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Beatrice Potter — Mice at work threading the needle

This morning I was thinking I find it much harder to be alone during the summer or hot months than the cold. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the hot weather signals to one you are supposed to be outside with others having a good time?

Then Robert Reich whose warm compassionate deeply humane and political newsletters I get each day wrote about how a third grade teacher named Alice Camp made a big difference in his life

So I wrote in reply:

I was never lucky enough to have a teacher truly helping me at a young age. But twice when a bit older, a teacher took an interest and made a difference in my life. At age 15 I was intensely miserable and alone, and an English teacher quietly took pity on me: she got me a school job in the library (something you were told you were supposed to get and I had no idea how), and as one of the students monitoring people late to school so I sat with a group of other students every morning for a year. Both helped against the crying jags. She never openly admitted this. I don’t know why I know this but she was said to be a spinster.

Then age 18 the first English class I had in college a Black man who was very elegant, upper class (from one of the West Indian islands) openly was friendly to me in class, and once asked me to come to his office where he encouraged me to be an English major and told me I was very talented in writing and reading. Because of this meeting I did that — so it was not just reading a passage in Wordsworth that gave me the courage. I remember ever after how he was Black and was probably the only Black teacher I ever had in school — I went to all NYC public schools, Queens College, CUNY and a year at Leeds University (UK). One day someone bought in lollipops and gave to one to everyone but me.  I did look different: I was anorexic and very thin, dressed differently, sat apart.  Prof Oliver went over to the guy and asked for 2 lollipops and then came over to me and gave me one and went to the front of the class and unwrapped and sucked on his.

Oh I don’t remember the woman’s name but I can see her kind face even now. She had soft silvery blonde hair. The man’s name was Clinton F. Oliver, and his scholarly specialty was Henry James.

A very long time friend on the Internet who lives in Iran, Farideh Hassanzadeh, wrote this poem the other day and sent it to me:

They are the only ones
who are free.

They stay
on that dark side of the cities
where the most remote stones
rest on their bodies,
covered with dust.

When news is broadcast at regular time
by beautiful international women,
wearing colorful clothing and gaudy smiles,
the dead hear nothing but deep silence
as if all the international languages
are without sound.

Even when the bombs start to rain
on far and near cities
they are safe in their eternal shelters
while their souls are suffering
from the long-lost dreams.

The only voice that reaches them
to shake their bones
is the torture screams
from the solitary confinement
just like the graves
where the freedom is condemned to survival.

Ellen

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Me and Ian, photo taken by Izzy this past month

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I was looking forward to much less to do, but find after all I made new commitments on top of my old ones and am struggling to catch up. This month too I felt again worried about my health (signs of aging); I had some good moments — mostly honestly when I was teaching, or reading a good book; and some bad — I got lost twice trying to get to the Tysons Corner clinic center, and when by myself simply returned home without getting the scheduled second booster shoot; when with Izzy, she saved the day by whipping out her cell phone and using the app called apple. Though she said the apple app (a mapping software) was inferior (as it did not tell us which direction to go in, only showed the road itself), the apple app as used by Izzy got us to the Tysons site, where I had a heart stress test. The nurse practitioner pronounced “you have a healthy heart” after I had sustained quick walking on a ever faster treadmill for over 20 minutes.

In some of this there was a lesson to be learnt — or reminded of. I rescheduled the trip to Ireland for August 2023; yes to go and come back on the plane I’d have to be tested for Covid, and if the test were positive have to stay for 2 weeks in self-quarantine in a hotel room. I would truly become half-crazy were I to be so stranded (and charged for it). Tonight I made an agreement with a male friend with whom I once before went to ES/ASECS in October with to go again this year: he flies here and stays with me one night; drives me to the place (a inn in Wilmington, Delaware, near the Winterthur museum where the conference will be held); we stay there together for 2 nights, 3 days; he drives us back, and then takes an airplane back home (Arkansas of all places — poor man). When I looked at the address, I knew I couldn’t find it myself and on top of that can not drive at night even the shortest of distances.

My friend has made two panels up, and will himself chair a festschrift meeting in honor of a long-time member of EC/ASECS, head of the Bucknell Press. For me this means I will automatically be part of 3 sessions, active, and due to the way he wrote up the panels, I’ve thought of a new paper: “From Either End of the Long Eighteenth Century: Anne Finch’s ‘Folger’ Book and Jane Austen’s Unpublished Fiction.” I’ve now for months (on and off) been studying how the new Cambridge complete edition of Finch’s poetry is a book which attempts to give the reader the closest experience one can have of the original 3 manuscripts they are found in, and a number of years ago I wrote a review of the Cambridge edition of the later manuscripts of Jane Austen where I studied how these works are shaped and project meaning through their manuscript state. It’s is almost a matter of reading quite a number of blogs and sitting down and writing it out, and then turning to the review of the Finch book at last, and writing it. My friend’s financial needs and academic outlook are fitting mine. A positive development, no?

Another lesson came out of my PC computer acting up in the later afternoon. The fan kept coming on. I emailed the IT guys and one came on quickly and did a bunch of updates for about half an hour and the problem seemed to cease. Alas, the next day it came back in a milder form. I had the idea to google and ask what I should do and read there that fans can come on if one has too many applications open. So I put a huge number of files and pictures on my desktop away in windows explorer, and voila, the fan ceased. My desktop is also clear. The IT guy had claimed to fix my landscape mechanism so that it would once again change every once in a while the first picture that comes up after turning the machine on, but he had not succeeded. In a way I prefer it — changes make me nervous.

Below is a favorite image — one I would not mind as my wall paper. You have seen it on this blog before, gentle reader. I am imagining I am by the sea (by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea … ), a beach — something that does not happen to me much (at all?) any more. Staring out into the sky, at the birds.


Sara Sittig — By the sea (by the sea, by the beautiful sea ….) — knowing Jim not out there any more

Much solaced and compelled absorbed this month by Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (I’m in the third volume, Barbie Batchelor’s mind pure visual poetryI’m teaching only Jewel in the Crown), Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (where she lets loose at long last the tragedy of diasporic disconnection and search for individual fulfillment through a woman character who ends up alienated from all who would have loved her), and have learned of and enjoy her rich Italian identity and beautiful language In Altre Parole and Trovo Mi Dove.

To speak in, think in, read and (the highest attainment) write in another language is to become part of another world — and I too love the Italian one. On Trollope&Peers our book for this month of June-July is Tarchetti’s Fosca as translated by Lawrence Venuti as Passion(the name from a 1980s movie and then Sondheim’s musical). Lahiri’s In altre parole is actually a perceptive study on what one gains by reading a translation consciously — not pretending it is the actual original text but a translation into another language and (often) place.

As to movies I was truly absorbed once again in all four Mansfield Park (Metropolitan one of them) movies as I reread that strange book by Austen — and it is strange the perceptive heroine, full of a depth of emotion, imprisoned in taboos. I’ve also been reading through the startling depths and intricacies of everyday life and emotional attachment and cool calculation in Trollope’s masterwork, The Small House at Allington (modeled on and meant to surpass I’m sure Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, with Lily a fully sexualized Marianne, and Bell a yet more careful of her heart, Elinor Dashwood). I promised a talk to be called Barsetshire in Pictures.  I admit the sex is pretty good in the first Outlander book, and I’ve bought the DVD for the sixth season and await it impatiently.

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Barkley L. Hendricks, George Jules Taylor (1972)

The above is but one image of many works of art of all sorts that make up some seven rooms of an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC, called Afro-Atlantic Histories. I had made a date to go the National Gallery and have lunch there too with a friend, and see any new exhibits and old favorites. I did not realize was one of these blockbuster shows which offers unexpectedly extraordinary experiences, but individually and within the context the show creates. Powerful art depicting and showing frighteningly inhuman remnants (e.g., irons to put around enslaved people’s necks to continually hurt and cow and control their every movement) and recreating the experiences of slavery in the Afro-Atlantic world from the 17th century to the 19th, and then a recurring reformulation (direct choices by powerful people in gov’t and business in cahoots) of impoverishment and immiseration for black people by making situations where they stay in the lowest and poorest classes of people. Not all was despair, for the art tended to be modern, 20th century and after because only in the 20th century are the realities of the experience for enslaved people and then impoverished people acknowledged. Some striking photography in the 20th of admirable looking or celebratory people (mostly black) in the US, or Latin or South America. Portraits of individuals. Some of the older pictures were beautiful too — done by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th century following picturesque and other eye-pleasing costume and arrt conventions.


Theodore Gericault’s 1811 Portrait of a Mestizia

I came home to buy at ebay the companion book which includes 2/3s as many art works as are in the exhibit. It came very quickly and I’ve been finding it very much worth immersing yourself in. Sometimes going to a country does not help learn its history since those who were in power erased everything they could about the means they took inflicted on other people. Art brings these things to light and re-imagines and re-creates them here. I’ve been taking two superb courses at OLLI at AU: one on the achievements of Thurgood Marshall, and the other on Lincoln which focuses on his evolution towards complete emancipation for all enslaved people, and his thinking about political and civil rights for African Americans which they as all people innately must have to live a good human life. Lincoln not only opposed the expansion of slavery but also condemned slavery as evil and wrong. I bought and am reading Eric Foner’s Lincoln and American Slavery and Juan Williams’s Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. There is a coterminous area between the two men: no one anywhere has a right to anyone as property. Marshall saw the way to achieve equality of life and fulfillment for black people was full integration.

One striking if not unique I hope rare desperate-helpless kind of experience this month was when face-book a few days suddenly would not download on my Macbook pro laptop and on this PC Computer none of the postings I wrote or anyone wrote to me or any postings at all were visible. My groups pages were all awry. Extremely trying since on google I was told face-book was not down, and therefore something was wrong particular to my computers or settings. But then I found where it seemed many people were having all sorts of odd barriers and problems, and a few the same as mine. So every three hours or so I sent messages to places on face-book where it says “report a problem.” You were told you would not get a reply and it would be used “to improve the general service.” But who knows? Here is what I found two mornings later on google: an explanation of sorts:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/10158791436142200/

And then last night around 1 am I went to face-book once again and all I need had returned. All messages are visible. My laptop uploading normally again. FB has changed again. All the groups have been reconfigured so the banner is smaller. What I can do, or the software and links on my timeline are slightly changed, so I can do less. I know an algorithm began to do to FB what it does to my gmail; in a pattern not all messages show all the time. I conclude they made it less expensive to run. It was not all bad. Numerous kind and generous people emailed me off FB, replied for me on FB — and I felt indeed I have FB friends with genuine concern for me. Pace all the pundits and political savvy types can say, I come to FB for companionship and they validated my raison d’etre for being there.

