Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘life-writing’ Category


A woman reading — one of the Corot paintings I saw with a friend at the National Gallery exhibit yesterday

Friends,

Sometimes I wake up and in my mind I know I am deeply distraught. This morning as I came out of sleep I realized I had been having a dream the first two weeks I came home from my trip where I was on another trip and behaving in an isolated manner. Now that the dreams have ceased I cannot tell the details. Had I a real psychiatrist as twice I have been lucky enough to have, I could have talked to him or her and perhaps brought these details to surface. Even now they are just outside my mind and disturbing me, and I Know this is so because until this morning I half-believed that the experiences I dreamed happened. I am relieved to realize that the skein was not real but also distressed because I believed in them.

Then as the darkness fades and the room become filled with a grey morning light (there is just now an intense hurricane near by northern Virginia where I live) I see my two cats. They are waiting for me to get up. I know if I obeyed some deep inner impulse and did not behave in the usual morning calm way of getting up, petting them, going with them into the kitchen, getting out their food, and then going round the house to open the shades, decide whether to open the windows (would you believe the air is still and hot this morning just outside the window?), put on the computer and the rest of it, they would be very distressed. I used sometimes to distress my dog 40 years ago because I could not keep to a calm routine. I was not even able to want to and when I realized what was happening to the dog it was too late to turn things round; age 13 Llyr became mortally ill with cancer.


Close up of Ian, 2016

I have today tickets for Izzy and I to go to the Folger theater where the company is playing Macbeth by William D’Avenant, the 17th century poet, playwright, impresaro, entrepreneur who opened one of the two theaters in London after the Stuart regime was put back on the throne and took over the establishment again. He could write exquisitely beautiful erotic pastoral poetry. He claimed he was Shakespeare’s son (his parents’ tavern was on a road between London and Stratford and it was said Shakespeare sometimes stayed there). He is one of those who adapted Shakespeare to the tastes of audiences in the 17th and 18th century before Shakespeare’s reputation improved to the point no one would do this openly: only abridge and in the case of a movie, adapt to be a movie. I must ready myself so as to be available, dressed, and on our way by 1 o’clock. So this helps too.

I have this computer and face-book, people to interact with, the two listservs, have to eat, dress, do tasks of tidying up. All these help.

But it is the cats who keep me in my routine equilibrium aka staying sane. My obligation to these two creatures who are deeply attached to me, and would become themselves not emotionally well —  if I let out what I am.

Among the many retrograde movements against personal liberty and liberal thought and action is what has happened  in the “health care establishment” to coerce people who are not well or do not conform to feel or think the way a majority of people. Ultimately the cause is money: the vast majority of people don’t pay to pay anything towards helping such people and on top of that others saw an opportunity for huge charges. The result, indifferent demeanor, pushing drugs,  and now and again new cruel operations that are not needed but make oodles of money.  This push back culminated in the 1990s when insurance companies led the charge against psychiatrists. On that trip all around the Lake District and the Borders I was lucky enough to meet an 80+ year old man who was a practicing psychiatrist. He told me his daughter, Amy Goldstein (I believe her name is) is a journalist who wrote a book for which she got some kind prize, Janesville, about the destruction of this town or city by the economic choices and racism inflicted on the unaware and powerless by the ruthless powerful and their opportunistic henchmen and women over the last 50 years.

Bob said he is the only physician or psychologist in his office still practicing psychiatry or effective psychological work. All the others do this CBT, which (this is my view) comes down to pressuring people by talk to force themselves to think the way to be well is think good thoughts, push bad thoughts out of your head by conforming, and of course taking drugs. How easy it is then. And oh yes join clubs.

He talked of the absurdity of the new definition of autism. You take 2 characteristics from 6 sheets, they can be entirely different ones but if they match a slew of such characteristics on a huge sheet, the person is declared autistic. It makes no sense. Does it not matter what is the specific characteristic ? Does it not matter you have thought up so many disparate characteristics and not tried to align them in any reasoning convincing way. He said this kind of non-thinking lies behind the prescription of many strong drugs.  These drugs can and do help some people, but it is all scatter-shot. He will soon have to retire completely and then there will be no sensible person trying to help the real paying individuals who come to that office.


Photo of ClaryCat taken by Laura during one of the times I’ve been away

Meanwhile I have my cats and others their pets too. I keep my promise to them when I bought them that I would come up to what was required, the responsibility I had taken on. Just now Clarycat is sitting tight on my lap looking up to me.

They are such good animals: I’ve now determined it is best to keep them out of the space between my computer and window and if only I will keep to saying, no, they cooperate. They voice to me nowadays on and off, stay near, keep an eye out for me, play when I am happier and all feels content. Have I said Ian (Scruffy) is not longer well? age 10, his heart is not operating right any more. His facial colors are distorted, grey here, too pink there.

So love, reciprocating obligation and responsible keeping of promises, can rescue us, just enough so we can function steadily too.


Tater-du Lighthouse – this morning as my revolving wall paper my screen was cover with a dramatically angled photo of Tater-du Lighthouse in Cornwall

Ellen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


Charles-Francois Daubigny, Pond at Gylieu (1853)

… the most unsuccessful [life] is not that of a [wo]man, who is taken unprepared, but of [her] who is prepared and never taken — E.M. Forster, Howards End

Friends and readers,

What passes for autumn, or Indian summer, has arrived where I live. Dark mornings, hurricane season, heat less intense. A generous friend on face-book has been posting autumn poems and pictures which I’m sharing with you who read this blog tonight.

Autumn

THE thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.
The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bent dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.
Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

— John Clare

I’ve stayed put this last two weeks steadily. There is something to be said for staying put. I’ve ever liked the phrase: she stayed put. It’s enabled me to attempt to work at my projects for real, not just dream about them, or do a tiny bit a day. I am someone who does not work for money in this world of ours. And someone commended me for what is a justification of my behavior: I wrote to her it is better to work for yourself at home at what you love or what develops you or could be valued by others without making any monetary profit than work for bad people training to be a bad person at a bad place or misuse one’s gifts to send out distorting untruths to manipulate people into blindness — which more or less describes many enterprises in capitalism.

So I had this sudden change of heart or at least choice, and I’ve reserved a Road Scholar Trip in Cornwall for next May— not staying put there! Eight or 9 days, which Road Scholar has booked my flight for and I had the courage to ask for a flexible flight where while I come with them all the way to Cornwall, I leave on my own for 10 extra days to try to go to research libraries in Cornwall, and perhaps London or even Reading. In these places are the manuscripts and archives of information about Winston Graham. Prompted by a friend going to the ASECS (American 18th century Society) meeting in Denver, Colorado, this coming spring, I sent two proposals for papers in. One on Graham, which will not surprised any one who has read the first seven of his Poldark novels:


Eleanor Tomlinson, the latest Demelza (recalls one of the illustrations of the Oxford Bodley Head edition of the first four Poldark novels

The Poldark Novels: a quietly passionate blend of precise accuracy with imaginative romancing

While since the 1970s, Winston Graham’s 12 Poldark novels set in Cornwall in the later 18th century have been written about by literary and film scholars as well as historians because of the commercial success of two different series of film adaptations (1974-1978; 2015-2019), very little has been written about these novels as historical fictions in their own right. They emerge from a larger oeuvre of altogether nearly 50 volumes. Most of the non-Poldark books would be categorized variously as contemporary suspense, thriller, mystery or spy novels, with one winning the coveted Golden Dagger award, and others either filmed in the 1950s, ‘60s and 1970s (e.g, The Walking Stick, MGM, 1971), or the subject of academic style essays. One, Marnie (1961) became the source material for a famous Hitchcock movie, a respected play by the Irish writer Sean O’Connor, and in the past year or so an opera by Nico Muhly, which premiered at the London Colosseum (English National Opera production) and is at the present time being staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Some are also set in Cornwall and have been the subject of essays on Cornish literature. But a number are also set in other historical periods (early modern and late 19th century Cornwall, Victorian Manchester) and Graham published a non-fiction history of the Spanish Armadas in Cornwall. His historical fiction is usually identified as verisimilar romance, and he has been given respect for the precision of his archival research and his historical and geographical knowledge (especially of Cornwall). It is not well-known that Graham in a couple of key passages on his fiction wrote a strong defense of historical fiction and all its different kinds of characters as rooted in the creative imagination, life story, and particular personality (taken as a whole) of the individual writer. He also maintained that the past “has no existence other than that which our minds can give it” (Winston Graham, Memoirs of a Private Man, Chapter 8). I will present an examination of three of the Poldark novels, Demelza written in 1946; The Angry Tide, 1977, and The Twisted Sword, 1990, to show Graham deliberately weaving factual or documentable research with a distanced reflective representation of the era his book is written in. The result is creation of living spaces that we feel to be vitally alive and presences whose thoughts and feelings we recognize as analogous to our own. These enable Graham to represent his perception of the complicated nature of individual existences in societies inside a past and imagined place made credibly relevant to our own.

