Archive for the ‘film studies’ Category

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

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roz White in a performance some years back ….

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been adapted for the stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So my fifth March without Jim begins:

(A Judith) Kliban cat

Miss Drake


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My cottage home this bitterly cold windy snowy morning. I’m glad I own it. Glad I live here, how it looks inside, filled with books and many beloved things, memories, with my cats (another order of being). Warm, lit. That my daughter has evolved it into her home too.

Gentle reader, have you considered how museums have become community centers — they really have. The Met in NYC and the National Galleries in DC and London function that. Crowded with people. I realized this for the first time when I read an unkind passing statement — but insightful — a few years ago by Suzy McKee Charnas in her Vampire Tapestry where the vampire stalks museums because they are a place where the public is not excluded most of the time and lonely sensitive souls are to be found on off days. She put it in a way that made me dislike her — but then it was her nasty vampire being so scornful. I reacted the way I did because I am one of these people who found herself by going to a museum – and theater too. A Future Learn course I took online showed that museums are well aware of this function, or they took it on as a way of getting funding.

So this winter solstice we again went to a museum. I’m not sure they will not become a more all-embracing community center than movie-houses as these movie-houses are bought up by monopolies and become increasing experiences of coercion for someone else’s profit. It’s also true that while theaters build a niche group of people who come expecting the same kind of experience, different plays attract different audiences, and a theater after all can play but one play at a time. For Christmas and Boxing Day and again New Year’s Eve, Izzy and I found ourselves in the midst of crowds of people like ourselves participating in this said-to-be communal holiday in two different movie-houses, one of them at a mall; in a museum; and then a vast theater house, the Kennedy Center, which had no less than 5 entertainments going with sold-out auditoriums. I’ll move from the most enjoyable to the less so, so gentle reader if you feel this is going on too long … I wind the reverie to a close with music, ice-skating, and chequered hope.

Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past

I’ve known the Kennedy Center is a community place for a long time now. One summer they hosted original Sondheim productions all summer plus movies of older ones, and various related shows and by the last week, the place was so relaxed with people making music everywhere. Everyone is comfortable there partly because they are part of the same economic and cultural group and feel the others will not shoot them down. If you have the price of the ticket, it’s a good place nowadays. Not Trump’s America. Izzy and I went to the theater lab where I saw The Gabriels last year and this past December Liv Ullman’s Private Confessions. The two and one half-hour performance was titled Twisted Dickens as performed by a group called The Second City, a comedy club and playhouse group of artists who do improv, sing, dance, act, write. Very creative group. Their story-line was a hilarious and serious too parody/enactment of key moments with key characters in A Christmas Carol. The real defense of this story is that it continues to provide a living relevant framework for our modern feelings and experiences. In this case a reworking of many Christmas motifs and familiar re-tellings and moments from other popular movies and shows or icons. Each actor played about ten roles. My favorite moments included two appearances of the distraught George Bailey (the actor personated Jimmy Stewart from It’s A Wonderful Life), snow in his hair, trying to explain about Mr Potter and Uncle Billy and the $8000; he is last seen seeking “Clarence!” Clarence!”; the young woman who did a very funny Tiny Tim; the actor who was the audience member complaining, the actress-singer who was slick witty Dolly Parton with an elegant cigarette. A poor suffering governess. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Present (the actress playing Dolly Parton in a sexy cocktail dress) were got up unexpectedly, but the Yet to Come figure was swathed in black (from the 1951 Alistair Sim film).

Charlie Brown dialogue

Many modern references. One character is seen coming home, picking a bill and finding it’s from Comcast double charging him because they sent the bill late. That got a wide laugh — so my experience of having this happen to me three times (!) and each time hours on the phone, getting enraged is common. John Lescaut stayed with the single character of Scrooge and now and again there were clear references to Trump such as the horror everyone feels when they think he might tweet. Blessedly he never does during the performance. Characters are often desolated. There was a disquieting five minute debate by Charlie Brown characters on whether Christianity should be brought up: the thrust was we must not leave Jesus out (really) but also include Muslims and Jews. There are more than 3 religions in the world. Written by Peter Swinn and Bobby Mort, directed by Frank Caeti, starring beyond Lescaut Carisa Barreca, Aaron Bliden, Anne Bowles, Paul Jurewicz, Eric M Messner, Tia Shearer. I noticed audience members were dressed in all sorts of ways, and here and there a person alone.

We went downstairs in one of several packed elevators to see and hear the ball begin but did not stay. I would have loved to dance the way we used to when Jim was there. Still I wanted to see it again and remember. The last time we were there was 5 years ago with Jim: Elvis has left the building!. We then drove home and I watched my last Christmas movie for this year: Love Actually. For the sake of Laura Linney’s performance, Emma Thompson on a lobster in the Christmas pageant, Hugh Grant’s fantastic silent dancing, and Bill Nighy’s impeccable parody of a rock hit, Christmas is All Around Us (which is no longer on the Net so I can show only

the opening of the movie …

On Boxing Day, Izzy and I kept up the custom we began with Jim in the mid-1990s of going to a museum. Most years there are block-buster shows in the most famous ones: this year was no different: it was Vermeer and his contemporaries at the National Gallery. We had decided to try another museum — Washington DC is a city chock-a-block with museums — and since I’ve started to go to some through the Smithsonian programs, I felt we ought to try another. We went to the National Portrait Gallery. We had not been together ever.

We wandered around the vast place (it’s really two museums, one for portraits and the other “about America”) I again went through the Sylvia Plath exhibit to give Izzy a chance to see it; we looked at American art of the 19th century, historical pictures (which we talked about as Izzy knows a lot about American history), Matthew Brady’s photographs from the civil war — there the point made in part was how much of war-life was sitting and sleeping and living in a state of waiting; and then the horrific deaths in vast conflagrations. The National Gallery is never as mobbed at the Metropolitan Museum on Sundays or holidays, but still far more hectic in feel than this Portrait Gallery and we enjoyed this place because it was much quieter. Less people vying to see. The cafe was outside, and they had two large shops, one just books.

One of the less familiar images

Oddly one might say (were one naive) the one encompassing truthful exhibit they had was not advertised: on the second floor tucked up in a large corridor and corner with a couple of rooms was an exhibit about Marlene Dietrich: her life, her career, her art, many photographs, some famous, iconic, some I’d never seen before. It was honest: we see her bourgeois family, a photo of her looking somehow wrong in a picturesque conventional girl’s dress. I did not know how she married a wealthy man early on, and importantly a film professional; how heavy she was originally, that she trained as a violinist, grew up in the thick of the Weimar era, or anything about a daughter who meant a great deal to her (but is nonetheless bitter) from that marriage. It seems she was more of a transvestite than I thought: dressed as a man far more often than I realized. In her phases of female or feminine sexuality, there is more variety than one realizes too: she could be conventional as well as startlingly beyond what’s acceptance, funny as well as gypsy melodramatic.

She was at first a cinema hit but when the studios put her in films for a more general American audience, the films flopped. She returned to Europe. There were hand-written letters by her: she had many lovers, sometimes several at a time, among them Erich Maria Remarque and Edith Piaf. She became expensive to hire you are told — so in Touch of Evil (late Orson Wells) she is the charismatic presence but it’s a rare later appearance. She traveled around (presumably for much much less) during War World Two entertaining troops. There was a TV with clips from many movies and her life to: one of her throwing chairs at a young Jimmy Stewart in Destry Rides Again. In the 1970s she moved to Paris, bought an apartment and basically lived out a quarter of a century in seclusion (hardly ever left the flat). There were audios where one could hear her husky voice. Downstairs in the bookshop a very fat book about her by her daughter, Maria Riva, by no means balanced in approach.

Another: aboard a luxury cruiser

It is a shame or loss that this exhibit is kept half-hidden. We were handed for free a seven page essay in a pamphlet plus photographs from the exhibit. Her life, what we were seeing, explanations of the photos. She was an important individual of the 20th century and belongs in this Portrait Gallery museum, but not hidden away.

