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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thought of a new paper: “From Either End of the Long Eighteenth Century: Anne Finch’s ‘Folger’ Book and Jane Austen’s Unpublished Fiction.”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.

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

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

Friends,

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

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

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

I’ll mention this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Egon Schiele, Four Trees (1917)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So now I’ll subside into a movie:

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


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

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

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


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


Maxx as snugglicious — another

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

Ellen

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I’m making a habit of buying cut flowers each week from whatever supermarkets I go to and putting them in the dining room as cheering, lovely, emblems of pleasure

Maggie Smith of her widowhood: “it seems a bit pointless, going on on one’s own, and not having someone to share it with” — some of what I’m feeling is me missing my friend and companion, the support and comfort of my life, how he was able to make me laugh ….

Friends and readers,

I suppose you know that after all the pandemic is far from over. Izzy has happily returned to work in her office (the library at the Pentagon) five days a week, and the world is again filling with people and cars coming and going day and evening; the two OLLIs I teach and attend classes at are going to be a mix of hybrid, in person and online in fall. But with far too many people (some 40 to 80% in some states) refusing to get vaccinated or doing it ever so slowly, the delta variant has spread and the numbers of people in the US becoming ill has risen even alarmingly, though thus far it’s the unvaccinated who are going to hospital and dying. This is a ridiculous choice these people are making, but nonetheless they are making it. Plus outside the richer countries, a huge proportion of people remain unvaccinated. As long as this is the situation, all of us are in danger from Delta and new mutations/variants, which could be even more easily transmissible and lethal.

I should admit I don’t trust any US medical establishment — and this deep background is part of why US people don’t come forward for shots. I guess I don’t trust them to be on my side — Laura says my attitude towards hospitals especially reminds her of Black Americans. I was thrown (not literally) out a hospital when I was 9 after the people there did stop a hemorrhage because my father hadn’t any insurance. The procedure was over and maybe an hour had gone by. I remember the incident myself — my father begged them to let me stay; if they’d wait until 9 am when banks opened he’d get out the $200 (at the time no small sum) and bring it to the hospital. They really put me out on the street. They did call a cab — now nice of them my father always said. Then I had a hemorrhage … My life was saved after another traumatic trip, just.

I do trust Dr Wiltz but he is not the person who would do procedures or vaccinate (that I did as it is so minor a thing – a jab). I can’t change my insurance as I could get nothing near as good — everything is covered, only small co-pays for visits (and sometimes now with medicare none at all) and for drugs. One time I didn’t understand what a barium enema was and when I was on the table and got it, I tried to get off, and the people held me down (they really did) and tied me there, and then poured this horrible stuff into my cavity. I screamed and they didn’t care. When they were done, I said to them if I knew them personally I’d never forgive them. That I knew sending a letter of complaint would do me no good. Since then I am very careful before I accede to anything. Once I remember thinking to myself I should not have come in here for this appt because the doctor was talking of how she had to send me to hospital — as if I had no will to say no. I told her I wouldn’t go and began to get off the dolly. I don’t remember what happened after that but I didn’t go to any hospital. I’m in charge of me.

I call this Journey’s End because that phrase is the one that leaps to mind as I think about how I feel about my life just now. Sure I have done some good and satisfying work, work I enjoyed doing this summer: my two courses, Novels of Longing and Colonialist Writing (see also Caryl Phillips), and this past Monday a good talk on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove,” and Henry Herbert’s film adaptation of it went over very well. (I will be putting it up and linking it in before the next few days.) This fall I will “do” Trollope’s The Prime Minister with a few political essays by 19th century women writers. I’ve thought of Wollf’s Cassandra and Four Essays (the Trojan war seen by a woman usually dismissed as a nut-case) and Eve Figes’s Seven Ages of Women (another reversal perspective) and now I’ve thought of a good course for next spring, one I’ll enjoy very much: Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, aftermath and diaspora (Forster’s A Passage to India, Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, Jhabvala’s Heat & Dust, with their wonderful movie adaptations.  My paper-talk for the coming EC/ASECS will be “A Woman and Her Box,” how the battered box a woman carried her life’s identity around in as so many had no control over any private space (I’ll use Amanda Vickery’s work).   I’m to have lunch out with a friend this Friday, perhaps go with another friend (I can’t go without her as she must do the driving or I would go alone) to hear and see Renee Fleming and the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap (!) August 6th (I’m sure I’ll love the show) … I’m reading books and watching movies for sheer pleasure: David Nicholls’ Us.