Here is my experience of the internet as of 1995 and then when these social media emerged from 1998 or so (blogs) and 2003 or so (social media, from livejournal to wordpress to FB, twitter &c): for the first time in my whole life I made a number of friends at once. Real friends then — some people I’ve never lost contact with — Michael Powe, still co-owner of Trollope&Peers; Diana Birchall, plus others. I found myself talking about books to others for the first time. I could read others’ opinions and yes tell my own more bravely for the first time. I was in an ongoing social life for the first time. Hitherto I was mostly alone. I loved it. I have omitted all the bad stuff — the bad stuff is a cyberspace version of the bad stuff in life. On FB over the past 9 nine years I’ve found forms of companionship I needed since Jim’s death — and the near death of listservs — surely you see how few of us there are here. Mine died because I gave up volunteer schedules, elections of books (where people vote books they don’t read) and because my approach is intellectual and often radical in some way or other or just doesn’t please – but also much competition. I now regard it as a small group of friends who read slowly together sorts. Social life through writing used to be the sole center — now I contact people by zoom, face-time, google hang-out and hear and see them and they me — am part of worlds and these worlds lead to worlds in physical space with others.

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The Stanhopes arrive at Mrs Proudie’s Converzatione (at the center Susan Hampshire as la Signora Nerone)

So what lies ahead? why so busy? In a few weeks I shall give another talk to the London Trollope Society group: Barsetshire in Pictures. This necessitates (see above) having read all The Small House in Allington (for Millais’s illustrations), going over all the many pictures by George Housman Thomas for Last Chronicle of Barsetshire, and watching once again the delightful (work of comic-grave genius) 1983 Barchester Chronicles – to get up and present and make interesting the pictures and sets of stills.

June I re-give my 4 week course (this time OLLI at AU) Retelling Traditional Histories and Tales from an Alternative POV. June into July a six week course on Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly) with two superb film adaptations for the Sensational and Gothic Novel Then and Now. Fall in both places: Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle (yet again!) with Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir (and their film adaptations): Barsetshire Then and Now. I am really wondering if I should take off next winter, but now without Jim all alone here for weeks I would lose perspective (so to speak) so The Heroine’s Journey it is for 4 weeks a OLLI at Mason online next winter (Atwood’s Penelopiad, Wolf’s Medea, Ferrante’s Lost Daughter & Austen’s Northanger Abbey).

A surprise for me is the persistence of online classes: for OLLI at AU in June out of 29 classes, 18 are online, 2 hybrid, and only 9 in person; for OLLI at Mason in June-July, the greater number of online and hybrid to in person is even more striking. Do people fear Covid? Is it not worth the time and trouble to drive in and they feel they “get what they want” out of zooms: but 2/3s of a class may stay in black boxes (as if they had bags over their heads). Do you have any understanding of this?  I’ll be there in person with no hybrid alternative.


Olivia Coleman as a lost daughter (La Figlia Oscura)

August Izzy and I will travel to Toronto, Canada! to visit Thao who will have had her baby (William) in June: her first, and my first sort of grandchild, with Izzy as Auntie. We will book in later June. We are face-timing with Thao now once a month on Sunday evening.


Izzy this morning, as yet unlost

And I thought I had nothing to tell you. All this to fill my mind so that I can be at peace alone for reality, and with Jim in my mind and memory in the house and world he and I made together

Away, Melancholy

Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Are not the trees green,
The earth as green?
Does not the wind blow,
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
Away melancholy.

The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
All things hurry
To be eaten or eat.
Away, melancholy.

Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
He is an animal also
With a hey ho melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Man of all creatures
Is superlative
(Away melancholy)
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
(Away melancholy)
Into the stone, the god
Pours what he knows of good
Calling, good, God.
Away melancholy, let it go.

Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Saying, Can God
Stone of man’s thoughts, be good?
Say rather it is enough
That the stuffed
Stone of man’s good, growing,
By man’s called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.
Man aspires
To good,
To love
Sighs;
Beaten, corrupted, dying
In his own blood lying
Yet heaves up an eye above
Cries, Love, love.
It is his virtue needs explaining,
Not his failing.
Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Stevie Smith (1902-1971)

See Cats in Colour,

Ellen

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Gentle reader,

We begin the new year with a new rendition of a song by my daughter, Isobel,

Here are the lyrics.

There are many customs for bringing in the new year. One I’ve followed before is to sum up my best reading or watching experiences, which have turned into an account of what I read all year. The truth is I don’t distinguish last January from the year before, and so much gets mixed up in my mind. I’ve felt, though, that so often these lists become modes of showing off, or people find turning outward to account for the book to others.  One also cites books that one can explain, explicate, or describe in public. I hope to escape that this year, but egoistic as it sounds, just list a few that meant a great deal of me, spoke to me personally as I watched or read, what I learned most from.


Jean Argent, Alice through the Looking Glass, at Guildford castle in Surrey

This year I at last finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet; I would become so involved I would get angry at Elena for doing this or that (leaving a fine man for a husband for a selfish liar for a lover, deserting her children for years) or feel so deeply for Lila though I knew she did not want my pity. I realize the four big books may be a partial collaboration of Anita Raja with her husband, Domenico Starnone (not that he wrote it, but contributed as a dialogue with her). She is foolish for refusing to come out since this allows the awful people to besmirch her when she has translated, learned and taken so much from Christa Wolf, whose work also astonished me this year (Patterns of Childhood).

I just loved the depth of feeling in Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows. an autobiography of herself as a product of her central grandparents, parents, background, education, all leading to marriage, the war (WW2).

A new 19th century author and new book for me was superb: one of the friends of Charlotte Bronte who moved to New Zealand for most of her life, lived and worked there and towards the end of her life returned to Yorkshire to live upon her considerable savings. Her family had had money to start her off and keep her going in hard years: Mary Taylor’s Miss Miles: A Tale of Yorkshire Life 60 Years Ago. I also delighted in Us, the book, by David Nicholls; it was the British serial on PBS that brought me to it (favorite actors, Tom Hollander and Saskia Reeves), but the book was so much better, I just laughed and laughed. I thought to myself Laura would never believe this. I read it twice in a row.

I learned finally how colonialism works, how the system is put together and how it starves and kills the native people it preys upon in Eduard Douwes Dekker (brave and remarkably selfless) Max Havilaar, or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.

I watched and re-watched the exquisitely or quietly funny and subversive Biederbecke Tapes, 3 seasons, written by Alan Plater, starring my favorite Barbara Flynn. I mean watched and re-watched, bought the novelizations …

I returned to loved topics and authors: I was mesmerized by Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, fell to crying over the movie. I practiced (so to speak) more immersion in E.M. Forster (latest Damon Galgut’s convincing fictionalized biography out of Forster’s fragment, Arctic Summer). I can even now learn and love good books on Jane Austen: Sandie Byrne’s JA: Possessions and Dispossesions

I’m still busy falling in love with Michael Kitchen and Foyle’s War I’m only in the 6th of 8 seasons and must re-watch at least twice more before thinking of writing about it.

I admitted to myself that had I encountered Gabaldon’s Outlander, the first four books, and the first two seasons shaped by Roger Moore at age 13-15 I would have been enchanted, and faithful to texts, and actors for life. Like the Winston Graham Poldarks which I discovered in the 1990s, these books came too late, 2015, so I am not up to quite the same intensity of impressionability. Nonetheless, I don’t do too badly. I love the scenes best when Claire and Jamie are in bed together, or talking, or alone doing things together. As a second narrator, I am very fond of Roger Mackenzie Wakefield.

What teaching did I enjoy most? in the end Trollope’s The Prime Minister; throughout E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End and Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day plus all three movies. What class did I truly enjoy to be in? Maria Frawley’s Middlemarch (I re-read that book for, would you believe, fourth time!) and of course that magically true film adaptation by Andrew Davies. The Cambridge lectures on weekends mid-day on Woolf, one on Forster. I must not forget Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (her whole oeuvre) and Alan Parker’s Come See the Paradise, seeing both the result of Leonard King’s astonishing movie classes.

Will this do?

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True Grit up North (a winter scene) by Geoff Butterworth, watercolor, 20th century

Then there are New Year’s resolutions. Try to maintain cheerfulness. You will feel better from this and other act better towards you. Practice self-control. Ditto. Not to get angry or resentful over those who do not ask me to lead groups or do talks because I have no titles, no fame, only 2 unimportant books, was for many years an adjunct (one of the dalits of academic life).  Remind yourself continually how much work these things take, and how you don’t need it, are not paid.  And any I just got $290 as honorarium from people at OLLI at AU for class on The Prime Minister. In the US the way you are shown you are approved of is people give you money.

Vowing to stay calm is easier said than done — for today I did panic or the need to resolve what to do in spring became too strong, my worries over getting it, the chest pain near my heart, in my right upper arm.  Or transmitting Covid to someone else. I thought about how badly I drive nowadays, even in daylight I must exercise caution. How much time it takes to drive in, out, park, and how useful the time to do my reviews and projects.

So I switched and now will be teaching online this spring and take only online classes once more. No one in either place seemed to think I made an untoward or inappropriate or unfortunate decision at all. They switched for me immediately. Now there’s another classroom freed and my place in in person classes can be taken by others.  I regret this a little, but I’d never forgive myself if I brought infection to Laura and Rob. I don’t like uncertainty, the waiting was too much. I worry about what happens in hospitals, which places I loathe anyway. (See Hospitals in serious trouble at DemocracyNow.org).

PBS says what a mystery it is so many US people are again dying.  They can only reference (it seems) unvaccinated!  No it’s the miserable lack of a health care system that will not bankrupt you and is there to care for you for real

So it’s done. Maybe I’ll try in June to come in person after seeing what happens in the spring. At OLLI at AU I’ll miss the coffee times together, the chat before and after class. It is harder to make new friends unless you are literally there, zooms are not conducive to making friends — except I made a new one this year, Betty, through zooms including at Politics and Prose.

I do suffer from sad and angry thoughts — especially when I wake in the morning. This is a central way I experience my depressive state. When I go out among people, the experience (somewhat abrasive but cheerful and often people act in a well-meant sensible way) and perspective (what they say, how I do take it most of the time) is enormously helpful. The long hours Jim would sleep meant that mornings were then the worst of these experiences (feeling bad at my life, that I’ve never come never an achievement others truly respect, never made money, that people reject me and I can’t figure out why — my experiences from autism) had no counter; he’d get up, and make comic and ironic comments and set the world in perspective for me again. Most of all he was there, and I was never as afraid of anything when he was here with me. But I worried so about ending up in a hospital, dreadful places in the US in normal times. And causing Rob or Laura to get sick.

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How did we manage Boxing Day, after all? bring the new year in?


Izzy and I on Boxing Day, in front of the tree at the new City Center in DC, Laura taking the photo …

I have not yet made it to the National Gallery this year. For the second day of Christmas, Laura invited Izzy and I to go with her to see Joel Coen’s Macbeth, then afterwards home to her house to one of Rob’s magnificently yummy meals, opening and exchange of presents. I had the happiest day I’ve had in a very long time. The movie was not exactly subtle; much was cut, a character was added or totally changed, but it was effective film. I thought Brendon Gleeson as Duncan the most human of the characters, and allowed to deliver the best performance.

