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“It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible” — Henry Tilney, from Austen’s Northanger Abbey


Stage 2: yesterday, Saturday, Dec 8th, tree brought home from nearby garden place (complete with stand), placed on credenza, and Izzy removing the last of the netting


Stage 2: Just the read and silver garland


Un arbre fini — it smells sweet as yet, fresh branches, it is still drinking the water in the stand

Friends and readers,

This is Izzy and my 6th winter solstice without Jim. This past Thursday (a balmy afternoon), I climbed down from our attic with Colin, our Christmas Penguin: I remember how Jim sang some version of this song when my neighbor gave Colin to me as a gift from Target when I told her I had seen him, and not been able to persuade Jim to buy him with the enthusiasm I felt:

— “Colin, the glittering penguin, had a very shiny sleigh, and if you ever saw him, you could even say he’s gay. All of the other penguins used to laugh and call him names; they never let poor Colin join in any penguin games … then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say, Colin with your sleigh so bright … won’t you lead our line tonight …. ” —

This year I first had him facing me and the pussycats in the sun-room; then I thought he is meant to be shared, so I put him before a window yesterday. I can’t put him outdoors because I fear someone will steal him. Would someone in this neighborhood do such a thing? yes. Years ago my next door neighbor’s partner, put out a full sled and reindeer and overnight he found it vanished. He was shocked. Also how cold poor Colin would be.

Last year I added a friend for him and my pussycats this silvery and white and greyish squirrel — if you could look close you see the little sparks which in life are silvery, shine out lightly and make the rest feel snowy. He sits by the tree.


Ian aka Snuffy, imitating Demelza’s word for her son from the Poldark books I call him “my lover” — when he hops on my lap, presses his body against my chest, his front legs (arms) around my head and rubs my head with his, what else is he doing?

Being without Jim doesn’t get any easier … how much living I’ve done in the last six years and how much I now feel I should have helped him to do …. how much experience we could have had together, how many possible memories we’ve lost — how much I should have to tell him of all this somehow interim time since. I like to think that had he lived I might have found these OLLIs and gotten him to go — he might’ve liked them. When we came into the money he was waiting for we would have traveled — he never saw Venice.

I am so just loving the Outlander films and even enjoyed listening to Drums of Autumn where in this fourth volume the homophobia, racism, and even egregious violence has dropped. Diana Gabaldon takes the humane sides each time: Jamie and Claire take refuge in America — of course upper class white style; but they will not own people and they do all they can to make friends with the native Americans. Davina Porter conveys how the narrator now often is Gabaldon herself somehow presenting her characters and then Claire again. But what I love is the central relationship. I watch the first season one-by-one at midnight whenever I am not too tired (I often am so have not gotten to where Claire tells Jamie where she came from) and twice a week each of the episodes of this fourth season. I do love how they ended up in a log cabin alone together — however improbable. Last night the last scene was of them love-making, he bathing her in a hip bath covered with a white cloth first. I know to me it’s a substitute for Jim and my relationship in dreams.


Caitriona Balfe as Claire last night — of course it’s her I identity with, her conception of this character — that involved me with these films and books from the first — she was nominated for a Golden Globe once again so someone besides myself recognizes how deeply appealing she is as this character

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Pissarro, Seine: From a Louvre bridge: Ships in Snow

I don’t find the season of winter depressing. (What is happening in our public worlds is another matter.) To me it has a beauty of its own, but this year I find I am less able to cope with the cold than ever before. The chill air seemed to lace itself into my skin and bones and I shiver and hurry back in to escape the bitterness of the air. So what is better to share than one of Horace’s Odes about winter, I:X, which I found in a better translation than Dryden’s (though I still don’t like the antepenultimate and penultimate lines — why do men think women enjoy (!?) hiding from them, being elusive but that they mistake wariness and rejection for a come-on), but having just returned from a very happy time out with my friend, Panorea, at the Kennedy Center seeing a Nutcracker performance, and then going to a nearby unassuming Asian restaurant, quiet inside, one tree decorated, good food (I’ve been there before with Laura and Izzy and had the same eggplant and garlic sauce with brown rice chased down by Merlot), and with her much good companionable talk, Horace’s outlook is one I offer tonight against the dark:

See how Soracte stands glistening with snowfall,
and the labouring woods bend under the weight:
see how the mountain streams are frozen,
cased in the ice by the shuddering cold?
Drive away bitterness, and pile on the logs,
bury the hearthstones, and, with generous heart,
out of the four-year old Sabine jars,
O Thaliarchus, bring on the true wine.
Leave the rest to the gods: when they’ve stilled the winds
that struggle, far away, over raging seas,
you’ll see that neither the cypress trees
nor the old ash will be able to stir.

Don’t ask what tomorrow brings, call them your gain
whatever days Fortune gives, don’t spurn sweet love,
my child, and don’t you be neglectful
of the choir of love, or the dancing feet,
while life is still green, and your white-haired old age
is far away with all its moroseness. Now,
find the Campus again, and the squares,
soft whispers at night, at the hour agreed,
and the pleasing laugh that betrays her, the girl
who’s hiding away in the darkest corner,
and the pledge that’s retrieved from her arm,
or from a lightly resisting finger.

That is, as long as we don’t forget others not as lucky as we and try to help them somehow. I give money to the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations working to improve the lot of everyone on earth using law, custom, humane principles. Poverty is utterly unnecessary in our world (it’s not just a distribution problem) is hard. so here is an accompanying image: a painting from 1959 by Peter Cook: Bitter Cold, Chapel Street …. the woman must put her clothes out in the street in hopes the wind will dry them. Frozen stiff. I have in my time hung clothes out on a line in very old dry weather. Consider the fortitude of the woman who did that.

And those inside. I know I don’t do enough by giving money to organizations working to change the economic order, to shore up what laws we have to protect against the deadly predatory class in power across this world.

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Achilles delivering Briseis to Agamemnon’s heralds; sentimental bas-relief by Antonio Canova, circa 1787–1790

I bought and actually hope to read Pat Baker’s much truer take in her Silence of the Girls which you can read about in this strong review by Patricia Storace (NYRB)

This past week was taken up by parties, luncheons for the two OLLIs at Mason and AU and one last class for my Enlightenment: At Risk course and the superb film course on morality, politics, and history in 10 soundly selected films. I can now share what we read and said in my Enlightenment course through four blogs I’ve written:

Voltaire’s Candide & Bernstein’s 20th century musical Candide:

On teaching Diderot’s La Religieuse & its 2 film adaptations, & Rameau’s Nephew &c

Samuel Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands, Scotland, & his other writing

Marie-Jeanne Phlipon Roland (1754-93): a great souled author of her own life

This week I shall write an essay for the Intelligencer about teaching the 18th century at the OLLIs (that includes Tom Jones).