Here’s the corridor in case you happen on it

The National Portrait Gallery had advertised (among a couple others, all large, much blander) as the Christmas exhibit (though the word is never used as it is not yet publicly acknowledged how many people spend the Christmas day out of the house), The Faces of Battle, on US soldiers’ experience of war since 9/11. Said to be poignant. It was a long corridor of photographs and in separate rooms, photographs, paintings, instalments, films made by artists who had acted as reporters and accompanied troops in Iraq, Arghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries where the US is openly at war. John Keegan’s book as alluded to and there was a sense in which you were shown what contemporary war is like: bombing and guerilla actions as well as interactions with civilians. The concentration was on the faces of these men and women, many now dead. They looked variously exhausted, stiff with trauma, glum and steadfastly enduring what they had to (stoic), carrying a lot on their backs, dirty.

Jun 29, 2009 – Kandahar, Afghanistan – Out of breath, US Army Spc. Larry Bowen age 26, sits shellshocked in a ditch next to his machine gun after a frontal assault on an insurgent position in close quarter fighting during an operation that lasted over several days in the Taliban stronghold of Siah Choy in Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
(Credit Image: © Louie Palu/ZUMA Press)

One room had pictures of the rooms of those who were all now dead. Very revealing — many were clearly of young men who had wanted to come there as some glorifying images showed. Sexy pictures. Flags. They were no longer naive in the photos. Agons in some of the photos. Some moving pictures showed the absurdity of some of the practices done. One problem was, What were they doing there not mentioned. There were many references to the bombs or guns that had killed them when they were going out on duty — but not what that duty was. We are told these men were blown up entering a private house but what were they doing entering that house? what was their purpose? Where was their rage as they killed? They came to inflict to seek out and destroy and if necessary kill others, do terrible damage to a groups of people the US gov’t and/or its allies and its donors want incinerated. Had the exhibit had twice as many rooms and shown the horrors inflicted on the Afghans, Iraqis and where the US is there by virtue of its money, supportive planes and boats, and arms it might have brought out the full horror of what this has been about — since 1947.

Reading — not quite the faces of battle

As to our usual movie and meal out in an Asian restaurant on Christmas day, Izzy and I are very fortunate to live near four movie-houses which are semi-art places or not controlled by the AMC distribution ownership of movie-houses corporate monopoly. All four are stand-alone theaters — not inside a mall. Two in DC. There a fifth complex of such places in Bethesda (American Film Institute is the movie-house name, nearby is a playhouse and near that a concert hall) but it is very far for us to go. Unfortunately, the two in Virginia are now practicing the ceaseless feed of clips or films between the “feature” (i.e., the one you paid to go see), but they are in much better taste, not so loud, and do not go on for so long and so endurable (occasionally interesting). One of these, Angelica Mosaic Theater was playing I, Tonya (click for excellent review), Christmas day.

Margot Robbie in a narrative segment

It’s a film very much worth going to see. Vivid, direct and combined documentary motifs (the actors faced us on chairs talking to us) with storytelling – at its best it recalled Cathy Come Home (not often enough) and was about class and violence, competitive aspiration and family life and malls too in America. How badly educated we are becoming; Tonya’s problem was she couldn’t present herself as fake genteel, as upper middle class virgin. She didn’t have the money to hire costume-makers. Her mother worked as a waitress, left by her husband early on; a cruel treacherous woman; all Tonya ever learnt was through bullying or harsh denigration. Her husband came from the same punitive milieu. So they broke directly through a crucial taboo in sports and directly assaulted the competition. The pre-feature film was about an artist in Eastern Europe, and the whole building of the theater, which has a cafe, is large and so one does not feel packed in. We enjoyed ourselves because we could relax. I figured out a way to drive to this theater using the streets; Izzy helped make sure that we didn’t lose our sense of geography as to where the parking garage was in relationship to the movie-house.

We then went to a Chinese restaurant we’ve gone to each Christmas since Jim died — we had gone with him there only twice. It’s small, inexpensive, with good food. No pretension. Usually it is so busy and it won’t take reservations for two. But if you get there at 4 as we did, there are far fewer people and we were served quickly. Isobel is is deeply engaged by ice-skating, blogs on it, studies it, we are going to Milan this March to see the a World Championship week of ice-skating so we talked of the movie in the context of her knowledge of the sport and its history.

Perhaps the less said on 70% of movie-theaters today, all AMC owned where the experience is more of a herd of exploited units in atmospheres of anomie created by discomfort, noise, the awful neon lights, techniques to make everyone competitive, where the theater itself sports as advertisements and trailers clips of high violence, torture, killing and coerced sex. But I feel I should not leave out the other movie we saw and this context. No fun to be had in such a place — the people you see on the lines to get tickets, in the theater space have determined faces (I had almost said slightly grimaced), which is why increasingly people prefer to shop online and watch movies via streaming online and DVDs. To go to such theaters and such malls is to voluntarily go to the equivalent of an airport; the movie-house auditoriums are transforming themselves into caste-ridden (assigned seats will soon become differentially priced) airplanes where you are forced into experiences you don’t want.

Streep and an actor playing a friend-reporter associate – you can see the emphasis on their upper class ways

I like to as truthful as I dare in this autobiographical blog and one’s awareness of the existence of such places influences how one feels nowadays about movie-going and its context, hence its penumbra of significance. That the Kennedy Center and the museums are still good places is why the particular exhibits or shows can speak to the individual who goes of civility, of assumed values of kindness, courtesy, companionship. We made the mistake of seeing Stephen Spielberg’s The Post in such an AMC theater and mall on the day before New Year’s Eve. You can read my review and a linked one (scroll down) in my original political Sylvia blog. I need to see the film again.

I wish for all my readers a good year to come where we all weather somehow whatever economic social and political damage is thrown at us all. Among Trump’s very first acts was to cut the food stamp program, to slash at the agricultural department. He didn’t tweet or boast about that.

Randall Enos: repeal, replace …. yes that’s the bipartisan (fool!) Obama — no it’s not a post-racist world Dorothy

I drove a friend to a CVS last night. It was in the dark and I couldn’t drive much better than she. She needed her allergy medicine, a nose spray and pills. The price of the nose-spray was $213.00. Suddenly up $175 dollars. She had had to change medical plans because of Trumpcare hitting her early. We left without her getting that needed stuff. “Reform” nowadays means changing the rules to let people die, take all opportunity for good education from them, unprotected from debt collectors (college students’ attempt to get help from the Education department are stacked up and shelved) — that’s the reverse definition that began with Bush fils. Trump reforms to allow predators to do what they wish. Until Trump is impeached, we are stuck in a hope mode: hoping no nuclear war, knowing that we are regarded by the Republicans the way they regard the colonialized exploited people outside the US borders: with utter indifference to our welfare, so much possible collateral damage on their way to become yet more obscenely rich. Let us hope we survive with our lives and friends’ (I include family in that word) lives and comforts and work and homes we cherish intact.

The last three days have been dangerously cold — dangerous for the large population of homeless people in the US. Temperatures well below freezing, high winds, snow. I took the photo of my house this morning. I was thinking maybe I ought to begin to sign Ellen at long last, but I think I’ll keep the slight distance and original framing of the blog (meant to be far more comic than it has turned out) this pseudonym provides.

No sensible cat would go out to rub itself against a snowman. I was equally mad (as in mad cats and human staff go out in the midday freeze) as I forged forth kitchen ladder-chair in hand to take colored lights off and out of intertwine in the outside tree yesterday afternoon. This Kliban cat is from this first week’s calendar desk-diary. I had thick gloves on too, and my pussycats, Clary and Snuffy, watched from the inside warmth by the window.

Miss Drake

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From Outlander: Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), soon after they meet (1st episode, 1st season) — I’m addicted to this because of the love relationship at the center; they’ve persuaded me the way Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees once did (as Ross and Demelza Poldark)

Frank (accusing) to Claire: “You couldn’t look at Brianna without seeing him [Jamie]. Could you? Without that constant reminder. Him. Might you have forgotten him, with time?”
Claire; “That amount of time doesn’t exist.”
Outlander, 3rd season, 3rd episode, All Debts Paid, scripted Matthew Roberts)

Dear friends and readers,

Next week I’ve three anniversaries. On October 6th, Jim and I would have been married 48 years, together 49. We met on the evening of October 6th, 1968; four years ago on October 7th, 2013, he was no longer able to speak to me and seemed to have lost consciousness though he was there still, could hear and understand us. As Izzy left for work on that morning, he said “goodbye” to her. Three days later on October 9th at about 5 minutes after 9 at night, he died in my arms, age 65.

I won’t be able to hold the time in my mind the way I might have liked to because I’ve promised to go to a JASNA this coming week, leaving October 3rd and coming back on October 8th. I found on the Internet a YouTube rendition of the Righteous Brother’s old song, “Unchained Melody.” I can no longer share music here, as the YouTube site has been reconfigured to stop all transfers, but I can transmit the lyrics I’ve been listening to.

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me

Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh
“Wait for me, wait for me”
I’ll be coming home, wait for me

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered, for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me
Lonely mountains gaze
At the stars, at the stars
Waiting for the dawn of the day

All alone I gaze
At the stars, at the stars
Dreaming of my love far away

A friend has now sent me a site with a URL which enables me to transfer just this:

I tell myself I can carry on if I have a routine, my routs, and each day I write down the things I must do and then follow what I’ve written, more or less. Sometimes inwardly I decide I’m mad — who but me would work at this or that for no tangible rewards. This blog is about why in part, what does my soul good.

Johnson reading

A new project! I don’t know if I mentioned I’ve begun to collaborate on a paper with a friend on modernism in Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf; we’ve divided their work into three generic areas and also talked of themes where both intersect with modernist attitudes (e.g., both anti-colonialist strongly). I’m working on their biographical writing, and theories. I love both authors; they can sustain me for hours. And as a result in spring I’m going to give a short (10-15 minute) paper on Close Reading as Theory (it’s been accepted), a regional meeting of the MLA in Pittsburgh (I know I can drive there, having done it once now). Here’s the trajectory:

Woolf photo by Barbara Strachey (1938) — she seems to be accepting some sort of award

I propose to close read Virginia Woolf’s close readings of fictional biographies as a fictional biographer (in two of her invented researching of biographies in her Memoirs of a Novelist); of what she regards as faux or or pretend biographies which “license mendacity” and thus free creative invention of a place or personality where no documents exist or have been researched (again two sketches from “The Lives of the Obscure” and “Outlines” in The [first] Common Readers); and her satire, parody and serious biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog Flush. I will demonstrate that close reading far more than more traditional methods (say examination of documentation), at least in Virginia Woolf’s hands, exposes far more effectively not only the flaws of a particular biography but the fallacies underlying the methodology of accepted biographies, suggests what should be the aim and uninimitable methods of true realization of writing lives (both for the biographer and biographical subject), and moves outside the the narrow perspective of implied real person of an author to see life from an non-human animal’s point of view. From Virginia Woolf’s many close and playful readings of and her own imaginative biographies, she creates a modern persuasive theory of biography people are beginning to heed today.

Jim loved Johnson as much as I do — as an undergraduate he took a course in 18th century literature and did his paper on Johnson’s poetry. Read him. I do believe I went to Scotland, had this desire to go to the Highlands since I first read Johnson and Boswell’s twin tours to the Hebrides. I remember in the first year of our marriage reading aloud to one another in turn passages from Woolf’s life-writing.

Harry Dean Staunton is himself, living utterly independently there

Companionship. What I miss most of all is his companionship. I discovered I’m a socially gregarious person, and didn’t know this before because he filled most of my needs that way. I saw a movie this week, which I recommend to anyone coming here, to see whose subtextual theme is living without companionship. Lucky focuses on the real man who act the character in the center: Harry Dean Staunton. It’s a homage to him by the film-maker and actor, David Lynch. Staunton was a known and respected character actor in Hollywood for decades, a singer of American labor and mainstream songs – he would sing in Spanish and we see him talking Spanish. It a story of great courage in the face of death ever near as Harry ages: what is so courageous is this man lives alone, having (apparently) been marrried, divorced and had no children. We are not spared the least wrinkle on his face; he looks every inch of his 90+ years.

What happens is we follow his daily routine with him. He smokes and first thing he does is light a cigarette; we see him pushing his body to exercise. He goes into his kitchen, makes himself a bowl of cereal, cooks bacon, has bread, and drinks instant coffee he just made. Each day he goes to a diner mid-morning for more coffee where he talks to the same people — who know more then I do probably about his life. Each day he watches these inane game shows where all that is said is about winning money, with the word money repeatedly endlessly as goal (more of it). He also takes a paper with him with crossword puzzles and is endlessly doing that. He takes his crossword puzzles everywhere but the bar he goes to at night. He then goes to the same CVS (?) drug-store for milk and talks with a hispanic lady whose son is having a birthday party on a near Saturday. She invites him to go, and he demurs.

At night the same bar with the same people — the owner, a tough “old biddy” of a lady (in sexy sequined clothes), her husband who says he was suicidal and nothing without her — so whatever she does is right. Another man played by John Carroll Lynch is grieving because his tortoise (not a turtle he keeps correcting people) whom he named President Roosevelt (FDR?) left the compound. He buys insurance and leaves all his money to President Roosevelt. He misses his turtle very much.

Lucky leaving the bar

As with Waiting for Godot, we have this minimal note of high hope at the end: when the movie began we saw Mr President moving slowly off the scene to the left; when the movie ends, we see Mr President coming back.

The movie starts out so grim, but as it proceeds, we feel cheered or buoyed up because Lucky carries on. About half-way through he is visited by the black women behind a cash register in the diner; he is suspicious she has been “sent” (shades of Hamlet against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) but she says no. They smoke some marijuana together as they watch a game show. He ends up going to the hispanic lady’s son’s birthday party, and being the only white there (if you categorize Puerto Ricans good enough rise). He seems to enjoy being surrounded by people who are happy to be alive. He sings a Spanish song spontaneously and the band surrounds him back him up. These two incidents are the high happy moments of the film. When accosted about his smoking, or talking with others about his age, in daily social situations Lucky is not cooperative in pretending to believe in the world as good or meaningful. He insists outside this life there is nothing; he feels hollow. He won’t allow cheerful false cant or sentimentality – and ires people.

He insults continuously the insurance selling the man with the wandering turtle a will. He wants to fight him outside but would obviously lose. It’s silly. A little later the man comes into the diner and sits next to Lucky and is almost tempted to start his thieving spiel on Lucky. He stops himself in time. Lucky is tolerated because everyone realizes how alone and vulnerable he is — and they are too. This communal feeling of desperate togetherness characterizes the film.

Lucky listening to his friend telling how much the turtle meant to him and he wants to provide for it

It reminded me so of Paterson, a film by Jim Jarmusch, also with no overt pretensions, this one about the daily life of a poet who lives in New Jersey and drives a bus for a living each day. Both films ultimately cheering fables of the survival of two ordinary people’s gifts. They have not turned into Men with a Hoe: I refer to Markham’s once famous poem (see comments). Lucky is lucky to be alive; the film comes out “for life” as F.R. Leavis would say. The film suggests it’s good to be alive even though …. Gary Arnold who chose it for the film club this month said Staunton recently died and Arnold felt that it might just have a general release because of this. Staunton was well-known and well-liked and he really did live in a small house in the San Fernando valley where we see him walking amid the desolate streets of a town fallen into deep economic desuetude.

Lucky is alone most of the time and when with friends or acquaintances, in company, stays mostly shallow. It did my soul good to watch this man endure life.

(click on the above and you will hear some quiet lute playing

Actors as Renaissance people dancing (from Wolf Hall, a mini-series I’ll be showing clips from this term when I and one class are reading Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall)

It also did my soul good to go to the first concert of this season by the Folger Consort (two aging male musicians who play Renaissance and 17th century music and each time invite guest musicians, singers or actors for a program).

This first one is called An English Garden, and its delightful quality is described on the Folger Library’s site. The group performs in this quiet unassuming way beautiful songs, and varied unaggressive music — Renaissance music is playful, lyric, sometimes very sad. In one song this time a woman lamented the death of a beloved partner. There were songs by Shakespeare (It was a lover and his lass) and exquisite lyrics by Ben Jonson sung to music.

Have you seen but a bright lily grow Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall of snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?
Have you felt the wool of beaver,
Or swan’s down ever?
Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the brier,
Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!

Sometimes the consort put the songs into a playlet and we have a story acted out slightly; last Christmas they had several actors and did The Second Shepherd’s Play. On Galileo’s birthday last year they had a special program where two great older actors in this area, Edward Gere and Michael Toleydo played Galileo and the inquisitor. Finally last spring on the stage they had a screen where appropriate pictures of lovers and gardens from various manuscripts were shown as the songs went on. Once years ago when Jim was alive they did Milton’s Comus. The only hype is in the program notes where the musicians have long paragraphs on their prizes, performance histories, institutions, titles. Not intrusive. It’s this oasis of art for 2 and more hours once every couple of months. I come away with my nerves renewed by harmony.

So there’s a diary entry, my friends. I dread the coming trip — a luxury hotel (which I regard as obscene) where I’m fleeced, a vile airport and abusive airline treatment, many hours where I’ll have nothing to do (I’m bringing books and Izzy and I will stay in separate rooms so I need never hear the TV), much hype over the key lectures and stars and the unfortunate Jane Austen about whose work this gathering is supposed to be done. I’ll sit quietly, smile at those who deign to smile at me, talk if I’m talked to: amid the crowd I might meet someone I know. There will be (as usual in this new life of mine) acquaintances to greet who greet me. I will learn what is fashionable to say about Austen this year, about some individuals’ projects, essays or books, perhaps something on the later 18th century and/or films. I’m just now reading for review Devoney Loose’s The Making of Jane Austen. The title is just right for this Austen hoopla.

I’m reading too many books at once. I’ve got to finish a 10,000 word paper I’m almost done with (one paragraph to go), do the notes and send it in by the deadline of this Saturday: The Global Charlotte Smith: migrancy and women in Ethelinde and The Emigrants. But I am loving (once again) Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Paul Scott’s Staying On, Ken Taylor and Christopher Monahan’s very great Granada mini-series Jewel in the Crown. I find passages in Virginia Woolf’s biography of Roger Frye thrilling; Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is an astonishing masterpiece, and Ken Taylor and Donald Wilson’s brilliant transposition into a 9 part mini-series, Anna Karenina with the beautiful and fine actress Nicola Paget, powerfully seething actor, Stuart Wilson and the very great Eric Porter moving.

So that’s where I am. A new pattern of not forcing myself out every day to reach for friends or companionship, but am instead accepting that what I was seeking is not out there for me. At home all day except when I have someplace to go to I want to be, something to see I want to see, to do I want to do, which only occasionally is with a friend. So life as a long lonely time, communication through the Internet — letters, sharing reading & other experiences, opinions and memories in email, chat & pictures …

What is this world? what asken men to have?
Now with his love, now in the colde grave
Alone, withouten any company.
— Geoffrey Chaucer

Miss Drake

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

She who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

Dear friends,

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

If this were all.

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

So who has the heart to write?

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

The rot seeps in
The rot seeps in everywhere

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


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

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

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

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

I’ve kept up my friendships on-line.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short-listed do very well too

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Izzy and I may make it to Milan ….

Miss Drake

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My front yard this morning after a night and morning long rain of icy-snow — daffodils in snow!

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you — A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh [he speaks for me now when I think of Jim whose Latin copy of this book I have in my house]


About a month ago I wrote about an Iranian film by Ashgar Farhadi, English title, Salesman (2016); I praised it highly and urged people who wanted to begin to learn something of Iranian and Muslim culture to see it. Last week I watched another earlier film by Farhadi, A Separation (2011). It won many awards, and is a better film because it’s not shaped by a “whodunit?” format (who assaulted the wife), and there is no climactic pathetic denouement. In this case I had rented a DVD which enabled me to change the language so I could listen to the actors speaking in French and as the film went on began to pick up a good deal (as I cannot from Farsi) partly using the subtitles. Reviews more or less uniformly credited the film with presenting a portrait of a modern nation during a troubled period attempting to live under Islamic or religious law

The opening shots: the two are facing the judge, she reasoning with him …

The story is quite complicated because so much nuanced reality is brought out: we have a couple whose marriage is shot; Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran in order that her daughter, Termeh (Sarian Farhadi) be brought up in a culture with different norms; Nader (Payman Mooadi) sees his father’s needs as primary (the old man has advanged Alzheimer’s disease). When she files for divorce and it’s not granted (her complaints are said to be trivial), she goes to live with her parents as she does not want to leave without her daughter. Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout Muslim woman desperate for money to stay with his father and care for him all day; the work is arduous, she has a small daughter with her and it emerges is pregnant. He comes home in the middle of the day to find her gone, his father seeming near death tied to a bedpost to prevent him wandering out of the house, and a sum of money equivalent to her salary gone. He goes into a rage and when she returns and has no explanation, he shoves her out of the house. A little later Razieh’s sister informs Simin that Razieh has miscarried. So this is the core event about one quarter into the film. The rest is consequences.

Razieh’s husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), a violent man initiates a prosecution for murder. A long series of scenes brings a number of witnesses to a judge (a teacher, neighbors, the daughter) and among other suspicions, it may be Hodjat hit Razieh, she may have gone to a gynecologist on her own (regarded as very suspicious); we learn Hodjat is vitriolically angry at his lack of a job and incensed at his wife at every turn (she never asked permission to work), and he is pressured by his family into accepting “blood” money, only to lose it when Nader asks Razieh to swear on a Quaran that she believes he caused her miscarriage. Razieh cannot get herself to tell a lie lest God punish her. Continual bickerings go on, the judge’s attitudes towards the men (Nader begs the judge not to jail him), the inflexibility of the laws, all around these people the busy streets, cars and bikes everywhere, the run-down buildings, the expensive schools (with girls kept in), everyone else seeming to be on the edge of quarreling, male shouts, women in burkas following behind men in modern clothes; little girls with covered heads following the mother. As with Salesman, these people live in these tight-knit groups, almost never apart. As with Salesman we see how human nature works its way through and is exacerbated by Muslim norms. No one is seen as criminal (in the way the man who assaults the woman in Salesman is). The film ends with similar ambiguity: it seems the old father is dead, Simin is again asking for divorce and permission to take her daughter out of the country; this time divorce is granted and Tehmen is asked which parent she chooses. She won’t speak in front of them. We see them waiting on the opposite side of a corridor with a glass wall between them. The film has come to its end.

Razieh — characteristic shot

She also stands so silently and often from the side

The characters are granted a depth of psychological reality, the circumstances fully developed sociologically and culturally; it’s superior to the American trilogy I saw in January, The Gabriels, because there is no urge towards allegory; you cannot fit what is happening into a particular political point of view. For my part since the wife was not centrally part of the action much of the time, I didn’t bond with her as her intimate self was not seen; it was Razieh who occupies the center of many scenes of around whose conduct or presence everything swirls. One is driven to enter into the mindset of this Muslim woman who herself tells as little as she can get away with.

I mean to rent his The Past next. This also a critically-acclaimed film, and it too can be listened to as a French film with subtitles. The very least one can do now is to try to understand Muslim culture in the middle east. I have read the monster who is now the US president is hiring yet another 10,000 immigration agents to prosecute the military action of ejecting 11 million people from the US, and banning as many Muslims as the law allows him to from ever entering.

I’ll mention in passing that on Saturday night I managed to drive to see at an Arlington Theater a black spiritual music rendition of Sophocles’s third Oedipus play as The Gospel at Colonnus. I say manage because when I arrived, I discovered the wrong address, a different theater had been cited, and to go I had to rush out, using my Waze software on my cell phone (programmed by a young woman at the box office) following directions half-madly (it was dark and I kept not being able to read the street names so missing turns) to reach another theater where it was playing. For similar reasons to A Separation, everyone, especially everyone of white-European heritage should see it.

I got there late (really just on time with several others rushing over) and one of the ushers actually helped me to a much better seat as I could not see from the back, and then another patron exchanged seats with me so I could have a chair with a back (I do not look young or strong, gentle reader). It’s not great, but the depth of earnest emotion and intelligence, the strong reaching out in song, the beauty and well-meaningness of the anguished lines and powerful acting (they gave it their all) should be experienced. It’s not Hamilton but surely some of the feeling of a black ensemble was so analogous. They wore typical suits one sees young black men sometimes wear, church gowns for the choir, Ismene and Antigone exotic kinds of headgear with gorgeous gowns, the preacher well preacher-clothes and Oedipus clearly blind, a heavy man, with gravitas. I feel so profoundly ashamed to be a white person living in America today and stood to applaud as my way of endorsing all of us to live as equals, equally safe together.

So much harm is planned: to deprive 24 million slowly of health care. To cut off mental health services yet more. Many more people will now kill themselves: separated from their families and friends and lives with no recourse or help; snatched out of churches, streets, for paying their taxes; isolated. At least three Muslim and/or Indian people have been shot dead by white supremacists. Bomb threats and desecration of Jewish graves and institutions occur daily. The Ku Klux Klan wants a public rally in a major town center in Georgia. LGBT people and children in public schools now going to be subject to bullying and given less funds. This is what Trump and his regime (this is no longer called an administration) want: the Syrian president directly murders, bombs, tortures people who live in the land he wants to control; this new rump are more indirect but just as unfazed, unashamed and determined. Destroy as far as they can a whole way of life. I’ve known for a long time the Republican point of view is one which disdains compassion (why Bush fils called his brand compassionate conservativism); their scorn for protest is caught up in the word whine. Joy only for the super-rich. Beneath it all hatred for people like us.


Emma (Kate Beckinsale) painting Harriet (Samantha Morton) (1995 Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

This has been a very stressful week. My doctor suggested to me a 10 hour trip was dangerous; consider the 8th hour of driving, consider, he said, the 9th; how easy to tire, how easy to lose your way, and then tired and anxious, it’s a risk; even a 5 hour trip on two days was something I needed to think about and plan for by being sure to have a comfortable place to stay overnight half-way. Then when I finally looked again into taking a plane, I discovered that there was one flight to and from Burlington, Vermont, on Saturday it occurred half an hour after I was to give my paper; and I had to go through Expedia to buy the tickets. And someone from the conference drive there to pick me up and deliver me back. I worry about my cats again as a contractor and his workmen may be here while I’d be gone for 4 days. I might have to board them. Still, I almost bought that ticket but was advised by the conference head as “an older sister,” maybe not. So I finished my paper, “Ekphrastic Patterns in Jane Austen,” and think it is splendid and sent it to the organizer of the Jane Austen and the Arts conference at Plattsburgh, New York. She offered to read it aloud, sparing me a difficult arduous trip.

A watercolor by Turner of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth (as in Persuasion)

I am turning my attention to my teaching, delving the Booker Prize phenomena in the context of modern book selling. I might set aside some of my on-going projects — though I will still write a full summary review blog of an important book, Julie Carlson and Elisabeth Weber’s Speaking of Torture and feature it in my central blog as something I can do against the present deeply harm-causing regime.

I am seriously thinking of trying a new book project, even begun work on it: a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark books and by extension, the films; and am doing preliminary reading before writing his son to see if he would be agreeable to such a project and if he would help (for example, I would need to see Graham’s letters or private papers, the life-blood of biography). I would focus in the second half on his Poldark novels, so relationship to Cornwall, and finally the films.

The lizard, full sunlit — a paratext for season 2 of the new Poldark (2016)

One of the actresses’s cloaks …. for Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson)

The man I hired as a general contractor has begun work on my house, and already the porch is at long last enclosed by four walls, and has two windows which match the other windows in front. The whole process, all that needs to be done, will take about 2-3 weeks he says. (At most?) My beloved cats have to be put away once more in Izzy’s room while he and his workmen are about.

Kedi (2017, film about hundreds of thousands of Istanbul cats, genre: post-modern historical)

So I end on another film I saw with Izzy and my friend, Phyllis, this Sunday. I liked it so much I’m going again on Thursday with another friend, Vivian: Kedi. Kedi is ostensibly a film about the thousands of cats who live on the streets of Istanbul. We are told the story of at least 20 different individual cats and/or groups of cat (mother and kittens), usually (this is important) by the person who is providing food and care and often affection. The emphasis in some stories is the cat, in others the cat-lover and why his or her deep kindness and the good feeling and love he or she receives in return. I imagine much filming was necessary to capture the cat’s lives, and real social effort to get the caring people to talk to the director and film-makers .The film tells as much about these individuals and why they have taken it upon themselves (some of them go to vets for medicine or seemingly regular check-ups) to keep these cats alive and thriving — as far as one can thrive while living on a street: most of the adult cats look thin, and the babies are tiny, feeble. It’s really about Istanbul and its culture: vast areas of the city are impoverished, people living on the edge in a modern city. Erdogan’s name everywhere. A thriving garbage culture. The sea central to the feel of the place: I remembered reading Orphan Pamuk’s wonderful book about this world of Istanbul he grew up and lives in now.

It’s a movie made out of a deeply humanitarian spirit: real compassion for those who need the cats (the cats are therapy for some), identification and pity for some of the cats’ actions (one grey cat never goes into the restaurant, just bangs on the window in his or her need, stretched body reaching as high as possible). One of the sweetest moments (for a person like me who values language) was when one of the cat-caretakers in talking of the cat says in the middle of his Turkish a word sounding much like our English meow. So to Turkish ears cats make the same sounds. We watch cats doing all sorts of things, climbing high, fighting, eating, drinking, seeking affection, seeking prey, far too high up on a building, hiding out in cardboard boxes set up for them. By the end the cats are us; they stand for our own hard and at times fulfilling existential lives. I loved the one man on the ship who said he was so grateful for his cat’s love. Another who felt some divinity in the whole experience of life with cats in Istanbul. I, my friend, and Izzy were touched, vivified; for myself I knew some moments of shared joy as I watched so that tears came to my eyes. I just felt better about life after it concluded.

Of course I told Izzy about Christopher Smart, wrongly put into an insane asylum, treated cruelly, his only companion, a cat, Jeffrey, and read aloud to Izzy the famous lines:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

One of Laura’s cats looking at her with loving eyes (very well taken care of)

Miss Drake

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Standing Rock, this Thanksgiving Day: by Medea Benjamin the water protectors

Dear friends and readers,

For the first time since Jim died (and perhaps a few years before that), Izzy and I had a “proper” Thanksgiving dinner and with other people. A beautifully cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, a kind of puree of broccoli (with various delicious ingredients blended in), red cabbage (somehow made sweet), stuffing, muffins, for me wine, for her apple juice. My neighbor who lives across the street invited us over and made this dinner: I brought an apple pie and bottle of wine. We talked, and ate, and talked again with good music from NPR: like Aaron Copeland, while we sat around a table doing some serious puzzle putting together. I’ve no photos to prove it; you’ll just have to believe me. I did read an article in the Washington Post which had your regulation photos of turkeys (not cooked, but alive): Debbie Berkowitz told about the terrible conditions poultry workers (that’s people who prepared the unfortunate chickens too) endure (freezing cold, dangerous hard repetitive work, very low wages). A thought which might hinder the usual showing off by photographing the unfortunate bird.

We went across the street around 4 and were there about four hours. The generosity of this woman gladdened our hearts and made the coming winter time more cheerful to contemplate. I wish I could get myself to volunteer in a local homeless shelter where they make meals for people on Christmas day, but I hesitate each year since Jim died. They want me to fill out forms, to agree to have any photos they want, and this year $50 on top of that. So I don’t know again. At any rate, we came back me to read, and she to sleep because she’s promised to write for Fan-Sided another report on ice-skating (I think it is) which starts US time at midnight; she’ll watch, take notes, off to work at 7:30 am, and back again to resume work. Do not underestimate the great solace of writing. About mid-morning today I wrote four letters to friends who had written me, two because it’s Thanksgiving and they know I have birthday coming up.

Another is reading. Over on Wwtta @ Yahoo, about three of us are reading Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and we are into Chapter 24 or so where Lee writes of how important to Woolf was reading. I loved the chapter, but my companion in reading, Diane Reynolds, suggested there is something missing: Lee does not tell which were Woolf’s “touchstone” books (the word from Matthew Arnold’s famous essay on how he tells if a passage is great writing (he reads it against “touchstone” lines of greatness): “which books did she return to again and again in the course of her life.” And why these? In the case of Woolf, one problem is she read so much, it’s not clear she might have thought to write about this until until her immersion was such, she would probably talk of a kind of book (Russian, say, classical). Then as a paid reviewer, she’d have had to think about so many she was paid to read.

So I thought in this desolate, desperate and frightening time before Trump takes office (it’s hard to take in that huge numbers of human beings are willing to allow this corrupt bully monster such power — what a mass failure of imagination is here, Jim might have said), I’d cite the books that I’ve read and reread and reread and those that have changed my reading life and thus me profoundly.


At 8 I’d read and reread P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park — for the park: I lived in the Southeast Bronx and loved tracing the park on the end papers. I loved the quietly magical adventures where this enigmatic strict woman emerged as all kindness, courtesy, reciprocal love. In another of the Poppins books the children visited the Pleiade, the “seven sisters” Margaret Drabble called them and I remembered ever after the drawing of Maia skipping along on the sidewalk. Alcott’s Little Women over and over and I still think in terms of some of its parables. I was lured by The Secret Garden too. I read one copy of Gone with the Wind until it fell apart. All this around age 10 to 12.

From the time (same age) I’ve read Sense and Sensibility Elinor has helped me. She provides a way of thinking, a kind of (yes) self-control, self-protection, that I’d try to emulate and hold to. I remember doing that around age 17 and thought it helped keep me sane. Having spent 5 years on Richardson’s Clarissa it too has been central — though I wish I had known Mary Piper’s Saving Ophelia. It might have helped save me years of mental anguish — I probably would have practiced the same kind of guarded retreat as the best way for me to cope with aggressive heterosexual male culture. How I identified with Fanny, loved the melancholy neuroticism of Anne Eliot. I have never stopped reading Austen for long, especially the six famous books, even Emma which at least has the rhythms of deep heart beat with order and harmony in the sentences, rather like letting Bach or Handel get into the pulses of my blood going through my chest and heart Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre are books I read and reread in my teens. Bronte sent my pulses soaring with her comments about having a treasure within her she’d not sell away

These will seem strange and won’t resonate but this set of books has been as important: Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A user-Friendly Guide. For the first time I could understand what was meant by de-construction, all these “theoretical” outlooks put into words which were meaningful. It was Tyson’s book which made me a feminist. I am not a feminist out of a search for power, or influence, or about a career (none of which I’ve ever had), but as a liberation from the dark nightmare of the way sexuality is conducted in our society. For the first time I had words which did not shame me to discuss the experiences I had endured, and this book took me to others where I understood for the first time I was not only not alone or rare, but my experiences were commonplace. Lois Tyson’s book enabled me to utter my thoughts to myself clearly and at least think about them and then voice them (here on the Net mostly) to others. Emily White’s Fast Girls (about how such girls become “fast,” are stigmatized, treated horribly), Peggy Reeves Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape (ought to be required reading for every girl) and especially Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery (wherein we learn why there is no recovery if by that is meant forgetting, going back to what one was). These did changed how I read.

Close at hand, near to heart: I have Trollope’s books and all sorts of secondary studies in a book case that stretches from ceiling to floor and is about 4 feet wide — he helps and certainly he changed what I do 🙂 The novel I read first and never forget was Dr Thorne I was 18, it was assigned in a college class; I wanted to write a paper on it but was discouraged by the professor because Trollope was (just) “a mirror of his age. Then re-hooked when the Palliser films were aired on PBS in the 1970s: Jim and I watched and read the books in turn as we went through the series. Then re-hooked in the 1990s with Last Chronicle of Barset in Rome (it got me through) and The Vicar of Bullhampton (given me by my father when I landed in hospital.) I have read and re-read Trollope’s books, and while his depiction of women leaves much to be desired, his attitude towards colonialism shameful, he does see the truth and is candid enough to suggest it. I give him the high compliment of saying he sees the same world Samuel Johnson does.

Over the years I’ve added this or that author who speaks home to me: there has got to be a strengthening offered, a way of coping as well understanding what existence is — especially for women and in books by women. There is a strong perpetual fault-line between women’s and men’s art. Lately it’s been Margaret Oliphant and Elizabeth Gaskell (yes I like older books) but before that Elsa Morante (in the Italian) as well as Elena Ferrante’s first couple of books (Days of Abandonment is astonishing), Chantal Thomas (Souffrir), Jenny Diski. Graduate school introduced me to Samuel Johnson (how’s that for a different voice), Anne Finch’s poetry, Charlotte Smith but she is so corrosive; she permits self-expression through her but not the calm acceptance and understanding of how this came to be; now and again in different life-writing, memoirs I find women who do this: Iris Origo, George Sand, George Eliot (though too much violation of natural impulses).

In the first few years after graduate school, I discovered Renaissance women wrote (who knew?) great sonnets, and loved Vittoria Colonna (why I taught myself Italian, though I first loved her poetry in fin-de-siecle French translation), Veronica Gambara, Gaspara Stampa, Lady Mary Sidney Wroth. I discovered Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters, read all three volumes. Now and again I’ve clutched some contemporary woman author as yes yes yes: Rosamund Lehmann’s mistitled The Echoing Grove comes to mind (The Weather in the Streets might contain the first frank story of an abortion, had just around the time the heroine reads Austen’s Pride and Prejudice); Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children tells such good hard truth but offers not enough comfort.

Well of course each day (almost) I reach something which makes being alive worth while. I love reading about women artists, and reading women’s poetry. Today I was having a deeply enjoyable time reading Martha Bowden’s Descendents of Waverley, a stimulating book about historical romance and novels whose reflections criss-crossed with another set of post-modern historical fictions I had been reading about in another book I’m reviewing: Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and Cambridge. Between this book and others about historical fictions and films, and reading Booker Prize versions of these, thinking about earlier ones (Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, even the Poldark novels, Walter Scott) I’ve come to the thought that we so love post-modern historical fiction with great dollops of romantic fantasy (time-traveling, re-enactment, erotic giving of the self to a beloved) because through intertextuality they include precious historical documents (books from previous eras), the remnants of a past that have survived which can open worlds of minds and places to us, cultures, while the 20th and 21st century authors, film-makers produce a perspective on this past and our present that is sustaining and comforting today.

Do you love the older images on Virago covers? often I do. Also black-and-white picturesque illustrations.

This Monet is my header picture on Twitter

So that’s what I have been thinking and what I did this Thanksgiving day. It was a day where no further irrational (unless you believe everything must be set up for a few people to make as much profit as possible), vile (deeply inhumane) and despicable (choosing inept people who known nothing about the area except that they want to destroy what’s there) appointments were paraded by the president elect, not even one of his snark jokes. I’ve in effect praised the Post for one of its Thanksgiving day stories, so let me be clear: the rest of their page was advice to those who see what Trump is to be humble before those who voted for this man if we have to sit down to dinner with any of them: the overt theory is again they are good deluded people (the old shibboleth of “false consciousness”) and we are to blame for this horror about to unfold because we have been elitist: with such a conclusion, how can the paper’s staff hope ever to help those poultry workers they grieved for on the same page?

So I also remember the lesson of the 1930s when a segment of my then extant family in Europe was rounded up, send to camps and many of them exterminated or died of hellish treatment or were shot. I’ve saved for last two books, both slender. The first a sine qua non for a 20th century reader: Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce (if you can in the Italian, but if not the English translation is good). I read these (bound together as one book) when I was teaching myself Italian (I was about 44). Indirect, but saying the same thing is Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, which each time I was given the second half of British Literature to teach I assigned as our penultimate read.

Miss Drake

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Jean Baptiste Mallett (1799-1835), A Young Woman Standing in an Archway

Dear friends and readers,

I close the curtain I drew aside the last time I wrote. This is life n front of the curtain since coming home from Cornwall

My edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake has been published by Valancourt Press. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!” Here is the generic description and where and how to buy it When it arrived yesterday afternoon, tears came to my eyes because I loved the cover illustration. You see it above. The rest of the book is a pure white, it’s a quarto size but very thick, 506 pages. 136 of the 138 notes I wrote made it into the text at the bottom of the appropriate pages! It took 5 years on and off. I’ve made a blog with an account of the story and themes. At the beginning Jim was helping me adjust a scanner so as to be able mechanically to mount pages which I then would correct, type, annotate. When my computer died two months after he did, I was distraught over the loss of what I had done up to that point. It was all rescued and about a year after his death, I resumed work. it arrived on the day Jim would have been 68 (October 3rd); tonight it appeared on Valancourt’s site: we would have been married 47 years; this is the 48th anniversary of the night we met (Oct 6th, 1968).

A second new event for me occurred on October 3rd too: I drove into Washington, D.C. to go to an HD film at the Folger Shakespeare Library of a live performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as performed by players under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at his theater in London. I have seen two HD films from Stratford at the Folger (Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing renamed Love’s Labor’s Won — with the same actors), but never before drove in. I no longer trust the Metro as three weeks ago I attempted to go to the first of monthly Washingon Area Print Group meetings at the Library of Congress and found there would be no blue line for another hour. The published Metro schedule of the continual disruptions in service (due to danger, work being done) does not come near telling what is literally going on in that system from hour to hour. The schedule-writers couldn’t begin to. So I discovered that around the library the population is white and upper middle class or yuppy. People in gym outfits, women carrying yoga mats rolled. Men walking with pretty young daughters. Well-groomed dogs. There is in effect no parking during the day for people without permits until 6:30 pm when the two-hour permission ends at 8:30 pm. I didn’t want to fight a huge traffic jam so had left at 4:15 pm, and sat in my car reading once I found a good spot to wait for 6:30. I moved once lest I get a ticket after I left the car.


It was well worth it. I’m not sure the production entirely succeeded: Branagh situated the action in, had all the actors dressed and behave as if they were in a version of verismo, say Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana verismo played out with the desperation and violence of a 1948 Italian film I’ve never forgotten, Bitter Rice, with the belligerence of the males straight out of The Godfather. Some of the acting seemed too stylized, too forced: instead of watching characters dancing, we were watching actors miming intense patterns that characters at a dance might manifest. I found Derek Jacobi just too old for Mercutio, though I gather the idea was he was a kind of mascot, super-talkative and show-offy as this old man. The play has problems as it veers from ludicrous comedy to deep tragedy and Mercutio’s speech really doesn’t fit so some of the troubles of the first half were not Branagh’s doing: he was coping with these by borrowing from the comedy of a woman who has lost all her relatives and now dotes on her charge (Meera Syal as the nurse). He brought out how harsh Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) is to daughter, wife, nurse. But the play soared in the second half — partly this is Shakespeare pouring himself into these deeply melancholy, distraught, lightening changes into idyllicism to dark despair speeches. But I give Lily James (not given sufficient respect since the Downton Abbey role that brought her to prominence has a tendency to frame her as an easy pretty face) credit for inhabiting a young girl’s deeply passionate presence, one of wild impetus, deep sensuality, reluctance too at moments, bewilderment, and total absoluteness. Jack Madden with his dark-glasses, tie and hair-do put me in mind of West Side Story; the ambiguity of the Friar was caught by Samuel Valentine. It was in black-and-white which placed it in a film noir frame: I heard members of the audience not keen, but it was justified and especially by the final tableau of the bodies in this nightmare ghostly coloration. Together Lily James and Kenneth Branagh made Romeo and Juliet astonishing once again.

About the Folger concert at Kennedy Center that Izzy and I went to this past Saturday evening perhaps the less said the better. It was billed as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with speeches from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — and again Derek Jacobi was a box-office attraction. We hoped for a moving performance of the opera as we had during all three Folger concerts last year found the singers acted beautifully roles their songs implied. No such thing. They were not only dull but the least interesting of part of Measure for Measure were made to frame the opera: the story line omitting great speeches like “Be Absolute for Death” in order to understand life or accept death, in order perhaps to make a non-existent parallel between the classical lovers and the hypocritical Antonio and his pursuit of the nun Isabella, desertion of Marianne, and attempt to murder Claudio for sexual sins he commits. The woman singing “Remember me” had a reedy-voice and everyone seemed uncomfortable with the roles. Izzy fell asleep. One interesting element was how the audience in the intermission were looking for something positive to say aloud and then at the end clapped hard as if they were enthusiastic which they weren’t. No one wanted to admit they had thrown their money and time away. Years ago Jim and I tried the Folger Concert and had found it this bad often; I guess every once in a while they returned to uncompromising dullness.


Actually Izzy and I have eaten out twice in Old Town, once to a pizza place where we watched Leslie Stall exploring the North Pole, walking in the dusky light around the Potomac ….

I am kept very busy this sad week. My kitchen is being renovated. At one point last Friday everything was ripped out and Izzy and I had no sink, the dish-washer and washing machine and dryer were in the backyard under tarpaulin on pieces of wood in the pouring rain. I am not replacing the appliances and the stove was only not plugged in one night and fridge kept plugged in as well as the microwave oven. All the stuff that was in the cabinets is in boxes around the dining room table. Izzy and I have eaten at home chicken legs baked and basmati rice. I wash the dishes we have in her bathroom sink. I’ve gotten quite orderly and know where things are and manage breakfast and lunch on the coffee table in the front or at my desk in front of my computer.

I worried I would not get the work done I wanted: but this man is very good, and his two helpers do what I have wanted, getting rid of eye-sores like this thing on the wall for a phone to hang from; like the man in January fixing the pipes and they have replaced rotting walls with good wall. Jim and I had discussed renovating the kitchen, using the same super-expensive (and now I realize cosmetically oriented) crew that did our bathrooms. Patty the project manager never came by when she was supposed to; she did not like my sceptical attitudes towards what she called “creativity.” Of course we would want a new washing machine and dryer and she would put them in a cabinet one on top of the other. I asked what was wrong with having such machines in the kitchen? Why did she want to hide them? I am able to do this renovation far more wisely because my neighbor Sybille became my friend and recommended this man.

It will be very pretty when they finish: new cream-colored cabinets with designs or lines of soft brown beige; the walls of the room will be painted soft cream; the trim is soft brown. I’ll have lights under the cabinets. The tile is lovely and for the first time ever stretches from one end of the room to the other: it is a stony-beige color. I’ll have a kitchen chandelier of some sort too. I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen that was not done right in 1993 for a long time.

Jim did not live to see this, and I will have no one to show it too. I’m doing it to support my own self-esteem, feel better about myself. (I won’t describe what the room had become over the 23 years since we renovated.) My friend, Phyllis, did say she would come over to see it, and I said since I don’t know how to cook meals for guests or do what’s called “entertain,” I said if she came I would buy pre-cooked or prepared food from Whole Foods and we could eat that together with Izzy and the two of us drink wine. We could watch more Outlander again on my big-screen TV (she likes Outlander).


My poor pussycats are made uncertain of themselves and thus nervous. I keep them in the back half of the house to protect them from running out of the house in terror. And I spent three hours today in an equivalent nervousness (like my cats). Two hours yesterday. Izzy and I are both going to Chawton Library for the Charlotte Smith conference where I’m to give a paper on the post-colonial Charlotte Smith. We’ll be gone 7 days including traveling time. I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the visiting services: the contractor is not finished and they would have to be shut away in the back and hear these men with no one else in the house with them. I can imagine them frantic to run away and getting run over by a car or killed by some animal stronger than they or starving to death. I found the people who do house-visiting and offer other kinds of in-house services not reassuring enough. Would they be able to keep the cats in the back? what happens when no one is here but the men working? In short, I just didn’t feel it would be safe. Having now visited a Pet Resort boarding place I am persuaded it’s the safest & most cheerful choice. My cats will have a social life with other cats while I’m gone.


