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An shot early in The Salesman before Rana has been attacked

Dear friends and readers,

In my mostly literally solitary widowhood — though I’m online with friends a good deal (letters) and participate in reading groups, Future Learn courses, and these blogs to the point I feel companioned and some of what I do regularly are these joined-in activities (more reading, more writing, occasional f-t-f meetings) — in my mostly solitary state (as like some Defoe character, I say), I’m finding that the love of characters so many readers attest to when they talk of what they read has come upon me more strongly than it used to. I feel this especially when I watch a great film adaptation of a great novel where there are many episodes. Good films, moving books. Beyond these imagined congenial souls, I have my cats — such my topic this week.

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A close up

I burst into tears at one point while watching the Iranian film, The Salesman, written, directed, produced by Ashgar Farhadi’s (2016): fine sensitive intelligent (keep adding good words). I saw this in a nearly empty theater late yesterday (Thursday) afternoon — a first it seemed I and one couple were the only people in the audience, but by the end of the film there were about 10 people I saw when I got up at the end and turned round to look. I urge you to see it if it comes near you. It is a touching realistically done story of a couple in Iran who are part of a theater group putting on Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Emad Etesami (Shabab Hosseini) teaches English in what seems the equivalent of an American high school, except all boys. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), his wife has no job or occupation beyond being his wife — though she is very capable one can see, even well educated (how I don’t know). Emad plays Willy, and Rana Linda. The play is acted in English and it seems everyone in the audience understands without subtitles.

[It has proved impossible to find any shots of the play within the movie; frequent shots are of Rana looking out a door from the side, through glass-y barred windows; standing behind Emad — these reinforce stereotypes.]

I asked about Iranians’ knowledge of English on two listservs but no one answered. I know few Americans can speak or read Arabic; even the state department under a decent president had limited resources this way. Miller’s is also apparently a story Iranians are familiar with. Does anyone who reads this blog know if Iranian education includes a thorough grounding in English? I used to have a loving friend on the Net, an Iranian woman and poet who shared my love of poetry, of Virginia (my friend has translated Woolf into Farsi), of books, and cats. She no longer can reach me by email. A great loss for both of us. She wrote beautiful English and Arabic and Farsi are both “Greek to me.”

As the movie begins, the building Emad and Rana are living in collapses, and they must move hurriedly, and get into an apartment where the previous female tenant’s things are still there. One afternoon while he is gone either teaching or rehearsing, she goes to take a shower and thinks he has buzzed her from the ground floor. She buzzes back without checking to see it’s him, and goes off to the shower. We stare at the door ajar — an allusion to Hitchcock’s famous sadistic scene. We hear screams, see a shadow. When Emad comes home she is gone, blood all over the floor, on the stairs. Cut to the hospital: he has learned she is there, her face badly bruised, arm wrenched, back sore, but apart from these ailments physically unhurt. She was taken there by a neighbor, Babak (Babak Karimi), also part one of the players. He found the apartment for them we later discover.

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After the assault

So that’s the initiating situation. The results in their emotional and economic (the play doing, the teaching) causes havoc. We see the problems in calling the police; she can’t tell. She is terrified to be in the apartment alone; she won’t let Emad near her at night. The rapist (? — we are not sure what he did, the wife seems to indicate not) left his pick-up truck downstairs. This furnishes the clue for the husband to find the man is a set of keys and pick-up truck downstairs; the keys are in the apartment and they fit the pick-up truck. Since Rana won’t go to the police (she’ll be blamed she says for opening the door to let the man in), Emad begins to have a need to find the man and punish him himself. It’s a telling detail (to my or American eyes) how no one in the apartment building appears to get excited over this pick-up truck. The women seem to turn a blind eye; the men say ignore it. Slowly we (and he) realize that other male neighbors, especially Babak,, were also this woman’s lovers. Babak (and everyone else) knew the woman supported herself by having lovers. Emad becomes furious: why did you not tell me? The film is not explicit but it seems that men are casually promiscuous in this society but they are also intently hypocritical and hidden and they do all they can to hide such behavior from wives and families. When wives find out they wax fiercely angry. The men seem to dread shaming of any kind.

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Emad pacing on the roof — he has much more active visible agency than Rana but she has power over him because he needs to be a respectable married man with seemingly loving respectful wife

The sex and family lives of these people is a different combination of hypocrisy and interwovenness than our own, and we are studying Iranian society from the angle of this situation. Rana cannot bear to be in the apartment alone; she wants to go everywhere with Emad. She appears angry with him and won’t let him near her at night (he says, accusingly); she can’t eat. One of the women in the cast who plays Willy’s on-the-road mistress, Sanam (Mina Sadati), is herself divorced with a child. Or separated. Sanam has accused the cast members of disrespecting her for the role she plays: Willy’s casual mistress upstate for whom he buys stockings. It hurts her reputation further to play such a role. She has her child with her always and it is a relief when Rana offers to take him home one night to keep Rana company. We see a family-group when Emad comes home and the two attempt to have a decent evening because the child is there. They are cheerful; she has cooked some food she bought in a store, but soon the pretended cheer breaks down when he realizes she uses money she found in a drawer that must’ve been this intruder’s. The marriage is now under terrific strain as he asks her to go to the police, and she says no, and she won’t leave him alone. He follows the pick-up truck to a restaurant and finds Majid (Mojtaba Pirzadeh), the young man who drives it. This is his rapist; Emad has to corner and pressure him to get him to work for Emad at a wedding (Emad claims — weddings appear to be sancrosanct and all bend before its needs and demands).

The play and teaching carry on. Emad can’t sleep and falls asleep as his class and he are watching a movie. The young men begin to cut up; we saw they were not disciplined much before. Their gender makes them all important. Maleness must be allowed aggression? Emad is now ridiculed by them, but he holds his own when he threatens to tell their families. At the theater, Emad and Rana are having trouble carrying on with their roles. Emad moves into a rage at Babak at one point — Babak is one of the characters in the play. Rana’s speech over Willy’s dead body was what hit me. Her grief let loose as Linda’s grief, mine at hers. I began to keen and sat there silently shaking and weeping.

At one point, cut to a new apartment Emad and Rana have found. The next day or so, not Majid, but his father-in-law, an old man shows up at this new apartment. And again slowly it emerges this old man knows is there as a substitute for his son-in-law because it was he who was an ex-lover, angry at the woman for something, who came into the apartment and then “tempted” attacked Rana. The confession is tense with shame; Emad is determined to make the man’s family know, especially his wife. We see how important are family ties in this society, far stronger than ours. The old man tries to run away, but Emad locks him in and he has a heart attack.

When Emad returns, with Rana (from another day of playing theirroles), they find him semi-paralyzed. Emad is still determined to humiliate the man before letting him go, and calls the family to get him. The family arrive, Majid all tender loving care for this old man, and the old man’s daughter, and a hysterical wife who says the old man is her whole life. Rana takes Emad aside and says if Emad tells them the truth, she, Rana, will leave him. She will go home to her family. She is making this family’s harmony more important than anything else, including her terror. They are at first grateful to Emad for saving their father as they know nothing it seems of this history of the man, but when Emad demands he take the old man into a separate room, they begin to be frightened. Emad is unstoppable and when he gets the old man alone Emad hits him hard. Another heart attack ensues. Emad had claimed to call an ambulance but hadn’t, now Rana or he does, and the family follow the instructions by phone to revive this father.

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An intense emotionalism characterizes the behavior of this family — yet in dialogues with the old man it seems that underneath there is distrust and all demand strict conventional behavior from one another; my father used to say among naive people emotionalism is prevalent (one reason for Dickens’s popularity)

The last scene shows us Rana being dressed for her part as Linda and Emad for his as Willy. They have stained unemotional looks on their faces. They have not broken up, but they have not made up. It’s probably significant that Rana has had no child, but I am not sure what how this would be read by an Iranian audience.

I was startled at the overt sentimentality of the families towards one another because at the same time the women overlook the men’s promiscuous behavior as long as they are not told or do not have to learn explicitly the men are unfaithful. The society is so interwoven and desperate economically (most buildings are aging, supermarkets are full but it’s clear that lots of better goods are not on the shelves for most people). Many people make it by odd jobs — taking in one another’s laundry I used to call it. Family members utterly need one another. They have no one else to turn to.

Best of all it made Iranians utterly human. I hope the empty theater is not the result of Americans not wanting to be associated with Muslims lest they somehow get into trouble. The Trump administration is demonizing these people so such a film is important. Iranians are so dependent on family members because the US among other powerful gov’ts and the leaders of factions in Iran prevented a social democratic gov’t which was elected in the 1950s from developing. A coup put back a dictatorial theocracy; then the Shah tried to develop capitalism, freeing women as a sop and as necessary for a modern society. We know where that went. A huge proportion of people were left in poverty. Men find keeping women submissive, under their control, soothes and bucks up their ego and pride. Today in our gov’t the Republicans are removing or trying to all our social helps outside the family, including a meritocracy through education so that they can keep their enormous, take in more, live off us more, and in the process destroy outer non-religious (and thus free and progressive) social world insofar as they can.

Don’t miss it! It won awards and is nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The director is famous, his films are events, so are the leading cast members stars.

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William Wordsworth when young — endorsed as strongly accurate by Kenneth Johnston in his Hidden Wordsworth, which I’ve been reading also

So, another week or so and now on bonding with characters in fiction. Take Wordsworth’s Prelude: it brought back memories. The natural world for me as a child. Not very much. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx. When I think of nature, I think of how Shakespeare says when we live in an artful world, the art comes from nature. Say the word nature to me and I remember a terrifying hurricane my family drove through when I was about 3 — my father’s family had a sort of cottage, home-made where we stayed for a few weeks in summer, on the north shore of Long Island, Suffolk county, a pump in the yard for water, an outhouse. Hurricane Carol hit not far from where we were, and the water coming miles up and high as the cliffs, roofs coming off, trees ripped.

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Turner’s Buttermere Lake — this image is the cover illustration for my parallel texts of two of Wordsworth’s Preludes (1805 and 1850; there’s a third, a short plain evocative 1799)

[I have no pictures of myself when young by a pump in Long Island, no photos of myself climbing up and down fire-escapes in the Southeast Bronx, anyway the block I lived in was torn down decades ago after it was (in my father’s words) abandoned by people, left to the dogs. Now it is rows of small private houses with hispanic families living in them. There is a Crotona Park, in bad disarray when I lived there. In the 1980s, my father meet other older white men from the suburbs there who once lived in these communities, and eventually these other white men brought their equipment from the suburbs and rebuilt the handball walls. Those playing, all male, all hispanic were grateful.]

When he gets to university, Cambridge, wow, the son of a high level agent of a ferociously mean high ranking super-wealthy man, his father dies and the lord refuses to pay the legacy the man had garnered up, so the boy or young man now has a precarious future. Still he is among the privileged boys of his era. As I read I see him as coming there with a group of expectations and a sense of his place. Myself I think how we measure our success or what we define as success comes from where we started out, and what we expected from life from that place. When I went finally to Queens College at age 18, public though it was, I was ecstatic, so relieved. College was not assumed in the cards for me at all. I never thought about — really — the lack of status or where I was going to go afterwards. To me this was a height. I didn’t want it to end. I was there to study, not to get somewhere. It was probably too painful for me to think about what might be my future. I did so much better than others in the class not only because I chose an area or areas that I find myself good at (English, humanities, history of art) but because I valued what I was doing. I knew all around me at the time many didn’t. Dorothy didn’t get to go.

He also says that when he was supposed to leave, maybe he was better off not to have a place to go to. He admits he missed out on something — did things he regrets, but doesn’t say what. For me I grieve not; happy is the man/Who only misses what I missed, who falls/No lower than I fell. Happy is the man is an old Horatian formula.

Well for me years after being in school I knew that I had not profited from “learning” forced on me,for which I had no aptitude — like math, physics — which I did poorly in. Rousseau in the 18th century says we must follow the child or person’s bent. That was a radical idea then: you were paying attention to the individual and saying he (not she in Rousseau) matters; you weren’t forcing them to do or become something for the family’s sake, as part of the family business. Rousseau also says that’s the way a child learns.

I wasn’t badly off in my undergraduate years. I was naively happy in my studies, though it took shutting the future out from my mind. I liked all my courses (even some of the required ones outside humanities) but the honor courses I found myself simply in in my last and have to agree I did read more interesting books in such courses. The shock was to come back and see this institution which had meant so much to me — it did free me, it gave me the scholarship to England I did leave the social class I had been born in basically forever — and that to another (my daughter) it was irrelevant as a place and worse. She couldn’t learn in it even if it’s academic program in music for a librarian was excellent. The social world mattered in her case.