For the film course I sincerely hope to write a few more blogs on these great and today perhaps forgotten films: since my last citation of the list I’ve seen Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth — I had forgotten how haunting that scene in the garage; the monstrousness and cruelty of wars is unforgettable in Stone’s film

I’ve gone on with Winston Graham whose suspense and spy novels between 1940 and 1943 impressed me as at their best anticipating LeCarre, reminiscent of Graham Greene and I add to No Exit (set in Prague the day Hitler’s armies invaded), Night Journey, the first version (1941, a very rare text, the 1966 one much inferior). And for my Anomaly essays (perhaps if I should live long a book) I have become enthusiastic over Frances Power Cobbe from her own writings (a novel told from the consciousness of a homeless beloved dog, The Confessions of a Lost Dog) and a superb study, Susan Hamilton’s Francis Power Cobbe & Victorian Feminism, and I am at least considering Anne Jameson from a biography by Clara Thomas, Love and Work Enough; I have read Jameson’s delightful Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada however many years ago.


Frances Power Cobbe with her dog, Hajjin (pilgrim), in a series of lectures dubbed “The abberation” (in Wales)

It is heartening how many serial dramas on TV today are feminist: I recently mentioned the 2018 Woman in White as strongly feminist when scripted by Fiona Seres and featuring Jessie Buckley as Marion Halscomb; add to this the 8 part film adaptation of the first novel of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet (as it has come to be called), My Brilliant Friend: an Italian TV film by Antonio Costanza and (by email) Ferrante herself, it’s airing on HBO. This realization has brought to live much in the first novel I had not adequately responded to before. Don’t miss it. Told of it on https://groups.io/g/WomenWriters

Inadequate and at times snarky over intelligent girls as Emily Nussbaum’s review for the New Yorker is, she does provide background, a general summary and some good comments. I’ve been writing a summary and evaluation for every two episodes. On WomenWriters@groups.io, I have tirelessly maintained the earlier slender novels are better than this mainstream book but am now changing my mind; however you can’t understand this big mainstream unless you’ve read Days of Abandonment; The lost daughter, the nightmare on the beach (marketed absurdly as a child’d book) and know Ferrante is the translator Christa Wolf, she of Cassandra fame (a feminist take on the Iliad, deeply anti-war too). There is no sign Nussbaum has read the other books by Ferrante — for they are not about intellectuality but mother-daughter relationships, the macho male culture that suppresses and twists women, are nightmares of self-destruction (using dolls as one metaphor).

So setting all that aside, she does cover the series and says some interesting things. It is like a complex novel; it is the ‘faithful” type of adaptation. I did not realize from the two times I was able to watch the first hour that Costanza and Ferrante had picked from Little women just those passages where Jo reads aloud her book to Meg and family! I knew there was no such dialogue in the book — I looked and couldn’t find it at any rate. It’s about the two girls, about class-jumping, has wonderful dream-like sequences, goes into the ugly sexual aggressiveness of males in teenage years and how girls they don’t attack collude to despise those they do.

But there is so much more to say I was also disappointed — I feel she has not paid attention enough to episodes 5 (Shoes) and 6 (The island, aka Ischia)– nor the young men emerging (Nino, the highly intelligent young man; Pasquale, appealing coarser features projecting integrity and decency and Lila’s brother, Rino). Nussbamd (given her stance) neglects the central role of Lenu’s kind teacher in keeping her in school and the other women — the mothers who lives are so circumscribed and are angry or the women who puts up with male promiscuity because the man behaves better to them when around. The colors of the series at Ischia. I find so much in it reminds me of my experience of life in the southeast Bronx, circa 1950. Hour after hour there is some scene I’ve experienced — and not just reading Little Women.


Raffaella or Lila (Gaia Girace) and Lenu or Elena (Margherita Mazzucco)

By contrast, an excellent review by Alan Hollinghurst of A Very English Scandal: Class as central as sex and gender — the attempted and its motives reminded me of the actual murder in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Far too much sympathy was given to Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant with a granite face): I suppose because only in that way could the drama be made complex and interesting. My heart was on Norman Scott’s side (Ben Wishaw) much of the time — the speech that Norman Scott manages to make about his being one of those “thrown away” (according to Alan Hollinghurst not at all what Scott said — Scott went to pieces on the stand and cried) would fit the statement Scott made early on about his fixation over his National Insurance Card. Scott believes one needs an employer (in effect) to vouch for one’s “good character” in order to get another job or eventually collect one’s pension. We are even supposed to feel sorry for Thorpe’s best buddy (played by Alex Jennings) whom he betrays and humiliates through the lethal attorney (Adrian Scarborough just inimitable). The man sent to murder Scott murders his dog first (and then runs out of ammunition) Rinka, the dog, shot dead. Wishaw is first seen hugging a small beloved dog, Mrs Tish; last seen from afar, still alive


Ben Wishaw and the real Norman Scott – he kept loneliness at bay by caring for dogs

Oh, we got into quite a dialogue on translation on https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries with me as usual defending them as creative art on their own, occasionally better than the original text. But I’ve gone on too long already and said this all before. And it’s exhausting — when you can make no inroads into deeply entrenched prejudice — who wants to admit you didn’t read Tolstoy but rather reveled in Louise & Aylmer Maude, with a little help from Amy Mandelker, & (!) Elisabeth Guertik (I read Tolsoy in a wonderful English version with a French version underneath and the French was just superb)?  There’s a lot more at stake than these translators of course: copyright, intangible private property, centuries of thinking otherwise, a fetish I share of concentrating on an individual “behind” the book, amour-propre … I read translation studies  too you see.

How I wish I could listen to more than one novel at a time in my car: I am listening to the brilliant reading of Trollope’s extraordinarily strong novel, The Way We Live Now, as our group of friends on Trollope&Peers are now reading this novel.

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I am gaining weight now — my body more like a grandmother’s but it’s eat or conk out, and I cannot survive without my car. That’s partly why so few pictures of me: I am old and cannot face my face: dry looking, wrinkled, colorless in the photos, tired. I do exercise now 15 minutes a day in my sun-room, listening to Pete Seeger or Nanci Giffith radio (Pandora).

This week I hit a bad patch on the road, and two of the hubcabs on my tires went bouncing and flying high away, I got a flat, and a rim of one of the wheels is permanently somewhat bent. I phoned Toyota and when I saw they would do nothing, I walked a block and a half down and up a steep steep hill to a Midas where a kind man for some $500 replaces the tires, mended the bent as best he could, put on generic hubcabs and I was in business again. I have to spend — Izzy and I cannot survive without beautifully working computers attached to the Internet and all that takes. Comfortable rooms and our cats in good health. I’d adopt a dog if Izzy would agree (she won’t) — see my motto above.


A very intense Clarycat — who might not take kindly to another species of rival

Gentle reader, I hope you are doing something fulfilling during this cold and dark time; something you consider good work, keeping in touch with friends, staying well. Trying to make your surroundings pleasant to your eyes. Seek that contentment available to you. Keep loneliness at bay. I echo Garrison Keillor’s old three-part salute.

