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

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

Friends,

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

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

and the second of which, a book of essays on that anomaly, a woman living (in effect) alone becoming clarified. Candidates for separate chapters by me include:

Christine de Pizan, Anne Murray Halkett, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Francis Power Cobbe, Margaret Oliphant. I returned today to Bridget Hill’s grim Women Alone: spinsters in England, 1660-1850, and the moving Singled Out by Virginia Nicolson, women in the UK and fiction after WW1; and have been thinking of this figure in fiction. I’ve bought Sheila Jeffreys’s The spinster and her enemies: feminism and sexuality, 1880–1930


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

I have a partner whose ideas are very rich.

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

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

Tonight I re-watched Selma and I cried and cried for them winning and for us winning for the time we did. I’ve never done such an admirable thing.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wake in the morning (as Jim would have said) unsteady on my pins. The worst thing is the cement-glue that is supposed to hold my upper denture to my jaw: the taste is continually nauseating, to the point I cough violently and at times frequently.

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

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

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

POEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we are simply falling —

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

I touch your cheek to protect you —

-Louise Gluck

So as I continue lonely  — when I go to sleep — and I age, I have my compensations.


Monet, Cornwall in Winter

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.

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


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 …

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


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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J. J. Sempre one of my favorite cover illustrators for The New Yorker: the reading group — I like the tone, his pictures often filled with human kindness and need fulfilled. Often pleasant landscapes & rooms.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind — C.V. Cavafy

You will go uncompanioned, but go you must — Theo Dorgan

Friends and readers,

I got through last week with much reading, some in-depth, the close reading sort, then immersion in films, and writing, writing, writing and hurrying about to classes. I’ve out in (so to speak) for some new experiences: I’m to have a visitor here with Izzy and I in our house, the night and morning before I go off to the East Central ASECS (American Society for 18th century studies, regional conference) in Staunton, Virginia, with me on the long drive there and then again back three days later, and again staying over the rest of Sunday and Sunday night. I cannot remember doing that in all my 71 years. I told the people on that tour group around the Lake District and Scottish/English borders I grow weary, tired with all this learning, all these new experiences. But here I am again. How do people do this? I never got the memo of instructions.


Shenandoah Shakespeare Company — Jim & I have been to Staunton many times to see this company — where “they do it in the light”

I’ve returned in thought and reading to that project I developed into a CFP and paper: The anomaly: the adult woman living alone: widows, divorced women, spinsters. You might remember it, I was given 2 (!) panels because 6 papers came in that were thought related, and an editor from LeHigh University said if I could develop it into a collection of essays they’d be interested. I tried to publish my paper on Widows and Widowers in Austen, but Susan Allen Ford didn’t care for my perspective, and I didn’t know how to go about to write prospectus, and worse yet, gather contributors.

Well I’ve been re-thinking this — from reading Barbara Pym on WomenWriters@groups.io or not quite sure why, from thinking about early modern or Enlightenment women? — and come to the conclusion one obstacle was I was mis-formulating the very core title. A male hegemonic point of view has been obscuring that immediately I write down the phrase, what do I do: I begin to formulate the group by defining each woman there as there because of her relationship (or lack of one) to a man. The assumption is there needs to be some sort of explanation why a woman is forced into this, not that she wanted it in the first place — spinster as we know has such negative connotations (like bluestocking). And when I come across essays on these typology the assumption immediately is that the woman is clubbing together with other women or doing this or that because without a man she has not the wherewithal to support herself on her own.


Adrienne Rich

Diane Reynolds had been reading Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience” and pointed to that. I read it and find she writes about how men have denied women their own continuums of sexuality, one of which begins with the mother-daughter bond, can move to sister-bonds, female friendship and then for some sexual engagement. Why is “sadistic heterosexuality” more normal than lesbian and mother-child sensual bonding. The “rich interior” life bonding with women is marginalized as unimportant. Her desire for work of her own apart from her functions serving and being with men discounted, or (in many societies in the past and some today) forbidden. Diane points out though the dilemma is not to move to see the choice as simply happy as to chose it is to be hedged about with incomprehension, misunderstanding, disapproval, circumstances become to hard to cope with. “A single woman has such a propensity to be poor,” says Austen.

Think about things from a perspective not yet formulated. Do something never done before. Me who resists change. We have been talking about one theme of Forster’s Howards End on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io: how moving is often an experience of existential loss, of one’s identity and past erased (herein is it like experiencing the death of a beloved person whose life intertwines with our own), all the sites, symbols, things suffused with memory thrown away, re-vamped, the very streets one lived on when we come back we find have vanished. To leave this house would be to lose what enables my life. Forced into a new life, much barer, stripped before the world.