I drove to the place — I used the garmin to get there — it’s said to be Springfield but is in a remote outpost of Fairfax County. It used to be in Olde Towne but rents are too high now. A handsome older building, well kept up, 4 floors; my pussycat’s “penthouse” is in a large airy room. The penthouses with windows are the ones by the large windows, but they are catty-cornered to the windows. There is a large play area in the room. Toys. I saw sleeping contented and playing cats! They had company. I feel the cats will now be safe (they cannot run away). Clarycat, I can see, coming out to play. There’s a woman there all the time. I will take them on the Tuesday and have reserved until the following Wednesday though I hope to be back Tuesday and pick them up then. I now have peace of mind over them, my heart is easy.

I now think people who resort to neighbors, vague arrangements, to visiting services (not expensive, $20 a visit) don’t want to put their animals in such places because they don’t want to pay the money such a place costs. The money motivation for most people is high: for me too, but I find I’m often willing to pay for what others aren’t (say for a seat at Wolf Trap) and for what others are willing to pay (say an expensive gym rather than a public one), I avoid. I admit that it may be there are many people who can’t afford to pay $80 a night. I also have a car I could drive to get there and back. A British friend sent me the garmin which is so easy to use.

The Inevitable Navigation System: 'You have arrived at your destination.'

The Inevitable Navigation System: ‘You have arrived at your destination.’


I did have two more experiences I want to tell of: because reader, you could enjoy them too. The film club nearly two weeks ago before, Sunday, September 25th, had the Swedish film directed by Hans Holm, A man called Ove, based on a novel by Fredrik Bachman. It has rightly won many awards.

The story emerges slowly: we see Ove (played by Ross Lassgard), a large man get very angry at a flower shop because the flowers are priced so as to force him to buy two rather than one. At first we don’t realize what the flowers are for: but then we see he is daily buying these, and daily putting them by a beloved wife’s gravestone.


He has been let go of his job (forced redundancy, retired) because he is old, and stubbornly not keeping up with “new ways,” so now pensioned off, he lives alone. We see that he is an ill-tempered difficult man who scolds people and tries to get them to obey regulations, before where he worked and now inside his housing project. We watch and see amid his mechanical routines to get everyone to obey rules, he is a widower desperate to kill himself.

It’s surprisingly conservative parable or comic fairy tale: as in attempt after attempt, Ove is comically interrupted, prevented, himself does not plan his suicide carefully enough so it doesn’t work, we get flashbacks of his life. An immigrant family move in and he is led to give up his anger, scorn and alienation as a young wife (middle eastern, heavily pregnant) befriends and uses him to help her and her children and lends him her husband to fix his kitchen. The flashbacks show us a lonely life redeemed by one woman who brought joy into his life, she loved, married him and now is gone. The cards are stacked against him though. The film makes comedy out of deaths: Ove has been singularly unlucky: his mother dies in a freak accident, and father dies because a train runs over him after he is made so happy his son is promoted. He is all alone until a woman on a train recognizes his good heart and aggressively courts and then marries him. She almost dies in a bus accident; because he holds out against the hospital staff’s idea she will never come out of her coma and she does, he can take her home. We then see her fight to get a job in a wheelchair, fight to help others who are disabled. It is she who made him a happy life. Now that she is gone, he has wanted to die.


A small motif in the film concerns a long-haired cat. At first we see this cat as a mangy desperate animal everyone, including Ove, kicks. Gradually the cat begins to stay near Ove, and then he is pushed by his immigrant woman friend to take the cat in. He begins to buy food for the cat and by the end of the film is sleeping with the cat. She or he is there when Ove dies — for he does die by the end, when he is surrounded by the friends he has made through giving in. He leaves a note telling how the cat likes her food and how she likes to sleep.

I say the film is conservative because a repeating kind of incident happens which in effect condemns group judgements, activities, the state in effect. This pushes against the pro-social group and acceptance the story enforces. I mentioned the hospital staff. It seems the state in the form of heartless men with white shirts and ties have time and again imposed its will on Ove or his father and mother or his beloved wife. These men took from him and his parents a house they loved and replace it with supposedly a better neighborhood. These men resort to burning a house down that he built piece by piece. In the present time sequence we see versions of these men in white shirts and suits try to put in a home another old man whose wife finds her raison d’etre in caring for and who wants to be with her even if nearly paralyzed. Ove had been this man’s almost friend and so too his wife who needs his help. Ove is able to help this couple because he has been led by the same immigrant Iranian woman to cooperate instead of shouting and screaming at people and making enemies: he gets a lawyer to help and she exposes the truth these people are making huge profits. You might say he is redeemed, called back to life by a second loving woman.

This film is not playing locally in my area but is playing elsewhere. I recommend it. I was much moved and also absorbed — of course I would be. There is talk among the audience after the film led by Gary Arnold (the film critic who chooses the films, introduces them). One man said he found irritating the idea that people grieve intensely and want to kill themselves and called it cliched; he knew what would happen. I controlled myself and defended the film on the basis of the comic-anguish art. Arnold said, “You never know who is going to be killed next.” He thought maybe the train running over Ove’s father was over-the-top. In each case you don’t know how it will be that he won’t manage to kill himself. I did worry when he bought himself a shot gun, loaded it, sat down and aimed it at his chin and began to pull the trigger.

Back yet further in time, a Tuesday night, September 22nd, I went to the Smithsonian to hear an excellent lecture on “Frankenstein Revisited” by Bernard Welt (he lectures regularly). I’m teaching Mary Shelley as a 19th century woman of letters, with her Frankenstein as her first but by no means only good book, I dared to try to get to a lecture at the Smithsonian using the Metro. I did manage it — was lucky that night. There are two different trains that stop at the Smithsonian: blue and silver. If the blue line doesn’t work, I can take the yellow to the orange and then the orange to the silver; it’s roundabout and takes much longer but is doable.

The first third told the usual story of the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori in their Italian villa on the lake in a dark rainy summer challenging one another to write a ghost story. He went over Mary’s parents, the love match with Shelley (he omitted all the misery of Shelley’s equal affair with her step-sister, his impregnating other women), all the usual literary groundwork, its political and other radicalism, its susceptibility to all sorts of thoughtful perspectives. He emphasized the Rousseau one: everything about society is wrong, a challenge to Hume and Kant, science, to the idea that life must be good (Prometheus as Job). He added some I hadn’t known: like that summer there had been a vast volcanic explosion which affected weather across the earth. It was the second two-thirds of his talk that were stirring: he seems to be a film and cultural studies scholar. He talked of the early responses to Shelley’s book, the first play, how it became part of a discourse about outcasts, working people, a way to describe the human condition in extremis. Then he came to the 20th century and went through the film history: from James Whale in 1931 to the recent National Theater dual Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the doctor one night, and Johnny Lee Miller the creature, and then the next switching roles. I found his bringing him ideas about the golem, the use of light and darkness on the screen (as Branagh used it I discovered when I went to the Folger) fascinating and useful. Throughout the creature and doctor embodied reactionary ideas, hatreds, insane angers, and Prof Welt ended on how in cartoons recently the creature has been likened to Trump, with the villagers no longer throwing rocks at him, but following with their pitchforks gleeful to destroy the present world order.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (as Dr Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
Naomi Harris was Elizabeth


So gentle reader and friend, on from the time I arise from bed each morning to the time I take my nightly tradazone pill, cover myself, and Clarycat snuggles up alongside me. I have left out all my reading, teaching work, movie-watching — I’ve been blogging on some of that elsewhere. Like Fielding, a good showman if ever there was one, at the end of Book 6 (which I read and quoted from this week) in Tom Jones when Tom and Sophia have both set off on that road of life, with the audience (world as stage) watching, I say don’t pay a higher price for whatever it is than it is worth, try not to become intoxicated by emotion or drink, and don’t fall to weeping.

Samantha Morton and Kathy Burke as Sophia Western and Mrs Honor, setting forth with a good will (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Miss Drake

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