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Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category


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)

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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)

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

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.

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

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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J. J. Sempre one of my favorite cover illustrators for The New Yorker: the reading group — I like the tone, his pictures often filled with human kindness and need fulfilled. Often pleasant landscapes & rooms.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind — C.V. Cavafy

You will go uncompanioned, but go you must — Theo Dorgan

Friends and readers,

I got through last week with much reading, some in-depth, the close reading sort, then immersion in films, and writing, writing, writing and hurrying about to classes. I’ve out in (so to speak) for some new experiences: I’m to have a visitor here with Izzy and I in our house, the night and morning before I go off to the East Central ASECS (American Society for 18th century studies, regional conference) in Staunton, Virginia, with me on the long drive there and then again back three days later, and again staying over the rest of Sunday and Sunday night. I cannot remember doing that in all my 71 years. I told the people on that tour group around the Lake District and Scottish/English borders I grow weary, tired with all this learning, all these new experiences. But here I am again. How do people do this? I never got the memo of instructions.


Shenandoah Shakespeare Company — Jim & I have been to Staunton many times to see this company — where “they do it in the light”

I’ve returned in thought and reading to that project I developed into a CFP and paper: The anomaly: the adult woman living alone: widows, divorced women, spinsters. You might remember it, I was given 2 (!) panels because 6 papers came in that were thought related, and an editor from LeHigh University said if I could develop it into a collection of essays they’d be interested. I tried to publish my paper on Widows and Widowers in Austen, but Susan Allen Ford didn’t care for my perspective, and I didn’t know how to go about to write prospectus, and worse yet, gather contributors.

Well I’ve been re-thinking this — from reading Barbara Pym on WomenWriters@groups.io or not quite sure why, from thinking about early modern or Enlightenment women? — and come to the conclusion one obstacle was I was mis-formulating the very core title. A male hegemonic point of view has been obscuring that immediately I write down the phrase, what do I do: I begin to formulate the group by defining each woman there as there because of her relationship (or lack of one) to a man. The assumption is there needs to be some sort of explanation why a woman is forced into this, not that she wanted it in the first place — spinster as we know has such negative connotations (like bluestocking). And when I come across essays on these typology the assumption immediately is that the woman is clubbing together with other women or doing this or that because without a man she has not the wherewithal to support herself on her own.


Adrienne Rich

Diane Reynolds had been reading Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience” and pointed to that. I read it and find she writes about how men have denied women their own continuums of sexuality, one of which begins with the mother-daughter bond, can move to sister-bonds, female friendship and then for some sexual engagement. Why is “sadistic heterosexuality” more normal than lesbian and mother-child sensual bonding. The “rich interior” life bonding with women is marginalized as unimportant. Her desire for work of her own apart from her functions serving and being with men discounted, or (in many societies in the past and some today) forbidden. Diane points out though the dilemma is not to move to see the choice as simply happy as to chose it is to be hedged about with incomprehension, misunderstanding, disapproval, circumstances become to hard to cope with. “A single woman has such a propensity to be poor,” says Austen.

Think about things from a perspective not yet formulated. Do something never done before. Me who resists change. We have been talking about one theme of Forster’s Howards End on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io: how moving is often an experience of existential loss, of one’s identity and past erased (herein is it like experiencing the death of a beloved person whose life intertwines with our own), all the sites, symbols, things suffused with memory thrown away, re-vamped, the very streets one lived on when we come back we find have vanished. To leave this house would be to lose what enables my life. Forced into a new life, much barer, stripped before the world.


Joanna David as the displaced Elinor Dashwood in the 1971 BBC Sense and Sensibility (scripted Denis Constantduros, perhaps the first BBC film adaptation of an Austen novel & among its earliest scenes)

Lucy Worsley (JA: At Home) suggests Austen’s fiction fueled by her loss of her original home and her heroines’ attempts to recreate, re-find a new one.

Kauffmann, Angelica: Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses

I told the people on Trollope&Peers (the list’s abbreviation) how Jim read Forster’s letters with C. P. Cavafy and tonight will end this brief excursus with Cavafy’s poem (translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard). Here the courage needed for life’s adventures and the experiences you might enjoy so are set out before us:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

original Greek linked in; or read aloud

and Theo Dorgan’s response (for Leonard Cohen)

When you set out from Ithaca again,
let it be autumn, early, the plane leaves falling as you go,
for spring would shake you with its quickening,
its whispers of youth.

You will have earned the road down to the harbour,
duty discharged, your toll of labour paid,
the house four-square, your son in the full of fatherhood,
his mother, your long-beloved, gone to the shades.

Walk by the doorways, do not look left or right,
do not inhale the woodsmoke,
the shy glow of the young girls,
the resin and pine of home.
Allow them permit you to leave,
they have been good neighbours.

Plank fitted to plank, slow work and sure,
the mast straight as your back.
Water and wine, oil, salt and bread.
Take a hand in yours for luck.

Cast off the lines without a backward glance
and sheet in the sail.
There will be harbours, shelter from weather,
There will be long empty passages far from land.
There may be love or kindness, do not count on this
but allow for the possibility.
Be ready for storms.

When you take leave of Ithaca, round to the south
then strike far down for Circe, Calypso,
what you remember, what you must keep in mind.
Trust to your course, long since laid down for you.
There was never any question of turning back.
All those who came the journey with you,
those who fell to the flash of bronze,
those who turned away into other fates,
are long gathered to asphodel and dust.
You will go uncompanioned, but go you must.

There will be time in the long days and nights,
stunned by the sun or driven by the stars,
to unwind your spool of life.
You will learn again what you always knew —
the wind sweeps everything away.

When you set out from Ithaca again,
you will not need to ask where you are going.
Give every day your full, unselfconscious attention —
the rise and flash of the swell on your beam,
the lift into small harbours —
and do not forget Ithaca, keep Ithaca in your mind.
All that it was and is, and will be without you.

Be grateful for where you have been,
for those who kept to your side,
those who strode out ahead of you
or stood back and watched you sail away.
Be grateful for kindness in the perfumed dark
but sooner or later you will sail out again.

Some morning, some clear night,
you will come to the Pillars of Hercules.
Sail through if you wish. You are free to turn back.
Go forward on deck, lay your hand on the mast,
hear the wind in its dipping branches.
Now you are free of home and journeying,
rocked on the cusp of tides.
Ithaca is before you, Ithaca is behind you.
Man is born homeless, and shaped for the sea.
You must do what is best.

Here the poet is online reading aloud:

I have been companioned these last couple of nights though: by Claire Tomalin in her marvelously good A life of My Own picked up for £5 cash in Keswick — she is keeping me good company just now

Ellen

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By modern street artist, Banksy: how the Palestinians in Gaza are forced to die, c. 2010 (From Desmond’s Cats in Art)

Friends,

The strangest phenomenon: birds who fly by or live around my house have begun to sing at around 2 am. (Yes I am up at that time all too frequently.) In my married life we had periods where Jim had to be woken at 5 am regularly to get work on time, we’d hear them. He’s said “a jocund chorus!” and me: “goddamn noisy birds.” And by 5:30 the birds awake, chattering, jittering. Now they begin at 2, only they remain much softer. How is this? Can it be climate change? The air is warmer at 2 in the morning than it once was?

Struggles have included trying to extract out of Carbonite some of my files which contained five years of hard work towards papers which didn’t make it from the hard drive to this new computer. No one to tell. Successes: my class on Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right at OLLI at Mason went splendidly: what good talk we had, how much they enjoyed reading the book, the screening of that BBC film I wrote a paper about. I have begun Trollope’s short stories over at OLLI at AU and it is already going very well. Everyone reading, everyone commenting.  Such experiences tempt me to teach Trollope over and over.

Books I’ve not mentioned much, but have read with intense attention — for this past season that you must not miss: with the friends on Trollope&Peers, Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown (1st volume of Raj Quartet). Utterly relevant on race power. I want to teach it with another Anglo-Indian book, will blog on it separately (see Staying On).

I have signed up for a week’s course in July at the OLLI at AU: Emily Dickinson and Thoreau. The teacher promised “optimism,” but I hope there will be no such falsifying agenda as the texts must be themselves. I’ve never read any Thoreau beyond what is quoted in essays. I feel empathy; I know he could get away with his life because Emerson supported him. I know too that a number of Emerson’s poems and Dickinson’s are comparable.


Ginsburg testifying

To share: Don’t miss RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) (good short review in New York Times); one of it catchy moments occurs when she announces at her hearing for the supreme court the question, “What do women want?,” by quoting an American feminist of the 1830s: “All I ask is that our brethren take their feet from off our necks.” You learn how she took narrowly conceived cases where a woman was asking for redress against some specific injustice (in the work place) and expanded her outlook to use the case as a source for legislative precedent to prevent unfair discrimination in jobs, positions in organizations. You see she could not have achieved the places on benches she did without her very successful tax lawyer of a husband’s cooperation, encouragement, taking over jobs in the house, moving with her to DC, himself making phone calls, lobbying for her. I learned #thenotorious RGB comes from the song of a young black man gunned down in the streets (for being black and successful).


Hopkins as homeless Lear, Jim Broadbent the eyeless Gloucester (read Spectator review)

A truly great BBC production of Shakespeares’s King Lear last night aired on BBC (and sent me as a DVD by a good friend). It was as good as The Hollow Crown series where the language is done brilliantly naturalistically and the scenes set in remarkably appropriate places (Lear on the heath is in a refuge camp), the scene where Lear has escaped the heath and is headed for Dover with its dialogue in a mall. Lear and his fool reminded me of Vladmir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot.

Anthony Hopkins managed to make the role fresh and new — not easy. They did that opening scene which can be so tedious superbly effectively. It was cut — the film was something like 2 hours and most Lears are 3+ The Hollow Crown series did not seem cut– though of course Henry VI was abridged into two parts.


Tobias Menzies as Cornwall, Regan (Emily Watson)’s husband

Emma Thompson has made Dame — i read just now. She was Goneril and stole every scene she was in. I know she can play hard mean people. My favorite Emily Watson was there, Regan and she did the soft spoken sexy but unflinchingly cruel woman brilliantly. Eccleston as Oswald Jim Carter as Kent, Karl Johnson the fool New actors Ive not seen before and superb as Edgar and Edmund – they brought out the intense rivalry as a motif with Edgar first seen at a computer as an intellectual; their final battle was violent boxing. Andrew Scott and Tobias Menzies was strikingly effective as Cornwall, Regan’s evil husband. It’s he who plucks out Gloucester’s eyes and has the memorable line: Out, vile jelly. He had all sorts of appropriate gestures. Really held his own among great actors– (late of Outlander and still missed as his characters have died, soon to be Phiiip in the Crown). One weakness: she was adequate but no more: the Cordelia.

Why was this not on PBS? at one time it would have been, not so long ago — Now we don’t even hear of it.


Cumberbatch as the father playing with the daughter in supermarket before they are separated

Two Ian McEwans: on Showtime a BBC film of The Child Lost in Time (philosophical review), with Bernard Cumberbatch as the distraught father whose 2 year old disappears from the supermarket and 15 years later has still not been found. How this event changed the lives of father, mother, and by extension, their friends and neighbors. At the movie-theater On Chesil Beach. Astounding bravery in dramatizing the failure to consummate their marriage by Edward, the lower middle class hero (who with his family has as burden a disabled mother) and Florence, the middle middle girl, a musician, with father owning extensive businesses, factories, loving him but terrified of sex. His barely controlled anger at the rest of the world cannot forgive her or accept her offer to live chastely with him, his lack of patience and her sheltered ignorance, break them up. He has no further possibilities of leaving his environment, she rises to be the musician we realize when her daughter comes into Edward’s shop years later to buy the one pop singing star that Florence could stand. This heartbreak more frequent than we realize is brought out into the open as they remember their courtship and engagement.


On Chesil Beach –read the thoughtful analytic review — gentle reader as someone who came of age just before 1963 this is a story I have experienced

Izzy and I went to a production of Camelot in DC: she was enormously absorbed, entertained. Tears came to my eyes but once: the man singing Lancelot’s “If ever I would leave you … ” Of course he would never. Each summer since Jim’s death is harder than the last. But how innocent this show, how sad I felt measuring the distance between hope then and the shameful cruelty of barely disguised fascist regime we live under now.


Beryl Cook, Bunny and Nipper c. 1970s (from Desmond’s Cats in Art)

Online I’ve been following the Future Learn course, A History of Royal Fashion. While the details of how clothes were made, and this normative super-rich and powerful dressers tells about how the poor and majority wanted to look or perceived how they should look if they could, I am appalled by the time and energy put into the smallest item of a particular individual’s dress (say the lace veil in a wedding garment). It is more than the fetishizing of stars in media that we see: it’s a deeply perverse over-valuing of a particular individual because he or she is rich, has power. If in all the six weeks thus far, someone had mentioned this qualification, but not a peep. The people who make these arguments seem so unaware of how absurd that they should spend their best energies, terrific skills in making tiny additions to some super-rich “numinous” person’s dress. I had hoped it would be more about costume for the era itself. Every inch of fabric Edward VIII wore cost the public (for where did the money come from) enormously — in the early 1930s this was:


He fetishized every single inch of any outfit — teams of people now kept in jobs recreating and preserving this stuff.

And widening out as something for us all to work on: that human and animal suffering, emotional lives, fulfillment and peace are closely aligned. Goodall demonstrated we must treat animals as individuals first. The anthropomorphic approach is the right one. What is at stake: our capacity for humane behavior to all who occupy created space with us. That they are without talk does not give us the right to ignore their loving dependent presence. I’ve finished Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art and cannot over-recommend the book for its talk, insights, and plethora of fascinating pleasing image: ample for another separate blog.

Two angles: the artist expresses emotion through the content of his picture, and we contemplate and enjoy his or her vision through aesthetic criteria. How many selves have we got? Writing and social; innate and outward; the dreaming center and socially functional role-playing; the empathetic idealist, and the practical prudential actor. I still feel I have little control over all that goes on around me. My own space I can order, keep tidy, work in. My natural impulse withdraw.

A snug fleece jacket has arrived for me to take with me to the Lake District in August.

I sit in my sun-room in the front of the house quietly reading as cats adjust to living in this new space too. Four working computers nowadays, all in use: this PC Dell Desktop, my Macbook pro laptop, my Apple ipad and my cell phone. Reaching out …. I know I should listen to music more and am glad of Izzy’s play lists in the dining room as we make our supper nightly together.


Clarycat one New Year’s Eve: Jim was playing the piano as he often did in the early morning and that night late evening. I was sitting opposite, watching, listening

A tactless (tone-deaf?) woman said to me, “Five years … that’s a long time.” I wish I had said back, “It’s not even yesterday.” Sometimes I feel such loneliness I don’t know what to do with my despair. Then I am so grateful for my cats who lick (kiss) and rub up (hug) and play with me, stay by me: were it not for them how empty so many of my hours despite all my efforts at books and going places I can get to.

Ellen

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She in timeless simple white, he with beard that reminds audience of Edward VII

Una famiglia. One family, the human race or better yet species. Some individuals more lucky than others. My older daughter, Laura, was up at 5 am (drinking down a coffee from her Downton Abbey mug, which asks the question “What is a weekend?”), and wrote two blogs on their behalf. One went to WETA somewhere (for which she was paid); the other she put on her & my daughter Izzy’s sisterly blog:

I often put Izzy’s blogs here, so am practicing equal time:

http://ani-izzy.com/2018/05/19/hats-of-the-royal-wedding/

The behatted and the costumed:

The bride’s mother takes precedence:

The groom’s mother was one of the silently felt absences. Remember her anyone? She will be conspicuously there in a shot Laura caught of Harry and Will walking along a sidewalk together

But the groom’s grandmother made it:

There were a number of important invisibilities (proving for literary critics that what is not said is also subtext) and spacial arrangements: the bride’s mother for example sat apart, alone in her pew.

Many of the hats and costumes were a lesson in how the highest class achieves “transcendent taste:” they wear hats and costumes that are so unostentatious, you have to seek for something to say. Not all. I leave it to my gentle reader to go over to Laura’s blog and see which ones were so vulgar as to call for some more extensive comment beyond identifying who was wearing what.

The best: Michael Curry: beloved words, he quotes Martin Luther King at the opening and close as his text:

Amy Goodman reported on another couple married this past Saturday across the ocean in the US: “a couple who narrowly survived the deadly white supremacist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, has married. The couple’s story went viral after Marcus Martin pushed his partner, Marissa Blair, out of the way of the speeding car being driven by Nazi sympathizer James Alex Fields. A Pulitzer Prize-winning photo captured Marcus Martin mid-air, after being struck by the car.” He survived, but the couple’s close friend, Heather Heyer, died in the attack.

Last weekend, Marcus Martin and Marissa Blair exchanged vows in Virginia, surrounded by purple flowers, in honor of Heather, whose favorite color was purple. Heather Heyer’s mother was among the attendants at the funeral.


Their wedding picture

Meanwhile Izzy was preparing her new song, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah!, done in her own inimitable style and loveliest lyrical voice. I just finished a remarkable four session course at OLLI at Mason on Cohen, filled with his music and songs from youth to near death. But that’s for two other blogs to come.

Miss Drake

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Friends,

Izzy departs from her usual music with this one by Lorde:

The lyrics:

I do my makeup in somebody else’s car
We order different drinks at the same bars
I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth
She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar
Those great whites, they have big teeth
Oh, they bite you
Thought you said that you would always be in love
But you’re not in love no more
Did it frighten you
How we kissed when we danced on the light up floor?
On the light up floor
But I hear sounds in my mind
Brand new sounds in my mind
But honey I’ll be seein’ you, ever, I go
But honey I’ll be seein’ you down every road
I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it
‘Cause honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go
I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it

Lorde’s name is Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor; she is a New Zealand singer, writer, record producer who also holds a Croatian citizenship; she is known for curating the soundtrack for Hunger Games. She has been politically active, performs her own music, whose themes are solitude and heartbreak.

Miss Drake

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Izzy on the train

All the time they seemed to be skating in fathomless depths of air, so blue the ice had become; and so glassy smooth was it that they sped quicker and quicker to the city with the white gulls circling about them, and cutting in the air with their wings the very same sweeps that they cut on the ice with their skates — a dream of ice-skating during a hard frost, the Thames, Virginia Woolf, Orlando


Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

Friends,

While last week’s account was the last about Milan and nearby environs, I have yet to speak of why we came when we did: the World’s Championship Ice-Skating contest was held from March 21st to 25th at a nearby (just outside the city proper) forum. My daughter Isobel is a devoted expert, blogger, fiction writer, evaluative fan of ice-skating. There are people who know as much as she does of the recent history of ice-skating, but I doubt you’d find anyone who knows more.

Starting Wednesday mid-morning when the tickets were handed out (no, you could not print out the tickets on any website, though you were advised to buy them well ahead), until late at night for the next four nights, and Sunday 2 to 5 for a gala performance (aired on TV), she absorbed herself in the ice-skating. She also went to a couple of early morning practices:

Laura and I joined her for three afternoons and the gala.

I could wish you had her to blog here as I’m sure she could and would describe all that happened and the many technical and other contexts with a knowledgeable critical eye. Here you may read her many blogs since Izzy gave up on her own Miss Izzy and stopped blogging there for Fan-Sided for several months, and now to where Laura moved her website from “I should have been a blogger” to Miss Izzy Ani & Izzy. I can’t.

There is also an underside, the realities of the life, the pressures, and the politics of ice-skating. What happens to ice-skaters mirrors what happens to ambition in sports in American and global life (as seen in media too) today.  I review a movie, which, if you at all interested in ice-skating as presently experienced in the US, you ought to see: I, Tonya: Tonya Harding, an ambitious working class girl (and many of those who go in for the championship and those who go are working to lower middle people) driven by the lack of wins because she was not playing the role of a sweet gentile middle class girl, either herself encouraged or was instigated by her violent desperate husband, Jeff Gilloly (Sebastian Stan) into directly attacking her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The husband and a thug friend tried to destroy one of Kerrigan’s knees. It was quickly found out who had done and became the scandal not only of the decade but perpetually of ice-skating itself.


A photograph Laura snapped of one (athletic) pair

I can tell you something of the experience of watching ice-skating in the Milan stadium. We took a train from where we were staying some 8 stops to just outside the city. About half an hour’s journey after a 5-7 minute walk both ways. Here is what the place looks like from the outside:


Daytime from the side


Nightime from within looking out.

It looks innocuous enough but as one reporter who regularly goes to these mass events, the least of the stadium’s concerns were the human needs of the customers. There two toilets for thousands of women. Two. The lines were not as horrendous as you might imagine because I suppose most women did like me: held themselves in until they got home. Long lines were the order of the day and night. It took hours to collect our tickets. Huge crowds forced to move into five crowd and then thin lines, and all you needed was one person to have troubles on any given line.

Inside the forum you had to wait on three lines to get any food. A line to pay and get your tickets. A line to put in a ticket for whatever food or drink was available. Another line to collect your purchase. I was told this was because very few people were empowered to sell tickets because few were trusted with money. Why two lines and not one were then called for I know not. Maybe because food was so minimal, unvaried, and poor by the time you got it your spirit was cowed. You were not allowed to bring in food or drink. Three years ago I went with Izzy to a stadium in Boston also set up to prevent people bringing food: prices were exhorbitant and I didn’t recognize as food most of what was sold, but there was just one line and there was a large variety of food and drink. Most of the customers in Milan stadium played safe and bought water & simple chip snacks.

Inside the forum the seats were small, the steep incline of the stairs painful if you went up and down more than say twice. The ushers appeared not to know their own stadium and misdirected Izzy, Laura and I at least three times. It was not freezing cold as other ice-skating stadiums I’ve been to are, but it seemed to me the noisiest of all the stadiums I’ve ever been to. Constant loud music inbetween events, flashing commercials from a central turning box, strobe lights when a new turn in events was about to proceed. As if this wasn’t enough, they had hired a bellowing clown to demand of individuals in the crowd that they make spectacles of themselves, of groups to wave flags and clap and hammer the floor with their feet.

More than a decade ago, the first time I went to an ice-skating event at a stadium in DC, I was enchanted. It was not a competition, but a show, not televised. Each of the pairs or individuals performed as personalities; there were shared group sequences. There was no excess noise in the one intermission. Since then in DC no shows come anymore, and it is all fierce competition for places in line-ups for the next contest.

Our prize-obsessed culture has won out. Just about every event is a competition or contest, and the whole atmosphere of the event is intermixed with that of an ordeal. Each of the skaters has thrown their lives into this sport, and they have spent hugely (or their parents have) and it is crucial to win. Some of them fall away quickly; those who stay the course can become anorexic (if girls) or otherwise suffer the various ills that come from such a lifestyle. Their sexual orientation becomes a matter of speculation, and until recently gay men had to hide their sexuality. A figure like Michael Weiss did very well because he is so obviously stereotypically heterosexual white male.

In Milan stadium, after a given contestant’s routine was over, the contestant was led to sit before a replica of the Milan Cathedral waiting for their score: scores in ice-skating are subjective when it comes to decimal differences. most of them are trained not to show deep disappointment but now and then you would see it.

Do most of the people sitting there “tune out” what is going on about them? or does it excite them to feel they are in some celebrity aura? I know this celebrity aura is hard to resist, and when you are near someone thought so famous, and feel the way others about them, you yourself (I myself) act oddly. I once met a Prime Minister of the UK at a Trollope dinner: John Major. I found it hard not to try to impress him somehow in our talk and afterwards felt ashamed of myself.

In watching these young people, I found the earlier dancers (who were the less competent or less be-prized) sometimes more interesting. I wish some overt attention were paid to grace and lyrical beauty, but the way the scores are talked about are in terms of feats of physical derring-do or if the person defied physics in this or that way in how many times they twirled or jumped or in a pair stayed in dazzling sync while risking falling. Many hurt themselves on the ice.

During the Sunday gala I was impressed how a ballerina who was hired to do highjinks on a wire, was carried from the ice. I’ve seen announcers carried too. It’s hard to walk, and hard simply to skate, much less do the kinds of things these young people do. I keep saying young people because their career is usually over by their early 30s.

At Milan I found three hours my limit. The shows I’ve gone to with Izzy usually last two and one half hours with half an hour intermission. I went to one championship with her in Boston five years ago now and found I couldn’t last more than three hours either though the place was more comfortable. I couldn’t endure the noise, the flashing lights, and in the one case where we found ourselves the audience in a show that was televised — asked to sit utterly still, to clap here, to endure boredom there, to not mind all the cameras, I felt we were badly exploited.

People endure this because they have been taught that they don’t count, that it’s some how bad sportsmanship to complain of bad treatment. Attitudes like these are fostered by the celebrity culture and regarding some people as superior to others.

Most of the time I find individuals skating not as varied as the couple dancers and the athletic pairs, and enjoy the couples much more. Best of all are in shows when long-time trained performers know how to keep their individuality and yet be part of a group configuration. But if you watch carefully or take a photo and look later, you can appreciate individual feats & grace — though it’s hard to feel in the atmosphere of intense competition and in this particular case the discomfort of the Milan stadium.

Here is someone gliding:

Sometimes the camera captures gestures in dancers that in motion would be prettier:

Each set begins with the contestants lining up:


Men

When they won, they were put into ritualized tableaux in princess or prince costumes:

One the elements of the experience that interested me was the difference between what we in the forum were experiencing and seeing, and what those watching broadcasts saw and experienced. It seems somehow to prefer the false to say ice-skating is more pleasurable (and much less expensive) in the comfort of your home watching TV or a digital computer screen, but I like to remember how thrilled I was in the early years as dancing, skating, athletics on the ice is hard. You won’t experience the same thrill that you do when you are there near the body that can fall or mess up and then doesn’t. Izzy is so invested in a number of individual skaters for her to see them is a kind of validation of herself, her dreams.

This gets me to the movie, I, Tonya. The actress who played the harridan mother of Tonya, La Vonya Fay Golden (Allison Janney) won a Golden Globe. I wish I could think the this prize did not reflect the misogynist pleasure of our world where people get a kick out of seeing a mother figure made into a cruel bitch. The mother is presented as the one who originally drove Tonya into becoming a competitive ice-skater. She is presented as deeply bitter because her husband (rightly) left her her; no berating is too far for this woman as she “coaches” her daughter; she also will do anything for money. At the close of the movie she accepts money from court authorities as she tries to trick her daughter into confessing she was the instigator of the crime while she has a tape going around her body.

The movie is darkly funny: part of the way it’s done is that the actors play the people being interviewed by a unseen reporter and there are continual flashbacks as the story in chronological order unfolds before us. This allows for many occasions for irony. We identify with the downtrodden working class Tonya, and she is not caricatured or condescended to nor the mother. But her husband is: he is presented as most Americans’ idea of someone trying hard to be a macho male and not quite succeeding because among other things he hasn’t got the competence to make enough money to support the role with the necessary paraphernalia: fine house, fancy car, “in” clothes. He has an idiotic sidekick who reminded me of Trump: continually lying, ceaselessly boasting, profoundly ignorant, he has the foggiest idea of how to to a deed and cover it up. It was apparently the sidekick’s continual re-parking of a car outside the event where the attack took place that provided the police with their first clues.


The scene where the police confront Tonya and her husband and coach

The value of the money is to expose the hidden injuries of class and the impoverishment of the American working and middle class. We see that in the mother’s life especially, in the dives these people eat in. As Helen O’Hara says, it was a trial by media, the very media which builds up celebrity. This is brought out. The acceptance of violence of American life is seen in Tonya’s relationship with her mother and then husband: they both beat her. The one half-humane relationship in the film is between Tonya and her trainer Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), but from what I have been told by college students in colleges where I’ve taught, these people are bullies too.

By the end of the film you feel for Tonya while at the same time are left unsure how complicit she was in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She is presented as someone with decent impulses whose life and surroundings teach her to make bad choices (in her husband and leaving school) and drive her to rages like the others around her. The jury decision suggests that the jury was undecided how guilty she was but convinced her husband and the friend who literally attacked Kerrigan were criminal. Harding did not lose her ambition or her turning to physical competition for prize money: later in life she tried professional wrestling, and even became a celebrity boxer. She was made part of the sordid underbelly of movies: for example,a video of her having sex with her husband was released. She used this notoriety to keep afloat.

I suppose what makes the film a story for 2017 is she is not a victim heroine but someone part of a system that is fosters internal war in people’s psyches, which they then bring to their social experience. I recommend reading Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas for the full context for all this.


Fixing her shoes — she is crying from dismay and hurt

It can all begin with innocent enough dreams of accomplishment, of pride, of achievement in the world’s eyes. I’ve been asked more than once if Izzy skates. She has, mostly for fun, and except for the one time I tried to skate with her by herself. I can think of five sequences in books and films where ice-skating is presented — H. E. Bates’s Love for Lydia, the opening; Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the opening; John Gay’s early 18th century poem; Trivia, or the Art of Walking in London, where a central sequence is devoted to showing life on the ice in the midst of one of the intense frosts of the 18th century in England , and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina where Levin and Kitty as ideal sweet lovers yearning for one another ice-skate together. In all these the moments are idyllic, a halycon hiatus, physically beautiful too. The fifth is in It’s a Wonderful Life where George’s brother falls on thin ice, and George risks his own life to rescue him. Deep heroism, self-sacrifice. It is somehow indicative of the human psyche that this sport is rarely presented with any reality to our eyes.

About two weeks before we went, Izzy took herself ice-skating (partly looking forward to our trip) and fell. When much younger, she did ice-skate regularly by herself. But I had to drive her and it was not that much fun by herself. Now she was kindly taken care of while there and came home limping. It was only a twisted ankle, and within a couple of days she had no pain. A couple of weeks after we came home, she went with her JCC social club ice-skating. She didn’t fall.

For her I believe the time was very good and she is planning to go to Nationals (as she calls them) the next time they come to Boston or perhaps the World’s at Montreal. She loves to blog about ice-skating, participates intensely in this world of ice-skating, knows the politics which she reports on too. The sport and her participation in it help give her life meaning. There are thousands of people like her; each time I’ve gone to an event I’ve been impressed by the variety of types of people who are there fully absorbed. I think they were not well treated in by the Milan stadium owners. Izzy used to put up lovely YouTubes on her old blog, and I would share some too — where she shows her gift for elegant concise writing and carrying much knowledge lightly — but the commercialization of YouTube has taken most of her hard-worked efforts down.


The famous Nathan Chen whom Izzy and I first saw as a 12 year old seeking a scholarship at a Michael Weiss run skating event in (remote) Maryland — what has his life been.

I liked how he made a point of dressing simply. I wondered if that was part of his way of dealing with the stress.

Miss Drake

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