Archive for the ‘real family life’ Category

Tazzi — December 2014, probably around 19

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote, and very slowly, painfully, not clear if at all truly, Clarycat is improving somewhat. The main thing is she is still eating, drinking, using her litter box, cleaning herself, and she is lively within limits. She follows me about, comes to the door when I return from being out, visits me in my chair in my workroom. She is aware something is wrong but not sure what it is, so remains in a kind of stunned state.

Yes my beloved Clarycat is now an elderly disabled cat. From some photos my friend, Martin, sent me, it appears that the way Clary often looks is commmon among cats in this “stage of life.” You see his beloved Tazzi at her best just above this in the last year(s) of life. I have opted (I think without meaning to act this way just not doing more as yet) not to go for x-rays lest the anesthesia kill her, and because I probably would not go to the huge expense and painful procedures in the hope I could prolong her life. The question is for how long? could they prevent another stroke? I remember what excruciating pain and misery Jim knew — after that operation.  How no one helped him once the cancer metastasized into his liver.  We should have cut loose and had one last holiday in England. Could he have had a good time with the idea in his head that now he must certainly die soon?  He would not go to the fantastically expensive expert doctors.  He only said to me near the end, “don’t let them hurt me. I know I may end in hospital and you won’t be able to help this.” In the event he died at home in the bed we had bought for him after the operation.

I am keeping an eye on her a good deal and she stays close to me; that means I pick her up and put her on my lap when she comes by, put her down, I help her steady herself. I did find her in her old spot between the back of my computer and one of the two workroom windows — the old spirit back. But she could topple any moment and topple the computer and wires so I have to take her down. She is slowly retrieving what she can but will never walk right again and never be able to climb much or come down from low heights easily.. She stays close and a new reinforcement of my homebody habits is how she looks forlorn when I go out. I find her cuddled into my side when I wake in the morning. She struggles to walk on her own. My job is to keep her spirits up.

Here is a poem Martin sent me that he wrote about Tazzi when she began to decline:

Our cat is old, she feels the cold
She sleeps beside a heater
Her world is shrunk to just one room
A basket on the kitchen floor
A food bowl, water, litter tray
No need for cat flap any more
She does not pass the kitchen door

A scarecrow, gaunt and deaf, she croaks,
A silent purr between your palms,
Her skin is thin, her backbone
Pricks beneath the fur you stroke
She cannot jump onto a chair,
Enfeebled legs will not permit her,
Who was so graceful, strong and fast.
The table cloth stays clean at last.

Her pleasure used to be to sit
in the front window
and watch the passing street.
But you cannot leave a cat alone
However still she looks
Who cannot get outside in time,
And pees on books.

She came to us some six years old
A rescue cat, is now perhaps nineteen.
She put her paws up on my chest,
And she decided it was us.
Dismissing all the rest.

The former cat, blocked by a door
Would quietly dig the carpet up.
But she will stand at the door and squawk
Requiring service now now now
Unusual cat, to almost talk.

There has been a time when she would wait
While I made breakfast and had sat down
To sit upon my lap
A few minutes before wandering off.

Allowing of affection
You could not pet a person so
Unharmed by petting, unseduced
Indifferent going on her way
The action left the better.

Despite it all, the spark of life
Is still alight, she has a healthy
Appetite for what she likes,
An unexpected turn of speed
When chicken scraps appear.
O sweety puss, O kitty cat,
A dragging leg today,
Not a good sign I fear,
But you just carry on,
There’s no self-pity there.

That’s right: there is no self-pity in Clarycat.

On her blanket a couple of mornings ago

Clarycat is one of my living links with Jim. She grieved for his death, as he lay dying by running back and forth in the hall, caw-cawing. She sat in his chair for two weeks after his body was taken out — she was waiting for him to return. When he didn’t, she slowly became attached to me.


But yesterday morning fraughtness reached a different kind of height. I finally faced the reality that our passports may be rejected when we try to travel. The UK site says the passport need only be valid for the time we are there, but I phoned at last — the British embassy and British Airways, went to two different post offices, phoned online another person: the answer was airports have no general rule, and British Airways itself might not let us aboard because our passports will expire before the end of six month afterwards. When I heard “you can never tell with security guards,” my heart sunk. These are silent petty tyrants (the worst type of authority figure) I’ve had to deal with three times now – they ignore all you say. You have no civil rights.

When I found the place on line where we were to print out the application, I discovered that Izzy had said nothing because she too was reluctant to mail the passport off — out of fear it would not return in time. I was in the position of having to pressure her to do what was painful for me to do. I needed her help to navigate the damn site. Together we managed it. I knew where to go to get the passport photos — still the local drugstores are doing it. Our ordeal began at 9:30 am when we got online to look; and it ended at 11:45 am when we were driving back home having handed in to our local post office two envelopes with all the appropriate materials in them. Cross your fingers for us. Hope very hard. I have lost nearly $2000 since Jim died in non-refunded airplane fees (twice on Expedia I was egregiously robbed; cancelling a flight because of the pandemic I got nothing back) so if we must buy our airplane tickets ahead and the passports don’t come by late August, what then?

I told (by the way) my congressman would help expedite the passport renewal. Neither of his phones takes messages and it is explicitly written on the website, he can do nothing about passport renewals as the state department will not answer queries. The post office no longer helps you (De Joy strikes again). Ordinary people who know no one like Izzy and I are powerless w/o laws and customs on our side. They used to be, a little bit. No longer.


Ah, I see I’ve not told you — my friends reading this — why we are traveling. Well around middle to later March my proposal to give a paper at the upcoming Trollope Society conference at Somerville College, in Oxford, September 1-3, on the theme of Trollope and Women was accepted! We are in time to stay in the college too! Izzy will come (I could not do it without her), and we hope to spend three days in London afterwards.

Somerville College, Oxford, very early women’s college (recent photo)

Finally see the Imperial War Museum with its fabulous collections of art (not sure which schools, perhaps many?) and its legendary history exhibits. Go to a play. Walk in the London parks again.

Here is my proposal:

Anna Carteret at Lady Mabel Grex (1974 Pallisers, from The Duke’s Children) — she gazes out the window at Frank Treghear and Lady Mary Palliser

Intriguing Women in Trollope’s Fiction

Using a gendered perspective, I will discuss women characters who act, think, and feel in unexpected ways, whom recent readers find hard to explain, and cause controversy. I’ll focus on lesser known as well as more familiar presences.
My first & central pair will be Clara Amedroz and Mrs. Askerton from The Belton Estate. Most essays have been about how Clara at first prefers the glamorous, guarded, demanding and upper-class Captain Aylmer to the open-hearted, farmer-like, affectionate Will Belton. I will dwell on Clara’s refusal to give up her friendship with Mrs. Askerton, a woman who fled an abusive husband and lived with him before her husband died, thus enabling Mr. Askerton and her to marry. Mrs. Askerton is stunningly unexpected in her generosity of spirit and mix of conventional and unconventional views. The first half of my talk will move from Clara to other young about to, just married or not marriageable women whose lives take them in insightful directions, e.g., Lily Dale, Miss Viner (“Journey to Panama”), Lady Glencora, Emily Lopez.

The second half of my talk will move from Mrs. Askerston to sexually and socially experienced disillusioned women, e.g., Madame Max, Mrs. Hurtle, Lady Mabel Grex, Mrs. Peacocke (Dr Wortle’s School), as well as older mature women who are mothers, and whom Trollope takes seriously, e.g., Lady Lufton, Mrs. Crawley, Lady Mason.

Trollope dramatizes what might seem perversities of behavior these women resort to as contrivances to get round a lack of concrete power (used against them, sometimes by other women, e.g., Lady Aylmer) to try to achieve results they can be happy or live in peace with. The point of the talk is to show how Trollope probes and makes visible psychological and iconoclastic realities in his women characters’ lives.

While I’m about it, I might as well tell why I am reading — and just reveling in Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night. I realize now that I never read it with enough attention, never gave it the respect it deserves as a brilliant account of a woman’s college (it takes place at Somerville where Sayers went! — called Shrewsbury in the novel). I remember who did it so am collecting clues! It’s like reading Austen’s Emma for the second time. My proposal for an online 4 week winter course at OLLI at Mason was accepted too:

Women in and writing Detective-Mystery Stories

We will explore the genre of detective stories of the mystery-thriller type from the angle of the woman writer, detective, victim & murderer: our three books will be Josephine Tey’s (Elizabeth MacKintosh) The Daughter of Time (the story the mystery of Richard III); Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night; and P.D. James’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. We’ll also see (outside class) and discuss two movies: Robert Altman and Jerome Fellowes’s Gosford Park and J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls (as rewritten by Helen Edmunsen and directed by Aisling Walsh). It’s a feminist literary history course, an outgrowth in one direction of the course I taught this past winter: The [archetypal] Heroine’s Journey


This may be labelled fraught days we have learned to avoid. I’m now following or receiving substack newsletters from Susan Bordo, whose books on feminism, the body, literature, I once admired and read in. She writes vigorously and in the middle of the month described her fraught ordeal making out her and her husband’s taxes. She does them, using Turbo Tax: Turbo Tax Hell.