I have prided myself on trying to tell the truth about myself insofar as this is possible in a public media. Yes I might have two decades left of life, I will probably be here for the rest of this year.

Still I’m in the coda of my life. I am finding this second summer harder — for I am still in partial quarantine. I asked the doctor if I should return to swimming, and he suggested caution: just swim laps, keep away from people, wear a mask. I then faced the truth I don’t enjoy swimming any more: my arms are so weak I can’t go far, the water is cold, the building inside to me pure functionality, dank in the pool area, the water cold — a lot of trouble to wash afterwards. I would get as much exercise, probably more by walking in the evening. I feel like I did that first summer Jim died. For seven summers I did have no one to travel anywhere with or go out the way Jim and I used to (we would wander on long walks in the later evening), but I could drive at night & went to Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center, with a friend (who has died since too) in Old Town, and going to classes helped enormously. Zooms are rewarding but something is missing I do need. Starting 2nd summer each August I took trips w/Road Scholar, which were to UK (Scotland, Lake District, Cornwall), 2019 Calais by the beach w/daughters. Nothing this year. Strain bad. Heat loathsome so stay inside w/air conditioning & cats.


Laura and Izzy this summer …

That’s part of why I’m feeling this way. But also I’ve faced I haven’t got what it takes to do the travel research to do a book any more — I never did. Never knew how to negotiate (Jim did that for my Trollope on the Net book with Hambledon Press); I experience intense anxiety attacks when in new places or liminal experiences, the expense would be very high (because library hours in some places so limited). And I can’t conquer the Word writing program. Laura came over and I tried but this second week I find I’m forgetting what to do all over again. So I can’t composite documents on Chicago Manual style.   I must just take pleasure in learning, teaching about it, sharing on the Net (blogging). I could try a book if I find some ability that enables me to teach suddenly vanishes — for several abilities are involved and I know how these suddenly disappear. I do miss going out at night regularly; I realize that when and if the later afternoon evening parties held at the OLLI at AU begin I won’t be able to go because I’d be driving back in the dark. I also have to hope that Politics and Prose keeps up online classes for evenings/nights. Another related sad truth I’ve faced is I often don’t enjoy the zoom classes at either P&P or the OLLIs: it’s a much less educated and much less serious audience they aim at. My own courses are the less common serious literature courses at both OLLIs (especially the one at Mason).

I’m also tiring of some of these zooms. At OLLI at Mason the default setting or “norm” in their minds is often a TV show — the webinar where you meet and talk to no one. These power-presentations themselves a substitute for real thought. At the conferences the compliments given to all talkers (“amazing” and “fantastically wonderful” talk) are embarrassing. This term I dropped out of all the courses at OLLI at Mason I had signed up for. To be fair, I did have two very good ones at the OLLI at AU in June (one on federalism by a very intelligent man and the other on the Reconstruction period in the US), and each Thursday Maria Frawley on Middlemarch is just an inspiration to me. My spirits soar as I listen to her talk with such a generous ethical approach, bringing out the language patterns and depths of thought in the book, and prompting from the people in the class deeply reciprocal responses. This past Saturday just a beautiful and moving discussion of Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer with Alison Hennegan as teacher from Cambridge: I don’t care for the book that much, but what she had to say about it and later the conversation over lesbian literature was moving, truthful, just took me out of myself into another realm of recognition, and renewal.


By the Sea — Sara Sittig (Scapes) – a favorite picture for me, one which expresses what I feel somehow

Would I be happier if I had a “boyfriend” (the word seems so silly)? I’ve dated sort of four men thus far and none attracted me physically or I didn’t attract them — anyway no one made any move to kiss me — except the first (a fifth early on) and he distressed me by trying to start sexual interaction. I felt ashamed, thinking of Jim — it was actually that first year Jim had died. Two of them were mensplaining to me, condescending and worse yet, correcting me for my outlook on life — how dare I be an atheist? or pessimistic? Far from enjoying conversation with these people, I was repressed and irritated. The man I partly accompanied to Cornwall was irritated by me because he felt I could see he’d have a better time mixing with the general crowd who began to leave us alone — and he was reactionary politically. I would not want to lose Izzy and I would were a man to move in — and I wouldn’t want anyone to break my 30 years’ pattern (with Jim doing his pattern) of reading and writing for most of my hours.

I also just don’t fit in American values or norms. I find with the one girlfriend I see she dominates me because I can’t think of an intermediate level of language to tell her to stop trying to get me to do things I don’t want to do, or think things I don’t think at all (all very conservative, demanding of aggression) — I’ve now been told that this slowness of response and inability to be nuanced is part of the spectrum. Of course I did know that but didn’t think of speed, or intuitive uptake as part of this. I went to have “cocktails” with the new Iranian woman friend I’ve made in this neighborhood. Two other women there whose conversation was so stupid and at times racist that I found myself remembering Austen writing of how one needs children to make a conversation go: we had their three dogs. I had dressed up for it

I am trying to think of a study plan I could follow inbetween teaching, reading with others on listservs and for teaching, writing reviews (in a few days I will return to Anne Finch and women’s poetry and the later 17th century into the 18th). Thus far what I’ve fitted in is reading Italian an hour each day. I have been so enjoying and getting so much more out of Ferrante’s Those who Leave and Those who Stay the second time round (now I see it as deeply realistic with Lenu at the center, and I marvel at how she behaves to her husband whom she seems not to love anything like I loved Jim, am startled and appalled at the fascism and political and economic life of Naples so I wonder if she hid her identity from whoever is the source of these characters). I sit with Storia de chi fugge edi chi resta in front of me on my desk. The English translation to one side as a crib; my Italian dictionary and verb book on the other. My French is better than my Italian and I would have far less need of an English copy for a crib but find I’m more allured by my Italian books than my French ones. I did choose Italian (not French) Renaissance women poets to translate. But it would take such time to bring back my ability to read Italian without a crib so am trying to get myself back without the intermediate steps and hope an hour a day consistently will do the trick.

So I’m finding there is almost no comparison between the lightness of the English and sense of dense intense meaning, passion, suggestion, and sheer syntactical interconnections in the Italian. I love the vocabulary in Italian which brings to mind far other metaphoric connections than the simple English barer plain words. I am wondering if after all Ann Goldstein is one of those translators who deliberately modernizes and makes more accessible the texts she translates. I would have thought that not necessary with a contemporary one but now I’m thinking maybe just as much. Goldstein offers very poor commentary on the novels in every group talk I’ve heard — ideas like the first book is the best. Thus Ferrante’s Italian is not being truly represented. There is much less need to defend Ferrante as an important Italian writer (woman) when you are in the Italian. She is so much better in the original — in fact she is not plain in her language at all. If and when a third season of Italian TV resumes the serial here in the US, I’ll pay for HBO Max to see it.

I’ve managed about ten pages or so after three days. And my desire is to do a French book by a woman, a good memoir next.

I’m at Journey’s End and thus how can I offer you valuable thought from my life. I can do as I’ve done, write literary and film criticism from the heart as filler but I’ve not had the spirit to do that here these past three weeks, too tired at night, too exhausted the next day after blogging, giving of myself. I’m going slower and finish less books and movies and put that matter on my two other blogs, Ellen & Jim Have a Blog, Two, and Reveries Under the Sign of Austen. So my dear friends who have been reading this blog for at least 10 years now, this is why I write so infrequently and telling you this, explaining this to you is why I have written this blog.


The latest flowering bushes in my front garden. I’m watering them twice a day during this dreadful hot time.

