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Van Gogh’s Red Vineyard was an important painting for Impressionist outside France, though Monet’s work was the most strongly influential

Dear friends,

Today was a strange day. I woke to hear a wuthering wind — appropriately enough I’ve begun to read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (in a fine thorough Norton — editions matter), and while I had a little trouble getting into it again, with the help of one of the BBC’s marvelous 1970s serials, I’ve caught its peculiar visionary atmosphere now. Sometimes the wind became a kind of ceaseless roar as if one were in a hurricane with no storm in the center. At the same time all day and night freezing cold as if it were winter out there. Meanwhile the sun shines. Everything in the DC and Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland area has shut down, wide electrical outages (we have been lucky thus far and not lost power), because of the dangerous winds (so it’s said). Climate break-up. We have not begun to imagine the phenomena that lie ahead …


1977-78 BBC Wuthering Heights: the moment of Lockwood’s nightmare where a hand from outside the window grasps his

It takes me a very long time to do something I’ve never done before. I’m not much for change. So I wondered if I would ever sit in that front room I’d wanted for so long. About a week and a half ago, I suddenly began. I tried the experiment of sitting in it after I’ve had my morning bout of posting with friends and on what business I have. I’ve now spent successive afternoons there, quietly reading, away from distractions in cyberspace, with no TV nearby, no radio, no phone in sight. I’ve begun to look forward to my afternoons and (sometimes) early evenings there. I love it. The cats moved in with me (so to speak). They now have a cat bed there, water bowl, dish for treats. They prefer the soft chair: Snuffy turns himself into a doughnut sitting just atop my shoulders and Clary settles down on the thick rug by the oil-filled electric radiator. A drawback is I cannot take notes on what I read because my handwriting has fallen apart and I have not yet taught myself to use the “note” program on my ipad but perhaps it’s all the more rejuvenating for that. I write in the margins and on the blank back and front pages of my book. I began with two afternoons of Poldark reading.

I remembered Jim laughing at me when we got our first dishwasher. It came with the apartment in 1981. For a while I kept cardboard boxes in it as I felt I didn’t know how to use it. Quipped he: “give the poor bathtubs and they’ll keep coal in them.” That was a mocking saying the Tories used in the 1940s to try to stop Atlee’s gov’t from giving subsidies to those who could get up half the amount for renovating their bathrooms. Due to Atlee’s gov’t’s passage of that bill, when Jim was 8 or so, his parents had an extension built on their house with a bathtub and toilet inside the house (in an unheated room) for the first time.


One of the singers at the Folger: we took home all the lyrics

I did have two marvelous experiences last weekend. On Saturday afternoon with a friend I went to Folger to hear and see their spring concert, Il lauro verde. It was quieter than most of their concerts recently, less “flash:” nothing on screen at the back, a more limited set of instruments (though the recorder and tambourine and harpsichord were much in evidence), no “star:” there was a play within a play, and dramatized duets; two singers from Italy, and all was sung in Italian. Nothing amplified falsely, nothing computerized, people playing their instruments. I feared my friend would be bored and was so relieved when she was not. She seemed to love the experience. I said it was like Easter or spring celebrated through themes from nature. By the end my heart was easier than it had been all week, it did my heart and soul good to be there in this non-commercialized quiet place where people played musical instruments with little fanfare, and they sang beautifully to deeply humane touching very delicate songs. Some witty, some erotic, some religious, some this ironic menace. No one a star. When I’m at the Folger and they return to the Renaissance this way I remember why I wanted to major in this material so long ago. Not that the world of early modern Europe was not as treacherous and crazed in many ways as ours.


Roz White in a performance some years back ….

On Sunday Izzy and I returned to the Metrostage where we had participated in a Christmas pantomime and music hall on Boxing Day. The music could not have been more different: it was a one-woman performance, Roz White, an African-American singer doing “A revolutionary cabaret.” A man at the piano, and some minimal props and clothes (hat, shawl). Years ago Jim and I saw a show in a restaurant in Greenwich village with an 80+ year old Alberta Hunter. She was just marvelous. Well Roz White did a couple of hers, two by Nina Simone, Roberta Flack — I had album by her even more years ago that I used to listen to again and again. Each time she imitated the particular singer mildly. They were protest and angry songs, but also songs of hope, witty, wistful, very contemporary. She uplifted and cheered us, exhilarating at moments. I wished it had gone on for longer.


Anna Boch (1848-1936): Dutch impressionist, Cottage in Flanders

This Wednesday I went to the third four (what are turning out to be) informative, insightful lectures (sharp intelligent comments on the painters, paintings) on Wednesday evenings on “Impressionism outside France” by David Gariff, a curator at the National Gallery. Instead of ending early (as is alas typical) he’d go on to 9:30 and later. Who knew there were so many beautiful, interesting varied Impressionist pictures across western Europe. I now realize most people see only a few of what impressionist pictures there are, the same ones over and over by the same artists. We are French centered, and because Americans see some American impressionism, and because we speak English, a few English. This seems to add up to less than fifth of the beauty and interest available. It’s that museums won’t buy these other paintings from other countries (on the basis no one is interested — but then how can they be if they’ve never heard of them).


Vasily Polenov (1844-1927), Russian impressionist: Early Snow

To characterize each country (and say at least ten painters) in a sentence or so is so inadequate but with my stenography so bad nowadays, and his pace so quick (to include a lot), I can do no more. Basically the Russians one are apolitical (no wonder, under such terrorizing regimes) and paint heart-stoppingly beautiful landscapes, often around great houses; the Italians in reverse are highly political (regional, it’s the risorgimento period) and we see realistic urbane scenes where the interest is a real building, real looking people, the culture. Belgium, the Netherlands seemed more contemporary, continually moving beyond impressionism to break-ups of naturalism. Next week impressionism in the UK. He said there is no single book.


It’s been adapted for the stage

My life goes into a different rhythm starting next week. It will be the OLLI at AU Mondays for teaching (leading a study group) on “The Later Virginia Woolf” and Tuesdays attending (a study group) on “The Best of Bronte.” 8 sessions each. My afternoons in my room I’ve reread Woolf’s Flush, Three Guineas, and am now into Between the Acts. The first a brilliant modernist, genuine biography of a dog; the second as necessary to read as Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce. I hope I can lead people to like and understand them. I get so aroused inwardly I begin to think next fall I’ll try a course I’ll call The Enlightenment: at risk!, and assign Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s The Nun, Johnson’s Life of Savage, and because no woman at the time dared, fast forward to Sontag’s Volcano Lover with brief online texts like Kant’s defining the term “what is the Enlightenment?” Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. A friend has added to the DVD collection of Bronte movies I gathered when I reviewed a book on “Nineteenth Century Women at the Movies,” two of whose essays were on the Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights films. A veritable feast of watching I’ve already begun.

Late March I’ll add the OLLI at Mason 8 Wednesdays for teaching Trollope’sHe Knew He Was Right and ‘Journey to Panama'” followed by 8 sessions on how WW1 transformed the world (a mix of unusual films and lectures) and 4 Thursdays the career and songs by Leonard Cohen (music not “to commit suicide by”); I’ve joined their Reston book club (3 sessions far apart) & first up Atwood’s Blind Assassins (I’ve longed to read since someone told me it’s about an older woman — like Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises), second a favorite, Swift’s Last Orders, and an Americanization of the Booker Prize, Saunders’ Lincoln at the Bardo.

The real news — affecting my life daily — is with the help of a digital expert, I rescued my 3 yahoo lists and they are now at groups.io, and our early verdict is we love our new home. It’s so easy to find postings, photos, links. Everything so clear and works well. I may be loathe to endure change, but when I have to — as Verizon is slowly getting rid of its yahoo parts that don’t yield huge profits — I do. Over the three weeks it has sometimes been stressful, but the (bearded) man who helped me was wonderful. He wrote out instructions step-by-step, literally, only occasionally leaving a step out. I should add (as it’s relevant) in the last 2 weeks the Future Learn course in autism suddenly switched gears and began describing the characteristics of autism thoroughly, and although the woman running never ceased asking her inane, indeed neurotypical question (for she didn’t mean it literally, it was a ploy), by the end she was asking what are the drawbacks for “coming out,” what the advantages (as a group these outweigh silence and erasure, for only then can you hope for help and understanding). I did tell Shal (that is his name) that I think I have Aspergers Syndrome traits, and it was then, he told me his son is Autistic Level 2, and he began to help me in earnest.


