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leonardcohen
Leonard Cohen, his most recent album, You Want It Darker

I did my best, it wasn’t much — Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves a good deal deranged — Jane Austen, Sanditon

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been writing political blogs for three days: Two nights from now it won’t be over; The morning after; tonight Post-Mortem. As eleven o’clock on November 8th approached, and I realized Trump was headed to win by the electoral college voting system, my stomach began to twist and turn. I felt so bleak the next day; and I’ve not yet begun to be able to sleep a full 6 hours in a row. Indeed it will not be over many many nights from now. It will take some time before we begin to feel whatever pain Trump manages to have in store for us, the 99%, and perhaps longer to suffer from his incompetence, human ignorance, bad temper and ruthless use of power. The new lies have started already: the protest marches are “incited by the media.”

My daughter, Laura, picked herself up, dusted herself off, and carried on much more briskly and earlier than I did: We get up, we move on. Izzy had a period of deep upset; I was overpowered by even the start of the coming underbelly of fascism masked as democracy as outlined in Trump’s plans for the first 100 days. But this morning, the third day in, I took heart, and said “We must hold firm, carry on staying together and doing what we know is valuable as long as we can: people are stronger when they stay with those they care about, and work at what they value.”

So Izzy changed her sheets, we took her quilt to the cleaners. There was a flood on the new kitchen yesterday morning and by afternoon I had been told the water heater had burst. That night I had a hose out the back down pouring the water into the yard or we’d have had a big flood in the kitchen. Had to leave said door ajar all night. Then today a man from First Class Plumber was at various tasks in my kitchen all day, and we now have a brand-new water heater, computerized, spiffy, works beautifully. It’s “only money,” as my father would say ironically: First Class Plumber sent another hard-working super-courteous black man who did a very good job. I then cleaned out the storage closet, throwing out all the filthy things I didn’t understand and now it is clean, with only a few implements whose use I understand neatly set out.

Some other losses this week: I have lost two more teeth (it’s almost miraculous I have any left) and also my irreplaceable library card to take books out of George Mason Library. The teeth are serious; had I not questioned this dentist I would have lost three. I now have but three teeth left and will have a new bottom denture on Monday afternoon. In the meantime it’s not easy to eat (yoghurt and soup for lunch, eggs and pasta for dinner)

I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People might easily invent something to eat with instead of them. –Jane Austen, Catherine, or the Bower

and I feel my age.

meatsmithluncheonsireldredsmithgordondescendentfromlionelsmith
Here is what I looked like at one of the luncheons at the Charlotte Smith conference: next to me Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a many time great-grand son of Benjamin Smith (who he whispers we are not to mention), a witty companion, publisher of medical books

As to my card, I don’t need it to use the vast database, which is what I avail myself of for serious literary work, and the library itself is hard to park near, itself the most demoralizing place, with the English department having less books in the areas I’m interested than me. Inside it looks soulless, with few books to be seen, like some vacant department store, with plastic chairs and tables for the customers to sit at with their laptops; the books are in these rolling shelves hidden away in corners on higher floors, lest they get in the way. The last time I took a book out, the librarians were just delighted at such a rare event. I can’t deny that this is a blow of sorts; the ID had a picture (so a second form of identification) too.

Today Izzy was working on two songs (not just one). And my two proposals for next spring are accepted and I look forward to the courses: short versions:

OLLI at AU: Pivotal City and County Victorian Novels

We’ll read 2 best-sellers, never out of print: Gaskell’s North and South (1855), and Trollope’s Framley Parsonage (1860). Gaskell’s tale of Manchester, from Dickens’s Household Words, is a radical graphic tale of the life of factory workers, based on a strike and time of near starvation (depression), by a woman . Trollope’s made the Cornhill, the New Yorker of its day, a 4th Barsetshire concoction; followed as intensely as Downton Abbey (Gaskell wrote she wished it would go on forever and didn’t see why it couldn’t), seen today also as a complacent pro-establishment book is a Thackerayan ironic pleasure. We’ll explore how the books intersect and connect to our era.

OLLI at Mason: Booker Prize books: a marketplace niche or sub-species

We will discuss 4 gems of Booker Prize fiction. Some have said the prize functions as a brilliantly exploited marketplace tool aimed at a specific readership niche, just perfect for quality film adaptations and literary criticism. The books are characteristically historical fiction, self-reflexive, witty and passionate, post-colonialist, and three filmed: of Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, Ondaatje’s The English Patient (with Minghella’s screenplay); J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (screenplay Patrick Grey) and Graham Swift’s Last Orders (screenplay Fred Schepisi)

turner
J.W. Turner’s Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen (1806)

I am reading at least seven books at once (tonight I was reading Carrington’s letters for a coming woman artist blog), and having an especially splendid time with one on historical fiction and romance (about which I mean to blog separately). My Daphne DuMaurier Companion is enthusing me to give a “The World of Daphne DuMaurier” course at OLLI Mason this summer (historical romance, The King’s General, to be included), and maybe I will return to my beloved Poldark books in the AU OLLI this fall, to wit, the 1970s great trilogy (Black Moon, Four Swans, Angry Tide). Karen Solie’s “An Enthusiast” (for geology, archealogy) captures what I am implying in about cultivating one’s garden (as Voltaire’s Candide advises):

Endless heritage beneath the heavenly soundshed.
Jet-black amphiboles. Ten varieties of scones
in Elie. Giant centipedes and petrified tree stumps ofthe Devonian
fossil record. Pyrope garnets at the foot

of the Lady’s Tower aren’t quite rare enough
to acquire significant market value, much like the self-taught experts
in autobrecciation and exfoliation weathering
who work their way to the surface of the Coastal Path

at the close of a hard winter. Amateur
geologists, rockhounds, and collectors may be distinguished
by commitments to task-specific outerwear,
but a bin bag rain poncho is not the measure of a person.

Ideas gather around phenomena as though for warmth …

I end on a YouTube of the great song, Hallelujah by the great poet-musician Leonard Cohen. We lost him yesterday. Jim just loved his music, lyrics, the performances, I have several CDs.

Sylvia

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autumnmist
These autumnal photos are from friends on face-book: Mist

“Speech,” she said, “is but broken light upon the depth Of the unspoken . . . ” —George Eliot, The Spanish Gypsy

Dear friends and readers,

I feel like I’m beginning again after some kind of hiatus where I’ve been in this strange state of interacting with all these different people without Jim nearby. When I can return to my house although I know he does not exist anymore, I have my memories and all the things left over and can find peace and strength from routine alone. I have not had that kind of strengthening for hours on end since October 11th. So I realize however hard for me without this nest I lose the roots of my identity.

fallenleaves
Fallen Leaves

The front half of my house is still under-going renovation and we’ve had no kitchen sink, sometimes no stove since October 7th. We eat out evenings (Olive Garden, La Madeline, a nice Pizza restaurant in Old Town where we’ve watched 60 Minutes, Leslie Stall still going strong on a visit to the antartic) or we go to Noodles and Company and carry the pasta back or order from a local Chinese restaurant. While we were in Chawton, I had to put my poor pussycats (badly frightened I realized when I picked them up) in a pet boarding house to make sure they would be safe (not run away), taken regular care of for some 8 days. At home when the contractors are here, they must stay in one room in the back and they hear the startling frightening noises.

Another way to put this is I’ve not blogged anywhere for 11 days! and have not written seriously here (as in The Fragility of Friendship) since before the anniversary of Jim’s death (October 9th). For some people such a stretch would be nothing. Not for me. Out of touch. I need to re-situate myself this way. I’ve not been sleeping the night through for several days and nights now. Waking at 3:30 am no matter what pills I take or how I exhaust myself. So I do read for a while and take a melantonin (non-prescription sleeping pill) and get two more hours if I’m lucky that way.

My books during this time have included Tolstoy’s War and Peace in two different language translations, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography. I’ve watched LeCarre’s Night Manager yet once more. Going and coming back on the plane. I’m getting to understand what’s happening, all the nuances of that remarkable exposure of the arms industry: the New York Times tells us how the people fighting in Mosul are a combination of mercenary armies, disaffected ethnic groups, small “classified” (not explained) special forces from the US and other nations, but does not tell us where the fearful bombs (barrels of napalm) are made and by whom and what is the payment. LeCarre calls our attention to this.

