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My new profile picture for face-book and twitter — a life apud libros — among books, of reading

I met America at a neighborhood bar last night …. Marcus Amaker

Dear friends and readers,

An “epidemic of loneliness” is the phrase the US Surgeon General leads with when he comes on News shows and other forums to tell us that how bad it is for people to be literally alone (no matter what electronics are around them in their living habitat). but since COVID is over insofar as a control on people’s behavior, all I can see for most of them is endless socializing — except when it comes to asking anyone to travel to a class or place of work when they can do the essential task or have the essential experience (often intangible intellectual) without the waste of time, or taking up of time to get there and back. That’s what’s asserted online — everyone gone out there once again socializing somehow or other, and even I may appear to be that way as I also am guilty of trying to appeal to the norms of my readers.

I do have another explanation for the US Surgeon General’s imbecility: statistically there has been a surge of suicide across the US; it was noticed a few years ago that white women ages 40-55 were killing themselves in greater numbers than ever before, greater than their portion of the population warranted. Why? I think it’s that their partners can now separate from them freely, no social stigma (and find a younger women willing to live with this man of means), and that their jobs pay them so little as well as giving them little respect.

Sometimes watching a popular serial can alert you to trends. So the serial Succession suggests to me a sick society.

Succession S1E1 I started the (in the US) famous serial Succession last night. Laura went to some trouble to transfer Izzy’s HBO Max into my computer and I can now watch it through Izzy’s account (she gets one guest it seems — or two computers somehow or other). Every other word was “fuck”, very foul language to say the simplest kinds of things in a metaphoric kind of way, very unlikeable characters — though with “vulnerability” especially the men. The women in such shows are characteristically harder and meaner than the men — part of the searing misogyny of this new era. There are also a limited group of motivations, ambition, competition to reach “the top” of whatever — and real meanness here and there. Very slick, does no one live an old house — NYC is chock-a-block (literally) with housing built before WW2 and 1 too Helicopter travel for the whole family. So they skip traffic jams. I know helicopters can save people but since Vietnam I loathe them. But I see the serial provides the lead story in the Style section of the Washington Post

Succession S1E2: I watched the second episode. It is apparently a British show! — all the actors doing American accents. It has a to me odd sense of humor — they are making fun of any kind of kind or humane behavior. The characters are literally obnoxious and mean a good deal of the time — endlessly competitive The idea is the old man might die at any moment (they are in an ICU) and they vye for the money left, who will run the firm. One character is there for us to laugh at as he (and also Matthew MacFayden) are ceaselessly sycophantic. I wanted to know what is written a lot about and what people watch (It seems) a lot. The heterosexual relationships are all under terrific strain. No wonder I can’t get along in this culture: watching such a program if there are many like this has to be be bad for your moral character … I ask myself what do viewers think and feel when they watch such a program. Some people will say they don’t take it seriously, but you must do while watching it. It reminds me of how youngish women today may say that the present predatory heterosexual norms are things they can deal with and don’t matter or shrug.. In one of my classes someone said of that (taking of My Brilliant Friend) they are just refusing to think of feel about what happens to them. Really? I may stop now as I think it is too much for me …

I can’t figure out how Succession is escapist when it is so painful. I do have an explanation: to most people it is not painful. They don’t mind the mockery and cruelty — it amuses them.

I am not as lonely as I would be without the Internet, and all my activities with others coming out of books, talks about books, movies, shared daily experiences. The worst time is 4:30, but I admit that during the day I have often had hours of peaceful reading and writing. Zooms make an enormous difference. It is a central form of social life for me nowadays.

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Me and Patty at Arlington House

Last weekend was over-full: On Saturday the 13th I went out with two friends, a married couple to Arlington House (mansion built and owned by the Custis family into which both George Washington and Robert E Lee married) and the grounds around it — the whole embedded at the edge of Arlington Cemetery. The most interesting exhibits today are the recreation of enslaved people’s cabins with photographs, family trees insofar as this is possible, whatever letters survived, and modern videos of descendants talking about what they have been told and experienced of US life themselves. My friend’s husband took a photo of her and me in the grounds. After, we enjoyed a long lunch out in good restaurant, Carlyle’s, at Shirlington.

She had made for my cats another beautiful comforter: crocheted it


Keeping each other company once again (since Clarycat’s stroke)

Another small step in improvement: today Clarycat carried another of her toys about, but this time she knew where to put it: right where I sit. She also is moving about with a sense of direction, knows where she’s going Each step in recovery matters and is heartening to see …

This morning I found Clarycat laying down alongside Ian. I hope he has understood that does not mean he can rough play, but it does show she is now willing to lie down with him as long as he is quiet and gentle. But then again he tries to wrestle and play and she has to scream at him, very high decibel to get him to stop. I run over and pick her up and soothe and reassure her. In another part of the house, he is clamoring for comfort.

Clarycat was better yesterday — well a good sign was for the first time in weeks now she was carrying one of her toys in her mouth. She trotted about with it, but she looked as if she was confused. Strangely, too, as if she didn’t know what to do with the toy. Finally she set it down when she sat down. But then today she was not managing getting onto the top of my bed. She tried 3 times, finally I picked her up and held her in my arms as I’ve been doing for weeks now while I read. She can no longer (like Ian) look intently out the window, listening, the way she once did.

But again this morning she kept banging against the wall in our hall. She was trying to trot along in her earlier way, following Ian or he by her side and she could not prevent her body from turning left. Bang bang bang. I hurried to retrieve her and hold her in my arms until her heart beat slower.

But then again or now she has picked up her toy and taken it to the spot she used to — where I sit. She was trotting around with another toy a little later and also knew where to put it — or she set it down where she clearly intended. And now every morning I am eating my cereal she gives me our new signal for her to be taken onto my lap (a kind of soft mew) and she stands against my chest and licks up some of the milk in my cereal bowl.

Then yesterday I met another woman friend at the Kennedy Center. Lunch, lecture before and a moving & ever-so-active (stage filled with vignettes at one point) performance of Puccini’s La Boheme. I relived the anguish I felt when Jim died as they enacted that closing scene. Auditorium was sold out. And audience rapturous. The production was reviewed as boisterous.

Exhaustion also from trip. I now have conquered how to get to Kennedy Center once again by using Arlington Memorial Bridge — 25 minutes at most. Did I say the wicked gremlins of DC reconfigured the route back that way so last time trying it I arrived home shattered after an hour?

This time I took an alternative route using Theodore Roosevelt Bridge (a fancy name for 50 West crossing the Potomac), which I learned during the closing of the Arlington Memorial Bridge: I had trouble getting my cellphone back on, but (before I left) Izzy had programed the Google maps part way, up to “start,” and I had my old print-out of directions from Mapquest (are people aware Mapquest is now destroyed by commercial greed? what is not? you will reply), and my pictorial memory. Then I could not get the voice to work until half-way, but when it kicked in finally, I was able to move over to a better “artery” into Arlington & to Alexandria, so home within 30 minutes. I feel I now know this way home and can begin again to go to Kennedy Center. No pictures beyond the promotional one for La Boheme. The day was lovely.

Recovery from each day’s social experience was collapsing for 3 hour nap in early evening.

Oh yes mother’s day. Izzy wished me well, Laura is coming over with a mug later this afternoon, and I had emails from Thao and a new young woman friend, Bianca.

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Among those books being read by me now:

Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister. I keep reading this, almost I cannot put it down, and this is unusual for me nowadays and even more so for a sequel — for this is a kind of traditional sequel. We are going through the Pride and Prejudice story, much as one does in Jo Baker’s Longbourne. Daringly Hadlow quotes more than you realize from Austen verbatim, which shows how her artificial language is up to accommodating 18th century style.

What I like — and this will seem odd – is that the angle Mary’s experience projects turns out to be a real critique of Austen herself. You’d think a Janeite would not like that — think again. From Mary’s POV we see how cruel Austen’s favored characters can be — of course her non-favored characters have long been shown to be outrageous (D. W. Harding was showing that too). Hadlow is revealing Austen herself to be skewed — valuing Elizabeth because much of the misery of life Elizabeth simply shoves off as so much water off a duck’s back. We see the hypocrisy of many social pretenses — so Hadlow goes further than Austen. In this version Mary had worked very hard to play well that night at the assembly, and in fact had played well, but not in the mode that was wanted; she also made the mistake to try to sing. Afterwards — the next day, Mr Bennet tried indirectly to apologize and compensate but we can see how little he does there — better than the callous Mrs Bennet.

It’s like D.W. Harding carried further — I can see what is critiqued in line with Charlotte Smith and so the book w/o overt politics is political — set in the later 18th century of course. Jo Baker’s Longbourne too shows up the Bennets but not inwardly the way Hadlow does. I guess I have “catholic” tastes in my reactions to appropriations on film (for I like the Sanditons) and verbal post-texts.

Hadlow was at the BBC for many years, and her other books are all set in the later 18th into 19th century, some sequels, some historical fiction, some biography.

Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet was never a favorite of mine; I prefer the Elizabeth conjured up by Anna Maxwell Martin in the film adaptations of PDJames’s Death Comes to Pemberley. I also decided I like the PBS/BBC serial Sanditon, mostly won over by Rose Williams as Miss Heywood and Turlough Convery as Arthur.

I am now preparing for my summer courses: reading Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and Jenny Uglow’s marvelous literary biography of her: A Habit of Stories — she is almost better than reading the Cranford stories themselves when she close reads them so beautifully does she explicate and recreate the experience of the stories; I re-watched the deeply moving film adaptation by Andrew Davies: Michael Gambon and Tom Hollander are unforgettable as Osborne and Squire Hamley (a kind of King Lear grieving over his daughter Cordelia is evoked). I was disappointed by Alba de Cespedes’ Forbidden Notebook: after a book long series of gradual rebellions and re-definitions of herself, her husband, her children, she caves in to re-become grandmother to this family, no longer even working outside the home and destroys her notebook, where she had been seeking a new identity.

For my Internet identity: I wrote a short talk for a coming Trollope Society Every-other-week group: it’s on Phineas Finn and I called it “Words for Sale.” Watched all three Tom Jones films (1966, 1997, 2023) in succession, preparing for a comparative blog alongside Fielding’s novel.

Mishandled an offer for me to review an edition of Dusinger’s work on Richardson: the woman said she wanted it yesterday and I worried I couldn’t do it, and then my “pay” was to be allowed to pick a book from their thousands or hundreds of unappetizing titles. I’m now sorry I missed out. I now think I might have had the time. But perhaps it’s better not to be so pressured. I did better at an offer to do a biography of Isabelle de Montolieu, an entry in a Palgrave encyclopedia. I’ll look at what’s wanted tomorrow morning. I think they were more polite in their first letter.

But am doing two reviews, one for the Intelligencer where the editor is my long-time friend and another for a long-time friend. In both cases there is no problem in having to understand what’s wanted, when, or special social skills.

