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Vanessa Bell


Maxx pussycat confiding, trusting

… thou mettst with things dying, I with things newborn — Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale

Friends and readers,

For two weeks now I’ve watched from my computer scenes of protest, demonstration, and high destructive violence, burning, smashing, stealing, the defacing of buildings, walls, and the toppling of statues, across the US, and (it seems) across the world, from France to Hong Kong — and have in spirit been with the enraged, suffering, and immiserated people. The relentless brutality of US police has been before the eyes of the world; they treat the people they are supposed to serve as the enemy, armed for war. The murder of George Floyd has this week been followed up by more murders; people have remembered the murders so shocking that rose above the hubbub of daily news, and tonight there is evidence of literal lynching: two black men found hanging from trees, Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsh, 45 miles apart. Meanwhile Trump’s gov’t with its no plan, no money for anyone in true need, and anti-mask posture is leading the way into a second wave of COVID19 deaths. Tonight the figure of 117,000 dead was cited. Unemployment massive, food-lines everywhere and long.

I can’t begin to outline Trump’s destruction of the US gov’t agencies set up to help people and save our environment; his crony takes over the Post Office in 3 days. My anxiety is over a coming possible coup. People in western social democracies profess surprise that this wealthy country with its extraordinary sites of bio-medical science has worse conditions than most of the world — they forget for decades the US gov’t and its agencies destroyed all new social democracies, set up death squads and periodically does what it can to make the peoples of South and Latin America into serfs and the peoples of the Middle East unemployed & desperate for any job, any place in highly conflicted theocracies. The difference is now the US gov’t has aimed its cruelty at its own citizens in massive numbers. A war on the middling classes like elsewhere.

Against all this there is not much material for hope. Some police reforms are being enacted into law, some de-funding of them, the one in Minneapolis abolished (my own experience is for this), and in some states attempts to open up judiciously, slowly to institute anti-COVID19 social practices. Today the US supreme court affirmed that the Civil Rights amendment includes LGBTQ people.

I led with Laura’s kittens because they are oblivious to all this & appear to have realized they have lucked into a wonderful home, and enable Laura to put photographs of them on FB and twitter looking adorable, heart-melting, close ups almost hourly.

I did come across in TLS a review of a book by the artist Leah Goren, Catlady who in slight sketches captures profound love:

I feel any diary or writing in the US today that does not take into account what is happening here shows a moral indifference and simply sheer stupidity — as if to suggest the bell is not tolling for that person too. We are as yet not gone over the cliff into the fascist dictatorship Trump is taking all to; we are as yet in one of those “intervals” between the rule of crushing cruel force; there is still time and place not just for protest, for good things for the human spirit, “breathing holes”, “snatching [an] opportunity while the going is good.” These words are E.M. Forster in his famous “What I Believe” — and Biden may yet win the presidency, enough of congress go democratic, so we may yet not be overwhelmed, and those left (who can) set the world moving back towards a humane order and (who knows) something better than we had emerge again. I don’t mean we should count on much, but maybe it will not be as bad for so many (it’s been worsening for decades) as it’s been of late. Some new patterns are very worrying: the enforced continued de-personalization of daily business contacts.

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For ourselves, I will be teaching online in the fall, & Izzy will not have to return to going to work until August, and then not all 5 days; I’ll drive her to nearby and pick her up; the library has but five people in it as staff. She has bought herself a new computer. We had much worry over the installation. The guy forgot to bring wifi, speakers, webcam and mic. It’s a PC.  I did discover how we have wifi in this house: it comes from the comcast three boxed in my room; Izzy’s is just behind mine.  But you need software in your computer to access it without a wire.  All okay now.  We have altogether 10 computers in this house if you add in cell phones, ipads, her gov’t laptop (her now partly retired laptop is not broken and now resides in the dining room).


George Inness, The Monk (1890)

I have begun my classes and one is very enjoyable and instructive: American Artists in Italy, 1740-1860: the lecturer presents slides of beautiful paintings by individual artists about whom he knows a good deal. OLLI at AU.  The man is a German scholar who means very well.

I joined on in a wonderful two hours with people who understand how to read and we poured over Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry: because of this I have a much better understanding and appreciation of her work and am starting reading towards a foremother poet blog for her. Here is one which is not very well known — it was published after she died and apparently not in my edition of the Complete Poems:

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.
An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;
And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one’s back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as the kisses are changing without our thinking.

The joy of loving companionship. Two more sessions with Aspergers friends and I’ve learned more about myself through Temple Grandin (a movie and her book, Animals in Translation).


Dora Carrington, E. M. Forster

And my 4 week class on The Bloomsbury Novel appears to be going well. A moving moment came today when one woman said she wishes Forster had had the courage to publish his book, Maurice decades ago: it would have helped her to come out of the closet. That is, she opened up before us all. I tried to register this and reciprocate by saying how in the early 1990s when I first read Mary Pipher’s Saving Ophelia, it was an explosive mind-opener and relief for me; I could see I was not alone in those years of abrasive loneliness in a regime of predatory male heterosexuality and complicit female support for it. I did my level best to bring out how one need not be homosexual to enter into the bewilderment, alienation and emotional pain Forster’s hero knows for years, and then with a release and relief join in his joy with his companion, Alec. Here is the syllabus for the 6 week version I begin in a week and one half.


Elizabeth Russell Taylor

A friend gifted me with a exquisitely appropriate (for me, knowing my taste) group of books, all the way from Germany. She seemed to do this for the years of my efforts on the three listservs (now on groups.io); I began them this morning, — Margaret Macaulay’s The Prisoner of St Kilda: The true story of the unfortunate Lady Gange (restraint characterizes this one too, deft concise and suggestiveness) — and resolved that I would keep up from this line of books two of my TBR longed-for piles — one of 18th century women (fine biographies and studies) and the other of Scottish/Irish women (fine novels as well as critical books). Lady Grange crosses both. And I’ve piles with books by and about men in them too: early modern, and just gems left from my Italian Jewish reading: Giorgio Bassani’s The Heron, and Carlo Levi’s Fear of Freedom.

I got such a kick out of a map my friend sent: you open out the folds and it shows you 30 of the locations where the five seasons of Outlander has been filmed, most of them have been in Scotland. I miss the programs and am awaiting a DVD of the 5th season now.

And I read some wonderful writing this week: the two fictionalized biographies in Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist (Joan Martyn and Miss Willatt) ironic and persuasive gems of historical fiction, her “Gypsy, a Mongrel,” exquisitely sad and touching, yet so natural about a dog; her “Rambling Round Evelyn” brings him before us; Jacqueline Banerjee’s Literary Surrey, two sections, one on Evelyn and the other Forster. Woolf’s fictionalized biographies  I suddenly realized Vita Sackville-West’s biographical work on Joan of Arc and Anne Lady Clifford was the result of her identifying with them as manly woman, cross-dresser and lesbian.  Well, duh … All this for the Bloomsbury course …

And I was able to join in on an interview online of Francesca Wade (Square Haunting) that would have happened in York, but was instead placed in Zoom webinar online — and she talked of her book in plain simple terms that are not available in book writing and the led me to return to her book and read Eileen Power’s Medieval People and buy her tremendous Medieval Nunneries, c 1275 to 1535. The last time I communed with this book was in the 1980s in the evenings at the Library of Congress. I still have my old notes and xeroxes.  Well now I have the book itself in front of me.


The illustration makes me recall Remedios Varo’s pictures, e.g.,


Embroidering Earth’s Mantle

I think to myself how often in women’s novels do we get this scene of our heroine being encouraged, helped along, loved, bonding with a Mother Superior nun. From Claire Fraser and Mother Hildegard in the Hopital Dragonfly in Amber, to Anna Bouverie and the Mother Superior Ignazia at St Saviour’s in The Rector’s Wife: Claire is encouraged to become a doctor, Anna, a teacher of German and French. The older woman and young one. Frances de la Tour perfect for such parts.


Saving someone with the help of her dog — Outlander, season 2

Some lines from Shakespeare’s Lear as re-worked by Alan Bennet into his Madness of George III, spoken lyrically by Mark Gatiss as the recovering king (National Theater on-line)

These were the high points in the last two weeks for me — when my heart sung.

A more mixed pleasure: I’m following a Future Learn on Penhurst and the Sidney family poets — of the early modern period.  I was chuffed at long last to see Gary Walker whose work on Mary Lady Wroth’s sonnets I used so to admire. He spoke frankly about the real pain her work, and I watched Glasgow students enact parts parts of Jane Lumley’s Iphigenia (out of Euripedes by way of an Italian translation.  I realize Mary Sidney Herbert Countess of Pembroke’s Tragedie of Antony (French classical concoction in English) has a Cleopatra who is fully noble, plangent, as a conception much kinder to woman than Shakespeare. Jim and I visited Penshurst — or was it Wilton House?  There are pictures of Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth (coerced marriage, love liaison with cousin, Wm Herbert, and two children by him) – I loved her father, Robert’s , harsh poetry just as much. I dreamt once of writing a paper on her and sending it to a learned journal. I did start a biography ….


Lady Wroth

A virtual Dickens conference instead of the yearly extravaganza in California at the Dickens museum. I was able to listen to and see several remarkable Dickens and Victorian scholars speak.

The OLLI at Mason on American poetry, modern, has as a teacher a published poet, a man who makes big deal out of knowing “scenes” and inner circles, disliking academics, a bad chip on his shoulder, very dogmatic when the class basically emailed him to ask for discussion (to be sure from what a couple of people said, many there might not be capable of understanding what is good poetry, how to talk about it). His choices are mostly white males (three females briefly, all white), but he presented a cogent guarded but convincing history of American poetry, especially de- over politicization since the 1950s.  The socialistic and radical poetry of the 1930s to 40s, social critiques silenced, and US poetry becomes all about self, says he. I’m not so sure or I doubt it.

I had some low points too: when (should I say) a long-time frenemy who has caused me so much grief to the point of last spring provoking a bad case of dermatitis, and scapegoating me off the Janeites list for good did it again (she got under my skin as they say) — though not before scores of eyes: a half-phrase meant descriptively (her reactions to these demonstrations are more white than mine) was excuse enough to vent her contempt for me, withering (because she knows she can get away with it) and vow never to email me again. I should have written, is that your arrogant promise? Alas, I didn’t. I was too stunned.

The OLLI at Mason staff is again pretending to but not helping (just the opposite) the teachers to cope with their zoom stuff. Extraordinary: they try not to give out the codes to the teachers individually.  The woman running it is a bully, with a dense face. Perfect for our era. I had to pull teeth to get the code to get into my class zoom.  I am supposed to have one session today with a site assistant and she didn’t give me the code for that. I’ve not gotten the code this morning. For your class you are told to “click” here and like some child are supposed to stand for not knowing. Hours later: I did have the training session and discovered that the problem was pressure on me to lead a Webinar (a kind of TV show where I see nobody nor does anyone else except for me; it allows for hardly any real class discussion but does allow for a couple of hundred “viewers;” perhaps it looks good on paper and they think will fool people into saying they have had a class. But all know the difference. I resisted and now have to trust again to these people and hope the meetings come over, 6 of them. As someone told me in OLLI at AU, worry not, it’s on them to make it happen.