Joanna David as the displaced Elinor Dashwood in the 1971 BBC Sense and Sensibility (scripted Denis Constantduros, perhaps the first BBC film adaptation of an Austen novel & among its earliest scenes)

Lucy Worsley (JA: At Home) suggests Austen’s fiction fueled by her loss of her original home and her heroines’ attempts to recreate, re-find a new one.

Kauffmann, Angelica: Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses

I told the people on Trollope&Peers (the list’s abbreviation) how Jim read Forster’s letters with C. P. Cavafy and tonight will end this brief excursus with Cavafy’s poem (translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard). Here the courage needed for life’s adventures and the experiences you might enjoy so are set out before us:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

original Greek linked in; or read aloud

and Theo Dorgan’s response (for Leonard Cohen)

When you set out from Ithaca again,
let it be autumn, early, the plane leaves falling as you go,
for spring would shake you with its quickening,
its whispers of youth.

You will have earned the road down to the harbour,
duty discharged, your toll of labour paid,
the house four-square, your son in the full of fatherhood,
his mother, your long-beloved, gone to the shades.

Walk by the doorways, do not look left or right,
do not inhale the woodsmoke,
the shy glow of the young girls,
the resin and pine of home.
Allow them permit you to leave,
they have been good neighbours.

Plank fitted to plank, slow work and sure,
the mast straight as your back.
Water and wine, oil, salt and bread.
Take a hand in yours for luck.

Cast off the lines without a backward glance
and sheet in the sail.
There will be harbours, shelter from weather,
There will be long empty passages far from land.
There may be love or kindness, do not count on this
but allow for the possibility.
Be ready for storms.

When you take leave of Ithaca, round to the south
then strike far down for Circe, Calypso,
what you remember, what you must keep in mind.
Trust to your course, long since laid down for you.
There was never any question of turning back.
All those who came the journey with you,
those who fell to the flash of bronze,
those who turned away into other fates,
are long gathered to asphodel and dust.
You will go uncompanioned, but go you must.

There will be time in the long days and nights,
stunned by the sun or driven by the stars,
to unwind your spool of life.
You will learn again what you always knew —
the wind sweeps everything away.

When you set out from Ithaca again,
you will not need to ask where you are going.
Give every day your full, unselfconscious attention —
the rise and flash of the swell on your beam,
the lift into small harbours —
and do not forget Ithaca, keep Ithaca in your mind.
All that it was and is, and will be without you.

Be grateful for where you have been,
for those who kept to your side,
those who strode out ahead of you
or stood back and watched you sail away.
Be grateful for kindness in the perfumed dark
but sooner or later you will sail out again.

Some morning, some clear night,
you will come to the Pillars of Hercules.
Sail through if you wish. You are free to turn back.
Go forward on deck, lay your hand on the mast,
hear the wind in its dipping branches.
Now you are free of home and journeying,
rocked on the cusp of tides.
Ithaca is before you, Ithaca is behind you.
Man is born homeless, and shaped for the sea.
You must do what is best.

Here the poet is online reading aloud:

I have been companioned these last couple of nights though: by Claire Tomalin in her marvelously good A life of My Own picked up for £5 cash in Keswick — she is keeping me good company just now

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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A new miniature magnolia tree

“To give way to them is to conform to rules set down by the evil minded” — Ross to Jinny, Demelza (I’m studying Winston Graham, “with all the reassurance of companionship … ” here on the Net)

Of course there has to be an end. Of course. For that is what everyone has faced since the world began. And that is — what do you call it — intolerable. It’s intolerable! So you must not think of it. You must not face it. Because it is a certainty it has to be forgotten. One cannot — one must not — fear a certainty. All we know is this moment and this moment. Ross, we are alive! We are. We are. The past is over, gone. What is to come does not exist yet. That’s tomorrow! it’s only now that can ever be, at any one moment, now, we are alive — and together. We can’t ask more. There isn’t any more to ask — Demelza to Ross, The Angry Tide

Friends and readers,

Today I succeeded in installing a hook on the door into my study (workroom, whatever you want to call it — where I spend most of my existence).

This may be the first one I’ve ever done near accurately — the hook fits into the latch easily! I imitated what the handyman did for my front door: he put a hook on the screen so I can open the door proper and yet keep the screen semi-locked. This way I can further hope to prevent anyone from coming in the front door who I might not want to come in. Thus when I’m gone for 13 days my cats will not be able to get into my workroom and disturb or destroy anything (by mistake of course). The great test will come the next time I go out and put the latch on. Later today or tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

My friends, this was no trivial task. Jim used to plan for this kind of thing well ahead. I have thought and thought about it, and finally went to Home Depot, and bought the equipment. Then I waited for two strategic days of calm. Out came hammer and a device I now use to turn things that are hard to turn: it’s made of a light weight iron.

