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Simone de Beauvoir’s early existentialist essay

Frank: Might you have forgotten him, with time?
Claire: That amount of time doesn’t exist — “All Debts Paid” (Outlander 3:3)


Frank (Tobias Menzies) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) — Boston, 1968: he the tragic figure

Hope is the thing with feathers — Emily Dickinson

Friends and readers,

I get so tired sometimes. I want to stand or to sit ever so still, and hold my head with my hand on my forehead, over my eyes, and to keen. To give way at last. I am so fond of my nearly furniture-less sun-room. I wonder what Jim would think of it. I’ll never know. He would laugh, not mockingly. I do not remember him ever laughing mockingly. No jeers. His laughter was ever kind, gentle teasing, cordial, lightening up life. If it were not that I fall asleep because my one plush rocking chair is so comfortable, I’d sit there many hours in sunpuddle reading.

I seem this summer to be feeling more grief than I have in a while. I was so stunned that first year. It may be how things accumulate: this summer I realized too late (typical of me) that the ISECS (International 18th century society) meet in Edinburgh in July was one to go to — I could sense it from the photos I saw on face-book. To have been there then. I would have known enough of the people. I would have walked new streets that I’ve not tried, alleyways, maybe seen a play. I had been earlier this year regretting that Jim and I didn’t go to a Renaissance Society meeting that was held in Florence: he wanted to go in the early 2000s, but I was still so seared from a time in the 1990s when I tried on my own and was shattered by the experience — I knew no one and found it an endurance ordeal. He was right: we could have learned so much while we saw what was worth seeing; he would have been with me this time. Not so here. Now it’s come to me my reason for resolutely turning away, that my idea that I wanted to teach to take up the full six weeks had not taken into account I could have gone by saying I would teach a 3 week session at the OLLI at Mason summer session; no one would have minded. Why didn’t I think of this? Ah, if there is ever a next time.

Jim used to say when I’d cancel a class at Mason where it was a matter of required courses with grades, and it seemed no one or few minded at all, why didn’t he have a job like that; one where when he didn’t show up, many were relieved ….


Giovanni Volpato and Louis DuCrois, Temple to Sybil, Tivoli (1750) — once the wallpaper on Jim’s laptop (now mine, with a different picture

And then I had a panic attack trying to find a restaurant on a central Alexandria Old Town Street — having been invited to lunch there by two thoroughly monied Northwest DC-resident women (from the OLLI at AU). But he has missed so much. I merely miss my friend, my partner, the daily absence, the easy fun together.

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Clarycat this past Wednesday morning ….

I thought for this entry I’d transcribe my notes from a remarkably at moments exhilarating class experience I’m part of at the Politics and Prose bookstore for 3 evenings, 6-8 pm: it’s called “3 Odd Humanists,” but it’s about three existential texts and writers: Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism” (it’s not), Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity (Of Ambiguity is a more accurate, indeed close translation), and Weil’s The Need for Roots (Uprootedness in French). Ten highly intelligent some well-read people all reading the text, with a professor, David Johnson, from Georgetown who comes prepared. He startled me the first night by beginning with Plato and Aristotle. I remembered back to my early undergraduate days reading “selections” of philosophy by myself (300 people in the class, we sat in a vast lecture hall while the teacher talked on up front) for a required course whose absurd title I can’t quite recall.

I enjoy also when I come out around 8 and the sky is just darkening seeing how crowded the store is (a lecture upstairs will be going on), the people drinking, eating, reading and taking notes in the store (one guy at a table surrounded by books and papers), outside in the street everyone eating ice cream (I finally saw where the ice cream store is further along on the block), people sitting on benches, strolling about, eating out on the sidewalk by or in a restaurant, a good city life scene. Once three summers ago Vivian and I bought ice cream cones in a crowded store in Old Town in summer, it was around 9:30, people milling people all about us, two blocks from the river, an uncommon scene (some special event had occurred earlier in the day). I even ate mine. Then on both occasions, I could come home to my bed, my cats, my house, and relax. This time I ate supper and started this blog. I gather at Politics & Prose this kind of thing goes on almost nightly.

I want to transcribe a few scattered notes in the context of my own reading of the three books thus far. My handwriting is so feeble, the class proceeds by conversation mostly, not lecture, but I suspect I’ll get more out of what was said or remember some of it by writing the notes out, turning my Pitman stenography and memory into readable English.

What is now wonderful about philosophy is I’m learning it’s about finding a rationale, an encompassing perspective for oneself (with others) which explains and predicts how things are and can comfort. A kind of meaning or patterns. And it’s fun to do. The last or only time I took a real philosophy course before was a small class where we read a new book each week, starting with Sophocles, moving “through the ages” and languages, to include Dante’s Inferno, and on to 20th century texts: each time, in a manic way I thought, interpreting what we read to show that this text too exemplifies Heidegger’s existentialism — as explained to us in a readable more or less coherent text by Magda King. And it worked each time! after a while I could parrot and apply the Heidegger as-told-by King outlook to the point of getting an A+ in that course. But I did not see my own thoughts, feelings, acts intimately in terms of existentialism; that is what we are encouraged to do in these grown-up sessions.

So, on to what I have from Sartre & Beauvoir & Weil thus far:

Sartre (translator Carol Macomber): “In reality things will be what men have chosen them to be. Does that mean I must resort to quietism [conform]. No.” So in my life that means that although I was born to very poor unconnected parents, I ignored all attempts to make me make a life’s choice based on making a middle class income. Instead I chose literature, writing, and ended with low paid teaching (because that’s what the society has chosen for someone like me who does this ….)

I see Prof Johnson said that Sartre shows us a paranoid view of reality and what Sartre says we must do is move deep into our own minds and remain true to them. We are obligated it seems to feel the reality of anguish and abandonment when we realize we cannot turn to others to create our own meaning; at the same time as irrespective of others, no matter how they might try to stop us, we must fulfill our talents. We find we are here existing. (This reminds me of Heidegger’s thrownness.) The individual exploration of the self is what matters. We are a presence to ourselves. At the same time we must be responsible for our acts. If circumstances are against your doing something, Sartre says it is still cowardly not to do it — he insists you have the potential or capacity to act so not to act is a choice. David Johnson said that for Sartre subjectivity is your presence in the world.

He asserts that human relationships are fundamentally hostile. I fear this is so. We must affirm the value of what we choose. Must we?

He seems to think morality must have a broader scope than sympathy and devotion to another. Yet the concrete goal of helping another (rather than the vague group) is more useful. Reality alone counts. Dreams expectations only serve to define us as broken dreams, abortive hopes, and thwarted expectations. I feel I am in Samuel Johnson’s world here.

One problem I found is that Sartre is prescriptive, not descriptive as I remember Heidegger was. I think of an old Bible story about how if you are given certain talents, you must use them or God will punish you. No one supernatural will punish you in Sartre’s scheme — but yourself. He is unforgiving. I also found him defensive — especially against communists (!) who he said demanded that we give ourselves over to group idea or set of ideas. Thus we lose our freedom. Why not just ignore them? He was very bothered by Camus’s Stranger because he felt the book argued for the futility of any attempt to explain the world. (This is a branch of nihilism, commented the teacher). He says we must ignore others and yet himself cannot dismiss someone else’s admired book. Sartre says what has happened today is a breakdown of central social systems, so that people are aware their way of life is not universal nor their norms or values: we daily live in close proximity to disillusionment, disenchantment because we have woken up. Now to me we are with Kant saying that the enlightenment is a movement where we are adults and our own authorities based on our own experience and developing judgement.

How is existentialism humanism I asked the teacher: because we are centering ourselves on ourselves, on people relationships; through people the world is created. Well, I’d say in part. I read that Sartre says humanism is thinking man is the end we work for, humanity the supreme value. Well this is just wrong. Other animals count too and we must value them and act for them as much.


Ian this very morning on what was Jim’s desk, now my third library table, with the laptop on it too.

My notes on Beauvoir are more coherent and extensive. I felt that she was explaining Sartre — it is an early work, before The Second Sex, before any of her novels and long memoir.

The past is never to be used as a template for the present — David Johnson’s comment on a passage by Beauvoir which is not my understanding of her.  To me she subtilizes, nuances, and interjects an ethic of care. We might say hers is the woman’s point of view, his the man’s. She is concretely about politics and  the cruelties of fascism (as is Weil):

I know that Beauvoir write at her outset our nature has two basic impulses we must obey: to disclose ourselves to others and to will, to act out what we want or feel as mirrored by this disclosure. (She was accused of essentialism.) I thought how solitary confinement is a form of torture: the person can neither disclose him or herself, nor can he or she will an effective act.

Well, Johnson said for Beauvoir subjectivity is terrifying, as we are a mere small presence in a particularly unjust or evil world. She does insist that evil is real, that there are bad actors in the world, they rise to power and will evil. There can be no general ethics for all. We are left in ambiguity. We find ready-made values imposed on us by “serious” people, and these values veil our liberty from us. She is not a nihilist. When we genuinely act authentically we must not impinge on others’ liberty either – or speak or act for them.

Freedom for Beauvoir brings about transcendence, not in any divine but by opening up and providing for indeterminate possibilities. We do have to exist in the present. The last part of her text is her worrying over the Heideggerian idea that people to be human must thrust themselves forward into the future. The enslaved person is denied a fundamental need because he or she can have no future, can plan nothing as at any time he or she may sold or forced to do something he or she would rather not. Johnson remarked the future is the not yet. Religion tells us to throw ourselves into a future that’s is not so, so we must dismiss that. But many philosophies show how people live in terms of the future. I remember learning in the class on Heidegger that he explains why slavery is so de-humanizing: Nonetheless Beauvoir says we must live in the present; the future can be seen through what we are doing in the present, it is incarnate in the present. We must not lose ourselves in the not yet?

I was impressed by how often she brought up childhood, how many references to Rousseau, a long passage on Emile. She declared that “the child does not contain the man he will become.” At long last. There were several passages on how women have been enslaved, how even in cultures where there is opportunity to disclose themselves authentically to someone other than a trusted confidant, to act according to her will, she has been taught submission, struck by how she saw through the gaiety of women who are complicit with the wills of men, how quickly their graciousness can become hard, bitter fury. She too demands we not resign ourselves or we have failed. A piece on Mlle de Lespinasse’s abject letters in love, that Lespinasse is in love with suffering; she sees Lespinasse’s many renouncements, her dependence as frightening. So does Austen in Marianne Dashwood.

She gave me freedom when she said (reminding me of Elinor Dashwood) it is enough to be liberated in one’s thought. I felt comfort when she allowed for joy in history (and presumably historical fiction) because you assume a relationship of sheer contemplation and aesthetic enjoyment. The past is past.

Outside of time and far from men, we face history — Beauvoir, as translated by Bernard Frechtman

But I do know from Orwell “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls [our understanding of] the past.”

Johnson also seems to have talked of failure — or I have notes where he seemed to be saying how intentional we are, we may not be able to disclose ourselves to another. They are in their subjectivity. I cited RLStevenson, a favorite passage:

There is indeed one element in human destiny
that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever
else we are intended to do, we are not intended
to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business
is to continue to fail in good spirits. — Robert Louis Stevenson

To which one of the people said, Becket said that more concisely: fail better. I thought of all the exchanges on the Internet I’ve had over the years and how I misunderstand others and they misunderstand me, or how what I have said does not register as important to them, but some side issues or details I cited, and maybe vice versa too.

So we fall back on “the appeal:” we try to appeal to others based on their groundwork to understand us and we try to respond to appeals. An ethic of looking to the other, but respecting (not fearing) them except when evil actors, she can be brought together with Carol Gilligan’s humane groundwork on the psychology of women. And hence l’ecriture-femme.

I have begun Simone de Weil – the cover to my edition of her book is silly: a photo of carrots (root vegetables anyone?). Translator Arthur Wills. I know she starved herself to death, so desperately hideous to her was the barbaric WW2. She is so different from the other two, though. Not just the belief in God but an assumption we must take this belief into account in our understanding of life, death &c The publisher has TS Eliot as introducer because he was an overt fervent (in his later poetry) Anglican. Then he’s right about Weil having a way of beginning with a very wrong idea, indeed lopsided (to my mind), sometime perverse, but then from this point A she leaps to Point B, where she is uttering a brilliant explanatory truth and moving from truth to truth, some just statements and others encompassing utterances … There is paradoxically a lot more pragmaticism and open politics about the 1940s wars and the horrors of Nazism. Yet the soul’s needs is what she is on about: what are “the vital needs of the human being.” She is very Samuel-Johnsonian.

She offers concrete alternatives to the anti-humane organizations of our society, their de-humanizing and uprooted values. I discover too I have her deeply anti-war commentary, The Iliad or The Poem of Force, ed and trans. Hames P Holoska.

I’ve been reading in these two Weils this morning. I am troubled by my discovery that in her Uprootedness (The Need for Roots), the central presences are men. Once she leaves universal needs and talks of society, it’s the working men who must be freed, the peasant is a man. Women come up only as pregnant wives, as prostitutes (which she want to outlaw) or sewing.

There is no more masculine work I know than The Iliad, and all Weil’s words are couched as universals, not as gendered situations, yet here most frequently she picks out passages about women’s grief, women’s subjection. I gave up on Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls because its realism made it so monotonous; the heroine never had any choice, any separate subjectivity; this makes me want to return to it but I know I won’t find there what Beauvoir, Sartre and Weil all claim is possible: freedom in subjectivity through the mind. Frederick Douglas was able to achieve it and then fled — barker did not want to dwell on the unusual person.

I find Weil’s analysis spot on, her memory of the poem is mine. A poem about force, exulting in brutality, incessant and at the same time including all these passages of poignant helpless loss.

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Sissinghurst Kent: the gardens

I want to bring up all-day “course” I took at the Smithsonian a week ago Saturday, “The Splendours of English Country Houses:” Bonita Billman talked a nearly 6 hour lecture (putting it all together and eliminating the breaks and lunch) on “the splendors of English country houses,” historically conceived; we began with Bess of Hardwicke and Renaissance massive structures and ended on a renovaton of a 14th century castle by another filthy rich family with personally aesthetically ambitious people with their hands on great gobs of money, the Courtaulds’s Elthan Palace. She was genuinely informative, insightful, wry, lots of information. I’ve ten pages of dense stenographer, 5 pages of a xeroxed summary of what she said, names of houses, architects, places, a good bibliography. Pictures of architectural elements.  I just can’t transcribe this material.

So my faith in the Smithsonian as a place to go for reasonably intelligent lectures is restored. Once, one long summer day a miraculous nearly 8 hours by a man who knew all these is to know about the Beatles and their music, with accompanying music, pictures. But the last 3 lectures I went to at the Smithsonian were embarrassingly bad; one was morally moronic (about surgery in the 19th century in the UK). I worried I would be getting hours of talk intended to elicit gasps at the obscenities wealth inequality that made these places possible over the centuries (still supports some), or these irritating giggles. There was still this curious stupid laughter (common in film audiences). I like art history – I in effect minored in art history in college. One got only 2 credits for every course you took: so to me that just allowed me to take more of them and I did. The Smithsonian has many art history lectures, most mediocre — the speakers speak as if they never read any deconstructionism or theory. Still, the Smithsonian still has far fewer literary choices than they did when I first joined.

But afterwards I realized that there were serious lacks in her talks. She omitted to evaluate what we were seeing from a truly aesthetic and moral standpoint. If we divest ourselves of alluring richness-worshipping preconceptions about showing off wealth, prominence, making a stage or set to emphasize power, status; many of the rooms Billman showed and a helluva lot of the objects were anything from ludicrous, ridiculous and to objectively seen obscene. Useless. Extravagant and done on the backs of the abysmal low wages and fierce hard physical labor of huge numbers of people. Imagine what John Berger would have said — he’d have perhaps produced an hour’s lecture of what was worth looking at truly, the rest cultural study of the super-rich and super-powerful. I did fall asleep for a while over the long part about Palladian houses and objects. Thank you for this critical funny observation.

The TLS for August 2, 2019 had a review by Michael Hall, of yet another of these books which insist on sheer celebration of the houses the rich for themselves, which had this aware perspective. The houses named were most of them Billman discussed. It is no longer true the 1% must give up these houses; they are buying some of them back and re-converting them into luxury palaces for themselves and their friends. Take Eltham Palace, a renovated 14th century castle:

Inside the house the decor is strictly and unqualifiedly art deco, with the accent on name furniture interior decorators:

Someone on my timeline commented: “This looks like the lobby of the headquarters of a life insurance company. I trust it comes across better in person.” This fits into these existentialists: we are to ask whose subjectivity, what values are these houses imposing on us, at what cost to whom and why cannot this money be spent on the poor, the vulnerable, the refuge (a section of Weil is on the ultimate uprooted, the refuge), or some social services program, how about comfortable for free buses and trains.

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Izzy and I at the neighborhood summer block party Tuesday evening this past week — it’s talked about as if a central event; for the second of two times we’ve come, we found it sparsely attended

So I come back to where I began: this summer or this time of this summer is again hard. Truthful talk of a widow’s life. At that lunch I did after all make at the fine restaurant, with the two women we discussed what it is to be an older woman alone.

One said she was a widow of 40 years and epitomized her experience thus: “yes you get to go out for lunch like this,” but then spend your life as an outcast come evening: suddenly you are not invited to places you were because you are not a couple; how other women regard you as a threat. Yes. The other has been widowed twice, on her third and now unhappy marriage; her first husband was simply shot to death one day in their house; she came home to find the corpse; no one ever discovered who did it or why; she was left with three young children. The second a successful companionship, died of cancer. I remembered a third woman (online friend) this week told me (as she has before) of all the reproaches she has been the target of if she brought up she had been unlucky or looked sad — her husband died when she was 37 and he in his mid-40s:  the speakers seem to resent that she got a social security check, and pension as this man’s widow. She too left with two children. Why do people resent the minimal needs of others their class being met by some group set up for this through some shared scheme.  Jim was dead two weeks and I was told “it’s your own fault now if you are miserable” (but someone I hadn’t realized disliked Jim very much for his reclusive ways); that first year:  “get over it!”

We have been reading and discussing Trollope’s mid-career Miss Mackenzie on Trollope&Peers: its focus is a 35 year old spinster, left a lot of money, and trying to make a choice of life for herself and we’ve been discussing what were and are attitudes towards people who never marry, never have a partner, nor children. Why people marry? Why have children? One of the most moving modern plays of the 20th century of the realistic kind I’ve seen is by Lillian Hellman, The Autumn Garden; it focuses on a 50 plus year old woman now divorced (the husband left her for a much younger woman) whose 3 children are anywhere from indifferent to scornful. How lonely she is, how unappreciated she feels. Maybe I’d like a deeply compatible relationship once again, but I don’t think I’d get one like what I had where I’d again be allowed all the the time to read and write and watch what I want on TV, and nowadays go where I want (to classes) and (as a single man said on our list) I’ve an idea that no relationship could be worth giving up those freedoms for me — even if the price is years of nights alone and coping with my disabilities.


Trollope is having an Italian renaissance …

It’s called facing or accepting one’s lot, which I am doing this summer.

Ellen

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A Native American doll I fell in love with and couldn’t bear to leave behind when I visited the Museum of the American Indian yesterday —- for the expression on her face, the posture of her body, her love for a non-human animal. She made me think of the horrifying treatment the US gov’t is now meting out to non-white children seeking asylum at our southern borders. The long history of cruelty and destruction that Native Americans experienced at the hands of the European settler colonialists has resumed today — this past week miners were with impunity killing leaders of indigenous tribes trying to protect their forest …

I’ve put her on the mantelpiece by Jim’s urn and his ashes, the small stuffed toy sheep Laura bought the day she, I, Jim and Izzy visited Stonehenge, the poignent stuffed toy penguin Izzy bought when she and I were in Sussex for a Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton House Library

Nona: You talk about him a lot.
Me: Do I? I didn’t realize.

Friends,


Jamie (Sam Heughan) as longing revenant seen in the dark from the back by Frank Randall in the streets of Inverness below his and Claire’s window (Outlander, Season 1, Episode 1)

To me one of the riveting little discussed aspects of historical fiction is its connection to ghost stories and the gothic. It is haunted terrain: the characters reached in the previous time are ghosts brought alive, somehow hallucinatory in our dreams and on that luminous film/movie/video screen. There is an idea of getting back to the past is to beat death — in Outlander Claire in the 20th century makes it plain she realizes she longs to join a world of now dead people, all gone to dust and ashes, ghosts; and the feeling in such passages. It’s a ghost of the gothic worked up through time-traveling historical fiction. Hilary Mantel plays with this too — knowingly (one of her contemporary novels is about a cynical seance holder who half-believes in what she does – the heroine is her, making a good deal of money out of this game. I find this insight in Daphne DuMaurier who goes back and forth through time too; it’s occasionally found in a Winston Graham tale. What’s necessary is that a now living person meets the character from the previous historical time as a revenant.

A poem by Algernon Swinburne captures the way Claire feels about Jamie. And when Frank dies in 1968, he becomes part of the revenants who come to life through Brianna and Claire’s memories, and Claire’s dreams — and the stones. Claire keeps choosing Jamie in all the ghostly-reverie prologues of the books, and all my life I kept choosing Jim …

A Forsaken Garden
(Click on the link to see the poem with proper indentations)

In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee,
Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead.

The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
To the low last edge of the long lone land.
If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest’s hand?
So long have the grey bare walks lain guestless,
Through branches and briars if a man make way,
He shall find no life but the sea-wind’s, restless
Night and day.

The dense hard passage is blind and stifled
That crawls by a track none turn to climb
To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
Of all but the thorns that are touched not of time.
The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
These remain.

Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
Over the meadows that blossom and wither
Rings but the note of a sea-bird’s song;
Only the sun and the rain come hither
All year long.

The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
Only the wind here hovers and revels
In a round where life seems barren as death.
Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
Years ago.

Heart handfast in heart as they stood, “Look thither,”
Did he whisper? “look forth from the flowers to the sea;
For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
And men that love lightly may die—but we?”
And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
And or ever the garden’s last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
Love was dead.

Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
And were one to the end—but what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
What love was ever as deep as a grave?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air now soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
We shall sleep.

Here death may deal not again for ever;
Here change may come not till all change end.
From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
Till a last wind’s breath upon all these blowing
Roll the sea.

Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.

One reason I’ve chosen Margaret Oliphant as the center of my chapter on widowed women writers in our coming book “Not an anomaly” is that she feels her widowhood in the way I feel mine haunted, thus I can enter into her case and come up with a thesis, one I hope to generalize from to include other widowed women writers: Penelope Fitzgerald, Christine de Pizan, to name two. Also I love the tone of Oliphant’s fictions and now (after two weeks of on and off immersion) her letters. She is transformed by the death but it takes a long time ….