On Laura’s lawn Rob had gotten some sort of Marvel dragon figure in green hugging a Penguin. Would you believe? I met her cats — I missed their kittenhood. Maxx is smaller and more delicate than I imagined, and Charlotte looks bigger than she is because she’s a long hair (like him). They are healthy happy cats. I had a whiskey and ginger ale with the meal plus wine so was a bit dizzy for the presents ceremony. Driven home, we were back by 9 and I finished out the evening with Shadowlands, and felt good uplift.


Maxx in a new blanket

We tried for a repeat performance on New Year’s Eve night. Before Omicron Covid emerged we had bought tickets to go to a stand-up comic night with John Oliver at 7:00 to about 8:30; then we figured we’d have dinner there, and go to the gala ball. Arrive at the hall and immediately you’re on line for checking vaccination cards and no one is to be without a mask. Each person got a blue paper wrist band who passed through. We did walk about and onto the terrace a bit. Laura had gotten us box tickets so we were four to some extent away from others. It was fun to watch the people. It was not crowded in the garage nor the convention hall but there were people enough to people watch. I’m not sure Laura has ever been to the ball, but we were thwarted. Caution (the Kennedy Center does not want to be known as a bed of disease) closed the restaurants and cancelled the ball. It was a bit of a letdown and sad to have to turn round and come home, but then we couldn’t have been safer the way the thing was done.


John Oliver — not the greatest photo — he told us he has two small children, and the difficulties of filming the show from home with them in the next room …

It is telling the difference between Oliver on TV or the Internet and live at Kennedy Center. First the audience is bigger and not self-selected in the same way. People were there to be at the Kennedy Center, to be out at New Year’s Eve so his humor was not quite as strongly directed, more muted. I think being live also made him more careful. His themes were relevant if you thought about it through the jokes. How US people defy reality while British people swallow it down. He told of how he became an American citizen because he became aware in Trump’s regime how fragile a hold on staying for a non-citizen resident is a green card.

We were dropped off again around nine. Kisses and hugs with promises to see one another again soon. Indeed they were here this Saturday and discovered my DVD multi-region player was not working because two plugs were loose. So I put my new one away for a rainy day. They mascin-taped the plug strip to the wooden furniture right behind the TV instead of letting it lie on the floor behind and taped the plug below too Now I must keep the cats away from behind the TV too. He didn’t need a tool to pull the stand from the Christmas tree, and I have put it on the street now (sad each year) for to be picked up in due course. They were here for less than 20 minutes but for me brightened my day considerably.


Charlotte in a bright red blanket

I admit I recognize in myself at long last material to become an enamored grandparent, but it is better for them to remain childfree — for both their health and their pocketbook. They need not worry when he doesn’t work because of Covid, and just rejoice he is the safer. Some 12 people came down with Covid where he works about 3 weeks ago; he had been off for 2 weeks before that. I have told here he has had cancer so is vulnerable to Covid.

This time I was watching the film adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s The Choir and M.R.James’s Stalls of Barchester Cathedral for the Twelfth Night blog I have since written as a Christmas miscellany of sequels to Anthony.

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Izzy and I made up for not going out to a movie on Christmas Day the Sunday after, January 2d, by going to see the new West Side Story. A brief review:

The new West Side Story. I retract my comments in my blog, based on what other people said and reviews, — To be sure the New Yorker critic hated it.  Brian Tallerico of Egbert.com is fairer – it is a modern mesmerizing.

This is to take back the dubiety I expressed over this movie, partly the result of reading reviews, which I now find obscured and did not give accurate detail, and memories of the previous movie, which movie I remember thinking poor and miscast in all sorts of ways. People were saying not much had been changed. Don’t trust reviewers (say she smiling).

Izzy’s eyes were shining soon after it started; she was thoroughly engrossed by the time Maria and Tony had met at the dance. The actress playing Maria can sing and looks right – so young, the actor doing Tony not a thrilling tenor but he looks right and plays it poignantly; he is so well meaning – as does the actress playing Anita (she is a genetically Black Puerto Rican woman – they have updated it for our era. They have an equivalent of Romeo and Juliet saying a sonnet in turn.

A lot is different, and especially the last third which is not wholly original as the Spielberg and associates went back to Shakespeare. Instead of a quickly truncated ending after the rumble, we have our Romeo (Tony) making his way back to Juliet (Maria’s) bedroom and a night of love-making after he confesses he murdered Bernard. The murder was his rage at Bernard murdering Riff. All with knives. Anita returns after a hard night identifying Bernard’s body and we get the duet of the two women about how can anyone love such a murderer? This song was hypothetical in the original. “I feel pretty” is replaced to after the rumble and the murders.

Rita Moreno’s (Valentina) role improves and makes more Shakespearean the story. She is Tony’s mentor, owner of a drug store who has given Tony a job after a year in prison. Then he comes to her after murdering Bernard. She comforts him; he believes he and Maria can take a bus far away. If only she will fork out the money. Then she stops a rape of Anita come to deliver a message from Maria, with my favorite lines of this movie: these white men are all shits, they have grown up to be rapists. But Anita enraged, lies and says her message is Maria is dead. Valentina is driven to tell the frantic waiting Toni, he rushes out only to see Maria coming with her suitcase, but Chino behind kills him with the gun.

There is a deep anti-gun visual theme of this movie. Bats, razors, even knives do not do as much immediate quick damage.

Finally both Hispanic (Puerto Rican) and white men lift Tony’s body to take it to the hospital. Then Moreno as an old woman sings “here is a place for us — the last song of this movie. Pitch perfect, not over taxing her voice at this point. The whole thing is more upsetting than the original play or movie. The setting of slum removal to replace with luxury apts and Lincoln Center is meaningful. They have made too pretty, too symmetrical their 1950s sets but I recognize these places — I grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s.

The New York Times liked the modern ambiance. The Washington Post critic loved it. I agree it is a rethink.

What is it that the witches in Macbeth say? the charm is wound up, read for another year of diary entries …


The Guests (Russian, later 19th century/early 20th)

Ellen

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Alistair Sim as Scrooge dancing with his nephew’s wife at the close of the 1951 film of A Christmas Carol

“A Poem for winter Solstice”

The dead are always with us
The dead never cease to be with us
We need not imagine they have consciousness
No they are literally gone
But our minds and memories are strong
And take them with us everywhere
We want to bring back the past
Make it alive again
Let it wash over you, wash into you, become you
But we need not
We may turn to
The sublimity of historical romance
the ghosts of time-traveling

— by me, written in 2017

Dear friends and readers,

I truly meant to lead off my near Christmas diary blog with pictures of this year’s tree, of Colin, my beloved glittering penguin once again, which pictures should include our new presence or Christmas stuffed or pottery animal, Rudolph, but before blogging tonight, I decided I would give in to the time of year and watch the first of a series of Christmas movies I own. Where to begin? my oldest favorite, one that used to terrify me when I was not yet adolescent, the 1951 Scrooge (only recently have I realized it’s not titled A Christmas Carol).  Not totally to my surprise I found that as soon as the ghosts began the going back in the past, I began to cry, and then on and off I just cried, and cried, and cried, and when I was not crying, my face became suffused with tears.

I have so many favorite moments; to echo Amanda Price in Lost in Austen about Pride and Prejudice, this movie contains for me places I know intimately, that I recognize so many now still, the words and pictures are old friends. It’s like, with Scrooge, I’ve walked in, feeling there with Alistair  Sim. I watched other movies on Channel 9, Metromedia, in NYC in the 1950s, over and over (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Public Enemy No 1, with James Cagney, Talk of the Town, with Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, and Cary Grant, and at least 10 more) but this one has stayed more in my mind, perhaps because it was repeated year after year. It is a refuge movie because Christmas time is for me so hard to get through.

In then looking for a few stills online to share, I discovered the ones I wanted to show were those of Scrooge delirious with joy, suddenly released and half-hysterical from years of self-flagellation turned against others — with his char-woman, with the boy sent to buy a big turkey, most of all with Cratchit and Tiny Tim, who “lived” … I had to many. I also begin to cry when I remember Jim reciting the final lines one Christmas Eve when my parents were here, with a drink in his hand, “God bless us everyone.”

And yet those moments of trembling with fear and joy don’t make any sense unless you’ve seen the embittering ones in the first sequence (the last part of “the past”), the harrowing and scathing ones in the second (this boy is ignorance, this girl want), and the fearful scenes of Death in the last — of which my favorite is Alice grown up and old, oblivious of Scrooge, serving people in a workhouse. What has her life been?  So here is the whole on YouTube, which I urge you to watch if you’ve never seen it, or re-watch if you haven’t watched it in a long time:

The poem serving as epigraph is one that face-book sent me as a memory from 2017. At first I could not recall who wrote it, and it took a bit of time for me to realize it was by me. I don’t recall writing it — and the use of the verb “wash” is not satisfying. I should have a stronger verb there. But the sentiment is mine. I am explaining why I am so addicted to historical romance, historical fiction films, film adaptations of older books or books set in the past, and still at this time, Outlander:

I see Gabaldon’s books and Roger Moore’s serial (I name him as the central guiding presence, the “showrunner”) as at their deepest when they touch upon how Claire is beating death by going back and forth from the 20th to the 18th century. She is living among ghosts become real when she time-travels and then choses to remain among those people and places our daytime reality would look for in graveyards and find out about in old books. I’m told Gabaldon has yet to explain the appearance of the Scotsman Highlander in the first episode of the first season (and early in the first book):

is it Jamie come to claim Claire? in some mix of non-parallel years (the series use the conceit of near precise 200 odd years apart for the two time zones we experience)? for if it’s years after marrying her, it would be say in the mid-1770s in the UK and US while it is 1947 in Scotland.


Jamie (?) (Sam Heughan?) glimpsed in the darkness, a dark shade


Frank (Tobias Menzies) under an umbrella in the rainy night, unnerved

I was much moved today when I came to the end of Iris Origo’s deeply felt autobiography, Images and Shadows, a book vivid with viscerally experienced life, precise as reality gets, but born out of memory, and about herself as a descendent of two families of people, product of several different worlds, groups of friends, the history thrust upon her of the early to later middle 20th century, mostly in England and Italy. She ends also saying that her dead are with her, that

“I have never lost them. They have been to me, at all times, as real as the people I see every day … “

Maybe that’s why she excels at biographies of people who lived in the past. She quotes Edmund Burke to assert that “society” or “life itself” is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

So here is this year’s tree decorated: our eighth since Jim died — or entered his deathtime, kept with us in our memories, and as long as this house exists in its present embodiment with me living the rest of my life out in it.

Here is Colin once again waving to passersby (a present bought for me by my neighbor, Michelle, now, sad to say, gone from the neighborhood, having separated herself from her long-time partner):


He stands on a ladder I place in front of a window facing our front yard so he can be level with the window and be seen

And here is a beautiful Christmas card sent me by my long-time friend, Martin, from England, picture by Annie Soudain, called “Winter Glow: in the photo it’s sitting on my woodblock kitchen table whose true color is a dark honey brown (not yellow) in front of the above tree:

Because of this gift, I was in the post office (now, as you will recall, run by a criminal-type businessman determined to destroy it as a public service, and fire most of the workers who are not white) by 9 am this morning and sent it off and bought 5 sheets of ordinary stamps and 10 stamps said to be good for anywhere “overseas” (so Europe if I get any more paper cards from friends there). I had intended to send electronic cards to everyone but those few relatives and friends I have who are not on the Net, but have found that I have more than a few, and some of the Net friends are still sending paper cards. All placed around the piano (first my father’s, then Jim’s, now Izzy’s). I reciprocate Christmas cards.

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So what have I been doing and thinking since my birthday? I have been reading away towards my course on Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays and Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia by reading other books by and about them, immersing myself once more in the later 17th and early 18th century worlds of Anne Finch for my review (and myself), and Hugo’s Les Miserables (stunning masterpiece but enormous) in a superb translation by Christine Donougher.

I’m reading towards a revision, a Victorianization so more thoughtful and thought-out and widened version of that paper, A Woman and her Boxes (Jane Austen).  It’ll also be about how much a woman could claim for real she owned personal property, how much personal property meant to women, and space.  These are issues in George Eliot and Henry James.


They are enacting people posing for a picture: Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell

I am mesmerized and in love with Foyle’s War (actors, scripts, programs, everything about them — I bought the 8 sets in a box, with lovely pamphlets as accompaniment beyond the features on the DVDs) – I love it for the ethical POV that shapes it, Michael Kitchen is my new hero, and I am drawn into learning about World War Two yet more. I read as a Trollope sequel, Joanna Trollope’s The Choir, which now I have the DVD set of, and will soon be watching at night.

I’ve gone to two museums with my new OLLI at AU friend, Betty. I attended two fine zooms, one from the Smithsonian on Dylan Thomas’s life and poetry, and one from OLLI at AU on Frederick Law Olmstead, the author, Dennis Drabelle, of a new good book on him, The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks, the kind of book one can buy for a Christmas present. I told in the comments about how Jim and I had been to the Olmsted park in Montreal; they spoke of Olmstead’s fat acccurate book on the cultural realities of life in the south in a slave society (very bad for most people), which I own and know Jim read.

Two wonderful zoom lectures from Cambridge: one on Virginia Woolf’s diaries, and the other on her first novel (one I love), The Voyage Out, as a result of which I bought two more books on Woolf that I hope to read before I die — years before that I hope. And a new image by Beatrix Potter, one I never saw before: a mouse at work threading a needle, which I am told comes from The Tailor of Gloucester. Is it not exquisitely because and full of love for animals and art:

Did I say I got excellent reviews from the people in my class on The Prime Minister for this past spring? well, I did. The best I’ve ever had. The class predominantly men. I got myself to write the blog I knew I should comparing PM to The American Senator.

Some troubles: paying bills online, fake emails from cheats trying to lure me into giving away financial data; now my ipad won’t recharge, and alas it looks like my multi-regional DVD player has died (I shall try to find someone to come and to fix or to replace it). A few zooms with Aspergers friends have helped me endure the aloneness more readily (sharing our experiences, talking and getting some intelligent advice). Worrying about Omicron covid: should I go teach in person in the spring after all? I have two serious co-morbidities.

So what does one write diary entries for? be they on face-book and what came into my mind that morning or I did the day before presented succinctly, or be they this kind of wider survey. A need to testify? A need to make my life more real to myself, to write it down so as to make sense of it, to remember (Jane Austen’s birthday) and record and thus be able to look back?

An interesting talk in London Trollope Society zoom last Monday. Out of a site called Reading Like a Victorian, an American professor, Robyn Warhol, showed how it was possible for 19th century readers (with time & money on their hands) to read synchronically several Victorian masterpieces at a time. I doubt many ever did that, and from experience know it’s hard to get a college student to read in an installment pattern.

For me for today the way she opened her talk was intriguing: what has happened to TV serial watching since people no longer have to watch a series week-by-week but can receive all episodes at once. She suggested something is lost. I know when I taught Phineas Finn (and also Winston Graham’s Poldark) we talked a lot about instalment watching. In watching Foyle’s War for the first time, I make myself wait 4 nights before watching another episode. They are not meant to be watched night after night or back-to-back (shover-dosing it used to be called). Through instalment reading, the diurnal happenings of one’s life get involved with the serial.

Izzy tells me recently DisneyPlus has been putting one episode a week on of its new serials, and then the viewer can see them in a row or however. I think people appreciate the series, remember it better and more by doing it apart in time, in patterns. How many people here when a new series “comes out,” watch the episodes over a couple of nights or stretch it out to feel like instalments? How many when you are reading, find yourself putting the books in dialogue? I am doing that with Christa Wolf and Iris Origo and Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is Anita Raja, the translator of Christa Wolf into Italian, and to read The Quest for Christa T is to read one of the sources of the main transgressive character, angry and hurt, Raffaelle Cercullo, aka Lila, in the Neapolitan Quartet.


A cat bewildered by snow

Also to learn what I am thinking and feeling. To reach out to others? Why do I want to do this? why explore my consciousness insofar as I can bear to tell truths about myself to myself — and others (thus self-censoring or judicious veiled language required). Why did Woolf, Burney, Wolf (One Day a Year, 1960-2000), Origo, and many male writers do this? Henry James and Virginia Woolf were getting up material for their novels. I am getting up material for essays. To invent a life you are not quite living (Burney fictionalizing away) or put it together in what seems an attractive experience ….

Enough. I hope for my readers they will have a cheerful and good winter holiday over the next few days, not too fraught if you are with relatives, don’t ask too much of yourself, stick to routines or a series of habits you’ve invented for yourself over the years, keep to low expectations, and oh yes remember not to blame yourself and that whatever happens is not to be taken as a punishment (however religions have set up & supposedly made sense of reality that way).


Scrooge on Christmas morning, delighted to find he’s in time

Ellen

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The new DC Trollope group, Sunday around 1 pm, Rockcreek Park –that’s me in the blue knitted hat

I am a person who reads books with a pen in my hand

Dear friends and readers,

However slowly, transitioning is happening: I’ve noticed a number of events that would have been online last year at this time are either in person or not occurring, sometimes with the reassurance that come spring we will do it, meet, in person, or without but implied understanding that things are not so desperate or frightening as they were last year so we don’t need the zoom support we gave one another last year. I am sorry for this, though I find myself also skipping zoom meetings, lectures as I once would not have done. I also have chosen not to teach online but in person in the spring 2022 my coming Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, Aftermath, & Diaspora.

I am very sorry to lose the couple of people in each of my classes this time who stayed the course until the end and were coming in from way outside MDV (like NYC, somewhere in Florida [poor woman], Philly), and have vowed to myself to try to take a hybrid and watch how it’s done to see if I could dare do it by the fall (2022), but intensely relieved not to have to put up with people in the class as black boxes with their names in white letters or a frozen photo at the center of said box. Relieved not to be so dependent on the computer, the technology, the electricity working. I believe I come across better in person, we are all truly in contact with one another that way.

It’s been suggested to me in the spring after this one I “do” Jewish-Italian writing: out of Italy I could do that very well, say one six week OLLI at Mason session: I took a wonderful course in just this area at OLLI at AU (online) and from my own years of teaching myself to read Italian and then translating Italian poetry, I know I’ve read a good deal of such books. Elsa Morante was half-Jewish, I’ve loved Primo and Carlo Levi’s books, for a start. It would get me reading Giorgio Bassani’s The Heron at long last (he’s the one who wrote The Garden of the Finzi-Continis).  There’s Grazia Deledda’s novels which I’ve never read  I own one Englished (I admit she was not Jewish). Note what I look forward to most is reading the books.


Izzy went for a walk along the Tidal Basin in the DC park on November 11th and took this photo

Yet I met a friend at the Phillips Collection this past Saturday to see a dual exhibit of African-American art, Alma Thomas and David Driskell, and found myself slightly reveling in the train ride (Metro working just fine), the walk, glad to eat out together, delighted calling a red cab ahead confirmed to be the best way. Seeing an exhibit online just does not come near, even if the lecturer is superb (though that compensates for a lot).

And a highpoint result of 18 months of almost every-other-week zoom meetings with a group of people who love Trollope, organized by the chair of the London Trollope society I and a woman with real organizing capabilities and experience got together 13 people (from the regulation 100+ or so online), who live in and about DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia. Touchingly, they got themselves to Rock Creek park this past Sunday to meet at last. As you can see from the photo above, very much in person in the bracing air. We had a sort of picnic, met and talked (about how we first read Trollope, first joined the society).

On the whole, it went very well: we were jolly and glad to meet — people came from as far away as Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, Loudon county. We promised we’d meet regularly, say once a season, and next time indoors The thought was libraries have become community centers who host different groups and we could find a room in such a library (the Library of Congress does, here in Alexandra, the Beasley, and in Fairfax, the one which has a center in spring for AARP to help people with their taxes). And yet I had a much better time the next day, Monday, online with that larger group, discussing for one last time, Trollope’s The American Senator. One reason the zooms are taxing is they are necessarily intellectual, but me I love that focus.


And the imagined world — this illustration comes from the old Oxford sets of Trollope Barsetshire novels

And many things from before the pandemic and since will carry on. I truly rejoice one of them is this every-other-week London Trollope group. It is rare for me to have been able to fit in enough and sustain my place, my welcome there — as have so many others, and I think it is due to the congenial abilities of Dominic Edwards. The new reading group on face book from The Way We Read Now page, a spin-off of the FB Trollope Society page, now reading Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. Other new ones, which are suited for me (which I can enjoy) coming out of an institution or organization realizing here is a place they can gather a larger audience, and make more money, who seem to be determined to keep zooms going (as well as in person) include the Elizabeth Gaskell House, the Hay festival from England, the Virginia Woolf society.

If I’m guessing right, the Smithsonian seems to be inclining to stay online for a lot of their programs. It is not the kind of experience where you make friends by seeing the same people outside the class over and over — and honestly all that I take in is taken in online. Since so much there is at night, cross your fingers for me, it will most to mostly or at least half online for the lectures and musical concerts, art history talks. For six weeks ending today Saul Lilienstein has played and explained (discussed) Choral music by geniuses across the ages in Europe. When his spirit soars, so does mine.  (I attended an all day series of four lectures with clips by him long ago, in person, on the Beatles.) Some of it has been so stirring — it is a group activity which calls to the heart to listen as they sing together to the music, all listening. I especially enjoyed the Verdi requiem because Jim so loved Verdi, would listen to it and this was the first time anyone ever explained it to me.