After hard experience I also decided that it’s a bad idea to have Jim’s tool box so high that every time I try to bring it down, stuff falls on my head, and I teeter on the chair ladder. So I’ve come up with solution here too! I have moved said box into a unobtrusive corner in my sun-room.

I should not omit that my cats were made quite nervous during the progress of the operation. They ran away and hid. They can’t take much tension. Ordeals are beyond them.  But it’s all over now. Folding chair cum-ladder put back. And we three back in place, me at the desk reading near computer, Clary behind it in sun-puddle and Ian in his cat bed on the other side looking out window.


Carl Larsson, The Bridge (1912) — for the sake of the cat looking on

You see, gentle reader, I’ve been occupied this and last week with some forward-looking reading and preparations for my coming holiday trip to the Lake District and Scottish borderlands. Reading ahead for my courses I’ve been relieved and delighted to find I like all my choices still: Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s La Religieuse aka The Nun (what an astonishing book), Madame Roland’s Memoirs (abridged, in English) and Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands. Mantel’s Wolf Hall fascinates me still.


I now know there’s been a recent movie (since Rivette’s 1966) with Isabelle Hubbert — I will try to obtain a copy

Despite my not being able to understand ins and outs of Vitanza’s argument in Chaste Rape he has now helped me to understand Diderot’s The Nun and given me a way to teach it. I am also helped by all I have read about torture and the motives for it. He also brings both seasons of the Handmaid’s Tale into conscious alignment. I had seen The Nun as a Clarissa story: in the center Suzanne forced to become a nun by the cruelties of her family, coerced, harassed. I also saw the hideous treatment she is meted out by the other members of the nunnery (they humiliate her, strip her naked, force her to whip herself, starve her, leave her to be fithy, scream at her) as a parable of what can happen in a prison and when you are outcast in a community whom you have openly rejected.

But now I finally see this is a story just like all the stories of rape without the open sexual attack– and that is coming from a lesbian source in the next phase of the book. Vitanza says the purpose of rape is not the sexual attack centrally; that is part of the destruction of a personality until it asks you to hurt it itself, until it takes on your values, until it kisses the tormenter.
After one of the sessions of horrifying treatment, Suzanne is told her lawyer has obtained a change of convent for her. He lost the case to have her freed but he can do this. What does she do? she gives her most precious objects to the cruel superior mother; she begs those who thew her into the dungeon physically to take other favors form her and kisses them and thanks them. When the overseer comes who has the news she can move and he forbids her to see her lawyer, she says that she has no desire to see him and when there is an opportunity she refuses. This cannot encourage the lawyer to go on helping her. He might think her forbidden but he might think she doesn’t care.

This also reminds me of Offred-June in Handmaid’s Tale where she takes on the values of the Waterfords, Lydia and everyone else – like Suzanne. I suppose she is a heroine to American watchers because we are to believe her desire for revenge and hatred is natural and her personality (so they can admire this); at tny rate she does not utterly prostrate herself as Suzanne.

Suzanne is obviously such another as Levi in the concentration camp; people in solitary confinement and beat the hell out of and mistreated in US and other tyrannical nationds’ prisons ….

I would not have been able to put Suzanne at long last next to Clarissa without Vitanza’s hook. Paradoxically he takes us past the way rape is discussed by de-centering the sex.

I took brief notes on all the texts as I went through them. I wanted to be in a position when I go off that I need not worry about not having enough time to prepare or have made a bad choice when I return home and soon it’s time to teach.


A photo Jim took of me in 2005, at Stanton Drew, the summer we spent 3 weeks in August in England with Laura and Izzy, among other things in Somerset going round to neolithic and Arthurian sites.

I’ve been on the phone a lot for me: arrange credit cards, make sure phone is international, I bought a pretty new hat and two tops and two sweaters — I hope they all come in time — to add to the warm fleece jacket I’ll bring. As usual I’ve been anxious about the plane, and was made worse nervous by an email from AirFrance, but all seems resolved. Above all, this time I am steeling myself with these thoughts: che sera, sera. As long as the plane doesn’t fall out of the sky, I’ll make it back. What happens, happens. I hope to get there but if the people won’t give me seat (almost happened twice), scrutinize me (it’s now the policy of ICE to harass people who behave in the slightest way non-conformist), if they don’t let me on the plane, I’ll just come home. If on the way I get lost, I’ll find my way — it’s not likely; only one changeover of plane. Philosophically one can’t. Once I get there, I’ll try to have a good time — Sunday I’ll pick the right books to get me through. I have wanted to see the Lake District since 1974 when I had a a fantastically bad miscarriage, which turned into a abortion to save my life and Jim and I saw only the hospital in Kendal for 5 days; the places all look beautiful, soothing, peaceful. I’m interested in Beatrice Potter, it’s Scotland once again, Lindisfarne gospels, a castle. What’s not to like? (the Road Scholar site is worryingly down this morning so I can’t link the description of the trip in).