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And Izzy finished a second puzzle: Caduceus, cleric, of the Wild Mother. Notice how it’s hard to distinguish a male from a female gender, and look at the lovely purples and reds. An old-fashioned radio to the right at the bottom

Ellen

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At Stonehenge, Jan 18th: Sunrise 8:01 am; Sunset 4:34 pm

January 18th, Alexandria, Va, area on top of hill not far from Shooter’s Hill:

It’s 20 to 4 and I’m settled back in my chair in my workroom to read. I went out around 3 o’clock (pm) to walk as that would be the “height” of the day. It’s warmest and sunniest. I remembered while walking how I used sit in front of my window when Jim was still working full time and wish he could only come home 2 hours earlier. By 5 the sun and the glory of the day gone. If the weather was not too cold by that time, after supper, we’d walk together, down below, in Old Towne, usually briefly. Now I go out myself and walk alone.

Dear readers and friends,

Perhaps I should explain how I do it, or where some of the rational for my continual reading, writing, watching films, and occasional contact with other people come from:

The OLLIs:

OLLI at Mason has in effect 4 terms:  fall (8 weeks), winter (4), spring (8) and summer (6). I didn’t do winter before they went online because I saw how maddingly frustrating it would be to me to have a class canceled (as it would have to, because it follows the Fairfax County School schedule).  OLLI at Mason has clubs all year round. These clubs can get speakers, often not famous at all and often very poor — you want to know what are popular misconceptions about history, hear anti-communism &c their history club does that.  Clubs are also reading together, playing games together, exercise together, go to the theater together (I joined in here the year before the pandemic), walk together, writing not actually together but you bring what you wrote and share it.

OLLI at Mason allows me complete access to the online database at Mason from home; I’d pay the $400 for membership just for that.

OLLI at AU has 3 terms: fall (10), spring (10), summer (4).  The summer one is new — began say 5 years ago.  Inbetween in winter they have something called shorts: classes that run for 1 week, 3-5 days a week in the last week of January and first of February; nowadays for 2 weeks (it used to be just for one); 5 years ago they began to repeat this in July.  The new summer terms and shorts were the result of moving into the new building where we had so much more room and access than the churches they had been meeting in. OLLI at AU also runs lecture series where semi-famous people come and talk — in January and again in June.  No special library privileges and no online access from home. I go to the shorts and some of the lectures at OLLI at AU. As for teaching that way, I’d rather take a running jump off a cliff.

I can no longer do two different courses at the same time. It is just too much for me. So I do the same course fall and spring at both OLLIs; I repeat the same course for the 4 week winter and summer at both OLLIs. The one where there is no repeat is the 6 week summer course at OLLI at Mason as there is nothing comparable at OLLI at AU.

Others:

P&P, Politics and Prose Bookstore: I attend classes, literary, and these run for anywhere from 2 to 3, to 4-5, and sometimes 7-8 sessions, one a week. Most nowadays online. Most classes are attached directly to reading some sort of books together or bringing writing you do to a forum. After all it’s a bookstore. It has returned to trying to be a community center with its evening lecture series (by known people) and its trips, but not book clubs in the store spaces.

I’ve quit the Smithsonian as an attendee or student because most classes are at night, and I’ve discovered that if your online access to a class doesn’t work, they won’t help you. They get more than famous people and once in a while (not often enough) a very good lecturer, but the literature courses (reading) have fallen away. Much mainstream thought without the misconceptions you find at (to be fair) both OLLI at AU and mason. This is a loss for me and if more were in person during the day or they changed their stance towards online helping I would.

Then there’s far away. I do attend Cambridge classes, one at a time, usually Sunday, on themes — 19th century authors, or Woolf and Bloomsbury thus far, but they are a bit expensive. Almost uniformly excellent. I attend the every-other-week London Trollope Society group readings: they are of remarkably high quality for such gatherings. It takes some brains and knowledge to read and understand Trollope. Speakers are sometimes very good I’ve done 5 or 6 talks myself. Everyone friendly and kind.

Online life:

I participate in online reading groups on social platforms. One on-going one is at my “own” Trollope&His Contemporaries, a very few active people at a time. By this time (what a relief) no quarrels. On face-book The Way We Read Now, a break-off group from the Trollope face-book page which has moderators who heavily censure people, even kick them off. This is not uncommon. I was kicked off a Poldark Discussion Page: enough of the leaders didn’t like my approach. It’s a loss; it did hurt. I’ve seen people kicked off the Outlander group I’m in; they have stopped group reads partly because they fought too much, and (semi-miraculously) they too when it’s a new season for the serial, rarely fight. What happens is after a while the disruptive or disliked person is kicked off or leaves or falls silent. Very important to me my 2 hours on Saturday evening once-a-month online Autism Friends group who also meet every other week evenings for a one-hour chat.

Travel since Jim died

I’ve managed apart from Road Scholar (3 trips thus far; two wonderful, one to Inverness and environs for a week; another to the Lake District and Northumberland as far as Hadrian’s Wall and an archeaological dig) I’ve been to a large number of conferences for me: two were once in a lifetime (it seems) types for me: a Trollope and a Charlotte Smith one, the first in Belgium, the second Chawton House. Izzy was generous enough to come with me, enabling me to go in this individual way demanded. I’ve gone with her to 4 JASNAs, probably no more: she quit when for a 3rd time we were excluded. I’ve gone to ASECS (probably no more for me, too much to explai) and to EC/ASECS — I will try to continue as I’ve a few real friends there. For all of these I did papers regularly. I did love the sessions, and nowadays I attend virtual conferences and sometimes I am just so inspirited and inspired: Virginia Woolf ones, Renaissance ones, individual favorite authors …

So this is how I fill my time. I develop new veins of thought and areas to teach; I learn a lot socially and intellectually. Why do I need such things: these provide me with companionship and activity others seem to enjoy with me. I feel useful. I make what closer friends with great difficulty; it’s even harder to sustain them. Why is this: among other things, I’m Aspergers syndrome. I’m also (or it’s that I’m a) depressive, suffer anxiety barriers of all sorts I’ll call them. Of course I’ve a lifetime behind me of not building groups until the mid-1990s when I first came onto the ‘Net and found I could make acquaintances and find people like me (in different ways) for the first time.

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The first half of this entry allows me to segue into the second: how rare it is that anyone presents anything to the public in mass media films that shows true understanding of this disability.

In a different Key, a documentary about autism on PBS. The depiction as far as it goes is accurate, fair, balanced. One never knows how a neurotypical audience might react but such a film at least starts means to start with a basis in truth understanding empathy:

https://www.pbs.org/show/different-key/

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/new-documentary-in-a-different-key-follows-first-person-ever-diagnosed-with-autism

There is an excellent book: In a Different Key by John Donvan and Caren Zucker — a full history intended to reach an autistic adult audience as well as the average reader. Very smooth style, very chatty friendly Upbeat insofar as you can be when your material is so often devastating (about the treatment of autistic people, their relatives &c). The thing is to ask yourself is, Who is it written for? It’s written in a very simple soothing kind of style, very much telling a story or stories. The book (unlike the film) while it features the story of Donald Triplett does tell a history of autism, from earliest records of (cruel) institutionalization to the first awareness this is a general disorder, recognition, Leo Kanner — up to today. But it does this through individual story-telling in a very easy to read style in a kindly tone — charitable to all.

It did just resonate with me when Lee Kanner remarked that two elements found across the autistic spectrum, no matter what the individual variants are: a pattern of aloneness and a pattern of sameness.  The words aloneness and sameness leapt out at me.   Irrespective of whether you are lonely or not in your aloneness. I know that the difference for the 44 years I was married to my husband, Jim, basically I was alone with him.

The word sameness for me translates into how much I need routines, how routines help enormously and I follow a routine each day.  The word pattern reminds me of how much of an ordeal it is for me to travel.  How in efforts not to get lost I try hard to picture the place I’m going to our of memory and if I can return to where I know the environs and have been there before I can control anxiety attacks.  That’s comfort in sameness. I don’t like change.

But I have to admit the film is wanting. It fails to convey the full reality of autism because the film-makers instinctively, intuitively (they don’t think this out) feel the way to elicit sympathy is to omit the adult reality and worlds of feeling (which can include anger, resentment, indignation, a sense of alienation), the full burden of adulthood from the portraits of autistic people they show. The result is to make the autistic people child-like, too accepting, vulnerable. So it feels like what we are given is once again a framing by adult-parental neurotypicals. The continual return to the older women in rocking chairs is indicative of this. We are not allowed to come truly close to any autistic person. So in a way they are infantilized or sentimentalized. One of the film-makers has also become intensely involved in autism activism because she is a parent and wants to protect her son.

A while back (pre-pandemic) I saw a film about autistic women, maybe made in Iceland or a Scandinavian country where the film-maker was herself autistic and the focus there was getting jobs and living an adult life as a woman (problems in marrying) and it got a lot closer to showing these women as real people (with all our complexities) and situations shorn of “the guides” we had in these scenes, but it too kept a distance. Protest novels often work by making the central figure a victim of society’s blind and cruel prejudices or systems.

The book tells of the fraud Bettelheim so readily perpetrated on people — because there is no hard and fast definition, no scientifically based cure.  Then the deep painfulness of the blaming of the mother and how this tortured women. I’ve personally experienced this latter too (once described on a form in the most hostile way by one of those who had to pass on allowing Izzy to join in the Alexandria School for disabled children, once a full program with 8 professional people, at least a hundred children, which rescued Izzy at age 3-5. I don’t know why but I never thought that one source beyond misogyny and “blaming the mother” as a pattern is that autism is hereditary at least in part and it’s probable that the origins of the “refrigerator” monster-strange mother is that the mother of the child was herself an undiagnosed autistic person. Of course. There is so little public admission that autism is partly hereditary (like all or most human traits however complicated the way genes and chromosomes work). They did not begin to understand me nor think they should.

They never diagnosed Izzy as autistic – this was 1987. I first myself diagnosed her when I went to a Victorian conference (about Victorian history and literature and science) and heard 3 talks where it was demonstrated that the characters in the novels would today be called autistic. No Joshua Crawley was not one of them (Trollope’s Last Chronicles of Barsetshire) but I felt I saw Izzy in the descriptions, and in some ways more mildly myself. So you might say Izzy has her job today because I was by chance altered and went to the Virginia Department of Rehabilitation to have her diagnosed and worked to get Kaiser to endorse the diagnosis — indeed certify it by a psychiatrist

For a winter coda: one of the pleasures of my daily existence is to to to twitter and look at the images put there by favorite photographers or lovers of visual art. One woman photographer daily puts a photo from the Northern most part of the Peak District in England: this is said to be a winter’s morning several mornings ago:

A fresh snowfall seems to wake the landscape from its grey, muddy winter sleep, a sudden pop of icy light on each tree and lane, so bright that it hurts your eyes after the weeks of darkness. For the young beech trees, finally it’s the perfect backdrop for their moment of colour — Peak Lass

Ellen

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Flowers from supermarket and snacks & drink for the week from earlier this autumn

Why we? I counted 5 friends and acquaintances who told me they are become 76 this year too

Dear friends and readers,

I turned 76 on November 29th.  I’m using the occasion to express and reflect on this transitional state which I feel I’m in but don’t understand that well. I’m not sure what’s changing in me and time continues to separate me from what I was when Jim first died. Julian Barnes calls the time after a beloved person has died, their deathtime in one’s memory. It’s being brought on partly or even largely by my (and most other faculty, whether remunerated or volunteer-retired) inability to bring back enough people into the classrooms in person so as not to have to worry, that this day I may arrive at an empty or nearly empty classroom. For older people the partial cause is Covid is still attacking and killing off older people in visible numbers. So I am looking forward to teaching and taking courses online almost wholly until March, and after March (spring term) mostly online, perhaps until next fall (2023) or the following spring (2024). Maybe looking forward is not the phrase I want.