I was moved to write as follows:

My husband always did the taxes; he had a Ph.d in Math and was good in arithmetic. I have yet to figure out how to do percentages and long division. And he was very impatient, a bad teacher. So he did the taxes until he died — some 10 years ago now. My adventures with Turbo Tax and my older daughter the first year after his death will go undiscussed. For 3 years I was gouged by experts who couldn’t be bothered to understand what was my predicament. I have a portfolio of invested money by Schwabb, a legacy from my parents). I have an autistic (my younger) daughter who lives at home but makes a good income. She comes with me with her forms. Finally through the OLLI at Mason where I teach and a course called How to do your Taxes I learned a little about what all the rectangles meant — I began to realize why my father each year would become enraged at how much he had to pay. But through them I discovered AARP does anyone’s taxes for free if there is an office nearby. The first year took them 4 hours. You might say luckily I have never made any money on my 2 books. The people put notes in explaining everything — We arrive at the library we go to where AARP can found as the door’s open and get out around noon — mine now takes 2 hours + — but we also spend time waiting in a line of chairs too. The whole thing makes me so nervous that this year for the first time I discovered I was writing down wrong information about when my husband died. No one ever caught it.

So there you have what happened to me, to us, to our family group (includes two cats) this month that matters most in practical ways and practical things matter.


Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea Brooke hard at work on proposed new cottages which her uncle will never build (1994 Middlemarch, scripted by Andrew Davies)

We have begin Eliot’s Middlemarch on Trollope&Peers and the reading and discussion will take all summer; in a few nights (if not tonight) I shall turn my attention to Elizabeth Gaskell and her Wives and Daughters, as I’ll be reading and teaching it at OLLI at Mason from middle June to late July. Both books have exceptionally superb Andrew Davies film adaptations. The two Italian classes I’m teaching are going well. Would you believe I’m reviewing a book for an 18th century Intelligencer where I’m rereading Richard Steele’s Conscious Lovers: I remember Anne Oldfield. I had no idea he derived some of his early wealth from enslaved people on plantations. I’ve two subscriptions with my friend Betty to see operas and go to plays next year; one with Izzy to go to the Folger once again to see Shakespeare. So I soothe myself.

I lost my one close and true friend of 44 years and all I do is an effort to replace him. I’m listening to Ross Poldark by Winston Graham being read aloud in my car and I realize I loved it so because the couple at the center are to me Jim and me. The attitude towards class and social life mine. I love to escape to these historical fictions and romances and to real historical narratives too — I’ve now added mystery-thrillers of the detective story type descending from Agatha Christie. I have decided Joan Hickman has it closest; it is with her we feel safer. Let’s hear it for spinsters and widows alone.

Miss Marple — I’ve enjoyed four serials thus far and am just mesmerized by PD James’s Dalgliesh (two thus far) on TV; her books have a quiet but persistent melancholic vein that makes them worth while …

So I’ve succumbed after all — how gentle, tender and touching are the Dorothy Sayers mysteries with Edward Petheridge and Harriet Walter — I’m loving him in the book too. Escape from the present into an Arcadia where death still resides, from hard lives to dreams that create an analogous experience to those I imagined and was really in with Jim.

And on the other hand, the way I’m learning to read Elena Ferrante’s books from The Ferrante Letters by Sarah Chihava, Merve Emre, Katherine Hill, and Jill Richards I find I can do in these women’s mysteries: in the interstices of these — Gaudy Night, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, Jessie Childs’s The Siege of Loyalty House (harking me back to DuMaurier’s King’s General only this one so much realer and close to today’s fascism rising) even, is the discovery of myself and aspects of my journey in my mind and feeling I find across The Neapolitan Quartet. Really.

It is very hard to live on without Jim — I spend hours, days, weeks, months alone working here (reading, writing) and playing here (movies and friends’ chat) conflicted because I don’t force myself to go out — where I am sometimes rejuvenated but often come home so stressed and wonder why I went. I now know that what I am driven to do to my feet sometimes is a form of stimming. I keep learning at these autism sessions so much. Our (me, Nina, Bianca) first Women with Autism online zoom group seemed to go so well. Another thing for you to cross your fingers for me. I am so very frightened without him.



Read Full Post »

Clarycat home from the Vet this past Monday morning

Dear friends and readers,

Last Friday, so six days ago Clarycat began to walk oddly: she was leaning against walls on her left side, her head held tilted to the right, yet stumbling on her left side, look like someone very uncomfortable, possibly in pain. She could no longer jump down from cat beds, only get on my lap after I helped her and with real struggle and effort upon onto our bed. Very worrying. She was eating, drinking, but much less; she looked thinner, her tail down. She looked sad.

I had to wait until Monday morning and brought her in about 10 minutes after the office opened. The vet declared she is 14, born 2008, so in her 80s (human equivalent), very old lady. She has small kidneys. If her blood pressure was high that meant she had had a major stroke, brain damage. We had blood work done, tests for organic disease. $695. The next day the Vet phoned and the news was moderately good: no disease could be found, her blood pressure is normal. So what is wrong. If we had a cat scan, the Vet could tell us more but since the Vet declared an operation out of the question (very expensive — $3000 and more), that Clary would be at risk of dying from anesthesia, we cannot know any more. The Vet had given her an injection of an antibiotic. It could have been the middle ear – an infection. But the Vet seemed inclined to think Clary suffered a minor stroke, a minor heart attack we could say.

During Monday, she looked so limp as she lay on her side, my heart failed. That was the way Llyr lay down in her last days.

She was named after Samuel Richardson’s heroine, Clarissa, but I felt silly calling such a sweet tiny kitten Clarissa, so she soon became Clary (my favorite nickname for Richardson’s character) and then Clarycat. One time I took a photo ofher sitting on Richardson’s book, but I can no longer find it. So here she is in a posture like the one she took when placed upon the book:

2011, Clarycat at 3

Here she and Ian are as kittens when they first arrived:

and here she is fully adult and in good health, watching me:

Mid-week she was getting better (I hoped) very slowly. I thought I saw tiny improvements. She is eating and drinking better. She stopped being hostile to Ian (spitting and hissing at him) — I think she was afraid of his wrestling her. She uses her litter. I saw signs of her climbing a bit here and there, but this morning she attempted the kitchen table and tumbled off. I felt so terrible for her. She scurried off and hid under the bed.  She seemed very upset.  She likes to climb: that’s how she gets into her cat beds by the windows and looks out.

She has not played with her toys for over a week. She often carries them about in her mouth or she puts them in spots where I have been. She will not share them.  She can get pretty fierce with poor Ian.  They now lie ignored in a cab bed.

When I leave the house, I can forget about it, but on my way home I remember and feel so sad.

I should say during this time Laura told me her male cat, Maxx, a sweet cream-colored darling had a urinary tract obstruction. Crystals formed in one of his tubes, something that can happened to a cat that has been neutered. It cost her $3200 to have him catheterized, a tube put in him to drain the urine until the crystals were dissolved. At one point she had an emergency return to the animal hospital. She sent me a photo of him in a crib with a tube coming out of him. She has told me not to get pet insurance as it is very difficult to get the insurers to pay and they charge a lot too!

Here he is one New Year’s Eve, say 2 years ago

Thursday — this morning Clarycat not getting worse; sometimes she also seemed to be better: she is holding her body carefully as she walks along; she carries on eating, drinking, using the litter and today I saw her vigorously cleaning herself and sitting in the sun.  She can climb onto my chair again, from the side, a sort of slithering leap.

She remains stunned. She knows something has happened to her. She can’t say I’ve had a neurological event but she feels it as weakening, strange.

She is the darling of my heart. On my lap as I type,

As I read she sleeps lying by my side. Now when I wake and read between 5 am and 7:15 when I get up, she lies across my chest. I carry her about, put her near the sun, I so want her to be enjoying life insofar as she can.