I know it might be rejected, so sent along a second proposal for a paper on a panel about Feminist Approaches to the Fieldings: this represents a smidgin of what I learned about Henry Fielding when I taught Tom Jones to two classes at the OLLIs at AU and Mason a couple of years ago now.


Camille Corduri as Jenny Jones accepting the responsibility for the baby Tom Jones’s existence (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Anne Boleyn, Jenny Jones, and Lady Townley: the woman’s point of view in Henry Fielding

I propose to give a paper discussing Anne Boleyn’s self-explanatory soliloquy at the close of A Journey from this World to the Next, Jenny Jones’s altruistic and self-destructive constancy to Mrs Bridget Allworthy across Tom Jones, and in the twelfth book of said novel, the character of Lady Townley in Cibber and Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Husband as she fits into a skein of allusion about male and class violence and marital sexual infidelity in Punch & Judy and the Biblical story of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:30-40). I will argue that the Boleyn soliloquy is probably by Henry Fielding and fits into Fielding’s thinking about women’s sexuality, and other female characters’ soliloquys in his texts; that Jenny’s adherence to a shared set of promises parallels the self-enabling and survival behavior of other women, which is seen as necessary and admirable in a commercial world where they have little legal power. I will explicate the incident in Tom Jones where Cibber and Vanbrugh’s play replaces the folk puppet-show to argue that these passages have been entirely misunderstood because the way they are discussed omits all the immediate (what’s happening in the novel) and allusive contexts from the theater and this Iphigenia story. I will include a brief background from Fielding’s experience and work outside art. I will be using the work of critics such as Earla A Willeputte, Laura Rosenthal, Robert Hume, Jill Campbell, and Lance Bertelsen. I taught Tom Jones to two groups of retired adults in a semi-college in the last couple of years and will bring in their intelligent responses to a reading of this complicated book in the 21st century. My goal is to suggest that Fielding dramatizes out of concern for them and a larger possibly more ethically behaved society the raw deal inflicted on women by law, indifference to a woman’s perspective, and custom

I believe I have told you how my proposal to talk of Intertextuality in Austen’s Persuasion (her use of Matthew Prior’s poignant satire, and Charlotte Smith’s deeply melancholy poetry in Austen’s Persuasion) was accepted for the EC/ASECS at Staunton, Virginia, where they’ll be two Shakespeare plays done by the Shenandoah Company. They are marvelous (“we do it in the light”). I’ll drive there: I’ve done it before. Later October.


Amanda Root, Ciarhan Hinds as Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth (1995 BBC Persuasion)

I’ve made my two syllabuses for the coming term, Wolf Fall: A Fresh Angle on the Tudor Matter, and The Enlightenment: At Risk? and am as ready as I’ll ever be to start next and the week after next week teaching and taking a few courses (which I named in my last diary entry blog — scroll all the way down if you’re curious.)

As if all that wasn’t enough I put in a proposal to each next spring at the two OLLIs and at long last I’m going to teach the same subject in the two places (perhaps for the next fall/spring 6 terms).

Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?

In this course we will begin a journey through Trollope’s famous roman fleuve: the 6 Palliser novels over 6 spring/fall terms. The series mirrors and delves many many levels of society and central issues of life in 19th century Europe. It contains a cast of brilliantly conceived recurring characters in a realistic thoroughly imagined landscape. CYFH? initiates central linked themes of coerced marriage, class & parliamentary politics & contains extraordinary psychological portraiture. As we move through the books, we’ll watch segments of the 1970s film adaptation dramatizing this material in original modern ways.


Susan Hampshire as Lady Glencora McClosky coerced into marriage (1975 BBC Pallisers 1:1)

Summer has ended for my daughter, Laura, with a paid for trip to Highclere Castle, with a group of on-line journalists (as a paid entertainment blogger) in order to write on the progress of the coming Downton Abbey movie. All expenses by Viking Cruises — for publicity. She enjoyed it immensely: to be “in” London (fashionable places), to live in a flat in Oxford (with working fireplace), to go to the Cotswolds, out to eat in old taverns, she immersed herself: she remembered how 10 years ago she was writing recaps no one read on this new show on PBS, Downton Abbey at her individual I should have been a blogger. And now, there she was, on a carousel on the grounds of faery.


Highclere castle from the angle of the carousel on the grounds (Sept 2018)

Summer ended for me with four (that’s four) spectacularly good women’s films: Puzzle, The Bookstop, The Dressmaker and The Wife (I’ll write on the latter two next week) Fall theater, movies, concerts start this week: Saturday Izzy and I go to D’Avenant’s rewrite of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Folger; I’ve now bought for the Smithsonian a few evening lectures and music (George Gershwin among them), and last Friday we had our first of six WAPG (Washington Area Print Group) lectures: it was Kim Roberts and on her Literary Guide to Washington D.C..

She told us about the lives of nine of her subjects from before the 1930s: writers and artists who resided in DC for however short or fleeting a period. Her book focuses on where they lived, house, lodging, friends’ place. She talked of Francis Scott Key, Frederick Douglas, Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar and his wife Alice Dunbar Nelson, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis (who should be read more), Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Thurston. She appeared to be a deeply “in” person in the arts worlds of DC, and when asked to talk of others had no trouble expatiating away: for example, Henry Adams. I asked about Frances Hodgson Burnett, told her about Trollope’s time in DC and Elizabeth Bishop’s poem. Her talk showed that there have been class and race obstacles in the way of building indigenous literary communities in DC; until the early 20th century there was a class of highly elite, rich, powerful people who regarded the place as unfortunately they had to stay in “while gov’t was on.” It’s in rivalry to NYC. We need more plaques to commemorate where these people lived and worked. But things are improving and it’s an alive active integrated place now …

I have much reading to do, and watching of movies. And writing. So best to end with another poem

No Make-Up

Maybe one reason I do not wear makeup is to scare people.

If they’re close enough, they can see something is different with me,
something unnerving, as if I have no features,

I am embryonic, pre-eyebrows, pre-eyelids, pre-mouth,
I am like a water-bear talking to them,

or an amniotic traveller,

a vitreous floater on their own eyeball,

human ectoplasm risen on its hind legs to discourse with them.
And such a white white girl, such a sickly toadstool,

so pale, a visage of fog, a phiz of

mist above a graveyard, no magenta roses,
no floral tribute, no goddess, no grownup
woman, no acknowledgment

of the drama of secondary sexual characteristics, just the
gray matter of spirit talking,

the thin features of a gray girl in a gray graveyard­
granite, ash, chalk, dust.

I tried the paint, but I could feel it on my skin, I could
hardly move under the mask of my

desire to be seen as attractive in the female
way of 1957,

and I could not speak. And when the makeup came off I felt
actual as a small mammal in the woods

with a speaking countenance, or a basic

primate, having all the expressions

that evolved in us, to communicate.

If my teen-age acne had left scars,

if my skin were rough, instead of soft,

I probably couldn’t afford to hate makeup,
or to fear so much the beauty salon or the
very idea of beauty ship.

And my mother was beautiful-did I say this?

In my small eyes, and my smooth withered skin,
you can see my heart, you can read my naked lips.

-Sharon Olds


The Schlegels: Margaret, Helen, Tibby

I wear no or very little make-up. Lipstick maybe, I have a pencil to fill in the eyebrows I don’t have. I sit and watch the new 4 part film adaptation of Howards End (script Kenneth Lonergan, dir Hattie McDonald, with Hayley Attwell, Matthew Macfayden, Philippa Coulthard, Alex Lawther, Joseph Quinn. Rosalind Eleazar) and I cry. The ambiance, the characters’ depth of feeling, I’m so with them. Maybe it’s the music. The landscapes so alluring. At moments it’s wonderfully comic. Tears well up. Tomorrow I’m due to go to the National Gallery with a friend to see a Corot exhibit: wish us luck, that the silvery green-blue pictures are autumnal.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Me at Hill Top House (Lake District, August 2018)

Dear friends and readers,

You owe this blog to my just having watched an extraordinary gem of a TV film made out of a masterpiece production of Macbeth done at the Royal Shakespeare Theater starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellan; with only the most minimal props and simple costumes, they played intensely from the depths of their psychic beings. To try to describe Dench’s performance of Lady Macbeth sleep walking would defeat me: it was a silent howling grief of her whole being.

