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

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


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

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

Friends,

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

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


Clarycat this week; and Ian pussycat too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only connect ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Snow-cat, made by Rob, Laura’s husband, just outside their backdoor

This morning I realized there was a sweetness about life, about existence, being alive somehow, a tone, a feel to the very air, which has vanished altogether since Jim died. My eye lighted on a house near my street, so familiar after 35 years that corner, and it came to me when I would see that corner and was driving home to where Jim often was, how the world was suffused with sweetness, a tone, a feel — gone forever, with vacuity in its place.

Friends,

The past two weeks have been cold, rain has poured on Alexandria, and now we’ve had a mild three day snow storm. Mild because only some 12 inches but enough to close down what parts of gov’t have been left open after Trump and his regime decided to make their right-wing dictatorship felt. A coup is underway to nullify the election of a democratic house. I am far from alone in being sick with worry and anxiety for my and Izzy’s comfortable existence, this house and my books supplying all that make my life worthwhile.

I’ve been thinking what can I do if Trump succeeds in keeping this up: can the money I have invested be turned around to produce some kind of income? I thought of Jane Austen’s line in Persuasion: Is there any one item on which we can retrench. I’ve been thinking of many items, including eating less and more cheaply. I’ve not bought a thing I didn’t have to since the gov’t shut down. I am already committed for two trips but after this stop. Apply for tax relief from the Alexandria property rates. I have been so proud of my garden: it would hurt not to have the gardeners work at it at least once a month (they came twice in the fall); it would break my heart, but I know nothing of gardening so need them. No more cleaning ladies. That’s easy. Izzy loves her four sports channels but we could go down on the phone somehow. Anything to stay here and keep my books. Night after night Judy Woodruff on PBS catalogues another set of individuals devastated by this.  Trump came on Fox  enjoying himself utterly. Remember he and his Republican loathe most of the agencies, like the FTC which is supposed to protect consumers, stop monopoly and exploitative practices. They are shutting all this down as a trial to see what they can destroy. They like the idea of federal workers forced to work for no pay.  Well these workers won’t keep it up for years.  My especial heart-break is the closing of the Library of Congress.


Saturday night from the windows of my enclosed porch


Sunday morning close up

I’ve been out minimally but not lonely because of the worlds of the Internet I have found so many friends and people who share some part of my taste to spend time with. I visited a friend where we had old-fashioned grilled-cheese sandwiches (on white bread no less, fried lightly in butter on a frying pan) with tea and then settled together to watch the wondrous French A Christmas Tale. She enjoyed it as deeply as I. She’s worried too: she lives on a much larger social security and annuity payments; she will rearrange her annuity payments for a start she says.

One night also I went on a date (the first in 52 years) — an old-fashioned date where the man picked me up by car, drove me to an elegant yet home-y Irish pub in Northwest Washington where we had a yummy meal and good talk; afterwards a drive through very pretty park-lined and riverside streets, and then home again home again, jiggedy-jig, where he walked me to my door. I even dressed up, complete high heels and an attempt at make-up (feeble, basically lip-stick).

I know my face looks awful but consider that the cell phone picked up harsh shadows in Izzy’s half-lit room.

We were in a neighborhood in Northwest Washington I knew existed, sort of, but had never been in. The OLLI at AU is there. Very wealthy, exclusive (he pointed to three clubs he belongs to along the river, one where no one else can come into that piece of land in that park), beautiful, forest-y. There’s a Great Falls I’d never heard of and he was even startled to hear I’d never heard of it. His big income comes from years of working in high positions in agencies Trump will destroy: environmental; he did “operations research” (mathematical finding of which is your best option to do; this is used to bomb things). He is by older heritage Jewish, but his family spent so many years in Arkansas and then Tennessee so he has no memories of any heritage but American — one of his clubs meets in a local very tasteful Episcopalian church.  An intelligent sports person, someone who knew how to and still does socialize and network, a widower, with 2 (!) guns in his house. I could see he was rightist — trained to be a fighter pilot in the later 1950s. He knew what an adjunct is, and said of Jim’s career, what a shame he didn’t make more money with such degrees. I think for us, given my expectations, & where we both came from, Jim did very well. I know mainstream people will comment (adversely) he retired so early. Yes, and I have much less because of this, but he lived for 9 years he would not have had he worked until 65, gotten that dreadful cancer, and been devoured.  So not a lot of common ground. The evening was though very pleasant. Both people kept up cordial conversation.  I think I’d actually never been on a date like this before — never treated that way in my teens. Perhaps it fit Christine Blasey Forde’s expectations when she found herself among thug upper class males for the first time. The evening was a sociological lesson for me.