I’m going to try for a routine myself. By 8:30 this morning I’ll be exercising for half an hour, and sometime mid-day I’ll try for a 20-30 minute walk. Again, I’ll be in a great deal, and most of what I’ll do will be online so I must try to keep myself busy, communicate with people online cordially and exercise. Sleep I can’t force: last night I slept but 4 hours, but when I got up I read Magpie Murders, the novel by Anthony Horowitz. Yes I got the book. It’s a delightful parody of your typical Booker Prize books among other things — I’ll write about the book separately (see below for serial). Come near Xmas I’ll watch the Biederbecke TV series and others I can find that cheer me.

I’ve had a repeat of the experience I’ve often described here: another woman I’d become friends with and visited, visited me, or I went out with (though not since summer 2021) was breaking appointments to the point I finally wrote to her about it in such a way that I knew she’d either fall silent altogether or try to mend the relationship. So now she has silently opted for Choice 1 — the internet slang might be she’ll ghost me again (previous times she has pretended she didn’t get the email, or her phone was out of order just at the time I phoned her). She would never tell me openly how she felt; if at some point she wanted to break it, she never told me or why.

Joanna Trollope in Next of Kin has given me second thoughts: “It was simply that he couldn’t go on loving someone who kept sucking him down into the bog of her own personality problems — or at least, he could love her but he couldn’t live with her [I am thinking of myself as this guilty preying person but don’t think I did that this time, but I probably did in previous relationships] … He didn’t want to emphasize the effect of her defeatism on him, or indeed any other of her deficiencies but he wanted to make her think [again it’s me who am defeatist but one would then have to talk to me to bring this out more] ‘I don’t want never to see you again,’ he planned to say, ‘I just can’t see you for a bit. Not until you’ve got something to give me back'” [so what is it that I should be offering other people back?]

I saw this magnificent painting at the National Gallery this past Wednesday with Betty at the National Gallery — an exhibit of John Singer Sargent’s painting while he was in Spain. He copied several famous painter’s paintings and then produced the long-pent-up depictions of ordinary people in all their depths. The good there is inedible and Betty becomes quickly impatient at these exhibitions but I did see some art worth the gazing

It’s not just external things — I find I am not eager to go anywhere — it was Betty’s idea to go and we had made the appt a while back. I admit I was the one to back out of the second I was to go to (the Phillips Collection) with her this Saturday. But she wrote back very quickly, relieved herself. How relieved I was. I do worry so I won’t get back before dark – darkness arrives not far from 5 pm. “Hello darkness my old friend. What are you doing here at 5 pm!”

Now I wrote about this last time so will not repeat again the terms of or feelings I’m having as I struggle to understand this new phase of widowhood, and spend my time enjoyably and productively (for me this means new learning, new books, discovery of new authors, new topics and writing projects), and cheerfully online with others. Since I last wrote, I’ve gone deeper into Joanna Trollope (read two more books, listening to a third), and started both my women’s and Italian studies for winter and next spring. It’s hard to make a plan and follow it. Tomorrow I will disrupt my new pattern to attend a few of the Renaissance Society of America’s sessions for their yearly AGM (going on virtually these few days). A big help is I do love all the books I’m reading and find the topics I follow of intense interest. As usual I like particularly the secondary (critical and biographical) books.

But my body tires so I cannot exercise or walk was much, and I grow sadder as the day moves into night. This was exacerbated this past week by the insistent holiday statements I see everywhere on the Net and hear too among the occasional acquaintances I meet. I’m told to be very happy and loving amid my family and friends. I can see that my quiet relatively alone state is not uncommon because enough people describe what they are doing truthfully on the corners of FB, twitter and listservs I inhabit. Nonetheless, getting through Thanksgiving and my birthday became a sort of work project where I enlisted acquaintances and friends by posting about how I (we, for Izzy was with me) got through.


An Egyptian goose — each morning when I arrive at twitter — sometimes around 8 am or so — someone I follow who follows me has put on photographs of mid-England parks and birds near where she lives

So here’s what I posted onto FB later last Thursday afternoon (a short version appeared on twitter):

Izzy and I walked across Old Town this afternoon — balmy sunny weather. We used to do this each year after Jim died and before the pandemic. The tree is the Alexandria City tree in the Town Square and the lights are on — though you cannot see them. My strength did give out towards the end. That was 4 years ago and I was reminded of how I felt when we “did” Toronto with our two kind but much younger [than me] friends this past August, but home now. Another half hour we’ll put on a roast chicken for two. We could have gone out to a bought dinner, but I’m glad we have chosen this. From Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

But when the long hours of public are past,
And we meet with champagne and a chicken at last …

We won’t have champagne, orange juice for her and Merlot for me must do us. Now I’ll return to Margaret Atwood’s sardonically funny (funny is not quite the word I want) Penelopiad. I hope all who read this message are having a good day and evening.

Then last this Sunday evening on FB (nutshell on twitter):


Promotional photo of Ada’s on the River looking outward from inside the place at the Potomac

My 76th birthday is in 2 days and so my daughter, Laura, and her husband, Rob, came around 6 to take us out to a new restaurant in a new area of Old Towne, Alexandria: Ada’s on the River. The dinner was delicious and the desert too. I had my first whiskey and ginger ale (two of them) for a very long time. I don’t keep hard liquor in the house lest I drink too much. I liked the walk back afterwards along the Potomac from boardwalk to boardwalk. It’s very rare I am out at night nowadays.

There are still several areas around the Potomac, just near the river, which have been relatively desolate — they were very much so when Jim & I first moved to Alexandria. This is a southern city, originally blighted by slavery for the majority of people, then gross inequality and severe racism and classism structured into all the institutions and gov’t of the area, and while after WW2 and middle 1960s, when conditions began to improve the growth of certain areas has been slow and uncertain — Carter had made a good start with new housing, but Reagan destroyed that. Very expensive housing developments along the edge of this town here and there in the 1990s, some on the river . Recently then — last 20 years all along the river for the first time building up the boardwalks, the places for sailing, areas of recreational fun — so new restaurants and bars.

I shall have to find my own travel plan this summer — next week I’ll call Road Scholar and if the Irish registration is still there, I’ll go with them. I’ll try to do the global retry and pre-TSA stuff at the airport in the spring. There is now a silver line Metro going to Dulles that stops at King Street Station; Izzy has said she will come with me to help me through the machines going out.

In the meantime we four planned for a Christmas time together, a movie (an Agatha Christie type), a dinner at home (cooked by Rob, who’s become quite a cook) and exchange of presents.

What I didn’t tell anyone on FB or twitter was after an hour or so when I’d got home and was watching Magpie Murders (on which see below) I began to cry and cry and cry. I could feel Laura’s reluctance to be there when they first arrived, and know we won’t see them again after Christmas for a long while. It was Rob who walked beside me there and back.

For my birthday itself I took it easy, read favorite books, had yummy soup for lunch, and put this on FB (nutsell on twitter)

I am 76! In my now enclosed porch or sunroom where live my movie (dvds) collection, notebooks, films scripts, companions … all around me my little radio, ipad, pussycat bed by window … I am torn between sending a link to Sondheim’s “I’m still here ….” (as belted out by Elaine Stritch) or Old friends (done by a variety of male singers): favorite line: “What’s to discuss? …”

Izzy took the photo with her cell phone

This is to thank the many people sending me cards, pictures, good wishes, wise sayings … I can’t seem to reach every one to thank each person individually but know that I do thank you and you are helping me to pass a cheerful good day ….

About an hour or so later I listened to and watched Elaine Stritch on YouTube: when I watched I thought of my 27 years as an adjunct lecturer, and remember the line from Elaine Showalter quoted about a heroine in one of Jean Rhys’s novels who stands for all women: Still one man away from welfare ….

Over the long day and evening and next morning I really did get many cheering messages, a lot of them individualized, a few teases, but kindly meant I felt. Two cards, one from my aging aunt, another from a long time old Internet British friend, met three times in Oxford; my cousin, Pat had phoned me too

Then very late in the evening: from Merrily We Roll Along (Jim thought this probably Sondheim’s deepest truest musical) “Old Friends:” now I had to admit I have damn few old friends (or they live far away, a few old acquaintances. This was after the final episode of Magpie Murders

We are coming to the end of the year, its ripe death (as people might say), so I’ll end on citing just one book I feel I drew most joy and learning from across the whole year: Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows, especially when she talked of her writing, art, and the imagination. A new author answering the needs of my heart in a new healthy way, teaching me to see and to help myself, Joanna Trollope (not a comfort read at all after all).

And as with two years ago with David Nicholls’ Us (book and film), I have truly got a great kick out of Magpie Murders, a murder mystery serial in the Agatha Christie tradition, scripted and produced by the inimitable Anthony Horowitz (I am still re-watching Foyle’s War)


Atticus Pund explaining where they are going to Sue Rylands

It’s self-reflexive: it’s Anthony Horowitz meditating the life and work of a mystery writer, a hack out of the Agatha Christie tradition — only Horowitz knows he is no mere hack and has gone beyond the originating subgenre. We have two different levels of story: in one we are with the writer, Alan Conway, his editor, Sue Rylands (Leslie Manville), the head of the publishing company, Conway’s cynical homosexual ex-lover and his embittered sister, Claire; in the other the characters in Conway’s book most of whom correspond to counterpart characters in the series’ real life, often ironically — except for the detective, Atticus Pund (Tim McMullan, originally Timothy Spall was dreamed of) and the editor, Sue Rylands. The same actor will plays at least 2 roles — one person appears in three (if I’m not mistaken). We also see these characters when they are playing characters who existed decades ago and when they are playing contemporary characters (a downright common trope nowadays is a jump in time but rarely this cleverly done and usually with two different look-alike actors).

It’s not too mechanical, too much artifice of this type would cloy. So beyond Atticus Pund and Sue Rylands, Sue’s sister, Katie (Claire Rushbrook) and Sue’s lover, Andreas (Alexandros Logothetis), a teacher of Greek who would like to go live in Crete with Sue, have no counterparts in the 1950s story in the book. The two murderers are played by different actors, they look and are different, though they do the deed in similar fashion. The murderer’s black girlfriend in the 1950s story in the book has no counterpart in the contemporary life story. You might have expected this to be the other way round, but no. In both narratives, the same black actor plays the Anglican vicar.

What’s fascinating is how we move from book (takes place 1950s) back to life (takes place 2022). The camera is following the 1950s characters and car in the book down the road, we reach a bend and turn and now we are with the 2022 characters in life. One moves back and forth starting with the third episode, Atticus Pund; but he is noticed by no one but Sue Rylands, who at first regards him as simply an individual figment of her imagination, but by the end treats him as a person like herself and enters the world of the book to discover how the book ends. The tone throughout is warm and witty

I am now taught how this kind of material — murders growing out of deep bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, sociopathic impulses — a dog is even poisoned — can become absorbing and curiously comforting matter — as in Foyle’s War we have good guys and they win through, with a justice of sorts achieved

So that’s all for tonight as I move into winter. Better to be alive than not (as Elaine Stritch reminds us)

John Singer Sargent: Snow — I wonder if we’ll see any this winter in Alexandria?

Ellen

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Woods and Streams in Delaware, [early] Winter, 1916 (Edward W. Redfield)

“Alas, with all her reasonings, she found, that to retentive feelings eight years may be little more than nothing” (Austen, Persuasion Chapter 7)

Dear friends and readers,

I seem to be going through yet another transition in this seeming both long and short widowhood. I’ve stopped going out as much as I once did. Of course part of the cause of this is that I can no longer drive once the sky reaches dusk, but I could go out more during the day, and I could have recourse to Uber/Lyft
and ordering cabs ahead. I don’t. Part of this the effect of self-quarantining taken well past what I understand most or many others have done. It is so peaceful; I am no longer used to enduring the agonies, anxiety as I begin to realize I am lost and panic when I find I am not at all where I meant to be. Waze recently updated itself and now it is of no use to me at all. I can’t get past “save this destination” to “go now.” I’m telling myself I shall be reading more, and I think there’s evidence that I am already.

This is a matter of telling myself what I’m not quite following. I’m telling myself I’m giving over trying to write longer books and volunteering for talks and short projects. I’m not quite following this as I volunteered to give another talk to the Every-other-week online London Trollope Society group on (as I’m calling it) Anthony Trollope’s American Civil War Christmas Stories: “The Widow’s Mite” and “The Two Generals.” As a result of doing a talk on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin for an OLLI at AU class, I’ve thought of a course for spring 2024 that might actually attract enough people to dare to do it in public: I’d call it “Everybody’s Protest Novel” after James Baldwin’s famous scathing essay on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Richard Wright’s Native Son. And I’d do:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Louisa May Alcock, “Contraband;” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath; Joan Didion, Play it like it Lays and El Salvador by Joan Didion, and James Baldwin’s short non-fiction story, “Stranger in a Village” and novel, If Beale Street could talk

But this will be the last; after this I will stick with the new terrains I’ve carved out: Italian literature, Anglo-Indian memoirs and novels (British style fiction set in India is the longer phrase) and women writer courses. And 19th century masterpiece courses, mostly by Trollope as central and framing presence.

This means I will be alone more, and am teaching myself to accept being alone and this great loneliness since Jim died. I am tired of trying uselessly for what cannot be and what I am not sure I’d at all like. Go out with friends who ask me, but don’t chase, don’t be the one to suggest unless it is really a museum show, a play, a musical or concert you want to go to.

I do not mean to deny what joy or happiness I can feel when I’ve been out with others, spent good time with others. I knew such exhilaration and contentment when the class I had been teaching these past 9 weeks ended today.

One person had suggested we start at 1:15 to give us ourselves full time to cover all we wanted and watch film clips from the early 1990s BBC The Rector’s Wife, and the 1983 Barchester Chronicles. Eight of the nine people who have been coming steadily agreed and what a splendid class it was. I know they were enjoying it and so was I. It is so much better in person when there is a full enough class.

Yet I will not do it again until Spring 2024 since it is such a difficult thing to build a class of people coming regularly nowadays that I lose perspective, fret over how few may show up (an inappropriate response to an adult education or playful college class).

Can you understand this, gentle reader? Some new phase of calm is what I am feeling come over me, or wanting calm at long last. I discovered I lost weight when I went to Dr Wiltz a couple of weeks ago with a list of pains and complaints that he duly checked over, to tell me I am fine, just getting older yet. I’ve kept to my vow not to add sugar to anything and so I eat less.


18th century lady’s shoes

Every Friday until I run out I’m putting foremother poet blogs on Wompo — the only one. No one can bother post anything which is not about building their career. Last week it was Mary Jones, an 18t century chantress (as Johnson called her) who wrote these beautiful verses upon the death of her beloved friend, Miss Clayton; they are to her memory

Still, but for Thee, regardless might I stray,
Where gentle Charwell rolls her silent tide;
And wear at ease my span of life away,
As I was wont, when thou were at my side.

But now no more the limpid streams delight,
No more at ease unheeding do I stray;
Pleasure and Thou are vanish’d from my sight,
And life, a span! too slowly hastes away.

Yet if thy friendship lives beyond the dust,
Where all things else in peace and silence lie,
I’ll seek Thee there, among the Good and Just.
‘Mong those who living wisely — learnt to die.

And if some friend, when I’m no more, should strive
To future times my mem’ry to extend,
Let this inscription on my tomb survive,
‘Here rest the ashes of a faithful friend.’

A little while and lo! I lay me down,
To land in silence on that peaceful shore,
Where never billows beat, or tyrants frown,
Where we shall meet again, to part no more.”

Change a name and a pronoun and this connects to the way I feel about Jim, though I know I shall never meet him again, since literally he no longer exists, nor will I when I die.

This is what I have to report. This is what I have to come in the next two months. Lunch out with my friend, Alison tomorrow, two museum shows with Betty and one play (MAAN) and one musical (Into the Woods) with Betty in December. Lunch with Eleanor sometime in December: Zorba the Greek restaurant in Dupont Circle. One in person DC Trollope reading group meeting this Sunday — just outside Bethesda (Nina Balatka), and lunch with OLLI at AU SGLs one day in December. Laura and Rob with Izzy will take me out to dinner on Nov 27th as two days before my birthday. Christmas we’ll go with Rob and Laura to a good movie, and then back to their house for dinner at home and exchange of presents. I’ll tell you about these as they happen.

Now I’m evolving a reading plan for myself and I’ve begun with Italian studies (first up Grazia Deledda’s Cosima), Heroine’s books (Charlotte Gilman Perkins’s Women and Economics and Annis Pratt’s Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction), back to, beginning again Valerie Martin’s marvelous The Ghost of the Mary Celeste (a ghost story!). Then as I please beloved individual authors as I feel them (Joanna Trollope a new source of comfort and strenght, Next of Kin) and literary history (Joan Hedrick’s biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe).


Leslie Manville as Sue Ryelands (she’s also in Sherwood, The Crown, was Mrs ‘arris who went to Paris)

Evenings wonderful serials — I am actually enjoying Magpie Murders on PBS, which I’ll blog about with BritBox’s Sherwood and Karen Pirie (Val McDermid’s Distant Echo, set in modern Scotland. The year of Leslie Manville! Last blogs have been on Outlander 6 (1-4 & 5-8), seasons of processing grief, time of trauma; and upon the coming retirement of Judy Woodruff.

How much this house means to me I cannot express strongly enough. My refuge, my memories (Jim all around me), my beloved cats. I vow (like poor Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda, I’ve just finished) to remain more cheerful, open to others partly by drawing boundaries.

Here is the red berry bush on one side of my house: finally it bloomed and turned out to be the sort of bush I associate with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and beautiful middle English poetry

Late autumn, beginning my tenth year without Jim,

Ellen

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I don’t know who painted the painting this is an image from

“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
―George Eliot in a letter (Oct. 1, 1841)

The reality is it poured heavily and intensely last night but not enough to cause floods massive enough to wash away the neighborhood (as a hurricane has just done in Cuba and then in Florida), and today the air was filled with wet moisture and it rained lightly and then a bit heavier on and off all day, and tomorrow we are promised pouring rain once again, but nowhere near hurricane strength …. Oct 1, 2022

Dear friends,

Once again I must live through October 3rd (it would have been Jim’s birthday, now it’s his birthdate, 1948), October 6th (the day we met, 1967, and the day we married precisely a year later, 1968), and October 9th (the day or evening he died, between 9:05 and 9:10, me with my arms around him, 2013). He stopped talking to us on October 8th. Since that last grim October day, some years I have been at a conference, for early October is academic conference time across the US; not this year, but

I will no longer go to any JASNA conferences after the way they rejected us transparently (having registered almost immediately it took the organizers several weeks to drop us to the lowest rung of who might get in) during registration four years ago now, causing Izzy to cancel her membership for good (I wrote about this elsewhere, useless to repeat it); and now this year I’m not having any luck reaching the virtual forms of the sessions (live-streaming) so the money paid is the last dime the AGMs will have from me.

I was going to go to the annual EC/ASECS, where the sessions are to be held at Winterthur museum, the hotel is a drive away (Wilmington, Delaware), and two night time things also a drive — I can no longer drive at night. I remembered that Jim said the one time before the EC/ASECS held the conference there, the drive is hellish and twisting so we took an AMTRAC and then he rented a car. I was foolish enough to try to go with an untrustworthy (I half knew this) friend, a man who turned out also to be cunningly false, and without telling you the uncomfortable several week’s details, I finally told him to go by himself directly there, cancelled the hotel reservation, too embarrassed to be there while he would be (it being a small group you see), and not wanting any scenes, having told him never email, text or phone me again. I will hope to go next year, if they have it in a place where the sessions and hotel are the same building, and in a readily accessible place.

So here I am alone at night remembering. The Facebook software not knowing what was the content I wrote on FB on this day 2015, reminded me (they do this) of what I sent that day, and invited me “to share” this on my timeline. I did; the material contained a link to a blog I wrote that night: this was written before Trump campaigned and then won the election to the US through gerrymandering and the peculiar injustice of the electoral college (he did not win the popular vote) at which I turned the Sylvia I blog over to politics wholly: you will see how Jim and I resolved issues over the years together, with me admitting that most of the time one might say he won, but he got me to accede to what he wanted with terms set up I could endure. You will also see what he looked like the year before his body developed esophageal cancer.

And what he looked like the month we met, October 1967, in front of the Leeds terraced house we were living in together that first week: above is a mature man, below is a boy:

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Before I tell my readers here, how & something of why I am for this term and probably the foreseeable future online for all but three classes, and living most of my life online still, when I was hoping to go out regularly to teach in both places, lest you think I am more cheerless than I am. My mood (though near tears somehow) resembles Austen’s when she wrote

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

Over the past few days I’ve had some lovely letters from real friends, today I was on the phone twice (!) with two girlfriends who live in DC and we made plans to meet soon, a third friend I had happy time with lunching at a Greek restaurant at Dupont Circle has proposed a zoom together, tomorrow at 6 pm Izzy and I will have our monthly face-time with Thao (electricity holding up — fingers crossed). Tonight I enjoyed (not sure that is the correct word) — was fully absorbed watching Ingmar Bergmann’s The Seventh Seal, the first time I’ve seen it in decades, as part of an excellent course in “Movies, political, moral, aesthetic,” where I am one of those attending in person at OLLI at AU.

I’m as thorough going an atheist as anyone is likely to meet, and I do not think I’d find life easier were I to believe in any god or supernatural. It would have to be a hideously malevolent as the burning of that woman in the film — and that did happen and horrible tortures and deaths are happening in many countries. The film shows how much worse religious beliefs and practices make life for many. It’s so allegorical – I was interested to watch how consistent the allegory is with medieval art and texts as the austere noble knight (Chaucer), his earthy squire, the young wife and husband as circus performers (Renaissance theater). For the first time I understood what the famous image of Death and the Knight playing chess is about: it’s the story of the film, a kind of bet. If the knight wins, death takes no one on the spot; the duration of the game gives him time to go on a last journey; if he loses, he dies immediately, and those around him

The next morning the day dawns brightly and we see our young couple and baby hasten off before anything untoward could happen.