This soft cat toy is something like the one I left with Vivian

Not all good. In most lives some Acid rain must fall. I saw my friend, Vivian, for the last time. I drove to Bethesda, Maryland, found the assisted living facility her sibling have placed her in where she is having excellent kind (it seems) hospice care. Her life is over, drugged, controlled by her sister, I can’t reach her where she used to live as the sister as deliberately put herself in the way (telling me what I could and could not say before I was allowed in) and I could see when Vivian began to talk of her “issues” (her cover-up term for Aspergers), the sister grew impatient and changed the subject. I left by Vivian’s side a small soft toy cat, grey, with blue eyes, I’ve had for ever so long. A token to remember me by. I admit I hope to retrieve it when I go to the funeral. For Izzy’s sake. I will send Vivian a Jacqui Lawson card tonight — with her sister’s help she can read the Internet still.

[I will ask Laura for a photo of the apartment she has rented for us — it’s on her email bnb site where she’s registered]

My, Izzy and Laura’s preparations for our Milan trip included a trip to a Apple store, a stressful place where everything is arranged to extort from the customer absurdly high rental costs monthly by leasing phones built to last less than 2 years. We went into an Evolution Home store which from the outside looked like some once bombed rotting building, but inside was filled with exquisitely chosen and set up second hand furniture at reasonable prices (sold by whom? I wondered, after how many forced moves). On Route 1 one can see the blight of spreading poverty in the appearance and growth of trailer camp sites. Some huge percentage of people in he US between ages 55 and 65 are now near homeless or homeless and soon will have no health care whatsoever unless they work 80 hours a month … But Izzy, Laura and I have an invitation to visit a long-time Net friend (who I met once in London, so many years ago, 1990s), who lives just outside Zurich. We’ll see the Alps from a train and also beautiful lakes.


Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1868-1807): Italian impressionist: La Fiumana

A pocket of hope: this is the first year since Jim’s death when I was not fleeced outrageously by someone claiming to do my tax returns — an expensive accountant hardly looked at mine individually (went there twice), a man in an H&R block store in a strip mall did not know what he was doing (there is a federal law forbidding states to require minimum education before you can put out a sign). And on top of that had to pay several hundred dollars in taxes! But two sessions of a truly expert AARP man at the OLLI at Mason where he taught us to understand the forms and then told us about AARP sites all over the US where people will make out your forms for free.


Sherwood Regional Library — it was a bit of a trip, but my garmin & mapquest got us there

So on two different nights around 5:10 Izzy and I set off for a library where we participated in filling out tax forms. The two women helping me paid attention, and I came back with papers showing my real estate and personal property taxes (deducible from the federal tax) and now I am getting a few hundred dollars back. The place is infected with the fundamental distrust across US society and only a social security card or number on a car would get you in; turned out this number is no where reprinted anywhere on any document but said card. At the same time not friendly people, not like British people in their daily impersonal relationships where there is a feeling of camaradarie. I told my name to both the women who did my taxes with me after we had finished and shook her hand and only then did we make eye contact: both turned, looked at me and smiled.

I have not been in a place like this since I went to Manhattan Eye Ear Nose and Throat (a hospital in Manhattan) regularly in the later 1970s. All services for free. The personnel could be blunt. I’d fill out the “need” form and someone would ask, “How do you live?” “With difficulty,” I’d reply. When Laura was born, we’d get money back from the tax system through Earned Income Tax Credit. (Jim did the tax returns all our lives). Like the people at OLLI all older people doing good deeds — one man became interested in a black young woman with a child who had been evicted some time this year (it’s recorded on tax forms!) and before you know it three people were attempting to navigate that horrible medical marketplace to help her find insurance that was better for her. Obama’s ACA stopped lousy insurance from being sold; it’s back. I know Virginia is one of the states that set up offices to help people. Another young white man was helped with something else not directly related to tax. A plain unadorned room in the back of a large public library.

So my fifth March without Jim begins:


(A Judith) Kliban cat

Miss Drake

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Night time ending (Season 2, Episode 6, 2016 Poldark)

Night Thoughts

What pain did I see in your eyes
and still something beautiful inside?

My fear that you will go —
because no one stays forever.

This memory: at the outdoor cafe near the sea,
the waiter’s black shirt

and some stranger waiving to another stranger,
waving.

Live move on like shadows of the windblown willows
to other lives.

Wounds heal but the scars remain vulnerable,
Sand sifts across the high dunes endlessly.

My body turns and turns again moving in and out of sleep,
dreams like sand dollars sinking.
— Patricia Fargnoli

Friends,

I wake to find I’ve been dreaming of character in movies I’m moved by — especially serial drama, and lately the new Poldark series. I am not sure if I’ve always done this but think not: I remember when I wrote my books (my dissertation on Richardson, the unfinished ones on Vittoria Colonna and Anne Finch), I used to dream of these people I’d been writing and thinking about so much. Since I’ve known him, I’ve dreamt of Jim. He’d come in late from wherever and I’d lift my arms to him, “my darling,” and hours later wake having dreamt of him, too. Now I’ve not got any people that close any more. No person to dream of. So I dream of characters in movies. Much of our lives is spent in dreams.

Diary-journals shared with others are daylight events I record here. These past few weeks I tried taking or following a few courses at the two OLLIs I teach at, went to the Smithsonian, and also signed up for a couple of online Future learn courses. The first week I did and tried out too much, went out 5 of 6 days! (also lunch and a movie with a friend). By Sunday I was so dizzy I couldn’t keep it up. Now I’m down to two OLLI at Mason courses on Wednesday (four 1 hour and 1/2 sessions each): one on Sylvia Plath, and the other early modern American women writers (not just Anglo either). In a two session course I learnt a lot about making out my tax returns (what is a deduction anyway?) and where is the local AARP who will help Izzy and I for free. On-line I’m following an excellent course on autism at Future Learn once a week — I wish I had a way of telling how good it is to participate in these dialogues. Hope triumphed over experience at the Smithsonian again: of hearing good conversation or intelligent thorough analysis (which didn’t happen, again it was dumbing down, silly histories of kings and queens instead of the Scottish culture I expected to hear about from the descriptions).

I go because I spent so many decades of my life in effect (as to social life) alone. This is probably the social life I am most comfortable at.

I can offer informative detail for but a select few of such experiences. To round off this opening section, this week I read for the Plath class Plath’s night dreams under the title of a Mermaid:

Lorelei

It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river- lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier
Than sculpted marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear’s listening

Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source

Of your ice-hearted calling­
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.


Susan Herbert’s sad daylight Mercat

We have two more sessions of Plath and then I will make a separate blog for under Austen Reveries. Below, today’s middle section is on two lectures, the second one contrasted to my reaction to the early modern American women writers class thus far.

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A coherent lecture from the Washington Area Print Group last Friday afternoon: American romance in translation in Turkey


Harlequin marketed at Amazon: Twilight Crossing

Heather Schell talked of the business and production of Harlequin romances originally written in the US and translated into Turkish and sold across Turkey. She called it “American Delightz: Harlequin Romance in Turkey.” My sten is so weak I have had to omit much detail but I hope what I transmit is of interest. Prof Schell began with the assertion that Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is seen as the foundational text for romances. That observation, which I’ve no doubt is true in some large circles of people, is so ironic, but is the reason the subject belongs with Austen studies. Georgette Heyer is the modern quintessential regency romance; her Regency Buck was cited. Then she cited three recent American authors and two novels, one of which after the lecture another woman scholar at the meeting said she loved as a girl: Janet Daily with her Dangerous Masquerades; Violent Winsfrey; Shirley Jump’s Doorstep Daddy.

In 2001 supported by various grants, Heather Schell traveled to Turkey to Turkey and lived there for a year. She had taken a year of Turkish, and had been studying romance for some time. Alas when she arrived her main contact had died, but she made her way to this Harlequin company, which is located in a small townhouse (another shop in the front first floor). This was a small firm going since 1949; it began with 25-65 books a year and now publishes 110 books every month. They bought up Mills and Boon. She showed us a group of books, where the authors’ name is de-emphasized, the covers are naive pictures of sentimentally attached lovers. There are an astonishing number of small bookshops selling such books across Turkey; otherwise you must buy them by mail order.
Gov’t censorship remains strong; you can be put on trial. The books were originally about strictly chaste heroines, heroes successful in whatever they endeavor, and this utter mainstream point of view protects them still today when they have somewhat departed from this formula. They used euphemistic language reminiscent of US romance in the 1950s. Most authors and translators and bookshops seek to stay “under the radar: so pseudonyms are used; translators’ names rarely appear on the covers. She asked how the books are chosen: apparently the firm employees look at the number of stars given a book on Amazon and choose a book with the most stars.