I’ve been to three conferences — one far away in Chawton, Hampshire (a Charlotte Smith conference, at Chawton Library, in type very like the Burney, only much longer, 3 days, 10/14 to 10/16, including a many hour series of trips around to Smith sites in Sussex and Surrey on Sunday), two close in vicinity but not in type (the Burney conference this past Thursday, 10/20, and the JASNA, 10/21 and 10/22, both in the Washington DC area). I’m not through yet: I’ve a fourth conference (a favorite, where I do meet real old friends, EC/ASECS) in two weeks, located about two hours away by car, Mary Washington College. Tomorrow is my Film Club which I don’t want to miss. I will resume teaching (I stopped for a week) this Monday.

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chawton-house-library1

So what is worth telling beyond the papers I heard (which I’ll write up as a series of reports about Charlotte Smith, Frances Burney, and Austen and all things Austenian in my Austen reveries blog). Travel looms large in my mind as well as the place I’d never seen before. I sent a proposal to the Charlotte Smith conference as I had longed to see the Chawton Library, the house Jane Austen’s brother inherited, to which Chawton cottage was an appendage. Now I have. It is a beautiful mansion, once a private home (and one can see even now how it was lived in if you apply your imagination), now a building given over to research, with rooms of rare books, mostly 18th century, focused on women writers and artists and Jane Austen. We were shown one beautiful volume of studies of flowers and plants by an 18th century woman — the book is apparently their display copy for visitors to peruse.

During the two days of papers, which included two recitals of her poetry to music, I heard so much about her for the first time and had my sense of what her poetry can be altered, enriched, explained, and in the one day we went touring, saw as many sites as human beings literally could do, with a 20 minute lecture by a local historian, Carol Brown, on the history of the church Charlotte Turner (as she was then) attended as well as the house her mother lived in nearby (Stoke), complete with contemporary illustrations.

It’s ironic this blog will be about all the things that happened during the trip itself, and what I left behind (my two pussycats), and the countryside and city (London) we saw, and not Smith. I met Loraine Fletcher, the biographer of Smith and had much solacing and stimulating conversation. I enjoyed a couple of meals Izzy and I had with her and another friend. The Smith group wants to become a small society, perhaps have a website and face-book page; they are starting up in hard times. One must incorporate a non-profit, to do a journal takes enormous work, but someone from BSECS (British Society of 18th century studies) said he would add the Smith Society (if there is one) to their website as a way of starting. They could have caucuses or panels every other year at ASECS too. Other smaller societies do that.

reading_room_interiorchawtonlibrary
Interior reading room at Chawton Library

What strikes someone in the year 2016 is how small a community the village of Chawton is today and thus how tiny it must have been in the later 18th century. Alton had three (!) bookstores and all the amenities and types of shops daily life requires, but without the internet (intermittent in many buildings) and fully socialized individual life and regular visits to London or visiting theater and other groups what a quiet life it might be. Alton Hotel (where we stayed) is a central hub, as pub, dining room, Sunday meeting and conference place.
juddbooks
A remarkably good Bloomsbury bookstore — superb collection of theater and poetry and all sorts of subjects

Izzy and I spent a full day in London too: we managed 2 Bloomsbury parks, 5 bookstores altogether. Three were remarkable collectors’ places in the middle of the West End theater district: I held a first edition of Trollope’s The American Senator in my hand, 3 volumes, in beautiful condition, in one. Another was a treasure trove of music publications, including reference sets, the most remarkable and interesting (and ordinary) of books published, plus playbills it seemed for the last 200 years, another filled with prints, from the 18th century on, whole series. That I bought only 5 books, all carryable (not the first edition of American Senator, too high in price for me) showed self-control.

We went to the Beyond Carravagio exhibit in the National Gallery: some 8-9 rooms of intriguing imitators of Caravaggio, groups of people playing cards, cheating one another in all sorts of ways, transgressive sex, theatrical scenes of betrayal — this after we discovered the Film Museum (where we had tried to go to do something different) is now as imbecilic as the Maritime Museum in Cornwall was: huge amounts of noise, endless repetitions of cars crashing on films, and the actual cars (it was said) used in James Bond films is all there is there now. We saw a not-so-good production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser. Unfortunately the only images I have for the Caravaggio are those where Christ is included, and these are far less interesting than the revelations of people seen in many of those with no gods in them. The film of The Dresser that I saw on my BBC Iplayer was better, but this one seemed so a propos to the wars going on now and the murdering to profound distress and dislocation of many: Sir I now realize is a sexual predator as well as blind egotist. The players did not do the parts as plangently as in the film, and I preferred that.

We stayed at a hotel in Bloomsbury: the George, no bathroom or shower to ourselves, as minimal in comforts a room (one lamp for example) as the hotel we had in Paddington when we came last year. It seems unless you are willing to spend hugely, in London that’s all there is.

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Another wrinkle in warnings against airplane travel. You may recall all the trouble and expense I had buying these non-stop tickets to and from Chawton. Well, when Izzy and I got to the airport to get back to Washington DC on the Tuesday morning (10/18), in plenty of time, at first we were told we were part of “overbooked seats” and would not get on that plane, but maybe the next or maybe stay in a hotel. I became silently but (apparently visually enough) distraught: the woman employee saw in my eyes this wouldn’t do, as I started to say how angering this was, and with startling ease suddenly produced two seats — the same seats Izzy and I had had on the plane to the UK.

overbooked

This incident should trouble anyone: it didn’t feel quite random, not just these same two seats (about the middle of the Premium Economy caste). We were asked to sit apart from other passengers and put on the plane first. It may be the whole paranoiac atmosphere in the US and at airports where the US dominates creates paranoia but I’d prefer if utter disrespect and lack of concern for Izzy and I as individuals (our cases were already on board the plane) were driving this sudden refusal and then production of two seats. Today on the Metro coming home from JASNA, I overheard a conversation where a young woman was refused entrance into a plane, made to wait 3 hours for another, and then not let on that, and finally instead of a hotel, a third plane taking her to a different airport had found out in fact there were seats on the original plane but somehow given to someone else.

This is the power of monopoly corporations. While on said plane, Premium economy people were told there were no good snacks between the two meals. Don’t tell me first and other similar classes on another level of the plane didn’t have these. My cell phone did not work at all for days while away, and I still have not gotten a paper bill from Sprint since July; I was egregiously overcharged in September by phone after I came home from Cornwall and was told my bill was “way overdue.” I am one promised next week. I emailed my other daughter, Laura, to ask about her experience, does she use another server, and her prompt reply was “they are all like this” and she’s not had a bill from Verizon for 6 months and “can’t get one from them.” My phone did begin to work when we got to London and then again when I got home. I don’t want an i7 which is what I’m told I’ll get if I try to buy a new device. I noticed the spread of of Indian caste systems now includes the security theater: different lines for differently labelled US passport holders, different amounts of time to wait, but all seemingly requiring four different snapped photos.

It’s not enough to avoid absolutely all middle men (Expedia, the kind of intervening site which seems to be the hotel you want to stay in, but is a middle man and so the hotel is not responsible if your booking is not there for real), to phone and book the airline direct and talk to a real human being who reads aloud the document and send a copy to you of what you paid for (and pay for a better seat than Economy or Steerage Abuse): my new plan is never take a plane unless I am profoundly sure I want to go to wherever it is and will have an enjoyable time. I realize that when companionless I find the contingencies of all travel itself an trial (when not an ordeal of exploitation) so must take that into consideration too.

Izzy was with me, and she spent two afternoons at Jane Austen’s house in Chawton iself. She said she remembered nothing of the house and so it was of real interest to her. She went over to the church and saw Jane’s sister and mother’s grave; ate a good lunch at Cassandra’s cup. She appeared interested in a couple of the more accessible papers on Smith; said she understood mine and enjoyed the day’s touring. Having her with me was a great help for me, and she saw England once again. But I doubt she’d go for a week in the Lake District, much less follow Johnson and Boswell’s steps into the Hebrides in Scotland. I’m not sure about the latter myself.

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

Trinity Washington University - 125 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington, DC
Trinity College, one of the buildings

The one-day all day Frances Burney conference was held two days ago, 10/22, at Trinity College in Northeast DC: it’s still filled with non-minority girl- and young womanhood. A grand old building which has hardly been renovated, we had a large auditorium where they served us very good food for lunch, breakfast coffee and rolls and afternoon tea too. Acoustics not good but we managed. I liked being there, seeing the young women students. The older wood engravings everywhere in the building, the grand stairways, a library spoke of decent hope, original dignity, and a continuing attempt to educate and give meaning to students’ lives. I had a couple of students at Mason who had spent a year or so in the institution, both hispanic, and now becoming nurses.

We had a dinner not far from the Marriot hotel where the JASNA was located. This one was differently enjoyable for me than the Smith, because I know some of the people. I have a couple of very good friends I’d say (though seeing them only twice a year at best, and writing on-line occasionally over the year) and have had good conversations with them over the years of going to Burney conferences (on and off for some 10 years or so, plus I wrote up reports of these conferences for those I went to and they were published in the Burney Newsletter). Still I was beginning to be very tired by this time. I will enter into the individual papers thoroughly on the Austen reveries blog: Burney had a more varied life and her journals are astonishingly rich.

It used to be the Burney conference occurred the day and morning before the JASNA started and in the same hotel or place: some central people in the Burney society are central to JASNA so they have been sister-groups. But now JASNA extends its vacation-like tours and fan-group like workshops, with so-called “light” lectures to three days before the sessions start (cut down from 9 at Portland, 7 at Montreal and now 4 only) on Friday. I met several people who were complaining (though ever so politely and hesitantly): “it’s over so quickly” was a typical comment. This thing has cost Izzy and I $400 each; all the activities beyond the fee were separately charged. You can’t get anything in that hotel without being nickled and dimed (actually 5 dollared).

Anyway the time of the conference extends over counting tours and these scattered lectures cover conflict with the smaller Burney society, so like the small Smith group, this society needs to partner, perhaps now differently: say run sessions or caucuses at larger 18th century conferences, or join (as they will next year) with another smaller women’s group: the Aphra Behn Society.
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The hotel inside looks like this on one of the floors from a frontal view

By contrast to the Burney venue, the JASNA hotel was all marble floors, glass and anonymous modernity, escalators, hardly anywhere to eat but a Starbucks. If there was a super-expensive restaurant, it was not made obvious to someone not staying in the hotel. A floor above the meetings rooms was a small book “Ford’s emporium,” which included the usual junk earrings, paraphernalia Austeniana, and also three or four tables of interesting books and I was able to include my edition of Ethelinde among those on the Jane Austen Books table. Izzy was invited to a halloween party by her ex-boss with a proviso that “costumes are strongly preferred” and I gather for the last 3 AGMS (I went now 4 years ago) someone running a regency costume shop has had a large stall at the JASNA AGM. Izzy found a dress that suited her for this coming occasion. She looks good in some of the regency dresses (and once tried a corset on and looked right in that too).

A small snapshot for now: Arnie Perlstein was there and responded to the lecturer of the key note address. This lecturer (semi-famous with a book written from a post-colonial stance on Austen) asserted rather incoherently about there being so much that is invisible in Emma, but he did not go on to tell us what this was: the lecturer did take a page were servants were mentioned but he did not try to prove 18th century readers seriously read the book to find out about the Woodhouse servants. He seemed to try to make jokes, to have a jocular stance: when he would quote something the audience found funny they did laugh. and he looked relieved. I sometimes wonder if the speakers are told to try to “lighten” it up; they tend to ride over the nebulous. Arnie got up so gratified and began to talk of Jane Fairfax’s pregnancy and some other of his favorite theories. The lecturer looked embarrasssed. But it fit his thesis. Arnie was stopped. Since the academic was too cowardly or careful to say what these invisible depths were (perhaps sexual?), his lecture was to my mind exposed as having nothing in it (invisible?).

I did feel rejuvenated a little about Austen two papers I heard and one Izzy told me about: one was on sexual assault in Emma: the woman said she put her proposal in a year ago so the relevance was unintended but there. She also covered the psychological assault on Jane Fairfax. The audience response was intense and for once stayed on topic. The popular readership in fan cults hardly ever talk on line, but unlike academics they will talk in sessions about what they feel about a favorite book or author. I get the feeling they long to discuss Austen and their views and hardly ever get a chance to do it. They had less this year than previous ones. Another paper on education mildly and therefore persuasively suggested Mr Knightly not the great teacher — as he says himself. Here the audience soon went off-topic to gossip about the characters. But they did hear and take in the paper (in some years I’ve been at talks where the lecturer worked so hard to convince the audience of say how this unpopular Austen movie provided a new insight and when the audience began to respond it was clear they just didn’t listen to or accept at all what had been said). I find it jarring when a lecturer is insisting on some sentimental interpretation of a text (such as how good a daughter Emma is, how inspiring) and then quotes one of Austen’s bitter caustic comments. There was a superb lecture by Susan Allen Ford on what is read in Emma and by whom, and what paying attention to these books cited in the novel tell us about the characters and book’s themes. It was said by some to be “so erudite” (I’m not sure if this kind of statement is apologetic or is critical or what?) but it’s easy to reply by saying, yes it was excellent, and as Austen herself says of political talk, silence comes soon afterward.

I have read the North American JASNA grew exponentially in 1995 at the time of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (scripted Andrew Davies, with the now tiresome wet shirt scene), and it has not fallen off since. Many of those coming take it as an excuse for a vacation in a famous toured place. Lots of people networking for wherever they work, for other similar organizations, trying to set up coming publications and so on. I’ll write details what presentations (or papers) I heard on my Austen Reveries blog (on illustrations, on three recent Emma films). I find the JASNA each time I’ve attended oddly exhausting, at once crowded and yet lonely. People wave at me who in other places I have talked with.

Happily neither the Burney or JASNA conference necessitated staying away from home. How much easier are those conferences where one gets to leave in the early evening or goes home between bouts of sessions. The cats missed me badly, the house and Izzy too very much. True to family form, they didn’t socialize with the other cats, but preferred a soft box put in their cage, and staying close to one another. Clinging, they were not sick but they did not eat much. It is all so much more endurable, cats, books at home, quiet.

I have not begun to say what it has been. Sylvia Plath wrote after her divorce, “the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness.” It’s not that for me but I understand how she could feel that way. On widowhood: “It is not true that in time you get used to it. Far from healing wounds, time can on the contrary, only make wounds worse” — Simone de Beauvoir. Again it’s not that bad for me rather the wounds just grow deeper as I think about my own conduct all these years and how I must live now.

Miss Drake

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Lovelytulips
Home again

Dear friends and readers,

The temperature going down to freezing here; I’ve flowers in all three patches, white tulips, soft lavender, clumps of different flowerets and buds.

For these weeks I’m feeling I am moving in and out of peopled worlds in Pittsburgh and here in DC and Alexandria, where I abide. Who knew there were so many constantly reforming clouds of people. And then Izzy finds herself over the moon after several 10 hour days watching ice-skating at Junior World Championship in Boston.

For myself: Around Thursday noon I started off. So many miles. Thanks to my “garmin,” which talks to me with a bland American women’s accent, I had little trouble driving from Alexandria, Va to the Omni William Penn Hotel. The voice is most important at these transition moments when the highway gives out, you have to come off and drive through some series of low-cost gas stations, “family” food restaurants, and motels that have grown up precisely because this the highway gives out here. She tells you a few minutes ahead to bear left or bear right, cites the sign accurately, and with ease you get back onto said highway going in the right direction.

The route in the city reminded me of old highways in Brooklyn, and then I had simply to drive up a wide street, turn left twice and there I was, in front of the hotel. Nearly 5 hours each way. Homeward I worried intensely at one point because my gas was low and I had to realize that there were no on-highway gas stations. I got off said highway and nearby filled “‘er up,” and back on I went. I began to feel dizzy once I was near home, so got off the highway and found myself in a traffic jam around an accident.

This led me to stop off at Noodles and Company for a pasta dish to bring home; I downed it with Shiraz wine while watching yet another episode of the very well-done 1972 War and Peace scripted by Jack Pulman and the 2nd episode (Of 3) of the utterly inadequately adapted Dr Thorne, scripted by Julian Fellowes: a friend has likened him to Popplecourt; it’s as if Popplecourt were explaining Trollope’s art to us. I’ll write about this film adaptation separately too: coming to and going from I had listened half-way through Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read dramatically well by Simon Vance. I collapsed into bed, by that time my pussycats staying close by.

I had a good time while there: it was rejuvenating to go to sessions filled with varied intelligent talk and papers on new aspects of a subject matter I’ve spent my life reading about, studying. I’ll write of these separately. I was at two nights of receptions. I renewed old friendships during the first night’s dinner and first day’s lunch

2015EllisasHalse

2015AidanasRoss
40 years on Robin Ellis returns as the deeply reaction Halse and Aidan Turner defies him (2015, scripted by Debbie Horsfield)

My paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 4 Years on” went over well; the three other papers were from different points of view and done differently yet all linked as about recent TV and movie films (Outlander among them). The audience was not too small and we got good questions. The second night I seemed to gravitate towards the Burney group, and spent the second night’s dinner time and the next day women’s caucus with them. I can’t say I participated in intellectual political talk (as I do regularly now at the OLLI at AU in DC), but I did hear about local politics in different places from friends as well as happenings among books and writers and coming conferences (at Chawton). What people were working on, their topics of special interest and told of mine. One woman on sabbatical reading Burney’s manuscripts in the NYPL, living in Brooklyn for the year.

omni-main-lobby

The William Penn Omni hotel is a beautiful building: art deco central hall or lobby downstairs, and the grand ballroom beautifully carved. It was the second time I’d been there: before with Jim I arrived at 11 at night and remember we got a meal!

As a memento I found on sale Norma Clarke’s probably highly readable biographical Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street — its cover takes the left-hand side of Hogarth’s picture, enrichens the browns and yellows, suggestive of Grub Street life.

hogarthdistressedPoet
William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

The experience occurred in the context of the two OLLIs, going to the Jewish Community Center, Smithsonian, the Folger, so I felt how I enter into and float out of differently peopled worlds. How different this is from the way I lived by Jim’s side. It’s like a quiet merry-go-round or roundabout. You get off and find under this pavillon a set of numerous people having adventures, stay and talk in whatever form is appropriate, then you go back to the path towards the merry-go-round and get on and off at another place. Interesting and informative discussion over lunch at Temple Baptist Church (one of the AU OLLI locations) by a retired lawyer and an economist about the importance of the supreme court, how much of US civic life corporations through their control of media is being poisoned.

But how and why do all these people keep it up? Cheerfully too. I feel so aware of these worlds’ fragility. That’s the strange and built-in dangerous thing: the necessary disconnect between casual friends and other people all the while you renew what you can or just have fleeting good talk. Here’s a question: how do you define friends?

Snow
Outside Izzy’s window in Boston: celebratory and commentating snow ….

Izzy had taken a 10 hour train trip to Boston via Amtrak. She had a long trip there and back and there was an accident at Philadelphia the day before she came home. No money in the US for public transportation. Fortunately her trip back was only (only) 40 minutes longer, so it took 11 hours. But she was comfortable the whole time. A decent seat, decent enough food available (real sandwiches with people to serve it), free wi-fi. She was not continually photographed or scrutinized as in a airport. She did not have to sign up for “paid privileges” which allow a cell phone or ipad to work, and separately for any music or movies (as in abusive airplanes).

She stayed in a hotel in Boston, from the which there were trains each day going back and forth from hotel to convention center. She found herself coming back to the hotel with the same people each night. Her day sometimes started after 10 or 11 or once noon. She often returned at 11 at night, once much later.

Flags

Rink

She got herself to the Museum of Fine Arts twice (it was a stop on her train), and explored the first floor. She said it was huge:

HUge

She saw a sign outside “to the Isabella Gardner museum,” but did not have the time for it. She walked in the city commons, on three different mornings, and late in the evening ate in different places around her hotel room, mostly Italian restaurants. Those nights she did return early it was very cold out; her window high and the winds strong. So she stayed in with her ipad and books.

Boston

Since she had the same seat for all but one day (as did most others), she sat behind the same group most days: British women who talked to one another and briefly to her too. Her sense of ecstasy as she watched and watched and the experience mounts she captured in a phrase she used to my question, “How’s it going?” “I’m over the moon.”

Miss Drake

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NewYorkerCartoonforCatlovers

Friends,

After today and two evenings past, and contemplating this week’s end, I say that’s one wise New Yorker cat.

Around 8 o’clock this morning this PC computer on which I am typing this blog went black, and I could not get the screen to function again beyond it asking me to switch the user. My guardian angel, aka IT guy who comes into my computer by remote control and makes visits (like physicians of old) picked up the phone after I wrote EMERGENCY on my Apple laptop to him and called.

“He who gives graciously gives twice.” I had emailed him yesterday (Sunday, Easter) because the upsetting messages that my computer did not have enough memory, that my files were enlarged, and sudden black windows taking over parts of my screen were beginning to unnerve me. He emailed a few hours later; he was away on a vacation but would be back Monday, but in the meantime I was assured (as he usually does) “it’s nothing to worry about,” just a minor glitch and he would attend to it tomorrow. Well it took him 2 hours of fixing in the morning with me looking on; I left at 11:45 to go to the OLLI at AU to lead (teach) a class on Trollope’s 1st 3 Barsetshire novels, and when I returned at 4, I recognized his presence working at it (the cursor, the changes going on in the screen).

I did have a moment of lost faith but screwed my courage up again, apologized and tonight my computer is “cleaned out,” all “junk” from 2 years of working using it eliminated, much updated, the back-up mechanisms re-set (including a program called Carbonite) and newly working right. I still cannot shut the large laptop attached to the PC without the screen on the PC going dark, but it’s not the worst thing in the world to leave the screen of the laptop open for now.

Next week Jonathan will visit and install more memory; then I’ll show this glitch to him. I did not think I had added so much to the computer: I do far less than I used to, and Jim is no longer here to add movies, power-point presentations, but I have been working for 2 years since I bought the computer, done a number of papers, reviews, so many blogs, endless postings, letters, pictures audio-books nowadays. It adds up.

DavisWhite
Davis and White — Olympic winners, among Izzy’s favorites

In the same early part of the morning I also drove Izzy to the train station. She was off to Boston to join in and watch for 7 days Junior World Ice-Skating Championship. This weekend she did her annual walk under the cherry blossom trees on the Mall, and took herself in the direction of the Vietnam Wall. Both of us were aware this is the first trip she’s taken by herself since August 2011 (she spent a week in NYC at the Princeton Club, going from there to the US open tennis championships in Queens). Izzy had a strenuous day too. The train took 9 hours! It seems a body was found on the tracks and the train was delayed for a couple of hours while an unhappy person’s remains were removed. She is in her hotel room now, ipad nearby, having devoured much Daredevil on her long long way.

The first day and night alone since Jim died. I’ve been away from her and the cats 5-6 times (!), never more than 5 days, mostly 3, and she and I have taken 3 trips together. This is the first night I’ve been alone in the house (except for my cats) since Jim died. I cooked my own dinner (simple affair) for the third or fourth time since he’s been gone. I did get to eat when I want, and choose to watch Amy Goodman (DemocracyNow.org) on Howard University TV and then switch to PBS Reports. Tomorrow I may actually cook myself a vegetable.

I watched Part 1 of Fellowes’s Dr Thorne after supper:

TomHollanderasDrThorne
An ITV Dr Thorne (badly scripted by Julian Fellowes, 2016): Tom Hollander as Thorne and Stephanie Martini as Mary

Listening

provide whatever good moments there are

As I’ve said I’m going to Pittsburgh myself this Thursday around noon, a 4 hour 16 minute drive there. Infinitely preferable to 4+ hour trip by plane, with cab fares, treatment on the plane on the edge of abuse, surveillance everywhere, starvation; the 10 hour train trip unthinkable especially since on Saturday I’d have to leave by 7 am to make it; and megabus doesn’t have a phone or office so no questions may be asked about where this bus lets you off. I’m planning to listen to Simon Vance reading aloud Dr Thorne for the long stretch of 230 miles each way. Garmin to the side, maps nearby, drawing of local streets. Being away will of course break up the time for me to be here by myself.

So today’s activities included me reading aloud my Poldark paper which I plan to deliver (“Poldark Re-booted: 40 years on” twice (practice, 17 minutes each time). This after returning from a very pleasant two hours with the class mentioned above, where we are reading Barchester Towers just now and I showed two segments from Barchester Chronicles — carefully chosen to show the skillful subtle art of Alan Plater who understands the book’s complicated mood and many themes — and the marvelous acting of all the principals. Much as I like to believe the students regard the class discussion as so much more important than movie-watching, they asked if I would bring my DVD back next week to show a scene with Rickman and Hampshire in Slope and Madeline tete-a-tetes.
Rickmanapproaching
Alan Rickman as Slope approaching Susan Hampshire as Signora Neroni for their first encouncter (1983 Barchester Chronicles)

The trouble is these are not scenes that open the segments so we would have to watch more to get to them. They said they didn’t mind if we had to watch more scenes to get to these confrontations. How doth the busy bee improve each shining hour …

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My anxiety over my trip has been alleviated somewhat by a visit on Saturday evening by my friend, Phyllis. She drank my cheap Shiraz wine with me (Robert Shaw) and we downed pita chips. She lived right near Pittsburgh for years, and we went over the route a couple of times: better, she described what the streets I go through in the city itself would look like, why and where to turn. Funny, she noticed something I never thought about: my mail box by my front door comes from 1947. It is very ancient, black, rusted, half coming out of the wall. Why had I not replaced it, she asked. I must replace it! I said it was not important enough to think about. But when I finally have the kitchen painted, new vinyl on the floor, new cabinets, replace the doors, paint a couple and paint the house cream, and put the number of my address somewhere in the front while I’m about it I’ll pay to have smoke detectors put back and a new mailbox. Not that this would prevent lost or misdirected mail. Strange to say, after she left I found myself drained, emotionally exhausted. I had been reading all day, shopped with Izzy, wrote, but I think that I rarely have visitors may have been the root cause of my collapse. The next night I experienced the same sudden depletion of energy after friends had been over.

Friedrichandme

The above photo is one taken by my old friend, Sophie, who unexpectedly visited me with her partner, Friedrich — remember how she just loves to take photos. Luckily I had bought some bel paese cheese, had Earl Grey tea and a fresh bread when I had shopped on Saturday, so was able to be hospitable. I showed him Jim’s books: he has Ph.D. in molecular biochemistry and does research for the NIH, in among other areas, cancer. He understood what some of Jim’s books were about, he recognized the languages they are in (beyond the math) better than I. I didn’t know several are in Hungarian. For the first time ever I had an explanation of how the underlying pattern of cancer can general and yet not reducible to finding a cure or how to predict how a given regimen of chemo, radiation, surgery and the rest of the torture will affect someone’s body. Briefly, reductively, as the DNA strands replicate themselves (billions of these), they make mistakes, and into the gaps in asymmetry a cancer can emerge, but each literally takes the form of the particular cell and the complicated surrounding chemistry and neurology is also on a molecular level almost impossible for now to understand with enough precision. After they were here for a couple of hours I felt drained.

Lovelytulips

Many firsts or unusual experiences for me these past few days. Such as more tulips came up on Friday, the day of the OLLI at AU luncheon where I met some friends, acquaintances I had not seen in quite a while. Two women especially, where one told me of where to go in Cornwall next August (St Ives!) and with the other we talked of books and plans for courses next fall. Today too I sent in my proposal for a course at the OLLI at AU next fall.

19th century women of letters. We will ask what did a woman writer’s career look like in the 19th century English-reading world? We will see what genres women published in, what kinds of journalism they did, what were the obstacles and advantages these women experienced. How is this like and different from the 20th and 21st century. We will read four books, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (gothic, 1818), Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (“condition of England” novel, 1849), George Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance” (one of the Clerical Tales, domestic fiction-romance, 1857) and Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography and Letters (posthumous, a fragment, 1899). We’ll also read on-line excerpts on women artists, travel writing by Harriet Martineau (abolitionist, de Toqueville-like US travels), mid-century journalists and 1890s suffragette writing.

To conclude this diary entry: I’ve bought for Izzy and I tickets to return to the Folger for another concert, April 10th matinee, this time Purchell’s Faerie Queen, a re-write and setting of the poetry of Shakespeare’s MND On-line I had caught these Renaissance Flemish dances:

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No diary blog without my cat companions.

Iantonight
Ian three minutes ago — on my library table to the right of my desk where I’m typing

Pussycats will have to be alone together from Thursday around 10:30 am to Saturday around 6 pm. Caroline will visit on Friday to replenish the food supply and perhaps play with them a while. Ian may spend the time among Izzy’s shoes deep in her closet or in a cat bed under her desk — just now his favorite places.

I came home last Wednesday from OLLI at Mason (our subject, Gaskell and her “Old Nurse’s Story”), and a full half hour goes by and no Clarycat. Unusual. She usually trots up to greet me. So I go into my room and start opening drawers, in the high narrow bureau I hear her tinkling bells. I pull open a drawer, and I see the back part of her body all tense, tail erect at me; she’s stuck somehow. But cat-like she instinctively moves in a direction opposite from me, and falls behind the drawers in the space between the wooden back and the backs of the drawers. A yowling kind of mewing ensues. I pulled out the drawer so insistently, that I broke the runner. She leaps up and out and scrambles away — made very nervous. Where she went I know not. But it took her some time to calm down when she turned up nearby, a crouched-down catloaf.

Clarycroucheddown

It seemed amusing until I saw her on the floor nearby me like that.

I have not felt nerve-wracked; more that life has been strenuous. All of it pales besides my sense of loss of Jim. What does it matter if I have an old mail box or not? Hold on.

While at AU today I ate at a table with other people; I did say something to convey I’m a widow; another woman was talking of her grown children, living in three places in Europe; a daughter who works in one city and commutes to her husband in another, and she mentioned her husband and she hesitated before she used a tense: the past. She described him as in the past tense and could not just do it. No one who loved or was loved ever forgets.

Life without Jim is wearing. I feel worn.

It gives me this funny feeling when I remind myself Izzy not here and I hope blissfully absorbed while watching ice-skating live in Boston. She’s earned it at the library in the Pentagon (where she’s now a GS-ll)

So, a poem and picture for this skating and travel week:

Woman Skating

by Margaret Atwood

A lake sunken among
cedar and black spruce hills;
late afternoon.

On the ice a woman skating,
jacket sudden
red against the white,

concentrating on moving
in perfect circles.

    (actually she is my mother, she is
    over at the outdoor skating rink
    near the cemetery. On three sides
    of her there are streets of brown
    brick houses; cars go by; on the
    fourth side is the park building.
    The snow banked around the rink
    is grey with soot. She never skates
    Here. She’s wearing a sweater and
    faded maroon earmuffs, she has
    taken off her gloves)

Now near the horizon
the enlarged pink sun swings down.
Soon it will be zero.

With arms wide the skater
turns, leaving her breath like a diver’s
trail of bubbles.

Seeing the ice
as what it is, water:
seeing the months
as they are, the years
in sequence occurring
underfoot, watching
the miniature human
figure balanced on steel
needles (those compasses
floated in saucers) on time
sustained, above
time circling:     miracle

Over all I place
a glass bell

SusanHerbertJapanesecat
Susan Herbert

Miss Drake

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extraordinaryaward
Accepting my award as I read aloud my thank you

Dear friends and readers,

My accomplishment in getting myself to West Chester, Pennsylvania, from Alexandria, Va, by car by myself (well, with printed out Mapquest routes, and with my trusty simple GPS device, a garmin, by my side), and now home again (about 3 and 1/2 hours each way) has been vastly superseded by my having been honored by the Leland D. Peterson award of the East Central division of ASECS. For once I am hard put to find words to articulate precisely the grateful emotions I feel upon being so recognized. It was unexpected, wonderful to me, and yet (dare I say this) felt so good to be appreciated.

The words on the plaque: it was in “recognition of her years of participation and service to our society. She is to us a most cherished friend and colleague, one who epitomizes such valued eighteenth-century virtues as friendship, study, and congeniality.” As an 18th century kind of person I loved the quoted passages:

But the mind never unbends itself so agreeably as in the conversation of a well chosen friend. There is indeed no blessing of life that is any way comparable to the enjoyment of a discreet and virtuous friend. It eases and unloads the mind. clears and improves the understanding, engenders thoughts and knowledge, animates virtue and resolutions, soothes and allays the passions, and finds employment for most of the vacant hours of life.” (Addison)

L’amitié est le seul movement de l’âme où l’excès soit permis (Voltaire)

I was told ahead of time by this year’s president, Sandro Just, who understood Mr Knightley’s objection to surprises (Emma Ch 26, II:8) and I was able to scribble down and say a few coherent  words:

I am honored. Brevity is usually best. So let me say how much I have learned over the years. Coming these last 3 times has been difficult so I would like particularly to thank everyone for their support and real friendship without which I couldn’t have kept up. I’m so glad I do, and hope to be here next year again.

