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Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway — the most hopeful image on the Net I saw all week — many thanks to Sixtine for this one

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …

Friends,

Today was (according to the calendar in the US) father’s day: my father died in 1989; he was the most influential person in my life, with the considerable 45 year exception of Jim. Once I moved from NYC for years I would speak with him on the phone once a week for about an hour. My father’s face is clearly before me as I type this. Not from his young years or middle years, but the last ones. I cannot picture Jim on my own: yes, if I look at a photo, I recognize him but out of own brain I cannot see his face.

I’ve not written in so long because I wanted to convey some positive development, so have been gathering up (without intending to) a few cultural experiences I can recommend to others. The positive development (I hope) is that I’ve enrolled myself (and paid for) a Road Scholar trip this year and one for next. I say I hope because Sunday evening I had trouble reaching the place on the Net where I am to confirm my plane reservation, and this morning the Road Scholar representative on the phone said it’s not there yet probably because I just enrolled and give it to Wednesday; if not there then, call this number (Road Scholar Travel Service). A good friend had told me about a wondrous tour to the Hebrides organized by a Welsh company, but after their reply I decided the more thoroughly organized with Internet sites for email, phone calls and so on, would be Road Scholar. If I were going with a friend, let’s the better one. Looking at it, I think to myself Jim would have liked this. But he was an independent personality far more than I .So I put off Skye (which I have been longing to go to since I was 25 and read Johnson and Boswell’s twin books on their journey) for when I am more used to travel (I tell myself).

I had again tried the Road Scholar site and found that the chat people were infinitely more courteous, helpful, and did not pressure me at all. I began to feel comfortable, and after days of looking and email chats, went for my heart’s desire. Alas, I could book for the Lake District and Borders only as of August 2018 (which I had done before, but now with a down payment for a single), and turned to something in Cornwall or the Highlands. Cornwall was available only as of September and I start teaching by mid- to end September (so that must be put off for another time); most of the Highlands trips (three) were long and expensive or wai-tlisted (which I was told means “full up”) so I booked for new program: Scottish Highlands: A Stay at the Aigas Field Center. A magnificent place, beautiful landscape, the one spot suggests some depth.

I have been fascinated by Scottish wars and politics for years, beginning with my study of Anne Murray Halkett during the civil war and aftermath. There was room if I were willing to share a room. So I did. August 10-20th. On the site I was asked why I wanted to go there: I cited love of Scottish literature, from age 15 Robert Louis Stevenson. I didn’t cite my love of Scottish women poets and memoir writers, much less Margaret Oliphant. Nor how Outlander provoked my memories of the 1960s radical documentary, Culloden, or the extraordinary folk musical play, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil (with a very young Bill Patterson as lead guitarist).


Aigas Field Center, Scotland

I should say this does not come out of income but savings, my mother’s money and it is not endless.

I am hoping to visit a friend who lives in NYC for 4-5 days in August. So that should take care of what otherwise would have been 6 weeks home alone (so desolate) in the dreadful heat of a DC-Virginia summer. And because Izzy wanted it so, she and I will go to this year’s JASNA at Huntington Beach for 5 days and nights in early October. I see the hotel has a pool so I’ll bring my suit and see if I can get to swim. She has a pretty Regency ball dress, shawl, and I know how to fix her hair in a bun (very Emily Dickinson, but never mind, no one will be that conscious of the differences between what women did with their long hair in the later 18th and 19th centuries).

I have found for the past couple of months, I can no longer sit in this house for days on end with no one for company. I have to change my habits: I missed entirely three Fridays at the OLLI at AU where they held Bloomsbury events (seeing The Dead, rehearsing and then reading parts of Ulysses aloud over a 6 hour period). I was lamenting how Jim and I went to a Bloomsbury reading which he found out about and read at, and when I googled to see if it was still going I found the event at OLLI at AU. And I could have been part of it. I tell myself I’ll do better next year. With such things do I torment myself. I got to the point one day where I told myself I cannot undo the past 40 years which have left me so without groups I belong in outside institutions (I had no job where I was connected with others, Jim was so reclusive and so was I with him); but this had the salutary function of reminding me how happy I was with him, and that I would not want to undo any of the 40 years were he here still. It’s habit. There was no excuse as it was told about and more than once (if briefly) on the OLLI website. I had to click and didn’t. Closed my mind. I am not keen on Ulysses I said to myself. What a fool, what does that matter?

What have I seen and done: one weekend Izzy and I went to the Kennedy Center on a Saturday night to listen to a magnificent symphony, and the next day to the American Collects 18th century French Painting at the National Gallery. That night on the terrace the evening was a real pleasure. The next day, we found ourselves in a mammoth exhibit, many rooms of ancien regime art. While there were some powerful, great paintings and sculptures, and drawings, not to omit exhibits of landscape and gardening art, the interest of the collection was not in the pieces themselves — many of which thematically and artistically considered are dreadful. It was the identification of the super-rich of American with these people without fear of reprisal, of anything resembling a guillotine. Cited continually also were a group of influential galleries (a couple central to what was bought and displayed) and art connoisseurs. Amusing (if you have a thorough sense of humor) were photographs of NYC elite in 18th century costumes – off to balls. Izzy and I spent a couple of hours viewing this historically significant exhibit. I took by my cell phone camera a number of pictures I’d never seen before (“released” from private collections just for this exhibit one was told).


Utterly typical allegory for this type of collector: the improving patriotic myth …

Other live performances: last night I went to a delightful production in Arlington of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comic send-up and tribute to Chekhov’s plays and other Russian texts (not just Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, the Seagull, Tolstoy, not to omit renditions in American cinema of memories of Russian stories, one where Maggie Smith comes out in a tiara and sequins) — as I’ve said there are three good theater companies! Creative Cauldron, the Avant Bard group at Gunston (previously Washington Shakespeare Company) and the Providence Players of Fairfax, located mostly in the James Lee Community Center. My one (relatively new) friend, Phyllis, told me about it and we went together. Last year we saw in the same place a quietly poignant Almost Maine by John Cariani. What’s remarkable about this group is they are not content to re-do warhorse famous plays conventionally (very common) but take lesser known contemporary plays and do them originally. Almost Maine had a beautiful set. Durang’s play features extravagantly self-revealing soliloquies on stage by the major characters (when others are present too). It was exhilaratingly depressing. The ending was an imposed temporary happiness between the central brother and two sisters of the play’s nuclear family; it worked because good and charitable feelings were present throughout.

I go to the gym twice a week; one evening I’m taking yoga! would you believe? I’ve joined a monthly book club at the JCC (Peace is like a River is the first book I’ve encountered). Long range: I joined the Gaskell Society: their AGM looks like I might enjoy it.

As to my projects, I plug away and am reading a third of Graham’s remarkable non-Poldark fiction, Marni, Berry’s Portrait of Cornwell (though soon I will switch to books recommended on the Highlands). I have found some excellent books on Cornwall, books whose tone is strengthening because their historical outlook so wide: such a book is The History of Cornwall by F. E. Halliday. I discovered my proposal for a revision on the paper version I read aloud in the Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton Library was actually accepted back in April! it’s due September 30th so here I am driving myself again. I am rereading the book in a more genuine way than I’ve done in a long time, and wish there was a good affordable scholarly edition at a reasonable price.

Again, I have to change this habit of not looking carefully to see what’s happening — on the OLLI at AU as central staging for this year’s Bloomsbury readings, I just turned away from clicking, all the while in mourning over how Jim got to read but one year, time at a DC Irish bar, ending in a community-private barbecue. Instead I spent the long day alone re-reading Ethelinde, going to dentist, allowing cleaning maids to clean house — the week before had been a rehearsal, and the week before that a viewing of Huston’s film, The Dead. It was on the afternoon of the 16th by googling I read a description and could not reach it again. Well I won’t put anything aside for yet another book project I might not be able to finish. Just plug away at it more slowly.

I think about the one full-time job I was offered at LaGuardia and didn’t take lest I not finish my disseration. Why did I not see I could do it later? Why did I not see the job was the most important thing to get then? Other jobs I retreated from, other opportunities to be an editor on-line — that one I put down to fear and anxiety I would not be able to cope and make a fool out of myself. Yes I would not be paid but so what? Yes I’d be more online, but with others. I have to be braver and not be led by anxiety which when I obey just gets reinforced. Should I have tried that 10 hour car trip to Plattsburgh? by the time it came round, I had gotten myself into a such a state, it was beyond me. I have to stop that somehow or other. I am following a Future Learn course on Depression, Anxiety and CBT and think it is helping. Better than anti-depressant pills: very low points this two weeks, I took two different ones two weeks apart and both times became very ill, either traumatized and in a trance but still feeling anxiety and so on, or downright sick, nauseous, terrible taste in my mouth and other very unpleasant execretory symptoms. It’s what the US does: psychiatrists are there to give you pills; and therapists to urge conventional behaviors (I do have a more intelligent one this time, even shows sympathy). The second one may have made my acid reflux disease much worse.


Pete Singer

I’m taking a live, face-to-face course too — OLLI at AU has come alive this summer. An animal rights person, Edward Engebretsen. I began by attending a lecture in May given by Wayne Pacelle, who turns out to be the head of the Humane Society of the US. Probably the most important statement Pacelle made was transparency and regulation are needed to stop cruelty to animals; when you have these, the normalizing of routine great cruelty (especially to farm animals) stops. He named 5 freedoms that animals need to live a fulfilled life. He likened the position of animals to that of refugees, and said matters are complicated: zoos are a place where animals are imprisoned as exhibits; at the same time they can function as a place for rescuing animals.