She outlined the conditions and constraints under which this company published these translations: the translator is given a month to translate. He (there were two males hired by this firm) or she makes a pittance compared to translators in the US or Europe and even tinier in comparison to the original author whose incentive is they need do nothing for a good profit but offer the text. The books are regarded as interchangeable. She suggested in fact the books are individual, but the translators sit down to translate without having read the book through; they will omit descriptions and dialogues to keep to a certain length. If they find they have omitted too much and have too few words when they get to the end, instead of going back to find good passages and restoring them in translated form, they just add on their own stories and ideas. She found that the publishers and translators would not allow the idea that men read these books, and would not discuss anything having to do with religion in them

She told us the story of Shirley Jump’s One more Chance; Jump professed herself fascinated by the changes made to her book. A couple married for many years living in Indianapolis separate. Cade is a corporate attorney and Melanie has dedicated her life to him and her family for many years. Upon separation, she opens a coffee shop. The translator made many small changes, the effect of which is to turn a mildly progressive realistic book into a conservative romance. She made the heroine conventionally much prettier (e.g., thin waist); the American heroine showed her age. The translator also made them lower in class and status. In general translators play a mediating role, changing the book to suit the tastes and understood culture of their target audience. When American texts are translated in Turkey, the heroine is made less intelligent, less educated, without knowledge of sports (very common in American novels for heroines to be involved with sports). The woman’s function is to redeem the man. (This reminded me of the new Poldark films: the new Ross is made to say how Demelza has redeemed him, an idea and feeling no where to be found in Graham’s novels or the older Poldark films.) There are a large number of TV soap operas in Turkey, most of which do not go on for more than half a season and have happy endings, and such endings are tacked onto the American book if the American book is at all ambiguous. Asked, Turkish women said they long for very rich husbands, a prince in the story, or a cowboy. Sex scenes are varied and may be “hot” and “heavy,” and how they are translated depends on the sensibility of the individual translator.

The pseudo-contemporary content of the books as described left me cold, what material Prof Schell could carry away (filch) about authors, themes, ritual product promotion was not new. I love the Poldark, find Outlander irresistible, read when I can fictionalized biography and the Booker Prize books, but these sorts of contemporary things even when respected don’t attract me (or sometimes, conversely, threaten me), so what was interesting was all the Turkish sociological and other circumstances surrounding them.

Sometimes you learn by contrast. Other women in the audience said they had read more of the Outlander books than I have, and that these are a cut and more well above the Harlequins Prof Schell was describing. One woman said to me when she was a girl she devoured Violent Winsfrey. I replied that I never read these curiously innocent books: instead I veered between lurid, violent, openly masochistic journals like True Story, and the middle-brow historical and contemporary novels that came through my mother’s book-of-the-month club which were packaged with more staid pictures (of houses, or heroines say at the typewriter or doing some job) and were in more complicated language; and the 19th and early 20th century classics I found on my father’s bookshelves.

Then there were 12 for dinner and the talk was good and lively. I was snubbed by one woman. I tell about this since she snubbed me by saying to my attempting to introduce myself, “oh I knew you, from WMST-L and your blogs” in this dismissive kind of voice. Well “there was me placed,” not the tenured person she and her husband (aging, half-blind) were as she proceeded to let me know, by telling me of how she lives in Dupont Circle and travels back and forth between DC and to where their prestigious Pennsylvania college is. I, OTOH, waste myself in these blogs, which so tiresomely make some names better known than others on lists (of all places).

And so to class and race in the US: A muddled lecture, a reflection of US culture accompanied by a selection from early 20th century paintings and films


Edward Potthast, Coney Island (this was not one of the paintings shown in the course below)

The OLLI at AU (3 morning sessions): Art and film, 1900-1950:

Unfortunately the woman appeared either to know little about the art (paintings) of the 20th century or be unwilling to discuss or evaluate it. She was even more reluctant to discuss her very early films, which she was unable to show for the most part because power-point presentation is not that easy. She refused to (or could not) describe them in words. Surely she was not as empty-headed as she seemed, but worried lest she offend someone somewhere somehow.

What I picked up from her selection: US paintings and films of this era were as egregiously racist, class-ridden, and commercialized as today, only the surface content different. According to her, some artists drew rich people portraits (like John Singer Sergeant and Cecilia Beaux), some piously sentimental group pictures where poor Negroes are happy all the live-long day and while working people just enduring all stoically, to these abstract pictures of the city (awful, hardly any sun, or moon, or even recognizable buildings, all abstraction, stick figures for people). She showed no influence from Europe and when I asked about the 1913 Armory show, she seemed to know nothing!. Moving along with what slides she managed to show, she cited all sorts of names, mostly men e.g., Henry Ossawa Tanner, Alfred Steiglitz, Robert Henri (many socialite types), a roster of early 20th century commercial male artists, photographers who sold from NYC galleries, now and then a woman (Georgia O’Keefe, Isobel Bishop). We saw “The Great Train-Robbery,” some railway scenes, proto-typical Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers luxury liner piece. All she could say over and over, was “see the movement.” Well, duh. The high-point (or shall I say low) of these films was the 1915 Birth of Nation.

The above is the first full-length film made in the US and is referred to as a “classic.”

All her chosen material was part of the formation of a nation all right (not just the Klan, the US itself) or one stream of it, based on fantasy norms, atavistic nightmares and slapstick. This very real American grain group just voted in the hideous Trump. She appeared to condone the depiction in paintings of blacks as innocuously innocent or wild devils. I was uncomfortable to have to sit there and be silent while hardly anyone spoke so asked a few questions. When I asked if the 1910 Fry Exhibition influenced the 1913 Armory Show, she muttered something about not wanting to describe or discuss anything not American. She also seemed not to know what was in it, and finally came up with (as if this said all one needed to say, as when someone says of someone else they “Have you seen their resume?”): “it was curated!” A little later I asked about audiences who went to galleries to see these pictures (were they elite?) and mass audiences for films? so how much interaction could there be between these classes and thus between films and art? somehow she resisted that. No, lots of people went to museums, but then she began to drip with condescension over the guards at museums today. “Did you ever ask them if they stay and look at the pictures?” “Of course not” and as she answered her rhetorical question, she smiled. Far more professional looking than me with her styled hair and even a two-piece pantsuit. She was well packaged (most presentable — she claimed she was once a writer for the New Yorker). What talk she had (without statistics) was how much money someone could make or how their career demanded this or that. That was her level, what she thought motivated each artist whose work she showed.

By contrast, the female professor at the OLLI at Mason who presented real material about two early women writers (Sor Juana de la Cruz and Anne Bradstreet), was in a relaxed sweater over a blouse, and jeans: she gave concrete details, evaluated, critiqued. After about 10 years of my life going to the Library of Congress at night and on weekends during the 1980s and early 1900s where I used to read these early modern and 17th century women writers alone, now I heard two discussed for the first time, and it was a kind of revelation to hear the perspective, the context offered. Also the other women in the audience reacting, commenting. This is the sort of thing I used to read by myself in the library and at home: personal poetry by these women:

Sor Juana On Her Portrait

This that you see, the false presentment planned
With finest art and all the colored shows
And reasonings of shade, doth but disclose
The poor deceits by earthly senses fanned!
Here where in constant flattery expand
Excuses for the stains that old age knows,
Pretexts against the years’ advancing snows,
The footprints of old seasons to withstand;

‘Tis but vain artifice of scheming minds;
‘Tis but a flower fading on the winds;
‘Tis but a useless protest against Fate;
‘Tis but stupidity without a thought,
A lifeless shadow, if we meditate;
‘Tis death, tis dust, tis shadow, yea, ’tis nought.

(A poor online translation — I will see if I can find something better in my conventionally printed older book)

This professor presented very different difficult-to-read verse by these women meant to make very compromised public statements. Her material too I shall present separately after all four sessions are done with the lectures on Plath (on Austen Reveries). After all the OLLI at Mason these past weeks was not for me what Feynman used to call Cargo Cult Experience.

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Walk Where They Fought. Battle of Waterloo. June 18, 1815. (Petho Cartography)

Daylight hours at home, on the train, in my car: reading and writing (though not my paper, only notes towards it and postings). Outstanding best critical book has been Andre Maurois, Aspects of Biography. Deeply moved by Graham’s Twisted Sword (the 11th Poldark novel, where Demelza and Ross’s son, Jeremy is killed at Waterloo), re-fascinated by the de-constructive abilities of Trollope (in An American Senator), now listening to every single word garnered by Boswell in his Life of Johnson, unabridged!) as read by Bernard Mayes. Lots of Latin quoted and then patiently translated …

Sometimes it’s been freezing cold, and sometimes balmy.

Miss Drake

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How to be in the world?

