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I have learnt since Jim died, always knew, I would be very lonely were I to have to live alone. Not only do I have Izzy with me but during the day I maintain contact with lots of people on the Net — through the listservs I moderate, on the FB pages I join in on, even twitter I have a few acquaintances now. Then there are nowadays these zooms. People respond to my blogs; sometimes even now to my website. So I’m rarely w/o company.  Hardly ever, if you include Clarycat, ever by my side.

Dear friends and readers,

A sort of milestone. If 3/4s of a century is not a milestone, where are milestones to be found.? I am amazed I’ve reached this age, but here I am. Above you see the silly present I bought for myself. This must be my third doll of this type:  Colin, my penguin; a doll I bought at the Native American museum who I was also charmed by; and a silver Christmas squirrel.

Saturday, November 27th, I bought sweet Rudolph while wandering around the local CVS pharmacy waiting for Izzy to get her third booster: process includes presenting an identity card, her vaccination card, 5 minute wait, and then the vaccination jab, then fifteen minutes more. We decided not to wait until Kaiser called her (they had said soon, but no appts offered) when we read of Omicron Covid. The name is ominous. While there, I counted 7 people arriving, waiting for, getting jabs, waiting 15 minutes again. There was one who had just left. As we left, I saw another person coming up. A steady stream for this pharmacist.

November the 29th was a cold and short day, but pretty. I managed to be happy a good deal of the day — it was a kind of work but I did it. Many wishes for a happy birthday to me on FB and a few on twitter. some with real warmth. I put on FB this poem by Johnson to Mrs Thrale which Jim once wrote out to me:

Oft in danger yet still alive
We are come to seventy-five!

Remembering when Jim copied out Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale ….

Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at seventy-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from seventy-five …

Mrs Thrale had been pregnant by that time 10 times. By age 40 I had had three hemorrhages, two as a result of miscarriage or childbirth. In the evening Laura came and drove us to Il Porto Ristorante. Laura is now mature and she showed us a good evening. We had good talk, my central dish lobster in creamy sauce with pasta (I didn’t eat enough of it), and then a walk by the Potomac. Since I can no longer drive, I go out at night very rarely. Thus it was a treat. I remembered the last time I had been in Old Towne late at night: one summer night with Vivian where I had had to park the car in a difficult space. Vivian is gone now. Here is Izzy’s photo that morning.


Getting ready for work — she is looking more like a traditional librarian every day.

In the mid-afternoon I attended the Barchester Cathedral Trollope Society zoom: John Christopher Briscoe has imagined a history of Barchester Cathedral from Anglo-Saxon era through the Roman into the English gothic and then 19th century. He’s an architect and historian, used picturesque drawings of cathedrals (with cats) from the Anglo-Saxon to the 19th century eras. The charm is also Mr Briscoe is a fan of Trollope’s and has done this out of love for the books.


An original illustration of M.R. James’s story, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral”


Clive Swift playing the central role of curate

Afterwards much talk of (among other things) other writers who have written up cathedrals. I mentioned Joanna Trollope as someone who might have — under another pseudonym, Caroline Harvey, she has written stories that are take-offs from Trollope — she uses Trollope characters’ names. They are sort of sequels — sequels come in many varieties; she updates, but then also uses the clerical milieu for similar sorts of psychological-social stories and uses names of Trollope’s characters transposed — there’s a Mr Harding and an Eleanor &c&c. One person said there is a cathedral in her The Choir and it’s based on several cathedrals in England (especially Rochester); that’s written under her own name of Joanna Trollope, and is an original fiction.

I also remembered that M.R. James, a writer of uncanny unnerving ghost stories — truly finely written, subtle – has one set in a Barchester Cathedral — “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” it’s called; it was adapted by the BBC for an hour’s film and starred Clive Swift who played Mr Proudie in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles. Some of M.R. James’s books are beautifully produced — lovely paper, illustrations, introductions, the lot. Jim enjoyed them mightily and bought the beautiful books. He read aloud a couple of the stories to me.

I have Joanna Trollope’s The Choir and will read it next: there is an audiobook still available on CDs, & there was a film adaptation. I started it last night Very readable in her usual way. You can recognize her too. Hers are stories that deal with the social-psychological traumas of the 20th century, which are also political issues too, using the troubles and contradictions of middle class family life in milieus that recall Anthony Trollope’s.

Trollope’s Orley Farm is the next “big read” for the zoom group; it will start mid-January, and I did volunteer to do a talk on Millais’s illustrations — I wrote about the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels in my book, the chapter I’m most proud of, which was praised by Mark Turner (a respected Trollope scholar). Dominic Edwards promised he’s do the necessary for the share screens.

As I described above, evening Laura came and we went out and we did have a good time. She is now grown up at last. She is leading a happy life for her, but she knows she is not developing her talent for real. She says there will be no great book — and no children. So she lives with her choices. She has a full social life with Rob. She tells me some of their friends have died and it is NOT unusual in the US for adults to die in their 40s or 50s — overwork, despair, sickness not treated or badly treated. The US a cruel society to its ordinary people — unqualified uncontrolled capitalism (now in danger of creeping into dictatorship of a religious-based fascism).

Another reminder of Jim that day: Stephen Sondheim died. How Jim loved the music, the lyrics, the books, the full-blown musicals. We went to so many; one summer the Kennedy Center became a temple to Sondheim, and the last night there was spontaneous singing groups around the building. For two Christmases in a row I bought Jim Sondheim’s memoir as edition of his musical scripts, photos, writing all about them. Here’s the blog I wrote about 2 months after Jim died: I begin with Into the Woods.

And then a clever parody:

This is unfair but funny. It is true this is the kind of Sondheim song that gets to be very popular and that people try to belt out or listen to Elaine Stritch belt out (or Bernadette Peters croon), but he is far more varied than that. Still Alan Chapman has caught something; on Sunday Lin Manuel Miranda led a group of singers and actors from Broadway to have a songfest on Times Square.

The Chapman seems to me hostile. “On an Ordinary Sunday” made me choke up because it is about what a New Yorker walking in Central Park might see on an ordinary Sunday. I remember the first time Jim, I & the girls saw the musical — at the Arena, the astonishment at the picture, and the beauty, harmony and hope of it all … the poignancy of not appreciating the little joy we have in life.

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Not done yet. Yesterday I had another rare treat: went out with a friend to lunch, to a restaurant of the day time type which caters to “ladies who lunch,” and the food was a wonderful half sandwich and cream of tomato basil soup. Afterwards we went to see Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. I admit I wanted to see my heroine-actress Caitriona Balfe, and knew Ciarhan Hinds might steal the show. He did, but Judi Dench was given the central moments for her speeches. My review:

Alas, it is not a great film — Branagh just never seems to reach that point of direction, conceptions, work a writer  where the film transcends. And it is also over-produced in the way of most movies that turn up in movie-theaters. The movie must jump out at you viscerally; the audience must feel there’s nothing too subtle for you here, not to worry. It’s being over-rated but it does have power.

The problem is what’s interesting; Branagh pretends to be doing a 1950s movie in part. It’s not only in black-and-white, but done on built sets. This reminds me of Hitchcock, but it’s not to have total control — it’s to convey something about the 1950s. I’m not sure it convinces because of the modern over-producing — despite heroic efforts to make a period film, to recreate  the 1950s visually, by sets. The acting by Balfe, Hinds and Dench (she is given less but what she is given is central) terrific — I almost didn’t recognize Balfe as her voice is so different from Outlander. Maybe she over-does the working class Irish accent.


Caitriona Balfe as Branagh’s mother and Jamie Dornan as his father — enjoying dancing on an old-fashioned rock ‘n roll dance floor

Critics have said it’s too distanced but I am not sure they said why or how. One example, throughout the movie we see famous 1950s kinds of movie (maybe 40s) on the TV set. Several against violence but I suspect they are Branagh’s favorites. He is there as a little boy and we see how smart he is (there are literary allusions) but the how much movies meant to him is kept detached from him. The movies are just part of what is watched. Well at one high point of violence, we hear strains of High Noon (which we’ve already glimpsed on TV); this breaks the suspension of belief, and I think destroys the scene which is not over-the-top in emotion. We needed to be left in the scene to made to care.