She loved Jim — was very attached to him. When he lay dying the last two days, she went back and forth in the hall making unhappy noises. After he was taken away, she sat in his chair for couple of weeks.

A few years ago now I translated a poem by Elsa Morante to her cat, Alvaro. Here it is again:

Morante and one of her cats

A song for Alvaro

You regard your nest as within my arms
At once still and tenacious, a genius loci shines out intently
and yet you are all play, vain, selfish, without goal,
beyond the moment, worse than useless creature.
The afternoon shades are your dwelling places:
like a soft dove, alert, you can turn into an owl;
seen in the depths of night, from tombs
your soft breath contains spirit.
When I extinguish the light, your pupils
a candelabrum staring into
my dozing half-sleep half awake eyes;
you crack whatever solemn respite, truce from life,
I know — for there you are again,
fiery light in your eyes, a burning transience;
as baby tigers chase their tails, so you
in my sweet deliriums.
Then you sleep, your show-y light gone,
you who in the morning I find proudly sitting
on the edge of the windowsill,
your beautiful eyes twin flowers
And I am your equal,
your equal, do remember —
aloof, sad, grave. Amid the somber
and dark leaves; we sparkle in a garden
together in the middle of uncivilized people,
a small paradise of two. I remember exile
that you in the room didn’t understand
as far as you were concerned
we were on the same patch of earth
passingly fleetingly, a playful pilgrim.
Oh, why do you condescend to
favor me, savage wild untamed thing.
When your peers, god-like creatures
savor their languid follies, turn to festive games
of fighting before dawn, occasional heartless hunting,
why are you here with me.
Continuously, you who are free, without lies
while I am thrice burdened with
prison, sin and death
Between the moons and the sun, within gleaming hawthornes,
magic herbs, chimeras, fawns immortal leap;
the young galants with the beautiful names: Curly
Atropos, Violent, Passion-flower, Palombra
and during that meticulous storm of naming,
the first day
where were you? did you love me from the start?
You don’t answer me. Jealous of your secrets,
you keep them to yourself, in the prison of self:
they include the sword of Damocles,
stories of gold, velvet zebras, hidden satyrs
who will not speak to women. Close eyes.
The sounds you make cajoling cajoling,
a humming flirting, purring whirr
my bee, thread your honey double up,
twist, bend, fold that string.
I remember ghosts O the cheer
of having you for a friend
is enough for my heart.
And for my stupidities and lies,
for my tearing myself, self-harm,
by your kisses and your sweet plaintiveness
you console me
oh my cat

Trans. Ellen Moody

From Alibi, bilingual edition (French and Italian)

For Italian and French, see my blog, Sylvia II at https://austenreveries.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/elsa-morantes-song-for-my-cat-alvaro/

Heart-breaking. This morning she is laying/sitting in a very lax kind of way that worries me. She would not survive 5 minutes out-of-doors.  She has not eaten this morning either, but then neither did Ian, also 14, a sibling from the same litter.


Read Full Post »

Here are lyrics and information about the album from which this song comes:


Posted by Ellen

Read Full Post »

Flowers from supermarket and snacks & drink for the week from earlier this autumn

Why we? I counted 5 friends and acquaintances who told me they are become 76 this year too

Dear friends and readers,

I turned 76 on November 29th.  I’m using the occasion to express and reflect on this transitional state which I feel I’m in but don’t understand that well. I’m not sure what’s changing in me and time continues to separate me from what I was when Jim first died. Julian Barnes calls the time after a beloved person has died, their deathtime in one’s memory. It’s being brought on partly or even largely by my (and most other faculty, whether remunerated or volunteer-retired) inability to bring back enough people into the classrooms in person so as not to have to worry, that this day I may arrive at an empty or nearly empty classroom. For older people the partial cause is Covid is still attacking and killing off older people in visible numbers. So I am looking forward to teaching and taking courses online almost wholly until March, and after March (spring term) mostly online, perhaps until next fall (2023) or the following spring (2024). Maybe looking forward is not the phrase I want.

I’m going to try for a routine myself. By 8:30 this morning I’ll be exercising for half an hour, and sometime mid-day I’ll try for a 20-30 minute walk. Again, I’ll be in a great deal, and most of what I’ll do will be online so I must try to keep myself busy, communicate with people online cordially and exercise. Sleep I can’t force: last night I slept but 4 hours, but when I got up I read Magpie Murders, the novel by Anthony Horowitz. Yes I got the book. It’s a delightful parody of your typical Booker Prize books among other things — I’ll write about the book separately (see below for serial). Come near Xmas I’ll watch the Biederbecke TV series and others I can find that cheer me.

I’ve had a repeat of the experience I’ve often described here: another woman I’d become friends with and visited, visited me, or I went out with (though not since summer 2021) was breaking appointments to the point I finally wrote to her about it in such a way that I knew she’d either fall silent altogether or try to mend the relationship. So now she has silently opted for Choice 1 — the internet slang might be she’ll ghost me again (previous times she has pretended she didn’t get the email, or her phone was out of order just at the time I phoned her). She would never tell me openly how she felt; if at some point she wanted to break it, she never told me or why.

Joanna Trollope in Next of Kin has given me second thoughts: “It was simply that he couldn’t go on loving someone who kept sucking him down into the bog of her own personality problems — or at least, he could love her but he couldn’t live with her [I am thinking of myself as this guilty preying person but don’t think I did that this time, but I probably did in previous relationships] … He didn’t want to emphasize the effect of her defeatism on him, or indeed any other of her deficiencies but he wanted to make her think [again it’s me who am defeatist but one would then have to talk to me to bring this out more] ‘I don’t want never to see you again,’ he planned to say, ‘I just can’t see you for a bit. Not until you’ve got something to give me back'” [so what is it that I should be offering other people back?]

I saw this magnificent painting at the National Gallery this past Wednesday with Betty at the National Gallery — an exhibit of John Singer Sargent’s painting while he was in Spain. He copied several famous painter’s paintings and then produced the long-pent-up depictions of ordinary people in all their depths. The good there is inedible and Betty becomes quickly impatient at these exhibitions but I did see some art worth the gazing

It’s not just external things — I find I am not eager to go anywhere — it was Betty’s idea to go and we had made the appt a while back. I admit I was the one to back out of the second I was to go to (the Phillips Collection) with her this Saturday. But she wrote back very quickly, relieved herself. How relieved I was. I do worry so I won’t get back before dark – darkness arrives not far from 5 pm. “Hello darkness my old friend. What are you doing here at 5 pm!”

Now I wrote about this last time so will not repeat again the terms of or feelings I’m having as I struggle to understand this new phase of widowhood, and spend my time enjoyably and productively (for me this means new learning, new books, discovery of new authors, new topics and writing projects), and cheerfully online with others. Since I last wrote, I’ve gone deeper into Joanna Trollope (read two more books, listening to a third), and started both my women’s and Italian studies for winter and next spring. It’s hard to make a plan and follow it. Tomorrow I will disrupt my new pattern to attend a few of the Renaissance Society of America’s sessions for their yearly AGM (going on virtually these few days). A big help is I do love all the books I’m reading and find the topics I follow of intense interest. As usual I like particularly the secondary (critical and biographical) books.

But my body tires so I cannot exercise or walk was much, and I grow sadder as the day moves into night. This was exacerbated this past week by the insistent holiday statements I see everywhere on the Net and hear too among the occasional acquaintances I meet. I’m told to be very happy and loving amid my family and friends. I can see that my quiet relatively alone state is not uncommon because enough people describe what they are doing truthfully on the corners of FB, twitter and listservs I inhabit. Nonetheless, getting through Thanksgiving and my birthday became a sort of work project where I enlisted acquaintances and friends by posting about how I (we, for Izzy was with me) got through.

An Egyptian goose — each morning when I arrive at twitter — sometimes around 8 am or so — someone I follow who follows me has put on photographs of mid-England parks and birds near where she lives

So here’s what I posted onto FB later last Thursday afternoon (a short version appeared on twitter):

Izzy and I walked across Old Town this afternoon — balmy sunny weather. We used to do this each year after Jim died and before the pandemic. The tree is the Alexandria City tree in the Town Square and the lights are on — though you cannot see them. My strength did give out towards the end. That was 4 years ago and I was reminded of how I felt when we “did” Toronto with our two kind but much younger [than me] friends this past August, but home now. Another half hour we’ll put on a roast chicken for two. We could have gone out to a bought dinner, but I’m glad we have chosen this. From Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

But when the long hours of public are past,
And we meet with champagne and a chicken at last …

We won’t have champagne, orange juice for her and Merlot for me must do us. Now I’ll return to Margaret Atwood’s sardonically funny (funny is not quite the word I want) Penelopiad. I hope all who read this message are having a good day and evening.