We’ve also talked of Coleridge this week on Trollope19thCStudies: I’ve long loved best “This lime-tree bower, my prison” to Lamb, but as others spoke of Coleridge rhythmic ballads I conceded:

It’s both hard and easy to get back to an earlier self. I’ve said a few lines in Michael confirmed my resolve to be an English major, to go and study British literature for the BA. In that term where I first read Coleridge too I was swept away by the intensity of the “faery” side of his poetry, the unfinished romance, Christabel was it called, also loved and reread over and over Frost at Midnight. And Kubla Khan started — especially with the story about it. But I remember this and cannot feel the same today. I don’t mean to say they are at all inferior to the contemplative type poem only that as I look at them now, I remember how naive I was. I admit I was never “gone” on The Ancient Mariner. Him stopping one of three and the rest of the ritual type chant, even the moral with the albatross at the end seemed something imposed.I grant though lines have stayed with me all my life . Ah sleep it is a blessed thing/Beloved from pole to pole. How many times I’ve repeated that one. It is a mismemory I’ve just discovered: “it’s gentle thing ….” For me until I began with my nightly trazadone it was something often out of reach, only gotten in 3 hours snatches at best. Coleridge ended his life living in a kindly person’s attic, giving free lectures to those who could appreciate great literary criticism, among others of Shakespeare

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Kay Spark: Virginia Woolf or Seraglia

I’m now read/skimming and listening in my car to Woolf’s The Voyage Out as read by Nadia May. I remembered my “voyage out” as I read/listen. Over on Trollope19thCStudies I said going to Queens College transformed my life, but I was plucked out of the limited frustrating environment to which I was born by a scholarship offered through Queens: to go to Leeds University, half paid by Queens and half by a Chancellor’s scholarship from the UK. I took a boat trip that took 12 days. For 12 days I was aboard a boat loaded down with students my age — I had been married and had some adult experiences they hadn’t, but they had had all sorts of social experiences I hadn’t. Fine art films all day long, one of 4 in tiny rooms (Bunk beds). I’ll never forget that experience and coming up the channel to see the white cliffs of dover. Much as I didn’t understand was going on round me, and had a week long nervous collapse in Leeds as result of what to me was also an ordeal — I was with a group of 12 students shepherded by an British history teacher teaching at Queens for the great salary — but fascinating, all so news, 3 weeks in London, arrive at Leeds, a flat shared with another student in a private house (attached), Leeds itself and then I met Jim.

It’s a book much influenced by Austen — as her next, Night and Day, is much influenced by the Brontes. There is a trek the characters take up a hill to look down. It’s not that they go on donkeys or that the breaking into groups is uncomfortable, some of the conversation (though some sublime and refreshing), but Woolf’s characterization of the whole long incident as a group of people “very dull, not at all suited to each other,” and not really wanting to come (some of them). There’s a scene strongly reminiscent of everyone sitting on blankets in a circle and talking. At the end as in the 2009 Emma for some they’ve had too much of a good thing. Then there’s a dance, how Rachel loves dancing, the partners — just very like. She has Austen in mind.

And for a backwards proof, as with male critics writing about Ferrante’s fiction, so Mitchell A Leasla, resentful of Helen (shepherding Rachel in something of the spirit but much smarter, more generous, for the girl’s interest) of Emma with Harriet, Leasla cannot understand what this book is on about.

As for bonding with characters in films that go on for episode after episode and are taken from deeply felt realistic fiction, see my latest blogs on the new and old Poldark films and the 1972 BBC War and Peace (Anthony Hopkins Pierre, Morag Hood, Natasha, Joanna David Sonya …. )

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A Caturday entry: on bonding with my pussycats:

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We don’t credit animals the way we should. To my mind this is part of our defense from treating them with equal respect and affection. Since becoming so close with my cats my understanding of animals has improved and my general behavior. I now buy only “free range” chicken, and I look at labels where I ‘ve read the packaging or company treats their pigs or lambs decently — or not cruelly anyway (so it’s claimed). I try to eat much less meat. I wrote a couple of blogs on books that tell the history of the increase of animal protection laws and companionate relationships. For years when I taught Adv Comp in the Natural Sciences and Tech I had a unit where we read Jane Goodall, and a couple of times showed Wiseman’s Primate. We are such a cruel species it’s hard to get my mind around what scientists do to chimps: primates to other primates.

I was thinking that one of my narcissistic impulses is when I feel glad to see my cats react to things that are recognizable that seem more like a human reaction, something we wrongly do not expect from animals. So for example, when a car drives up to my part of the sidewalk — not close to my house, my boy growls and often the girl will get off her perch and trot to a front window — or she’ll scurry away. They know immediately when someone is coming down the path.

For a couple of weeks I lived with a woman friend who was vegetarian: her diet included cheese and eggs and she was wonderful cook so we had all sorts of vegetables and pasta. I didn’t mind being without meat for the time. I’ve never tried it otherwise but I nowadays understand the logic of the position. You’d have tobe careful to get the vitamins and nuitrition you need. I “use” far too much sugar, wine but we don’t eat much processed food. When we first brought our kittens home, they had one another and (it’s hard to remember) it seems to me pretty fast the problem was how to keep them out of the bedroom. They were too lively to sleep all night and Jim was very bothered by the whole thing. I somewhat forced the cats on him with my older daughter — I wanted them for myself, to find common ground with this older daughter (didn’t work) and to provide Izzy with more creatures to interact with. At the time she was not working and having a very hard time.

My two have been with me since birth. They are frightened to go out the door and start away from it. I know if I were to leave it open they would go out and so keep all doors shut. They both twitch with intensity when they see birds, squirrels outside but I doubt they’d know how to kill them. The boy, Ian, does stalk and by playing with kill insects and occasionally he has brought one to me to show his stuff. It is all routine. I wake with them cuddled into me. We get up when it’s fully light.Into the kitchen where I top up their dry food. Then they just stay round me all day as I go about my routine. They know when I’m going out of “our” workroom from when I turn off the computer or put on my coat. Clarcat looks sad then. They can tell time duration; when I’ve been away on trips, at first they are not friendly and then get intensely affectionate. Usual times away — say an hour or so or 4 at most – one or both come to the door. Around 5 or so they seem to know it’s time for wet food. They do know their names I think; at least they respond to them They know “wet food” I think. I go open a can and pour myself a glass of wine. So all are content. I do differ routines in food: sometimes I give them tuna with or instead of the wet food. About an hour before I go to bed, they go into my room and wait. I have a high cat bed near mine and Ian sleeps there. We have play periods and sitting on lap periods, and he presses himself against my chest and nudges my head. She thinks I’m another cat and licks me industriously sometimes.
Going to the Vet is an ordeal I have described here before.

They do love string. They can’t resist playing with me with string — like people, me, in front of a movie.

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New Yorker Cartoon

Last night I knew a strange moment of intense peace, highly unusual. I had read hard all day, written, and when I drank that glass of wine, and this mood came over me. My mind collapsed. I could no longer read or write. Suddenly I felt so deeply in my gut, What did it matter if I didn’t want to put myself through an ordeal of travel to a Jane Austen and Arts conference. I felt I could choose to not go without telling myself, where does it stop here? Lose contact? what am I talking of? what mad dreams obeying? I just relaxed into myself. I shall have no grandchildren. I re-watched Last Orders, the film I watched the day of Jim’s funeral as it only lasted for 3 hours and by 3 I was home alone again. i’m going to teach the book this coming spring, listen to it read aloud by Juliet Stevenson when my MP3 comes. I sat and tears came and went as I wiped my eyes. And went to bed.

I am now in the fourth year of widowhood and have no words for the kind of grief I live with all the time. Nameless because society refuses to recognize this, give it a vocabulary.

Next up: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, on the BBC radio worlds. I’m nearly to the end of her nearly perfect The Bookshop: desperation as courage who loses out to the machinations and human instruments of silent ruthless power enacted, controlled, by one blight of a woman. Any hope I ever had of a full-time contingent position at Mason was destroyed similarly years ago by Rosemary Jann, the chair of the department. So bonding again …

Miss Drake

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Leonora Carrington (1917-2011): Owls

Peace, where art thou to be found,
Where, in all the spacious round,
May thy footsteps be persued?
Where, may thy calm seats be view’d?
On some Mountain doest thou lie
Securely, near the ambient Skie,
Smiling at the Clouds below,
Where rough Storms, and Tempest grow;
Or in some retired Plain,
Undisturb’d does thou remain.
Whre no angry whirl-winds passe,
Where no streames oppresse the grasse,
High above, or deep below,
Fain I thy retreate wou’d know;
Fain, I thee alone wou’d find
Balm, to my ore’wearied mind …
Anne Finch (1661-1720), “An Enquiry after Peace”

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not written here in nearly a week because I’ve been putting semi-autobiographical blogs on two of my other sites. Since I wanted my report on the massive demonstration in DC and Los Angeles (actually as big as D.C., both half a million people) and many other cities and towns inside the US and beyond (Europe, Asia) to reach more than my modest number of subscribers here, I put it on my Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two site, where I have well over 300 subscribers, more email people and (unaccountable to me) some 2000 hits for periods of time on my Poldark and other blogs: The Rump versus Wall-to-Wall People: a few thoughts too.

Today I saw another great play relevant to what is happening in the US today: August Wilson’s Fences, the film starring, directed and partly produced by Denzel Washington where Viola Davis was nominated for an Academy Award: I was so distressed by how he treated his wife, and sons, as well as his own anguish, his brother’s disability, felt so vulnerable, and helpless, and then was confronted by the closing peroration justifying the vindictive irrational cruelties of the central male, Troy, on the basis that a man so crushed has the right to behave destructively to others. It was made plain the man was deranged by the way his society’s arrangements kept him from ever achieving anything higher than a driver of a garbage truck. He had had a great talent for baseball but as a black man had been thrown off the team it seemed for being so good at it — and black. He could not bear for his son to try to achieve anything out of jealousy but also in a perverse rational to protect him. Still the speech at the end was not about this, not about racism, but stood up for unqualified patriarchy within the black community for men. I left the movie distraught for the wife who this man had bullied and betrayed by having an affair with another woman and refusing to give it up; having a baby by her (she then conveniently dies). He won’t sign for her son to join a football team; he insists the boy stay with a demeaning job at a supermarket. Yet she justifies him as her God at the end. He was the only person who did and could protect her. But she could not escape him, for the only job she could have gotten was to a lowly paid cleaning woman. I was overcome with emotion.

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Viola Davis as Rose

Then I come home and felt another daily (sometimes it seems hourly) assault from the news — now Trump and his gang accuse those who reported on the protests inaugural day where pepper spray and tear gas were used against peaceful protesters trying to march — and read Rebecca Solnit’s starkly accurate analysis of the ceaseless misogyny behind Hillary Clinton’s inability to take power even with the majority of American voters voting for her. Read it and weep. Two hours ago that the man picked to head the FCC is determined to do away with Net Neutrality. Will I be able to write blogs? reach others?

I just don’t know how to live in fear, perpetually anxious. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I did not realize what a dictatorship the US constitution potentially sets up. I can’t sleep as long as I should — maybe 4 hours at most, and then I will wake with a pain on the right temple, the whole of my right side sore and weak. Should I stop getting and reading the Washington Post daily, and the New York Times on Sunday. I want to support them as they are now becoming rare outlets for accurate news inside the US. I feel I need to know what’s happening. I’ve been reading a book by Whitney Chadwick about surreal art and the women artists involved in the movement and can see how their art is an attempt to express how living in conditions like ours today feels to women.

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Martha Rosler, Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained (recalls Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale)

Adrienne Rich, one of the great poets of the later 20th century put it this way in Contradictions: Tracking Poems:

The problem, unstated till now, is how
to live in a damaged body
in a world where pain is meant to be gagged
uncured    ungrieved over    The problem is
to connect, without hysteria, the pain
of any one’s body with the pain of the body’s world
For it is the body’s world
they are trying to destroy for ever
The best world is the body’s world
filled with creatures    filled with dread
misshapen so    yet the best we have
our raft among the abstract worlds
and how I longed to live on this earth
walking her boundaries    never counting the cost

In her powerful memoir, Almost There, Nuala O’Faolain quotes another poem by Rich:

You sleep in a room with bluegreen curtains
posters    a pile of animals on the bed
A woman and a man who love you
and each other    slip the door ajar
you are almost asleep    they crouch in turn
to stroke your hair    you never wake

This happens every night for years
This never happened . . .

What if I told you your home
is this continent of the homeless
of children sold    taken by force
driven from their mothers’ land
killed by their mothers to save from capture
— this continent of changed names and mixed-up
     blood
of languages tabooed
diasporas unrecorded
undocumented refugees
underground railroads    trails of tears
What if I tell you your home
is this planet of warworn children
women and children standing in line or milling
endlessly calling each others’ names
What if I tell you, you are not different
it’s the family albums that lie
— will any of this comfort you
and how should this comfort you?

I’ve been listening to Frances Jeater reading aloud (performing) Virginia Woolf’s great masterpiece of a novel, half prose-poem, The Waves, an attempt to get down the core experience of six lives through inside their minds impinged upon by all their outward experiences, what they read, where travel, some in war. Six begin in young childhood together, move across a lifetime where the turning points of years are represented by italicized sections describing a day from earliest to dawn across the morning to twilight to evening to dark night. To me it is superior to Joyce’s much lauded Ulysses: less self-indulgent, more humble, equally registering three women’s lives as well as men’s: from the central wife, mother, home-maker, Susan, sewing away in some scenes, putting her children to sleep in others (Viola Davis as Rose, the wife, in Fences spends her time cooking as well as sewing, washing, hanging out clothes),

“Vision begins to happen in such a life
as if a woman quietly walked away
from the argument and jargon in a room
and sitting down in the kitchen, began turning in her lap
bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps,
laying them out absently on the scrubbed boards
in the lamplight, with small rainbow-colored shells . . .
Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity,
the striving for greatness, brilliance —
only with the musing of a mind
one with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing
dark against bright; silk against roughness,
putting the tenets of a life together
with no mere will to mastery,
only care . . .” (Rich)

to Ginny, independent, lesbian, to Rhoda, terrified from a young age by the abrasive sexuality and competition, aggression she finds inflicted on her. Three males: Bernard, the writer (probably has a lot of Leonard Woolf in him), Neville, super-successful at signing, meeting in government, Louie, the dominating business man. Only Perceval, the old-time hero, gone to India, was thrown off by a horse pushed too far, and died. Inside the minds of people living according to or working against moulds.