John Berger

Thus far from the reading materials Engebretson’s given out and his lectures: it was in the 19th century that for modern western society animals receded from visibility for most people. He gave a history of depictions of animals in myth and philosophy from Homer to the 21st century. That sentimental depictions of animals (they are made cute) morphs quickly into displays of cruelty. How do we think about animals? first people experience anxiety around their identities; animals are part of our fantasy life. Someone’s fantasy is the cage in which we are imprisoned. We are distinctly connected to non-human animals in multiple ways. There are three relational positions: dominion, subordination, commodity (using someone). Power relationships govern our lives. In the west we are driven by a human-centered morality. As in the first session, he used a poem by Robert Frost, so now he went through a series of philosophers from Aristotle (there is a continuum between non-human and human animals) to Voltaire (a paragraph about a dog seeking a master because the dog so loves the master, and is then cut to bits for a vivisection when sold. Bentham: the question is not whether they can talk but that they suffer. This time a series of dates from the first legislation in later 18th century US where a bill called for civil rights for animals to early 19th century where the first animal protection act was passed.


Judi Dench and Lisa Dillon as Matty and Mary Smith (narrator of tales)

Much happy reading of Gaskell, yes. Cousin Phillis, Cranford, re-watching Cranford Chronicles late at night (Judi Dench as Matty helps). I have seen two great Daphne DuMaurier film adaptations: late at night by Netflix streaming (which I conquered at last, bought), the 2014 Jamaica Inn, scripted by Emma Frost, featuring Jessica Brown Findlay, and at the Cinema Art Theatre the 2017 My Cousin Rachel, scripted by Roger Michell (who’s done a number of Austen adaptations), featuring Rachel Weisz as Rebecca (she’s dressed to recall Olivia de Haviland in the first film adaptation where Richard Burton was the hero-villain-fool, a Hitchcock concoction). I’ll write about them on Austen reveries.

But how to change because I cannot bear this life without Jim. So that’s where I am. I miss Garrison Keillor on the radio. My largest regret is not having allowed Jim to move us to NYC no matter what the sacrifice in books. I didn’t because I worried for Izzy in college, where would she sleep, the apartments seemed so small, one hardly with windows. If I could go to Shakespeare in the Park, be a little cooler, in a culture I recognize at least parts of, it would help. At a minimum I loathe this enervating heat.

Miss Drake

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Photo of my newly painted house — gentle reader imagine a much lighter, whiter cream color ….

Friends,

Eleven days since I last wrote, and I and Izzy and my older daughter, Laura, are off to Rehoboth Beach on Friday morning to stay in a hotel on the beach front, a suite of rooms where we hope to relax. Sun, wind, fresh air, sand, a boardwalk, I just hope it won’t be too hot — as it has been today.

I’ve had a new pleasant experience — I attended my first face-to-face book club where the people discussed the book for real, Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, such that I wanted to go back and reread because I realized as we talked the book had more depth and varied rich passages and characters than I had given it credit for (Booker Prize winner or no). It’s organized by the OLLI at Mason: serious fiction, with a moderator, all in circle on plain chairs. It’s a bit far for me: Reston, but then I learned how to get there now and it felt worth it. I am listening to a reading of Winston Graham’s sixth Poldark novel, The Four Swans, a fully mature stage within this continuing cycle of novels, about to be dramatized this coming June on the BBC (the third season, which will begin with fifth, The Black Moon). So however tiring, the time in the car is not wasted at all. I look forward to going again; the club meets from September to May. I’m getting better at finding places by car (with my trusty garmin and printed out maps).

I’ve also — unhappy this one — been again astonished by the irresponsibility of doctors at Kaiser when it comes to prescribing drugs (pills). A doctor knowingly prescribed a sleeping pill he must’ve know was addictive and then showed no concern if I was addicted to it. Paid no mind to this aspect of what happened at all. And in true Trump-style manifested a shameless disregard, denial, of obvious truth. After three years and some months of taking a mild depressant each night to help me sleep sufficiently to be able to drive and live my days, I discovered the pill a doctor prescribed is no longer working. I’ve become inured; to make me sleep, I have to take say two pills and they don’t always do the trick — or as much heavier, addictive pill, Restoril, becomes necessary. As my widowhood and the contour of a life that will be mine (with my disabilities over travel, circumstances, placement &c), on my own (as they say) — a long, long road stretching out before me, years I must walk through, I was understanding Julian Barnes’s word for his wife’s “disappearance” as a death-time, since he didn’t and couldn’t forget her, shaping this aftermath; then growing so tired of coping with all sorts of things, deep angst.

So I tell a little of this to the psychiatrist and his reaction: prescribe a pill (new drug!) said to make the patient sleep and provide release from anxiety, Remeron it’s called. He seemed to care that I have a bleeding problem at first; was going to send me to hematology but when he contacted them, he recontacted asking me about bleeding episodes “so so we are on the same page.” Then behaved as if I had had no hemorrhages in my life (when I’ve probably had 4-5). In effect he refused to question an old diagnosis from the oncology and hematology people at Kaiser that I have no hemorrhage problem after I have experienced 4, twice coming near death. That’s not his area. I took one Remeron Tuesday night and found myself in the grip of a trauma, a kind of intense trance where my feelings were no different but at a distance, my body feeling sickened. It was harrowing. I came near a car accident! Not until Thursday noon, did it wear off. I tell this to the psychiatrist and what does he say, Oh, we’ll try another anti-depressant in a couple of days when this wears off. This should be astonishing. Is it? Well, in a mood of self-preservation (what happens when I grow old, I must maintain independence as long as I can), I instead for the next three nights I went “cold turkey,” and took no pills. I felt better physically, more alert than I had in a long time. But I am not sleeping enough — 2-3 hours is not enough.


Vanessa Bell (18791961), gorgeous (just look at that hat) Lady with a Book — from later in her career

I simply returned to segmented sleep, which is my natural pattern, sleep four hours (if I’m lucky), up for a couple where I read in bed, and then hope for another hour or so, from new tiredness. I won’t take any more of these drugs. So a new pattern of daily life is emerging. I’m reading good books at night, and then again just after the second awakening. I might not make it to the gym the way I had been this past winter.

I need a good doctor. Responsible. Looking after my health as an individual.

Leave Kaiser? If I did, I could never go back as I was not the federal employee, it would cost me so much more (I am grandmothered into an earlier deal), and I know from experience when I find myself facing lists of doctors from say an insurance hand-out I don’t know who to go and end up with no one. More than half the time before the HMO I had bad encounters, and no regular doctor. And was fleeced, often disrespected. I remember years ago being charged $37 for five minutes of man’s time – he laughed at me when I said I was suffering from headache. The American health care system is indeed a joke, even when they are not outright fleecing and bankrupting you. I did frighten the present Kaiser psychiatrist by my email to him on the Kaiser site; he phoned me (!) and talked of how he was so concerned, how much thought he had put into this, did I want to come and “chat” (that’s his word for what passes for serious talk with him), and I heard him typing, taking down every word I said lest I sue. That’s why he cares about: his career. (Addiction doesn’t concern him at all. Like some dentists’ attitude towards teeth: the real ones are not as good as the pretty crowns.)

Outside Kaiser I am told this prescribe-drugs and send the patient to a social-worker therapist is the protocol. I did have a good psychiatrist when I went to the Haven for a few months after Jim died — pure luck. She did talk of my past and deeply and helped me see things I had not before. But I lost her when the DMV removed my “driving privileges” and harassed me for months over it (invisible computer monitoring is the way they use the cops to stop people from driving — in the state of Virginia there is a class action suit against the DMV for egregious use of this technique, among other things impoverishing people who can’t get to their jobs) and I couldn’t reach her any more. American institutions, American lack of public transportation. Deep culture here? from many practices followed, isolation structured in.


An interesting mid-20th century painter, John Piper who I read about recently in the LRB: Chicester Cathedral from the Deanery

Just one small life — insignificant against the unfolding of the Trump regime (stop gentle reader and watch this two-part Dutch documentary). Today I spent some 5 hours altogether at the OLLI at AU anniversary party/luncheon (they have been going for 35 years) where Diane Reims spoke. While she is a decent woman I can see, intelligent I did discover why I never listened much: too schmaltzy, too mainstream, and they applauded her for her sentiments a couple of times. What a group these people are. Many went to private colleges, even Ivy League and this in the 1950s, or early 60s. Many of them slightly older than me, most just luckier than me. Many came from genuinely middle class families which led to their careers. So many were lawyers — the men of course. All with grown children, two to four, grandchildren, traveling as a pair to them in say Switzerland or Florida. Though I know there are some single women there (divorced, widowed).

I sat with the good intelligent woman who was the teacher of the Woolf class I attended, who herself used to teach at University of Maryland. It was good talk — of the Brontes, the neglected Anne, the greatness of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Emily Bronte’s poetry, DuMaurier’s powerful Branwell Bronte (a biography) and Gaskell’s Life of Bronte. She and her husband used to go sailing down from Cape May to Bermuda (never did get caught by pirates); she described wonderful evenings after a day’s sail, friends where their crew. She travels regularly; rents apartments in Italy, there for art biennales (the Venice one), goes on hiking trips to Maine with him (at 80); he was a tenured professor of chemistry, Emeritus. I was again berating myself for when Jim suggested we learn to sail decades ago, somehow we never did it — he had found a flyer about lessons; maybe it was my fault; my nervousness; there was the problem of having a boat — we couldn’t afford to own one and Linda and her husband did own a boat.