The use of close-ups, and the intense sexual interaction of Dench and McKellan were all riveting. The opening (the musical accompaniment is not the same as in the film but endure it for what you see)

I could talk of the performances, played deeply straightly, no rejection of what drives each — three witches by Marie Kean (mother), Susan Drury as mad as Macbeth by the end, Judith Harte, against the calmer presences of Bob Peck as Macduff (who left his wife and children behind), Richard Rees as the nervous Malcolm, Ian MacDiarmid the politician Ross and the porter. But then the reader will pay attention to the names, try to remember other performances. No it’s the lines from Shakespeare that they speak so of anguished despair, transcendent horror, crazed hallucinations, and especially Macbeth’s in his isolation, and loneliness, and how the ambition which drove him to kill the king was idiotic. It is as ever easiest to quote the high peak

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

But the shorter lines matter just as much, the ones that in context depend on the action of the play but resonate in the heart: no troops of friends, not one of my children left, no all slaughtered that Macbeth’s hirelings could find.

So often people don’t want to talk about what so moved them — in this case McKellan in three features accompanies the film of the play. He speaks of the original production at Stratford (and like so many now lightly grazes over how the RSC now is not what it was then), of how to play Shakespeare, the choices that Trevor Nunn made (they did it in an inscribed circle on the “other space” which holds only 100 people); the history of the Scottish play, and particulars — like of course you should not bring on someone playing the ghost of Banquo: the point is no one but Macbeth sees him. He never speaks the way Hamlet’s father’s ghost does. The film’s genre seems to be film noir in its continual blackness all around the people interacting so clingingly, in tight groups on stage, though McKellan categories it as horror.

He is such a good friend to have with you — this summer I believe it is that Izzy and I saw his great documentary film about his career at the Folger. he says TV is talking heads, that’s what you should take advantage of. In the theater he has to talk to the others at large or in a small theater of 100 perhaps individually catch your presence one at a time; in TV he talks out to me, says he.

Categories: Mark Kermode has 5 not so intelligent takes on film categories, and Andrew Marr three brilliant on Spy, Thriller and Sorcerer movies — they are on movie genres, so little talked of, the packaging of these commodities. it was almost good enough to make up for the cliched in thought and name-dropping analyses of his first two, which I’ll remind any readers of this thread were on Rom-Com (romantic comedy, which includes the tradtional “wacky” comedy genre and famiial comedy, part of traditional family dramas) and “the heist movie” (which included male violence, crime, film noir, mystery, horror — male genres which females appear in only as sex objects for when a group of women replaces the central group of males).

In the third “new” genre he turns to coming-of-age movies and suddenly he’s better, more engaged, more personal and comes up with analyses that connect the motifs of this genre to social realities in the UK and US (however indiscriminately). He lumps female coming-of-age with male so there is nothing wrong with LadyBird and he does not recognize any difference in a movie where the center is a girl and woman’s friendship and all the mentors are either mothers or women friends or a male coming of age where the question is the place of the individual _in society_, his end success in society, and the mentors are a father or male figure of some sort (avuncular). All is lumped together, and he again reaches back to old classics and then speeds up to reach modern indies and films about minorities — which in this batch are singled as about minorities and so the analyses is again better (Moonlight — black young men are utterly disadvantaged).

Still if you yourself know the difference you can see these things in what you are watching: better, his theme is finding one’s identity. He says such films are about finding one’s identity and the parents regarded as good and authorities on the surface are often those you must get away from, those whose norms will destroy you. He Kermode identifies here and the movies he choses and comments are worth seeing in this light. Movies you might not have regarded as coming of age (for example Sally Hawkins and her fish lover) he does.

I watch these sorts of things at night alone too, gentle reader.

In the silence. Ian McKellan my companion tonight bringing to me the Macbeth he did so long ago with these marvelous actors. Alone but for the imagined community the technology supplies. Yes I have much real there spiritual and emotional companionship from my many Net friends during the day with (as Penelope Fitzgerald calls them) imagined voices (in a novel on her time at the BBC radio) in the silence. I should put on the radio more, but often I don’t care for the music, even classical is too bouncy, loud, incessantly cheerful, too there. I like the music Izzy pulls up from her ipad when we are making supper: play lists of categories like calm; new age; folk music; specific kinds of classical, but then it’s enough.


Emily Mortimer as Florence Green (The Bookshop, Isabel Croixet from Penelope Fitzgerald)

That is the fate of the widow — or at least is mine and others who write about their lives as widows from time to time in newspapers and magazines — the French title of the film is Le Librarie de Mademoiselle Green. The emphasis on how she is single, not married without saying the dreaded word widow “la veuve.” I saw the excellent film adaptation by Isabel Croixet of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop in last week’s film club, and Emily Mortimer as Florence Green uttered a line from the book about how the word “widow” is so ominous (vedova parlando, an Italian phrase, carries strong disdainful connotations towards such talk). Florence is a widow of 5 years finally determining to try to work in the world, do something useful; the world does not want her she discovers. Or like Sister Ludmilla in Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, only if she costs them nothing, asks nothing, contributes without expectation of anything in return.

There’s your key. Alas, for Florence she did need money in return. When Mrs Gamart has the gov’t requisition the old house in which Florence made her bookshop, no one will give Florence any of the money back she sunk into the house, and now she is broke. Money. No matter how commercial motives have driven Croixet to soften the source book, she gets that dark hollow at the center of the book. And one is really alone when one’s life’s partner goes. It does seem as if no other relationship can come near this and not all do. All others not intertwined in the heart’s core where our breathing comes from, our oxygen. So how easy it is then, to drop people.

The year is turning into fall as the calendar directs many people’s activities to change. Not the weather, as at least in the Washington DC area, the temperature remains very hot, humid, uncomfortable. There is a softening as the sun does not emerge to glare down until after 6:30 am and fades away around 8 pm. As ever the dark mornings do not make getting up easier, but darkness does mean less heat, and when Jim was alive, we’d walk in Old Town as darkness was coming, and the twilight time in colors can be the prettiest time of each 24 hour cycle.


Alas I did not assign these — next time if there is one

And I’m finding people are behaving slightly differently to me — I’ve had a bunch of letters all at once as if people are remembering others who are part of the autumn pattern or saying goodbye to summer. I’ve been keeping my word to myself of not pushing myself out of the house just to be among people, staying in and finding more real satisfaction in at last getting to a given book or project of reading and writing more steadily and for real, thoroughly. I made some progress on my Winston Graham project this summer once all courses were over even if I went away for two weeks. Truly read carefully some eight or nine of his early suspense books, compared the original and revised first two Poldark books (Ross Poldark and Demelza were originally longer, RP considerably longer). I have found it in me to blog on some of this at Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two: “Graham’s Suspense and just pre-WWII novels.”

For the course I’m teaching at the OLLI at AU, The Enlightenment at Risk, I sit and reread or read for the first time astonishing texts by Diderot — La Religieuse, Rameau’s Nephew — Madame Roland, Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques, much more central to what I want to convey about the Enlightenment than Candide, which merely shows us the results of human nature let loose in intolerance. I am too lazy, or it is very hard to do justice to these in blogs, but I will produce a few for Austen Reveries as I go through the course and find myself having to put into words for lectures why these are so supremely important, and why another great tragedy is unfolding all around us as those who can understand find themselves helpless once again to implement their insights into what human life is, what happiness, what unacceptable (and should be forbidden) cruelty into law, make them central to custom.


Mark Rylance as Cromwell trying to create a barrier between himself and power (the King)


Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn adjusting the eye cover (2015 Wolf Hall, Straughn, Koshinsky, script, direction)

These imagined voices are my company too. I listen to Michael Slater read aloud Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and know she’s onto this too. I’m scheduled to teach Wolf Hall: A Fresh Look at Tudor Matter at the OLLI at Mason. I’m into Bring up the Bodies now, much harder, deeply pessimistic book as our hero, Thomas Cromwell, grows older and finds himself in Wolsey’s place against power now. Not read as well by Simon Vance who hasn’t the reach for the iciness and the deep turn to ghost figures for solace both books present in ironic guise.

Yet I’ve understood now how it was also necessary for me to go away in August — I should not spend weeks this way with no break — so upon one of the people in the Canterbury set I described saying twice, would I like to go on a Road Scholar trip alongside him (both take separate rooms) and we both have reserved places next May. I will go through with it with the appropriate low expectations. You see the Road Scholar programs for Cornwall do not occur in August, so I will have to find something for August too. Do I have the nerve to return to the UK for research in libraries about Graham? I’d love it, especially if I could get into BBC archives.


Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960), Winter Garden (1928): this week’s choice of artist on one of my face-book friend’s timelines ….

Most of the time I’m not literally alone in the 24 hour cycles — as I’m not literally with others on the Net. Most of the time Izzy is here in the evenings, weekends, and whatever other times she is not at work, and we go out together or live our lives in tandem, joining most closely for supper. Not these five Labor Day weekend days, as she has gone to NYC with Laura, where they appear to be having a very good time. Here they are at Coney Island in the blessed breezes.