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Lady Mary Lowther — a watercolor 19th century drawing of the Lake District I found on-line and was my summer picture on face-book for a while

A lot and almost nothing at all truly new has happened since last I wrote. I’ve read a lot, written, watched movies, some new, some seen many times, since returning to my book project on “Not an anomaly” I’ve produced a detailed chronology of the life and works of Margaret Oliphant and soon will be ready to pick a few novels (I hope) relevant to the topic of her as a widowed woman writer. I’ve produced an outline for a book on Winston Graham, am into two more Cornish novels (Rumer Godden’s China Court is one), and today began his Greek Fire (it’s set during the later 1950s in Greece when the US gov’t was interfering to prevent a socialist democracy from emerging). I’m almost finished with teaching The Enlightenment at Risk! at the OLLI at Mason and it went over better than at AU if the number of people continuing with the course and seeming deeply engaged in the topic and reading in class is any criteria.

Those of us who read Anne Boyd Rioux’s Meg Jo Beth Amy on Trollope&Peers had a good time with it, telling one another our experiences reading children’s books, and I’ve now decided that the 2017 Little Women, starring Emily Watson as Marmee and Maya Hawke as Jo is far more livingly alive, more real depth, more flexible, with all the characters given serious humanity, continuing believable evolving experience than the pretty picturesqueness of the 1995 Little Women: although Gabriel Byrne is still irresistible as Prof Bhaer, it now seems stilted, too much dialogue from the book, too exemplary in the doing of it. See Rioux’s eloquent book about 4 wonderful 19th century American women novelists. And we’ve started a strange book (to me) on WomenWriters: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: the paradigms of the characters are so unstable and quick rootless changes with a joking kind of tone at first startled but it is growing on me, she is captivating me slowly.

Little Women — Jo March: Maya Hawke’s performance has been insufficiently attended to because, forsooth she is not a celebrity star

I took a one week course at OLLI at AU reading as a group Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and watching the two movies (1958, a reactionary travesty by Mankiewicz, and a meditative faithful protest film by Philip Noyce, with Michael Caine playing the part of Fowler brilliantly). It was curiously stirring for me to sit in front of Elaine Showalter as teacher: she is very good in a classroom, friendly, warm, intelligent. prompts the class into conversation. A one day 2 hour session on archaeology in Fairfax county (at Colchester) at OLLI at Mason, Reston, was fascinating: how one learns about Native Americans, enslaved African people and European settler colonialists in the 17th through 18th century.


This is from a Gloucester dig — at the session was a couple I know to be pro-Trump: in the atmosphere at OLLI about this vicious administration, they look about with expressions grim as death, well they support death — the great irony of archaeology is our knowledge comes from garbage and death ceremonies ….

Some strong enjoyment in the three weeks was a 5 hour visit yesterday to the Museum of the American Indian with a new friend from OLLI at AU, Nona: a beautiful building, a cafeteria serving delicious food, and intelligently set-up exhibits and art comparable to what I saw in the African-American museum; these people have been treated just as horrifically, abominably. The exhibits about Native American culture and life were not as commercialized as the contemporary African-American counterparts: in both there was much new and unexpected for me to learn. The story of Pocohontas is of a young woman of elite status who took to visiting some European settlers, disappeared for nearly two years (gang-raped? hidden by her father?) to emerge the wife of John Rolfe, who took her to England where she died quickly at age 22 (perhaps in child-birth). Why she was singled out to be the core of naive myth I couldn’t see. The Indian Removal Act is thoroughly put before us – and the dire consequences, the destruction of a whole people. What a vicious man was Andrew Jackson. I have to admit the museum practiced “balance,” with justifications here and there (see how much prosperity was gotten, see how much needed space … ) — you are spared these in the African-American place.


This photo from the outside gives some sense of the beautiful gardens and fountains all around the building

Also a very hot Saturday night with Panorea we saw a virtuoso performance of Swan Lake (American Ballet Theater) at Wolf Trap: picnic with wine before — I was not as moved as I was once long ago by a ballerina who had extraordinary expressive power. Another interesting (if troubling movie) at the film club: Peanut Butter Falcon, a Huckleberry Finn fable (complete with raft), substituting a story meant to be compassionate about a Downs Syndrome young man for the racist matter of Mark Twain, was nonetheless proposing that it’s easy to provide education into independent adulthood for the disabled, with violence as a solution to his difficulties, dissing the institutions and trained female personnel who do care and whose real problem is they are underfunded. See my blog on Chernobyl: enough said.


We hope on WomenWriters@groups.io to read together (in English translation) the first volume of Beauvoir’s memoir

Looking forward to the future, I taught myself how to get to the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Northwest Washington and took a two session course in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I know the book and film adaptation well; the point was to see how courses are there, and this one was very good, many people from the OLLI at AU, a serious teacher, so now for August (usually a dearth) I have a three session course in existential humanism (three Friday early evenings) and I’m half way through Simone de Beauvoir’s exhilarating The Ethics of Ambiguity (it is!), with Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots, and Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism coming up.

The book makes me feel like I’ve been in a backwater not seeing what I do in this larger (to me) refreshing context. The book has relevance to what I’ll read in September, but it also has relevance to a debate a friend and I had off-list about evil in the world and in human beings.

Just a little on Beauvoir’s book (beautifully translated by Bernard Frechtman): it is an existential argument, where she begins with a position that we begin in pessimism as we look about us (this comes later in time in the book and our lives — after childhood), but we are part of the world and the way we interact is a necessary assertion, it is a form of disclosure of the self against which we discover that others push back. Many people take one of two choices she’ll avoid: to deny death by asserting immortality and to deny life, seeing it as an illusion where we are dying all the time (that was unexpected — I thought she’d say taking the Camus view of life as meaningless where we individuals make a meaning). I cut to where she argues that there is bad willing, not that the person is deluded or mistaken, but they are acting harmfully deliberately; and one problem is the coping with evil wills which often gain power because others submit to them. Or people with bad wills given power over others who have a hard time escaping them.

The idea that exhilarated and cheered me is that we are free to chose what we want to do (within the limits of our thrownness of course) and how we go about persevering in the face of much resistance from other aspects of life and what we found to be true about our project itself.

She also talks of how in childhood the child is made to feel he or she is not free and thus irresponsible and can live in fantasy. From this she moves on to women and she talks about the situation of women in cultures where they truly have such limited choices, they are objects or enslaved creatures (even there they have a llmited –I’d say pathetic inward — freedom); in the west they are given windows of opportunity and I found it interesting and revealing (explanatory) when she says women who seem so happy at complicity with men’s desires, needs, orders, will suddenly show themselves hard, mean, cruel or furious when something they individually are keen about is brought into the picture (they drop the appearance of charm, urbanity, grace).

The store is a community center, filled with people buying, looking, a cafe and bar, very pleasant. Jim and I had gone there just for lectures and to the pizza place next door (where one of these fanatically deluded bigots came with a loaded rifle because he thought Hilary Clinton was running a child prostitution racket — he has not turned up to Trump’s concentration camps where he is imprisoning children in cement cells with junk food in appalling conditions so they sicken).

The course I mean to teach starting early September 2019 in both OLLIs — on Trollope’s Phineas Finn — is officially scheduled, and the one for spring 2020, on the novels of E.M. Forster just accepted at OLLI at Mason. Here is the blurb on that one:

The novels of E.M. Forster

In this course we will read Forster’s best-known fiction, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India. We’ll discuss what makes them such distinctive literary masterpieces capable of delivering such pleasure while delineating the realities, tragedies, comedy, and consolations of human life. We’ll place them in the context of his life, other writing, Bloomsbury connections and era. We’ll also see clips from some of the brilliant films made from them. I ask that before class begins everyone read his short and delightful Aspects of the Novel. We’ll also look at his travel writing & biographies. This rich early 20th century writing & the films will speak home to us today.

The response from both curriculum committees is delight at the choice. These are “sacred texts” one man said, how he loved Howards End in college.

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


Politics and Prose from the inside ….

Not all was peace and life’s consolations on the surface at least for me.

On the way home from Politics & Prose the first time I realized I was being followed by a cop; at first I couldn’t believe this, but at last he began to flash blue lights, then his loud speaker, then gestured and finally I realized he wanted me to pull over. It seems my registration at the DMV expired in February. Who knew? I never got any mailing from them on this. So now I have to pay a fine, phone the DMV and then go through some rigmarole. The cop was not the nervous wreck cop who appeared to regard me as eager to shoot him because I did not respond in conventional ways. (When I got out of the car to talk he went hysterical: ). https://misssylviadrake.livejournal.com/158920.html

No this young man was amused. He asked me, had I realized he wanted me to pull over. I said, No, why should I? I was doing nothing wrong. I take it that this time he was able to research me while he was trailing me home — so had concluded I was this clueless old white (thus harmless) lady. I discovered my registration expired in February. I shall have to call tomorrow probably to pay a hefty fine and call the DMV to ask what to do: I hope very hard this is a routine if expensive and possibly time-consuming matter for me. I do believe I never got a letter from the DMV about this — the way other organizations try to coerce me into doing this kind of stuff online or letting them have access to my bank account.

The officer was all reassurance but smiled with a half-angry look: At home Izzy suggested this was an abusive stop. The guy had had to do research to discover my registration was expired. And though he asked to see my registration, he did not take it away. What about me or my car attracted this leech? I remembered my motto from RLStevenson: failure is the fate allotted; our business is to go through this in good spirits. But a line on the site telling me that I was now driving illegally kept me up all night; I was at the DMV (seven minutes away) in the intense heat ten minutes before the doors opened on an already long line.

When I got inside, what a scene: understaffed, the computers kept going down, people giving up and leaving. I somehow managed to get someone’s attention to ask if the computers could renew a registration over 90 due. I was thinking I would go to another DMV, but the woman suddenly looked at me and said, ah, let’s try that, and took me to a counter where a very genial woman took the summons and all the documents I brought, and made light of the problem. She said (opposed to others) I needed no new plates or photos, and if she could get her computer to respond, I’d be renewed in two minutes and while the thing went bit slowly, it did it. Home by 10. I couldn’t find out what the fine is because the cop did not register it as yet, and was told to phone back in two weeks. I did ask, why did I not get a renewal form? I do pay attention to this kind of stuff. No answer. Now I’ve marked a calendar and next year in January I’ll remember.

The DMV may be trying to save money by not sending out paper notices and don’t mind if they lure people into not paying on time so as to bully us and collect more fines.


An appealing image of retreat — idyllic

I don’t talk much about my neighborhood but it is filled with snobs who will pay a million for a house but not a dime that does not add to their accumulation. There are increasing numbers of McMansions put up: these “homes” are an obscenity the people should be ashamed of. And when someone asks me what do I think of that house having been flattened and the “beautiful” place made in its stead, I do say I think it obscene.  They fall silent — probably offended.

What’s happened is a group of cypress trees (I’m told) planted by a spiteful neighbor years ago (she wanted to shut me out, and blocked the light going into my living room) just on one side of my property have grown high, strong and over the line to the point they are bending my fence. I asked the new owner (there six months) if she would cut them back and she behaved on the edge of rudeness, resentful. She has lived next door to me for 3 months and said as how these are very old trees They are still her’s. This new woman has done nothing after I spoke with her. She responded with offhand “oh I’ll bring out my lopper” looking at me with hard indifference. Her son-in-law (lives around her) came over and said how cutting would make them ugly. They are hideous now – lots of ivy, very messy. I thought of a lawyer but lawyers cost a lot. I asked someone who lived there before the couple (the trees were small then) for advice and she said I have the right to cut down anything on my property. So I’ll hire my mowing man to cut them back, and especially the branches choking the fence. This woman paid $904,000 for her house.

You probably don’t want to hear about some malicious exclusionary behavior on the part of an Aspergers club I know about to one man who was part of their group for years: suffice to say it was over this man’s thoroughly leftist politics, his ideas for protecting disabled people if the present federal gov’t starts to go after them more than they’ve already done. The ostracized person is in his 50s, lonely, odd looking, makes little money in a part-time job in a library (autistic people are often un- or underemployed). I felt for him and wrote a couple of emails on his behalf but it’s no use.

I could many times tell of such like incidents but they are so demoralizing. Izzy and I are excluded from the coming JASNA: the cherry-picking of who goes and who doesn’t was astonishingly transparent this time. Inequality as a visible shameless continued way of life creeps on. I didn’t even know about a Gaskell conference (wasn’t told nor have been contacted by that Gaskell friend I thought I made last summer – well I didn’t make the cut, probably didn’t boast or buy into her establishment talk enough) or the recent Burney one, somehow not told by them either. Well I don’t have the money and such experiences are ordeals in so many ways too.

A few pure diary entries from face-book:

7/20: I predict today in the N.Va area the heat index will reach 120F. It’s impossible to dress appropriately … Two hours later, around noon, the literal temperature is 99F, but the heat index 119F and still climbing. In my memory of this area or any where else I’ve never experienced such oppressive all-encompassing intense heat, acccompanied by a burning hot sun on my skin. Hardly any people in cars going anywhere, supermarkets relatively empty. I know last week the hour and more sudden astonishing rainfall we had (sheets of water coming down with no stopping for the time it went on) was outside the norm. This strikes me as going outside the norm too.

7/21: It is now 104F literally and the heat index is 125F! But that is not my thought for today (just part of context). My thought is how glad I am to have so many kindly FB friends …

7/23: The weather is cooler today: last night heavy but not unusual rains, this morning heavy dark clouds prevented the sun from heating the area up, and the clouds stayed so I was able to go for a walk. First afternoon half-hour walk in days, I felt a light coolish wind even. Last night I watched the whole of the 1995 Little Women and 1/3 of the 2017: I prefer the 2017, then the second episode of the second season of Outlander; then DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn; this afternoon I spent with Samuel Johnson (this has cheered me considerably and enabled me to write this diary entry) and now I turn back to Margaret (Oliphant) — with a gratified sigh that I am able to do this.

7/25: Our heat “broke” as we say two days ago, heavy rains that day and our more usual rain yesterday — and today? it is 64F this morning (a high promised of 80F). So livable. I have opened my windows around my house. Yesterday I taught (and the session went very well) and after lunch with a friend and then with her (in a crowded auditorium) re-saw Hampstead — saw flaws this time but as my friend with me said “it’s like a glass of wine” in the desert of a now overtly cruel society this movie tries to treat lightly, came home drained …


A lovely drawing of herself from the back as artist by Constance Fennimore Woolson — she will be the center of my third chapter on spinsters, lesbian and otherwise …

Ellen

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Berthe Morisot’s summer scene, reading on a lake, mother and child


Just Fine all Alone — Tammy Cantrell — — standing in for me and Ian (my latest time-line photos)

Dancing Day II by Marie Ponsot. Is it not a beautiful poem? It was just put on Wompo, a listserv for women’s poetry (July 9th).

Once, one made many.
Now, many make one.
The rest is requiem.

We’re running out of time, so
we’re hurrying home to
practice to
gether for the general dance.
We’re past get-ready, almost at get-set.
Here we come many to
dance as one.

Plenty more lost selves keep arriving, some
we weren’t waiting for. We stretch and
lace up practice shoes. We mind our manners—
no staring, just snatching a look
—strict and summative—
at each other’s feet & gait & port.

Every one we ever were shows up
with world-flung poor triumphs
flat in the back-packs we set down to greet
each other. Glad tired gaudy
we are more than we thought
& as ready as we’ll ever be.

We’ve all learned the moves, separately,

from the absolute dancer
the foregone deep breather
the original choreographer.

Imitation’s limitation—but who cares.
We’ll be at our best on dancing day.
On dancing day
we’ll belt out tunes we’ll step to
together
till it’s time for us to say
there’s nothing more to say
nothing to pay no way
pay no mind pay no heed
pay as we go.
Many is one; we’re out of here,
exeunt omnes

exit oh and save
this last dance for me

on the darkening ground
looking up into
the last hour of left light
in the star-stuck east,
its vanishing flective, bent
breathlessly.

All the characteristics and feel of l’ecriture-femme. She has just died — her life span was April 6, 1921 to July 5 1919 Long lived.

Dear friends and readers,

Moved by Ian Patterson’s essay in the July 4th issue of the London Review of Books, “My Books,” where he described his journey through life as a deep adventures reading, buying, and planning to read books (so acquiring them) until he found himself living in a diary of his life, the paths ahead of him, the books he will open, consult, live in, and when time permits, read next, I come back to continue this diary.

That’s how I’ve been, how I was with Jim. The essay turns into a memoir of loss of his beloved wife, Jenny Diski too. Truth to tell, I was irresistibly draw to the column when I saw the name that I knew from just one of her last essays was that of “the poet,” her partner (husband) of many years. In his The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes has his character declare the experience of life is “accumulation.” Taking on you the burden of memory to make a meaning or identity for yourself. Ian Patterson is at risk of losing his identity

The idea the man has is they are a manifestation of his very soul. I like how he remembers individuals by colors and look and feel and the visual memory of where some passage is on the page in the book itself So do I.

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Me, taken summer 2014

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference … Frost

This to share with my readers here my part in a thread of postings that went on for several days where people on my TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io, asked if they would once again or for the first time introduce themselves, began to pour out memories of (in Frost’s famous poems’ terms) the varied paths they took different (they felt) from many others around them, or in response to some painful events or losses, or their own needs, goals, desires.

It’s not my place to tell of these others, but I can post my response to theirs. Someone said she had had enough of schooling or college, after one post-graduate degree. So I replied:

I [too] felt after I finished my Ph.D. no more degrees. I know both women and men who have gone on for another degree, sometimes to the Ph.D again, often the professional one — the job-oriented lawyer’s degree. I said no more no matter what. I also was a secretary — some three times, the most fun being in Northern England. Secretary was a way in, but it was hard to break out of that. I’m also now at two Lifelong Learning Institutes and have the great pleasure of developing my own courses. I couldn’t agree more about being asked as a woman to read mostly dead white European males (and the usual token woman, e.g., Austen, Eliot, Bronte, maybe Woolf). But I’ll remark it was not all males who made the cut: not only Trollope but Collins was beyond the pale. F.R Leavis has a lot to answer for, but his book and Scrutiny were so enormously influential because by being ever so solemn, treating close reading as a hard mystery, and using only authors with lots of prestige did the profession justify itself. For a while in the later 20th century it justified itself politically by deconstructing these sacred works, but after a couple of decades that hadn’t gone over very well, feminism as dreamed of in the second phase had been beat back badly: now humanities departments are just shut down in many places.

For reasons beyond explaining, people began to use reading Spenser’s Faerie Queene as the “step too far” they had been asked to do as English or humanities majors. To this, I countered:

My dear, I have read the entire Faerie Queene and I wrote a paper on the sixth book which almost won a prize. I a couple of times almost won a prize: my short story out of Gone with the Wind, “Ellen’s Story” (O’Hara) almost won a prize …. I don’t regret reading  The Faerie Queene. Maybe I regret the years in the composition part of an English department where I gave in and assigned the community text. I wasted the students’ time with utter self-interested crap — books published by members of the department, this year’s fashionable book. I didn’t keep that up and so didn’t win Brownie points with anyone. I saw my younger daughter discouraged from being an English major when the older man who taught “The first half of Eng Lit” from the Norton retired, and a young faculty member assigned 12 sophisticated novels which assumed a sophisticated attitude to literature (one of which had been written by him, one by his wife) and also that you had read classics. She hated it and never took another English course; she did like Milton from the first half, Pope, Shakespeare — she like all that.

Yes for years I never read a woman’s book, or if I was assigned one, I was strongly discouraged from making that woman or art the focus of a term paper. I was astonished after I got my Ph.D, to discover a slew of Renaissance women poets, and now it grates on me at OLLIs where teachers (women too) just cite men’s books — or men’s films.

The internet has been a lifeline for me — transformed some fundamental attitudes and my life but this has been the result of activities online of all sorts, yet its been mostly posting and reading about books and movies with others. Maybe a course or so. Just learning about and reaching things I was unaware of before. My first true insightful social life occurred here

The question came up, what are we good at? what we choose to do is what we like and we like what we have talent for. A couple of people professed to be good only at reading, writing, and (say) crossword puzzles. So I said,

I’m down right hopeless at crossword puzzles but can with patience manage a jigsaw and when I was 15 I took up a year of my life buying jigsaw with lovely pictures and doing them over a long period of time. The living room table became my puzzle table — and I put it in our hall so as to try to get of sight and sound of the TV. By 15 I had stopped watching most TV. I loved Drabble’s memoir The Pattern in the Carpet, A Personal History with Jigsaws – she used the puzzle as a metaphor for our existence.

But I can parallel park a car on a city street into a tight space. I parallel -parked just today in order to go to the Farmer’s market. I had Volkswagon bugs for years and used to have to park them in Manhattan. So it was “on the job” training. I am no where as good at parking in garages and parking lots — I scratch (a mild term) the sides of my cars on pillars and yes on other cars … I find the lines are too narrowly drawn and wonder what people do who have truly big cars. I have a PriusC — compact Prius (Toyota with hybrid engine).

Among us book readers on this list for reading books together who wrote in on this theme, there were a number of people who once taught and a few who taught in senior colleges and left. And they gave different reasons for this or just expressed dismay, disgust, alienation, a desire not to become a migrant contingent teacher (with low pay and poor benefits). I expressed my feelings about this crossroads especially:

It seems that at some point at least some of us have taken some road or made a choice we could not come back from, or not retrieve easily. My feeling is for academics — people teaching in colleges, but maybe in high school too there comes a time when some of us ask ourselves, Do we want to do this for the rest of our lives? People I’ve talked to (and written with) often say that the decision time comes because they haven’t made tenure (will not get the truly respected position and decent money and security), and I have been made to feel bad because they go on about this choice to make a better salary – of course the ones who say this are those who went on to make a better salary. The implication is, what is the matter with you? why did you take this? because all my life I was an adjunct. Sometimes it’s accompanied by adverse criticism (often accurate) of the academy — though businesses are as and worse corrupted.

I am often silent when face-to-face because I’m outnumbered or the person has the American hegemony on his or her side. But when it is one-on-one or here on the Net I do reply and it’s that I said to myself, I don’t care if I never make even a full-time position (contingent). There is nothing else I want to do or can endure. (I admit I never thought of going back for another degree to be a librarian — I could have.) I would rather spend my life reading (here we go) and writing and teaching reading and writing at the cost of whatever. Of course I had a husband and I thought he was doing pretty well. (Since in these OLLIs Ive met people who have said, what a shame he didn’t rise to one of the super-high grades and make “real” money.) I did come to that  a place in the path where I saw this group of people would not even give me a full time contingent job, and yet I chose to stay on where I was … Now thinking there were opportunities for me to get behind someone with tenure to do with them what they wanted, an dwho could have helped me but there was no offer and it could have taken years and then I not be chosen. I’ve been lucky in that my mother unexpectedly left me money which is really why I am comfortable. But I’m glad I didn’t spend my existence in an insurance office — I’m not saying that those who have didn’t find satisfaction in that. The young man who is my financial adviser works long hours 5 days a week with little vacation doing nothing but working with money — it’s what he wants …. I can’t regret what I feel I have not truly suffered for by not having enough money to live right now.

As Frost’s poem says, I took another path, or unlike others who didn’t make tenure, I stayed in the path – that same one I saw as mine, all I could do with what I was and had – at age 19 sitting on a bench in a park with a friend I still know. She is today a widow like me, with her Ph.D in economics, she teaches as a retired person at a college in Florida — so an adjunct salary — she would never teach what she’d call and most people nothing — there’s that word nothing. I don’t teach for nothing. Shakespeare would understand my comment there & Austen too.

I can bring Trollope into this too: he gave up his good job at the Post Office because he was passed over for promotion. He felt humiliated. Yes he wanted to write full time, yes he wanted to start a periodical, yes maybe he was tired of the post office. But he gave up a pension to do this. And I have seen people say “the hell with it,” I can’t stand this and will give up my pension — they are usually younger, and maybe have a hope of providing for themselves in old age in some other way.

But Trollope did walk away. Took another path and look how many novels and short stories, and essays we have by him

And by the way, I have discovered that OLLI at Mason has book clubs where the group gets together and they read the book aloud! they do choose well-respected classics, and usually long ones. So this summer is Dr Zhivago in the best edition and a fine translation. I had signed up thinking it a discussion group so I decided to pass on it — I have a CD of Madoc reading it aloud brilliantly. I have read in the 19th century some book clubs just the book aloud — many clubs would have members who could not afford a copy of their own so this was a way of “getting” a book.

Something I had written about regretting not thinking of becoming a librarian, was misunderstood: “I have a hunch I would have liked working in a library — of course I dream of research libraries like the Folger or Library of Congress. Izzy so enjoyed her time in a Fairfax library where she joined in the children’s house. Now she is at the Pentagon library.”

Oh yes I know that librarians do not sit about all day reading — I did work as a librarian’s assistant (unpaid) in high school and one of my daughters is a librarian. When I said I should have thought of librarianship, I was thinking of all I knew about academia by that time, my weariness with endlessly teaching (it felt at the time but I did manage to stop teaching) freshman comp courses. What I was saying what I didn’t think of perhaps palatable alternatives — when I was young, to be a nurse was one. I was strongly discouraged continually from that.

I’m glad to come back to add to other reasons I’ve known a number of people to leave academia. Beyond money and promotion, having to move – and in the early years continually. I have met people living in NYC who say they will not take a job too far away – this is home to them, and for many good reasons. Continual moving is a continual ripping of our attempts at making relationships, transplanting ourselves, building a life apart.

Let me add on further reminiscences: I worked as an adjunct for many years, most steadily from 1989 (spring) to May 2012. For four years I taught in two places and had four classes so that would be 120 students. Sometimes I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. I’d become neurasthenic by the end of the day sometimes — especially when I did four in a row. I still remember Izzy as a small child coming up to my sofa, looking at me, walking away and returning with her blanket and a doll. She covered me with blanket and tucked the doll in, and then returned to whatever she was doing. Most years I did three classes in fall and spring each, and two in the summer (one 8 week term).

I think I did like being among people, young people, and I did like the students as a group overall. At the beginning far more of them had read more books and did not have jobs, by the end it was not uncommon for me to have students who appeared to have read hardly any books and were trying to go to college with full-time jobs at the same time. At the beginning (going way back) 1972, most classes met 3 times a week for an hour, then the thin edge of wedge was twice a week for 75 minutes. In my last years I taught classes meeting either twice for 75 minutes or once for a whooping nearly 3 hour stretch. It was then I turned to have students do talks and yes used more movies.

I did stop teaching between 1976 or so and 1987 or so. Then I read proposals for the Fund for Post-Secondary Education — piece meal work where I was paid per proposal or maybe it was per hour.

If I could understand the digital software I think I’d enjoy being an editor.

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

Where Oliphant spent one summer: overlooks a lake near Fife, Scotland

I believe I said last time I have been much cheered because it seems my project to write about women writers who spend a long time unmarried is “on again:” my friend wants to do it and I feel is much more able than I to interest a publisher. Not an Anomaly a new working title.
I said I had just immersed myself in Oliphant one day; well, I’ve gone with it, and here’s a preliminary plan for three chapters: (after the introductory chapter, which might get written last):

I’m asking myself, how did being a widow affect Oliphant’s deepest being (the outward effect is obvious) and how did this enter into her fiction? I asked that question, but more superficially of Austen’s fiction and the great-great-grandmother? Now I’ll return to widows in Austen. The answer would probably make both women less of an anomaly, but that will be part of the theses: would bring home how unfairly and inaccurately people see widows, including widows themselves talking in public about themselves. Trollope has many widows and he deals with them as a man. How this differs. I could in passing bring in Christine de Pizan (I came across a CFP for a session for her out of the Christine de Pizan society — who knew there is a society?); of course Colonna was a widow; Penelope Fitzgerald who was a library waiting to happen when her husband died. Fitzgerald wrote introductions for three of Oliphant’s Carlingford novels; in her The Bookshop, she alludes to Oliphant’s stories of the seen and unseen. Realistically speaking such a chapter (if I’m lucky) I could manage by the end of the coming winter.

Looking realistically at the amount of work (including reading in Oliphant’s case) I should focus on three women. So first Oliphant, with her interest in autobiography, her Autobiography and Letters as edited by her cousin, Annie Walker, and autobiographical novels.


Lucy Hay (née Percy) Countess of Carlisle, c.1660-65 (oil on canvas) by Hanneman, Adriaen (c.1601-71) — one of numerous active 17th century women in the Civil War

The unconventional life seemingly alone. I’ll look to see what materials are truly available for Anne Murray Halkett — like Charlotte Smith she spent a long time alone; in her case I believe she lived with a skunk-type outside marriage and that is why all her papers, and especially her wonderful autobiography are in such a fragmentary state. She tried to tell about it and everything she said directly was destroyed. A new book where she figures as a major character has come out: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in 17th century Britain by Nadine Akkerman. Central books by her are at the Folger! Charlotte Smith tries to tell indirectly and she is excoriated in print, nagged to return to this abusive man in life. Censored women. Shut up women. Pariahs. Shunned women. “Cast out from respectability for a while” (Halkett’s phrase). The re-framed, posthumously published pious blank life that Woolf talks of her in Memoirs of a Novelist. That could be a second chapter.

And one for spinsters, real spinsters and lesbian spinsterhood. Living embedded in a family, living alone when they can afford it. Thus far there’s Frances Power Cobbe who lived as a lesbian and talks directly against concepts like “redundant” women, “wife-torture in England” (which laws encourage) — very rich and her partner has money too. Constance Fennimore Woolson also a spinster; thus far what I’ve read of her and about from Rioux is not about being a spinster. Anne Boyd Rioux is not interested in that — for Rioux she’s this writer wanting recognition, chasing after James – but Woolson spent her life with women relatives in the spinster pattern. The book(s) I could use here are Emma Donoghue’s — maybe including her fiction. She cites a number of such women. I’ve written two blogs on Donoghue’s books on lesbian spinsterhood

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July flowers

I have for quite a while been keeping a sort of diary on face-book, my time-line. I’ve been doing it more regularly as I stay home much more.

July 4th, evening, and a bit worn down: I shall allow Jane Austen (good of me) to express the tone of mind I’m in after a quiet day of study (reading, note taking) in the cool: 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). Well actually I didn’t expect to be unhappy …. Izzy appears to have enjoyed her day watching tennis — and playing music — too.

To someone who had misread the above: I work at keeping my spirits up and yesterday was the second of four days I’m basically alone — for Izzy does her own thing in her room — each week. By 4 or 5 in the afternoon it gets to be a strain; I find when I’m tired depression is strong with me and I try to beat my perpetual enemy back by movies. I was reading Margaret Oliphant a good deal of the day. The tone of her mind appeals to me. I do find my face-book friends can help cheer me up when I come in the early morning and I read the entries, loo at the pictures …

July 7th: The hardest thing is learning to live alone. Now in this sixth year I go out less, much less, as I’m facing how I don’t enjoy say going to the Alexandria Community where the room is not pleasant, and the water often cold and I must go back and forth across the pool to swim. I’m not running out the way I did, not chasing will o’the wisps — as I do enjoy my reading, writing, movies, internet friendships. Several days of high heat go by and I hardly go out. I on myself can live — an opening line to an Anne Finch poem. This weekend about 3 more of these black-eyed daisy bushes bloomed as well as these pink flowers with black-brown centers. They are mid-summer flowers. Come late summer I’ll buy some fall flowers and ask the man who mows for me to plant them for me. He will do that, so I shall have flowers in fall too. All year round.

And July 10th: Just got back from teaching The Enlightenment: At Risk? at the OLLI a Mason. What a good class and what a good time we all had — they said it too. Then lunch with a friend. So much of my day gone since I spent the morning posting. And now the cats greet me. Given my situation, and what I am, whatever anyone might say at such moments, I know I’m spending these last few years of my life without Jim in a way right for me.


Ian making his presence felt — how glad I am Izzy chose a Scottish name (version of John) for him — one of my favorite characters in Outlander, Ian Murray (Jenny’s husband who writes such kindly intelligent letters) is called Ian …

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But I was over-excited, because it was the first time out in several days, and I couldn’t calm down properly to settle to read, and then I drank too much wine too quickly, and then after supper I kept falling asleep on the news, on my regulation Poldark and Outlander episodes. Finally I allowed myself to collapse into bed at 11:15 and then did manage 6 hours of deep sleep, and so recuperated today, inwardly active, writing, reading, taking notes, all day, and now achieved another autobiographical blog.


Claire in Outlander (in front of the stones) — I watch it nightly — this is from Devil’s Mark, the moment Season 1; Episode 11, where looking at the stones close up Claire decides not to return home (to not go back to the future) — for love of Jamie

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craig na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones. Except me (Dragonfly in Amber, Prologue).

Ellen

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A flowering bush in my front garden

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

Friends,

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


Bookermania

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

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

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

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

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


May Whittie, Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes)

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

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


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


2018 — Jessie Buckley and Dougray Scott as Marion and Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Classical heroine who did not need birth control measures:

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

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

The Lemons

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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From Times Literary Supplement: Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, by Eugene Atget, c 1902  — the TLS is probably my favorite among all the periodicals I subscribe to

The anguish never ceases …

Friends,

One more about this Cornwall trip and its aftermath: I don’t let myself speak hard truth too often but once in a while I must let some full truth of feeling speak

I didn’t tell that the friend I was partly with, Stephen, confirmed my hunch about what caused esophageal cancer in Jim. After I told him much that had happened, he said, yes, when a hernia formed in Jim’s diaphragm, it became a constant irritant to that and other organs nearby. I had said how at first Kaiser gave Jim a strong prescriptive medicine that endangered his kidneys. He had been suffering terrific acid. Every three months he had to take a test to see if his kidneys were managing.

Then (they said) and over-the-counter preparations had improved enormously and why didn’t Jim try one of these. It would not threaten his kidneys so directly. As I recall at first the non-prescription pills helped, but gradually (over the years) it seemed to me Jim was eating 5 tums at a time and even several times a day. Why didn’t he go to to the doctor? For all I know Jim might have told the doctors about his suffering with acid. Until this last fatal illness, Jim would not let me come into the doctor’s office with him because he, Jim, wanted to be in charge wholly. I doubt they advised a preventative esophagectomy: he would have told me that.

Stephen implied they should have done one of these – -or something about this extraordinary condition. When I said the Kaiser people said that the hernia was not implicated, Stephen laughed and said obviously this rubbing and acid was the trigger. What is cancer but an error in replicating one’s DNA? His cells would have been constantly made sore. Stephen said the suggestions Jim’s smoking or anything else were not the culprits: alcohol insofar as it exacerbated his stomach distress — it’s a poison.

Now I know too that I didn’t contract hepitatis C 40 years ago; that is between, 1976 and 1984 when I had several hemorrhages and was given blood. That’s what the Kaiser Dr Chowla and the others all claimed. (Chowla looked at me suspiciously as if I had been taking illegal drugs. Oh no it could not be Kaiser.) So  supposedly for decades I was exacerbating my liver with alcohol while having this virus and it was still in good condition. Even she saw the improbability.

I said it was more likely three years ago when I had the semi-permanent denture on top of four implants put in my lower jaw. They said, could’t be since they have these impeccable methods. I was also on this trip rooming with a retired nurse. She snorted when I told her what Kaiser said, and replied “sloppy techniques.” Hospitals are places where people contract illness because of sloppy techniques. Of course you contracted it more recently, said she.

Kaiser doctors are ever protecting themselves against suit. Careful to protect their place in the organization.

I remember after Jim contracted this cancer my neighbor told me his father-in-law had had a preventative esophagectomy (it has some medical name) and he advised others ever after not to. He had been made miserable by it: he couldn’t eat much, and only the blandest food. Now I think to myself, he was still alive years later. Then I still (foolishly) was led to hope that perhaps the operation done then, chemotherapy and radiation would save Jim.

Now I’m thinking how long ago was that? I didn’t know the man’s age. Maybe when Jim was in his mid-40s when this hernia occurred, there was not the skill or ability to do this drastic surgery. Can anyone be sure Jim would contract cancer? they might think this measure could cause other fatal events? They might have recommended some other harsh medicine. At the time Jim was contracting diverticulitis and at each episode he’d take this super-strong stuff and suffer. It would work after a while. A surgeon did offer to remove part of Jim’s lower intestine but Jim declined “for now.” Said the medicine was working better than it had. Who knows what kinds of mistakes could happen in such surgeries?

I’m telling this now because I have been very hurt by people’s comments when I tell this. Stephen right away said, he should have gone to the doctor, and implied I was in the wrong not doing anything. He is a tactless man, his politics utterly heartless, and we hardly knew one another for real — he comprehended little of my feelings.

Others since have been more aggressive and said to me, it was Jim’s fault — or mine. A few years ago on a listserv a woman having read something I said about what had happened, pointed out that Hilary Mantel was still alive because she had been so smart about her medical conditions and aggressive and thus saved herself. I asked this woman, do you mean to say he’s dead because we were so stupid, to which she replied, if you can’t face up to the truth, that’s your look-out. She wanted to believe that if you are smart you can beat terminal illness; maybe there is none?

I did tell from early on how Jim would not go for a second opinion to a super-expensive doctor in Boston, would not take the time and put off the operation to see another who would have advised massive amounts of chemotherapy — said to be successful nowadays for some. Others it can be a disaster, but it is more and more successful, better than brutal surgery which does not stop metastasis. Then when 5 weeks after that horrendous operation was healing, and the cancer had spread, he would not try for Sloane-Kettering — a friend had offered to try for an appointment. No guarantee of course. He was by that time so weak and sick. He couldn’t face even the idea of removing his liver or parts of it after the operation he had had. I couldn’t see how I could get him to NY short of a chartered cab or plane and cab.  But this is the first time this implication his death was his or my fault was said so explicitly — by three people now. People can’t accept death as natural and to be sure Jim died hard, his body fought death tooth and nail as he was not 90 but 65, and strong before the cancer began to devour him.

I have to live with Jim’s death every day of my life, every night I go to bed. I push it from my mind by keeping so absorbed in my studies, reading, writing, movie-watching, teaching, going out to plays or whatever can absorb my mind. I distract and tire myself as best I can. Now I have this to live with.


Wyre Meadow — “Ruskin” Land — I was at the National Gallery yesterday where there was an exhibit of Ruskin’s art — I didn’t get to see it, but this image is appropriate for him (click to enlarge)

A well-meaning friend gave me an anthology of widow’s reflections called Widow’s Words, and edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin. I’ve now read many memoirs of grief, fiction, poetry, and for the most part they have helped me — I’ve felt much less alone; I’ve found that my experiences are common; some of the thoughts others have written down have helped me cope. Best thus far are Julian Barnes’s third essay in Levels of Life, Sherwin Nuland, How We Die, Jacqueline Lapidus and Lise Menu’s anthology of poetry, Widow’s Handbook. But this one makes me feel terrible. Almost all the women are upper middle class and very successful people in life; they have no troubles about money (this is very unusual for widows); they are surrounded by family and just tons of friends. When they have a gathering to commemorate the spouse, 300 people show up.

Along the way we learn how successful the husband was, often this famous scholar; one left a large archive of his papers which seems to have constituted his widow’s worst problem. She was determined to get out of the apartment but she didn’t want to throw away his life’s work in papers, document, editions, books, essays of all sorts. Finally the college she was chairman of a department at took the archive. Then we usually (not all I grant) hear how well they are doing now, how useful their existences, how busy, and most have a new partner.

Good thing I didn’t not come across this earlier: among Jim’s last coherent words to me were “I don’t want to die.”  I probably would not have killed myself reading this earlier (though it can make me feel so bad) because I learned in that first six months after Jim died that I didn’t want to die either.

I have found I am too old and ugly to attract a man; it may be that I give off signals “noli me tangere.” Do none of these women find submitting to a man sexually once again too much to ask?  Submitting by a woman is central to the experience. I don’t enjoy performing fellatio to be frank, nor anal sex. And there’s how about living your own life according to your own patterns and not having to be sure to please him or fit into his preconceptions or life patterns? They are just all buoyancy with strength enough to remain an individual …

Of course I’d have known this is not a representative book at all. Why then have I read about 3/4s of this material? Well because they are so confident, filled with a sense of their admirableness, they tell more truths in other ways: this is the first anthology I’ve read where the woman really tells the horrors of pain and suffering that the victims of some of these hugely painful fatal deteriorating diseases goes through in the US — especially when it’s cancer. They also tell of the abuse they put up with — from the hospice, from the medical establishment, not usually from the insurers (though here and there ominous comments about egregious bills are alluded to); but, what is most astonishing, from their spouse or partner. Most widows or widowers hide what they went through and do not admit to enduring as a typical experience vexation, corrosive cruel comments, denigration. In the Widow’s Handbook there are cases where the husband lied and left her broke, or without a pension or any health care but this area of emotional life is omitted. For once the “battle” is not presented as heroic and self-sustaining.

Indeed some of these people seem to me to behave like mad people, crazy.  Several of these essays tell of ceaseless toleration for pain with the implication practically until the person stops breathing and his heart ceases, that he may yet live. There is nothing they won’t do and to give up hope is what they refuse. Utter unrealism to the end. Well I suppose we may say their death is not their fault. They don’t seem to realize they are putting in for this horrendous experience. Maybe this is what is meant by that word “battle.”  It’s as if they have no other choice but to torture their bodies to the end. People are really kinder to their pets.

I remember Jim telling me once the operation was over and we did realize what a mistake this had been, “don’t let them hurt me” if I can’t protect myself from them. And I didn’t let them.

Bauer-Maglin herself has a couple of pieces where it’s clear her husband was violent bully: she seems to have looked upon this personality as admirable because so strong and effective. He left her once for a much younger woman and then came back. Since this anthology reflects her outlook, it’s not surprising that her pieces are characteristic of the whole volume. She chose people like herself that she knew — heavily New York City and east coast academics. So she too is doing splendidly well now. How could she think it would help others to have gathered women together to say how wonderful their existence still is and ever will be?

Well mine isn’t. I still endure the same ordeals that I have to encounter without Jim, and as ever (this is true when he was alive too) I do what I can, and what is hard for me doesn’t get easier. I am literally alone except for my cats most of the time. My life is mostly quiet and peaceful and sometimes pleasant and I know some enjoyments and have felt a few accomplishments (even if others would not recognize these as accomplishments because they don’t recognize me).

I remember that many widows, many people have much worse things to contend with than I do because Jim left me much better off than solvent and unexpectedly I inherited substantial (for me) savings from my mother and father, and an insurance policy intended to give me a lot if he died at 65 or before. I pay decently honest people to help me with my money, the garden, the cleaning of the house.

I have many internet and FB friends and acquaintances, lots of acquaintances from the two OLLIs and from the scholarly conferences I have gone to a couple of people carry on emailing me once in a while. I have my books, movies, this computer, my house (including nowadays a few small garden patches). My teaching is for now going very well: the people like the Booker Prize books I picked out and enjoy the films.  Unlike the lady with the archive, the world Jim and I created together — our house with everything in it  — gives me what meaning I feel, and what safety I have now. (Shall I tell you I know her and happened to tell her my attitude and her reaction was light scorn; well, if you want to delude yourself … ?) I watch Isobel bravely stalwartly carrying on. She is now at work on  a new song.

But I will never write the book I would like to write because I can’t travel by myself to do the needed research; I can’t figure out how to use “word” program so won’t send off essays to journals. I would like to do these and other things.  So I don’t need to be told the life I am driven to lead now without him is my fault, or it’s his fault that he was cut off from time and life and erased from all existence, leaving behind just the things he used and had gathered for himself and us.


A photo I took from the front part of my garden this weekend: the flowers won’t last, so I take a photo to remember: I like the dark yellow ones on the wide bush best …

One thing I cannot begin to convey with a photo is the intense relief I feel when on these trips I go into a large church or cathedral, which is cool and quiet. I feel this strongest in the central nave, and it’s most common in Anglican churches — some large formal beauty but not overdone — sitting by one of the columns not far from the usual row of high windows. I like the absolute quiet, away from sun and noise and movement. It is broken (sometimes ruined altogether) when a guide comes by and starts to talk and a crowd forms, or worse yet, people begin taking these endless photos. It’s at first just getting in to a sense of deep escape. I am not communing with any god. It’s solitude in these places of stone. Quasimodo: remember Charles Laughton’s cry at the end of the 1930s film.

And, so as I enter here from day to day
And leave my burden …
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away
— from Longfellow’s sonnets on translating Dante

Ellen

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The Road Scholar group aboard the Fowey ferry

Fowey — a place not far from Menabilly (Daphne Du Maurier would row a boat on the river from one house to another when she went visiting). You can see me all the way on the right-hand corner, all wrapped up (kerchief, hat, red fleece jacket with hood), next to me my friend, Stephen. The man standing up with all the way to the left, white hat, red jacket, jeans is Peter Maxted, our guide (one of his several books on Cornwall is The Natural Beauty of Cornwall). Moving right along down from Peter is a woman in a light violet jacket, a stick to help her walk, sunglasses, my roommate, whose name (alas) I have already forgotten, very sweet woman


Two Swans gliding along in the moat by Wells Cathedral and its close

Dear friends and readers,

The second half of the journeys. Saturday morning (May 18), we visited a China Clay mine, Wheal Martyn Center. As with the Levant mine, we had a remarkably able guide who took us through the landscape and steps in manufacturing china clay.


Figures sculpted in china clay, representing typical workers

What was unexpected is the beauty of the park all around the parts of the mine no longer in use,

and then that there is a vast quarry where the people are still mining and using china clay.


Hard work at the end of the process

I learnt about kaopectate and other compounds made from China Clay, which I use daily. Also that copper and tin mining are more dangerous: you are directly risking your life in the early eras, at real continual risk in the 19th century; but both occupations caused early death through disease. It was the person’s lungs that usually went. Fishing too is a risky occupation — so life in Cornwall was not idyllic at all, and often impoverished even if it was early in industrialization.

I’d say the tour took at least two hours. It was one of the high points of the whole tour. The guide was knowledgeable, humane, witty, curiously moving too. He had spent most of his life as a fireman.

We stopped off in a small fishing village for lunch (cheese pasty and tea) — Mevagissey, it was low tide:

The afternoon was spent in a huge garden owned by the Tremayne family for the last 400 years. Tim Smit who was the moving force in the creation of the Eden project, which I saw with my friends, has been instrumental in convert the park back from its 20th century role as a place for apartments to a farm, a Victorian/Edwardian garden, with memorials to different groups of people living in Cornwall

It was tiring as it was very warm that afternoon and the gardens have steep hills. Finally we came upon a shop where there was a choice of four films, one of them told the history of the changes in the landscape.


Here is our group again at Heligan


A formal garden

I love glimpsing birds and animals in their habitats:

Some of the landscapes was thick and wild with flowers, bushes, trees

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Cheesewring

Sunday (May 19) another deeply satisfying experience: our trip into and through Bodmin Moor. We visited circles of ancient stones called the Hurlers, at the top of the hill a formation of rock called “the Cheesewring.” The place had a feel of mystery in the sense that 6000 years ago people thought to put these markers up, and attached them to visions and finding basic needs, like water


While we were there we saw another smaller group of people engaged in an ancient ritual

The afternoon of this day included frustrating and disappointing moments. We were taken to see too much in a small space, and one of the places we were invited to explore was a tiny place, hot, where a slapstick situation comedy on PBS is filmed. We were told we were be seeing things from far (out of a bus window) which were in fact way out of sight.

So we stopped at Jamaica Inn, — it is an interesting place, first building there in the 17th century, and the one which survives makes ends meet and a profit as a restaurant, bar, bakery, from tourist relics, and its museum.


Jamaica Inn outside


How Jamaica Inn survives


Inside

We drove around 15 minutes to eat at Boscastle, and ostensibly to explore the harbor and town. I was there last time with my friends, so I have explored it; good thing as we didn’t have enough time to do so


Boscastle from below and on the edge – we were walking to the harbor, once a major one used for ships


A picturesque shop

.


Photo of Boscastle taken from a distance upon a hill

Then we drove past Tintagel (not seeing it) and into Port Isaac: a tiny town, which has received a modicum of renown and more tourists looking to find what they seen for years on their televisions. All of these villages are under pressure from neoliberal EU and gov’t policies and also the realities of climate change (there was a serious flood in 2004) and what we were seeing were the people’s attempt to find new ways to make money (not easy) and improve on the older ones (that they are doing). Tourism has become a chief “industry.”

We passed by Lemon Street in one of the towns on the way back to the hotel that night: it is “very pretty” as the Beatles said, lovely Georgian buildings in limestone.

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Sign welcoming us

It was on Monday (May 20) we went to Fowey and I asked myself if they had saved up this last series of journeys for the last day; they were so consistently fun and interesting. It is a steep narrow city just off a river and bay. Most of the people live in modern apartments and older houses on the shallow hills above; the wealthier live in the picturesque houses near the water.


An older mansion


Fowey Church

First we took a long leisurely ferry ride while a young man from the area told us of its long history as we sailed along Cornish shores (see photo at the head of this blog).


Upriver — a manufacturing plant

Fowey has several of blocks of houses, a residential population with not so-well heeled people in apartment houses further from the shore. We had a good meal at a King George III Cornish pub, and then I went back to the bookstore I had last bought a book in 4 years ago.

I am glad to say it looks as thriving as ever: this time I bought a recent good literary biography of Daphne DuMaurier. The bookshop specialized in items by authors who write about Cornwall or are thought of as Cornish. I saw what looked like a good book of poems about Betjeman but it was so slender and thirty pounds. It is a serious bookshop and hard to sustain. So prices are high but DuMaurier is well known, this was a paperback so only 9 pounds 90 pence.

As a side comment: it was very disappointing but not unexpected to discover that in the case say of DuMaurier, bookstores stocked not only her novels and biographies but studies of her, essays, books about subjects her books cover; in the case of Winston Graham, all they had was the first seven Poldark novels and nothing else, no other book by or on him. Instead there was usually a shrine to Aidan Turner. This suggests to me he has not yet broken through to be a respected author whose life and work people are interested in.

Just before we left we happened upon another hotel in the town, a renovated ex-mansion called Manor Hall where the owner once loved Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows and inside were pictures and playful statues taken from the stories of Toad, Rat and so on. This was Jim’s favorite book as a boy; he would quote lines from it (“nothing” so wonderful as “messing around in boats”).


Manor Hall

Another journey took us to Charlestown because it has a quai which is used to photograph ships leaving port in Poldark. While the harbor is beautiful and quiet, and we came upon a beach nearby where people were sun-bathing and trying to swim, the truly interesting experience was in the shipwreck museum; the entry fee quite modest:

It was filled with detailed information about what seemed hundreds of shipwrecks with focus on a few a century: how dangerous it is to live by and on the sea was brought home to us; all the different technologies over the centuries; poignant human interest stories as well as war, politics, piracy (privateering) — very somber some of it.

By contrast, to see a small exhibit on the quai about the Poldark filming the people wanted 11£ so I didn’t go in.

I felt I had a far more telling experience in Charlestown quite by chance than in any of the bookstores or other modern encounters all trip. I saw a little dog rescued by someone working in a nearby restaurant. The poor creature fell down the wall into the water on the quai and her master was feebly trying to send a ring with rope (absurd) to the dog down the wall. It was his fault the dog fell: it should have been on a leash or not that close. The man could have run around the wall and through a sort of concrete gangplank and rescued the dog. He was just not truly engaged with the dog’s fate. Well, a girl in a waitress outfit runs out, jumps in (she risked herself banging against the wall so she jumped far to keep from the wall and yet she had to land in the narrow amount of water), swims to the dog; people on a boat not far suddenly appear and come over to rescue her and said dog. They have a blanket. I was irritated to have to hear heartless remarks like “in some countries animals are treated better than people” (where? pray tell) or Stephen critiquing that she risked her life. Hers was the best act I have seen on this trip.

That evening we had our last true meal together — the meal in the airport hotel has usually been hasty; closure is provided by the last night in wherever the trip has taken place. There was an attempt to say goodbye and a few of us talked of what was our favorite experiences. I cited the Hurlers; in response Peter Maxted said he liked being there too, but preferably in the bleak winter when snow is on the ground.

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Wells Cathedral altar — photo taken by another woman in the group (all others were taken by Stephen)

Our last day and as in the previous three trips, the drive back to the airport is leisurely so that you can visit and see places on the way. We went through Glastonbury where Jim and I had stopped with Laura and Isabel so long ago (2005) and really explored the ruins of the abbey, the town — again it would have been frustrating just to be told about it as we swung by. We drove similarly through Bath and I had to listen to the guide who knew little of the 18th century town, had a very distorted view of Austen. Somehow it did not look as beautiful as when Jim and I and Izzy spent a full week there. We were going through the traffic-crowded streets of course – but I did see Queen Square and a few other streets recognizable to me once again.

The best part of the day was the long time — two hours at Wells Cathedral. Stephen and I did manage to squeeze in a very good tour of the cathedral by a sweet learning old man; we saw the click chime the hour, participated in listening to a prayer (humane, decent). Jim and I had gone to Wells repeatedly to shop in its excellent modern supermarket when we stayed at Lympton in a Clock Tower so I could attend a Trollope conference in Exeter, but when we went to the town we did not go as tourists but people living there and stayed in the modern part. This time I saw the old narrow streets, the fifteenth century pub, the ancient church, its close and square, a beautiful pub (but there was no time to eat – we did not want what had happened at Boscastle to happen here).


The cathedral front


The choir


One of the sets of windows taken down during World War Two and put in a cave until the war was over …


The gatehouse into the close


The close and gardens

Walking through the winding older streets back to the bus (which would take us to the airport hotel) I felt sad to remember the literary festivals I’ve seen (in Chichester) and heard about, which in the last two decades take place in older provincial cities like this (say Hay-on-Wye). How I wish I were still part of this older culture with Jim.

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I am trying to remember that last meal at the airport hotel, but it is gone from me. The guide again did not want to facilitate any last ceremonies & the day had been tiring, so most people went up to bed early. Many had to get to the airport early the next morning to make their plane on time.

In writing this blog I found we had gone to so many places in a short time, and Stephen taken so many photos, and what was worth listening to (the talks about the mines, about Wells, on the Fowey ferry) I couldn’t take notes on. It was all walking or moving about. So I’ve had to leave the information in the form of all the guidebooks and xeroxes and colorful maps the guides gave us out. So you’ll have just to believe me that for myself in the last two days I have returned to my project on “Winston Graham, Poldark and Cornwall” in the context of other analogous historical fiction and film, and find that indeed my sense of the geography and realities of Cornwall is much improved. I am understanding a lot more of what Halliday in his superb History of Cornwall has to tell me. I was listening to Demelza today while I drove in my car and rereading Warleggan for about an hour and could picture so much more accurately characters’ comings and goings. Picking up DuMaurier’s King’s General and I can see I would read it with precise visual appreciation of places that I couldn’t before.

So in my feeble ever inadequate (half-crippled) way I did do some research towards my mythical, dreamed of, yearned for book, A Matter of Genre.

Ellen

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I am pretending to hold up a neolithic stone monument said to be 6000 years old (Bodmin Moor)

It’s said to have fallen down around 1805, and that a very early team of archaeologists put the four plinths back as well as the capstone with whatever hoisting equipment available at the time. This “Lanyon quoit” is in West Penwith. On Face-book one kind friend joked: “Thank goodness you were there to keep it from falling!,” to which I replied: “Ellen to the rescue, handbag and scarf notwithstanding.” You can’t see my face: I find myself recalling Cassandra’s portrait of Austen where you can’t see hers.


Arguably lighthouses may be taken as a symbol of Cornwall — there are many to be seen, working away still at different levels of technology.

Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote last time, this trip was for me a return to Cornwall, and I have to admit it was something of a disappointment. The last time I went I saw more. Perhaps this time was too short, but a couple of afternoons were (to me) wasted trying to get (however cursorily) to famous tourist sites (Jamaica Inn) that we didn’t stay in long enough (Boscastle was worth seeing had we had the time), some of which we saw from afar (St Michael’s Mount) or barely at all (Tintagel was out of sight from the bus). A couple were chosen for a couple of hours (!) because a TV show had been filmed there (Port Isaac for Doc Martin, Charlestown for Poldark).

I also felt one of the guides (a young woman) either knew nothing or gave distorted views of history; the other, Peter Maxted, who has written a remarkably concise and clear topographical environmentalist book on Cornwall (The Natural Beauty of Cornwall), was drenched in knowledge of the place, but seemed unwilling to talk much; you would ask a question, and he would say he was saving that up for later on, and then sometimes seem to forget anyway. Ask about the Cornish language, and he would produce words of Cornish slang, not what family the language belonged to, any sense of its relationship to other languages, any history or geography.

What the trip did was give me a larger picture of Cornwall as a county and I came away having placed much that I saw last time and what we did see this time geographically in relationship to one another. This time I participated in and was alert to how we were going to this place from to that, and kept my eye on the map, which I had not been able to do last time at all. We kept driving in and out of Truro and I got a sense of how it’s central to the economy or geography of the county.  I think I should not go again except if I can get up the courage, time and proper permissions to investigate the Winston Graham archive in the Royal College of Cornwall. I had the (for me) sense of thwarted experience of several times seeing signs to the place but never seeing it. I can imagine better what this research library and community center looks like is about the gain there.

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So what did I see? The first afternoon after arriving in London, Tuesday (May 14) we took a walk in Kensington; the hotel, the Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt is right near the Victoria and Albert museum, the Albert Hall, St James and Hyde Parks.


The Victoria monument

I did feel that sense of coming back to where once I had a feeling of home as it was the place that Jim emerged from. As in the other 5 times now I have come to the UK since Jim has been gone from me (6 years now) so I felt inarticulately gladdened to be back where I met him and the happiness I have known began. I’ve spent my life reading writing about studying British lit so I didn’t ask to see much, just to be there. I wasn’t asking much that first day, just relieved to be back. Relieved is the odd word.


Albert Hall — Jim and I and Izzy too were once inside to hear a concert (a day of severe heat) and I never saw it clearly from the outside or understood where it is — now I do


From the beautiful flower gardens of Kensington

I was told if I were to ignore coming back to meet the group, I could try a bus to Windsor Castle, but I was tired and assumed I should return on time. In the event the young woman guide was actually unwilling to facilitate people introducing themselves to one another.

Once we got into Cornwall, I was again aware of how one is never far from the sea, and how central the sea has been to Cornish culture. Last time I took a train around the edge of Cornwall and found myself looking down steep cliffs of rocks and swaying forests, clambering once I got there on large stones by the sea; this time we took several ferries and wherever we were the sea was at our backs, through the window, near the terrace, making for a cool wet breeze


Falmouth Bay seen in the evening


Often unromantic — a working boat during the day

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Wednesday (May 15) was the long trip by bus to Cornwall. As on previous trips, we used this time to see places of real interest on the way. I’ve seen Exeter before: Jim and I stayed in a clock tower in Lympton to go to a Trollope conference, but we did not go to the older parts. This time I did, and explored more: there are two Waterstone bookstores in the town. I bought a pretty copy of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse from a young man who had read the book; just by Exeter there is a statue of the Anglican divine Hooker whose works I once read in (oh so many years ago). We were in time for a tour of the remarkable cathedral.


The nave


The windows survived the English civil war and the bombing in World War Two

I was sort of with a friend, Stephen, who I had met on the Lake District tour. (I roomed with someone else, an 82 year old woman, very hard of hearing, a retired nurse, a sweet well-meaning person.) Stephen is a vegetarian and drinks no liquor (bad for the liver! — he is a retired physician too) so we found a very good vegetarian cafe (told about it by one of the guides) and I had a savory vegetarian tart, he a dish of potatoes and a vegetable looking soup, and both camomile tea.


Stephen in Falmouth

The hotel was as fine as the photos suggested; the room I shared looked out over the bay; there is a good bar, and the food was well-cooked.


My corner of said room — I added heavy blankets — I caught a cold while there

Thursday (May 16) we explored Falmouth in the morning: it has a long history as an important harbour, maritime center for shipping & commerce.


Our guide Peter in front of the church of Charles the “Martyr” it’s called; Falmouth was strongly royalist in the civil war and its aftermath.


A lovely ancient mansion still kept up


Residential houses — posh


A chain store on the streets


Falmouth art gallery

We then took a boat trip


The ferry pier

to St Mawes, a fishing village, where we explored one of the two fortified castles that guard the entrance to the bay

We then individually or with a friend had the choice to stay in Mawes (a small village), take the ferry back and go to the maritime museum or Pendennis Castle. Stephen and I chose a snack meal (again pasty and tea) and climbed up the other hill to Pendennis castle. I’ve looked at pictures of this place so often; the interest comes from how long it has been in use as a military site: rooms showed its used from the time of Henry VII through two world wars, in the second of which it was a training place for soldiers crossing the channel on D-Day.


Pendennis seen from afar


World War one cannons and guns

Julian Barnes’s The History of the World In 10 and one-half chapters contains ironic satire of touring group like the ones I’ve been in and I have to report just about all are murdered by the terrorism of state gov’ts and crazed impoverished people combined. I read this book at the bar overlooking the gardens surrounding the hotel one evening. I was aware that when the young woman guide did talk it was ever to tell us of some battle, some war that began or ended here or there.

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Friday (May 17) was a second good day. We set off down south to Lands’ End, and on the way stopped at neolithic sites, one at length, an iron age Village, Chyauster, where the Romano-British people living there had “courtyard houses” of stone, quarried tin carried and shipped it to Europe from the bay, practicing at the same time an agricultural way of life. I found just as interesting that the village “disappeared” suddenly in the 3rd century (see just below) but was known to be there by the local people over the centuries and there is evidence to suggest that in the 18th the methodists, ejected from the hierarchical Anglican churches (controlled by landlords) came up to use the sites again as temple/churches. This guide was slick and found it amusing to keep saying how little the archeaologists know: I asked about the intervening period between the 18th century and today: when did scientific digging begin again, what was it like here just before this began, but got no answer. I hope to discover this in the informative-looking guidebook we received after we paid:


A Chyauster mansion ….

Face-book diary entry: I anachronistically wondered if one of the smaller areas was the nursery. Dating from the first century AD, it was one in a community of people involved in trading with Romans for mining natural resources. Abandoned in the 3 rd century, but people in the area knew this settlement had been there, and in the 18th century, Wesley and/or other Methodists came; ejected from Anglican churches as utterly disruptive, subversive of the order which put aristocrats and their appt clergy in power. There were also there these long hole tunnels: with Bars cross-crossed in front. I thought to myself if the Romans saw these first no wonder they thought the Celts were Barbarians. This village and its rooms are said to be Celtic, after being influenced by the Romans.

There were some touching scenes of mother and baby ponies:

We then drove to the southernmost edge of Cornwall and wandered close to the shore, walking about and taking photos from afar too:


Sennen Cove, Land’s End

I believe it was this day that we then drove to the Old Sussex Inn and had delicious fish and chips — an enormous plateful


Old Success Inn

In the afternoon another fascinating experience: we went to the Levant and Greevor mines and a guide provided an almost two hour talk as he walked us through a landscape by the sea, dotted with some remnants of ancient machinery, imagining for us the stages of mining, and then taking us into the mine a small way and out again through the steps of treating the extracted ore

His accent was to me lyrical and the final stage of walking back up to where a shop and the bus was consisted of his recital of a folk story in verse — he was a Bard.

It was late in the afternoon that we saw St Michael’s Mount from a distance. We got off the bus close enough so people could take photos. The irony is that if you give a group of tourists a chance to take a photo, they seem not to care that much that they didn’t go into the place. Last time we spent a long afternoon climbing up, finding out what was there, reading all we could find about the place, such as it’s still in private hands, and the family lives in the back below in very luxurious quarters.

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I saw many lighthouses, too many to remember where: Cornwall has ever been subject to invasion, and without computer technology to detect rocks, its shores dangerous

I didn’t take many notes but have brought home good guidebooks sold at the different sites. If the Road Scholar guides were unwilling to be too informative (so strange), they did give out xeroxed descriptions and history of the streets and houses and shops and larger buildings we saw, and I brought all this home with me. I read Peter’s book in the evening and took it with me on the bus, looking at passages, reading, skimming as we drove through here or there.

I did the right thing to go on this particular tour as a prelude to summer. Although I have signed up for a number of courses (some a few weeks, a class in films by Hitchcock, some across the summer, reading Dr Zhivago, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Darkness at Noon, some just one day (archeaological digs in Fairfax, the history of the English language, a Bastille day at AU OLLI for seeing two French films, one Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Catherine Deneuve), some two (on Greene’s Quiet American) beyond the two I’ll be teaching (Booker Prize, short and short-listed and The Enlightenment at Risk?).

As in the past I expect to have many long days alone with my pussycats and hope this summer to read books I’ve longed to read and not gotten to (some only tangentially related to projects). I will not be engulfed by some paper for a conference or my Graham project — I tell myself.

I can no longer drive at night, and as of tomorrow there will be no Metro (good public transportation) close by for ordinary people like me. We are told to take a bus:

so I’ll go but once to the Smithsonian (I’ll try for a single long day on Country Houses in the UK). I did buy one set of opera tickets for Wolf Trap in the afternoon for Izzy and I (a 17th century Gluck and Ariadne auf Naxos), a friend has promised to come with me to Swann Lake for one evening (fingers cross, but if she doesn’t come through Izzy and I will go there and back by bus). I have some biographical books on women writers to write reviews or blogs about.

I shall not forget my reading about the non-anomaly, women living without men from the 16th through 20th centuries.


Combe is Lundy


I am half-way through Jamaica Inn now, which novel has nothing to do with swash-buckling romance (or Hitchcock’s film)

The summer is already hot and will be long. I am exercising early each morning or some 15 minutes and walking for 20 minutes in the later afternoon. So I’ll see if I can finish reading the second half of Graham’s career and quite a number of novels set in Cornwall as well as finish Halliday’s History of Cornwall. Now the Cornwall books should all make much more sense to me.

When I first joined the group that Tuesday, I found myself having vivid dreams about the people in the previous group: I could see their faces and the faces of the guides so clearly and in the mornings I realized I had been reliving the previous trip to the Lake District and Border of England in dreams each night. Now come home I have been dreaming of this Cornwall trip, the places we went rather than most of the people (there was one very kindly intelligent couple, Bob and Sue, their names, living in Maine, she a retired librarian, he a retired art teacher who now does art in his studio) and only in the last two nights did I wake in the night without thinking I am still on the room in Falmouth. So the confusion, and out-of-reach-of-consciousness distress is passing and I’m beginning to eat and sleep with my usual patterns again. The truth is a shorter trip is easier for me to come back from.

I have often thought the purpose of going away is to make oneself appreciate home (sleep away camp makes sensitive children glad to be home again). Clarycat was meowing at me on and off for a full two hours when I first came back. How dare you go off? and where were you? Then she cuddled into my lap or kept walking on it and around me as I dithered about settling in again.


Clarycat gingerly jumping from library table to the chair near my laptop, careful not to make all the books fall

I assure you, gentle reader, that it is still very hard work to remain alive and sane.

Adrienne Rich: Song

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I’m lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns’ first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

But in the same way that it hurts to be reminded how separate I am from every other being on the planet, it is freeing to be reminded that I’m the only one that gets to live my life. I’m free to handle situations the way I want. I’m free to grieve over the changes in my life–even more free to grow from them. I’m free to decide what’s good enough for me, what I want, and what I’m willing to do to get there — from Diving into the Wreck …

My next diary entry will be the second half or conclusion of this trip.


Boscastle Harbour — a far shot of its harbor

Ellen

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