Through it all I felt how lucky this woman has been. She attributed to her husband the sailing expeditions. He knew how. (Jim could have learned; it would have been good for him.) I was wishing too how I had bought some summer house when he suggested that — somehow we’d go out and look and not do it, not buy — they were another mortgage. He did love boats — or the idea of boats from his growing up in Southampton. I remember one year he said let’s go to this Renaissance conference in Italy and I demurred. Why? shy? in Florence it was. Had we done that would we have begun to go to Italy regularly? with what money? well, he was making enough to go to England and Landmark Trust houses. My fault he and I didn’t live the life we could have?

Others at this table and elsewhere were talking of their Road Scholar vacations and casual holiday in historical places, and I can’t do this — to go on a tour by myself I will have to get up immense courage, to the Lake District and just beyond, it’s 14 days and $5,000. The places to look at sound alluring. Do I want to go to this schedule, I’d have to buy some clothes, sit down with others to 3 meals a day and so on. Would I enjoy this? strangers. What would they be like? I’m told by people that you make acquaintances, even can get sort of close, but then the trip is over, the relationship ends.

But I long for a good life: it’s like I died just as I retired. Jim had been retired for 8 years or so and then I retired, but my life depended on his and his ways, so his dying within a year of my retiring is in effect the death of the life I would have had — it might not have been like these people probably, but in that direction. I had a sort of revulsion or came home from it exhausted. Nervous. I left a little early, had endured enough I felt — everyone talking of the courses we teach or take. Meaning well. It was relief to leave. I said to myself I am over 70 and I don’t want to be pressured — felt so just intensely reluctant at what profession I had had (the offer of that adjunct at the Georgetown place in an innovative BA program for older returning students, the first year I was widowed which I flubbed, couldn’t seem to cope with the dean). I’d have to learn Blackboard, or some other latest technology and cope seriously with students. Eagerness comes from youth, from hope. And my learning curves in tech are so deep.

What life would I gain this way? Tired after a lifetime of in my way trying hard, repeated perhaps making bad and wrong decisions but not because I didn’t care and didn’t mean to end up well — because at the time they were what seemed best, what I could do, what I was led to do, yes by Jim’s advice too; he would say why beat your head against a wall driving two hours to get to this job? I hoped I would somehow know some fulfillment and I did for a time, after I came onto the Net and for say 15 years. I did fear so, that he would die youngish, but turned away from the possibility this disaster would happen. Dreaded it too much. He did leave me solvent, in this comfortable house, with 10,000 books …. our lives history.

Julian Barnes’s phrase is deathtime — a person has a lifetime and then afterward a deathtime in the memory of the life left behind … and in the memory of others (in say books).


A dream picture: put on face-book for another FB friend, Harold Knight (1874-1961), Morning Sun

I finished Oliphant’s Kirsteen this week, in the end a flawed satisfying book, like others of hers (deserves a separate blog). I tell myself I’m still working towards a possible book on “The Anomaly,” and serious reading there has shown me there were very few women living alone until 1850 (in any kind of comfort or safety). Not possible. Not allowed an income to do it on, not allowed the security of knowing no one can break in. And I’m reading a delightful Portrait of Cornwall by Claude Berry. Wonderful black-and-white, grey, photos from all over Cornwall.

Teaching has come to an end for now. I did have a wonderful findal session with the class group at the OLLI at Mason over the profoundly moving Last Orders by Graham Swift. They loved it too. Since then I returned to Waterland, the book and film. Soon I’ll start preparing for this summer’s course: historical fiction, old fashioned first, DuMaurier’s King’s General, which I remember as so erotic, lyrical, so melancholy (the heroine crippled in a wheelchair), and then the post-colonial, post-modern, anti-foundational type, Sontag’s immensely brilliant The Volcano Lover. My review work includes Nick Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte.


One of Laura’s four cats, either they cooperate more or she is better at capturing them in a photo ….

Since Nine O’Clock

Half past twelve. The time has passed quickly
since I first lit the lamp at nine o’clock,
and sat down here. I’ve sat without reading,
without speaking. With whom could I speak,
all alone in this house?

Since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
a ghostly image of my adolescent body
came to me, reminding me
of closed and scented chambers,
and past pleasures – what brazen pleasures!
It brought before my eyes
streets now unrecognizable,
bars once filled with movement, now closed,
cafes and theatres that once existed.

The vision of my body in its youth
brought sorrowful memories also:
the grieving of my family, separations,
the feelings I had for my own kin, feelings
for the dead, whom I little acknowledged.

Half past twelve; how the time has passed.
Half past twelve; how the years have passed

— C. P. Cavafy — one of Jim’s favored poets — I have the book of his poetry in my house

Too late, too late, too late, turning to see too late.

Probably I ought to start signing Ellen

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Friends,

It doesn’t look very sunny, does it? The green on the walls is a lighter color too. But as I did manage one photo which sort of gives a feel of this room as an extension of the rest of my house, I put it at the opening of this blog. I should probably have written this early this week as it was this past weekend where I had two experiences that provided me with oases of pleasure comparable to those I used to know with Jim.

The first was to go on Saturday afternoon to a Washington Performance Center in Northwest Washington, part of the University of the District of Columbia: Javier Perianes, a pianist played with extraordinary feeling and nuance music by Schubert, Debussy, a modern Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. It meant I could not participate in the march on behalf of environmentalism (billed as people demanding that Trump’s admininistration recognize climate change and pollution and do something about it), and I regretted I could not be with them out above the underground Metro, but it was a rare treat for me. A friend who is a Johnsonian (meaning he has spent his life studying and writing about Samuel Johnson) and who seems to share other of my tastes (Virginia Woolf) shared an extra ticket with me and so before the concert I had some good conversation about poetry, biography, and with a third friend who came along Booker Prize books (what I’ve been teaching this semester). I did not know about this performance center, before this how to get there, and to look for musical concerts there. Now I do.

The second was truly a joy, and an unexpected one. On Sunday was the last of the Folger Consort series, billed as “The Play of Love: enchanting songs of the 13th century. There were (astonishingly) only three instrumentalists: two men, long time members of this consort, Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall, and a “guest artist,” Shira Kammen, played several different medieval, early Renaissance instruments, and 17th century instruments. The center were two singers, a soprano, Emily Noel, and bass-baritone, Peter Becker (who I’ve heard there before) who sang these unexpectedly witty songs, some showing one or other of the lady and her lover in love, or not, defying one another or another lover, some simply deeply melancholy, others telling a suggestive story. Put altogether and alternating with instrumental pieces, it felt like we were at a play.

We were given beautifully printed brochures with the songs in the original French on one side, and facing English translations on the other. I’ve saved these. It’s medieval troubadour poetry: authors include anonymous, Richart de Semelli, Colin Muset, Conom de Bethune, Etienne de Meaux, Chatelain de Coucy. I was impressed by how the male was far more openly vulnerable, showing his suffering, than the female who kept herself guarded: my favorite by and for him was “The Sweet Voice of the Nightingale;” by and for her, “Beautiful Doetteis sitting by the window” and “Would you like me to sing you/A charming song of love.” On the screen of the stage, were pictures of couples from various illuminated manuscripts, colored in appealing ways — not as gilt-filled as probably they might appear on a page — in various postures, vignettes, on the cover her with a lute, he with a smaller stringed instrument. Over the years since this group started (apparently 50 or 5 decades), they have learned how to put on a deeply satisfying, non-commercialized experience. Izzy and I had come by car so we got home in plenty of time to make ourselves a meal we liked and have some good talk together.

I tell about these two experiences not just as a diary entry but to recommend to anyone who comes to DC or gets online to participate in website experiences these are fine groups and institutions.

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A new online picture I liked: Howard Phipps: Salisbury Waters Meadow Shadows: Bemerton rectory where George Herbert once lived

I realized this past week why I am feeling newly grief-struck or feeling a sense of loss once again so deep that some days I don’t know what I’m alive for, once whatever it is I’ve been at is over. These were not the only passing good moments I had. On the Monday at the OLLI at AU, as a teacher I had such an enjoyable class over Dickens’s great ghost story of the railways, “The Signalman,” on Tuesday, as class member, the last of a fully cheering semester of reading four Virginia Woolf texts, and then a lunch with the teacher who is become a new friend. (I’ve decided I must broaden my definitions of friend to include many of the people I know to talk to in the places I go regularly, or online.) She got her Ph.D. when she was nearly 60 and only afterwards taught for some 15 years at the University of Maryland, 19th century novels (her area of expertise). Wednesday another good time at the OLLI at Mason as teacher of a class where we discussed Ondaatje’s English Patient, book and movie. Thursday I was busy doing all the chores I had not done all week, including buying a tablecloth for the dining room table for the dinner Izzy and I are going to do this Sunday. I saw Laura and spent time with her, and I think that we will have a good time, she and I and Izzy the weekend of May 19th at a hotel on Rehoboth beach. Then today a luncheon for the teachers at OLLI at AU. I talked with people where I learned new things, gathered different attitudes than the ones Jim and I shared of interest and validity, and saw a few old friends I’d not seen this semester as the new quarters for this OLLI (a single building just a few blocks from the main campus) don’t allow for as much regular social life as the three churches where it was located used to.