This comes from The Waves: “I have lost friends, some by death… others through sheer inability to cross the street.”

Today I lost another friend over a political discussion. I was trying to say the comparisons between Bernie Sanders and Trump as “both populists” by centrist democrats and others are so misleading: two men could not be more unlike in their attitudes. She took great offence, began to accuse me of attacking her in some long ago blog, how dare I speak this way when I was supported by the Pentagon, and so on. How to remain calm? Without Jim I feel so vulnerable. I don’t understand my taxes — they are very complicated and I doubt unless I were to sit and study for 2 weeks I would not get it and if I tried to make them out I’d do it wrong. I was meant to and did live in Viola, Susan, Demelza’s way: as the wife of a loving man, in our case at the time, feeling in charge of his fate. I just don’t know where to find a place for calm, for feeling safe or secure. Each day I expect a blow on me or my daughter.

I fear above all losing this house and my books. This is my nest, my comforts, what I live life through: reading research writing. Others may regard my house as shabby, small, the neighborhood eyesore. My real atttidue is its a splendid solid house, large enough for so many books, comfortably for three and more people, two cats. I watched a cleaning maid come out of another house today: I hired a team too. I hired someone to mow my lawn. I can’t do that at all myself. I am so surprised and lucky and yet withoiut it now after all these years I’d know a personal death, it would be losing Jim all over again, losing my life, existential. Like the elderly woman in The Gabriels. I’m here too.

I just don’t know how to live in this atmosphere, I can’t live this way. Order, stability, social cooperation, courtesy, consideration, kindness, some feeling of safety are a core for me. I shall try to return to Jane Austen’s Emma tomorrow morning, but it is not easy to lose myself in my books any more. I shall now listen to Anne Finch in my blog on the poetry of retreat: how to do it for enough space each day to remain steady.

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Joseph Farrington, The Oak Tree (1785-90)

Fair tree! for thy delightful shade
‘Tis just that some return be made;
Sure some return is due from me
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds dost shelter give,
Thou music dost from them receive;
If travellers beneath thee stay
Till storms have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee they spend
And thy protecting pow’r commend.
The shepherd here, from scorching freed,
Tunes to thy dancing leaves his reed;
Whilst his lov’d nymph, in thanks, bestows
Her flow’ry chaplets on thy boughs.
Shall I then only silent be,
And no return be made by me?
No; let this wish upon thee wait,
And still to flourish be thy fate.
To future ages may’st thou stand
Untouch’d by the rash workman’s hand,
Till that large stock of sap is spent,
Which gives thy summer’s ornament;
Till the fierce winds, that vainly strive
To shock thy greatness whilst alive,
Shall on thy lifeless hour attend,
Prevent the axe, and grace thy end;
Their scatter’d strength together call
And to the clouds proclaim thy fall;
Who then their ev’ning dews may spare
When thou no longer art their care,
But shalt, like ancient heroes, burn,
And some bright hearth be made thy urn.

Another:

Kind birde, thy praises I designe,
Thy praises, like thy plumes should shine,
Thy praises, should thy life out Live,
Cou’d I, the fame I wish thee, give.
Thou, my domestick Musick art,
And Dearest Trifle of my heart.
Soft in thy notes, and in thy dress,
Softer, than numbers can Express.
Softer than love, Softer than light
When just escaping from the night;
When first she rises, unaray’d,
And Steals a passage, though the shade.
Softer than aire, or flying Clouds,
Which Phoebus glory, thinly Shrouds.
Gay as the Spring, gay as the flowers,
When lightly strew’d with pearly showers.
Ne’er to the woods shalt thou return,
Nor thy wild freedom, shalt thou mourn.
Thou, to my bosome shalt repaire,
And find a Safer shelter there.
There shalt thou watch, and should I sleep,
My heart, thy charge, Securely keep.
Love, who a Stranger is to me,
Must by his wings, be kin to thee.
So painted o’er, so Seeming Fair,
So soft, his first addresses are;
Thy guard, he ne’er can pass unseen,
Thou, Surely thou hast often been,
Whilst yet a wand’rer in the grove,
A false accomplice, with this Love.
In the same shade, hast thou not sat,
And seen him work some wretches fate?
Hast thou not sooth’d him, when in the wrong,
And grac’d the mischief, with a Song?
Tuneing thy Loud, conspiring voice,
O’re falling Lovers to rejoice?
If soe, thy wicked faults redeem,
In league with me, no truce with him,
Do thou admitt, but warn my heart,
And all his Slye design impart,
Lest to that breast, by Craft he get,
Which has defy’d, and brav’d him yett

These are texts in the manuscripts of Anne Finch at the Folger Shakespeare library; they are not the ones printed in the recent edition which consistently prefers the later often censored and somewhat inferior texts (FWIW)

He left me here among all these books in front of this computer 4 years 3 months and 16 days ago. If he were here, I’d have a better idea how to feel about what’s happening, how to think about it. Can a minority of people force the majority to lose their way of life?

Miss Drake

P.S. Someone just sent me this: How to stay outraged and yet not be torn to pieces, not lose your mind

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Friends and readers,

My week of mostly quietly reading, writing in the new world order unfolding all around me, included two masterpiece books I can write briefly about here:

Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge:

By the time I came to the end of the perhaps nameless woman’s journal (and I only realized she had not named herself or had anyone else called her by her first or last name in the last few pages), I felt in a state of terror. Realistic terror, nothing supernatural here. 2/3s of the book an uncanny imitation of an upper class white woman come to live in the West Indies on a plantation where black people are being worked to death, or savagely used for sex, flogged viciously. It’s hard to put why the single word I’d use most strongly is terrifying since so much is left out. We often don’t know why something happened. Phillips imitates diaries in leaving out significant information in the way diarists do. Things suddenly happen without explanation — like Emily (she may be naming herself in her last sentences) is suddenly having sex (an affair) with the white overseer of the plantation she’s been sent to by her father. Quite why we don’t know: her explanation to report on the plantation doesn’t make sense as you need to know something first and clearly she is utterly ignorant of businesses and slavery and plantation life in the West Indies. Maybe her father did this to force her to accept a much older man he wants her to marry whom she is to marry when she returns (and why she realize she doesn’t want to).

The terror insofar as I can account for it does not come from what these human beings are doing to one another or forced to allow others to do to them. It’s presented so prosaically and the white woman repeats the worst ugly cliches about black people — that they deserve this treatment is what her words all amount to, are not worth any other. comes from the evils of slavery which this book has uncovered more than any other I’ve read in the sense of more deeply. It sounds so obvious but what Phillips makes you realize is the true evil of slavery is that the worst aspects of human nature emerge from everyone (slaves and owners, and non-owners and free or partly free black people, and whites in indentured servitude alike) and there is no control, no law. Law is a sham when at any point someone can murder someone else with impunity. White owners can blog a black to death or hang them with them having no recourse (if there is a pretense trial, it’s transparently ridiculous). This leads them to want to murder anyone and everyone who hurts them back. Or at least enough slaves or half-slaves. Everyone lies too, nothing to be depended upon.

So a white woman who has been so foolish as to go to bed with a white man without marriage (unacknowledged desperation) and offered to stay longer and lost her respectability as lost what little safety net she had. Much as I’m led to dislike the unnamed diarist or Emily the terror is for her, as she feels it.

The first text I read which brought all this home to me was Fanny Kemble’s journal of her two years (1839-40 or so) on a South Carolina plantation run on slave labor. Rice the crop. The last two chapters on women: how they are made playthings for violence, scarred for fun, whipped, gang-raped, and then expected to breed; after the birth of the child, forced out within a week to work from dawn to dusk. Mary Prince’s diary tells of how for 12 hours in row 6 days a week she was forced to work in salt waters. Made her blind. Cambridge shows us what life was life in extermination camps too. Today in US prisons. The analogy with the US today is in fact striking. A lawless lying president. Police in the streets permitted to kill with impunity. Fake news that leads white men with assault rifles to come to “self-investigate” and kill people in a family pizza place in Washington, D.C. I begin to be paranoiac and wonder if Trump is manufacturing more fake news to shut down the internet. Now we hear of fake news about Iraq making some of these followers want to go there and kill people.

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, especially the central section, Time Past, all about death, dying, disintegration, creating both artificial objects and natural ones as animate

The front “story” is like The Years: the text focuses on what is surrounding description, context, the weather, in most novels: nature, natural forces, the weather, air, light shade, with almost as an afterthought, bits of plot, and what are they? death. there is the sudden sentence that Mr Ramsay stretched out his arm and of course Mrs Ramsay wasn’t there “having died suddenly the night before.” Suddenly their daughter Prue is getting married and all say how wonderful, but then we are told in afterthought fashion she died in childbirth (indirectly said).

While there is no ghost in the manner of M.R. James or psychological projections, the whole section is haunted with the presence of Mrs Ramsay: the house is empty because she’s not there. The narrator slips into third person indirect every once in a while and we are in Lily’s mind or near Mr Ramsay’s or the housekeeper Mrs McNab dusting under the empty beds. That last is so characteristic of Woolf: she usually has some old impoverished woman about. She suddenly turns her mind to Andrew, blown to bits on a battlefield, died immediately she says, relieved to think so.

On one level it’s an ode to Mrs Ramsay, to mother. The lead-in to the central section is Mr and Mrs Ramsay in bed, he reading Scott’s The Antiquary to reassure himself his kind of writing and his hegemony with Scott not superceded, but the emphasis is on the death of Steenie – sudden, grieving his frustrated-in-life father so, for many one of the best passages Scott ever wrote, and the sonnet by Shakespeare that Mrs Ramsay quotes is also haunted, “as with your shadows I did play – the lover is absent, has gone, and you are left darkling and deeply at a loss.” Mr Ramsay apparently doesn’t approve of his wife’s pessimism. There is a luxuriating in death as release at last. And we catalogue the dead (for Mr Ramsay goes too) – there’s a futility in all human beings do is one part of the feel.

The film adapted from the last two of Proust’s novels, Time Past, was one of Jim’s favorites: he’d watch it over and over again.

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My beloved well-taken-care of Clarycat photographed in the room where I read these books and type on this computer this week ….

Abigail Tucker’s The Lion in your Living Room:

among much twaddle (the sign you have a book meant for a popular non-reader is that you are given only a couple of nuggets of information or insight every four pages or so lest that reader be intimidated by “too much density”) she is on about how house cats became domesticated by interacting with human beings chasing the same food supply (meat) and what a tremendously successful species they have become. There’s a downsize to this as one could take away from this book, cats are a danger to the earth as this all too numerous predator. She writes in this non-focused meander so her perspective has a way of oozing in unintended directions. She also does not want to offend her readers’ pride so the deep reason we like cats — because they love us, cling to us, create a private hidden world of play, physical affection, interspecies communication omitted.

In Ian’s mind you see he and I are together for say several hours. He is nearby, in various postures close, he does small things, puts out a paw once in a while, when I get up, he follows; he makes a meow; he jumps on my lap, squats, then turns and pushes his whole body against my chest. We are together. Clarycat is just loving me on and off all day. Once in a while she retires to rest in another room or rests in her catbed as you see in the photo. This aspect of the cat Tucker doesn’t acknowledge. They are not lions in living rooms. They are domesticated small feline deep companions.

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Ian this morning, walking around breakfast things, nearby his catnip mouse —

He likes to play with toys still. A small catnip mouse has been a great success. He pushes it around the house with his paw; he has a small bird with a rattle and feathers on a string that he pulls about with his mouth. then he stops and wrestles with it.

I mean to write much more at length, separate blog, on Margaret Oliphant’s The Marriage of Elinor, Jane Hill’s The Art of Carrington (to say nothing of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, book and 1972 BBC mini-series).

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Camille Pissarro — Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes — it’s 20 degrees outside as I type this

So, outside activities: Three times to the gym in the morning for “body strengthening” classes (a large bunch of older people first semi-dancing and then semi-exercising with chair, plastic ball, weights and stretch chord) at a gym. I put up that tree at the top of this blog. I climbed a ladder thinking to try to put the lights into the higher branches, but realized I’d fall so gave it up. My across-the-street neighbor helped me put a cap on my outside faucet lest the pipes freeze

I have a volume of poetry by women which is titled The Widow’s handbook. It’s very fat, one or two poems each poet. One of the many things it taught me was how varied widowing is — some women lose their husbands to death as early as their 30s (not just an accident but illness) and there’s a great variety of circumstances as well as how he left you. Some husbands don’t tell their wives the truth and she finds herself badly in debt or without a pension. There are devastating reinforcements. The book is organized so as to begin in grief, show some interim time and then the last more upbeat.

I’m finding I can hardly believe 4 years have gone by. They felt in the experience but swift now that it’s 4. When I first was widowed I knew a woman who was so hurt when I seemed to imply that after 4 years she should be doing something other, moving on; now I know I was naive and why she was so hurt.

I came home yesterday late afternoon to discover that my machine had updated itself, and would no longer support “safari” and my gmail was gone to pot, back to some incoherent html system. I emailed my IT guy in a shaking panic and he sensed I needed him NOW. Came right on, and within half an hour I was using a new browser, Internet Explorer, with all my stuff from safari transferred over. I’m having some minor trouble with Yahoo as not all my mail is going there, and each time I come on I must fill in my password once again. But I can live with it. A huge glass of wine gulped down while I watched him. It calmed me, I was able to cope then. He said, “Good way to begin Friday night, Ellen.” I wasn’t so sure.

I had seen a remarkable film, Manchester by the Sea, well worth going to (I became so involved I cried out at one point). Tides of grief the reviewer says. It is a relief to see some accuracy in depicting the economic and social lives of average Americans today, only it’s fake because no one anywhere isn’t white and none of them are overtly desperate for money, or even complain about their status, no one angry but our hero.

The US situation is hard to capture because it is so complicated and made up of so many peoples who are not integrated together, but exist as separate ethnic and other groups, each in tiny world of family, few friends, long hours of work, moving with and to jobs: but basically, reductively, there seems to be a vast body of people living on the edge of economic disaster, just making ends meet, and needing to borrow — sometimes larger sums, but often just using credit cards to do that,”maxing them out” as the vicious man at the head of US power urged his salesmen when they were pressuring people to go to Trump university. There is another group where people seem comfortable, not in debt, have savings, even investments, and houses and cars, but take away some social benefits (pensions) have the stock market collapse and are up shit’s creek. Can’t make ends meet. Evicted, have to move. Now there is a tiny minority of very rich, say 10% and they are not at risk and they want to take back whatever they supply to the others. Massive cuts to social security starts the game. If they manage to do that will there be finally a civil war, an eruption, a revolution. It could go to bring an even more rightist to power as people are so self-centered by every instinct. People don’t revolt easily either; they don’t want to put their lives, their bodies on the line. It’s so easy to kill someone – and with a gun it’s nothing. As yet his Trump followers liking his tweets (oh yes) and only beginning to murmur as they see themselves individually betrayed here and there — like putting in charge of treasury the Goldman Sacks man who was known as a foreclosure “king:” (didnt go to jail for false foreclosures but others did, he just grew richer).

And otherwise Trump leading the pack to “drain the swamp” into which he is stashing alligators. Take away the little people have beyond the bits they can earn. You’re right that they are dependent on consumers buying but do they see that. Apparently Assad thinks he need not have any people in his country. They get in the way of extracting oil and selling it for huge profits. The man put at the head of Labor apparently has said robots are much better as workers at his fast food restaurants; they don’t get sick, don’t ask for vacation, smile at customers, are efficient, never complain. So he’d like to replace as many workers as possible with robots and what does he care of they die of sicken or distress (having no access to medicine, or having it are hounded for debts). Suicides among white women in their 40s going up; life expectancy of US people going down. Minority rule. He and his “mad dog” military demonizing Arabs and Muslims in the ongoing colonialist grabs of oil and natural resources, selling arms (LeCarre’s Night Manager was my topic in a previous diary entry). The real voting choices of the majority stifled, nullified.

The real problem with the movie Manchester by the Sea on its own terms (not its political inferences which are important) is that Kenneth Lonergan thinks in order to make people sympathize with someone going around with such a hurt in him is he has to invent this devastating loss. The hero is responsible — it was an accident but he had been drinking hard, enjoying as it’s said the company of friends over billiards to 3 in the morning, and left the fire on (as his wife insisted she could not bear the heat high in winter) in the fireplace, went out for more beer, and came back to find his home a furnace and his three children dead. But in truth all one needs is to be alive, go through life, see others and be treated by them in various ways for say a few years of teenagehood. Abrasive aggressive and mockery and coldness when I tried to confide, another person telling yet others what I said and a third shocked – you don’t tell such things. Such one small moment. And one can go through life with this terrible hurt within. The hero does have it well before the accident: we see in his eyes how he yearns and how he is rejected — by his wife in bed, by others who don’t understand.

Today Izzy and I saw the HD screening of Kaija Saarianho’s L’Amour de loin (love from afar), libretto by Amin Maalouf. I’ll write a separate blog for this: it was remarkable, taking within its allegory Tristan and Isolde (especially in an 1890s version by Joseph Bedier, in French), the dying fisher king, Aymntas (especially in Wolfram’s Parzival), fear of existence itself (dying and living) so retreat into dreams. Yet it was deeply reactionary: the chorus allowed to bring only parts of their bodies and heads out of some constrained barred area. The worship of the supposed numinous.

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Tomorrow is Sunday and I used to put a poem on this blog every Sunday:

Women
BY: Yannis Ritsos,

translated by Ryan Bloom

Women can seem a world away, their sheets smelling of “goodnight.”
Setting a small loaf of bread on the table so we don’t notice the distance, don’t feel them
missing.
We understand, though, that we are to blame; we rise from our sleep and say:
“Let me burn the flame tonight,” or “You’ve worked too hard today.”
We strike a match; she turns, drifts slowly out of sight, her gaze
inexplicably fixed on the dull kitchen light. Her back,
a bitter slope, bears the weight of death:
family dead, her dead, our own death.
We listen; ancient floorboards creak under her footsteps,
dried streaks of water stain dishes in the dish rack—listen…
there’s the train come to take our soldiers to the front.

What women are enduring everywhere in these crazed wars making terror: Yemen, Syria. What can one begin to say or feel that’s adequate to the case. I began this blog with terror; I had some reference to a cunning clown and his henchman and the immiseration of vast numbers of disenfranchised people I end on horror, dismay, should we not feel helpless rage.

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A photo of a dog and cat huddling together on the streets of Iraq this week

I live vicariously too, gentle reader. My social life is getting on the Net, seeing letters from friends and answering and feeling so grateful when they do answer. One group reading group I manage to stay with by having two other people support it who I can write with. Others I look in on. Blogs where I see others like me spend most of their hours among books. Face-book chatting with like-minded people. Twitter hearing how others are reacting to the day’s news or moments of their outward social lives, what they have just read. Just a thought he or she had.

I do love my long hours with books and writing. I love the movies I spend time watching. I see people from afar and a couple close who live my way. I finally understood what went wrong between me and that women Clare Shepherd who I visited for a week in Cornwall and tried so desperately to be friends face-to-face and living around. The thing, the area that made us friends is a self or experience that comes out in writing and from a distance. When encountering one another directly, a very different self comes out and that was one when both of us saw neither of us could relate to.

And how do you get through your days, gentle reader?

Miss Drake

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Standing Rock, this Thanksgiving Day: by Medea Benjamin the water protectors

Dear friends and readers,

For the first time since Jim died (and perhaps a few years before that), Izzy and I had a “proper” Thanksgiving dinner and with other people. A beautifully cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, a kind of puree of broccoli (with various delicious ingredients blended in), red cabbage (somehow made sweet), stuffing, muffins, for me wine, for her apple juice. My neighbor who lives across the street invited us over and made this dinner: I brought an apple pie and bottle of wine. We talked, and ate, and talked again with good music from NPR: like Aaron Copeland, while we sat around a table doing some serious puzzle putting together. I’ve no photos to prove it; you’ll just have to believe me. I did read an article in the Washington Post which had your regulation photos of turkeys (not cooked, but alive): Debbie Berkowitz told about the terrible conditions poultry workers (that’s people who prepared the unfortunate chickens too) endure (freezing cold, dangerous hard repetitive work, very low wages). A thought which might hinder the usual showing off by photographing the unfortunate bird.

We went across the street around 4 and were there about four hours. The generosity of this woman gladdened our hearts and made the coming winter time more cheerful to contemplate. I wish I could get myself to volunteer in a local homeless shelter where they make meals for people on Christmas day, but I hesitate each year since Jim died. They want me to fill out forms, to agree to have any photos they want, and this year $50 on top of that. So I don’t know again. At any rate, we came back me to read, and she to sleep because she’s promised to write for Fan-Sided another report on ice-skating (I think it is) which starts US time at midnight; she’ll watch, take notes, off to work at 7:30 am, and back again to resume work. Do not underestimate the great solace of writing. About mid-morning today I wrote four letters to friends who had written me, two because it’s Thanksgiving and they know I have birthday coming up.

Another is reading. Over on Wwtta @ Yahoo, about three of us are reading Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and we are into Chapter 24 or so where Lee writes of how important to Woolf was reading. I loved the chapter, but my companion in reading, Diane Reynolds, suggested there is something missing: Lee does not tell which were Woolf’s “touchstone” books (the word from Matthew Arnold’s famous essay on how he tells if a passage is great writing (he reads it against “touchstone” lines of greatness): “which books did she return to again and again in the course of her life.” And why these? In the case of Woolf, one problem is she read so much, it’s not clear she might have thought to write about this until until her immersion was such, she would probably talk of a kind of book (Russian, say, classical). Then as a paid reviewer, she’d have had to think about so many she was paid to read.

So I thought in this desolate, desperate and frightening time before Trump takes office (it’s hard to take in that huge numbers of human beings are willing to allow this corrupt bully monster such power — what a mass failure of imagination is here, Jim might have said), I’d cite the books that I’ve read and reread and reread and those that have changed my reading life and thus me profoundly.

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At 8 I’d read and reread P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park — for the park: I lived in the Southeast Bronx and loved tracing the park on the end papers. I loved the quietly magical adventures where this enigmatic strict woman emerged as all kindness, courtesy, reciprocal love. In another of the Poppins books the children visited the Pleiade, the “seven sisters” Margaret Drabble called them and I remembered ever after the drawing of Maia skipping along on the sidewalk. Alcott’s Little Women over and over and I still think in terms of some of its parables. I was lured by The Secret Garden too. I read one copy of Gone with the Wind until it fell apart. All this around age 10 to 12.

From the time (same age) I’ve read Sense and Sensibility Elinor has helped me. She provides a way of thinking, a kind of (yes) self-control, self-protection, that I’d try to emulate and hold to. I remember doing that around age 17 and thought it helped keep me sane. Having spent 5 years on Richardson’s Clarissa it too has been central — though I wish I had known Mary Piper’s Saving Ophelia. It might have helped save me years of mental anguish — I probably would have practiced the same kind of guarded retreat as the best way for me to cope with aggressive heterosexual male culture. How I identified with Fanny, loved the melancholy neuroticism of Anne Eliot. I have never stopped reading Austen for long, especially the six famous books, even Emma which at least has the rhythms of deep heart beat with order and harmony in the sentences, rather like letting Bach or Handel get into the pulses of my blood going through my chest and heart Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre are books I read and reread in my teens. Bronte sent my pulses soaring with her comments about having a treasure within her she’d not sell away

These will seem strange and won’t resonate but this set of books has been as important: Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A user-Friendly Guide. For the first time I could understand what was meant by de-construction, all these “theoretical” outlooks put into words which were meaningful. It was Tyson’s book which made me a feminist. I am not a feminist out of a search for power, or influence, or about a career (none of which I’ve ever had), but as a liberation from the dark nightmare of the way sexuality is conducted in our society. For the first time I had words which did not shame me to discuss the experiences I had endured, and this book took me to others where I understood for the first time I was not only not alone or rare, but my experiences were commonplace. Lois Tyson’s book enabled me to utter my thoughts to myself clearly and at least think about them and then voice them (here on the Net mostly) to others. Emily White’s Fast Girls (about how such girls become “fast,” are stigmatized, treated horribly), Peggy Reeves Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape (ought to be required reading for every girl) and especially Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery (wherein we learn why there is no recovery if by that is meant forgetting, going back to what one was). These did changed how I read.

Close at hand, near to heart: I have Trollope’s books and all sorts of secondary studies in a book case that stretches from ceiling to floor and is about 4 feet wide — he helps and certainly he changed what I do 🙂 The novel I read first and never forget was Dr Thorne I was 18, it was assigned in a college class; I wanted to write a paper on it but was discouraged by the professor because Trollope was (just) “a mirror of his age. Then re-hooked when the Palliser films were aired on PBS in the 1970s: Jim and I watched and read the books in turn as we went through the series. Then re-hooked in the 1990s with Last Chronicle of Barset in Rome (it got me through) and The Vicar of Bullhampton (given me by my father when I landed in hospital.) I have read and re-read Trollope’s books, and while his depiction of women leaves much to be desired, his attitude towards colonialism shameful, he does see the truth and is candid enough to suggest it. I give him the high compliment of saying he sees the same world Samuel Johnson does.

Over the years I’ve added this or that author who speaks home to me: there has got to be a strengthening offered, a way of coping as well understanding what existence is — especially for women and in books by women. There is a strong perpetual fault-line between women’s and men’s art. Lately it’s been Margaret Oliphant and Elizabeth Gaskell (yes I like older books) but before that Elsa Morante (in the Italian) as well as Elena Ferrante’s first couple of books (Days of Abandonment is astonishing), Chantal Thomas (Souffrir), Jenny Diski. Graduate school introduced me to Samuel Johnson (how’s that for a different voice), Anne Finch’s poetry, Charlotte Smith but she is so corrosive; she permits self-expression through her but not the calm acceptance and understanding of how this came to be; now and again in different life-writing, memoirs I find women who do this: Iris Origo, George Sand, George Eliot (though too much violation of natural impulses).

In the first few years after graduate school, I discovered Renaissance women wrote (who knew?) great sonnets, and loved Vittoria Colonna (why I taught myself Italian, though I first loved her poetry in fin-de-siecle French translation), Veronica Gambara, Gaspara Stampa, Lady Mary Sidney Wroth. I discovered Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters, read all three volumes. Now and again I’ve clutched some contemporary woman author as yes yes yes: Rosamund Lehmann’s mistitled The Echoing Grove comes to mind (The Weather in the Streets might contain the first frank story of an abortion, had just around the time the heroine reads Austen’s Pride and Prejudice); Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children tells such good hard truth but offers not enough comfort.