Perhaps I miss some of the Poldark talk I used to join in with on an FB page devoted to the books (a vindictive FB owner who loathes critical evaluations worked to exclude me — these are fan places — again I was stunned, but again all this occurred where there is nothing to see), I miss reading the comments as they helped keep me at that project through reminders of Graham’s Poldark texts. The historical fiction project as a writing goal, is in retreat just now. Laura used to tell me to stay away from such places, ask me why I went there? I keep away from the Outlander FB on my own now as its material too is turned into open sexual fetish all too often or in this fifth (perhaps wearied material) season, they fall silent. One cannot learn from such places what the material they are talking about is even about. I suppose that is not much different at core from too many academic studies.

I return to my complicated work on Anne Finch’s poetry and life. And there I am fretting: undecided how far I should try to expose the craven career devotion that has led to the new edition omitting so much of her inner life, the actuating emotions and beauty in the poetry that would make her poetry come alive instead of remaining a historical dead-weight. I too have to have a care not to offend. The work goes very slow as I return to the manuscripts once again, combing through to decide, is this her? is it a corrupt text? is it any good?

Adieu until next time, on-screen as they say,


Susan Herbert’s Brief Encounter

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!!

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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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Our miniature maple last week

Fountain

Let it disturb no more at first
Than the hint of a pool predicted far in a forest,
Or a sea so far away that you have to open
Your window to hear it.
Think of it then as elemental, as being
Necessity,
Not for a cup to be taken to it and not
For lips to linger or eye to receive itself
Back in reflection, simply
As water the patient moon persuades and stirs.

And then step closer,
Imagine rivers you might indeed embark on,
Waterfalls where you could
Silence an afternoon by staring but never
See the same tumult twice.
Yes come out of the narrow street and enter
The full piazza. Come where the noise compels.
Statues are bowing down to the breaking air.

Observe it there — the fountain, too fast for shadows,
Too wild for the lights which illuminate it to hold,
Even a monument, an ounce of water back;
Stare at such prodigality and consider
It is the elegance here, it is the taming,
The keeping fast in a thousand flowering sprays,
That builds this energy up but lets the watchers
See in that stress an image of utter calm,
A stillness there. It is how we must have felt
Once at the edge of some perpetual stream,
Fearful of touching, bringing no thirst at all,
Panicked by no perception of ourselves
But drawing the water down to the deepest wonder.

— by Elizabeth Jennings, in Ann Stanford’s anthology, Holding Our Own

Friends and readers,

This is the freshest and prettiest time of year, and were I to detail Izzy and my daily routine, many might say this is privilege. We are early risers, she watches a favorite conversation show (people around her age just talking often about contemporary issues that concern her), I answer my personal mail, respond to FB, twitter, listserv friends, both exercise, eat, shower, dress casually (as if ready to take a walk)


Clarycat in sunpuddle nearby

She is teleworking from home to the Pentagon library and really sits down to it at 8:30 and works more or less (with some breaks) to 5.


To my eyes how beautiful she looks — at home she can use her heating pad for her back and she listens to music as she catalogues

On dressing (complete with necklace, earrings sometimes). After living most of my life partially at home (working part time) and many years in NYC where I was in an apartment on the third floor so didn’t get out all the time — from quite a young age I determined that each day I would dress myself as if I were going out. I am not dressing quite the way I do when I go out to teach: then I try to spruce up. Now I’m in jeans and tops mostly by about 9;30 am, though once in a while a dress, a sweater. Ballet slippers. My cleaning bill is near zero.  This pandemic has shut the hairdresser’s shop and so my hair is now going grey/silver/white and I brush and put it firmly at the nap of my neck in a clip. For me dressing myself for the day is a matter of staying cheerful, I keep to a routine too — of posting, reading, blogging. When I was young and talked NYC talk, I’d say I was “being a person:” that’s very crude or blunt. But I do need to dress myself as if I were going out, and I am going out most days — a walk, to the post box, 3 days to supermarkets, drug store. Some sense in myself a need for in order to be peaceful. I hate to use the phrase self-respect but I can’t think of a less loaded one. I need to go sleep at night and be up during the day with most other people. To eat at regular hours ….. This keeps me sane and anxiety- and depression at bay. I feed my cats at specific times too and they know when the time “has arrived” for breakfast, snack, dinner and to go to bed too. I’m usually back in nightgown by 9 to 10 pm. We are all following a schedule to try for some sense of meaning in life. As in Camus’s Sisyphus: each day one pushes the rock up and in the night it rolls back down again

It’s an attitude towards the self, how each of us lives with our self. To me this does not relate to any outward standards of accomplishment or even whether we look on life favorably — as a good thing — or other people. It’s about our relationship with our self. I’m very much a home-body, happiest at home where all is set up for me to do what I like to do. I have observed for a long time now Izzy behaves the way I do and now in this pandemic she is dressed (not as for her office but as she does on Saturday/Sunday or the evenings) and sits down to work at 8:30 am (she is supposed to clock in virtually, and clocks out at 5 pm). She makes plans for herself and follows through on them. I’m taking a course in existentialism this term; it’s historical in approach; still we are talking of how we make and find meaning in existence. I behave this way were there no pandemic.

Izzy did not pattern herself on me at all. That’s just her way. We do have to accept what life offers — the hand of cards we are given — and I’ve made of mine what was in my character to make.

I settle down after tidying up chores, to post, read, write. I have agreed to teach on-line (if I manage it) so am preparing for The Bloomsbury Novel, read for the one serious reading course I have (not a heavy schedule), for my list communities, my projects. I’ll begin a new review May 1st. I thread stuff in — I returned to the Winston Graham with my energy renewed (“A matter of genre”) and three different historical fictions. The Mirror and the Light and books on early modern people. 18th century studies. Trollope. Some wonderful books, and new authors, especially Italian, e.g., today for four hours, Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.


A wonderfully humane book which gets down the level of how people live and what they do — shocking how readily human beings learned to and did make horrific weapons — for money too; she tells it all prosaically, the political movements and daily lives from letters & diaries, newspapers

I am now making myself a small pot of coffee in the later morning. Both lunch by noon, and the afternoon is a repeat performance. Both of us walk from 20 minutes to half an hour in the later afternoon. Snacks, supper together.


Ian up from his afternoon nap coming to play with me and a colorful string I have while waiting for supper, watching TV

At this point I watch PBS reports steadily for the hour because Woodruff and Co make me feel better while informing me of what’s happening, true news as therapy.

Evenings I find I am too tired to read most of the time, so it’s movies (A French Village, My Brilliant Friend aka The Story of a New Name, Inspector Morse, documentaries, Civilisations, Lucy Worsley on Suffragettes) and blogging. I’m up to five zoom sessions a week: these do divide up the day and provide a sense of social life’s satisfactions. There are fine movies on-line, and I’ve started to plan joining virtual conferences (one on Jane Austen — at Chawton House in June, something I could never have encompassed). One does not have to drive anywhere but to shop locally.

She writes fiction, works on her music, sometimes draws, watches movies, reads books and online. Then to bed … without the cats. They come into my room with me.

I have gone out regularly however briefly — three days this weekend to shop, one day to the post office (doing what I can to support them), another the cleaners, drug store and so it goes. Izzy comes with me on weekends. Thus far my annuity, social security, Izzy her salary, all paid.

Just back from immense shopping for free range farm chicken, basmatic rice, a carton of Robert Shaw shiraf wine ($3.99 a bottle), unadulterated cheese (very plain) & other things I can’t get anywhere but Trader Joe’s — which was this morning very impressive. Not everyone is cooperating. So the line for seniors also included just regular customers — clearly not disabled. But the employees don’t want to be police; I saw them try on a couple of obvious people. In the store the way the lines are managed shows thought. They are protecting their employees. But it was an oddly fraught experience. I was offered free flowers on the way out and I took the chance (might they carry the virus?). Because they are yellow. Too many years to count and shortly after Jim and I met he bought me a bouquet of 22 yellow flowers (it was out of money he was getting as his “dole” — he was homeless just then, I had taken him into my room) about 10 months too late. But I had said something about not having any gifts or wanting any thing done for some years. I was so touched. All this tires me out …

You are seeing the top of a credenza (I’ve been calling it all these years) bought at some thrift shop; Laura (maybe age 10 or so) and I carried it out of the store and managed to get it into whatever car we had. Izzy in stroller watching. Now it’s in front of a window where I keep snack food, bread, cheese, various condiments, book called Natural Cat, and a photo of JIm… I can no longer remember where my flower vase is.

So what’s wrong: profound distress provided every day by the news from Trump (unspeakable inhumane behavior — just some monster) and his cruel regime edging us ever more into fascism, so many suffering from economic disaster, a painful illness and thousands (thousands) dying — in detention facilities, prisons. In Europe, gov’ts are simply sending people under order to stay at home 80% of their salary, supporting all small businesses, nationalizing health care, testing away; here a one shot of $1200 to everyone, 37% of people eligible for unemployment (but it does not come right away), long lines across the country of people waiting for free food. Congress sending billions to corporations, chain stores, it was a hard fight to get them to agree to fund hospitals better.

One night I went to sleep in a stunned state having read that Trump refused to sign any bill that would enable the post office to stay in business. The post-office. All my life this is the organization that I receive and send bills through, reach people, a life-line for the public — the man would carelessly smash it – wreck to prevent people voting in the next election. I was shaken

It all just preys on my mind. I made a joke of this:

Trump suggested that we could perhaps get rid of, cure, COVID-19 disease if we would “inject disinfectant through the skin.” Or drink some harsh commercial disinfectant (the kind you are supposed to handle with gloves, keep out of the reach of children or animals).

I remembered Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, where (as I recall) In an island of Lagado (or an academy?), there is a man who has been working at extracting sunbeams from cucumbers for some 8 years. It seems it was his idea to supply somebody’s garden with perpetual sunlight. Alas though, the year Gulliver arrived the cucumber crop was poor and so they were just then expensive. So plan had to wait and I seem to remember Gulliver gave him some money …. which man was glad to take

If it was a sardonic joke, it was a nasty sarcasm mocking all the people who have died and gotten very sick. He was irritated by all this talk of disinfectants, was he? But here is full description in French showing it was not meant as a joke:

N’essayez pas ça à la maison. Réagissant à une étude – très préliminaire – selon laquelle la chaleur, l’humidité et les rayons du soleil affaibliraient le coronavirus, Donald Trump a réfléchi à voix haute, jeudi, sur de possibles traitements à bases d’UV et de désinfectants. Des médecins ont aussitôt alerté sur les risques d’empoisonnement, comme cela s’est déjà produit avec de l’automédication à la chloroquine

Un peu de contexte. Lors du briefing quotidien à la Maison Blanche, un responsable du département à la Sécurité intérieure a présenté des résultats –très préliminaires– d’une étude. Selon cette dernière, la « demi-vie » du Covid-19 (la durée nécessaire pour diviser par deux sa puissance) sur les surfaces et dans l’air est fortement réduite par la chaleur, l’humidité et les UV du soleil. Du côté des désinfectants, l’étude conclut que l’eau de Javel tue le virus en cinq minutes et l’alcool à 90° en trente secondes.