Ellen

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Richard Feynman: I share his metaphysical and pro-education outlook and assigned his books to classes for many years …

Friends,

This I wrote four days ago upon waking:

I looked out the window and saw such a pretty winter scene — the differently colored leaves (some withered, some not) scattered in the light green grass like decorations. I love these darker flowering bushes, the auburns, and browns, the chrysanthemums, bareness and configurations of the trees, the light blues and pinks in the sky. I find winter’s austerity beautiful.
And it’s another reason to stay alive.

This to someone who this morning objected to my analysing the Outlander films, one at a time each week as they are shown andp posting it onto a face-book Outlander non-censored page:

I’m with Richard Feynman: To me to know more about a thing only adds to its beauty and interest: I don’t see how it subtracts.  I taught a course in science from a humanities point of view for many years and used to read these passages aloud to my students — at three different times as they come from three different places:

To which I add Patricia Fargnoli (one of my favorite poets), a poem I’ve not posted here before:

The Room

The clock pressed the hours by,
frost blinded the windows.
The language beyond them disappeared
into ice.
If you sit in such a room you can forget.
The orange cat stretched out full-length
on the table and slept
the sleep of a careless one.
I lived there — or did not live¬ —
the future a cutoff thing,
the past not part of me anymore¬ —
smoke flying back from the train
on a Russian steppe
in an old complicated novel.
Gone, gone. Gone, gone. And goodbye.
In that standstill time, the cat and I
studied each other like mirrors —
his topaz inscrutable eyes.
I thought I was safe in the room.
The plow came to plow through the whiteness.
Because I was locked in my body
the frost climbed higher.
Because I was not safe
my arms wrapped around me.
One minute became the next¬ —
nothing shifted
except the cat
who jumped down and went to his bowl.
In the bookcase, the books leaned
to the right and glazed over.
The white Greek rugs and three bright watercolors
dulled to the gray of a wolf’s pelt.
The ice entered and shook the curtains.
Then it was time to move, however slightly

some action to break the frozen surface.
Still I did not move but the cat disappeared
into his hiding place between the boxes
under the bed.
I think of the people out in the world
moving around in their lives.
in/out, up/down, bending, standing,
wheels under them, the open skies.
How brave they all are.
In that room, I held fear
like the egg of a beast, about to break open.

and a favorite picture – by one of my favorite 20th century women artists:


Nell Blaine, Night Light Snow

Ellen

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My new stationary exercise bike

Friends and readers,

I hope all who read this diary blog had some good enjoyment yesterday. Izzy and I passed the day as we have three out of the five times we’ve live through this one since Jim died — more or less alone together.  Once a friend-daughterlike-student came with her partner from Canada to meet over a chicken with us, and once we were invited to a neighbor to partake of a turkey dinner with her and her disabled son.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the new photo. Yes I bought a stationary exercise bike at last: it arrived this past Tuesday in a big long box I could hardly move; if I understood Amazon accurately (it was not clear what would happened until I clicked to spend $148 for the bike and $73 to have it put together, separate buttons) soon after a man would come to put it together. Well he did. I almost missed him because he texted me to try to see if I was home and when I heard the call, I picked up the cell phone and tried to talk to him. No matter, I had clicked on Amazon I would be there. I have done another 8 minutes this morning and realize I have also to invent a warm-up pattern to help myself some more.

Well, back to yesterday: in the morning Izzy watched the Macy’s Day Parade, and after household tasks, I read & wrote: yesterday on Winston Graham’s No Exit, one of his few worthwhile suspense novels (not marred by misogynistic and other trash & silly tropes). I have identified thus far two other good, ethical, even fine fictions by him in the suspense mode: The Dangerous Pawn and Strangers Meeting (I recognize some of the misogynistic books have attracted male mass media movies, plays, even an opera). And I posted on my two listservs @groups.io on good books and films we are doing there, to Victoria on women’s hats in the era as showing status, rank, all sorts of cultural signals, even Outlander on the recent episode of Season 4 (caused an explosion of comments, some 246 over the day). We were unable to go for our usual walk in Old Town Alexandria or a nearby park — it being too cold where we are, so in the later afternoon I watched the 1974 Oliver Stone’s All The President’s Men. Excellent film where we watch the very early stages of finding out hard-to-get necessary information and clues to understand something important had happened and to begin to find out what it was. All actors superb. Then Izzy and I had a usual good dinner we both like and are able to eat: a roast chicken (from a family-owned farm, free range) with basmati rice, Dell Monte zucchini with yummy sauce, orange juice for her and wine for me, all while listening to good music and talking.

From friends over the day letters, emails and from Nick Holland’s blog on the Brontes an unexpected photo of Emily Bronte’s Keeper, which made me hope that Gaskell’s story of the beating of that dog by Emily which probably the truth was a rare moment in the life of that animal:

I’d gotten into Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and returning to it for my historical fiction project. She then read and watched TV & was on the Internet too, perhaps saw a movie.

Our cats played, hung about, stayed near to us, & rested & slept a lot ….

It doesn’t seem commensurate but of the good things that happened this year: I was able (with help) to move my three long-time listservs from bad yahoo to good groups.io, and made it back after many years to the lake district in the UK, and Ian, my boy pussycat is looking better of late than he has, for unknown reasons his fur a better color, smoother, fluffier, and his eyes while still surrounded by grey, somehow his face a healthier ginger with light yellow and white once again. Of the bad and losses: my friend Vivian died. One year Christmas eve we walked with her in the twilight to look at the Alexandria City Christmas tree.

A favorite a propos Jane Austen remark: “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). Clarycat and a truly congenial book-as-friend await me on my pillow for the night …..

I posted this to face-book at the end of the day, but found that because I did not pretend to more cheer than I felt or talk of joy or post pictures signifying these things — though I do believe conviviality and sharing the good things about this holiday ritual — I received replies which implied I was sad or in such a mood because of Vivian’s death: “condolences” and “sorry for your loss” sort of thing, which grated so I put a comment onto face-book that I’ll recycle here:

The above intendedly mild paragraph in response to FB well-meant conviviality is being misunderstood or one detail too emphasized. I mentioned Vivian’s death but my mood and point of view is not the result of that one event but the whole year I have lived through, and the kind of day I passed truthfully described amid this hegemonic order. There is one correction I should make this morning: I did not read Tomalin (who is on the pillow for what she stands for in my mind), but instead her biography of Katherine Mansfield and the very great literary biography by Nicola Beauman on EM Forster called Morgan, worth probably far more than countless books. How well she quotes Woolf on Forster.


He and she my companions

I am so tempted to cite Merwin’s Thanks in order to try to reinforce the balance I intended that I will:

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

But I found Merwin inadequate or simply comes across as ill-tempered not to forget for a few hours, so wanting to be adequate I watched DemocracyNow.org with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh discussing what is happening in our world that matters this very week and put links to that on face-book too:

among other things, a new Brazil emerging which returns us to the horrors upon horrors of the 1970s and 80s fomented by the US gov’t (and its corporations and military). The transcripts are there too: the caravan of wretchedly poor miserable people in danger of losing their lives to be met by guns and detention centers (and separation) at the US borders, the looming nuclear war ratcheted up, and how he who I won’t sully this page by naming knows there is climate break-up as his request to Ireland to allow one of his companies to build a wall shows. Lula in prison the equivalent of Mandela.

For today another day’s study, reading, writing, communicating as best I can with what uplift I can that is nonetheless truthful to be with others in the best way available to me ahead. Izzy is preparing a new song for us … and worked on that yesterday too, several times.


My computer’s automatic Windows 10 computer-enhanced latest wallpaper — as of November 23rd, this morning (click to enlarge, remembering that yours truly cannot reproduce the luminosity of the original, which comes from the computer light and had to cut off the edges in order to cut off metal frame of the computer that the cell phone software caught)

Ellen

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Early this morning just as the sky lightened and the snow and ice began …

First day of snowing — it is pouring bits of ice as well as hard pellets soaked with rain. Izzy had kept a record for many years (yes many years) of the first day it snowed. Maybe since she was 10. November 8 1995. I do feel the cold this year, more strongly than I ever did before. I have to wrap up to prevent chilblains. As also find myself reluctant to go out in the dark and winds. But I still like winter … as a very pretty time as long as one is not homeless, and (better yet) has a warm house to live in with windows looking out over a pretty scene ….

Friends,

Fall took such a long time to arrive, and hardly here, she has vanished to be replaced by Winter. I discover I cannot ignore the cold, dark, and wind as I once did, so I stay home most of the time — to remain warm, in the light, and safe from any automobile accidents. Happily, the electricity has not wavered and I’ve returned successfully to my two projects, the first of which has changed, now a book on the Poldark novels (switching context so that the genre of historical fiction becomes central),

instead of trying to write a biography where I do have to travel and have to have a lot of materials and probably some help from his family or friends — none of which is truly materializing in any way I could begin with historical fiction/romance. It would be a book of literary and film criticism with a section on Graham himself _after_ a chapter on historical fiction. I want the emphasis to be this set of books and films, and I see these suspense novels as part of an explanatory context. I don’t know if I could sell such a book to anyone but I could try to write it. The first chapter would be on historical fiction/romance which is a great love and interest of mine. Many of these are set in specific regions as an important characteristic of the type — this is as true of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as it is of Sontag’s Volcano Lover or DuMaurier and Graham. My idea is to write a second chapter on regional romance and Cornwall. Move to these marginalized communities, and why they are important to the genre. So two chapters by this coming May of this — I don’t know if I could but if I don’t have to worry myself about pleasing editors using word software or anything else of that type I think I could literally do it. I think I could then “do” Graham with the amount of material I even have now (as Part 2), but If I were to go to the libraries, say 4 (one I dream of going to is BBC for their archives) I could do much better.

The second is a hoped-for book of essays on that anomaly, a woman living (in effect) alone becoming clarified. Candidates for separate chapters by me include:

Christine de Pizan, Anne Murray Halkett, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Francis Power Cobbe, Margaret Oliphant. I have to ask myself which woman best exemplifies what I want to say, and there are a number of candidates for the 18th and 19th century, as Sarah Fielding, Elizabeth Carter, Harriet Martineau, Anna Jameson, Geraldine Jewsbury. I returned today to Bridget Hill’s grim Women Alone: spinsters in England, 1660-1850, and the moving Singled Out by Virginia Nicolson, women in the UK and fiction after WW1; and have been thinking of this figure in fiction. I’ve begun Martha Vicinus’s important Independent Women: Work & Community for Women 1850-1920. I bought Sheila Jeffreys’s The spinster and her enemies: feminism and sexuality, 1880–1930


On the cover of one of her books she has that image of a woman on all fours on the floor grieving with which Mantel almost concludes the story of Anne Boleyn

I have a partner whose ideas are very rich. One of her candidates is Virginia Woolf’s Quaker aunt, Carolina Emilia Stephens.

I wonder if others dream of going to library archives and spending hours in one

I’ve plunged into my historical fiction column reading (Jane Stevenson’s The Winter Queen) — part of my Poldark novels project now, and reading and watching movies with, and writing to my friends on two listservs and the face-book pages where I participate (now a regular on an Outlander page not controlled by Gabaldon or her film agents). Evenings I revel in watching the 1970s Poldark episodes against the 2015, followed by the first season of Outlander (after which I’ll turn to the second)

Tonight I re-watched Ava Duvernay’s Selma and I cried and cried for them winning and for us winning for the time we did and now losing ground. I’ve never done such an admirable thing as these black people, so courageous. They did win over Johnson and the Civil Rights bill was passed, and eventually one wondrous result was that night Obama was nominated for the presidency.  What a moment! — I saw Jessie Jackson in the crowd his face suffused with tears.


The Selma cast on the bridge at Selma; King and everyone on the bridge that day in 1965

Have you seen Duvernay’s 13th? Its center is the 13th amendment, which does not forbid slavery as a punishment for a crime. It is there specifically as a clause exempting slavery as punishment for crime. So this incarceration was envisaged from the very first by whoever worded that amendment.

In my car there and back (weather permitting) I’ll be listening to the marvelous (thus far) Drums of Autumn by Gabaldon as read so effectively by Davinia Porter.

I’ve still one course I’m teaching too: The Enlightenment: At Risk. We have been discussing Samuel Johnson and this week saw the stunningly effective Culloden by Peter Watkins. Soon I will be ready to blog on E.M. Forster’s extraordinary novels and Scotland in the Enlightenment. I need not start for quite a while Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?, which I’ll be teaching at both OLLIs this spring.

So there’s where I’m at in spirit and imagination.

Practically and locally: I bought a bunch of winter clothes, including shoes, and have taken a chance and ordered a semi-pre-assembled stationary bike to arrive this Saturday, with an appointment with someone to come on Sunday to put it together. I am so glad I renovated my house and have my sun-room. I also bought four sets of tickets for Izzy and I to enjoy Christmas festivities, once with Laura with us come December.

I’ve decided to take a plunge and when it’s time to register for the ASECS conference in Denver this March, to stay in an airbnb. I so loathe those soul-less hotels where I feel so alone when there are no sessions on. I think I’ll endure the time there better. With a friend I planned a Road scholar trip to some Shakespeare plays this August; we will do it in January if her health permits.

My pussycats stay close, Clarycat my perpetual companion, Snuffy aka Ian coming by for sessions of hugging and snuggling down in my lap.

I wake in the morning (as Jim would have said) unsteady on my pins. Dizzy at first.  Hard time asserting my balance.  A new small deterioration.  The worst thing is the cement-glue that is supposed to hold my upper denture to my jaw: the taste is continually nauseating, to the point I cannot resist trying to retch violently and frequently. I find hours after taking them off late into the wee hours I’m still coughing.

Allow me to crow a little: my “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism” has been published in Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian and New Zealand Literature, but I discover this beautiful issue is available as a series of pdfs online:

It is not a dry-as-dust academic journal with all essays in mandarin overtly intimidating language (gobbledygok) but combines poetry, fiction, belletristic non-fiction, the usual essays (all readable. of which mine is one) and reviews.

And as appropriate for this time, I send along a poem by Louise Gluck, which appeared in the most recent New Yorker issue:

POEM

Day and night come
hand in hand like a boy and a girl
pausing only to eat wild berries out of a dish
painted with pictures of birds.

They climb the high ice-covered mountain,
then they flyaway. But you and I
don’t do such things —

We climb the same mountain;
I say a prayer for the wind to lift us
but it does no good;
you hide your head so as not
to see the end —

Downward and downward and downward and downward
is where the wind is taking us;

I try to comfort you
but words are not the answer;
I sing to you as mother sang to me —

Your eyes are closed. We pass
the boy and girl we saw at the beginning;
now they are standing on a wooden bridge;
I can see their house behind them;

How fast you go they call to us,
but no, the wind is in our ears,
that is what we hear —

And then we are simply falling —

And the world goes by,
all the worlds, each more beautiful than the last;

I touch your cheek to protect you —

-Louise Gluck

How I wish Jim and I were boy and girl still going downward together. Do I long for that kind of physical closeness? I’m not sure. For a man I need to trust someone first truly and feel and be loved and love myself.  I wish I had such a relationship with a daughter. How fast you go they call to us. Ghosts calling to me who walk alone.


Monet, Cornwall in Winter

So I continue lonely  — when I go to sleep — and I age.

Ellen

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My miniature maple tree is now a uniform lovely dark red — I took this photo in the pouring rain

This is the November time of year in Virginia when it rains hard and steadily for several days in a row, taking away the colored leaves. That has not changed over the years. It happens in NYC in later October …

Dear friends,

My mother told me early that whatever happens to you, however unhappy you may be, you can escape into a book — Claire Tomalin

I’m in the awkward situation of having too many books and too many movies and too much activity to tell of since I last posted here. I lack a single overriding focus except to say that the fall term is starting to wind down. I write because I do not want to lose contact with my real friends who read me here. You owe this to Amazon Prime fooling me into thinking they were streaming Sally Fields’s Norma Rae, only to discover all that is on offer is a trailer so I had to send away to Netflix for a DVD and am too daunted by MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell (extraordinary as his recreation of the early Tudor world is) to inch further along this evening.

Both courses that I taught (Wolf Hall: A Fresh Angle on the Tudor Matter; and The Enlightenment at Risk, see Candide and La Religieuse) have gone splendidly. They and reading with others on-line, going to a conference where I gave a paper on Austen’s Persuasion and attended two plays, a guest visitor staying with me, who took this photo in front of Blackfriars’ theater in Staunton, Virginia, — all have left little time to blog:

I did have my paper proposal accepted for a coming ASECS meeting in Denver in March on Winston Graham’s historical fiction (with the much more original proposal on Henry Fielding as a feminist turned down). I read late at night and in the early mornings in bed — much to my cats’ impatience.

This week is the last of my Wolf Hall and the Tudor matter lectures, and after we finish Samuel Johnson on Scotland and watching the BBC classic documentary Culloden next week I’ve got but two sessions on Madame Roland’s memoir and the early phases of the French revolution to go. Near the end I want to do nothing so much as read Hilary Mantel and Samuel Johnson’s prose and about him by John Wain (who captures his tone and the best parts of his mind) endlessly.

Probably what has eaten into my time most is watching truly great (often classic) movies for three different courses I attended this term: I do most of this watching at night, and I’ve watched film adaptations of the books I’ve taught so as to be able to show clips in the classes of effective meaningful central scenes, and now this week I’ve added to re-watching the fourth season of Poldark, the stunningly brilliantly done film adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (scripted by Fiona Seres), and the fourth season of Outlander (Drums in Autumn), where I just find irresistible Jamie and Claire. My favorite actress just this day is Jessie Buckley, my favorite actor Zakes Mokae. All I have had time for is to keep a list simply not to forget what I’ve seen and what’s left to see! the outstanding best of those I’ve not blogged about (I managed only women’s films) have been Paths of Glory, Judgment at Nuremberg, A Dry White Season (this last by a woman, 1989 Euzhan Palcy), and the early classic, Battleship Potemkin.


Jessie Buckley as Marion Halcombe in Fiona Seres’s 2018 Woman in White: what is distinctive is Collins’s novel is filmed so as to realize strongly its tale of a society organized on subduing and exploiting women through silent and overt violence; technically the most expert and marvelously (colored and film noir gothic) serial drama I’ve seen in a while. The use of juxtaposition, flashback, rearranged time is astonishing; all that is left out is voice-over for perfection

The unexpected: I listened in my car to a true masterpiece, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. I became immersed (insofar as time permitted) in E.M. Forster: he is a deeply morally good and astonishingly multi-perspective genius at novel-writing. On Trollope&Peers, we read and saw Howards End, A Room with a View, and I read a good deal of Beauman’s biography, Morgan & Charles Summer’s close reading of Forster’s writing. Thinking of Forster’s character Cyril Fielding helps me see my continual moral flaws and stupidities and agree with Forster about the sad futility of longing for “the Friend who never comes.”


E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington; a blog essay on his work by Tyler Tichelaar

And who would have thought Barbara Pym’d be a revelation: I was startled into contentment for two of her four characters in the faery tale ending of Quartet in Autumn, and strongly upset for her by her courting public sexual humiliation after she finished at Oxford (no wonder she wrote about 50 year old spinsters when she was in her mid-20s).

An HD opera was unexpectedly very good: Sanson and Dalila by Saint-Saens,and coming up is the new opera Marnie, based on Winston Graham’s novel.

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Longoni, Un gatto per Amicor

So what can I tell of out of all this that you cannot read elsewhere? Something non-famous? I’ve followed an excellent 6 week Future Learn course on Understanding Violence against Women and learnt much (what they do in their program is hold the particulars of the perpetrator in mind and work to stop or eject him). I spoke of the 1st & 2nd week here (scroll down). Now I’ll tell of the fifth week:

The course suddenly dramatically improved: now they were going to talk of survivors, how they are treated by society, what happens to them if they go for help, how they themselves feel inside as people ever after. And lo and behold there was a filmed interview of Judith Herman, and two women running rescue clinics, and shelters and in Scotland groups funded to help survivors of abuse. (I”ll lay a bet there is nothing like this in the US, and that whatever rescue shelters and clinics we’ve had are quickly going badly or being shut down since Trump&Co.)

What had been missing was the larger trajectory of the society that let this abuse inside a marriage happen (as yet there is no idea that marriage itself, compulsory marriage is at the core of all this violence permitted, even encouraged implicitly when you teach men how entitled they are and to be macho, and violence as a solution). They even critiqued themselves in that they said 25 years ago when police or social workers first really didn’t ignore calls to homes where violence had happened, the so-called investigation produced these general abstractions about what had happened instead of the particular case and what was the particular paradigms of behavior that abused the women and children, nor was the perpetrator paid attention to. All that was really written down was any physical injuries. Well no more. Now they try to pay attention to the perpetrator and look at the peculiar patterns and try to get the family members become aware and address the problem so the violence and coercion and cruelty and abuse stops.

We need to look at wider causes of this violence against women and in Judith Herman’s talk that is brought out: compulsory heterosexuality inside a family and society structure that makes women subject to other people’s exploitative uses of them with nowhere to turn. I realize she had outlined places to go, but the interview also talked about how such places don’t always address the problems, can deprive the victim of autonomy (she’s not in control), further punish her, put her further at risk

It was very hard for me to pay attention up front to some of this because I had some horrible experiences age 12-15 and probably no one ever helped me. Over the years and a lifetime I’ve somewhat recovered, but never wholly. I would hope other girls today get help; the situation is not improving in the US right now because of the Trump regime: we are going backwards as women are mocked, ridiculed and once again silenced, and social services cut

Anna Mitchell was superb. Yes we must not be content with general talk and general assessment or just pay attention to obvious physical abuse. You must look at all forms of abuse and abjection (the victim becomes abject) and hold the abuser accountable to stop the patterns of behavior that are harmful.

A movie, The Hunting Ground: It’s a powerful film, with Lady Gaga’s song (this brand name feels like an embarrassment to me — she is Stefanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta) and here it is — I hope my code stuff comes through: of many thoughts I had as I watched, I found that I became directly distressed as I watched and listened to the girl speak of the aftermath, of how they felt and were treated afterward. It was then I began to shake and couldn’t look. I’d say that just about no girl in that film ever had the slightest true justice, and every single young man who raped, gang-raped, assaulted and otherwise maimed these girls got away with it. Here and there in the film a young man is ejected from a university after he has won for them all the games he can, or is thrown out after he graduated. By contrast, a number of the girls whose story is followed through on has suffered massive insult and has been punished by her society in one way or another. I also found on line a video made by the American Enterprise Institute cleverly accusing this film of being “sensationalism.” Towards the end you see Obama and Biden get up and profess satisfaction that these brave girls have come forward and promise to help them; since DeVos has been put at the head of the education department she has turned back the rules that provided even the minimum assistance that Obama and Biden’s administration offered.

I would like to add this: thus far all the cases reported have one of the parents backing the girl, with the implication or assumption the other parent did too. When I tried to tell my mother she first scoffed, when I persisted, she called me a tramp and made derisive remarks, and finally told me she didn’t want hear about this. I am now 71 and have never forgotten those 3 years; they shaped my existence ever after. Since I believe there is nothing exceptional about me, and far from supporting me, I feel that the evidence you have produced should cases where other girls are not supported by one or the other parent. I didn’t tell my father because I was too ashamed, and also worried he too would blame me or tell me to forget about this.

In the US violence is mostly defined as physical violence of some sort. While there are laws in place, a few agencies and local assistance, it seems to me little true help is available. I know from experience that the psychiatric and psychological professions have gone over to CBT, which in my view is worthless: they are basically telling you to have good thoughts and conform, or they offer you a drug. Since the election of Trump, for women in the US life has deteriorated in public.

Probably all three stages are equally important, but it may be that the first two are easier to effect than the last. You need agencies and gov’t to come in and provide safety (put the man or men away in prison) and help the women and if she has children, the children involved find a good place to live, help her pay the rent as she begins to live there separately — or help her get a job. The third one involves personal relationships and this requires social skills on the part of the woman, things in the family that the community around identified with and respects, and the willingness of the people around her to become her and her children’s friends and associates. All this is hard, takes time, may not happen.

Obviously getting the community around women in different localities in the US to support the woman and/or her children. It’s clear from statistics that at this point it is the male assaulter who is supported and protected, and often goes unpunished. The challenge is to get the society as a whole and individual families and if there are institutions involved to value women as people. But the US has elected a man to be president who boasts of his sexual predation and mocks and derides women who are assaulted and come forward to protest. I see very good comments below by other people here.

I found Ann Hayne’s attitude one which would lead to genuine helping of another individual. She behaves and tells others how to behave with the needs of the traumatized individual in mind. It is the particulars that she singles out that struck me as exactly right. I have seen psychologists where the person supposed to help me makes me feel much worse by making demands I can’t meet, or in effect dismissing my fears by advising me to do things that would further terrify me. I thought the video cartoon comforting, and especially like how three very different types of trauma were included. In the talk and video were taken into account the kind of person (me) who becomes attached to someone dominating and then stays with a person because he’s kind, enables some of the things I’ve wanted to do and couldn’t on my own, and it’s so much easier. I suggest though something is left out: what about the person (me) first abused who then gets into another different kind of relationship where the abuse is not obvious, & the second relationship disguises that the first was never dealt with.

Claire Tomalin, London, 1989

The one review of Claire Tomalin’s for me utterly readable and riveting A Life of My Own that I have come across,  Stacy Schiff’s “Making Herself the Subject,” in the New York Review of Books is remarkable for the reviewer’s ability to quote some of the many perceptive memorably put assessments from a few of Tomalin’s great biographies and to squeeze into a clear outline of the most significant & moving of Tomalin’s details about her ultra-busy successful life, but Schiff does omit herself, what we might surmise would be another woman writer’s reaction to Tomalin’s cool candor (shared in the comments).

Sometimes as I’d fall asleep (especially when hers was the last book of the late night) I’d find myself crying. I cried for her because she didn’t cry and I cried for myself because I never had a chance to experience, to be trained, to achieve all she has. I found I didn’t begrudge her because she eschews the self-congratulatory, she blames no one, not a whiff of boasting (and she was a literary editor of the New Statesman and Sunday Times), there is something beautiful in the way she regards herself as neither punished or rewarded, “as powerless to resist as a migrating bird or salmon swimming upstream.” I love her for her empathy in her biographies of others (and I have loved her Dora Jordan, Ellen Ternan, Mary Wollstonecraft, more or less agreed with her Jane Austen) and here for herself for not evading literal truth even when she doesn’t open up her grief or reveal her understanding of what happened, like when one of her daughters killed herself, when her husband, Nick, beat her up, even when she wrongs someone else, marrying the playwright Michael Frayn. I just felt so sad at these friendships I have missed, at the evidence of a courage and know-how that can never be mine. Maybe because she is a biographer, doing what I’d love to do in archives around the Eurocentric world. I have put her Katherine Mansfield on my night table.

Louise de Salvo’s life of Virginia Woolf; she died this week. You won’t hear her important persuasive argument and solid evidence that Woolf’s half-sisters, Laura and Stella, and her whole sister, Vanessa, were all physically as well as emotionally abused from earliest to teen years in that Victorian household, and the mother, Julia, was complicit: they put Laura away for not fitting in; they let Stella die; Vanessa survived by pretending what was in front of her was not; only Virginia reacted with full truth to what they had all experienced, so of course what she had to say was not acceptable and must be over-sensitive, diverted, re-channeled and controlled. De Salvo praised but her insights never mentioned and forgotten by others when they write, so Virginia’s experience erased, misunderstood, quite deliberately.

Still the famous are so sometimes for good reasons: Adrienne Rich touches deepest and widest, and I returned to her essays and poetry on and off, especially “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience.” I don’t cry when I read Rich, I want to return to my project The Anomaly. I will also never love or be loved by a man again. I have to be content to dream what can never be again. I have been reading tonight her book

The Fact of a Doorframe

means there is something to hold
onto with both hands
while slowly thrusting my forehead against the wood
and taking it away
one of the oldest motions of suffering

One of my favorite poems by Rich is too long to share in a blog: Transcendental Etude (this is but one stanza, gentle reader: she begins “This August evening I’ve been driving” and she ends “now the stone foundation, rockshield further/forming underneath everything that grows”). Do you know it?

How about just this to end on:

The longer I live the more I mistrust
theatricality, the false glamor cast
by performance, the more I know its poverty beside
the truths we are salvaging from
the splitting-open of our lives.
The woman who sits watching, listening,
eyes moving in the darkness
is rehearsing in her body, hearing out in her blood
a score touched off in her perhaps
by some words, a few chords, from the stage:
a tale only she can tell …

No one who survives to speak
new language has avoided this:
the cutting away of an old force that held her
rooted to an old ground
the pitch of utter loneliness
where she herself and all creation
seem equally dispersed, weightless, her being a cry
to which no echo comes or can ever come …

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Camille Pissarro, Autumn at Eragny

To conclude, I’ve a new writing project: every couple of months I am to write a review of a historical fiction set in the 18th century, preferably recent, but they can go back a bit into the mid- to later 20th century. It will be for the Intelligencer, a kind of three paragraph column. I’ve a site to start looking for prospective new books (Historical Novel Society) and my own lists of Booker Prize, Whitbread and other powerful historical fiction to work from. I will once again try to subscribe to History Today, but this time through a letter and just for the paper copies. I cannot navigate their site.

It is harder to stay sane than people admit. I couldn’t do it without these routes.  I wake in the morning longing for companionship, the ache in my heart so hard. I grow weary with too much life-learning and find a very few of my computer friends fulfill my heart’s needs more than most people I seem to have to work so hard to spend time with and have what’s called friendship. Claire Tomalin says the writing life is “silence, hard slog, loneliness, and old clothes:” she has omitted deep peacefulness when you are engaged, absorption so as to forget all else. Books are my best friends and I want to spend more time with her, and her characters.

Ellen

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My house, photographed from the right side

Funny, the things that cheer you up.

Without much thinking about it, to people walking by who bring up my renovation of my house or my newly made garden (usually to compliment me), I’ve been calling the house a “cottage.” It is probably too difficult and would not be socially acceptable to explain my aim was to make the appearance of my site in the world respectable. I’ve an idea it differs from other houses in my area … like Widmerpool’s jacket at the opening of Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

Well, a friend was over here the other day and said in reply to my unconscious characterization, that yes my house does look like a “cottage,” and then obviously trying to be tactful said the new garden, trees and flowers “soften” the effect, for now the house looks “less stark.” Then: “maybe you should get shutters on the windows.” I looked at her. “It would be more cozy,” she said. Today someone came over and offered to give me some sort of grass, to put on the two corners of the fence, one on each side. I told how another neighbor took back her sedge grass (turns out she was an Indian-giver) because she was not pleased with how I was behaving towards it with less than regular watering this summer. Then we turned to look at all the trees and plants, she said, congratulating me, also said something like the house is now not “so stark” and suggested “shutters.” So I remembered Austen about how the Dashwoods’ house “as a cottage was defective.” My house is regular, I’ve not even got shutters, much less green ones, no ivy, no hopes of honeysuckle at all. “As a cottage it is defective.”

I had told the woman neighbor whom I paid to do a garden plan when she asked me, What is your vision?” — stumped at such an unexpected pomposity (she really asked that) –, I paused and then came up with “I like clarity, simplicity, and symmetry.” Like a Pope couplet, explaining who Alexander Pope was. She looked at me as if I were mad. This is not what she expected me to say. What was she expecting? me to cite some super-expensive bushes? I don’t know the names of most plants, much less how much they cost one compared to another or rate on the scales of admiration.


Drenched by hose twice a day, my miniature magnolias begin to thrive

No I won’t add shutters. The way I put it to myself is it would cost money and would be a bother, is not easy to do. Besides which, the windows’ frameworks are utterly minimal and shutters would look absurd. Out of place. I would never have used that term stark for the house, and though now I half-see it, to me the house is plain, functional, simple, four walls on two squares, with two triangles, one on each square.

Would I do better to drop the word?

This is not coming out funny — the important inner point is I am no longer ashamed of my house, I know it does not have to look like a magazine image — but I did laugh when I thought of Austen. How ridiculous we all are.

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. (Austen, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 6)

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Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel (2018 HBO Howards End, scripted Kenneth Lonergan, directed Hettie Macdonald)

The hardest thing about life as widow for me is to live without love. I can be cheerful from much that I do, feel buoyant, deeply satisfied by reading a great text (say Forster’s Howards End), watching and re-watching the two film adaptations (1990s, Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 2018 Lonergan), but happy no.

I’ve discovered that Ian wants laptime and playtime every day. Yes. A new demand. He never used to. Ever since I can remember Clarycat has plumped herself on my lap and looked up to me with yearning eyes. She wants me to look down and make eye contact for hours. If I don’t look down, she puts a paw on my arm, or hand, nudges me with her whole body. When I give in, look down, she begins to lick my face thoroughly and nowadays I do look down and far more quickly and let her lick to her heart’s content. Such have I become because I lack love.

Now Ian aka Snuffy has taken to following me about about sometimes, wherever I am, and making little mews. I ask him, what do you want? but he can’t say. Over and over this interaction until today I have figured it out. From his new patterns of behavior. Periodically over the day, he comes over to the side of my chair, and puts a paw on my arm. Waits. I turn to him, look down and he waits for eye contact, and then jumps up. He will not allow me to pull him up, no he must jump up in his own right. Then he pressed his whole body against mine on the left side, with his head pressed to mine, facing backwards. He nudges my face with his cheek over and over, one paw winding around my neck. And there we sit, I stroke him, behind the ears, under the neck and he stretches, purring with a low growl. His tale moves back and forth, fat, full, on top of my keyboard. In effect we make love. He likes to do this around midnight too when I am sat here watching a movie or writing a blog.

Around 6:30 each evening when Izzy and I get together in the front of the house (dining room, kitchen) to do what’s necessary to finish off preparing supper (takes about a half-hour), there is Snuffy, looking expectant. What does he want? Without realizing this I had begun each night to play with a string with him. He began to remember this and now each night we must do it. He looks forward to it. Sometimes Clarycat joins in. Playtime.

As I type this tonight after having failed not stop myself suddenly falling asleep for over an hour it seems, and lost my reading glasses (hopelessly misplaced), so bought yet a fourth pair on the Net (cannot read without them), Clarycat is firmly ensconced in my lap, with Ian over on the library table in the cat bed seeming asleep. Their softly jingling bells silent.


One afternoon not long ago, the pair on the library table, he looking out the window …

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As a policy I find it counter-productive to go to the trouble of critiquing harshly any book or movie at length (in a separate blog), and as I often on this blog talk of my social time, especially my going to the OLLIs, conferences, out to plays and so on, and this story is more about the reaction of others to a book, than the book itself, so for the last third of this week’s diary, I’ll tell it here.


Jia Torentino writing smoothly in the New Yorker says the novel “instantly feels canonical, a world remarkably gorgeously permanently overrun by migrants ….

I read swiftly last week, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. It’s one of these be-prized, widely-read recent best-sellers — just the kind that book clubs with discrimination choose to read as a group. When I read it alone, I thought it fairly good. Do you know it? a fable about refugee immigrants fleeing about the world, in each place at continual risk of horrifying senseless death from crazed bands of people locally or bombs from the air. Hamid uses magic realism so they keep exiting through magically appearing doors. Beginning perhaps in Pakistan, or Syria, Turkey, they move through (Mary Poppins like?) and find themselves first in a refugee camp on an island in the sea, then in London, then California ….

When I wrote briefly about the book on WomenWriters@groups.io (apologizing for bringing up a book by a male), I linked it into a book read and discussion we had had of Kamilla Shamsie’s Home Fire:

On my own, I saw the fluidity of the style, its grace, the occasional gnomic statement, the poignancy of some of what happens and is felt. But I was disappointed at the end. As the story carried on, to me the underlying archetype that was keeping all these zigzag moves, the improbable fantasies together was the intense relationship of Nadia and Saeed and I began to see parallels continual with the ancient Daphnis and Chloe story (by Longus) and so Paul et Virginie or Tristan and Isolde aesthetics. So I felt thwarted when they just gradually separated. Not that I had another ending in mind (as some say of say Mansfield Park or Little Women). Only the end I was fobbed off with didn’t work — had there been a political ending (as in Shamsie’s Home Fire, another Pakistani fable written in English to appeal to wealthy western audiences) I could have understood something, but Hamid to me just punted. He didn’t know what to do.

I realized then the real ending of the story is senseless death. They should have died like the couple in McEwan’s Atonement. Saeed just shot one day as he walks along, and Nadia beat to the death anyway despite her burka. Or from disease, from hunger. Now that would not have been a Daphnis & Chloe Or Tristan and Isolde ending: in both the lovers are either in bliss forever or they die together. What Hamid couldn’t face, and despite his false anti-Clarissa fable, McEwan could — senseless death, apart, absurd. Like so many in Candide. That’s the probable fate of this young couple and he hadn’t the heart or wit or stomach for it.

True, they never consummated, had full sexual intercourse. The rationale is he is religious. They are not married. I’ve read and know from personal experience, a woman’s inability to have full sexual intercourse even in marriage for years is not uncommon and most of the time when married they are forced. This turns up in literature again and again: one place is Byatt’s Possession: Ellen Ashe. It’s theorized Anne Radcliffe couldn’t let her husband “go all the way.” The burka was to keep men and all sex off. So I’m not sure of that. I also thought maybe we are to think she was inflicted by FGM. She is a Muslim, maybe her vagina has been destroyed. The book has this curious discretion: no soft core porn here 🙂 I didn’t laugh at him, I figured he had been kept innocent and was kind or sensitive if a bit dumb (like the male in Shamsie).

A member of WomenWriters@groups.io suggested we were to understand Nadia is lesbian. Nadia gets involved with a woman and I thought this a daughter-mother pattern, but then it didn’t go anywhere. Jim used to say I was hopelessly heteronormative. Maybe — like Henry James’s closet homosexuals, she is all the time and ever alone — except for Saeed, his father and one woman friend late in the book.

Then I attended a face-to-face talkative book club — and they talk about the book (not gossip about themselves).

While they are an intelligent group of women who know how to analyze a book, what the book allowed them to do was feel self-congratulations at their own positive attitudes towards immigration and refugees. The great moral a few kept saying was the book taught us we must move on, we must change with the demand for change. And they produced stories of older people who don’t change and they will be sorry for this soon …. It was a story we could all experienced, had experienced. They quoted a line from the book about how we are all immigrants in time. They implied they of course moved on.

Until then I had not realized how book shows a remarkable lack of anger in the protagonists, how all the character but one that we know live, how in fact the ending is benign, that this is a a providentially gentle book.

So after a while I brought up that the immigration or refuge stories were not the same as they had experienced, but was more like hispanic people coming to the US and being murdered (there was a grave of hundreds of people found in Texas a few years ago), that the whole thing was shot through with violence, terror, and while no one denied that, no one elaborated on that angle. I mentioned the detention camps around the US, the 1300 children now jailed. They seemed not to register that one at all. That part of this silence is they try not to discuss anything seen as taboo or partly controversial came out when I told of my friend saying the heroine was lesbian. I did this half-sceptically but they responded, oh yes, of course. They had seen that …

Then as one woman had been objecting to the magic realism (like her I do prefer straight realism), another commented (changing the subject), the doors are a deux ex machina, but I, persisting again, said yes when things are getting truly beyond endurance, a door opens and they escape. (Silently to myself I thought: in A Man for All Seasons when Robert Bolt’s More says “our natural business lies in escaping,” he means something else. Alas Bolt’s More does not want to escape — now I see everywhere in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies those not gone mad with religion do want to escape and most of the time try to only when it’s too late.) I then repeated how the book’s actual content is utter misery, abysmal poverty, deprivation, violence, they protested that that violence was not the purpose of the book. It didn’t need to be angry. It was about how people managed, how they functioned so well in these dire conditions.

One woman each time brings in research, sometimes from the New York Times book club discussions, or questions. This time she brought and read aloud from a biographical essay on Hamid. While he’s a Pakistani he also comes from a dizzingly privileged environment, seems to have hit every Ivy League college in the US or UK one can imagine (one parent a professor at one), when he went into business to pay his loans, he quickly rose to CEO, made just oodles more money. No wonder he writes the kind of distanced fable he does. Not Hamid’s fault these readers turned his story to one analogous with Fairfax housewives’ family pasts? They wanted analogies from long ago, say the Japanese in the US in the 1940s, not the Nazi state being set up by Trump.

My friend on WomenWriters (where as I said we had read as a group Kamilla Shamie’s Home Fire, whose story is far more genuinely about the plight and tragic and co-opted lives of immigrants) said that Hamid said he quit the CEO job because he realized he was joining the predators. She wrote: “I do think the title of Exit West gives away his politics. One could certainly object to his “tour” of refugee camps. Nothing too upsetting there. In a weird way, the novel almost ends up being a feel good piece — pretends to raise political awareness without making any demands on the reader. But it’s well written and sells. Hamid must be laughing” “All the way to the bank” I quipped. She then said it is even now being filmed.


Alice Bailly (1872-1938) A Concert Garden (1920)

But this time I didn’t laugh: it seems Helen Keller may be eliminated from school curricula across Texas, about which see my next Sylvia I blog.

Ellen

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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

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