And this will be the last time for such a jaunt. I overspent ludicrously last year, and still overspent this. I can’t keep it up — says my financial advisor, or I need to be more careful. I’ve now seen Cornwall, the Hebrides and Inverness, gone to a Trollope conference, to a Charlotte Smith one and saw Chawton Library. So after this all trips must be something I must do for a serious purpose: research in a library in Cornwall or London (say for my Winston Graham project); or if a truly good friend wants to go with me to a place I truly want to go (and for under 8 days unless there is library research involved), the conference where there are friends (no wretched nights in soulless hotels), where there are papers I know I will understand and like (or for Izzy’s sake, JASNA, but not when it’s so far away as to need planes, and no more obscenely luxurious alienating hotels).  If possible no more planes when not going outside the US. Jim used to talk of boats. Yes. As when I took tests, went for interviews, I look forward to when it’s over and I’ve had the time away, that Monday morning when I’ll be home with my cats safe and and re-transplanting myself into my routine of reading, writing, studying, movie watching, going to and taking courses, with life with friends on the Net my solace, and forays out to plays, movies, concerts, the like (in the daytime when alone as I expect I shall be most of the time).

People tell me how much better I look than the first years Jim died. That I looked paralyzed or just very bad. In my heart I feel not much different. If anything, lonelier, just used to it. I know I can survive. I have found trustworthy good people to help me whom I can pay, now AARP to do my taxes, compensating activities I enjoy very much, some of them I would not have known of when Jim was here. A new kind of meaning. I’ve learned a lot. Maybe I’m learning to be my own person irrespective of what others think and no longer seeking someone, any one, company, but doing the difficult task of living on myself and finding meaning from within — I’m strained around 4-5 still, tired, and need that first glass of wine badly. Sometimes coming home from some social experience I drink too quickly to calm myself the way I used to when Jim was here. No life activities seem to come without some ordeal.  I deny that I have changed essentially from that first night I saw the medics take Jim’s body away, just adjusted, learnt to hold what I must do to be able to remain tranquil, with some enjoyment, a sense of doing something worth doing which I can contribute to others.

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Sideview

Last Friday finally the Roseland garden people sent out their crew and I’ve a new garden. Neighbors look approvingly as they walk by and even talk to me while I’m watering the new life. Here is one of the four new flower beds to go with the two magnolias. It’s all very symmetrical: two flower beds in front; One directly in front of house, one in front of fence by sidewalk; miniature maple at center; then on each side of house more flower beds with small evergreens too. All perennials. A picture of one of the new beds …


Flowers in the front


Evergreen shrubs to one side


The other side of the house

A little classical French designed garden! I love clarity, simplicity, order — I used to be a reader of Pope’s poetry and now I make a garden with his in mind. The crew came this morning and we’ve agreed they will come once a month to weed, to help if any of the plants need help, give advice. In fall (October) I’d like them to plant chrysanthesums — I think they are beautiful. Next spring under the miniature maple replant daffodils and crocuses and in front the house on the sidewalk by the street a small cherry blossom tree. Centered in a line from the miniature maple.

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All teaching and going to courses came to an end the third week of July. The week-long course in Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau I attended was fulfilling because I read for the first time ever (!) a good deal of Waldon Pond, all of Civil Disobedience and Slavery in Massachusetts, and a good essay on Thoreau by Laura Dassall Wall (his biographer), Writing Henry’s Life, as well as bought the modern edition of Dickinson’s poems. Reading the poems in a new revealing order and new ones too. Civil Disobedience helped me teach Woolf’s Three Guineas during that same week. I moved into a detour on Thoreau by way of Woolf’s allusions to Antigone as following a higher law of true morality as opposed to state laws:

Thoreau was strongly anti-slavery, an open abolitionist and it was dangerous to be so even up north and in the west in the US. Thoreau says we have a duty to disobey since when what is happening to people is criminal. Black people are people who are enslaved – they are not ontologically slaves and when they try to escape this deeply wrong violated condition, a law is passed demanding others help the criminals re-enslave them. Civil Disobedience argues against obeying the Fugitive Slave Act ,which Thoreau tears down as contrary to God – but he only brings in God at the end, it is more a matter of deep violation of human beings’ right to liberty and life. Decades ago I gave a course in American Literary Masterpieces at AU (in the college itself) where I did a lot of reading in American literature and discovered that just about every controversy, everything was colored by this existence of slavery, and also that those who enslaved others were shamelessly violent. What he says about slavery in Massachusetts is that those who don’t own slaves and do nothing about it are themselves profiting from slavery and that’s why they uphold the Fugitive Slave Act. Like today in Trump’s America where the armies are brought out to attack and cause violence among peaceful demonstrators and then arrest them, and do nothing to violent right-wing groups who come and attack, so Thoreau says the armed people come to attack the innocent and good and support the criminals. One area I had forgotten was why US people wanted to take over Mexico: among the reasons was Mexico was a good place for someone enslaved to escape to. And in one of the cases he discusses what happened was an enslaved man was snatched back and brought back to Massachusetts. How shameful he says this is. He urges civil disobedience does this mid-century transcendentalist.

The teacher was embarrassingly bad — despite her array of prestigious awards, positions, published book. The way she went about justifying Thoreau made him unlikable, utterly egoistic; she kept finding the worst normative values, and then would impossibly fatuously idealize the man. Luckily the class resisted her attempt to make Dickinson back into the high school texts of cutsy whimsy. Would you believe she sat and read aloud passages detailing the wonderful peaceful deaths of these poet spirits? You couldn’t stop her. One cannot expect Adrienne Rich in Vesuvius at Home, but a pollyanna? here is one she did read aloud but hurried past:

I have never seen “Volcanoes”—
But, when Travellers tell
How those old – phlegmatic mountains
Usually so still –

Bear within – appalling Ordnance,
Fire, and smoke, and gun,
Taking Villages for breakfast,
And appalling Men –

If the stillness is Volcanic
In the human face
When upon a pain Titanic
Features keep their place –

If at length the smouldering anguish
Will not overcome –
And the palpitating Vineyard
In the dust, be thrown?

If some loving Antiquary,
On Resumption Morn,
Will not cry with joy “Pompeii”!
To the Hills return! F165 (1860) J175

I found a blog sheerly on Dickinson’s poetry and this explication:

If humans are like dormant volcanoes, then the face may be quite still while a “pain Titanic” (referring to Titans and the convulsing pain that followed their utter defeat) smolders within. But like an awakened volcano the pain will eventually burst through, overcoming the “Vineyard” of the body (its living wine and fruits), ultimately causing its death and burial “in the dust.” And yet there is the hope of “Resumption Morn” (and Dickinson takes religious liberties here with the idea of Resurrection – as if life were to simply resume rather than the souls resurrected into a new spiritual state in heaven) where even Pompeii, the fabulous city famously buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius will shake off its ashes in response to the call of a “loving Antiquary” or historian.

This is the first of several poems Dickinson will write that liken her passions to volcanoes. Unlike later poems, though, this one ends on a note of hope. The historian can recall his beloved Pompeii. Perhaps whoever aroused this passion in the poet will also call her back to life as well

I thought of Scott’s Antiquary (which is one of his novels I do like very much, and one Austen was still alive to read) and Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover, which maybe I’ll teach again next summer.


Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round—
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone—

This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if outlived
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—

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I did go out somewhere beyond daily shopping and errands three times in the weeks since: twice to see a movie. Once for a lecture on the Nancy Drew books (a “special at OLLI, which deserves a blog of its own). Once for a long walk.  With my friend, Panorea. We also saw on another day Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik who with Anne Rossellini also wrote the screenplay. Very much worth seeing. It was very powerful, deeply upsetting at moments for me, it reminded me of Cathy Come Home (1960s British seeming documentary) because our two central characters, Will, a father in his later 40 or so, and Tom, a daughter aged around 15 are homeless a good deal of the time. And we see the miseries, the difficulties, and by implication, the terrors of such an existence. They get sick, come near death.

We understood it differently: My friend saw it as anti-war and full of grief for veterans we’ve thrown away — she took it the father was a Vietnam vet. He shuddered when helicopter went by. Now I detest helicopters myself. I wouldn’t go in one. She even cried over the father and those the two me on the road as she saw them all as vets. They are taking pills of all sorts – but then US people now are in an addiction mode in large numbers we are told. One of the people we hear of is a man who cannot bear to be with people. He is left a care package each week. I could not understand why the father had this need to run away from people to the point he could live around them — even if they made it clear he need never come out of his trailer. He is given a dog who attaches himself but he cannot attach himself to the dog.

I saw it as a parable of US life today, bunches of people who live in shacks, broken down trailers, corrugated iron huts, with its central tale about this profoundly disturbed man who is living with his daughter in a wood, filthy, dirty, they are picked up by authorities who are (amazingly) supportive of them in various ways; once they are cleaned up and in better health, the father insists on leaving while the girl has become happier by joining with other children caring for rabbits (all symbolic that); on the second mad trek to nowhere they both nearly die, finally the girl rebels and will not run away from a trailer someone has just about given them. I became upset when she left “civilization” for a second time with him and when she seemed to be doing it for a third time, it was so distressing. But she turned round and went back to the trailer she had rented – the kindness of the woman owner made it come cheap

If my friend is correct, and Leave No Trace about US vets, all of them together I can get why they are not overtly mistreated by authorities or when they come into contact with others. Last summer a film called Wilderness was again about a father (mothers who flee are probably imprisoned) this time fleeing with a son

I include the poster in the hope the reader might recognize this movie somewhere and thus have a chance to see it

Gavagai, an extraordinarily mesmerizing intelligent movie, was at the Sunday morning Film Club: Gavagai. The description at IMDB is ludicrously wrong: it shows how telling the literal truth can miss everything about a movie that matters.

The German businessman turns out to be a poet and as the movie unfolds we discover he is grieving deeply over the death of his wife and has decided to translate her poems written in Chinese into Norwegian (it’s co-written with Kirk Kjeldsen). We first see him getting off a broken down train (probably unrealistic as this is Norway), but maybe because it is arriving in a very small town in a rural area. He has to bribe a tourist guide, who at first seems to be a dense vulgar abrasive male, to take him to where he wants to go. The movie is their journey across the Norwegian landscape together as they reveal slowly to us their inner lives and dreams, mostly through imagery and voice-over Gradually the apparent lout is revealed to be a man estranged from a girlfriend he treated badly and over the course of the movie he manages to reconcile with her by texting her, visiting her in stop overs. He cannot get the poet to confide in him or be at all warm to him or anyone; the poet dreams of his wife at night — strange dreams with her dressed in extravagant Asian outfits. The same actress plays the ghostly wife and estranged girlfriend. It’s as if women are interchangeable to this director, and in a way they are treated as objects in the males’ dream lives. There are many correspondences and parallels between their experiences and thoughts: the climax of the film culminates on tall mountain where the poet scatters his wife’s ashes; there follows a quiet denouement which has a church-like feel as the poet walks away still in grief and never getting over it and the driver with his girlfriend join a group of people on the beach, making a bonfire. It’s summer. Beautifully photographed, long slow scenes.

It reminded me of Derek Garman and also my favorite Last Orders. A finer poetically expressive movie than you will come across in a long time. Rob Tregenza, the director runs the film program in a Virginia College (VCU) and doesn’t have all that many connections so it’s not played at festivals but is gradually gaining adherents or attention (I have no idea how) and will open in NYC and LA.

One of my favorite poets: this by her is appropriate to Gavagai:

Man Alone on a Mountain

​You stand on a black rock pinnacle with your back toward me
and look out over a rock-strewn valley which is half-hidden in mist.
In your long black coat, knee-boots and walking stick,
you seem a stranger from another century.

Before you the lower mountains, sharp
with black rocks, hover like a flock of petrified sheep,
that has wandered from the shepherd
until they are lost and frozen there.

Wind disturbs your red hair. Your balance seems precarious
and I wonder what brought you there
where the fog obscures so much?
How long did you climb and with what difficulty?
Why are you alone and what are you looking for?

Why does anyone climb to such a place? Once,
in winter, driving by myself after a snowstorm,
I pulled off the road by the trail that led up Avon Mountain.
And, wanting to see if I could do it, I struggled up the slope
which was slick with a foot of snow and ice.

My breath like sleet in my chest, my leg muscles,
unused to such climbing, ached with the strain.
A few clumps of snow fell from the pine branches onto the trail.
To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking.
If I had slipped and fallen no one knew where I was.

But you, I wish you well, stranger with the hidden face.
You seem self-assured as you stand there
sturdy but wholly alone under an uncertain sky–
its diffuse clouds, one taller mountain before you
a gray-blue blur in the distance.

​Patricia Fargnoli

Izzy and Laura went out twice together: to the US open for tennis, and this Sunday with two friends they will see Hamilton at the Kennedy Center. Izzy has studied the musical play and songs and read Chernow’s biography (my presents to her two Christmases ago). She’s been to three museum exhibits in DC. Don’t even think about the cost they paid for these tickets.


Francis Luis Mora, Rosemary, his daughter, The Little Artist

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I conclude with some music my good FB friend provided for all of us who are her friends one morning:

This will probably be my last diary entry until I return.

Ellen

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The central reading room of the Library of Congress

A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library” — Shelby Foote

Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world. — Virginia Woolf

Friends and readers,

On July 9th I began to join on a meme where you were asked to name a book that strongly influenced you, or had a real discernible impact. You were to find the cover illustration of the book as you remembered it, and do no more. Well I couldn’t see why you should not tell why or how the book had this impact; without that, the meme seemed to me to be contentless. So often cover illustrations are misleading if not downright distortions of the book’s content. So I began to list my 10, and found that I was writing an autobiography of sorts. Just about all of them made a strong impression on me before my mid-20s, and many had linked books and led to life-changing experiences. And here they are:

Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1)

Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (2)

Suzanne Therault’s Un cenacle humaniste de la Renaissance autour de Vittoria Colonna, chatelaine d’Ischia (3)

Anthony Trollope’s Dr Thorne (4)

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (5), along with Bronte’s Jane Eyre, DuMaurier’s King’s General, Austen’s Mansfield Park

Lousia May Alcott’s Little Women (6), along with P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park, and the Nancy Drew series

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (7), and all the rest of Shakespeare too

The Letters of Julie de Lespinasse and Madame du Deffand (8), and the women memoir & gothic writers of the later 18th century ….

Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, along with Boswell’s A Tour of the Hebrides (9), and books Scottish

Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (10), Jim’s favorite books, books that influenced him, that he kept reading.

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How better to introduce my in praise of libraries.


One of the several books discussed in the series above ….

Gentle reader, I’ve not been blogging here as I have been writing the above series and spending three days a week in the Library of Congress reading scarce books by Winston Graham, author of the Poldark books. I renewed my Reader Identification card earlier this summer, and found myself by the afternoon of all the days I was there in a semi-circle of readers around a central area where the librarians are still located. There is no longer a card catalogue but the old habits of spacial arrangement die hard. When I’d begin around 9:30 am there would be few people there, and by 4:00 pm when I’d leave off, the place would be humming with activity.

As in so many projects before how much I enjoyed sitting there among these people, now and then watching the different librarians and librarian helpers at their tasks, bringing books on carts, taking them away, leading groups about quietly to show this or that. Downstairs in the lobby groups of tourists and students going on tours, or off to hear a lecture or look at an exhibit. The different reading rooms. I brought my lunch, a soda and went outside to eat on a bench and then watched people go by near the Congress, on the mall, over at the Folger Library. I’ve learned much of value about Graham in exploring these early works of his.

This kind of activity has been going on in some form or other for centuries. I’m especially fond of the Library of Congress because it is fully public: you need only describe your project to a librarian and you get a card: no need for letters of introduction, for institutional affiliations; no exclusionary practices going on. No money is asked.

Which are the books or authors I’ve made treks of considerable trouble for weeks or months and even years on end to read about and to read in research libraries? Samuel Richardson, Charlotte Smith, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara, Anne Murray Halkett (17th century autobiographer, spy, Scots by birth), Aphra Behn, Anthony Trollope, and now Winston Graham. Which libraries have I loved and haunted, rummaged in the world’s attics in:  Once at age 15 Degas’s illustrations for a performance of Hamlet for a paper on 19th century art — a library on 51st street off Park Avenue in NYC. For long stretches the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare; by letter and through microfiche, the British Library. I’ve at least visited and read at the Chawton House library.

Gentle reader, these are my life’s events; this are crucial events in what my life has been.

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From the cover of Wilkie Collins’s Rambles Beyond Railways, a book about his travels in 19th century Cornwall, a book that cannot be spoilt by knowing what’s in it and has no particular ending

And how better to link in a topic of considerable importance on the Internet: spoiler warnings. Since the advent of the Internet, these have spread to the introductions of printed books, and turn up in the most preposterous places or discourses. You are in a class where a book has been assigned and the class is to discuss it, and the teacher apologizes for telling the class what is in the book! A long while ago Stanley Fisher placed on essay on the Net explaining his objections to these, declaring their use often absurd.

I won’t do that here but rather explain why I dislike using them and for myself would prefer people not use them and am grateful when someone tells me freely about the story or about the characters or themes or whole of the book and its ending too when we share our experience of a book.

Here goes:

First off, what is told is not what I read for. Not at all. I read for the unfolding of an experience. How can anyone replace or substitute for that by telling me the literal story matter. I saw a movie today called Gavarai which was described as being about a German businessman who tries to hire someone to take him in a tour of Norway! ludicrous: it’s about a man grieving for the death of his wife who links him to another estranged from the world, and the journey they take through one small rainy part of Norway’s countryside, and that doesn’t begin to tell what it’s about.

During group reads or discussions, people put summaries of the content at the beginning of a week. Is that a spoiler if you haven’t read the stuff? what it functions as is a redaction saving those participating the trouble of reading carefully or at all. It’s superficial, the surface that doesn’t count. I read for companionship for depth of thought and feeling to be in contact with the best of someone’s mind or heart, to learn about the author’s inner life, an earlier historical world, and how can that be spoilt? most people don’t begin to convey it — I try for that in reviews and my blogs sometimes, but only in spurts. It used to be called close reading. If they quote the text, they can get closer but most of the time what I read for is not there in the person’s redaction at all — it’s them, their personality, their ideas.

Now I grant sometimes that does spoil a text because their inferences are so awful that they can color the text when I return to it or remember it and make me dislike the text. “Oh omg if this is what people are led to think or feel when they read/watch this text, how awful this text must be.”

I grant that while some texts are set up to have a surprise at the end, most writers don’t manage to make me care or have a revelation which upon the second reading makes one read the text differently. My reaction to mysteries which do make me wonder what happened without caring about the characters much is irritation – I try to discover what it is to save myself the trouble of reading. I don’t enjoy most games. They are no fun because it’s unpleasant to cope with the other person’s desire for triumph. Anyway what a waste of time.

Again I grant there seem to be more people reading to discover what happens next and not want to know than the way I or others like me read but then I think of how Forster lamented the way most people read and wished it were otherwise because he’s an author.

Still I don’t think I’m that unusual. I am unusual for admitting this — in 1995 in the early days of the Net I was on a listserv where the listowner/moderator had a rule against spoiler warnings — she regarded them as a form of censorship, and as imposing a certain way of reading on us. My older daughter who runs groups on face-book thinks they are weapons for controlling others — and has lots of anecdotes to show they are used that way. To attack and shut someone up because what that someone wrote is displeasing to others, intimidates them in some way. If she could get rid of them where she is she would — but it’s too tempting a tool (she says) for others. Spoiler alerts are for me and those like me an irrelevancy, an distasteful word which I’ve been coerced into submitting to, and signals social and mind policing.

I’m rereading and rewatching the Poldark matter. It doesn’t matter to me how many times I read these books, each time I read the story through I become just as anxious for Morwenna, maybe more upset because I know what we have to go through before we reach the ending of this phase of her existence; if I know the character I care has a bad ending, I become even more upset. It doesn’t matter how many times Verity is cut off from Blamey it seems for the rest of her life, I grieve for her all over again. In the case of Austen I’d say I’m deeply invested int all the heroines, but cannot like Emma or Mary Crawford and feel Emma didn’t deserve her happy ending nor Mr Knightley; at the end I grudgingly feel for Mary left with her sister for life. But that she doesn’t marry makes me respect her since no one around is worth marrying — that we’ve been shown and she can like.


The first 1945 edition of this book which took Graham five years to write, and which he cut down effectively again in 1951

Austen’s Emma is one of those texts where one reads differently the second time, but like most intelligent versions of this, on even the first reading so long ago I began to suspect that Jane and Frank were engaged and Emma a dupe at the alphabet game and then when Knightley tried to warn the complacent snob Emma I felt yes that “something is going on.” The deepest pleasure is the second and third and subsequent readings as one sees more and more.

One final example from movies: I don’t care for and am not invested in any of the Handmaid Tale characters. I never was. I feel that I could love Nick, the man the heroine comes to have deep affection for and a baby with, but I am not shown enough — I feel the actor conveys kindness. For some of the handdmaids (Emily) I see glimmers of what I can respect and like and recognize, I’m terribly sorry for the poor thing who loses her eye and then her vagina’s clitoris. The rest of them are mostly thin or awful. I know I’m supposed to be anxious for Offred but I have not been able to even in the first season. She leaves me cold. I just don’t recognize her; I think the character is set up to behave morally but she has become hostage to the idiotic values all around her (and repeats them as in the Stockholm syndrome). So each time I don’t care enough what happens to her and if I’m told the ending it saves me the trouble of reading the book or watching the hour.

I’ve come to think that a movie communicates its expressive content to us through the actor-character’s presence, and if a bonding doesn’t happen that can carry you through deeply, the movie won’t perform its most important work. One problem I’m having with the new Poldark films is none of the actress types presented to me touches me deeply …

Now I think bonded with Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall immediately, deeply from her opening soliloquy about people disappearing all the time and her regret that she had never had a fragile vase: the key is she is a 1950s figure, the years of my girlhood

Ellen

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