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Simone de Beauvoir’s early existentialist essay

Frank: Might you have forgotten him, with time?
Claire: That amount of time doesn’t exist — “All Debts Paid” (Outlander 3:3)


Frank (Tobias Menzies) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) — Boston, 1968: he the tragic figure

Hope is the thing with feathers — Emily Dickinson

Friends and readers,

I get so tired sometimes. I want to stand or to sit ever so still, and hold my head with my hand on my forehead, over my eyes, and to keen. To give way at last. I am so fond of my nearly furniture-less sun-room. I wonder what Jim would think of it. I’ll never know. He would laugh, not mockingly. I do not remember him ever laughing mockingly. No jeers. His laughter was ever kind, gentle teasing, cordial, lightening up life. If it were not that I fall asleep because my one plush rocking chair is so comfortable, I’d sit there many hours in sunpuddle reading.

I seem this summer to be feeling more grief than I have in a while. I was so stunned that first year. It may be how things accumulate: this summer I realized too late (typical of me) that the ISECS (International 18th century society) meet in Edinburgh in July was one to go to — I could sense it from the photos I saw on face-book. To have been there then. I would have known enough of the people. I would have walked new streets that I’ve not tried, alleyways, maybe seen a play. I had been earlier this year regretting that Jim and I didn’t go to a Renaissance Society meeting that was held in Florence: he wanted to go in the early 2000s, but I was still so seared from a time in the 1990s when I tried on my own and was shattered by the experience — I knew no one and found it an endurance ordeal. He was right: we could have learned so much while we saw what was worth seeing; he would have been with me this time. Not so here. Now it’s come to me my reason for resolutely turning away, that my idea that I wanted to teach to take up the full six weeks had not taken into account I could have gone by saying I would teach a 3 week session at the OLLI at Mason summer session; no one would have minded. Why didn’t I think of this? Ah, if there is ever a next time.

Jim used to say when I’d cancel a class at Mason where it was a matter of required courses with grades, and it seemed no one or few minded at all, why didn’t he have a job like that; one where when he didn’t show up, many were relieved ….


Giovanni Volpato and Louis DuCrois, Temple to Sybil, Tivoli (1750) — once the wallpaper on Jim’s laptop (now mine, with a different picture

And then I had a panic attack trying to find a restaurant on a central Alexandria Old Town Street — having been invited to lunch there by two thoroughly monied Northwest DC-resident women (from the OLLI at AU). But he has missed so much. I merely miss my friend, my partner, the daily absence, the easy fun together.

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Clarycat this past Wednesday morning ….

I thought for this entry I’d transcribe my notes from a remarkably at moments exhilarating class experience I’m part of at the Politics and Prose bookstore for 3 evenings, 6-8 pm: it’s called “3 Odd Humanists,” but it’s about three existential texts and writers: Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism” (it’s not), Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity (Of Ambiguity is a more accurate, indeed close translation), and Weil’s The Need for Roots (Uprootedness in French). Ten highly intelligent some well-read people all reading the text, with a professor, David Johnson, from Georgetown who comes prepared. He startled me the first night by beginning with Plato and Aristotle. I remembered back to my early undergraduate days reading “selections” of philosophy by myself (300 people in the class, we sat in a vast lecture hall while the teacher talked on up front) for a required course whose absurd title I can’t quite recall.

I enjoy also when I come out around 8 and the sky is just darkening seeing how crowded the store is (a lecture upstairs will be going on), the people drinking, eating, reading and taking notes in the store (one guy at a table surrounded by books and papers), outside in the street everyone eating ice cream (I finally saw where the ice cream store is further along on the block), people sitting on benches, strolling about, eating out on the sidewalk by or in a restaurant, a good city life scene. Once three summers ago Vivian and I bought ice cream cones in a crowded store in Old Town in summer, it was around 9:30, people milling people all about us, two blocks from the river, an uncommon scene (some special event had occurred earlier in the day). I even ate mine. Then on both occasions, I could come home to my bed, my cats, my house, and relax. This time I ate supper and started this blog. I gather at Politics & Prose this kind of thing goes on almost nightly.

I want to transcribe a few scattered notes in the context of my own reading of the three books thus far. My handwriting is so feeble, the class proceeds by conversation mostly, not lecture, but I suspect I’ll get more out of what was said or remember some of it by writing the notes out, turning my Pitman stenography and memory into readable English.

What is now wonderful about philosophy is I’m learning it’s about finding a rationale, an encompassing perspective for oneself (with others) which explains and predicts how things are and can comfort. A kind of meaning or patterns. And it’s fun to do. The last or only time I took a real philosophy course before was a small class where we read a new book each week, starting with Sophocles, moving “through the ages” and languages, to include Dante’s Inferno, and on to 20th century texts: each time, in a manic way I thought, interpreting what we read to show that this text too exemplifies Heidegger’s existentialism — as explained to us in a readable more or less coherent text by Magda King. And it worked each time! after a while I could parrot and apply the Heidegger as-told-by King outlook to the point of getting an A+ in that course. But I did not see my own thoughts, feelings, acts intimately in terms of existentialism; that is what we are encouraged to do in these grown-up sessions.

So, on to what I have from Sartre & Beauvoir & Weil thus far:

Sartre (translator Carol Macomber): “In reality things will be what men have chosen them to be. Does that mean I must resort to quietism [conform]. No.” So in my life that means that although I was born to very poor unconnected parents, I ignored all attempts to make me make a life’s choice based on making a middle class income. Instead I chose literature, writing, and ended with low paid teaching (because that’s what the society has chosen for someone like me who does this ….)

I see Prof Johnson said that Sartre shows us a paranoid view of reality and what Sartre says we must do is move deep into our own minds and remain true to them. We are obligated it seems to feel the reality of anguish and abandonment when we realize we cannot turn to others to create our own meaning; at the same time as irrespective of others, no matter how they might try to stop us, we must fulfill our talents. We find we are here existing. (This reminds me of Heidegger’s thrownness.) The individual exploration of the self is what matters. We are a presence to ourselves. At the same time we must be responsible for our acts. If circumstances are against your doing something, Sartre says it is still cowardly not to do it — he insists you have the potential or capacity to act so not to act is a choice. David Johnson said that for Sartre subjectivity is your presence in the world.

He asserts that human relationships are fundamentally hostile. I fear this is so. We must affirm the value of what we choose. Must we?

He seems to think morality must have a broader scope than sympathy and devotion to another. Yet the concrete goal of helping another (rather than the vague group) is more useful. Reality alone counts. Dreams expectations only serve to define us as broken dreams, abortive hopes, and thwarted expectations. I feel I am in Samuel Johnson’s world here.

One problem I found is that Sartre is prescriptive, not descriptive as I remember Heidegger was. I think of an old Bible story about how if you are given certain talents, you must use them or God will punish you. No one supernatural will punish you in Sartre’s scheme — but yourself. He is unforgiving. I also found him defensive — especially against communists (!) who he said demanded that we give ourselves over to group idea or set of ideas. Thus we lose our freedom. Why not just ignore them? He was very bothered by Camus’s Stranger because he felt the book argued for the futility of any attempt to explain the world. (This is a branch of nihilism, commented the teacher). He says we must ignore others and yet himself cannot dismiss someone else’s admired book. Sartre says what has happened today is a breakdown of central social systems, so that people are aware their way of life is not universal nor their norms or values: we daily live in close proximity to disillusionment, disenchantment because we have woken up. Now to me we are with Kant saying that the enlightenment is a movement where we are adults and our own authorities based on our own experience and developing judgement.

How is existentialism humanism I asked the teacher: because we are centering ourselves on ourselves, on people relationships; through people the world is created. Well, I’d say in part. I read that Sartre says humanism is thinking man is the end we work for, humanity the supreme value. Well this is just wrong. Other animals count too and we must value them and act for them as much.


Ian this very morning on what was Jim’s desk, now my third library table, with the laptop on it too.

My notes on Beauvoir are more coherent and extensive. I felt that she was explaining Sartre — it is an early work, before The Second Sex, before any of her novels and long memoir.

The past is never to be used as a template for the present — David Johnson’s comment on a passage by Beauvoir which is not my understanding of her.  To me she subtilizes, nuances, and interjects an ethic of care. We might say hers is the woman’s point of view, his the man’s. She is concretely about politics and  the cruelties of fascism (as is Weil):

I know that Beauvoir write at her outset our nature has two basic impulses we must obey: to disclose ourselves to others and to will, to act out what we want or feel as mirrored by this disclosure. (She was accused of essentialism.) I thought how solitary confinement is a form of torture: the person can neither disclose him or herself, nor can he or she will an effective act.