Well of course each day (almost) I reach something which makes being alive worth while. I love reading about women artists, and reading women’s poetry. Today I was having a deeply enjoyable time reading Martha Bowden’s Descendents of Waverley, a stimulating book about historical romance and novels whose reflections criss-crossed with another set of post-modern historical fictions I had been reading about in another book I’m reviewing: Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and Cambridge. Between this book and others about historical fictions and films, and reading Booker Prize versions of these, thinking about earlier ones (Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, even the Poldark novels, Walter Scott) I’ve come to the thought that we so love post-modern historical fiction with great dollops of romantic fantasy (time-traveling, re-enactment, erotic giving of the self to a beloved) because through intertextuality they include precious historical documents (books from previous eras), the remnants of a past that have survived which can open worlds of minds and places to us, cultures, while the 20th and 21st century authors, film-makers produce a perspective on this past and our present that is sustaining and comforting today.

Do you love the older images on Virago covers? often I do. Also black-and-white picturesque illustrations.

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This Monet is my header picture on Twitter

So that’s what I have been thinking and what I did this Thanksgiving day. It was a day where no further irrational (unless you believe everything must be set up for a few people to make as much profit as possible), vile (deeply inhumane) and despicable (choosing inept people who known nothing about the area except that they want to destroy what’s there) appointments were paraded by the president elect, not even one of his snark jokes. I’ve in effect praised the Post for one of its Thanksgiving day stories, so let me be clear: the rest of their page was advice to those who see what Trump is to be humble before those who voted for this man if we have to sit down to dinner with any of them: the overt theory is again they are good deluded people (the old shibboleth of “false consciousness”) and we are to blame for this horror about to unfold because we have been elitist: with such a conclusion, how can the paper’s staff hope ever to help those poultry workers they grieved for on the same page?

So I also remember the lesson of the 1930s when a segment of my then extant family in Europe was rounded up, send to camps and many of them exterminated or died of hellish treatment or were shot. I’ve saved for last two books, both slender. The first a sine qua non for a 20th century reader: Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce (if you can in the Italian, but if not the English translation is good). I read these (bound together as one book) when I was teaching myself Italian (I was about 44). Indirect, but saying the same thing is Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, which each time I was given the second half of British Literature to teach I assigned as our penultimate read.

Miss Drake

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These autumnal photos are from friends on face-book: Mist

“Speech,” she said, “is but broken light upon the depth Of the unspoken . . . ” —George Eliot, The Spanish Gypsy

Dear friends and readers,

I feel like I’m beginning again after some kind of hiatus where I’ve been in this strange state of interacting with all these different people without Jim nearby. When I can return to my house although I know he does not exist anymore, I have my memories and all the things left over and can find peace and strength from routine alone. I have not had that kind of strengthening for hours on end since October 11th. So I realize however hard for me without this nest I lose the roots of my identity.

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Fallen Leaves

The front half of my house is still under-going renovation and we’ve had no kitchen sink, sometimes no stove since October 7th. We eat out evenings (Olive Garden, La Madeline, a nice Pizza restaurant in Old Town where we’ve watched 60 Minutes, Leslie Stall still going strong on a visit to the antartic) or we go to Noodles and Company and carry the pasta back or order from a local Chinese restaurant. While we were in Chawton, I had to put my poor pussycats (badly frightened I realized when I picked them up) in a pet boarding house to make sure they would be safe (not run away), taken regular care of for some 8 days. At home when the contractors are here, they must stay in one room in the back and they hear the startling frightening noises.

Another way to put this is I’ve not blogged anywhere for 11 days! and have not written seriously here (as in The Fragility of Friendship) since before the anniversary of Jim’s death (October 9th). For some people such a stretch would be nothing. Not for me. Out of touch. I need to re-situate myself this way. I’ve not been sleeping the night through for several days and nights now. Waking at 3:30 am no matter what pills I take or how I exhaust myself. So I do read for a while and take a melantonin (non-prescription sleeping pill) and get two more hours if I’m lucky that way.

My books during this time have included Tolstoy’s War and Peace in two different language translations, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography. I’ve watched LeCarre’s Night Manager yet once more. Going and coming back on the plane. I’m getting to understand what’s happening, all the nuances of that remarkable exposure of the arms industry: the New York Times tells us how the people fighting in Mosul are a combination of mercenary armies, disaffected ethnic groups, small “classified” (not explained) special forces from the US and other nations, but does not tell us where the fearful bombs (barrels of napalm) are made and by whom and what is the payment. LeCarre calls our attention to this.

I’ve been to three conferences — one far away in Chawton, Hampshire (a Charlotte Smith conference, at Chawton Library, in type very like the Burney, only much longer, 3 days, 10/14 to 10/16, including a many hour series of trips around to Smith sites in Sussex and Surrey on Sunday), two close in vicinity but not in type (the Burney conference this past Thursday, 10/20, and the JASNA, 10/21 and 10/22, both in the Washington DC area). I’m not through yet: I’ve a fourth conference (a favorite, where I do meet real old friends, EC/ASECS) in two weeks, located about two hours away by car, Mary Washington College. Tomorrow is my Film Club which I don’t want to miss. I will resume teaching (I stopped for a week) this Monday.

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So what is worth telling beyond the papers I heard (which I’ll write up as a series of reports about Charlotte Smith, Frances Burney, and Austen and all things Austenian in my Austen reveries blog). Travel looms large in my mind as well as the place I’d never seen before. I sent a proposal to the Charlotte Smith conference as I had longed to see the Chawton Library, the house Jane Austen’s brother inherited, to which Chawton cottage was an appendage. Now I have. It is a beautiful mansion, once a private home (and one can see even now how it was lived in if you apply your imagination), now a building given over to research, with rooms of rare books, mostly 18th century, focused on women writers and artists and Jane Austen. We were shown one beautiful volume of studies of flowers and plants by an 18th century woman — the book is apparently their display copy for visitors to peruse.

During the two days of papers, which included two recitals of her poetry to music, I heard so much about her for the first time and had my sense of what her poetry can be altered, enriched, explained, and in the one day we went touring, saw as many sites as human beings literally could do, with a 20 minute lecture by a local historian, Carol Brown, on the history of the church Charlotte Turner (as she was then) attended as well as the house her mother lived in nearby (Stoke), complete with contemporary illustrations.

It’s ironic this blog will be about all the things that happened during the trip itself, and what I left behind (my two pussycats), and the countryside and city (London) we saw, and not Smith. I met Loraine Fletcher, the biographer of Smith and had much solacing and stimulating conversation. I enjoyed a couple of meals Izzy and I had with her and another friend. The Smith group wants to become a small society, perhaps have a website and face-book page; they are starting up in hard times. One must incorporate a non-profit, to do a journal takes enormous work, but someone from BSECS (British Society of 18th century studies) said he would add the Smith Society (if there is one) to their website as a way of starting. They could have caucuses or panels every other year at ASECS too. Other smaller societies do that.

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Interior reading room at Chawton Library

What strikes someone in the year 2016 is how small a community the village of Chawton is today and thus how tiny it must have been in the later 18th century. Alton had three (!) bookstores and all the amenities and types of shops daily life requires, but without the internet (intermittent in many buildings) and fully socialized individual life and regular visits to London or visiting theater and other groups what a quiet life it might be. Alton Hotel (where we stayed) is a central hub, as pub, dining room, Sunday meeting and conference place.
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A remarkably good Bloomsbury bookstore — superb collection of theater and poetry and all sorts of subjects

Izzy and I spent a full day in London too: we managed 2 Bloomsbury parks, 5 bookstores altogether. Three were remarkable collectors’ places in the middle of the West End theater district: I held a first edition of Trollope’s The American Senator in my hand, 3 volumes, in beautiful condition, in one. Another was a treasure trove of music publications, including reference sets, the most remarkable and interesting (and ordinary) of books published, plus playbills it seemed for the last 200 years, another filled with prints, from the 18th century on, whole series. That I bought only 5 books, all carryable (not the first edition of American Senator, too high in price for me) showed self-control.

We went to the Beyond Carravagio exhibit in the National Gallery: some 8-9 rooms of intriguing imitators of Caravaggio, groups of people playing cards, cheating one another in all sorts of ways, transgressive sex, theatrical scenes of betrayal — this after we discovered the Film Museum (where we had tried to go to do something different) is now as imbecilic as the Maritime Museum in Cornwall was: huge amounts of noise, endless repetitions of cars crashing on films, and the actual cars (it was said) used in James Bond films is all there is there now. We saw a not-so-good production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser. Unfortunately the only images I have for the Caravaggio are those where Christ is included, and these are far less interesting than the revelations of people seen in many of those with no gods in them. The film of The Dresser that I saw on my BBC Iplayer was better, but this one seemed so a propos to the wars going on now and the murdering to profound distress and dislocation of many: Sir I now realize is a sexual predator as well as blind egotist. The players did not do the parts as plangently as in the film, and I preferred that.

We stayed at a hotel in Bloomsbury: the George, no bathroom or shower to ourselves, as minimal in comforts a room (one lamp for example) as the hotel we had in Paddington when we came last year. It seems unless you are willing to spend hugely, in London that’s all there is.

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Another wrinkle in warnings against airplane travel. You may recall all the trouble and expense I had buying these non-stop tickets to and from Chawton. Well, when Izzy and I got to the airport to get back to Washington DC on the Tuesday morning (10/18), in plenty of time, at first we were told we were part of “overbooked seats” and would not get on that plane, but maybe the next or maybe stay in a hotel. I became silently but (apparently visually enough) distraught: the woman employee saw in my eyes this wouldn’t do, as I started to say how angering this was, and with startling ease suddenly produced two seats — the same seats Izzy and I had had on the plane to the UK.

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This incident should trouble anyone: it didn’t feel quite random, not just these same two seats (about the middle of the Premium Economy caste). We were asked to sit apart from other passengers and put on the plane first. It may be the whole paranoiac atmosphere in the US and at airports where the US dominates creates paranoia but I’d prefer if utter disrespect and lack of concern for Izzy and I as individuals (our cases were already on board the plane) were driving this sudden refusal and then production of two seats. Today on the Metro coming home from JASNA, I overheard a conversation where a young woman was refused entrance into a plane, made to wait 3 hours for another, and then not let on that, and finally instead of a hotel, a third plane taking her to a different airport had found out in fact there were seats on the original plane but somehow given to someone else.

This is the power of monopoly corporations. While on said plane, Premium economy people were told there were no good snacks between the two meals. Don’t tell me first and other similar classes on another level of the plane didn’t have these. My cell phone did not work at all for days while away, and I still have not gotten a paper bill from Sprint since July; I was egregiously overcharged in September by phone after I came home from Cornwall and was told my bill was “way overdue.” I am one promised next week. I emailed my other daughter, Laura, to ask about her experience, does she use another server, and her prompt reply was “they are all like this” and she’s not had a bill from Verizon for 6 months and “can’t get one from them.” My phone did begin to work when we got to London and then again when I got home. I don’t want an i7 which is what I’m told I’ll get if I try to buy a new device. I noticed the spread of of Indian caste systems now includes the security theater: different lines for differently labelled US passport holders, different amounts of time to wait, but all seemingly requiring four different snapped photos.

It’s not enough to avoid absolutely all middle men (Expedia, the kind of intervening site which seems to be the hotel you want to stay in, but is a middle man and so the hotel is not responsible if your booking is not there for real), to phone and book the airline direct and talk to a real human being who reads aloud the document and send a copy to you of what you paid for (and pay for a better seat than Economy or Steerage Abuse): my new plan is never take a plane unless I am profoundly sure I want to go to wherever it is and will have an enjoyable time. I realize that when companionless I find the contingencies of all travel itself an trial (when not an ordeal of exploitation) so must take that into consideration too.

Izzy was with me, and she spent two afternoons at Jane Austen’s house in Chawton iself. She said she remembered nothing of the house and so it was of real interest to her. She went over to the church and saw Jane’s sister and mother’s grave; ate a good lunch at Cassandra’s cup. She appeared interested in a couple of the more accessible papers on Smith; said she understood mine and enjoyed the day’s touring. Having her with me was a great help for me, and she saw England once again. But I doubt she’d go for a week in the Lake District, much less follow Johnson and Boswell’s steps into the Hebrides in Scotland. I’m not sure about the latter myself.

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Trinity Washington University - 125 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington, DC
Trinity College, one of the buildings

The one-day all day Frances Burney conference was held two days ago, 10/22, at Trinity College in Northeast DC: it’s still filled with non-minority girl- and young womanhood. A grand old building which has hardly been renovated, we had a large auditorium where they served us very good food for lunch, breakfast coffee and rolls and afternoon tea too. Acoustics not good but we managed. I liked being there, seeing the young women students. The older wood engravings everywhere in the building, the grand stairways, a library spoke of decent hope, original dignity, and a continuing attempt to educate and give meaning to students’ lives. I had a couple of students at Mason who had spent a year or so in the institution, both hispanic, and now becoming nurses.

We had a dinner not far from the Marriot hotel where the JASNA was located. This one was differently enjoyable for me than the Smith, because I know some of the people. I have a couple of very good friends I’d say (though seeing them only twice a year at best, and writing on-line occasionally over the year) and have had good conversations with them over the years of going to Burney conferences (on and off for some 10 years or so, plus I wrote up reports of these conferences for those I went to and they were published in the Burney Newsletter). Still I was beginning to be very tired by this time. I will enter into the individual papers thoroughly on the Austen reveries blog: Burney had a more varied life and her journals are astonishingly rich.