It is also somehow upbeat with the opening in color of modern Belfast and the closing. And the fable itself which has the most purchase on our emotions through Balfe’s irrational attachment to Belfast – she should want to get out. The theme is a contrast between those who leave (and all they gain, including the child Branagh who grows up to be an actor, director, movie-producer) and those who stay (the grandparents who must).  Branagh’s father, the husband of the film has a job in London and he’s been offered help to transfer. Only because he is in danger of his life if he doesn’t join the Ulsters and his sons too does his mother agree to go. All her roots are in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I remembered how I hated coming to Virginia and understood why even if NYC at the time was a terrible existence for us I found myself so isolated alone an outsider here, and still am.

But then cannot have a downer or it won’t sell. So we return to the tourist and rich part of Belfast at the end and Dench’s stoic endurance as she stays,  now a widow. The film is dedicated to those who left, those who stayed and those whose lives were suffering and ruin. A charitable way to see this is Branagh thanking his parents.

It has an archetype:  Cinema Paradiso, where a similarly appealing boy-child finds comfort and meaning in movies and grows up to make it big in the industry ….  Will we never stop focusing on the troubled background of white successful males … ?

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I have been reading away, wonderful deep fulfilling books by Iris Origo, Christa Wolf, and on them: my winter course will be a continuation of last spring: 20th century women’s political writing. Both trace the rise of fascism, and the thwarting of women, the limited roles allowed them – much more. Latest iteration:

Retelling Traditional History from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking coping with war as experienced by civilians as the chatelaine of a large Tuscan estate. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing. I will also recommend people see an acclaimed film about the GDR’s Stasi, The Lives of Others (available on Amazon prime): the heroine’s story is partly based on the life of Christa Wolf.

The heroine of Quest for Christa T is Christa Wolf, and also the Lila of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which I have at long last finished reading, but by no means finished writing about or reading her (next The Lying Life of Adults). Ferrante’s rage ignored by the muddled critical Ferrante Letters. Of course it’s all by a woman. Deep alikeness and despair extends to Hannah Arendt, Bachmann’s Malina, Anna Segher’s The Seventh Cross. Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44 the male equivalent of War in Val D’Orcia.

Alas, omnicron-covid is making the spring look more problematic at OLLI at Mason, where I have been surprised to discover the people are not eager to get back in person, so I said if my spring Anglo-Indian novels gets less than 10 registering in person, I’ll switch to wholly online, and learn about hybrids by attending one in the spring. It looks like at OLLI at AU, doing it in person is what’s wanted. The two places differ: unlike OLLI at AU, OLLI at Mason cannot get academics enough to truly teach a literature course for 8 weeks. My zoom chat tonight with kindly Aspergers friends we all talked of the uncertainties to come, worries about omicron …

How did I get here? I never expected to but I do understand more now.  I am 75.

Ellen

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I still buy books faster than I can read them. But again, this feels completely normal: how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life … And I remain deeply attached to the physical book and the physical bookstore [not so much that latter as the days of vast caverns of books, floors of them, you were left to explore on your own, i.e., the Argosy in NYC, 2nd Hand Bookstor in Alexandria, Va are gone forever, or so it seems mostly …] — Julian Barnes, A Life with Books

Friends,

I thought I’d begin with an autumnal poem, W.B. Yeats’s “When You are Old” as read by Tobias Menzies:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Equally moving for me is Izzy’s latest song, “All I want” by Toad the Wet Sprocket:

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Last night was Halloween, and from my hour-long zoom chat with Aspergers friends, to the few people I talk and email with, I was wished a happy Halloween. We did try: Izzy thought she was invited to go to a party on Saturday night by a man in her Wednesday in-person Dungeons and Dragons group, but when the time came close it seemed the party was to be an hour long or so, after which it would break up into people doing different things together, among these, bar-hopping. This is not for her, especially as getting there was an Uber (and back). So she thought the better of it – she is now getting older than many of the late 20s people who would show up, several gay (as the man was gay), what she had to wear was the regency dress she wore for JASNA (not appropriate for this, too naive). Instead she recorded her song.

I had hoped to join in on giving out candy for the first time in years as I still have the battery-operated candles I had found for Biden’s night-before-inauguration so I could light up my pottery pumpkin, put the stoop light on and be all welcoming. Well I got three groups and one lone girl in a clown’s outfit. Next door and across the street from me are older women too, who also had welcoming light and symbolic objects — they seem to have gotten the same groups. And then it was over.

As has happened to me before, I discovered that there is little to join in on if you are trying simply to be part of a neighborhood community. Halloween you must go to a party, some 15 years ago, for two years running at the Torpedo Factory museum in old town, a Halloween dance was held, for the public & Jim and I went; one year we traveled to NYC to go to a Halloween dance at the Princeton club (as members of the Williams — old-fashioned rock for people mostly in their 50s too).  Thirty-five, say 1980s when we still had a (what I called) Welfare project down the hill, endless children and adolescents came, many Black. Thirty years ago in this neighborhood (all private houses, as we say in NYC) there were several floods of children coming through this neighborhood, and I’d give out candy, chocolates, cookies, pretzels with Izzy.  Twenty I went myself with Laura and Izzy (age 15 say and 9) with them in costume trick-or-treating. I’d stay back on the sidewalk and there were really lots of people. But this neighborhood changes every 7 years, and about twenty years ago, the welfare project was knocked down, super-expensive houses and condos with what’s called a few row of “scatter-site housing” for people getting subsidized rents, built in its place. Ten years ago or more a scheme in my neighborhood not to let most of their children trick-or-treat but make a party. Immediately it’s exclusionary of course. Excuses like strangers put razors in children’s candy. Tonight I wondered if the upper class mostly whites here did not like the children from elsewhere


A photo Izzy took that lovely afternoon as she stood by the Potomac in Old Town

I was advised to watch movies, told by others that’s what they did — horror ones — so I told myself I’d watch movies too and my choice was Shades of Darkness, a 1980s series of hour long adaptations of ghost stories, all but one by women, done with great delicacy, insight, mood creation. I bought it sometime after 2000 as a DVD — I watched one I’d seen before and one I probably hadn’t. Elizabeth Bowen’s “Demon Lover,” very well done, as much about WW2 in England, the Blitz as about this ghost that seems a distilled eruption of senseless indifferent harm I’d seen it before but have forgotten how well done. Dorothy Tutin, the central figure. This is a traditional ghost tale where the ghost is malign and we are made nervous because the whole experience is regarded as fearful, hostile — popular Kafka stuff in a way.


Dorothy Tutin as our Every ordinary women profoundly disquieted as she sees him across the room …

The other May Sinclair’s “The Intercessor” (first time seen), to me a strange ghost stories to me because the ghost is simply accepted as part of universe and the theme is we are supposed to understand the revenants, accept them — not pitiless mischief, but the ghost a redemptive pitiful ghost. The human story is dreadful — people can be dreadful and have very bad luck, but the ghost, unprepossessing as she is, brings renewal. John Duttine, the hero, often played deeply sensitive men in the 1970s-80s BBC dramas. I’ve read other Sinclairs of this type. This set includes two superb hard gothic Whartons, “Lady’s Maid’s Bell” and “Afterward” (stunning). This was an era of fine dramas from the BBC — and there are other series of this type — all June Wyndham Davis produced.

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Lucy Worsley getting to sit behind Austen’s writing desk with some paraphernalia Austen would have used

So my teaching and scholarly life went on. Some successes: my two classes on The Prime Minister are going very well. My paper, “A Woman and her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen,” went over very well and I much enjoyed the virtual EC/ASECS. I’ve not yet returned to Anne Finch, though the term is winding down, because I changed one of my books for my coming 4 week winter course teaching at OLLI at Mason, and am very much engaged by the books:

Retelling Traditional Tales from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her Tuscan estates during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing.

I’d get a crowd if I were doing Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, but no one needs me to teach these. I’ve learnt that Florence Nightingale wrote a novella turned into polemic essay, Cassandra, only published recently: beyond protesting the restrictive life of an upper class Victorian young woman, exploring her own depression, it’s an exposure of the Crimean war. Finally an excuse to read away books on and by these two brilliant serious women.


A modern Cassandra: Wolf has Aeschylus’s proud victim in mind

I got involved in a wonderful thread on Victoria when I told of my coming Anglo-Indian Novels: Raj, Aftermath and Diaspora (I’ve told you of this one before), this spring at both OLLIs and in person. I told of books and they told of books, and we all dreamed in imagined company. My thanking people included this:

I did send away for the Metcalfs’ Concise History of India, and Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India (2016 in the UK). I have the Dalrymple volume on the East India Company and am grateful to the pointed to the specific chapters. There’s nothing I like better than articles when I’m looking for concision and I have access to the George Mason University database and their interlibrary loan.