Ellen

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Myself and my cousin, Pat, both age 8, Crotona Park, the Bronx


Me at a waterfall park in Maryland, age 72

Gentle readers and friends,

Above you see a photo of me from long ago, one I think I dimly remembered when my cousin, Pat sent it to me last week: I am 8 years old and so is Pat, we are in Crotona Park, in the Southeast Bronx, at a point where it intersects with Charlotte Street, on which I lived some 3 blocks down. My aunt, her mother, took the photo, behind us is her older brother (by one year), teasing us. The other is of me, age 72, spring, Maryland, at a waterfalls in a park.  What is remarkable to me is not only has my facial structure remained the same (allowing for my present fallen cheekbones, toothless state, wrinkled skin), the angle at which I hold my head when faced by a camera, my resort to nervous hand gestures has changed little. I couldn’t skate for the same reasons I was not able to bike ride about 20 years ago, and I now can’t do power point or share screens (or do any more beyond be there and talk) on zooms — too nervous, can’t let go, too unsure of myself, nowadays fear of embarrassment and making people impatient, allowing them to see (while I feel can be seen) aspects of my personality that make me very vulnerable. By contrast, there is Pat, looking out confident, smiling, the only barrier before her, the sun in her eyes, which she fends off.

This evening I sat mesmerized as I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation (with a little help from Harold Pinter, i.e., most of the script) of The Remains of the Day for an umpteenth time. Ishiguro says he means us to take the butler as standing in for all of us: he gets to do a small job, but cannot control how his labor is used. He has little individual say in many major social and political and economic decisions affecting his life. He is also a man afraid of emotions, a man who failed to let his emotional life have any fulfillment. I do identify — and also with Miss Kenton — I’m a profound failure. It’s not that I threw it away, wasted it with no emotional satisfactions (I had my 45 years with Jim, have two daughters, have had a few friends, and continue to make one or two now and again, but barely sustain them), not that I didn’t get to make my own mistakes (which Mr Stevens laments he did not), enacted my own bad judgements. It’s that the disabilities which manifest themselves so clearly to my eyes so in the old photo have prevented me from doing the writing, achieving the book(s), having a social life that I have longed for, never had, never will. Why I am here all alone this evening and will be so for most until I die. Why I go few places.

The first time I watched this I burst into hysterical crying and it took something like 10 minutes for me to calm down. Jim was sleeping so I went into the bathroom in order to muffle the sounds.

I’ve been watching it again as part of re-teaching this course I called Two Novels of Longing etc. , and it is going very well for a second time. I love the books, and the second time through I am handling what I did well the first time even better.

I’ve thought over these couple of weeks since I last wrote how I have still not learned how to refer to saying something without saying it, still often cannot tell what is hinted at in general terms unless someone drops down a notch into something more concrete, that this middle class or level way of talking is beyond me. Each time I bump up against these ever-so-tactful ways of talk, I ask myself, now is this as Aspergers trait or is it rather than I’m not middle class, and a foundational (so to speak) working class identity that I have fled from in numerous ways (and am sitting her at peace because that I did succeed in with Jim’s help) cannot be eradicated. The pain this lack causes me, the mortification I know I’d feel if I had to watch myself teach on a video (my classes are now recorded), I have to hold in check. When I told someone I have not watched myself teaching, she sent me a written description.  I thanked her. Sometimes I think to myself so much has to be held in check. To get along with others pleasantly.

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Summer is definitely here, and in some ways we are post-pandemic, Izzy and I. We went out to a movie the other day, and I discovered that people are behaving very badly on the highways. At high speeds (65-70 mph) they dart in an out of the traffic lanes, move in front, around, speeding up to the side of other people in cars. I came home exhausted that day and another when I visited a friend. Calmed myself down, pulled my emotional temperature, excitement down by a glass of wine, but taking it too quickly, I found after supper I had to go to bed and sleep — for several in one case for a couple of hours in the other. So another response to the dissolution of quarantine, is collapsing, twice, from the effort I have not been called upon to give for quite some time. My first time out I got lost.  In some ways the pandemic is not gone. Both of us still working remotely from home, me still on zooms for teaching, courses, lectures, friends’ sessions. Still over 50% of Americans not vaccinated (what great fools), across the world in poor countries, only a tiny number of people vaccinated and this Delta variant (high contagious and the vaccines are not a total barrier against it) spreading across the globe.

Five of the nine shops that used to be next to the movie-house are now emptied of their businesses. Vanished. Went bankrupt. Who says we don’t need another giant stimulus bill?

The cleaning ladies have now been here three times and done a marvelous job each time – the first for well over 2 hours, which included washing from the inside all 14 windows. (One of them, a Black woman in her later 30s looks very well, all of her four children survived without getting sick.)