It used to be the Burney conference occurred the day and morning before the JASNA started and in the same hotel or place: some central people in the Burney society are central to JASNA so they have been sister-groups. But now JASNA extends its vacation-like tours and fan-group like workshops, with so-called “light” lectures to three days before the sessions start (cut down from 9 at Portland, 7 at Montreal and now 4 only) on Friday. I met several people who were complaining (though ever so politely and hesitantly): “it’s over so quickly” was a typical comment. This thing has cost Izzy and I $400 each; all the activities beyond the fee were separately charged. You can’t get anything in that hotel without being nickled and dimed (actually 5 dollared).

Anyway the time of the conference extends over counting tours and these scattered lectures cover conflict with the smaller Burney society, so like the small Smith group, this society needs to partner, perhaps now differently: say run sessions or caucuses at larger 18th century conferences, or join (as they will next year) with another smaller women’s group: the Aphra Behn Society.
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The hotel inside looks like this on one of the floors from a frontal view

By contrast to the Burney venue, the JASNA hotel was all marble floors, glass and anonymous modernity, escalators, hardly anywhere to eat but a Starbucks. If there was a super-expensive restaurant, it was not made obvious to someone not staying in the hotel. A floor above the meetings rooms was a small book “Ford’s emporium,” which included the usual junk earrings, paraphernalia Austeniana, and also three or four tables of interesting books and I was able to include my edition of Ethelinde among those on the Jane Austen Books table. Izzy was invited to a halloween party by her ex-boss with a proviso that “costumes are strongly preferred” and I gather for the last 3 AGMS (I went now 4 years ago) someone running a regency costume shop has had a large stall at the JASNA AGM. Izzy found a dress that suited her for this coming occasion. She looks good in some of the regency dresses (and once tried a corset on and looked right in that too).

A small snapshot for now: Arnie Perlstein was there and responded to the lecturer of the key note address. This lecturer (semi-famous with a book written from a post-colonial stance on Austen) asserted rather incoherently about there being so much that is invisible in Emma, but he did not go on to tell us what this was: the lecturer did take a page were servants were mentioned but he did not try to prove 18th century readers seriously read the book to find out about the Woodhouse servants. He seemed to try to make jokes, to have a jocular stance: when he would quote something the audience found funny they did laugh. and he looked relieved. I sometimes wonder if the speakers are told to try to “lighten” it up; they tend to ride over the nebulous. Arnie got up so gratified and began to talk of Jane Fairfax’s pregnancy and some other of his favorite theories. The lecturer looked embarrasssed. But it fit his thesis. Arnie was stopped. Since the academic was too cowardly or careful to say what these invisible depths were (perhaps sexual?), his lecture was to my mind exposed as having nothing in it (invisible?).

I did feel rejuvenated a little about Austen two papers I heard and one Izzy told me about: one was on sexual assault in Emma: the woman said she put her proposal in a year ago so the relevance was unintended but there. She also covered the psychological assault on Jane Fairfax. The audience response was intense and for once stayed on topic. The popular readership in fan cults hardly ever talk on line, but unlike academics they will talk in sessions about what they feel about a favorite book or author. I get the feeling they long to discuss Austen and their views and hardly ever get a chance to do it. They had less this year than previous ones. Another paper on education mildly and therefore persuasively suggested Mr Knightly not the great teacher — as he says himself. Here the audience soon went off-topic to gossip about the characters. But they did hear and take in the paper (in some years I’ve been at talks where the lecturer worked so hard to convince the audience of say how this unpopular Austen movie provided a new insight and when the audience began to respond it was clear they just didn’t listen to or accept at all what had been said). I find it jarring when a lecturer is insisting on some sentimental interpretation of a text (such as how good a daughter Emma is, how inspiring) and then quotes one of Austen’s bitter caustic comments. There was a superb lecture by Susan Allen Ford on what is read in Emma and by whom, and what paying attention to these books cited in the novel tell us about the characters and book’s themes. It was said by some to be “so erudite” (I’m not sure if this kind of statement is apologetic or is critical or what?) but it’s easy to reply by saying, yes it was excellent, and as Austen herself says of political talk, silence comes soon afterward.

I have read the North American JASNA grew exponentially in 1995 at the time of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (scripted Andrew Davies, with the now tiresome wet shirt scene), and it has not fallen off since. Many of those coming take it as an excuse for a vacation in a famous toured place. Lots of people networking for wherever they work, for other similar organizations, trying to set up coming publications and so on. I’ll write details what presentations (or papers) I heard on my Austen Reveries blog (on illustrations, on three recent Emma films). I find the JASNA each time I’ve attended oddly exhausting, at once crowded and yet lonely. People wave at me who in other places I have talked with.

Happily neither the Burney or JASNA conference necessitated staying away from home. How much easier are those conferences where one gets to leave in the early evening or goes home between bouts of sessions. The cats missed me badly, the house and Izzy too very much. True to family form, they didn’t socialize with the other cats, but preferred a soft box put in their cage, and staying close to one another. Clinging, they were not sick but they did not eat much. It is all so much more endurable, cats, books at home, quiet.

I have not begun to say what it has been. Sylvia Plath wrote after her divorce, “the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness.” It’s not that for me but I understand how she could feel that way. On widowhood: “It is not true that in time you get used to it. Far from healing wounds, time can on the contrary, only make wounds worse” — Simone de Beauvoir. Again it’s not that bad for me rather the wounds just grow deeper as I think about my own conduct all these years and how I must live now.

Miss Drake

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Jean Baptiste Mallett (1799-1835), A Young Woman Standing in an Archway

Dear friends and readers,

I close the curtain I drew aside the last time I wrote. This is life n front of the curtain since coming home from Cornwall

My edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake has been published by Valancourt Press. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!” Here is the generic description and where and how to buy it When it arrived yesterday afternoon, tears came to my eyes because I loved the cover illustration. You see it above. The rest of the book is a pure white, it’s a quarto size but very thick, 506 pages. 136 of the 138 notes I wrote made it into the text at the bottom of the appropriate pages! It took 5 years on and off. I’ve made a blog with an account of the story and themes. At the beginning Jim was helping me adjust a scanner so as to be able mechanically to mount pages which I then would correct, type, annotate. When my computer died two months after he did, I was distraught over the loss of what I had done up to that point. It was all rescued and about a year after his death, I resumed work. it arrived on the day Jim would have been 68 (October 3rd); tonight it appeared on Valancourt’s site: we would have been married 47 years; this is the 48th anniversary of the night we met (Oct 6th, 1968).

A second new event for me occurred on October 3rd too: I drove into Washington, D.C. to go to an HD film at the Folger Shakespeare Library of a live performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as performed by players under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at his theater in London. I have seen two HD films from Stratford at the Folger (Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing renamed Love’s Labor’s Won — with the same actors), but never before drove in. I no longer trust the Metro as three weeks ago I attempted to go to the first of monthly Washingon Area Print Group meetings at the Library of Congress and found there would be no blue line for another hour. The published Metro schedule of the continual disruptions in service (due to danger, work being done) does not come near telling what is literally going on in that system from hour to hour. The schedule-writers couldn’t begin to. So I discovered that around the library the population is white and upper middle class or yuppy. People in gym outfits, women carrying yoga mats rolled. Men walking with pretty young daughters. Well-groomed dogs. There is in effect no parking during the day for people without permits until 6:30 pm when the two-hour permission ends at 8:30 pm. I didn’t want to fight a huge traffic jam so had left at 4:15 pm, and sat in my car reading once I found a good spot to wait for 6:30. I moved once lest I get a ticket after I left the car.

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It was well worth it. I’m not sure the production entirely succeeded: Branagh situated the action in, had all the actors dressed and behave as if they were in a version of verismo, say Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana verismo played out with the desperation and violence of a 1948 Italian film I’ve never forgotten, Bitter Rice, with the belligerence of the males straight out of The Godfather. Some of the acting seemed too stylized, too forced: instead of watching characters dancing, we were watching actors miming intense patterns that characters at a dance might manifest. I found Derek Jacobi just too old for Mercutio, though I gather the idea was he was a kind of mascot, super-talkative and show-offy as this old man. The play has problems as it veers from ludicrous comedy to deep tragedy and Mercutio’s speech really doesn’t fit so some of the troubles of the first half were not Branagh’s doing: he was coping with these by borrowing from the comedy of a woman who has lost all her relatives and now dotes on her charge (Meera Syal as the nurse). He brought out how harsh Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) is to daughter, wife, nurse. But the play soared in the second half — partly this is Shakespeare pouring himself into these deeply melancholy, distraught, lightening changes into idyllicism to dark despair speeches. But I give Lily James (not given sufficient respect since the Downton Abbey role that brought her to prominence has a tendency to frame her as an easy pretty face) credit for inhabiting a young girl’s deeply passionate presence, one of wild impetus, deep sensuality, reluctance too at moments, bewilderment, and total absoluteness. Jack Madden with his dark-glasses, tie and hair-do put me in mind of West Side Story; the ambiguity of the Friar was caught by Samuel Valentine. It was in black-and-white which placed it in a film noir frame: I heard members of the audience not keen, but it was justified and especially by the final tableau of the bodies in this nightmare ghostly coloration. Together Lily James and Kenneth Branagh made Romeo and Juliet astonishing once again.

About the Folger concert at Kennedy Center that Izzy and I went to this past Saturday evening perhaps the less said the better. It was billed as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with speeches from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — and again Derek Jacobi was a box-office attraction. We hoped for a moving performance of the opera as we had during all three Folger concerts last year found the singers acted beautifully roles their songs implied. No such thing. They were not only dull but the least interesting of part of Measure for Measure were made to frame the opera: the story line omitting great speeches like “Be Absolute for Death” in order to understand life or accept death, in order perhaps to make a non-existent parallel between the classical lovers and the hypocritical Antonio and his pursuit of the nun Isabella, desertion of Marianne, and attempt to murder Claudio for sexual sins he commits. The woman singing “Remember me” had a reedy-voice and everyone seemed uncomfortable with the roles. Izzy fell asleep. One interesting element was how the audience in the intermission were looking for something positive to say aloud and then at the end clapped hard as if they were enthusiastic which they weren’t. No one wanted to admit they had thrown their money and time away. Years ago Jim and I tried the Folger Concert and had found it this bad often; I guess every once in a while they returned to uncompromising dullness.

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Actually Izzy and I have eaten out twice in Old Town, once to a pizza place where we watched Leslie Stall exploring the North Pole, walking in the dusky light around the Potomac ….

I am kept very busy this sad week. My kitchen is being renovated. At one point last Friday everything was ripped out and Izzy and I had no sink, the dish-washer and washing machine and dryer were in the backyard under tarpaulin on pieces of wood in the pouring rain. I am not replacing the appliances and the stove was only not plugged in one night and fridge kept plugged in as well as the microwave oven. All the stuff that was in the cabinets is in boxes around the dining room table. Izzy and I have eaten at home chicken legs baked and basmati rice. I wash the dishes we have in her bathroom sink. I’ve gotten quite orderly and know where things are and manage breakfast and lunch on the coffee table in the front or at my desk in front of my computer.

I worried I would not get the work done I wanted: but this man is very good, and his two helpers do what I have wanted, getting rid of eye-sores like this thing on the wall for a phone to hang from; like the man in January fixing the pipes and they have replaced rotting walls with good wall. Jim and I had discussed renovating the kitchen, using the same super-expensive (and now I realize cosmetically oriented) crew that did our bathrooms. Patty the project manager never came by when she was supposed to; she did not like my sceptical attitudes towards what she called “creativity.” Of course we would want a new washing machine and dryer and she would put them in a cabinet one on top of the other. I asked what was wrong with having such machines in the kitchen? Why did she want to hide them? I am able to do this renovation far more wisely because my neighbor Sybille became my friend and recommended this man.

It will be very pretty when they finish: new cream-colored cabinets with designs or lines of soft brown beige; the walls of the room will be painted soft cream; the trim is soft brown. I’ll have lights under the cabinets. The tile is lovely and for the first time ever stretches from one end of the room to the other: it is a stony-beige color. I’ll have a kitchen chandelier of some sort too. I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen that was not done right in 1993 for a long time.

Jim did not live to see this, and I will have no one to show it too. I’m doing it to support my own self-esteem, feel better about myself. (I won’t describe what the room had become over the 23 years since we renovated.) My friend, Phyllis, did say she would come over to see it, and I said since I don’t know how to cook meals for guests or do what’s called “entertain,” I said if she came I would buy pre-cooked or prepared food from Whole Foods and we could eat that together with Izzy and the two of us drink wine. We could watch more Outlander again on my big-screen TV (she likes Outlander).

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My poor pussycats are made uncertain of themselves and thus nervous. I keep them in the back half of the house to protect them from running out of the house in terror. And I spent three hours today in an equivalent nervousness (like my cats). Two hours yesterday. Izzy and I are both going to Chawton Library for the Charlotte Smith conference where I’m to give a paper on the post-colonial Charlotte Smith. We’ll be gone 7 days including traveling time. I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the visiting services: the contractor is not finished and they would have to be shut away in the back and hear these men with no one else in the house with them. I can imagine them frantic to run away and getting run over by a car or killed by some animal stronger than they or starving to death. I found the people who do house-visiting and offer other kinds of in-house services not reassuring enough. Would they be able to keep the cats in the back? what happens when no one is here but the men working? In short, I just didn’t feel it would be safe. Having now visited a Pet Resort boarding place I am persuaded it’s the safest & most cheerful choice. My cats will have a social life with other cats while I’m gone.

oldtownpetresort

I drove to the place — I used the garmin to get there — it’s said to be Springfield but is in a remote outpost of Fairfax County. It used to be in Olde Towne but rents are too high now. A handsome older building, well kept up, 4 floors; my pussycat’s “penthouse” is in a large airy room. The penthouses with windows are the ones by the large windows, but they are catty-cornered to the windows. There is a large play area in the room. Toys. I saw sleeping contented and playing cats! They had company. I feel the cats will now be safe (they cannot run away). Clarycat, I can see, coming out to play. There’s a woman there all the time. I will take them on the Tuesday and have reserved until the following Wednesday though I hope to be back Tuesday and pick them up then. I now have peace of mind over them, my heart is easy.

I now think people who resort to neighbors, vague arrangements, to visiting services (not expensive, $20 a visit) don’t want to put their animals in such places because they don’t want to pay the money such a place costs. The money motivation for most people is high: for me too, but I find I’m often willing to pay for what others aren’t (say for a seat at Wolf Trap) and for what others are willing to pay (say an expensive gym rather than a public one), I avoid. I admit that it may be there are many people who can’t afford to pay $80 a night. I also have a car I could drive to get there and back. A British friend sent me the garmin which is so easy to use.

The Inevitable Navigation System: 'You have arrived at your destination.'

The Inevitable Navigation System: ‘You have arrived at your destination.’

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I did have two more experiences I want to tell of: because reader, you could enjoy them too. The film club nearly two weeks ago before, Sunday, September 25th, had the Swedish film directed by Hans Holm, A man called Ove, based on a novel by Fredrik Bachman. It has rightly won many awards.

The story emerges slowly: we see Ove (played by Ross Lassgard), a large man get very angry at a flower shop because the flowers are priced so as to force him to buy two rather than one. At first we don’t realize what the flowers are for: but then we see he is daily buying these, and daily putting them by a beloved wife’s gravestone.

cemetery

He has been let go of his job (forced redundancy, retired) because he is old, and stubbornly not keeping up with “new ways,” so now pensioned off, he lives alone. We see that he is an ill-tempered difficult man who scolds people and tries to get them to obey regulations, before where he worked and now inside his housing project. We watch and see amid his mechanical routines to get everyone to obey rules, he is a widower desperate to kill himself.

It’s surprisingly conservative parable or comic fairy tale: as in attempt after attempt, Ove is comically interrupted, prevented, himself does not plan his suicide carefully enough so it doesn’t work, we get flashbacks of his life. An immigrant family move in and he is led to give up his anger, scorn and alienation as a young wife (middle eastern, heavily pregnant) befriends and uses him to help her and her children and lends him her husband to fix his kitchen. The flashbacks show us a lonely life redeemed by one woman who brought joy into his life, she loved, married him and now is gone. The cards are stacked against him though. The film makes comedy out of deaths: Ove has been singularly unlucky: his mother dies in a freak accident, and father dies because a train runs over him after he is made so happy his son is promoted. He is all alone until a woman on a train recognizes his good heart and aggressively courts and then marries him. She almost dies in a bus accident; because he holds out against the hospital staff’s idea she will never come out of her coma and she does, he can take her home. We then see her fight to get a job in a wheelchair, fight to help others who are disabled. It is she who made him a happy life. Now that she is gone, he has wanted to die.

m-en-man-som-heter-ove-wife

A small motif in the film concerns a long-haired cat. At first we see this cat as a mangy desperate animal everyone, including Ove, kicks. Gradually the cat begins to stay near Ove, and then he is pushed by his immigrant woman friend to take the cat in. He begins to buy food for the cat and by the end of the film is sleeping with the cat. She or he is there when Ove dies — for he does die by the end, when he is surrounded by the friends he has made through giving in. He leaves a note telling how the cat likes her food and how she likes to sleep.

I say the film is conservative because a repeating kind of incident happens which in effect condemns group judgements, activities, the state in effect. This pushes against the pro-social group and acceptance the story enforces. I mentioned the hospital staff. It seems the state in the form of heartless men with white shirts and ties have time and again imposed its will on Ove or his father and mother or his beloved wife. These men took from him and his parents a house they loved and replace it with supposedly a better neighborhood. These men resort to burning a house down that he built piece by piece. In the present time sequence we see versions of these men in white shirts and suits try to put in a home another old man whose wife finds her raison d’etre in caring for and who wants to be with her even if nearly paralyzed. Ove had been this man’s almost friend and so too his wife who needs his help. Ove is able to help this couple because he has been led by the same immigrant Iranian woman to cooperate instead of shouting and screaming at people and making enemies: he gets a lawyer to help and she exposes the truth these people are making huge profits. You might say he is redeemed, called back to life by a second loving woman.

This film is not playing locally in my area but is playing elsewhere. I recommend it. I was much moved and also absorbed — of course I would be. There is talk among the audience after the film led by Gary Arnold (the film critic who chooses the films, introduces them). One man said he found irritating the idea that people grieve intensely and want to kill themselves and called it cliched; he knew what would happen. I controlled myself and defended the film on the basis of the comic-anguish art. Arnold said, “You never know who is going to be killed next.” He thought maybe the train running over Ove’s father was over-the-top. In each case you don’t know how it will be that he won’t manage to kill himself. I did worry when he bought himself a shot gun, loaded it, sat down and aimed it at his chin and began to pull the trigger.

Back yet further in time, a Tuesday night, September 22nd, I went to the Smithsonian to hear an excellent lecture on “Frankenstein Revisited” by Bernard Welt (he lectures regularly). I’m teaching Mary Shelley as a 19th century woman of letters, with her Frankenstein as her first but by no means only good book, I dared to try to get to a lecture at the Smithsonian using the Metro. I did manage it — was lucky that night. There are two different trains that stop at the Smithsonian: blue and silver. If the blue line doesn’t work, I can take the yellow to the orange and then the orange to the silver; it’s roundabout and takes much longer but is doable.

The first third told the usual story of the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori in their Italian villa on the lake in a dark rainy summer challenging one another to write a ghost story. He went over Mary’s parents, the love match with Shelley (he omitted all the misery of Shelley’s equal affair with her step-sister, his impregnating other women), all the usual literary groundwork, its political and other radicalism, its susceptibility to all sorts of thoughtful perspectives. He emphasized the Rousseau one: everything about society is wrong, a challenge to Hume and Kant, science, to the idea that life must be good (Prometheus as Job). He added some I hadn’t known: like that summer there had been a vast volcanic explosion which affected weather across the earth. It was the second two-thirds of his talk that were stirring: he seems to be a film and cultural studies scholar. He talked of the early responses to Shelley’s book, the first play, how it became part of a discourse about outcasts, working people, a way to describe the human condition in extremis. Then he came to the 20th century and went through the film history: from James Whale in 1931 to the recent National Theater dual Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the doctor one night, and Johnny Lee Miller the creature, and then the next switching roles. I found his bringing him ideas about the golem, the use of light and darkness on the screen (as Branagh used it I discovered when I went to the Folger) fascinating and useful. Throughout the creature and doctor embodied reactionary ideas, hatreds, insane angers, and Prof Welt ended on how in cartoons recently the creature has been likened to Trump, with the villagers no longer throwing rocks at him, but following with their pitchforks gleeful to destroy the present world order.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (as Dr Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
Naomi Harris was Elizabeth

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So gentle reader and friend, on from the time I arise from bed each morning to the time I take my nightly tradazone pill, cover myself, and Clarycat snuggles up alongside me. I have left out all my reading, teaching work, movie-watching — I’ve been blogging on some of that elsewhere. Like Fielding, a good showman if ever there was one, at the end of Book 6 (which I read and quoted from this week) in Tom Jones when Tom and Sophia have both set off on that road of life, with the audience (world as stage) watching, I say don’t pay a higher price for whatever it is than it is worth, try not to become intoxicated by emotion or drink, and don’t fall to weeping.

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Samantha Morton and Kathy Burke as Sophia Western and Mrs Honor, setting forth with a good will (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Miss Drake

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Myself standing on a cliff not far from our Padstow cottage

I do like to be beside the seaside — John A. Glover-Kind

Dear friends and readers,

For a long time now I’ve wanted to go to Cornwall. I date it from my first reading of Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark. Perhaps it was the chapter on the pilchards coming late to the coast

They set off for Nampara Cove shortly after nine. It was a _ warm still evening with the three-quarter moon already high. In Nampara Cove they dragged their small boat from the cave where it was kept, across the pale firm sand the sea’s edge. Demelza got in and Ross pushed the boat through the fringe of whispering surf and jumped in as it floated.
    The sea was very calm tonight and the light craft was quite steady as he pulled towards the open sea … They skirted the high bleak cliffs between Nampara Cove and Sawle Bay, and the jutting rocks stood in sharp silhouette against the moonlit sky. The water sucked and slithered about the base of the cliffs. They passed two inlets which were inaccessible except by boat at any tide, being surrounded by steep cliffs . . . She had only once been out in a boat before.

I had never felt immersed in the natural world of Cornwall in Daphne DuMaurier’s novels the way I had in Graham’s Poldarks, where Graham seems never to have Cornwall as a place far from his consciousness. For Graham Cornwall is not just some rural fantasy backdrop, a historical setting which becomes archetypal, but a concrete beloved place whose rhythms, human patterns, particular way of life figure forth an ethical meaning dear to his heart about human and British past and present.

So they all went to look, at least as far as the stile leading down to the beach; further it was unsafe to go. Where the beach would have been at any time except the highest of tides, was a battlefield of giant waves. The sea was washing away the lower sandhills and the roots of marram grass. As they stood there a wave came rushing up over the rough stony ground and licked at the foot of the stile, leaving a trail of froth to overflow and smear their boots. Surf in the ordinary sense progresses from deep water to shallow, losing height as it comes. Today waves were hitting the rocks below Wheal Leisure with such weight that they generated a new surf running at right angles to the flow of the sea, with geysers of water spouting high from the collisions. A new and irrational surf broke against the gentler rocks below the Long Field. Mountains of spume collected wherever the sea drew breath, and then blew like bursting shells across the land. The sea was so high there was no horizon and the clouds so low that they sagged into the sea (The Angry Tide).

Here is one of many photographs by Simon McBride, from the first edition (1983) of Graham’s Poldark’s Cornwall, of the north coast above Boscastle (which I and my friends visited), called Crackington Haven:

NOrthCoastaboveBoscastleCrackingtonhaven (Large)

Nevertheless, DuMaurier’s and other evocations of this edge of a sophisticated world, its (nowadays) holiday periphery for those lucky enough to have money and the wherewithal (time, a car) to get there, had had their effect. In her non-fiction today you peer through railway viaducts, in the best fiction, a deeply melancholy distraught past to the quiet of an aloofness, unpeopled ridges of the world at the edge of dangerous seas, neolithic and slate stones, bent trees, canopies of wild flowers, Celtic crosses and churches, walls built as a needed defenses:

enchantedcornwallboatundrtree

At age 10 or 11, I fell in love with the Arthurian matter (stories of Arthur, Guinevere, followed by Tristram and Isolde) because of the pictures; in the summer of 2004 Jim and I had dragged our daughters up and down hills (following Jacquenetta Hawkes and other Arthurian naturalists and geologers) seeking Cadbury, what’s left of the dungeons of medieval and early modern kings (like Richard III):

enchantedr3

We’d locate plaques, or some small landmark confirming this is an as yet unearthed archaeological sites, or remains of monasteries on top of hills (now I know that is what Tintagel is). Jim liked the poetry of Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells (Betjeman was born in Cornwall) and would read to me poems like “Trebetherick” aloud to me

We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge;
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.

Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea,
Sun on our bathing dresses heavy with the wet,
Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea,
Fleas around the tamarisk, an early cigarette.

From where the coastguard houses stood
One used to see below the hill,
The lichened branches of a wood
In summer silver cool and still …

Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat.

But when a storm was at its height,
And feathery slate was black in rain,
And tamarisks were hung with light
And golden sand was brown again,
Spring tide and blizzard would unite
And sea come flooding up the lane.

Waves full of treasure then were roaring up the beach,
Ropes round our mackintoshes, waders warm and dry,
We waited for the wreckage to come swirling into reach,
Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and I.

Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,
And we were in a water world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray,
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blesséd be St Enodoc, blesséd be the wave,
Blesséd be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee …

One of Betjeman’s poems I had printed on Jim’s funeral cards.

I had read Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: the Stephens family holidayed each year in St Ives, and her famous novel is set on a coastline there (though I did not find an evocation of Cornwall by her that I remembered until I began to read her short memoirs, e.g. “A Sketch of the Past” and life-writing pieces):

lighthouse
Hamlyn Bay, near St Merryn, Lancarrow in a cottage not far from Padstow where I stayed with friends last week (8/24-8/31).

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A few tellable moments:

Another English friend (so many of my friends are English, live in England, with whom I correspond here on the Net) had told me to walk past Padstow into a long lane that takes one into an estuary which by boat can lead to St Enoch and then Bejteman’s burial place. My friends were agreeable but because of time constraints (it takes time to drive to each place), we contented ourselves with walking in the town, along the harbor. I climbed on a wall across the way from the town called Rock, and watched people take hour-long “cruises” around the bay.