My course itself is not on the Victorian period as all three books were written in the 20th century: the first is Forster’s Passage to India, and I have got hold of his Hills of Devi, and a book of essays published in India about the relationship of his time there and books to India. One book I have read and is about 19th century colonialism through 19th into 20th century books (novels and memoirs) is Nancy Paxton’s superb Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947

Not for this course but about the 19th century and colonialism through another and classic 19th century novel is the Dutch Max Havelaar; or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Eduard Douwes Dekker (1859), using the pseudonym he often used Multatuli . Now this is a superb book where you will learn that not only the British were stunningly brutal to native populations when they took over, but also how the colonialists did it. It’s a novel that is heavily true history (disguised only somewhat) – a peculiar imitation of Scott as if through a lens like that of Sterne in Tristram Shandy. Dekker risked his life while a resident manager in Indonesia (and other places) and came home to write this novel.

I strongly recommend it – and it’s available in a beautiful new edition by New York Review of Books, paperback, good translation. I just so happen to have written a blog last night half of which is on this novel – the other half a film adaptation which descends (in a way) from it, Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (by way of an intermediary 1964 novel). Arguably MH is most important one volume 19th historical novel about the Dutch in Indonesia. The volume includes an interesting introduction by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an important writer and political activist (spent too much time in prisons).

The other two for my course are Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, the 1st volume of his Raj Quartet (a historical novel, familiar to many people through the superb BBC TV serial in the later 1980s); and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake (a book showing the diaspora). The movie I’ll assign is Merchant-Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah, which I also cannot praise too highly


Outlander begins in Scotland, Inverness, at Samhain or Halloween — it is also a ghost story

I’ve splurged on two beautifully made copies of the first two books of Outlander (Outlander & DragonFly in Amber) for my birthday and am back reading these books at midnight after realizing I’d been dreaming for sometime of myself in an Outlander adventure. By the time I was fully awake, I had forgotten the particulars and wonder what was the prompting: it’s been weeks and weeks since I last watched an Outlander TV episode and months since I read in one of the books. Maybe it bothers me that I don’t have Starz so will have to wait to see Season 6 until the season comes out as a DVD.

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The cat meowed — the first voice of the series

I do most days need some cheering up, so often so sad that right now my movie-watching includes this year’s All Creatures Great and Small, the set of DVDs sent me by my friend Rory. They still my heart with the strong projection of love, understanding, kindness between one another. I am especially fond of the direct emphasis on the animals the Vets and everyone else too are caring so tenderly for. The first episode opened with an temporarily ill cat being taken care of by James (Herriot, Nicholas Ralph). As my daughter Laura (Anibundel) wrote: “Snuggling down in the Yorkshire Dales to save a few cows turned out to be just what the doctor ordered last winter.”. I regret only that there are only six for this year, so I’m re-watching last year’s seven. Re-watching beloved series is what I do a lot.

Izzy and I did vote early, this past Saturday at our local library. We got there early and found a reasonably long line. We were told turnout is high. Everything was done peacefully and democratically. No one there to intimidate anyone. My neighborhood is showing signs for Youngren and I’ve encountered the seething racism in many of these rich whites — they will vote GOP because they are most of all about their status (and feel it’s threatened by not having whites in charge), see Black people as dangerous and inferior, and yes the campaign against Toni Morrison’s Beloved has traction. The GOP even has a mother-type inveighing against the book in a campaign commercial.

One reason for this is it’s not a good choice for a high school class. It’s too hard (not linear at all); its content is problematic: the use of the ghost is part of a skein of irrationality and violence justified in ways that most high school students will not understand. But she won the Nobel, and this is the most famous one: much better, more appropriate are Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (varied, sane, also about economic structuring to keep people poor), Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun, August Wilson’s Piano (Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is rightly assigned in junior (3rd year high) years. But this is an argument for people teaching literature to think about. Youngren is insinuating profound resentment, implying this book teaches white children to hate themselves and their parents. The reality is it’s a book too hard for students to take in, with some of the same problems of vindicating violence you see in popular US movies. I never assigned Twain’s Huckleberry Finn after seeing a Black young man get up and do a talk about how painful it was for him to read such a book and hearing white boys in the class snicker at him. The choice of Beloved tells about the conformity and non-thinking of US high school curricula than anything else.  And now it’s weaponized against Democrats and liberal gov’t.

If I could bring Jim back, I’d give up all I do — for I wouldn’t be doing much of this probably, wouldn’t have known of the OLLIs, of the Smithsonians, become part of these zooms, but I admit it does make me feel good that I prove to myself and do cope with so much nowadays. Today I resolved two bill problems from goofs I made in using websites to pay my bills — I now get e-bills for seven of my bills (post office becomes worse each week). I’m not as afraid as I used to be — though still frightened some (terrified at what could be done if the GOP cabal does take over), at least I know so much more about all that I need and do related directly to my life, who to go to (AARP, EJO-solutions for my computer, Schwabb guys for money). It is good to feel capable and useful and appreciated – though I began with the Yeats poem because Jim was and will be the one person in the world who loved the pilgrim soul in me. And every day, every night I feel his lack. So much I could do were he here, so much I miss out on (the new Met Meistersinger 6 hours!) how he would have reveled in it.

Ellen

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

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

Friends,

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

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

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

I’ll mention this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Egon Schiele, Four Trees (1917)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So now I’ll subside into a movie:

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


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

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

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


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


Maxx as snugglicious — another

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

Ellen

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From the New Yorker, by Carita Johnson

Part of the joke is the Bergman films: this low anguished voice muttering on and on, mad figures in black-and-white, outside somewhere, old man in meadow, girls by the sea or by trees, old women in beds, a figure shrouded in black playing chess; deserted streets, ticking clocks, crosses carried by quiet medieval-dressed mobs crossing bridges … What’s a cat to make of this?

Friends and readers,

We all need hope, we need reassurance. As yet the election of Biden has held fast, the courts, the state legislatures have all held to the law and order and truth; the only mobs and violence have happened one Saturday when a group of horrific Klu Klux Klan types of white man in suits rampaged through DC looking for someone to fight/kill, and finding few targets defaced Black churches and burnt their Black Lives Matter signs. Now Trump and his junta are at it again, threatening a coup of January 6th in congress, backed by violent mobs invited to come to DC.

How shall we keep our spirits up? to get us to January 20th when we hope to watch Biden and Harris inaugurated into office and the Bidens move into the White House that or the next day or so? With their two dogs, Major Biden and Champ, and their First Cat, a rescue animal


Read his or her message to us in the New Yorker

He is moving in January 20th. He has outlined his strategy: When Proud Boys and such-like Trumptrash ilk go low, he’ll go lower: right under a nearby bed. Let us hope (rely on him also) to sniff out any remaining rats.

I suggest we all make a list of 10 good things that happened to each of us this year, ten events that made your or a friend happy, gave you joy, pleasure. Here are mine:

1 Biden won big;

2 Laura & Rob know great joy from adopting adorable loving active kittens;

3 I found fun in London Trollope Society and pleasure in many sorts of zooms & online culture (I did a live video talk!);

4 I taught wonderful Bloomsbury in novels & pictures this past summer;

5 I did read some wonderful books, lately Harriet Walter on acting Shakespeare (Brutus and Other Heroines), Carol Rutter’s wonderful actresses on acting Shakespeare’s women (Clamorous Voices), the book’s editor, Faith Evans.  Then Anna Jameson’s Shakespeare’s Women, Loraine Fletcher, Honor Killing in Shakespeare (she really reads Shakespeare from a vitally alive thoughtful feelingful woman); returned to reviewing the new standard edition of Anne Finch’s poems and reading the two new literary biographies of Vittoria Colonna in Targoff and Musiol’s books;

6 my cats crossed a threshold of becoming overtly loving as I reciprocated better;

7 the fifth season of Outlander, & I watched all 4 seasons of The Durrells, all 7 of A French Village (in occupied France);


Keely Hawes as widowed Mrs Durrell

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 fraudulent 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

8 I was able and continue to be able to stay in my house with all Jim & my things around me still, with Izzy staying well and keeping her good job as librarian remotely;

9 people were remarkably resilient and resourceful during horrific pandemic, even in US where their fed govt has been taken over, corroded, ruined by a remarkably evil man;

10 I cannot think of any more because over 330,000 people in the US died (millions elsewhere), economy is tanked, evictions near for millions, and at the rate the vaccines coming from Trump & Junta we’ll reach immunity 10 years, but remember No 1 which Heather Cox Richardson reassures me will be realized, with a new POTUS, and decent competent people in charge Jan 20th of US for better or worse this powerful nation-state, with much riches now kept to a few but hope this will change somewhat …

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Rituals together every year can and do help; they embody hope, perpetualness, a stability and order, security into the future. That’s why putting up the tree, exchanging gifts, or whatever you do each year matters. So this year again watch a favorite movie or movies — as we cannot go out lest we spread the disease and sicken ourselves – let us stay above ground!

Marley was dead, to begin with …


Scrooge dancing with Fred’s wife … a polka

Earlier this week I watched the 1951 Scrooge — I didn’t realize it was not titled A Christmas Carol (they used to do this sort of thing, mistitle classics as if that would make the film more popular?) — with Alistair Sim. I had read Margaret Oliphant’s ghost story riposte; nonetheless, I wept and wept towards the end. With a kind of painful joy — worried the old man would not be forgiven. It’s wonderfully witty too. See my blog. I felt similarly towards the end of the 1945 It’s a Wonderful Life! (with of course James Stewart and the old MGM crew, Capra doing it) — my younger daughter, Izzy, and Capra’s beautifully socialistic angel film, on Christmas Day. I had forgotten I admit how small a part in time the Clarence segment is against the whole film; it’s only the last quarter or so. I found myself moved to tears. It’s more relevant than ever. Mr Potter is now a (weak) stand in for Trump (who just cruelly threw a wrecking-ball at any security or peace those dependent on gov’t in some way [and who is not?] needs). I had forgotten how Clarence appears only in the last quarter or so of the movie. All an apparition? a bad dream? No one takes it that way but you could.


Clarence, Angel (second class) listens to the distraught George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart)

Modern day re-makes have no idea of how to come near these because the emotions brought out are positively discouraged, even sneered at in our culture. Yes great performances, but no actor would be permitted or dare to show such anguish, such joy, such social feeling — it’s as if we no longer understood these feelings. But I don’t think that’s true because there are two films of Dickens that come near — though shying away from total immersion: these are with respect to Dickens books (whether faithful or appropriated) the 1999 David Copperfield (BBC serial, with Bob Hoskins and Maggie Smith), and at moments the 2002 Nicholas Nickleby (Douglas McGrath, wonderful cast).

Then we had a Zoom with Laura and Rob, and exchanged presents (they had sent ours to our house; we had sent theirs to their house). Then Izzy and I had a steak dinner …

I did miss Boxing Day. I didn’t expect I would miss the second day of Christmas as so often the first has been a trial. But what a let-down to just go to the supermarket the next day. Whatever smidgin of magic is left from early childhood hadn’t a chance. And, Izzy and I, — with Jim, have gotten so used to this second day. Around 2000 Jim, I, and Izzy, went to Paris for 2 weeks in the course of which occurred Christmas day and New Year’s Eve. It was partly to break a pattern of very bad Christmas days — we did a totally different set of things. Paris is not closed on Christmas day at all — or it wasn’t in 2000. An open market had a lovely French Christmas roll cake; we went to the theater; walked … Thereafter at home, here in Alexandria, we had Jewish Christmases: a movie and a Chinese meal out (mostly Peking Duck); then the next day, a museum trip.

And now tonight. I watched the Metropolitan Gala from Germany, two Italian tenors and two Black sopranos, one a beautiful young woman from South Africa. I didn’t care for the first part (about an hour) where they did Donizetti as if they had to prove how brilliant singers they are but were not permitted to sing anything truly moving, but the second half was traditional Italian songs (the kind Pavarotti used to sing), haunting tunes from The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus (the bat!). Tears came to my eyes again.


The Met has not been generous with allowing clips of this concert onto the Net so here is Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau in a softly intimate rendition

Now at 10:30 pm for the first in my life (74 years) there is no mass crowd in Times Square! I looked on TV and it’s nearly empty. I have been on Times Square on New Year’s Eve at midnight twice (with two different husbands), and have wandered through earlier in the evening a number of times. I am told that the clock will still come down at midnight but we must watch it on TV or some Internet channel — to be safe and help others stay safe.

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A 1950s cover and price …. — it is still in print with a cover that appeals to audiences today


Recent cover — a much less silly version of a romantic male, more a man of sensibility (like Hans Matthesen whom I loved in Davies 2002 Dr Zhivago serial)

Rituals include remembering back. An FB & Trollope friend posted a photo of a set of very old-fashioned Christmas classic books for children (or just the 19th century good ones that ended in children’s hands, some of which are also reading for adults). He said he was reading through them (they included books like Treasure Island, What Katy Did, Water Babies), whereupon I made a feeble quip: “Very virtuous.” But then I told a memory that often lingers in my mind because it is how I first started to read the English classics which have been so influential in my life:

Another thought: I first became acquainted with, well, read British classics because my father had sets of books which looked like that. They would be a soft hard back, colored brown or some other serious color, with silver or gold lettering. Memory is treacherous but I think he told me he bought them from the Left Book Club when he got into his teens. He kept them all wherever he moved. It is a sad conclusion: but Trollope was in none of these. Austen, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Brontes, RLStevenson but no Trollope. Perhaps he was considered too “adult” — without adult meaning sexy or violent. Another neglected author was Elizabeth Gaskell. I first become acquainted with (there I go again) Trollope as an undergraduate in an American college classroom (Dr Thorne); I first heard of and then read Gaskell at Leeds University; one of our “set” books for the third year (the one I placed in) was North and South. The influence of such sets of books for more working class and lower middle American children may be important — but it was the Left Book Club that offered them very inexpensively.

I hope I am not writing too much here. I looked at the spines and some are books I identify as for adults (Lorna Doone), or the kind of book that really is for adults but has been relegated to school reading (Silas Marner). I find I have not read a lot of them (just an impression) and my surmise is that shows I’m not British so many were not available just like this (for example so much Kipling), but also around 11-12 I switched to supposedly adult books brought into the house by my mother who joined a Book-of-the-Month club and there I read books like (wait for it) Gone With the Wind, by pseudonym authors (Frank Yerby) and voyeuristic semi-salacious (Peyton Place, probably around age 12 to 13 or so), historical romances.

In more chat I had to confess I’d never read Forever Amber, or God’s Little Acre. But I do remember to this day a historical romance set in the Highlands of Scotland (!, yes even then I was allured by books about Scotland), The Border Lord, whose author’s name started with Jan, but maybe it was a pseudonym. Within minutes someone told me the author’s name was Jan Westcott, and the book a perfectly respectable researched fiction; Westcott makes wikipedia, The Border Lord her first bestseller. I didn’t write that I wish I could remember the title or part of the name of another Book-of-the-Month club set in Italy, about a peasant girl called Pia. I read that over and over, & identified with this girl consciously; now I guess I knoq I also identified with the upper class Anglo-Italian narrator (a precursor for me of Iris Origo). In our ends are our beginnings. My mother persisted in throwing out these books. I tried to stop her but she’d throw them out when I wasn’t around. She sometimes overtly hated the reality that my father & I were reading people, we did it “all the time” (angry tone of typical quarrelling) instead of the kind of socializing she wanted from us. So the book is lost; it too harbors what I would read and study still.


The 1920s Everyman — noticed it’s packaged as part of a set of elite elegant beloved books — Dent then as found in Penelope Fitzgerald’s wonderful The Bookshop.

I will be watching the 1983 BBC Sense and Sensibility scripted by Denis Constantduros later tonight: I am up to episode 6-7. It is very good if you give yourself time, patience and are willing to enter into the dramaturgy of the era.

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Their closest physical moment: Miss Kenyon (Emma Thompson) attempts to make Mr Stevens to show her what book he is reading (Remains of the Day, 1992)

I am now reading for my coming teaching this winter and in the spring (and even thinking ahead for the summer. I finished Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans and realized I cannot put it across to a class. How to explain this wild post-modern post-colonial parody of a 1930s female detective story morphing into wild gothic parodies (a la Radcliffe around labryrinths) and finally a spy story of horrific violence and betrayal. Then I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala The Remains of the Day, and knew I loved it, understood it, can explain (as there is rationality to explain), the film being better than the book. Here’s my new blurb:

Two Novels of Longing

The class will read as a diptych E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989). Both examine class, race, war, fascism and colonialism; family, sex, and property relationships from the “empire’s center,” England, from a post-colonial POV. The core center of both novels is the human needs of their characters against capitalist, gender- and class-based backgrounds. I suggest people see on their own either the 1992 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film Howards End (w/Thompson & Hopkins) or 2015 HBO serial, Howards End (Kenneth Lonergan w/Atwell & Macfayden); and the 1993 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film The Remains of the Day (also w/Thompson & Hopkins). We can ask how ironic romances can teach us fundamental lessons about how to survive and thrive in today’s worlds.

For summer, though I love it, I doubt the class will love Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival — I identify with his outsider meditations, and longings to belong in my uprootedness, and especially in England, but will they be able to cope with these meditations. I tried In a Free State, the Booker Prize winner, and discovered it’s painfully racist: if I were a Black person reading this satiric comedy by supposedly naive Indians seeing Black people for the first time, I’d be electrified with mortification. So I switched to Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this Carribean Leeds man in the first place. I also loved his Cambridge, and am now set to read two more: The Lost Child, a sequel to Wuthering Heights, perhaps The Final Passage. I’d do Andrea Levey’s Small Island but it’s too long for summer. So, with my blogs (e.g., on The Crown) and other projects (women’s poetry once again), and for two very different list communities reading Trollope’s The Three Clerks, and Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Diary, I have not lacked in things to do … Lucky me, to belong to two OLLIs and have made so many friends on the Net.

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Dear readers, friends, I end here. I’m trying to think how to pass the last hour of this profoundly dangerous year for us all — and we are by no means out of danger yet — another coup will be attempted Jan 20th, a variant of COVID 70% more infectious is spreading, and as long as Trump and his vicious crooks are in charge you may be sure nothing will be done to get the vaccines to the average person for months to come … (forget the ordinary postal mail, and the poor post office people until the Trump rats can be removed). We may be sure Biden and his wife will go on no killing sprees (such as Trump has and now pardoned people committing massacres, a woman who set a dog taught to be vicious on a homeless old man, like to do).

Here is one of their Christmas messages to the world:

We must carry on — there is no other choice. Not give in, not give up. There is harm in not hoping, in resigning and complicity and good in holding onto our moral compass as we enter another cycle of seasons. Let us remember E.M. Forster’s What I Believe and his adjuration: we with those like us can slip under the wire, form small groups of decent ethical people, sensitive, for good arts, true beauty, a pro-social democratic multi-ethnic, racial, religious secular tolerant world; the gate is opening again and we must be alert to go through to prevent it swinging shut again.

Ellen

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Camille Pissarro, Quai Malaquais, morning sun in autumn (1903)

The first of this type, a diary, sort of, in more than a month — they become harder to write as the pandemic proceeds without let — and now climate break with climate caused horrifying fires and orange unbreathable air (California, Oregon) — and nothing is done (only militia sent to turn peaceful protests into murder & then mayhem), as there is no EPA any more for real, no leadership on the people’s behalf. Trapped in a pandemic cycle

Dear friends and readers,

I begin with a happy story or temporarily good ending (most stories can be given a happy ending by shutting down the curtain at a given moment where there is contentment) and I trust this to continually to turn out well (well hope very hard): about my young African-American friend, Monica, just Izzy’s age, whom I’ve spoken of here has quit her job at the Safeway. I congratulated her two weeks ago now — and rejoiced with and for her.

She told me I was the only person besides her mother to congratulate her. She has been for several years now working 7 days a week: 5 full ones in an office for the DC Corrections Department (or Bureau), and 2 2/3s day in the local Giant. Everyone else seems to have been puzzled: why would anyone give up any job? The idea she might want real time to herself is not found among the people she is surrounded by: she told me she plans to use some of it to add further credits to her degree so she may promoted again (she has a BA) and now that her daughter (in Fairfax country schools) will be learning remotely 4 days a week, coming in for a 5th only every other week, she can now have time and energy to help the daughter on weekends. She won’t be too drained. She did tell me that day she had not yet told her husband, but yesterday in an email (we have now turned to emails to stay in contact), she said he accepted it, and now two weekends have gone by says he likes this very much. She keeps her good weekday job that has not been eliminated at all, and worked in the office at first 5 days and now 2 one week and 3 the other during this whole time of the pandemic thus far — with masks, a shield, washing her hands. Her department registered a complaint and threatened to go to court to get their conditions improved in June. And she bought a house for herself and family this past June too.

It does take considerable courage for her to have done this. Thus far she is relaxing and reading books.

I miss seeing her on weekends. I looked forward to our precious 5-7 minutes each Saturday or Sunday morning. But as when I used not to see her there on a Saturday and would tell myself, good she has the day off (though during this pandemic worried a bit), I know how much better this is. She should be doing something else with her weekend time. So many other things better to do. I have pictures of her but feel uncomfortable sharing them – I have just sent one of Thao on line here (if anyone has noticed or remembers).
But I thought I would tell this one story of a 36 year old African-American young woman. She was a student in two of my classes and used to come to my office to talk over papers. She has the one child by her husband, a girl. Very good in math she tells me. Her mother and brother live together and not far away from her. I talk of her in Fraught Times (scroll down)


Pierre Bonnard — Girl Writing

And a comic: even my old stand-by prune juice has been spoilt. This is not the pandemic, but the stretch of monopolies. Amazon does not truly believe in this product and wants to make more money, to bring more customers, and destroys what was there for the steady customer. It is about preposterous amounts of money allowed to mount in the hands of single individuals; ultimately a product of a failed state that has been brought about, and that has brought us this continuing mass death pandemic. Herd immunity == death. No individual should ever be permitted to control the vast sums Bezos does now.

For some 60 years every morning I could I drank a glass of Sunsweet Prune Juice. Amazon bought the product and now there are three versions. A very thick with pulp, undrinkable; a thin version, much less calories, sickening and doesn’t do the trick; the one I drank is not manufactured to the same consistency throughout. So I have had to switch to a gourmet product, R. W Knudsen, but like the version I once drank, it is inconsistent in texture towards the bottom of the bottle. Yuk.

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Into the Beautiful —
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away —
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy —
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon —
The Dusk drew earlier in —
The Morning foreign shone —
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone —
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
— saith Emily Dickinson

But the way in which I experience autumn for some years now has been a change of routines far more than a change in the weather. And this year there was for me very little experience of summer — indoors away from the fierce heat of the suburbs. I regretted not going to Ireland for 14 days (soft weather), not getting to the beach the way we did last autumn, Izzy, Laura and I, at Calais. I noted changes in my garden, changes in my schedules — teaching one place then the other, the Bloomsbury group, courses in one place (White American art in 19th century Italy, contemporaries documentary movies). Mornings are now dark until near 7, evenings are dark by 8, the fierce heat retreats so that only by later morning until later afternoon is the air truly hot, more rain, softer-colored skies, red berries on the bushes in my garden.


One of my two magnolia trees bloomed very late indeed; the other remained bare, withered sort of ….

The felt changes start next week: I’ll have a schedule of teaching two times, and following/taking no less than three other classes during many of the weeks, not to omit virtual conferences, meetings with friends who belong to the same groups I do (not all organized around reading). I’ve got to get at least one of my two reviews written and on the editor’s desktop. It was this way before Jim died — not since I lived in New York City as a girl was it the cool weather, leaves turning colors and hurricanes that announced autumn. The difference: now I’m experiencing all this through zoom technology in cyberspace.

The course I teach: Phineas Redux (Palliser 4); the ones I take at the two OLLIs: Kipling, and post-colonialist writing (Naipaul, Conrad); Sondheim’s music and lyrics; Emily Dickinso and women poets she influenced; the ones at Politics & Prose: New Suns — fantastical and science fiction stories by people of color round the globe; A Literary Tour of France (I’ll mention specifically one of the four books, Final Transgression by Harriet Welty Rochefort (set in occupied France); the early novels of Toni Morrison. Conferences: JASNA (on the juvenilia, no need to exclude anyone, no absurd spending with nothing to do as sessions take less than a quarter of their usual meeting times0, EC/ASECS, NEMLA (very sophisticated MLA modern sessions). Friends on zooms: an Aspergers group; for poetry by women, Washington Area Print Group. Listservs, e.g., on Trollope & his Contemporaries (just now Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale and then Trollope’s Three Clerks); the London Trollope Society for reading Trollope’s novels, just now The Macdermots of Ballycloran (an astounding first book for Trollope; I’m to give the first summary-evalation-synopsis the first week

Fitting in nowhere but my work on Anne Finch, I’m half-way through a marvelously interesting well-written book by Claudia Thomas, Alexander Pope and His Eighteenth Century Women Readers; I honestly hope to write a blog. Mary Lou Kohfeldt’s Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance, as an offshoot of reading Trollope’s Anglo-Irish Macdermots. Lamorna Ash’s Dark, Salt, Clear, of life in a Cornish Fishing town. Just wonderful evocation of the place (I’ve not given up entirely on Poldark and historical romance/fiction). Getting towards the end: Nina Auerbach’s Haunted Heiress on DuMaurier. I cannot be reading too many good books by women.

Izzy is also still (pray she continues with her salary) working as a librarian at the Pentagon by remote — via two computers and nowadays zooms too (she has a webcam, mic) and phoning in. The pandemic is by no means going away any time soon by which I mean thousands of people are still sickening and many dying or left maimed from COVID19. Sensible truthful public doctors (Fauci) suggest not until at least 2021 (late in 2021) will these new patterns of behavior come to something of an end. I doubt we’ll change back wholly: theaters, museums and libraries as places to visit, sports events may thrive truly and have the impact meant only in person, but much office work, shopping can be done cheaply and efficiently via interconnected computers.

I now read TLS regularly. This past week an article about fascism in the US by Sarah Churchwell, partly in response to filming of Roth’s Plot Against America. This details our history with large groups of people apparently who want to make or keep the US a fascist white supremacist society. From the way Churchwell describes people as interpreting all these “dog whistles” shows I have no idea how Trump’s lies truly play with the people determined to vote for him and see him win.

See also an article about a new “official” book of UK history that lies, omits and distorts what happened imperialistically, from the standpoint of wars, social and economic injustices: by Frank Trentmann. It is mandatory text to study to become a UK citizen. Alas behind a paywall.

I have been reading Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, which I strongly recommend. She is teaching me much, tearing away the veil through which I was seeing events, and tellings me many events in literal detail, which I either did not know or had not put together of what has been going on in the Trump administration.

A vote for Trump is a vote for a fascist (corporations in charge, militarist in all its doings, far right in all values) white supremacist dictatorship (Gessen’s term of autocracy in the US context functions as a euphemism), and a vote for Biden is a vote for a representative oligarchy with democratic and pro-social ameliorations. The glue of the first (Trump dictatorship) is money galore for those who join and punishment/elimination of all who are people of color, all women who want any rights, hatred & resentment. The glue of the second (what Biden hopes to head) is an egalitarian ideal social & economic protection & self-interest, peace, order, law, justice and happiness prime goals. His use of language, the barrage of continual lies; the use of utterly absurd ridiculous statements presented as what we must engage in, the hyperbole of hatefulness combined with bullying is what newspapers have not learnt to deal with – nor other politicians. You cannot not engage but there is nothing to engage with that makes sense and is not burlesquing previously seemingly democratic ethical behaviors.

Of course the above all shaped by the reality: thousands of US people continue to die each week the miserable death of COVID19.

As of yesterday, 9/11/2020, over 193,000 people in the US have died of coronavirus since March. It is said this is an under-estimated number. As of yesterday, 9/11/2020 a new book estimates from the wars the US instigated, sustained, keeps going ever since 37 million people have been displaced (are refugees). Millions are now unemployed, on the verge of eviction and the US congress, strangled by the Republicans who do not want to give a cent of taxpayers’ money to them votes no help at all. Trump beginning his termination of social security, medicare and yes the public post office. Every week the police murder more black people egregiously as if to let all US people know this is within their right and they are determined to continue murdering black people. This is where we are at.

Trump is still forcing people to send their children to schools through his tyrant Republican governors. A story in the Washington Post tells of how the governor has forced people to send their children to school, then succeeded in pressuring local authorities to hide the statistics on how many children are getting sick. Is this what people want: a party that is for sickness and death and silencing.

Nonetheless I asserted and put on FB for Labor Day: Emma Lazarus, the whole poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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


Doran Goodwin as Emma after she has managed to quit Mr Elton in the mortifying scene in the carriage, Christmas time (1972, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

For the now long late evenings I’ve re-embarked on the Austen movie canon, with the aim of watching them all across the next months. I started with the 1972 BBC Emma, which I recalled as so good (if costumes are dated, and some decorums are long gone), because of its rare consistent use of ironic comedy; then the 1971 BBC Sense & Sensibility (also scripted by Denis Constantduros and I’m into the 1971 BBC Persuasion (Julian Michell). I did not start with the 1939/40 MGM Pride and Prejudice (as the unsubtle screwball comedy treatment Austen so often gets in cinema, the next the 1996 Clueless, and then 2002 Bride and Prejudice). I’m surprised how well these three hold up and vow to write blogs on these movies on Austen Reveries. An Autumnal resolution.


Joanna David as Elinor writing her mother from London, they need to return (1971, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

They do have the depth of emotion that are required and also the comedy — in the 1971 S&S, Patricia Rutledge is the most brilliant Mrs Jenkins I’ve ever seen and Fiona Walk the same for Mrs Elton. What unites them is a real faithfulness to the literal as well as the true thematic emphases of Austen’s books — when in the 1971 Persuasion Wentworth (Bryan Marshall (who now I think of it played Rochester in a similarly early and very good Jane Eyre) arrives and the two actors silently interact — they are very strong presence and then the film opens out — so to speak. Out in the landscapes and gardens of some southern parts of England. The script is enough to convey the original tone and feel of the book, and it even gets better when they go perhaps to Lyme itself (they seem to on the cobb), lots of filming of the waters, the sky …


Or Anne Elliot holding on, exhausting herself with the strain of keeping up the old self-control, immersed in beautiful landscape (1971 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)

Or maybe I should do it by type: watch all the Persuasions in a row, all the NAS — the problem would be there have been so many P&Ps, S&Ss, and now Emmas (with the last cinema travesty returning to screwball burlesque, with a coda of absurdly sexualized soppy romance). I could, you know.

Very much belatedly, two nights ago now (into older movies and all that) I finally watched Four Weddings and A Funeral (a famous super-popular movie, said to have made Hugh Grant’s career). It is enjoyable, entertaining, enough is told about each character to involve us — though not much. The characters consequently seemed a very privileged set of people — no jobs in sight.

I could see that it anticipates Love Actually, which may nowadays be a Christmas classic (a movie people watch Christmas time). Wikipedia showed it was replicated in Notting Hill – overdone I’d say (I watched another night) with shameless fawning over a celebrity — Julia Roberts. I am reading Anne Enright’s Actress, in part an ironic study of what is meant by celebrity: a non-existent hollow private life (if one at all), and you hold your audience by astute holding slowing down of your letting go (such is acting) at intuitive archetypal moments for the character type the audience takes you to represent. Richard Curtis the author of all of them.

The movie is really just made up of 4 weddings and a funeral. As the new one begins, or just before the interim time is conjured up (only very occasionally a flashback). I felt disappointed at the ending. I expected something more unusual — it was just a love story after all, with all the couples who had not had weddings as yet shown married. The most unusual thing – the most worthwhile moment — was the death of Simon Callow’s character, gay man and his Scottish partner’s relationship to him. The most moving moment that reading of Auden’s poem — the way it was read by the Scots actor made me wish I had known it when Jim died.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
— W H Auden

Jim liked Auden’s poetry and his criticism very much — I have a complete poems, a travel book, the translated Norse (Icelandic) sagas, books of criticism. But this morning looking the poem up on the Internet I find it’s claimed the poem began life as a burlesque, as mockery. So that evening I took down or out from the crowded shelf space where “Auden” resides and looked into this. And found the poem to be an inexplicable passionate outburst.

Callow is said to have come out at the time of the distribution of the film; he has a major role in a number of Merchant-Ivory productions, the first two seasons of Outlander. A versatile man he often also writes for the LRB, wonderful essays.

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


A quilt Laura’s best friend made for her (during pandemic, natch): to commemorate her present large patient brother cat, Drake, with one of the two new kittens, Maxx, and the cats who have passed on (Kira, Mitzi, Andromeda – i.e., Ani)

The pandemic has affected my faithful feline friends — and other people’s pets too, where they are all staying home together: nowadays if Ian has gotten into the habit of crying for me in another room. I am working away in my study/workroom (whatever you want to call my nest of comforts and lair) and I hear: Meow! In a howling like tone, or plaintive. I cannot resist getting up and walking about finding him (of course it’s him) standing there waiting for me. He turns and trots away expecting me to follow. I do, pick him, cuddle and bring him back to said lair while telling him he has nothing whatever to cry about. I have noticed if I go out for a time – am seen to be planning to, the cats begin to look anxious. They are not eager for this. They get out of said room and watch me to the door. They are in short no longer accustomed to long hours of my absence (much less Izzy’s, she has become a fixture)

Well Malcolm Brabant on PBS Reports had a delightful but ambivalent segment on PBS last night where he tells of how the pandemic is affecting British dogs. It seems they are coming (according to one vet) “emotionally disordered.” (See how a medical definition tells us more about the definer than the subject). They are openly experiencing (in large numbers it seems) “separation anxiety” when their “best friends” go out even briefly.

Worse yet they want to sleep in the bed with said friends and they are persistent. People give in. Worser to buy a dog now costs a helluva lot. Even rescue dogs. Then worser and worser: dognappers. In the 19th century kidnapping a dog and holding the wealthy person’s pet for ransom was even common. It happened (famously to those who read) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Flush. Francis Power Cobbe wrote a dog story told by the dog where he was kidnapped and ransomed. The argument then and was is of course: “don’t pay it, it only spreads the crime.” But what if it is your dog. Brabant showed us only elderly lady with her beloved dog back on her lap.

A cat is not just an autistic dog. I am more loathe to leave my two than I used to be and as to boarding them somewhere, it hurts me to remember I would do that to them — they took that large cage by a strange window as fearful liminality.

A poem by Stevie Smith, a fable with a cat at the center:

The Galloping Cat:

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A Figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
cause
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting it in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
I tried
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth
Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
Since when
I have been bald
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good.
Also I heard a swoosh,
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
Underneath
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full-time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.


Clarycat on my lap

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

And I watched another pandemic shaped Metropolitan Opera concert yesterday afternoon: Joyce DiDonato, a mezzo soprano, her reportoire far more older Baroque than I realized, and I admit I did not enjoy the songs the way I did Jonas Kaufmann and Renee Fleming (traditional tenor and soprano), until she moved into more popular songs, but then I woke up (as it were) elevated suddenly by her Shenandoah (“I love to see you), the corny, yet irresistible “When you Walk through a storm.” I like the simple black dress with wide pants, no jewels, no shoes even, the small orchestra with harpsichord and piano. She lives in Barcelona, but the concert came from an industrial center in Germany, as the only safe place just now with an appropriate hall and not a hot spot for this virus. They had had to move the venue three times to find it.

So tonight I end on her is her cabaret song (you must first listen to the end of a German art song). Jim loved to listen to French cabaret — this from Piaf, La Vie en Rose, which I had not realized, taken in somehow is about a kind of experience of absolute love I knew, here her version finding life so beautiful while you are in the arms of your beloved. As I listened I thought of all the years with him, how I would lift my arms to him when he came to bed

This was a second concert that counseled hope and courage (like Renee Fleming’s).

People talk of going to live in another country, in Europe, in Central America (which one would you trust to?), flee somehow, but rare is the person who becomes refugee except when there is no alternative but death and destruction; they will stay and endure and eek out an existence. Or would Jim try to flee, try to de-accession and move the books once more, this time back back to the UK, see if he could get for me (and daughters) a right of residence? I don’t know. He was deterred after retirement when he realized we would have to pay 40% more taxes from our income. But were he here I would not be as frightened. I do believe we need a landslide win for Biden to get rid of Trumpism. I donate money; I tried to join in on a phone bank campaign but no one would show me to do this digitally, which is what is required — to show faces?  I don’t know.  But how can it be that millions will vote for tyranny, continued lies, destitution all around. I wonder if Masha Gessen will tell me. Gentle reader, can you?

Ellen

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Last Sunday at Trader’s Joe, two clerks gifted me with two bouquets of flowers


Clarycat in the morning sunshine that day

I have discovered why we all love cats: they are autistic dogs.

Dear friends and readers,

I’m not sure why but I know I experienced the last two weeks as very rough. What stands out in my memory is how late Sunday suddenly the TVs would not work, and when I called Comcast there was no real explanation and an hour after getting up on Monday (Aug 3rd) the internet was cut off. Even the phone worked feeble as the modem was gone. People say “all’s well that ends well, and after getting on the phone 8:02 am (I was told I could get someone on the phone by 8:00 am) and paying immediately the usual monthly mammoth amount (though I had sent it off in a check Friday) I got the service of four very courteous young tech men, one of them on the phone with me the entire time (he called it conferencing), and one very courteous accountant female. By 8:50 am or so all was back, working right, Izzy had started her usual job, and I had been told that all my checks had arrived:  I not only didn’t owe money but I should not (said courteous female) start automatic payment until the Friday check arrived. She advised early September.

I’m not naive. I was promised a tech visiting on Tuesday and he never came — because they knew there was no need. I didn’t expect anyone to come for real. It would have helped if someone had apologized, but I expect that’s too much candor for any company to offer nowadays. . The explanation in full is on my political blog: Trump has (as all in the US by this time know) successfully sabotaged and undermined the post office (our only hope is not permanently). What probably happened was the previous check was a tad late (it takes only a day for the machine to click that in). So I am going to change the habits of a lifetime and starting next week gradually pay all my bills online, automatically giving out my routing number to each company.

While it took all day for me to calm down some, and another day before I could sleep without a sleeping pill, I must admit that this is probably in time and experience little suffering in comparison to millions of Americans during this pandemic. I cannot pinpoint another traumatic incident over these past weeks. Indeed good things happened. I was much praised for my teaching and two proposals I put in were accepted.

For Winter 2021, OLLI at Mason, as long as it is online — 4 weeks


The 2017 Howards End

Two Novels of Longing in an Age of Wild Imperialism

The class will read as a diptych of contrast & comparison, EM Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We were Orphans (2000). The first examines class, race, colonialism, family, sex & property relationships from an “empire’s center” (London, the home counties), the second, these same elements from its periphery (Shanghai). The core center of both is the human needs of their characters: friendship, love, stability, beauty, meaning. We can ask how a novel of manners, (love & marriage & class stories), then a detective, picaro violent adventure (thrills abroad&c) bring to us comparable ideas about how to live, survive in the “post-colonial worlds” we live in today. There are two marvelous movies for Howard’s End (Merchant-Ivory 1990s and Lonergan 2017) and (it’s not often realized) The White Countess (Merchant-Ivory 2002) is a free brilliant adaptation (script by Ishiguro) of When We Were Orphans.  (An alternative selection if I should do this in summer:  Ruth Prawer  Jhabvala’s A Backward Place (1965), set in Delhi it delineates lives of ex-patriates and Indian friends (where periphery is center and narrator female  & British originally).


Early book cover

For Spring 2021, both OLLI at Mason and OLLI at AU, online probably 8/10 weeks

20th Century Women’s Political Novels

In this course we will travel across 20th century wars, politics, and social life through the lens of four masterpieces of fiction & memoir: Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929), a story of an Anglo-Irish family during the 1920s civil wars; Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune (1960), a story of the fascist take-over of Rumania in 1939; Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time (1975), Hellman’s experience of the McCarthy era, 1950s USA, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), which dramatizes African-American experiences of life in early to mid-century America. We will learn about the authors, times & places; ask what is particularly the woman’s perspective; and how what we learn relates to earlier and our own era. There are excellent film adaptations of Bowen’s novel (with Fiona Shaw, and Michael Gambon in major roles) and the whole of Manning’s Balkan trilogy (The Great Fortune is Novel 1). We may also discuss the WW2 film, The Watch on the Rhine, whose origin is Hellman’s play (movie scripted by Dashiell Hammet)


Laurie Simmons, Woman in Bathroom practicing home maintenance (photographic artist, probably later 1970s).

I successfully colored my hair by myself for the first time in nearly half a century (I was 24 last time): using a kit I bought online with Laura’s advice, I made it a very pretty soft blonde-brown. It’s real improvement. I don’t mind the hair longer as mine won’t grow past my shoulders (the ends keep breaking off).


Later 18th century illustration of the picturesque from Batey’s book

You may remember how I failed to get to a conference on Jane Austen and the Arts a few years ago now (wow, say three years) after I had worked hard on a paper I was calling “Ekphrasis in Austen’s Novels” (a bad sign that title). I had not realized quite how far the town it was held in was on the edge of Canada. I had to learn I would have to take two planes, two cabs, or drive 11 hours, or accept some hellish train ride & 2 cabs for nearly 2 days. It was a disaster to have to admit to the conference organizer I couldn’t do it. Well now I have been given the book that emerged from that conference to review, Art and Artefacts in Jane Austen, ed. Anna Battigelli. I am certainly all prepared to evaluate. I found my two excellent blogs on these matters (far better than the paper I was laboring on) as a first step: one on Mavis Batey’s JA and Landscape (from which one of the pictures is taken) and Ekphrastic patterns in Austen. So I will be “with them” after all if only in print and communing through writing and reading (not bad).

But I almost feel like Francis Poldark who, having failed to kill himself by shooting himself in the head, is asked by Dwight Enys (Richard Morant), how he could have thought of such a thing when he has so much to feel good about, says, with sardonic irony (Clive Francis was pitch perfect), “oh don’t break my heart with joy …. ” — for the subliminal worry, upset, sense of the world on edge for very good reasons, has been very bad — and justifiably.

I’d have to be obtuse, heartless, and believe I cannot get directly hit again, not to be aware of how rough these three weeks have been and felt it too: over 155,000 deaths in the US since February, millions about to run out of unemployment checks, to get eviction notices, and Trump’s solution is to try to cut the payroll taxes on working people’s checks so 10 years (or less) from now someone can say social security is out of money, and the only security left from FDR’s era will vanish. I feel sick if I think on these things too much.

I ask myself, are there are other countries without a decent functioning post-office. Perhaps. Which ones? some miserable dictatorship? this is what Trump & the Republicans have brought the whole of the US to. What next? social security of course.


From 1975 BBC Jeremy Poldark: scene at Truro

I don’t sleep well either and am very grateful for Izzy’s continued presence and sane sensible scheduling of herself; I told onto my sanity by keeping to my routines — I know have for projects I work on – now two reviews (the other for the new standard edition of Anne Finch, and I do some wonderfully interesting reading as far as I am concerned, no matter that ony a very few in the world would understand my deep interest in translation in the 18th century, how women read Pope, what plays they put on when they were rich aristocrats in their great halls …), reading Trollope’s La Vendee and about the counter-revolution in France with others on the Trollope&Peers list, I carry on with lifelong singlewomen and the historical romance.

The grimmest essay I’ve read in a long time doesn’t bear too much thinking on: the writer, Susan Moser Stuard calls it “Single by Law and Custom: what it’s about the hundreds of years where enslaved singlewomen were everywhere and badly exploited in all sorts of ways, and how they hardly ever speak in the records and are mostly erased. You see they were not permitted to marry; any children they were impregnated with were automatically enslaved. The content of what people who were free and by law said about owning these women, and what they forced these women to do all the waking hours of their lives is so repugnant. I wondered when did this form of enslavement end — Stuard keeps saying how convenient enslaved women are, how their children by law were in their condition (automatically enslaved – this is come across in Morrison’s Beloved).

We might say it has not ended because of trafficking with women as victims as real and in some parts of the globe even common – but they are not chattel slaves, it’s illegal and they are not regarded as subhuman by law.

Today I returned (so to speak) to Cornwall, Winston Graham and Daphne DuMaurier: Nina Auerbach brings Graham’s misogynistic modern suspense books into a perspective that makes them understandable through reading of DuMaurier’s embodiment of men murdering women. Evenings very slowly now through A French Village, with the companion books, I am seeing how much I missed or failed to understand (one poignant moment, a disabled man who cleans the schools is wrongly “thrown” to the Nazis as a thief), the witty stimulating Andrew Marr on sleuths, spies, sorceries. I visited a friend of mine yesterday, she lives alone, divorced, 74 (to my 73) and we watched the whole of Amanda Vickery’s At Home: in Georgian England. I wrote about her, her books on 18th century women, and this one documentary here:


The rich three hours are based on extensive reading in contemporary letters and biographies in library and private archives

Since writing this I’ve come to think I am being unfair — or not praising her work and documentary as strongly as I should. She is signalling more than strong feminism: she is deeply humane but is making a mainstream “sensible” appeal to. One important theme in the last third of the hours is how important our space is to us, control of it, how we make our homes reflections of ourselves, self-respect and the meaning we want to give life embodied all around us. How women were often very deprived of this if they were spinsters or left alone without an income as a widow — or spent their lives as a servant. Both genders if they become very poor — or old and ailing and without funds. So the problem we face today when we grow old, alone and not well off, is the same the 18th century person did — she is talking to us about us as much as the era. She does not omit a visit to Chawton cottage and look at Jane Austen’s tiny frail writing desk.

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One last flowering bush for August

So what can I share with you to go off and enjoy next thing? I recommend (if there’s still time) watching the second Met Saturday afternoon concert: Renee Fleming was just spectacularly beautiful in voice, exquisitely perfect in emotional performance; she provided her own humane sensible talk inbetween.  I even loved her clothes — a gilded kind of pelisse coat over her an elegant  varied blue-color dress. She has a voice with a distinct appealing timbre — as, had Pavarotti, but as a woman no one emphasizes or even brings it up.

Song after song well chosen; some favorites from operas, but others not that well-known songs that fit her voice – and the occasion. She kept in mind this terrible pandemic and all that has been happening outside her sphere. Perhaps fault maybe found with two brief films about her life, but they were not over the top-hagiographic and it was interesting seeing what she looked like in her twenties and began her career. She had dark hair.

I am torn whether to share her singing Il mio babbino (Gianni Schicchi) or Somewhere over the rainbow by Harold Arlen, who, if you didn’t know, wrote hundreds of songs you are familiar with, and was blacklisted and hounded in the 1950s for his socialist beliefs. I cried several times and the re-arranged Arlen song was one of the moments, but it’s not a problem as I can’t find a YouTube for either from this particular performance. This is four years ago in Berlin:

And for International Cat day (today! — or maybe it was yesterday): “The Cat Came Back” from a old Muppet show: very funny, adorable cat, but determination of “owner” to get rid of the cat (a bomb) makes last fantasy much less comfortable:

The Cat (Le chat) by Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903) as translated by Norman Shapiro. It seems to be very difficult to post a pdf to wordpress or face-book either in the new style postings or the old. So, thanks to Michelle Cusack, I hope I am sharing this wonderful poem this way; click on the URL below and when you see “next” click again, and you will come to The Cat. https://tinyurl.com/y3k5sj6v

Here are the first few stanzas Englished so you know you are in the right place:

I know why Baudelaire fancied the cat,
Struck by the sphinx-like magic of his being;
Thanks to the wheedling charm, the luster, that
Darts in long jets from his lynx-like eyes, all seeing.
I know why Baudelaire fancied the cat.

Women’s, dove’s, serpent’s, monkey’s lissome stance
Back arched, he sprawls, and shuns heavy caress,
And when the fur cloaks his fleshly elegance,
Plastic his beauty’s velvet loveliness:
Women’s, dove’s serpent’s, monkey’s lissome stance …

In the half-light’s muted oblivion —
Rumbling ennui like spell-cast pall — he brings
Gently, to the alone and lonely one,
The soothing balm of mystic utterings,
In the half-light’s muted oblivion.

By turns doleful and gay, sleepy and spry,
This soul of my secluded digs will loll–
Table to highboy, chair to hearth, low, high–
Sparing the objects of his folderol,
By turns doleful and gay, sleepy and spry …

On the desk, ink-stained, as he whisks, a-strut,
Light as a breath, his tail flails left and right,
Over the papers strewn, books open, shut
Grazing my beacon-thoughts, casting their light
On the desk, ink-stained, as he whisks, a strut …

[Read the two more pages below; it’s as felicitous in the original French which is in the book too, only you must click away to come to the the back of the book. I don’t know if there is a name for this specific kind of stanza: first line repeats in fifth of each stanza and lines rhyme ababa. Also in the French.


Judith Moore Cheney’s Cat in the Round

And for this with a heart for a poor loving dog, Paul Auster’s Mr Bones, from his inimitable story of a dog’s life (scroll down), Timbuktu

I finished this book wishing I could have been there (which is what you are supposed to feel with a novel) to love him with the final kind good heroine, Polly, trapped herself and yet insofar as her coerced thwarted life permitted caring for the the compassionate dog in need himself.

Tonight Mr Bones stands for a world of human beings who deserve so much better from and for everyone.

Ellen

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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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