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Archive for the ‘film studies’ Category


Me and Ian, photo taken by Izzy this past month

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I was looking forward to much less to do, but find after all I made new commitments on top of my old ones and am struggling to catch up. This month too I felt again worried about my health (signs of aging); I had some good moments — mostly honestly when I was teaching, or reading a good book; and some bad — I got lost twice trying to get to the Tysons Corner clinic center, and when by myself simply returned home without getting the scheduled second booster shoot; when with Izzy, she saved the day by whipping out her cell phone and using the app called apple. Though she said the apple app (a mapping software) was inferior (as it did not tell us which direction to go in, only showed the road itself), the apple app as used by Izzy got us to the Tysons site, where I had a heart stress test. The nurse practitioner pronounced “you have a healthy heart” after I had sustained quick walking on a ever faster treadmill for over 20 minutes.

In some of this there was a lesson to be learnt — or reminded of. I rescheduled the trip to Ireland for August 2023; yes to go and come back on the plane I’d have to be tested for Covid, and if the test were positive have to stay for 2 weeks in self-quarantine in a hotel room. I would truly become half-crazy were I to be so stranded (and charged for it). Tonight I made an agreement with a male friend with whom I once before went to ES/ASECS in October with to go again this year: he flies here and stays with me one night; drives me to the place (a inn in Wilmington, Delaware, near the Winterthur museum where the conference will be held); we stay there together for 2 nights, 3 days; he drives us back, and then takes an airplane back home (Arkansas of all places — poor man). When I looked at the address, I knew I couldn’t find it myself and on top of that can not drive at night even the shortest of distances.

My friend has made two panels up, and will himself chair a festschrift meeting in honor of a long-time member of EC/ASECS, head of the Bucknell Press. For me this means I will automatically be part of 3 sessions, active, and due to the way he wrote up the panels, I’ve thought of a new paper: “From Either End of the Long Eighteenth Century: Anne Finch’s ‘Folger’ Book and Jane Austen’s Unpublished Fiction.” I’ve now for months (on and off) been studying how the new Cambridge complete edition of Finch’s poetry is a book which attempts to give the reader the closest experience one can have of the original 3 manuscripts they are found in, and a number of years ago I wrote a review of the Cambridge edition of the later manuscripts of Jane Austen where I studied how these works are shaped and project meaning through their manuscript state. It’s is almost a matter of reading quite a number of blogs and sitting down and writing it out, and then turning to the review of the Finch book at last, and writing it. My friend’s financial needs and academic outlook are fitting mine. A positive development, no?

Another lesson came out of my PC computer acting up in the later afternoon. The fan kept coming on. I emailed the IT guys and one came on quickly and did a bunch of updates for about half an hour and the problem seemed to cease. Alas, the next day it came back in a milder form. I had the idea to google and ask what I should do and read there that fans can come on if one has too many applications open. So I put a huge number of files and pictures on my desktop away in windows explorer, and voila, the fan ceased. My desktop is also clear. The IT guy had claimed to fix my landscape mechanism so that it would once again change every once in a while the first picture that comes up after turning the machine on, but he had not succeeded. In a way I prefer it — changes make me nervous.

Below is a favorite image — one I would not mind as my wall paper. You have seen it on this blog before, gentle reader. I am imagining I am by the sea (by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea … ), a beach — something that does not happen to me much (at all?) any more. Staring out into the sky, at the birds.


Sara Sittig — By the sea (by the sea, by the beautiful sea ….) — knowing Jim not out there any more

Much solaced and compelled absorbed this month by Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (I’m in the third volume, Barbie Batchelor’s mind pure visual poetryI’m teaching only Jewel in the Crown), Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (where she lets loose at long last the tragedy of diasporic disconnection and search for individual fulfillment through a woman character who ends up alienated from all who would have loved her), and have learned of and enjoy her rich Italian identity and beautiful language In Altre Parole and Trovo Mi Dove.

To speak in, think in, read and (the highest attainment) write in another language is to become part of another world — and I too love the Italian one. On Trollope&Peers our book for this month of June-July is Tarchetti’s Fosca as translated by Lawrence Venuti as Passion(the name from a 1980s movie and then Sondheim’s musical). Lahiri’s In altre parole is actually a perceptive study on what one gains by reading a translation consciously — not pretending it is the actual original text but a translation into another language and (often) place.

As to movies I was truly absorbed once again in all four Mansfield Park (Metropolitan one of them) movies as I reread that strange book by Austen — and it is strange the perceptive heroine, full of a depth of emotion, imprisoned in taboos. I’ve also been reading through the startling depths and intricacies of everyday life and emotional attachment and cool calculation in Trollope’s masterwork, The Small House at Allington (modeled on and meant to surpass I’m sure Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, with Lily a fully sexualized Marianne, and Bell a yet more careful of her heart, Elinor Dashwood). I promised a talk to be called Barsetshire in Pictures.  I admit the sex is pretty good in the first Outlander book, and I’ve bought the DVD for the sixth season and await it impatiently.

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Barkley L. Hendricks, George Jules Taylor (1972)

The above is but one image of many works of art of all sorts that make up some seven rooms of an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC, called Afro-Atlantic Histories. I had made a date to go the National Gallery and have lunch there too with a friend, and see any new exhibits and old favorites. I did not realize was one of these blockbuster shows which offers unexpectedly extraordinary experiences, but individually and within the context the show creates. Powerful art depicting and showing frighteningly inhuman remnants (e.g., irons to put around enslaved people’s necks to continually hurt and cow and control their every movement) and recreating the experiences of slavery in the Afro-Atlantic world from the 17th century to the 19th, and then a recurring reformulation (direct choices by powerful people in gov’t and business in cahoots) of impoverishment and immiseration for black people by making situations where they stay in the lowest and poorest classes of people. Not all was despair, for the art tended to be modern, 20th century and after because only in the 20th century are the realities of the experience for enslaved people and then impoverished people acknowledged. Some striking photography in the 20th of admirable looking or celebratory people (mostly black) in the US, or Latin or South America. Portraits of individuals. Some of the older pictures were beautiful too — done by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th century following picturesque and other eye-pleasing costume and arrt conventions.


Theodore Gericault’s 1811 Portrait of a Mestizia

I came home to buy at ebay the companion book which includes 2/3s as many art works as are in the exhibit. It came very quickly and I’ve been finding it very much worth immersing yourself in. Sometimes going to a country does not help learn its history since those who were in power erased everything they could about the means they took inflicted on other people. Art brings these things to light and re-imagines and re-creates them here. I’ve been taking two superb courses at OLLI at AU: one on the achievements of Thurgood Marshall, and the other on Lincoln which focuses on his evolution towards complete emancipation for all enslaved people, and his thinking about political and civil rights for African Americans which they as all people innately must have to live a good human life. Lincoln not only opposed the expansion of slavery but also condemned slavery as evil and wrong. I bought and am reading Eric Foner’s Lincoln and American Slavery and Juan Williams’s Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. There is a coterminous area between the two men: no one anywhere has a right to anyone as property. Marshall saw the way to achieve equality of life and fulfillment for black people was full integration.

One striking if not unique I hope rare desperate-helpless kind of experience this month was when face-book a few days suddenly would not download on my Macbook pro laptop and on this PC Computer none of the postings I wrote or anyone wrote to me or any postings at all were visible. My groups pages were all awry. Extremely trying since on google I was told face-book was not down, and therefore something was wrong particular to my computers or settings. But then I found where it seemed many people were having all sorts of odd barriers and problems, and a few the same as mine. So every three hours or so I sent messages to places on face-book where it says “report a problem.” You were told you would not get a reply and it would be used “to improve the general service.” But who knows? Here is what I found two mornings later on google: an explanation of sorts:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/10158791436142200/

And then last night around 1 am I went to face-book once again and all I need had returned. All messages are visible. My laptop uploading normally again. FB has changed again. All the groups have been reconfigured so the banner is smaller. What I can do, or the software and links on my timeline are slightly changed, so I can do less. I know an algorithm began to do to FB what it does to my gmail; in a pattern not all messages show all the time. I conclude they made it less expensive to run. It was not all bad. Numerous kind and generous people emailed me off FB, replied for me on FB — and I felt indeed I have FB friends with genuine concern for me. Pace all the pundits and political savvy types can say, I come to FB for companionship and they validated my raison d’etre for being there.

Here is my experience of the internet as of 1995 and then when these social media emerged from 1998 or so (blogs) and 2003 or so (social media, from livejournal to wordpress to FB, twitter &c): for the first time in my whole life I made a number of friends at once. Real friends then — some people I’ve never lost contact with — Michael Powe, still co-owner of Trollope&Peers; Diana Birchall, plus others. I found myself talking about books to others for the first time. I could read others’ opinions and yes tell my own more bravely for the first time. I was in an ongoing social life for the first time. Hitherto I was mostly alone. I loved it. I have omitted all the bad stuff — the bad stuff is a cyberspace version of the bad stuff in life. On FB over the past 9 nine years I’ve found forms of companionship I needed since Jim’s death — and the near death of listservs — surely you see how few of us there are here. Mine died because I gave up volunteer schedules, elections of books (where people vote books they don’t read) and because my approach is intellectual and often radical in some way or other or just doesn’t please – but also much competition. I now regard it as a small group of friends who read slowly together sorts. Social life through writing used to be the sole center — now I contact people by zoom, face-time, google hang-out and hear and see them and they me — am part of worlds and these worlds lead to worlds in physical space with others.

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The Stanhopes arrive at Mrs Proudie’s Converzatione (at the center Susan Hampshire as la Signora Nerone)

So what lies ahead? why so busy? In a few weeks I shall give another talk to the London Trollope Society group: Barsetshire in Pictures. This necessitates (see above) having read all The Small House in Allington (for Millais’s illustrations), going over all the many pictures by George Housman Thomas for Last Chronicle of Barsetshire, and watching once again the delightful (work of comic-grave genius) 1983 Barchester Chronicles – to get up and present and make interesting the pictures and sets of stills.

June I re-give my 4 week course (this time OLLI at AU) Retelling Traditional Histories and Tales from an Alternative POV. June into July a six week course on Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly) with two superb film adaptations for the Sensational and Gothic Novel Then and Now. Fall in both places: Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle (yet again!) with Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir (and their film adaptations): Barsetshire Then and Now. I am really wondering if I should take off next winter, but now without Jim all alone here for weeks I would lose perspective (so to speak) so The Heroine’s Journey it is for 4 weeks a OLLI at Mason online next winter (Atwood’s Penelopiad, Wolf’s Medea, Ferrante’s Lost Daughter & Austen’s Northanger Abbey).

A surprise for me is the persistence of online classes: for OLLI at AU in June out of 29 classes, 18 are online, 2 hybrid, and only 9 in person; for OLLI at Mason in June-July, the greater number of online and hybrid to in person is even more striking. Do people fear Covid? Is it not worth the time and trouble to drive in and they feel they “get what they want” out of zooms: but 2/3s of a class may stay in black boxes (as if they had bags over their heads). Do you have any understanding of this?  I’ll be there in person with no hybrid alternative.


Olivia Coleman as a lost daughter (La Figlia Oscura)

August Izzy and I will travel to Toronto, Canada! to visit Thao who will have had her baby (William) in June: her first, and my first sort of grandchild, with Izzy as Auntie. We will book in later June. We are face-timing with Thao now once a month on Sunday evening.


Izzy this morning, as yet unlost

And I thought I had nothing to tell you. All this to fill my mind so that I can be at peace alone for reality, and with Jim in my mind and memory in the house and world he and I made together

Away, Melancholy

Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Are not the trees green,
The earth as green?
Does not the wind blow,
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
Away melancholy.

The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
All things hurry
To be eaten or eat.
Away, melancholy.

Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
He is an animal also
With a hey ho melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Man of all creatures
Is superlative
(Away melancholy)
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
(Away melancholy)
Into the stone, the god
Pours what he knows of good
Calling, good, God.
Away melancholy, let it go.

Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Saying, Can God
Stone of man’s thoughts, be good?
Say rather it is enough
That the stuffed
Stone of man’s good, growing,
By man’s called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.
Man aspires
To good,
To love
Sighs;
Beaten, corrupted, dying
In his own blood lying
Yet heaves up an eye above
Cries, Love, love.
It is his virtue needs explaining,
Not his failing.
Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Stevie Smith (1902-1971)

See Cats in Colour,

Ellen

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This year’s daffodils

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

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5)

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Ellen

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This year’s Christmas tree — we bought, put it up and decorated it today

because she does life all by her-
self, and she only talks to dogs [cats] and to the
desert — Alice Notley

Dear friends,

The Christmas season is here but, as a couple of friends’ letters and cards showed me, for many people the experience will be unlike the usual one, of significant get-togethers for as many as several days, of travel, of shopping amidst tight crowds. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade occurred but with no audience in the streets, much shorter, and several acts pre-recorded elsewhere. Virtual concerts, Christmas get-togethers, on-line plays, movies, will characterize the experience of those who know enough to take COVID’s dangers seriously.

For Izzy and I who tried to be cheerful and jolly through going out to the Kennedy Center or like venues for plays, being with people, a restaurant meal with Laura and her husband, Rob, it will mean foregoing such events. Laura says we’ll four get together via zoom and have our gifts mailed to one another and unwrap together on zoom, eat briefly, and wish one another a good Christmas day and coming year. Otherwise it won’t be much different for us, if you factor out how Izzy works from home everyday.

For myself something has now gone wrong — a few nights ago I began to feel around my chest a dull pain, sometimes hard ache, sometimes worse on and off and as if my muscles are being stretched. It’s like someone has installed some weights on my chest in front and back and pushes at them, or there’s this wire going round my rib cage and it’s being pulled. I have had muscle spasms in my chest area for years and I got these too. Wednesday night I slept but two hours because it was that bad or I kept waking up. It seemed to let off once I was walking or sitting up.

Later that day the pain returned so even though I had phoned my doctor and gotten an appointment for Monday as the earliest free slot he had, I phoned Kaiser itself, and the advice nurse told me to come into Tysons Corner Urgent Care. Laura was able to take off in the later afternoon and so we went and spent several hours there. Laura has to wait outside in her car.

It has taken me three days to recover from that exhausting experience. I had a battery of tests, including a CT scan where through the veins a dye is pushed and it makes one hot in the central cavity of your body. The doctor found nothing “obviously wrong.” I now know what is mean by “weakness in the chest wall” which is the explanation Dr Villafuerte gave me years ago when I had bad spasms in my chest: an aneurysm in my aorta sounds scary. He said if it became larger I might have to have heart surgery, and would have to weigh the dangers of not having the surgery against the dangers of hemorrhage.

My diagnosis of myself had been shingles.  This kind of pain — around the chest is what Jim had 30 years ago — only very hard pain. At that time I & the two girls all caught chicken pox; the doctor said it was from him.  But several people and this doctor ruled shingles out as I’ve no rash, no temperature, the pain is not frantically excruciating — I merely feel a kind of heavy pain around my breast bones or ribs as I’m typing. It tires me out and makes me do everything slower. I also do keep falling asleep at night. I still have not eliminated the possibility of shingles in my mind. I also have (sorry for this frankness) bad gas, and acid reflux and wonder if digestive problems are involved. I hope it’s that for I now have looked up bone cancer, and the symptoms fit. I am worrying because the pain persists.

I have a memory that the doctor said I should try to avoid stress. Ha! The last time this happened — I had to go in to Tysons Corner Urgent Care  for pain in my chest, 7 years ago when after Jim died, I visited NYC by myself and went to a Trollope dinner, and found that I came home totally shattered – the doctor said I had “to let go.” She meant of Jim. How do I let go half my identity? My sense of safety, security, memories, identity if you will are wrapped in this house; it is my past, my present and what future I have. I will hold onto it with or in the last breathe of my body.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Aunty Em says to Dorothy, “There, there, lie quiet now. You just had a bad dream.”

I read in newspapers that “soon” vaccination will start.  But I also read the Trump administration has no plan for distributing the vaccine and has far far fewer doses than was pledged several weeks ago. No surprise there. The US hasn’t got a sound universal medical system that I know of from which to distribute vaccines.  My hope is Biden indeed becomes president and then there will be a plan and vaccines will be distributed somehow or other (though many different places and organizations) fairly, and I have a hope of a vaccination say before June. If I’ve not had one by May I will cancel the Road Scholar trip to Ireland once again. I worry they will try to take the fare from me if I wait any longer ($2025).

Tomorrow I go to the doctor. I’ve now paid three bills by credit card because the paper bills did not come in time, opened up three websites where I now will be billed electronically in two of these cases. Again I hope when Biden comes in, the post office will go back to its previous schedules and I can change this billing back and write checks for all bills and use the mails as I have done all my life previously. Slowly slowly the shit hits my small fan as all the terrible things Trump & his junta have and have not done affect me and Izzy personally.

This is my main news for these two weeks.

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A family tree of the characters in Song of Solomon

As to books, movies &c

I have been reading freely, came to the end of another two very good non-fiction books: Judith Bennett and Amy M. Froide’s Singlewomen in the European Past, 1250-1800, and Claudia M. Thomas’s Alexander Pope and his Eighteenth Century Readers, read over the last month and one half Toni Morrison’s Sula and Song of Solomon:

these are admirable, brilliant novels, vatic poetry at times, telling the true condition of American Black people as I’ve never seen it done before, addressing especially the POV of Black women, but I cannot say I enjoyed them, and will read no more of her novels. I will reread Sula again some time in the future, for I did admire and could The Bluest Eye (it’s influenced by George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss!), and Sula is close to it in technique, feel, the center to both is a woman narrator. try to write separately about Song of Solomon: the archetypes Black women use are quite different or responded to different from White (if I capitalize black I must capitalize white) women, and I’ve thought part of my inability to feel the way the book expects me to feel is the Ophelia figure, Hagar, the young woman the hero, Milkman, has fucked, and now wants to get rid of, who (Hagar) clings to him, goes mad, kill herself is regarded with an alienated lack of sympathy. If women chose characteristically to present their stories as daughters or mothers, Morrison writes from the mother-older woman POV, and her mothers punish their children harshly — I can understand why, almost to protect them, but the text is too pitiless, and the voodoo style magic realism horrifies me.

As to movies, YouTubes and the like, I loved a film adaptation of Trollope’s gem of a masterpiece, Malachi’s Cove, am watching Season 3 of The Crown (it’s much better than I thought when watched slowly and alertly using DVDs — see Seasons 1 & 2). I am listening to the second volume of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, The Story of a New Name read aloud very well. I omit my incessant re-watching of favorites.

Late at night reading and bonding: I’m making my way through the Outlander books, truly reading them silently to myself a couple of chapters a night (I have the first 6) and just a couple of poems by Alice Notley from her mysteries of small houses. Notley’s poetry speaks home to me. They are too long with irregular stanzas to type out, but here’s a paragraph from “The Obnoxious Truth:”

To be in the true thoughts you must forget …
possessions, of course, I don’t want them anyway
looks except as expressions of good feelings
sex except as it happens
talent except as it performs without causing envy
run the risk of being the only person around who’s scrupulous
they hate you …

Can you be how you want despite others …
I may seem insufferable to you, I want to live in true thoughts …

On twitter someone declared: You are now cursed with the job that the main character has in the last movie/TV show you watched. What’s your new profession?

I replied: I am Claire, Jamie Fraser’s wife and I work for Mother Hildegard as a nurse in the L’Hopital des Anges in Paris in 1743. Not easy work either — though it has its compensations.

I had 56 birthday wishes on FB and many of those people are friends by most criteria; Laura and Thao sent me lovely electronic cards.  I read my latest good art book, Lachlan Goudie’s Story of Scottish Art and re-began Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival.  Two blogs, one on Tina Blau, Austrian painter, and the other coming, on Harriet Walter, actress: both of them kept going, true in their thoughts, living on themselves, feel in love with a new actress playing the partly deaf, coercively hospitalized, and finally escaped and herself, Princess Alice in The Crown: Jane Lapotaire.


At a recent Edinburgh Festival

I shall carry on: this week I will force myself to rewrite my review of JA: Arts and Artefacts, and send it to the editor; and I shall begin reading towards my winter OLLI at Mason course (I called it “Two Novels of Longing in an Imperial Age”) and first book up is Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans (I loved it the one time I read it).

Ellen

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1999, Jim, me, and Izzy on a visit with Trollope Society friends to Salisbury Cathedral, we stopped off in a pub


Laura around the same time (so 21 years ago)

And it looks like you’ll stay …. from Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along

Claire tells Frank several years after she has returned to the 20th century there is not enough time in her lifetime to forget Jamie, from Gabaldon, Voyager

Dear friends and readers,

Once upon a time October was my favorite time of year. Usually the weather is so pretty, and it was in October, the 6th, of 1968 to be exact, that Jim and I met, and again a year later October 6th, 1969, that Jim and I married; October 3rd was his birthday — he was born October 3, 1948. When Laura was married for the first time and planning an autumn wedding and settled on September 30th, I said wait a day and it’ll be in October. But now it is the hardest time of year: Jim died on October 9th, 2013. He was just 65. He stopped talking to us the 7th, that morning he had said “goodbye” to Izzy, the day before to Laura.

He died of esophageal cancer, one of the many cancers that are now not uncommon (once far rarer) because we live and breath and eat polluted air and food. I wrote about the whole course of this dreadful experience here, as well as an obituary for him. He was my prince, he was everything to me. Today I listened on and off to Stephen Sondheim songs — he loved Sondheim’s music, lyrics, the musicals themselves. So many capture my love for him, how I miss him, but I must choose just one for a blog, and it’s “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along (which Jim used to say was his favorite Sondheim musical) — I am so lonely for his company.

I am not in as much pain as I was the first few years; I am no longer reading memoirs of grief, but the staying home in this pandemic strains me badly. Perhaps all the driving about to courses, to entertainments, very occasionally with a friend, or Izzy and once in a long while Laura, was distraction but it helped. Christmas is going to be very hard this year since the way Izzy and I got through was to go out to Kennedy Center with Laura, then dinner out with her and Rob, Christmas day a movie out for Izzy and I, and again dinner out. We go to see some Christmas play or concert, on Boxing Day, a museum, and until I could no longer drive at night, the Kennedy Center again for some gay entertainment. I’ll buy a tree, Izzy and I will decorate it, but beyond that, with a hope of Laura coming over once or a daring visit to a museum, it’ll be Christmas movies, friends on the Net.


Jim, Izzy as a baby, Laura a young child (perhaps 1985 or so)

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Phineas returns to London (1974 BBC Pallisers, Donal McCann as Phineas)

My teaching has begun and I feel my course in Phineas Redux is thus far going very well. Talk about how Jim remains part of my life every day, I’m taking a course in “Kipling and Colonial literature,” because Jim liked Kipling: he read aloud the Just So stories to both daughters and me, he read to me two short stories that were comedies of manners (not these god-awful misogynistic, racist, patriarchal soldier stories I can barely get myself to skim. The teacher is an intelligent woman and I hope the latter part of the course we’re we’ll read at least one woman writer from the period I’ve never read before and V.S. Naipaul’s Bend in the River will be more enjoyable. I’m also taking a course in Sondheim — six sessions, and tomorrow the topic is the musical Company: I watched it online just now and here it is if you would like to watch a splendid TV version:

Everything all around me that makes my life pleasant was and is part of him: the house, the books, my solvency, my daughters.

I did say my courses for the coming winter (online at OLLI at Mason), Two Novels of Longing in an Imperial Age (Forster’s Howards End and Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans) has been accepted and for the spring (online at both OLLIs, Mason and AU), 20th Century Women’s Political Novels (Bowen’s Last September, Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, Hellman’s Scoundrel Time, and Morrison’s Bluest Eye) also accepted (see two rough weeks for descriptions, scroll down). To these I’ve now added the coming summer, 2021, when there is a good chance the teaching and courses will still be through zoom:

Post-Colonialism and the Novel

In this class we will explore some realities covered by terms like colonialism & imperialism, nationalism & tribalism or identity politics as dramatized in three novels, viz., E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival; and a couple of short stories from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreters of Maladies. Beyond the seeing obvious inflictions of capitalism & industrialization, displacement of peoples & forms of enslavement, we will ask why people develop passionate identifications with a place (countrysides, cities), nostalgia for some imagined past (enjoy historical novels, romances & films), turn cultures into religions (& vice versa), how gender & art movements inflect all this

I am very much looking forward to re-reading all these books and discussing and talking and teaching (if that’s what it is) them to these classes of older intelligent people. Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival has personal meaning for me: I had begun to arrive, be embedded in England, when we had to leave for a better income and opportunity to go to graduate school, but periodically we did return. And the reason I’ve taken trips with Road Scholar is to return to the UK where I met and married Jim and gave myself a happy peaceful life with him for so many years. I wrote on Austen Reveries of my other reading and writing projects: I too dwell in possibility. I finished reading Anne Enright’s Actress, it is finally a searching sceptical and pessimistic take on the life of an actress; I will use it as context and critique for the blog on Harriet Walter (and her book on playing male parts in all female-cast Shakespeare plays) on Austen Reveries soon.

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Claire (Caitriona Balfe) teaching Marsali (Lauren Lyle), making her an apprentice doctor (Outlander Season 5)

I have been just loving the 5th season of Outlander; it can hardly be more perfect: they have rewritten the 5th Outlander novel, Diana Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross, which just is without a story, blended it with episodes from the 6th, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, to provide a slender action-adventure plot-pattern across the series, plucked out several of the moving episodes (anecdotes) and rewritten these to reveal characters movingly, interestingly, relevantly to us today. I am watching the series for a second time and will make one or two blogs — wordpress has renovated itself so now it’s harder to get to and use the “classic” template (which I know how to use) so I cannot write as many blogs I might have wanted to. I would, though, like to admit, that the intense joy of these books to me is the relationship between Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire: absurdly but irresistibly I find in their relationship elements of what I knew with Jim, with Balfe all along, from Season 1 on I have bonded, even deeply. I am back to dreaming of this series at night. I wrote as follows on face-book early one morning:


From the episode, the night of Brianna and Roger’s wedding in North Carolina

When long ago I wrote a book on Richardson’s Clarissa (an 18th century novel) I dreamed of the characters (these were often distraught, deeply upset dreams); when I wrote a book (about 20 years ago) on Anthony Trollope and his novels, I dreamed of him and those characters I was writing about; I used to dream of the Poldark characters (in the early 2000s from the books and actors of the first series, much less so during the era of the 2015 series — I never quite warmed to or credited the feel of the series) and now I find I dream again each time a new season comes of the Outlander characters. I cannot remember particulars once I am fully awake but I know this time as I awaken I am glad I was dreaming.

Until now (writing blogs) I never dreamed of characters until I was writing a book or something quite long. I have not dreamed of the Austen characters much that I am aware of, or in the same way, because although I’ve written about Austen’s novels and the movies, it was not consistent total immersion with a single set of actors or big text or texts over a long period of time. I received very interesting replies: I was especially struck by how the readers of Trollope shied away from admitting to dreaming about these characters, but not the readers of the Outlander books, and were I still in contact with the readers of the Poldarks, I’ll bet they dream too (a vindictive woman who runs one of these pages, not understanding my Aspergers ways blackballed me off these places).


A moment of upset for Becky as old Lady Crawley laughs at some make-shift that Becky has invented — not a characteristic moment but showing Hampshire’s talents; the series aired in black-and-white as did the original Forsyte Saga

I’ve carried on my project of watching 1970s BBC and British series adapting remarkable books, and have finished the 1967 BBC Vanity Fair, and would like to recommend it to you, gentle reader. The film-makers (David Giles, the director) manage to pluck out the central emotional and thematic elements of Thackeray’s extraordinary book, as well as its comedy, and with the strong performances of Susan Hampshire as Becky Sharp (one can see why she became Fleur in Forsyte Saga, Lady Glencora in the Pallisers) and Bryan Marshall as Dobbin (even better than Hampshire for he is given depths of plangency she is not), and a mostly good supporting cast, good scripts, well done scenes, you end up with a reading of the book that concentrates on Becky’s position in the world, and gifts as actuating her choices in life.

They condensed the novel by making Becky the central linchpin, then having key episodes or turning points of her story as climaxes in each of the episodes. It works, for Amelia’s occur alongside Becky’s and turn into a parallel. Their early adventures together, and then apart, Becky landing among the Crawleys, their marriages ending part 2, the calamity of Waterloo Part 3 (which Becky turns to her advantage and is superlatively anti-war), Part 4 with the jailing of Rawdon. Susan Hampshire began to resemble Sarah Badel as Lizzie Eustace in the Pallisers in the fourth part. My only complaint is the ending. The film makers did not have the guts to end on Becky living off Sedley and poisoning him slowly so we ended on her good deed, awakening Amelia, Amelia folded in Dobbin’s arms so no time to see Dobbin disillusioned. The lines about the puppets and ever all dissatisfied are uttered. As the budgets were as small as those for the Austen films (and a 1971 Jane Eyre), nothing outdoors, all sets, it’s remarkable how effective they were in using symbols.

Gentle reader, I prefer watching these British series of 50 years ago to contemporary films online. I mean to go on to watch the 1987 BBC Vanity Fair (which I’ve never seen but have had for a long time on a TBW pile) and Andrew Davies’ brilliant 1998 six part-er with Natasha Little and Philip Glenister in the two roles I just singled out

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Sunday morning, home from Trader Joe’s


Ian among books, an active, vocal part of my life today

So how shall I end this diary entry? I have spoken less of politics here than usual — this is not a political blog but usually what is happening in the public political world presses in on me. I shall confine myself to the dire possibilities that the Trump Junta will attempt to steal the election, undermine so totally the vote, suppress, throw out, start violence: read Barton Gellman in the Atlantic. I feel I have enough to communicate without it. I met an old old friend the other day, in front of the local bakery. Mary Lee Charles, a highly intelligent devoutly Catholic woman with whom I formed a deep feeling relationship for a time as our older daughter, Katie (hers) and Laura were friends. I would not have recognized her in her mask, she has grown so thin. She stopped me and attempted to convey a warmth of the old feeling when I told her Jim had died. I believe she stopped me because she wanted to tell me Katie has a Ph.d in English literature and is now going for tenure in a Maryland college. She looked at me significantly; she wanted to tell me this, remembering my vocation. We have now exchanged emails and I’ve told her that after all she was right so many years ago, and I do love the Poldark series — we knew one another in the early 1980s you see.

Last night I re-watched a TV series someone gave me a copy of shortly after Jim died: Coogan and Brydon in The Trip: to me a comforting movie because the film-makers and actors manage to convince you somewhat this trip to sample fine food for a magazine column (whose we are not told) on a drive through the north of England is really happening non-fictionally. Their conversation because of its edge is convincing, their lives suggested persuasive, and the filming of the countryside to me so appealing: I lived up north with Jim. I saw the second series too, the tour through Italy which conveyed genuine feeling about the past in the landscape, playing in individual memory. I shall never capture again the happiness and even innocence I once knew when Jim was in the world with me, but I can re-visit the landscapes in England we loved together. This is his (as Julian Barnes strikingly put it) death-time which I keep in my continuing existence.


Coogan goes out for a quick cellphone photo in Derbyshire


Lake District — the photography imitates ordinary people taking camera shots ….

Ellen

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Statue of Julian of Norwich by David Holgate, west front, Norwich Cathedral

Friends and readers,

When I saw the above photo I felt nothing in visual art came so close to expressing the emotions appropriate to what has happened in those countries where over the past couple of months the coronavirus has been allowed to spread, sicken and kill thousands upon thousands of people. Where 1 in 4 in the US who previously had a job, income, is now unemployed, countless millions not knowing where their next payment for rent is coming from, as another countless line up for bags of food.

She caught my eye because on Trollope&Peers we have been reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, and I had just finished the long chapter describing in detail the 15th century cathedral, with all its figures and characteristic elements and ornaments as yet semi-intact. It accompanies a story in the Times Literary Supplement (May 15 2020, pp 24-25) where the essayist, Stephanie Sy-Quia, tells the story of Nana, her grandmother’s life, which included a period as a nun, and another studying for an advanced degree where Nana wrote on Julian of Norwich; Sy-Quia is helping her mother to move the grandmother into a retirement home, and they are conveying a bookcase full of her favorite books to be re-read and re-read (see TLS,Books to End a Life with“). The grandmother is fragile, not far from death is the feel, and there is a meaningful conversation before Sy-Quia must leave her there, the essay ending with these words: “That’s how I like to think of her: on her balcony in the sun, book in hand, intermittently sleeping.”

Hugo finds in the chronicles and figures of stone that make up a centuries-old building meant to be a haven the meaning Nana finds in re-reading (among Nana’s listed favorites) Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. This week I turned back to the beauty of Roger Fry’s philosophy of art and found some humor in the divagations of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights‘ satire on airplane flight: from Godzone:


I prefer the French title

Tokarczuk works at not to write a book that can be labelled woman’s novel (horrors!) but in some of the many interwoven stories (the book is the closest 20th century book I’ve seen to Orlando Furioso), we are back to a female narrator who is a version of the authoress. First some funny vignettes depicting the “safety rituals” in airplane terminals (“they confiscate her nail clippers, and she laments the loss, because she’d liked them and had been using them for years” — I lost a favorite barret that way) as well as the “plastic airplane food,” but soon we are into her email – which she can still reach: “if you are not on the Internet, you don’t exist” (tonight the Burney Society opened a page on FB and a page on twitter and asked us all to click “like” and become followers. And we get a story of a love affair. We learn it was 3 decades ago at the time she was involved in “taking part in a massive program aimed at eliminating pests” (weasels opposums), anything that makes human beings sick. See that. Prophetic. Written before this present pandemic: she goes to the doctor and they do everything they can which appears to be “scanning everything they could” (in her body), diagnosing it all and sending her home.

She has a gift for light lucid prose and her translator, Jennifer Croft conveys how extraordinary it is such a massive machine with so many people can behave like a bird. She does make a mistake: she seems no to be aware of how noisy, crowded, overlit are airplanes; she is in the middle seat of a long row of small seats and all we are told is she is “uncomfortable.” That’s all. How about the skin of the next person near yours? She falls asleep, watches her screen with complacency.

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Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie

These last two weeks I finished the spring courses I was attending on-line, carried on reading for my review of the new standard edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, and towards the course I hope I get to teach “on-screen” so to speak starting this Monday. I was beginning to feel some courage about it after a group training session two weeks ago and then a one-on-two 101 session with a generous-hearted person who will be co-host with me, until today I was among 5 people who were not sent the promised codes to open the meeting as host. I emailed several times and got no answer by phone either. People in the class told me they got the class invite so the course will go on, and I assume they do mean me to teach it this Monday starting 1:45 pm. As my co-host told me, “It’s on them, their responsibility to ensure that we are up and running no later than 1:40.”

I’ve been reading Framley Parsonage with an on-line Trollope Society book, as well as mesmerized by Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife, at the core of which is a modern re-write of the Rev Josiah and Mrs Mary Crawley story, and have been asked and delighted to say yes to give a twenty-minute talk on the Crawley pair. I’ll do him as Trollope’s Jean Valjean, and end on Joanna’s updating of the abject woman. does justice to the inner workings, modern style, of a rector humiliated, not promoted &c&c while at the same time showing us the Mrs Crawley figure, an Anna Bouverie (the Madame Bovary allusion is there as contrast) trying to build a life for herself of some liberty and finding out how hard that is.

I realized today that the Lucy Robartes’s journey-ordeal where she risks her life to nurse the ailing unto death Mrs Crawley (from the endemic typhoid is as relevant today as the Crawley one. Lucu’s story is not carried over except perhaps as part of Anna’s perpetual working hard for everyone else, high good-humored intelligence, and wry scepticism towards self-destructive self-immolating choices

I also hope to join in on three courses online at this OLLI at AU, which sound very appealing: four sessions on good or classic American films (last night I watched City Lights, the first, Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, and was absorbed and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would); on American artists in Italy from the mid-18th century to World War One (I’ve long read about this topic and have two sets of marvelous picture and essays books on this English-speaking ambivalent art scene in Naples and Rome); the last on modern American poetry, 1940-2020.

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A new French law requires masks be worn in certain public spaces, but it is still illegal to wear religious attire that covers the face

None of this pushes away from my mind the bleak world not far from my neighborhood, seeping into it in fact. I chose David Holgate’s figure because she is also wearing a scarf. In this now literally sick world I abide in objects take on symbolic value that is as pernicious and counter-productive as the groups of people in this country who support the criminal con-man Trump. I am speaking of course of masks, surgical face masks, which all medical authorities and people who know anything about these coronavirus say, together with washing one’s hands, can go a long way to stopping the spread of this virus. I wear a mask over my face, wrap a scarf around my head. From a young child I have had ear-aches if I go out when it’s at all cold or windy without a hat or scarf around my ears. But I also like to wear a scarf, a head kerchief. Jim used to worry my more Muslim-like ones (two presents from students long ago) would attract hostility.

Well, now Trump has managed to politicize masks as well as scarves so not wearing a mask becomes a political statement showing your strong support of Trump and all his policies and attitudes (among them hatred for all people of color, including people of Asian descent), your disdain of fear of the virus and behavior shaped by concern not to spread it to others or catch it yourself. This intersects with attitudes towards the police, towards law, towards violence, towards women. The result is a witches’ brew ready to explode into mobs of armed thugs (these include military style police) destroying non-white people, democrats (yes), gay people, Jews, women seeking liberty for their bodies. Not to wear a mask, or wear one made to look like a flat cut up and you are marked as Maga — something to be proud of, especially if you don’t get sick; you want to work as opposed to these sniveling non-person immigrants whose deaths don’t matter.

This is in the autobiographical mode so here’s what happened to me this morning as I walked to the post box to return a DVD in order to get a DVD of Temple Grandin (for a zoom meeting this coming month with a serious-minded aspergers group). I went with my mask firmly in place and a kerchief on (have I said I wear a kerchief to protect an inner ear which hurts if I go out without a hat or kerchief until it’s very hot). A woman who lives in one of super expensive houses dotted all over my neighborhood (this one the result of a ridiculous renovation which made it into a one will walls of glass, appropriate to standing on a cliff — seeing its absurd transparency, they put curtains everywhere and filled their yard thick with greenery) was across the street with her daughter, both w/o masks. They are the Greenwich, Connecticut type republicans, part of the wide swathe of seeming reasonable people are callously cynically supporting Trump to keep their taxes low and make an American which serves them (hand and foot). I stopped and looked at them sort of pointedly. The girl went back in the house. I then carried on (of course no talk; we’ve never been introduced that I can remember – this place is filled with snobs), put my DVD in the post box, turned round to walk back and the woman was just putting her mask on as if she had not seen me

Fuck these people. They voted for this man. He has now attacked free speech, what he threatened to do before he became president. Before he won he said he would change the libel laws insofar as he could in an effort to end free speech. So twitter rightly at long last marking his lies and incitements to violence are his excuse, and he has a sycophant lawless Attorney General behind him. Net neutrality went when he took office. Read what is happening in Iowa, Texas, meat-packing factories where workers were forced back into lethal situations. People sickening every where and the death rate goes up. 40% of deaths are still whites

Governor Northam has not sent police out to enforce much of the closing of shops and I’ve discovered many did remain open — especially those run by people who dress like the Trumpite-base types. There was an incident where police were sent to stop a large party in a white neighborhood and it was stopped, the people were indignant and it made the papers. I think the purpose of the masks is twofold: they do stop the virus and if you wash your hands a lot that helps. But it’s that Northam wants to make a point life out there is dangerous and you must do all you can to avoid sickness. He is a physician and democrat. Trump by carrying on not wearing a mask does politicize it and the South Dakota governor can cry all he wants, and plead with his state citizens to wear masks to protect others, but Trump wins. Not wearing a mask says this is silly or it’s courageous or there is nothing else to do (nonsense – we could support all workers and businesses all summer with the money now given in billions to corporations with democratic consent). That woman didn’t want to wear a mask. It’s a bother – and she allows her daughter not to wear one. Like (my guess about her) she couldn’t give a shit what Trump is – she wants all the money and privilege she can have, she banks on being white to make her less likely to get sick because of how and whom she lives with.

A friend (white) told me someone in her community (or on the Net in a group she’s in talked about this) called the police when someone was not wearing a mask. Someone else defended this person for calling the police. The person defending was then subject to loads of abusive emails calling her a Nazi and threatening her. Now it’s been shown by numbers since masks started in this pandemic that far far more black people are stopped by police and their mask demanded. I would myself only call a cop if I felt my life so directly in danger that I was in less danger from the cop — I’ve tried to teach this formula to Izzy who twice has been badly bullied by police since they don’t understand disabled (autistic) people, and once it seems almost came near arrest for jay-walking. I would approve of the person calling the police on principle but in reality myself never call a cop for such a purpose. Once in my neighborhood Izzy was bullied on a bike by two black children; one of the women in one of the houses looking on called the cops: I was told later they visited the black people in the next impoverished neighborhood and those children will never be back her. How peculiar I felt to have had Izzy’s disability turned into a weapon against black people. Look what happened to George Floyd. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx and know police there were utterly involved in the drug trade. Yes as a white woman, especially now I’m older white cops have identified me as “like my grandmother,” and not that long ago I had an encounter with one where he became hysterical because I did not obey his every utterance and got out of my car. I was at risk for my very life. So police in the US are not simply instruments of peace, law and order because they have been given license by Trump to kill and by the society to imprison vulnerable people for a long time with impunity.


Temple Grandin

Here is where the US now is, and I live in this edge toppling us into a fascist (goes without saying I suppose) dictatorship. A calamity of such a magnitude that it has driven people into their houses — it’s a kind of paranoia turned into a way of life. The EC/ASECS group met in a zoom and while we are determined to have some sort of conference, it seems that in October the wisest and most possible thing is to do it virtually. I enjoy my Aspergers group which meets more frequently; in two weeks we will discuss the excellent movie, Temple Grandin, and whatever of her books and essays we have read. For me it’s Animals in Translation and one on how women experience autism.

More of the way the virus affects just me and Izzy:

In this conversation Fauci talked about reasonably efficient and continual testing before letting students back on campus this coming fall, with intervals of 2 weeks and then tracing and when someone falls sick, isolating them.

We had heard that over this week Alexandria and other Northern Va places would be testing for coronavirus for everyone. We were told places to go but they were all only for one day at a given place and for a limited number of hours (start at 10; I forget when ending. We were unable even to get in. The one nearest to us was disorganized, far too many people, far too few officers and people doing the work.
The fuller story (for those into details): I tried to drive Izzy and I to a testing place, worried lest we catch the virus going for testing (we washed our hands, wore masks), worried about waiting for hours and so on (I brought 2 books, she had her cell phone), but none of this happened because I failed completely in finding the entrance that the police wanted cars to come in from. In all the years I’ve lived in Alexandria, Va I always came in from the front entrance or a back street near the front entrance (Duke Street), never came to the Landmark Shopping through a Van Dorn entrance. I could not picture it; Van Dorn as far as I can picture it is a very busy 3 lanes on either side highway type street. I had no idea how to find this entrance. They just shooed us on and there was no sign anywhere for how to get to the Van Dorn entrance. I discovered I had forgotten my cell phone, could only picture and mass transit junction where the other entrance was said to be (and a different shopping plaza right off it). Well I drove home, located cell phone (whew) but then found that for Landmark Mall (where the testing on my side of Alexandria was said to be) there is only one address. The one I tried to come in at. When I tried to google other entrance, the name Van Dor landed me with instructions to to the plaza. So we had to give up. There was no way someone like me could find it. Izzy was disappointed.

Not near enough money, thought, organization put into this testing. Then what about tracing? Of course what is needed in time appointed encounters and this is available only through your doctor. We are told soon state-wide testing will be offered to people past 60 and people beneath a certain income (to try to reach hispanic and African-Americans). Tomorrow we will see our friend, Monica, who works 7 days a week, 2 in a supermarket, but now gets off every other day during the week.

We spent the rest of our Memorial day our usual way. She wrote, drew (she has taken courses in drawing and art now), practiced and sang her latest musical composition, watched TV, participated on the Internet. I read, studied, posted, wrote. Both of us our usual routs on just about all the days of the years (except when she goes out to work, I out to teaching, courses, museums, together to plays &c). Also we exercised, & separately walked in the neighborhood. At night I watched half way through the excellent 1990s BBC series, The Rector’s Wife (featuring a favorite actress of mine, Lindsay Duncan, when young) and all of Carrington (Jonathan Pryce, Emma Thompson). Our cats did their things too. Had Jim been with us, our day would have been similar — only with his witty presence to inject gaiety into our hearts.

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Matisse, A Young Girl Reading (1905)

The news is not all bad as some large percentage of the US population — a majority in fact, though their votes are nullified, they are disenfranchised, gerrymandered out of counting, are against this kind of fierce overt capitalist militarist state. I am not alone in calling for a boycott of all airlines. Now! I don’t understand why people are getting on these airplanes where, far from social distancing, people are packed in as closely as ever. If all Americans refused to get onto these planes until the seating arrangements were changed to at least allow some separation, the airplane people would change their planes. Boycott these bastards who got billions from the gov’t to tide them over ….

Some are still leading decent lives in their solitude attached to the world through zooms. My older daughter, Laura, and her husband, Rob, have adopted (bought) two kittens. This past year they lost two beloved cats to death and the cat that is left to them (they began with five) has been as lonely as they. Here they are, sweet tiny baby cats: at first very frightened upon coming into their new home:


The vanilla ginger tabby, Max, the greyish tortie, Charlotte, clinging to one another

Here they are the next day in Laura’s workroom, her office mates. It didn’t take them that long to decide that they belong where Laura is.

My grandchildren have four paws.  And in their honor, last Caturday (a couple of days before Laura and Rob went to pick them up) I wrote this on face-book:

From ‘Penguin Handbook of Cats. The care and training of kittens:’

“Talking is, I think, particularly important. Talking from the very beginning of your acquaintance helps throughout the cat’s life … I have always made a great point of talking to my cats from kittenhood onward, and very soon they have come to know the different tones of my voice. All my cats have talked back to me, and most of them have started to do so almost at once. This initial conversation does make a great different in a cat’s life … ” Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald.

See you on-screen, the new salutation …

Ellen

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Still of Ackerley and his dog, Tulip, from the cartoon movie by Saul & Sandra Fierlinger, with Christopher Plummer voicing Ackerley, & Lynn Redgrave, his sister, Nancy (2009, from Ackerley’s 1956 book)

Neighbor

Build me a bridge over the stream
to my neighbour’s house
where he is standing in dungarees
in the fresh morning.
O ring of snowdrops
spread wherever you want
and you also blackbird
sing across the fences.
My neighbour, if the rain falls on you,
let it fall on me also
from the same black cloud
that does not recognise gates.
— Iain Crichton Smith

Friends and readers,

If I’ve not written for over three weeks, it’s because I’ve not much new to say. I am prompted tonight because I have learned that sixteen (16!) years ago, Izzy wrote new lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas out of the Harry Potter world, and put it on our website. Now recently her song inspired someone calling herself Semperfiona to record it as a song, someone else, yue_ix, to provide a cover album for the song as if it were a record for sale, with the whole thing edited by a third person, pseudonym, flowersforgraves. Alas, I cannot transfer the podcast or picture over here, but you must click on this URL to reach this composition, an art work by 5 people (if you count in J.K. Rowling as inspiration, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Harry Potter Style, by Miss Izzy.


A Harry Potter Christmas moment …. a little out of season, but WTF, we are in need of cheer wherever we can find it

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I have been escaping myself into my past, bringing it up to the present. This morning as I lay in bed, facing another day at home, sheltering in place, I thought to myself, why does it bother me not to go out and circulate “in the world,” drive places to teach or take a course, see people regularly. After all at home I am among one of the lucky ones to be able to reach friends through the Internet by email, social media platforms, zooms, even the phone, and as I thought about the day ahead I told myself I or my life is not useless, empty and meaningless — for I am doing what I value and sharing my doings insofar as others want this – an authentic existence (as philosophers would say). So today I posted to my listservs, exchanged letters with friends, participated in a zoom session (a class on existentialism seen historically), then worked on Anne Finch, read more of Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, watched Part 3 of the three part movie: otherwise exercised, walked, talked with Izzy, was on the phone with a friend, ate and now am blogging here. Other days I have other schedules, but this is my main one for now. I’ll talk of these two projects (for they represent two sets of books) here.


Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), from a miniature, artist unknown

Today I worked on 25 years worth of materials gathered from libraries (manuscripts, printed books) in an effort to supplement Myra Reynolds’s sadly inadequate 1903 edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilesea: I ended up writing a biography, preparing or annotating nearly 300 texts, ordering them, writing about them, and putting them on my website. I have been asked to write an evaluative review of the new standard edition of this poetry published by Cambridge UP, from which there is a small archival site online now.

This is an ambiguous experience slowing going over my mountains of copies of original manuscripts, the letters I wrote, my hundreds of pages of notes, on sources too, rereading my biography: the first phase of being in a position to evaluate this new standard edition of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea’s poetry. They renamed the manuscripts in accordance with who owns them or where they were deposited: I named them after the places in which Anne and Heneage wrote them out.

Egoistically I was chuffed to see in my view the two editors have not (as I see this) truly gone beyond Reynolds because they have left out many poems that are by Finch — lest they be accused of false attribution. They have not (in Volume I — I won’t get Volume II until after the review of Volume I is done and printed) as far as I can tell as yet even included a section with poems of doubtful attribution. Doubtless because there are so many of them — about 30, with about 20 serious contenders. It would cost money, would it not? Mar their edition; they would have to quote me more centrally. Several of these are so strongly hers that they have been quoted elsewhere by scholars and written about (from my site); one is autobiographical but not sufficiently detailed to nail down an attribution. One cannot get rid of self. I ought to be so pleased that this edition exists for it makes of this poet for 18th century scholars an established central voice.

I am chuffed that they argue with me in their notes over my biography: they chose McGovern’s conclusions (she published what passes as a standard biography) over mine, several of which I am persuaded are wrong — so for those who come to my site, there is an alternative story which makes sense here. They do also correct me — apparently Anne’s older brother killed their Haslewood uncle (in a duel) not the uncle’s older son as I had thought: the two had the same names. I learned that one of the scholars who never answered any of my letters put on his dissertation a stop-reading so that no one shall read it for another 50 years!

Ah, me, were it not for Jim, none of this would have gotten out into the world.

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I am also hoping to teach online. It is evident that most Americans who can afford to stay home and avoid this dreadful COVID19 disease and the risk of death will do so until such time as it’s safe to come out, & that will not come soon for Trump is still refusing to allow “his” federal gov’t to do wide-spread testing and tracing across the US, and he squashed the CDC plan/strategy for opening the US in stages so as to minimize the risk. He thinks to force people out who need the money (by not sending them any more, by depriving the of unemployment insurance) and others will follow suit, unable to resist temptation to say make money on their businesses; universities he thinks will open up lest they lose the egregious fees they demand. He is counting on greed, fear, despair. But more than 81,000 Americans have now died — and early signs are that some or many universities at least, and more to the point the two OLLIs I work at, will carry on delivering their content remotely until well into the fall.


Mecklenberg Square by Margaret Joliffe (1935): one of the squares where the four Bloomsbury women Francesca Wade writes about in Square Haunting, one of the marvelous books I’m reading

So I’m reading towards what I hope will be a wonderful course called The Bloomsbury Novel. I changed my books slightly from what I had intended:

This course will examine novels & art included in the term Bloomsbury through three texts: E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Virginia Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist, J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. Bloomsbury novels, books of all sorts really, are written by people who belonged to an amorphous early 20th century creative group, associated with a specific area in London, who were friends, or whose works were printed at the Hogarth Press. This (semi-invented) sub-genre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are good movies for Maurice, My Dog Tulip, & All Passion Spent. I ask everyone before class to read E.M. Forster’s “What I Believe” (from Two Cheers for Democracy); we may read a couple of other on-line shorter texts for context.

And also watching movies, and reading more than one excellent book on the Bloomsbury crowd, some on art. I know I don’t half-talk enough about the love and companionship dogs provide for human beings and (it is to be hoped) vice versa. (I’m ever on about cats.) JR Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip is about a deeply companionable interspecies love relationship; rated as a “classic” book and is certainly complex and beautifully written: he has his obsessions, some of which are clearly intended to shock the reader, wake us up to what an animal is(that includes us) , the book is at times hilarious and at others so moving: he also indites the way human beings regularly treat animals (dogs specifically); the brilliant cartoon (or should I say graphic novel, see way above, the picture from the film)rather indites British society vis-a-vis its treatment of animals; it too is a curious delightful experience. I am not sure you can get it streamed online — the creators intended this but other people may have gotten in the way since then. If you buy the DVD it comes with a marvelous feature about the making of the film. Here is Ebert interrupted by commercial ads (these are getting worse by the day, the hour). Ackerley was gay, a good friend to EM Forster, an important person at the BBC, editor for years for The Listener, wrote another “classic,” My Father and Myself, which I’ve sent away for.

As her final segment on PBS reports last night, Judy Woodruff did a number on pets; the pets of the staff and everyone working on the program, now all remotely. It was called the Newshour’s Furry Friends, and just delightful; she was so touching in her final words; she almost broke down saying how much they loved their companion-animals.

What had happened was people noticed cats in the background of William Brangham’s room — on the couch to the side of his wall of books; and also one cat in Lisa Desjardin’s space; sometimes on the couch but once the cat came up to look at the camera. This started mail which suggested viewers were not listening dutifully to the content but watching out for the cats.
So now we know Wm Brangham has 3 rescue cats and their names, and one dog (not permitted in TV room as he barks); and we have seen an array of pets. It seemed to me more dogs than cats; first with the person — very quickly shown — I spotted Amna Nawaz has a cat; then a shot of the animal alone posed properly as if for the cover of a book or other work he or she had achieved.

The title of the segment put in mind of a Sesame Street alphabet song, “4 furry friends, faithful together. Fun-filled, and forever free …” Jim used to say if he had to listen to that once more, he would do such things …. !! Aargh!!

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

It is for me also an ongoing struggle just to carry on living sanely. Yesterday I was feeling parts of my body ache, and think that I am not getting enough exercise. As mild as it was, getting in and out of my car, walking to classes, to shop, to different places every day mostly was good for my body. I am exercising on the bike 20 minutes, walking outside 20 minutes but it’s not enough.

Nowadays social obligations shape my reading patterns. I’ve stopped getting on with my reading of Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light pile: each book just about belongs to a project or a group of books I love and am reading with it: in this case, a wonderful book on the man and poet, Thomas Wyatt, another on Cromwell (a biography), a French biography of another woman (beyond Anne Boleyn and the English) taken by Protestanism: Jeanne d’Albret by Francoise Kermina. I have put these aside for now.


Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame film (as powerful and relevant as ever)


Sanctuary! for Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) up high in the cathedral, he cries!

A set of books for the Bloomsbury novel course, a set of books for now this review I’m doing of the standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry, yes, I am participating in the listserv for Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, with Victor Brombert’s book on Hugo as visionary, and four movies to watch! My ongoing commitment to Winston Graham and the historical novel: I just finished Graham’s powerful and good The Black Moon, and am going to being The Four Swans; I’m well into Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, a detailed wonderfully readable description and evocation, utterly convincing of the worlds of the 1790s, Nina Auerbach on DuMaurier, The Haunted Heiress, and her fiction; with a biography of William Hamilton (for Volcano Lover). Piles of Italian-Jewish writing (Natalia Ginzburg books) left over and inspired by Judith Plotz’s course (an OLLI at AU, the one true good one I had this term); and still on that supposed anomaly, single women authors & women’s writing. I give little time to the courses I attend by zoom but I do give some. And they help during the day connect me to people. I know others look at my workroom, my files, and are alert to see my cats. Where are they today, someone asked?


They are in their cat-bed to the side of me, said I


My new backdrop in zooms — only I am in the way so some of this obscured, and at a slightly different angle

At night I work my way through serials, documentaries, and Un Village Francais — 7 seasons, 13 episodes each. I just finished My Brilliant Friend (book 2 of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet). On these I will write separately. I also keep up friendships by letter, am on FB, nowadays a little on twitter, and blog to readers and friends here — all of which keep me “grounded” — and give me preciously needed company if at a distance. I saw, thought and wrote about a film about autistic women made in Iceland; see the comments for a review, which links the book to violence against women: Seeing the Unseen.  Annie Finch revived Wom-po, a listserv for women who write, translate, write about love, women’s poetry. It is lucky and meaningful to me that this old project of a quarter of a century’s work, my love of women’s poetry suddenly is structuring my days, and if I can pull off online teaching, delving the ethically comforting and strengthening Bloomsbury group.

All this keeps me grounded. I read JK Johnstone’s superb study of The Bloomsbury Group, an old fashioned 1950s style oh so readable study, with a long section on the philosophy of GE Moore as well as Forster, Woolf, and Lytton Strachey, the art lectures of Fry and criticism of Andre Maurois.

I connect the seen with the unseen and imagined and remembered and learned from — and not only because we must not forget the tremendous misery that is being inflicted on thousands of Americans by the present stranglehold fascist regime. I try not to let convention, fear of others’ conventionality/disapproval, authority and power come between “me” and what? a life my instincts have led me to make and share with others who recognize what I recognize. I no longer have Jim, his life was taken from him by a dread disease, and I am honoring him and the dog he and I had, Llyr, by some of what I am doing this spring and summer.


Jim and Llyr in our apartment on 76th Street off Central Park, 1972

We did “own” a dog for 12 years, Llyr was her name, partly a German shepherd. I was too young to appreciate her, and wish I could bring her back and make up to her now what I couldn’t give when I was younger because I let my depressions and nervous breakdowns get in the way. I feel such remorse. I did not know how to cope, to control them, to what’s called comparmentalize.  We had $125 a week to live on, and so I starved us all, including the dog (but not the child).  The atmosphere in the last 2 years on Seaman Avenue was bad. She died of cancer; my father paid for a couple of treatments, but then the vet said it had spread throughout her body.  Now I would treat her with extra-consideration, the kind of respect I would an adult companion-friend, as I try to my cats. If the non-traveling continues I will think of a way to persuade Izzy to accept another animal in the house, a dog I shall call Llyr.

Ellen

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Keeley Hawes as Mrs Durrell reading aloud — her family and household listening (Durrells S2E4)

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

— Season 2, Episode 4 of The Durrells explores the nature of a widow’s loneliness & grief (not well understood) through Louisa Durrell’s case, and the story includes a fradulent spiritual medium, Louisa’s relationship with three men (by this time), her children, theirs with her and one another, not to omit Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) come for a visit). Towards the close Keeley Hawes reads aloud the above poem by Edward Dowson

Dear friends,

The quiet winter time is coming to an end, and for a couple of months I will be busy with teaching and going to (mostly) literary classes at the two OLLIs (AU & Mason), the Politics & Prose bookstore, with the (to me) frightening trip to an ASECS conference at St Louis (where I am to give a short paper). I have been enjoying the preparation (reading & writing and movie-watching) as well as my online life on FB, twitter (I now go over there more regularly), the listservs (Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset is an extraordinary masterpiece, and I’m thinking Morrison’s Beloved is going to be painful one). Last night I became immersed in Atonement, Ian McEwan’s book and the Wright/Hampton film, yet once again, and today find myself eager to read more Louisa May Alcott, her books for adults and about herself. I was much moved by reading in Italian Natalia Ginzburg’s Inverno in Albruzzo (English found in a book which ought to be translated Small Virtues).


Snow in Abruzzo

I practiced twice going to OLLI at AU from this house, and then the P&P places from the OLLI, and I did explore parking in these neighborhoods just a bit (for the first time). Very stressful: some days since becoming a widow, it’s demoralizing to be forced to learn to be independent at age 73.

I told one of my letter friends here on the Net that I have ended living the life of what might be called an independent scholar. Truly I have made efforts for what I thought/think is a social life but have not managed it. It’s too late. I on myself must live.  ( I rephrase and think differently but analogously with Anne Finch’s I on my self can live.) I invent goals for myself, and the teaching schedules for reading on listservs, papers reviews give me a structure. Then I have to take care of this house, my car, pay the bills. The resulting daily structure and its patterns I call my “routs” (the term is Daphne DuMaurier’s). They stretch from around 7 am or when I get up to around 1 pm or when I put out the nightlight and go to sleep. I revise them every few days. Through these I fend off depression, and keep sane. When people respond that gives me meaning — so it means a lot when people write back about these various books or movies. Or appreciate my teaching. There are my daughters and my cats too. Tomorrow Izzy and I go to an HD screening of Handel’s Agrippina from the Metropolitan opera; we talked of the story matter over dinner; she is enthusiastic and looking forward to this one. Me too.

I told of how on Trollope&Peers a few of us told of our first memory from political life; yesterday after reading Caroline Moorehead’s review of Elena Ferrante’s La vita bugiarda delgi adulti (The Lie-Filled Life of Adults) Moorehead says Ferrante has her heroine feeling she is growing up, remembering a moment that woke her up from the “innocence” of childhood, its unawareness into adulthood — seeing the world in a disenchanted more abstract or in terms of larger wider adult perspectives. For Ferrante’s heroine it was when she overheard her father calling her fat; a similar devastation overcame Simone de Beauvoir in The Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: Ferrante’s heroine feared she was ugly; Beauvoir says she was found unmarriageable; Morrisons’ heroine is disturbed out of complacency when the abused orphaned child her family takes into their home longs for the bluest eye, and declares African genetic features ugly. I remember my father mocking me for being “too plump” when I was 15, too late for waking up, but in time to help trigger my anorexia. Girls are made to experience trauma over their face and body as seen by men.

But adult awareness happened earlier than that: when I was 9 into 10 during the time I and my parents moved from the Bronx to Queens. It was moving from an area called a slum, where most people would regard living as awful (bad schools, violence, no greenery in the streets anywhere, tenement houses) to an area most people might long to live in. I know my mother did. Kew Gardens, where we had a three room apartment in a tall building. I was suddenly in a neighborhood of trees, parks, one family fancy homes, apartment buildings kept looking well. I found myself in a neighborhood of (to me at the time) super-rich houses, great snobbery (the desire for prestigious possessions, creditable surroundings, people eating out the heart of every community), constant class slights, no playdates with other children through their mothers for me — and became very unhappy. Also in the schools prayers were enforced — I was startled and at first just didn’t cooperate. After a while I was forced to put my head down while the teacher read from the Bible and everyone was said to be praying. The southeast Bronx was majority black by that time, large minority of hispanic – what whites were there were mostly Irish. It had been an Irish neighborhood in the 1940s. Kew Gardens was all white, heavily Jewish, with a nearby Richmond Hill heavily Italian American, and Forest Hills said to be upper-middle. Yes no violence, the streets utterly quiet. No one on them. Very hard to meet anyone at all. Moving was the great shock, the clash of values, the kinds of people I saw, the way they behaved to one another. My father took to returning to the Bronx and old friends regularly. I didn’t have that option. I found a library I could get to myself — which was an improvement. In the Bronx my father had to take me – it was said to be too far to go on my own (a subway ride on the Bronx El). Now I had just to walk 10 blocks and I was there.

What else shall I tell you of? I have found three choral societies Izzy could try out for (audition), attached to NOVA, attached to Mason, part of the Fairfax county volunteer arts organizations, but she demurred, showed strong reluctance, she would have to work very hard, they demanded she sell tickets (!), rehearsals at night. It only took seven years. But at least I have found these exist.

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Late Winter afternoon & evening thoughts. Wind makes for fiercely felt cold outside and in. I sit in my chair blanket hours ahead of my usual time, Clarycat in my lap, electric radiator just by us (with tissues on top for my cold), Ian across the way. Outside GreyMalkin freezes but I give him/her a dish of food, some milk, and stroke and talk to him/her.


Clarycat and Ian


Grey Malkin I call this cat — a lonely cat who visits me a couple of times a day — for food and affection …

I read as how “democratic establishment leaders” (who are these mostly unnamed people the NYTimes continually cites) are determined if Sanders does not win on the first ballot to stop him. I don’t see why if they choose Bloomberg who has bribed so many of them with money in so many ways shouldn’t send me $500 too. Why should I be expected to vote for him for free? The question is, Should I write him when the time comes? And is that too small a percentage of the take (i.e., otherwise known as the American dream). His “girlfriend,” Diana Taylor, says of women suing men for sexually harassing, raping, assaulting them, “get over it.” I.e., we as women do not have the right to pursue a career or job without enduring harassment, attempted rape or assault. If we are traumatized by such experiences of sex, that just shows how weak and ridiculous we are. She did (get over it), look how successful she is. Well, I can’t get over it, never will, my experience shattered my teenage years and crippled my ability to be pro-active for myself ever after. Trump says the coronavirus spreading about the world is not happening; it’s a hoax by the democrats seeking to discredit him. There is something wrong with what passes for a brain in his head.

Meanwhile there are daffodils which come before the swallow dares & take the winds of March with beauty …

I am reading Nina Auerbach’s brilliant Haunted Heiress (about DuMaurier), to teach myself how to write about material that compels me but I recognize is repulsive (i.e., Winston Graham’s whole oeuvre); and David Constantine’s wonderful biography, Fields of Fire, on Sir Wm Hamilton and his wife Catherine Barlow — they are an attractive couple and much kinder to their adopted monkey-child, Jack, than Sontag lets on … then very funny on Sir Wm, Emma and her mother (rather like a Dickensian novel the three of them).

Zadie Smith on Kara Walker in NYRB It’s actually open to the public: It’s in the February 27, 2020 issue

Zadie Smith asks what we want history to do to us? that seems to me an odd way to put it. I have asked myself in the last couple of days why do I like historical fiction truly — from a personal standpoint. Books about people long dead — or who wrote about people long dead from their time. So the question is, What do I want it to do for me? either writing it or reading it. We can define Last Chronicle of Barset as a historical novel and other older classic books since for us in a way it is — it teaches us history, it is set in the past as well as written in the past.

But there is a difference. The book self-consciously put in the past is different and for the 21st century readers (which is what we are) we have to approach history from today and also remembering who invents our past and says this is our past controls and shapes our future. (That’s Orwell.)

One reason is I often like the heroine at the center of such books — or the heroines. I can bond with them easier than heroines in really contemporary tales (say written in the 21st century). I can identify more, often they are realer to me, I feel less inadequate than I do before contemporary heroines — who seem to me not quite real — given agency that women in the worlds I’ve lived in never had and still don’t have — unless the book is by a woman writer who is giving a true account of ordinary life (not mystery or any of the other popular genres). I can relax with Demelza Poldark. I can escape with Claire Randall at the same time as nothing is asked that is beyond me that I find asked in say a Margaret Drabble book about a woman having a career or a Mary MacCarthy about a woman who thrives in social life in upper class New York City in the 1940s. They are also not as badly off, constrained as heroines of books written in earlier centuries. I am loving the Durrells, Keeley Hawes as Louisa and Barbara Flynn as Aunt Hermione because they ask less of me too — suffer as I do (especially in Gerald Durrell’s trilogy). I bond with Catherine Barlow, and Emma Hart, the two Ladies Hamilton


Sir William Hamilton and Catherine Barlow, the first Lady Hamilton, listening to, playing music (by David Allen)

Zadie Smith’s article is about what is erased and also how much pain and truth can a reader stand — especially black readers. I agree with her in her opening that was I taught in school was an utter white-wash and most of it utterly unreal – I was never told about what really counted maybe until college and graduate school.

We will be reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris on Trollope&Peers this coming summer. It was over 40 years ago now I read it in the original French. Hugo’s birthday was two days ago. I end on Hugo’s entry into his now severely disabled character, Quasimodo’s consciousness:

This justice must, however be rendered to him. Malevolence was not, perhaps, innate in him. From his very first steps among men, he had felt himself, later on he had seen himself, spewed out, blasted, rejected. Human words were, for him, always a raillery or a malediction. As he grew up, he had found nothing but hatred around him. He had caught the general malevolence. He had picked up the weapon with which he had been wounded.
After all, he turned his face towards men only with reluctance; his cathedral was sufficient for him. It was peopled with marble figures,–kings, saints, bishops,–who at least did not burst out laughing in his face, and who gazed upon him only with tranquillity and kindliness. The other statues, those of the monsters and demons, cherished no hatred for him, Quasimodo. He resembled them too much for that. They seemed rather, to be scoffing at other men. The saints were his friends, and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and guarded him. So he held long communion with them. He sometimes passed whole hours crouching before one of these statues, in solitary conversation with it. If any one came, he fled like a lover surprised in his serenade.
And the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside. He dreamed of no other hedgerows than the painted windows, always in flower; no other shade than that of the foliage of stone which spread out, loaded with birds, in the tufts of the Saxon capitals; of no other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; of no other ocean than Paris, roaring at their bases.
What he loved above all else in the maternal edifice, that which aroused his soul, and made it open its poor wings, which it kept so miserably folded in its cavern, that which sometimes rendered him even happy, was the bells. He loved them, fondled them, talked to them, understood them. From the chime in the spire, over the intersection of the aisles and nave, to the great bell of the front, he cherished a tenderness for them all. The central spire and the two towers were to him as three great cages, whose birds, reared by himself, sang for him alone. Yet it was these very bells which had made him deaf; but mothers often love best that child which has caused them the most suffering

I read Hugo’s Last Day in the Life of a Condemned Man more than 2 decades ago: its radical condemnation of all capital punishment, all murdering by a state has as yet not been sufficiently listened to.


Laughton as Quasimodo (the final scene in the rightly famous movie, Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939)

The hardest thing about widowhood for me is being so alone for long periods of time, hours, days, weeks. Going out is an interruption in a sense. I remind myself that the way our society has been structured and has been reinforced in the last quarter of a century many people live or are in effect as alone — or not. For my loving cats are always near me or aware of my presence somehow, and they are real presences too as are & were the people in my books and on the screen.

Ellen

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One morning over the past two weeks, photo taken from sun-porch/room window

A poem I came across, which I like:

Reading Greeting Cards Before and After

His photo in the hallway greets me each day
Being in my life was an extraordinary gift
He left my world leaving a huge vacuum

Still I feel his ever presence in my life
Triggering a burst of smiles and tears
Looking at the gardens he built for me
Coming across a book we read together
Hearing the evening news and imagining his comments
Knowing he would re-load the dishwasher if he were around

An accomplished writer of research papers but not love letters
He’d spend hours searching for my perfect greeting card
Now assembled in a large basket I select one daily
Before I used to read them quickly and thank him with a kiss

Now I read them slowly, sometimes over and over again
Savoring each written word and signed “Love, Charles”
Yet to me his actions spoke more softly
Than the words on any card

—- By Ruth Perry

Dear friends and readers,

This winter I have become more intently aware than I’d been in a few years (since Jim died) of the fragile fleeting character of social life as I experience it. How easily people drop you, are glad of an excuse to ostracize or exclude someone.

One dark morning as I lay in bed waiting for the sunlight to come into my room (with my two cats beside me), I tried to think of all the places or organizations I belong to that now provide me with what social experience I have: above and beyond all in frequency, intimacy (yes) and closeness as well as a spectrum of socializing from acquaintance-polite to friendly to friends where I know something of the person for real and the person me, plus experiences of exclusion, discomfort, hurt, on the Internet as much face-book nowadays as list-servs, blogs, websites, Future Learn courses, twitter.

But after that, what physically in the face-to-face bodies and places-in-the-world included? the two Oscher Institutes of Life-long Learning (at AU and at Mason), classes at Politics and Prose (Northwest Washington Bookstore-as-community center), the Smithsonian (more impersonal) lectures, twice a year conferences (ASECS), the WAPG, an Aspergers group in Washington DC (I rarely go but I keep in touch by email), a summer film club at Cinema Art theater (once a month for 5 months). I live with one daughter, Izzy, and occasionally the other, Laura, visits or we go out with her. I’ve joined on three and this summer I’m going on a fourth Road Scholar trip. That’s it. I’ve counted 22.

Two of the experiences over the last two weeks have been especially fun — or felicitous.


Covers of audio recordings

In a dramatic reading class I listened to people read aloud passages from Dickens and we discussed Dickens, reading aloud, listening to another read, in a group, by a CD audio in a car, or reading silently (how they differ) and one I read aloud (very well if I do say so myself), the opening chapter from Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged” — with that bitter caustic yet very amusing dialogue of Mr and Mrs Bennet), the closing dialogue in Volume I where Mr Bennet tells Mrs Bennet she should not worry about Charlotte Lucas replacing her in Longbourne for perhaps she will predecease him (she finds little consolation there), and then the explosive proposal of Darcy to Elizabeth where he unknowingly insults her deeply and she refuses him. On another I read the scene from Emma where Emma deeply hurts Miss Bates in front of a group of people (Box Hill), Frank wounds Jane by in front of others saying how easy it is to make a mistake at a watering place and engage oneself to someone you don’t want, and Mr Knightley lights into Emma so damningly — all the while we hear the pain of Miss Bates, of Jane, the swelled complaints of the obtuse Mrs Elton. The others read from Dickens and I was astonished to realize that Dickens wrote a near-rape scene at the end of Dombey and Son, where a much abused wife excoriates marriage as then practised — who knew Dickens could be so subversive? Now I wish we had talked more about the spreading popularity of dramatic readings in audoibooks


Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson (Michael Jordan) and Walter MacMillan (Jamie Foxx)

On two Thursdays at the Mason OLLI I participated in class discussions of movies where the teacher is very good at teaching (he spent decades doing it before retirement) — they were lively, intelligent, fun, one on Just Mercy and the other The Parasite (see further down below).

On Just Mercy: a powerful film done in direct simply ways. I was struck after a while at how little filmic “tricks” of the trade; no flashbacks, not subtle in juxtaposition or dialogue at all. It moves forward,and the language is direct, simple. The movie is nerve-wracking to watch because I didn’t know it ended. The young African American lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael Jordan) is almost throughout the film at risk for his life — he patiently endures set-back after set-back and finally gets the case on Frontline from which he gets to go to the Alabama supreme court to ask that the charges against his client, Johnny McMillan (James Foxx), simply be dropped immediately as the original trial was gross miscarriage of justice. It is an anti-capital punishment film. We see a black man who should have been put in a hospital for PTSD and was left to stew and put off a bomb in front of a house and killed a woman, now lamenting and so sorry, a one incident actually killed by an electric chair. They were still killing people that way in Alabama in the 1980s and early 90s? we the full barbarism of it — how there is this pretense of humanity on the day the man is murdered.

As with When They See Us, Dark Waters, and Chernobyl, at the end of the film we see photographs of the real people the actors played. It is very effective to do this. The African-American actor, Michael Jordan, playing the lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, has been snubbed: his performance is as good as James Foxx (nominated for best supporting actor, partly because played Ray Charles in another film)

A third was enjoyable in the class (at Politics and Prose) but it was the books we read and movie I watched that mattered: Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and Alan Pater and Cellan Jones’s 1987 Fortunes of War. There is so much time to be alone.

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Sometimes it is so hard to get to and from these places. This to introduce a distressing — frightening in implications — experience I had this past Friday early afternoon.

As I was driving from Northwest Washington DC to get to Northern Virginia and took my usual turn to get onto some feeder road which takes me to South 110 and that to South 395, I found the whole roadway blocked. There was no way I could get onto that feeder road. I was quickly hopelessly lost. I became bewildered as I usually do in streets I am not accustomed to even if some of them were familiar to me from previous excursions. My garmin showed itself to be dead and I couldn’t get the cell phone even to connect to the network. I kept making wrong turns and feared in my bewildered state I would get into an accident. Finally I remembered I had put the phone on airplane mode so that it would not disturb a class I had been in. Luckily I was able to find a sidewalk I could park by. I put the setting back and voila the Waze program began to work.

But alas I have never been able to make the Waze program or app talk — or to be truthfully only intermittently. In fact what has happened is once it starts talking and I get home I can’t figure out how to shut it up. I don’t always get an “exit” box.

Another problem I have is I never knew where I want to go west or east — say on 66. I can’t tell what is north, south, east or west. I can with thought say to myself this is left and this right. Is there a long word for this for an autistic person? So that’s my first question. I would feel better if my condition — this has happened before – had a name. Getting lost. Not being able to tell where I am — have a big picture of coordinates unless I’ve lived in an area for a very long. A good pictorial memory but it has to be real buildings or streets I recognize.

So what I had was a map with lines and arrows. I managed to put it on the seat next to me and very slowly attempted to follow all the turns and arrows. It was difficult because Arlington around Rosslyn (I live in Alexandria) is no fun. The ironic paradox is what I knew to be true; I was at most 5 minutes away from some highway if I could figure out how to get to it. What happens is the lines and arrows began to show this way to South 110. I recognized that was one of the highways and going in the right direction. I drove very slow and kept adjusting the cell phone to face me.

Anyway I swung onto the highway from another exit but I could recognize pictorially where I was, and could calm down and saw this way to Exit 27, South 395 and knew where I was and then got home. Whew!

I am like a blind person when it comes to understanding directions or what I am on a map. Utter bewilderment is awful. I have tried buying a new garmin twice. But I cannot program it. All of them require some programming and I have no one to do that for me. Everyone says it’s so easy, nothing to do. I have no idea what to do and twice I have had to take back an expensive Garmin or GPS. The one I have now was programmed for me by a kind IT guy who was in my house shortly after my husband died — and helped me install a computer.

Intensely relieved to be back home. My younger daughter, Isobel, cannot help me because she is autistic and asking her to help, this kind of experience makes her intensely nervous.

My older daughter came the next day and — what happened? — within no time she had no problem.

At first the Waze was silent. Her response was to say “Waze stinks” and download google maps. She tried to look at the settings and could find nothing wrong. She did fiddle with them. Then she tried both Waze and google maps and both talked! We get in the car and both talk. But the problem is she never figured out what I had been doing wrong or what I needed to do to make the thing talk because it was talking. I did see that I often put my own address into location and she said don’t do that, just type where you want to go in the next rectangle below.

The problem is Laura (her name) really had no problem. She clicks away and after a while the Waze program talked. She finishes, somehow an exit box is there, and she clicks on it. Calm as the proverbial cucumber. I did sit with her in my car and I clicked and it talked. She could not fix for me what was working.

So a week and a half from now I have two new places to go. I worry the thing won’t talk for me. Has anyone had this problem of the cell phone Waze not talking — My cell phone is an Apple iphone 8 — I think.

To me it’s a wonder I go anywhere at all. If I were black, I would fear a cop might kill me. Laura installed for me Uber — I have Lyft. This is for my coming trip to St Louis. If I want to find a restaurant I am to go to on Friday night, and then a play on Saturday the only way is to hail one of these cab services there and back.

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The destitute-desperate family in The Parasite

Bong Jong-ho’s Parasite is part of my theme tonight: it seems to be a study of social modes of interaction exposing gross class inequities among three families. I’ve now watched it twice and people you should not miss it. It will absorb and entertain and then maybe horrify you. I am still not sure what I think about it.

First thing to be said about the film is how hard it is to talk about it, part of this Is the story line is unpredictable – that’s why you keep watching (even if it’s not assigned). You get drawn in because you are not sure what is going to happen next at all

Second it seems to me most of the thematic descriptions don’t apply generally. It’s not a thriller. We see a class war only at the very end when the destitute family driven to desperation because there’s another desperate destitute pair of people hidden deep in a many level basement of the super-rich people’s many layered – crack up and out comes from them terror, hatred, an urge to destroy these people who are exploiting them utterly – smiling all the while as if it’s perfectly okay to the destitute to be so exploited. The super-rich husband-father drops his mask for a moment when the destitute father playing a chauffeur for the first balks at an order – and threatens to fire him.

For a horror film (another designation) it’s constantly witty and funny – we laugh very uncomfortably at these desperate people – up to their chins in sewer water when it rains – yet they are endlessly ingenious, crackerjack it seems at surviving – they are all kept at a social and psychological distance from one another.

Realism is besides the point: the mother-wife is unbelievably naïve, believes anything – I saw misogyny in the way she was treated as someone who has nothing to do with her life but make expensive parties – we are better not knowing what happened to the employees the destitute family replaces – the housekeeper come back is living nightmare with her husband fleeing creditors

So I looked up Korean films and could find only a history which offered no interpretation, but I did find an essay on films called “periphery” films. Idea is developed countries, run by white people are at the center, and countries like Korea, Palestinine, Saudi Arabia – countries colonized – Australian are periphery. So I’ll conclude on 4 characteristics such films are said to have and this one has these:

1) An intense focus on place and setting. You never forget this is Korea and the two different houses are centrally photographed to stay in your mind as character in the drama – the people in the semi-basement stealing wifi in such appalling conditions – and the rich with all space hardly enough furniture, gadgets everywhere – I suppose it’s order if order is soulless.

2) A use of folk or story telling traditions – at the beginning of the film a brief fairy tale looking picture seems to suggest that the family is going to get their dearest wish using some stone – and this stone appears in the opening and closing sequences of the film. The son carries it around – it is dangerous and bad things happen around this stone. The talk is in European tradition — the fisherman and his wife, with its moral of watch out what you wish for ….

3) Looking at everything from the point of view of the excluded – no matter what it is or how – you might say those colonized whose everything is taken from them or are not allowed anything – cannot accumulate – so destitute cannot go to college — along with this these excluded people feel they can’t belong anywhere. They don’t fit in. The son says this at one point. It ends on the father in the deep basement obviously doesn’t belong anywhere. Even the super-rich don’t belong anywhere – their home is not a home, it’s an place for the real estate sellers furniture makers gadget makers, party makers to supply and sell stuff to — to make money on

4) Money and bullying. Any time a rich or powerful person is denied anything he or she resorts to bullying. But the predators all of them prey on other predators – -like the destitute family on the original employees – everyone searching for an identity – I saw an Israeli film (art film) where the characters are all seeking an identity – queasy comedy and sudden stark tragedy happen over money and bullying ow or what – at any moment a mask drops and you are facing the faceless

At any time the mask drops and you are facing the faceless

So I thought about movies made from the center as a control mechanism –- say The Durrells of Corfu, which I wrote about in my previous diary entry.

The exact place does not at all matter – they can make a home of anything.
No one bullies others and minimal money does – you need some but not a helluva lot.
The know who they are – they really do.
Point of view is that of the privileged those who assume courts are on their side – no masks – and those who have to wear masks very poignant, like Sven the homosexual man – everyone feels for him.

Last night I re-watched The Parasite, having read about cinema at the periphery (movies made by film-makers who don’t come from powerful countries run by white people, countries not colonized i recent history) and it struck me the destitute desperate family’s behavior is like that of us — when it comes to airplane travel. That is one place middle and upper middle white people come across the treatment poorer people across the globe do all the time. Similarly it appears on the surface and maybe is true that these white people accept this treatment from the airlines. They don’t go to war or paroxyms of rage, the candidates for office don’t use as one of their promises to regulate the airlines and stop their outrageous behavior to everyone but those who can afford to be deeply gouged.

OTOH, the movie makes this analogy hard to see because it calls itself Parasite and in Korean parasitic worm and seems to refer the to the destitute desperate family – a squalid word, and it also means blotches on your skin from such worms. I am not sure that the film is not problematic — partly because in the class I was in many of the people in the room defended the super-rich family: they were paying the others, they were “decent to them;” okay they were tactless and unaware of the horrible conditions of life of the others. But that’s not their fault.

If you can reach it, Michael Wood of the London Review of Books for January 2020 is very worth reading

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How to end this entry? We are today surrounded by creeping and overwhelming fascism in our public media and art — that is the mindset actuating not only the Trump administration. Every day another evil deed, yet more ugly hateful ideas and feelings spewed out. Yesterday the Trump regime rescinded decades of work to change attitudes to protect birds from wanton killing — now you may kill them as you please (and you can have as many and what kinds of guns you want. Public schools? why these are low-class government schools which debased people attend — a sign of their inferiority is no one is excluded.

Human beings need to think more about the nature of our social lives today in the year 2020. What are we seeking? What do these activities of ours depend upon? how or on what basis are we setting up our relationships with one another? Is it to escape from a default setting (to use the ubiquitous Internet jargon) of alienation, a world of cruelty and indifference as seen in Parasite and Last Chronicle of Barset and Curate in Charge? (David Copperfield ends in a wish fulfillment fantasy and the emphasis is — to be fair to the book — more about the richness of a life of solitude, of inner development of self and strength and also about death and sheer vulnerability.) These questions are urgent as we find ourselves more and more without the solid social support systems our daily lives and attitudes (beliefs in our togetherness) used to provide, more and more turning to the Internet worlds, to voluntary organizations unsupported by anything but human need.

Ellen

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A flowering bush in my front garden

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

Friends,

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


Bookermania

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

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

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

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

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


May Whittie, Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes)

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

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


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


2018 — Jessie Buckley and Dougray Scott as Marion and Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Classical heroine who did not need birth control measures:

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

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

The Lemons

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Snow-cat, made by Rob, Laura’s husband, just outside their backdoor

This morning I realized there was a sweetness about life, about existence, being alive somehow, a tone, a feel to the very air, which has vanished altogether since Jim died. My eye lighted on a house near my street, so familiar after 35 years that corner, and it came to me when I would see that corner and was driving home to where Jim often was, how the world was suffused with sweetness, a tone, a feel — gone forever, with vacuity in its place.

Friends,

The past two weeks have been cold, rain has poured on Alexandria, and now we’ve had a mild three day snow storm. Mild because only some 12 inches but enough to close down what parts of gov’t have been left open after Trump and his regime decided to make their right-wing dictatorship felt. A coup is underway to nullify the election of a democratic house. I am far from alone in being sick with worry and anxiety for my and Izzy’s comfortable existence, this house and my books supplying all that make my life worthwhile.

I’ve been thinking what can I do if Trump succeeds in keeping this up: can the money I have invested be turned around to produce some kind of income? I thought of Jane Austen’s line in Persuasion: Is there any one item on which we can retrench. I’ve been thinking of many items, including eating less and more cheaply. I’ve not bought a thing I didn’t have to since the gov’t shut down. I am already committed for two trips but after this stop. Apply for tax relief from the Alexandria property rates. I have been so proud of my garden: it would hurt not to have the gardeners work at it at least once a month (they came twice in the fall); it would break my heart, but I know nothing of gardening so need them. No more cleaning ladies. That’s easy. Izzy loves her four sports channels but we could go down on the phone somehow. Anything to stay here and keep my books. Night after night Judy Woodruff on PBS catalogues another set of individuals devastated by this.  Trump came on Fox  enjoying himself utterly. Remember he and his Republican loathe most of the agencies, like the FTC which is supposed to protect consumers, stop monopoly and exploitative practices. They are shutting all this down as a trial to see what they can destroy. They like the idea of federal workers forced to work for no pay.  Well these workers won’t keep it up for years.  My especial heart-break is the closing of the Library of Congress.


Saturday night from the windows of my enclosed porch


Sunday morning close up

I’ve been out minimally but not lonely because of the worlds of the Internet I have found so many friends and people who share some part of my taste to spend time with. I visited a friend where we had old-fashioned grilled-cheese sandwiches (on white bread no less, fried lightly in butter on a frying pan) with tea and then settled together to watch the wondrous French A Christmas Tale. She enjoyed it as deeply as I. She’s worried too: she lives on a much larger social security and annuity payments; she will rearrange her annuity payments for a start she says.

One night also I went on a date (the first in 52 years) — an old-fashioned date where the man picked me up by car, drove me to an elegant yet home-y Irish pub in Northwest Washington where we had a yummy meal and good talk; afterwards a drive through very pretty park-lined and riverside streets, and then home again home again, jiggedy-jig, where he walked me to my door. I even dressed up, complete high heels and an attempt at make-up (feeble, basically lip-stick).

I know my face looks awful but consider that the cell phone picked up harsh shadows in Izzy’s half-lit room.

We were in a neighborhood in Northwest Washington I knew existed, sort of, but had never been in. The OLLI at AU is there. Very wealthy, exclusive (he pointed to three clubs he belongs to along the river, one where no one else can come into that piece of land in that park), beautiful, forest-y. There’s a Great Falls I’d never heard of and he was even startled to hear I’d never heard of it. His big income comes from years of working in high positions in agencies Trump will destroy: environmental; he did “operations research” (mathematical finding of which is your best option to do; this is used to bomb things). He is by older heritage Jewish, but his family spent so many years in Arkansas and then Tennessee so he has no memories of any heritage but American — one of his clubs meets in a local very tasteful Episcopalian church.  An intelligent sports person, someone who knew how to and still does socialize and network, a widower, with 2 (!) guns in his house. I could see he was rightist — trained to be a fighter pilot in the later 1950s. He knew what an adjunct is, and said of Jim’s career, what a shame he didn’t make more money with such degrees. I think for us, given my expectations, & where we both came from, Jim did very well. I know mainstream people will comment (adversely) he retired so early. Yes, and I have much less because of this, but he lived for 9 years he would not have had he worked until 65, gotten that dreadful cancer, and been devoured.  So not a lot of common ground. The evening was though very pleasant. Both people kept up cordial conversation.  I think I’d actually never been on a date like this before — never treated that way in my teens. Perhaps it fit Christine Blasey Forde’s expectations when she found herself among thug upper class males for the first time. The evening was a sociological lesson for me.

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


The facsimile edition


the beloved and loving dog, Hajjin

I read a new remarkable short novel where the central consciousness is a nearly kidnapped dog, the 19th century novella, The Confessions of a Lost Dog by Francis Power Cobbe — she anticipates Woolf’s Flush: deeply humane and somewhat convincing attempt to get inside a dog’s personality, not the physical self the way Woolf tried. She is one of the women I am hopeful about writing about for my projected part of a book, working title, The Anomaly (only single women trying to live apart from men have not been.) I  am now reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend as translated by Ann Goldstein: she describes a world I grew up in (Naples = southeast Bronx, circa 1950s). Lenu the reader, and Lila who learns to cast off ambition because thwarted hope is one of the most painful of experiences..

Still inching along in the helpful Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, ed Ella Westland, have opened and begun more of my Cornwall travel-memoir meditative history-as-reverie books. I’m now reading the three Poldark novels I’ve chosen for the paper I’m supposed to give in Denver (if airplanes are flying — I don’t know why the TSA people just don’t go on strike — all terrorized they will lose their jobs; this is what employment in the US has come to). And I’ve had one of those delightful literary discoveries fit only for cherished re-telling in a diary.

All the years of watching the two different Poldark, and having read the twelve books I thought carefully through, I never realized both series had omitted Aunt Agatha, the 98 year old unmarried Poldark aunt’s kitten. In scenes where she appears in Black Moon we are told she has a kitten and then cat keeping her affectionate company. His name is Smollett and I suspect the name is reference to the popular 18th century novelist, Smollett who features an old unmarried woman and her beloved dog in an epistolary novel, Humphry Clinker (the hero is Methodist), and cats and offensive smells in a travel -tour book.


Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) saying goodbye to Verity (from Season 3, Black Moon)

When we first see Agatha, we are told

A black kitten moved on her lap. This was Smollett, which she had found somewhere a few months ago and made peculiarly her own. Now they were inseparable. Agatha never stirred without the kitten, and Smollett, all red tongue and yellow eye, could hardly be persuaded to leave her. Geoffrey Charles, with a small boy’s glee, always called her ‘Smell-it.’ [When George Warleggan intrudes.] The kitten, to Agatha’s pleasure, had arched its back and spat at the new arrival (Black Moon, Chapter 1).

Smollett is mentioned in passing, and when on the last page of this novel, Agatha lies dying:

The bed shook as Smollett jumped on it again. Her head was sinking sideways on the pillow. With great effort, she straightened it … then the light began to go, the warm, milk yellow sunlight of a summer day … She could not close her mouth. She tried to close her mouth and failed. Her tongue stopped. But one hand slowly moved. Smollett nudged up to it and licked it with his rough tongue. The sensation of that roughness made its way from her fingers to her brain. It was the last feeling left. The fingers moved a moment on the cat’s fur. Hold me, hold me, they said. Then quietly peacefully, at the last, submissively, beaten by a stronger will than her own, her eyes opened and she left the world behind (Black Moon, last chapter, last page, last paragraph)

Graham is very fond of animals, and especially a lover of cats throughout his novels. Ross Poldark meets Demelza because at the risk of her own severe body injury she was defending her dog, Garrick, from torturous abuse for the amusement of a mob and several boys. Here are Ian and Clarycat near a snow filled window with their toy mouse:

For snow days: I recommend the remarkable movie about Gertrude Bell narrated by Tilda Swinden, for its remarkably contemporary film footage, Bell’s letters, virtuoso performances of BBC actors as Bell’s family, friends, associates: Letters from Baghdad. I’m listening to Timothy West’s inimitable reading of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, as prelude to Can You Forgive Her? and for a group discussion (Trollope&Peers); this is alternatively with Davina Porter reading Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn. I shall buy no more of these but listen and re-listen to what I have. My kind Irish friend has sent me so many copies of DVDs of very good British BBC movies, I can go for years. My movies at home and nightly for now are both sets of Poldark serial dramas (back-to-back watching of equivalent episodes), Outlander Seasons 2 and 4. I was disappointed but not surprised when Caitriona Balfe, nominated for Golden Globe as best actress for four years in row, lost once again. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride ….

It is hard to find Balfe in a dress I can endure to look at at these ceremonies: a salutary reminder of the real woman (the first phase of her career was as a fashion model).. She is presented in the features as a cooperative team player . The blog where I found the image, repeatedly said of the dress it’s too “LV” — perhaps Louis Vuitton, but a sneering tone accompanied by scorn for those “who have trouble paying their rent,” so it’s probably a withering resentment of her outfit as not overtly extravagant, ritzy, expensive enough. I remember Jenny Bevan who has dressed hundreds of actors and actresses in the best movies for years, turning up for her award for costume in ordinary pants, top, her hair simply brushed was booed. So you see where the outrageous lengths this red carpet stupidity goes to comes from: the worst values of mean minds.

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

As for keeping body as well as soul up, I walk for 20 minutes in the afternoons, and listen to country and folk music in the mornings as I exercise for 10 minutes and close this evening with Pete Seeger’s “There’s a river of my people:

There’s a river of my people
And its flow is swift and strong,
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.

Many rocks and reefs and mountains
Seek to bar it from its way.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.

You will find us in the mainstream,
Steering surely through the foam,
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.

For we have mapped this river
And we know its mighty force
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.

Oh, river of my people,
Together we must go,
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my brothers wait I know.
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my sisters wait I know.

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Miss Drake

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