Online I had good conversations across the week, wrote a couple of good blogs (The English Patient: a post-colonial text; The Handmaid’s Tale, novel and films) and I am hoping to find satisfaction in my projects for reading and writing this summer. I’ve a course to teach: historical fictions set in the long 18th century (aka DuMaurier’s King’s General and Sontag’s The Volcano Lover). I even got myself to buy a subscription for Hulu and have begun watching The Handmaid’s Tale. On Hulu I find wonderful BBC mini-series that never came to the US. I am learning how to stream.

I have not been able to get myself to make any more travel plans than the weekend with Izzy and Laura, but am following, not trying to force myself, not fighting this impulse not to go anywhere for a while, unless I am sure I will enjoy it or it has a good purpose in my mind.

So what’s wrong? Yes, I am daily and nightly sickened by what is being done by this fascist white nationalist gov’t: health care will be taken from at least 24 million people over the next few years; hundreds of people are daily being killed abroad in the middle east and elsewhere by the US military. It’s become official black people will be murdered with impunity on the streets of the US. My awareness of this certainly doesn’t help my spirits. Today I listened to Amy Goodman interviewing Yassar Louati, a French human rights and civil liberties activist and researcher. He is the only voice I’ve heard discussing how Macron, the opponent of the close to Nazi candidate, Marine le Pen is very bad news for working and lower middle class people in France. A neo-liberal, he will try to run France as a corporation and his great plan is to “launch a nation of startup companies.” I was struck by this phrase: the working people will be “stuck as a digital proletariat: huge corporations onine making thousands and millions of people sell their labor without much benefits.” I am aware nowadays I give mine away and do not forget Jim’s words at any rate: he was deeply against the spread of volunteer work in US society.

But that is not why I can’t sleep more than 3 hours in a row, am troubled with self-recriminating thoughts about how I have made very stupid decisions all my life that left me basically alone once I leave these group meetings. Why did I not take up this full-time appointment at a community college 40 years ago, and perhaps that would have kept Jim and I in NYC and I would be living in New York now — so much preferred as my cultural group.

It’s this: the long glow and feeling of Jim’s companionship which did sustain me for 45 years is gone. The air is silent, there’s no warmth there. As I look at my and his books, they seem there almost to no purpose. And this is never going to change because it’s too late for me to be woven into anything human elsewhere deeply. Thus I feel strong anxiety as it was his presence that made all safe. He made the world continually okay for me and now it’s continually empty of him.

It’s taken over three years for me to reach this point of understanding for and about my condition. More generally, I think the state of widowhood, for older women especially because most cannot find a new partner is one few people are prepared to understand or acknowledge. So you are not going to read about it truthfully presented. It’s a product of a patriarchy where the family group most of them based on the male earner is the foundation structure of daily meaning and experience. I’m only beginning to apprehend what it is to be outside this when (as I think not all that uncommon though perhaps my case is more extreme in some ways) someone has nothing continually to shore her up as meaningful deeply. Which is what I had with him. Why I was willing to live the way I did with him.


Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Lilacs in a Window

I close on Muriel Rukeyser’s The Speed of Darkness, which you may find here, gentle reader: I link in the text rather than type it out because the spaces and dispositions of the lines are important and hard to match. Rightly remembered lines:

I am working out the vocabulary of my silence

Nothing is more violent than silence ….

I’s a poem that could be an epitaph to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s important today because its existence reminds us this is not the first time a ruling clique (gang) has openly and shamelessly and lyingly deprived millions of people of services and money necessary for their very lives. The Nazi period went further in its barbarism but it was of the same kind, precisely. This week on Trollope19thCStudies we finished a six-week reading and discussion of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, written only a couple of years after Percy Bysshe’s death by drowning. The book fails or is very weak because Mary was unable as yet (or ever) to wrench herself free of the set of beliefs in Shelley’s goodness and greatness that sustained her through her years of traumatic suffering (the price of his companionship) so could not find a metaphoric story to express her deep sense of personal loss and savage critique of the social and political world in which she found herself. She might have wanted to, but she at least she did not fall silent, went on to write two more novels, much journalism (short researched biographies), travel volumes (however censored because she had to please the hostile father-in-law for her and her son’s sake). The book Speaking of Torture (which I reviewed in my Ellen and Jim have a blog, two space) has essays demonstrating that those victims of torture, the millions put in concentration, slave and death camps who fall silent are those who die quickest.

Yes to Rukeyser: we must not be silent — we may fear some risk nowadays, all of us, and we may feel our voices are so useless with people in power who are ruthless and control all legitimate violence — silence is the product of slow violence. Her imagery could be taken from Handmaid’s Tale. In her Three Guineas, Woolf argued that one basis of the militarized patriarchy is the complicity of women.

Miss Drake

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Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60): In the garden gardening

You did it for yourself, for you to be comfortable and take pleasure in — my therapist about this year’s renovations

Dear friends and readers,

I realize I’ve not been posting regular diary entries. As I’ve said (doubtless too often) I am probably in yet another phase of learning what it is to be a widow like me (not all that individual as a number of aspects of my situatio are found across the population). For me another fuller sense of what my loss means in terms of what my life is and can be like. Jim was my fortress of friends, and at my age, given how social life is organized, and my own particular version of if, the invisible ignored adjunct, I find I end up shaking some days after an unbroken period of literal aloneness. I am fortunate in having a deeply companionable online life; other widows have more family or career relationships. In the US generally people rely on their churches (or synagogues, meeting houses, mosques). I’m an atheist. I would be so much better off with a pub culture for the evenings. More prosaically until tonight I have not found a day when I could say definitely I have succeeded in my goals for renovation. This is something you can find older widows doing: renovating their houses. I try for each of my blogs to have something good to tell of.

So, as of several nights ago (about a week) I am the possessor of two items Virginia Woolf says I must have to be a woman writer of fiction. To be fair, I had a room of my own since the later 1980s when Jim and I turned a small room meant to be another bedroom into my study. It had become overloaded 10 years ago: too much stuff, too many projects, not orderly in its central thought-through core. But now I have a second room, and the fitted in porch space turned into a room crosses the yards of the house space. My study in 9 by 12; the new “sun-room” (it has two very large windows facing the front street — very old fashioned that) stretches out to something like 12 by 20 feet. It is colored light green with white trim. A very 18th century color scheme (as I discovered this is not popular when I paid for) shades a very pretty soft green. A photo would not capture the feel of this space. It does not fit most definitions: I find the workmen and contractor didn’t know quite what to call it and settled on sun-room. So I have taken my term from them. In the morning this room faces east and the sun comes shining in as it does in my dining room.

I also have a floor at the entrance to my house — a side door which is the culmination of something I have been unable to think of a better word for than a stoop (indestructible cement — well if someone dropped a drone on it I could see it shattering). This is a long impossible to explain story.

Only the surface events: we move as tenants into “this old house” in December 183, and discover a cast iron tub with feet leaks across the vestibule to the entrance of the house and probably hither and yon, meaning it loosens the once splendid parquet floors across a large front room area. We are able to buy said house four years later (June 1987) and hire a plumber to stop leaks, discover there were termites and get rid of them (but not before some base boards were devoured in this central wettish area). In a closet right next to the tub this plumber fixes said tub (he says don’t throw out cast iron even with feet) and rebuilds the floor with plain (but real) wood.

We are told in later years (1990s) twice to do anything about the vestibule where the tiles are can be regarded as a puzzle. one must put back into order every once in a while, we would have to remove all our bookcases from the front half of said house, and practically move out to replace the whole floor. How many times in this house have I had contractors tell me the house is about to fall down, or any small job is somehow an enormous one. But after Jim died, a kindly older man nearby (father to the chairwoman of the Home-Owners Association) fixed my fence after snow did some damage and told me “nonsense, you can certainly replace this small area of flooring.” I didn’t forget that remark, and when the contractor who succeeded in (in effect) doing my sun-room for much less money than a permit would have demanded (the requirements make money for the building industry) said, what else do I need done and I showed him this floor he gave me 3 small businessmen.

None of all this could have happened but that I made a friend who told me of these small businessmen contractors. Jim and I knowing no one fell back on these larger companies, and they do what they can to fleece you while cutting corners on fundamental upgradings.

Nonetheless, making a new floor for the vestibule was (like so much else in this house) a bad trial. The young man discovered asbestos riddled everywhere in a floor whose glue was 70 years old. He tried to remove the asbestos and glue in an inexpensive way and the result was a poisonous muck in the front area of my house. He worked on it for two days but since Izzy and I are living here (apparently the done thing is to lodge elsewhere) at night he had to leave the area somewhat cleared. Quarrels, he blamed me, and (as with enclosing the porch after the city got after me and my contractor) I began to despair. He found another option and (not as good) he “floated” a new wood floor using 3 strong pads on top of the dried concrete. I assure my reader it is a beautiful looking floor: a honey wood, he make all sorts of new baseboards, interim wood for thresholds. It’s as if for the 1st time in 33 years I have floor at my entrance. He also replaced a 30+ year old outdoor green carpet on the stoop (vile by this time) with a much more expensive silvery-brown one that is glued to the stoop! and a welcome mat. I did ask myself, “Why I waited this long?” I did say to myself no wonder people who came into the house were put off.