Well, Johnson said for Beauvoir subjectivity is terrifying, as we are a mere small presence in a particularly unjust or evil world. She does insist that evil is real, that there are bad actors in the world, they rise to power and will evil. There can be no general ethics for all. We are left in ambiguity. We find ready-made values imposed on us by “serious” people, and these values veil our liberty from us. She is not a nihilist. When we genuinely act authentically we must not impinge on others’ liberty either – or speak or act for them.

Freedom for Beauvoir brings about transcendence, not in any divine but by opening up and providing for indeterminate possibilities. We do have to exist in the present. The last part of her text is her worrying over the Heideggerian idea that people to be human must thrust themselves forward into the future. The enslaved person is denied a fundamental need because he or she can have no future, can plan nothing as at any time he or she may sold or forced to do something he or she would rather not. Johnson remarked the future is the not yet. Religion tells us to throw ourselves into a future that’s is not so, so we must dismiss that. But many philosophies show how people live in terms of the future. I remember learning in the class on Heidegger that he explains why slavery is so de-humanizing: Nonetheless Beauvoir says we must live in the present; the future can be seen through what we are doing in the present, it is incarnate in the present. We must not lose ourselves in the not yet?

I was impressed by how often she brought up childhood, how many references to Rousseau, a long passage on Emile. She declared that “the child does not contain the man he will become.” At long last. There were several passages on how women have been enslaved, how even in cultures where there is opportunity to disclose themselves authentically to someone other than a trusted confidant, to act according to her will, she has been taught submission, struck by how she saw through the gaiety of women who are complicit with the wills of men, how quickly their graciousness can become hard, bitter fury. She too demands we not resign ourselves or we have failed. A piece on Mlle de Lespinasse’s abject letters in love, that Lespinasse is in love with suffering; she sees Lespinasse’s many renouncements, her dependence as frightening. So does Austen in Marianne Dashwood.

She gave me freedom when she said (reminding me of Elinor Dashwood) it is enough to be liberated in one’s thought. I felt comfort when she allowed for joy in history (and presumably historical fiction) because you assume a relationship of sheer contemplation and aesthetic enjoyment. The past is past.

Outside of time and far from men, we face history — Beauvoir, as translated by Bernard Frechtman

But I do know from Orwell “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls [our understanding of] the past.”

Johnson also seems to have talked of failure — or I have notes where he seemed to be saying how intentional we are, we may not be able to disclose ourselves to another. They are in their subjectivity. I cited RLStevenson, a favorite passage:

There is indeed one element in human destiny
that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever
else we are intended to do, we are not intended
to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business
is to continue to fail in good spirits. — Robert Louis Stevenson

To which one of the people said, Becket said that more concisely: fail better. I thought of all the exchanges on the Internet I’ve had over the years and how I misunderstand others and they misunderstand me, or how what I have said does not register as important to them, but some side issues or details I cited, and maybe vice versa too.

So we fall back on “the appeal:” we try to appeal to others based on their groundwork to understand us and we try to respond to appeals. An ethic of looking to the other, but respecting (not fearing) them except when evil actors, she can be brought together with Carol Gilligan’s humane groundwork on the psychology of women. And hence l’ecriture-femme.

I have begun Simone de Weil – the cover to my edition of her book is silly: a photo of carrots (root vegetables anyone?). Translator Arthur Wills. I know she starved herself to death, so desperately hideous to her was the barbaric WW2. She is so different from the other two, though. Not just the belief in God but an assumption we must take this belief into account in our understanding of life, death &c The publisher has TS Eliot as introducer because he was an overt fervent (in his later poetry) Anglican. Then he’s right about Weil having a way of beginning with a very wrong idea, indeed lopsided (to my mind), sometime perverse, but then from this point A she leaps to Point B, where she is uttering a brilliant explanatory truth and moving from truth to truth, some just statements and others encompassing utterances … There is paradoxically a lot more pragmaticism and open politics about the 1940s wars and the horrors of Nazism. Yet the soul’s needs is what she is on about: what are “the vital needs of the human being.” She is very Samuel-Johnsonian.

She offers concrete alternatives to the anti-humane organizations of our society, their de-humanizing and uprooted values. I discover too I have her deeply anti-war commentary, The Iliad or The Poem of Force, ed and trans. Hames P Holoska.

I’ve been reading in these two Weils this morning. I am troubled by my discovery that in her Uprootedness (The Need for Roots), the central presences are men. Once she leaves universal needs and talks of society, it’s the working men who must be freed, the peasant is a man. Women come up only as pregnant wives, as prostitutes (which she want to outlaw) or sewing.

There is no more masculine work I know than The Iliad, and all Weil’s words are couched as universals, not as gendered situations, yet here most frequently she picks out passages about women’s grief, women’s subjection. I gave up on Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls because its realism made it so monotonous; the heroine never had any choice, any separate subjectivity; this makes me want to return to it but I know I won’t find there what Beauvoir, Sartre and Weil all claim is possible: freedom in subjectivity through the mind. Frederick Douglas was able to achieve it and then fled — barker did not want to dwell on the unusual person.

I find Weil’s analysis spot on, her memory of the poem is mine. A poem about force, exulting in brutality, incessant and at the same time including all these passages of poignant helpless loss.

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Sissinghurst Kent: the gardens

I want to bring up all-day “course” I took at the Smithsonian a week ago Saturday, “The Splendours of English Country Houses:” Bonita Billman talked a nearly 6 hour lecture (putting it all together and eliminating the breaks and lunch) on “the splendors of English country houses,” historically conceived; we began with Bess of Hardwicke and Renaissance massive structures and ended on a renovaton of a 14th century castle by another filthy rich family with personally aesthetically ambitious people with their hands on great gobs of money, the Courtaulds’s Elthan Palace. She was genuinely informative, insightful, wry, lots of information. I’ve ten pages of dense stenographer, 5 pages of a xeroxed summary of what she said, names of houses, architects, places, a good bibliography. Pictures of architectural elements.  I just can’t transcribe this material.

So my faith in the Smithsonian as a place to go for reasonably intelligent lectures is restored. Once, one long summer day a miraculous nearly 8 hours by a man who knew all these is to know about the Beatles and their music, with accompanying music, pictures. But the last 3 lectures I went to at the Smithsonian were embarrassingly bad; one was morally moronic (about surgery in the 19th century in the UK). I worried I would be getting hours of talk intended to elicit gasps at the obscenities wealth inequality that made these places possible over the centuries (still supports some), or these irritating giggles. There was still this curious stupid laughter (common in film audiences). I like art history – I in effect minored in art history in college. One got only 2 credits for every course you took: so to me that just allowed me to take more of them and I did. The Smithsonian has many art history lectures, most mediocre — the speakers speak as if they never read any deconstructionism or theory. Still, the Smithsonian still has far fewer literary choices than they did when I first joined.

But afterwards I realized that there were serious lacks in her talks. She omitted to evaluate what we were seeing from a truly aesthetic and moral standpoint. If we divest ourselves of alluring richness-worshipping preconceptions about showing off wealth, prominence, making a stage or set to emphasize power, status; many of the rooms Billman showed and a helluva lot of the objects were anything from ludicrous, ridiculous and to objectively seen obscene. Useless. Extravagant and done on the backs of the abysmal low wages and fierce hard physical labor of huge numbers of people. Imagine what John Berger would have said — he’d have perhaps produced an hour’s lecture of what was worth looking at truly, the rest cultural study of the super-rich and super-powerful. I did fall asleep for a while over the long part about Palladian houses and objects. Thank you for this critical funny observation.

The TLS for August 2, 2019 had a review by Michael Hall, of yet another of these books which insist on sheer celebration of the houses the rich for themselves, which had this aware perspective. The houses named were most of them Billman discussed. It is no longer true the 1% must give up these houses; they are buying some of them back and re-converting them into luxury palaces for themselves and their friends. Take Eltham Palace, a renovated 14th century castle:

Inside the house the decor is strictly and unqualifiedly art deco, with the accent on name furniture interior decorators:

Someone on my timeline commented: “This looks like the lobby of the headquarters of a life insurance company. I trust it comes across better in person.” This fits into these existentialists: we are to ask whose subjectivity, what values are these houses imposing on us, at what cost to whom and why cannot this money be spent on the poor, the vulnerable, the refuge (a section of Weil is on the ultimate uprooted, the refuge), or some social services program, how about comfortable for free buses and trains.

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Izzy and I at the neighborhood summer block party Tuesday evening this past week — it’s talked about as if a central event; for the second of two times we’ve come, we found it sparsely attended

So I come back to where I began: this summer or this time of this summer is again hard. Truthful talk of a widow’s life. At that lunch I did after all make at the fine restaurant, with the two women we discussed what it is to be an older woman alone.