My two listservs, Trollope and his Contemporaries, still going fine with about 10+ active over say a few weeks, and WomenWriters, with more like 4 or 5 at groups.io.


Christa Wolf when young — or my Retelling Traditional History & Legend from an Alternative Standpoint online this winter — I could not have begun to get so far this month w/o the help of a friend on WomenWriters

Still I feel much sorrow as I see that my Aspergers group leaders are tiring of the every-other-week weeknight chat, and long to return to meeting in a restaurant once a month in the evening. What has kept them from moving is the restaurant they had found an ideal room in, which was also centrally located in DC, and near a Metro stop, is not willing to have them come back as yet. This is a group which provides me with much comfort. I recognize the problems I have in the problems they do, get decent advice for real, just can be myself and not worry I’m off that unwritten script the fairy godmothers of neurotypicals left in their cradles, but not mine. Each time I have had to go out in this last phase of (this?) pandemic has been something of an ordeal. The people in this group understand and several of them have said now and again how the quarantine of the pandemic has been a relief in the peaceful existence they’ve enjoyed.

A silver lining: there is now a subgroup meeting the third later Saturday afternoon of each month, just for women. We’ve had some very good talk, of a different type, not just different subjects (having to do with women) but more intimate somehow in the angle we talk at.

So this is what I have wanted to tell my friends who read this blog tonight. How ambivalent I am about “going back” to true face-to-face, body-to-body, physical travel contact.  You should see how carefully I am driving my newly fixed car.  I wonder how some of you have felt during this seeming transition. One man at the DC Trollope group ventured to admit he found the pandemic had gifted him with the zooms from the London Trollope groups and called them “a silver lining” too.

I usually like to end with a new love or an old love renewed: well I’ve returned to Outlander (yes there was a hiatus of a few months) but not just the films, I am reading the books however slowly at midnight, a half hour or so. I have admitted to myself that my love for the Poldark books was an is a love for this genre of historical fiction & romance. Maybe I’ve overdone as a reason for liking Winston Graham’s historical fiction set in the later 18th century the strong left social message of his romances and under-estimated the similar if much less economical-political message of Gabaldon — she is far far more liberated (so to speak) for women and LBGTQ people than Graham gets anywhere near.

I’m now studying Mira Nair’s joy-in-grief-stricken Indian films — have bought the screenplay for Salaam Bombay (a little novel in effect), as I try to obtain a DVD with the original features by her and her cinematographer.

And while I often don’t care for Mary Oliver’s poems (too determinedly upbeat), this one, with the accompanying picture

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
— Mary Oliver

How Jim delighted my heart. Sometimes I break out of the conventional and express (while teacher) how much my books in my house mean to me because of their connection to Jim — it seems that 1876 by Gore Vidal will tell me of the horrors of that first year of the era of racial terrorism inaugurated by the Congress giving to Rutherford B. Hayes, the US presidency and in return him withdrawing all Federal troops, with the implicit okay on the white supremacy of the south using whatever barbaric techniques they pleased. Someone said that in the Trollope class I teach at OLLI at AU.

I expressed surprise and then delight at the thought the book was in my house, and told them how Jim had read it and so enjoyed Burr too, and that one was here too. One woman in the class suddenly said in a bossy voice she has used before, “you shouldn’t talk like that.” I don’t remember what I replied but I hope it was near “to tell me not to talk like this is to tell me to stop breathing.”


Fall flowers — the dining room credenza which I keep cheerful also with food I like, drinks, & one of several photos of Jim scattered about the house

Ellen

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

Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Retelling Traditional Tales from an Alternative Point of View

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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The cat meowed — the first voice of the series

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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

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

Friends,

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

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

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

I’ll mention this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Egon Schiele, Four Trees (1917)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So now I’ll subside into a movie:

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


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

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

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


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


Maxx as snugglicious — another

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

Ellen

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Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, drawing gazing on a Devonshire cliff (2009 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies) – a very favorite still for me

Friends and readers,

To one such as I most of whose working life — child, adult, and now older widow – has been spent in some version of school, there’s no firmer sign of fall than the “term” (or semester) is about to begin. Online OLLI at AU, three courses beyond the one I’m teaching, one on foreign films, one on race in America, from end of Reconstruction to 1965, and a third on the Theban Plays. Online at OLLI at Mason, one course beyond a repeat of the same one at OLLI at AU, Anne Bronte’s magnificent feminist The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begin on the same week. From Politics and Prose a week after that one 5 session cours on Wilkie Collins’s No Name with a superb teacher who enabled me to read Collins’s Woman In White some 3 years ago now. By October I hope to have enjoyed at least one of several sessions/lectures (a combination of books, art, music, architecture) I’ve signed up for online at the Smithsonian. The course I teach, two sections in effect, will be on Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5) as qualified by a book of Victorian Women’s Writing, edited by Susan Hamilton, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minor — the groundswell of proto-feminist essays and columns as the century evolved (on work, law, custom, the quality & circumstances of real women’s real lives)


The Pallisers, Episode 20, the two friends, Duchess & Mrs Finn, just before they meet Ferdinand Lopez who quotes a Swinburne poem at them, which Mrs Finn knows well is homoerotic (Susan Hampshire, Barbara Murray, Stuart Wilson)

The sky is darkening quickly just now (7:49) so you would not be able to see my new chrysanthemum bushes (4 larger, two dark colors, and 4 small around the miniature Maple): faithful watering twice a day, early morning and dusk has brought out more of the poppies (I put a photo of one of the bushes on the last diary entry) on my several bushes of these, and red berries on the holly (are they?) bushes

I did manage two more in-person events. Both rejuvenating and linked to the coming term. I had a late lunch with another new friend, a scholar-acquaintance this time, Maria Frawley who taught the Middlemarch at Politics & Prose this summer — the store slowly coming alive again. It was quite a trek to get there & back once again. Another happy couple of hours. I think I’ve gone to lunch over these past 6 weeks something like 10 times! (I haven’t told them all). I’m a lady who lunches. DC itself filled with traffic jams.

Then this past Thursday, the Pizza party across the street from OLLI at AU was to me delightful. These are people I’m comfortable with. I’m also respected by them — as I never was when I worked at universities as an adjunct (for over 30 years). Not invisible any more. Only 30 allowed and I recognized three people I also have seen and one person talked to at Politics and Prose too. I had found a small parking lot where I could park for 4 hours for $12 so I could have peace of mind — it’s an area where the city tows you away if you violate parking regulations, which are strict and user-unfriendly.

The last time I was in a group of people like this was Dec 2019, the OLLI at AU Christmas party. Then we had a band and dancing. I began to wish I had registered for the one class in person that attracted me but there was only an hour between its ending and the beginning of the class I teach at OLLI at Mason so I did the right thing.

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But what is heralding fall emotionally this year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There has been a pouring out of memories, on twitter, on News programs, emails, blogs, news-sites, newspapers. One of the more powerful and poignant was written by the gentle author at Spitalfields. My comment to him (he didn’t let it appear):

It is untrue that the world was changed by this single event. It was and remains an incident on an on-going cruel capitalist world, however scary and unusual on who was killed; a circus symbolic spectacular stunt pulled off by people who loathed the US for its imperialist and colonialist policies and actions; it was a horrific tragedy for those who died and all those connected to them; for those who became terribly injured and sickened working on the site in the days that followed — and were often refused decent health care because that would make it obvious that that NYC, and the stock market should have shut down for weeks. It made manifest what was and still is the underlying realities of US political policies.

The world did not change even if some of the policies of these gov’ts did. The Internet has changed some aspects of the world in this time of the pandemic but by no means the basic attitudes of the right wing capitalists who seem to hold the real power in any situation..
After 9/11, many corporations and individuals went on to make a lot of money in Iraq and Afghanistan and the real individual particular states who were involved (Bin Laden could not have done it just with with his Al-Quaeda — Saudi Arabian groups were part of this) were never exposed.

So here’s mine, all too ordinary: as has been true for most of these catastrophic world-as-village events, seen at one time on TV, and now this PC computer, I was at or near home, leaving a dentist’s office a little after 9:30.   I had felt suddenly & seen a commotion, excitement among the other people waiting, and asked the reception what was happening. I was told airplanes were hitting the World Trade Center!  I am ashamed to say I dismissed this as typical of this gullible receptionist. Could not be.

I went out to my car and found myself in a mounting traffic jam, so instead of 5 minutes to get home, it was 20. The phone was ringing as I reached the door, and I ran in and picked up, and it was Jim, in a drawn voice, “Not to worry. I’m just fine. I’m in the basement of the Australian embassy where we were all told to go, and scary huge men armed heavily are filling the building.” He had to get off his flip phone, but said quickly “put on the TV, CNN.” I did and I saw the first of the two tall buildings sliding down. Horror, shock, as I saw the fire line in the middle, and the camera switching way below to see a man shrugging intensely.

Soon from CNN I knew a story of  these two planes and that there was a third that hit the Pentagon. As it happened the library was hit — since rebuilt as a small annex where Izzy works today. I went onto the Internet, queried friends at C18-l and read the name of Osama Bin Laden as the perpetrator for the first time. I had never heard this name before.

The rest is quickly told. A phone call from T.C.Williams telling me the school was in “lockdown” and of course “not to worry,” as the young adults would probable be let out at the usual time. Another from Laura, frightened; she surprised me by coming over about two hours later with Wally (with whom she was living at the time, and whom she would marry the following year). She needed to see me and Jim and the house and that all was the same, as it ever was. The news shows had less news as time went on.

Two friends called for the first time in years to express anxiety over Jim.  I said he was not in the Pentagon that day, and my cousin contacted me.  The next day I did have bad pains in my chest, suggesting I was experiencing more stress that I admitted to myself.

I did think to myself what Susan Sontag wrote in a newspaper and was castigated for: “well, what do people expect — the US for decades stops social democracies, foments civil wars, pulls off coups, creates situations where no young native men can get a good job and itself bombs, strafes, this is the afflicted world hitting back. But astonishment at the audacity and effectiveness of this plan to take down the center of capitalism (Wall Street has no such hubristic building), of the US military (the magically numbered Pentagon), and a fourth plane (never hit) to set on fire and destroy the central imperialist house in classical style, painted white … ”

Now 20 years on, two horrible wars later, instigated by George W Bush and his cronies and associates in crime (making oodles of money as unscrupulous oil and other corporations), carried on to no reasonable purpose (at least in aims originally by this crew), hundreds of thousands of people killed, untold billions spent, with “surges” by Barack Obama as president in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then the institution of these inhumane murderous drones aka killing people without trial and often getting “the wrong target” so even the last day in Afghanistan a whole family was murdered, the US support of an utterly corrupt puppet regime in Afghanistan, laying waste a country and leaving a life-long psychological maiming of countless young adult Americans — I met two of these when I taught in the years past 2003 – a young woman and a young man.

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Last night I re-watched a candid history for a second time, with informed (insofar as he could) and perceptive and humane analysis, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. He streamed it from his corner of YouTube. In my judgement it should be required watching for everyone. Wikipedia offers a precise accurate summary.

I want to call attention especially to the unknown and uninvestigated business and political connections between Bush fils and the Saudi Arabian ambassador and gov’t leaders, to how most of the “terrorists” were Egyptian or Saudi Muslims, to the creation of an atmosphere of fear and dread around the US by Bush’s gov’t for two years in order to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 but has vast oil fields and Saddam Hussein, who disdained Bush senior. The years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan where the US built up the origins of the Taliban (to defeat “communist” Russia). The lying forms of recruitment, the horrific treatment of Afghans. One scene stays with me that flashes through: a beheading of a man in Saudi Arabia. The legless young men in Veteran’s hospitals whose funds Bush was cutting.

Three other films to be watched in order to learn what happened and what the war in Afghanistan is rooted in. 9/11’s Unsettled, is second in importance because of its perspective: the first responders. Alas, apparently not being distributed anywhere I can find. This is about the thousands of people who grew very sick, and developed serious diseases in the time after 9/11 when they worked at ground zero with inadequate protection, and within days Wall Street was opened again, a local high school, Stuyvesant, because what was wanted was to be seen to be carrying on making money. And to make money. From Rudi Giuliani to Christine Todd Whitman, ironically the head of the EPA, what was then wanted was a cover-up and not only did the US health insurance companies fight back and refuse to pay for people’s treatments and injuries, refuse to acknowledge they were the result of 9/11, those who protested were maligned and punished. Read the story of Joe Zadroga, after whom one of the bills to provide for compensation was named, his wife, his father. One of the important reporters on the stories was Juan Gonzalez.


Lisa Katzman

The third is a Netflix serial, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, directed by Brian Knappenberger. This is an unflinching look at what was done by three administrations, but especially Bush, where the incident was used to extend surveillance, legitimize torture (Black sites), the nature of the Patriot Act, what came from it, Guantanomo, and again Drones.

There is a fourth, a Frontline series on PBS too: American After 9/11, directed by Michael Kirk. There is no reason anyone in the US should be ignorant of what happened, how it relates to what came before, and how it relates to how the GOP went extreme and is following Donald Trump (if it can and it’s going far) into destroying the US democracy, such as it still is (very oligarchic) and was (thoroughly racist, punitive in outlook, deeply anti-social individualism promoted).


Also talking about Biden

This might all lead to my reader wondering why I insist 9/11 didn’t change the world. It happened as a result of all the US gov’t had done since 1947, and the reaction to it was to intensify what led to it. 9/11 was the result of what the world had become since WW2 and the reaction just intensified those conditions and attitudes of mind towards empire and money.  I’m now thinking of the GOP efforts (thus far successful) of stifling the vote, and on that you can read Heather Cox Richardson and listen and watch over many days and weeks. Here is just one

A graver and more overtly political blog than usual. But it’s appropriate. Not to say anything would be deeply wrong, reprehensible to me who does care about what happens to myself, my family and friends, all the people I know, the thousands and thousands inside the US whose destinies are intertwined with mine, and by extrapolation (since especially since the pandemic) our connection to all those vulnerable and powerless people who are not making oodles of money but at risk or suffering badly because of the people in these gov’ts, their allies, their donors, and parties’ behavior. Silence could be construed as consent.

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That’s a volcano — the islands are volcanic

To return to my small life among books. Although it fails to bring me in, Edward Douwes Dekker’s Max Havelaar, a mid-19th century Dutch novel has taught me more about colonialism’s workings, how it’s done, than any single book previous: stunning cruelty of the Dutch in Indonesia and all around India, the southasian pacific. The brave life of the introducer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

I attended a Bronte conference last Saturday, wonderful, and I’ve yet to write up my notes, which I’ll couple with a couple of Gaskell and Bronte sessions from Gaskell house, and a May Sinclair session at Cambridge (profound talk, Sinclair also much influenced by the Brontes). I promise myself I will write up a blog about the Brontes, Sinclair and Gaskell next on Austen Reveries.  I’ve been astonished by what I’ve found in Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, reading it daily with a group on FB – I certainly will write about it, together with John Caldigate, as unexpected radical social, justice and sexual politics.

I carry on reading Anne Finch’s poetry, going more thoroughly immersed into it, so that my old inner relationship with her is returning: extraordinary masterpiece Poems never published by her; and Poems she chose to publish or let others publish. I will read or read in the important books about her once again. And I listen on to Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, even poorly translated by Anne Goldstein and dully read by Hillary Havens, I am so drawn in I am continually thinking to myself well I would do that but not this. They are both me, Lila and Lenu. Ferrante hates fascism and misogyny (they are one and the same she says in her Frantumaglia

Good Heav’en I thank thee, Since it was design’d
I shou’d be fram’d but of the weaker kind,
That yet my Soul, is rescu’d from the Love
Of all those trifles, which their passions move
Pleasures, and Praises, and Company with me
Have their Just Vallue, if allow’d they be;
Freely, and thankfully, as much I taste
As will not reason, nor Religion waste,
If they’re deny’d, I on my Selfe can live
Without the aids a cheating World can give
When in the Sun, my wings can be display’d
And in retirement I can have the shade.
— Anne Finch, early in the first ms book

Ellen

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A duck on the Potomac — photo taken by Izzy

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and is gone forever — how else shall David Nicholl’s One Day end?

Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, the movie does not manage the depth of truth or more occasional fun of the book

Dear friends and readers,

I would not have believed I could ever say of a day where it was 97F at 5 pm, the air literally hot on my skin, that I was at long last recognizing autumn on its way, but after 33 years in this southern city, I can: it’s dark by 8:15 at night, and dawn does not come until well after 6 am. Some late summer events I’ve had and to come:

I have had three very enjoyable lunch dates, with two more to come. With an ex-student, grown older man. We had been meeting once a year; well we renewed our date three weeks ago — an wonderful two hours of talk at Copperwood Tavern. I experienced intense distress getting there but once there all was well. Shirlington where parking is a nightmare. Then twice to a lovely local cafe, Fontaine here in Alexandria, first with my old friend, Mary Lee, whose idea this place was; second with a new friend, Betty, from OLLI at AU, whom I took there. Yummy quiche, lovely light salad vinegar dressing both times, camomile tea. I will meet her at Pain Quotidian this Friday across the street from OLLI at AU. Would you believe I had to look up the instructions to get there to re-visualize. This is a place I’ve gone to for years on end. Maria Frawley, the teacher of Middlemarch I believe I’ve not spoken about an inspiriting inspiring 8 sessions at Politics & Prose with her as teacher; how they lit up my June and July each Thursday evening for an hour and a half. I have signed up for an in-person meeting with 29 other OLLI at AU people, a pizza and Italian food place, also across the street from OLLI at AU. For this I’ll wear one of my two cloth masks with drawings of cats all over them.


Copperwood Tavern with Lloyd


La Fontaine in Old Towne

And one precious evening out at Wolf Trap, where with a friend I saw and heard Renee Fleming singing inimitably with the National Symphony Orchestra. Alas all too short — just one hour and about 10 minutes. Mozart, Haydyn, Gershwin, a perfect Carousel Overture, and her songs were exquisitely beautiful — from Puccini, favorites and also lesser known, then popular, one about never leaving

About 50% of the audience in masks (which were optional).  It was marred by a tiresome, ridiculous and dangerous trip there: the person I was with was determined to avoid the toll ($3!), and drove round and round (her GPS actually programmed not to make the correct turn) and coming back in the dark streets unknown with no lights, and then speeding crazily on the highway. I do have to give up Wolf Trap if I can’t drive myself safely so this may have been my farewell time.

I grieved at another profounder loss: Nanci Griffith has died at the relatively young age of 68; so did Izzy find herself crying. We replayed our favorite songs that night we learned of her death as we prepared supper and ate together.

Otherwise the days and nights go by. I do manage most days 20 minutes of exercise on bike and cathesthenics around 9:00 am, then 5:00 pm, then 20 minutes walk by myself around the neighborhood at dusk


Unexpected flowers: I water my outside plants (in garden in ground) twice a day, and some have bloomed twice

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It’s not as fiercely breathlessly hot as it was few weeks ago, and of course I’m now engaged in reading towards my course for this fall, have signed up for various fall classes and events, all online for me still – and how grateful and relieved I am that much of what I enjoyed these 17 months online will still be so. Beyond the London Society every-other-week zooms, I’ve found there is nowadays a once-a-month-and-more schedule for talks from Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester. Would you believe I’m just about reading three Trollope novels at once, and truly enjoying them all?: The Prime Minister, The Vicar of Bullhampton and soon The American Senator. I am seeing so much more than I ever did in PM (the exploitative colonialism Ferdinand Lopez is trying to leap upon I had not noticed) and the darkness of V of B: the strong critique of the Vicar and his friends over their class as well as prejudiced blind injustice.

At this week’s Trollope zoom we were asked when, how, did you discover Trollope and come to read him avidly? why do you enjoy his books so much? This was the question — or something like it — posed and about 14 or so people volunteered to answer for about 3-5 minutes each. I was one of them. I typed out the first paragraph below and read it so as to be concise and keep it to under 3 minutes. The second paragraph was not written out, just spoken. So although that is the quotation I used (Dominic Edwards, the chair, had asked in a letter could we quote from Trollope), the last couple of sentences I said were not so clear. I saw that most of the people wanted to say why they loved Trollope as much as how they came to him and also uttered various truths that they liked best, told stories they liked so much from the novels — many also liked how Trollope seems to break the novel conventions suddenly and talk directly to the reader — like tell the reader some secret of the novel well ahead of time (so, do they in fact love spoilers?) So I added the second paragraph. I admit I did leave out a couple of intermediary reads between the cited dates & books For example, In 1994 I went to Rome with my family and it was The Last Chronicle of Barset that got me through that partly ordeal of an experience. I found an old copy in a marketplace which I still cherish.


Cover of 1970s edition of Penguin English library paperbacks


From Pallisers Episode 1: the young Lady Glen, with Burgo, her infatuation, encounters the young Mr Palliser, with Lady Griselda, his

I’ve told how as an undergraduate in a class on the Victorian novel I read Dr Thorne for the first time and fell in love with it (say 1965). But I didn’t go on to read more. The Professor had discouraged me from doing a paper on the novel. Then about 10 years later (1975) I watched the Pallisers on PBS TV (in black-and-white) and fell in love with that, and with my husband we read all six novels. But we were busy doing Ph.Ds on something else and I didn’t go any further than The Duke’s Children. Then 1989 I was in a fearful car accident in NYC and landed in Metropolitan Hospital on the upper East Side. I spent a week in that place: it has one man to do all x-rays; Jim promptly labelled him the bottleneck of the hospital. My father brought me a Dover copy of The Vicar of Bullhampton saying Trollope was very wise. It helped me get through that week. Finally in 1993 Jim and I got onto the Net through a phone line and he said he would find something called a listserv for me: he found one on Trollope, and I started leading groups reading Trollope. First up was Macdermots of Ballycloran. I loved it and have not stopped reading Trollope since. Partly I was invited to write a book, then an essay. Note, each and every time there was an outside prompt. Immersion in Trollope did not come from within in any of these cases.

Dominic asked us for a quotation, an utterance: mine is “Great and terrible is the power of money” from An Eye for an Eye. What I love about Trollope is the accuracy with which he sees the world and people, how people interact with one another and in themselves – truly – and he remains calm! What’s more he offers advice, explains things well. I love the characters too, but I keep in mind they are not him and it’s from his narrator/implied author these startling truths come.

I can add here that Trollope’s utterance seems to me to provide a central explanation for what happened in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Trollope is also an astoundingly perceptive political novelist. How much meaning he can pour into a few words if you listening hard or for real

Have I told you about the talk I gave on Malachi’s Cove?

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My header refers to continuities deep and longer than the continuation of a zoom group. I find after all I don’t or can’t change my taste. I like best earlier serious literature — for example,for a fourth time, Eliot’s Middlemarch (thus the above coming lunch with Maria Frawley — see above), which I also re-saw — the 1994 Andrew Davies’s film adaptation. I just love the BBC dramatic serials of the 1970s (which begin, illogically, with the 1967-68 Forsyte Saga (I read 6 of the 9 novels years ago), which I’m watching avidly, an hour each night just now), to early 2000s, and those few nowadays which keep up the tradition of long thoughtful scenes, complicated dialogues, true novelization on film; I prefer Anglo literature and European art, realism, melodic classical music, modern only until say pre-rap, mid-20th century country. And my way of interacting with people, however inadequate, is grounded in polite manners.


Kenneth Moore, inimitable as narrator and Jolyon Forsyte (he’d never get the part today as too old and ugly)


Eric Porter as the aging softened affectionate Soames with his beloved daughter, Fleur aka Susan Hampshire once again

A zoom on Walter Scott:

Who produced more fine and influential work than Walter Scott? think of so many English, French, German, Italian, Russian historical novelists for a start.

I attended a 2 and 1/2 hour session on Scott: it’s part of the Scottish celebration of Scott’s 250 year anniversary (though I’m not sure of what — he was born August 15, 1771)
It was not as good as it could have been — three remarkable Scotts scholars and people involved in the U of Aberdeen exhibition and all sorts of events around Scotland and elsewhere — for example, in Italy, because of the number of operas (93) that have been adapted from Scott’s novels. I think to enjoy it, you have to have been a reader of Scott at some point, read a number of his novels and about him. I have so like the Gaskell session from Gaskell House, Manchester, last week I very much enjoyed what they presented. They had first editions and illustrations and talked of how prolific he was — how much he wrote, and how his position wealth prestige enabled him to do important things still not unimportant — like saving the ability of Scotland to print its own currency. One scholar outlined what are central to Scott’s novels: processes of historical change, political arrangements, people on the edges of society for different reasons (very high up and thrown out, marginalized, disabled, lawless rogues). She brought out Scott’s interest in his characters’ mental health (as we’d call it). Then a lovely film from Italy about two productions; one from the Lady of the Lake, by Rossetti, Donna del Lago, and the other by Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor — one must keep an open mind. I’ve seen good movies — one scholar said her love for Scott began as a girl watching the BBC serial Ivanhoe with Anthony Andrews. They insisted Scott’s work is politically very involved, aware, that underneath “it all” souls of people drive economic and political arrangements.

They did recommend the Future Learn 3 week lecture course: Scott, the man behind the Monument. I saw that and it included wonderful clips. I don’t know if you can find it there any more as the site has gone distressingly commercialized. Andrew Marr’s 3 episode series on Scots writers devotes one hour to an exhilarating somehow ironic hour on Scott. I regret to say the videos I linked in to a blog on Marr which includes good descriptions of the hours on Scots literature have been removed — I shall have to delete the URLs and substitute pictures — but the content by me is still there and what is central to the blog

They omitted what a reactionary Tory he was; how he was vindictive to any family members who didn’t marry for aggrandizement; was behind the worst political attacks of literary journalism.


John Brett — Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily (1870), another edge place; in lieu of Northern Scotland, the south, the Mediterranean — put on twitter

This new material but now aware of colonialism:  Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River (with two accompanying movies).  About her too.

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I have had a renewal of a worry: my cat, Ian, again has a heavy discharge from his right eye. Last time I took him to the local Vet I’ve been going to since we adopted the cats, I was charged $350+, told how serious this was and that he needed a series of heart tests (a couple of thousand dollars), and then if the tests warranted this, give him a pill every day of his life ever after. It is impossible for me to force pills down either of my cats.

To say I don’t trust these (or any) vets is an understatement: previously I was told to clean his teeth, we needed to anesthetize him (a $500 bill and dangerous), did I want to install a sort of tag in his neck which will help if he gets lost (surgical insertion of course). When I tried to buy a local gel recommended online and in a book I have on cats, I found local pharmacies refused to sell it except with a prescription from a Vet. I was told it’s “against the law” for pharmacists in drug stories as well as vets working for the ASPCA to give a pet owner advice on an eye discharge: that sort of thing forbidden.

I call round today to three different vet places, and was greeted with indifference, appts a long time away and oh yes this is an emergency, so clinics I could go and wait at. Petsmart a store seemed more sensible but no appts until later September. Vets are kept to small numbers but vet lobbyists seem to be very busy. And we hear about the corruption of the Afghanistan govt. What are lobbyists but allowed bribers? We have whole organizations dedicating to bribing politicians in office. As for today’s Vets as a group far more important is the money they can wrench from pet owners than safe harmless care which reaches all pets.

It’s how they frighten me that angers me. It makes me angry to be told I have to do this to Ian’s heart and give him this preparation every day for the rest of his life; or to clean his teeth risk his life (he must sedated by an anesthesiologist — the vet said she had lost only one cat – i.e., she killed a cat). They could tell me Ian could go blind or something — and I no longer trust them. Only if the condition really seems threatening do I want to go. I will try Petsmart next month.

In the US the climate is money-driven medicine. Just imagine outlawing, forbidding by law a pharmacist to advise a customer on which prescription to use. Jim said to me as he lay dying, protect me from these people. It was by then too late because he had agreed to that godawful operation which removed his esophagus (I didn’t understand that that would not stop the metatasis), but I kept clear of all in-hospital, in clinic and anything else that seemed to me we could avoid. So I’ll wait for this ointment and if it helps, spare the cat and myself any visits to Vets I don’t trust. But meanwhile I feel bad for the cat and wish I had someone I could turn to — that there was a Kaiser Permanente type organization for animals.


Ian close-up, sleeping peacefully on cat blanket given me by another friend

I wonder why people are so naive not to see how these Vets take advantage of social norms for human beings to push painful procedures (and sometimes an early death) on pets.

I’ve semi-adopted another third cat, also grey like the first who has now vanished. This one also comes from the very rich mansion across the road from me where they are deep reactionaries (snide comments on neighborhood listserv); also semi-abused. I am also calling this new one Fiona, and she also behaves in ways that show a craving for affection but when you respond she quickly spits at you, hisses — I think they mean-tease her and she does not know how to carry on a relationship with a person. She is very thin. Poignant when she is crying out there – not kept in during rain; sometimes I daresay the owners of that collar go away for weeks or days. I can do so little for her — I inquired into this last time. I feed her whenever I feed my two and talk to and pet her when I pass her by — she stays in a near hedge or my porch — as you see her peeping out.

How to close? My own naivetes of course. An important story in the New Yorker. Sam Knight hints at the hideous things, heinous crimes owners and builders of these idyllic country estate houses which so dominate these costume dramas I’ve loved — did for decades, nay full centuries in the subject colonies to support these “wondrous” places, where some of the art was stolen from too. Famines inflicted on people forced to grow crops to sell elsewhere so they have nothing themselves to eat; forced to pay taxes they cannot afford. Removed outright. Enslaved. This does not include the conditions under which the servants in such houses worked, their pittance wage. What is happening is the National Trust has been at long last trying to tell the truth, and the UK gov’t and present descendants of the owners of such places, and those who just want to carry on these delusions (as patriotism) are being successful in stopping them or getting them to mute or qualify their knowledge. I will be sure to assign this story to my class in Anglo-Indian novels in the spring. Where did the money for Dryham Park where The Remains of the Day was filmed come from: what were the politics of its owner. How about the dream houses of Howards End in reality?

At Dryham Park:

On the second floor is the Balcony Room, which affords fine views of the gardens. … Facing into the room, with their backs to the wall, are two statues of kneeling Black men with rings around their necks. …

The slave figures hold scallop shells over their heads. These were probably filled with rosewater, so guests could wash their hands. …

They were probably made in London, inspired by Venetian “blackamoor” art, but they are unquestionably depictions of enslaved men, in idealized page’s costumes, with gilt chains tumbling from their right ankles. … They have knelt in the same place for more than three hundred years. …

When Sobers [a Black professor] and his group entered the Balcony Room, they came face to face with the slave stands and stood there, listening politely. “I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it was happening,” Sobers told me. “And the tour guide talked about every single thing in that room, you know, talked about everything for a good ten, fifteen minutes and not once mentioned it.” A rope cordons off most of the Balcony Room, so visitors stand on a narrow walkway, facing the stands. There is nowhere else to look. “There wasn’t even a kind of a, you know, ‘Yeah, we don’t know what those are. . . .’ There wasn’t even an explaining it away,” Sobers said. “They just acted as if they just weren’t there at all.”


The strained tragic existences of the butler (Hopkins) and housekeeper (Thompson) at Darlington Hall (Dyrham Park)

Ellen

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I’m making a habit of buying cut flowers each week from whatever supermarkets I go to and putting them in the dining room as cheering, lovely, emblems of pleasure

Maggie Smith of her widowhood: “it seems a bit pointless, going on on one’s own, and not having someone to share it with” — some of what I’m feeling is me missing my friend and companion, the support and comfort of my life, how he was able to make me laugh ….

Friends and readers,

I suppose you know that after all the pandemic is far from over. Izzy has happily returned to work in her office (the library at the Pentagon) five days a week, and the world is again filling with people and cars coming and going day and evening; the two OLLIs I teach and attend classes at are going to be a mix of hybrid, in person and online in fall. But with far too many people (some 40 to 80% in some states) refusing to get vaccinated or doing it ever so slowly, the delta variant has spread and the numbers of people in the US becoming ill has risen even alarmingly, though thus far it’s the unvaccinated who are going to hospital and dying. This is a ridiculous choice these people are making, but nonetheless they are making it. Plus outside the richer countries, a huge proportion of people remain unvaccinated. As long as this is the situation, all of us are in danger from Delta and new mutations/variants, which could be even more easily transmissible and lethal.

I should admit I don’t trust any US medical establishment — and this deep background is part of why US people don’t come forward for shots. I guess I don’t trust them to be on my side — Laura says my attitude towards hospitals especially reminds her of Black Americans. I was thrown (not literally) out a hospital when I was 9 after the people there did stop a hemorrhage because my father hadn’t any insurance. The procedure was over and maybe an hour had gone by. I remember the incident myself — my father begged them to let me stay; if they’d wait until 9 am when banks opened he’d get out the $200 (at the time no small sum) and bring it to the hospital. They really put me out on the street. They did call a cab — now nice of them my father always said. Then I had a hemorrhage … My life was saved after another traumatic trip, just.

I do trust Dr Wiltz but he is not the person who would do procedures or vaccinate (that I did as it is so minor a thing – a jab). I can’t change my insurance as I could get nothing near as good — everything is covered, only small co-pays for visits (and sometimes now with medicare none at all) and for drugs. One time I didn’t understand what a barium enema was and when I was on the table and got it, I tried to get off, and the people held me down (they really did) and tied me there, and then poured this horrible stuff into my cavity. I screamed and they didn’t care. When they were done, I said to them if I knew them personally I’d never forgive them. That I knew sending a letter of complaint would do me no good. Since then I am very careful before I accede to anything. Once I remember thinking to myself I should not have come in here for this appt because the doctor was talking of how she had to send me to hospital — as if I had no will to say no. I told her I wouldn’t go and began to get off the dolly. I don’t remember what happened after that but I didn’t go to any hospital. I’m in charge of me.

I call this Journey’s End because that phrase is the one that leaps to mind as I think about how I feel about my life just now. Sure I have done some good and satisfying work, work I enjoyed doing this summer: my two courses, Novels of Longing and Colonialist Writing (see also Caryl Phillips), and this past Monday a good talk on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove,” and Henry Herbert’s film adaptation of it went over very well. (I will be putting it up and linking it in before the next few days.) This fall I will “do” Trollope’s The Prime Minister with a few political essays by 19th century women writers. I’ve thought of Wollf’s Cassandra and Four Essays (the Trojan war seen by a woman usually dismissed as a nut-case) and Eve Figes’s Seven Ages of Women (another reversal perspective) and now I’ve thought of a good course for next spring, one I’ll enjoy very much: Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, aftermath and diaspora (Forster’s A Passage to India, Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, Jhabvala’s Heat & Dust, with their wonderful movie adaptations.  My paper-talk for the coming EC/ASECS will be “A Woman and Her Box,” how the battered box a woman carried her life’s identity around in as so many had no control over any private space (I’ll use Amanda Vickery’s work).   I’m to have lunch out with a friend this Friday, perhaps go with another friend (I can’t go without her as she must do the driving or I would go alone) to hear and see Renee Fleming and the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap (!) August 6th (I’m sure I’ll love the show) … I’m reading books and watching movies for sheer pleasure: David Nicholls’ Us.

I have prided myself on trying to tell the truth about myself insofar as this is possible in a public media. Yes I might have two decades left of life, I will probably be here for the rest of this year.

Still I’m in the coda of my life. I am finding this second summer harder — for I am still in partial quarantine. I asked the doctor if I should return to swimming, and he suggested caution: just swim laps, keep away from people, wear a mask. I then faced the truth I don’t enjoy swimming any more: my arms are so weak I can’t go far, the water is cold, the building inside to me pure functionality, dank in the pool area, the water cold — a lot of trouble to wash afterwards. I would get as much exercise, probably more by walking in the evening. I feel like I did that first summer Jim died. For seven summers I did have no one to travel anywhere with or go out the way Jim and I used to (we would wander on long walks in the later evening), but I could drive at night & went to Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center, with a friend (who has died since too) in Old Town, and going to classes helped enormously. Zooms are rewarding but something is missing I do need. Starting 2nd summer each August I took trips w/Road Scholar, which were to UK (Scotland, Lake District, Cornwall), 2019 Calais by the beach w/daughters. Nothing this year. Strain bad. Heat loathsome so stay inside w/air conditioning & cats.


Laura and Izzy this summer …

That’s part of why I’m feeling this way. But also I’ve faced I haven’t got what it takes to do the travel research to do a book any more — I never did. Never knew how to negotiate (Jim did that for my Trollope on the Net book with Hambledon Press); I experience intense anxiety attacks when in new places or liminal experiences, the expense would be very high (because library hours in some places so limited). And I can’t conquer the Word writing program. Laura came over and I tried but this second week I find I’m forgetting what to do all over again. So I can’t composite documents on Chicago Manual style.   I must just take pleasure in learning, teaching about it, sharing on the Net (blogging). I could try a book if I find some ability that enables me to teach suddenly vanishes — for several abilities are involved and I know how these suddenly disappear. I do miss going out at night regularly; I realize that when and if the later afternoon evening parties held at the OLLI at AU begin I won’t be able to go because I’d be driving back in the dark. I also have to hope that Politics and Prose keeps up online classes for evenings/nights. Another related sad truth I’ve faced is I often don’t enjoy the zoom classes at either P&P or the OLLIs: it’s a much less educated and much less serious audience they aim at. My own courses are the less common serious literature courses at both OLLIs (especially the one at Mason).

I’m also tiring of some of these zooms. At OLLI at Mason the default setting or “norm” in their minds is often a TV show — the webinar where you meet and talk to no one. These power-presentations themselves a substitute for real thought. At the conferences the compliments given to all talkers (“amazing” and “fantastically wonderful” talk) are embarrassing. This term I dropped out of all the courses at OLLI at Mason I had signed up for. To be fair, I did have two very good ones at the OLLI at AU in June (one on federalism by a very intelligent man and the other on the Reconstruction period in the US), and each Thursday Maria Frawley on Middlemarch is just an inspiration to me. My spirits soar as I listen to her talk with such a generous ethical approach, bringing out the language patterns and depths of thought in the book, and prompting from the people in the class deeply reciprocal responses. This past Saturday just a beautiful and moving discussion of Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer with Alison Hennegan as teacher from Cambridge: I don’t care for the book that much, but what she had to say about it and later the conversation over lesbian literature was moving, truthful, just took me out of myself into another realm of recognition, and renewal.


By the Sea — Sara Sittig (Scapes) – a favorite picture for me, one which expresses what I feel somehow

Would I be happier if I had a “boyfriend” (the word seems so silly)? I’ve dated sort of four men thus far and none attracted me physically or I didn’t attract them — anyway no one made any move to kiss me — except the first (a fifth early on) and he distressed me by trying to start sexual interaction. I felt ashamed, thinking of Jim — it was actually that first year Jim had died. Two of them were mensplaining to me, condescending and worse yet, correcting me for my outlook on life — how dare I be an atheist? or pessimistic? Far from enjoying conversation with these people, I was repressed and irritated. The man I partly accompanied to Cornwall was irritated by me because he felt I could see he’d have a better time mixing with the general crowd who began to leave us alone — and he was reactionary politically. I would not want to lose Izzy and I would were a man to move in — and I wouldn’t want anyone to break my 30 years’ pattern (with Jim doing his pattern) of reading and writing for most of my hours.

I also just don’t fit in American values or norms. I find with the one girlfriend I see she dominates me because I can’t think of an intermediate level of language to tell her to stop trying to get me to do things I don’t want to do, or think things I don’t think at all (all very conservative, demanding of aggression) — I’ve now been told that this slowness of response and inability to be nuanced is part of the spectrum. Of course I did know that but didn’t think of speed, or intuitive uptake as part of this. I went to have “cocktails” with the new Iranian woman friend I’ve made in this neighborhood. Two other women there whose conversation was so stupid and at times racist that I found myself remembering Austen writing of how one needs children to make a conversation go: we had their three dogs. I had dressed up for it

I am trying to think of a study plan I could follow inbetween teaching, reading with others on listservs and for teaching, writing reviews (in a few days I will return to Anne Finch and women’s poetry and the later 17th century into the 18th). Thus far what I’ve fitted in is reading Italian an hour each day. I have been so enjoying and getting so much more out of Ferrante’s Those who Leave and Those who Stay the second time round (now I see it as deeply realistic with Lenu at the center, and I marvel at how she behaves to her husband whom she seems not to love anything like I loved Jim, am startled and appalled at the fascism and political and economic life of Naples so I wonder if she hid her identity from whoever is the source of these characters). I sit with Storia de chi fugge edi chi resta in front of me on my desk. The English translation to one side as a crib; my Italian dictionary and verb book on the other. My French is better than my Italian and I would have far less need of an English copy for a crib but find I’m more allured by my Italian books than my French ones. I did choose Italian (not French) Renaissance women poets to translate. But it would take such time to bring back my ability to read Italian without a crib so am trying to get myself back without the intermediate steps and hope an hour a day consistently will do the trick.

So I’m finding there is almost no comparison between the lightness of the English and sense of dense intense meaning, passion, suggestion, and sheer syntactical interconnections in the Italian. I love the vocabulary in Italian which brings to mind far other metaphoric connections than the simple English barer plain words. I am wondering if after all Ann Goldstein is one of those translators who deliberately modernizes and makes more accessible the texts she translates. I would have thought that not necessary with a contemporary one but now I’m thinking maybe just as much. Goldstein offers very poor commentary on the novels in every group talk I’ve heard — ideas like the first book is the best. Thus Ferrante’s Italian is not being truly represented. There is much less need to defend Ferrante as an important Italian writer (woman) when you are in the Italian. She is so much better in the original — in fact she is not plain in her language at all. If and when a third season of Italian TV resumes the serial here in the US, I’ll pay for HBO Max to see it.

I’ve managed about ten pages or so after three days. And my desire is to do a French book by a woman, a good memoir next.

I’m at Journey’s End and thus how can I offer you valuable thought from my life. I can do as I’ve done, write literary and film criticism from the heart as filler but I’ve not had the spirit to do that here these past three weeks, too tired at night, too exhausted the next day after blogging, giving of myself. I’m going slower and finish less books and movies and put that matter on my two other blogs, Ellen & Jim Have a Blog, Two, and Reveries Under the Sign of Austen. So my dear friends who have been reading this blog for at least 10 years now, this is why I write so infrequently and telling you this, explaining this to you is why I have written this blog.


The latest flowering bushes in my front garden. I’m watering them twice a day during this dreadful hot time.

Ellen

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