This season I’m finally reveling in Outlander, the sixth season, re-watching The Crown (for the sake of the queen’s story, I tell myself). I watch and re-watch Foyle’s War, each time more deeply moved, feel good at the ending as our “friends,” Foyle, Sam, sometimes with Milner or Foyle’s son, drive away … I have all three as DVDs with lots of features (which I sometimes enjoy as much as the episodes).

I am so chuffed my review-essay of the Cambridge Edition of the Complete Poems of Anne Finch has just been published in the Intelligencer. Soon I will write a blog about it, and put it online at academia.edu.

And I read away, these past weeks the profound brilliant James Baldwin (for an excellent and yes online Politics & Prose class) one of the greatest voices in American literature in the 20th century and of the African diaspora itself. I have said the last two years now I feel my outward character has changed to be more able to understand and even feel some ordinary sense of peace, security, and be able to read affirmative books and learn from them (I’m on my fourth Joanna Trollope — I come away having learnt a healthy lesson or outlook from her books), while drawing sustenance from the quietly bleak ambivalent — even in a Jane Austen sequel, Catherine Schine’s The Three Weissmans of Westport, a true updating of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

This enraptured review must be by a friend of Schine’s: The humor is the grimace and witticisms and irony (as in Austen’s book); the daughters are step-daughters who don’t love nor forgive the unforgivable stepfather who utterly betrays his wife (the Mrs Dashwood character) and left them for a character who shares a Lucy Steele personality with another character who pretends to be pregnant to get the Edward character to marry her. Like other sequels, she has in mind actors and actresses from different movies; Gemma Jones for Mrs Weissman-Dashwood, Hattie Morahan for Annie-Elinor, Robert Swann for Brandon (he keeps that name), Gregg Wise (though unlike his usual persona and the Willoughby of Emma Thompson’s S&S, the utterly untrustworthy and cad-like Willoughby (he too keeps the name) of Schine’s novel. Her novel ends with Annie-Elinor and Brandon character forming a quiet supportive friendship. I loved that.


The 2008 version of that journey from Sussex to Devonshire: I never tire it seems of Austen

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So what happened with my I’m beginning to think misguided attempts to teach in person. Only 9 registered for the course at OLLI at AU; hitherto all my Trollope courses regularly began with over 30 and ended with about 22. I went online, lost one person that way but added 4, 3 of whom come from further away and had told me they would have taken the course had it been online. I was shooting myself in the foot. 13 registered for the OLLI at Mason Barsetshire Then & Now or the Two Trollopes (Joanna and Tony), but only 6 showed up. I was devastated and saw the summer disaster that occurred in OLLI at AU when I tried Christa Wolf (she is too difficult for most readers I now know — as hard as George Eliot without the reputation to bring people in for self-improvement and self-esteem) this summer — it’s not enough to sustain a class over a number of weeks. I’m told this is the average number who show up in person (6); 4 came from the spectacularly enjoyable good class I did in person on The Woman in White and Mary Reilly for the 6 week summer course at OLLI at Mason. I’m also told that the over-riding factor is convenience.

So I must accept that what compels me to enjoy in person contact so much (truly perceiving what’s happening within students vis-a-vis a book) cannot motivate people in the class. Who among them is widowed in my way? For many what they got in person that they valued they feel they get via zoom. I have again misunderstood the nature of a social experience and the attitude of the people towards it. As I age, I admit also that driving even during the day is not as easy, and I myself as a member of the class find online delightful when the teachers and level of class are wonderful.

It’s not inappropriate to write of this on this first night of the coming week of remembering Jim since I turned to the OLLIs as a way of building an acceptable life for myself without him literally with me. So now I have had to change again: the pandemic itself has transformed the public world. I used to wish more people understood that life can be full and rewarding online; so here’s another instance of that fable, careful what you wish for, for you may get it.

My two cats and I have grown closer still. I find it so touching when as I prepare to go out (I do go out), whatever it be, getting dressed (shoes), putting stuff in my handbag, getting together stuff to take out with me, and especially when I either turn off my computer or put on a face mask, they both get up from wherever they are in my room and start heading for the door. It’s the awareness of me, and the desire to cooperate with me that moves me. Cats are sensitive, affectionate, communicative animals and they and I understand one another in all sorts of ways. At this point too Ian has bonded with Izzy, and stays a lot with her in her room: this is the result of the pandemic and her working from home remotely 2 days a week.


Ian sitting up for Laura


Clarycat on Jim’s lap — both photos taken before Jim died, say 2012 (like the photo of Jim above), the two cats are are about 2-3 years old

I close tonight with the lines Jim wrote for the top of the urn in which his ashes remain, which urn sits on my mantelpiece along side a photo of him, his reading glasses & ancient Anglican Book of Common Prayer; the DVD the funeral company made of photos across his life; a toy sheep Laura bought from the shop at Stonehenge that summer the 4 of us spent 3 weeks together in England, and a small stuffed Penguin Izzy added to the collection from her and my visit one summer to Sussex to go to a Charlotte Smith conference together (I could not have gotten there w/o her).

Jim’s play on Rupert Brooke’s famous lines: If I should die,/think only this of me:/That there’s a corner of a foreign mantelpiece that is for a while England.

Ellen, still his faithful wife

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Me and Ian, photo taken by Izzy this past month

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I was looking forward to much less to do, but find after all I made new commitments on top of my old ones and am struggling to catch up. This month too I felt again worried about my health (signs of aging); I had some good moments — mostly honestly when I was teaching, or reading a good book; and some bad — I got lost twice trying to get to the Tysons Corner clinic center, and when by myself simply returned home without getting the scheduled second booster shoot; when with Izzy, she saved the day by whipping out her cell phone and using the app called apple. Though she said the apple app (a mapping software) was inferior (as it did not tell us which direction to go in, only showed the road itself), the apple app as used by Izzy got us to the Tysons site, where I had a heart stress test. The nurse practitioner pronounced “you have a healthy heart” after I had sustained quick walking on a ever faster treadmill for over 20 minutes.

In some of this there was a lesson to be learnt — or reminded of. I rescheduled the trip to Ireland for August 2023; yes to go and come back on the plane I’d have to be tested for Covid, and if the test were positive have to stay for 2 weeks in self-quarantine in a hotel room. I would truly become half-crazy were I to be so stranded (and charged for it). Tonight I made an agreement with a male friend with whom I once before went to ES/ASECS in October with to go again this year: he flies here and stays with me one night; drives me to the place (a inn in Wilmington, Delaware, near the Winterthur museum where the conference will be held); we stay there together for 2 nights, 3 days; he drives us back, and then takes an airplane back home (Arkansas of all places — poor man). When I looked at the address, I knew I couldn’t find it myself and on top of that can not drive at night even the shortest of distances.

My friend has made two panels up, and will himself chair a festschrift meeting in honor of a long-time member of EC/ASECS, head of the Bucknell Press. For me this means I will automatically be part of 3 sessions, active, and due to the way he wrote up the panels, I’ve thought of a new paper: “From Either End of the Long Eighteenth Century: Anne Finch’s ‘Folger’ Book and Jane Austen’s Unpublished Fiction.” I’ve now for months (on and off) been studying how the new Cambridge complete edition of Finch’s poetry is a book which attempts to give the reader the closest experience one can have of the original 3 manuscripts they are found in, and a number of years ago I wrote a review of the Cambridge edition of the later manuscripts of Jane Austen where I studied how these works are shaped and project meaning through their manuscript state. It’s is almost a matter of reading quite a number of blogs and sitting down and writing it out, and then turning to the review of the Finch book at last, and writing it. My friend’s financial needs and academic outlook are fitting mine. A positive development, no?

Another lesson came out of my PC computer acting up in the later afternoon. The fan kept coming on. I emailed the IT guys and one came on quickly and did a bunch of updates for about half an hour and the problem seemed to cease. Alas, the next day it came back in a milder form. I had the idea to google and ask what I should do and read there that fans can come on if one has too many applications open. So I put a huge number of files and pictures on my desktop away in windows explorer, and voila, the fan ceased. My desktop is also clear. The IT guy had claimed to fix my landscape mechanism so that it would once again change every once in a while the first picture that comes up after turning the machine on, but he had not succeeded. In a way I prefer it — changes make me nervous.

Below is a favorite image — one I would not mind as my wall paper. You have seen it on this blog before, gentle reader. I am imagining I am by the sea (by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea … ), a beach — something that does not happen to me much (at all?) any more. Staring out into the sky, at the birds.


Sara Sittig — By the sea (by the sea, by the beautiful sea ….) — knowing Jim not out there any more

Much solaced and compelled absorbed this month by Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (I’m in the third volume, Barbie Batchelor’s mind pure visual poetryI’m teaching only Jewel in the Crown), Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (where she lets loose at long last the tragedy of diasporic disconnection and search for individual fulfillment through a woman character who ends up alienated from all who would have loved her), and have learned of and enjoy her rich Italian identity and beautiful language In Altre Parole and Trovo Mi Dove.

To speak in, think in, read and (the highest attainment) write in another language is to become part of another world — and I too love the Italian one. On Trollope&Peers our book for this month of June-July is Tarchetti’s Fosca as translated by Lawrence Venuti as Passion(the name from a 1980s movie and then Sondheim’s musical). Lahiri’s In altre parole is actually a perceptive study on what one gains by reading a translation consciously — not pretending it is the actual original text but a translation into another language and (often) place.

As to movies I was truly absorbed once again in all four Mansfield Park (Metropolitan one of them) movies as I reread that strange book by Austen — and it is strange the perceptive heroine, full of a depth of emotion, imprisoned in taboos. I’ve also been reading through the startling depths and intricacies of everyday life and emotional attachment and cool calculation in Trollope’s masterwork, The Small House at Allington (modeled on and meant to surpass I’m sure Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, with Lily a fully sexualized Marianne, and Bell a yet more careful of her heart, Elinor Dashwood). I promised a talk to be called Barsetshire in Pictures.  I admit the sex is pretty good in the first Outlander book, and I’ve bought the DVD for the sixth season and await it impatiently.

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Barkley L. Hendricks, George Jules Taylor (1972)

The above is but one image of many works of art of all sorts that make up some seven rooms of an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC, called Afro-Atlantic Histories. I had made a date to go the National Gallery and have lunch there too with a friend, and see any new exhibits and old favorites. I did not realize was one of these blockbuster shows which offers unexpectedly extraordinary experiences, but individually and within the context the show creates. Powerful art depicting and showing frighteningly inhuman remnants (e.g., irons to put around enslaved people’s necks to continually hurt and cow and control their every movement) and recreating the experiences of slavery in the Afro-Atlantic world from the 17th century to the 19th, and then a recurring reformulation (direct choices by powerful people in gov’t and business in cahoots) of impoverishment and immiseration for black people by making situations where they stay in the lowest and poorest classes of people. Not all was despair, for the art tended to be modern, 20th century and after because only in the 20th century are the realities of the experience for enslaved people and then impoverished people acknowledged. Some striking photography in the 20th of admirable looking or celebratory people (mostly black) in the US, or Latin or South America. Portraits of individuals. Some of the older pictures were beautiful too — done by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th century following picturesque and other eye-pleasing costume and arrt conventions.


Theodore Gericault’s 1811 Portrait of a Mestizia

I came home to buy at ebay the companion book which includes 2/3s as many art works as are in the exhibit. It came very quickly and I’ve been finding it very much worth immersing yourself in. Sometimes going to a country does not help learn its history since those who were in power erased everything they could about the means they took inflicted on other people. Art brings these things to light and re-imagines and re-creates them here. I’ve been taking two superb courses at OLLI at AU: one on the achievements of Thurgood Marshall, and the other on Lincoln which focuses on his evolution towards complete emancipation for all enslaved people, and his thinking about political and civil rights for African Americans which they as all people innately must have to live a good human life. Lincoln not only opposed the expansion of slavery but also condemned slavery as evil and wrong. I bought and am reading Eric Foner’s Lincoln and American Slavery and Juan Williams’s Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. There is a coterminous area between the two men: no one anywhere has a right to anyone as property. Marshall saw the way to achieve equality of life and fulfillment for black people was full integration.

One striking if not unique I hope rare desperate-helpless kind of experience this month was when face-book a few days suddenly would not download on my Macbook pro laptop and on this PC Computer none of the postings I wrote or anyone wrote to me or any postings at all were visible. My groups pages were all awry. Extremely trying since on google I was told face-book was not down, and therefore something was wrong particular to my computers or settings. But then I found where it seemed many people were having all sorts of odd barriers and problems, and a few the same as mine. So every three hours or so I sent messages to places on face-book where it says “report a problem.” You were told you would not get a reply and it would be used “to improve the general service.” But who knows? Here is what I found two mornings later on google: an explanation of sorts:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/10158791436142200/

And then last night around 1 am I went to face-book once again and all I need had returned. All messages are visible. My laptop uploading normally again. FB has changed again. All the groups have been reconfigured so the banner is smaller. What I can do, or the software and links on my timeline are slightly changed, so I can do less. I know an algorithm began to do to FB what it does to my gmail; in a pattern not all messages show all the time. I conclude they made it less expensive to run. It was not all bad. Numerous kind and generous people emailed me off FB, replied for me on FB — and I felt indeed I have FB friends with genuine concern for me. Pace all the pundits and political savvy types can say, I come to FB for companionship and they validated my raison d’etre for being there.

Here is my experience of the internet as of 1995 and then when these social media emerged from 1998 or so (blogs) and 2003 or so (social media, from livejournal to wordpress to FB, twitter &c): for the first time in my whole life I made a number of friends at once. Real friends then — some people I’ve never lost contact with — Michael Powe, still co-owner of Trollope&Peers; Diana Birchall, plus others. I found myself talking about books to others for the first time. I could read others’ opinions and yes tell my own more bravely for the first time. I was in an ongoing social life for the first time. Hitherto I was mostly alone. I loved it. I have omitted all the bad stuff — the bad stuff is a cyberspace version of the bad stuff in life. On FB over the past 9 nine years I’ve found forms of companionship I needed since Jim’s death — and the near death of listservs — surely you see how few of us there are here. Mine died because I gave up volunteer schedules, elections of books (where people vote books they don’t read) and because my approach is intellectual and often radical in some way or other or just doesn’t please – but also much competition. I now regard it as a small group of friends who read slowly together sorts. Social life through writing used to be the sole center — now I contact people by zoom, face-time, google hang-out and hear and see them and they me — am part of worlds and these worlds lead to worlds in physical space with others.

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The Stanhopes arrive at Mrs Proudie’s Converzatione (at the center Susan Hampshire as la Signora Nerone)

So what lies ahead? why so busy? In a few weeks I shall give another talk to the London Trollope Society group: Barsetshire in Pictures. This necessitates (see above) having read all The Small House in Allington (for Millais’s illustrations), going over all the many pictures by George Housman Thomas for Last Chronicle of Barsetshire, and watching once again the delightful (work of comic-grave genius) 1983 Barchester Chronicles – to get up and present and make interesting the pictures and sets of stills.

June I re-give my 4 week course (this time OLLI at AU) Retelling Traditional Histories and Tales from an Alternative POV. June into July a six week course on Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly) with two superb film adaptations for the Sensational and Gothic Novel Then and Now. Fall in both places: Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle (yet again!) with Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir (and their film adaptations): Barsetshire Then and Now. I am really wondering if I should take off next winter, but now without Jim all alone here for weeks I would lose perspective (so to speak) so The Heroine’s Journey it is for 4 weeks a OLLI at Mason online next winter (Atwood’s Penelopiad, Wolf’s Medea, Ferrante’s Lost Daughter & Austen’s Northanger Abbey).

A surprise for me is the persistence of online classes: for OLLI at AU in June out of 29 classes, 18 are online, 2 hybrid, and only 9 in person; for OLLI at Mason in June-July, the greater number of online and hybrid to in person is even more striking. Do people fear Covid? Is it not worth the time and trouble to drive in and they feel they “get what they want” out of zooms: but 2/3s of a class may stay in black boxes (as if they had bags over their heads). Do you have any understanding of this?  I’ll be there in person with no hybrid alternative.


Olivia Coleman as a lost daughter (La Figlia Oscura)

August Izzy and I will travel to Toronto, Canada! to visit Thao who will have had her baby (William) in June: her first, and my first sort of grandchild, with Izzy as Auntie. We will book in later June. We are face-timing with Thao now once a month on Sunday evening.


Izzy this morning, as yet unlost

And I thought I had nothing to tell you. All this to fill my mind so that I can be at peace alone for reality, and with Jim in my mind and memory in the house and world he and I made together

Away, Melancholy

Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Are not the trees green,
The earth as green?
Does not the wind blow,
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
Away melancholy.

The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
All things hurry
To be eaten or eat.
Away, melancholy.

Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
He is an animal also
With a hey ho melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Man of all creatures
Is superlative
(Away melancholy)
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
(Away melancholy)
Into the stone, the god
Pours what he knows of good
Calling, good, God.
Away melancholy, let it go.

Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Saying, Can God
Stone of man’s thoughts, be good?
Say rather it is enough
That the stuffed
Stone of man’s good, growing,
By man’s called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.
Man aspires
To good,
To love
Sighs;
Beaten, corrupted, dying
In his own blood lying
Yet heaves up an eye above
Cries, Love, love.
It is his virtue needs explaining,
Not his failing.
Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Stevie Smith (1902-1971)

See Cats in Colour,

Ellen

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My sixth flower bed — they are not doing so well as at first — late March and early April showers have been bitter chill … — so:

Truth to tell I’m having trouble writing these diary blogs even once a month — I’ve gone over to a fifth week. I’ve managed again by talking of an unspoken topic explicitly — my difficulties in socializing you might say, and linking these to topics in papers I’ve given and books and movies I particularly have loved. I didn’t quite ask if I’m one of these difficult women (writers) I spent a month reading and talking about online at Politics and Prose this March.

When that Aprill with his shoures soote … When in April the sweet showers fall … Chaucer, Canterbury Tales,
Prologue …

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
— T.S. Eliot — tonight this describes some of my garden — I shall
in 3 weeks spend yet more money to have new plants that do well in the shade put in

Dear friends,

Here I am over a month later. I waited until the night after I gave my talk, Trollope, Millais and Orley Farm, so as to be able to report to you how it went: it seems splendidly. There were a sizable number of people; they listened, and I got good questions. They were friendly and generous, and the Chairman of the society asked me if I would like to do another. So I said yes :):

“Barchester in Pictures”. If he would like to put it in between the end of The Small House (upcoming in two weeks) and before the group begins The Eustace Diamonds (next up after that), it would fit very well. I would talk on Millais’s and George Housman Thomas’s pictures and any other 19th century ones for the Barsetshire books I can find, and combine it with commentary on the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles. I have a number of stills from that. He would have to alter the calendar.

Fast forward to Christmas, I could try the pictures for Can You Forgive Her? and the first five episodes of the 1974 BBC Pallisers. It’d be interesting because it would combine the Phiz style for half the pictures, the other half by Miss E Taylor (memo to self I have to find where I saw the new information on her) – a few of which are good, and this Simon Raven 20th century film adaptation. What to call it? “On Seeing Divergent Pallisers.”

A month has passed and I’m now deeply immersed in my Anglo-Indian books, and the course too seems to be going well in both places. I’m finding Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland a compulsive page turned, as I did this past month Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays (in the Politics and Prose online class held by Elaine Showalter on “Difficult Women,” a bit of a disappointment — I will talk of this in my next Austen Reveries blog_. I’m watching a fascinatingly intricate and intelligent Anglo-Indian serials I missed several summers ago: Indian Summers. It is good: at long last Indian people are equally heroines and heroines, well nearly equally, in this psychologically complex portrait of the Raj in its last years.


Julie Walters as the tough memsahib with a gorgeous hat — the club was central to the culture, and today it goes on still for upper class Indians

These topics are not especially cheerful. I seem to see books and movies on Anglo-India and India everywhere and came across in The New York Review of Books, a grim report on how women are treated: horrifying story Indian girls kill themselves rather than risk return to family who’ve decided she had relationship with a man of they did not approve of: In the Orchard by Skye Arundati Thomas.

I’ve added to the two summer courses I told about in previous diary entries (Retelling Traditional History and Tales from an Alternative POV; and Sensational and Gothic Novels Then and Now), and one planned for next winter (The Heroine’s Journey): another fall Trollope course:

Two Trollopes: Anthony & Joanna: The Last Chronicle of Barset & The Rector’s Wife

We’ll read Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset, the last 6th Barsetshire novel, seen once seen as his signature book. I’ve read with OLLI classes the first four; there is no need to read these, but we’ll discuss them to start, & I advise, if possible, readers to read the 5th, The Small House of Allington over the summer. His indirect descendent, Joanna Trollope, has recreated the central story of the Last Chronicle in her Rector’s Wife, which we’ll read in the last two weeks, & discuss her The Choir, another Barsetshire post-text, plus two excellent film adaptations of these in the 1990s.

I’m taking a course on Thurgood Marshall (I cannot say how much this US owes this courageous intelligent man — risked his life for many years winning case after case with very hard work), on Lincoln (as I knew from years ago the man loathed slavery), and in May will do that Anne Finch review, which will feed into a paper for the fall EC/ASECS: ) “From Either End of the Long Eighteenth Century: Anne Finch’s ‘Folger’ Book and Jane Austen’s Unpublished Fiction” — the centrality of manuscripts in the experience of these books. Tonight I experienced an hour’s zoom from the American Antiquarian Society where I heard the historian Thavolia Glymph talk about her latest book, The Women’s Fight in the Civil War, especially enslaved black women

Not that it’s all hard work or seriousness. I am just delighting in the new Sanditon, second season (as I did in All Creatures Great and Small): I truly find Rose Williams’s character of Charlotte Heywood as close to Austen’s conceptions of her heroine, somewhat modernized as I have come across since the 2008 Sense and Sensibility (Hattie Morahan) and previous heritage and appropriation Austen films between 1995 and 1998 (four remarkable films, 199-96 P&P, S&S, Emma, and Persuasion). And many of the stories feel like replays in a good feeling, cheerful vein of many of Austen’s paradigms. I just love how Charlotte-Rose sets out for work everyday, bag on her shoulder, no matter how anachronistic it is. I’m writing postings each week towards two new blogs on Sanditon 2 to match the previous two on Sanditon 1.


Sanditon Season 2 – Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) calls to mind for me Cassandra’s drawing of Austen from the back gazing out at the landscape

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What is new is I’ve subscribed to HBO Max, because it has the first two seasons of My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Quartet is the truer name) and is one by one, each week adding one of the new 8 episodes for Season 3 (Those who leave and those who stay).


Lenu (Ingrid Del Genio) and Lila (Elisa Del Genio) reading Little Women together

I just love this serial as I love the books.  It’s a version of the working class neighborhood in the Southeast Bronx that I grew up in.  I understand it — or this is how people behaved so I feel I understand even if I don’t quite get the motives that actuate the characters. I identify with both heroines. It was harder to identify with Lila because she was so angry and seemed so needlessly cruel to others who had not hurt her, but eventually I’ve come to see she’s sort of the Marianne Dashwood of the books, the heroine Christa Wolf was drawn to, the misfit.

This gets me to my unspoken topic: why I am so alone, why in life I’ve had a couple of friends at a time and no more, why I can’t sustain friendships, why I get myself in trouble publicly sometimes because someone has done something that seems to me so outrageously obtuse or
cruel and I’ve not resisted calling her out for it. Not much, just on the tiny point, but I have somehow hit something important — usually their ego somehow. One woman attacking all those who complain or protest during the Trump era when I said that was a form of political protest and justified and she wrong, she produced long screeds of her resume about how important she was and all her achievements. I realized to many I looked bad, and yet to me she looked so arrogant, showing Writ Large just what I was pointing out in small.

You might say this sort of thing on my part explains why I’ve ended up excluded from JASNA, never was included in the inner circle of the Trollope academic groups, never came near getting a full-time job, except in each of these instances I was excluded early on, before such an incident occurred. When I was invited to the Jane Austen summer program, by the end or third day I knew I would not be invited back, though what I had done unacceptable so early on, I don’t know. I would be thanked for coming. Stood up is the frequent story of my life. When I’ve been able to articulate what a person couldn’t bear — somehow I didn’t figure forth what I call showing off — someone has said to me, of course. It’s these instances, enough across my life to decide I am Aspergers and begin going to Aspergers meetings in person and now online. They are a comfort to me. I find I share so many traits with people there: like hating change, loving routine. It does look like the woman’s group may not survive because the woman starting it is beginning to ask for other facilities and cancelled this month’s meeting.

Jim was the one friend I made who supported me in every way and whom I truly got along with, who enabled me — to travel for example — and his dying takes from me my seeming ability to be part of life’s adventures as others understand these. Am I a difficult woman? this was not the meaning of the course because the four women writers we studied all were worldly successes and much admired by those who admired the tremendous resume woman. He shared my sense of values at core. He was alone too, only once in all the years we were married did a friend of his visit us. He never came back — that was my fault for not feeding him enough. I don’t know that my life would have been better had I been able to see myself as Aspergers and thus at least controlled these impulses or tried hide some of them when I recognize I’m getting myself in trouble but I at least would have had some explanation — if not the values others seem to have in uncountable ways I don’t get.

The unspoken topic is why you see me spend my life hard at work for no money, with no prestige but respect from those who have recognized value in what I’ve offered. I am willing to follow along and to support others in intellectual ways, but that is not enough valued, or other things matter much more. I am Lila — deeply angry somewhere in me because of the unjust way the world works which resolves itself into how I’ve fared or not fared.

So you see, gentle reader, or you may understand why I seem to be mad: this is no retirement. It’s me work work working in a sense all the time. Surrounding myself with books. I don’t know how to play except this kind of work: read, write, watch movies, share with others what I’ve found. What in Aspergers groups is the obsessive behavior over some area I can conquer. For Izzy ice-skating, tennis. For me literature and art. I don’t go out much because the pandemic has made the excuse and turned the pattern into not that uncommon — last weekend I did meet a friend in Washington, DC, and we ate out lunch together, afterwards seeing a powerful Merchant of Venice in the 7th Street and F theater. I enjoyed it but was glad to come home, relieved I did nothing wrong. I think this is a friendship faute de mieux. Her friends are dying, moving away to be near grandchildren, she is unmarried, no children, frail now.


John Douglas Thompson staggered under the onslaught of punitive law …

The play was played in a very simple way, plain costumes actors on a stage emoting at us, coming through the audience discreetly to bring home to everyone the difference between film/TV/streaming on your computer and whatever other devices you might use — and going to a theater to see a play done live by people in front of you with people all around.

John Douglas Thompson, the actor play Shylock was its core – as is often the case when this play is done very well. He was just so deeply hurt and poignant as an open source of a wound leading to profound rage, and when cut down the way he is by them all, it’s almost unbearable. I still think the very cent er of the play, the trial, its language deeply anti-semitic, and the forcing of Christianity on this man is part of this. The actress plays Portira was weak, she swallowed the second half of her central speech, and the rest of them were basically non-entities as they often emerge. A darkness was brought in by interpreting Lorenzo as an abusive husband, and Jessica, an outsider. They play down except for one moment the homosexuality or eroticism between Antonio and Bassiano, the audience’s murmur at the one moment suggested to me why they decided not to dare the homosexuality as part of what is happening on stage — why Portia is buying herself a husband.

I recommend it strongly to be seen as a live play. It is for Americans is so resonant as we have just watched the disgracefully racist and misogynistic attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson and all that that implies about the state of US society today. I also loved the outcast person.


Barnaby and his Raven, Grip — by Phiz, from Dickens’s novel, Barnaby Rudge

My paper on Trollope was on another of the solitary radical characters throughout Trollope’s novels who become his central heroes and heroine: this one Mary, Lady Mason, criminal forger, who just about gets away with it. She does not go to prison; she achieved her goal (providing a gentleman’s life for her son, a lady’s life for herself) by living apart. Phiz’s picture was one of my central pictures for transcendent book illustration art. I wrote and said:

This by Phiz again of the mentally disabled Barnaby Rudge and his faithful friend, the raven, to me captures more pity, respect and understanding for the comradeship of this outcast pair than any of Dickens’s words in the novel.

I will write a brief blog here, connect the talk put on the Trollope Society website eventually to my paper on Austen as a woman with traveling boxes but very little space to herself in my central Ellen and Jim blog soon (I hope).

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Sunday another friend, long time for me, also now alone (two divorces), but several children and grandchildren (whose successes she never tires of boasting of) came here and we ate together and watched three (!) episodes of A Jewel in the Crown and walked. But this is unusual. My life is here online, at my desk, with my books, DVDs and cats … It is form of keeping depression and loneliness at bay.

As I said last time, I find since before Christmas I am feeling less afraid of being alive in the world without Jim. I’ve lasted nine years, and (as long as social security and my widow’s annuity are continued) seem on a path to do this until I’m no more. I’m doing better on a form of acceptance of my lot without Jim. Not seeking distractions which make me nervous and eat up time — like going out so much to courses or lectures.
Traveling to try to make friends. I fought hard the first few years after he died, but now after the 3 year pandemic, I find I’m back where I was with only a world of Internet friends and acquaintances at a distance, a couple of friends nearby at most.

This month too, my long-time friend, Mary Lee, her husband died suddenly. She is (self-described) heart-broken. They were married for 51 years. I’m not seeing her much and like other friends whose partners have gone her life will change, and I doubt there’ll be the room for me there was. I find a deep congeniality with her despite her devout religion and my (as she recalled it in a letter so it irked more than I thought a joke phrase would) “fervent atheism.”

The thing is I have to be occupied – my mind absorbed. One new change or change back this past month is renewed anxiety and worry of the type I felt in the last months of Trump’s “regime,” and especially his concerted attempt to overthrow the US democracy-oligarchy and establish himself as a permanent corrupt dictator (Keptocrat) president pushing the US population into fascism. Not as strong, but Biden’s programs are not getting passed, this evil GOP is working successfully in many states to suppress voting rights, and they have in store for US people immiseration. I’m horrified by the brutally inhumane criminal war inflicted on the Ukrainian people by Putin and his Russians — and there worry about nuclear war as suddenly an actual possible death for us all here in DC.


The poor terrified animal — Ukrainians are modern people and value their pets

So I just can’t read E.M. Forster too many times, cannot lose myself in the intense sexual and affectionate bonding of Jamie and Claire (of Outlander) at midnight reading in bed or watching via DVD too often. I don’t tire of Cavafy’s poetry, which Jim so loved — “The God Abandons Anthony” Jim’s favorite.

And when the time comes and I can’t teach any more (I cannot predict what talent or gift or ability will have to go), I will turn to writing a book once again — something longer, and it will be an outgrowth of all the courses I’ve been teaching myself to give and all the books and movies I’ve been watching, all the blogging I’ve done over these past few years, alone with my beloved cat, ClaryCat (near me just about 24 hours a day) and writing about the next day to friends


Beloved Clarycat in a sun-puddle

I carry on having obscure pains in my chest, my face looks older every day, my body sagging, exhausted from a day of simply going to hairdresser, shopping for food, and practicing a talk 3 times while reading during interstices, this poem speaks to me especially (thanks to Graham Christian for putting the following as a posting on face-book:

Any Soul to Any Body

So we must part, my body, you and I,
Who’ve spent so many pleasant years together.
‘Tis sorry work to lose your company
Who clove to me so close, whate’er the weather,
From winter unto winter, wet or dry;
But you have reached the limit of your tether,
And I must journey on my way alone,
And leave you quietly beneath a stone.

They say that you are altogether bad
(Forgive me, ’tis not my experience),
And think me very wicked to be sad
At leaving you, a clod, a prison, whence
To get quite free I should be very glad.
Perhaps I may be so, some few days hence,
But now, methinks, ’twere graceless not to spend
A tear or two on my departing friend.

Now our long partnership is near completed,
And I look back upon its history;
I greatly fear I have not always treated
You with the honesty you showed to me.
And I must own that you have oft defeated
Unworthy schemes by your sincerity,
And by a blush or stammering tongue have tried
To make me think again before I lied.

‘Tis true you’re not so handsome as you were,
But that’s not your fault and is partly mine.
You might have lasted longer with more care,
And even now, with all your wear and tear,
‘Tis pitiful to think I must resign
You to the friendless grave, the patient prey
Of all the hungry legions of Decay.

But you must stay, dear body, and I go.
And I was once so very proud of you:
You made my mother’s eyes to overflow
When first she saw you, wonderful and new.
And now, with all your faults, ’twere hard to find
A slave more willing or a friend more true.
Ay — even they who say the worst about you
Can scarcely tell what I shall do without you.
–Cosmo Monkhouse (1840-1901)

Monkhouse devoted most of his literary career to sensitive art criticism, including a life of the visionary English artist H.M.W. Turner. This poem, from his 1890 collection, *Corn and Poppies*, exhibits skillful musicality, gentle humor, and hard-won wisdom that compare favorably with the achievements of Monkhouse’s more celebrated contemporaries, Tennyson and Browning. Like the best poems, it resists paraphrase; its wistful wit lingers in the mind. — Graham Christian

Ellen

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Heather Cox Richardson talks of how gov’t will start to fall apart and become poor if you go wholly local. It did snow in my area (Northern Virginia) and hundreds and hundreds of cars were stuck on the highway for 27 hours.
In my tiny local no plowing of my block for a whole day — very treacherous to go out. Snowed again, iced again, but sun came out and there was a use of sand mixture and one plowing. Used as excuse for what has been happening for months: slow death of post office service.

Has she been paying attention to what appears or doesn’t in her US Post office box near her door? This past week 3 out of the 5 days there was no mail from the US post office. No post man came to the neighborhood. This is an astonishing record I thought. I queried that neighborhood list and discovered that several people have had similar or worse things happen. The GOP is partly responsible, having decades ago decided to attack the USPS and demand they provide pension for 20 years ahead to cripple them – they want to private this national service. Constant derision.

The key here is the USPS is heavily minority and people of color, especially Black. One person came on to say we get what we need electronically: nonsense, not even all bills can come that way: insurance packets, tax from gov’ts. I keep being told Biden can do nothing until the board changes and has changed one member and another needs to die or something. What is with him?

All but two of my bills now come electronically but I must pay the two and a third by post office check. I will not put my rout number to my bank on line anywhere. I do it once a year to pay fed and state tax because AARP won’t do it any other way. As a place by the way the UPSP in my area now looks desolate. Again neighborhood listserv another person said how disgusting the PO is (it’s not, just desolate — poorly lit nowadays! nothing added by way of decoration — clearly no group spirit any more) and made slurs against the employees

Until the attacks and underfunding the USPS has been a terrific service performing daily a seemingly impossible task and well. Academic friends of mine who were (or are) GOP types regularly attacked it in slurs. It was “understood” how bad this service was. That’s racism

I used to get my passport through the Post Office. It had a subsection where a federal person was there for applying and renewals. Has that subsection been closed down?

When I once bought stamps online I found that I seemed to be conned into accepting Paypal for _all my purchases_ by the card I used from now on. I discovered this was a false email. but LeJoy lets crooks onto the USPS website. Paypal are crooks; once they get your name if you do buy something through them, they send false bills. I did it once and got false bills for weeks.

I’m not say the feds are by any means perfect: read They really are trying to kill us. Perhaps it should be put that those in power in most states across the world do not care if the citizens in those states die if it means disrupting power relationships and profit-making.


One of hundreds of small local post offices closed down around the US: a small one in the next neighborhood after mine was shut down during the pandemic (an excuse)

Anthony Trollope would be turning over in his grave with real upset if there were some kind of afterlife ….

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


Clive Swift playing the central role of curate

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then a clever parody:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Retelling Traditional History from an Alternative Point of View

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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The new DC Trollope group, Sunday around 1 pm, Rockcreek Park –that’s me in the blue knitted hat

I am a person who reads books with a pen in my hand

Dear friends and readers,

However slowly, transitioning is happening: I’ve noticed a number of events that would have been online last year at this time are either in person or not occurring, sometimes with the reassurance that come spring we will do it, meet, in person, or without but implied understanding that things are not so desperate or frightening as they were last year so we don’t need the zoom support we gave one another last year. I am sorry for this, though I find myself also skipping zoom meetings, lectures as I once would not have done. I also have chosen not to teach online but in person in the spring 2022 my coming Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, Aftermath, & Diaspora.

I am very sorry to lose the couple of people in each of my classes this time who stayed the course until the end and were coming in from way outside MDV (like NYC, somewhere in Florida [poor woman], Philly), and have vowed to myself to try to take a hybrid and watch how it’s done to see if I could dare do it by the fall (2022), but intensely relieved not to have to put up with people in the class as black boxes with their names in white letters or a frozen photo at the center of said box. Relieved not to be so dependent on the computer, the technology, the electricity working. I believe I come across better in person, we are all truly in contact with one another that way.

It’s been suggested to me in the spring after this one I “do” Jewish-Italian writing: out of Italy I could do that very well, say one six week OLLI at Mason session: I took a wonderful course in just this area at OLLI at AU (online) and from my own years of teaching myself to read Italian and then translating Italian poetry, I know I’ve read a good deal of such books. Elsa Morante was half-Jewish, I’ve loved Primo and Carlo Levi’s books, for a start. It would get me reading Giorgio Bassani’s The Heron at long last (he’s the one who wrote The Garden of the Finzi-Continis).  There’s Grazia Deledda’s novels which I’ve never read  I own one Englished (I admit she was not Jewish). Note what I look forward to most is reading the books.


Izzy went for a walk along the Tidal Basin in the DC park on November 11th and took this photo

Yet I met a friend at the Phillips Collection this past Saturday to see a dual exhibit of African-American art, Alma Thomas and David Driskell, and found myself slightly reveling in the train ride (Metro working just fine), the walk, glad to eat out together, delighted calling a red cab ahead confirmed to be the best way. Seeing an exhibit online just does not come near, even if the lecturer is superb (though that compensates for a lot).

And a highpoint result of 18 months of almost every-other-week zoom meetings with a group of people who love Trollope, organized by the chair of the London Trollope society I and a woman with real organizing capabilities and experience got together 13 people (from the regulation 100+ or so online), who live in and about DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia. Touchingly, they got themselves to Rock Creek park this past Sunday to meet at last. As you can see from the photo above, very much in person in the bracing air. We had a sort of picnic, met and talked (about how we first read Trollope, first joined the society).

On the whole, it went very well: we were jolly and glad to meet — people came from as far away as Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, Loudon county. We promised we’d meet regularly, say once a season, and next time indoors The thought was libraries have become community centers who host different groups and we could find a room in such a library (the Library of Congress does, here in Alexandra, the Beasley, and in Fairfax, the one which has a center in spring for AARP to help people with their taxes). And yet I had a much better time the next day, Monday, online with that larger group, discussing for one last time, Trollope’s The American Senator. One reason the zooms are taxing is they are necessarily intellectual, but me I love that focus.


And the imagined world — this illustration comes from the old Oxford sets of Trollope Barsetshire novels

And many things from before the pandemic and since will carry on. I truly rejoice one of them is this every-other-week London Trollope group. It is rare for me to have been able to fit in enough and sustain my place, my welcome there — as have so many others, and I think it is due to the congenial abilities of Dominic Edwards. The new reading group on face book from The Way We Read Now page, a spin-off of the FB Trollope Society page, now reading Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. Other new ones, which are suited for me (which I can enjoy) coming out of an institution or organization realizing here is a place they can gather a larger audience, and make more money, who seem to be determined to keep zooms going (as well as in person) include the Elizabeth Gaskell House, the Hay festival from England, the Virginia Woolf society.

If I’m guessing right, the Smithsonian seems to be inclining to stay online for a lot of their programs. It is not the kind of experience where you make friends by seeing the same people outside the class over and over — and honestly all that I take in is taken in online. Since so much there is at night, cross your fingers for me, it will most to mostly or at least half online for the lectures and musical concerts, art history talks. For six weeks ending today Saul Lilienstein has played and explained (discussed) Choral music by geniuses across the ages in Europe. When his spirit soars, so does mine.  (I attended an all day series of four lectures with clips by him long ago, in person, on the Beatles.) Some of it has been so stirring — it is a group activity which calls to the heart to listen as they sing together to the music, all listening. I especially enjoyed the Verdi requiem because Jim so loved Verdi, would listen to it and this was the first time anyone ever explained it to me.

My two listservs, Trollope and his Contemporaries, still going fine with about 10+ active over say a few weeks, and WomenWriters, with more like 4 or 5 at groups.io.


Christa Wolf when young — or my Retelling Traditional History & Legend from an Alternative Standpoint online this winter — I could not have begun to get so far this month w/o the help of a friend on WomenWriters

Still I feel much sorrow as I see that my Aspergers group leaders are tiring of the every-other-week weeknight chat, and long to return to meeting in a restaurant once a month in the evening. What has kept them from moving is the restaurant they had found an ideal room in, which was also centrally located in DC, and near a Metro stop, is not willing to have them come back as yet. This is a group which provides me with much comfort. I recognize the problems I have in the problems they do, get decent advice for real, just can be myself and not worry I’m off that unwritten script the fairy godmothers of neurotypicals left in their cradles, but not mine. Each time I have had to go out in this last phase of (this?) pandemic has been something of an ordeal. The people in this group understand and several of them have said now and again how the quarantine of the pandemic has been a relief in the peaceful existence they’ve enjoyed.

A silver lining: there is now a subgroup meeting the third later Saturday afternoon of each month, just for women. We’ve had some very good talk, of a different type, not just different subjects (having to do with women) but more intimate somehow in the angle we talk at.

So this is what I have wanted to tell my friends who read this blog tonight. How ambivalent I am about “going back” to true face-to-face, body-to-body, physical travel contact.  You should see how carefully I am driving my newly fixed car.  I wonder how some of you have felt during this seeming transition. One man at the DC Trollope group ventured to admit he found the pandemic had gifted him with the zooms from the London Trollope groups and called them “a silver lining” too.

I usually like to end with a new love or an old love renewed: well I’ve returned to Outlander (yes there was a hiatus of a few months) but not just the films, I am reading the books however slowly at midnight, a half hour or so. I have admitted to myself that my love for the Poldark books was an is a love for this genre of historical fiction & romance. Maybe I’ve overdone as a reason for liking Winston Graham’s historical fiction set in the later 18th century the strong left social message of his romances and under-estimated the similar if much less economical-political message of Gabaldon — she is far far more liberated (so to speak) for women and LBGTQ people than Graham gets anywhere near.

I’m now studying Mira Nair’s joy-in-grief-stricken Indian films — have bought the screenplay for Salaam Bombay (a little novel in effect), as I try to obtain a DVD with the original features by her and her cinematographer.

And while I often don’t care for Mary Oliver’s poems (too determinedly upbeat), this one, with the accompanying picture

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
— Mary Oliver

How Jim delighted my heart. Sometimes I break out of the conventional and express (while teacher) how much my books in my house mean to me because of their connection to Jim — it seems that 1876 by Gore Vidal will tell me of the horrors of that first year of the era of racial terrorism inaugurated by the Congress giving to Rutherford B. Hayes, the US presidency and in return him withdrawing all Federal troops, with the implicit okay on the white supremacy of the south using whatever barbaric techniques they pleased. Someone said that in the Trollope class I teach at OLLI at AU.

I expressed surprise and then delight at the thought the book was in my house, and told them how Jim had read it and so enjoyed Burr too, and that one was here too. One woman in the class suddenly said in a bossy voice she has used before, “you shouldn’t talk like that.” I don’t remember what I replied but I hope it was near “to tell me not to talk like this is to tell me to stop breathing.”


Fall flowers — the dining room credenza which I keep cheerful also with food I like, drinks, & one of several photos of Jim scattered about the house

Ellen

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