I’ve used the opportunity to have fewer bookcases in this new vestibule and in my dining area. I moved four bookcases into the new sun-room. It is by no means overwhelmed. One is a low wide one containing all my DVDs and books on CD and notebooks of films studies, another a narrow one for women’s studied. Two crossing one wall (and hiding a door) come from the dining area which is now less oppressed by having too much in it.

I hope I am not boring you, gentle reader. I will claim the authority of tradition. I’ve read enough early modern diaries by women to know that it is this kind of detail Elizabethan and 17th century women provide concretely when they are comfortably (because no fear of publication) writing of their life experience. Nothing the enormously wealthy (I’m not) Elizabeth Hardwicke and Anne Clifford like better to do than make a new sound floor. And they love to rebuild the outside of their houses. I can’t compete but my pièce de résistance is my whole house is now a beautiful, stunningly if I may say so myself, cream color. I was astonished to see that in fact power-washing does remove the previous coat (Jim doubted it would and feared we’d spend another $7000 for a worse color — maybe the compounds have improved). The dark red maple in the front and the white flowers and silver ferns are eye-pleasing enough for someone who can handle their cell phone camera better than I can. Gentle reader, rest satisfied with my words.


More by Evelyn Dunbar — in lieu of photographs of my house, which will not impress my reader. The simple modest changes I made and their beauty can only be seen in the reality (after all two of the walls are still brick outside walls in my sun-room, it’s the contrast of what was on the stoop; a hardwood floor is not glamorous; and the cream color itself somehow does not hit the eye strongly in my photo

Looking back, then, since Jim and I got hold of the money my mother unexpectedly left me, it’s been on and off renovation after renovation, starting with rebuilding 2 1947 bathrooms in March 2013. Summer 2013 rebuilding chimneys and major machines in the industrial closet (cleverly disguised as the back of a fireplace/hearth by an architect, Joseph Beach, whose work based on Wright has largely been destroyed across this neighborhood). Then starting in October 2016 redoing a good deal of the kitchen (though not replacing the large appliances except for the dishwasher), including pipes rebuilt, electricity recovered up to “code” in the attic (I have an attic), ending in November. Then starting up again in March for this new room of my own (porch transformed to a comfortable living space), all sorts of small but significant improvements (getting rid of unnecessary doors – yes houses from the 1940s had meandering halls and unnecessary doors), a smoke detector system, new lights in the ceilings (no more pull chains). A ceiling fan! — very pretty in the my official “front” or living room where the TV, piano, what passes for two sofas, and is a honey wood coffee table resides. On the two occasions since Jim died I have had guest, we’ve sat in that area and I’ve had a couple of women friends now and again there.

My latest therapist, a decent well-meaning intelligent young (in her 30s) cognitive therapist said in response to my plaintive I wish I had someone to invite and come into the house and “warm” it with praise, and I only will see it, that one fixed one’s house for yourself. And I’ve not had any kind of party or people for dinner over since the 1970s. I don’t know how any more (not that I ever did). I am thinking of trying for a dinner for my neighbor across-the-street who introduced me to all these contractors and had Izzy and I over for Thanksgiving dinner with her son.

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Eileen Atkins performing Woolf in a reading of A Room of One’s Own (she wrote the screenplay for Mrs Dalloway)

My teaching and being a class member are going well: in one we have moved from Gaskell’s masterpiece, North and South to Trollope’s, Framley Parsonage; in the other, from Penelope Fitzgerald’s Bookshop to JL Carr’s Month in the Country onto Ondaatje’s English Patient). As class member I reread Mrs Dalloway, to the Lighthouse (and watched the two marvelous films), A Room of One’s Own and many of the essays in the first Common Reader. The class is fun as the teacher knows how to coax people into revealing their views of these books.
Virginia Woolf’s Monk House — a country residence

How Chekhovian is Woolf? I went to Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Kennedy Center. It was not just performed in Russian with English subtitles (in 2 inconvenient places if you are trying to take in much nuanced movement and acting and words). The production taught me I don’t sufficiently appreciate how hard subtitles are if you really want the audience to understand who is speaking to who and what’s happening — because you must epitomize. I leaving with a new feeling: along side the desperation of these aristocrats to find something to do: for the first time I saw Chekhov as comic. the players were half-mocking the intense melancholy, delivering the lines so differently. Attitudinizing funnily. This may not be Chekhov as his stories translated well are not like this. Cheknov’s Three Sisters is aimlessly, feelingly inconsequential much that is done. This is closely aligned with the movie, To the Lighthouse, which uses many of Woolf’s dialogues and words. The film with Rosemary Harris and Michael Gough as Mr and Mrs Ramsay is not funny or mocking but there is this utterly Chekhovian life going on feel — if only she could have been thrown off somewhere into deep (a cliff). One of Woolf’s essays in her Common Reader, “From the Russian Point of view, ” concentrates on Chekhov who she does discuss as intensely melancholy but she would have been aware of this aspect of his art which resembles hers. No imposed patterns.

I did wonder if this was rather the reaction of a common wider harder sensibility which finds the Chekhovian point of view ludicrous because in his prose (as translated) I’ve never seen much of this parody. And for me it didn’t work, quite. Apart from the inadequate subtitling, the play seemed to make no sense. If they weren’t grieving, frustrated, bitter and so on, then what was this all about: happy family pictures (because several times all the actors get together and have a happy family photo)? or sudden out bursts of dancing (this too happened). Some scenes of love-making were presented seriously but there was no over-arching idea.

So I’m not Cheknov is comic but it’s clear that the cast presented it this way and in the audience many Russian people were laughing. At the same time while people were not leaving in droves at the intermission, I was by no means alone going down the escalator to the garage for my car to go home. But it’s clear that Woolf in her To the Lighthouse (and its film) is the serious Cheknov

It’s been something of a Russian week: I saw the HD screening of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

We are not told the librettist most of the time, and a plethora of writers including Pushkin are cited in Wikipedia. I went because of my reading and discussion of Tolstoy’sWar and Peace the last half year has excited my interest in Russia Literature, and what I enjoyed most or what held me truly was the story: this inward story of twisted people. I have not been able to carry on reading the biography of Sophia Tolstoy I started but I hope to return to it when we finally get back to Tolstoy and Anna Karenina. The story moves slowly in Deborah Warner’s production (Fiona Shaw the director) but the sets are what they should be and not overdone. But I did stay the whole of the performance: I’ve not been doing that lately. I know this is very unusual but I find Anna Nebtrebko dull, unable to act, stiff, and any scene she’s in feels somehow tedious in places, but I admit she has a gloriously beautiful voice and can sing for hours. The conventional costumes suited her too. Still for me when she’s in something it is never what it could be since acting counts.

Still I stayed. I just loved Alexey Dolgov’s plaintive (poignant) rendition of Lenski’s aria before the duel (fatal to him). I had never heard it before and thought the man sung so poignantly. Mattei is very great: handsome, beautiful voice, he can act. I’ve seen the movie of Onegin with Fiennes in the role.

Someday maybe I’ll read the novel in verse. I’ve only an old copy — not a good modern translation at all. The interviews felt phony over the source — Renee Fleming would ask the Russian singer how much the poem had meant to him or her, and they would say ever since a young child. Haaa…

Nineteenth century English novels in verse include Aurora Leigh, The Ring and the Book, the form was used: George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy, which is good and I’ve even read! It’s good I’m remembering that this morning.

At home I watched on DVD, a marvelous 2002 film adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, scripted by Douglas McGrath. I was deeply moved and for the first time had a real feel for what this famous book by Dickens is. My father thought NN the most characteristically Dickens of all his books. I had realized that Smike (Jamie Bell) was another of Dickens’s disabled characters and he dies of the world’s treatment of him. Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) befriends but cannot save him. I had not understood who or what the Cheerybles or Crummies are. By unashamedly and boldly dramatizing the simple goodness, or exploitation and suffering of the characters, the burlesque-like caricatures against the sheer evil of the Squeers (inimitable performances by Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson) and hypocritical insidious venom of Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer), McGrath crossed the wide range of emotion. The women cast included Romolai Garai as Kate Nickleby, Anna Hathaway as Madeleine Bray, for comic good people Timothy Squall, Tom Courtney (the butler who betrays Ralph), Sophie Thomson as Mrs Lacreevy, and a rare ambiguous presence. Phil Davis.

I have a beautiful illustrated edition of the book from my father’s collection, and perhaps if we all are here and the destruction of Net Neutrality does not thrown the last wrench at Yahoo, we could as a group read the book together. It’s be the only way I’d read it 🙂


Nicholas and Smike on the road of life

Another brilliant use of over-the-topness is Ozon’s Frantz.

Not much else notable. I listen in my car to good dramatic readings of the Poldark novels (the dark Black Moon right now). but it seems I may not be able to throw myself into a literary biography of Graham.

The first half would have told Winston Graham’s life, where I would bring out how important Cornwall was to him but not dwell on this at length, keep it in perspective across a whole life. I would be discreet as large numbers of the people involved with various aspects of your father’s life are still living. In this first half of the book I would then discuss his non-Poldark books as a group, mostly the contemporary novels. I would bring out those elements in this which connect them to his historical fiction (the characters, the archetypal situations), situate them in their eras, evaluate them (I am aware of how much rewriting there was). The second half of the book would begin with how much Cornwall meant to him, be about Cornwall, and also historical fiction. A fairly long section (proportionate to the book’s size) on the Poldark novels, the couple of historical fictions set in Cornwall, would come then. I’d end on a film study of the two mini-series.