Izzy and Laura at Coney Island.

They are staying in an apartment of one of Laura’s friends from the Net; they do thus far seem to be going to places Jim and I used to: the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum (where Laura found a fashion show), theater through half-price tickets. One day they will spend in Brooklyn, the museum, the botanical gardens, walking in Prospect Park. There is a great borough library too, but they won’t have time for that. One full day at the US open for tennis. I know Izzy the time she went alone enjoyed mightily the bus tours up and down the streets of Manhattan with the stream of talk from the guide-driver and regretted not taking one through Brooklyn.


At the Metropolitan Museum


At the Cloisters

A new level of companionship has emerged with my two cats as I carry on giving of myself in the way I do every where I am physically when one-on-one. I said how Clarycat kept up deliberately yowling-as-scolding the first two days I was back. As if to say you have some helluva nerve disappearing like that, without so much as a by your leave. Now she is under feet and all around me all the day, my perpetual pal, anticipating where we are going, what we are about to do. It can get a bit much.

But Ian or Snuffy has outdone her. He now wails with a point. He came to my room and set up a wail. I couldn’t figure out why. Izzy’s door was open: complete ingress and egress everywhere. So I asked him, what gives? and picked him up. Then he did it. He stared up at the ceiling and wailed again. What is on my workroom ceiling? why a ceiling fan! in these supremely hot dog-days of August, I not only put on the air-conditioning. I’ve taken to putting on all the fans I The house, one in each room. It helps circulate the air. Now in three rooms the fan is a (pretty) ceiling fan. He was telling me he objected to that noise and that turning gadget. A cat who wants to come into my room should not have put up with this. I obligingly turned it off. Absolute truth: about 10 minutes later I noticed him settling down into his cat-bed snoozing. Peace & quiet at last. The rigors of cat life are insufficiently appreciated, Jim used to say.

This is not the only instance where he has wailed in such a way as to communicate an idea, and when I have acted on it, (luckily) I have been somehow confirmed that we have had a good interspecies communication. On the same page as they say. Clarycat also talks at me a good deal, meowing, when I’m not there wailing and then when I call, coming to where I am to be with me.


The cover of Barnes and Noble edition of Howards End — the importance of home, place, history is central to the novel

In about two weeks my fall schedule kicks in and I’ll be going out again: at the OLLI at Mason, I’ve gotten into “The Poetry of Robert Frost,” “Four famous propaganda films” (important ones, two on labor, fancy that), Green’s The Quiet American (which I once taught) and go to a book club three times over the next 4 months (choices are like Exit West Moshin Hamid, whom I’d never heard of); and at OLLI at AU another serious course on films (politically, morally considered), the first half of War and Peace (where I can just come as I read it so carefully two years ago now on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io. There we are beginning E.M. Forster’s Howards End (book, two films, all else about Queen Forster — how Jim loved his letters with Cavafy), and are in the middle of Elizabeth Taylor’s Soul of Kindness (the lady is anything but).

I do have another personal blog, one which is crucially political to tell about my trip: the abuse of travelers on an airplane in the year 2018, the ugliness of the way the airline and the airport authorities and to say a lot about TSA who know how dispensable you, my fellow traveler and me are.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Lake Windermere, the largest of the lakes (second is Ullswater, all others much smaller, meres, waters)

There is a comfort in the strength of love;
‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would break the heart … ” — Wordsworth, Michael

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve been back from the Lake District and Northumberland for two days now, and am re-settling in. I fulfilled a long-held wish thoroughly: for six days two tour guides, one from the area, Anne (with a strong Lancashire accent) and the other originally from London, Peter (so a sort of Cockney accent now laid over by several others), who was said to know a lot about local northern border history, took 20 Americans on two mini-buses for an average of 8 hours a day up, down, and all around the winding roads and many lakes of Cumbria. Immersion. Like last time, the first night we were asked each of us to tell why we had chosen to come to this area, and a little bit about who we are. I spoke (briefly) of my bad miscarriage in 1974 in the Lake District, which had led to Jim and I spending the five days we had planned to travel about in, in a small Kendal hospital, that I had come originally because it might be said 5 lines of Wordsworth’s Michael decided me in my line of life, English major, teacher of English literature, then literary scholar and college teacher, writer. I had come back alone because my husband died 5 years ago, but I was there with him in my spirit. I came to England after the first year every year since he died.


Otterburn Castle, where we stayed — the Internet access was dodgy, but my room was magnificent, large, with a landscape tapestry above my bed

That first night was indicative of an important aspect of the trip this time: it was a Road Scholar experience. I had not realized this so strongly last time. Last time had been 7 days at the Aigas House restoration ecology estate (2 days arduous traveling), in Inverness, and I sort of put down what happened to John Lister-Kaye, and his wife, Lady Lucy, with their hierarchical ways, and various interning science students as guides with deep interest in the area, its history, its culture, gardens, cookery, animals, the Scottish environment and history. Now I realize whatever they were individually, and the local culture, the program was shaped, inflected by the Road Scholar point of view, which is thus far educational touring. There are athletic programs, and (I was told) much more “commercial” ones with a large group of people, say a cruise. I thought people were friendly but last time had gotten to know only a few people’s names well, and little about them individually (one woman artist, a widow, working in New York City, and another never married woman who lives about five minutes from me especially); I just saw most of the people as types. This time it was some 11 days (again 2 day traveling ordeal), in three hotels (one in Manchester one night at airport), two places, Lake District in Cumbria, Lindeth Howe Country Hotel, Bowness, which had been Beatrice Potter’s country house mansion; Otterburn Castle, Northumberland, which had been a Peel Tower in the days of ferocious Reiver violence, then a 10th century castle (which is from the outside still what it looks like), renovated again and again, especially in Victorian and then later 20th century. The Aigas experience dominated by two people, all tourists in single large bus, with little free time, evenings occupied too (lectures, music one night); this time four different Road Scholar tour guides, evenings free, a full Sunday free day to do what I liked — I mostly sat in front of a real fire reading Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques. Free hours in several towns — I saw exhibits, and there were pre-paid lunches sometimes together, sometimes separately or formed into smaller groups: Keswick, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Jedburgh (Scotland), and Durham. This time by the end I knew everyone’s name, something of the history and character of each individual or couple; they became very vivid in my mind. I keep hearing one man’s pleasant voice.


The tapestry over my bed in Otterburn castle

One problem I’ve been having is I dream of them. Each night I find myself waking early and not realizing I am in my house in my own bed living my usual life in Alexandria, but coming out of a dream which is inhabited by these people, and for a few moments am so confused as I try to work out which hotel I’m in. Usually when I wake from a troubling or obsessive dream, I break “the spell,” and it stops or is transformed so that the material is being lived in by someone else and begins to fade. But today I had a brief nap in the afternoon (I am very tired) and found the same phenomenon occurring: I woke in confusion, got up and began to walk about, stressed, to see what was happening now, where I was, only to find that I am home after all, not surrounded by these others, but rather my two very loving cats:

Clarycat missed me badly: Izzy said Clary would not have anything to do with her, but remained in a kind of retreat, and until today Clary has been yowling at me (vocalizing) in a harsh tone, now she is simply all over me, all the time. Ian did sleep with Izzy, stay around her, and at first stayed with that pattern, but today he began to nudge me, rub me, stay close, playing, and making me alert to his companionable presence.


You see some of the group: the woman with white page boy hair facing us and other woman, helping her, is the fellow New Yorker, Barbara (same accent as me): Inside the Hermitage: a place of fierce cruelty. The story repeated is how Bothwell was badly wounded trying to arrest some murderous Reivers lords so Mary Queen of Scots rode here to see him. She didn’t stay long. Walter Scott included it in a couple of his historical romances …

I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy, but would like briefly to name and describe them (using substitute first names) so as not to forget. It was a group of people very similar in type, age, profession, and marital status and income to last time: ages from mid-50s to later 80s, mostly retired, though some had jobs they could carry on with in older age or volunteered (teachers for example, writers).  Mostly pensions from years of working were enabling this. Both times I have been in all white groups but then my choice of literary writers and places would lead to that.

5 married couples in their sixties to mid-eighties. Larry and Lea (from Oklahoma, he wrote a poem for the last night, not very good, she boasted of how he was thinking all the time); Clarence and Sheila (from Alabama, not far from Asheville, North Carolina, where they attend an OLLI as students; he a retired mine owner, she with him had had 4 children, then discovered she was good at running non-profits, he went to Yale, she Vassar, living a charmed life, by virtue of wealth from his career, and a sale of property in Florida so that today they have a beautiful apartment in Tudor City, Manhattan too, conservative democrats); Bob and Cynthia (New York Jews from Rochester, he a practicing psychiatrist of the old school who really try to help people, humane brilliant witty man, interesting to talk to about human relationships, with daughter who was a White House correspondent but quit after Trump and wrote a book about a community destroyed after a corporation left, Janesville (Amy Goldstein), Paul Ryan’s home town); Sandi and Dave (from Florida, decades ago he traveled with a friend all over southeast Asia, he kept getting left behind, at one point locked into a dungeon like fort-castle, he was determined to do all as if he were 40, and not so forgetful, refusing one of the guide’s offer of his van instead of walking, she told a story of a previous miserable Road Scholar cruise tour; as in the previous trip here was a couple who were living in a late second marriage); Rick and Maggie (she originally from Australia wrote a wonderful Chaucerian parody with vignettes of all the people channeling different Canterbury Tale characters, which gave me the idea for the title to this blog; he helped me download my boarding pass from my cell phone in the 10th century castle renovated into a hotel, the hotel reception clerk helping; otherwise they go from holiday to holiday, from Broadway play to musical). All with children and grandchildren.

Four aging widows: me; Norah (from North Carolina, husband died at 40 but as alive in her mind today as he ever was, an environmentalist, she has written 7 books, gave the impression of countless articles, reviews, post-polio she called herself, but personally daring, at dinner an effectively sharp tongue when she wanted to); Suzanne (also North Carolina, Bavarde, social worker, psychologist, doing good work with groups trying to raise minimum wage, kindly easy going mostly silent lady with a cane, lucky to be alive after many operations, husband died 24 years ago next month); Sara (Cape Cod, widowed 3 months, in throes of trauma, ceaselessly talking, insistent). Two sisters, Ginny and Linda (from California, perhaps divorced, perhaps widowed, living near one another, lots of stories, one a teacher of disabled children, teacherly; the other living this seeming cheerful life, so good-humored, with children living these successful prestige lives of university, laboratory and business). One widower, Gary, turned out to be divorced years ago, brought up his children himself (Swedish by background, has traveled to every continent, so many countries, son lives in Germany and talked of how good life is there for him). All with children and some grandchildren.


Steve, one of the 20, at the Wallington House conservatory gardens

Single people. Two never married women living in mid-town Manhattan, Dorothy (successful academic art historian professor, interested in 12th century church architecture, lived much in Italy, worked for the Met); Barbara (high school teacher in English for 35 years, I liked her, we compared notes on British costume dramas, including Poldark, liberal democrat, Jewish her talk of nieces, nephews, brother she reminded me of Vivian). They told me of how in the last 10 days of August, the Met Opera puts up a huge screen in the Kennedy Center square and screen one a night each of the 10 HD operas for that year for free. Who knew? and other stories of delightful lectures, poetry reading (Jeremy Irons reading Eliot’s The wasteland at the 92nd Street Y. One single man, Steven (from Texas, MD, PhD, pathologist, retired has taken or is taking anywhere from 17 [to 34?] Road Scholar and Overseas adventures tours, highly intelligent man, vegetarian, up early in morning, walking away, something of a loner,thought grave by the others, prickly).

One conversation. How what we use as words matters. Somehow famine came up, and I said that famine is not the result of not enough food in an area; it’s that a group of people have precarious entitlement to the food that is there, and the amount of food goes down, becomes scarce and prices soar. Steve said, “yeah, it’s a distribution problem.”

Then two of the tour guides who were with us most of the time: Anne, “happily divorced” (from the Lake District, northern Lancashire accent, thoughtful of everyone, conscientious, a model of patience, good driver, knew a lot about the area’s culture and history and geology, botany, bogus and real history, very bright, as so many Brits accepted her lot and the world she finds herself in, loves to hike, bike); Peter, now living alone on a small island (from London originally, said to be an expert in history, he did know the fierce legends, about battles, lively and tactful, bubbling over if a man can bubble over, also conscientious and knew better than a GPS where everything is, except when he got tired).

Something like 10 people had Ph.Ds, several had been teachers in college or high school, a librarian, three physicians. People with professional certificates. Three business people.  A well-educated bunch of people (like last time). Comfortably well off but not above trying to save $200 say in the fare. A number had been on quite a number of Road Scholar tours.

I learned as much from being with these people as from being on the trip. I found myself remembering back to when I was 5 and asking myself where I was or how I related to all the different houses we visited, museums exhibits I saw, amid all these different eras and varying cultural groups (Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, French Normans, Reivers, modern English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish) who left their rubbish and precious things and writings and inventions, and made the world we are now living in a palimpsest (if we will only look) through whose relics, remains, and texts we see them. I am become versions of my central self after these 6 plus decades, first in New York City, then in England, and now in Alexandria.


Lady Mary Lowther (1738-1824), The Waterfall — from Stephon Hebron’s In the Line of Beauty: Early Views of the Lake District by Amateur Artists

Most days were sunny and very warm by noon, though I needed the fleece I bought for the trip by the later afternoon; it would rain now and again. The mini-bus going up and around in narrow twisty-lanes sometimes very close to a steep edge of a cliff made for excitement at Hardnut and other passes. I began to wear my training shoes towards the end.

So, gentle reader, now I have prepared us to tell of my latest pilgrimage on Ellen and Jim have a blog, two. It is crucial to understand that everything I saw and did was in the company of these people and the choices I made were limited and shaped by their presence. It is not true that when one visits a site de memoire what matters only is the history of place, its function as a symbol to a culture, but what is being done at the moment, how it is functioning today as what 20th and 21st century people do around it and as a result of the visit. I will now go on to describe the tour itself.

I did read away for a couple of hours a day every day while away, and (among other volumes) my remarks blog style on Gina May’s moving biography of Madame Roland, and her famous memoir, and Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home will be found on Austen reveries.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

After all, I do have a blog post to share before I go and return from the Lake District and Scottish borders: my daughter, Isobel Moody, singing her heart out on her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah:

There are many versions of this song: Cohen spent years writing and rewriting it; so to help memory along just these are quoted here:

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the Name in vain
I don’t even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah …

These are the additional lyrics as per Cohen Live (and Jeff Buckley et al); there are rumoured to be many more verses but these are the ones also that appear in Stranger Music so if there are any more available I don’t know where they are

baby I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
love is not a victory march
it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
but now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
but all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s no complaint you hear tonight
It’s not some pilgrim who’s seen the light
it’s a cold and it’s a lonely(/broken )Hallelujah
…that David played and it pleased the Lord…

Ellen

Read Full Post »


A new miniature magnolia tree

“To give way to them is to conform to rules set down by the evil minded” — Ross to Jinny, Demelza (I’m studying Winston Graham, “with all the reassurance of companionship … ” here on the Net)

Of course there has to be an end. Of course. For that is what everyone has faced since the world began. And that is — what do you call it — intolerable. It’s intolerable! So you must not think of it. You must not face it. Because it is a certainty it has to be forgotten. One cannot — one must not — fear a certainty. All we know is this moment and this moment. Ross, we are alive! We are. We are. The past is over, gone. What is to come does not exist yet. That’s tomorrow! it’s only now that can ever be, at any one moment, now, we are alive — and together. We can’t ask more. There isn’t any more to ask — Demelza to Ross, The Angry Tide

Friends and readers,

Today I succeeded in installing a hook on the door into my study (workroom, whatever you want to call it — where I spend most of my existence).

This may be the first one I’ve ever done near accurately — the hook fits into the latch easily! I imitated what the handyman did for my front door: he put a hook on the screen so I can open the door proper and yet keep the screen semi-locked. This way I can further hope to prevent anyone from coming in the front door who I might not want to come in. Thus when I’m gone for 13 days my cats will not be able to get into my workroom and disturb or destroy anything (by mistake of course). The great test will come the next time I go out and put the latch on. Later today or tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

My friends, this was no trivial task. Jim used to plan for this kind of thing well ahead. I have thought and thought about it, and finally went to Home Depot, and bought the equipment. Then I waited for two strategic days of calm. Out came hammer and a device I now use to turn things that are hard to turn: it’s made of a light weight iron.

After hard experience I also decided that it’s a bad idea to have Jim’s tool box so high that every time I try to bring it down, stuff falls on my head, and I teeter on the chair ladder. So I’ve come up with solution here too! I have moved said box into a unobtrusive corner in my sun-room.

I should not omit that my cats were made quite nervous during the progress of the operation. They ran away and hid. They can’t take much tension. Ordeals are beyond them.  But it’s all over now. Folding chair cum-ladder put back. And we three back in place, me at the desk reading near computer, Clary behind it in sun-puddle and Ian in his cat bed on the other side looking out window.


Carl Larsson, The Bridge (1912) — for the sake of the cat looking on

You see, gentle reader, I’ve been occupied this and last week with some forward-looking reading and preparations for my coming holiday trip to the Lake District and Scottish borderlands. Reading ahead for my courses I’ve been relieved and delighted to find I like all my choices still: Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s La Religieuse aka The Nun (what an astonishing book), Madame Roland’s Memoirs (abridged, in English) and Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands. Mantel’s Wolf Hall fascinates me still.


I now know there’s been a recent movie (since Rivette’s 1966) with Isabelle Hubbert — I will try to obtain a copy

Despite my not being able to understand ins and outs of Vitanza’s argument in Chaste Rape he has now helped me to understand Diderot’s The Nun and given me a way to teach it. I am also helped by all I have read about torture and the motives for it. He also brings both seasons of the Handmaid’s Tale into conscious alignment. I had seen The Nun as a Clarissa story: in the center Suzanne forced to become a nun by the cruelties of her family, coerced, harassed. I also saw the hideous treatment she is meted out by the other members of the nunnery (they humiliate her, strip her naked, force her to whip herself, starve her, leave her to be fithy, scream at her) as a parable of what can happen in a prison and when you are outcast in a community whom you have openly rejected.

But now I finally see this is a story just like all the stories of rape without the open sexual attack– and that is coming from a lesbian source in the next phase of the book. Vitanza says the purpose of rape is not the sexual attack centrally; that is part of the destruction of a personality until it asks you to hurt it itself, until it takes on your values, until it kisses the tormenter.
After one of the sessions of horrifying treatment, Suzanne is told her lawyer has obtained a change of convent for her. He lost the case to have her freed but he can do this. What does she do? she gives her most precious objects to the cruel superior mother; she begs those who thew her into the dungeon physically to take other favors form her and kisses them and thanks them. When the overseer comes who has the news she can move and he forbids her to see her lawyer, she says that she has no desire to see him and when there is an opportunity she refuses. This cannot encourage the lawyer to go on helping her. He might think her forbidden but he might think she doesn’t care.

This also reminds me of Offred-June in Handmaid’s Tale where she takes on the values of the Waterfords, Lydia and everyone else – like Suzanne. I suppose she is a heroine to American watchers because we are to believe her desire for revenge and hatred is natural and her personality (so they can admire this); at tny rate she does not utterly prostrate herself as Suzanne.

Suzanne is obviously such another as Levi in the concentration camp; people in solitary confinement and beat the hell out of and mistreated in US and other tyrannical nationds’ prisons ….

I would not have been able to put Suzanne at long last next to Clarissa without Vitanza’s hook. Paradoxically he takes us past the way rape is discussed by de-centering the sex.

I took brief notes on all the texts as I went through them. I wanted to be in a position when I go off that I need not worry about not having enough time to prepare or have made a bad choice when I return home and soon it’s time to teach.


A photo Jim took of me in 2005, at Stanton Drew, the summer we spent 3 weeks in August in England with Laura and Izzy, among other things in Somerset going round to neolithic and Arthurian sites.

I’ve been on the phone a lot for me: arrange credit cards, make sure phone is international, I bought a pretty new hat and two tops and two sweaters — I hope they all come in time — to add to the warm fleece jacket I’ll bring. As usual I’ve been anxious about the plane, and was made worse nervous by an email from AirFrance, but all seems resolved. Above all, this time I am steeling myself with these thoughts: che sera, sera. As long as the plane doesn’t fall out of the sky, I’ll make it back. What happens, happens. I hope to get there but if the people won’t give me seat (almost happened twice), scrutinize me (it’s now the policy of ICE to harass people who behave in the slightest way non-conformist), if they don’t let me on the plane, I’ll just come home. If on the way I get lost, I’ll find my way — it’s not likely; only one changeover of plane. Philosophically one can’t. Once I get there, I’ll try to have a good time — Sunday I’ll pick the right books to get me through. I have wanted to see the Lake District since 1974 when I had a a fantastically bad miscarriage, which turned into a abortion to save my life and Jim and I saw only the hospital in Kendal for 5 days; the places all look beautiful, soothing, peaceful. I’m interested in Beatrice Potter, it’s Scotland once again, Lindisfarne gospels, a castle. What’s not to like? (the Road Scholar site is worryingly down this morning so I can’t link the description of the trip in).

And this will be the last time for such a jaunt. I overspent ludicrously last year, and still overspent this. I can’t keep it up — says my financial advisor, or I need to be more careful. I’ve now seen Cornwall, the Hebrides and Inverness, gone to a Trollope conference, to a Charlotte Smith one and saw Chawton Library. So after this all trips must be something I must do for a serious purpose: research in a library in Cornwall or London (say for my Winston Graham project); or if a truly good friend wants to go with me to a place I truly want to go (and for under 8 days unless there is library research involved), the conference where there are friends (no wretched nights in soulless hotels), where there are papers I know I will understand and like (or for Izzy’s sake, JASNA, but not when it’s so far away as to need planes, and no more obscenely luxurious alienating hotels).  If possible no more planes when not going outside the US. Jim used to talk of boats. Yes. As when I took tests, went for interviews, I look forward to when it’s over and I’ve had the time away, that Monday morning when I’ll be home with my cats safe and and re-transplanting myself into my routine of reading, writing, studying, movie watching, going to and taking courses, with life with friends on the Net my solace, and forays out to plays, movies, concerts, the like (in the daytime when alone as I expect I shall be most of the time).

People tell me how much better I look than the first years Jim died. That I looked paralyzed or just very bad. In my heart I feel not much different. If anything, lonelier, just used to it. I know I can survive. I have found trustworthy good people to help me whom I can pay, now AARP to do my taxes, compensating activities I enjoy very much, some of them I would not have known of when Jim was here. A new kind of meaning. I’ve learned a lot. Maybe I’m learning to be my own person irrespective of what others think and no longer seeking someone, any one, company, but doing the difficult task of living on myself and finding meaning from within — I’m strained around 4-5 still, tired, and need that first glass of wine badly. Sometimes coming home from some social experience I drink too quickly to calm myself the way I used to when Jim was here. No life activities seem to come without some ordeal.  I deny that I have changed essentially from that first night I saw the medics take Jim’s body away, just adjusted, learnt to hold what I must do to be able to remain tranquil, with some enjoyment, a sense of doing something worth doing which I can contribute to others.

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


Sideview

Last Friday finally the Roseland garden people sent out their crew and I’ve a new garden. Neighbors look approvingly as they walk by and even talk to me while I’m watering the new life. Here is one of the four new flower beds to go with the two magnolias. It’s all very symmetrical: two flower beds in front; One directly in front of house, one in front of fence by sidewalk; miniature maple at center; then on each side of house more flower beds with small evergreens too. All perennials. A picture of one of the new beds …


Flowers in the front


Evergreen shrubs to one side


The other side of the house

A little classical French designed garden! I love clarity, simplicity, order — I used to be a reader of Pope’s poetry and now I make a garden with his in mind. The crew came this morning and we’ve agreed they will come once a month to weed, to help if any of the plants need help, give advice. In fall (October) I’d like them to plant chrysanthesums — I think they are beautiful. Next spring under the miniature maple replant daffodils and crocuses and in front the house on the sidewalk by the street a small cherry blossom tree. Centered in a line from the miniature maple.

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

All teaching and going to courses came to an end the third week of July. The week-long course in Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau I attended was fulfilling because I read for the first time ever (!) a good deal of Waldon Pond, all of Civil Disobedience and Slavery in Massachusetts, and a good essay on Thoreau by Laura Dassall Wall (his biographer), Writing Henry’s Life, as well as bought the modern edition of Dickinson’s poems. Reading the poems in a new revealing order and new ones too. Civil Disobedience helped me teach Woolf’s Three Guineas during that same week. I moved into a detour on Thoreau by way of Woolf’s allusions to Antigone as following a higher law of true morality as opposed to state laws:

Thoreau was strongly anti-slavery, an open abolitionist and it was dangerous to be so even up north and in the west in the US. Thoreau says we have a duty to disobey since when what is happening to people is criminal. Black people are people who are enslaved – they are not ontologically slaves and when they try to escape this deeply wrong violated condition, a law is passed demanding others help the criminals re-enslave them. Civil Disobedience argues against obeying the Fugitive Slave Act ,which Thoreau tears down as contrary to God – but he only brings in God at the end, it is more a matter of deep violation of human beings’ right to liberty and life. Decades ago I gave a course in American Literary Masterpieces at AU (in the college itself) where I did a lot of reading in American literature and discovered that just about every controversy, everything was colored by this existence of slavery, and also that those who enslaved others were shamelessly violent. What he says about slavery in Massachusetts is that those who don’t own slaves and do nothing about it are themselves profiting from slavery and that’s why they uphold the Fugitive Slave Act. Like today in Trump’s America where the armies are brought out to attack and cause violence among peaceful demonstrators and then arrest them, and do nothing to violent right-wing groups who come and attack, so Thoreau says the armed people come to attack the innocent and good and support the criminals. One area I had forgotten was why US people wanted to take over Mexico: among the reasons was Mexico was a good place for someone enslaved to escape to. And in one of the cases he discusses what happened was an enslaved man was snatched back and brought back to Massachusetts. How shameful he says this is. He urges civil disobedience does this mid-century transcendentalist.

The teacher was embarrassingly bad — despite her array of prestigious awards, positions, published book. The way she went about justifying Thoreau made him unlikable, utterly egoistic; she kept finding the worst normative values, and then would impossibly fatuously idealize the man. Luckily the class resisted her attempt to make Dickinson back into the high school texts of cutsy whimsy. Would you believe she sat and read aloud passages detailing the wonderful peaceful deaths of these poet spirits? You couldn’t stop her. One cannot expect Adrienne Rich in Vesuvius at Home, but a pollyanna? here is one she did read aloud but hurried past:

I have never seen “Volcanoes”—
But, when Travellers tell
How those old – phlegmatic mountains
Usually so still –

Bear within – appalling Ordnance,
Fire, and smoke, and gun,
Taking Villages for breakfast,
And appalling Men –

If the stillness is Volcanic
In the human face
When upon a pain Titanic
Features keep their place –

If at length the smouldering anguish
Will not overcome –
And the palpitating Vineyard
In the dust, be thrown?

If some loving Antiquary,
On Resumption Morn,
Will not cry with joy “Pompeii”!
To the Hills return! F165 (1860) J175

I found a blog sheerly on Dickinson’s poetry and this explication:

If humans are like dormant volcanoes, then the face may be quite still while a “pain Titanic” (referring to Titans and the convulsing pain that followed their utter defeat) smolders within. But like an awakened volcano the pain will eventually burst through, overcoming the “Vineyard” of the body (its living wine and fruits), ultimately causing its death and burial “in the dust.” And yet there is the hope of “Resumption Morn” (and Dickinson takes religious liberties here with the idea of Resurrection – as if life were to simply resume rather than the souls resurrected into a new spiritual state in heaven) where even Pompeii, the fabulous city famously buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius will shake off its ashes in response to the call of a “loving Antiquary” or historian.

This is the first of several poems Dickinson will write that liken her passions to volcanoes. Unlike later poems, though, this one ends on a note of hope. The historian can recall his beloved Pompeii. Perhaps whoever aroused this passion in the poet will also call her back to life as well

I thought of Scott’s Antiquary (which is one of his novels I do like very much, and one Austen was still alive to read) and Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover, which maybe I’ll teach again next summer.


Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round—
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone—

This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if outlived
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—

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

I did go out somewhere beyond daily shopping and errands three times in the weeks since: twice to see a movie. Once for a lecture on the Nancy Drew books (a “special at OLLI, which deserves a blog of its own). Once for a long walk.  With my friend, Panorea. We also saw on another day Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik who with Anne Rossellini also wrote the screenplay. Very much worth seeing. It was very powerful, deeply upsetting at moments for me, it reminded me of Cathy Come Home (1960s British seeming documentary) because our two central characters, Will, a father in his later 40 or so, and Tom, a daughter aged around 15 are homeless a good deal of the time. And we see the miseries, the difficulties, and by implication, the terrors of such an existence. They get sick, come near death.

We understood it differently: My friend saw it as anti-war and full of grief for veterans we’ve thrown away — she took it the father was a Vietnam vet. He shuddered when helicopter went by. Now I detest helicopters myself. I wouldn’t go in one. She even cried over the father and those the two me on the road as she saw them all as vets. They are taking pills of all sorts – but then US people now are in an addiction mode in large numbers we are told. One of the people we hear of is a man who cannot bear to be with people. He is left a care package each week. I could not understand why the father had this need to run away from people to the point he could live around them — even if they made it clear he need never come out of his trailer. He is given a dog who attaches himself but he cannot attach himself to the dog.

I saw it as a parable of US life today, bunches of people who live in shacks, broken down trailers, corrugated iron huts, with its central tale about this profoundly disturbed man who is living with his daughter in a wood, filthy, dirty, they are picked up by authorities who are (amazingly) supportive of them in various ways; once they are cleaned up and in better health, the father insists on leaving while the girl has become happier by joining with other children caring for rabbits (all symbolic that); on the second mad trek to nowhere they both nearly die, finally the girl rebels and will not run away from a trailer someone has just about given them. I became upset when she left “civilization” for a second time with him and when she seemed to be doing it for a third time, it was so distressing. But she turned round and went back to the trailer she had rented – the kindness of the woman owner made it come cheap

If my friend is correct, and Leave No Trace about US vets, all of them together I can get why they are not overtly mistreated by authorities or when they come into contact with others. Last summer a film called Wilderness was again about a father (mothers who flee are probably imprisoned) this time fleeing with a son

I include the poster in the hope the reader might recognize this movie somewhere and thus have a chance to see it

Gavagai, an extraordinarily mesmerizing intelligent movie, was at the Sunday morning Film Club: Gavagai. The description at IMDB is ludicrously wrong: it shows how telling the literal truth can miss everything about a movie that matters.

The German businessman turns out to be a poet and as the movie unfolds we discover he is grieving deeply over the death of his wife and has decided to translate her poems written in Chinese into Norwegian (it’s co-written with Kirk Kjeldsen). We first see him getting off a broken down train (probably unrealistic as this is Norway), but maybe because it is arriving in a very small town in a rural area. He has to bribe a tourist guide, who at first seems to be a dense vulgar abrasive male, to take him to where he wants to go. The movie is their journey across the Norwegian landscape together as they reveal slowly to us their inner lives and dreams, mostly through imagery and voice-over Gradually the apparent lout is revealed to be a man estranged from a girlfriend he treated badly and over the course of the movie he manages to reconcile with her by texting her, visiting her in stop overs. He cannot get the poet to confide in him or be at all warm to him or anyone; the poet dreams of his wife at night — strange dreams with her dressed in extravagant Asian outfits. The same actress plays the ghostly wife and estranged girlfriend. It’s as if women are interchangeable to this director, and in a way they are treated as objects in the males’ dream lives. There are many correspondences and parallels between their experiences and thoughts: the climax of the film culminates on tall mountain where the poet scatters his wife’s ashes; there follows a quiet denouement which has a church-like feel as the poet walks away still in grief and never getting over it and the driver with his girlfriend join a group of people on the beach, making a bonfire. It’s summer. Beautifully photographed, long slow scenes.

It reminded me of Derek Garman and also my favorite Last Orders. A finer poetically expressive movie than you will come across in a long time. Rob Tregenza, the director runs the film program in a Virginia College (VCU) and doesn’t have all that many connections so it’s not played at festivals but is gradually gaining adherents or attention (I have no idea how) and will open in NYC and LA.

One of my favorite poets: this by her is appropriate to Gavagai:

Man Alone on a Mountain

​You stand on a black rock pinnacle with your back toward me
and look out over a rock-strewn valley which is half-hidden in mist.
In your long black coat, knee-boots and walking stick,
you seem a stranger from another century.

Before you the lower mountains, sharp
with black rocks, hover like a flock of petrified sheep,
that has wandered from the shepherd
until they are lost and frozen there.

Wind disturbs your red hair. Your balance seems precarious
and I wonder what brought you there
where the fog obscures so much?
How long did you climb and with what difficulty?
Why are you alone and what are you looking for?

Why does anyone climb to such a place? Once,
in winter, driving by myself after a snowstorm,
I pulled off the road by the trail that led up Avon Mountain.
And, wanting to see if I could do it, I struggled up the slope
which was slick with a foot of snow and ice.

My breath like sleet in my chest, my leg muscles,
unused to such climbing, ached with the strain.
A few clumps of snow fell from the pine branches onto the trail.
To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking.
If I had slipped and fallen no one knew where I was.

But you, I wish you well, stranger with the hidden face.
You seem self-assured as you stand there
sturdy but wholly alone under an uncertain sky–
its diffuse clouds, one taller mountain before you
a gray-blue blur in the distance.

​Patricia Fargnoli

Izzy and Laura went out twice together: to the US open for tennis, and this Sunday with two friends they will see Hamilton at the Kennedy Center. Izzy has studied the musical play and songs and read Chernow’s biography (my presents to her two Christmases ago). She’s been to three museum exhibits in DC. Don’t even think about the cost they paid for these tickets.


Francis Luis Mora, Rosemary, his daughter, The Little Artist

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

I conclude with some music my good FB friend provided for all of us who are her friends one morning:

This will probably be my last diary entry until I return.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


The central reading room of the Library of Congress

A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library” — Shelby Foote

Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world. — Virginia Woolf

Friends and readers,

On July 9th I began to join on a meme where you were asked to name a book that strongly influenced you, or had a real discernible impact. You were to find the cover illustration of the book as you remembered it, and do no more. Well I couldn’t see why you should not tell why or how the book had this impact; without that, the meme seemed to me to be contentless. So often cover illustrations are misleading if not downright distortions of the book’s content. So I began to list my 10, and found that I was writing an autobiography of sorts. Just about all of them made a strong impression on me before my mid-20s, and many had linked books and led to life-changing experiences. And here they are:

Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1)

Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (2)

Suzanne Therault’s Un cenacle humaniste de la Renaissance autour de Vittoria Colonna, chatelaine d’Ischia (3)

Anthony Trollope’s Dr Thorne (4)

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (5), along with Bronte’s Jane Eyre, DuMaurier’s King’s General, Austen’s Mansfield Park

Lousia May Alcott’s Little Women (6), along with P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park, and the Nancy Drew series

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (7), and all the rest of Shakespeare too

The Letters of Julie de Lespinasse and Madame du Deffand (8), and the women memoir & gothic writers of the later 18th century ….

Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, along with Boswell’s A Tour of the Hebrides (9), and books Scottish

Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (10), Jim’s favorite books, books that influenced him, that he kept reading.

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

How better to introduce my in praise of libraries.


One of the several books discussed in the series above ….

Gentle reader, I’ve not been blogging here as I have been writing the above series and spending three days a week in the Library of Congress reading scarce books by Winston Graham, author of the Poldark books. I renewed my Reader Identification card earlier this summer, and found myself by the afternoon of all the days I was there in a semi-circle of readers around a central area where the librarians are still located. There is no longer a card catalogue but the old habits of spacial arrangement die hard. When I’d begin around 9:30 am there would be few people there, and by 4:00 pm when I’d leave off, the place would be humming with activity.

As in so many projects before how much I enjoyed sitting there among these people, now and then watching the different librarians and librarian helpers at their tasks, bringing books on carts, taking them away, leading groups about quietly to show this or that. Downstairs in the lobby groups of tourists and students going on tours, or off to hear a lecture or look at an exhibit. The different reading rooms. I brought my lunch, a soda and went outside to eat on a bench and then watched people go by near the Congress, on the mall, over at the Folger Library. I’ve learned much of value about Graham in exploring these early works of his.

This kind of activity has been going on in some form or other for centuries. I’m especially fond of the Library of Congress because it is fully public: you need only describe your project to a librarian and you get a card: no need for letters of introduction, for institutional affiliations; no exclusionary practices going on. No money is asked.

Which are the books or authors I’ve made treks of considerable trouble for weeks or months and even years on end to read about and to read in research libraries? Samuel Richardson, Charlotte Smith, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara, Anne Murray Halkett (17th century autobiographer, spy, Scots by birth), Aphra Behn, Anthony Trollope, and now Winston Graham. Which libraries have I loved and haunted, rummaged in the world’s attics in:  Once at age 15 Degas’s illustrations for a performance of Hamlet for a paper on 19th century art — a library on 51st street off Park Avenue in NYC. For long stretches the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare; by letter and through microfiche, the British Library. I’ve at least visited and read at the Chawton House library.

Gentle reader, these are my life’s events; this are crucial events in what my life has been.

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


From the cover of Wilkie Collins’s Rambles Beyond Railways, a book about his travels in 19th century Cornwall, a book that cannot be spoilt by knowing what’s in it and has no particular ending

And how better to link in a topic of considerable importance on the Internet: spoiler warnings. Since the advent of the Internet, these have spread to the introductions of printed books, and turn up in the most preposterous places or discourses. You are in a class where a book has been assigned and the class is to discuss it, and the teacher apologizes for telling the class what is in the book! A long while ago Stanley Fisher placed on essay on the Net explaining his objections to these, declaring their use often absurd.

I won’t do that here but rather explain why I dislike using them and for myself would prefer people not use them and am grateful when someone tells me freely about the story or about the characters or themes or whole of the book and its ending too when we share our experience of a book.

Here goes:

First off, what is told is not what I read for. Not at all. I read for the unfolding of an experience. How can anyone replace or substitute for that by telling me the literal story matter. I saw a movie today called Gavarai which was described as being about a German businessman who tries to hire someone to take him in a tour of Norway! ludicrous: it’s about a man grieving for the death of his wife who links him to another estranged from the world, and the journey they take through one small rainy part of Norway’s countryside, and that doesn’t begin to tell what it’s about.

During group reads or discussions, people put summaries of the content at the beginning of a week. Is that a spoiler if you haven’t read the stuff? what it functions as is a redaction saving those participating the trouble of reading carefully or at all. It’s superficial, the surface that doesn’t count. I read for companionship for depth of thought and feeling to be in contact with the best of someone’s mind or heart, to learn about the author’s inner life, an earlier historical world, and how can that be spoilt? most people don’t begin to convey it — I try for that in reviews and my blogs sometimes, but only in spurts. It used to be called close reading. If they quote the text, they can get closer but most of the time what I read for is not there in the person’s redaction at all — it’s them, their personality, their ideas.

Now I grant sometimes that does spoil a text because their inferences are so awful that they can color the text when I return to it or remember it and make me dislike the text. “Oh omg if this is what people are led to think or feel when they read/watch this text, how awful this text must be.”

I grant that while some texts are set up to have a surprise at the end, most writers don’t manage to make me care or have a revelation which upon the second reading makes one read the text differently. My reaction to mysteries which do make me wonder what happened without caring about the characters much is irritation – I try to discover what it is to save myself the trouble of reading. I don’t enjoy most games. They are no fun because it’s unpleasant to cope with the other person’s desire for triumph. Anyway what a waste of time.

Again I grant there seem to be more people reading to discover what happens next and not want to know than the way I or others like me read but then I think of how Forster lamented the way most people read and wished it were otherwise because he’s an author.

Still I don’t think I’m that unusual. I am unusual for admitting this — in 1995 in the early days of the Net I was on a listserv where the listowner/moderator had a rule against spoiler warnings — she regarded them as a form of censorship, and as imposing a certain way of reading on us. My older daughter who runs groups on face-book thinks they are weapons for controlling others — and has lots of anecdotes to show they are used that way. To attack and shut someone up because what that someone wrote is displeasing to others, intimidates them in some way. If she could get rid of them where she is she would — but it’s too tempting a tool (she says) for others. Spoiler alerts are for me and those like me an irrelevancy, an distasteful word which I’ve been coerced into submitting to, and signals social and mind policing.

I’m rereading and rewatching the Poldark matter. It doesn’t matter to me how many times I read these books, each time I read the story through I become just as anxious for Morwenna, maybe more upset because I know what we have to go through before we reach the ending of this phase of her existence; if I know the character I care has a bad ending, I become even more upset. It doesn’t matter how many times Verity is cut off from Blamey it seems for the rest of her life, I grieve for her all over again. In the case of Austen I’d say I’m deeply invested int all the heroines, but cannot like Emma or Mary Crawford and feel Emma didn’t deserve her happy ending nor Mr Knightley; at the end I grudgingly feel for Mary left with her sister for life. But that she doesn’t marry makes me respect her since no one around is worth marrying — that we’ve been shown and she can like.


The first 1945 edition of this book which took Graham five years to write, and which he cut down effectively again in 1951

Austen’s Emma is one of those texts where one reads differently the second time, but like most intelligent versions of this, on even the first reading so long ago I began to suspect that Jane and Frank were engaged and Emma a dupe at the alphabet game and then when Knightley tried to warn the complacent snob Emma I felt yes that “something is going on.” The deepest pleasure is the second and third and subsequent readings as one sees more and more.

One final example from movies: I don’t care for and am not invested in any of the Handmaid Tale characters. I never was. I feel that I could love Nick, the man the heroine comes to have deep affection for and a baby with, but I am not shown enough — I feel the actor conveys kindness. For some of the handdmaids (Emily) I see glimmers of what I can respect and like and recognize, I’m terribly sorry for the poor thing who loses her eye and then her vagina’s clitoris. The rest of them are mostly thin or awful. I know I’m supposed to be anxious for Offred but I have not been able to even in the first season. She leaves me cold. I just don’t recognize her; I think the character is set up to behave morally but she has become hostage to the idiotic values all around her (and repeats them as in the Stockholm syndrome). So each time I don’t care enough what happens to her and if I’m told the ending it saves me the trouble of reading the book or watching the hour.

I’ve come to think that a movie communicates its expressive content to us through the actor-character’s presence, and if a bonding doesn’t happen that can carry you through deeply, the movie won’t perform its most important work. One problem I’m having with the new Poldark films is none of the actress types presented to me touches me deeply …

Now I think bonded with Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall immediately, deeply from her opening soliloquy about people disappearing all the time and her regret that she had never had a fragile vase: the key is she is a 1950s figure, the years of my girlhood

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »