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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, thus far 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), 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 I can see in the next chapter her research overcomes these attitudes and the book becomes rich with theater history and life.

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.

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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.

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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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A flowering bush in my front garden

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

Friends,

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


Bookermania

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

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

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

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

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


May Whittie, Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes)

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

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


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


2018 — Jessie Buckley and Dougray Scott as Marion and Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Classical heroine who did not need birth control measures:

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

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

The Lemons

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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The Falmouth Hotel

I am not as I have been — Benedict, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, me after six years sans Jim

Friends,

A tout a l’heure. A first photo ahead of time. I’ll be going to Cornwall, starting out May 13th in the afternoon and flying home the 22nd to arrive mid-afternoon. A second time.  friend who will be on the tour with me (I met him last year on the Road Scholar tour to the Lake District and Border country) sent me the promotional photo. Falmouth Hotel, first built 1865, with chateau-style architecture and surrounded by lawn and gardens. A seafront location. I don’t know how I’ll manage to imagine Verity Poldark here … But I can imagine tonight the people who will be on the tour, older middle class people. I have checked out all the places we will visit in Cornwall against a map of the place and will bring a map with me so I can know where things are relative to one another.

I have at long last been diligently reading my books on Cornwall, finishing those half way through, looking at those I’ve finished, trying to make it all vivid in my mind so I have the place and its history fresh in my mind – I will take with me a Daphne DuMaurier novel (Jamaica Inn?), Graham’s Warleggan (Poldark 4), I’m still hoping that Peter Maxted’s The Natural Beauty of Cornwall (he is one of the two Road Scholar leaders) will have come in time. I might best enjoy Bate’s book on Shakespeare, Soul of the Age! (I loved his Future Learn lectures, 1-3, 4-8) but my copy is a heavy hard-back, a beautiful book, but can I lug it? I admit the book that got me through the Lake District last year was a hard-back, beautiful book, Lucy Worseley’s Jane Austen at Home.

One of the real reasons I go away is this way I am with people doing things, looking at the world from a safe vantage provided by Road Scholar and I have gone in August twice because there is no teaching at the OLLIs and most events going on in DC and here in Virginia come to an end, or occur at night and it is so hot here, just about impossible to go out. Looking at the Road Scholar itineraries I found many places don’t have an August set of dates and that was true of Cornwall and I did want to go for the sake of this Poldark project of mine. (That seems to me ironic — and also indicate Road Scholar types don’t worry about when in the year they go. I would have thought August was a vacation time.) So I am making do with mid-May.

All Road Scholar three trips have been to the UK not only based on what I have read but because Jim and I went there once and I’ve wanted to go again or he and I never made it (Lake District). Another motivating force is each year to return to the UK where I met and married and first lived with Jim. England and the countries on these isles have a strong nostalgic memory meaning for me which I’m renewing each year. It’s like I’m going back to him, to where what happiness in life that I’ve know started in England with him in Leeds. “This is where.”


Jim would have picked out this from a book shelf: see John Betjeman at St Enodoc Church, Cornwall

Come on! Come on! This hillock hides the spire.
Now that one and now none. As winds about
The burnished path through lady’s-finger, thyme,
And bright varieties of saxifrage,
So grows the tinny tenor faint or loud
All all things draw toward St. Enodoc.

Where deep cliffs loom enormous, where cascade
Mesembrynthemum and stone-crop down,
Where the gull looks no larger than a lark
Hung midway twixt the cliff-top and the sand,
Sun-shadowed valleys roll along the sea,
Forced by the backwash, see the nearest wave
Rise to a wall of huge, translucent green
And crumble into spray at the top
Blown seaward by the land-breeze. Now she breaks
And in an arch of thunder plunges down
To burst and tumble, foam on top of foam,
Criss-crossing, baffled, sucked and shot again,
A waterfall of whiteness, down a rock,
Withot a source but roller’s furthest reach:
And tufts of sea-pink, high and dry for years,
Are flooded out of ledges, boulders seem
No bigger than a pebble washed about
In this tremendous tide. Oh kindly slate!
To give me shelter in this crevice dry.
These shivering stalks of bent grass, lucky plant,
Have better chance than I to last the storm.
Firm, barren substrate of our windy fields! …


19th century church: St Enodoc, Trebetherick, North Cornwall: Betjeman may be buried here?

And I’ve not given up my dream of a study of Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, working title now, A Matter of Genre.

Speaking of travel, or at least navigation, my garmin is fixed! working again. The man I found to fix it said I must treat it far more gently, and I will. In the meantime I’ve made some progress in learning to use Waze. I now know (more or less) how to get to “where to.” Izy and I did this on Sunday using the Waze to get to the supermarket. But alas I cannot figure out how to shut Waze off. The voice carried on telling me of road conditions.  It kills me how people will persist in saying this or that in electronics or digital things are so easy. They never are to me. I have no intuition and when I do something I must do it several times before the sequence of motions sticks in my head. I assure you I had my heart in my mouth as I drove to the place and tried to find this man without benefit of GPS (though I had taken a mapquest map).

But I now do have two working GPSs!  So one to use and a back up. I should get lost less often and have courage to try again to get to Politics & Prose Bookstore when I come home from Cornwall. I have become a member. I see they have mini-courses all year round, staggered across August too. I shall keep an eye out for a course I might enjoy and try it.

Laura told me over dinner (see below) that the pizza place next door is a where a wild myth about Hilary Clinton and child-trafficking occurring in a basement emerged in brains of impoverished crazed white Americans — Jim and I went there several times after hearing lectures at Politics & Prose — for pizza and to watch a classic movie playing on in a screen above the tables — one lecture I remember by Colm Toibin, who disappointed Jim; Jim had not yet learnt to compromise when you go to a fine author’s lecture for the public generally …

I am told one is paid to teach the courses there, and can see from the site that the people who teach there include people like myself, and I suspect a course once a month or four times over a month on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet might be welcome and go over very well. A new goal … I am well into Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and reading it with the Italian of Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta under the English text. A profound text.


From the film of My Brilliant Friend, Lila and Lenu reading Little Women together (I carry on with Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality about 19th century women writers & artists, two of whom are Louisa May & May Alcott)

I just finished teaching Trollope’s CYFH? and in the class where the institution encourages people in the class to provide an honorarium in cash, I cleared $300. A card with many generous thank yous. At the OLLI at Mason, the last class went very well too. In both I again had my Macbook pro laptop and showed clips from the Pallisers, using the cursor and a scroll along the frame of the in-built DVD, good talk after. The Mason group appeared genuinely interested in my Enlightenment: At Risk course. So I will have plenty of cash to take with me, and I will bring Andrew Curran’s Diderot, or the Art of Writing, at least one book by one of my Booker Prize Short and Short listed books (the course I’ll teach at OLLI at AU in June) authors, perhaps Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 and 1/2 chapters.

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Wednesday was Isobel’s 35th birthday, and so an anniversary for me who gave birth to her too. Yesterday I remembered how on my 35th birthday Jim sent me Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale:

On her completing her Thirty-fifth Year

OFT in danger, yet alive,
We are come to thirty-five;
Long may better years arrive,
Better years than thirty-five.
Could philosophers contrive
Life to stop at thirty-five,
Time his hours should never drive
O’er the bounds of thirty-five.
High to soar, and deep to dive,
Nature gives at thirty-five.
Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at thirty-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from thirty-five;
He that ever hopes to thrive
Must begin at thirty-five;
And all who wisely wish to wive
Must look on Thrale at thirty-five.

I didn’t send it to Izzy because she would not understand it — instead I sent her a lovely Jacquie Lawson card — it looked like a 19th century book illustration in black, white and greys and ivory colors and is gradually filled with colorful flowers, music En Bateau from Petite Suite by Claude Debussy.

I replaced a broken frame and put a photo taken of Jim and I two mornings after we had met, had come together and were living for a week in an attic flat in Leeds. I then realized that in my sun-room I have no picture of him, so now it stands on a medium bookcase where I can see it from my chair as I read. The way we were:


I am just 22, and he is 20. As I look at myself I see the same face that appears in my profile picture. Much smoother, rounder, high cheek bones but the same face, also my hands are the same. Just the color hair. Mine is grey-white now.

But he lost that sweet boy look soon after we came to live in NYC, so well before his thirties. His face no longer so round and flat, his beard much fuller. His very skin color lost the whiteness; I have some intimate photos of him looking very gentle but am unwilling to share these; one close up shows the same features in a face altered by 8 years in another culture:

Tonight we went with Laura and her husband, Rob, to dinner on Friday to Izzy’s favorite restaurant, the Olive Garden on Columbia Pike. The meal delicious, the place comfortable and pretty, we had some cheerful talk — about Laura’s trip to Chicago this spring. She was surprised by the intense cold and wind. The restaurant gives so much (yummy) food that I, Laura, and Rob brought home 3/4s of what was on our plates.

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This Gorey drawing with colors is the April picture in my desk datebook, and now that April’s done and we are into May rains, I share it here: a fair metaphoric representation of humanity too. I have all five Gorey books — Jim enjoyed these enormously.

Thus I conclude on my two beloved cat companions.

One sign of how ClaryCat is now middle-aged is how she now sits or lays calmly in her catbed by an open window which has an awning overawning it, which has 2 bird nests on its inner shelves. Eggs and a momma sparrow with occasional visits of papa appear seasonally. When Clary was young, she be all over Jim’s desk (on which the catbed lays) in hectic excitement, trying to reach the birds and knock down things. Now she sits there and makes little whimpering or squeeky noises. Very alert. She looks out and sees a great deal from that window of interest to her: other birds, squirrels, she follow noises. But just sitting now — staid. She also stretches out luxuriating in the sun in my sunroom for considerable half hours — something she didn’t do when younger. She murmurs at me as we go through our days and nights together. So does Ian when he first turns up (after periodic hiding) again. “Here I am again,” he is saying; he comes up to my chair sometimes and puts his paw on my arm. I’ve read that cats do not instinctively make noise to communicate — it’s their long association with people that prompts this way of communicating.


Clarycat

I so love my Clarycat.

Often when I’m about to go out and I find her latest trophy toy (the tiny mouse has disappeared), a sock with catnip in it (long gone) laid over my shoes. Nowadays she puts this sock where I am or have been just or where something I’ve just worn or read is. She will trot about with it in her mouth, making crying sounds to get my attention, before she puts it down. Just as she used to, her little mouse. Above is a photo of her on the other side of my computer before she stretched out in the patch of white light sun to sleep.

I look at their bodies and see (from books) what are signs of middle-agedness — they are in their early 50s. A pouch; they are no longer that graceful or agile as they run. His face is funny colored and longer. Well look at me — remember the opening of Persuasion; we don’t want to be like Sir Walter, do we? and not realize how old we get. Ian still loves to play and his favorite time is just before supper; he waits by a colorful string attached to a kind of funnel, murmurs at me, and I take it and he wrestles and plays until he has had enough.

They are also wiser, mature in their interactions with me and so am I with them. I shall miss them while I am gone, and they me.


Ian, his latest favorite place high on the cabinets where he can see me and thinks I cannot see him (like Snuffalupagus)

In the long days and nights, my cats’ murmuring at me or meowing in a talking way and my talking in English back to them breaks the silence — mornings I use my ipad and listen to the Pete Seeger channel, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, but just as often Nanci Griffiths or Mary Chapin Carpenter with other women singing country.

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Just before going to bed, I’m watching Andrew Davies’s magnificent Middlemarch (1994) — having finished his Doctor Zhivago (2001). Zhivago done in by war, revolution, his own susceptibility to tenderness and integrity. My favorite line was his stubborn reiteration that what he wanted to do with his life, his hours, was what he could do with it best: be a doctor and write poetry. Leave him alone to do what he can that a few others might value in the world.

I had forgotten the story of Lydgate to some extent: the thwarting of all his hopes to do some real extensive good in the world, to be a scientist, the political and career angle of the book. Davies brings this home so poignantly — also the story of Farebrother. I had also forgotten just how truly masterly is this earlier film adaptation. It is so detailed in the speeches, and they are so intelligently done and pointed. Middlemarch stands out as a high standard: fully intelligent believable thought, these truly well and carefully studied, integrated scenes of several complicated human presences at once are not what’s wanted any more. My midnight project is to go through everyone of Andrew Davies’s films.


Douglas Hodge as Lydgate: young, eager, unbowed — come to think of it like Yuri in Zhivago, he dies relatively young – so here is the pull, why Davies lit on this pair


Juliet Aubry as Dorothea hard at work on plans for cottages for workers

I also read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing bit by bit (after seeing YouTubes of his famous series) and fretted that I am going away for false reasons, allured by publicity pictures of un-reality, desirous not to be left out of this other (luminous?) world. But Pas de fantasie? Last words read by me on some nights putting out the light are words of sex reverie from an Outlander volume.

Ellen

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The vignette for February in my Edward Gorey calendar

Friends,

I spent a lot of today seated reading in a comfortable chair. I was immersed in a remarkably fine Poldark novel, No 11, The Twisted Sword. Unfortunately there are no good illustrations or stills for it. I was so moved at the death of the young hero, Jeremy, at the accurate depiction (based on minute research) of the senseless horror of the battle of Waterloo, of the intense grief of Ross and Demelza, his father and mother, and h how death is deeply felt by all those he lived among. There’s also a profound depiction of the cruelty of society to disability showing how society makes the disabled far more unable, and the exposure of a  lying, murdering socially liked cad to beat all cads (a fugitive from Graham’s suspense novels) married to Clowance, our heroine .


Hougomont Farmhouse where thousands lost their lives at Waterloo: today and as imagined June 18, 1815

My cats were nearby most of the time, sleeping, resting or playing, trotting about, looking out a window. It was a bright very cold day, and will be colder yet tomorrow. A good deal of rain on and off.

From what happened today I’ve a poem to share too, by Adrienne Rich:

Storm Warnings

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of gray unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky.

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A roof against the wind; the wind will rise
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things that we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.

Part of the power of the poem is it’s not free verse: these are 7 line stanzas, each with a refrain of the same number of syllables. She uses syllabic verse to control the rhythms, and off-rhyme. It makes me remember the frequent Gorey illustration of someone coming to a window, looking out, and closing the curtains, turning away. This is how Ruth Prawer Jhabvala pictured her response to life ….

This evening I watched the third part of an extraordinary film adaptation for the BBC of Les Miserables, by Andrew Davies, whose lack of distribution on American TV strikes me as a deep betrayal of Davies’ humane critique of our crazed society then and now. I become breathless with stirred emotion as I watch. Davies has distilled the essential vision of Hugo — a 1000 page novel — into 6 hours: low budget sets, make-up that is a cross between Dickens and behavior out of the trauma of Marot/Sade; not heroic individualism, but society itself, the worst of human beings as at fault, reinforced by meanness, coldness of heart, a punitive persecution mentality as reigning. I thought of Hugo’s slender anti-capital punishment (the phrase seems inadequate), The last Day of a Condemned Man. Original too: the ferocity of Oyelowo seems so overwrought, and his horror at Jean Valjean’s goodness is a function (it feels like) homoerotic passion. I must write a blog-essay on this one after I’ve watched all six, comparing it to the recent 4 part Woman in White scripted by Fiona Seres. Davies’s movie does not supersede the now famous musical but might be regarded as what can frame it with understanding.


Jean Valjean (Dominic West), Fantine (Lily Collins) with Cosette, Javert (David Oyelowo)

How I get through life: When a day goes by and I realize I forgot to do this (say some specific book I was to be reading), or should have done that (blogged), or was too tired to do something else and I must to bed, and find I cannot read, I tell myself as I turn the light out, and put my small mask over my eyes, tomorrow I’ll do better, tomorrow is another day. When I wake the next morning, and feel so intensely sad, I tell myself, I’ll do what I can. This cannot be helped (the being alone), that I cannot get over (difficulties in traveling), the other thing I must accept (when I write to someone say about my project whose help I could use, or an official where I need something and no one responds — very common, gentle reader). What is the use of being angry? why blame or take it out on others? no. Try to get along, be kind, remember others suffer a lot and more than I do too. When I write postings that are misunderstood or not accepted by a majority of people, turn away from the hostile and belligerent, block insults. This doesn’t happen too often as I usually stay away from a group of people when I discover they are an unpleasant fan group but have become fascinated by Outlander and post there far too much (I must and will stop soon.) When I’ve tried to be social in non-virtual places and somehow have not managed it, when the classes I teach shrink in numbers, when I’ve decided after all not to go to this or that meeting, accept. When I see I will not able to do this paper or that review, live with it.  Do not berate self.  Remember the good blogs I’ve done, the passing pleasant conversations I have had that day at the OLLIs at Mason or AU. That we had some good conversation on my listservs and face-book pages, are reading good books, that this or that chat has been comforting.

I also go to and teach at these two OLLIs, and the winter term has started at Mason’s: two good sessions, one on American poetry, What Whitman, was at least suggestive with excerpts from a fine film Voices and visions, once shown on PBS:

Speakers include Allen Ginsburg, Justin Kaplan (Whitman’s biographer). Of course in the high school teacher running it, there was this insistence on his optimism, but part of session was devoted to Whitman’s war poetry, his homosexuality was just mentioned (it’s central), but one learned how difficult it was at first for him to gain any traction for a readership. His harsh childhood, working from a young age as a journalist, his travels all around the US, refusal to imitate older genres. I found his poetry to be more about solitude than I thought as his “I” is the only presence in the poems beyond gestures to and endless general images suffused with love for all the occupations of people.  Robinson Jeffers owes a lot to him I realized. The other on women photographers, which I have started to blog on, first up, Dorothea Lange.

I’ve had a bit of bad news: I agreed to have a general health assessment for the first time in years, including renewal of shots for things, and lo and behold was diagnosed as having the virus Hepatitis C: if you are not treated, the results can be scary. I’ve done the required “bloodwork” at a lab now, next week a scan, then see a doctor. So I’ve had to quit drinking, no more wine. Tonight was my third night: perhaps I’ll lose weight I tell myself. I feel hungrier. As someone basically toothless, I usually have sops with wine in the early evening. Now I can’t. I’ll save money. And of course perhaps my liver, if I’ve got any left. This is a big change in a long life of drinking (kept just under control). My taste buds have gotten to the point wine often doesn’t taste any good any way. Still what will I do to calm down, relax when I’ve been over-excited or come home all tense? In the later evening, alas, I’m not more wide awake and as true night comes on, I find I still can’t work or read seriously. Maybe I am more alert watching movies? I slept less the last three nights. I’m also told not to take over-the-counter sleeping pills (well I don’t, I have a prescription but …. ). However, still unsteady on my pins when I first rise from bed.

I am much relieved the senseless maniac’s partial gov’t shutdown was brought to an end, and my heroine for tonight is Nancy Pelosi:

She didn’t gloat; she remained calm, quietly reiterating all her and Chuck Schumer and the democrats’ positions. My favorite moment was when she dis-invited Trump from doing his SOTU in the Congressional assembly room and made it stick.

Ellen

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Snow-cat, made by Rob, Laura’s husband, just outside their backdoor

This morning I realized there was a sweetness about life, about existence, being alive somehow, a tone, a feel to the very air, which has vanished altogether since Jim died. My eye lighted on a house near my street, so familiar after 35 years that corner, and it came to me when I would see that corner and was driving home to where Jim often was, how the world was suffused with sweetness, a tone, a feel — gone forever, with vacuity in its place.

Friends,

The past two weeks have been cold, rain has poured on Alexandria, and now we’ve had a mild three day snow storm. Mild because only some 12 inches but enough to close down what parts of gov’t have been left open after Trump and his regime decided to make their right-wing dictatorship felt. A coup is underway to nullify the election of a democratic house. I am far from alone in being sick with worry and anxiety for my and Izzy’s comfortable existence, this house and my books supplying all that make my life worthwhile.

I’ve been thinking what can I do if Trump succeeds in keeping this up: can the money I have invested be turned around to produce some kind of income? I thought of Jane Austen’s line in Persuasion: Is there any one item on which we can retrench. I’ve been thinking of many items, including eating less and more cheaply. I’ve not bought a thing I didn’t have to since the gov’t shut down. I am already committed for two trips but after this stop. Apply for tax relief from the Alexandria property rates. I have been so proud of my garden: it would hurt not to have the gardeners work at it at least once a month (they came twice in the fall); it would break my heart, but I know nothing of gardening so need them. No more cleaning ladies. That’s easy. Izzy loves her four sports channels but we could go down on the phone somehow. Anything to stay here and keep my books. Night after night Judy Woodruff on PBS catalogues another set of individuals devastated by this.  Trump came on Fox  enjoying himself utterly. Remember he and his Republican loathe most of the agencies, like the FTC which is supposed to protect consumers, stop monopoly and exploitative practices. They are shutting all this down as a trial to see what they can destroy. They like the idea of federal workers forced to work for no pay.  Well these workers won’t keep it up for years.  My especial heart-break is the closing of the Library of Congress.


Saturday night from the windows of my enclosed porch


Sunday morning close up

I’ve been out minimally but not lonely because of the worlds of the Internet I have found so many friends and people who share some part of my taste to spend time with. I visited a friend where we had old-fashioned grilled-cheese sandwiches (on white bread no less, fried lightly in butter on a frying pan) with tea and then settled together to watch the wondrous French A Christmas Tale. She enjoyed it as deeply as I. She’s worried too: she lives on a much larger social security and annuity payments; she will rearrange her annuity payments for a start she says.

One night also I went on a date (the first in 52 years) — an old-fashioned date where the man picked me up by car, drove me to an elegant yet home-y Irish pub in Northwest Washington where we had a yummy meal and good talk; afterwards a drive through very pretty park-lined and riverside streets, and then home again home again, jiggedy-jig, where he walked me to my door. I even dressed up, complete high heels and an attempt at make-up (feeble, basically lip-stick).

I know my face looks awful but consider that the cell phone picked up harsh shadows in Izzy’s half-lit room.

We were in a neighborhood in Northwest Washington I knew existed, sort of, but had never been in. The OLLI at AU is there. Very wealthy, exclusive (he pointed to three clubs he belongs to along the river, one where no one else can come into that piece of land in that park), beautiful, forest-y. There’s a Great Falls I’d never heard of and he was even startled to hear I’d never heard of it. His big income comes from years of working in high positions in agencies Trump will destroy: environmental; he did “operations research” (mathematical finding of which is your best option to do; this is used to bomb things). He is by older heritage Jewish, but his family spent so many years in Arkansas and then Tennessee so he has no memories of any heritage but American — one of his clubs meets in a local very tasteful Episcopalian church.  An intelligent sports person, someone who knew how to and still does socialize and network, a widower, with 2 (!) guns in his house. I could see he was rightist — trained to be a fighter pilot in the later 1950s. He knew what an adjunct is, and said of Jim’s career, what a shame he didn’t make more money with such degrees. I think for us, given my expectations, & where we both came from, Jim did very well. I know mainstream people will comment (adversely) he retired so early. Yes, and I have much less because of this, but he lived for 9 years he would not have had he worked until 65, gotten that dreadful cancer, and been devoured.  So not a lot of common ground. The evening was though very pleasant. Both people kept up cordial conversation.  I think I’d actually never been on a date like this before — never treated that way in my teens. Perhaps it fit Christine Blasey Forde’s expectations when she found herself among thug upper class males for the first time. The evening was a sociological lesson for me.

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The facsimile edition


the beloved and loving dog, Hajjin

I read a new remarkable short novel where the central consciousness is a nearly kidnapped dog, the 19th century novella, The Confessions of a Lost Dog by Francis Power Cobbe — she anticipates Woolf’s Flush: deeply humane and somewhat convincing attempt to get inside a dog’s personality, not the physical self the way Woolf tried. She is one of the women I am hopeful about writing about for my projected part of a book, working title, The Anomaly (only single women trying to live apart from men have not been.) I  am now reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend as translated by Ann Goldstein: she describes a world I grew up in (Naples = southeast Bronx, circa 1950s). Lenu the reader, and Lila who learns to cast off ambition because thwarted hope is one of the most painful of experiences..

Still inching along in the helpful Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, ed Ella Westland, have opened and begun more of my Cornwall travel-memoir meditative history-as-reverie books. I’m now reading the three Poldark novels I’ve chosen for the paper I’m supposed to give in Denver (if airplanes are flying — I don’t know why the TSA people just don’t go on strike — all terrorized they will lose their jobs; this is what employment in the US has come to). And I’ve had one of those delightful literary discoveries fit only for cherished re-telling in a diary.

All the years of watching the two different Poldark, and having read the twelve books I thought carefully through, I never realized both series had omitted Aunt Agatha, the 98 year old unmarried Poldark aunt’s kitten. In scenes where she appears in Black Moon we are told she has a kitten and then cat keeping her affectionate company. His name is Smollett and I suspect the name is reference to the popular 18th century novelist, Smollett who features an old unmarried woman and her beloved dog in an epistolary novel, Humphry Clinker (the hero is Methodist), and cats and offensive smells in a travel -tour book.


Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) saying goodbye to Verity (from Season 3, Black Moon)

When we first see Agatha, we are told

A black kitten moved on her lap. This was Smollett, which she had found somewhere a few months ago and made peculiarly her own. Now they were inseparable. Agatha never stirred without the kitten, and Smollett, all red tongue and yellow eye, could hardly be persuaded to leave her. Geoffrey Charles, with a small boy’s glee, always called her ‘Smell-it.’ [When George Warleggan intrudes.] The kitten, to Agatha’s pleasure, had arched its back and spat at the new arrival (Black Moon, Chapter 1).

Smollett is mentioned in passing, and when on the last page of this novel, Agatha lies dying:

The bed shook as Smollett jumped on it again. Her head was sinking sideways on the pillow. With great effort, she straightened it … then the light began to go, the warm, milk yellow sunlight of a summer day … She could not close her mouth. She tried to close her mouth and failed. Her tongue stopped. But one hand slowly moved. Smollett nudged up to it and licked it with his rough tongue. The sensation of that roughness made its way from her fingers to her brain. It was the last feeling left. The fingers moved a moment on the cat’s fur. Hold me, hold me, they said. Then quietly peacefully, at the last, submissively, beaten by a stronger will than her own, her eyes opened and she left the world behind (Black Moon, last chapter, last page, last paragraph)

Graham is very fond of animals, and especially a lover of cats throughout his novels. Ross Poldark meets Demelza because at the risk of her own severe body injury she was defending her dog, Garrick, from torturous abuse for the amusement of a mob and several boys. Here are Ian and Clarycat near a snow filled window with their toy mouse:

For snow days: I recommend the remarkable movie about Gertrude Bell narrated by Tilda Swinden, for its remarkably contemporary film footage, Bell’s letters, virtuoso performances of BBC actors as Bell’s family, friends, associates: Letters from Baghdad. I’m listening to Timothy West’s inimitable reading of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, as prelude to Can You Forgive Her? and for a group discussion (Trollope&Peers); this is alternatively with Davina Porter reading Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn. I shall buy no more of these but listen and re-listen to what I have. My kind Irish friend has sent me so many copies of DVDs of very good British BBC movies, I can go for years. My movies at home and nightly for now are both sets of Poldark serial dramas (back-to-back watching of equivalent episodes), Outlander Seasons 2 and 4. I was disappointed but not surprised when Caitriona Balfe, nominated for Golden Globe as best actress for four years in row, lost once again. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride ….

It is hard to find Balfe in a dress I can endure to look at at these ceremonies: a salutary reminder of the real woman (the first phase of her career was as a fashion model).. She is presented in the features as a cooperative team player . The blog where I found the image, repeatedly said of the dress it’s too “LV” — perhaps Louis Vuitton, but a sneering tone accompanied by scorn for those “who have trouble paying their rent,” so it’s probably a withering resentment of her outfit as not overtly extravagant, ritzy, expensive enough. I remember Jenny Bevan who has dressed hundreds of actors and actresses in the best movies for years, turning up for her award for costume in ordinary pants, top, her hair simply brushed was booed. So you see where the outrageous lengths this red carpet stupidity goes to comes from: the worst values of mean minds.

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As for keeping body as well as soul up, I walk for 20 minutes in the afternoons, and listen to country and folk music in the mornings as I exercise for 10 minutes and close this evening with Pete Seeger’s “There’s a river of my people:

There’s a river of my people
And its flow is swift and strong,
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.

Many rocks and reefs and mountains
Seek to bar it from its way.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.

You will find us in the mainstream,
Steering surely through the foam,
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.

For we have mapped this river
And we know its mighty force
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.

Oh, river of my people,
Together we must go,
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my brothers wait I know.
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my sisters wait I know.

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Miss Drake

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