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The facsimile edition


the beloved and loving dog, Hajjin

I read a new remarkable short novel where the central consciousness is a nearly kidnapped dog, the 19th century novella, The Confessions of a Lost Dog by Francis Power Cobbe — she anticipates Woolf’s Flush: deeply humane and somewhat convincing attempt to get inside a dog’s personality, not the physical self the way Woolf tried. She is one of the women I am hopeful about writing about for my projected part of a book, working title, The Anomaly (only single women trying to live apart from men have not been.) I  am now reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend as translated by Ann Goldstein: she describes a world I grew up in (Naples = southeast Bronx, circa 1950s). Lenu the reader, and Lila who learns to cast off ambition because thwarted hope is one of the most painful of experiences..

Still inching along in the helpful Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, ed Ella Westland, have opened and begun more of my Cornwall travel-memoir meditative history-as-reverie books. I’m now reading the three Poldark novels I’ve chosen for the paper I’m supposed to give in Denver (if airplanes are flying — I don’t know why the TSA people just don’t go on strike — all terrorized they will lose their jobs; this is what employment in the US has come to). And I’ve had one of those delightful literary discoveries fit only for cherished re-telling in a diary.

All the years of watching the two different Poldark, and having read the twelve books I thought carefully through, I never realized both series had omitted Aunt Agatha, the 98 year old unmarried Poldark aunt’s kitten. In scenes where she appears in Black Moon we are told she has a kitten and then cat keeping her affectionate company. His name is Smollett and I suspect the name is reference to the popular 18th century novelist, Smollett who features an old unmarried woman and her beloved dog in an epistolary novel, Humphry Clinker (the hero is Methodist), and cats and offensive smells in a travel -tour book.


Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) saying goodbye to Verity (from Season 3, Black Moon)

When we first see Agatha, we are told

A black kitten moved on her lap. This was Smollett, which she had found somewhere a few months ago and made peculiarly her own. Now they were inseparable. Agatha never stirred without the kitten, and Smollett, all red tongue and yellow eye, could hardly be persuaded to leave her. Geoffrey Charles, with a small boy’s glee, always called her ‘Smell-it.’ [When George Warleggan intrudes.] The kitten, to Agatha’s pleasure, had arched its back and spat at the new arrival (Black Moon, Chapter 1).

Smollett is mentioned in passing, and when on the last page of this novel, Agatha lies dying:

The bed shook as Smollett jumped on it again. Her head was sinking sideways on the pillow. With great effort, she straightened it … then the light began to go, the warm, milk yellow sunlight of a summer day … She could not close her mouth. She tried to close her mouth and failed. Her tongue stopped. But one hand slowly moved. Smollett nudged up to it and licked it with his rough tongue. The sensation of that roughness made its way from her fingers to her brain. It was the last feeling left. The fingers moved a moment on the cat’s fur. Hold me, hold me, they said. Then quietly peacefully, at the last, submissively, beaten by a stronger will than her own, her eyes opened and she left the world behind (Black Moon, last chapter, last page, last paragraph)

Graham is very fond of animals, and especially a lover of cats throughout his novels. Ross Poldark meets Demelza because at the risk of her own severe body injury she was defending her dog, Garrick, from torturous abuse for the amusement of a mob and several boys. Here are Ian and Clarycat near a snow filled window with their toy mouse:

For snow days: I recommend the remarkable movie about Gertrude Bell narrated by Tilda Swinden, for its remarkably contemporary film footage, Bell’s letters, virtuoso performances of BBC actors as Bell’s family, friends, associates: Letters from Baghdad. I’m listening to Timothy West’s inimitable reading of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, as prelude to Can You Forgive Her? and for a group discussion (Trollope&Peers); this is alternatively with Davina Porter reading Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn. I shall buy no more of these but listen and re-listen to what I have. My kind Irish friend has sent me so many copies of DVDs of very good British BBC movies, I can go for years. My movies at home and nightly for now are both sets of Poldark serial dramas (back-to-back watching of equivalent episodes), Outlander Seasons 2 and 4. I was disappointed but not surprised when Caitriona Balfe, nominated for Golden Globe as best actress for four years in row, lost once again. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride ….