One said she was a widow of 40 years and epitomized her experience thus: “yes you get to go out for lunch like this,” but then spend your life as an outcast come evening: suddenly you are not invited to places you were because you are not a couple; how other women regard you as a threat. Yes. The other has been widowed twice, on her third and now unhappy marriage; her first husband was simply shot to death one day in their house; she came home to find the corpse; no one ever discovered who did it or why; she was left with three young children. The second a successful companionship, died of cancer. I remembered a third woman (online friend) this week told me (as she has before) of all the reproaches she has been the target of if she brought up she had been unlucky or looked sad — her husband died when she was 37 and he in his mid-40s:  the speakers seem to resent that she got a social security check, and pension as this man’s widow. She too left with two children. Why do people resent the minimal needs of others their class being met by some group set up for this through some shared scheme.  Jim was dead two weeks and I was told “it’s your own fault now if you are miserable” (but someone I hadn’t realized disliked Jim very much for his reclusive ways); that first year:  “get over it!”

We have been reading and discussing Trollope’s mid-career Miss Mackenzie on Trollope&Peers: its focus is a 35 year old spinster, left a lot of money, and trying to make a choice of life for herself and we’ve been discussing what were and are attitudes towards people who never marry, never have a partner, nor children. Why people marry? Why have children? One of the most moving modern plays of the 20th century of the realistic kind I’ve seen is by Lillian Hellman, The Autumn Garden; it focuses on a 50 plus year old woman now divorced (the husband left her for a much younger woman) whose 3 children are anywhere from indifferent to scornful. How lonely she is, how unappreciated she feels. Maybe I’d like a deeply compatible relationship once again, but I don’t think I’d get one like what I had where I’d again be allowed all the the time to read and write and watch what I want on TV, and nowadays go where I want (to classes) and (as a single man said on our list) I’ve an idea that no relationship could be worth giving up those freedoms for me — even if the price is years of nights alone and coping with my disabilities.


Trollope is having an Italian renaissance …

It’s called facing or accepting one’s lot, which I am doing this summer.

Ellen

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

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

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

Friends,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The novels of E.M. Forster

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

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

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Politics and Prose from the inside ….

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

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

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

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

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

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


An appealing image of retreat — idyllic

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

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

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

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

A few pure diary entries from face-book:

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

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

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

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


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

Ellen

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A flowering bush in my front garden

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

Friends,

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


Bookermania

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

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

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

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

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


May Whittie, Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes)

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

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


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


2018 — Jessie Buckley and Dougray Scott as Marion and Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Classical heroine who did not need birth control measures:

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

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

The Lemons

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey — the “vicious sick” heroines of Winston Graham’s suspense novels, often use several names too, but here we learn why

I watched Aisling Walsh’s rewrite of Priestley’s wonderful An Inspector Calls (2015) late one night week, and when I’ve renewed my attachment to underated because communist and no snob J.B. Priestley will write a separate blog on his Angel Pavement, Good Companions, and once again that the way to rescue thrillers is to turn them inside out and pay attention to the trauma and make of the central woman victim, the heroine

Back home again, and trying to resettle in ….

Dear Friends,

Ian pussycat was just having a good dream. He woke in his nearby cat bed, murmured and jumped over here, and came into my lap and then hurriedly pushed his body against mine, his face after my arms, chest, nudging away, his paws on either side of my neck. When I came home Saturday, Clarycat came trotting over, and back to lick me thoroughly. Glad I was back.

I arrived home late Saturday evening, and since then have been first working on my teaching Can You Forgive Her?, and now today begun to pick up my projects of study and towards books and/or papers and blogs amid my teaching and going to courses for the next few weeks.

On the trips to the ASECS hotel in Denver, Colorado and back: uneventful — one plane delayed going home, but my last so that I didn’t miss the next as there was no next. My bag made it with me to Denver and back. I want to report one new (or new to me) development on Southwest. A overt courtesy, an attempt at least to voice that these conditions in which we travel are dreadful, and even attempts to improve them where it didn’t cost Southwest anything.

So the airport space very small with not enough seats for everyone in the plane to sit near the hangar and plane while waiting; the chairs in the plane are as tiny (maybe tinier); the space between the two rows of seats so narrow only one person can walk through standing forwards at a time, the use even there of “business” seats — some seats in front not yet sold but on the spot for another hundred or so you could sit in one of them. Not that they looked bigger only you got to get on first. But questions answered politely and quickly and as if the person cared about your problem; when you got aboard, jokes like “sit anywhere folks it’s just like church;” free snacks (very small and little choice of snack, but plenty of juice, coffee, tea, sodas), wifi when it works. Instead of (as I’ve seen) jeering at people or doing whatever necessary to stop people lining up to go to the bathroom, cajoling remarks which took into account that this “made the aisles hard to pass,” or you can if you (see this) put your coat or jacket or whatever cloth thing under your feet, keep this with you because the overhead cabinets are needed for rolling baggage. As if we were all in this together folks and it was some mysterious power giving us these conditions, and they too (which is partly true) were “in it with us.”

I told a woman sitting next to me how in the African-American museum I noticed the chairs so much larger and two sets of seats facing one another and water-fountains and toilets made available to “coloureds” in railroad cars where they were segregated from people with European genetic heritage, and she produced a list of improvements for the conditions we were in and said how wonderful and inspiring it was to see how people were so polite and patient, but without ever acknowledging this was a choice on the part of southwest. I said you could take this quiescent behavior very differently; this was a choice and for profit and (as I now know this) that plane that killed 157 people in Ethiopia and the one in October was missing a “safety” feature made optional (costing $8000) and had in both cases, it been there the people would have lived. There was an acknowledgement in her face but all she said was she had not been to that museum as yet.

All four cab drivers immigrants: two Ethiopian men, one Mexican, with stories of their own hard-working lives, children, grandchildren, and countries.


What I could see from a high window —  I don’t go anywhere usually outside the hotel hardly when I go on trips to conferences unless there is a group tour or someone invites me along or says let’s go to X. Why? I fear getting lost. I become highly anxious when I don’t recognize where I am. New streets confuse me. I read signs wrongly, choose wrongly. I fear I won’t be able to get back. There is no getting round this. What’s why trips themselves are an ordeal. I must not step out of the planned rout.

Central downtown Denver where the hotel was cold and dreary, many impersonal buildings. A nearby public park filled with homeless people. I did twice get up to the 38th floor and could see the city from wide windows and the snow-covered mountain tops encircling. Wide flat beige-colored plains like those of New Mexico where Jim and I attended another ASECS, only these had factories and some industries. A big city with its own mid-west cultural life glimpsed from cab, hotel window, and talk I overheard. I am learning how to do these conferences at long last, becoming inured to the impersonal lonely room when I stay in one, as I managed this time, only to late at night, three at most. Food as usual very bad, scarce, expensive, but I stocked up at a Starbucks, and just ate very sparingly at the reception, luncheon, & dinner I attended. My ipad worked so I could reach friends on the Net, and I renewed a couple of friendships briefly and many acquaintanceships. I received a resounding applause when I finished reading my paper: I had worked hard on it, and the two sessions of “factual fictions” I was involved with (the other I was supposedly chairing) went over very well. Lots of good talk. On the conference sessions themselves, meaning their matter I mean to make a brief blog, but here I’ll say a wondrous keynote lecture on two unknown 18th century women painters did not get enough time! and I acquired a new good edition of Charlotte Smith’s poetry published by Broadview so it has excellent notes and contemporary and recent commentary

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Another OLLI: Vanderbilt

My essay on my experiences at the OLLIs at Mason and AU will be published soon in the 18th century newletter-journal, The Intelligencer

March into May provides much for me to go out for at both OLLIs, I have two lovely events at the Folger coming up (one evening, an HD screening of a magnificent production of Shakespeare and then a lecture, and one Saturday Folger concert), one Smithsonian lecture (on the Poldark serial drama) and the tasks of daily (tidy up, eating during the day, wash up after dinner, shopping, taking cleaning in) and monthly or yearly life (bills, coping with taxes and investments), the cats to keep company (sometimes I feel I am keeping them company, helping them to be active not the other way round), Izzy to be with for a time each evening. Once again the Trollope fiction (Can You Forgive Her?) just about teaches itself, the people in both classes have so much to say, and my proposal of Phineas Finn accepted for the fall in both places:

Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, the Irish Member (Palliser 2)

We continue our journey through Trollope’s 6 Palliser novels over several terms. The 2nd Palliser differs from the first (CYFH?) in making central stories from how politics works from inside Parliamentary circles to outside in society & elsewhere. Phineas Finn dramatizes fights over crucial transformations in law & electorate politics that occurred in the mid-19th century UK, and also belongs to Trollope’s Anglo-Irish fiction because it adds to its recurring characters, & English landscapes, Ireland as a place, Irish characters & issues. Trollope again examines sexual and marital conflicts & produces extraordinary psychological portraiture in socially complex situations. We’ll watch clips from the segments of the 1970s film adaptation that realize this second book. There is no need to have read CYFH? Recommended edition: Trollope, Phineas Finn, ed S Dentieth. Oxford 2011. ISBN 978-0199581436

Teaching Can You Forgive Her? in two places, one class four sessions behind the other, reading two sets of 10 chapters and listening to Simon Vance reading it aloud wherever I’m getting to know the book by heart.

I’m taking a film noir course (have watched M for real for the first time, and next week we’ll have The Maltese Falcon and the man does provide insightful informative 20 minute lectures), a course on the American revolution from the British point of view, a Shakespeare Lear/Tempest pairing and August Wilson. The continual insecurity, you cannot know you will be alive two hours from now, the prison systems, the re-enslavement, until recently and once again the prevention of money-making, accumulation. The effect on a people of being treated as inferior. I wish I could convey how stunningly effective and to me utterly new riveting, instructive (I find I knew little of what black people have gone through) poetic these plays: a new desire, a new set of texts to somehow get to are Afro-ones, African-American, African-British, African-Carribean, these are all deeply linked by the way whites around the world have oppressed, victimized, rendered anguished these brave people who somehow come through (some of them) to develop and enjoy life as a gift. I have also at long last understood Toni Morrison in one of her essays on Wilson.

The latest has been The Piano Lesson, a filmed version of which I watched and listened to online at YouTube:

Gentle reader, take the time to watch it. I feel inadequate as a white to comment on it but found myself for the first time in a long time finding American literature deeply absorbing and expressing realities of life that matter. I love the soaring introspective passages all of his plays seem to be filled with. I want to read and see more of Baldwin, I’m into Caryl Phillips, and tell myself I’m going to read more Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith.

Rita Dove: Canary

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

Audre Lord: A litany for survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Recently as a result of my Anomaly project, I’ve been wanting to know far more than I do about American woman writers: they do seem to have lived independent lives earlier than their British counterparts. Also as a result of courses at OLLI more about American history in the 18th century than I do.  Often the lectures can be too simple (even for someone like me who knows a little but not much), but what’s implied fascinates me. I know so little of the realities on the ground in the era.

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Storia del nuovo cognome – a central sequence occurs on Ischia

For myself here now tonight, other nights, up in bed betimes, I think of another older woman alone moved in next door: this block has not changed that much after all; older women living alone in the smaller houses still common after 39 years. Of friends and acquaintances: a dear friend’s husband has died the same kind of grueling ordeal death Jim did and she suffered it alongside him; both in their early sixties, she now in the first throes of grief. I made a fourth highly intelligent male friend (I talk in those social space provided at OLLI), remarkable guy, but he told me he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago; as yet it has not shown up much, but his wife also severely disabled, no children, what will they do when he weakens? My one friend, Panorea,  I sse regularly outside these group organizations, recovering from her dreadful operation, but still in pain and it’s very hard for her to move (no lifting, bending, twisting her body)

I made a date with David to go to his house where he has promised to help me learn to use laptop in front of others to play clips from DVDs; today I go to financial advisor in the intense hope he will help me change my withholding: show me how to do it, what to do, help me understand what sum I should withhold. My hepitatis C has disappeared from my blood so medicine working. At ASECS I told my story to a couple of people and they told me worse horror stories: a woman with a child with cancer, may be cut off from his medicine next week; people dying, going without medicine they need. The US society arrangements have become one of the worst in the so-called developed world. Roads just pitted with holes is a symbol of this.

I carry on my Andrew Davies marathon: I finished Little Dorrit, but Bleak House seemed to overwhelm me tonight so must try again. Midnight I read Outlander (Novel 1) and try to remember love-making. An article in The Women’s Review of Books on a recent anthology of erotic poems by women shows me that Gabaldon is far discreeter than these younger and older women poets today and I again prefer her: centrally a love story, by which gradually he makes her part of him, for me enough intimate sexual gestures, images, feelings to identify with. And I’m four-fifths through Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name and Lila and Lenu continue to express not ideas analogous to those I’ve thought when younger, but those I actually had. Ellen in Italian.


Since Levy’s Small Island filmed one of my favorite black actresses, Naomie Harris OBE by Elizabeth II

So I’ve begun to blog again, I do this, gentle reader, so as to keep myself up until 1 o’clock. I can sleep at most 6 hours a night, more usually 4-5 and this guarantees I will not be up at 3-4 to have bad thoughts unless I take a sleeping pill …. And to talk to the world and put my thoughts together to remember them. It’s a form of being alive, of making my life more vivid to me, of living it, and reaching a few people.  And I so enjoy writing.

Ellen

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“Daffodils/That come before the swallow dares, and take/The winds of March with beauty” … aka spring. Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (Act 4), once my favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays: I once taught it.

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve rewritten, re-framed this blog so as to give it an adequate framework: recuperating the self:

Get leave to work/In this world — ’tis the best you get at all — Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1853-56).

This morning I took this photograph of some of the daffodils in my front garden — under the miniature maple tree not yet in bloom …. There are other circles of tiny daffodils on both sides of the house (two circles of flowers and bushes are there), and there are some tiny white crocuses in another part of this circle under the tree, and tiny buds here and there in all the plants that survived and have now popped up green … To me they are living images of hope and each individually has delicate beauty.

I need to see them this way.


The British are not the only group of people being forced to leap into risk

For these past two weeks I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that the externals of life have hit me hard: I have been rightly terrified over the coming plane trip since I am flying Southwest: we now know that added to egregious abuse of passengers to wring the last dime out of them, planes are being rebuilt to hold more people and things and thus becoming unsafe.  Then I was reeling after coming home from the AARP having made out my tax forms and uncovered an unexpected and large tax bill such that I must change my withholding on my monthly annuity and social security checks so as to live on less from here on and pay it bit-by-bit over the year. I am floored by the online boilerplate and relieved my financial adviser has promised really to help me do this when I get back from my trip. The obscenely expensive pills for hepitatis C are working (no sign of the infection in the latest tests) but I’m tired, head-achy (have again scraped my car badly), but each night sleep more deeply than I’ve down for years, except when waked by anxiety-dreams stemming from the coming trip- and conference-ordeal, these renewed money fears.

Ian also has had a hard time recovering, in his case from the new cleaning team, with their loud machines and quick work, now here twice and left a truly clean house (for the first time in years my windows are clean); it won’t do to think about the sums this switch cost me. The business is run by women and only works the first 2/3s of each workday.


After a many hour disappearance, walking about so lightly that his bell did not tinkle: he hoped to escape notice and at first would not eat or drink.

So where to find that peace and trust I can live out what future I’ve left in my quiet ways in this house.

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L. Scott Caldwell, left, and Shinelle Azoroh in Gem of the Ocean in Costa Mesa.

Well throwing myself into what I am capable of succeeding at doing, and thus enjoying. This past two weeks I have taught/led a class of some 23 retired adults reading (apparently with real enjoyment) Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and myself as a class member felt new interest in rereading the first three acts of King Lear and watching the 2008 Ian McKellen version (director Trevor Nunn, with outstanding performances by the actresses playing Goneril and Regan) and the 2016 Anthony Hopkins (director Richard Eyre, with outstanding performances by too many to mention). Despite the cutting, the Hopkins-Eyre one is the vastly superior by original direction and Hopkins’s performance). I’m stunned by Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner Come & Gone, only beginning to realize the lack of fundamental safety, security, ability to accumulate, and radically de-stablized relationships and lives this causes — a journey through the century from an African-American perspective. With my two list communities, I’m reading EBB’s Aurora Leigh, which I know I ought to be more affected than I am, and Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart, which, by contrast, I’m having a visceral personal response to the point I find myself blaming the heroine for not caring enough about her children, for in effect abandoning them, while on what seems a sort of whim at first, she pursues a divorce.

Wednesday I leave for Denver, Colorado, to endure a three-day conference on the 18th century (ASECS) and have my paper, “After the Jump:” Winston Graham’s use of documented facts and silences,” down to 19 minutes. Winston Graham has taken up much of my time therefore, with intervals filled by absorption (when I can) with Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart. I’ve added Somerset Maugham as an author who would shed light on Graham’s peculiar story of a blind man in internecine post-WW2 southern France (the hero stalks a heroine of the resistance), Night Without Stars, and am into Jeremy Poldark, a deeply melancholy troubled yet loving book once again. I now see that the murdered young woman in his Take My Life (I understand the title as a cry of the soul) and this heroine as seeking safety, the first women was destroyed by cruelty, meanness, the tunneled ambition of a schoolmaster; the second rescued as a fellow disabled person to return to quietude in a quiet corner of England. I came to this by watching a modern so-called “thriller:” In a Better World: To call it a thriller is so wrong, it’s hilarious: The film brings out the trauma underlying some thrillers which the thriller distorts in order to sell widely, and there are authors who appear not quite to understand the fundamental groundwork of such texts. I must write this up separately.

I’ve gone on to the intelligent Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies (which begins in the 19th century and takes the story to the 21st) and Ann Rioux’s Writing for Immortality, on four American women writers whose determination to write well for the sake of their art will be explicated as a fight for self-esteem and creating works of integrity, so am now eager to include at least one 19th century American women writer amid my Anomaly women. When I read Traister, I realize I am somewhat compensating for the loss of Jim: in small ways I am learning to live the way she has, learning about a world outside my coupled life. It is as yet on the edges of my existence because I have not managed to hold onto friends or a group of friends locally. Throughout my life with Jim, though, if the truth be told I would have one girlfriend usually, a kind of best friend, and so this pattern is one I know, only now I see this in a different context. I know I am right to value my FB women friends (and men too). I understand Laura’s life choices better too.

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My solitude, my self … at night (when I write these blogs too, gentle reader)


Shadow of the Tower: Episode 4: The Serpent and the Comforter

I’m riveted nightly by yet another episode of the truly astonishing 1970 BBC multi-episode studio drama, The Shadow of the Tower, with James Maxwell — why is not this more famous? A blog will follow when I’ve gone through all 13 hours twice. I started it after it was recommended by an uneven Future Learn on the Tudors I’m following just now.

Episode 4 is a study of people about to burn alive a man who has a set of radical common sense beliefs — one guard becomes unwilling and realizes this is all wrong and so does the king but goes through with it — so it’s idealized but this allows for conversations between the man and guard and king. We don’t see the torture off stage as they attempt to make him recant — just hear it and it’s agonizing to hear and then see all the signs on the man’s body. The real thrust is to shove in our faces at length the deep inhumanity of man to man and also the fierce unreasoning religiosity of the era as a cover up for power plays and fierce demands for obedience to strict conformity. James Maxwell is brilliant as the king throughout the series: witty, somehow likable, warmly human in his closest relationships, subtly intelligent yet peevish, neurotic, but effective, slowly becoming a terrifying inexorable monster to others because he has been given such power

I am also nightly now making my way through all Andrew Davies’s films, beginning with deeply mourning from within as I sit up and feel with Claire Foy’s inch-by-inch agon as she copes with her half-mad neurotic father played by Tim Courtney. Half hour by hour I am her — as I am Lila and Lenu.

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On the Net, I’ve been stirred by the life and work of another woman artist, one I won’t write a blog for (as I would be wholly inadequate) but can here invite my readers to dwell in the Spitalfields bloggers’ essays: on Dorothy Rendell:


Dorothy Rendell, View from Standhead (1955)

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/an-exhibition-of-dorothy-ren…/

Then Stephen Watts, described as a poet and novelist, wrote about her art, the legacy of what’s left:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/the-legacy-of-dorothy-rendell/


Rendell, Studio Parrot (1960)

Now the gentle author preparing for a lecture, shares with us the Rendell’s drawings and illustrations:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/03/12/dorothy-rendells-london/

Her first (posthumous) solo exhibit:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/16/dorothy-rendells-solo-show/

The gentle author is pseudonymous; I originally assumed the writer is a woman, but recently I’ve become aware the writer is a man — he has begun to use a pronoun for himself. Also that more than one person writes this blog (Gillian Tindall has written here) — it’s astonishing high quality, frequency and point of view are all outstanding, but also the amount of knowledge displayed. Probably it’s find-out-able if I tried or asked someone who knows people who are part of real art worlds in London.

One we learned in another blog that a pub that has been on the site since the 17th century, with one period of total obsolescene and desuetude (between 1970s and 2000) is now to be razed and replaced with a hideous mall that will look like a thousand others

http://spitalfieldslife.com/20…/…/13/so-long-the-water-poet/

This touches me because in one of my periods of being alive I spent all my time reading and writing about the early modern Renaissance and 17th century. Anne Finch was a later 17th century poet who lived into the 18th century. This blog is or should be of interest to anyone interested in the long 18th century.

Most recently, at and on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/03/17/dorothy-rendell-at-whitechapel-bell-foundry/


Camille Cottage, Castle Hedingham with red chair (1970)

W.S. Merwin has died, and an FB friend pointed me and others to a New York Review of Books essay-review by Ange Mlinko on Merwin’s life and poetry as that of an whole earth troubadour, who learned his art by the humble practice of learning other languages and translating wonderful poetry in them. I liked this (though I taught myself Italian enough to read and to translate it, and now need to return to it and to French

There is nothing for you to say. You must
Learn first to listen. Because it is dead
It will not come to you of itself, nor would you
Of yourself master it. You must therefore
Learn to be still when it is imparted,
And, though you may not yet understand, to remember.

What you remember is saved. To understand
The least thing fully you would have to perceive
The whole grammar in all its accidence
And all its system, in the perfect singleness
Of intention it has because it is dead.
You can only learn one part at a time.

The ghost of a sestina (invented, they say, by the troubadour Arnaut Daniel) haunts these six-line stanzas, with their repetitions of individual words (though they don’t repeat mechanically at the ends of the lines, as they do in the sestina). What is repeated? Learn, dead, remember, understand. As the poem goes on, it repeats saved, intention, order, passion. Here is the fifth and final stanza:

What you remember saves you. To remember
Is not to rehearse, but to hear what never
Has fallen silent. So your learning is,
From the dead, order, and what sense of yourself
Is memorable, what passion may be heard
When there is nothing for you to say.


Merwin in his last year of life

The question is, how to recuperate the self. Mlinko believes translation is the suppression of self and that in poetry at its finest we suppress the self, we make something from nothing tangible or new as I have done tonight: Guilhem IX’s “Farai un vers de dreit nien” (“Sheer nothing’s what I’m singing of”)

This reminds me of Virginia Woolf: she wanted Anne Finch to transcend herself. This is mistaken, or need to be put another way. We can never leave ourselves, but what we can do is throw off the attacks and pressures from all around us (the wolves of society) and recuperate by following our true bends with integrity. That is the work of a lifetime. Finding who we are, and as Pope said, following nature, our nature. Making what we can. Recuperating by flowering out. I can link August Wilson’s plays to Shakespeare’s this way too: although we do not know what was his private life, only that he is incarnate in his plays.


Dorothy Rendell, Jerena at Harry Gosling School (1960): recuperating the self — look how beautifully Rendell has caught the child’s hands, the textures of her jacket and skirt, her body inside them ….

I have taken to going to Evolution Home, a consignment shop for furniture where older things are rescued. I am making my home comfortable by buying appropriate (for my needs) tables, retro clocks, rugs, baskets for my library of DVDS (kindly sent by a friend so that I have such a collection of splendid wonderful movies, often BBC). Rearranging furniture, making corners for pretty things and where I do my work. All recuperating the self, having respect and concern for myself and what I see. I hope you don’t need photos of these, for there’s not much to see. It’s the inward experience behind such changes I’m trying to steady myself with.

Ellen

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Clara Brown, a statue I saw in the African-American museum this past Tuesday:

Born enslaved in Virginia, Clara Brown married at age 18, and had to endure all four children being taken from her and sold; after the Civil War she moved to Colorado and worked as a cook, laundress and midwife; she invested her money in mines and land, and used it to help support community organizations. All her life she searched for her four children, and when quite old was re-united with one daughter.

Dear Friends,

It becomes harder and harder to keep this blog up because I don’t change very much within, and I find that I’m driven to be more upbeat or cheerful than I usually feel in order to present something enjoyable, pleasant, instructive to my reader friends here. If I say that it is true I have grown a lot inwardly, had quite a number of strengthening and fun and comforting experiences in the five years since Jim died (I am now in my sixth year of widowhood), I suspect that congratulations would seem to me a grating response. If I say I have a lot of new enjoyable experiences I’d never have had, learnt I am more capable, am calmer, I still would not respond well to people saying that’s good. Because I don’t change: travel remains an ordeal.  Things don’t get easier. I didn’t ask for this new understanding of the world I didn’t have before. OTOH, if I say that occasionally now Jim’s dying and death seems a mad nightmare, and I can hardly believe he’s not around the corner, and how empty the world seems, how alone I am most of the time.  How I just don’t make or sustain friendships (as I understand these they including going out together and visiting). How can he have vanished so completely? only of course he’s not vanished completely at all: I am surrounded by all that is left by him of our lives together and I’m carrying on the play he and I began so many years ago, but by myself now.

I could repeat this paragraph as an entry endlessly.

I am probably not for as long as I live (smiling), headach-y and tired from these obscenely expensive pills to scotch this hepitatis C infection. I sleep more deeply with cats right by me, but I don’t wake rested. I am reading Outlander  (the first volume) just before going to bed each night — trying to dream of Jim. Came across excellent essay on Outlander and Poldark. Do read it; it’s not long or hard.


Is not Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser made to resemble Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark working in the fields shirtless — it is after colder in Scotland (joke alert)

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The interior of an early log cabin that housed freed slaves, the photo by Jahi Chikwendiu makes the inside look a lot larger than it is

I could list books, movies, some things I’ve done: I did get to the African-American museum. I found it by going to the Smithsonian stop (so glad I had wit enough to chose that one of the three cited on the website), and with the help of a man who works in the Metro: he came up the escalator with me and walked into the Mall park and pointed to the building. I just had to walk in that direction and it took about 10 minutes. As part of my attempt to learn more about African-American life and culture, before going I watched Moonlight (two years too late) written by Alvin Tarrell McCraney, and while it showed truthfully aspects of African-American male lives, I found it misogynistic in its portrayal of the mother as a helpless hateful and then pitiful drug addict. I know why the brilliant Naomi Harris was at first unwilling to take on the role. An hour long Smithsonian documentary, Green Book, tells of how hard it was as a black person in the US throughout most of the 20th century to go anywhere safely. I’ve much to say about the museum, and when the Guide comes through the mail I shall: I am waiting to make sure I don’t make mistakes in what I describe and comment on.

The Slave Mother by Frances Ellen Walker Harper (1825-1911), born of African-American parents who were not enslaved and lived in Baltimore, Maryland; a chronology of her life and work

Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seemed as if a burden’d heart
Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped–
The bowed and feeble head–
The shuddering of that fragile form–
That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kirtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light
That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one–
Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair

I bought the Vintage Book of African American Poetry, edd by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton in the museum shop, and have promised myself to make my last poem for the day each night one from this volume so as to learn the history of black people through this poetical volume. All the poems in this blog are taken from this anthology.

I also saw an extraordinary film about the German Stasi, finely acted, written, filmed, The Lives of Others, and was much moved by the hero’s transformation and sacrifice, but could hardly believe thousands of people could spy on one another to such a nth degree and then turn around to stop when a wall was pulled down.

I am into some wonderful books again, a lucid inspiriting deeply researched “biography” of Hugo’s Les Miserables by David Bellos, a similarly intelligent account of Diderot’s life and “art of thinking” by Andrew Curran (he teaches me about Voltaire and Rousseau and other writers books as well as Diderot’s friends and life), the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, The Story of a New Name. On Trollope&Peers we are about to begin a 9 week reading of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, and on WomenWriters are reading Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart.


Virginia Nicholson

On my and my friend’s Anomaly book project: I’ve finished Liberty: A Better Husband: Single women in the US, 1780-1830 by Schiller-Chambery and hope to write a full blog-review on it in a couple of days. I know I must read and learn more about 19th century American women alone and as writers. Next up: Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Ladies and the rise of an Independent Nation, and then Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality: Women Writers and the Emergence of High Literary Culture in America and Virginia Nicolson’s Singled Out, a history of the real lives of single women in the UK for the 2 years after World War One — their generation of men had been killed in huge numbers — Nicolson has written on the books written in this era about single women. I still have not finalized my five candidates for five chapters: as of now they remain Anne Murray Halkett (very late marriage), Charlotte Smith (fit in uncomfortably as separated, an example of what happens when you are not permitted independence), Frances Power Cobbe, Constance Fennimore Woolson (both never married), and Margaret Oliphant (as widow).

Learning to Read by Frances E. W. Harper

Very soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,—
It was agin’ their rule.

Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery—
’Twould make us all too wise.

But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book.
And put the words together,
And learn by hook or crook.

I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his hat.

And had his master ever seen
The leaves upon his head,
He’d have thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.

And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,
Who heard the children spell,
And picked the words right up by heart,
And learned to read ’em well.

Well, the Northern folks kept sending
The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
Though Rebs did sneer and frown.

And I longed to read my Bible,
For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
Folks just shook their heads,

And said there is no use trying,
Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;
But as I was rising sixty,
I had no time to wait.

So I got a pair of glasses,
And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
The hymns and Testament.

Then I got a little cabin
A place to call my own—
And I felt independent
As the queen upon her throne.

Next week OLLI at AU starts and I will be this weekend watching King Lear (either the 2016 version with Anthony Hopkins once again, or the 2008 version with Ian McKellen (in the mode of the famous Macbeth he did with Judi Dench), for the Shakespeare, King Lear/Tempest course I am registered for on Monday, for next Friday, read my first August Wilson play, The Gem of the Ocean (I have seen Fences as a movie).

I also bought at the African-American Museum Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s edition of Classic Slave Narratives: The Life of Olaudah Equiano (which I’ve read in), The History of Mary Prince (which I’ve never read), Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (which I’ve taught) and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (which I’ve never read but now hope to). Centrally important to Jacobs’s life was her friendship with Lydia Maria Child, who helped her to write and to publish her book, and her relationship with her grandmother (as Oliphant’s was with her mother). Gates quotes this:

Yet the retrospection [into my years of bondage] is not altogether without solace; for with those gloomy recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother, like light fleecy clouds floating over a dark and troubled sea ….


Robin Damore: Carol Diane Brown — I thought this picture of a magnificently dressed African-American woman today appropriate for my blog this evening

I today finished another good draft of my paper for the coming ASECS at Denver: “After the Jump:’ Winston Graham’s Uses of Documentary Fact and Silences in his Poldark and other Cornish Fiction.”

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Said to be a photograph of cats waiting for fisherman to come to the pier in Greece

You see, gentle reader, this is turning into a list of “good things” and too upbeat, leaving out the true complexion of life. I had some not-so-petty troubles: the cleaning team who come every two weeks broke my study chair — they broke off one of the wheels and this happens to be a kind of chair where the wheel is not replaceable. Had the management told the truth I would have accepted this and tried to fix or buy another chair, but no, they lie and first say the chair was broken when they came in the room, and then another lie, and then offered to send one of their bully women here to look at my chair (I hope, gentle reader, you have read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed where she tells what it’s like to be on one of these cleaning teams and the bullies put in charge of working people), so I decided I must change my service. A happy ending: a new team came yesterday and they cleaned my house far more thoroughly than anyone ever did. They cost more, but the supervisor who came with them was not a bully but another nice Spanish woman.

The loss of the chair is no small thing. I am now using the second chair in this room, which was Jim’s, and under the fourth foot of my chair are two books. I can’t move the other chair easily and it will be for watching movies on Amazon prime on my laptop.

I could tell other things of this type. The class I am to teach Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? in at OLLI at AU was brought down to 21, and we were put in a small room. I had chosen less popular topics for two terms so had less people? but it was interesting for me to delve the 18th century and the later Virginia Woolf — and those who stayed with me. The new director is after prestige people for lectures and is trying to push people into classes they may not want. My class was waitlisted for 8 and he is trying to make these people take other courses. But these are not undergraduates who can be pressured this way.

I got something through my email from the airline I am to go to Denver with and I couldn’t tell if I needed to do something, and if I did, couldn’t figure out what to click on. Finally I told myself this is meant as what’s to come or ahead of time, and ignored it. I didn’t need to be made anxious a full month before the trip comes.

Bad dreams and foolish good ones.

But I refrain, I’d rather offer something more meaningful, than human stupidities, venalities, petty false values, nagging advertisemens, which at the same time is something you might not find elsewhere, about a work you don’t know or is not fashionable, which you might pursue.

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The Oxford Bodley Head edition or Cordelia (Bodley Head reprinted 12 of Graham’s books, including the first four Poldarks)


A rare Henry James looking image

So, just before returning to the paper, I read Graham’s 1949 historical novel, Cordelia, set in the mid-19th century, and thought maybe a review of it might be useful — for this book is again available in paperback and is worth the reading: for a reader who has not read the Poldark books or seen the films, you will find I draw parallels.

Cordelia is his one novel set in Manchester: Graham was born and grew up there in a genteel Edwardian family whose roots were strongly chartist, union, liberal, and who made their money first in drugs, chemistry.

It has interesting self-reflexive opening. Graham’s narrator sees the name Cordelia with the date 1869 carved on an old once richly- made mantelpiece and this occasions now and again thoughts on how hard it is to know what happened in the past. There is a first wife in the novel who leaves a diary and only after Cordelia has lived in the house for some time can she decipher that diary. In reality Graham was moved to write the novel because he had come across a corroded 19th century gravestone with just the name Cordelia and 1869 legible. I discovered that I wrote about this book in 2011 but since I’ve written again, this time with more knowledge of Graham, I’ll still share what I wrote tonight


The first page

The story: the heroine, Cordelia, is gently coaxed into and agrees for herself and her family (whose father owns a clock-maker and repair establishment) to marry for the aggrandizement the gentle son, Brook Fergusson, of a wealthy dye manufacturer, Frederick Fergusson. Brook’s first wife has died (in somewhat mysterious or questioned circumstances). He does not create Manchester with the full power that Gaskell does in her contemporary fiction or other writers of the 1930s and 40s say of Ireland but he does have strong political themes that are progressive. He deals with controversies in religion, the spiritualist movement &c. There is a reference to Palmerston whose significance you can get if you are aware of Palmerston as cruel Metternich kind of figure. Graham attempts to recreate the music hall world of the mid-19th century.

Once living in the mansion, Cordelia discovers that she and her husband are utterly domineered by his father: the choice of a Victorian ethos and time brings forth a story about repression and how it can destroy and pervert personalities, but in one way Graham is anachronistic in ways he is not in fiction set earlier: Cordelia falls in love with and has a brief liaison with a passing theater entrepreneur, Stephen Crossley by name: she almost runs away with Stephen. As presented her inner life is not agonized as it would have been in 1869 — she stays because an accident prevents her from going, and then she thinks better of it plus (convenient plot) her husband, Brook, whom she does like and feels loyalty toward, contracts pneumonia. Brook is a poet, probably named after Rupert Brooke whom Graham read (and quotes in another text). Cordelia stays to nurse Brook back to health. While I think Trollope represses and won’t tell us the full truth about the thoughts and feelings of women who long to leave a husband or difficult situation, this refusal to realize the trauma does not persuade me. There is a “Trollope sighting” in the book: Cordelia reads aloud The Warden to Brook, and they both so like the book, they follow it up with Barchester Towers.

Cordelia finds she is pregnant and it is obviously Stephen’s son. So this is a parallel with the Graham’s Elizabeth-Ross-George paradigm in the Poldark novels (Elizabeth becomes pregnant by Ross Poldark just before marrying George and when she gives birth to Ross’s son, every attempt is made to hide from George Valentine’s problematic parentage. This boy is named Ian (a name I happen to like — Izzy named our boy cat Ian.

A second opportunity arises between Cordelia and Stephen to perhaps elope but this time she discovers what we are told early on: he already has a wife. And here is another group of parallels: Cordelia in outlook and type and looks anticipates Clowance and the man she falls in love with, Stephen Crossley, anticipates Stephen Carrington, introduced who in the Poldark novels turns out to be a truly bad man in many ways. Carrington probably commits bigamy when he marries Clowance — not clear. Carrington is much worse than Crossley as Crossley is robber, thief, continual liar — Crossley is merely an unscrupulous manager of music halls and spiritual seance mountebanks. but then we do not know much about Crossley, only that he does have a wife and Cordelia learning of this in time stops her elopement. Cordelia is named after Shakespeare’s heroine and there are explicit passages about how this Cordelia’s initial flaw is Pride and her real virtue loyalty. Really she stays with Brook out of loyalty. Names mean a lot to Graham. The name Valentine turns up in a novel early on, Dangerous Pawns; the character types anticipates the older Valentine in the last Poldark novels.

There’s a wonderfully eccentric uncle who everyone despises — especially the tyrannical old man — Uncle Pridey, who half-way through is discovered by the London scientific world. Graham satirizes the literary world through Uncle Pridey who is valued (he says) for the wrong things; his work on shews, which supports the Darwinian thesis of pangenesis. It’s his work on mice, and his love of small animals that matters. He has been studying this monk’s work on heredity and corresponding with him (Mendel), whom no one seems aware of. Graham’s little joke. There is a character very like Uncle Pridey in A Forgotten Story but not presented truly sympathetically.

Through Pridey’s contacts, Brook makes some literary friends and has an offer to become a sub-editor in a London periodical but he must bring with him 5,000£ pounds; the domineering tyrannical father informs Brook that his father wrote a will which will permit his part of the partnership only to withdraw 500£ at a time, so he is tragically thwarted. Brook dies, in a sense of a broken spirit and heart (not from Cordelia’s doing). Pridey has moved to London, and terrified for her individuality, her son’s character, her future, Cordelia flees with little Ian to London to live with Pridey.

There she again goes to the music theater world (though Pridey’s auspices) and once again meets Stephen. She finds he has another girlfriend; that is to be expected as four years have gone by, but he lies about this and she now understands how completely untrustworthy, shallow and selfishly ambitious he is. Graham’s Clowance never has a chance to speak to or look at Stephen after he learns that his life was a lie and thus hers false because based on his lies; she knew he was a murderer, but she never learns the extent to which Stephen’s thievery helped destroy Clowance’s brother Jeremy’s life. Cordelia too doesn’t get to tell Stephen of her decision or why; she assumes he would not understand or empathize. But she does get to decide freely.

She returns to Manchester and her father-in-law’s house but now the terms of their existence together have been altered. She will be a partner on her terms. I’m told that a doctor with integrity, knowledge and skill, who has shown a warm friendship for Cordelia and been helpful, was originally going to be set up to become Cordelia’s husband by the end. I am glad for once that Graham listened to advice and ended instead on Cordelia as an independent woman determined to bring up her son to be independent too. It is, as some of the other readers of the Poldark novels and watchers of the Poldark films I’ve grown to know who have read the book said “a very satisfying ending.” One woman agreed with me that Brook is a tragic figure. One gap in the book is a lack of women friends, relationships among women — to me that suggests the male author who doesn’t realize quite how important women’s friendships are to one another.


Here is an early Book-of-the-Month club cover

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Gentle reader, on Saturday Izzy and I go to the Folger Shakespeare Library to see the contemporary play about Nell Gwynn, now there. Fingers crossed for us it will be very good.

My Grandfather walks in the Woods — by Marilyn Nelson (1946 — present)

Somewhere
in the light above the womb,
black trees
and white trees
populate the world.

It is a March landscape,
the only birds around are small
and black.
What do they eat, sitting in the birches
like warnings?

The branches of the trees
are black and white.
Their race is winter.
They thrive in cold.

There is my grandfather
walking among the trees.
He does not notice
his fingers are cold.
His black felt hat
covers his eyes.

He is knocking on each tree,
listening to their voices
as they answer slowly
deep, deep from their roots.
I am John, he says,
are you my father?

They answer
with voices like wind
blowing away from him …


August Macke, Still Life with Cat (1910, Germany, found on the Net over this past week) — I couldn’t find a good picture of March trees in black and white

Ellen

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Richard Hunt’s Swing Low — a bronze sculpture in the front hall of the African-American Museum, alluding to the song, which carries on “sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home … ”

I love this song, and sing it to myself sometimes thinking of Jim, changing it slightly: “if you get there before I do/Coming for to carry me home/tell yourself I’m coming too; bands of angels coming after …


Cosette finds Jean Valjean working as a peasant again, his death by her side — Andrew Davies’s Les Miserables, 2018, one of the finest film adaptations I’ve seen since his War and Peace and before that Peter Straughn’s Wolf Hall — the scenes of the revolt at the barricades are astonishingly grim, true, ferocious; he shows Hugo’s book centers on “the wretched of this earth” —

I thought of Hamlet; who would keep him in this harsh world to draw his breathe in pain …

Friends,

Another 10 days of winter passed, & few things maybe worth recording happened — living from the shelter of my mind.

A friend’s cat died, Andre by name, he was a rescue cat, now 20, and her grief and my memories aroused in me thoughts of what matters in life: the strength to be kind, to give of oneself and see the other and love and be loved; our non-human (non-talking, without hands) animal friends are so helpless against our convenience. I’ll ever regret I didn’t do by my actually beloved Llyr as I should have: my excuse Jim and my dire desperation at the time, but this will not do. She was able to bury her cat companion in her back yard so she can see his grave from her window and remember what was good. I realize why people when they lose beloved people want the bodies back, if only to protect them. I read to Laura when little Judith Viorst’s The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, where he lays under the flowers at book’s end; my favorite passage was the dream image of him in heaven with the other cats eating cans of tuna.


Clarycat this week; and Ian pussycat too

Email letters from a few friends, a long phone call from Panorea, whom I am relieved to say is doing well after the operation on her spine and we may yet go to Philadelphia Museums together this August as we dreamed of in December; Farideh found an old blog of mine, Sylvia I, 2002, which shows that after all I’ve not changed much.

On the blog I found this poem “from Desk,”by Marina Tsvetaeva, as translated by Elaine Feinstein:

(In a letter she wrote to Pasternak :my desk is kitchen table)

My desk , most loyal friend
thank you. You’ve been with me on
every road I’ve taken.
My scar and my protection.

My loaded writing mule.
Your tough legs have endured
the weight of all my dreams, and
burdens of piled-up thoughts.

Thank you for toughening me.
no worldly joy could pass
your severe looking-glass
you blocked the first temptation,

and every base desire
your heavy oak outweighed
lions of hate, elephants
of spite you intercepted.

Thank you for growing with me
as my need grew in size
I’ve been laid out across you
so many years alive

While you’ve grown broad and wide
and overcome me. Yes,
however my mouth opens
You stretch out limitless.

You are a pillar
of light. My source of Power!
You lead me as the Hebrews once
were led forward by fire.

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One of my holds on happiness this week was about 45 minutes of a class at OLLI at Mason where our subject was the texts of TS Eliot, read aloud by members of the group, by himself very ritualistically in a video from PBS (Visions), “The Hollow Men:” it’s a kind of modernization of Dante’s Inferno: favorite lines:

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
….

I had forgotten a line I often recited to my daughters upon leaving the house comes from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (“Oh do not ask what is it?/Let us go and make our visit … “) but my favorite remains: The Coming of the Magi:

That the high school teacher who was leading the class read accurate interpretations from slides, set forth like test answers (desperation, the aftermath of WW2), which she appeared to treat with a kind of philistine mainstream scepticism, drove made me pay attention to the poetry which did speak for itself.  How beautiful and haunting are his lines, the rhythms of them stay in the mind, on the pulses. Other people in the class made intelligent sympathetic observations too.

For the OLLI at AU, I read (skimmed) with a class who met 5 times (I came four) the whole of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I have little explanation for why this un-reconstructed misogynistic violent, atavistic romance material so attracts me, but it did again. I found myself making parallels with so much romance I see today (Outlander has the paradigms), remembering back to other Arthurian books and films I’ve read or experienced. Again a fellow class member seemed to have more true depths in his reading than the person serving as teacher, and allegorized the as “Civilization and Its Discontents:” we are watching so-called civilized (at least controlled ritualized) behavior fall apart into chaos as human nature moves into sheer self-destruction, perversions of natural feeling, or cruelty, obtuseness, ending in wild despair. Consider this engraving of “The Passing of Arthur by Frank Dicksee (1889):

Read with insight and truth to our real emotions, Tennyson can be said to anticipate T.S. Eliot (much influenced by him).

At OLLI at Mason, more brilliant moving sessions on Joyce’s Dubliners from Prof Michael Maloof, whose modernism puts stories of ordinary people into Eliot’s frame; a films about Vivian Maier, more poetry, Elizabeth Bishop.

Only connect ….

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Today the last day, 75 minutes at OLLI at Mason on the African-American Museum, which I know must go to. The docent described what is there, just remarkable, sobering, true, with the a better if neither fair nor good time in general in history, with a few genuine gains since Africans were no longer enslaved; the museum showcases culture too –so modern art, music, film, sport, and African-American 20th century culture. It took from 1915 when it was first audaciously proposed to 2015 to achieve this astonishing place; congress people were most of the time willing to approve, but not fund or do anything constructive: two of the movers were John Lewis and Oprah Winfrey. What a day that must have been on opening with the President himself and his wife, African-American. Not enough such good moments. I am half-planning to go all day Tuesday: it’s a trek, bus, train then walk. But February you can just walk in without pre-buying a timed ticket.

At home, I got back to my projects, the book on Winston Graham and the anomaly: I”m reading a very good historical fiction set in the 19th century by Graham, Cordelia (to be written about separately); and a moving account of Liberty: “A better husband,” single women in the US from 1780-1830 by Chambers-Schiller: inspiring she is, telling of the vocational life of women in the era, their valuing themselves gradually, their lives count, their gifts found fulfillment in reading, writing and also finding places in society where their desire to do good work was not just tolerated but allowed to do actual good, as in Emily Howland.

I watched Davies’s Les Miserables, all six parts, and will watch again in March — from DVDs made from the BBC airing while the PBS versions play on Sunday nights, how they rise up and are murdered for their efforts (as in Chile in the 1970s, as Trump and his vile mignons are readying to do in Venezuela, and he’s doing now on the borders of the US. I proposed to Trollope&Peers that in two summers we try Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris: I read it in French in my twenties and think we as a group have learned how to do long books that take effort and patience together. I’m half tempted to propose Les Miserables, but our list had a hard time with it years ago and gave it up; I know David Bellos’s book, Les Miserables: The Novel of the Century (he wrote an exciting book, truly, on translation I reviewed — Is that a fish in your ear?).  Bellos’s one of these autobiographical meditative reads of wonderful novels might get us through — after or together with Davies.

And I continue with Outlander nightly, solacing myself among its ghosts of devoted fierce love, deep congeniality, Jamie & Claire; they’d give up all in a split second to be together again and they do, repeatedly. And I exercise, listen to folk and country music, traditional (Pete Seeger) and contemporary (Nanci Griffiths) from Pandora; the header line comes from a folk song.

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Personally significant — now I may not die from liver disease or a fatal operation in 15 years:

I was successful in wrenching needed treatment from Kaiser; finally a clinical pharmacist called this Friday and I have begun my pills as of Monday, and my schedule of blood work, restricted diet for now. I discovered Kaiser was indeed stalling and trying to put me off: the pill have a ticket price (wait for it) of $36,000 for three bottles, enough pills in each for three months. My widow’s annuity and social security come to $47,000 for the whole year. Now embedded as I am in “protections,” I can afford these bottles this way: I pay $150 a bottle to Kaiser; now in reality US society is being gouged by the drug companies (read Marcia Angell, “Opioid Nation,” from the NYRB) for these pills through Kaiser, medicare and a web of “financial assistance” it’s called. When I told friends the sum, there was hardly a gasp; instead of got stories of their analogous experiences. Everyone keeps silent, especially when they have not been able to buy or afford the needed medical treatments (opioid victims, people with diabetes, cancer&c): they grow much sicker and die early. I am feeling tired, head-achy and (surprising this!) sleep 6 hours each night, sometimes a light doze but that long …

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And I went out again (probably the last time, as we are fundamentally incompatible in attitudes towards life) with that gentle older man, a concert at his church by a “famous” (a word he kept repeating) group of singers from Yale, called the Whiffenpoofs. I have very mixed feelings about this elite group of 20 year olds.

They were presented to a mostly white, upper to middle middle class audience, many older as somehow not elite and “working hard” earning all their keep. The group was formed in 1909 and following tradition, the young adults take a year off from their Yale studies and are supported wholly by ticket sales. Wait a minute: who is paying the Yale fees? how much are they? The humor and much be-praised group spirit are sophomoric and this time all but one a woman, she has to sing counter-tenor (a falsetto). This was the first year women were let in — Yale did not accept women at all until 1969. They were all in very fancy tuxedos — they did sing beautifully in some style where their distinctly different voices came out as crooning. Nostalgic repertoire with some contemporary music and songs re-vamped interestingly thrown in.

Well, for the first time I had some insight into blackface. Until recently it would appear the all-male chorus would dress up in ballet skirts, absurd wigs, wear make-up as women and have their photo taken, and spend an afternoon “doing lunch.” What is this but unacknowledged cruel ridicule: the group pretends innocence but utter disdain for women (as in blackface lynching for blacks), and as we saw in Kavanaugh, central fraternities’s right to harassment and rape women is part of their obduracy. Scroll down, and see the meaning of blackface.

This new young woman as reported in the Washington Post, is ever so grateful for being let in to these Whiffenpoofs, to Yale, though recognizes “they have a long way to go,” for example, they must change the voices allowed in to include women’s ranges. Sofia Campoamor cannot be as “ordinary” as pretended since she attended the elite Sidwell Friends school in DC. Julie Zauzmor of the Post article, to her credit kept in focus the elitism, asked questions of the religious aspects of this Ivy League college, this 1920s “fun” group.

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Political coda: AOC is now in congress and making beautiful waves for a “green New Deal:” I like her smile, don’t you?

So that’s the news from my desk and the shelter of my mind (a line from Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song”) in Alexandria, Va,

Ellen

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