I’ve now written Winston Graham’s son, Andrew twice (email and snail mail) and he doesn’t even deign a response; my next try will be the assistant of the man who was Winston Graham’s agent for many years. I can’t begin to do research unless I know I will have permission to quote sources in the library, and a contact with an editor at Macmillan say would perform a miracle. I’ve never had many miracles in my life: the only I can think of was meeting and marrying Jim. It was to be Winston Graham, Cornwall and the Poldark world (or novels):

Consequently I’ve begun reading as a book project (early stages) on “The anomaly” and am so enjoying Oliphant’s Kirsteen. How anxious and involved with the heroine I am. Women to include Margaret Oliphant, Geraldine Jewsbury, Anna Jameson, Julia Kavanagh ….

I don’t know that I have it in me to write fiction but I could write about fiction, through literary lenses on fiction. That way I can express myself indirectly.

On our Trollope19thCStudies yahoo listserv, we are just finishing Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, about which I’ll blog separately — bringing in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale which I’ve managed to see the first terrifying episode of on Hulu.

Tomorrow is the Climate Change March in DC and I am going. I’ll be on the trains on my way to a concert with a friend (!) at the University of the District of Columbia (lovely classical music if I make it), and on Sunday, the Folger Concert again, this time The Play of Love, about which I’ll write in my next diary entry.

Miss Drake

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Photo taken by Izzy at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC this week

She who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

Dear friends,

I’ve not been writing here because I’ve been so busy with trying to keep up with my teaching, reading with friends on a listserv, on good reads, and seeing if I can develop a project on a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels — I’m listening to a good reading on CDs of Warleggan.

If this were all.

I’ve also been involved with enclosing my porch, again trying to renovate or improve or alter parts of my house (the doors once again, electricity): among other things, a deeply spiteful neighbor apparently researched records available to discover I and the contractor had not taken out a permit to enclose said porch and registered a complaint with “code administration.” Or so I think — this man has done similar things to others, and once before said something to me which suggested he had been researching my title to my house! I am told he is an ex-FBI agent, retired; he was urging me to move. Maybe my house was bringing down property value — especially the kind of modest renovation we are doing. So today the contractor and I spent a long day at City Hall “pulling a permit” by proving to the city what the contractor was doing was adequate work, although it does need to be upgraded to prevent damp from destroying the room. Sigh. The truth is I’m not sure that this man will do the job and I don’t know how to get back to the screened porch. Jim was against enclosing the porch because it would cost far too much for the small room we would get out of it. The plain truth is also I have not that much use for it: yes another bookcase, a comfortable chair, lamp, table, maybe an exercise machine. I was trying no longer to be the neighborhood eyesore. I may (as last year over Expedia) have lost a lot of money. It won’t result in anyone wanting to buy the house for a larger sum; whoever buys it will regard the house as a tear-down.

So who has the heart to write?

The question that emerges in this newly rotten environment — that humanity, decency, privacy, reciprocal loyalty, obedience to human, civil, legal rights are ignored are nothing to the renewed resurgence of murder of hundreds of people and more to come in the middle east — so what’s a little local tyranny — is, how do I — how do you, gentle reader — avoid the rot.

The rot seeps in
The rot seeps in everywhere

Nowadays the best, maybe the only way to reach my friends as a group is through my own timeline on face-book. It’s time-consuming to click on one at a time and I’ve over 250 friends — all of whom I know in some way, many well. My general “feed” is filled with ads. I read the Republicans and Trump are signing away our privacy: if you use any large company for your email, they have the right to sell your data. Who would have their soul sold? My gmail is filled with junk in two categories. Commercial values, commodification shapes all experiences and people rightly flee back to exclusive pre-set-up groups. Face-book pages on topics seek to belong to institutions and rules are set up to control interchanges which put a damper on what can be said, what can be shared: rules make sure only what’s socially acceptable to belong to the agency or institution, or “on topic” is allowed and that is hemmed in. Only the NSA can read our private emails (we hope)– only! People I meet and talk to live these apart single lives as they obey the demands of capitalism today — for a job, a scholarship, as a groundwork for belonging. Adorno was accurate, prophetic is Patrick Wright on Journey through London’s Ruins. Time is money is no innocent utterance.

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This past week I shut this out by the classes I was teaching in and the class I am now attending: in Virginia Woolf, with a professor who is a better teacher than I am. She has strong self-confidence and doesn’t need to have extensive notes to talk from and is able to coax gently and create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect whereby a lot of the people in the room exchange views, high-minded on a great fiction, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.


Rupert Graves as the rightly suicidal Septimus, Amelia Bullmore, Rezia


Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway who says it was the only way to protect one’s soul …

I’ve seen three great films: (on a DVD on my computer) Ashgar Farhadi’s The Past (the film is searingly honest about people’s utter selfishness, sudden turns of intensely hot temper and resentment, spite without being judgemental); (on another DVD) the extraordinarily subtle Merchant-Ivory Mrs Dalloway, screenplay Eileen Atkins, where the filmic art captures the verbal art and meaning of the novel exquisitely; at my local Cinema Art with a friend, the moving film adaptation by Ritesh Batra and Nick Payne of Julian Barnes’s latest great novel, Man Booker winner for 2011, The Sense of an Ending.

I’ve kept up my friendships on-line.

This was Izzy’s week home: she’s started a new (if brief) touching song; as I watched her watch the World Championship Ice-skating contests at Helsinki, I suddenly asked, where is the next one: why in March 2018 it’s in Milan, Italy we learned. So she and I are going together next year: we’ll take two full weekends on either side and I can take buses and trains to nearby Italian towns and cities I’ve wanted to go to for years: like Brescia, Veronica Gambara’s home. Laura “signed” on and said she’d come and go to the fashion shows going on at that time. Milan —


Galileo as painted by Giusto Sustermans — but see Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (better yet, read it)

Tonight I spent 3 hours traveling by public transportation (and on foot) to go to the Folger to see an hour and one half staged reading of excerpts James Reston and Bonnie Nelson Schwartz’s Galileo’s Torch: a series of scenes showing Galileo joyous with discovery with his aristocratic friend-supporter in Venice, gradually driven when he leaves for Rome and Florence (why we are not told) by the power of the relentless church authorities to recant publicly (the threat is torture). The great actors (Edward Gero as Galileo, Michael Toylaydo as the Grand Inquisitor), the accompanying Renaissance music by the Folger Concert, a soprano singing two early 17th century songs, with a screen showing drawings and passages from Galileo’s Starry Messenger as well as beautiful shots of our universe (prettied up of course) — it was worth the travel, gentle reader. This was my second of three times this week at the Folger. The first was to see the HD screening of The Tempest from Stratford-upon-Avon. Sunday matinee Izzy and I go to the Folger for the full concert called Starry Messenger.

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Those are canines, people: as men legislate women’s health care and don’t want to pay for pregnancy …

Shutting the rot out: well here’s a meditation on where we see it continually and how to walk around it.

I admit for the ironic semi-amusement as well as edification of the people in the second course I’m giving (the first is on City and County Victorian novels, plus one Victorian Gothic) here is part of my opening gambit on the Booker Prize niche:

In the last 30 or more years ours has become a prize obsessed culture. Not everybody has won and not everybody’s prize is as good as others, but many win and they are advertised. It’s not just books: I asked Izzy if there are any ice-skating shows any more not connected to prizes? She replied: hardly any. From films, to sports, to classical music, to tattoo art; a concept of art as everything a contest. It does debase the art or sport or whatever: it’s about the relationship of any art to money first and foremost: prizes equate art with money and they enable art and artists to make more money. Then politics of all sorts, power, social and cultural agendas, power, prestige. Ironic that as inequality is still growing apace – or maybe to be expected that an art work is valued by its social capital – that’s a Bourdieu phrase. You can trade in the world with money as capital, but trading cards and chits also include your rank, status, institution, the red carpet extravaganzas are just an obscenely obvious edge of it. BAFTAs, Oscars, Emmy, Grammies, as each one is co-opted the prize is less given for the quality of whatever it was but who the artist is, who connected to. So once upon a time a Golden Globe may have meant a good movie, now it’s just like the Oscars.

It might seem and is a natural human activity but not to the extent it’s taken over. How this has come about and why tells us about our communications industry I suppose, but it’s more than that. Any comments or suggestions. There’s no correct answer. We could give Hitler a great fascist dictator. No one has come near him as yet. As our esteemed tweeter would say “tremendous.” Now in each profession probably a different set of circumstances could and would be produced to explain why.

In the case of books, in mid-century there was this problem distinguishing “serious fiction” from genre and junk fiction as TV and other medias spread and as paperbacks spread. Yes one explanation for the booker is the invention and spread of paperbacks which put books in the hands of people who could not afford hardbacks. The marketplace was flooded with low and middle brow paperback books. There suddenly was a collapse of a number of understood agreements where people didn’t undercut one another. Some of these protections still hold in Germany plus German federal policy works to protect bookstores among other businesses in Germany and not reward them for destroying themselves. – NBA the Net Book agreement – these are policies and practices of major chains of bookstores.