Dear Friends and readers,

Today it came to me that my journey is reading books, reading and writing about them. That is my life. A journey, through time, using it, through gazing at and talking and writing about art, pictures, landscapes, and now films too. I experience much more when I feel others read and respond favorably to what I have said or written, when I can hear and read what others say and write. That’s the business of my life, my vocation, my occupation.

I interrupt this to be with friends: letters, conversation, congenial acquaintances; to go out into what’s outside; most often cultural events, but I like to wander about, walk, swim, drive and take a train too, even exercise. Teaching. At home eat, sleep, clean self, hair, house (hire someone for this last) dress, tidy up, do washes, put stuff in the drier, keep yard/garden in order (ditto on hiring). Reviewing books — following trails (Looser’s The making of Jane Austen takes me into Helen Jerome’s Pride and Prejudice: a Stage Play, Constance and Ellen Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Home and Friends, Woolf’s First Common Reader‘s “Obscure Lives,” as Mary Russell Mitford). Sometimes I have to shop. And then there are the occasional demands: maintenance (bills, doctors, car). Doing lunch with others. Dining out. Doing conferences, lectures. Museums.

I used to make a joke of this to myself when I would find myself in my chair again, in front of my desk, and my computer: here I am back again, to where I was before I was so rudely interrupted.

Right now beyond Mantel’s masterpiece Wolf Hall, Oliphant’s Kirsteen: The Story of a Scotch Family Seventy Years Ago, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (in PP&V translation), Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography: Richard Holmes’s very great Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, Francis Spalding’s Roger Fry: Art and Life, Winston Graham’s quiet Stranger from the Sea.

Cannot do without a woman’s book to be getting on with, companioning myself: going slowly through a memoir, Frances Borzello’s Seeing Ourselves (“Women’s Self Portraits”); Katherine Frank’s A Passage to Egypt: The Life of Lucie Duff Gordon; longing for Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn (as appropriate). Curious as a compare to Winston Graham and just awful male film noirs (which I force myself through for a course, as Orson Welles’s A Touch of Evil) I’ll say Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place.

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

How to have an identity when I have lost mine?

Ye ken the greylag, yeah, it mates for life?
You kill a grown one, out hunting, you must wait
For its mate will come to mourn.
Then ye must kill that one too,
otherwise,
it will grieve itself to death
Calling through the skies for the lost one.
— Joy Blake’s First Wife, out of Diana Gabaldon

Haunted by an absence which is a presence because I am in his deathtime, because with Izzy I keep his deathtime alive, his memory. For people have a deathtime as long as others are alive who remember them, and who carry on; those who are left, become different people, trying to lead the same lives.

Much Afraid went over the river,
though none knew what she sang —
— William Empson’s “Courage Means Running,” from Collected Poems

So, keeping awareness of literal aloneness at bay: talking, talking by writing, listening to talk, reading talk, physical affection (as in hugs, lying close, body to body). What else are pussycats for? besides themselves — not alone when they sit and wait, reach out with paws, jump on lap, squat down, press bodies against my chest, head side against mine.

Listening to books on CDs (just now Davina Porter reading all of Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber), on desktop downloaded. Reading poetry (Patricia Fargnoli’s Hallowed, bouts of Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, edd. Grace Bauer and Julie Kane — it has a section, “Mothers, Daughters, Growing up A Girl”). Hearing Voices (title of book by Penelope Fitzgerald, based on her time with BBC radio).

Hearing music on the radio. Making supper together Izzy and I listen to celtic songs. Also watching movies, presences (just now, Fred Schepisi’s Last Orders, the two mini-series Wolf Hall, Outlander, Seasons 1 and 3)


End of Autumn Day

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

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see her falconer.

A problem I never used to have: [the difficulty of enclosing oneself away for] writing books, long essays, slow communing and development of ideas. Almost there (one of the great memoirs, by Nuala O’Faolain).

Not far to go now, Jim.

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay …
[I] follow thee with all [good] speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed …
— Henry King’s Exequy for his Wife

The tragedy, my dear, is you are missing out, you could be here with me tonight and we happy in life’s chains.

So, Night-existence: I am become a blogger


Clarycat’s toy mouse

Most of the time I am telling here of the interruptions. Now the right emphasis.

Miss Drake

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I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

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 I hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.

Friends,

Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world


Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.


Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.


From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake

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St John the Divine, a vast beautiful church near Columbia University, NYC, photo taken from a bus by Izzy

From “To an old woman standing in the October light:” Better to just admit it, time has gotten away from you, and yet here you are again, out in your yard at sunset … You have been looking for a reason for your continued existence,/with faith so shaky it vibrates like a plucked wire … As you search them out again, again,/your disappearing holds off for a while. But see how, even in this present,/as you stand there, the past flies into the future,/the way, above you, the crows are winging home again, calling to each other,/vanishing above the trees into the night-gathering sky — a poem by Patricia Fargnoli (Hallowed: New and Selected Poems).

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve yet another time away to tell you about. Izzy’s trip to NYC last week, which she appears to have thorougly enjoyed. To know how to vacation is another of those skills gradually acquired. She has shown herself well on her way at last. She traveled to and fro on the comfortable Amtrak train. She has (using the Internet) gotten herself a good hotel room in midtown and for 2 days went by train to the US open in Queens (the borough); she became intensely involved each day, tweeted away with others on the Net, blogged and put pictures up when she got home. She emailed me going and coming (it’s a long trip from mid-town Manhattan), and roundly declared at the second afternoon’s closure (for her, she couldn’t stay until the sky went dark) she had “had a good day.” She ate there all meals both days. One evening she went to see Wicked at the Gershwin theater: she walked up from her hotel (28th Street), treated herself to an expensive Italian meal (at a trattoria) and was just charmed. She was once an avid reader of the Wizard of Oz books. That day she had explored Manhattan on foot, and especially Central Park.


Izzy remarks on twitter about this: even the ducks seemed unafraid in that area of Central Park

Early Friday morning she was up and out of the hotel because she bought on-line a ticket to ride an unlimited times a bus tour route going all around Manhattan. She meant to buy one which included an extension to Brooklyn and found she hadn’t nor would anyone cooperate to find her a replacement train ticket. She seems to have found this experience the most fun of all, quite exhilarating. She sat at the top of the bus, and enjoyed listening to two different truly knowledgeable African-American guides. Both had grown up in the area they now were a guide to and seemed to tell a bit of their childhoods (a white guide on a third bus was nowhere as communicative).


Schist: the embedded rock of the landscape, seen in Central Park, foundation for skyscrapers

She’d get off at points she wanted to walk in, take photos from and off the bus: she was just by the New York City museum where she saw the older subway trains had found a good home; she was sort of thrilled to stop and walk all around Columbia University because Jim went there. I told her that Jim was probably the only Ph.D. math student at Columbia in the last few years to take out books from the library which were mediocre romances printed first three centuries AD and then the long 18th century (1660-1815).


A wall mural Izzy’s bus passed by

And she’s been to NYC so many times now, much she passes is now familiar; she knows where what she wants is. She was delighted with new things: now the Strand bookstore has stands around the city for its books. You need not get down to 13th Street on Union Square. She came home to find the piano tuned and at first reacted strongly against the new sounds. It’s been more than 3 years since it was tuned.

For myself I’ve returned to being alone most of (for now just about all of) the time, for companionship dependent on Internet friends, interacting through conversations. ‘m not going to the gym regularly because I’ve taken on moe literary work, the two friends who would be there have stopped going (one is now unwell), and I’ve not seen the physical improvement I’d hoped for. Yoga doesn’t do for me what it does for others. The exercise is less and all the talk and gestures seem to me phony. Relationships are as shallow as any transient class. I haven’t a mystical bone in my body. I grant the music is quieting, low lights. I look forward to when fall events begin, aa tomorrow night, a HD Net live theater film of tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part 1, at the Shakespeare Theater in DC (an Internet friend recommended it). I worked away on projects, read, wrote, watched mini-series late into the night (I’ll write separately about all three, Grantchester, Outlander, Poldark). My friend, Vivian, has gone for a week in Paris; Laura and I actually talked of doing a Road Scholar tour together in January or February 2018 to India, either 9 days of highlights or 16 (an extension, which would include a quieter stay at one place in Nepal)). India is one of the few places outside Europe I’ve dreamed of going to: again a result of reading, this time Anglo-Indian books.

Thus there was something appropriate in the one cinema movie I’ve been to see in the last month or so, Michael Winterbottom’s third “trip” movie, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon: I could not get any friend to go with me, none found the idea compelling. None had seen the two previous. I had and did.