Then last this Sunday evening on FB (nutshell on twitter):

Promotional photo of Ada’s on the River looking outward from inside the place at the Potomac

My 76th birthday is in 2 days and so my daughter, Laura, and her husband, Rob, came around 6 to take us out to a new restaurant in a new area of Old Towne, Alexandria: Ada’s on the River. The dinner was delicious and the desert too. I had my first whiskey and ginger ale (two of them) for a very long time. I don’t keep hard liquor in the house lest I drink too much. I liked the walk back afterwards along the Potomac from boardwalk to boardwalk. It’s very rare I am out at night nowadays.

There are still several areas around the Potomac, just near the river, which have been relatively desolate — they were very much so when Jim & I first moved to Alexandria. This is a southern city, originally blighted by slavery for the majority of people, then gross inequality and severe racism and classism structured into all the institutions and gov’t of the area, and while after WW2 and middle 1960s, when conditions began to improve the growth of certain areas has been slow and uncertain — Carter had made a good start with new housing, but Reagan destroyed that. Very expensive housing developments along the edge of this town here and there in the 1990s, some on the river . Recently then — last 20 years all along the river for the first time building up the boardwalks, the places for sailing, areas of recreational fun — so new restaurants and bars.

I shall have to find my own travel plan this summer — next week I’ll call Road Scholar and if the Irish registration is still there, I’ll go with them. I’ll try to do the global retry and pre-TSA stuff at the airport in the spring. There is now a silver line Metro going to Dulles that stops at King Street Station; Izzy has said she will come with me to help me through the machines going out.

In the meantime we four planned for a Christmas time together, a movie (an Agatha Christie type), a dinner at home (cooked by Rob, who’s become quite a cook) and exchange of presents.

What I didn’t tell anyone on FB or twitter was after an hour or so when I’d got home and was watching Magpie Murders (on which see below) I began to cry and cry and cry. I could feel Laura’s reluctance to be there when they first arrived, and know we won’t see them again after Christmas for a long while. It was Rob who walked beside me there and back.

For my birthday itself I took it easy, read favorite books, had yummy soup for lunch, and put this on FB (nutsell on twitter)

I am 76! In my now enclosed porch or sunroom where live my movie (dvds) collection, notebooks, films scripts, companions … all around me my little radio, ipad, pussycat bed by window … I am torn between sending a link to Sondheim’s “I’m still here ….” (as belted out by Elaine Stritch) or Old friends (done by a variety of male singers): favorite line: “What’s to discuss? …”

Izzy took the photo with her cell phone

This is to thank the many people sending me cards, pictures, good wishes, wise sayings … I can’t seem to reach every one to thank each person individually but know that I do thank you and you are helping me to pass a cheerful good day ….

About an hour or so later I listened to and watched Elaine Stritch on YouTube: when I watched I thought of my 27 years as an adjunct lecturer, and remember the line from Elaine Showalter quoted about a heroine in one of Jean Rhys’s novels who stands for all women: Still one man away from welfare ….

Over the long day and evening and next morning I really did get many cheering messages, a lot of them individualized, a few teases, but kindly meant I felt. Two cards, one from my aging aunt, another from a long time old Internet British friend, met three times in Oxford; my cousin, Pat had phoned me too

Then very late in the evening: from Merrily We Roll Along (Jim thought this probably Sondheim’s deepest truest musical) “Old Friends:” now I had to admit I have damn few old friends (or they live far away, a few old acquaintances. This was after the final episode of Magpie Murders

We are coming to the end of the year, its ripe death (as people might say), so I’ll end on citing just one book I feel I drew most joy and learning from across the whole year: Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows, especially when she talked of her writing, art, and the imagination. A new author answering the needs of my heart in a new healthy way, teaching me to see and to help myself, Joanna Trollope (not a comfort read at all after all).

And as with two years ago with David Nicholls’ Us (book and film), I have truly got a great kick out of Magpie Murders, a murder mystery serial in the Agatha Christie tradition, scripted and produced by the inimitable Anthony Horowitz (I am still re-watching Foyle’s War)

Atticus Pund explaining where they are going to Sue Rylands

It’s self-reflexive: it’s Anthony Horowitz meditating the life and work of a mystery writer, a hack out of the Agatha Christie tradition — only Horowitz knows he is no mere hack and has gone beyond the originating subgenre. We have two different levels of story: in one we are with the writer, Alan Conway, his editor, Sue Rylands (Leslie Manville), the head of the publishing company, Conway’s cynical homosexual ex-lover and his embittered sister, Claire; in the other the characters in Conway’s book most of whom correspond to counterpart characters in the series’ real life, often ironically — except for the detective, Atticus Pund (Tim McMullan, originally Timothy Spall was dreamed of) and the editor, Sue Rylands. The same actor will plays at least 2 roles — one person appears in three (if I’m not mistaken). We also see these characters when they are playing characters who existed decades ago and when they are playing contemporary characters (a downright common trope nowadays is a jump in time but rarely this cleverly done and usually with two different look-alike actors).

It’s not too mechanical, too much artifice of this type would cloy. So beyond Atticus Pund and Sue Rylands, Sue’s sister, Katie (Claire Rushbrook) and Sue’s lover, Andreas (Alexandros Logothetis), a teacher of Greek who would like to go live in Crete with Sue, have no counterparts in the 1950s story in the book. The two murderers are played by different actors, they look and are different, though they do the deed in similar fashion. The murderer’s black girlfriend in the 1950s story in the book has no counterpart in the contemporary life story. You might have expected this to be the other way round, but no. In both narratives, the same black actor plays the Anglican vicar.

What’s fascinating is how we move from book (takes place 1950s) back to life (takes place 2022). The camera is following the 1950s characters and car in the book down the road, we reach a bend and turn and now we are with the 2022 characters in life. One moves back and forth starting with the third episode, Atticus Pund; but he is noticed by no one but Sue Rylands, who at first regards him as simply an individual figment of her imagination, but by the end treats him as a person like herself and enters the world of the book to discover how the book ends. The tone throughout is warm and witty

I am now taught how this kind of material — murders growing out of deep bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, sociopathic impulses — a dog is even poisoned — can become absorbing and curiously comforting matter — as in Foyle’s War we have good guys and they win through, with a justice of sorts achieved

So that’s all for tonight as I move into winter. Better to be alive than not (as Elaine Stritch reminds us)

John Singer Sargent: Snow — I wonder if we’ll see any this winter in Alexandria?


Read Full Post »

Woods and Streams in Delaware, [early] Winter, 1916 (Edward W. Redfield)

“Alas, with all her reasonings, she found, that to retentive feelings eight years may be little more than nothing” (Austen, Persuasion Chapter 7)

Dear friends and readers,

I seem to be going through yet another transition in this seeming both long and short widowhood. I’ve stopped going out as much as I once did. Of course part of the cause of this is that I can no longer drive once the sky reaches dusk, but I could go out more during the day, and I could have recourse to Uber/Lyft
and ordering cabs ahead. I don’t. Part of this the effect of self-quarantining taken well past what I understand most or many others have done. It is so peaceful; I am no longer used to enduring the agonies, anxiety as I begin to realize I am lost and panic when I find I am not at all where I meant to be. Waze recently updated itself and now it is of no use to me at all. I can’t get past “save this destination” to “go now.” I’m telling myself I shall be reading more, and I think there’s evidence that I am already.

This is a matter of telling myself what I’m not quite following. I’m telling myself I’m giving over trying to write longer books and volunteering for talks and short projects. I’m not quite following this as I volunteered to give another talk to the Every-other-week online London Trollope Society group on (as I’m calling it) Anthony Trollope’s American Civil War Christmas Stories: “The Widow’s Mite” and “The Two Generals.” As a result of doing a talk on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin for an OLLI at AU class, I’ve thought of a course for spring 2024 that might actually attract enough people to dare to do it in public: I’d call it “Everybody’s Protest Novel” after James Baldwin’s famous scathing essay on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Richard Wright’s Native Son. And I’d do:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Louisa May Alcock, “Contraband;” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath; Joan Didion, Play it like it Lays and El Salvador by Joan Didion, and James Baldwin’s short non-fiction story, “Stranger in a Village” and novel, If Beale Street could talk

But this will be the last; after this I will stick with the new terrains I’ve carved out: Italian literature, Anglo-Indian memoirs and novels (British style fiction set in India is the longer phrase) and women writer courses. And 19th century masterpiece courses, mostly by Trollope as central and framing presence.

