as he is infinitely more decent and intelligent and humane than Trump. I fear that Trump will try to suspend the election and the powerful and wealthy let him get away with it. Now I agree with black people in the hope that since Biden is a conservative democrat, if he wins, he will be allowed to take power. What a relief that would be.

Ellen

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Keeley Hawes as Mrs Durrell reading aloud — her family and household listening (Durrells S2E4)

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

— Season 2, Episode 4 of The Durrells explores the nature of a widow’s loneliness & grief (not well understood) through Louisa Durrell’s case, and the story includes a fradulent spiritual medium, Louisa’s relationship with three men (by this time), her children, theirs with her and one another, not to omit Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) come for a visit). Towards the close Keeley Hawes reads aloud the above poem by Edward Dowson

Dear friends,

The quiet winter time is coming to an end, and for a couple of months I will be busy with teaching and going to (mostly) literary classes at the two OLLIs (AU & Mason), the Politics & Prose bookstore, with the (to me) frightening trip to an ASECS conference at St Louis (where I am to give a short paper). I have been enjoying the preparation (reading & writing and movie-watching) as well as my online life on FB, twitter (I now go over there more regularly), the listservs (Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset is an extraordinary masterpiece, and I’m thinking Morrison’s Beloved is going to be painful one). Last night I became immersed in Atonement, Ian McEwan’s book and the Wright/Hampton film, yet once again, and today find myself eager to read more Louisa May Alcott, her books for adults and about herself. I was much moved by reading in Italian Natalia Ginzburg’s Inverno in Albruzzo (English found in a book which ought to be translated Small Virtues).


Snow in Abruzzo

I practiced twice going to OLLI at AU from this house, and then the P&P places from the OLLI, and I did explore parking in these neighborhoods just a bit (for the first time). Very stressful: some days since becoming a widow, it’s demoralizing to be forced to learn to be independent at age 73.

I told one of my letter friends here on the Net that I have ended living the life of what might be called an independent scholar. Truly I have made efforts for what I thought/think is a social life but have not managed it. It’s too late. I on myself must live.  ( I rephrase and think differently but analogously with Anne Finch’s I on my self can live.) I invent goals for myself, and the teaching schedules for reading on listservs, papers reviews give me a structure. Then I have to take care of this house, my car, pay the bills. The resulting daily structure and its patterns I call my “routs” (the term is Daphne DuMaurier’s). They stretch from around 7 am or when I get up to around 1 pm or when I put out the nightlight and go to sleep. I revise them every few days. Through these I fend off depression, and keep sane. When people respond that gives me meaning — so it means a lot when people write back about these various books or movies. Or appreciate my teaching. There are my daughters and my cats too. Tomorrow Izzy and I go to an HD screening of Handel’s Agrippina from the Metropolitan opera; we talked of the story matter over dinner; she is enthusiastic and looking forward to this one. Me too.

I told of how on Trollope&Peers a few of us told of our first memory from political life; yesterday after reading Caroline Moorehead’s review of Elena Ferrante’s La vita bugiarda delgi adulti (The Lie-Filled Life of Adults) Moorehead says Ferrante has her heroine feeling she is growing up, remembering a moment that woke her up from the “innocence” of childhood, its unawareness into adulthood — seeing the world in a disenchanted more abstract or in terms of larger wider adult perspectives. For Ferrante’s heroine it was when she overheard her father calling her fat; a similar devastation overcame Simone de Beauvoir in The Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: Ferrante’s heroine feared she was ugly; Beauvoir says she was found unmarriageable; Morrisons’ heroine is disturbed out of complacency when the abused orphaned child her family takes into their home longs for the bluest eye, and declares African genetic features ugly. I remember my father mocking me for being “too plump” when I was 15, too late for waking up, but in time to help trigger my anorexia. Girls are made to experience trauma over their face and body as seen by men.

But adult awareness happened earlier than that: when I was 9 into 10 during the time I and my parents moved from the Bronx to Queens. It was moving from an area called a slum, where most people would regard living as awful (bad schools, violence, no greenery in the streets anywhere, tenement houses) to an area most people might long to live in. I know my mother did. Kew Gardens, where we had a three room apartment in a tall building. I was suddenly in a neighborhood of trees, parks, one family fancy homes, apartment buildings kept looking well. I found myself in a neighborhood of (to me at the time) super-rich houses, great snobbery (the desire for prestigious possessions, creditable surroundings, people eating out the heart of every community), constant class slights, no playdates with other children through their mothers for me — and became very unhappy. Also in the schools prayers were enforced — I was startled and at first just didn’t cooperate. After a while I was forced to put my head down while the teacher read from the Bible and everyone was said to be praying. The southeast Bronx was majority black by that time, large minority of hispanic – what whites were there were mostly Irish. It had been an Irish neighborhood in the 1940s. Kew Gardens was all white, heavily Jewish, with a nearby Richmond Hill heavily Italian American, and Forest Hills said to be upper-middle. Yes no violence, the streets utterly quiet. No one on them. Very hard to meet anyone at all. Moving was the great shock, the clash of values, the kinds of people I saw, the way they behaved to one another. My father took to returning to the Bronx and old friends regularly. I didn’t have that option. I found a library I could get to myself — which was an improvement. In the Bronx my father had to take me – it was said to be too far to go on my own (a subway ride on the Bronx El). Now I had just to walk 10 blocks and I was there.

What else shall I tell you of? I have found three choral societies Izzy could try out for (audition), attached to NOVA, attached to Mason, part of the Fairfax county volunteer arts organizations, but she demurred, showed strong reluctance, she would have to work very hard, they demanded she sell tickets (!), rehearsals at night. It only took seven years. But at least I have found these exist.

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

Late Winter afternoon & evening thoughts. Wind makes for fiercely felt cold outside and in. I sit in my chair blanket hours ahead of my usual time, Clarycat in my lap, electric radiator just by us (with tissues on top for my cold), Ian across the way. Outside GreyMalkin freezes but I give him/her a dish of food, some milk, and stroke and talk to him/her.


Clarycat and Ian


Grey Malkin I call this cat — a lonely cat who visits me a couple of times a day — for food and affection …

I read as how “democratic establishment leaders” (who are these mostly unnamed people the NYTimes continually cites) are determined if Sanders does not win on the first ballot to stop him. I don’t see why if they choose Bloomberg who has bribed so many of them with money in so many ways shouldn’t send me $500 too. Why should I be expected to vote for him for free? The question is, Should I write him when the time comes? And is that too small a percentage of the take (i.e., otherwise known as the American dream). His “girlfriend,” Diana Taylor, says of women suing men for sexually harassing, raping, assaulting them, “get over it.” I.e., we as women do not have the right to pursue a career or job without enduring harassment, attempted rape or assault. If we are traumatized by such experiences of sex, that just shows how weak and ridiculous we are. She did (get over it), look how successful she is. Well, I can’t get over it, never will, my experience shattered my teenage years and crippled my ability to be pro-active for myself ever after. Trump says the coronavirus spreading about the world is not happening; it’s a hoax by the democrats seeking to discredit him. There is something wrong with what passes for a brain in his head.

Meanwhile there are daffodils which come before the swallow dares & take the winds of March with beauty …

I am reading Nina Auerbach’s brilliant Haunted Heiress (about DuMaurier), to teach myself how to write about material that compels me but I recognize is repulsive (i.e., Winston Graham’s whole oeuvre); and David Constantine’s wonderful biography, Fields of Fire, on Sir Wm Hamilton and his wife Catherine Barlow — they are an attractive couple and much kinder to their adopted monkey-child, Jack, than Sontag lets on … then very funny on Sir Wm, Emma and her mother (rather like a Dickensian novel the three of them).

Zadie Smith on Kara Walker in NYRB It’s actually open to the public: It’s in the February 27, 2020 issue

Zadie Smith asks what we want history to do to us? that seems to me an odd way to put it. I have asked myself in the last couple of days why do I like historical fiction truly — from a personal standpoint. Books about people long dead — or who wrote about people long dead from their time. So the question is, What do I want it to do for me? either writing it or reading it. We can define Last Chronicle of Barset as a historical novel and other older classic books since for us in a way it is — it teaches us history, it is set in the past as well as written in the past.

But there is a difference. The book self-consciously put in the past is different and for the 21st century readers (which is what we are) we have to approach history from today and also remembering who invents our past and says this is our past controls and shapes our future. (That’s Orwell.)

One reason is I often like the heroine at the center of such books — or the heroines. I can bond with them easier than heroines in really contemporary tales (say written in the 21st century). I can identify more, often they are realer to me, I feel less inadequate than I do before contemporary heroines — who seem to me not quite real — given agency that women in the worlds I’ve lived in never had and still don’t have — unless the book is by a woman writer who is giving a true account of ordinary life (not mystery or any of the other popular genres). I can relax with Demelza Poldark. I can escape with Claire Randall at the same time as nothing is asked that is beyond me that I find asked in say a Margaret Drabble book about a woman having a career or a Mary MacCarthy about a woman who thrives in social life in upper class New York City in the 1940s. They are also not as badly off, constrained as heroines of books written in earlier centuries. I am loving the Durrells, Keeley Hawes as Louisa and Barbara Flynn as Aunt Hermione because they ask less of me too — suffer as I do (especially in Gerald Durrell’s trilogy). I bond with Catherine Barlow, and Emma Hart, the two Ladies Hamilton


Sir William Hamilton and Catherine Barlow, the first Lady Hamilton, listening to, playing music (by David Allen)

Zadie Smith’s article is about what is erased and also how much pain and truth can a reader stand — especially black readers. I agree with her in her opening that was I taught in school was an utter white-wash and most of it utterly unreal – I was never told about what really counted maybe until college and graduate school.

We will be reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris on Trollope&Peers this coming summer. It was over 40 years ago now I read it in the original French. Hugo’s birthday was two days ago. I end on Hugo’s entry into his now severely disabled character, Quasimodo’s consciousness:

This justice must, however be rendered to him. Malevolence was not, perhaps, innate in him. From his very first steps among men, he had felt himself, later on he had seen himself, spewed out, blasted, rejected. Human words were, for him, always a raillery or a malediction. As he grew up, he had found nothing but hatred around him. He had caught the general malevolence. He had picked up the weapon with which he had been wounded.
After all, he turned his face towards men only with reluctance; his cathedral was sufficient for him. It was peopled with marble figures,–kings, saints, bishops,–who at least did not burst out laughing in his face, and who gazed upon him only with tranquillity and kindliness. The other statues, those of the monsters and demons, cherished no hatred for him, Quasimodo. He resembled them too much for that. They seemed rather, to be scoffing at other men. The saints were his friends, and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and guarded him. So he held long communion with them. He sometimes passed whole hours crouching before one of these statues, in solitary conversation with it. If any one came, he fled like a lover surprised in his serenade.
And the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside. He dreamed of no other hedgerows than the painted windows, always in flower; no other shade than that of the foliage of stone which spread out, loaded with birds, in the tufts of the Saxon capitals; of no other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; of no other ocean than Paris, roaring at their bases.
What he loved above all else in the maternal edifice, that which aroused his soul, and made it open its poor wings, which it kept so miserably folded in its cavern, that which sometimes rendered him even happy, was the bells. He loved them, fondled them, talked to them, understood them. From the chime in the spire, over the intersection of the aisles and nave, to the great bell of the front, he cherished a tenderness for them all. The central spire and the two towers were to him as three great cages, whose birds, reared by himself, sang for him alone. Yet it was these very bells which had made him deaf; but mothers often love best that child which has caused them the most suffering

I read Hugo’s Last Day in the Life of a Condemned Man more than 2 decades ago: its radical condemnation of all capital punishment, all murdering by a state has as yet not been sufficiently listened to.


Laughton as Quasimodo (the final scene in the rightly famous movie, Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939)

The hardest thing about widowhood for me is being so alone for long periods of time, hours, days, weeks. Going out is an interruption in a sense. I remind myself that the way our society has been structured and has been reinforced in the last quarter of a century many people live or are in effect as alone — or not. For my loving cats are always near me or aware of my presence somehow, and they are real presences too as are & were the people in my books and on the screen.

Ellen

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


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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


How I dream of her and him too at night …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outside Izzy’s window


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

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


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

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

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

Ellen

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Monet’s Path Through Forest, Snow Effect (1870) — what lovely shades of red against whites, greys, blues, black lines can do …


Paul Gauguin, Mimi and her Cat (1890)

Gentle reader,

Monet’s winter scene, is very pretty, no? A friend on face-book said to see it lightened his morning, another described it with delight in her tone: “And it looks just like someone would today, with a backpack & bag & maybe carrying a chainsaw to cut wood.” I have made it my header picture for my face-book time-line for winter. The second, Gauguin’s, I put on face-book the day after I was 73 (Nov 30th) to thank the whopping 40 Internet, FB and other friends (people I have met in the flesh too, and also on listservs) who wished me a good day. I’m not above feeling better for such support. I was alone most of the day — as I am them majority of most days since Jim died — and I believe that some of the people (however prompted by automatic software from FB) meant well: several added a thoughtful line to me. I wrote:

I want to thank everyone who yesterday made my day easier to get through. It was a peaceful, more or less a repeat of Thursday, which was more or less a repeat of Wednesday … once term is over (and they are shorter at these Oscher Institutes) I become a homebody again. You all really helped me stay cheerful. I felt surrounded by friends.

I will say this, despite the merits of good (recognizable) food, I have found that rest (sleeping the night for a minimum of 5-6 hours in a row) is more important in maintaining sane life — I should have said staying alive, having the will and strength to carry on, than food.

I got perceptive comments from others on Mimi and Her Cat:

I love the way he shows how a cat may lift as it is petted … Thanks, a new one for me. Lovely painting which was new to me as well … An unusual posture between child and cat. The animal seems so content. I could not imagine life without our cats.

I replied: I usually dislike Gauguin’s paintings: “native” women naked to their waists, with dull looks in their eyes. This is a rare one that for me shows he had genius: it’s reproduced in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, a book which combines a history of human attitudes towards cats with what we find in pictures of them.

Then another friend (also from a time long ago when I was on Arthurnet) said: “It reminds me of Vuillard in spirit.” and my liking of this image (I haven’t forgotten it since I saw it in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, and wrote: “Yes — I agree. Very good. Look at the arched feet. You’ve helped me understand why I liked this picture. I like Vuillard – I have a book filled with images of his pictures — from an exhibit I went to at the National Gallery, here in DC. I used to have one of Vuillard’s murals for one of my blogs — suitably cropped and lengthened out. Here that is before re-fitted:


Place Vintimille

People have asked me why I sometimes reprint utterances people write to me on these blogs: because I value them, think them worth saving, am grateful to people who speak to me as friends and want to remember what they said so I can re-find and re-live them. One of the purposes of a diary, is to live more intensely, with more awareness, adequately through writing, not to forget what has been.

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This is another of those hard times for me as a widow. The first week of October each year (which contain the day Jim and I met, the days and nights we first made love (no we did not buy it ready made), the day we married, the day he lost consciousness forever and the day he died). Christmas day a third — I have never been able to rid myself, expunge, gauge out this yearning for happiness and belief in it as occurring on Christmas day I was somehow inspired to feel as a child, despite some 65 years of disillusion and even wretched bitterness. New Year’s, the fourth. All in later autumn, early winter.

All these promote retrospective, memories, some good, happy now and again, most mixed with and a few almost all pain. I remember the year 2000 when Jim took Izzy and I to Paris during Christmas week and New Year’s. What a relief, to escape what I used to feel than as this imposition on us, an implicit demand we do likewise. On Christmas day many stores, restaurants, theaters are opened in Paris, the general atmosphere lively, gay, usual, light, none of this intensity the American holidays conjure up. Recently I quoted to someone, Johnson’s saying of “Nothing so hopeless as a scheme of merriment,” and to my astonishment, the person looked puzzled. “What could that mean? why?” she asked. Could she be that naive? That inattentive to all that is going round her on occasions made fraught by such expectations that cannot be met because of the baggage, history or past, and connections we all carry round with those we have known long and been involved with.

From this Thanksgiving morning:

I am driven from my study today. Izzy listening to the commercial-laden (imbricated?) Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (it started at 9 am!) in the next room: it is so noisy, made so deliberately continually loud, with continual accompanying high and low grade noise, shouting presented as singing (can you imagine “Jingle Bells” made rapid fire, speeded up?), with rhythmic accompaniments, I cannot shut it out. So must read in sun-room this morning — all the way in the front of the house. Nothing can be heard but a cat’s yowl from the back. The room faces east so what there is of sun streams in. One of my companions (advised by a friend) is John Mullan’s What matters in Jane Austen? and it’s not bad. An essay, “Why is it Risky to go to the Seaside” relevant to her and Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. Turns out it is risky in Austen, but also exhilarating. Mullan has the trick of continually interweaving, quoting Austen … (Later in the day)

I am finding myself not sadder than I was, but more aware of how nothing can replace Jim. Yes the grief of loss fades, we (or I) see we can survive without our best friend, life companion; we grow calm, and gradually get used to absence, to (in my case) being alone most of the time. This week two fine spirits died, both of whom Jim respected, enjoyed their work: Clive James and Jonathan Miller: I commemorated them, their lives, their work on my Sylvia I blog, to which I add James’s Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language.

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So what can I record happened over the last two weeks or that I am looking forward to or doing differently.

The look of my face has changed. My new denture fits me (as my previous one did not) and narrowly holds tight (with the help of a little denture glue) on what’s left of my narrow upper gum. I can eat more things now as the upper denture slams down on the lower (teeth!). But what has also happened (and has been mentioned by others to me who get up close) is “You [I] look different.” They decline to say if I look better. Probably I look worse by conventional standards. My face falls in more, my once high cheekbones now utterly vanished, my face just narrower from where cheekbones once were downward. But I notice too that I no longer look like my mother. Since I rather disliked her (to put this mildly) and when I had to look at her face in mine it could be demoralizing, not to say corrosively ironic (to me). It’s not too much to say I’d be filled with helpless anger, frustration. I was stamped with what I wanted to forget. My mother was responsible for my first marriage. I’ve not told you that as yet. Yes, she engineered it and then hid what happened from my father who went mad with fear, anguish, grief for that week. She meant to estrange us permanently; she didn’t succeed in that but she did part us as I never returned to live with them again.

Well now for the first time ever I see I do like like my father too — or did. People used to say when I would say I look like my mother, there is your father too, your eyes are his, and especially the expression. Well now that my forehead comes out and the upper face, yes, I see him there. I see a family resemblance with one of my male cousins (whom Jim used to say from a photo Jim saw of this cousin looked like my father). What a relief …

So there is a qualification to be made to Johnson’s:

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away…

For one of the Caturdays that passed:

This week I’ve been reading 18th century plays, about the astonishing but unenviable lives of Catherine Clive and Susannah Arne Cibber, and came upon Fielding’s Author’s Farce (mocking other productions, genres, authors &c) which concludes with an epilogue spoken by the actress as a cat. Luckless, our author in the farce, to show he does not value aid offered him by 4 different volunteering poets says “I’ll have the epilogue spoken by a cat.” The text suggests there was a real cat on stage. She or he came on and said “mew, mew.” Luckless is all encouragement but then a female player comes on and chases poor puss off: “Fie, Mr Luckless, what/Can you be doing with that filthy cat?” Upon which the cat exits. The actress (addressed as madam) and Luckless proceed to argue over whether a cat can “Speak an epilogue!” It can be only a “dumb show.” In the midst of this onto the stage “Enter Cat as a woman.” I have now been told in the revision of 1734 the epilogue by a cat was removed. So it’s the first one by an actress other than Clive who turns to the audience more or less in defense of cats, with some demurs, comparisons of wives with cats, and funny rhymes:

Puss would be seen where madam lately sat
And every Lady Townley be a cat.

She ends by suggesting many a husband would prefer to find a cat “purring by your side” in bed than a wife.


Clarycat watching me make our bed


Ian keeping warm on the DVD multi-region player where he can look out the window too

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I’m looking forward to the winter term at OLLI at Mason: I signed up for a movie course – this one will include going to art movies in this area, and meeting four times to discuss the movie together. Rather like the Cinemart summer film club — no surprise as this theater is going to cooperate for the month and try for better movies. At Politics & Prose I did sign up for a course meeting over 5 months, once a month, with two good teachers, where we’ll read and discuss the first two volumes of Olivia Manning‘s Balkan Trilogy (WW2 English people in Greece, adapted into a fine series, Fortunes of War with a young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson), Sarah Waters’s Night Watch (profound gothic), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’ve read them all but a long while ago. One I’m not sure of, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (a character is ceaselessly reincarnated — the writer is fashionable among P&P people, and she is Scottish), and then the cringeworthy All the Light You Cannot See.

I dreamed up two courses for P&P I’ll never teach: First three weeks on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie (in Sylvia Raphael’s wonderful translation), two week break, then a week each George Sand’s idyllic anguish of an Indiana (Raphael’s translation, an updating of Paul et Virginie), Marguerite Duras’s La Guerre (her diary-journal of the occupation in France), ending on the magical prose of Chantal Thomas in her lesbian inflected Farewell, My Queen. Or WII through Italian texts: Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (unforgettable bleak sojourn), Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and A Chill in the Air (marvelous review in NY Review of books by Adrian Lyttelton this week), ending on one of the best books in Italian of the 20th century, Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). All literary masterpieces.  But I have no idea how to sell anything to anyone.

Izzy and I will see Amadeus at the Folger this Saturday (rave reviews), the Christmas Italianate concert at the nearby church, with Laura and Izzy, Come from There (a remarkable musical play about all the people landing in northern Canada where their planes were diverted on 9/11 and how the Canadians welcomed them …. January a HD screening at the Folger of Winter’s Tale with Branagh (now old) and Judi Dench as Paulina.

List life: I’ve started Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (I find I can read the French alongside the English translaton), and it’s just so compelling, I love her deep earnest tone, serious grave, intense — and read into one-third of a fine literary biography of Beauvoir by Carol Ascher. And am reveling in E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Aspects of the Novel and Abinger Harvest.

For my projects I will soon be writing an omnibus blog on my reading of Winston Graham’s mid-career suspense books, and have found the Durrells: Larry’s island books, Gerald’s memoir, and Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory (my latest mid-night reading), which brings together Larry Durrell, Constantine Cavafy and Forster in non-genteel roles, working during the war to help others. i wrote up Oliphant’s Agnes.

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These costume drama people sink into my consciousness, I dream of them, am attached to many. I mean to watch movies differently — more candidly before myself. Or just am. Last week one night after weeping (yes I cried, and by the way so did Elizabeth [referring to this third season of The Crown] at Aberfan — that she couldn’t and didn’t cry is completely false) over the moving death of John Hollingworth as Henshawe in the fifth episode of the third season of Poldark, I was rejuvenated to see him brought back in the fifth episode of the third season of said Crown as Porchey (Lord Porchester) next to the queen, both of them so enjoying one another’s company and a life at the races, at stables, at dinners, that she (Olivia Coleman) is led to lament her unlived life (with him, horses and dogs, in her headscarf) … Such such are the pleasures of costume drama watching …

On just one, but best of the episodes from the third season of The Crown, “Moonstruck,” featuring the astonishingly powerful actor, Tobias Menzies, now Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

The Crown

I use the term “moving” too lightly sometimes, so when I want the word to be taken more seriously, I am without a fresh adjective except if I add very or a string of verys. So imagine a string of verys and the word moving on this seventh episode. At last they gave Tobias Menzies something adequate to his talents: this is another learning a lesson story. To say it’s about Philip’s mid-life crisis where he is feeling the frustrations of existing in a fish bowl and spending his “job” time as a symbol at occasions, giving speeches for worth causes, is inadequate.

The hour opens with his irritation at having to go to church by 9 am and listen to a doddering old fool because Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) expects this. It is the time of the moon landing and Philip then gets so caught up with watching intensely; the whole family gathers around the TV for hours, but they leave after a while and Philip is there for days. He is identifying, bonding and thinking a an “airman” himself is their equivalent and to prove it endangers himself and a courtier with him flying the machine way too high.

The queen (and she is again the quiet improver) then hired a new man she thinks Philip might like: Robin Woods (Tim McMullan), but Philip is not going to church any more. This new man asks if he can have the use of one of the unused buildings on the property as a center for spiritual renewing; Philip finds himself asked to go and when he has to sit there listening to these depressed men, he bursts out in cruel excoriation of them, ridiculing them. Telling them they will feel valued and part of the world if they were active. How about cleaning up this floor and out he rushes. The camera on the face of the actor enacting Wood, pained blankness, patience. When the astronauts come for a visit, Philip insists on 15 minutes alone with them, we see him writing questions, and when finally most reluctant they come in, he finds hi questions cannot be asked — they are young, inarticulate, hardly gave deep thought to what they were doing –too busy. They have silly questions about life in the palace for him.

Then cut to Philip walking away from them through Buckingham Palace, and then unexplained there he is close up he sitting and talking very gravely, and we realize at he is back to Wood and his clergymen needing spiritual renewal — Menzies delivers an extraordinary speech baring his soul insofar as such a man could, apologizes to them, asks them for help.

There wasn’t a specific moment, uh, when it started.
It’s been more of a gradual thing.
A drip, drip, drip of of doubt disaffection, disease, dis discomfort.
People around me have noticed my general uh, irritability.
Um Now, of course, that’s that’s nothing new.
I’m generally a cantankerous sort, but even I would have to admit that there has been more of it lately.
Not to mention, uh, an almost jealous fascination with the achievements of these young astronauts.
Compulsive overexercising.
An inability to find calm or satisfaction or fulfillment.
And when you look at all these symptoms, of course it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that they all suggest I’m slap bang in the middle of a [CHUCKLES.]
I can’t even say what kind of crisis.
[CHUCKLING.]
That that crisis.
And Of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better.
Uh Some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.
My mother died recently.
[CLEARS THROAT.]
She she saw that something was amiss.
It’s a good word, that.
A-Amiss.
She saw that something was missing in her youngest child.
Her only son.
Faith.
“How’s your faith?” she asked me.
I’m here to admit to you that I’ve lost it.
And without it, what is there? The The loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing, but haunting desolation ghostly silence gloom.
That is what faithlessness is.
As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.
What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery.
No, the answer is in here.
Or here, or wherever it is that that faith resides.
And so Dean Woods having ridiculed you for what you and these poor, blocked, lost souls [CHUCKLING.]
were were trying to achieve here in St.
George’s House I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation as I come to say help.
Help me.
And to admit [CHUCKLES.]
that while those three astronauts deserve all our praise and respect for their undoubted heroism, I was more scared coming here to see you today than I would have been going up in any bloody rocket! [CHUCKLING

Then we see them walking out and Philip looking more cheerful and an inter-title tells us the real Duke formed a close friendship with Wood and in later years this organization became one Philip was very proud of. Then the queen is seen in the distance walking her dogs, looking on. Her face lightens with relief and cheer. Doesn’t sound like much? Watch and listen to Menzies.

****************************
Oh my friends, what else is there to say. I spoke once again to my 83 year old aunt Barbara who sent me the only birthday card I got – she said as she heard my voice, she sends the card so that I should call her once a year. We caught up: I told her about my, Izzy and Laura’s Calais trip: on Thanksgiving day over our roast chicken, Izzy and I toasted the 12 days as the best moments, of our year, the one we wanted most to cherish.

Surely with all the deep poetical spirits I commune with in books and through movies, surely surely there is a poem for me to end my recording of this interval on. Well Clive James’s essay on an Australian poet I’d never heard of before, Stephen Edgar’s two stanzas:

How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.

But you see he wasn’t just anyone. My Jim was a prince. And I am 73 and without him. I thought of titling this blog the 74th year except that’s not what matters. I have not been alone for 74 years. For 45 I had a friend. The 8th year of remembering begins. The play has ended, one of the two principle characters left the stage, and I am left to create an after-piece.


Gorey’s haunted Wintertime Dancing Cat ….

Ellen

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Wooded Path in Autumn, attributed to A.H. Brendekilde, dated 1902 (click to enlarge).

In the middle to late afternoons in fall and winter when Jim was alive, I’d sit by a window reading (or writing) as I still regularly do now, and think to myself with regret, how sad that Jim cannot get out of work (as a prison) for another couple of hours. By the time he’s home, that soft twilight light will be gone from the sky. Now of course he won’t come home at all, won’t see any light at all.

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been more than two weeks since I last wrote. I have taught (Trollope’s Phineas Finn at both OLLIs) and gone to classes — on Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White at Politics and Prose, Films from the perspective of a few popular genres – last week I did see Spike Lee’s moving Malcolm X (yes he emerged from a destroyed family and enduring his self shattered to create the identity finallyi of a prince, and then he was murdered). At home I have returned to my projects and have been reading, studying, thinking about Winston Graham’s Marnie in the context of the films made from, which his book alludes to, which others have connected to the book (Hitchcock’s sensational voyeurism, called Marnie; Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s touching, A Taste of Honey (another deprived working class heroine at the center, not angry, just confused, deprived, lonely, finds a partner in a kind gentle homosexual young man); and Sundays and Cybele by Serge Bourguignon:

A deeply poignant film about the destruction of a young man and adolescent girl because they are different, don’t fit in, and spends Sundays openly together — the world around them is post WW2 France, a disaster arena. The young man is suffering from PTSD after he killed a young girl by dropping a bomb on her from his plane. She is, like Marnie, like Delaney’s Jo, is deprived of warm family life, of love.

I’m now half-way through Oliphant’s Agnes: I find her acid and disillusioned tones so deeply congenial to my way of feeling, her penetrating candour about psychologies, her outlook. I transpose the story of Agnes and her father to see how it’s so analogous to me and my father’s. Soon our heroine will be widowed and then she will grow up.

I am reviewing an immense and seemingly learned biography of Catherine Clive, and back to reading plays, farces, about the theater of the 18th century. Alas, somewhat of a disappointment:  agenda filled, the author omits half Clive’s career (the acting part), the long years of retirement (important, she was alive still and why is an important question). She ceaselessly attacks Fielding (so he is a whipping boy) for his obsessions over sex.  She does not distinguish satire from face-value misogyny (admitted the popular plays of this era are dismal). But her research also overcomes these attitudes and the book is rich with theater history and the general life of the era.

Family life: one of my older daughter’s cats has died — she has lost three in the last year and one half, and this death, so rapid (cancer), so unexpected, the cat with her since a kitten, was a hard blow. I’ve offered to go with her to buy for her two kittens. She said “we are not there yet,” a hopeful utterance (as I see it, a sign of recovery). For one Caturday, Izzy took this photo of her room. I call it “All but the cat:”

This is a pile of Izzy’s clothes we had to pull out of her bureau when we discovered that Ian was stuck behind one of the drawers. For a short while we thought we’d have to find some way to take the back off the bureau, but he did find a way to wiggle out as we pulled stuff out of the drawers and begin to push and pull at them up and down in an effort to help him without breaking the drawer. Freed he sprinted away to hide somewhere else to calm down again …

Halloween: for the first time in a few years several crowds of children, some pairs, some trios, far too many for my small (bought that morning) stock of chocolate chip cookies, lovely creme-filled sandwich cookies, chocolate kisses, kit-kats, and cashews and I ran out, so I emptied out cupboards of Lorna Doone cookies, and handfuls of potato chips from forgotten bags as what I had on hand.

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

So, November began, an evening of bill-doing: from my Gorey calendar: it is cold here now

A new experience: I went to a City Council meeting of one of the boards (transportation, roads) because they are threatening to eliminate the one bus that goes by our neighborhood, a bus crucial for Izzy to get to the Metro to get to work (and back). My whole neighborhood is “up in arms,” with many people showing up to complain and to protest. I didn’t get to say my little speech (25 had signed up before me and I worried the parking garage where I left my car would close) but I did hand it in, and it was duly recorded and part of the record the board is supposed to take into consideration. It is looking like they might relent, but I wouldn’t count on it. At the same time, they have redrawn the lines on the nearby roads, engineering traffic jams so as to discourage people from using their cars. I kid you not.

An old experience: suffice to put it I looked into possibly teaching at Politics and Prose, and a friend told me my tones in my letters were just right.I am now waiting to see (more in the next entry). It’s best to be thus brief because all the old justified bitterness has been aroused. I met a woman at OLLI at AU the next day who was there while I was, only she was promoted to full-time contingent. Now I know she has no scholarly credentials, in fact has no urge to teach, yet she was lifted from the “cattle room” as she tactlessly put it. When she saw the look on my face as she uttered that one, she awoke for a minute. How could it be we never met? I was invisible said I.  I smiled and said “see you next week.”

My top paper on academia.edu this past week was “Disquieting patterns in Jane Austen” (mostly reading the novels through the letters). Eleven new readers.

Less happily, my right shoulder and arm ache very badly, a dull pain when I try to lift my arm, stretch it out. I’m told this is arthritis. I am fortunate to be able to afford a cleaning team (four hard-working women for an hour and about 20 minutes) every two weeks.

Memories: A PBS hour long documentary about the deliberate burning down of a vast area in the south Bronx. I grew up between the ages of 4 and 10, 1950 or so to 1957/8. I describe the program and then correct and critique and evaluate: in brief, the landlords abandoned the buildings, set them on fire for the insurance, rotting and un-cared for buildings are susceptible to fire; the city cut down on the number of firehouses and fire engines available …. No one responded when I told about how I lived there. A formative experience.

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


Keeley Hawes as Louisa Durrell — far too much romance ends too many episodes


Barbara Flynn as Aunt Hermione looking about her, expectant … I first loved her as Mary Bold in Barchester Chronicles

I cheer myself nightly by watching episode by episode, the recently ended Durrells of Corfu, touching if too broad in approach, not subtle at all. I’m into the second season of four. Keeley Hawes is another favorite actress for me. Its atmosphere is perfect for Barbara Flynn, whose personas I never cease to enjoy — just that right amount of grudging hurt amid the comic acceptance. I did find the hour-long documentary about what happened to the Durrells in later life very interesting. I read 3/4s of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet in the 1980s. Josh O’Connor as Larry in the series is given some of the wittiest lines: one on Jane Austen about how she did participate in scuffles. Not altogether cut off from reality then — delivered by O’Connor in throw-away dry ironic utterances.

Izzy and I will be going to see the Met Porgy and Bess in February (HD screening live), and I was reminded of some George Gershwin songs in Hawes’s dramatization of the unconventional mother’s behavior: she watches over her children and they love her back. All the characters so kind to one another, so forgiving, even unpretentious the Greek good man, Spiro. Perhaps better for me than my other expedients ….

Midnight reading includes a few select pages from Outlander, from Gerard Durrell’s trilogy, and the revealing Inventing Herself by Elaine Showalter. Nothing could be more different from the idealizations I’ve just mentioned and that Clive book I’m reviewing: intelligent, clear, I will give it a blog of its own. I’m startled to understand the real lives of so many recent feminist authors whose books have made a difference in my thinking: I seem to have read the same authors Elaine did, so many whom when I mention to supposed like-minded friends they’ve never gone near or don’t seem to register (as Nancy Miller … )


Illustration for The Yellow Wallpaper: Charlotte Perkins Gilmore one of the many many feminist women whose real life Showalter tells

And so time slips by.


Probably not Georgia O’Keefe, I would it were by her

Ellen

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Vilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941), Winter, Latvia 1910 — I’ve been reading much Atwood this week, stories of ice and snow …

“We still think of a powerful woman as an anomaly, a potentially dangerous anomaly; there is something subversive about such women, even when they are taken to be good role models. They cannot have come by their power naturally, it is felt. They must have got it from somewhere. Women writers are particularly subject to such projections, for writing itself is uncanny: it uses words for evocation rather than for denotation; it is spell-making.” Atwood, “Witches.”

From Atwood’s poem, “Spelling,” 1981

My daughter plays on the floor
With plastic letters
Red, blue, and hard yellow,
Learning how to spell,
Spelling,
How to make spells.
*******
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky, and the sun,
Your own name first,
Your first naming, your first name,
Your first word.

My blog-reading friends,

A friend and I were talking of how when people grow old, they must to smaller quarters. and that “it is extremely hard to pack up your life and say goodbye.” Especially, to sell and/or give away one’s books.

I remembered a section in Carol Shield’s Mary Swann where a character who is a widower is forced to sell his and his wife’s library and says “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” I thought of how Jim and my books were the center of our lives together: we read them together, consulted them, collected, loved, gave them a good home, and told him I have nearly 11,000 books now. About 1,000 more since Jim died. Specifically, 10,989. As I’ve said here more than once, I had told him I have 5 rooms (excluding the kitchen, two bathrooms and a hall and vestibule), large square spaces with high ceilings, and each room has two walls with one large window each. That leaves a lot of wall space for books. Since Jim’s death I enclosed my porch, adding a sixth rectangular sun-room (much sun comes in as it faces east) with one wall having two large windows on the long wall. I also use the long hall in the back of the house for book cases on one side.

And he replied: “I cannot visualize what 11,000 books look like.” So I took photographs across my house and sent a representative example to him.


My living room showing the fireplace, mantelpiece, coffee table and a ceramic cat I bought in Milan as a keepsake — also a home-made doll I fell in love with at the Museum of the American Indian and could not leave behind. You see a sort of shrine I’ve made for Jim: his urn, glasses, picture, a toy sheep we bought at Stonehenge when we went there with our daughters, and a toy penguin Izzy added after she & I visited Chawton House


Another angle


The same living room, the other side — facing the neighbor’s house


I and my cats’ bedroom with a tall cat tree Izzy and I built to one side


Another corner of the bedroom, door leading to the small bathroom just by it


Part of the hall between the two rooms — to one side is a large bathroom and on the other Izzy’s room and my workroom (in both the latter we have books across the walls)


My ex-porch, now an enclosed sun-room: you see my stationary bike


And one more of my porch — oddly the porch, though I don’t spend that much time in it, is my favorite room. It’s without any pretensions whatsoever and the chair is comfort itself.

Today is the 7th anniversary of Jim’s death: Oct 9th, 2013:

Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)

This week I saw on face-book many photos of women looking ever so happy in pairs and groups, dressed in 18th century clothes, at the JASNA: the cherry-picking who could come and who was excluded was shamelessly transparent this time, but as I told one friend I felt better off totally excluded because when I go I experience long hours of wasted time in soulless hotel spaces: nothing to do as only 4 to 5 hours have sessions of papers (9 on at a time, so you cannot participate in most of it). Last time I returned repeatedly to the pool where they serve decent whiskey and ginger ale. Another friend said of the 2012 as “the AMG committee thinks that by reducing the numbers who can attend and upping the cost they can “control” who can and cannot enter,” and found “dreadful,” “grown women dressing up, a clubbish attitude, a bovine-like system of hierarchy that puts one in one’s place if you didn’t “belong,” and on and on.” I don’t belong to any of the “clubs” (as in “life-long member reception,” with more and more private parties on in people’s rooms at night) so I’m left with no one and away from all the comforts of my home, in a sense my existence itself. This past week I enjoyed myself at the classes I taught and went to, and the rest of the time at home or in car listening to books, working away at projects so I was not lonely.

I had thought Izzy hadn’t noticed what this conference was like for real (so taken up was she by distracting activities, the sessions she did get to go to, the ball), because she never said anything (and loves to dress up and has learned to go to the ball and dance), but on Saturday evening when we returned from a marvelous performance of Henry IV Part I (Ed Gero as Falstaff unforgettable, so alive) at the Folger Shakespeare library, to eat out together, her talk suddenly showed she had: she said that people join professional organizations (for her librarians) and were they to be excluded from the AGM, what would be the point of paying the yearly fee. Said she, JASNA gets away with this because there is this “pretense of disinterest.”


A good review

I read this week the first of 9 tales of Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, “Alphinland,” (also all of The Testaments) and lo and behold it’s about a woman whose husband has recently died and she hears his voice over the day and at night talking to her telling her what she needs to do: it’s just ice-stormed so she must go out and get salt and food stuffs; the electricity goes out, so she must find her candles. Her grown children keep telling her she must move, downsize, sell her furniture, give away his clothes, but she will not because then she will be parted from him. In our end is our beginning, a powerful original early book of literary criticism about Canadian literature and culture by Atwood is called Survival and is about how the harsh cold climate is at the heart of their worlds. Our widowed witch remains seemingly cheerful because his spirit is with her. It is not irrelevant to know that just upon the publication of The Testaments Atwood’s partner of many years died.


Another fine review

I am still suffering from the loss of my supposed friend on the internet because I find letters so wonderful and now I have to get through most of my days without this imagined support. It’s time I learned to do without this — a last left-over from the idealism of the first decade of the Internet when one could make real friends even frequently through this medium. But, to paraphrase Johnson, it may there are some who would dismiss such susceptibility (“common losses”), but he says of their lack of tenderness, they lack humanity:

“It is the part of a man to be affected with grief; to feel sorrow, at the same time that he is to resist it, and to admit of comfort” (Rambler No. 47).

For this week’s Caturday I wrote about my “third” cat and put photos on face-book: I’ve been in a relationship with this cat ever since the man who owns him/her left him (I’ll chose a gender) for two weeks with only someone the owner called his (“my”) daughter visiting the house to leave food for the cat once a day. (Maybe 2 years ago.) There is apparently a way for the cat to leave the house. He first began to visit me during this time when I responded with affection. I left food for him as at first there was no collar and I thought he might be starving. But no he is “owned” by by this man who seems to show him little affection because the cat does not know how to show it easily and moves to hissing nervously. Other neighbors had complained because they saw him on their lawns and he might shit on these. Can’t have that. Or just a sense of nuisance: how dare this animal be there? Then I saw a raccoon and knew I was endangering this cat’s life. I tried calling local authorities but saw quickly all they would do was come and take and probably kill a cat without a “owner, and this one has this legal tie (such as it is)


The cat laying on my sidewalk waiting for me to come out

The cat apparently goes missing once in a while: once the man who owns him came over to see if he was with me — I said no and I had not seen him for several weeks. Nowadays the cat sits under a tree just on the side of my lawn, a bush, or lays on my sidewalk waiting for me. Often when I come out he scoots or walks slowly over to me. He meows at me and waits for me to pet her. I give him a small amount of food once in a while which he finishes quickly but he doesn’t go away. Stays mostly under the bush. He is very wary. He does not expect or know how to show affection: will hiss after he has nudged me lest I hurt him. The other day I saw on his head a shaved spot and wondered if the “owner” had done that. The owner is someone who moved into one of these obscene McMansions in my neighborhood after he married a woman who looks 50 from afar; she has a daughter of her own but they seem to have nothing to do with this cat. He is a small grey cat with white feet; if I thought the cat a boy for sure, I’d call him Martin. The photos were a close-up, him outside waiting for me, walking about me, wanting to be petted, coming over to me when I open my front door ….


Here is the close-up


Him circling me, warily but wanting to be petted

A small instance of basic human reactions this cat has mostly known, ranging from indifference to callous selfishness (neglect) in a world bursting with these … This morning the hairless part of this poor creature’s head has grown larger and looks reddish. He greedily drank the water I put out for him. The cat is going into a new phase. He avoids people — that’s what animals do when they are very ill. He stands aside on the side of my house all elusive, looking at me when I come out to go somewhere or stand in my stoop area looking about. Close-by or passing neighbors have asked me if he is my cat and I say no and they say he comes up to them and acts oddly and is seen now and then about my house. I point to the house of the owner and say “he is said to or does lives there.” There is so much misfortune in this world but this cat could have been taken good care of, and had a good longer life.

Having gone through all four seasons of Outlander (Claire a white witch) now four times, I’m back to re-watching the whole five seasons of the new Poldarks, one episode after another in a row as far as time and evenings allow. I had been doing that for over a month (or so) when my Irish Internet friend sent me DVD copies of the British BBC programs as they appeared on British TV. I much prefer these because the American ones are rearranged, often cut (sometimes drastically or carelessly, which comes down to the same thing).

So coming back to Season 3 (The Black Moon and part of The Four Swans), I am impressed by how a few of this particular season are mood pieces — if you simply ignore (more or less) the specifics of what’s going on, enough of that (like the seashore romance of Drake and Morwenna and Geoffrey Charles), of the setting (as in the episode where our local friends learn that the ship Dwight was in was captured or fear that Andrew Blamey’s ship has gone down), allows for many sequences of filming (or whatever you want to call this) of the sea, the near landscape accompanied by appropriate music. The effect is sort of symphonic — a pleasing visual and aural experience. There are mood sequences in seasons 1 and 2, but I feel that in season 3 this kind of thing is allowed to take over and is enjoyable if you can lend yourself to it. They did not try for this except briefly in the 1970s — they didn’t have the kind of mesmerizing computer techniques (and cameras) they do today.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (season 3)


Elise Chappell as Morwenna following Drake

I’ve also embarked on a study of Austen’s Sanditon, using Janet Todd’s edition, after reading her brilliant essay (crisply written, with a fresh feel), going over and over Davies’s new adaptation, returning to Brindle’s, Anna Lefroy’s continuation. See if I can make some sense of this fragmentary text, written by a dying woman, in bad pain on and off, where the beach, the seashore, the air all around it, is a central character.


From Episode 2 of 8 (2019, an ITV product, scripted mostly by Andrew Davies)

To conclude this entry, a woman on a closed face-book page for “Autistic Women” (how I was told about this or got on I no longer remember) told of how at her new job as a cashier, she found the pace and crowds hard, but was trying hard when one customer accosted her for “not paying attention,” and when the woman kept up this harangue and she tried to explain she is autistic, the woman rushed over to her employer’s office and complained bitterly about anyone hiring such a person. So I wrote:

I have learned, much to an increase in sadness and regret, that if you tell someone of your disability or inexorable problem, far from feeling for you, many will act out contempt and try to expunge you away. Thus the way to protect yourself is not allow most others to see your social predicament. It’s the only way to maintain the respect of the cruel, stupid, selfish, unthinking bandwagon types. And that is why a space like this where we are all here together in candour and true support and friendship can mean so much. It is very hard how one cannot tell but must bear on alone. You expected some understanding instead you got hate — you must tell yourself this woman is horrible, behaved truly horribly and not blame yourself but her even if the world is filled with people who react in such ways to disabilities.


A rare oil painting by Honore Daumier: On a bridge at night — a homeless woman, perhaps refuge, with a child or disabled adult

Ellen

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This photo of my miniature maple in my front yard shows the coming of autumn

Robert Louis Stevenson: Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Dear friends,

Sometimes I think the hardest thing about being without Jim is living in the silence. I can’t remember that he and I kept up a perpetual stream of talk, but I did not experience hours turning into days and sometimes a week where the silence is broken only for a while after Izzy comes home and we have dinner together. October used to be my favorite of time of year: it was (so I thought before global warming) more or less guaranteed no more 90F days by October 1st; I still find the colors of autumn lovely.

Jim and I were married October 6th, 1969, a year to the day we met. His birthday was October 3rd, 1948. But now a new anniversary intrudes: he died October 9th, 2013, and that is now the anniversary that most matters.

I haven’t written because I hadn’t the emotional strength to say what I thought I needed to say if I were to keep this public diary truthful enough. I will keep it brief and general. I endured another of these incidents on a listserv where I end up scapegoated, humiliated, and excoriated — it occurred over a period of 3 or 4 days. I’ve learned since the years on Austen-l to say very little and keep away as much as I can during such distressful times, but not to say nothing and just get off. But a little fodder goes a long way with people intent on getting back. I then experienced a roller-coaster of emotion: strong distress over several days such that I found I had to tell my friend that I see locally (whose name I’ve mentioned here): Panorea picked up something was wrong and asked more than once and finally I told her about it. I know that this does not increase anyone’s respect for me but she did have some wise words about recognizing who is your friend (in the 18th century sense).

Then bitter anger; that morphs into sadnesss, and finally the world seems a bleak and empty place.


Elizabeth Mondragon as Butterfly and Amanda Palmeiro as her faithful servant-woman

Panorea did come with me during this time, a Sunday afternoon, to the In-Series theater in Washington, DC to see a modern appropriation of Puccini’s Butterfly. Extraordinarily well-sung, it was a 75 minute mini-opera where everything but the core of the story is cut away: we have left the Japanese impoverished girl in love, giving herself to the white American man, becoming pregnant, his departure and reluctant return to take the baby from her., then her suicide. Em Scow’s review for DC Metro describes the attempt to make the material speak to us in terms that critique the colonialist perspective of the original opera. Every seat in the auditorium was taken; alas, I couldn’t eat the meal we went out for later (because my denture would not stay on properly) and hadn’t the nerve to tell her then. But we both were much taken by the opera, had a good walk and good time.


Kenneth Branagh as the witty melancholy jester-hero


Cherie Lunghi — the lady who is not for burning

One of the way I dealt with this anguished memory of online betrayal (which did begin to fade) — as I do periods of anxiety, stronger depression than usual, worry-panic — was to work very hard on my projects, and so I was otherwise home a lot for the two weeks before the term began. It’s during such times that I become more aware of the silence. When I am imagining good social worlds I belong to I tend to be able to shut out the silence, and almost hear voices from FB friends and friends on other places on the Net. This is illusion, delusion. I do still shake when I remember how I felt those 4 days. I can’t always sleep as memories break in.

I now think to myself that it’s hard to say where we are safer or can make realer friends: cyberspace where no one can rape or harass you physically but the lack of bodies enables people to misrepresent what was said and there is no recourse against reiteration; or physical space where so much more information comes in immediately.

Luckily I found my book projects unexpectedly going well: Graham’s Marni (at least the opening part) is much better than I had remembered (Hitchcock’s ugly movie had obscured the real tone of the book), his Tumbled House is very good and even better the play it alludes to, Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s not for Burning, which I was able to watch in a quietly thoughtful BBC production with Kenneth Branagh (and a young Susannah Harker in a minor role — she is one of the actresses I like to watch) and Margaret Oliphant did not fail me — the novel I’m reading just now, The Doctor’s Family (a Carlingford novella) has a painfully accurate depiction of what it feels like as a widow immediately after your husband’s death, what you have to face.

Pussycats helps — my real perpetual companions, and I began to participate in Caturday on face-book. Marnie took such extraordinarily good photos of Ian and Clarycat while she cared for them I now have a bunch to share. Here is a close-up of Ian Pussycat (aka SnuffyCat as in Mr Snuffleupagus). He is notoriously difficult to take a close-up photo of, much less one intensely manifesting, and/or actively seeking for, affection.

When he comes over to my chair as I sit in front of my PC computer on my desk, he often does that. It’s the sweetest gesture. When I pick him up, he sometimes hugs his body against my chest with his paws around my neck, his beautiful tail swishing over my keyboard.

One result of this self-discipline of reading (I read the whole of Naomi Mitchinson’s The Bull Calves, most of Jenny Calder’s biography of this remarkable woman) and writing, reviewing a number of studies and books, my notes, all at once — the result I say was I finished the paper in record time, inside 3 days. I’ve never produced one so quickly before. I was chuffed because it does seem to me I am at long last getting the hang of what’s wanted in a paper for a conference and how to produce it. It has taken only 20 years (I began going to conferences in 2000). I also needed to complete the paper before the term started as I now no have the long periods of time (hours on end) that writing a good paper takes. It’s called “At this crossroad of my life: books and movies on Culloden and its aftermath” and I will share it with everyone on the Net who might like to read it in due course — early November.

I returned to blogging too (on reading Miss Mackenzie with Trollope&Peers), and then was just a miracle of efficiency and patience in obtaining a driver’s license (which I am well aware will be used part of the gov’ts mass surveillance programs).

This week teaching and going to classes began. I was too intensely cheered by how well both my classes on Phineas Finn went (Monday and Wednesday afternoons) — just splendid, and especially the second, at OLLI at Mason, where there were fewer people than I’d hoped (meaning maybe after all Can You Forgive Her? was just too long) but the people in the room greeted me with such praise, everyone seemed so friendly, as we went round the room telling names, where we were born, and for each of us (including me) what Trollope books have you read, or how did you come across him? it seems for a number of them it was I who introduced them to this remarkable novelist. Both classes of people seem to be very much enjoying the book and seeing its perceptive relevance.

Coping with the undercurrents of memories, though, when I came home, and (as often happens) hadn’t eaten enough, I overdrank too much wine too quickly and then later on collapsed in exhaustion from the effort.

I am worry about one thing I cannot easily do much about: my upper denture has a crack in it and it’s getting worse. I started the 6 week (I hope it’s no longer) process of having a new denture made — it’s a series of fittings and orders for teeth — the day I returned from Calais. I held off because I hoped the denture would last until next April when the insurance I bought would pay for what Kaiser/Medicare does not. But I saw it wouldn’t do. Now I am genuinely concerned lest it break before the new denture comes. It’s not the difficulty in eating but do I have the courage to go out and teach a class with no teeth in the top of my mouth. I have the semi-permanent denture with teeth on the bottom. (These need work she said and she’ll do that after we finish making and fitting a new top removable denture.) Would the class be able to control themselves and not keep looking with appalled horror at the astonishing sight of a seemingly middle class white woman who is toothless on her top jaw. I think I would go rather than cancel the rest of the term. But it will go hard with me. I am taking the thing off for many hours now, trying to be as gentle as I can when taking it off, cleaning it.


The chapters are set up like months of the year; each section begins with a recipe – it is very l’ecriture-femme

I know I can manage being in a class – so much easier, less demanding altogether, just have to exercise self-control — though I admit that when I go out nowadays without that denture I wear a headscarf in a style where I cover my mouth — I have two cut in the “Middle Eastern” (the phrase is a misnomer according to Adhaf Soueif.) I’ve been going out once a day this week: Tuesday a fun class on Laura Esquivel’s Like Water from Chocolate: it’s taught in a community college kind of way, power-point slides, then we go into groups (luckily some of the mostly women read the book carefully, looked things up on the Net and contributed much). What I want to say most about it is it is a book filled with tremendous cruelty (of a mother to a daughter — she beats her violently to prevent the daughter from marrying and having a life or any manifestation of feelings of her own), and for the first time I realized one of the uses of magic realism is to break up the grimness and insane irrationalities these third-world lives for women inflict on them – the dream fantasies make for pleasure, release. I’ve order the movie (I had not realized it was such a best-seller) and will watch it soon.

Today I attended an excellent class at Politics and Prose on Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love. The two women giving this class produced an immensely thorough presentation (wow), going over history (of Egypt and the brutal colonialist policies of the British followed nowadays by an equally brutal dictatorship by the military and elite Egyptians themselves, really discussing in detail the complicated stories and art of this very Booker Prize type (it recalls Byatt’s Possession) book. What they avoided was how she is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel (that was a remarkable feat but necessary as perhaps one third of the class were Jewish women who I could see horrifyingly accept what this terror state is doing.) Maybe I’ll be moved to write a blog – I wrote about it in a paper comparing it with Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake. I’ve read her non-Booker on the Edge of the Sun, her depiction of the Arab Spring in Cairo and even have her book of essays, Mezzaterra (Fragments from the Common Ground).

To round it the week off, tomorrow I got to OLLI at AU for a first class on Graham Greene in the early morning, Saturday in the later afternoon the Folger autumn concert (I enjoyed the utterly non-commercial simplicity of the presentations, to me an oasis, halcyon) by myself, and then Sunday with Izzy, to the local large library booksale and a nearby movie theater with HD screen where we hope to buy tickets for 2 Metropolitan operas to be aired there in February: Porgy and Bess, and Handel’s Aggripina. We have discovered in the ceaseless devouring commercialism of the Internet today, we can no longer buy these Metropolitan opera tickets at this theater unless we join Fandango (an advertising ticket-selling octopus). We hope to be able to refuse this joining by going directly to the theater and buying ahead at the counter.

I began this diary entry with my feeling sometimes that the hardest thing for me to endure is the silence. I believe I go out to these classes as much to hear human voices talking to one another and to me and to give me an opportunity to talk to others about what is meaningful to me and to them. Yes. Years ago I knew that I bought Books-on-tape for my car so I could feel not so alone as I drove — because even with Jim I was lonely and the voice of the brilliant reader was/is such a comfort. Right now Timothy West is making Phineas Finn such a delight. Izzy is for once listening with me again too.

In the evenings too I have returned to Downton Abbey — the first season at any rate.


Anna (Joanne Froggart) realizing that Mr Bates (Brendon Coyle) has brought her a tray of food


Anne watching him walk away (Episode 4 Downton Abbey 1st season)

The movie arrived in my local cinema art theater, and not altogether convinced it would be this alluring long-lasting hit, I hurried to see it later Tuesday afternoon and then wrote yet another blog — moved to: the trick, the involving magic begins one-third to one-half the way through and doesn’t quite succeed. I was reminded of what had drawn me in so emotionally in the first and parts of the second season so I have added the series to my watching addictively late at night beloved series — returning to old friends, the fourth episode of the first series where Mrs Hughes quietly decides against leaving her position as housekeeper where she feels wanted appreciated needed to be the wife of a man she had loved. Much more than that occurs — a favorite scene for me is when Mr Bates returns the kind favor Anna had done him the night he thought he had to leave (and was crying) by bringing him a tray of supper: he brings her one and the look in their eyes at one another brought peace to my soul. I need more than voices to assuage the aching emptiness.

I went to bed with Clarycat with the memory of their feelingful goodness in my spirit and slept the better for watching.


Close-up of ClaryCat at play with Marnie

Edward Thomas — October

The green elm with the one great bough of gold
Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one, —
The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,
Harebell and scabious and tormentil,
That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,
Bow down to; and the wind travels too light
To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;
The gossamers wander at their own will.
At heavier steps than birds’ the squirrels scold.
The rich scene has grown fresh again and new
As Spring and to the touch is not more cool
Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might
As happy be as earth is beautiful,
Were I some other or with earth could turn
In alternation of violet and rose,
Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,
And gorse that has no time not to be gay.
But if this be not happiness, — who knows?
Some day I shall think this a happy day,
And this mood by the name of melancholy
Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

Ellen

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