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

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

Friends,

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

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

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

I’ll mention this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Egon Schiele, Four Trees (1917)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So now I’ll subside into a movie:

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


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

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

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


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


Maxx as snugglicious — another

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

Ellen

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On J. R. Farrell’s Troubles [1971 novel set in Ireland 1920s] “Troubles is not a ‘period piece’; it is yesterday reflected in today’s consciousness. The ironies, the disparities,the dismay, the unavailingness are contemporary” (Elizabeth Bowen, a review published 1971)

Dear friends and readers,

You see the increasing good news for people in the US — also other countries, where vaccination is proceeding apace (Israel, the UK, Chile, the US, Bahrain are among these). Pressure is being put on the Biden administration to cooperate quickly over sharing our excess vaccine supply (AstraZeneca, as soon as the FDA approves it officially), and to use a temporary waiver on copyright. I hope people here are aware of how much we owe to Biden and his administration as we move into a post-pandemic era, which Biden is trying also to renovate through the first large and decent gov’t programs intended to reach everyone to enable us to improve our and all communities’ lives. He, his wife, the VP and the others working with and for them are my new paladins and heroines.

I do have some news. I’m near finishing teaching and following courses for this term (today my courses on the weather, Early Pulitzer Prize-winning Women Poets, and Edith Wharton ended) and within a month the summer’s teaching and new (though less than I have been taking) courses begin. For June at OLLI at AU, I will repeat my Two Novels of Longing Across an Imperialist Century, and for June-July (6 weeks) at OLLI at Mason I’ll continue my study of contemporary novels from a political POV, this time colonialist: my books will be Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, Caryl Philips’s Crossing the River and Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River. Although I do have my review of the standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry yet to do (I must buy the second very fat and very expensive volume), and am part of two reading groups on line (my Trollope&Peers, and an FB The Way We Read Now page) and via Zoom (Trollope Society), I fancy I have enough time to get back to my original projects, let go of this past winter.

But they have morphed from my reading and trying to be more realistic so I can envisage single volumes. Don’t imagine I seek to publish these; I’m returning to the way I was when I translated the poetry of Colonna and Gambara, and did all that original scholarship on Anne Finch, wrote a biography of her, did etext editions and so on. This is to give me a meaningful goal and extend myself, teach myself how to write a book regularly — so to speak. Even at age 74. So I rearranged my books, put many away, made the two stacks for the two courses, and fixed the others towards the projects and towards my sheer love of this or that topic or language or type book — some of the books I read relate very much to my movie-watching and love of travel books.

This was not a trivial task. Some still had their spaces waiting for them but others has lost ground, and I had to improvise shelves, turn the books this way and that, and it took hours to re-pile what I hope to go through this summer in a way that showed the trail or path ahead. Gentle reader, I chain-read.


In this remarkable book (which I’ve been reading) Bowen teaches us how to travel, enacts for us how to think and feel to get inside a place and understand its feeling, an extraordinary recreation of atmosphere

an evocation of a city – its history, its architecture and, above all, its atmosphere. She describes the famous classical sites, conjuring from the ruins visions of former inhabitants and their often bloody activities. She speculates about the immense noise of ancient Rome, the problems caused by the Romans’ dining posture, and the Roman temperament, which blended ‘constructive will with supine fatalism’. She envies the Vestal Virgins and admires the Empress Livia, who survived a barren marriage. She evokes the city’s moods – by day, when it is characterized by golden sunlight, and at night, when the blaze of the moon ‘annihilates history, turning everything into a get together spectacle for Tonight. [As good as Eleanor Clarke’s Rome and A Villa

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So I will work on, maybe write my Poldark book but not as a literary biography. I just don’t have the resources or personality to do what’s necessary to be done. My aim now will be to return to reading all his extant works, which I have, including re-reading the Poldarks, and then writing a book on historical fiction and romance. This will lead to me reading more 20th century books, probably mostly by women. I have this term been reading political novels by women, which I discover, to be like many men’s often, set back further in historical time. I need to get back to the Graham books and historical romance.


Lampedusa’s Gattopardo – which I read in the original Italian and at the time thought the best book in Italian extant

This connects to the other project, a book on life-long single women writers. I was having the hardest time deciding which ones — there are so many, as my definition of lifelong single women does not exclude women who have been married. The criteria is rather that they have lived independently, developing their own career or vocation for most of their lives. This term I discovered how much I love 20th century women writers — I just fell in love with two of the women, Bowen and Manning — and how many of these fit my definition. So here as in the other project I must not dwell on a limited number of people but see their work as part of groups, subgenres, and emerge with another related theme beyond this groundwork criteria of a long time alone. If nothing else, this will guide my chain-reading. Right now I’m so taken, exhilarated (by Bowen), interested touched by Olivia Manning and am finishing all of her Balkan and Levant trilogy.

It’s not only the franker and deepening depiction of what goes on between heroine and hero, Harriet and Guy (I may be wrong about Aiden but I’m thinking that Guy is also implicitly supposed to be having an affair with Edwina — the giving her of that rose diamond that Harriet treasured as a gift from Angela is singularly cruel as a careless act) but the actual events we are shown — in the desert and also the colonialist politics where the English are now outsiders, unwanted — for the Greeks divided into fascists who wanted them out and nationalists and communists types too. The gov’t such as it was made a pact with the Germans, who proceeded of course to invade anyway.

I’m finding the whole depiction of Alexandria in a book on far more than Manning: Eve Patten’s Imperial Refuges of such interest – there is a section on the people who lived there — this brings us back to the Durrells — Lawrence, EM Forster, Cavafy, and group of gay people as well as others leading fluid lives not just sexually but also financially (desperate poverty some of them, while others have the private income). She means to bring this group in to — so that’s why I wondered about Aiden Pratt — based on someone real. The matter flows into my interest in colonialism (above), the course I’ll give at OLLI at Mason June-July — and poetry below.


Episode 6 of The Fortunes of War where Harriet (Emma Thompson) visits Luxor conveys the profound pessimism of the symbolic statues Manning intuits
(I’ve been re-watching Alan Plater’s masterpieces of BBC/ITV films)

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More very sad news: one of the friends I mentioned last time who I’ve become close to since Jim died, and who dropped me, Phyllis Furdell, has died. At age 75: her third husband (ex) emailed and then I phoned him and I will be going to her funeral service May 18th. Cheerful on the surface, in her inner life she was a troubled and acid soul; she had only one son, now in his late 50s, who needs someone to help him survive psychologically. She was a good painter and left paintings of the Washington DC subway with people on it (studies). Also astute portraits. Her ex-husband is trying to get some institution or art-seller to take them.

A fellow 18th century scholar, in his later 80s, a colleague, Manny Schonhorn. I knew him only in his later years and as a friend-acquaintance at the EC/ASECS meetings. He was so friendly, kind, full of fun, and candid. Wonderfully pleasant over drinks, informative if you sat with him for a full lunch. He and I would exchange email missives too. I’ll miss his presence at our meetings. He was a Defoe, Swift and Pope, & Fielding man from before feminism and post-colonialism so changed the field.

And a young woman of 43, once Laura’s close intimate friend, the maid of honor at Laura’s first wedding, also died — probably of cancer. Jessie never was able to emerge from her working class deeply anti-intellectual Trumpite family environment; going to college did not help pull her out into other worlds. Her last job was that hard work, little pay install electricity for rich-people’s parties that Laura did for a couple of years. Jessie never got another job; both husband/partners were utter failures; she left a 16 year old daughter. She never traveled (as my 75 year old friend did), never had a chance to fulfill her considerable gifts, never discovered where she could put them to use. Very sad.


20 Years Ago: Laura (bottom to the left) Jessie (top row to the right) as part of a theatrical crew and production

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On the up side now that the pandemic seems to have lost its grip (and Biden is aiming at 70% vaccination by June), it does look like I’m managing to keep enough students taking my courses and either in the fall 2021 (I’ll do Trollope’s Prime Minister with a book of political writings by 19th century women) or spring 2022 teach in person once again. I hope zooms will continue (from the Trollope Society, from Cambridge, from other academic type environments), for they are a mainstay for me where I don’t have to waste time traveling and can reach more than I ever dreamed of — and where I used to go when my eyes were better, like Politics and Prose Bookstore community in DC where the classes are often at night and I can’t drive. And in less than 2 weeks Laura, Izzy and I will find an Italian restaurant where we can eat outdoors and commemorate Izzy’s birthday: she’ll be 37!


An Image of Stark Grief

That’s all I have to report that’s new of changing, moving on. Maybe I should close on a movie I recently saw which I found to be a dazzling masterpiece — costume drama, period piece, Martin Scorcese’s Age of Innocence out of Edith Wharton’s remarkable ironically titled novel of the same name. I usually tell, however briefly, of a book or movie I’ve recently read or re-read. I was bowled over. Truly. You do have to pay attention to nuances, and respond to the imagery and what happens — Daniel Day Lewis as a profoundly melancholic Newland Archer – and the narrator’s studied lines.

Suffice to say it seemed to me for a movie to be the closest thing I know to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: more adequate to Tolstoy’s book than the 1977 Anna Karenina (which, together with oe Wright’s AK do as much and more justice to a deeply felt and complicated story of human beings than I ever realized before — yes I’ve been reading in this one). Even if I found a class to be worse than a waste of time (parts of the book were dismissed as of no interest – Levin, the politics of the three men &c), I have stayed with the book insofar as skimming/reading and then watching and thinking is concerned.


Stuart Wilson as Beaufort


Joanthan Pryce, the dangerous (blackmailing ever-so-discreet) secretary

Stuart Wilson, the Vronsky of the 1977 AK is the Beaufort of this Age of Innocence: we are in the movie (never mind the book) to assume he and Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer as a nervous, neurotic, deeply passionate and in the end withdrawn to find “repos” woman) have been having an affair — that she succumbs to several men, including her brutal husbands secretary (played by Jonathan Pryce — only a few minutes but he manages to emerge from the costume to dominate the stage with an insinuating dangerous presence). Sian Phillips as the knowing mother who backs the manipulative winner May Welland (Winona Rylands) in order to hold onto her son. The old woman grandmother (the book is about a world of women, a matriarchy) played by Mariam Margoleyes who loves Ellen and knows she should marry Newland but let’s the repressive even spiteful world have its way and grants Ellen the allowance which allows her to live independently in peace, privately.

One of the miracles of the movie is how it alludes to other movies in the same spirit. It is intended to project 19th century or now collapsed attitudes towards marriage and sex – -and does this through presenting the characters as neurotic and near breakdowns as well as the society as incessantly nasty and oppressive. It’s a costume drama about costume dramas as much as anything

Ending on a poem by C. P. Cavafy as translated by Edumund Keeley (there are better translations, one by Lawrence Durrell):

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

This harsh ending means to convey to the person who wants to travel to entertain, flee themselves, provide substitute (tourist?) meaning, that the soul makes her own landscape, your own inner environment, out of ennui or social desperance, you can create your own forms of beauty. It might be you want to reach Ithaca, far away, but take a long time getting there. Olivia Manning returned from Egypt having learned from Luxor to write of Ireland, The Dreaming Shores, with these exquisite photographs of this green temperate world – which I’ve been reading and perusing too.

Ellen

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Full Bloom last week of our young Cherry Blossom tree (photo taken by Izzy, close up)

Friends and readers,

A year and seven months after I described my plan and the paper I meant to write for a panel for a ASECS conference to be held in St Louis, 2020, I finally wrote and spoke aloud, and now published via academia.edu this past Thursday and weekend. Among other things, a pandemic intervened, one not yet over, so the conference was held virtually between April 7th and 11th, a phenomenal 193 panels in all (950 people attending!).

While staying home meant things at home kept intervening, and I did not take off from teaching, classes, and my usual life — which this past week included cooperating with the AARP to do our taxes and file them at the library, and driving Izzy to the Apple store to get a physically broken iphone fixed and to the Kaiser Permanente Tysons Corner facility to get her first dose of Pfizer — it also meant I didn’t have the ordeal or cost of a plane trip, hotel stay, tedious expensive (and mostly unedible) meals, cabs &c. I did miss the occasional companionship I’ve experienced at these conferences (in the form of sitting down with someone who is a genuine friend or closer acquaintance — something that doesn’t happen very often), but very little of the other socializing as it’s called.

Consequently, what I managed to join in on, I enjoyed very much. It came at so much less stress, loneliness, and as a retired adjunct, repressed alienation.

What I mean to do is write a series of reports — brief accounts of what I heard and saw — on my 18th century or Austen reveries blog. For now I’m publishing the paper itself digitally on academia.edu; it belongs among the conference papers, as it represents a 9 minute slice out of the 25 minute paper I had prepared. Full title: Vases, Wheelchairs, Pictures and Manuscripts: Inspiring, Authenticating, and Fulfilling the Ends of Historical Fiction and Romance. The session went well and we discussed how absence is central to the project of historical fiction and romance. You want to make present what is not there at all except in the form of relics, remains, left over objects, manuscripts, the buildings that survive, the pictures, the vases ….


Claire Randall looking longingly at a vase in a shop window (Outlander S1, E1)

The paper itself belongs here in my diary entries as it’s not a fully argued paper — its value is the human experience it inscribes. I wish I could link in the video of me talking it as permanently as a cyberspace blog allows; I’m not sure you can reach it even temporarily; but if you can, here is the URL. As you will see though I am again sitting too low, flurried, my voice too high pitched and nervous, the content of my paper was heard clearly, it was coherent and appreciated.

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A comical rendition of what you see when you view a webinar from your chair in front of your computer (with cats)

I have now told of four triumphs since I last wrote — Izzy’s iphone fixed, our taxes done and filed; we are now part of the US effort to vaccinating ourselves out of the dangerous and isolated mess an incompetent, corrupt and cruel POTUS got us into, and I did pretty well at a conference, was seen and saw others. For the next two weeks or as long as the videos stay online, I’ll be adding to those I saw and heard in the evenings. From FB on Izzy being vaccinated:

My or our very good news is that today my daughter, Izzy, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine!! I wonder if my bitter complaints about the stopping of Kaiser’s vaccination program helped bring her forward . They resumed yesterday and today mid-afternoon at Kaiser at Tysons Corner, Fairfax, Va I saw more cars in their parking garage than I’d ever seen before. Around my neighborhood people are telling me they are getting vaccinated so I need feel no guilt at least locally (local being my corner of the globe and the sort of society I find myself part of) and broadly from news broadcasts: at this point in those places where people have some sanity and decent local gov’t people are being vaccinated in large numbers.

I feel personally vindicated not only because Izzy in the first group but my calling attention to her autism, meant the nurses there had her medical record. Kaiser was originally set up as a group of doctors insofar as they could imitating an NIH — if they have not kept to that (and they have not), it’s because they exist in a world of ruthless capitalist money-driven medicine and they are forced into competition for funds and against those who loathe HMOs. So they had Izzy’s medical records, and knew Izzy has had panic attacks over vaccinations in the past.

The line while full was kept in order of appt, but she was given individual attention when she was asked to sit in a different area from others (much quieter), and to wait for 30 minutes afterwards, and (I gather) had a nurse sitting with her chatting away about boutiques in Old Towne and going to the movies once again. Izzy told me she felt herself getting very nervous as she waited for the vaccination — she did need this little extra to get through.

We get to repeat this 3 weeks from now, same time, same place. It is the Pfizer vaccine. Two weeks from then she is planning to go to a movie, and I am planning to go to my hairdresser and take her with me to have our hair professionally cut and mine dyed.

Have I said except for some important aspects of foreign policy, Biden has become a hero in the Moody household book?


Ian, not atypically, when we arrive home …

Two sad things happened. One very sad: a longtime friend here on the Internet whom I met and had a good breakfast with in lower New York City, Robert Lapides, died. I commemorated him in a blog. I probably lost another close friendship I had tried to sustain and half succeeded at for something like three years.

I wrote about it on two Aspergers areas, seeking some comfort and support; I did manage to have my trip to Ireland with Road Scholar pushed back a year again, so I will now go alone in August 2022. I do look forward to going to Ireland now: I was worried that we would not get along: differences in attitudes towards money is part of the problem. I say more about this painful experience in the comments.

I experienced one relief.

For months really I’ve been worried that I must make a very bad (egoistic) impression in the every-other-week Trollope society group reading zoom meetings I attend (and most of the time am stimulated by, enjoy) and other zooms as to my eyes my “tile” always turns up on the top row, right near the host, often to the right. People must think how aggressive I am, calling attention to myself. Well no such thing. I’ve been told “everyone sees a different view of the attendees at a zoom meeting with themselves and the host prominent.” Who knew? I could not myself find where to change the place I keep popping up in — because there is no place. Izzy said this was to make your presence easy for you to see, to reassure you you are there. So these experiences are now free of the burden of self-consciousness.


Nicola Paget as Anna Karenina (1977, a forgotten presence: in the snow, distraught)

On the Trollope Society Zooms from London, we are now into Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, which I’m having a slightly different response to. Not much. I am still with Trollope in finding Sir Roger Carbury — along with Hetta and Marie Melmotte — rare characters in the story I can like and admire.

At the one OLLI (at Mason) where I am reading a book with others as a student in the class, I’m just loving Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for the real depth of characterization and inimitable realism of the book. In both cases watching the BBC serials: 1977 AK (with Nicola Paget, Stuart Wilson, Robert Swan, among others) and 2004 TWWLN by Andrew Davies, just brilliant.

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


I have it in the English translation by Jan Van Heurk

Life goes on. Last entry I told of what I was planning to teach in the fall 2021 for both OLLIs (Trollope’s The Prime Minister, with The Fixed Period at the AU OLLI, and with a wonderful anthology of women’s writing for both OLLIs). I’ve now had the reassurance that if I want to I can teach via zoom for the winter 2022 term, and I’ve thought of two books I’d love to re-read, to study along with other works by these authors for a four week session:

Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays and Eva Figes’s The Seven Ages. The first is a magnificent retelling of the Trojan War from the POV of Cassandra, with four short non-fiction pieces explicating, embedding (a travel narrative) and situating (it’s a post World War II book) then novel. I read it long ago with a group of friends on WomenWriters@groups.io (we were then probably on Yahoo).

The second is also a partial feminist retelling of legendary and real history, beginning with Anglo-Saxon & Celtic times, taking us up to the present (see this review by Angeline Goreau); the book itself was a gift to me from a grateful student when I taught for one term for the University of Virginia at night (so it has an inscription I cherish), and I remember just loving Figes’s recreation of Lady Brilliana Harley, who ran a siege during the 17th century English civil war.

The course will function as an excuse for me to read other of her books I’ve longed to read (Light, Waking) but could never get anyone on any listserv to do it with me. I have read a number of Figes’s books already. Wolf was translated into Italian by Elena Ferrante so I feel I have not been that far from her during this time of slowly listening to the Neapolitan Quartet in my car, and we did read on WomenWriters@groups.io her wondrous historical romance novella, No Place on Earth.

More general political news: thinking about Cassandra’s full meaning: people may actually beginning to get fed up with the police tyrannizing over us and killing us — it’s spreading to killing whites (!) and that won’t do. Disabled people killed by cops don’t matter (it seems). The problem is the idiocy and norms/values of US people on juries. Northern Ireland has erupted again.

Still spring is here.


My comforts in Jim’s absence-presence

Ellen

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This year’s daffodils

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ Age of Phillis: Jeffers has written what we wish Phillis [Wheatley] had, a book length verse autobiography. The opening sequence very moving: imagined to be by Phillis’s mother when she realizes her baby has been stolen from her. Remembering the birth. Then the narrator on behalf of Phillis remembering the terror the child must have felt, the filth, vermin, disease,chains — unimaginable except by just citing facts that are known — of the middle passage. How she survived our narrator cannot say — she was purchased in the US not in Africa … [I read this a couple of poems at a time each night]

Dear friends,

It’s been a month since I last wrote. I haven’t had much to report about myself new or striking, anything different from what you might read elsewhere; I’ve been writing about the movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, online activities with others (discussing books mostly) on my other two wordpress blogs; politics I’ve been circulating Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletters and occasional insightful essays that might be overlooked on my livejournal blog or facebook/twitter. We passed the anniversary of the day we consciously began to self-isolate (March 13th). It was that week that the class I was to teach that spring, “The Novels of E.M. Forster” was cancelled. I had no idea if I could manage a zoom class and it was not until the end of the spring or that summer after I had attended a couple of classes regularly, that I agreed to teach remotely. It was that week Izzy began to work from home remotely as a Pentagon librarian. The gov’t laptop arrived around then.

I’ve now taught five and soon to begin my 6th zoom class, taken many and joined in countless zoom social experiences, conferences, lectures. I enjoy them — when not too many a day. This week the teachers at OLLI at AU gathered to discuss the possibility of hybrid teaching in the fall. Many did admit how lovely it is not to spend such time in traffic, not to have to find parking, to beat time and distance. Izzy has joined a dungeon and dragons group, has her identity and spent her first two and one half jours in this fantasy with others Saturday night.

Very unhappily, though, Izzy has not yet been vaccinated. It appears that Kaiser will not start up again as a vaccination center. There is no reasonable excuse for this: supplies are in. I truly suppose that medical groups who loathe HMOS and have since their start-up done everything to bad-mouth and hurt them succeeded in stopping their fair, orderly efficient vaccinating. This is similar to what happened to another similar group in Philadelphia. Kaiser is shamelessly cheerful in sending out messages about workshops. I have complained bitterly in some encrypted area, asking a representative what is the point of Kaiser’s existence if the organization is not going to operate as a bunch of doctors offering preventive health care.

This, along with the continuing sabotage of the post office, is probably my worst news, & I am still hopeful, believing in Biden’s promises and seeing more and more people getting vaccinated. She has pre-registered where she can. Hope for us we will not have to behave in debased ways chasing anyone by phone or email for an appointment. That she is not yet vaccinated is one of the reasons our lives have not changed much. We did get an appointment at the AARP for the people to make out our taxes; I gather we will bring the forms we have that we have made out as best we can and sit on one of a door, and the tax forms be done on the other.

Two weeks after Izzy is vaccinated, I will go to a hairdresser and have my hair cut and dyed. Then perhaps she and I can have some plan to go out, have a lunch outside with Laura. We will exercise care, still wear masks, socially distance, no museums as yet, and I will be cancelling my trip to Ireland once more, hoping for late summer 2022. But we will be a little freer — she to go look at the Cherry Blossom trees, me to visit a couple of friends more often (Mary Lee, Panorea)


Tom Hollander as Doctor Thorne in Julian Fellowes’s adaptation (I am growing quite fond of a number of the scenes)

My happy satisfying news is all from my participation in reading groups connected back to my love of Trollope and from my teaching at the two OLLIs. First, I did another online live talk, this one on Doctor Thorne. The Chairman of the Society, Dominic Edwardes graciously put the video on the Trollope website, and as well as the text of my talk. He does this so beautifully, especially the video with a photo of me, blurb about me and chosen quote, I urge those who come here regularly to go over and see what I look like and the bit of autobiography that is placed there.

I put the video her too, to have it on my blog, and if a reader would prefer to read it more conveniently here.

I did tell about my upcoming summer courses at both OLLIs: I’ll repeat Two Novels of Longing, which I did very successfully at the Mason OLLI in the winter, at the AU OLLI June 4 week summer study group; I’ll do Post-Colonialism and the Novel at the Mason OLLI 6 week summer course June/July (scroll down for description). This second is a new one, I’ll be teaching books and authors I’ve never taught before. And my proposal for fall at OLLI at AU has also been accepted:

Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5)

The 5th Palliser refocuses us on Plantagenet & Lady Glen, now Duke & Duchess of Omnium, Phineas & Marie (Madame Max) Finn are characters in the story of the Duke & Duchess’s political education as he takes office and she becomes a political hostess. We delve practical politics & philosophies asking what is political power, patronage, elections, how can you use these realities/events. A new group of characters provide a story of corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. And what power have women? We’ll also read Trollope’s short colonialist Orwellian The Fixed Period, & short online writing by Victorian women (Caroline Norton, Harriet Martineau, Francis Power Cobb, Margaret Oliphant).

I just hope I will enjoy all three as much as I’ve been enjoying reading and teaching the four women writers I’m doing in this 20th Century Women’s Political Novels. I have not enjoyed reading books so much in a long time, I just am loving Bowen, Manning, Hellman, and all the books about them and other 20th century women writers, mostly of the left, living through both world wars, traveling about — not just the novels and memoirs for the course but their essays, life-writing, and the movies adapted from these and about their lives. If you read what might seem a dry-as-dust supplementary reading list, you are grazing over profound treasures of thought, feeling, eloquence, activity. I think this is what spurred me on to write again.

How marvelous are women writers writing about politics in novels of the 20th century. I honestly can’t say which of the texts I’ve been reading I love more: Manning’s Balkan trilogy, Bowen’s Collected Impressions, Lillian Hellman‘s Unfinished Memoir and Pentimento, Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Bowen or Hermione Lee’s several books on the women I’m reading (Lee is a brilliant literary critic, no one close reads the way she does so entertainingly and profoundly), Eve Patten and Phyllis Lassner on these British and American women. I’ve read more of the poets of Alexandria at the time, including a few Greek women. I never tire of Fortunes of War. I hope to write a wondrous blog on Bowen, her prose is weighty with a world of feeling and precise intelligent thought, her style just brilliant, Shakespearean to me. I’ve bought myself several volumes of biographies of these women too — when I can make time for these I don’t know: I have to hope to live a long time after I can no longer teach.


I very much profited from and enjoyed watching the 2015 Suffragettes this week too (script writer, director, producers all women, my favorite actresses, including Carey Mulligan, Ann-Marie Duffy, Sally Hawkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai &c)

On twitter the question was asked, which actor resonates in your heart and body the most: for me it’s still Ralph Fiennes (a non-sequitor)


From the Dig, see my blog on Luxor, Oliver Sacks his life, and Dig: Et in Arcadia Ego

I was relieved that I could not give the paper I tried to write a year ago on historical romance (I would have had to do it this coming week), sometimes called “Trespassers in Time,” sometimes “Wheelchairs, Vases, and Neolithic Stones” because unless I could record myselfgiving it, the ASECS group would not have it, so I find my CFP for last year’s cancelled EC/ASECS is good again:

The function of material and still extant objects & places in historical fiction

Martha Bowden in her Descendents of Waverley argues that really there, or still extant recognizable and famous objects in a historical romance function to provide both authenticity and familiarity. I suggest such objects also function inspirationally for authors as well as enabling readers also to become trespassers in time, a phrase DuMaurier uses for her time- and place-traveling in her fiction. I call for papers which focus on material objects and places in historical fiction set in the 18th century and novels which time-travel to and from the 18th century. I also welcome treatments of books written in the 18th century where the focus is on past history as well as any encounters any of us have had with material objects (it’s fine to use manuscripts, paintings, and movies which set us off on our journeys into the 18th century or particular projects we’ve written essays or books or set up exhibits about).

I can use the paper now put aside,  and for the first time ever I’ve thought of people to ask to join the panel (myself! asking others): I shall email the guy who ran this panel this and last and the year before (each time with me giving a paper on it, once a very good one on the Poldark books) and ask him if he would give a paper. It will be virtual conference so it doesn’t matter if he lives and teaches in Montana, which he does. And I’ll ask him for names of the other people. Now he may say no. I even expect it, but that I have someone to ask is a sort of progress for someone like me. I am keeping up my reading on women’s historical romance and Outlander every word each night. I’ve finished the first volume and begun the second, Dragonfly in Amber.


There’s strength in this Cressid as there is strength in Harriet Pringle (who was originally to get the part), with Clarence Dawson’s selfish languid self perfect for Troilus

Anything else happen of note: I told the whole of the Trojan matter story from its opening in the Iliad, through material added in the Aeneid, to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, to Shakespeare’s — I told it in a half-mocking way when I discovered over half the class didn’t know this story matter well enough or at all to get the meaning of Oliva Manning having her British characters put this astonishingly disillusioned, bitter anti-war play on in The Great Fortune: and watching the 1981 BBC version directed by Jonathan Miller I decided here too Loraine Fletcher is right: Shakespeare shows us how Cressida never had a chance to remain inviolate or once “had” by Troilus faithful to him. Some extraordinary performances: a young Benjamin Whitlow as Ulysses, Charles Gray as Pandarus (many in the class did not know the origin of the term), Suzanne Burden as Cressida, Anton Lesser as Troilus – and many others.


Shcherbakova wins the “short” women’s dance — as in opera in Gorey the performers are known by last names ….

Izzy is home this week watching World’s — a championship ice-skating tournament in Sweden — and seems content. The zoom chat she had with a young man her age has not gone anywhere. I did tell you about the proposal of marriage I received, a half-serious one (?), well he was relieved that we would not be going literally to the EC/ASECS together after all. A little there of the feeling explored in Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, which I’ve come to some very different conclusions about in reading slowly with a group: like Trollope’s Miss Dunstable’s way of coping with her foolish self-involved suitors (Doctor Thorne), Brookner in Hotel du Lac has taught me something about older mistaken potentially harmful conventional goals using the allurement of marriage (companionship) too. I read to discover myself and take heed like my heroines. I hope Izzy has wisdom to feel good about what life has brought her this year too. She does yearn to go back to the office; she misses the casual continual contact and felt relationships. Old lady that I am I am so grateful to Jim and chance — and my own hard work for years (though I made so little money, I helped us a lot during harder times) for my comfortable home. I am happy among my books and with my computers working and my daughter and my cats ….

But we are not yet out of the pandemic nor had Biden truly been able to rescue us from the GOP fascist dictatorship threats (for example, stopping huge numbers of people from voting through the use of this filibuster). But we must trust as yet to keeping hope alive.


Clarycat appreciating spring too – what a noisy cat Ian has become! obstreperous, demanding, intensely affectionate bodily ….

Ellen

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Back from Trader Joe’s this morning, Izzy put the yellow flowers I bought on the credenza, my photo includes this year’s tree

Dear friends and readers,

Another year draws to a close, my 8th winter without Jim. I don’t have the ambition or confidence of previous years to review another year in books, or movies; instead I thought I’d mark the time by framing what stands out tonight, what I want to recommend, with just a couple of Louise Gluck’s poems from Averno, her 10th collection of poetry, wintry as its title. I am gradually learning to love her poetry, and understand why the Nobel committee awarded her their prize this year.

From October, No 5 drew my mind because I remembered myself at age 24 during a two-hour subway trip to Brooklyn College reading intently, a small volume of poems, Minor Poets of the Eighteenth Century, chosen and seemingly edited by Hugh L’Anson Faussett, immersing myself, shutting out the world around me (screeching with noise, very ugly) with the melancholy, picturesque poetry of retirement of the era (Anne Finch, John Dyer, especially). Gluck also refers to the “ornamental lights of the season” which are (those I can see) outside my house, to which I contribute two sets, one on each of my miniature magnolia trees.

October, No. 5

It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees: we are

companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private house,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a devise to refute
perception — At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world:

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.

I remember that particular morning because when I got to my stop, I jumped out of the train, and left my little book behind. Oh how I grieved. I had found it in the Strand; I could not duplicate it in any way. Well this evening another copy of this edition is on a shelf behind me, I took down, a faded green covered volume I re-bought many years later off bookfinder.com, through the internet. Although I have not chosen two poems which show this, she is especially effective in her use of classical mythic figures — Persephone her icon.

Gluck’s Persephone: someone abducted, raped, imprisoned, then a bargain struck by predator Pluto/Hades with her mother Ceres/Demeter so she spends 6 months free and it’s spring
on earth, and 6 months in hell. A wanderer. No focus on her and her mother that is intimate.


A ruined temple to Apollo near Lake Averno


Ian today, one of my mostly silent companions


Clarycat too


One of Laura’s adorably innocently loving kittens, Maxx (photo taken by her)

Then dwelling here for a moment to answer the question does one book stand out for you from all the year’s reading as what you’d like to remind others of or recommend because it has important knowledge, compassion, beauty and truth in it: well, J. R. Ackerley’s tribute to his canine beloved, My Dog Tulip (non-human animals living lives as valuable as worthy as ours), Marjolaine Boutet’s Un Village Francaise: Une histore de l’Occupation, Saisons 1 a 7 (telling sincere truths about French life, society, occupied France, what happened and the aftermath). Any movie or serial for TV, on the internet: at the opening of this year I was still watching The Durrells (profoundly humane, delightful comedy, the tragic there too, from Gerald’s fat book).


Keeley Hawes, one of several beloved actresses, reading aloud Dowson’s “Days of Wine and Roses” to her 4 children & her household (Season 2, Episode 4)

I gave myself a course in E.M. Forster, the Bloomsbury group in all their phases, and what I could read of Black (Afro-diaspora, several blogs) and post-colonial literature and biography (ditto).

So here we are again (31 days before Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office at last, and do what they can to rescue the people of the US from the results of a disastrous 4 years), winter solstice:

Louise Gluck, October, No 4:

The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.

This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared

The songs have changed; the unspeakable
has entered them.

This is the light of autumn, not the light that says
I am reborn.

Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered.
This is the present, an allegory of waste.

So much has changed. And still, you are
fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.

The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful.
They have been concentrated in a smaller space, the space of the mind.
They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish.

And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly
in anticipation of silence.
The ear gets used to them.
The eyes gets used to disappearances.

You will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared.

A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.

How privileged you are, to be passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.

Maestro, doloroso:

This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.

But I hope I will be spared, my two daughters and son-in-law — and all the friends and acquaintances I know — from COVID, impoverishment and despair,


A photograph I found on the Net this year: Amy Helen Johannsen, Woman Hitching Dangerous Ride, Bangladesh

Ellen

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Seascapes — Sara Sitting (I am not sure about this title or artist but very much like the image)

On morning early this week (Sunday) I remembered when in the mid-1970s Jim and I lived on Seaman Avenue in Manhattan (200th street, below the Cloisters hill) we would summer time on Tuesday and Thursday take our dog, Llyr, and drive to Jones Beach in the morning. There was a beach where dogs were allowed. We’d bring coffee & croissants for ourselves, water and biscuits for Llyr. We’d go in the water, stay close to shore (no life guards). Those were happy mornings long ago … I thought of this as I saw my neighbors, two married gay guys taking their dog to a nearby private pool …. the difference between now and then — includes then it was public beach, now it’s an expensive private pool. I did long to get out of the house, go to where the horizon stretches out and stand by the world’s waters — thus the above image by Sitting

On another I woke remembering a dream Laura outlined at the end of our time with Izzy in Calais last summer: upon retirement, she’d buy a second house for her and Izzy in Florida or some warm place, & they’d live there winters; and the present house I occupy summers — though now I’m thinking it’d be a bit hot here. They could sell my library and go to Vermont. I ahd found the idea of them together when I am gone comforting. I would not worry so about Izzy and feel better about Laura having a good companion

My image for this was Beatrice Potter’s Two Rabbits because Jim as a boy read the Potter books and even into his old age would suddenly quote from a scene or refer to Jemima Puddleduck or wry Potter characters

Last The comet. I am told there is a comet in the sky just now. One night around 10 pm Izzy and I took our binoculars and went for a walk around — that’s when the sky is dark where I live. We didn’t spot the comet — I don’t know what to look for. But we did see a sky filled with stars. Not strong as light pollution is too pervasive but we did see a sky just twinkling with many little lights. And a couple of stronger ones too. A comet apparently looks like a moving star ….

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been almost three weeks now and I’ve made no entry because during mid-day I’ve been busy (driving myself to work on my Anne Finch review, immersed in the true wonders, good values and texts by and about the Bloomsbury group), and at night so tired, watching A French Village (up to season 6 now — what an education about real life politics during war), and as usual often melancholy, depressed, so worried about this endlessly spinning out calamity (COVID19, the devastation of unemployment deliberately spread by Republican-Trump policies) and how it might affect Izzy and I. But I do have a topic to share and performers to recommend: my education in the context of the US educational system generally speaking, and (among others) the comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Douglas.

Last week was the time OLLI at AU runs its “July Shorts:” these are courses which last just one week, and take place anywhere from 3 to all 5 days, about 90+ minutes each meeting. (They do the same kind of thing in February each year.) I could not myself teach such a course, and even going to them when it means driving there can be too much of a burden. Last week it was just sitting in front of my computer three times to participate in a four time course on the American education system (or some such title) so I registered and zoomed in. The two men leading the discussions, lecturing presented excellent material: good information, thoughtful commentary, genuine explanations for phenomena. I had to miss the fourth, because it took place in precisely the same time as each week I once a week give a course at OLLI at Mason on the Bloomsbury group: 90 minutes on the status of teachers K-12 (low, 80% female and white still) and the history and developments in chartered schools. While I trust my every instinct to distrust privately funded (you must pay as a parent to some extent) this is a means to destroy public education, to turn desperately needed good education into profit-making ventures (like medicine), and to pull in taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to support turning schools into places with a false appeal of supposed choice and exclusionary policies — while I am distrustful I would have liked to hear an unbiased account.


A Community high school

Their over-riding theme was the need to make the system far more equal for everyone; as presently conducted the way US education works, its effect, is to increase the inequalities or (to be more frank) set up inequalities among children from day one, reinforce class, money and other social disadvantages. To produce badly or uneducated children whose whole outlook is shaped by narrow ill-informed prejudices. This is achieved (it’s wanted) by a mechanism or reality which lies at the core of all US inequality and social ignorance: residential localism. All education in the US is controlled locally, by localities; the schools are funded locally (by a town or at most city), with some controls placed on what they can and should teach and how they must behave by state laws. The state provides funds too, as does the federal gov’t (8 to 15% depending on how poor the district is, so the poorer get 15% or close to that, and the richer 8% or close to that). Any change in this is fiercely fought. As with the delivery of medical services in the US, the whole thing is endlessly fragmented, done differently in different states, with endless pockets of people in effect isolated from others — even nearby. This is exacerbated by he complete divorce between K-12 and post-secondary or higher education. The two groups run on different tracks, and both are (as a result) somewhat hostile to one another due to caricatures.

The public picture of schools in the US is distorted and falsifying — especially in the post-secondary area where education is suddenly expected (by many Americans) to directly lead to or produce jobs. It does not. Parents and students are paying for a certificate in an area of knowledge; nothing more is (literally) contracted for. The picture the public has as de rigueur or common is a four year college aspiring to at least look like Harvard, small private campus college, or state-supported be-prized institution measured by the US News and World Report. Only 17-18% of young US adults go to a four year college. 80% of young adults are enrolled in some form of publicly-funded post-secondary education, many of which are community colleges, which are weak on needed vocational training and apprenticeships. The fancy internships for upper middle professions are found in the 4 year institutions (and pay nothing). The average student is 27 and the majority are female, perhaps married, with one child. She is looking to “better herself” in the commercial marketplace. As to elite schools that are written about so much (this is the public media pretending that the small middle class is pervasive) less than 2% go to colleges like Harvard, Stanford — and where my younger daughter went, Sweet Briar (she had what was called a complete scholarship so it cost each term about what George Mason did for my younger daughter six years before).


This is a private and charter school — all white

K-12: 11% of children to teenagers are in private schools, of which 9-10% are religious schools, aka schools run by overtly religious groups (or in the south where there is more than a pretense a Christian academy for whites — these sprung up after Brown v Board of Education). The children of upper class and middling parents are taught self-esteem, self-assertiveness, how to cope with others and negotiate your way through life, to be pro-active for individual initiative at home; they have books at home to read; by keeping them away from the rest of the population, you leave that rest to become unexamined obedient instruments of capitalist enterprises — with the emphasis on obedience to group norms and acceptance of punitive measures to keep them that way. They are not to expect “perks” like art classes, music, shop, Advanced Placement (with better paid teachers) where they might learn what are their particular gifts.

The way the game is kept this way is fragmentation — the same thing is done in the area of US medicine (and now we see how US medicine is delivered is horrifyingly inadequate if there is any question of truly serious illness in the population). Those in the richer districts do not want to share their money with others. Most married Americans with children chose where they live in accordance with the schools available in the area. There is a tremendous gap between governance (those who govern, school boards) and anything to transform achievement gaps. No comprehensive school services across many districts (like social workers, nurses)

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


Duncan Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy Street

All this for four days and watching what the 40 or so people in the class looked like as they listen, what they said made me remember my own experience. In fact my education enabled me to escape a stultifying working class background, and today still (even after Jim’s death 8 years now) live a life of the mind immersed in high culture in a comfortable house with books and nowadays computers. I am not altogether an anomaly because between the years 1946 and 1970 other trends and left-overs from the FDR era mitigated some inequalities, plus the way to be promoted and thought well of is through academic style tests where your ability to cope with language and math (symbols) are tested, your ability to memorize and what you have read and studied made the groundwork of the tests. On all these I did spectacularly well — as did Jim. Jim got 800 on both GREs to enter graduate school; I got 800 on the English and 798 on the math, at which he quipped: “Ellen was always weak in math.”

I know one of my prides is this education of mine: that I have a Ph.D. is central to my ability to hold up my head. I know how I was relieved to go to grade school to escape my parents’ house with their continual fierce fighting and the tensions and miseries of poverty and anger and frustration. It was a mecca. I know that once I got into my senior year in high school and throughout high school, college, even graduate school, I loved going to classes. In talking on FB of what colleges cannot do to set themselves up to teach students kept socially distant I remembered how for a year at Leeds University (for which I won a scholarship, my year of study abroad where I met Jim) I was given a tutor one-on-one. We met once a week to talk and together study Chaucer and medieval English and French romance. How scared I was at first of the professor; how young she was with a silver urn. I read so carefully each week. I also had wider tutorials with 4 students to a lecturer. Then Izzy at Sweet Briar had similar experiences.

But I also know what I didn’t learn. As I sat in a public school in the southeast Bronx where the majority of students were African-American or hispanic, I was put into a tiny group with “real books” to read – sometimes I was a group of one. The others were reading workbooks, Dick and Jane; I was reading books like Mary Poppins. I spent some of the day making posters. But I learned no manners, my accent stayed thoroughly southeast Bronx, I never took in groups of attitudes I encountered for the first time at age 10/11 when my parents moved to Kew Gardens. Ever after I was something of an outsider. There I was in groups of children with abilities like myself only I was behind in math and science — and no one took the time to teach me fractions, long division, how to do percentages. I still stumble and only my test taking ability, memorization, and ability to work out what a paragraph wanted got me though the Regents. We did have Regents in NY state so the high schools were forced to have teachers who did spend each year covering the curriculum for say chemistry or European (called World) history.


Another Duncan Grant — this time of Vanessa Bell painting, David (Bunny) Garnett reading, studying

Jim went to a “public school” in the UK — these are private schools for the elite — as a day boy in a different colored shirt (to show he was there without paying) because he did so well on the 11 plus, it was called. But he was merged with upper class boys from age 11 to 18 and that enabled him to know how to negotiate and cope in a managerial position, at conferences, he understood expectations. He had a silvery pure prose — from years of learning Latin and translating back and forth from Latin to English. He hated his school at times – he was caned five times and still had the welts on his hands when he was in his 50s. Like me in a different way an outsider, his politics he said were philosophical anarchy. He was deeply sceptical of all professions of ideology.

College came to me because I was living in NYC where it was basically for free. I had to come up with $25 a term. I got in through the night school. Never took an SAT exam, but within the first term, got all As and so switched to daytime college. Jim’s fees were paid for by the state — the Clement Atlee reforms were still in place. I know now how odd it is for me to be proud since I never went to a name school, cannot tell of knowing this or that person, but my expectations were so low to start with, and it’s what your expectations are as you start out that you measure yourself.

I did hold out. I refused to sell myself – I would not spend my life in a 8 hour a day 5 day a week job to make a higher salary. I was able to do that by being married to Jim and accepting that we would live on less, have less things people admire in our house, or clothes, prestige house. And it is chancy but then had I spent my life working at what bored or irritated or embarrassed or was trouble for me I would not be any safer as to money. To be truly safe you must be very rich in ways Jim and I (he with his gov’t job where he was promoted based on his intellectual abilities) never came near. And we spent what we had, I still do what is coming in, to enjoy life as we went along. We did do traveling as I have done since without him. I shall miss going to the UK if this pandemic makes it impossible for me to return to Europe safely. I was comfortable in the Scottish culture and norms; each time I returned to England I felt such cheer to think this is where he was born, where he became what he was. He valued me for what my education had made of me or what I had done with it to make myself what I was and am when we met at Leeds and throughout our lives together.

I did grow irritated at the course because when I would speak I could see that what I had to say was not wanted. Many of the people wanted to pretend they were for equality more than they were and they wanted to remain upbeat and talk of hopeful changes. One of the two leaders twice told a story of a teacher making a home visit and how the hispanic family all came out dressed just for her. I had a home visit when I was putting Izzy in the pre-school: the two women I learned later wrote up a very hostile description of me and my house (all the books offended). It seems Jim and I were at fault for my daughter’s disability. Others kept talking of how important success outside school, in businesses, was — in ways that showed they had no idea this is the kind of thing that cannot be taught. It is social cunning imbibed from your family habitat. I told a little of my experience in a southeast Bronx public school – it was not appreciated because it was downbeat. One was to be constructive. Large abstract pessimism is good, not local true-to-life anedote which exemplifies stubborn real obstacles.

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So this piece of genuine autobiography in the context of a course I just took has taken me time to write and space to do it in. So I shall save for next time some of the wonderful books I’ve read these past 3 weeks, movies, art works looked at, music listened to, Laura’s kittens, and end on music and comedy. Now just onto experiences I’ve had I would not ever have been able to without so much coming online — ingenious people determined to reach everyone at home, to socialize, to make money in their professions.

This past Saturday I took a chance and paid $20 to listen to Jonas Kauffman in concert from the Met. At first I shuddered at the hype introduction, over-dressed woman, and began to fear this would be glittering commercial phony-ness, but bear with the opening 8 minutes, and they leave you alone to listen and watch. An hour and 20 minutes of moving magnificient songs from this handsome and extraordinarily talented actor-singer. Sometimes he was in an old (Baroque?) Bavarian church, and sometimes it was clips from him in costume in a opera. I just love his “Pourquoi me reveiller?” I learned to like and to appreciate and love opera through my 45 years with Jim. The songs sung made me remember our relationship

And then Hannah Gadsby. I have joined online an aspergers group I could never have reached, am attending regularly and making a few acquaintance friends I look forward to seeing again. We talk about things I have trouble with and am given good advice. How to stop interrupting people at the wrong time when I am just trying to join in. What I’m doing wrong? — I am not recognizing their flow of talk and its origins and understanding where it will subside. They meet once a month to discuss a book or movie or person who is known to be autistic or writes about the condition.

It was 10 at night and I had been thinking somehow that I had not laughed in a long time. This is probably untrue. Only I couldn’t remember any true exhilaration either — well only inward exhilaration. I had promised for a coming Zoom session to watch Hannah Gadsby, an Australian comedienne “out”as autistic and lesbian. I did laugh and she made me feel better. On Netflix: I’d say I laughed more during Nanette because she did startle me, but the second,Douglas, with her dog as its center, was brilliant. I gathered from both “autism is seeing what no one else has noticed” and autistic people because we are different and vulnerable are more patient, tolerant, accepting of other people in all their variety Here is a clip from Douglas:

What awoke me to a certain cheer was my thought a way to understand her is: :if I can stand life on these terms, amid these cruel and inane absurdities, so can you.” Douglas contains one of the most brilliant exposures of quite what we are looking out in some of these fossilized religious devotional pictures. Hardly anyone really looks at them.

Then I read into a new humane Guide to Aspergers Syndrome by Tony Attwood arguing strongly the label should not be dropped. It is a different quality of disability but nonetheless disability. Nanette closes with her re-telling how she was attacked at a bus station.


Izzy’s new chair

While we are on this subject: this past Sunday Izzy and I managed to find a store Jim used to take me to to buy decent well made furniture — wood mostly. Izzy badly needs a new chair and I could use a small table in the kitchen. What a time we had! Very nervous trying to remember the name of the place and then the street. All I could think was chair store and Edsall Avenue. Well google and mapquest finally turned up a photo of the place that I recognized. I find things out by pictures. So, armed with 2 printed out mapquests, and Izzy programming Waze (then plugged into i-something or other, after which we turn off Godsford Park music and voila there is that lady’s voice), we made it. We have figured out how to put Waze to sleep (not to quit it, that’s not possible apparently)

I did get confused coming back and was nervous the whole time. My mind continually slightly flustered. I had not been out in the car to a new place in quite a while — I cannot find the category for this in Attwood’s book — it is probably under movement in space but there is nothing specific. I have hunted in the book. But Izzy bought a pretty ivory colored wood chair. She looks so comfortable in it. Here is her latest song:

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I never was able to find the place near us where there is testing for COVID19. I did discover that in the Alexandria there are places where you can be tested nearly for free, several cost starting $50, and many many more $150 – $300. Nuts. Why do some cost $300 — luxurious surroundings? But why try for anything labelled $150-$300? I have to find the place too. Of course Kaiser will test us but we must have symptoms to be eligible. She is to go into to work at the library this coming Thursday and may start going in once a week. She has fashion masks, santizer, and I have ordered a face shield for her.

Have I mentioned this time yet that I believe unqualified uncontrolled predatory capitalism everywhere in our lives in the US is at the core of the failed society of the US we are now experiencing — one result of this is thousands and thousands of deaths because we have no central govt that wants to do anything but exploit and abuse us. So another result of the miserable state of education across the US today and I end where I began this diary entry blog.

Ellen

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Izzy took this photo of a tree on our block on her way to work about a week ago ….

Dear friends,

I’ve two happenings in my life since last I wrote that have mattered and I want to remember — and share with others. One began some 5 weeks ago now, and has (I regret to say) come to an end: I attended 4 sessions on 4 works by Margaret Atwood led, taught, more or less shaped by Elaine Showalter. I took a class she gave this past summer on Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, the book, together with the two film adaptations, the 1958 travesty which reversed Greene’s point of view, so that instead of an exposure of US brutality, and ruthless colonialism (as the US took over from the French) in Vietnam, we were to see Pyle as a hero undermined by Fowler, and the 2002 Philip Noyce film, which presented the book’s searing condemnation, but (as it had to) diluted by the usual anti-woman point of view of spy-thriller-mysteries. I was a bit disappointed in Dr/Prof (shall I give her the proper title?) Showalter’s presentation of clips from the two films (she is not a student of film) but I could see in her treatment of the book subtle insight where it mattered, albeit held back by her awareness of the pro-Americanism and patriarchal domination (by a few of the men and silence of the women) of the class members’ conversation.


A recent photo

Well in presenting Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, The Edible Woman, Stone Mattress, and a few texts online (like “Rape Fantasies” from 1975) to a class just about made up of all women (in each there was one male, but not the same one) she was not so held back: I found myself in a room of suddenly not-silent older women, intelligent and willing to speak for real. She was also absolutely in command of her material, which included a history of feminism (she told of events and phases in the 1970s-80s 2nd phase which she had partaken in), a full study of Atwood (well maybe she was not as up on the poetry as she ought to have been), and generous as well as evaluative responses to her audience (I’ll call this) for real.

I have long been an admirer of her books. How I was inspired by her A Literature of Their Own I told her at the end of that summer’s class. Over the years various of her essays, amused by her Faculty Towers — albeit taken aback by her buoyant optimistic outlook which in the 1970s I had not discerned. I began not to be sure how to take her – the way I am not sure about Margaret Anne Doody any more. I tell myself their willingness to conform, and real cheer reveals complacency due to luck; this temperament is how they got ahead — as well as having had the right parents or home environment that taught them what networking is, gone to the name respected schools. But I found myself forgiving her even when, as in a recent review of a biography of Susan Sontag where Showalter faults her for speaking out against the blind reaction to 9/11 (Sontag said, rightly, that this kind of thing is what the US as a military power has been serving up to other countries and all socialist progressives for decades): she lost adherents. There are more important things than our place in public media. I was able to speak of my own anorexia in one class, and in others contribute moderately to the discussion for real — though I soon understood most of the woman there, as in the OLLI at AU, I am not like most of those speaking as most of them (like Showalter) had gone to name colleges (where they had to pay real money to get in, pass interviews), most worked for much more money in professional occupations they were promoted in; or they were upper class home-makers for successful men. I’ve never experienced any of that — though I could (as no one else did) speak to what it is to have an eating disorder for real.

She was unpretentious, genial, as far as realistically possible, candid. It was enough to almost make me have some faith in the possibility of the academic world honoring someone worth honoring. Almost but I consider that if the norm is not this at least I have found an instance of a woman of integrity, remaining a Feminist (as she said of herself when described by the late Harold Bloom, the usual small man, with a capital letter), nonetheless rewarded. Not that she could understand someone like me. I do not kid myself. I volunteered when the class was talking of 1970s feminism that before then I found when I knew I wanted to write my dissertation on rape in Clarissa I couldn’t. I didn’t have the language to talk of this kind of crucial event in many women’s lives which would not shame me, would force me into taking attitudes I knew were falsifying my own experience. She looked surprised.

I am alive to the irony that at 72 I could have a somewhat self-altering experience from coming into contact with an outstanding woman I can admire. She told of what it was actually like to be a judge of the International Booker Prize, and I learned about this prize from an aspect I’d not considered: how sometimes when one wins, it can harm your career if the publishers and promotional booksellers don’t think your book is capable of being a best-seller. I’ve regathered up the books by her I own, the essays I have in my computer, and am making my way slowly through her Inventing Herself, which I hope to write a separate blog on for my Austen reveries, where I’ll include some of our discussion on Edible Woman and “Rape Fantasies” especially. It is too late to make any effective change in my life. I tell myself I will finally read all of A Jury of Her Peers, tackle Sexual Anarchy (on the fin-de-siecle) and go back to her 1980s essays.


Mary Trouille

I am reminded of how the French 18th century scholar Mary Trouille asked my some 10 years ago to be on her panel and deliver a paper on Rape in Clarissa. I didn’t have to produce a proposal, just send general thoughts, and then Mary included me in her decisions as to who to include, and I saw why she chose who she did. I longed then to have had such a woman as my dissertation adviser, or what’s called a mentor. Gentle reader, I never had what’s called a mentor. I had written a thorough good and favorable review of Mary’s book on wife abuse in the mid-18th century, and she had appreciated that. But she did what she did because she understood my mind moved in the same tracks as hers did. Mary also wrote Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment: Women Read Rousseau, which I studied, and she is the first modern translator of the important book by Rétif de la Bretonne, where in the person of his daughter, he retells the horrific abuse she suffered from her husband, and how all around her were complicit in urging her to endure it, Ingenue Saxoncour, or The Wife Separated from her Husband, which I have just bought! In all I’ve written about rape and abuse hitherto I’ve relied on a reprint of the 18th century French text.

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Gettysburg Hotel, 1 Lincoln Square

It was not the first EC/ASECS conference I attended partly at Gettysburg Hotel, and partly on the campus; I had come here with Jim in 2006 and remember vividly the day’s trip and talk (from a guide) around the infamous & huge battlefield. At that conference I gave a paper on Anne Murray Halkett and broke out in hives (hardly anyone came and I had delivered it badly; it was too long and too indirect). I’ve been going to these EC/ASECS conferences for some 20 years, almost without a break and was awarded the only prize I ever have gotten — for service to the group. I flubbed for I didn’t sit where I was supposed to, too embarrassed. This year I am chair of the Molin Award committee.


Gettysburg college

So what new mattered? The regional group seemed to come alive again on this 50th anniversary and I had a very good time at the sessions I attended, felt rejuvenated by the conversations I had with people who share my valuation of scholarship enough that they seem to be spending their existence as I do — or try to do. I drove myself there and back,without too much anxiety — I used both my garmin and the Waze app on my cell phone (which I still can’t get to talk). The person who was supposed to chair the Johnson panel didn’t come and asked me to substitute for him, and for the first time I didn’t read a paper through, instead half-read and half-talked it. The room was full, with a number of Johnsonians (!) and I was commended for my performance as chair. Thomas Curley’s paper was a retelling of his magnificent work on Robert Chambers with the startling (apparently to many in the room) that Johnson was a major collaborator in Chambers’s first works on law. Tom had parallel passages showing texts from this collaboration (in effect) and Johnson’s (highly conservative) False Alarm, Taxation No Tyranny &c — showing Johnson justifying colonialism, taxing colonies, and not all that against slavery. Chambers went on to become a supreme Chief Justice in India — married a woman many years younger than himself.

He had come a long way — I went to dinner with him — a cab to a plane, a plane and then rented a car. He is an older man and it was gratifying to see that his work is at least being made more public. He said since he wrote he has had hardly any sense anyone paid attention — someone remarked people might feel they have enough Johnson, also there’s the problem of what’s his.


Aspects of Biography — I referred to this during the session

I also was so gratified to listen to Lance’s paper and afterwards talk with him (as a Johnson expert) and a couple of other people. What emerged is that my view that Savage was a fraud, that the woman he claimed was his mother was not so at all is not uncommon! It was that insight that I couldn’t get past — I couldn’t get myself to write on Johnson’s Life of Savage because while it is a extraordinary work of biographical art, paradoxically it is centrally wrong and I felt I must bring that out. I wish I had known that more people think this – -they don’t write it down lest they be attacked or find themselves in a morass. That wouldn’t have bothered me. I find the Life of Savage more interesting because Johnson is so deluded — bonding so with this man and yet has written a remarkable strong biographical work. Lance and I talked of Holmes’s book and how his analysis of the trial is particularly illuminating — the man was also a thug murderer. I know to talk to students of this as a remarkable biography and maybe to the average person so “fact” oriented this would not make sense. But it does to me. Lance’s paper was about how much that is written about London is based on conclusions with inadequate evidence about Savage’s relationship to the poem.

I felt my own paper on the literature of Culloden and its aftermath went over very well — I did read it but it’s written in a talking style (I’ve put it on academia.edu so anyone may download and read it). We had a much larger audience than I anticipated as there were two other panels with far better known people going on at the same time.

I disappointed my self only when it came to going to the Irish folk singing in a tavern on Saturday night. I get almost no chance for such experiences, but I came back with Tom (above) at 8:45 pm or so and there was no one around to go with. It was dark, looked like a longish walk and I chickened out. But (I tell myself) I read away in my room and was fresh for the long Saturday. I will tell of this conference and some of the papers in more impersonal way on Austen reveries. For now we can listen to Jim McCann and the Dubliners singing Carrickfergus — I remember Coilin Owen, who was a friend, an older faculty member at Mason, liked this one so (he died this fall)

Most of all to be with like-minded kindly intelligent well-educated people who are spending their lives the way I am, who value the humanities, arts, liberal in thought was like coming to a halcyon haven.

It was important because (I find I must tell because not to speak of it would be to falsify this life-writing blog) for three days and nights I was bombarded by harassing bullying emails from someone accusing me of heinous treacherous behavior, I’m a freak who behaves strangely and with powers of intimidation beyond my own belief. I single-handedly seem to have silenced her face-book page (I should be so powerful…) and changed the minds of countless people towards a serial drama (seemingly at the center of her existence). I endured deep distress because I was away from this computer and could not block, ban, or respond to her restless immediate demands. I’ve had many soul-shaking experiences in social life both on- and off-line but this was a new form for me. Unfortunately (I’ve been told) I cannot ban her from seeing my blogs: the only way to do this is to make the blogs private and then other people could read it only if they have passwords. The same holds true of my time-line on face-book: I cannot ban anyone from reading it unless I make it private. I gathered from what she said she had been reading my blogs almost obsessively and with intense interest for months! I wondered if not setting up software to allow this makes more profit for face-book and wordpress.

It is (I hope) over, because I can ban all remarks from being recorded on the blogs, from reaching my gmail, and myself block seeing any remarks she makes on face-book. I am not sure this is enough, but I will not be threatened out of writing about the realities I come up against and have been helped to put this in perspective by my daily experience at the OLLIS I teach at, on listservs and different face-book pages, and during this time this conference (which I did have trouble in concentrating on — say the papers, the driving — and in sleeping).

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For the rest over the last three weeks I continued to go to classes, teach very successfully (Phineas Finn just about teaches itself) and carry on life with Izzy and my two cats. Two Caturdays on face-book: October 12th:


Clarycat

It is my cats who keep me sane because every morning they do want food, across the day they do enact a calm collected pattern of behavior which keeps them alive and active (they often look interested in what is going on around them), they rest collectedly and follow me about and would be disturbed if in my human way I acted out what I feel in my consciousness. They are alert around 5 waiting for their evening meal. They wait to play with string wit me around 6:30 pm each night as Izzy and I prepared our meal. They are there in my room late at night waiting to go to bed with me. If I behave in an upset way, they get upset. So they help keep me sane. Here are two further pictures of this needed Clarycat taken by Marni during the week I was away from her and Ian this August at Calais. Right now she is resting in her cat-bed and Ian is nearby gazing out the window while I sit and read and write at my desk in the same room.


Ian (as Jim used to say) “resting from the rigors of his existence while I work-play away on my teaching of the Pallisers DVD episodes adapting/along with Trollope’s novel, Phineas Finn. The other part of this desk has a laptop where I’m playing one of the DVDs. If you look carefully, you will see his eyes are open. He has two comfort toys under him — the small grey mouse with a tail and the smaller varied colored-mouse with a bell on a ribbon.

My cat, Ian, continually hides, and each time I find the new difficult-to-find hiding place and he realizes I know where he is, he will find a new one. A cat’s mind and motivations deviate utterly from the person he or she is genuinely attached to. They are predators and distrust the world — they have hardly any weapons now that they have evolved into 10-12 pound creatures. So the hiding is an experience of renewed comfort — he was in a comfort zone. One problem I have is I rely on my confidence he did not get out of the house and my sense of him that the last thing he really wants to do is escape: he keeps away from the door most of the time. Once when he was a kitten, and before the porch was enclosed he leapt into it; I got so excited at him, he never did that again. Why that’s a problem is occasionally or regularly I pay people to do stuff in my house. Every other week a 2-3 women to clean. So I feel I have to be here to let them in or out so as to be at the door when they come in; when I’ve had contractors in I manage to close both cats into Izzy’s room. But it means sometimes having to miss something so I can be here when the door opens and closes. Or I’d regularly lose peace of mind over wary Ian.


For my present Friday movie class (genre, gender, race & class in American film) I re-watched Woody Allen’s (and Diane Keaton in) Annie Hall for the first time in decades — I found much that still made me laugh, but on the whole felt saddened because romance companionship can be a form of happiness and it’s one beyond me now forever

What am I looking forward to: working away on my Poldark/Winston Graham and historical fiction projects; now a review of Berta Joncus’s immense Kitty Clive, or the Fair Songster. It’s hard for me because it’s part musicology — but it tells a story of the second half of Clive’s life that resonates with me. After Catherine Clive became so successful on stage, she attracted deep resentment, envy, and found herself under severe attack and had to alter her act to make fun of herself, to humiliate and ridicule herself to carry on. She needed to make money. Finally she retired to live on Horace Walpole’s estate. I’m not sure the biography goes over this second half but no one in my knowledge ever even explained the second half of her life

And after all I must read the long densely researched life of Charlotte Lennox — by Susan Carlile. I had put it up on the shelf in order to get on with Margaret Oliphant. Now I think no hurry on that any more. One of the scholarly experts on Lennox, a friend of mine, was at the conference & for the “newsletter” (it’s become a journal really) wrote a long review of this important book. Two new biographical books on Vittoria Colonna are sitting on my desk, and one interpretive of her relationship with Michelangelo. I still want to return to my Italian and French studies. And I’m back to studying a film adaptation of one of Austen’s books, the fragmentary Sanditon (scroll down to the last part of the blog), which I re-read this weekend.

So, gentle reader, I don’t change very much after all but the two experiences I’ve tried to convey here have made me feel somewhat better about the world and myself.

Ellen

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A flowering bush in my front garden

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

Friends,

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


Bookermania

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

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

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

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

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


May Whittie, Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes)

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

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


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


2018 — Jessie Buckley and Dougray Scott as Marion and Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Classical heroine who did not need birth control measures:

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

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

The Lemons

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Richard Feynman: I share his metaphysical and pro-education outlook and assigned his books to classes for many years …

Friends,

This I wrote four days ago upon waking:

I looked out the window and saw such a pretty winter scene — the differently colored leaves (some withered, some not) scattered in the light green grass like decorations. I love these darker flowering bushes, the auburns, and browns, the chrysanthemums, bareness and configurations of the trees, the light blues and pinks in the sky. I find winter’s austerity beautiful.
And it’s another reason to stay alive.

This to someone who this morning objected to my analysing the Outlander films, one at a time each week as they are shown andp posting it onto a face-book Outlander non-censored page:

I’m with Richard Feynman: To me to know more about a thing only adds to its beauty and interest: I don’t see how it subtracts.  I taught a course in science from a humanities point of view for many years and used to read these passages aloud to my students — at three different times as they come from three different places:

To which I add Patricia Fargnoli (one of my favorite poets), a poem I’ve not posted here before:

The Room

The clock pressed the hours by,
frost blinded the windows.
The language beyond them disappeared
into ice.
If you sit in such a room you can forget.
The orange cat stretched out full-length
on the table and slept
the sleep of a careless one.
I lived there — or did not live¬ —
the future a cutoff thing,
the past not part of me anymore¬ —
smoke flying back from the train
on a Russian steppe
in an old complicated novel.
Gone, gone. Gone, gone. And goodbye.
In that standstill time, the cat and I
studied each other like mirrors —
his topaz inscrutable eyes.
I thought I was safe in the room.
The plow came to plow through the whiteness.
Because I was locked in my body
the frost climbed higher.
Because I was not safe
my arms wrapped around me.
One minute became the next¬ —
nothing shifted
except the cat
who jumped down and went to his bowl.
In the bookcase, the books leaned
to the right and glazed over.
The white Greek rugs and three bright watercolors
dulled to the gray of a wolf’s pelt.
The ice entered and shook the curtains.
Then it was time to move, however slightly

some action to break the frozen surface.
Still I did not move but the cat disappeared
into his hiding place between the boxes
under the bed.
I think of the people out in the world
moving around in their lives.
in/out, up/down, bending, standing,
wheels under them, the open skies.
How brave they all are.
In that room, I held fear
like the egg of a beast, about to break open.

and a favorite picture – by one of my favorite 20th century women artists:


Nell Blaine, Night Light Snow

Ellen

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Helena Bonham Carter as Eleanor (55 Steps, 2017)

Friends,

Tonight I’ll concentrate on one kind of experience I’ve been having a lot of these last few weeks. I’ve been watching movies screened for me, and screening movies for others in my classes. I’ll save the Tudor Matter movies for Austen reveries (especially a great one I’d never seen before, Henry VIII, scripted Peter Martin, featuring Ray Winstone), and the film adaptations of Howards End (1992 Merchant-Ivory, 2018 Lonergan for HBo) and now Room with a View (1985 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 2007 ITV Andrew Davies) for a blog on E.M. Forster, of The Nun  (1966 Jacques Rivette, 2013 Guillaume Nichols) for a blog on Diderot. What unites the rest of them?

That film has become the central medium of our time? Izzy and I also saw this past weekend a moving and creditable performance and film of Sanson et Dalila (music Camille Saint-Saens, with one exquistely beautiful song, “Responding to your tenderness” the refrain) at an HD Screening (Robert Alagna especially effective up close). Yes it has, but something else, which may be seen as a push-back against what is happening in the powerful US gov’t.

Daily the behavior of a large but countable number of groups of people who have power over the well-being, prosperity, liberty of millions of people literally around the globe grow more heinous, and what do I discover myself effortlessly watching: a series of movies exposing similar behavior of earlier groups of people. Just in the last three or four weeks or so: Battleship Potemkin, Journey’s End, Judgment at Nuremberg, A Dry White Season. As with the harassment, rape and humiliation of Christine Ford, film-makers can make these with impunity as it might seem to those countable groups of people. The Nazis at the of the Nuremberg trials were most of them set free within a short time; the situation in South Africa in 1989 was desperately grave as the South African courts would do nothing to stop mass murders and torturing of black people. One black man manages to take revenge on one chief torturer. All the men is the Journey’s End, and which generals were ever called to account for this mad slaughter. Potemkin escaped the ferocious wrath of the Czar because the Russian armed forces would not fire on them, but then no one would take these men in at any port. Story after story ends this truthful way. Last year I was stunned by Paths of Glory. Everyone in an army unit stood by while a single innocent low rank soldier was scapegoated in lieu of the general who knowingly through hundreds of lives away. Probably none of these could be made in most of the states controlled by the people I began with.

What I wonder is if telling a particular local story has more resonance. Half the population of Yemen is starving to death, and it’s hardly mentioned in mainstream or most media, but the murder by torture and dismemberment of Jamal Kashoggi is this week being heard all over public media as detail by detail is let out into the public. It is true that in the movies I’ve named our attention is called to particular protagonists, complicated victims and heroes and heroines alike. How do you sear the consciousness of someone? Diderot in his essay on slavery said it was so hard to eliminate as the world is filled with people who feel no guilt over using people as abject slaves. This to introduce yet another movie that will hit you hard based on a personal story and single performance. As 55 Steps (alternative title: Eleanor and Colette) begins we see Helena Bonham Carter being shoved, into a room where there is only one blanket; she is wearing white gown used as a strait jacket; she is shouting and protesting and begging the crowd of people not to imprison her in that room, not to inject her with the drugs and they throw her on the ground, hold her down and inject her. She goes silent and still and then begins to twitch. They walk out, shutting the door behind them. Only one high window. She soon has to go to the bathroom and no one will answer her calls for help, so she urinates and defecates in her gown and all over the floor.

It’s unforgettable. How it happens that when she is let out, cleaned, and put into a room with a bed, and given food, she has the ability to phone for a lawyer we are not told. But she does. Slowly the story emerges or evolves. she is told by Colette Hughes (Hilary Swank) that the lawyer can work to release her pretty quickly, but she can also agree to stay in the asylum longer in order to argue as representative of a class action suit. (By the way the present supreme court has done all it can to stop class action suits). Almost unbelievably Eleanor opts for the second choice. Had this not been based on a real story, I would have said here is where it is not believable.


In court with Jeffrey Tambour as Mort Cohen and Hilary Swank as Colette Hughes

This is another protest film, this time on behalf of mentally disabled or troubled patients. She seems originally to have been epileptic and still can have minor seizures. Mark Bruce Rosen Bille August, and Sarah Riser dramatize how the attorney, Colette Hughs (Hilary Swank), with the help of a professor of philosophy, Mort Cohen (Jeffry Tambor) over the course of many hearings and trials managed to persuade a judge and then a review board that patients have the right to refuse medication even when they are mentally disabled. Despite several other scenes that were for me deeply distressing to watch, and although this woman died fairly young because these drugs had so weakened her immune system, she succumbed to a kidney infection (age 47), this is an upbeat story. It’s not just that Eleanor’s case was won, but that we were shown her through a camera and script that respected her as a full human being. She was not made into a plaster saint. Her very experiences taught her to survive by being obnoxious, being difficult, telling uncomfortable truths to those trying to help her (like I embarrass you, don’t I?) or demanding they accede to her needs however inconvenient at a given moment. She needs time to find a dress or suit that looks decent on her awkward body. She needs time to be listened to. She intrudes herself, is a busy-body, she likes crass music. She is unembarrassed to ask about someone else’s religion or to impose hers on the shared space equally as more discreet ways of coping. In the story she is Catholic. She is determined to be who she is. One has to live with her not understanding everything and being loud.

Carter’s performance is the film. She makes her character so touching, brings out her tender heart — for she cares for the other mentally disabled people around her. She is not shy and gives a Christmas party for these people to which her lawyer, now become a friend too, comes. She gives advice to the lawyer about how to handle her boyfriend. We do like how the professor is won over to fight for a first amendment right to speech as part of an argument — he fears to bring this up will make the case harder to win. I have seen Carter get so many good roles and have wondered why she did, as I never was that impressed with her performance. I admit I thought she was given characters not that hard to portray. Well here she is given something precious to do, make us feel her character is precious and like any living creature as worthy of the life she can achieve as anyone else. The film makes the point because you are disabled one or more ways, that does not incapacitate you from other achievements or other talents. She can get home by herself on a bus with difficult suitcases. She can live alone, pay her bills, take complicated medicines, find places.


In some shots, Carter is meant to evoke the Bride of Frankenstein: Frankenstein we recall is a protest figure

As I was watching, I found myself very distressed; I could hardly keep my eyes on the screen, and it was only that this kind of cruelty was forced on Eleanor fully before our eyes the one time, and that tin the case of the others (we do glimpse a couple of others cases), we see in passing a girl chained to her bed, we hear crying, terrible crying, or begging not to do this to her, in the midst of a plot-design which is moving upwards. The lawyer comes. Despite the lawyer’s warning, she might not be able to get Eleanor released for quite some time (even years), she is released within months and that’s happens quickly in film time. So that made what we were seeing more emotionally endurable for me. The way the film “worked” was centered on Helena Bonham Carter and as we feel her helplessness and distress and see the faces and behavior of the perpetrators (called doctors, nurses, assistants), it is driven home into our bones or hearts or feelings, how profoundly wrong this is — if we have any decent mind (I realize that Trump and regime would laugh or despise the women or simply never go to a film like this).

Such a film is frightening for me to watch. As I watched I felt there but for Jim could have gone I. It’s seeing what one dreads most put up before you. I can speak with authority. I have spent a week in a ward in an English hospital, trying to recover from a breakdown where I had just sat and cried for days. In the US I could not have had the benefit of a hospital without spending thousands. No one forced any drugs on me. Again in my very late 20s, early 30s, my state of mind was intense and fragile because I was finishing my Ph.D and didn’t have the skills to pass an interview and so became inwardly distraught as I saw my opportunities lost. I was held up by Jim, and a year or so later by a proper psychiatrist in Virginia. The right help and the person stays in society; the wrong and the person is cast away and made much worse. This is one of many areas where US society is going all wrong. Individuals are not valued because money comes first, and you can only escape the vise if you have high status or rank.

Maybe others can imagine themselves so caught up and then victimized. In small compass this is what the new psychiatry (not worthy the name does): insists on conformity, makes psychology a mild boot camp (mild is there only for social reasons of writing this). You find yourself in a mild form of boot camp; you are not validated, not comforted. I was told by one person, Oh you’re afraid to swim (I wasn’t but used that as an example), the thing to do is throw you in the water where it’s deep. Oh you find yourself abroad and unhappy; just turn round and go home. As if by magic. Completely the wrong kind of personality is encouraged to become a psychologist or psychiatrist, and then they do the bidding of the drug industry. And I know from close association with disabled people that they are treated as morons and one disability is considered the whole of the personality — if say the person doesn’t dress fashionably. That’s why the film-makers dressed Carter the way they did.

So the film has accomplished its core business: make you identify so you will want to act on her behalf. At the same time by making her such a difficult personality (again she has not learned much about socializing and what socializing she did was meet by derision or incomprehension), we see that this is not a sentimental portrait, and then when she does accomplish a lot (as I’ve outlined). It’s one part of her mind though it affects her looks. I learned to be angry at myself for at first being embarrassed at how she dresses somehow wrongly. When at the end she dies, I did think to myself, it is going over the top, and perhaps the funeral oration by Colette was repeating what we had learned too explicitly. But then the credits inform us Eleanor Riese did die age 47 as a bye-blow of these drugs. My friend, Vivian, felt that her years on drugs left her debilitated, unable to sleep and who knows if these years were not unrelated to the cancer that killed her at age 62. Camera shots of the real Eleanor Riese and then we see how Carter was dressed and behaved to look like her and the real Colette Hughes and Hilary Swank ditto.

I had worried so for Eleanor. Even if the constitutional right was proved, would the doctors obey it? would another case take away that right? could she be hurt in her apartment. Now dead, she was safe from all these.


Now and again a nurse is decent: after she wins her case, a few step forward to tell her they had not wanted to behave the way they had (then why did they so? they could quit, refuse to go along)

I have read many times that autistic children such as Izzy once was (at age 2) are sometimes put in institutions and never have a chance to develop or fulfill themselves. I’ve been reading Louise De Salvo’s Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her and her work. I am completely persuaded by De Salvo that not only was Woolf abused sexually and many times, so was her sisters Stella and Vanessa emotionally and intellectually abused, and her half-sister Laura institutionalized because she wouldn’t obey the conformist patterns demanded of the Victorian child in a strict patriarchy. I’ve mentioned I’ve been watching, reading, following a course on Violence Against Women on Future Learn. The later weeks are on the survivors of abuse, how they fare afterwards, how they are treated by society, what the trauma does to them. They make the point that trauma can cut deep and be caused by banal everyday behavior in life, if that includes the right of authority figures and men to harass, humiliate, rape, beat, silently enforce patterns of behavior. We are shown how case workers fail the victim because they stay at a high level of abstraction, turn away from the particular patterns of the perpetrator and demands that the perpetrator change his ways. Worse of all is the punishment for complaining and that is what that opening scene in 55 Steps records. So 55 Steps has general application. The underlying paradigm is the one Diderot uncovers in his La Religieuse, or Nun (which I’ll blog about separately under Austen reveries).

The film was first screened in a festival for prizes in August 2017, and it has taken all this time to reach a Virginia film club; it has yet to be distributed generally so I write to urge people to go see it if they have the slightest chance. As you can see over the past few weeks as a result of the courses I’m following, I had several others I could have chosen to write about. But somehow this common experience from the now abusive world of psychiatry and violence against women and non-conformist seems to me to reach more of us.


As friends, watching a wedding

55 Steps are the number of steps it takes to reach the courthouse room where Eleanor’s case is adjudicated. She counts the steps as they go up. They are the two lawyers who holds her hands and go up with her, steadying her. She counts the steps to get to her apartment too: 27. I remember Laura and I counting the steps up to the Milan apartment last spring after a few days and nights in Milan. The apartment on in effect the fourth floor, with its narrow stone stairwell and steep steps hurt one’s thighs after a long day. I had to pull myself up sometimes. As Eleanor was pulled and pulled herself up.

Ellen

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