All winners must stand holding their book with the words Booker Prize winner prominently displayed


Short-listed do very well too

What happens is people stumble into things – they also conspire but sometimes they stumble; or one person has the idea and has no sense how workable and efficient it will be if done right. Todd’s Consuming Fictions gives the extraordinary figures as the early success of the Booker was felt. It was a coterie: an in-group of linked people living in and attached to London. It was the brainchild of Tom Maschler, a “rising” young celebrity editor at Jonathan Cape. Booker Brothers were a post-colonial agrobusiness company seeking to diversify and improve their public image with the collapse of colonialism as acceptable. I’m not saying colonialism collapsed; far from it, but it was no longer openly praised to steal another country’s natural resources and put the people into forms of servitude. A couple of other prizes from the 1960s: America Hawthorden and James Tait, Guardian fiction prize 1955.

Nothing remarkable about the Booker in its first couple of years; nothing unusual about their books, venture close to collapse. It’s said in-house correspondence of 1970s reads like a Black Box from a crashed airplane. 1970S a turning years: some extraordinary post-colonial books very like English Patient: V. S. Naipaul. In a Free State. JG. Farrell The Seige of Krisnapur. Books like The Bookshop: Susan Hill, the Bird of Night. Doris Lessing. Briefing for Descent into Hell. Movies helped: ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Heat and Dust is wedded to Merchant-Ivory type films (ah). They included books like Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor – imagine Lady Edith grown old and poor and living in a hotel. Iris Murdoch. The Sea the Sea. Kingsley Amis: Jake’s Thing (just what you think. Barbara Pym with her church jumble sale fiction: Quartet in Autumn – profoundly movingly sad. They cottoned onto the importance of planting stories, of announcing long list, short list, glittering prize ceremony. Series of scandals. J. G. Berger Ways of Seeing accepts his prize by insulting everyone as elite, corrupt, useless. The person who refuses to come pick up his prize – Dylan Thomas who sends the inimitable, unforgettable Patti Smith in his place. . This person gets a prize and that one not and it seems that the one who didn’t wrote the better. Who did she know? Then things like the Ayatollah Khomenai puts out a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie who won for Midnight’s children and has been long and short listed again and again.

All the talk buzzing around the Oscars is just a repeat of this early innovative group. The year of English Patient there were in the end two prize winners; Barry Unsworth no where near as dazzling and about slavery in a intense way ought to have won: Sacred Hunger. English Patient is more fun. Wolf Hall is set off by cult of Anne Boleyn and the marvelous acting talent of Mark Rylance (who can make a whole film come alive with the quiet question when you say shall I do this, “would it help?” So they gave her the prize for Bring up the Bodies. It’s not that good a book at all.

Possession in 1990 was a tremendous moment. It made Byatt’s career and made the prize. The movie wasn’t the center even though Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle were paired again. I find I’m not as enamoured of it as I once was. I prefer Atwood’s Alias Grace – a Jane Eyre immigration story: governess type goes to Canada, based on real woman and murder – Grace Marks accused — in a household of servants. Behind it a classic Canadian memoir: Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush and Moodie’s career as journalist where she interviews Marks –- and of course the Brontes’ art.

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What are some of the characteristics the Bookers share which do set them off. I suppose that’s the work of this term. What qualities are found in “serious” fiction that set it off from (sorry for the “terribly snobbish term”) middle brow books? I thought I’d call attention to just a couple in the hope of startling or creating interest or maybe opposition.


Luke Strongman: Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire: nostalgia, he says, the “clue” theme

After reading through our four and reading desultorily and listening to some of them read aloud on tape: beyond the historical turn accompanied by a deep questioning of what passes for history and why we want these stories told:

The central figure in The English Patient and a number of the events swirling round him: the deeply reactionary erudite adventurer, a Hungarian count Laslo Almasy: Ondaatje may have written an anti-colonialist, anti-war book but his hero is something out of The Prisoner of Zenda, related to royals in middle Europe: born 1896, he was a member of the Zerzura Club, desert explorers and adventurers, outlier types, presented themselves as explorers, lovers of fancy cars and women, looking for ancient cities in the desert, loses oases, but like communist spies inside M16 and Oxford in the 1940s and 50s, the Zerzura club were mapping the desert as spies for the fascists and Nazis, as military people in WW2, traitors some would say, Almazy died of dystentery in 1951 in Austria – never would take care of himself – he was awarded the Iron Cross by German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. People might remember the romantic film Out of Africa based on Isak Dinesen’s book with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (now married in earnest): the hero there was Anglo and part of a group from Kenya. Dinesen wrote great tales, gothics, but was as reactionary (crazy) as Ayn Rand. We have just two of this type but often when you dig a little in the background of a Booker Prize you find really interesting history, characters, authors events.

To continue: stream of consciousness as a central immediate confrontation of imagined mind with imagined reader; anti-colonialist (the legacies of empire) and anti-war: at some deep level –- and not so there is this perception of life, existence at terrifying. You never know what is going to happen next and you often can’t explain why so as to prevent next time. The Judgement scene in A Month in the Country. In the old English of Moon, a dreamer-archeaologist digging up the savage Saxons

And he shal com with woundes rede
To deme [judge]the quicke and the dede … (p. 34).

But as Amy Dodds puts it on the upper level of her twice weekly bus ride to her profoundly mentally disabled daughter, The thing is not to take it as a punishment.

If you are not terrified by the torture and landmines of Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient, you are not reading what’s in front of you. Water and sand as killers. Deep melancholy. But they are also for lack of a better term “quirky” – Mrs Palfrey at her Claremont is quirky, odd, unexpected. All these people living on houseboats, the book that won Fitzgerald her one Booker (all the others were short lists), Offshore seems to be about eccentric people. Fitzgerald’s point is they are not. But they seem to be. She was shortlisted a remarkable number of times: Human Voices about the power of radio really; In the spring time of the year, a kind of condensed Tolstoy. The Blue Flower.

I asked myself why did these two books by Swift win or were shortlisted and not these others. This works better with authors who keep getting short listed but don’t win a lot – egregiously given the number of authors there are some who win twice. So Ian McEwan is short listed frequently, winning for Amsterdam, but what is different about the books that don’t win. To ask such a question is to be non-cynical and say something in the quality of the book counts.

Last: the embedded narrative, the use of a central picture often one that really existed or exists: as in Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier which won other prizes. They are haunted fictions, sometimes by real banging ghosts as in the Poltergeist in The Bookshop or psychological projection. Memories. In The Sense of an Ending, a repeating motif: as you peel the onion, at the center is a mentally disabled person whose existence offers enigmatic explanations for the world of some key characters in the book.

And they are often turned into spectacularly good movies, commercial successes with screenplays occasionally vying in quality, adding to, enrichening the novels.

So the Booker Prize books reach us via people who know how to manipulate the rot use a long spoon.


And Izzy and I may make it to Milan ….

Miss Drake

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Baldwin on the Cavett show

It is very nearly impossible…to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.

It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep. They suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas
what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be … both from Nobody Knows My Name

Dear Friends and readers,

As the Oscar Academy awards are given out tonight I thought I’d dedicate most of his week’s blog to a movie I saw this week: Salesman was duly awarded but I doubt I am not Your Negro will be noticed to the extent it should be — for someone having to live in the United States (as I must — for where could I go, since Jim’s death I have no second place I could belong to, return to –Teresa May has rescinded right of abode to spouses and widows of British citizens and yesterday a woman living and married for 37 years in the UK with grown children there was snatched up and deported) it is an important film: I am not your Negro, words by James Baldwin, produced and directed by Raoul Peck, mostly spoken by Baldwin in TV interviews, one of them on the late night Dick Cavett show, with Samuel L. Jackson supplying the narration and voice-over of those passages written or spoken by Baldwin which there is no film or audio for.

For quite a number of years I assigned texts by Baldwin in my classes. “Stranger in a Village” was once often found in textbooks for freshman composition: Baldwin comes to a village where all are white, where the environment is all snow, and he stands out as this terrifying object. It is a parable of growing up in America as a black man. I assigned his Notes of a Native Son; Nobody Knows My Name [More Notes of a Native Son]; The Price of the Ticket. I never did one of his novels or his memoir but rather his essays because I wanted to be sure his ideas got across. Mostly these are semi-literary criticism (the very great “Everybody’s Protest Novel”), sociological, and autobiographical. In reading his is an eloquent noble voice. So I was particularly eager to see which strings of quotations, which narratives were chosen.

This film gives us his life story, through an astute weaving together of film clips, it takes us through a history of black people in the US from the time they were forcibly brought here in huge numbers, enslaved and treated abhorrently so the whites here and in Europe could grow rich from their free labors and exploit their bodies, through the civil war (not much time on that) to where in “reconstruction” they were re-enslaved on new terms, through the early civil rights era, with film clips of the 1990s (the savage beating of Rodney King by a group of police officers) and now the common knowledge (though videos and cameras from cell phones and ipads) that every week in the US black people are murdered in the streets, in a mass incarceration system. The focus of Baldwin’s narrative are the murders of Medgar Evers (president of the NAACP), Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Baldwin knew them all, the latter two to talk to. None of them lived until 40. These three men, their lives, why they were killed with impunity, is partly what he is telling us about in what seem to be mainly three live films: one where he, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were interviewed on TV; one of him interviewed by Dick Cavett, and one of him giving a speech to at Oxford University in England. He is also seen talking in front of a fireplace before a group of fellow black people. We see photographs of the murdered men, clips of King speaking, leading marches. All three are seen dead.