This means I will be alone more, and am teaching myself to accept being alone and this great loneliness since Jim died. I am tired of trying uselessly for what cannot be and what I am not sure I’d at all like. Go out with friends who ask me, but don’t chase, don’t be the one to suggest unless it is really a museum show, a play, a musical or concert you want to go to.

I do not mean to deny what joy or happiness I can feel when I’ve been out with others, spent good time with others. I knew such exhilaration and contentment when the class I had been teaching these past 9 weeks ended today.

One person had suggested we start at 1:15 to give us ourselves full time to cover all we wanted and watch film clips from the early 1990s BBC The Rector’s Wife, and the 1983 Barchester Chronicles. Eight of the nine people who have been coming steadily agreed and what a splendid class it was. I know they were enjoying it and so was I. It is so much better in person when there is a full enough class.

Yet I will not do it again until Spring 2024 since it is such a difficult thing to build a class of people coming regularly nowadays that I lose perspective, fret over how few may show up (an inappropriate response to an adult education or playful college class).

Can you understand this, gentle reader? Some new phase of calm is what I am feeling come over me, or wanting calm at long last. I discovered I lost weight when I went to Dr Wiltz a couple of weeks ago with a list of pains and complaints that he duly checked over, to tell me I am fine, just getting older yet. I’ve kept to my vow not to add sugar to anything and so I eat less.

18th century lady’s shoes

Every Friday until I run out I’m putting foremother poet blogs on Wompo — the only one. No one can bother post anything which is not about building their career. Last week it was Mary Jones, an 18t century chantress (as Johnson called her) who wrote these beautiful verses upon the death of her beloved friend, Miss Clayton; they are to her memory

Still, but for Thee, regardless might I stray,
Where gentle Charwell rolls her silent tide;
And wear at ease my span of life away,
As I was wont, when thou were at my side.

But now no more the limpid streams delight,
No more at ease unheeding do I stray;
Pleasure and Thou are vanish’d from my sight,
And life, a span! too slowly hastes away.

Yet if thy friendship lives beyond the dust,
Where all things else in peace and silence lie,
I’ll seek Thee there, among the Good and Just.
‘Mong those who living wisely — learnt to die.

And if some friend, when I’m no more, should strive
To future times my mem’ry to extend,
Let this inscription on my tomb survive,
‘Here rest the ashes of a faithful friend.’

A little while and lo! I lay me down,
To land in silence on that peaceful shore,
Where never billows beat, or tyrants frown,
Where we shall meet again, to part no more.”

Change a name and a pronoun and this connects to the way I feel about Jim, though I know I shall never meet him again, since literally he no longer exists, nor will I when I die.

This is what I have to report. This is what I have to come in the next two months. Lunch out with my friend, Alison tomorrow, two museum shows with Betty and one play (MAAN) and one musical (Into the Woods) with Betty in December. Lunch with Eleanor sometime in December: Zorba the Greek restaurant in Dupont Circle. One in person DC Trollope reading group meeting this Sunday — just outside Bethesda (Nina Balatka), and lunch with OLLI at AU SGLs one day in December. Laura and Rob with Izzy will take me out to dinner on Nov 27th as two days before my birthday. Christmas we’ll go with Rob and Laura to a good movie, and then back to their house for dinner at home and exchange of presents. I’ll tell you about these as they happen.

Now I’m evolving a reading plan for myself and I’ve begun with Italian studies (first up Grazia Deledda’s Cosima), Heroine’s books (Charlotte Gilman Perkins’s Women and Economics and Annis Pratt’s Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction), back to, beginning again Valerie Martin’s marvelous The Ghost of the Mary Celeste (a ghost story!). Then as I please beloved individual authors as I feel them (Joanna Trollope a new source of comfort and strenght, Next of Kin) and literary history (Joan Hedrick’s biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe).

Leslie Manville as Sue Ryelands (she’s also in Sherwood, The Crown, was Mrs ‘arris who went to Paris)

Evenings wonderful serials — I am actually enjoying Magpie Murders on PBS, which I’ll blog about with BritBox’s Sherwood and Karen Pirie (Val McDermid’s Distant Echo, set in modern Scotland. The year of Leslie Manville! Last blogs have been on Outlander 6 (1-4 & 5-8), seasons of processing grief, time of trauma; and upon the coming retirement of Judy Woodruff.

How much this house means to me I cannot express strongly enough. My refuge, my memories (Jim all around me), my beloved cats. I vow (like poor Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda, I’ve just finished) to remain more cheerful, open to others partly by drawing boundaries.

Here is the red berry bush on one side of my house: finally it bloomed and turned out to be the sort of bush I associate with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and beautiful middle English poetry

Late autumn, beginning my tenth year without Jim,


Read Full Post »

Izzy’s been working for a couple of months on this one so it’s time to share it.

Anna Nalick’s life and career thus far

The lyrics:

Two am, and she calls me ’cause I’m still awake
Can you help me unravel my latest mistake?
I don’t love him, winter just wasn’t my season
Yeah, we walk through the doors, so accusing their eyes
Like they have any right at all to criticize
Hypocrites, you’re all here for the very same reason

‘Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe, just breathe
Oh, breathe, just breathe

May he turn twenty-one on the base at Fort Bliss
Just today he sat down to the flask in his fist
Ain’t been sober since maybe October of last year
Here in town you can tell he’s been down for a while
But, my God, it’s so beautiful when the boy smiles
Want to hold him, maybe I’ll just sing about it

‘Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, boys
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe, just breathe
Oh, breathe, just breathe

There’s a light at each end of this tunnel, you shout
‘Cause you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out
And these mistakes you’ve made, you’ll just make them again
If you only try turning around

Two am, and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer
Inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to

But you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button now
Yeah, sing it if you’ll understand
And breathe, just breathe
Oh, breathe, just breathe
Oh, breathe, just breathe
Oh, breathe, just breathe

She’s 38, just Izzy’s age

Posted by Ellen

Read Full Post »

I don’t know who painted the painting this is an image from

“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
―George Eliot in a letter (Oct. 1, 1841)

The reality is it poured heavily and intensely last night but not enough to cause floods massive enough to wash away the neighborhood (as a hurricane has just done in Cuba and then in Florida), and today the air was filled with wet moisture and it rained lightly and then a bit heavier on and off all day, and tomorrow we are promised pouring rain once again, but nowhere near hurricane strength …. Oct 1, 2022

Dear friends,

Once again I must live through October 3rd (it would have been Jim’s birthday, now it’s his birthdate, 1948), October 6th (the day we met, 1967, and the day we married precisely a year later, 1968), and October 9th (the day or evening he died, between 9:05 and 9:10, me with my arms around him, 2013). He stopped talking to us on October 8th. Since that last grim October day, some years I have been at a conference, for early October is academic conference time across the US; not this year, but

I will no longer go to any JASNA conferences after the way they rejected us transparently (having registered almost immediately it took the organizers several weeks to drop us to the lowest rung of who might get in) during registration four years ago now, causing Izzy to cancel her membership for good (I wrote about this elsewhere, useless to repeat it); and now this year I’m not having any luck reaching the virtual forms of the sessions (live-streaming) so the money paid is the last dime the AGMs will have from me.

I was going to go to the annual EC/ASECS, where the sessions are to be held at Winterthur museum, the hotel is a drive away (Wilmington, Delaware), and two night time things also a drive — I can no longer drive at night. I remembered that Jim said the one time before the EC/ASECS held the conference there, the drive is hellish and twisting so we took an AMTRAC and then he rented a car. I was foolish enough to try to go with an untrustworthy (I half knew this) friend, a man who turned out also to be cunningly false, and without telling you the uncomfortable several week’s details, I finally told him to go by himself directly there, cancelled the hotel reservation, too embarrassed to be there while he would be (it being a small group you see), and not wanting any scenes, having told him never email, text or phone me again. I will hope to go next year, if they have it in a place where the sessions and hotel are the same building, and in a readily accessible place.

So here I am alone at night remembering. The Facebook software not knowing what was the content I wrote on FB on this day 2015, reminded me (they do this) of what I sent that day, and invited me “to share” this on my timeline. I did; the material contained a link to a blog I wrote that night: this was written before Trump campaigned and then won the election to the US through gerrymandering and the peculiar injustice of the electoral college (he did not win the popular vote) at which I turned the Sylvia I blog over to politics wholly: you will see how Jim and I resolved issues over the years together, with me admitting that most of the time one might say he won, but he got me to accede to what he wanted with terms set up I could endure. You will also see what he looked like the year before his body developed esophageal cancer.

And what he looked like the month we met, October 1967, in front of the Leeds terraced house we were living in together that first week: above is a mature man, below is a boy:


Before I tell my readers here, how & something of why I am for this term and probably the foreseeable future online for all but three classes, and living most of my life online still, when I was hoping to go out regularly to teach in both places, lest you think I am more cheerless than I am. My mood (though near tears somehow) resembles Austen’s when she wrote

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

Over the past few days I’ve had some lovely letters from real friends, today I was on the phone twice (!) with two girlfriends who live in DC and we made plans to meet soon, a third friend I had happy time with lunching at a Greek restaurant at Dupont Circle has proposed a zoom together, tomorrow at 6 pm Izzy and I will have our monthly face-time with Thao (electricity holding up — fingers crossed). Tonight I enjoyed (not sure that is the correct word) — was fully absorbed watching Ingmar Bergmann’s The Seventh Seal, the first time I’ve seen it in decades, as part of an excellent course in “Movies, political, moral, aesthetic,” where I am one of those attending in person at OLLI at AU.

I’m as thorough going an atheist as anyone is likely to meet, and I do not think I’d find life easier were I to believe in any god or supernatural. It would have to be a hideously malevolent as the burning of that woman in the film — and that did happen and horrible tortures and deaths are happening in many countries. The film shows how much worse religious beliefs and practices make life for many. It’s so allegorical – I was interested to watch how consistent the allegory is with medieval art and texts as the austere noble knight (Chaucer), his earthy squire, the young wife and husband as circus performers (Renaissance theater). For the first time I understood what the famous image of Death and the Knight playing chess is about: it’s the story of the film, a kind of bet. If the knight wins, death takes no one on the spot; the duration of the game gives him time to go on a last journey; if he loses, he dies immediately, and those around him

The next morning the day dawns brightly and we see our young couple and baby hasten off before anything untoward could happen.

This season I’m finally reveling in Outlander, the sixth season, re-watching The Crown (for the sake of the queen’s story, I tell myself). I watch and re-watch Foyle’s War, each time more deeply moved, feel good at the ending as our “friends,” Foyle, Sam, sometimes with Milner or Foyle’s son, drive away … I have all three as DVDs with lots of features (which I sometimes enjoy as much as the episodes).

I am so chuffed my review-essay of the Cambridge Edition of the Complete Poems of Anne Finch has just been published in the Intelligencer. Soon I will write a blog about it, and put it online at academia.edu.

And I read away, these past weeks the profound brilliant James Baldwin (for an excellent and yes online Politics & Prose class) one of the greatest voices in American literature in the 20th century and of the African diaspora itself. I have said the last two years now I feel my outward character has changed to be more able to understand and even feel some ordinary sense of peace, security, and be able to read affirmative books and learn from them (I’m on my fourth Joanna Trollope — I come away having learnt a healthy lesson or outlook from her books), while drawing sustenance from the quietly bleak ambivalent — even in a Jane Austen sequel, Catherine Schine’s The Three Weissmans of Westport, a true updating of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

This enraptured review must be by a friend of Schine’s: The humor is the grimace and witticisms and irony (as in Austen’s book); the daughters are step-daughters who don’t love nor forgive the unforgivable stepfather who utterly betrays his wife (the Mrs Dashwood character) and left them for a character who shares a Lucy Steele personality with another character who pretends to be pregnant to get the Edward character to marry her. Like other sequels, she has in mind actors and actresses from different movies; Gemma Jones for Mrs Weissman-Dashwood, Hattie Morahan for Annie-Elinor, Robert Swann for Brandon (he keeps that name), Gregg Wise (though unlike his usual persona and the Willoughby of Emma Thompson’s S&S, the utterly untrustworthy and cad-like Willoughby (he too keeps the name) of Schine’s novel. Her novel ends with Annie-Elinor and Brandon character forming a quiet supportive friendship. I loved that.

The 2008 version of that journey from Sussex to Devonshire: I never tire it seems of Austen


So what happened with my I’m beginning to think misguided attempts to teach in person. Only 9 registered for the course at OLLI at AU; hitherto all my Trollope courses regularly began with over 30 and ended with about 22. I went online, lost one person that way but added 4, 3 of whom come from further away and had told me they would have taken the course had it been online. I was shooting myself in the foot. 13 registered for the OLLI at Mason Barsetshire Then & Now or the Two Trollopes (Joanna and Tony), but only 6 showed up. I was devastated and saw the summer disaster that occurred in OLLI at AU when I tried Christa Wolf (she is too difficult for most readers I now know — as hard as George Eliot without the reputation to bring people in for self-improvement and self-esteem) this summer — it’s not enough to sustain a class over a number of weeks. I’m told this is the average number who show up in person (6); 4 came from the spectacularly enjoyable good class I did in person on The Woman in White and Mary Reilly for the 6 week summer course at OLLI at Mason. I’m also told that the over-riding factor is convenience.

So I must accept that what compels me to enjoy in person contact so much (truly perceiving what’s happening within students vis-a-vis a book) cannot motivate people in the class. Who among them is widowed in my way? For many what they got in person that they valued they feel they get via zoom. I have again misunderstood the nature of a social experience and the attitude of the people towards it. As I age, I admit also that driving even during the day is not as easy, and I myself as a member of the class find online delightful when the teachers and level of class are wonderful.

It’s not inappropriate to write of this on this first night of the coming week of remembering Jim since I turned to the OLLIs as a way of building an acceptable life for myself without him literally with me. So now I have had to change again: the pandemic itself has transformed the public world. I used to wish more people understood that life can be full and rewarding online; so here’s another instance of that fable, careful what you wish for, for you may get it.

My two cats and I have grown closer still. I find it so touching when as I prepare to go out (I do go out), whatever it be, getting dressed (shoes), putting stuff in my handbag, getting together stuff to take out with me, and especially when I either turn off my computer or put on a face mask, they both get up from wherever they are in my room and start heading for the door. It’s the awareness of me, and the desire to cooperate with me that moves me. Cats are sensitive, affectionate, communicative animals and they and I understand one another in all sorts of ways. At this point too Ian has bonded with Izzy, and stays a lot with her in her room: this is the result of the pandemic and her working from home remotely 2 days a week.

Ian sitting up for Laura

Clarycat on Jim’s lap — both photos taken before Jim died, say 2012 (like the photo of Jim above), the two cats are are about 2-3 years old

I close tonight with the lines Jim wrote for the top of the urn in which his ashes remain, which urn sits on my mantelpiece along side a photo of him, his reading glasses & ancient Anglican Book of Common Prayer; the DVD the funeral company made of photos across his life; a toy sheep Laura bought from the shop at Stonehenge that summer the 4 of us spent 3 weeks together in England, and a small stuffed Penguin Izzy added to the collection from her and my visit one summer to Sussex to go to a Charlotte Smith conference together (I could not have gotten there w/o her).

Jim’s play on Rupert Brooke’s famous lines: If I should die,/think only this of me:/That there’s a corner of a foreign mantelpiece that is for a while England.

Ellen, still his faithful wife

Read Full Post »

Emma Haworth — The Last Day of Summer

Friends and readers,

Of course the intense heat is not over: the last 3-4 days here in Virginia were and the next 3-4 promise to be, intensely hot by noon and remain very warm until later in the night. Humid, sticky. But sunlight is barely peeking over the horizon at 6 am and the sky is darkened by 8:20 pm, fall activities will begin within 2 weeks (public schools and colleges have begun the fall semester), and the feel is of summer coming to an end.

Since I last wrote Laura and Rob went on a vacation they apparently enjoyed spectacularly: DisneyWorld in Florida for 8-9 days and nights, where they stayed in a very nearby resort as Disneyfied as the park inside the gates. They seemed to spend the early days in Star War and other science fiction and recent Disney fantasies, only recording the traditional characters (Mickey Mouse, Snow White, the dwarves &c) at my prompting.  Then Laura’s many photographs in a sense telling about their trip day-by-day began to include the traditional matter: every day a parade, every night fireworks, mouse-ears everywhere. A gilt statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse.  A church like set of gilded windows telling the story of Snow White and the 7 dwarves.   The magic kingdom castle (an icon).  One shop with a wall of EARS. They ate out beautifully, swam, saw beautiful sunsets and sunrises; photographed themselves having fun (including old-fashioned roller coaster rides from the 1970s, ie., through the Dwarves’ Mines). One of my favorites of her photos she subtitled: Rob doing his impression of relaxing, where he did seem to be working at lounging poolside on a chair. Both looked comfortable and happy. Here are two where you can see them very well:

Rob in a space ship

Here they are furthest left — she’s in a grey outfit; it’s part of a cruise ride

Most important the atmosphere and behavior of everyone who works at Disney is impeccably benign, eager to help you have a good time. The place, experience and environs (hotels and inns and pools just outside the gates) offer a continually seductive highly controlled invitation to return to your childhood.  One example:  the garbage is removed via chutes in the dead of night so customers cannot see it being done or who does this work. And you have paid a great deal for this.

I did a couple more activities I’d been yearning to: I went with MaryLee to Wolf Trap to see EmmyLou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter. She emailed me again to say after all let’s meet for coffee, and when I arrived I could see she is still under the strong grip of bereftness (Roger, her husband died less than 4 months ago now), and thought to myself, maybe she would be willing to do something different than her usual as getting outside of herself: I proposed these two folk singers at Wolf Trap. To my surprise and happiness, she got up and went over to a computer, so excited was she at the idea to look at the show because she knew/liked the singers; what held her back was the fear she couldn’t drive us there (as she didn’t know the way) and worse, how would we get back with the enormous crowd in the parking light and the darkness. Were it not for two daughters, we would not have gone. Her daughter Katy, encouraged her to dare and said ML sure could do the driving — so MaryLee phoned me and as Izzy was walking out the door to go to work, I dragged her back and she helped me buy two lawn seats. Later Ellen, another daughter, was encouraging her to have a good time, and it was Izzy who downloaded the confirmation paper which got us the tickets at Will Call, a booth, when we got there.

On the way there I had a print-out from Map-quest which I kept reading aloud and there were my pictorial memories; on the way back MaryLee programmed her google maps but we couldn’t “her” to talk so I interpreted from the map as ML drove and I had my pictorial memories (even in the dark) of leaving Wolf Trap … I could picture both ways as we went. That’s essential for me in finding my way: I must be able to picture as I go.

EmmyLou Harris recently (she is in her 70s if she’s a day)

Mary Chapin Carpenter

The experience at Wolf Trap itself. We very much enjoyed a picnic supper: she made delicious sandwiches, I brought wine, and macaroni salad (I left behind the paper plates I had bought especially for the picnic!); we were on the upper part of the lawn, in our lawn chairs, between two trees against the fence. A learning expedition we said. Then the musical performance. Harris was working hard, meant well, but somehow did not connect with the audience. Her breathy delivery made her lyrics hard to understand but over the hour and 10 minutes she performed she won me over. This morning I heard her on my ipad and think she would have done better to sing more simply to us. Then a duet with Carpenter (good feeling) and, to conclude, the second half, Carpenter’s hour and one-half were just superlative. Carpenter made contact, her talk was piquant and interesting, she and her band made music, the deeply familiar ones I love and new ones — very often very melodic. She saved the most rousing and satiric famous early ones for last.

Out under the skies later at night amid a good-natured crowd (all cooperative, helping one another) just so rejuvenating. We saw two men helping a third disabled man to settle himself: I spied a woman with a young baby coping. We talked of memories. We watched people — central to the experience is the crowd and it was very crowded, and very few masks. The courageous part was coming home, for we had to get out of the parking lot (30 minute wait) and then be sure and take the right turns, with only google maps (and my memory picturing the roads) to guide us in the dark. Got home at midnight. She too said she had not been out so late for a very long time. But we did it.

Remember Joe to Pip in Great Expectations? Wot larks!

So I’ve been to a beach, saw two live plays, Midsummer Night’s Dream (a summer frolic) and Red Velvet, and now a concert at Wolf Trap under the invisible stars.

By no means am I wrong not to trust to myself to find anything by myself — and try to go to the coming EC/ASECS with a friend (Tony his name). If he does not show up, this time I will bow out too (though I will do the paper on studying Anne Finch and Jane Austen through their manuscripts). I spent one hour and 10 minutes of getting lost trying to find a restaurant, with Waze, with map-quest print-out, with memory, all to no avail. Very bad stress. Finally, phoned Lins, NY patient friend who said I was 3-4 minutes away and on phone gave me directions: the restaurant was buried inside a mall. What happened: the updating of Waze has made it impossible for me to use. It corrects the addresses I put in, so it took me to the wrong address. It gives me more choices and I can no longer figure out how to get to go when the button say “go later (save). My friend was generous, kind, waited all that time and we had a lovely (salmon w/salad for me) lunch & good talk. It’s also a lesson on the risk of trying to fly internationally using a package tour — there will be no Izzy there to help me through the rows of computers. People in my Aspergers group advised paying for Global Entry and/or TSA Pre-check but I wonder if they will enable me to bypass the especially puzzling computers …


My new walkable-in (though with bunion cushions) ECCO sandals from Comfort One shoe shop in Old Towne …

If you had ever told me, I would photograph my feet in shoes and put the photo on the Net, I would have thought you mad.

When I returned from Toronto, my feet were in bad shape, bleeding around the toes, bunions very sore, cracking skin. On the advice of my friend, Betty, I bought from Amazon (I tried Walgreens’ but their website is impossible) Tea Tree Oil (Hot Soak), and have been soaking my feet for 20 minutes each night. But I knew it’s time to get shoes I can walk in also if I’m to teach in person, and go out a bit more. She also told me about ECCO sandals: she was wearing a pair. I found them in Comfort Shoes in Old Towne, unfortunately a long walk from my car to near the Potomac. A very nice clerk who helped me order a second pair from their warehouse, and then, since I was so far down, I walked on to Potomac (two short blocks) and stood by the water at long last. Walked all the way back slowly. I am not doing as well in the heat as I once did, and was glad to get to my car, get home, shower and stay in the air-conditioned house for 3 days afterward.

I’ve not neglected museums this summer — due to my friend, Betty. I went with her to see two much advertised & praised (?) exhibits at the National Gallery. Spare yourself the trip. One is supposed to be about the icon of Woman in White as related to Wilkie Collins’s famous novel and Whistler; what it is actually about is Whistler and a model-mistress he painted in white several times; anything that relates (19th century pictures of women in white) are thrown in. The argument (doesn’t hold) is how important the mistress-model was/is. A blow up of Frederick Walker’s well known illustration for Collins’s novel is in one of the rooms.

No where is there any mention of how wearing white was an upper class luxury; how hard it was to clean white garments; nor is there any frankness on the prostitution involved. The other called Doubles consists of the curator having dragged together lots of things he and/or she have imposed the idea of doubles on (similar objects painted by different painters) and makes little sense even of the term.

The cafeteria continues to be very poor (hardly anything there and what is is wretched). A result of curators thinking they are the artists and plucking works out the curators thought exemplified a theme or idea which was jejeune or not so. I dislike a lot of recent art — it seems flat paintings on walls won’t do. The exhibits had a lot of films, interactive kinds of things.

Curators are becoming bolder. Dropping “controls” like setting the works up chronologically or by author provides some measure of distance and lets the artists’ works belong to a really there schematics. If the curator is smart and the theme is really there (or school of painting say), it can be enlightening but they are no longer content for that. Plus for me I don’t like modern abstract art, I like realism.

I am still reading and thinking about Wilkie Collins! (a superb book on Wilkie Collins, Jenny Taylor Bourne’s In the Secret Theater of Home). and have now watched the 5 part 2016 BBC Moonstone and the 1996 singleton: both very good. It is very hard to film this book whose surface is made up of characters who do very little and are supposed to amuse us as satires of types of people, with a new type in the detective Mr Cuff; but whose underlying story is put off until near the end of the novel, with unexplained suicides, angry crippled people, and silent stereotypical Indians (orientalism) along the way. The hero, Mr Franklin Blake disappears early on and is brought back at the very end. Both productions kept him on stage by the use of flashbacks remembered by him and Betteridge, who in 2016 is a close companion-friend. The part is realized very appealingly by Leo Wringer:

Leo Wringer as Gabriel Betteridge

With Lisa Cole as his effective daughter, Penelope (she steals scenes with her vital presence)

The only performances that came near theirs in the 1996 film were Greg Wise as Franklin Blake and Anthony Sher as Cuff.

So of course I’ve been reading away too, watching serial and other movies at night, blogging some, a few old friends wrote (Jim Dring who has helped me with Poldark) and new (an Iranian woman now on my listserv with information about Jane Austen in Farsi) and I answered.