2007 — the Lake District

I saw the first, The Trip (to Yorkshire, the Lake District, and environs) as a 6 part BBC TV series on a DVD the first summer after Jim died. It was high-spirited humor, often centering on the gourmet dinners they were said to be eating on behalf of newspaper assignments, with them mimicking other stars, naturalistic conversation, and to me riveting because they went to precisely near and where Jim and I had lived two years together (including the West riding, York Minster Cathedral). The film presents exaggerated versions of themselves and there is some sense that they are choosing unconventional roles elsewhere too. There was real talk about the poets and the landscape; Coogan was the prickly one, dissatisfied with life, Brydon supposedly comfortable in his skin. The second, 3 summers later, The Trip to Italy, seemed to expand that into including wry satiric or melancholy-meditative conversations about the sites they were visiting, seemingly autobiographical events while on the trip (by phone, and from people turning up to accompany them). Stories of Byron and Shelley replace Wordsworth and Coleridge, a thoughtful conversation over tombs in Pompeiin the Lake District. Transient love or sexual encounters for both, grown children showing up for Coogan, their pregnant producer, and then their struggles with their own careers were now brought in. Still the overall impression was of high cheer.


2010, a cartoon

The third, and 4 years later, presumably the last, The Trip to Spain seemed sequel to the other two the way Before Midnight was a sequel to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise; and Before Sunset (all with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, each at least 5 years apart once again). The Linklater-Hawke, Delpy movies explored the nature and disillsionment of a romantic heterosexual encounter turned into a long-running marriage. Now we are exploring masculinity, middle age. (It is true that all three films marginalize women, they are treated as side objects at home in men’s lives, unless of course they are the producer of a film.) Steve and Rob tried for humor, gourmet dinners, people turning up — or not (Coogan is disappointed because this time his son via skype says he cannot come) — but it was not funny. No hiliarious routines. The audience around me grated on me as they persisted in got-up raucous laughter when the humor was obviously so thin. They had come to laugh; they had thought the two previous films were just laugh-ups, but neither had been, not even the first.


Beyond the pretend-story of Coogan writing restaurant reviews and Brydon coming along for the ride as a friend, the two are going to be on TV, dressed (pathetically) as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

This time the principals talked of Spain, the failure of the republicans during the civil war, Picasso, and now career dead-ends, projects that seem to bring them down. Surprisingly at first, the trip seemed to end early, before the film was over, when Rob goes back home, and we see him enmeshed in a family life which includes two small children, renovations of apartment, kindergarten. But the movie had not ended. Coogan stays on alone to try to write, and loses his perspective because now his girlfriend is pregnant by someone else doesn’t want to join him either. He is being undermined by a script writer, and his agent was changed from a more prestigious man in an agency to a lesser one (played to perfection by Kyle Soller). Steve is last seen in a desert having run out of gas and water, his cell phone not charged, having a hallucination of young men in republican outfits (whom he had talked about as crucial to his writer-hero, Orwell’s life); they are riding up in jeeps with rifles, waving gaily to him. Or perhaps this is real, a group of Muslim males. And Coogan is on his own.

One viewer apparently took great offense at this “twisted” ending. I thought it appropriate for the trilogy. Finally Steve is alone as (in effect) he was when with others too. During holidays, we find ourselves with others for a time; others we may never see again; that’s part of the pact; the gaiety is precisely that we are not rooted in ordinary time and can imagine for a while. Trollope has a story that plays on this, “A Journey to Panama,” where he says this kind of companionship is part of the pleasure. For me it can go on for too long as it is also carefully restricted. The problem that emerged in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight is the two people wanted to extend the magic of a temporary deep congeniality to a life’s basis. They are still struggling with this when we last see them.

Izzy’s time away was short, she had no time to be strained; her company was the city, the guides, herself. I’ve concluded that the Road Scholar type tour, with its necessary conformities, to keep to togetherness should not last more than 9-10 days and nights. Winterbottom’s movies are fictions whose underlying themes this time emerged as about the limitations of what a holiday can do for you, about how you cannot escape your past, but bring your “baggage” and immediate present with you, especially once you are again alone — as is no longer uncommon. Bear up as best we can to enjoy what is left seems to be what Winterbottom concludes. In order to keep your sanity.

I have too many books to read all at once: right now, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Virginia Woolf’s Flush: A Biography (for a collaborative paper with a friend on Woolf and Samuel Johnson); Paul Scott’s Staying On, and Winston Graham’s Groves of Eagles (historical novel set in Cornwall in the 16th century). I had to give up on Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda and the group reading, discussion on the Goodreads page I joined.

I know I have to learn to walk alone at night in Old Towne. Drive there, park, get out, walk to the Potomac and then back again. As Jim and I used to do regularly. Vivian is not well enough to walk with me even as infrequently as she once did. Old Town is vibrant with street life, musicians, people eating ice cream, people in couples, threes, a crowd, and people alone, with dogs. I have to get myself to find pleasure outside alone too. I can never begin to replace the companionship and understanding I once had.

Perhaps human beings have it harder than other species in other ways too. This photo of a feral cat swimming for its life in the oceans of (often now stinking) water and (polluted) air around Houston (where there is no public transportation) went viral (as they say) on twitter.

There is something suspicious here: the cat has an elongated body. But much talk ensued on whether human beings should “risk” saving it. The next day a photograph said to be of the same determined cat is saidto have showed the animal emerging from the waters. I did not see that but close-ups showing the same face beaten up, scars from wounds, ears bitten off, mangy fur. But he or she does not need to re-create a life in the way the poor people of Houston (hardest hit on the flood plain) out of what probably will be nothing. Few will have adequate insurance; many companies will not pay (nor FEMA). Unlike Scotland in the US in most places there seems to be only the barest social contract for immediate help. Not enough will vote for stronger together.

Miss Drake

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Photo taken by Izzy at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC this week

She who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

Dear friends,

I’ve not been writing here because I’ve been so busy with trying to keep up with my teaching, reading with friends on a listserv, on good reads, and seeing if I can develop a project on a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels — I’m listening to a good reading on CDs of Warleggan.

If this were all.

I’ve also been involved with enclosing my porch, again trying to renovate or improve or alter parts of my house (the doors once again, electricity): among other things, a deeply spiteful neighbor apparently researched records available to discover I and the contractor had not taken out a permit to enclose said porch and registered a complaint with “code administration.” Or so I think — this man has done similar things to others, and once before said something to me which suggested he had been researching my title to my house! I am told he is an ex-FBI agent, retired; he was urging me to move. Maybe my house was bringing down property value — especially the kind of modest renovation we are doing. So today the contractor and I spent a long day at City Hall “pulling a permit” by proving to the city what the contractor was doing was adequate work, although it does need to be upgraded to prevent damp from destroying the room. Sigh. The truth is I’m not sure that this man will do the job and I don’t know how to get back to the screened porch. Jim was against enclosing the porch because it would cost far too much for the small room we would get out of it. The plain truth is also I have not that much use for it: yes another bookcase, a comfortable chair, lamp, table, maybe an exercise machine. I was trying no longer to be the neighborhood eyesore. I may (as last year over Expedia) have lost a lot of money. It won’t result in anyone wanting to buy the house for a larger sum; whoever buys it will regard the house as a tear-down.

So who has the heart to write?

The question that emerges in this newly rotten environment — that humanity, decency, privacy, reciprocal loyalty, obedience to human, civil, legal rights are ignored are nothing to the renewed resurgence of murder of hundreds of people and more to come in the middle east — so what’s a little local tyranny — is, how do I — how do you, gentle reader — avoid the rot.

The rot seeps in
The rot seeps in everywhere

Nowadays the best, maybe the only way to reach my friends as a group is through my own timeline on face-book. It’s time-consuming to click on one at a time and I’ve over 250 friends — all of whom I know in some way, many well. My general “feed” is filled with ads. I read the Republicans and Trump are signing away our privacy: if you use any large company for your email, they have the right to sell your data. Who would have their soul sold? My gmail is filled with junk in two categories. Commercial values, commodification shapes all experiences and people rightly flee back to exclusive pre-set-up groups. Face-book pages on topics seek to belong to institutions and rules are set up to control interchanges which put a damper on what can be said, what can be shared: rules make sure only what’s socially acceptable to belong to the agency or institution, or “on topic” is allowed and that is hemmed in. Only the NSA can read our private emails (we hope)– only! People I meet and talk to live these apart single lives as they obey the demands of capitalism today — for a job, a scholarship, as a groundwork for belonging. Adorno was accurate, prophetic is Patrick Wright on Journey through London’s Ruins. Time is money is no innocent utterance.