Dans la foulée, Donald Trump s’interroge au micro : « Supposons qu’on frappe le corps avec une grande (quantité) d’ultraviolets ou juste une lumière très forte. Et ensuite j’ai dit, supposons qu’on amène la lumière à l’intérieur du corps, ce qu’on peut faire à travers la peau ou d’une autre façon… » Le président demande des précisions au responsable et continue : « Et puis je vois le désinfectant qui le neutralise en une minute. Est-ce qu’on pourrait faire quelque chose comme ça, avec une injection à l’intérieur ou… presque comme un nettoyage. Car vous voyez, ça (le virus) va dans les poumons… Ça serait intéressant de tester ça. Je voudrais que vous demandiez à des docteurs en médecine s’il y a moyen d’appliquer de la lumière ou de la chaleur pour neutraliser le virus. »

Un docteur, il y en a une assise à quelques mètres, Deborah Birx, qui fait partie de la task-force de la Maison Blanche contre le coronavirus avec Anthony Fauci. Face à la tirade du président américain, elle semble perdue dans ses pensées.

It is a strain being without human voices and the commonalty of acquaintances, friends, familiar and unfamiliar faces and bodies over the course of the day naturally

COVID19 Notes: “You don’t necessarily develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against every virus. Some viruses are very, very difficult when it comes to vaccine development – so for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to find ways to go about our lives with this virus as a constant threat,” said David Nabarro, professor of global health at Imperial College, London, and an envoy for the World Health Organization on Covid-19″ (The Guardian).

On DemocracyNow.org Juan Gonzalez said that in his part of New Jersey, New Brunswick, a few middle class people set up a crowd-source fund online, collected $17,000 within a week and a half and have now begun to distribute it. Direct cash payments to people who are out of food and need money for rent or a mortgage payment. The 2nd trillion dollar bill from the feds has no money directly for people; Trump assures us (lest we worry) that he has his own fund set aside for fossil fuel industry. Trump at last sends tests to NY when Cuomo visits him – or promises to. My two daughters need got a penny back from the airlines for the money they paid for their Montreal planned trip to ice-skating contest; a friend and her husband paid twice each way going and coming back from Mexico, never got a penny back; I never got a penny back from my attempt to go to St Louis — but the airlines get another bunch of money — there’s black humor here. Too bad I can’t laugh.

Gonzalez also told how his 92 year old mother contracted COVID-19; he and his wife took her to the hospital when she seemed unable to breathe; the hospital would not test her unless they took her in; when they tested her, they were about to give her that dangerous malaria drug until Gonzalez realized what they were doing, and stopped them. She did survive, without intubation and is now in a rehabilitation unit. Meanwhile his wife contracted the disease; Thursday night last week she could’t breathe, had a fever, he called 911, Emergency ambulance came but the people said she’d be better off at home, safer as she was not yet near death, gave him some advice about positioning her, anyway she lived through the night and this week is recovering.

A friend told me that her psychologist friend seriously thinks millions of US people are going through trauma every day – -as they worry lest their money be worthless with such a malevolent fool having picked the man who runs the federal agency which controls the money supply. Another sent me and a group of friends this to help cheer us up: perhaps the name of the city is repeated too often, but I found this brought tears to my eyes. People here might enjoy it. I recognize many of the streets and places filmed:

I make diary entries on face-book and even tweet quips, sudden utterances, and re-tweet similar language and pictures (increasingly videos) from others

I now think that the OLLIs won’t be back as meetings in classrooms and other kinds of social interactions for quite a long time – maybe next spring. The people are mostly people with more money than me — that means they are really set up — I am vulnerable to losing my social security and widow’s annuity and with these I need the rent Izzy gives me. That means they have no reason not to quarantine themselves. They are also the population that travels. Some of them take several trips a year to expensive places. The Politics and Prose store had an older population for their classes – -some younger people but they were the minority. So if the owner of the store wants to keep the classes up he shall have to use zoom. He is doing that for the nightly lectures — actually some other more impressive platform. He is selling online rigorously.

Some of the more expert commentators on BBC are saying that early lifting of the lockdowns – they instance other, more regional, virus outbreaks as examples – will produce a second wave of infection, perhaps more serious; perhaps that and their ignoring social distancing will sweep through the USA demonstrators. Munich Oktoberfest is cancelled.

Gradually becoming obvious in (informed) commentary in UK is the realisation that this is going to continue in some form for a year or more. Financial Times (UK) says that UK government are talking about continuation, not emerging (not exact words – paywalled).

I am spending less; I got Izzy to start cleaning regularly with me. We started this weekend. I will take all clothes that need dry cleaning to a store where you put the stuff in a machine yourself I can put what we have (very little now as Izzy not going to work and I didn’t dress up that much) in and then sit in my car for an hour to wait. There’s a lady laundromat owner who has a hard life: she used to be there 7 days a week, 5:30 am to 10:00 pm, and she does laundry for you. When my house was being renovated Izzy and I took our laundry to her. Now she’s there 6 days a week, 8 am to 9 pm.

I made myself unhappy yesterday because it totally slipped my mind to join in on the Framley Parsonage read being done by zoom by the British Trollope society. One might say unconsciously I was not eager, but if so it was not conscious. I meant to skim the first ten chapters of Framley Parsonage yesterday so that was my first lapse. It is true that it would add yet another book to my budget just now. Now I’m feeling next week I’ll be too far behind, but probably they won’t care so I shall try to remember next week. Had I been this zoom I would have heard more human voices and voices directed at me as part of a group and myself spoken back.

My hair is looking pretty bad. When I was a young teenager, maybe age 13 or so, I began to use a hair style that however I have tried to find something else I’ve never much strayed from. I brush my hair, part it in the middle sort of, then take a clip that is plain and widish and clip my hair at the nape of my neck. When my hair was thicker, it held. Over the years my hair has thinned and thinned. Now the clip (a narrower one than ever) keeps coming out and sometimes as the zoom starts and I get a look at myself I pull the clip out and just brush the air back. It’s a style you see on Jane Goodall. Tp be honest, I don’t really mind how it looks and like the severe look. I’ve given on make-up too — more or less since I was 19, and now altogether.

Jim always had a beard. I never saw him without one. When he first got cancer, I thought to myself he’ll lose his hair and probably his beard and I will see his face for the first time. He had a round face. Well he didn’t live long enough for chemotherapy to be started because we were so stupid as to agree to that horrific operation first so I never saw him without his beard. He’d go to a male hairdresser (never a barber shop) to have it trimmed.

Other widows have told me how they miss human voices. Penelope Fitzgerald calls her book on BBC radio: Human voices. Izzy does not _seem_ to miss this so much – though one of her favorite programs now is a one hour chat between people in their 20s — I think really set up in response to this quarantine. She can imagine herself as with them

Watch the family of ducks escorted to safety in Ballsbridge: These ducks are being escorted from a park in which they hatched to the river at left of where the video terminates.

https://www.independent.ie/videos/gardai-escort-family-of-ducks-to-safety-in-ballsbridge-39144432.html

Tomorrow I will see my young woman friend Monica — last week she told me that two had died among the offices she works in, many in the DC Correction Department now sick with COVID-19. They were not allowed to stay at home — would not be paid. Her hair no longer looks so shiny as it did. We go to the Giant around 10 am. From last week my forays in the early to make senior lines for Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods:

This morning I arrived at the queue to get into Whole Foods at Senior hour at 7:19 am. Again as with Trader Joe’s I could see people on line (in both cases it has been women) who were clearly much younger. Now inside this store (as with the Giant) there are arrows drawn to show you in which directions to proceed, lines to stand behind, you must have your face mask on at all times (the Giant more like Trader Joe’s — one does not feel constrained nor are there signs requiring a mask).

This time the queue was strictly managed (again as opposed to Trader Joe’s — at the Giant the line is wholly voluntary, thus fictional). And when you got up to the front to go in, you were supposed to produce documentation. So yours truly is digging in her suitcase of a handbag, and looks up and says “you know” I’m 73, but I’ll find it, and he smiles and says, “you’re fine.” Got in w/o documentation. I felt a certain glee.

I do think the culture of Whole Foods reflected a Bezos frame of mind …

How to end?


Mark Rylance as Olivia

Tuesday night of this past week I saw one of the most extraordinary performances of a Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, I ever have — and I’ve seen many many. I can’t find a solid review of it, only commentary on Mark Rylance as Olivia, where he performs a miracle of comedy that touches you: he seems to walk like a bell that is sweeping across the floor without ever touching it. Or maybe a chess piece.

It was done during a year when Rylance was the Globe director; a year notable for an equally astonishing (it’s said) Richard III (he played the part) and an embarrassingly bad Macbeth.

The problem is that the production is throughout inhabited by equally brilliant in their roles other actors: Fry as Malvolio, Liam Brennan as Orsino, I can’t find a cast list in words, so just single out the actor playing Aguecheek, Mary the housekeeper, John Hamilton Dyer as Feste (his singing was matchlessly in feel Elizabethan); here is an excellent review of movie version as it played at the Angelica movie-house not far from me.

I never quite realized everyone on stage was a man, only when I realized Mary was acted by a man did I began to understand this. Last week I watched a Globe Shakespeare with a lot of gender switching but they never fooled me for moment, so I did not suspend my disbelief, This production managed to engage me thoroughly with the characters and yet throughout their acting, the costumes, style never let me forget I was watching actors playing this play. A kind of legerdemain miracle.

When I was 13 I saw Play of the Week Twelfth Night which was utterly bitter and melancholy, and I’ve never forgotten it — alas at the time I didn’t note actors or directors — so I know how important it is to convey the bitterness with the comedy; this production had it but not enough — you can’t have everything. They did convey the extraordinary artifice of the language and yet I understood what they were saying (I did use subtitles).

For 3 hours I forgot all about this pandemic, my new worries (Trump is now beginning to pressure the Pentagon to open — not that they are not working from home and Izzy works there so today I must phone my 4 representatives — gov, 2 senators, congressman).


Stephen Fry as Malvolio

I mean to re-watch until I can find language to describe what makes it so good. So it’s worth buying or paying the fee for a watch if you cannot find it another way. I did buy the DVD which means I couldn’t find it another way — that does not mean it’s not there.

After a play featuring all men, it’s worth noting those countries and places where women are in charge there have been far less deaths, less illness, less profound uncertainty, destruction of ways of life (in the US millions of small businesses will never come back, livelihoods gone forever).


Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir listens during a joint press conference with her counterparts from Lichtenstein and Norway on February 3, 2020 in Oslo

So, daily life for us “sheltering in place” in our small but comfortable house has its compensations, is a simacrulum of usual daily life (as long as the checks keep coming). Two women and our two cats, our books, our inner resources using electronic equipment. Izzy is working on a new song ever writing short fictions and putting them on the Net. Laura (I should mention) has more paid work (reviews of life on the Net) than she has time for, and Rob cooks away. Both never leave the house, Laura assures me. (Whether he’ll get his electrician job back again is another question.) They pay no rent as they live in one of his parents’ houses, which they hope to inherit.