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Medgar Evers

The thesis is basically for black people their position has changed very little since reconstruction. Yes a middle and tiny upper middle class has emerged; individuals with gifts, especially in music have lived fulfilled decent lives — Baldwin knew and we see clips and photos of Sammy Davis Junior, Harry Belafonte. The black man is given no place in American society; bitterly Baldwin says once he was not needed to pick cotton, he became superfluous and it’s astonishing, there are any black men left. Surely this is a nightmare vision, my reader might say, an exaggeration. Only somewhat. Baldwin is angry: how is it Bobby Kennedy has no trouble being Attorney General and has the gall to say as if this were progress to be thankful for that 40 years from now we could have a black president. We did, and we see clip of Barack and Michelle Obama walking down Pennsylvania Avenue hand-in-hand after he won the presidency. But it seems this was a blip in history and Obama was able to do very little to improve the general condition and status of all black people. Baldwin left the US to go live in Paris in order to protect his life, so that he should not have to fear murder each day as he goes forth on the streets; Ta Nehisi-Coates now lives in Paris for the same reason (he is also protecting his son).
So many photos of lynchings, so many clips of police in the streets beating black people up — some from Fergusson. The photos of so many young children, boys murdered. No police held accountable. How education is denied them; how the real estate and banking industries have prevented them as people from accumulating any money in most individual families.

One can only face in others what one can face in oneself. On this confrontation depends the measure of our wisdom and compassion.

The question is what we really want out of life, for ourselves, what we think is real… has to do with our social panic, with our fear of losing status. One cannot afford to lose status on this peculiar ladder, for the prevailing notion of American life seems to involve a kind of rung-by-rung ascension to some hideously desirable state — again from Nobody Knows My Name

The one caveat I have is it’s the story of black men and not black women. So Baldwin himself is guilty of exclusion, of (in effect) othering. Black women appear only as sisters, mothers, wives of murdered men. They have had an analogous history: used and abused horrifically sexually as slaves, kept as cleaning women, laundresses, cooks, housekeepers. Because their men were prevented from heading their families, many became perforce independent, and educated householders. They have held high office: we have had a black attorney general (under Obama two, Eric Holder and then Loretta Lynch): Truman integrated the military and we have had high ranking military officers, generals (Colin Powell) on down. Black women probably are by percentage doing remarkably well vis-a-vis white women who are not driven in the same way to provide for themselves and their families. But it has been and continues to be a very hard life for most: high mortality in pregnancy, huge percentage desperately poor.

I also regret that nowhere enough was given of his subtle readings of the texts and art and music of black culture. He is no false flatterer and delivers stinging criticisms of Richard Wright’s fiction, of the reasons for the respect given Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He was apparently close to man black artists, among these Lorraine Hansbury, who died so young from cancer. She is the one black woman given individual treatment in the film. You can see her play in YouTube form on the Net.

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Lorraine Hansberry

It’s important to see this film in this era of Donald Trump’s attempt at a (thus far) semi-dictatorship. It is now unsafe to be black, Muslim or hispanic on the streets of the USA. You need not do anything and you can be stopped and frisked, and harassed and humiliated into answering back or doing just anything to justify the officer killing, imprisoning, accusing you of a felony. Then you lose your right to vote. If you don’t have papers to prove you have the right to be here and have been here for two years you are in trouble. You are at risk in schools if you are gay; if you are a disabled person far less understanding will be encouraged by school policies.

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A rescued cat

It’s been a very hard week. As I am a powerless individual in an as yet republic with a few understood human and civil rights — I have the vote, I can blog, I can speak, I have taught undergraduates. This past week I went to a rally in Northern Virginia in Senator Warner’s office: #resistTuesday where goals are being sought through pressure on Warner and his activities. I am now contributing regularly to ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, Common Cause beyond my membership in WETA (small amount each month), DemocracyNow.org (ditto). But I have to watch the most vulnerable in our society at risk (literally, snatched up in the streets, in churches, meeting places, airports), under attack and know I and my daughters are targets in attempts to deny us our rights to form a society and together make life better for us all (through social security, medicare, public education, arts and science facilities). There is an on-going attempt to destroy a whole way of life, destroy the press, suppress truth. Each day I get upset when I read the latest news of who has been appointed to head an important agency (with the aim of destroying it). This morning the Sierra Club an ancient forest in Alaska is about to be cut down; Trump rescinded an order to protect an area in Alaska where there is much left of the natural world, with many animals, plants. I joined the Sierra Club.

Here are the first 100 lies Trump has managed to promulgate across US life

irst hundred lies: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-administration-lies-100_us_58ac7a0fe4b02a1e7dac3ca6

This is what we are in danger of from him: Timothy Snyder, NYRB: how the Reichstag fire was set and used.

A new attempt to let loose predators to fleece and cheat at will. No more protections anywhere — every effort is being made by the republicans to prevent all consumer protection and allow corporations and businesses to fleece the individual at will. Money for opportunity and self-improvement only at high rates of interest. I feel sick with new grief, anxiety and pity for people — wanton unnecessary cruelty for none of these people have hurt anyone. The super-rich will be more super-rich.

As to what’s called social media: while enjoying friendships and sharing online, one must remember on places like face-book there is a great deal of falsity, of showing off an acceptable social identity to make others admire you, to fit in, to reinforce conformity. Photos of people as successful surrounded by adoring families and friends, sometimes absurdly idealized, with money and ordeals left out. Pay attention to ordinary every day life insofar as it gets through. Pictures of our now hot February.

The center of my life used to be, its staff, was Jim; I have fought a hard fight to make a new life and have realized this is out of the question for a 70 year old woman. I cannot re-make myself and have learned how alone a widow in our society is made. In order to remain calm because this fourth year of being mostly alone is making me worn, so I must focus my mind on that some stable secure center of existence. I would like to reach people like myself but I’ve found travel deeply anxiety-producing and unless I have a companion, I suffer a great deal. The longer and further away the trip, the worse. Sometimes when I am there the experience is ambiguous; alone at night in a hotel is hard on me. Tiring. This is what people need one site I trust tells me: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. Others might make a slightly different list, but the important concept is that meaning stems from addressing real human needs. Where it’s tenuous for me as yet is affection, understanding, participation. So for me what can I hold onto: books, writing, movies, study. In these I find some peace. In sharing them with others — reading online with others, talking, friendships, art I can find understanding, participation, friendship. How other widows fare I pay attention to also as I find many analogously like myself.

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Tom Story and Jacques Aaron Krohn were strong — melancholy the one, funny the other

I went to As You Like It (see Marshall Bradshaw’s far too favorable review) at the Folger Shakespeare Library this past Saturday. It was not a successful production: the director seemed determine to ignore the bitter and hard meaning of many of the words, the whole difficult framework in which the characters have to live, that the time in the forest is an interlude. Thus its kindness, generosity, love and forgiveness lose their heft and context. The actors did not know what to do with the enormous amount of wit; at times the play felt like Love’s Labor’s Lost without understanding. But some of the actors played their roles very well: especially the Touchstone, Jacques, and Rosalind.

goodmoments
Lindsay Alexandra Carter carried the play (Rosalind) with Lorenzo Roberts as Orlando and Antoinette Robinson as Celia her supports

It was such a relief to hear sentiments of trust, friendliness, cooperation in public after outside the building having to endure the continually spouted spite and threats of the US gov’t attempting to torment the majority of US citizens with fear. And it was lively, without pretension, with wit, music that was contemporary and effective dancing.

By contrast, my first attempt to go to the Shakespeare Theater Company the Sunday before landed me in front of Charles III: ludicrously reverential, so tame. The comedy was we were supposed to laugh at “Harry” as having unacceptable (black) girlfriends and being given the most juvenile advice by a street vendor. It was about Charles taking power he didn’t have in a good cause (on behalf of immigrants) but the slightest real knowledge of British politics would tell you he couldn’t begin to get away with it, of culture he wouldn’t care about was he was said to. It was for a naive complacent American audience. Embarrassing. I left after the first act.

My books for this week included many on the picturesque, Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out, Kenneth Johnston’s Hidden Wordsworth. I’m watching Donald Wilson’s 1978 Anna Karenina, brilliantly well done, moving, adult (about 10 parts). I’m studying ekphrastic poetry by women. Adrienne Rich’s Matilde in Normandy, Love in a Museum. Marianne Moore’s Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns. I spent an hour this afternoon reading her very great Transcendental Etudes. I was moved and comforted as I drank wine.

My pussycats are well. Nowadays Ian does not hide in the morning though he goes off to have his quiet private time: on his cat tree high in the front room where he can see what’s going on. The assistant to my IT guy came this Thursday to update my garmin (a GPS) for me and Ian didn’t run away! He growled as the young man walked up the sidewalk, but then quieted down. Around 2 each day Ian comes into my room to sit on my lap and for the rest of the day be with and around me.

Miss Drake

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openingshot
An shot early in The Salesman before Rana has been attacked

Dear friends and readers,

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

shahab-hosseini-and-taraneh-alidousti-in-salesman
A close up

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

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

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

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

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After the assault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kay Spark: Virginia Woolf or Seraglia

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

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

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

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

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A Caturday entry: on bonding with my pussycats:

ianclaryontheotherdeskinmyroom

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

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

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

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

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

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New Yorker Cartoon

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

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

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

Miss Drake

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