A beautiful moment in my life.                                                                                                                                          
A couple of people mentioned my blog-reports of our conferences. “It’s service.” So now I will be sure to do what I can to convey accurately the gist and salient details of those papers I heard.

[Added the next morning]: I’ve been asked what my award was for — a more precise explanation: my guess is I have been asked what the award was for: my years of activities in the EC/ASECS. Since 2000 I’ve gone to every society meeting: twice I came only for a day because I had a conflict, but I was there. I’ve given many papers, recently I’ve begun to write CFP for panels and organize these. My panel this time went very well and my paper was well-received. I’ve a number of published articles in peer-edited journals (though not that many of this type in the 18th century, more Trollope, film adaptation, some Renaissance, women poets), growing list of reviews (these are predominantly 18th century), and maybe most of all my blogs, my conference reports (especially on the 18th century), my presence on online.

And I what I said in my brief speech: I enjoy going and being with these people enormously, and learn a lot. This morning I was thinking about one of the presentations: it was about an attempt to computerize the correspondences of the enlightenment and count features of these letters (alas what was used were only letters edited by universities in recent ‘respectable’ editions — partly because otherwise the task would be overwhelming): I first fell in love with 18th century texts in my late teens when I came across (in used bookstores) translations into English of the letters, journals, diaries of French women of the later 18th century. I just loved these and still do. My paper this time was based on two women: one, Anne Macvicar Grant left us 5 volumes of letters (available in a good facsimile edition originally compiled by her one surviving son): I just love these still. Among other things in these books of letters we find a world of friendship, companions, intelligent and passionate thought, comedy too, and of course rivalry, melancholy, people doing mean bad things, being people. So there’s that, strongly in what is learned from studying the 18th century.

West Chester University has a spread-out (over a few blocks) construction model, it has some beautiful new buildings; its library has a splendid central reading room (with remarkable carved ceiling), signed editions of the finest authors. The look of the university fits into the surrounding small city. Driving by myself I found myself so aware of how Pennsylvania in parts I drove through it is not an alternation of middling and/or luxury elite in houses with cars which they drive into towns dead except for the boutiques (what I’ve seen so often in the venues of conferences). Instead West Chester is another of many small cities and towns, all strung out with many sorts of people intermingled, much greenery. I had two meals out (a dinner on Friday evening with a friend, and lunch on Saturday with two more), in comfortable and dinner-like restaurants, better meals than I had in most of the places I went to while in Europe and England too.

Next year the theme is the familiar and strange, and I’ve already thought of a panel proposal: Henry Fielding and Tom Jones (or Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones): what could be more familiar? and yet rereading it again after 25 years (when there’s been this revolution in thinking superseding Battestin, the great Fielding scholar) what more strange?

Miss Drake (keeping my pseudonym up too)

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buildingfromangle
A small Norman church in Devonshire

Dear friends and readers,

Just about 47 years ago I saw England for the first time for real — not in my books, not in films, through pictures, but the island itself: I was standing by a wooden structure in a boat filled to the brim with college students that had taken 12 days to cross the Atlantic and now was sailing up the English channel. Someone said, there are the cliffs of Dover. I don’t know that these were the cliffs but I took them to be so, and I was just thrilled. I had read about England so often, probably before I remember my favorite book around age 8, P.L Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park. British people travel to the US continent to see the grand landscapes, vast wilds of wide long rivers, tall trees, canyons; reading Americans like myself to realize their dreams from books. Before setting off for Leeds I had read Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (to prepare self). I had no plan, no aim, I never do, much, low expectations that’s my ticket. This act, this coming year would be another escape from a life situation I didn’t understand very well, except that since returning to live with my parents, life had again grown intolerable — to a place where I could do what I had learned I was able to do pretty well: read, write, sit in classrooms, get good grades in humanities subjects. I had a travel allowance as part of my scholarship too. But what happened changed my life enough (a lot) so that I found fulfillment, a measure of peace and stability, a career of sorts, something I could do for money for which I got some respect and was competent at that I could endure, people to be around who gave me room to be whatever I was. Most of it made possible by Jim Moody, with me reciprocating enough so that I did the same for him. Only now I was there without him. How would it feel?

And that made all the difference. As has his disappearance. I remember one time I said to him, Where were you? I couldn’t find you. You disappeared.” And he said, “No I remained perfectly visible all the time.” Unexpectedly I didn’t feel his absence as keenly as I usually do. All that I saw I connected to him, and some of it made me feel better. I’ve reverted to my strong reluctance to leave my home, to travel far — I’m just like Fanny Price when I’m away and recite to myself Cowper’s lines: With what intense desire she wants her home. It took quite a scene between Jim and I in the summer of 1992 to get me to agree to travel on holidays; gradually I learned to accept this ummooring and interim time and even enjoy and look forward to our trips to England, twice to France, though mostly because he was there and where he was home was. So nights were hard; I’d sit and count how many I had to go, took strong sleeping pills to cut the time.

Yet I wanted to be there doing what I did while I was doing it. Thanks to my friend, Clare, it was a lot. For two days beginning around 10 in the morning and ending around 10, we experienced Devonshire. On the first day, we walked on Berryhead and saw dolphins in the sea, and experienced the palimpsest of time that the various remains (Roman to Napoleonic to World War Two) of the place as barrier to be defended against enemies. We went to the Exeter estuary and walked on the flat sands, a place that reminded me of similar areas in Southampton and Hampshire where Jim took me to show me where he spent his boyhood (Itchen?) and quoted at me, The Wind in the Willows (“there is nothing so grand as messing about in boats”). We drove up toward Powerham castle stopping before we got there when we came across a 14th century church that resembled the central building in J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country. We walked about the crumbling building,

IzzyandMe

the graveyard, Izzy took a photo of the building at a funny angle, and then we went deeper to where we saw a bridge, and onto more waterways from which we glimpsed the vicarage, and a deer park with deer so white, they looked like dream figures. We stopped at a cove or bay from which (a sign told us) smuggling went on (smuggling went on everywhere) but also boats would leave Exeter, often afterwards picking up unfortunate enslaved people, or others in forms of servitude and then onto Newfoundland or further south to the US.

The second day was Saltram House — a remarkable place, preserved in a state that is not opulent or super-polished so you can genuinely get something of a feel of what it felt like to be alive in the place say from the 18th century on. We spent three hours looking at its paintings, the rooms, the clothes, the gardens. Then onto Plymouth where the Mayflower left from — and much devastating bombing occurred in World War Two. Ambition and Clare’s partner drove us into Cornwall where the terrain is different — hilly and rocky with narrow lanes, and houses everywhich way. A genuine formal garden was by Mount Edgecumbe house, all this topiary, flowers and temples and follies (a deliberately constructed ruin of a hovel). We drove through the moors, Dartmoor to be specific, it was like a sea. People were walking about, sheep, some cows. Some of it Jane Austen country: Weymouth, Honiton, other familiar names. It was the sort of place Jim and I used to take a bus out of Leeds 7 (where we lived, a Pakistani area around a park) to, get out and yes walk, and then find a pub, drink and eat, and then take a bus back to the city. I remember stone walls and lambs — who do frisk in the sun.

Beyond this return — with Izzy, our second daughter (who I here often call Yvette), whose presence kept me on track, and who took so many and splendid photos (like the above of a 13th or 14th century church) and plans five blogs (See Trip Photos Blog 1: Belgium) that I need not say much about the places we wandered about — beyond the journey back, I meant to attend a second Trollope conference, where I would give a paper and be among people who had devoted their lives, careers, some their love to Trollope, written influentially, were recognized as such, as well as people who loved reading Trollope just about best of all things (people from the Trollope society), and Victorianists whose interest included this man’s writing. Jim had wanted me to go, had tried to plan how he could come with me. (After that operation for him and anyone having that criminal esophagectomy there is no going anywhere far at all.) There seemed to be fewer of these last two groups of people (readers, Victorian scholars) than there had been in my first Trollope conference in 2006, held in Exeter. Leuven is harder to get to, expensive by plane. Since “true Trollopians” be it not forgotten hail from Australia and New Zealand probably Leuven is smidgin closer than Exeter (if you head west say across India to Europe rather than the way most US people seem to do east to west across the Atlantic ocean), there was a concentration of knowledge of Trollope hardly to be matched except if you were to round up an equivalent number of devoted fans from the two Trollope societies and put them in a room for a couple of days or have them go on Trollope walks, using maps from Trollope’s novels.

There was a dinner at the close of first evening, a book launch closed the second evening, and Izzy and I had to go before the end of the third day (our “allowance” was three nights, and we came on Wednesday so as to be there for all Thursday and Friday) so I didn’t get to see much of Leuven. She made up for it beautifully. One long morning into afternoon at the Leuven Botanical Gardens, under the trees, in the rain made for strangely lovely photos and statues. Someone had made the wise decision not to have a keynote speech: a genuine range of topics and points of view were covered, but I think out of these did emerge a more or less consistent “take” on Trollope which might surprise some readers. I will write a blog (or blogs) offering the jist of what was said across many sessions

LeuvenBelgium

As she says, the place had many waterways tucked in and about the buildings. I was with her walking about Leuven that first Wednesday night, and for the one photo she snapped at night, and on another night we had dinner with a woman for whom Trollope had become life-changing. I could see there was a pleasant street life in the town, lots of restaurants, bars, squares with chairs and tables crowded in.

We did not neglect London: three nights and two days there. We stayed at a minimally comfortable hotel near Paddington Station, convenient for the West End where we went to the theater twice: for Claire van Kampen’s Farinelli and the King, starring the truly remarkable Mark Rylance in the newly renovated (back to the 19th century theater) Duke of York’s theater and Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s famous hit musical Miss Saigon (where yes a helicopter is brought on stage so we can see the iconic scene of Americans jumping aboard, deserting their complicit allies as the city falls). Here the performer to be singled out is the astonishing Jon Jon Briones as the ironic-cynical figure, the Engineer, who appears to have been playing this part for years, only not every night (there is an alternate “for some performances”) or he’d have long ago died of exhaustion. More about these separately, for now, Farinelli was an unexpectedly delicate play about the effect of beauty inwardly on character, and Saigon a healthy distance from the celebratory inanities of South Pacific. As with Leuven, there was a strong social life going on all around us, bars, cafes, people spilling out into the streets.

national-gallery-trafalgar-square
The woman who is tired of Trafalgar Square is tired of life — there are almost continuously shows going on for the public there …

I had intended to meet two Internet friends, one a long-time friend from Oxford who Jim and I had dined with years ago; we were to go to the Victoria and Albert museum and a park, and the Royal Albert Hall, but he didn’t make it. Instead I spent a good day with Izzy, at the National Gallery seeing some genuinely new interesting pictures from the Renaissance, and re-acquainting myself with old 18th and 19th century and impressionist favorites.

IMG_0264
A Pissaro I had never seen before …

We also made it to Foyle’s where I bought Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath; and Izzy, Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. At the National Portrait there was Simon Schama’s thoughtful re-arrangement of the faces and pictures, The Face of Britain (remarkable statements about the natures of power), and we had fun coming across various people who we said, I hadn’t though so-and-so looked like that or just as I supposed.

For example, Dorothy Sayers, whose books we both have read avidly:

by Sir William Oliphant Hutchison, oil on canvas, circa 1949-1950

by Sir William Oliphant Hutchison, oil on canvas, circa 1949-1950

We made it to an exhibit at the British Library (rare manuscripts) and then gave out to a decent Italian meal with wine for me. A high point for me was meeting a new friend and going together to Dickens’s house (like Saltram, left to be more realistic, especially the servants quarters downstairs and the children’s nursery up), to the Persephone book shop (where I bought books — a wonderful place, a business flourishing on good principles), lunch (bean soup and glasses of wine), and much good talk and walking about in Bloomsbury.

SusanHoyleandMeDickensHouseCafe

The traveling itself a testament to the sheep-like nature of people and in any space subject to American influence an imposition of paranoia “security theater.” Marilyn Robinson recently and Michael Moore decades ago in Columbine argued that fear is central to American culture, a total lack of identification with others at all different from you. Yes, the acceptance of this regime is based on that, but its outward projection and uses in war is imposed — each and every time Izzy and I entered some space in an airport controlled or strongly influenced by American power we find ourselves treated paranoiacally. Random body security checks, at Dulles coming back I went through 4 different checkpoints, at two of which I was photographed; it was astonishing to be in Dublin airport where there was no such atmosphere; people were also relaxed there and elsewhere outside the American regimes because there were plenty of moderate priced places to eat. In American space at National Airport and at Dulles there is no social life — what there is is advertisements: in airports, on phones, in public devices on the Internet, various i- gadgets, over the air, everywhere intrusive loud TVS and public advertising a form of badgering. The continual barrage of badgering pollutes our inner and outward environment. You also starve because the choices are: junk food dispensed through machines; or quiet “clubs”behind glass walls, where you have had to join and pay to be part of it and then pay again (a lot) to get a luxury meal (probably absurdly over-sauced and on enormous plates). We snatched bananas at one point, a bottle of water for her Shiraz wine for me. That carried us for four hours.

This is an emblem of most planes too: the treatment of most people on a plane has “progressed” to genuine discomfort (little food, all packaged awful stuff at high prices, no comfort in chairs, stinginess down to napkins — please madam can I have a second thin napkin?) with the first class ludicrously catered to, including care for their bags. Lost bags has become a business, with courier and local services. As with General Motors deciding it was an overhead to allow thousands to die, crash, maim, get accused of causing accidents and pay out rather than fix a starter, so it will cost more to take care of the bags than allow people vacations to be ruined, precious objects lost. The airlines get away with this because they operate as monopolies.

Izzy was without her suitcase and most of her things for two days. We had been forced to stand for hours getting through border control at Heathrow, and by the time we reached the carousel her bag had disappeared. Probably dropped on the tarmac, fell off a carousel, was pushed to the back in some niche, no one at all minding any of them (but those who pay gigantic sums for first class tickets). She was without it for the two days we spent in Devonshire; the night before we left it was brought to the hotel just before midnight. She is literally my size (just a different shape) so I lent her some of my clothes. She worried intensely about uncopied and irreplaceable material on her ipad but it was not taken. After this she carries all the things she most cherishes and thinks she must have for comfort in one of her two allowed handbags.

I was one of those “chosen” to undergo a special security check at one airport where the US agency, TSA, had a space where it reigned supreme. In life I don’t look quite as bad as I do in photos, just very thin and old. People get up for me on subways; they offer to carry my bag. This random check included patting down my body, and as he did it the Icelandic person apologized profusely, said it was ridiculous and he was so sorry to bother me. The thing to remember is Americans want this: do they feel in their gut their behavior abroad and at home is so unconscionable there must be someone waiting to retaliate somewhere all the time.

But I’m not cataloguing the travails here. Sufficient that we went, we did what we set out to do, and came back. (See my anniversary blog on how Jim and I resolved issues; the one about travel may be told.) My poor pussycats missed us strongly.

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Clarysept2015 (1)

Laura Caroline came every day and stayed for an hour and she said eventually they would play with string, but Clarycat remained overtly resentful and would not pose for photos, appeared to need to get into her litter promptly after Laura had cleaned it to replace that foreign smell. I thought of how Dorothy got to take Toto with her.

I used my ipad and did another week of Wordsworth’s poetry as presented at Future Learn, watched Amy Goodman on the Pope’s visit, and (especially while on trains, planes, buses, in waiting areas) also managed to read quite a lot of Fielding’s brilliant and deeply emotional (if only you read it as if it were a 5 line poem) Tom Jones and soothed myself with Jenny Diski’s What she doesn’t know about animals. The woman is dying of cancer and the nightmarish destruction treatments wreaked on her as I type this. Diski writes a several page description of an ancient monument place which at the turn of the 20th century became a place for a cat hoarder to keep her animals and has since been turned into a cat sanctuary. Rome. Cat hoarders who have controlled themselves and made a good world for their beloveds. The tone and mood reminded me of her Skating to Antartica.