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This past week I shut this out by the classes I was teaching in and the class I am now attending: in Virginia Woolf, with a professor who is a better teacher than I am. She has strong self-confidence and doesn’t need to have extensive notes to talk from and is able to coax gently and create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect whereby a lot of the people in the room exchange views, high-minded on a great fiction, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.


Rupert Graves as the rightly suicidal Septimus, Amelia Bullmore, Rezia


Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway who says it was the only way to protect one’s soul …

I’ve seen three great films: (on a DVD on my computer) Ashgar Farhadi’s The Past (the film is searingly honest about people’s utter selfishness, sudden turns of intensely hot temper and resentment, spite without being judgemental); (on another DVD) the extraordinarily subtle Merchant-Ivory Mrs Dalloway, screenplay Eileen Atkins, where the filmic art captures the verbal art and meaning of the novel exquisitely; at my local Cinema Art with a friend, the moving film adaptation by Ritesh Batra and Nick Payne of Julian Barnes’s latest great novel, Man Booker winner for 2011, The Sense of an Ending.

I’ve kept up my friendships on-line.

This was Izzy’s week home: she’s started a new (if brief) touching song; as I watched her watch the World Championship Ice-skating contests at Helsinki, I suddenly asked, where is the next one: why in March 2018 it’s in Milan, Italy we learned. So she and I are going together next year: we’ll take two full weekends on either side and I can take buses and trains to nearby Italian towns and cities I’ve wanted to go to for years: like Brescia, Veronica Gambara’s home. Laura “signed” on and said she’d come and go to the fashion shows going on at that time. Milan —


Galileo as painted by Giusto Sustermans — but see Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (better yet, read it)

Tonight I spent 3 hours traveling by public transportation (and on foot) to go to the Folger to see an hour and one half staged reading of excerpts James Reston and Bonnie Nelson Schwartz’s Galileo’s Torch: a series of scenes showing Galileo joyous with discovery with his aristocratic friend-supporter in Venice, gradually driven when he leaves for Rome and Florence (why we are not told) by the power of the relentless church authorities to recant publicly (the threat is torture). The great actors (Edward Gero as Galileo, Michael Toylaydo as the Grand Inquisitor), the accompanying Renaissance music by the Folger Concert, a soprano singing two early 17th century songs, with a screen showing drawings and passages from Galileo’s Starry Messenger as well as beautiful shots of our universe (prettied up of course) — it was worth the travel, gentle reader. This was my second of three times this week at the Folger. The first was to see the HD screening of The Tempest from Stratford-upon-Avon. Sunday matinee Izzy and I go to the Folger for the full concert called Starry Messenger.

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Those are canines, people: as men legislate women’s health care and don’t want to pay for pregnancy …

Shutting the rot out: well here’s a meditation on where we see it continually and how to walk around it.

I admit for the ironic semi-amusement as well as edification of the people in the second course I’m giving (the first is on City and County Victorian novels, plus one Victorian Gothic) here is part of my opening gambit on the Booker Prize niche:

In the last 30 or more years ours has become a prize obsessed culture. Not everybody has won and not everybody’s prize is as good as others, but many win and they are advertised. It’s not just books: I asked Izzy if there are any ice-skating shows any more not connected to prizes? She replied: hardly any. From films, to sports, to classical music, to tattoo art; a concept of art as everything a contest. It does debase the art or sport or whatever: it’s about the relationship of any art to money first and foremost: prizes equate art with money and they enable art and artists to make more money. Then politics of all sorts, power, social and cultural agendas, power, prestige. Ironic that as inequality is still growing apace – or maybe to be expected that an art work is valued by its social capital – that’s a Bourdieu phrase. You can trade in the world with money as capital, but trading cards and chits also include your rank, status, institution, the red carpet extravaganzas are just an obscenely obvious edge of it. BAFTAs, Oscars, Emmy, Grammies, as each one is co-opted the prize is less given for the quality of whatever it was but who the artist is, who connected to. So once upon a time a Golden Globe may have meant a good movie, now it’s just like the Oscars.

It might seem and is a natural human activity but not to the extent it’s taken over. How this has come about and why tells us about our communications industry I suppose, but it’s more than that. Any comments or suggestions. There’s no correct answer. We could give Hitler a great fascist dictator. No one has come near him as yet. As our esteemed tweeter would say “tremendous.” Now in each profession probably a different set of circumstances could and would be produced to explain why.

In the case of books, in mid-century there was this problem distinguishing “serious fiction” from genre and junk fiction as TV and other medias spread and as paperbacks spread. Yes one explanation for the booker is the invention and spread of paperbacks which put books in the hands of people who could not afford hardbacks. The marketplace was flooded with low and middle brow paperback books. There suddenly was a collapse of a number of understood agreements where people didn’t undercut one another. Some of these protections still hold in Germany plus German federal policy works to protect bookstores among other businesses in Germany and not reward them for destroying themselves. – NBA the Net Book agreement – these are policies and practices of major chains of bookstores.


All winners must stand holding their book with the words Booker Prize winner prominently displayed


Short-listed do very well too

What happens is people stumble into things – they also conspire but sometimes they stumble; or one person has the idea and has no sense how workable and efficient it will be if done right. Todd’s Consuming Fictions gives the extraordinary figures as the early success of the Booker was felt. It was a coterie: an in-group of linked people living in and attached to London. It was the brainchild of Tom Maschler, a “rising” young celebrity editor at Jonathan Cape. Booker Brothers were a post-colonial agrobusiness company seeking to diversify and improve their public image with the collapse of colonialism as acceptable. I’m not saying colonialism collapsed; far from it, but it was no longer openly praised to steal another country’s natural resources and put the people into forms of servitude. A couple of other prizes from the 1960s: America Hawthorden and James Tait, Guardian fiction prize 1955.

Nothing remarkable about the Booker in its first couple of years; nothing unusual about their books, venture close to collapse. It’s said in-house correspondence of 1970s reads like a Black Box from a crashed airplane. 1970S a turning years: some extraordinary post-colonial books very like English Patient: V. S. Naipaul. In a Free State. JG. Farrell The Seige of Krisnapur. Books like The Bookshop: Susan Hill, the Bird of Night. Doris Lessing. Briefing for Descent into Hell. Movies helped: ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Heat and Dust is wedded to Merchant-Ivory type films (ah). They included books like Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor – imagine Lady Edith grown old and poor and living in a hotel. Iris Murdoch. The Sea the Sea. Kingsley Amis: Jake’s Thing (just what you think. Barbara Pym with her church jumble sale fiction: Quartet in Autumn – profoundly movingly sad. They cottoned onto the importance of planting stories, of announcing long list, short list, glittering prize ceremony. Series of scandals. J. G. Berger Ways of Seeing accepts his prize by insulting everyone as elite, corrupt, useless. The person who refuses to come pick up his prize – Dylan Thomas who sends the inimitable, unforgettable Patti Smith in his place. . This person gets a prize and that one not and it seems that the one who didn’t wrote the better. Who did she know? Then things like the Ayatollah Khomenai puts out a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie who won for Midnight’s children and has been long and short listed again and again.

All the talk buzzing around the Oscars is just a repeat of this early innovative group. The year of English Patient there were in the end two prize winners; Barry Unsworth no where near as dazzling and about slavery in a intense way ought to have won: Sacred Hunger. English Patient is more fun. Wolf Hall is set off by cult of Anne Boleyn and the marvelous acting talent of Mark Rylance (who can make a whole film come alive with the quiet question when you say shall I do this, “would it help?” So they gave her the prize for Bring up the Bodies. It’s not that good a book at all.

Possession in 1990 was a tremendous moment. It made Byatt’s career and made the prize. The movie wasn’t the center even though Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle were paired again. I find I’m not as enamoured of it as I once was. I prefer Atwood’s Alias Grace – a Jane Eyre immigration story: governess type goes to Canada, based on real woman and murder – Grace Marks accused — in a household of servants. Behind it a classic Canadian memoir: Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush and Moodie’s career as journalist where she interviews Marks –- and of course the Brontes’ art.

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What are some of the characteristics the Bookers share which do set them off. I suppose that’s the work of this term. What qualities are found in “serious” fiction that set it off from (sorry for the “terribly snobbish term”) middle brow books? I thought I’d call attention to just a couple in the hope of startling or creating interest or maybe opposition.