I and my friend, Clare, went into the Lobster Hatchery and a good art museum (beautiful local scenes of Padstow), which I’ll talk about in separate blogs devoted to the various remarkable places. (This blog is a general account situating what’s to come.)

Similarly we made it to Fowey, a town perched on the side of a steep cliff; you almost have to hold onto the shops as you walk down to the waters where many private boats are harbored.

Here’s the estuary from Fowey which we managed to drive too, and where one can take to the house DuMaurier rented after Menabilly, Kilmarth: again we didn’t do it, not enough time, and wow were those streets steep.

Estuary (Large)
(from DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall)

From there you can reach Menabilly (Du Maurier’s Manderley today), though as it’s still in private hands, you cannot visit; you can also take a ferry to Kilmarth, the house she rented after she was forced out of Menabilly (Manderley’s legal name) when her lease was up (and after she had invested considerable money fixing what had been utterly derelict). We didn’t have the time, so again I perched on a wall and looked outwards to see the people taking hour-long “cruises” in the bay and imagined Du Maurier’s house.

In Fowey we did find two good bookstores (they still exist in England, though far fewer than once where there, and small most of them), where I purchased The Daphne DuMaurier Companion, a very good collection by Sarah Waters, Claude Berry’s old substantial county book, Portrait of Cornwall, and an absolute treasure I will be using for my blogs on this coming season’s Poldarks: Debbie Horsfield’s Poldark: The Complete Scripts, Series 1: what a revelation I have had, learned how much better a set of films the scripts call for, it’s nuanced, the characters developed far more slowly and fully than the mini-series director and producer permitted and some of the actors were able to realize.

I took snaps of people bathing and boating wherever they could, as Clare, I and her partner, Mark ferried along from Truro to Falmouth and back again. At Falmouth we saw the remains of a once vital government port (badly bombed by the Germans as was Southampton), and a maritime museum which has become a child’s playground in its effort to make the shipping and industrial history appeal broadly:

Ontheboat
On the two-hour (each way) ferry

Fromtheboat
We saw many boats, some working fisherman, some leisurely yachts

We saw people boating, one man pulling his three children behind him on a speech motor boat, they holding onto a large raft for dear life. Fishermen in alcoves. It was in these waters that I felt myself here alone now, a deep sense of how here my life’s great adventure began when I married Jim and now I was back, standing there alone. I used to stand on my spot in the world by Jim’s side, now I must stand alone. That is the meaning of the photo at the opening of this blog, of how I was holding myself firm.

I like to read archaeological post-modern musings like Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of the Place, this one too in Cornwall, in ex-mining country, and desperate political polemics like Rob Shields’s Place on the Margin; Alternative geographies of modernity, with its chapters on “the true north” in the UK, the “North-South” divide, Margate and other marginalized places from the viewpoint of marginalized people. Shields reprints semi-facetious cartoons

marginsbathing
This “papa sees us bathing” reminds me of Orwell’s postcards in his depictions of popular culture

and quiet illustrations: This one puts me in mind of how people in NYC will sit themselves down on stretches of grass by a highway or under a bridge and picnic too:

marginsbathingillustration

I took snaps of people swimming and lying on beaches by walls, on the edge of whatever body of water they were near (and water is everywhere seeping in close up in Cornwall), or picnicking by some old building now transformed into an inn or hotel or tourist attraction:

peopleenjoyingthemselves

I had not realized until this visit how Cornwall is a seashore of jagged edges, a land of slates that dug into china clay pits turns lunar, how it’s an edge, one of the sophisticated world’s peripheries not too far for its denizens to reach. LeCarre has lived here for years (his residence a well-kept secret). (On the way home because I had bought Economy Premium, not quite the abusive conditions of sheer Economy I was able to watch the astonishing Night Manager (HBO mini-series which mixes the best of recent Shakespearean actors, with BBC stalwarts), and noticed (as I have many times before) how magical in LeCarre are the words, Devon, Cornwall, as a places to refuge, hide yourself in.

EdgeofWorld

It took five hours to get there. When I told a friend on the Net (she lives 10 minutes away from me by car) the trip to and from, door (mine) to door (this cottage) took well over 30 hours, she remarked “You could have gone to Australia for crying out loud..” Much of this is the train wending its way through this country around its coast, and one knew this was Cornwall when right below there were these steep steep rock cliffs, from which were growing ancient dark evergreens, with the sea just over an expanse of land and further rocks. One can see how a flood, a strong snow storm, ice, could cut this place off, at any rate for a day or so.

This keeps out day-trippers, but there seems to be real snobbery about the proliferation of cheaper eateries, stores selling junk memorabilia, or ice-cream, (I admit) awful (from the outside) looking bungalows. They do spoil the atmosphere if you are seeking silence and solitude. Not just around the most famous landmarks (Tintagel), and the over-praised St Ives — you must hunt out the exquisite art shops, and artists’ studios, the museums (of which there are many), between the usual eateries, cheap shoe shops (yes even here).

But these are as natural as drain pipes installed all about another famous site, St Michael’s Mount: this photo was taken before the causeway filled with water (as it does daily)

StMichelsMountacrosscauseway

Here’s one my friend took of me half-way up that stupendous climb inbetween bouts of people climbing between her and me:

BetweenDrainedatMountmichel

So humanly speaking what I liked best about the famous Jamaica Inn were the cheese-filled Cornish pasties they served. I like the traditional spicey-oniony-meat pasty, but prefer the cheese

JamaicaInn

The inn itself is a fine restaurant, next to which a museum is not about smuggling so much (though it tries, and is serious about the dangerous conditions of smuggling, why done, and has a good film) as a site to show us aspects of Du Maurier’s life and family and books. I can grow weak with hunger if I go too many hours with no food, and the pasty afterward cheered my body and heart.

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Shall I say what it’s like to be in these towns whose primary business is now tourism in summer, and what they connect to at the center through educational institutions: it’s as if some cataclysm has occurred in a world of violence and hard work for most. All the reasons for the vast fortresses and shipping, mining, agricultural work except sheep, and cows (which I saw in abundance) have gone. What’s left is all of us, the 99% wandering about these sites, passing time as (if we are lucky) we have income from where we lived in the centers of finance and social services. The remnants of the past have become the settings for costume dramas set in the past. Or we imagine the back-breaking, youth-destroying work of a mine, or the horrifying punishments meted out in prisons — alas, in the US prisons today privatized are in some ways actually worse than Bodmin or Launceston.

The past is a leisure activity; landscape places to play and muse in: We walked along many a beach, on cliffs, my friends standing together on the same one I am photographed above from:

Clareandmarkoncliff

Mark is an excellent cook. All good men should be.

There are extraordinary and ordinary sites to visit in Cornwall: Greevor Mine, first opened in the 16th century and kept going until 1987; an afternoon exploring Landhyrock House (basically now an later 19th century mansion) and another afternoon at Trerice (a more modest early 18th century variety of manor house): both of these were filmed and inspirations for the 1970s Poldark mini-series.

LanydrockFrancisBassethouse
Lanhydrock House was Francis Basset’s house where the characters dine at a political gathering and Demelza is momentarily bewitched by the poetry and romance of a young romantic nephew Hugh.

We went to the manor house of Trerice which was the model for Trenwith in the first season

Verityaskingforhelp
Norma Streader as Verity asks Robin Ellis as Ross for help in meeting Captain Blamey: in the background you see Trenwith (Poldark mini-series)

Bodmin jail, a grim place where you are allowed to gather the horrific injustices and devastatingly hard conditions prisoners lived and died in, and by contrast, the juvenating St Juliot’s Church, where Thomas Hardy met his wife Emma, and which he renovated:

Here is a lovely photo of perpendicular Cornish gothic in churches, a window, used in the 1970s mini-series (the window of the church where Dwight Enys marries Caroline Penvenenen. from the 1983 Poldark’s Cornwall) modelled on such a church:

StWinowsPerpendicularCornishGothic

Here’s a photo of my friends sitting on bench just outside the St Juliot’s church, which is still offering services for parishioners and help-group support for the bereaved:

clareMark

From the height of deep mining in the later 18th and early 19th century the southwest coast has many ruined towers and engine houses. It is well ever to remember how dangerous mining was and is, what hard work. A few of the last men who worked in these mines are now guides at Greevor (which nowadays also hosts a Poldark day where employees dress up as Poldark characters and perform 18th century activities for visitors).

An extraordinary good exhibit of paintings, at Penlee House, in Penzance: Encompassed by the Inviolate Sea, from which I show here but one of many pictures:

EncompasssedbyCliff

some by a superb Pre-Raphaelite John Brett, famous ones by Stanford Forbes, though I was dismayed to discover out of many rooms, but three pictures by women, and only a print of Elizabeth Forbes Armstrong in the woman’s bathroom:

We did not neglect the Eden Project;a high ideal of environmentalism is often found in the good tourist sites:

EdenProject
A modern sculpture

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As during the five weeks in 1994 when Jim and I and our daughters lived in Rome in an apartment and used buses, trains and a boat to visit other nearby places as well as the sights of Rome, not to omit one memorable three days in Ischia, so in Cornwall in 2016 when different parts of one large place are built centuries apart, I feel I’m in a palimpsest of time, in its layers. In one room one can find objects from the 6th through the 20th century, each there not to represent some era, but to function today, as a chair, a sculpture, a bed, toys, gardening implements, and forms of guns. I saw from our car, Bronze age Cornwall:

BronzeAgeTombCornwall1700-1500

Elizabethan and 17th century Cornwall:

GodolphinHouseCornwallblog (Large)
Godolphin House (these pictures are from Winston Graham’s mistitled Spanish Armada: it should be called “The Spanish Armada as experienced in Cornwall”)

It was last year when I and Izzy returned from Leuven, Belgium, instead of returning to London, we took a detour to Exeter, and for two days then with my friend, Clare and her partner, we exhausted ourselves doing much in such a few spaces; it was Devon, though, and (I have a customer — stage voice) while we ferried across, and explored one castle-cum wealthy man’s estate. We decided to return next year if Clare could rent a cottage; she did.

This past week was a summer holiday, a summer vacation for me. All summer long here in Alexandria, Virginia, the heat has been intense; for a few weeks it was continually over 100 if you include the “index” (how it feels). Consequently I went out little, evening for Wolf Trap, once a week during the time I was teaching, out to a movie with a friend: it could have been winter. In Cornwall I sat on beaches and watched people swim, got my shoes all muddy, felt I was among people enjoying the summer.

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As one should not ignore what is going on around one in the here and now at any site (as a 13th century manor house is now a post office), so the traveling experience matters too. This is where ordinary people come up against the power of the corporation and the wealthy of our world. We are endlessly scrutinized, photographed, surveyed: the theater is now there for “security.”

So, as those who read this blog regularly know, I was fleeced by Expedia (ultimately it was the airlines who collude with these middlemen): paying my bills today I had the mortification of seeing how much I lost and on top of that what I had to pay for a non-stop ticket direct from the airline.

The price for me of such experiences is such ordeals and the anxiety I experience coming up to travel and stress I experience during (I’m not much on contingencies). Since I was flying British Airways I did note for the first time two planes (one going to the UK and one coming home for me to the US) which had an upstairs and downstairs utterly cut off from one another as far as passengers were concerned. Upstairs was first and business and other levels of super-expensive decent treatment. We downstairs were not permitted to see the disposition of space and service up there. We had some version of business class: it was seats that looked like time capsules facing one another, that came with tables, turned into beds but no room to walk about. Both ways I paid for Economy Plus or Premium, and was not treated abusively. Soon after we were seated, we were offered drinks, amenities in the form of hot towels, newspapers, free films, blankets, eye-covers, two lavatories. Further back the seats were smaller, very uncomfortable they looked for sleeping on night flights or a 7-8 hour day trip.

I have seen this before. What I have not seen is planes where I’d say over half the people were paying the huge prices. When it was time to line up, it took a long-time for “priority” people to be seated. They were more than half the plane. Hitherto recently I have flown airlines like Southwest (where once an obnoxious lead stewardess actually forbid people to use the bathroom for quite a time, and did it as if it were a joke) or Icelandic and thus perhaps been among a preponderance of people flying as cheaply as they could.

No more or never again and some such words for me. Either I buy a ticket direct, or pay a travel agent, or stay home. Inside the US when it’s feasible, drive, or as a second choice, train or comfortable bus, if there is such a thing in this land of inbuilt humiliations of crowding and long waits while one watches other people sail through– even on the highway due to the way E-Z pass is administered and the way far more lanes are offered to people with E-Z passes than people driving “for free”.

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Back to what we like to dwell on, one motive for going, the moments by the past where it can speak to us, and offer some meaning to existence by its attachment to some pattern. For me these come from books and humanized landscapes

flowersongrave
Fresh flowers on a grave in St Juliot’s churchyard which I’m glad to report has community services, which include grief-support. The church built first in the 15th century, its gravestones go back to the 6th century (Celtic crosses)

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there. That is, I suppose, that my memory supplies what I had forgotten, so that it seems as if it were happening independently, though I am really making it happen. In certain favourable moods, memories — what one has forgotten — come to the top. Now if this is so, is it not possible — I often wonder — that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them? … There … are the garden and the nursery. Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound. I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen to the past. I shall turn up August 1890. I feel that strong emoition must leave its trace; and it is only a question of discovering how we can get ourselves again attached to it, so that we shall be able to live our lives through from the start (Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being)

Sylvia

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