Sylvia

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Reading

AlisonWeir
Another book I’m reading just now, and the author who I would like to hear talk, preferably at a small conference …

Dear friends and readers,

A year ago I went to the National Book Festival held in D.C. sponsored by the Library of Congress and I returned for a second go-round today; reading over what I did and listened to last year, I’m startled by how much less I endured this year: I heard one full lecture, a very good one by Annette Gordon-Reed, the woman who wrote the masterpieces of sleuthing, reason, and cultural history as biography, The Hemingses of Monticello; and was present at one interview, of Jane Smiley (how quick she was on the self-deprecating, amusing jokes, and smooth her transition to serious comments deftly kept light) by an NPR hostess. Among the books by her I’ve read: Duplicate Keys; another Private Life, A Thousand Acres).

Gordon-Reed summarized her book to emphasize how Jefferson and Sally Hemings’ relationship emerged from a previous web of relationships (her mother was Jefferson’s wife’s father’s concubine, so she was Jefferson’s wife’s half-sister). Smiley suggested what people read for whom books are meaningful read between ages 12 and 15 has a profound influence on them (she cited three Dickens for herself from 7th through 9th grade); where you are (physically) is what you write out of and about, how you write is shaped by who you read.

I did have a good conversation with a woman sitting next to me in this session. We talked of how much Little Women had meant to us, and she suggested that today girls can’t relate to it, don’t read it any more. I wondered to her why Smiley seems never to cite women’s books as influential on her when she writes such women’s novels herself.

annette-gordon-reed
Annette Gordon-Reed (2011)

PrivateLife
Of those I’ve read I liked this one by Smiley most thus far — though her best is A Thousand Acres, I didn’t care for it as much

This time I could not bring myself to eat food I had bought but couldn’t stand the flavor of I discovered (curry chicken, for the first and last time); I had walked all over the building in pursuit of this odd-tasting slurpy garbage, and was exhausted by the time I reached the fourth place I had planned: Jeffrey Brown, Azar Nafisi and a third talking on Why Literature Matters (a fatuous topic, possibly a banal treatment, but I hoped not). I should have skipped the food altogether as my quest left me shut out of the room (“filled to capacity”); huge crowds everywhere by mid-day. Even more foolishly I thought to go to The Human Cost of War, never thinking the speaker was Tom Brokaw, so the mass of people so much larger. We were allowed in if we wanted to stand at the back, but when I heard him reply to his “distinguished” interviewer if anyone he had interviewed who fought in WW2 had criticized it, “No, none of that” in disdain, out I went. I could not have born the 3 hours required to get to hear Maureen Corrigan (Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading) or attend a two-hour session on Books into Movies (I missed last year’s on movies too because it was put on so late).

I spared myself anymore, and was home inside an hour, made myself Earl Grey tea, had some cottage cheese, a plain shortbread cookie; by six Yvette and I had had a Chinese dinner (like last year) and she returned to her tennis and ice-skating and singing too in her room. I had (over the day and night) managed to read some essays on Chardin before I left for the Book Festival; in the interstices of time traveling, while there, carry on with a good book on Thomas Cromwell by John Schofield, and home Fielding’s Rape Upon Rape, a devastating essay exposing his deeply flawed treatment of sexual violence inflicted on women, and re-watch, mesmerized Philippe Lowthorpe’s radically revelatory movie, the 2003 The Other Boleyn Girl (I now realize with a little help from Andrew Davies, as he’s listed as a script advisor, and editor).

'Young_Student_Drawing',_oil_on_panel_by_Jean_Siméon_Chardin,_c._1738,_Kimbell_Art_Museum
Chardin’s Young Student Drawing

PhilipGlenister
Philip Glenister, perfect for Stafford in the 2003 film

So I sit here recording all this. I have been thinking this week to write why I write. Probably at least half of those getting up to speak made part of their talks why they wrote this particular book, how they came to write it, maybe some (like last year Richard Rodriguez) why they write full-stop. I’ve gathered that on the Victoria listserv there are people who resent my attempting to write brief lives and show images from the painting of lesser-known or neglected women artists. Who are you to do this? on what? what can you know? I have said on the Austen Reveries blog that I decided on this project because Jim is dead and I have a house full of beautiful books with much information and insight, one part of which is made up of four rows of art books. I’ve no-one to talk about, or look at them with anymore. When I die, the library will be dispersed probably any old way. So why not share what I have insofar as I can, have the comfort of imagining appreciation? They don’t believe this? They don’t care; such an act threatens a structure where all decisions are made with career, place, and money in mind (not necessarily in that order).

But why write other blogs, on listservs, letters, papers, reviews, lectures for teaching. One local friend this week looked at me in slight astonishment when I said my older daughter wrote frequently and beautifully on her blog (originally called I Should Have Been a Blogger) without being paid to do it!? A student once looked at me in amazement when she realized I had read Sense and Sensibility more than once. What could possibly induce anyone to read a book for a second time?

Well, the act of reading something deep and good absorbs, and the act of writing cheers me up for a little while. Oh this wears off, but it lifts me, pulls me out of my painful, vexed, self-berating memories, weary and worried anticipations of what’s to come. Pluck. This sort of thing was me in the night-time mornings before Jim died, so they are not the result of grieving. True that when he was alive and would wake with me, he could dissolve this mood away with a kind look, gentle joke, piece of persuasive sceptical nihilism, funny funny comments. How he could make me laugh. But with or without him, I have written to cheer myself up since I started writing.

After a bout of writing, doesn’t even matter what it is, I feel better. I sometimes wonder if I’ve changed much since I became aware of myself and time became more or less continuous. I began writing regularly when I was 10 or 11. I seemed suddenly to awaken at 9, to realize my parents were so unhappily married, to look about me and recognize or see for the first time, the class system, so many things I began to explain to myself, and feel my first deep sadness. Sometime shortly after that, maybe fifth grade I had a selectric (half-electric) typewriter (perhaps a Christmas gift from my parents), which I used for years and years, until I went to England (age 21) and had to leave it behind. So from age 10 or so I’d write away on it away from the living room where my mother endlessly watched TV, and my father in the bedroom reading.

My parents and I lived in a 3 room apartment most of the years I lived with them, and the only alternative to the one bedroom, kitchen and living room was a hall (where my father kept his bookcases and a desk to do bill son). I learned to half-shut that TV out by the time I was 13, for at that age I stopped watching TV regularly. But then I began to want to write more deeply, longer stories say, letters and even essays (for fun, really, say on a book I had just read). I recall at age 15 I placed my machine on the kitchen table and wrote there so to avoid the interfering distraction and grating material of the incessant TV.

typewriter
Image found on the Internet — mine had a handle you had to throw back, in other words a movable carriage

I never went back to commercial TV, nor weekly comedies, dramas, game shows, whatever, and only returned to PBS for Masterpiece, Mystery Theater, NOVA, when 2 years or so after Jim and I returned from England and my grandmother was told we didn’t have a TV, and bought us one as a belated wedding present. She thought to be without a TV such a deprivation, and couldn’t imagine how we had gotten along without one. As to my typewriter, when I returned the old one was gone, and I bought an updated model of the same machine. Eventually I typed my dissertation on that typewriter. It finally died in the early 1990s, and I was told such machines were not made anymore and I had to buy a computer to type with.

Much my writing ultimately (even if secondary aims part of them) comes from it’s being a way to cheer myself. The act, the formulating the thoughts, the imagined reaching out to people — however deludedly I feel empowered, not so helpless, not so alone, talking to people not there. I’m making sense of things, putting words together and working hard to find precisely accurate ones and to arrange them in a clear sharp order which capture a meaning and in so doing teach me what I have been thinking and feeling, explaining, imagining. Then the passages are rearranged until a coherent pattern emerges (linked together with the usual glue words and phrases) associatively, logically, chronologically ….

It’s nearly 1 year and 11 months since Jim died. I’m finding life has gotten harder rather than easier. Grief is said/supposed to ease off and mine is no longer so encompassing. I can see past the grief, but now that I see a world beyond it more clearly, and even as cheering, it’s more desolating for me or I grow more tired as each series of events goes by and the effort seems harder as I realize the situation of having to carry on alone is not going to change.

And so to bed,
Miss Drake

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