Luke Strongman: Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire: nostalgia, he says, the “clue” theme

After reading through our four and reading desultorily and listening to some of them read aloud on tape: beyond the historical turn accompanied by a deep questioning of what passes for history and why we want these stories told:

The central figure in The English Patient and a number of the events swirling round him: the deeply reactionary erudite adventurer, a Hungarian count Laslo Almasy: Ondaatje may have written an anti-colonialist, anti-war book but his hero is something out of The Prisoner of Zenda, related to royals in middle Europe: born 1896, he was a member of the Zerzura Club, desert explorers and adventurers, outlier types, presented themselves as explorers, lovers of fancy cars and women, looking for ancient cities in the desert, loses oases, but like communist spies inside M16 and Oxford in the 1940s and 50s, the Zerzura club were mapping the desert as spies for the fascists and Nazis, as military people in WW2, traitors some would say, Almazy died of dystentery in 1951 in Austria – never would take care of himself – he was awarded the Iron Cross by German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. People might remember the romantic film Out of Africa based on Isak Dinesen’s book with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (now married in earnest): the hero there was Anglo and part of a group from Kenya. Dinesen wrote great tales, gothics, but was as reactionary (crazy) as Ayn Rand. We have just two of this type but often when you dig a little in the background of a Booker Prize you find really interesting history, characters, authors events.

To continue: stream of consciousness as a central immediate confrontation of imagined mind with imagined reader; anti-colonialist (the legacies of empire) and anti-war: at some deep level –- and not so there is this perception of life, existence at terrifying. You never know what is going to happen next and you often can’t explain why so as to prevent next time. The Judgement scene in A Month in the Country. In the old English of Moon, a dreamer-archeaologist digging up the savage Saxons

And he shal com with woundes rede
To deme [judge]the quicke and the dede … (p. 34).

But as Amy Dodds puts it on the upper level of her twice weekly bus ride to her profoundly mentally disabled daughter, The thing is not to take it as a punishment.

If you are not terrified by the torture and landmines of Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient, you are not reading what’s in front of you. Water and sand as killers. Deep melancholy. But they are also for lack of a better term “quirky” – Mrs Palfrey at her Claremont is quirky, odd, unexpected. All these people living on houseboats, the book that won Fitzgerald her one Booker (all the others were short lists), Offshore seems to be about eccentric people. Fitzgerald’s point is they are not. But they seem to be. She was shortlisted a remarkable number of times: Human Voices about the power of radio really; In the spring time of the year, a kind of condensed Tolstoy. The Blue Flower.

I asked myself why did these two books by Swift win or were shortlisted and not these others. This works better with authors who keep getting short listed but don’t win a lot – egregiously given the number of authors there are some who win twice. So Ian McEwan is short listed frequently, winning for Amsterdam, but what is different about the books that don’t win. To ask such a question is to be non-cynical and say something in the quality of the book counts.

Last: the embedded narrative, the use of a central picture often one that really existed or exists: as in Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier which won other prizes. They are haunted fictions, sometimes by real banging ghosts as in the Poltergeist in The Bookshop or psychological projection. Memories. In The Sense of an Ending, a repeating motif: as you peel the onion, at the center is a mentally disabled person whose existence offers enigmatic explanations for the world of some key characters in the book.

And they are often turned into spectacularly good movies, commercial successes with screenplays occasionally vying in quality, adding to, enrichening the novels.

So the Booker Prize books reach us via people who know how to manipulate the rot use a long spoon.


And Izzy and I may make it to Milan ….

Miss Drake

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the-handmaids-tale-1990-elizabeth-mcgovern-natasha-richardson-volker
From Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1990 film, scripted by Harold Pinter, featuring Natasha Richardson and Elizabeth McGovern)

Dear friends and readers,

It’s probably not a pure coincidence that a new version of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is going to be screened on Hulu, a new computer channel which shows movies, that they have chosen this distopian tale for their first venture. I’ve read that top sellers for this week at Amazon (which by the way operates with Trump businesses, so if you want to boycott these you can at least try to find other online stores to buy your books from), as listed in the New York Times Book Review include Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. If you want genuinely to understand what we are living through, what we appear to be watching happening at its final visible phase (it’s been mostly stealth or only seen in local instances for some 40 years) — the setting up of a dictatorship, you might do better to read a serious history of the first hundred days or say six months of Hitler’s regime.

I’ve not read It Can’t Happen Here, but have read the others, probably with the mistaken impression in my mind that in fact this is a democracy, people, real individuals in the millions, believe in voting and having their votes properly counted. I have now seen how such a certainly in the mind (I thought) of every American citizen makes it hard truly to believe in the dystopia of your choice. Trollope wrote one: The Fixed Period, taking place on an island that seems coterminous with New Zealand. All people at age 67 are required to “deposit” themselves in an asylum, a year later they will be killed. (His New Zealander, first published in 1972 in an edition by N.John Hall, is a somber analysis of 19th century British political culture as he so lucidly understood it.)

The roll out of destructions by the Republican rump and their ignorant malevolent shamelessly self-centered leader has been and continues to be done piece-meal. He’s putting it together with remarkable ease. His vicious people in the powerful places. Firing the staff just below. Slowly felt contradictory vague executive orders are an attempt to divide people by when they are hard hit – all the while lying. So I have not yet personally felt anything economically critical gone. Just heart. Just. The grief is hard to characterize. This morning I tried Dance Workshop again: they have a new woman, just relentlessly cheerful. Talks about the 45 minutes as a party. I wilt under such treatment.

kathryn-schulz
Kathryn Schulz

I recommend to my reader Kathryn Schultz’s “Losing Streak,” or When Things Go Missing, in this week’s New Yorker (13, 20 February 2017): she begins with the word loss, which apparently goes back to “Old English” and means “perish;” it was in the 13th century that “lose” meant failing to win; in the 16th century we began to lose our minds (so mental distress, trouble), in the 17th century our hearts. It’s been expanding so now it includes all those hundreds of losses of things we endure over the course of our lives, from “mittens” to money, to beloved people. Now we are feeling our whole future has been stolen from us, robbed by the gerrymandering, politicization of our courts, electoral college, insane campaign against Hillary Clinton; all that we could had in improvement is now reversed and our very republic, safety from all-out war, civil and human and women’s rights about to be lost and in a way that might be irretrievable for decades and more to come. Losing a beloved, losing her father, she talks of death, not of losing friends, which has been part of my losing streak this year.

But in the meantime I’ve met an honest man! My neighbor-friend recommended as a contractor, a German man, semi-retired, and he has offered to do all I want (enclose porch, and make a fully functioning room, paint outside of house cream color, update electricity in house &c&c) for what may come out to be less than the kitchen renovation cost. It seems the demand I have the foundation dug out is a way for builders to make huge sums; the way veterinarians to clean a cat’s teeth want to put them under anesthesia and stick a tube down them (risking their lives) in order to make $500. So after all I’ll have what I’ve longed for for so many years. Too bad Jim is not here now. I’ve no one to take pleasure in it but myself. Izzy approves but it does not mean for her what it does for me. The neighbors will like this as it will help property values. I will have more space for my books 🙂 and not be ashamed any more.

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I can link the two entertainments I’ve gone to over this week to our present dystopia. I was finally able to remember the name of the woman who ran an inexpensive and sometimes innovative and intelligent repertoire company in DC: Carla Huber; her group, The In-Series, located in DC just off 14th Street, a walk along U Avenue (from the Metro). It was a show made up of songs of Irving Berlin with a narration carried on by the performers situating songs in his life, his career, the particular musical or just song cycle. The songs were chosen to reflect some characterization of a type in one of his musicals, the actors and singers people one knew would put the material across. I conquered driving there and back by car, so learned where it was, and then going there by Metro on Saturday evening. One song prompted long, strong and extended applause: a black woman singer-actress, Krislynn T. Perry, sang “Supper Time,” in a deeply moving way, belting it out. I did not know before this that it’s a song by a black woman whose husband has been lynched. Here’s Ethel Waters performing the song:

I attended the first of our Washington Area Print Group’s lectures for this spring: Deirdre Johnson discussed popular series fiction by two American women: their circumstances and what they produced are typical of the era: Adelaide F. Samuels (1845-1941) and her much more upper class sister-in-law Susan Caldwell Samuels (1846-1931). Middling educated white people with connections to publishers, especially through a father, Emanuel Smith (1816-86, zoologist, botanist, collector) and Susan’s husband, Edward Samuel (1836-1908, naturalist). The stories focus on central characters who live individualist successful lives, attached to churches, looking now and again to their family for help. Although strongly teleological, the titles tell an occasional tale of lives stranded and broken (Adrift in the World). Susan and Edward’s divorce led her to concentrate on how the power a husband has can inflict cruelty and failure on those in his charge. Adelaide had come from much poorer people and when she was widowed, with one son, she listed herself as a “writer” and attempted to live off her earnings. Her stories are less moral than Susan’s. But (what the lecturer didn’t say) all these stories are a depiction of a large (taken as a whole) ceaselessly on the move culture treating itself as ever so moral. We got to talking as a group about children’s literature, how it’s changed in the last half-century, and how in contrast to American, British books for children were a melange of fantasy and realism (e.g., The Borrowers). What American children were give was imagined communities. British children were offered an escape from local reality.

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carolinebowlessoutheyrobertswindowstudygretahall-large
Robert Southey’s desk in Greta Hall as drawn/painted by Caroline Bowles Southey: it’s the world as seen from her husband’s desk; he had the biggest best room in the house; not entirely unfairly as he supported himself, his nuclear family and Coleridge’s, as well as women and children attached to other romantic and dispossessed poets and writers when needed

On Trollope19thCStudies we are into Wordsworth’s Prelude and I’m reading Kenneth Johnston’s excellent The Hidden Wordsworth (it’s really a history-biography of the realities of intimate oppression in the later 18th and early 19th century in Cumberland), and I’m trying to accompany it with reading a fine woman poet’s autobiographical poem, much less well-known, Caroline Bowles Southey: The Birthday: A Life in Verse. I hope by the time we finish I can wrote my first foremother poet blog in a long time. For now, in case you’ve never heard of her (talk about the enemies of promise), here’s a brief literary biography by me:

Caroline Bowles’s years were 1786-1854 so she crosses the 18th and 19th century eras. She was born to people with money but as when her parents died her guardian absconded with the money that was to support her, she grew up very poor. She was educated (she was a genteel hanger-on in a big family and I imagine might have loved Jane Eyre and identified readily with Lucy Morris in Trollope’s Eustace Diamonds or Kirsten in Oliphant’s wonderful novel of that name). She published other books of poetry; The Birthday was originally compared with Cowper’s Task. She does write in the poetic diction of Cowper. Wordsworth’s greatness is based on his original use of a natural spoken English not seen before. At the time Wordsworth’s Prelude was hardly known. Robert Southey met, introduced her to Wordsworth, and they collaborated on a poem called Robin Hood. It never saw the light (was not completed). When Southey’s wife died, Southey married Bowles, but he was very ill by that time and his illness blighted her later life. She received a crown pension in 1854. Unhappily too she has been blamed for marrying him, blamed for somehow getting between his wife and him (she didn’t) and then her own work seen as super-influenced by him — which it wasn’t.

There’s a wonderful essay on Bowles Southey in Romanticism and Women Poets: Opening the Doors of Reception, edd. Harriet Linking and Stephen Behrendt: Kathleen Hickok, ”’Burst are the Prison Bars: Caroline Bowles Southey and the Vicissitudes of Poetic Reputation,” pp. 192-213. There has been an edition of Caroline Bowles Southey’s poetry and a biography by Virginia Blain:, Caroline Bowles Southey, 1786-1854: the Making of a Woman Writer .

“The Birthday” is a longish blank verse poem telling of the growth and development of a poet’s mind through retelling her story. It’s called “The Birthday” because it’s imagined that she begins to write it on her birthday one year. “The Birthday” gives us a woman’s version of Wordsworth’s Prelude. It’s shameful “The Birthday” is not better known. Unlike Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh as it hasn’t got a melodramatic story at its center, but a real one. In the excerpt I sent the poet goes to a filthy shop in London where she meets a laboring man who loves to read and has aspirations to write. He can’t. He can’t begin to get the books he needs (shades of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure) and hasn’t got any time to himself at all. He must work from early morning to late at night. Wordsworth refers to poor people but does not give them reality; in her Aurora Leigh, Barrett Browning gives us this melodramatic story of the seamstress in love who has a baby out of wedlock and (in the poem) deserved to be dropped. Not Caroline’s heroine, herself.

To the reading and papers I’m working on (described in previous diary entries), tonight I begin the second of my chosen books for the course I hope to teach at the OLLI at Mason, Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop (short-listed), a kind of distilled Cathy Come Home, starting late March. I’m now listening to Nadia May read aloud Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out: it focuses on the coming into maturity of a super-sheltered, minimally educated intelligent young woman, Rachel Vinrace. Much water imagery. This from The London Scene which I read with someone on Wwtta last week:

A group of sketches, all at most 5-7 pages or so; like much of Woolf’s work, it’s a posthumous publication carefully staggered/staged and packaged by Leonard. I have separate thinnish books of non-fiction by her and for the first time I understand how they came to be and why they are so heterogeneous. This is a late book, first published in 1975, put together by Angelica Garnett and Clive Bell, niece and brother-in-law, published nominally by Hogarth Press but really a small press hired and in a limited edition. These feel bright, seemingly cheerful excursions — the sort of thing one sees in a magazine. I say seeming because the undercurrent leads us to her The Waves. Time is doing its work across the centuries and in single hours, days, weeks, years, all is going to rot or was once (so relics, remnants)

What strikes me as I’ve finished The Waves, and begun The Voyage Out, how water (as in Shakespeare) is central to Woolf, waterways of the world, oceans, rivers, streams. While the sun controls the seeming 24 hour structure of the Waves, the imagery is watery or about stream, life as ooze. Orlando crosses time as in a reverie: Eva Figes’s greatest novella is The Seven Ages of Women. Here we have a eye going through the river recording different phase sof English history by different classes at different times – in 8 pages the eye bypasses very different ships and boats, from Liner and streamers with crowds of ordinary people on the shore, to a dingy warehouse area (very Dickensian), to left over village, with a desolate pub (note desolation), church, a cottage or house gone to ruin, trees, bells once rung here. Then barges, rubbish and Indian, next to the Tower of London, commerce, the city, factories with chimnies. On we go to indefatible cranes unloading and loading according to exquisitely understood plans by mazes of peple. (Le Carre’s Night Manager shows all this replaced by these intensely dull boring containers and very few people employed.) I have read the ships which carry these containers can be dangerous for passengers if not enough of them. Jenny Diski traveled on one in one of her books. Then the beautiful things packed, the oddities, the jewels, sports of nature – Woolf imagines all this. Now we realize if we didn’t before this is a kind dream. Then the wine-vaults: Cask after cask. Customs officers. No smuggling here: stamped out in the mid-19th century by England’s first determined army of police effort.

The phrase “use produces beauty as a bye-product” could sum up all Jane Austen on the picturesque … Then words have been invented out of all we see.I don’t understand a couple of them, nor understand why flogging is there but that sailors were once flogged to get them to do this work, flogged if they mutinied and disobeyed. (Will Trump bring flogging back; there is nothing he can do which bothers his followers or the Republicans. I am waiting for him to beat the hell out of his wife, and the tweet: “I lost it – my temper.” ) Last: all we see is the result of us, of our bodies. All the things and animals that made these products were created and used by us – Australian sheep say. And this rocking rhythm and final peroration. L’ecriture femme with the full stamp of Virginia Woolf

pytorkonchalovskyrussia1876to956poetswindow
From my window where I sit most of the time there has hardly been any snow: very summery days, so here to remind us of winter: Pytor Konchalovsky’s Poet’s Window (1875-1956)

I handed in a proposal for teaching at OLLI at Mason for this coming summer (how relentless is time and it’s been just about accepted:

Romancing 18th century historical fiction

Our topic will be the nature of recent post-modern post-colonial historical fiction as well as how as a genre historical romance differs from historical fiction, and what happens when the two subgenres mix. We’ll read as examples the older traditional The King’s General by Daphne DuMaurier (1946) against the recent innovative The Volcano Lover (1992) by Susan Sontag. Bringing in as part of the discussion, other popular novels set in the 18th century (from Poldark to Outlander) and 18th century historical films (from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon to Scola’s That Night in Varennes), we’ll explore these questions: How do such books use documents and relics (e.g. houses and paintings) from an era; landscape then and now, history, biography, life-writing; biographical fiction and fantasy, to reach and recreate the irretrievable, the unknowable past, to persuade us to imagine we are in the past as presences with the author. Why do we want to do this? Why is it important for the text or film to be authentic and yet familiar? For us to bond with the characters? And be fascinated by their era?

I end on yet another woman poet-writer, 19th century, American: Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919). In Cox’s case what’s telling is she was very popular, and part of the 19th century progressive or populist socialist movement (Bernie Sanders is a rare unashamed modern representative), which has been crushed since the advent of the FBI and ceaseless repression from the 1950s on.

Protest

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.

I just thought that I’ve never focused on Scarlett Johansson’s eloquent speech at the Women’s March, on January 21st:

It is still hard and brave for most women to speak before a huge audience, and she’s telling intimate realities of her life. Elizabeth Robins’s The convert is about how hard it was for the first suffragettes to talk before a crowd. It is harder yet to be sincere.

Miss Drake

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