David Hockney, Hawthornes in Bloom (1937) — sent by an FB friend

Ellen

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Chief Inspector Morse (John Thaw) and Sergeant Lewis (Kevin Whateley) (1987, first season)

Friends,

Times being what they are, I’ve taken to watching Inspector Morse. I started last week, at my usual witching hour for self-indulgent TV series, 11:30 to midnight, and it took a couple of nights for me to realize these shows go on for an hour and 45 minutes! That’s part of why they are so good: they develop the situation and characters slowly, with nuance, clever dialogue, and continually deepening in curious ways the character of our man of integrity, compassion, with his love of classical music, and extensive reading in high culture texts, Morse. Lewis is no fool and has his own personality, but he is the stable “ordinary” usual ethical person to Morse’s enigma. The fourth was a little more conventional than the first three, but all of them have recourse to corrupt politics (ultimately someone is making money off harming or exploiting someone else’s vulnerability) in the context of deeply observed individuals in complex fraught situations. I first watched these in 1987; they were a way for me to spend some of Thursday evening with Laura as she watched too. Now I think to myself I must’ve missed a lot. I was then more naive than these shows seem now. I’m sure I have confused notion or who did what and why and wish there were a wikpedia site explaining it all to me. This is common for me with mystery/thrillers and especially contemporary ones which are aggressive, have short scenes, un-nuanced, ratcheted up. I am drawn to the pain and real life predicaments of the people in the embedded stories. I like the tone of this 1987 Inspector Morse series.

I know it’s a kind of gimmick but I do find appealing and can identify with Morse’s brand of despair as seen in his favorite poem, A. E. Housman’s The Remorseful Day.

Here is YouTube of Thaw reciting the last lines:

To be appreciated, you do have to know the full text:

How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

Housman is another of Jim’s favored poets (he had many), we even own Housman’s edition of a classical Latin poet, Manilius. Jim used to quote from the introduction.

I also watch the HBO My Brilliant Friend (1st book in the Neapolitan Quartet), Second Season, The Story of a New Name twice a week.


Elena (Lenu) (Margherita Mazzucco), Lila (Raffaella) (Gaia Girace) and Pinuccia (Giuliana Tramontano) arrive at the beach

This seems to me just now the best contemporary TV story program. What is so striking is the intense felt reality of the film experience. I’ve not seen or felt anything like this in a long time. It’s not just that all the actors and actresses project real feelings fully that we can enter into, but the whole ambiance of the situations.

For example, we first see them on Ischia as they trudge down the beach. In an other film it would be all surface, glamour, here we feel how tiresome beaches also are, how heavy the umbrella, how weary the walk, hot the sun, and a sense of sticky sand. I put it down to not magazin-ing everything. The house is like a house I would stay in, the curtains thin, the stone steps hard, the doors ugly and off-center, painted in such a way that the shades are not perfect. All the surroundings are like this — a boat is not super expensive, perfect in way but messy, slosh slosh.

Their dialogues are what people might say: not elevated into top wit or reflection, but such wit and reflection as comes out is from offhand, slightly spiteful distrustful talk, the way people do ever one-upping one another — a real sense of contingent interaction.

The fights every one has, the ambiguity of positions only once in a while made explicit: Lenu who is treated as a servant and yet is the educated person there with books with her. The mother says I’ll be blamed. When a quarrel happens, the debris and then how sordid things can be — yet the beauty of the air, light. When they swim, they swim as awkwardly as I do — I mean the girls, as feeble in the sea and yet moving along.

What the film does is give us in a way what book can’t — the viscera through sound, music, real presences — the series fulfills the book. Much enjoyment in the photography of the island of Ischia and the waters, the colors, the sunlight. A movie can do so much more than a book in presenting this — it’s like the pleasure of watching the Durrells. I have no screen shots of the water, but I do the beach

As with Outlander, the increase of monopolization, with only a few companies owning everything means I can’t buy DVDs of this series (the 5th season of Outlander is not available except if you buy a membership for the fascistic line-up of Starz). Now the site that offered scripts has been taken down too. One result is less wide popularity, but finally to those with the money to make such a series, the ratings far count less than sheer numbers of dollars. Worship of dollars everywhere.

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


Last night months after I bought them my Bernie Sanders T-shirt and yard sign arrived. How sad this felt — it’s tragic for the people on this globe, that’s how powerful the US president has become

One needs to try to escape when one lives in a nation whose federal gov’t is controlled by a man whose activities show him to be engineering sickness and death throughout the people said to be those he is serving; doing what he can to milk their taxes to make himself and other friendly billionaires and wealthy corporations richer, refusing to let the federal agencies do anything constructive (like testing, like helping them to have medical equipment), to let people get online to by desperately needed health insurance. It is an stunningly shameless perverse performance. Everyone afraid of him because he is so vindictive and will castigate publicly anyone who asks relevant questions, lies egregiously (“we have the best testing system in the world”).

I don’t know why but when I realized he was determined to destroy the post office I became especially distressed. I was shocked 40 years ago when during Reagan’s administration the direct attacks on the PO began. It was and continues to be one of the most selfless and apolitical of our institutions, a rare one that serves all people equally very reasonably. During Bush’s administration they cooked the books to put the department in egregious debt and still they survived.

Now they are singled out as excluded from these trillion dollar bills. I read Trump himself openly intervened here (when he has his thugs and gangster types outbid states trying to get medical equipment he does not personally intervene) and insisted no one answer phone calls from the Post office. Now they are not to get any money like any one but only a huge loan at very high interest rates.

All my life I have depended on the post office to send out my bills and when I send checks to send them back. No interruption of mails The 1916 rising was about the PO as a central place for communication. A friend described this in these words:  “destroying simple ordinary dedicated people’s modest middle class jobs, destroying a perfectly good and worthy government (though I suppose in our country now mostly private) institution.”

In the US it’s also racism: the PO is a place where many minority people work. And now to try to destroy them will prevent voting by mail which we may need to do in November. I have today bought two sheets of stamps at the online Post office; I opened an account. I have discovered many people are buying. If millions of us bought stamps, in this area we could stop Trump. It is a quasi-separate corporation.

This to me is peculiarly stunning. As a faithful reader of Trollope who delivered a paper on Trollope’s use of letters throughout his novels to the Trollope society in 2001: Since Trollope was a postal employee for 37 years, and then on and off again was a negotiator, and gave up years of life to a devoted service to creating a public unbiased efficient group imagine my horror at what is now being done to the US post office. Imagine his. The committees of correspondence were essential tools for reformists in the 1790s. I was just so horrified by this one. Is there nothing this man can do which will be seen as grounds for removal? just nothing? No powerful person stops him. It is the fault of the republican party which has decided he can do no wrong no matter what and no lie is too much for them to utter. They continually act in bad faith.

Trump and his important allies do know when to back off. They have to keep the military on their side and when they thought (these evil people who recognize one another) they could fire a captain for trying to protect his men against utterly senseless sickness and death, they backed off. The man who fired the captain has now resigned and there is talk of re-instating the captain. If there is a coup and no election and whatever is left of democracy or any social conscience is thrown out, Trump will have to have the military to back him so as to force people.

I don’t know when it will be time to dust off the old joke, “Praise God/Marx and pass the ammunition.” It is no longer funny. He is making war on the people of the US. the NYTimes reports 17,000 have died in the US since the start of this pandemic in January, that Trump was warned again and again, and instead had Fox News sneer and deny what was happening, that China did inform the UN and early. We are in the worst condition of all the developed countries of the world because of our incompetent hateful hard capitalist government. Tonight I witnessed long food lines across the US.

Saturday I was also personally distressed. Again I shopped at the Giant and saw my young African-American woman friend Monica. She is usually so controlled but not Saturday. She was distraught and angry with over-work, fear, and from being lied to. She had on a two part mask, gloves. What is happening is she can’t stay home at all, and the way her boss is getting her to work all five days in the DC prison office is by lying to her and her co-workers. They are continually promised tests and none emerge. Trump’s lies as a way of being have spread. Monica is lied to about all sorts of things. The virus is spreading in the prison and hardly anything is being done to help these people, many of them there for minor non-violent law infringements, most African-American. I saw on Amy Goodman how 1800 African-American prisoners in Louisiana were transferred to some infamously punitive prison, many of the infected, a place which will have almost no health care. Taken there to die. Louisiana is more than a thousand miles away. Monica was standing in front of me, her face fraught. I wished I dared to hug her. It took me a couple of hours to calm down.

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


Frits Thaulow, Stream in Spring (1901)

I try not to think about what will happen — especially if Trump manages to steal the election again. I am joining in on Zoom sessions some three to four times a week. I am registered and attend two classes sent out by the OLLI at AU (on Italian-Jewish writing, mostly WW2, but some more recent texts; on Hamlet, sources, different texts, different films, reception, critical history) and one by the OLLI at Mason (19th century existentialism up to today — who knew the earliest thinkers were fanatically religious, throwing over the crucial insights of the Enlightenment?). And I’ve joined in twice with my Aspergers group online. There are of course joke pictures (click to enlarge):

This is a generic picture of what I see in two of them:


Gallery it’s called

In the two at OLLI at AU I’ve been a participant/class member seen in one of the many boxes stretched across the zoom rectangle. I’ve now been told by three people that I don’t “fill the screen” when it’s my turn to talk and my small square in a room becomes the central picture. I know I sit an angle, putting my laptop on the corner of the desk and using a chair where one of legs is missing so I swerve it to the side so it leans on two books, and that sometimes my cats are on my chair with me. They tell me and I have experienced this too that the instructor fills or usually fills the screen — they say that’s because these people sit up close, have a big screen, and also stare directly out into the space (of their room).

In my case, those seeing me see a book-lined room! I didn’t realize that because the cases are very much to the side and my workroom or “study” is not so book-lined as others in my house. My desk to the other side of the room is seen, a table to the back. Also some of scotch-taped pictures on the walls. It seems I am at a distance from the screen, I am seen from a side sort of, so I’m unclear as an image but my voice is loud – and very recognizable because of my accent. Many of the other participants (discussants?) “fill their screen,” so now I know they are using bigger computers and sit up close.

For a few people I can see their surroundings; one woman appears to be in a sort of child’s nursery: there is a cradle near by, a roll of toilet paper as part of a kit to take care of a young baby. Another in a huge modernized kitchen in the round. Several contrive to or naturally have a row of books in shelves behind them …. de rigueur on TV.

An online friend who has not participated in these asked me more about it, and I tried to explain more — last week I tried to say how odd is the experience, not like a classroom in some centrally important ways (we are not there altogether). So I wrote this:

I’ve thus far experienced zoom with four sets of people; one (OLLI at Mason, Existentialism) I could see no one but the instructor and have been told she cannot see us; and everyone is muted until she un-mutes someone! two (OLLI at AU) have this have this gallery effect with the teacher in the middle and larger and they leave everyone un-muted; you are asked to raise your hand. A third, the Aspergers friends, has the leaders/friends (who are paying for it) with everyone else as part of a whole screen gallery. So I actually see just about everyone joining in. I am too anxious to hit an arrow which might let me see more rows of people at a time; I am told that the instructor at OLLI at AU can see all the rows of people. The center is sometimes used for a text or film clip. Most people are more like David Brooks on PBS; just side glimpses and now I’m told they sit up to their computer or it’s a big screen. A few like me or Mark Shields on PBS, you see far more of the room. I’ve seen people using false background — it’s very unreal. Maybe it’s the people I’m with but like so many of the people on TV many have bookcases behind them. I have seen a dog or cat to the side but no one but me with a pet on their lap. I’m not quite semi-profile just my face and body to the side — partly I’m sitting in a chair one of whose wheels came off so I have it perched against the near by case and I keep my laptop sort of catty-cornered to me and it feels close as I’m trying to hear what’s being said. It’s a strange, experience, you do have more information but the people are not there with you and they are behaving in differently controlled ways. The person at the center is very powerful. Three of the four I participated in there was a site assistant on line to help too – I only saw that person where all the people but the instructor could not be seen.