It is hard to find Balfe in a dress I can endure to look at at these ceremonies: a salutary reminder of the real woman (the first phase of her career was as a fashion model).. She is presented in the features as a cooperative team player . The blog where I found the image, repeatedly said of the dress it’s too “LV” — perhaps Louis Vuitton, but a sneering tone accompanied by scorn for those “who have trouble paying their rent,” so it’s probably a withering resentment of her outfit as not overtly extravagant, ritzy, expensive enough. I remember Jenny Bevan who has dressed hundreds of actors and actresses in the best movies for years, turning up for her award for costume in ordinary pants, top, her hair simply brushed was booed. So you see where the outrageous lengths this red carpet stupidity goes to comes from: the worst values of mean minds.

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As for keeping body as well as soul up, I walk for 20 minutes in the afternoons, and listen to country and folk music in the mornings as I exercise for 10 minutes and close this evening with Pete Seeger’s “There’s a river of my people:

There’s a river of my people
And its flow is swift and strong,
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.

Many rocks and reefs and mountains
Seek to bar it from its way.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.

You will find us in the mainstream,
Steering surely through the foam,
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.

For we have mapped this river
And we know its mighty force
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.

Oh, river of my people,
Together we must go,
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my brothers wait I know.
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my sisters wait I know.

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Miss Drake

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Wilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941) Winter in Latvia (1910)

Friends and readers,

This fine winter afternoon Izzy and I took what has become our “traditional” (five years running) near twilight walk in Old Town Alexandria as our way of commemorating Christmas eve. Above you see the Alexandria City Christmas tree, all lit. The DC tree is not, it is dark due to the crazed semi-dictator who insists on being given billions of taxpayers’ dollars to build a cruel hideous wall before he will let them use their own money to light up their Christmas city tree. In Alexandria we escape him here: our tree stands in front of the town square where our farmers’ market is set up every Saturday morning.

Izzy and I have this year once againy had our spirits lifted, a halcyon moment at the Folger for their Christmas Concert 2 weeks ago now; last week I went with new friend, Panorea to the Kennedy Center to see a Nutcracker suite; Saturday, Izzy, Laura and I again to the Kennedy Center, this time for Miss Saigon (I wept again, Izzy said the Engineer was more flamboyant than the man who played the part in London — he was less witty) and after out to a yummy Asian food restaurant to exchange presents; and yesterday Izzy and I once again to the Christmas Music Hall Pantomime at Metrostage. The routines could never be done today, but kept truly stylized and the ones still living, one of my favorites once again, Christmas in the Trenches, and some good feeling truly funny and touching songs, dances, and routines left us very cheerful for last night’s pre-Christmas eve. Tonight we had roast chicken.

As another year draws to a close, the holiday ritual and longer night-time encourages me to think back to the previous year and many years, to remember and compare different holiday times as well as what we did this year that was meaningful and good, also what happened that brought sorrow. And for I who who live through books and nowadays movies too, that means listing and in previous years I have come up with a list of what I read and/or watched, quite copious and discovered (not to my surprise) how much I read books by women and how much I prefer them, that I find as much intense pleasure and new life in non-fiction (literary biography especially) as I do fiction. This year I went to the trouble — it was telling my life’s important events — of listing and telling why or how 10 different books (some became sets of books) influenced my life, and I know at times I realized I was seeing so many remarkably good and fine films between a course I took in films over this fall into winter and a film club I attended from spring across the summer to early fall I was driven simply to list the titles lest now and again I forget them.

As a holiday to myself I am over the next two days reading a book that has nothing to do with any project, just something I knew I’d love and I am: Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises: her tone is just so deeply congenial, her sense of humor, her sadness and why; and I just saw two more great films, truly, Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (2008), and Arnaud Cuaron’s Roma (2018): both have an apprehension of our life as a small figure in a landscape of crowds. Desplechin’s 2 and 1/2 hour film made me feel I was experiencing the holiday in proportionate real time with a family who let me be in their intimate experience, while with Cleo I saw the world from a compassionate point of view of her & the women & children she worked so hard for.


We look in


Nearly drowned

Instead of like last year trying to remember them all or again, conjuring up why they mean what they have to me, I’ll content myself with another list:

for books the outstanding revelations even were above all Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Paul Scott’s Staying On, and the outstanding author, E.M. Forster for no less than three of his novels, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India, indeed I felt I had not begun to apprehend what my mind was processing when I read them years ago, it was as if I were reading them truly for the first time, and just as important in this was Nicola Beauman’s literary biography, Morgan; without her I would not have gotten what I did from these. All masterpieces — alas that the word is so overused. And for the unexpected, I was astonished by how much I responded deeply to because I was surprised to discover how much I liked and identified with the privileged and lucky Claire Tomalin in her A Life of My Own. A journey a life I wish I could have taken but felt grateful she shared hers with me so aware of how fortunate she had been.


A new Helen Allingham when I thought I had seen them all

For movies, may I be candid, gentle reader? Oh yes I know the one that held me over and over, especially at midnight is not finely subtle in its passion as the great TV movie, The Child In Time (Cumberbatch and Kelly MacDonald out of McEwan’s novel). As in another year the serial dramas that I found irresistible, and watched over and over, blogged and found books for, were Wolf Hall (Mantel again) and Downton Abbey (even now when the theme music is played over over the advertisement for the coming theater movie production, I find tears rising out of my eyes); and another year (but not so devotedly) The Crown (I cannot resist Claire Foy?);

so this year it has been Outlander: I’ve listened to three and one half of the four books four seasons have realized, bought and read the companions, joined conversations on face-book pages (!), posted away recaps, meditations. I’m rooting strongly for Caitriona Balfe to won the Golden Globe finally after four years of “almost there” (nominations).

I much prefer it to the new Poldark, which seems to me such a missed opportunity, given how rich the books potentially are.


Lamb, a wolf-dog has been added this year

I suppose in previous years (but I never thought to think of this) I should have said, this 2017 has been the first year I ever bought a good car for and by myself I am fond of (my 2016 PriusC), and went to Inverness and was able to visit the Highlands of Scotland; or this 2016 has been the first year I ever renovated a house and how good it is to sit in my sun-room, it’s become a habitas that I am the genius loci in. Or in this 2015 I won the first prize I ever did — the Peterson Award for service at EC/ASECS.

So unlike all previous years let me list 2018 as the year I fulfilled a long time wish-dream: this summer’s time in the Lake District and northern borders (debatable ownership here) of England. This year I went away with my two daughters to Milan (though alas for reasons best not listed I fear they will not do that with me again). I had my first over-night visitor; he stayed two nights in the sun-room and said I made him very comfortable. I tried.


A Michelangelo Pieta we saw upclose

Sadly, this year my boy ginger tabby pussycat, Ian aka “my lover,” Snuffy, is no longer well, his nose gray where it should be pink: a heart murmur I’m told.  Clarycat has lost that blithe grace she once had. All three of us become yet more attached as we grow yet more vulnerable. A rare good friend, Vivian, died in March.

So here I am on Christmas Eve reaching out once again in the one way I sometimes succeed, before I turn off the computer and go to bed, another poem by Patricia Fargnoli

Message for the Disheartened

When you are expecting nothing
a letter arrives
and someone decides for you.
Your arms fall to your sides,
your hands open.

You dress for the weather
in your gold moccasins
and prepare for long journeys
to distant countries.

The foxes who come out of the forests
stall before you but do not startle.
They are so beautiful,
full of spice and sugar.

Vines grow wildly around you
tangling your thoughts.
There are so many countries
you’ve never traveled to.

You’ve been keeping
to your own rooms
like a blanket stored
inside a closet

or an Egyptian mummy
or a room full of model ships.
In case you miss me,
keep moving through time

and I will arrive finally
in a black coat and top hat,
leaving my cane in the closet,
to open your inner pages

saying, after all, life
is sweet and not as dangerous
as you might think—though the thief
runs off with the child before help comes
(Winter)

I wish all my friends who read this happy Christmas,  a wish: be well and that 2019 should be kind to us all.

Ellen

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

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

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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Longoni, Un gatto per Amicor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claire Tomalin, London, 1989

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

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

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

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

The Fact of a Doorframe

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

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

How about just this to end on:

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

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

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Camille Pissarro, Autumn at Eragny

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

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

Ellen

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Helena Bonham Carter as Eleanor (55 Steps, 2017)

Friends,

Tonight I’ll concentrate on one kind of experience I’ve been having a lot of these last few weeks. I’ve been watching movies screened for me, and screening movies for others in my classes. I’ll save the Tudor Matter movies for Austen reveries (especially a great one I’d never seen before, Henry VIII, scripted Peter Martin, featuring Ray Winstone), and the film adaptations of Howards End (1992 Merchant-Ivory, 2018 Lonergan for HBo) and now Room with a View (1985 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 2007 ITV Andrew Davies) for a blog on E.M. Forster, of The Nun  (1966 Jacques Rivette, 2013 Guillaume Nichols) for a blog on Diderot. What unites the rest of them?

That film has become the central medium of our time? Izzy and I also saw this past weekend a moving and creditable performance and film of Sanson et Dalila (music Camille Saint-Saens, with one exquistely beautiful song, “Responding to your tenderness” the refrain) at an HD Screening (Robert Alagna especially effective up close). Yes it has, but something else, which may be seen as a push-back against what is happening in the powerful US gov’t.

Daily the behavior of a large but countable number of groups of people who have power over the well-being, prosperity, liberty of millions of people literally around the globe grow more heinous, and what do I discover myself effortlessly watching: a series of movies exposing similar behavior of earlier groups of people. Just in the last three or four weeks or so: Battleship Potemkin, Journey’s End, Judgment at Nuremberg, A Dry White Season. As with the harassment, rape and humiliation of Christine Ford, film-makers can make these with impunity as it might seem to those countable groups of people. The Nazis at the of the Nuremberg trials were most of them set free within a short time; the situation in South Africa in 1989 was desperately grave as the South African courts would do nothing to stop mass murders and torturing of black people. One black man manages to take revenge on one chief torturer. All the men is the Journey’s End, and which generals were ever called to account for this mad slaughter. Potemkin escaped the ferocious wrath of the Czar because the Russian armed forces would not fire on them, but then no one would take these men in at any port. Story after story ends this truthful way. Last year I was stunned by Paths of Glory. Everyone in an army unit stood by while a single innocent low rank soldier was scapegoated in lieu of the general who knowingly through hundreds of lives away. Probably none of these could be made in most of the states controlled by the people I began with.

What I wonder is if telling a particular local story has more resonance. Half the population of Yemen is starving to death, and it’s hardly mentioned in mainstream or most media, but the murder by torture and dismemberment of Jamal Kashoggi is this week being heard all over public media as detail by detail is let out into the public. It is true that in the movies I’ve named our attention is called to particular protagonists, complicated victims and heroes and heroines alike. How do you sear the consciousness of someone? Diderot in his essay on slavery said it was so hard to eliminate as the world is filled with people who feel no guilt over using people as abject slaves. This to introduce yet another movie that will hit you hard based on a personal story and single performance. As 55 Steps (alternative title: Eleanor and Colette) begins we see Helena Bonham Carter being shoved, into a room where there is only one blanket; she is wearing white gown used as a strait jacket; she is shouting and protesting and begging the crowd of people not to imprison her in that room, not to inject her with the drugs and they throw her on the ground, hold her down and inject her. She goes silent and still and then begins to twitch. They walk out, shutting the door behind them. Only one high window. She soon has to go to the bathroom and no one will answer her calls for help, so she urinates and defecates in her gown and all over the floor.

It’s unforgettable. How it happens that when she is let out, cleaned, and put into a room with a bed, and given food, she has the ability to phone for a lawyer we are not told. But she does. Slowly the story emerges or evolves. she is told by Colette Hughes (Hilary Swank) that the lawyer can work to release her pretty quickly, but she can also agree to stay in the asylum longer in order to argue as representative of a class action suit. (By the way the present supreme court has done all it can to stop class action suits). Almost unbelievably Eleanor opts for the second choice. Had this not been based on a real story, I would have said here is where it is not believable.


In court with Jeffrey Tambour as Mort Cohen and Hilary Swank as Colette Hughes

This is another protest film, this time on behalf of mentally disabled or troubled patients. She seems originally to have been epileptic and still can have minor seizures. Mark Bruce Rosen Bille August, and Sarah Riser dramatize how the attorney, Colette Hughs (Hilary Swank), with the help of a professor of philosophy, Mort Cohen (Jeffry Tambor) over the course of many hearings and trials managed to persuade a judge and then a review board that patients have the right to refuse medication even when they are mentally disabled. Despite several other scenes that were for me deeply distressing to watch, and although this woman died fairly young because these drugs had so weakened her immune system, she succumbed to a kidney infection (age 47), this is an upbeat story. It’s not just that Eleanor’s case was won, but that we were shown her through a camera and script that respected her as a full human being. She was not made into a plaster saint. Her very experiences taught her to survive by being obnoxious, being difficult, telling uncomfortable truths to those trying to help her (like I embarrass you, don’t I?) or demanding they accede to her needs however inconvenient at a given moment. She needs time to find a dress or suit that looks decent on her awkward body. She needs time to be listened to. She intrudes herself, is a busy-body, she likes crass music. She is unembarrassed to ask about someone else’s religion or to impose hers on the shared space equally as more discreet ways of coping. In the story she is Catholic. She is determined to be who she is. One has to live with her not understanding everything and being loud.

Carter’s performance is the film. She makes her character so touching, brings out her tender heart — for she cares for the other mentally disabled people around her. She is not shy and gives a Christmas party for these people to which her lawyer, now become a friend too, comes. She gives advice to the lawyer about how to handle her boyfriend. We do like how the professor is won over to fight for a first amendment right to speech as part of an argument — he fears to bring this up will make the case harder to win. I have seen Carter get so many good roles and have wondered why she did, as I never was that impressed with her performance. I admit I thought she was given characters not that hard to portray. Well here she is given something precious to do, make us feel her character is precious and like any living creature as worthy of the life she can achieve as anyone else. The film makes the point because you are disabled one or more ways, that does not incapacitate you from other achievements or other talents. She can get home by herself on a bus with difficult suitcases. She can live alone, pay her bills, take complicated medicines, find places.


In some shots, Carter is meant to evoke the Bride of Frankenstein: Frankenstein we recall is a protest figure

As I was watching, I found myself very distressed; I could hardly keep my eyes on the screen, and it was only that this kind of cruelty was forced on Eleanor fully before our eyes the one time, and that tin the case of the others (we do glimpse a couple of others cases), we see in passing a girl chained to her bed, we hear crying, terrible crying, or begging not to do this to her, in the midst of a plot-design which is moving upwards. The lawyer comes. Despite the lawyer’s warning, she might not be able to get Eleanor released for quite some time (even years), she is released within months and that’s happens quickly in film time. So that made what we were seeing more emotionally endurable for me. The way the film “worked” was centered on Helena Bonham Carter and as we feel her helplessness and distress and see the faces and behavior of the perpetrators (called doctors, nurses, assistants), it is driven home into our bones or hearts or feelings, how profoundly wrong this is — if we have any decent mind (I realize that Trump and regime would laugh or despise the women or simply never go to a film like this).

Such a film is frightening for me to watch. As I watched I felt there but for Jim could have gone I. It’s seeing what one dreads most put up before you. I can speak with authority. I have spent a week in a ward in an English hospital, trying to recover from a breakdown where I had just sat and cried for days. In the US I could not have had the benefit of a hospital without spending thousands. No one forced any drugs on me. Again in my very late 20s, early 30s, my state of mind was intense and fragile because I was finishing my Ph.D and didn’t have the skills to pass an interview and so became inwardly distraught as I saw my opportunities lost. I was held up by Jim, and a year or so later by a proper psychiatrist in Virginia. The right help and the person stays in society; the wrong and the person is cast away and made much worse. This is one of many areas where US society is going all wrong. Individuals are not valued because money comes first, and you can only escape the vise if you have high status or rank.

Maybe others can imagine themselves so caught up and then victimized. In small compass this is what the new psychiatry (not worthy the name does): insists on conformity, makes psychology a mild boot camp (mild is there only for social reasons of writing this). You find yourself in a mild form of boot camp; you are not validated, not comforted. I was told by one person, Oh you’re afraid to swim (I wasn’t but used that as an example), the thing to do is throw you in the water where it’s deep. Oh you find yourself abroad and unhappy; just turn round and go home. As if by magic. Completely the wrong kind of personality is encouraged to become a psychologist or psychiatrist, and then they do the bidding of the drug industry. And I know from close association with disabled people that they are treated as morons and one disability is considered the whole of the personality — if say the person doesn’t dress fashionably. That’s why the film-makers dressed Carter the way they did.

So the film has accomplished its core business: make you identify so you will want to act on her behalf. At the same time by making her such a difficult personality (again she has not learned much about socializing and what socializing she did was meet by derision or incomprehension), we see that this is not a sentimental portrait, and then when she does accomplish a lot (as I’ve outlined). It’s one part of her mind though it affects her looks. I learned to be angry at myself for at first being embarrassed at how she dresses somehow wrongly. When at the end she dies, I did think to myself, it is going over the top, and perhaps the funeral oration by Colette was repeating what we had learned too explicitly. But then the credits inform us Eleanor Riese did die age 47 as a bye-blow of these drugs. My friend, Vivian, felt that her years on drugs left her debilitated, unable to sleep and who knows if these years were not unrelated to the cancer that killed her at age 62. Camera shots of the real Eleanor Riese and then we see how Carter was dressed and behaved to look like her and the real Colette Hughes and Hilary Swank ditto.

I had worried so for Eleanor. Even if the constitutional right was proved, would the doctors obey it? would another case take away that right? could she be hurt in her apartment. Now dead, she was safe from all these.


Now and again a nurse is decent: after she wins her case, a few step forward to tell her they had not wanted to behave the way they had (then why did they so? they could quit, refuse to go along)

I have read many times that autistic children such as Izzy once was (at age 2) are sometimes put in institutions and never have a chance to develop or fulfill themselves. I’ve been reading Louise De Salvo’s Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her and her work. I am completely persuaded by De Salvo that not only was Woolf abused sexually and many times, so was her sisters Stella and Vanessa emotionally and intellectually abused, and her half-sister Laura institutionalized because she wouldn’t obey the conformist patterns demanded of the Victorian child in a strict patriarchy. I’ve mentioned I’ve been watching, reading, following a course on Violence Against Women on Future Learn. The later weeks are on the survivors of abuse, how they fare afterwards, how they are treated by society, what the trauma does to them. They make the point that trauma can cut deep and be caused by banal everyday behavior in life, if that includes the right of authority figures and men to harass, humiliate, rape, beat, silently enforce patterns of behavior. We are shown how case workers fail the victim because they stay at a high level of abstraction, turn away from the particular patterns of the perpetrator and demands that the perpetrator change his ways. Worse of all is the punishment for complaining and that is what that opening scene in 55 Steps records. So 55 Steps has general application. The underlying paradigm is the one Diderot uncovers in his La Religieuse, or Nun (which I’ll blog about separately under Austen reveries).

The film was first screened in a festival for prizes in August 2017, and it has taken all this time to reach a Virginia film club; it has yet to be distributed generally so I write to urge people to go see it if they have the slightest chance. As you can see over the past few weeks as a result of the courses I’m following, I had several others I could have chosen to write about. But somehow this common experience from the now abusive world of psychiatry and violence against women and non-conformist seems to me to reach more of us.


As friends, watching a wedding

55 Steps are the number of steps it takes to reach the courthouse room where Eleanor’s case is adjudicated. She counts the steps as they go up. They are the two lawyers who holds her hands and go up with her, steadying her. She counts the steps to get to her apartment too: 27. I remember Laura and I counting the steps up to the Milan apartment last spring after a few days and nights in Milan. The apartment on in effect the fourth floor, with its narrow stone stairwell and steep steps hurt one’s thighs after a long day. I had to pull myself up sometimes. As Eleanor was pulled and pulled herself up.

Ellen

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My house, photographed from the right side

Funny, the things that cheer you up.

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

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

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


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

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

Would I do better to drop the word?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ellen

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Charles-Francois Daubigny, Pond at Gylieu (1853)

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

Friends and readers,

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

Autumn

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

— John Clare

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

No Make-Up

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

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

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

or an amniotic traveller,

a vitreous floater on their own eyeball,

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

so pale, a visage of fog, a phiz of

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

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

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

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

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

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

with a speaking countenance, or a basic

primate, having all the expressions

that evolved in us, to communicate.

If my teen-age acne had left scars,

if my skin were rough, instead of soft,

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

And my mother was beautiful-did I say this?

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

-Sharon Olds


The Schlegels: Margaret, Helen, Tibby

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

Ellen

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