Ian the ginger tabby reacted with strong upset. He stayed in hiding under Izzy’s bed from 10:30 when he seemed to vanish until 8 or 9 pm. Then he came out steathily, standing there so still. Since then he has kept making these poignant dismal sounds, wandering about. Last night he wanted to go back under Izzy’s bed but she wanted to go to sleep and she doesn’t like to have the cats in the room with her when sleeping. She does let them in the times I’ve been away, but she prefers strongly to sleep alone. He sat at her door and kept up that mewing sound for quite a while, scratching on the door, and the next morning he was back to that mewing again. Not so frequent. It’s this insistent demanding sound or weak and so desolate And wandering about. I gave him tuna the day after. Two days and nights have gone by and he is now returned to his quiet routine patterns.

So cats have to re-adjust too. Clarycat has spent 15 months as my nearly perpetual companion and I find she does not like when I go out for a whole afternoon.


Clary my perpetual companion

I spent far too much money to have my front patches of flowers and yard once again weeded, mulched, cleaned up, new flower bed put in — I can’t keep this up I think to myself. The man a mean ignorant Trumpite not vaccinated at all, but his wife I’m discovering is a decent person.


Roses and daisies

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I have a book to tell you of, A. N. Wilson’s Stray; a new serial, Us, a four part BBC serial, based on a book by David Nicholls, which reviewers denigrated as a comfort book about divorce; a couple more thoughts on listening (once again) to a four book roman fleuve in translation: Elena Ferrante’s L’amica geniale (aka My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein who I’ve now seen often enough to know she is dumb when it comes to having ideas about literature) — and the opening spiel for the the course I’ll be teaching the next five weeks, now called more adequately called Writings about Colonial Experiences.

A.N. Wilson’s Stray is a gem in the animal story for adult kind, one which deserves a blog in its own right, together with another moving animal study I read before the pandemic, as thorough in the prose way, as sensitive, Roger A Caras, A Cat is Watching: how cats see us. But I’ve not the ambition so you’ll have to settle for this:

Pufftail has an outlook an outlook and experiences matched by Paul Auster in his book on Timbuktoo, a dog we first meet as “owned” by a mentally ill homeless man in Baltimore. The frame is this is a tale told by our narrator late in life to a grandkitten. This helps me as I know our narrator survived until old age Timbuktoo did not or several times it would have been too painful. The novel proper begins with this novel Puftail as a kitten with his brother taken far far too young from their mother –- the first tragic wrench. The animal store manager is a man interested in animals only insofar as he can make money. They soon are fed as minimally as possible and left in a cage. They realize – because he says so (how they understand English is not explained) – he will drown them. An elderly woman, Granny Harris, comes by and tries to negotiate for one by lying; offers too little, lies about why, and almost takes just one — the brother says goodbye to our hero so plaintively, but the owner throws in the other kitten for a pound. We see the old lady knows almost nothing of kittens for real.

They become indoor-outdoor cats – he and his brother who are named by her Fluffie (that’s our narrator because he has a very fluffy tail – -maybe he’s a middle haired cat) and his brother, Bootsie because his feet and ears are white. He dislikes these names. What is riveting is he tells of how he and his brother kill birds. In a very violent scene we see them stalk and kill a thrush, but not before they “tease” the poor bird a bit, and then we get a description of how they devour the bird. It’s upsetting yet we are distanced because our narrator stops to argue with us — why should we be put off when we eat animals every night. We have someone else do the killing for us. He said he thought Granny would be pleased if they presented the thrush to her. She was horrified – that’s when we get this argument about the hypocrisy of people. She even buried the bird – – and scolded both cats.

What happens is the kind of old lady dies and the cats have to learn about, confront death but the two younger adults are nowhere as responsible and they don’t remember to do things for the cats, yet lock them in. Her adult children come to visit and our narrator and his brother learn to stay away. They are not kind people, have no feel for animals for real, no imagination. Then a truly terrifying moment. I know from all previous cat literature of all kinds I’ve read it’s okay among human beings to kill cats for fun; they were persecuted for some centuries; in the 18th century there is recorded a great cat massacre; torture for entertainment of all sorts was common. Well, the male of the younger couple wants to get rid of these cats as a nuisance — outright kill them. We get this whole sequence as Bootsie, our narrator’s unfortunately named brother, dithers over plans to leave and then it’s too late; they are caught after a fierce struggle and put in bags and throw out of a moving car crazily. Bootsie is almost killed instantly and then run over by a bus.

It is at the same time intermittently very funny. Wilson keeps up a satire on human beings: he describes us as ridiculous from the POV of a cat: how we dress, our sports, out TVs, radios, cars (engines of murder); this undercuts the central story. We are only one-third through. For the rest see the comments. I’ll reread it and perhaps write another blog on compassionate animal books soon.


Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves)

Us is not really serious work as Wilson’s is (it’s made for money, finally all about celebrity, success, and glamour somehow), but it is interesting to watch. What resonated with me was the POV of the husband, Douglas Peterson. He has spent more than 20 years of love and marriage working as a serious scientist and has meant very well by his family. Connie offers no reason to leave him but that now the son is leaving home, she feels she need no longer stay — no other reason is cited (Saskia Reeves as an actress is given the most superficial of roles): it appears she is bored; he irritates her with his earnestness and conventional morality when for example (she says) he should be siding with his son (it seems no matter what, how badly behaved he is to an admittedly thuggish bunch.  He should, do more than tolerate the son’s equally outrageous sudden girlfriend (openly indifferent to everything but what suits her today), even like her because the son is attracted to her. So I don’t see the interesting element in the story as about how a man tries to win his wife back (with the implication he deserves to lose her, though I realize many a cold-hearted neurotypical coarse person would respond this way), but (as The Guardian reviewer says)

Us worked best as a study of a middle-aged man who has the rug of familiarity pulled out from underneath him … Hollander is superb as a man baffled by the need for change. His family want to eat adventurous meals, while he would like to stick with steak. He sees great works of art and can’t help but say that they’d be “a nightmare to frame”. He is everydad, just trying to get by. For all the joviality, though, it makes serious points about the damage that an inability to communicate can cause …

And the indifference of his family (how tiresome he is) to such a person. They wish they could drop him, but are conscious of how bad they look, and they do feel guilty.

It is curious how the focus is on the older husband and then the husband and son, and how thin the depiction of the husband when younger is (a different actor); all three actresses (wife and mother when old; Connie played by a different actress when she is young, and the obnoxious son’s girlfriend) are really dismissed or treated as so many troubles or soothing machines in life. I do wonder if the book is much better ….

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Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) (as to a third season?)

I’m more than half-way through Ferrante’s third book (Those who Leave and Those who Stay) for a second time. I find I underestimated the deep bonding of Elena and Lila – because Elena destroyed Lila’s notebooks and herself literally moved to live elsewhere, but Elena is repeatedly going back; she’s there at crucial moments for Lila and they are a doppelganger of sorts with Elena the Elinor Dashwood and Lila the Marianne. Both are sensibility figures. I feel Ferrante saw this — as she suggested in her introduction to an edition of Austen’s S&S. Sometimes I stop to compare the Italian to the English and often the Italian is not only much better but gives different slant, more political, more socialist, more desperate against the fascism and patronage society of Italy in the later 1960s.


Gilbert (David Oyelowo) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson) — from Small Island (which I’m not doing as too long but hope some to) — they cannot escape their identities

And as for the Literature of Colonialism, from my lecture notes:

But until a couple of months ago my reading was very narrowly focused. I did not realize what a large and varied picture if you start to read stories and essays about colonialism comprises. Hitherto I defined colonialism as usually one group of people traveling to a country say owned or lived on by another group to take over their land, control where they live, live upon it – settler colonialism. Or one group of people traveling to another country and taking over, controlling the reigns of government, and setting up let’s call a layer of powerful functionaries with armies to back them – often using a minority population in the country as their front, with the aim of extracting natural resources and selling them elsewhere or forcing the people there to form a marketplace to buy their goods, also trading with them.

It’s must much wider and concerns many kinds of experiences for many different reasons. I added to our blurb on the syllabus: What is it like to invent a new country? to live in a country that is being invented and excluding or exploiting you? Or a curiously isolated upper class who don’t belong to the country and yet are supposed to be in governing positions? Or to live in an old country where you are not allowed to belong?

But that just covers our books & movies. I will also try to bring out over the next sessions these other characteristics which are so important – repeating characteristics

migrancy (people moving about, and changing their home to another world, refugees, war) – the dangers of this as you don’t know the people you are landing among at all, unless you’re coming to a relative,

liminality (crossing all sorts of crucial and trivial thresholds from going on a trip to getting married to someone or going to live with someone or along) – opening new opportunities you couldn’t have where you were – what does this mean? How does it affect people

hybridity (several cultures and sometimes a new emerging one)

and last, multiculturalism (different groups of people originally separated geographically and now also by ethnicity, race, religion &c)

People do go for all sorts of reasons and a major one is simply war – to escape violence and death and poverty.

And last prejudice, this somehow deeply seated fear of the other – now you are the other or those coming in are the other. There’s an argument we should be doing as we did until 1900 – just let people come in – it would expand our economy, make for new kinds of businesses, new ideas – only controlling for the criminal types who I fear we now let in because they know how to appear rich

The literature also includes this intense yearning for something other, for landscape – yet roots are tremendously important – Simon Weil’s Needs for Roots, existentialism says a lot of what is at the heart of a modern malaise is a lack of meaning from a lack of belonging – but who do you want to belong to? Capitalism recognizes no obligation to anyone but the contract.

Later in the afternoon I was exhausted in the good way, not a collapse. The odd thing is that with all the intense anti-immigrant (because racist) talk, the way I’ve presented the material elicited lots of friendly responses. Of the 30 or so people there I’d say VERY FEW had ancestors who went back beyond their grandparents. Now they are grandparents (many) but their grandparents would be say 120 years old or so – and like me many came from places in Europe, but there were two hispanic people. Also the US has 800 bases around the world (Russia has 4); a huge diplomatic core and is incessantly itself imperialist whether aggressive and nasty and lying like Trump or friendly and let’s cooperate like Biden. All the reading I’ve done has made me expand my understanding and if I were to name the course today it’d be Writing about Colonialist Experiences and the literature since the 1970s is continually pouring out. I’ll include my lecture notes — look at the first three pages and you’ll see what I said — I left out religious persecution as a reason for migrancy, professional reasons (that’s someone else’s words — I’d call it your job). Not in there are spontaneous comments — I told of myself in the south east Bronx for example, Jim from England.

The real paradox is the US is still a nation of immigrants and the people among the US population who go back in time with the families the longest are Black people and a core of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Biden is Irish, Trump Scottish — Clinton represented a family here longer. If I had it to do all over again I might choose different books; but I’ll manage. I do think though a true present-day GOP person might well hate it — they don’t want the truth discussed at all, and the site assistant I know does not like me; she smiles at me with narrow eyes and a hard face — she was offended by me in one of the two previous courses I did where she was site assistant — maybe the Trollope but she could have been there for Bloomsbury. This is my fourth zoom at OLLI at Mason. But if there are (and there are) Republicans in the group they are of the old style “liberal” “moderate” type and no longer represented by the present GOP. Here and there a justification kind of comment or someone saying why this topic …


On my appts book calendar for July: Prendergast’s watercolor, Excursionists (1896)

To conclude: even if through the Internet I have a good deal of companionship when I think of the years ahead w/o Jim, all the daily happinesses I would have, the things we would do together, and now how empty in comparison — also that he’s gone (his own loss) – I’m very saddened. Life was actually easier for me as a widow, staying in. (Among the many comments I have to hear are tactless remarks about how it was our fault he died … ) And the reverse idea were he here I’d have far more to want to go out for, know the surprise joys again.

Ellen

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

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Another Mark Hall, this one redolent of sunny Italy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Carey Mulligan again, this time as Kathy H.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Ellen

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From the mantelpiece in our front room

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

A Baby Can’t Be Killed Twice

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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


Laura and Izzy two years ago and many years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Again Armitage and as Yelena Rosalind Eleazar

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

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


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


The Sejanus cast

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


Mally and Barty gathering seaweed in competition

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Ellen

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