I believe I’ve said here that I volunteered to teach on-line for both places this summer: The Bloomsbury Novel. I will use the method of myself in the center, with all the people able to see one another and me see them, and everyone unmuted. I’ve been reading Forster and Wendy Moffatt’s wonderful biography of him (we’ll read Maurice), started LaSalvo on Woolf again (we’ll read Jacob’s Room); my third choice is the novella by Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent;. And I’m reading more about the Bloomsbury circles, and started the delightful Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London between the Wars.

There are now many places offering live-streaming of classics, operas, movies, some for free (as an advertisement for themselves). Actors and actresses reading books aloud. Other ordinary people trying to reach us and cheer us and themselves up. I do get more letters from friends and I answer them all. I am grateful to those who write me once a day a note — more more. Who chat with me. There are funny jokes too, meant to lighten and cheer:

The most endurable, and at moments comforting and yet truthful of the news shows is PBS reports, with Judy Woodruff at “the helm.” I am finding during this stressful crisis that along with factual truth I care about tone more than usual. Most of the time I appreciate gratefully the news Amy Goodman reports on her DemocracyNow.org, which no one else does, but lately her tendency to try to be so dramatic in order to entertain is getting on my nerves, her repetition and showing of Trump, and the leading long-winded questions (speeches in themselves), and I prefer the simpler direct questions, and the attempts at uplifting stories Judy Woodruff tries to include. I like her crew, especially recently Malcolm Brabant, William Brennan. I am laughing at myself, but honestly I find myself feeling better after an hour of Judy as opposed to an hour of Amy.  Click on the image to make it way larger and look at her after a half century of TV journalism:

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.

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

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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From Durrells of Corfu (2016, first season, first episode): family on boat coming to Corfu


St Michael’s Mount, at first I thought Cornwall but now I know it’s Normandy? — it has this odd darkness because it is the screen image I see on my computer when I first rise and I used my cell phone to snap the picture; so it lacked the luminosity of the computer light

Friends and readers,

Hard as I try to find activities which keep me cheerful and feeling I have a meaning, in this 7th year of widowhood — maybe starting this past fall, I have had to face once again I am so deeply lonely. Last night I re-watched the second episode of the first season of The Durrells in Corfu and despite their troubles (they are real in the fiction and reflect real individual people’s lives) I find my spirit lifted and then last night I dreamt of them. As I woke in the night and again this morning I knew I had. I know I often dream of movies where I re-watch or if it’s a series and it gets under my skin (to use a metaphor), and then if there is a love relationship or character I can bond with, the vivid images and memory of sounds and places helps. I put one of the early stills at the head of this blog. Those who have watched the series remember how the headmaster caned Gerry and then was utterly unrepetent and how Mrs Durells (Keeley Hawes) refused to accept; but maybe we forget upon coming home how the next-door male neighbor speaks to her friendly-like and before you know it he is offering to marry her and telling her how he approves of boarding schools, and then her walk on the beach where she sees a girl running ahead of her parents from the sea and a tired old woman next to her on a bench, and makes up her mind to take Larry’s suggestion:

Trying to avoid taxi, she tells her four children Larry (Josh O’Connor), Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), Margo ( and Jerry they are not on vacation, they have come here to live on a meagre widow’s annuity, to escape the culture of civilization, which as far as she can tell is one of alienation and cruelty. But a generous taxi man who wants a fare comes along and he shows her respect: the mother, an important person:

To day I am working on this short paper for the coming conference – I hated getting the plane, will hate getting there, will be alone a lot as I have no rank and have not made any close connections or relationships where individuals are willing to go to a planned lunch or dinner with me, hate grand hotels and their anonymous rooms, but I will enjoy the sessions and doing papers gives me something to do on and off for weeks. I love the books I’ve chosen: Sontag’s Volcano Lover and DuMaurier’s King’s General and other books by them to make out my thesis with evidence. Last night I began to find what I needed for DuMaurier in her Enchanted Corwall and Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik’s collection of essays on her work. So you see how I manage.

I also today go to a movie an HD screening of Miller’s All My Sons – I’ve joined the OLLI at Mason theater group. One doesn’t go with these groups but arrives alone (so I must find the place) and because I can’t drive at night I won’t be able to go to a meal with them afterwards, but I’ll see friendly faces and probably a great play well done — it’s from the National theater in London at the Angelika theater in Fairfax (I ignore the ambiance and gimmicks as far as I can). Yesterday I was at the OLLI at AU main building to hear an hour talk by Helen Zughaib: she has had a hard life — born in Syria, an Arab family in a war zone, terrible experiences; they survived to weather life elsewhere — they were originally upper class and she grew up in Paris after they fled and then came to the US. She was enacting too much a sweet girl about to cry from trauma for my taste (there was something false about the way she performed her grief — apologizing for showing us torture in pictures when they were no such thing), but I felt what she has known, and all the people like her continuing endlessly to suffer & die so horrifically, in such squalid death camps (which are taken down if they become habitable civilized places) from ultimately US and powerful people’s ruthlessly greedy and crazed religious-grab power behavior.


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

Those in charge of so many powerful gov’ts and militaries across the globe are making a befouled burning flooded global dystopia — they are just now doing all they can to destroy and steal from the people of Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Brazil, the list goes on and on.

Today’s picture is my present screen image of Mount St Michael, which I had thought the one in Cornwall but is actually be the one off the Normandy coast; I’ve now been to the one in Cornwall there twice (I read years ago in Henry Adams’s famous meditative Mont St Michel & Chartres,  funny to remember all these years later and how I wondered if I’d ever see it). In Cornwall, once for real with two kind friends (who however dropped me afterwards) and once fakely (a Road Scholar group where we saw it from across the water in a sort of bus stop place and all the people took photos — but me). I still work on my Winston Graham-Poldark paper and am now reading his excellent (though so narrowly conceived, too apolitical) history narrative, The Spanish Armadas.

More on the upset, cynicism over, and defense and excoriation of Megham Markle and Andrew Windsor’s decision to live a different kind of life from that of dolls in rigid repeated silly rituals:

Yes. I agree. Misogyny. And also virulent racism aimed at Meghan Markle. It’s just fine for Andrew X to join with a vicious sexual predator and trapper of women like Epstein — you can stay POTUS even after breaking central laws intended to control the POTUS so he works for the American people. But say you don’t want your wife and child to be vilified racially in the press and you are a pariah. You upset everybody. Indeed.

I wrote a blog remembering Martin Luther King the other day, the tragedies of American racism, especially for African-Americans (Baldwin’s If Beale Street could Talk, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, on cat literature, cat art, studies of cats and other animals, what I read this year, made a start on my women actresses and artists series (Susannah Arne Cibber and Adelaide Labille-Guiard). Isobel, bless her strong heart, started her art course (once a week, 10 weeks at the Torpedo factory) and cancelled her membership to JASNA (I haven’t quite done that but getting there, as in my “Hardly Any Women at All!”). I am saving my re-watching of Sanditon for a separate blog,


The two friends, Crystal Clarke as Georgiana Lambe and Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood

But here can talk more briefly of The Two Popes and Edge of Democracy on Netflix


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

I endorsed Laura’s very sceptical (robust as they say) take on Netflix’s new line-up and choices of what to advertise, but I have to say they are also using their money to make some superb films. Last night I watched Mereilles’s latest, The Two Popes. Of course the two actors are unbeatable: Jonathan Pryce as the Argentinian priest and bishop who became Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Benedict 16. The film has a deep appeal of humanity — kindliness, two old men remembering mistakes — especially Pryce. Not so much Hopkins who does have a scary piercing look in his eye.

What is valuable is their relationship enables them to offer up memories of horrific scenes in Argentina when the US backed junta took over and slaughtered so many and destroyed all social progress that had been hoped for — since then there has been a real change and progress but the US with its instrument the OAS is again trying to create a real life dystopia

We see two people exchanging views, talking to one another.

Apparently, though, we are again in The Crown and Downton Abbey areas, for much is fantasy and idealization, especially of the retired pope (the real story)

I (honestly) personally don’t take the Catholic Church’s pronouncements seriously, so it didn’t bother me that except for the return to approving or disapproving homosexuality (part of the celibacy controversy), there was no resolution. I was interested – very much — in Bergoglio’s history and his behavior during the 1980s when the US backed coup destroyed so many people and a country for say 20 years. Human life is so short so 20 years means a lot to any individual living then. Maybe it was Mereilles in a relaxed mood. I do see that it can be called “cute” or a buddy film: it even ended in an absurd scene of them drinking beer together and watching football.
I was carried away by the good feeling of Jonathan Pryce’s character, the quietude, the whole ambiance of conversation. So many movies move frantically (including Little women) are violent, this was like The Crown in this way, a relief. There was no implicit endorsement of violence or capitalism, which most films (including the new Little Women) endorse.


Not a dream, a photo of one of these mass street demonstrations — where many are killed, maimed, and then imprisoned or disappeared for life ….

As for the Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa (she also co-wrote the script and co-produced and she narrates and is the over-voice). As a film, it was not as entertaining or absorbing as The Two Popes, but as an explanation of what happened in Brazil recently it is superb, how democratically-elected social democratic gov’t whose leaders (especially Lulu) were on the side of the people, had succeeded in improving their standard of living, had spread literacy from a dearth to almost everyone going to school and learning to read and to write and a profession or useful skill of some sort, could get thrown out — successfully! overlooking an election. And then how a cruel monster, Bolsonaro, another killer for capitalism, and for destroying whole tribes of people and a vast swatch of the earth’s environment (the rain forests of Brazil) could get into power was startling.

So now I know. And it’s demoralizing. It seems all one has to do is lie, lie very effectively — after having managed to squeeze the country into a financial crisis (this takes the help of other gov’ts and agencies also determined to wipe out any social progress or indents on their profits) so the average person is now suffering — just what Trump is doing to Venezuela, Cuba (and Puerto Rico too – see above) right now. Then the people themselves deluded, with no understanding they are putting devils in place, ignore the previous election, say a coup is fine, put the good people in prison. So the decent parties of this earth have to figure out a way to fight these new sets of behaviors and tools that have brought us dictatorship everywhere (and it’s here with us in Trump’s gov’t in front of us) and misery and destruction of much that we hold dear in principle and eventually for each of us in reality in various ways.

So I recommend The Edge of Democracy. It’s told as a story of the director from her personal standpoint — that provides the line of narrative.

One afternoon, suddenly Oh I was chuffed. A beautiful book (on art paper like the last) — The Making of Outlander: the Series, The Official Guide to Seasons Three and Four by Tara Bennett — arrived on my stoop. It was all I could do to stop myself from putting everything down and just luxuriating in it. I am on my third or fourth watching of the second season. I’ve read Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, but thus far only listened, skimned and dipped and read in Voyager and Drums of Autumn, but I do think some of her best writing I’ve read thus far is in Voyager and it must’ve given them the most headaches — they filmed in South Africa as well as Scotland — to turn into a genuine movie.


How I dream of her and him too at night …

I wish there were something like this for Poldark. The scripts for the first two seasons were published and a single Companion, but the Companion swung between historical short essays (some of them very good) and fluff about stars, then towards the end about the settings, and costumes (paintings used). What these Outlander volumes do is closely compare novel and film. The Outlandish Companions for the first six novels provide the historical background as Gabaldon understands and sees it — with dictionary style sections, and a wide purview on culture, lots of illustrations, bibliographies &c

Someone (or a couple of people) have suggested to me that Outlander is more popular: more books sold and the series too. It may be more books have been sold, but I doubt the series was at first more popular. It is slowly gaining recognition: they had it on expensive high tier channels. For my part I think the series is done much better than the Poldark series, but the Poldark books are very much superior to the Outlander ones. Probably the difference (my view again) between what’s available comes from WG himself being dead and his son very unsympathetic to his father’s work and the public, while Gabaldon is there all the time trying to promote and involve herself productively.

Still lower budget is not responsible for the poorer scripts for Poldark— though it is true that Outlander had several superior writers, and a crew of superior directors. Another factor (this is again my subjective judgement) is that the leads (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson) were just not as convincing as a couple as the principal pair (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) in Outlander. The Outlander books have power but they remain romances whose central raison d’etre is the intense love of Jamie and Claire for one another (that is what fuels whatever there is of deep life) and they are structurally after the first book or so a mess. Poldarks are much more seriously historical fiction and the central relationships all have a realistic or more common ambiguity. Neither compares as historical fiction to Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levantine trilogies or Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet … as DuMaurier’s King’s General does not to Sontag’s Volcano Lover: the good ones are brilliant history too, not slackened softened history as romance. With a friend I am eagerly awaiting the last volume of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

Signed up for Italian Jewish writing for the spring at OLLI at AU (books like Christ Stopped at Eboli — I’ve read it in Carlo Levi’s Italian –, Primo Levi’s Periodic Table, Natalia Ginzburg, Lampedusa’s Gattopardo (I will add that last), shut of out but still hoping for “Difficult Women” (I’m first on the wait list I’m told) with Elaine Showalter at Politics & Prose Bookstore (MacCarthy’s The Company We Keep, Patricia Highsmith’s scary angry-depressed Edith’s Chair — maybe she will explain to me why people read cruel mean spiteful mysteries — a Joan Didion and a Susan Sontag anthology). Cross your fingers for me.

Taking a Future Learn course at Night: How to Read a Novel. Actually teaching me something, insightful, and useful for teaching. Very contemporary novels and topics (autofiction) under discussion (Olivia Lang’s plagiaristic distasteful novel, which, much to my disillusioned grief, told me that Ian Patterson, the poet-husband of “my” Jenny Diski has already re-married), but I used as an example of powerful art using free indirect discourse, complicated presences for characers, and POV, Anthony Trollope:

Anthony Trollope uses shifts in perspective a lot; these shifts make for fascinating different interpretations of the same story matter that makes up the novel. Also the characters change so a perspective a character has at the beginning is gradually altered. In Small House at Allington, Lily Dale intelligent, wry, clear-sighted and non-pompous says of the man she will fall in love with: “I’ll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell.” Later she will see him so differently and use highly emotional language when in love; when he betrays her, she changes again — her idiom the same but her understanding of this man altering. I love how he uses letters: the letter is clearly by someone whose language is utterly that person but is read by someone whose perspective is quite different, and then we have the narrator’s impersonal ironic voice joining in. This kind of thing to my mind makes Trollope one of the great novelists in the English language.

Listening in my car to Juliet Stevenson reading aloud Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day still and sometimes reveling in the descriptions and Mary Gatchet, coming spinster, and Katharine Hilbury, enduring slavery to her family.

It is very cold out just now, Winter, the air closing in round my skin deeply chilled, fridge-like. A hollow sound from the damp edgy quiet winds pushing at my robe as I step out to get the paper or feel the air.


Outside Izzy’s window


My beloved Clary warming herself on the Cable Box and my multi-regional DVD player

So that’s for this past week or so. To end on cheer, I am re-watching Mary Beard‘s intelligent enlightened humane deep history, Ultimate Rome  (also called Empire without Limits) and will soon make a separate blog — what makes for real prosperity for human kind, a good world is her underlying theme. You also get to visit places far apart in the middle and at the edges of the empire; two I’ve been to: Hadrian’s Wall and Rome itself.


I am fond of her act, how she dresses, her tone

I — & Mary Beard — have been lucky.  She so much more.  I am alone, she is anything but. == at least as to her outer existence.  Good thing my mother and father worked all their lives, spent so little of what they accumulated, for now I have it to do such things with as assuage and compensate — buy books, join groups, go places. And keep Izzy company in her good spinster life. Widow and spinster, mother & daughter.

Be well, take care, do good work, and keep in touch (I miss Garrison Keillor)

Ellen

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Vilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941), Winter, Latvia 1910 — I’ve been reading much Atwood this week, stories of ice and snow …

“We still think of a powerful woman as an anomaly, a potentially dangerous anomaly; there is something subversive about such women, even when they are taken to be good role models. They cannot have come by their power naturally, it is felt. They must have got it from somewhere. Women writers are particularly subject to such projections, for writing itself is uncanny: it uses words for evocation rather than for denotation; it is spell-making.” Atwood, “Witches.”

From Atwood’s poem, “Spelling,” 1981

My daughter plays on the floor
With plastic letters
Red, blue, and hard yellow,
Learning how to spell,
Spelling,
How to make spells.
*******
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky, and the sun,
Your own name first,
Your first naming, your first name,
Your first word.

My blog-reading friends,

A friend and I were talking of how when people grow old, they must to smaller quarters. and that “it is extremely hard to pack up your life and say goodbye.” Especially, to sell and/or give away one’s books.

I remembered a section in Carol Shield’s Mary Swann where a character who is a widower is forced to sell his and his wife’s library and says “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” I thought of how Jim and my books were the center of our lives together: we read them together, consulted them, collected, loved, gave them a good home, and told him I have nearly 11,000 books now. About 1,000 more since Jim died. Specifically, 10,989. As I’ve said here more than once, I had told him I have 5 rooms (excluding the kitchen, two bathrooms and a hall and vestibule), large square spaces with high ceilings, and each room has two walls with one large window each. That leaves a lot of wall space for books. Since Jim’s death I enclosed my porch, adding a sixth rectangular sun-room (much sun comes in as it faces east) with one wall having two large windows on the long wall. I also use the long hall in the back of the house for book cases on one side.

And he replied: “I cannot visualize what 11,000 books look like.” So I took photographs across my house and sent a representative example to him.


My living room showing the fireplace, mantelpiece, coffee table and a ceramic cat I bought in Milan as a keepsake — also a home-made doll I fell in love with at the Museum of the American Indian and could not leave behind. You see a sort of shrine I’ve made for Jim: his urn, glasses, picture, a toy sheep we bought at Stonehenge when we went there with our daughters, and a toy penguin Izzy added after she & I visited Chawton House


Another angle


The same living room, the other side — facing the neighbor’s house


I and my cats’ bedroom with a tall cat tree Izzy and I built to one side


Another corner of the bedroom, door leading to the small bathroom just by it


Part of the hall between the two rooms — to one side is a large bathroom and on the other Izzy’s room and my workroom (in both the latter we have books across the walls)


My ex-porch, now an enclosed sun-room: you see my stationary bike


And one more of my porch — oddly the porch, though I don’t spend that much time in it, is my favorite room. It’s without any pretensions whatsoever and the chair is comfort itself.

Today is the 7th anniversary of Jim’s death: Oct 9th, 2013:

Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)

This week I saw on face-book many photos of women looking ever so happy in pairs and groups, dressed in 18th century clothes, at the JASNA: the cherry-picking who could come and who was excluded was shamelessly transparent this time, but as I told one friend I felt better off totally excluded because when I go I experience long hours of wasted time in soulless hotel spaces: nothing to do as only 4 to 5 hours have sessions of papers (9 on at a time, so you cannot participate in most of it). Last time I returned repeatedly to the pool where they serve decent whiskey and ginger ale. Another friend said of the 2012 as “the AMG committee thinks that by reducing the numbers who can attend and upping the cost they can “control” who can and cannot enter,” and found “dreadful,” “grown women dressing up, a clubbish attitude, a bovine-like system of hierarchy that puts one in one’s place if you didn’t “belong,” and on and on.” I don’t belong to any of the “clubs” (as in “life-long member reception,” with more and more private parties on in people’s rooms at night) so I’m left with no one and away from all the comforts of my home, in a sense my existence itself. This past week I enjoyed myself at the classes I taught and went to, and the rest of the time at home or in car listening to books, working away at projects so I was not lonely.

I had thought Izzy hadn’t noticed what this conference was like for real (so taken up was she by distracting activities, the sessions she did get to go to, the ball), because she never said anything (and loves to dress up and has learned to go to the ball and dance), but on Saturday evening when we returned from a marvelous performance of Henry IV Part I (Ed Gero as Falstaff unforgettable, so alive) at the Folger Shakespeare library, to eat out together, her talk suddenly showed she had: she said that people join professional organizations (for her librarians) and were they to be excluded from the AGM, what would be the point of paying the yearly fee. Said she, JASNA gets away with this because there is this “pretense of disinterest.”


A good review

I read this week the first of 9 tales of Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, “Alphinland,” (also all of The Testaments) and lo and behold it’s about a woman whose husband has recently died and she hears his voice over the day and at night talking to her telling her what she needs to do: it’s just ice-stormed so she must go out and get salt and food stuffs; the electricity goes out, so she must find her candles. Her grown children keep telling her she must move, downsize, sell her furniture, give away his clothes, but she will not because then she will be parted from him. In our end is our beginning, a powerful original early book of literary criticism about Canadian literature and culture by Atwood is called Survival and is about how the harsh cold climate is at the heart of their worlds. Our widowed witch remains seemingly cheerful because his spirit is with her. It is not irrelevant to know that just upon the publication of The Testaments Atwood’s partner of many years died.


Another fine review

I am still suffering from the loss of my supposed friend on the internet because I find letters so wonderful and now I have to get through most of my days without this imagined support. It’s time I learned to do without this — a last left-over from the idealism of the first decade of the Internet when one could make real friends even frequently through this medium. But, to paraphrase Johnson, it may there are some who would dismiss such susceptibility (“common losses”), but he says of their lack of tenderness, they lack humanity:

“It is the part of a man to be affected with grief; to feel sorrow, at the same time that he is to resist it, and to admit of comfort” (Rambler No. 47).

For this week’s Caturday I wrote about my “third” cat and put photos on face-book: I’ve been in a relationship with this cat ever since the man who owns him/her left him (I’ll chose a gender) for two weeks with only someone the owner called his (“my”) daughter visiting the house to leave food for the cat once a day. (Maybe 2 years ago.) There is apparently a way for the cat to leave the house. He first began to visit me during this time when I responded with affection. I left food for him as at first there was no collar and I thought he might be starving. But no he is “owned” by by this man who seems to show him little affection because the cat does not know how to show it easily and moves to hissing nervously. Other neighbors had complained because they saw him on their lawns and he might shit on these. Can’t have that. Or just a sense of nuisance: how dare this animal be there? Then I saw a raccoon and knew I was endangering this cat’s life. I tried calling local authorities but saw quickly all they would do was come and take and probably kill a cat without a “owner, and this one has this legal tie (such as it is)


The cat laying on my sidewalk waiting for me to come out

The cat apparently goes missing once in a while: once the man who owns him came over to see if he was with me — I said no and I had not seen him for several weeks. Nowadays the cat sits under a tree just on the side of my lawn, a bush, or lays on my sidewalk waiting for me. Often when I come out he scoots or walks slowly over to me. He meows at me and waits for me to pet her. I give him a small amount of food once in a while which he finishes quickly but he doesn’t go away. Stays mostly under the bush. He is very wary. He does not expect or know how to show affection: will hiss after he has nudged me lest I hurt him. The other day I saw on his head a shaved spot and wondered if the “owner” had done that. The owner is someone who moved into one of these obscene McMansions in my neighborhood after he married a woman who looks 50 from afar; she has a daughter of her own but they seem to have nothing to do with this cat. He is a small grey cat with white feet; if I thought the cat a boy for sure, I’d call him Martin. The photos were a close-up, him outside waiting for me, walking about me, wanting to be petted, coming over to me when I open my front door ….


Here is the close-up


Him circling me, warily but wanting to be petted

A small instance of basic human reactions this cat has mostly known, ranging from indifference to callous selfishness (neglect) in a world bursting with these … This morning the hairless part of this poor creature’s head has grown larger and looks reddish. He greedily drank the water I put out for him. The cat is going into a new phase. He avoids people — that’s what animals do when they are very ill. He stands aside on the side of my house all elusive, looking at me when I come out to go somewhere or stand in my stoop area looking about. Close-by or passing neighbors have asked me if he is my cat and I say no and they say he comes up to them and acts oddly and is seen now and then about my house. I point to the house of the owner and say “he is said to or does lives there.” There is so much misfortune in this world but this cat could have been taken good care of, and had a good longer life.

Having gone through all four seasons of Outlander (Claire a white witch) now four times, I’m back to re-watching the whole five seasons of the new Poldarks, one episode after another in a row as far as time and evenings allow. I had been doing that for over a month (or so) when my Irish Internet friend sent me DVD copies of the British BBC programs as they appeared on British TV. I much prefer these because the American ones are rearranged, often cut (sometimes drastically or carelessly, which comes down to the same thing).

So coming back to Season 3 (The Black Moon and part of The Four Swans), I am impressed by how a few of this particular season are mood pieces — if you simply ignore (more or less) the specifics of what’s going on, enough of that (like the seashore romance of Drake and Morwenna and Geoffrey Charles), of the setting (as in the episode where our local friends learn that the ship Dwight was in was captured or fear that Andrew Blamey’s ship has gone down), allows for many sequences of filming (or whatever you want to call this) of the sea, the near landscape accompanied by appropriate music. The effect is sort of symphonic — a pleasing visual and aural experience. There are mood sequences in seasons 1 and 2, but I feel that in season 3 this kind of thing is allowed to take over and is enjoyable if you can lend yourself to it. They did not try for this except briefly in the 1970s — they didn’t have the kind of mesmerizing computer techniques (and cameras) they do today.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (season 3)


Elise Chappell as Morwenna following Drake

I’ve also embarked on a study of Austen’s Sanditon, using Janet Todd’s edition, after reading her brilliant essay (crisply written, with a fresh feel), going over and over Davies’s new adaptation, returning to Brindle’s, Anna Lefroy’s continuation. See if I can make some sense of this fragmentary text, written by a dying woman, in bad pain on and off, where the beach, the seashore, the air all around it, is a central character.


From Episode 2 of 8 (2019, an ITV product, scripted mostly by Andrew Davies)

To conclude this entry, a woman on a closed face-book page for “Autistic Women” (how I was told about this or got on I no longer remember) told of how at her new job as a cashier, she found the pace and crowds hard, but was trying hard when one customer accosted her for “not paying attention,” and when the woman kept up this harangue and she tried to explain she is autistic, the woman rushed over to her employer’s office and complained bitterly about anyone hiring such a person. So I wrote:

I have learned, much to an increase in sadness and regret, that if you tell someone of your disability or inexorable problem, far from feeling for you, many will act out contempt and try to expunge you away. Thus the way to protect yourself is not allow most others to see your social predicament. It’s the only way to maintain the respect of the cruel, stupid, selfish, unthinking bandwagon types. And that is why a space like this where we are all here together in candour and true support and friendship can mean so much. It is very hard how one cannot tell but must bear on alone. You expected some understanding instead you got hate — you must tell yourself this woman is horrible, behaved truly horribly and not blame yourself but her even if the world is filled with people who react in such ways to disabilities.


A rare oil painting by Honore Daumier: On a bridge at night — a homeless woman, perhaps refuge, with a child or disabled adult

Ellen

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A Native American doll I fell in love with and couldn’t bear to leave behind when I visited the Museum of the American Indian yesterday —- for the expression on her face, the posture of her body, her love for a non-human animal. She made me think of the horrifying treatment the US gov’t is now meting out to non-white children seeking asylum at our southern borders. The long history of cruelty and destruction that Native Americans experienced at the hands of the European settler colonialists has resumed today — this past week miners were with impunity killing leaders of indigenous tribes trying to protect their forest …

I’ve put her on the mantelpiece by Jim’s urn and his ashes, the small stuffed toy sheep Laura bought the day she, I, Jim and Izzy visited Stonehenge, the poignent stuffed toy penguin Izzy bought when she and I were in Sussex for a Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton House Library

Nona: You talk about him a lot.
Me: Do I? I didn’t realize.

Friends,


Jamie (Sam Heughan) as longing revenant seen in the dark from the back by Frank Randall in the streets of Inverness below his and Claire’s window (Outlander, Season 1, Episode 1)

To me one of the riveting little discussed aspects of historical fiction is its connection to ghost stories and the gothic. It is haunted terrain: the characters reached in the previous time are ghosts brought alive, somehow hallucinatory in our dreams and on that luminous film/movie/video screen. There is an idea of getting back to the past is to beat death — in Outlander Claire in the 20th century makes it plain she realizes she longs to join a world of now dead people, all gone to dust and ashes, ghosts; and the feeling in such passages. It’s a ghost of the gothic worked up through time-traveling historical fiction. Hilary Mantel plays with this too — knowingly (one of her contemporary novels is about a cynical seance holder who half-believes in what she does – the heroine is her, making a good deal of money out of this game. I find this insight in Daphne DuMaurier who goes back and forth through time too; it’s occasionally found in a Winston Graham tale. What’s necessary is that a now living person meets the character from the previous historical time as a revenant.

A poem by Algernon Swinburne captures the way Claire feels about Jamie. And when Frank dies in 1968, he becomes part of the revenants who come to life through Brianna and Claire’s memories, and Claire’s dreams — and the stones. Claire keeps choosing Jamie in all the ghostly-reverie prologues of the books, and all my life I kept choosing Jim …

A Forsaken Garden
(Click on the link to see the poem with proper indentations)

In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee,
Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead.

The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
To the low last edge of the long lone land.
If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest’s hand?
So long have the grey bare walks lain guestless,
Through branches and briars if a man make way,
He shall find no life but the sea-wind’s, restless
Night and day.

The dense hard passage is blind and stifled
That crawls by a track none turn to climb
To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
Of all but the thorns that are touched not of time.
The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
These remain.

Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
Over the meadows that blossom and wither
Rings but the note of a sea-bird’s song;
Only the sun and the rain come hither
All year long.

The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
Only the wind here hovers and revels
In a round where life seems barren as death.
Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
Years ago.

Heart handfast in heart as they stood, “Look thither,”
Did he whisper? “look forth from the flowers to the sea;
For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
And men that love lightly may die—but we?”
And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
And or ever the garden’s last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
Love was dead.

Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
And were one to the end—but what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
What love was ever as deep as a grave?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air now soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
We shall sleep.

Here death may deal not again for ever;
Here change may come not till all change end.
From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
Till a last wind’s breath upon all these blowing
Roll the sea.

Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.

One reason I’ve chosen Margaret Oliphant as the center of my chapter on widowed women writers in our coming book “Not an anomaly” is that she feels her widowhood in the way I feel mine haunted, thus I can enter into her case and come up with a thesis, one I hope to generalize from to include other widowed women writers: Penelope Fitzgerald, Christine de Pizan, to name two. Also I love the tone of Oliphant’s fictions and now (after two weeks of on and off immersion) her letters. She is transformed by the death but it takes a long time ….

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


Lady Mary Lowther — a watercolor 19th century drawing of the Lake District I found on-line and was my summer picture on face-book for a while

A lot and almost nothing at all truly new has happened since last I wrote. I’ve read a lot, written, watched movies, some new, some seen many times, since returning to my book project on “Not an anomaly” I’ve produced a detailed chronology of the life and works of Margaret Oliphant and soon will be ready to pick a few novels (I hope) relevant to the topic of her as a widowed woman writer. I’ve produced an outline for a book on Winston Graham, am into two more Cornish novels (Rumer Godden’s China Court is one), and today began his Greek Fire (it’s set during the later 1950s in Greece when the US gov’t was interfering to prevent a socialist democracy from emerging). I’m almost finished with teaching The Enlightenment at Risk! at the OLLI at Mason and it went over better than at AU if the number of people continuing with the course and seeming deeply engaged in the topic and reading in class is any criteria.

Those of us who read Anne Boyd Rioux’s Meg Jo Beth Amy on Trollope&Peers had a good time with it, telling one another our experiences reading children’s books, and I’ve now decided that the 2017 Little Women, starring Emily Watson as Marmee and Maya Hawke as Jo is far more livingly alive, more real depth, more flexible, with all the characters given serious humanity, continuing believable evolving experience than the pretty picturesqueness of the 1995 Little Women: although Gabriel Byrne is still irresistible as Prof Bhaer, it now seems stilted, too much dialogue from the book, too exemplary in the doing of it. See Rioux’s eloquent book about 4 wonderful 19th century American women novelists. And we’ve started a strange book (to me) on WomenWriters: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: the paradigms of the characters are so unstable and quick rootless changes with a joking kind of tone at first startled but it is growing on me, she is captivating me slowly.

Little Women — Jo March: Maya Hawke’s performance has been insufficiently attended to because, forsooth she is not a celebrity star

I took a one week course at OLLI at AU reading as a group Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and watching the two movies (1958, a reactionary travesty by Mankiewicz, and a meditative faithful protest film by Philip Noyce, with Michael Caine playing the part of Fowler brilliantly). It was curiously stirring for me to sit in front of Elaine Showalter as teacher: she is very good in a classroom, friendly, warm, intelligent. prompts the class into conversation. A one day 2 hour session on archaeology in Fairfax county (at Colchester) at OLLI at Mason, Reston, was fascinating: how one learns about Native Americans, enslaved African people and European settler colonialists in the 17th through 18th century.


This is from a Gloucester dig — at the session was a couple I know to be pro-Trump: in the atmosphere at OLLI about this vicious administration, they look about with expressions grim as death, well they support death — the great irony of archaeology is our knowledge comes from garbage and death ceremonies ….

Some strong enjoyment in the three weeks was a 5 hour visit yesterday to the Museum of the American Indian with a new friend from OLLI at AU, Nona: a beautiful building, a cafeteria serving delicious food, and intelligently set-up exhibits and art comparable to what I saw in the African-American museum; these people have been treated just as horrifically, abominably. The exhibits about Native American culture and life were not as commercialized as the contemporary African-American counterparts: in both there was much new and unexpected for me to learn. The story of Pocohontas is of a young woman of elite status who took to visiting some European settlers, disappeared for nearly two years (gang-raped? hidden by her father?) to emerge the wife of John Rolfe, who took her to England where she died quickly at age 22 (perhaps in child-birth). Why she was singled out to be the core of naive myth I couldn’t see. The Indian Removal Act is thoroughly put before us – and the dire consequences, the destruction of a whole people. What a vicious man was Andrew Jackson. I have to admit the museum practiced “balance,” with justifications here and there (see how much prosperity was gotten, see how much needed space … ) — you are spared these in the African-American place.


This photo from the outside gives some sense of the beautiful gardens and fountains all around the building

Also a very hot Saturday night with Panorea we saw a virtuoso performance of Swan Lake (American Ballet Theater) at Wolf Trap: picnic with wine before — I was not as moved as I was once long ago by a ballerina who had extraordinary expressive power. Another interesting (if troubling movie) at the film club: Peanut Butter Falcon, a Huckleberry Finn fable (complete with raft), substituting a story meant to be compassionate about a Downs Syndrome young man for the racist matter of Mark Twain, was nonetheless proposing that it’s easy to provide education into independent adulthood for the disabled, with violence as a solution to his difficulties, dissing the institutions and trained female personnel who do care and whose real problem is they are underfunded. See my blog on Chernobyl: enough said.


We hope on WomenWriters@groups.io to read together (in English translation) the first volume of Beauvoir’s memoir

Looking forward to the future, I taught myself how to get to the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Northwest Washington and took a two session course in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I know the book and film adaptation well; the point was to see how courses are there, and this one was very good, many people from the OLLI at AU, a serious teacher, so now for August (usually a dearth) I have a three session course in existential humanism (three Friday early evenings) and I’m half way through Simone de Beauvoir’s exhilarating The Ethics of Ambiguity (it is!), with Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots, and Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism coming up.

The book makes me feel like I’ve been in a backwater not seeing what I do in this larger (to me) refreshing context. The book has relevance to what I’ll read in September, but it also has relevance to a debate a friend and I had off-list about evil in the world and in human beings.

Just a little on Beauvoir’s book (beautifully translated by Bernard Frechtman): it is an existential argument, where she begins with a position that we begin in pessimism as we look about us (this comes later in time in the book and our lives — after childhood), but we are part of the world and the way we interact is a necessary assertion, it is a form of disclosure of the self against which we discover that others push back. Many people take one of two choices she’ll avoid: to deny death by asserting immortality and to deny life, seeing it as an illusion where we are dying all the time (that was unexpected — I thought she’d say taking the Camus view of life as meaningless where we individuals make a meaning). I cut to where she argues that there is bad willing, not that the person is deluded or mistaken, but they are acting harmfully deliberately; and one problem is the coping with evil wills which often gain power because others submit to them. Or people with bad wills given power over others who have a hard time escaping them.

The idea that exhilarated and cheered me is that we are free to chose what we want to do (within the limits of our thrownness of course) and how we go about persevering in the face of much resistance from other aspects of life and what we found to be true about our project itself.

She also talks of how in childhood the child is made to feel he or she is not free and thus irresponsible and can live in fantasy. From this she moves on to women and she talks about the situation of women in cultures where they truly have such limited choices, they are objects or enslaved creatures (even there they have a llmited –I’d say pathetic inward — freedom); in the west they are given windows of opportunity and I found it interesting and revealing (explanatory) when she says women who seem so happy at complicity with men’s desires, needs, orders, will suddenly show themselves hard, mean, cruel or furious when something they individually are keen about is brought into the picture (they drop the appearance of charm, urbanity, grace).

The store is a community center, filled with people buying, looking, a cafe and bar, very pleasant. Jim and I had gone there just for lectures and to the pizza place next door (where one of these fanatically deluded bigots came with a loaded rifle because he thought Hilary Clinton was running a child prostitution racket — he has not turned up to Trump’s concentration camps where he is imprisoning children in cement cells with junk food in appalling conditions so they sicken).

The course I mean to teach starting early September 2019 in both OLLIs — on Trollope’s Phineas Finn — is officially scheduled, and the one for spring 2020, on the novels of E.M. Forster just accepted at OLLI at Mason. Here is the blurb on that one:

The novels of E.M. Forster

In this course we will read Forster’s best-known fiction, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India. We’ll discuss what makes them such distinctive literary masterpieces capable of delivering such pleasure while delineating the realities, tragedies, comedy, and consolations of human life. We’ll place them in the context of his life, other writing, Bloomsbury connections and era. We’ll also see clips from some of the brilliant films made from them. I ask that before class begins everyone read his short and delightful Aspects of the Novel. We’ll also look at his travel writing & biographies. This rich early 20th century writing & the films will speak home to us today.

The response from both curriculum committees is delight at the choice. These are “sacred texts” one man said, how he loved Howards End in college.

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


Politics and Prose from the inside ….

Not all was peace and life’s consolations on the surface at least for me.

On the way home from Politics & Prose the first time I realized I was being followed by a cop; at first I couldn’t believe this, but at last he began to flash blue lights, then his loud speaker, then gestured and finally I realized he wanted me to pull over. It seems my registration at the DMV expired in February. Who knew? I never got any mailing from them on this. So now I have to pay a fine, phone the DMV and then go through some rigmarole. The cop was not the nervous wreck cop who appeared to regard me as eager to shoot him because I did not respond in conventional ways. (When I got out of the car to talk he went hysterical: ). https://misssylviadrake.livejournal.com/158920.html

No this young man was amused. He asked me, had I realized he wanted me to pull over. I said, No, why should I? I was doing nothing wrong. I take it that this time he was able to research me while he was trailing me home — so had concluded I was this clueless old white (thus harmless) lady. I discovered my registration expired in February. I shall have to call tomorrow probably to pay a hefty fine and call the DMV to ask what to do: I hope very hard this is a routine if expensive and possibly time-consuming matter for me. I do believe I never got a letter from the DMV about this — the way other organizations try to coerce me into doing this kind of stuff online or letting them have access to my bank account.

The officer was all reassurance but smiled with a half-angry look: At home Izzy suggested this was an abusive stop. The guy had had to do research to discover my registration was expired. And though he asked to see my registration, he did not take it away. What about me or my car attracted this leech? I remembered my motto from RLStevenson: failure is the fate allotted; our business is to go through this in good spirits. But a line on the site telling me that I was now driving illegally kept me up all night; I was at the DMV (seven minutes away) in the intense heat ten minutes before the doors opened on an already long line.

When I got inside, what a scene: understaffed, the computers kept going down, people giving up and leaving. I somehow managed to get someone’s attention to ask if the computers could renew a registration over 90 due. I was thinking I would go to another DMV, but the woman suddenly looked at me and said, ah, let’s try that, and took me to a counter where a very genial woman took the summons and all the documents I brought, and made light of the problem. She said (opposed to others) I needed no new plates or photos, and if she could get her computer to respond, I’d be renewed in two minutes and while the thing went bit slowly, it did it. Home by 10. I couldn’t find out what the fine is because the cop did not register it as yet, and was told to phone back in two weeks. I did ask, why did I not get a renewal form? I do pay attention to this kind of stuff. No answer. Now I’ve marked a calendar and next year in January I’ll remember.

The DMV may be trying to save money by not sending out paper notices and don’t mind if they lure people into not paying on time so as to bully us and collect more fines.


An appealing image of retreat — idyllic

I don’t talk much about my neighborhood but it is filled with snobs who will pay a million for a house but not a dime that does not add to their accumulation. There are increasing numbers of McMansions put up: these “homes” are an obscenity the people should be ashamed of. And when someone asks me what do I think of that house having been flattened and the “beautiful” place made in its stead, I do say I think it obscene.  They fall silent — probably offended.

What’s happened is a group of cypress trees (I’m told) planted by a spiteful neighbor years ago (she wanted to shut me out, and blocked the light going into my living room) just on one side of my property have grown high, strong and over the line to the point they are bending my fence. I asked the new owner (there six months) if she would cut them back and she behaved on the edge of rudeness, resentful. She has lived next door to me for 3 months and said as how these are very old trees They are still her’s. This new woman has done nothing after I spoke with her. She responded with offhand “oh I’ll bring out my lopper” looking at me with hard indifference. Her son-in-law (lives around her) came over and said how cutting would make them ugly. They are hideous now – lots of ivy, very messy. I thought of a lawyer but lawyers cost a lot. I asked someone who lived there before the couple (the trees were small then) for advice and she said I have the right to cut down anything on my property. So I’ll hire my mowing man to cut them back, and especially the branches choking the fence. This woman paid $904,000 for her house.

You probably don’t want to hear about some malicious exclusionary behavior on the part of an Aspergers club I know about to one man who was part of their group for years: suffice to say it was over this man’s thoroughly leftist politics, his ideas for protecting disabled people if the present federal gov’t starts to go after them more than they’ve already done. The ostracized person is in his 50s, lonely, odd looking, makes little money in a part-time job in a library (autistic people are often un- or underemployed). I felt for him and wrote a couple of emails on his behalf but it’s no use.

I could many times tell of such like incidents but they are so demoralizing. Izzy and I are excluded from the coming JASNA: the cherry-picking of who goes and who doesn’t was astonishingly transparent this time. Inequality as a visible shameless continued way of life creeps on. I didn’t even know about a Gaskell conference (wasn’t told nor have been contacted by that Gaskell friend I thought I made last summer – well I didn’t make the cut, probably didn’t boast or buy into her establishment talk enough) or the recent Burney one, somehow not told by them either. Well I don’t have the money and such experiences are ordeals in so many ways too.

A few pure diary entries from face-book:

7/20: I predict today in the N.Va area the heat index will reach 120F. It’s impossible to dress appropriately … Two hours later, around noon, the literal temperature is 99F, but the heat index 119F and still climbing. In my memory of this area or any where else I’ve never experienced such oppressive all-encompassing intense heat, acccompanied by a burning hot sun on my skin. Hardly any people in cars going anywhere, supermarkets relatively empty. I know last week the hour and more sudden astonishing rainfall we had (sheets of water coming down with no stopping for the time it went on) was outside the norm. This strikes me as going outside the norm too.

7/21: It is now 104F literally and the heat index is 125F! But that is not my thought for today (just part of context). My thought is how glad I am to have so many kindly FB friends …

7/23: The weather is cooler today: last night heavy but not unusual rains, this morning heavy dark clouds prevented the sun from heating the area up, and the clouds stayed so I was able to go for a walk. First afternoon half-hour walk in days, I felt a light coolish wind even. Last night I watched the whole of the 1995 Little Women and 1/3 of the 2017: I prefer the 2017, then the second episode of the second season of Outlander; then DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn; this afternoon I spent with Samuel Johnson (this has cheered me considerably and enabled me to write this diary entry) and now I turn back to Margaret (Oliphant) — with a gratified sigh that I am able to do this.

7/25: Our heat “broke” as we say two days ago, heavy rains that day and our more usual rain yesterday — and today? it is 64F this morning (a high promised of 80F). So livable. I have opened my windows around my house. Yesterday I taught (and the session went very well) and after lunch with a friend and then with her (in a crowded auditorium) re-saw Hampstead — saw flaws this time but as my friend with me said “it’s like a glass of wine” in the desert of a now overtly cruel society this movie tries to treat lightly, came home drained …


A lovely drawing of herself from the back as artist by Constance Fennimore Woolson — she will be the center of my third chapter on spinsters, lesbian and otherwise …

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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