I’ve had a provisional acceptance for a course I’ll teaching at OLLI at AU (and a modified shorter one at OLLI at Mason). This tells you what I’ve been reading the last several weeks on and off.

There is apparently a film adaptation

Contemporary Italian Novels & memoirs

In this course we’ll read a group of Italian works with a view to understanding the culture, history and politics of Italy over the last hundred years or so. We’ll begin with a novella by Grazia Deledda (one of a few women to have won the Nobel Prize), Cosima (1937) depicting the early pre-World Wars world of Sicily as we watch a young girl mature. Then a historical novel by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard (1957, much respected best seller, filmed to acclaim — Burt Lancaster still remembered for his role), set in Palermo, 1860-1910 depicting the risorgimento from a prince’s POV. Then Natalia Ginzburg’s memoir, The Family Lexicon (1963, also much respected woman writer and book) depicting a Northern family (Turin , Rome) during and after WW2. Primo Levi’s Periodic Table, brilliant memoir drawing on chemistry (1984), autobiography as history too. Last Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2012), first of 4 volume masterpiece Neapolitan Quartet. We’ll do some poetry (Salvatore Quasimodo, also won Nobel, and Elsa Morante in pdf forms)

I’ve not decided which will be the fifth book — or if I should just have four. In the 8 week OLLI at Mason I will drop Deledda and replace The Leopard with Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi (1947), a memoir of his time in exile during WW2 because I’ve discovered The Leopard is fascist, and what I loved so long ago in the Italian in the English is a Scott-like historical novel. Christ Stopped at Eboli is brilliantly philosophic and about the hard lives of peasants in Italy before, then, since by a radical writer. (I am substituting the Lampeda at AU lest the woman who did an Italian-Jewish writing course there a couple of years ago now think I’m imitating her — I’m not as her talk was wholly conservative and non-interpretative. I hesitated over Cosima, but it is short, easy and the woman won the Nobel Prize and it seems a shame to omit it (the AU people said I could have an 11th week).

Natalia Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon: 3X she and her children’s lives were in serious danger, rescued at great personal risk by friends. During her time in exile with Leone, she writes 3 pages where she packs the whole of the feel of Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli

For those who don’t know it, the poetry of Quasimodo is superb (I have a translation by Allan Mandelbaum), e.g., And suddenly it’s evening

Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
trafitto da un raggio di sole:
Ed e subito sera.

I watched 3 of the 4 part serial with Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie (a rewriting of Trollope’s much put-upon Mary Crawley) and she was so riveted she wanted to see the fourth — in a row (too much for me)

Reading for my course coming up: the Two Trollopes: his Last Chronicle what a masterpiece, for London Society group: CYFH? — how beautiful the description of Swiss tour, and how true the characters feel. This time I see more emphatic that Kate Vavasour is a lesbian. Yesterday finished Joanna Trollope’s Rector’s Wife: a strong intelligent second phase feminist novel– about independence, living your own life (you are a boat in your right). Even in this sequel form. I can’t recommend it too highly. I’m a third into her The Choir and am seeing how astute it is about church politics (and very Trollopian in Anthony’s way).

I am surprising myself by liking her sequel, Sense and Sensibility very much, and also (not quite as much) Catherine The Three Weissmans of Westport (Connecticut): my mood is more tolerant than I once was and I am more able to bear other people’s cheerfulness so can accept such books better. I’ve thought about sequels:

It’s in the interplay between the originating book and this one that the pleasure, insight and compelling interest forward lies. I spent a couple of hours yesterday quite literally seeing how Trollope’s book parallels Austen’s — from acquaintance with three of the other 6 written during that year (see below). Six known and successful authors were asked to rewrite one of Austen’s books, and one can see the influence in choices of book for each from the kind of book the modern author is known for

It’s common to review such books, but most of the time you get either condemnation, praise (usually contentless, too vague), sometimes a literal retelling of a few contents in the new book, not what are the pleasures of sequels, and why it is so hard to please generally. For JT’s book I think she read Austen’s book from the same angle and in the same light I do (as does Schine) — other sequels I’ve detested I now realize did not. For JT the central event of the book occurs when at the end of volume 1 Lucy forces on Elinor the knowledge of Lucy’s long term engagement to Elinor; I still remember how moved I was reading Volume 2, Chapter 1, Elinor’s agon and vigil . JT has the revelation also as the last chapter of Volume 1, and the vigil as powerful and 1st volume of Volume 2. She takes equally seriously the humiliation of Marianne in a London public assembly — makes it occur in a fashionable church wedding.

There is also more than a whiff of memory of some of the film adaptations and I can see the 2008 actors in a number of the roles (JT’s Willoughby is the same arrogant, self-centered crude male as in that movie), hear their voices, with the 1981 Brandon taken for this book, and lingering memories of the Thompson/Ang movie Again my taste is cohering with Trollope’s. Schrine has Greg Wise as Willoughby in mind (boyish) for her Willoughby character.

Yet I placed my files notes under Joanna Trollope, not Austen because this book comes out of her oeuvre, and I see several attitudes of hers in her non-sequel and other sequel (2 Anthony Trollope) books. So you probably also have to like the new author’s presence, vision and style too — I strongly felt Trollope’s Other People’s Children left me with a healthier attitude towards life the way The Rector’s Wife does.

A ferocious hate-filled attempt on Rushdie’s life almost succeeded this month …

Put together another list for another course for Spring 2024: Anglo-Indian Novels, also Take Two. No one can do such books nowadays without Salmon Rushie, and I’ve discovered I don’t care for his novels. I’ve tried them before: it has something to do with his sense of humor, magic realism (not realistic at all), and that his fiction recalls Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which never amused me at all. But I do like his essays; so the list would be J Farrell, The Siege of Krisnapur, Markandaya, The Nowhere Man, Rushdie: Imaginary Homelands (a book of essays, columns, life writing) and Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowlands … Had lovely lunch (pizza) with Sugra at Dupont Circle two Saturdays ago: she was the teacher at the history of India course online I took in June.

And I’ll keep reading my non-fiction outside sources and movie watching. I have two 18th century epistolary novels partly set in India and hope to get to them soon: Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India, ed, introd E. M. Forster (!), and Phebe Gibbes, Hartley House, Calcutta. Both by women. I believe Emily Eden in virago Up Country, about her time in India, early 19th century.

Listening to Eliot’s Daniel Deronda read by Nadia May in my car: I am finding how much I dislike the heroine (!) and that her egoistic traits and coldness remind me of Grandcourt (so marriage to him is a kind of poetic justice), but am so moved by narrator’s continually enlarging commentary. This for 3 different groups, all of them “doing DD” this fall (FB group, OLLI at AU and best of all Maria Frawley’s class at Politics and Prose).


Do you want an image of a picture I’ve liked in the last 24 hours? On twitter: evening in the countryside ~ a young woman muses quietly as she sits modestly in the train, pet dog at her side. She holds a ribboned gift; maybe it’s for a meeting with the person in the car which we can see through the large window (Andrea Kowch, ‘Reunion’). Pensive and melancholy as if she’s remembering something fondly and sadly. The gift is what she is going to give someone. The person may be in the car & car catching up to the train as it comes into the station. I am very touched by details of the sweater, a print dress, her hat, dog, the seat covers, car in glimmering countryside. Early 20th century:

So there you are summer’s end. The last of the flowering bushes finally bloomed


Read Full Post »

Dear friends and readers,

Before Izzy and I set off for our two day and three night visit to Thao and Jeff and baby William, Izzy recorded this song: The Lumineers’ Agenda:

Wikipedia will tell you all about the group.

Here are the lyrics:

When you left this town, with your windows down
And the wilderness inside
Let the exits pass, all the tar and glass
‘Til the road and sky align
The strangers in this town
They raise you up just to cut you down
Oh Angela it’s a long time coming
And your Volvo lights lit up green and white
With the cities on the signs
But you held your course to some distant war
In the corners of your mind
From the second time around
The only love I ever found
Oh Angela it’s a long time coming
Home at last
Were you safe and warm in your coat of arms
With your fingers in a fist
Did you hear the notes, all those static codes
In the radio abyss?
Strangers in this town
They raise you up just to cut you down
Oh Angela it’s a long time coming in
Oh Angela spent your whole life running away
Home at last
Home at last
Vacancy, hotel room, lost in me, lost in you
Angela, on my knees, I belong, I believe
Home at last
Home at last
Home at last


Read Full Post »

Beatrice Potter — Mice at work threading the needle

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

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

So I wrote in reply:

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

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

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

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

They are the only ones
who are free.

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

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

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

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


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »