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Jim could recite by heart some of the lines from Beatrix Potter’s tales of small animals making do, managing

Troubles, I don’t have to tell you, don’t come at a gallop, like the Huns, but arrive quietly, stealthily, like epidemics …. Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, his reality the level of chemical elements interacting ….

Dear friends and readers.

Whether it be a massive increase in numbers of people growing very sick, and a frightening proportion of them dying, and dying in a peculiarly miserable way, or a consequent, concurrent depression or recession arising from the spreading attempts in countries the coronavirus has spread to by everyone staying home, and thus refraining from the kind of economic activity that generates income, constructive answers and behavior are eagerly looked for. They as yet seem heart-breakingly slow in most countries until the virus begins to kill in visible numbers, probably because as yet there (how many as yets do I have?) there is no vaccine, no sure and certain cure. Worse yet in some countries, groups of people are trying to use this crisis, calamity to extract huge profits for themselves (in the US Trump and his Republicans in power), or given them to constituencies; individuals in power refuse to act lest the principles of capitalism be noticed to be at all interfered with (Trump).

Last time I wrote, this lock-down, self-isolation, social distancing (self-quarantine?) whatever you want to call it, was only beginning. Tonight all the usual places I & Izzy go to are closed (schools, libraries, book stores, community centers museums, investment companies); remaining open are supermarkets, drug stores, police shops, hospitals, the post-office, restaurants which are still attracting customers. All those places where the employees can work from home, what’s called telework, or conduct business by remote access (programs include Zoom, webinar and others) are doing so — insofar as employees can pull this off.

Right now all people are waiting to see what happens next, either to themselves personally or to the society at large. So many are unemployed, our disguised dictator (so he’d like to think and works to make true), Trump has now silenced unemployment statistics (he a couple of weeks ago) forbade all gov’t agencies with information from telling the statistics of those sickening and dying from coronavirus. He can’t stop all information since newspapers, media, states & localities are publishing such information. So all his transparent lies have little purchase except with his worshipful followers who are inoculated against information not from him anyway. A huge number of people are without salaries who desperately need them; last night on twitter I saw a video of a city council in Florida where the council had shut off the electricity of all those people in the county not able to pay bills, where an African-American man broke through all the euphemisms, and pointed out what the woman at the head had done because she cared more about her relationship with the electricity company than thousands of people; she tried to shut him up but could not.


From the Washington Post: Union Station this past Wednesday/Thursday

I don’t get a salary and have to hope my investments and retirement annuities & social security keeps coming in or remain stable; Izzy is teleworking from her library, and being paid. So beyond having to stay home, and seeing supermarkets showing the results of other people’s hoard-buying so Izzy has no Skippy peanut-butter and I have to make do with other brands of tea, the cats ditto over wet-good. Not too bad. On my last public outing, I went to see the latest Emma and wrote a clog comparing it to The Portrait of a Lady on Fire, both women’s films, more alike than you might realize. I’ve written a blog beyond the ones linked in above on Angela Merkel’s speech to the German people, and some absorbing movies and books I’m turning to. I’ve put away some of what I planned to read in classes, and am concentrating on my true interests or authors, kinds of books, projects just invented and loved (E.M. Forster for example) more sheerly.


There she is modeling exemplary shopping — not piling up goods irrespective of other people’s equal needs

My IT guy, Jonathan, installed Zoom for me and I participated insofar as a I could in a remote access class — As I wrote last time, this Zoom experience is no substitute for a physically shared environment and space together. In this case we didn’t see the teacher and he could only see those who talked, and not all of them. I realize now I don’t have a computer microphone (and again will ask Jonathan to order one, even if they are as he says all out of stock), and couldn’t figure out how to make myself visible in a little square. I did see chat running underneath the screen, and saw where I could click and lo and behold began to chat with others and respond to those talking. At the end of the session the teacher first realized a few of us were contributing that way — next time, he suggested, he’ll pay attention to that too. Yet I admit that something real as an encounter happened, myself I learned little about Shakespeare’s sources for Hamlet (the topic) that I didn’t know but I did learn (oddly somehow outside what was happening, everything objectified) some more about what people value in a classroom and it’s not the content of what’s learned about the subject for most of them.

I hope this will amuse others. It has come through from a list where there are many academics studying Renaissance women. File under: are we down-hearted? no we are not, we are surviving

It is no trivial task. Thus far the people at OLLI at AU have managed to put and to participate in 20 of the originally scheduled 90 classes on-line — with some very hard work face-to-face in training classes at AU with the tech people there. I am still reading towards the Italian Jewish writing class: this week finished
the extraordinary Periodic Table by Levi; utterly appropriate and relevant, from his experiences in a concentration camp in World War Two, as Jewish boy growing up in Turin as the war came on, his fables of a desolation island afterwards, and his tales of life as a chemist. From what I can tell OLLI at Mason is struggling even more. There I have exchanged e-mails with a teacher attempting to put a class in Existential writing online. She and her husband are working away. Politics and Prose is working at putting some of their activities online. Their business must be hurting badly.

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

Mornings are the worst for me, I am in quite a state after troubling dreams — I’ve realized several of them I was believing in the other morning, and finally threw them off. Anxiety and depression manifest themselves as worry (about me, those I know and am close to, the world), and with no one to hug I can reach panic level — one morning I thought my gmail was not coming through. To mon cri de coeur of an email asking for some reply, a kind friend emailed tout de suite, 3 times (!) and I established in a couple of other ways the gmail is working, mail just coming in v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, far less ads (but I rejoiced t see a couple). Groups.io most unusually having a glitch perhaps (the owner’s child has a flu). Early mornings up from long night in dream world harder to recover from. I see all these Zoom and remote online access classes are very spotty, no substitute for what goes on that is called teaching in a shared physical environment Still hacking cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing — persistent mild cold. I am thinking of establishing new routs ….

You see ClaryCat and Ian on their cat tree this morning; although I am not watching Outlander 5 this season (because I will not pay to support fascistic programming and this ruthless capitalist move of Starz), here is Adso, Claire’s cat this season.

Sometimes around 8 after I have watched the somber news. Judy Woodruff on PBS does her level best to reassure and be hopeful or upbeat without sacrificing truth; Amy Goodman cannot get the kinds of higher officials she sometimes has on but she has substituted people with real knowledge about medicine, or the particular country which is her subject or aspect of what is happening in the US. I forgot to watch My Brilliant Friend last week on Monday. That’s the title of what will presumably be four seasons adapted from Elena Ferrante’s brilliant Neapolitan Quartet, this one The Story of a New Name. I did make up for it this past Friday, and am determined not to become too overwrought again.

As an individual I am helpless against the people in power (they have constructed the political structures that achieve legitimacy that way) — I can write blogs to try to disseminate information, cheer myself, lure someone into wasting a little of their time by forgetting or remembering and thinking and feeling with me. Wash my hands too — how about to the tune and using words of Edward Lear’s

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

III
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I will finally phone Kaiser tomorrow about this perpetual cold …

Ellen

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Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe


La Peste by Camus

Friends,

These two books are those that come to mind when I try to think of literary treatments where you can find both an experience of a deadly epidemic and profound meditations on the meaning of what happens to individuals and a society when such a calamity occurs. I’ve taught them both (La Peste Englished as The Plague). I’ve read others where the deadly epidemic is either secondary, something creating an atmosphere of devastation and despair (Mann’s Death in Venice), or there as a direct cause of utterly irrational destructive and from a pragmatic standpoint useless behavior (the opening of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, where an epidemic is turned into a mass hunt for human scapegoats to blame).

The New York Times today laid out what is happening in US society as the viral infection, COVID-19 or coronavirus spreads.

My friend, Bryan Alexander’s blog laying out the global story, continually updated.
Each of us will be affected differently once it begins to spread inside the nation state and particular region of a country we live in; beyond larger social political and economic decisions made by people who can control large groups of human behavior, and a multitude of individual reactions by those not sick (some people will rush out and buy large amounts of groceries, or pharmacy supplies) and those sick. Self-protective measures (self-isolating, washing your hands to the soliloquy of Lady Macbeth beginning “Out, damned spot!”) are also socially responsible. What kind of housing you have, with whom, your age and state of health. What you do usually to occupy yourself, make a living, keep sane.

For myself I’m 73, I live in what in NYC we called a private house, with my 36 year old daughter. She is well, I have had a mild cold for about two weeks now, and I cannot throw it, but it gets no worse. What I do to occupy myself is to teach voluntarily at life-long learning organizations for older retired people so I feel I am contributing to the lives to those who appreciate this the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime of study (of literature) in an enjoyable social situation. A form of school and social club combined. Well we have been hard-hit because 1) the Trump administration so cut the budget of medical agencies there to temper, ward off, and care for people during emergencies as well as daily life, that no general testing has been done (thus the only safety measure that can be taken is mass social distancing), and 2) refused to make available for free or securely affordable such tests, or treatments as are needed so to contain the spread. Not only are most social places closing down in order to prevent masses or groups of people from getting together indiscriminately and infecting one another. Also since the demographics of one group especially at risk (past age 60) is precisely the age of OLLI groups (most people somewhere between 55 and 85), the two classes I began to teach last week (The Novels of E.M. Forster) and the three classes I was beginning to attend (on Louisa May Alcott’s books but especially Little Women/Good Wives, Italian Jewish writing, Hamlet) and was scheduled to begin (Difficult Women with Elaine Showalter) are cancelled as face-to-face classroom in person experiences.

I am told that I can try to teach by remote access using a program called Zoom. I am crucially without confidence in my ability to pull off such a thing as in all previous experience I have failed (e.g., online Webinars). There are going to be training sessions for those who agree to use this technology to reach students this coming Monday. When I have gone to such training sessions (say in how to do wikipedia) I have not learned anything as the speed, lack of precision, and assumptions about what I know and can do to start with preclude my learning. I am also very reluctant to expose myself visually and orally that way. I would “virtually” “be there,” supposedly with people in a teaching situation at a distance through videos they can study except they are not there, not themselves physically involved, not at risk themselves in the same way, and thus can react differently to. I worry what others will pick up about me. Two of the three people teaching other classes are willing to try to do this zoom. I am willing to try to be a student in a class where someone else is teacher so that I could join in the class with others but more so I can understand what this experience is before I would ever volunteer to be the person in the center. I hope that I will be able to reach one of these people: the paragraphs sent imply this will be easy. I have no confidence in that and have asked my older daughter to come over if I need help, and I will try the IT guy if he can do it by remote if I cannot. I have to wait and see.

For the one of my two E.M. Forster classes that started two weeks ago — going splendidly in the class — I offered to communicate through email. You could as alternatives communicate through conference calls or email. Thus far 12 people have said they would rather the class be canceled and given the usual classroom way another time (several of them tactful enough to say they enjoyed the in-class so much more in comparison to a silent email) compared to 4 who liked my email letters — I wrote a more detailed one today where probably as to content I conveyed far more and precisely than I do in a classroom. Most of the people who come to these classes come for the social experience primarily; so do I but perhaps I also value the literary content I learn from (when there is something new or insightful in a way I had not thought of or understood) somewhat more than the average person in these classes. Hard to say. Any way it does not seem to me the email alternative will “fly.” I feel one must have 8 people communicating to one another in a listserv situation for it to be socially enjoyable as well as educational.

As you know I find life alone without Jim difficult to endure or enjoy all by itself.


Izzy noticed this walking into the front garden on her way home from work: she walks up a hill from a bus stop. It is a baby cherry blossom tree that she and I bought last spring and a man who does my mowing and some gardening planted for us. It’s a bit behind the others, just beginning to bud. So there was a leavening moment of cheer.

Nonetheless, this week stress from this situation was added to because by Tuesday of this week I realized that the Fairfax Regional Libraries could close; that is where I have been having my taxes done for 2 years. I have not mentioned that I cancelled my trip to ASECS last week: the paper was not going well, and I could no longer live with the idea I would have to find the restaurant and the place where the Marivaux play was being done after three times getting lost attempting to go on a 7 minute trip from the OLLI at AU to Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest Washington, and once because the usual entrance to South 110 which takes me to the Virginia highway I use was closed off and I could not work my Waze right. Once I decided not to go to ASECS, I had free time to go and made an appt with my financial advisor for today to go over what he withheld and Izzy and I would go next week. But I began to dread that the library would close before we could get there. The alternative is an awful abrasive shyster lawyer who I paid $500 to for two years to do the taxes. He produces them last thing. When we went to H&R, they asked $400 and made mistakes.

I woke this past Wednesday morning shaking. I’d had enough. I determined Izzy and I would go that evening to that library and get those taxes done & transmitted. I spent the morning calling the library to make sure it was still open, and what time the AARP people who do your taxes for free with you would be there. I called my financial adviser so he could explain to me what he had withheld from my IRA investment distribution and I explain it to the AARP person. Izzy and I set off by 4:15 am (she came home early) and (as the last two times) mine took 2 and 1/2 hours. Izzy’s takes a much shorter time. You sit there with a person who does the form with you out of all the papers you bring; then a third person evaluates what has been done. All done online. I could never do it. Then I pay direct deposit through my routing number at my bank. They print out the forms I have done; everything is put neatly in an envelope and the next year I can bring it back. It was dark when we got out and I did make one bad mistake as I tried to turn onto a lane and instead turned onto the place by the edge of the street where you can stop if your car is in trouble. I was able to get back into the traffic but it was a scary moment. But if we had waited for the weekend, when Izzy can go during the day, it would now be too late. As of tomorrow or Monday all schools and libraries are closed for the next two weeks or more.

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

There have been some good moments, even hours and half days or evenings, stretches of time.


This is the cover of the British edition and a limited one of 300 copies signed by the author — I have an uglier duller design but like contemplating this image

I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me — brilliant, true, inspiring, comparable to James Baldwin. Paradoxically I agree with Coates’s comparison: “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.” His book explained to me how African-American people are voting for Biden when his record over crucial African-American issues has been bad (voted for mass incarceration, to cut social security, engineered the Iraq war): they do not believe the white world will share their power and wealth with blacks and so they do not believe that Sanders can win ever since Sanders will take from the white supremacy and make the US into a social democracy with effective measures to make people equal and life’s necessities affordable for real.

Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. It arrived two days ago and my copy is sturdy, lovely good quality paper, sewn. A fine book.

First response to first 50 or so pages. Spoiler warning in the unlikely case the reader does not know how Cromwell ended up. She’s done it again —

Let me put a couple of early responses in: It’s deeply inward attempt to try to explain to us (it’s historical) how inside 4 years a man so leant upon and seemingly central to Henry had his head cut off (a terrifying act) by this same man. Mantel has the problem that unlike the first book were at first Cromwell is a nobody and unknown, now he has his finger in so many famous pies. In the second here was a single trajectory and stealth heroine, Anne Boleyn. This time what she is doing is laying the groundwork for his downfall – which she laid in the first book too. He is nobody still and worse he has an agenda that has a conscience at its heart. He is a genuine Protestant — protester — and secular. Array ed against him are everyone, just about. the Boleyns were Protestant and Anne and George seriously so — so too Catherine Parr, wife 6, married to Thomas Seymour and bringing up Elizabeth. Henry came near to beheading Catherine Parr over her paraphrases of the Psalms.

The Howards (remember the duke of Norfolk, the Plantagenets, the Scots group) — all fervent Catholics. Then there are the old lines families — all Catholic — Chapuys, from the Emperor, catholic, Mary’s allies, bloody catholic, Spanish ambassadors catholic and france Catholic too.

Now why was Cromwell beheaded inside 4 years. I repeat that’s astonishing. Yes he got too powerful — and rich — like Wolsey and Forche in the time of Louis XIV. But Henry was attached.
Well he tried to get Henry to marry Anne of Cleves; it’s talked about how ugly she was – but to Cromwell she was a female from the Protestant German groups. Wife No 5: Catherine Howard, beheaded, was Catholic. She was in way over her head (stupid) and promiscuous. The day Cromwell was beheaded Henry married Catherine Howard.

Henry wanted to be all powerful (think of a contemporary — this fiction is about our world too) but he knew intuitively Catholicism was the ideology that supported mindless power and he believed in the older faith. Ghosts for example. So does Cromwell. Henry too and Henry shown as continually unstable

This is a haunted book. It is hard to get into — I had to look up who Henry’s sister was, Meg, and who she married, who she went to bed with, because her heirs are rivals to Henry — Mary Queens of Scots is her grand-daughter. You miss much if you don’t know what is behind a joke about Meg’s promiscuity and lack of legal secure marriage.

All arrayed against this man – who stands also for a secular state.

So in the opening we are watching Mantel preparing the ground. but also re-realizing this female hero in male drag. For then we go with him into his home: there’s Rafe off to Helen, Richard Cromwell ….

It does restore my faith in historical fiction and its great variety too.

It seemed to me (excuse vanity) that some of these first responses (not Mantel’s herself though she is talking out of a need to perform) are missing the inner life of the book. It is a woman’s novel as well as a superb historical fiction.

An online friendship that means a lot to me has been renewed. I spent afternoon with friend from OLLI at Mason watching David Lean’s Passage to India: we talked of Forster, books and life, and ate grilled cheese sandwiches, drank tea …. The week before we went out to Cinema Art movie-house and saw The portrait of a Lady On Fire, written and directed by Céline Sciamma — about the relationship of three women, one hired to paint another who is about to be coerced into a loveless marriage, and a third, their servant, whom the painter helps obtain a safe abortion. Deeply satisfying portrait of slowly growing friendship, equality, depth of feeling. Beautiful colors, landscape of Northern Brittany, appealing seascapes. It goes a bit slow, is a bit over-produced, pompous, self-important but these do not detract from the core experience. My favorite scene is the three playing cards by the fire

I am more immersed in Forster studies than ever: reading a superb biography at last: Wendy Moffat: A Great Unrecorded History. I joined a local neighborhood book club! We met at Panera; that’s where I began to read Ta Nehisi-Coates. They are mostly women and intelligent enough. I persuaded them to make Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices their choice in two months. At the last minute I changed my courses at the OLLIs for the summer, which I still hope will be realized in classrooms (that this plague time will be over). The Eustace Diamonds is way too long: I can’t stand how Trollope hates his awful heroine or the anti-semitism; I do like the governess-Lucy Morris story, and what we see of parliament as well as the choral group at Matching Priory but that’s not enough to hold me or a class. Here it is — it was written with the cancellation of this E.M. Forster class in mind.


One of many favorite pictures by (Dora) Carrington An Artist’s Home and Garden

The Bloomsbury Novel

This course will examine a wide range of novels & art covered by the term Bloomsbury through three texts. We will read E.M. Forster’s Howards End, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. None are long, one very short. Bloomsbury novels are recognizable as written by people who belonged to this amorphous early 20th century creative group, or were printed at the Hogarth Press. Closer to the time if classes are not canceled for the spring, I may substitute Maurice for Howards End This subgenre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are three superlative movies for Howards End & All Passion Spent, (and if the substitute is made) one for Maurice from which we will view clips

I will include excerpts from Roger Fry’s art criticism and go over pictures by him, Douglas Grant, Carrington; excerpts from the books on biography by Andre Maurois and Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf’s autobiography.

Izzy finished her art class at the Torpedo Factory and at its end drew a lovely sketch of two birds she had photographed by the beach while we were at Calais this summer. It’s now on one of the walls of her room.

I’m reading Gita May’s biography of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. She often quotes Vigee-LeBrun’s Souvenirs, which I’ve read in the French; both books very good. Also Trollope’s brilliant and at times so uncomfortably relevant Last Chronicle of Barset in the story of the impoverished outcast Crawley accused of stealing, and then harassed and left to kill himself if he was minded to (no real help offered). In my car I listen to Caroline Moorehead’s somber A Time in Winter, and soon I watched the first episode of the French TV series, A French Village (2017) — also about the dire German occupation, the ferocious cruelties of fascism/Nazism. It speaks to our present struggles to cope with the latest version of ethno-nationalism/fascism. Many many movies in this realm but this stands out because of its sincerity, brilliant acting, and intelligence.” No excess violence. We do see enough — three children killed as the Nazis fly a plane over shooting everywhere everyone in sight — implacable bullying of men in trucks armed. We are introduced to three or four family groups plus others, one Jewish couple and child. Yes this is serious and worth your time and feelings and thoughts. Still watching Mary Beard’s documentaries and the British 9 part Civilisations, with Simon Schama too.

Real grief that is permanent when Sanders lost Michigan after SuperTuesday. No real reform and change in my life time — no going back to where we were in the 1960s and early 1970s. I felt for the loss of Elizabeth Warren too. Men would not vote for her. Imagine Sanders as president and Warren as his vice-president. He made a true presidential speech tonight about what needs to be done socially over this COVID-19 calamity crisis. She would work to prevent what happened to me these weeks too: the airline refused to refund my $365. Her Consumer’s Bureau is right now de-funded, its power legislated out of existence.

So there you have it, another diary entry, another 3 weeks. You must take this as understood: my loving cats playing, being with me on and off all the time, shoring up my existence with their affectionate attachment to me. No small thing. I try to reciprocate, be responsible by not leaving them alone for more than an afternoon and making them know now and again I am aware of and with them.


Lots of seagulls on the river — photo by Izzy on her way to work

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Let me admit at the end of all this I am very troubled. I cannot sleep for more than 4 hours unless I take sleeping pills, and sometimes not that. When I cannot sleep 4 hours,I do take a pill (zolpidem), but then I wake groggy, and distressed even more than when I wake after 4 hours with no pills. I am better rested with no pills, alert, and feel more healthy. I cannot help it that I am afraid and I don’t want to go in for “zoom training” if I show others that I am nervous and begin to cry. I was near crying after someone was unkind to me about this inability (or disability, which is what it is) yesterday. I am a depressive, with bad anxiety attacks, unable to travel without it becoming an ordeal (I had learnt to do it with Jim by my side). I don’t know if I could cope with life ordinarily were Izzy not here living with me. I help her too — she cannot drive for example, and sometimes she has meltdowns and my talk helps.

I am afraid for our society with a cruel sociopath at its head in such a position of authority and power. Many businesses might go under; many people go without money enough for food and medicine or other necessaries (like company. I wrote on twitter the other day everyone must vote for Biden as he is infinitely more decent and intelligent and humane than Trump. I fear that Trump will try to suspend the election and the powerful and wealthy let him get away with it. Now I agree with black people in the hope that since Biden is a conservative democrat, if he wins, he will be allowed to take power. What a relief that would be.

Ellen

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Keeley Hawes as Mrs Durrell reading aloud — her family and household listening (Durrells S2E4)

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

— Season 2, Episode 4 of The Durrells explores the nature of a widow’s loneliness & grief (not well understood) through Louisa Durrell’s case, and the story includes a fradulent spiritual medium, Louisa’s relationship with three men (by this time), her children, theirs with her and one another, not to omit Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) come for a visit). Towards the close Keeley Hawes reads aloud the above poem by Edward Dowson

Dear friends,

The quiet winter time is coming to an end, and for a couple of months I will be busy with teaching and going to (mostly) literary classes at the two OLLIs (AU & Mason), the Politics & Prose bookstore, with the (to me) frightening trip to an ASECS conference at St Louis (where I am to give a short paper). I have been enjoying the preparation (reading & writing and movie-watching) as well as my online life on FB, twitter (I now go over there more regularly), the listservs (Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset is an extraordinary masterpiece, and I’m thinking Morrison’s Beloved is going to be painful one). Last night I became immersed in Atonement, Ian McEwan’s book and the Wright/Hampton film, yet once again, and today find myself eager to read more Louisa May Alcott, her books for adults and about herself. I was much moved by reading in Italian Natalia Ginzburg’s Inverno in Albruzzo (English found in a book which ought to be translated Small Virtues).


Snow in Abruzzo

I practiced twice going to OLLI at AU from this house, and then the P&P places from the OLLI, and I did explore parking in these neighborhoods just a bit (for the first time). Very stressful: some days since becoming a widow, it’s demoralizing to be forced to learn to be independent at age 73.

I told one of my letter friends here on the Net that I have ended living the life of what might be called an independent scholar. Truly I have made efforts for what I thought/think is a social life but have not managed it. It’s too late. I on myself must live.  ( I rephrase and think differently but analogously with Anne Finch’s I on my self can live.) I invent goals for myself, and the teaching schedules for reading on listservs, papers reviews give me a structure. Then I have to take care of this house, my car, pay the bills. The resulting daily structure and its patterns I call my “routs” (the term is Daphne DuMaurier’s). They stretch from around 7 am or when I get up to around 1 pm or when I put out the nightlight and go to sleep. I revise them every few days. Through these I fend off depression, and keep sane. When people respond that gives me meaning — so it means a lot when people write back about these various books or movies. Or appreciate my teaching. There are my daughters and my cats too. Tomorrow Izzy and I go to an HD screening of Handel’s Agrippina from the Metropolitan opera; we talked of the story matter over dinner; she is enthusiastic and looking forward to this one. Me too.

I told of how on Trollope&Peers a few of us told of our first memory from political life; yesterday after reading Caroline Moorehead’s review of Elena Ferrante’s La vita bugiarda delgi adulti (The Lie-Filled Life of Adults) Moorehead says Ferrante has her heroine feeling she is growing up, remembering a moment that woke her up from the “innocence” of childhood, its unawareness into adulthood — seeing the world in a disenchanted more abstract or in terms of larger wider adult perspectives. For Ferrante’s heroine it was when she overheard her father calling her fat; a similar devastation overcame Simone de Beauvoir in The Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: Ferrante’s heroine feared she was ugly; Beauvoir says she was found unmarriageable; Morrisons’ heroine is disturbed out of complacency when the abused orphaned child her family takes into their home longs for the bluest eye, and declares African genetic features ugly. I remember my father mocking me for being “too plump” when I was 15, too late for waking up, but in time to help trigger my anorexia. Girls are made to experience trauma over their face and body as seen by men.

But adult awareness happened earlier than that: when I was 9 into 10 during the time I and my parents moved from the Bronx to Queens. It was moving from an area called a slum, where most people would regard living as awful (bad schools, violence, no greenery in the streets anywhere, tenement houses) to an area most people might long to live in. I know my mother did. Kew Gardens, where we had a three room apartment in a tall building. I was suddenly in a neighborhood of trees, parks, one family fancy homes, apartment buildings kept looking well. I found myself in a neighborhood of (to me at the time) super-rich houses, great snobbery (the desire for prestigious possessions, creditable surroundings, people eating out the heart of every community), constant class slights, no playdates with other children through their mothers for me — and became very unhappy. Also in the schools prayers were enforced — I was startled and at first just didn’t cooperate. After a while I was forced to put my head down while the teacher read from the Bible and everyone was said to be praying. The southeast Bronx was majority black by that time, large minority of hispanic – what whites were there were mostly Irish. It had been an Irish neighborhood in the 1940s. Kew Gardens was all white, heavily Jewish, with a nearby Richmond Hill heavily Italian American, and Forest Hills said to be upper-middle. Yes no violence, the streets utterly quiet. No one on them. Very hard to meet anyone at all. Moving was the great shock, the clash of values, the kinds of people I saw, the way they behaved to one another. My father took to returning to the Bronx and old friends regularly. I didn’t have that option. I found a library I could get to myself — which was an improvement. In the Bronx my father had to take me – it was said to be too far to go on my own (a subway ride on the Bronx El). Now I had just to walk 10 blocks and I was there.

What else shall I tell you of? I have found three choral societies Izzy could try out for (audition), attached to NOVA, attached to Mason, part of the Fairfax county volunteer arts organizations, but she demurred, showed strong reluctance, she would have to work very hard, they demanded she sell tickets (!), rehearsals at night. It only took seven years. But at least I have found these exist.

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Late Winter afternoon & evening thoughts. Wind makes for fiercely felt cold outside and in. I sit in my chair blanket hours ahead of my usual time, Clarycat in my lap, electric radiator just by us (with tissues on top for my cold), Ian across the way. Outside GreyMalkin freezes but I give him/her a dish of food, some milk, and stroke and talk to him/her.


Clarycat and Ian


Grey Malkin I call this cat — a lonely cat who visits me a couple of times a day — for food and affection …

I read as how “democratic establishment leaders” (who are these mostly unnamed people the NYTimes continually cites) are determined if Sanders does not win on the first ballot to stop him. I don’t see why if they choose Bloomberg who has bribed so many of them with money in so many ways shouldn’t send me $500 too. Why should I be expected to vote for him for free? The question is, Should I write him when the time comes? And is that too small a percentage of the take (i.e., otherwise known as the American dream). His “girlfriend,” Diana Taylor, says of women suing men for sexually harassing, raping, assaulting them, “get over it.” I.e., we as women do not have the right to pursue a career or job without enduring harassment, attempted rape or assault. If we are traumatized by such experiences of sex, that just shows how weak and ridiculous we are. She did (get over it), look how successful she is. Well, I can’t get over it, never will, my experience shattered my teenage years and crippled my ability to be pro-active for myself ever after. Trump says the coronavirus spreading about the world is not happening; it’s a hoax by the democrats seeking to discredit him. There is something wrong with what passes for a brain in his head.

Meanwhile there are daffodils which come before the swallow dares & take the winds of March with beauty …

I am reading Nina Auerbach’s brilliant Haunted Heiress (about DuMaurier), to teach myself how to write about material that compels me but I recognize is repulsive (i.e., Winston Graham’s whole oeuvre); and David Constantine’s wonderful biography, Fields of Fire, on Sir Wm Hamilton and his wife Catherine Barlow — they are an attractive couple and much kinder to their adopted monkey-child, Jack, than Sontag lets on … then very funny on Sir Wm, Emma and her mother (rather like a Dickensian novel the three of them).

Zadie Smith on Kara Walker in NYRB It’s actually open to the public: It’s in the February 27, 2020 issue

Zadie Smith asks what we want history to do to us? that seems to me an odd way to put it. I have asked myself in the last couple of days why do I like historical fiction truly — from a personal standpoint. Books about people long dead — or who wrote about people long dead from their time. So the question is, What do I want it to do for me? either writing it or reading it. We can define Last Chronicle of Barset as a historical novel and other older classic books since for us in a way it is — it teaches us history, it is set in the past as well as written in the past.

But there is a difference. The book self-consciously put in the past is different and for the 21st century readers (which is what we are) we have to approach history from today and also remembering who invents our past and says this is our past controls and shapes our future. (That’s Orwell.)

One reason is I often like the heroine at the center of such books — or the heroines. I can bond with them easier than heroines in really contemporary tales (say written in the 21st century). I can identify more, often they are realer to me, I feel less inadequate than I do before contemporary heroines — who seem to me not quite real — given agency that women in the worlds I’ve lived in never had and still don’t have — unless the book is by a woman writer who is giving a true account of ordinary life (not mystery or any of the other popular genres). I can relax with Demelza Poldark. I can escape with Claire Randall at the same time as nothing is asked that is beyond me that I find asked in say a Margaret Drabble book about a woman having a career or a Mary MacCarthy about a woman who thrives in social life in upper class New York City in the 1940s. They are also not as badly off, constrained as heroines of books written in earlier centuries. I am loving the Durrells, Keeley Hawes as Louisa and Barbara Flynn as Aunt Hermione because they ask less of me too — suffer as I do (especially in Gerald Durrell’s trilogy). I bond with Catherine Barlow, and Emma Hart, the two Ladies Hamilton


Sir William Hamilton and Catherine Barlow, the first Lady Hamilton, listening to, playing music (by David Allen)

Zadie Smith’s article is about what is erased and also how much pain and truth can a reader stand — especially black readers. I agree with her in her opening that was I taught in school was an utter white-wash and most of it utterly unreal – I was never told about what really counted maybe until college and graduate school.

We will be reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris on Trollope&Peers this coming summer. It was over 40 years ago now I read it in the original French. Hugo’s birthday was two days ago. I end on Hugo’s entry into his now severely disabled character, Quasimodo’s consciousness:

This justice must, however be rendered to him. Malevolence was not, perhaps, innate in him. From his very first steps among men, he had felt himself, later on he had seen himself, spewed out, blasted, rejected. Human words were, for him, always a raillery or a malediction. As he grew up, he had found nothing but hatred around him. He had caught the general malevolence. He had picked up the weapon with which he had been wounded.
After all, he turned his face towards men only with reluctance; his cathedral was sufficient for him. It was peopled with marble figures,–kings, saints, bishops,–who at least did not burst out laughing in his face, and who gazed upon him only with tranquillity and kindliness. The other statues, those of the monsters and demons, cherished no hatred for him, Quasimodo. He resembled them too much for that. They seemed rather, to be scoffing at other men. The saints were his friends, and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and guarded him. So he held long communion with them. He sometimes passed whole hours crouching before one of these statues, in solitary conversation with it. If any one came, he fled like a lover surprised in his serenade.
And the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside. He dreamed of no other hedgerows than the painted windows, always in flower; no other shade than that of the foliage of stone which spread out, loaded with birds, in the tufts of the Saxon capitals; of no other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; of no other ocean than Paris, roaring at their bases.
What he loved above all else in the maternal edifice, that which aroused his soul, and made it open its poor wings, which it kept so miserably folded in its cavern, that which sometimes rendered him even happy, was the bells. He loved them, fondled them, talked to them, understood them. From the chime in the spire, over the intersection of the aisles and nave, to the great bell of the front, he cherished a tenderness for them all. The central spire and the two towers were to him as three great cages, whose birds, reared by himself, sang for him alone. Yet it was these very bells which had made him deaf; but mothers often love best that child which has caused them the most suffering

I read Hugo’s Last Day in the Life of a Condemned Man more than 2 decades ago: its radical condemnation of all capital punishment, all murdering by a state has as yet not been sufficiently listened to.


Laughton as Quasimodo (the final scene in the rightly famous movie, Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939)

The hardest thing about widowhood for me is being so alone for long periods of time, hours, days, weeks. Going out is an interruption in a sense. I remind myself that the way our society has been structured and has been reinforced in the last quarter of a century many people live or are in effect as alone — or not. For my loving cats are always near me or aware of my presence somehow, and they are real presences too as are & were the people in my books and on the screen.

Ellen

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One morning over the past two weeks, photo taken from sun-porch/room window

A poem I came across, which I like:

Reading Greeting Cards Before and After

His photo in the hallway greets me each day
Being in my life was an extraordinary gift
He left my world leaving a huge vacuum

Still I feel his ever presence in my life
Triggering a burst of smiles and tears
Looking at the gardens he built for me
Coming across a book we read together
Hearing the evening news and imagining his comments
Knowing he would re-load the dishwasher if he were around

An accomplished writer of research papers but not love letters
He’d spend hours searching for my perfect greeting card
Now assembled in a large basket I select one daily
Before I used to read them quickly and thank him with a kiss

Now I read them slowly, sometimes over and over again
Savoring each written word and signed “Love, Charles”
Yet to me his actions spoke more softly
Than the words on any card

—- By Ruth Perry

Dear friends and readers,

This winter I have become more intently aware than I’d been in a few years (since Jim died) of the fragile fleeting character of social life as I experience it. How easily people drop you, are glad of an excuse to ostracize or exclude someone.

One dark morning as I lay in bed waiting for the sunlight to come into my room (with my two cats beside me), I tried to think of all the places or organizations I belong to that now provide me with what social experience I have: above and beyond all in frequency, intimacy (yes) and closeness as well as a spectrum of socializing from acquaintance-polite to friendly to friends where I know something of the person for real and the person me, plus experiences of exclusion, discomfort, hurt, on the Internet as much face-book nowadays as list-servs, blogs, websites, Future Learn courses, twitter.

But after that, what physically in the face-to-face bodies and places-in-the-world included? the two Oscher Institutes of Life-long Learning (at AU and at Mason), classes at Politics and Prose (Northwest Washington Bookstore-as-community center), the Smithsonian (more impersonal) lectures, twice a year conferences (ASECS), the WAPG, an Aspergers group in Washington DC (I rarely go but I keep in touch by email), a summer film club at Cinema Art theater (once a month for 5 months). I live with one daughter, Izzy, and occasionally the other, Laura, visits or we go out with her. I’ve joined on three and this summer I’m going on a fourth Road Scholar trip. That’s it. I’ve counted 22.

Two of the experiences over the last two weeks have been especially fun — or felicitous.


Covers of audio recordings

In a dramatic reading class I listened to people read aloud passages from Dickens and we discussed Dickens, reading aloud, listening to another read, in a group, by a CD audio in a car, or reading silently (how they differ) and one I read aloud (very well if I do say so myself), the opening chapter from Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged” — with that bitter caustic yet very amusing dialogue of Mr and Mrs Bennet), the closing dialogue in Volume I where Mr Bennet tells Mrs Bennet she should not worry about Charlotte Lucas replacing her in Longbourne for perhaps she will predecease him (she finds little consolation there), and then the explosive proposal of Darcy to Elizabeth where he unknowingly insults her deeply and she refuses him. On another I read the scene from Emma where Emma deeply hurts Miss Bates in front of a group of people (Box Hill), Frank wounds Jane by in front of others saying how easy it is to make a mistake at a watering place and engage oneself to someone you don’t want, and Mr Knightley lights into Emma so damningly — all the while we hear the pain of Miss Bates, of Jane, the swelled complaints of the obtuse Mrs Elton. The others read from Dickens and I was astonished to realize that Dickens wrote a near-rape scene at the end of Dombey and Son, where a much abused wife excoriates marriage as then practised — who knew Dickens could be so subversive? Now I wish we had talked more about the spreading popularity of dramatic readings in audoibooks


Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson (Michael Jordan) and Walter MacMillan (Jamie Foxx)

On two Thursdays at the Mason OLLI I participated in class discussions of movies where the teacher is very good at teaching (he spent decades doing it before retirement) — they were lively, intelligent, fun, one on Just Mercy and the other The Parasite (see further down below).

On Just Mercy: a powerful film done in direct simply ways. I was struck after a while at how little filmic “tricks” of the trade; no flashbacks, not subtle in juxtaposition or dialogue at all. It moves forward,and the language is direct, simple. The movie is nerve-wracking to watch because I didn’t know it ended. The young African American lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael Jordan) is almost throughout the film at risk for his life — he patiently endures set-back after set-back and finally gets the case on Frontline from which he gets to go to the Alabama supreme court to ask that the charges against his client, Johnny McMillan (James Foxx), simply be dropped immediately as the original trial was gross miscarriage of justice. It is an anti-capital punishment film. We see a black man who should have been put in a hospital for PTSD and was left to stew and put off a bomb in front of a house and killed a woman, now lamenting and so sorry, a one incident actually killed by an electric chair. They were still killing people that way in Alabama in the 1980s and early 90s? we the full barbarism of it — how there is this pretense of humanity on the day the man is murdered.

As with When They See Us, Dark Waters, and Chernobyl, at the end of the film we see photographs of the real people the actors played. It is very effective to do this. The African-American actor, Michael Jordan, playing the lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, has been snubbed: his performance is as good as James Foxx (nominated for best supporting actor, partly because played Ray Charles in another film)

A third was enjoyable in the class (at Politics and Prose) but it was the books we read and movie I watched that mattered: Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and Alan Pater and Cellan Jones’s 1987 Fortunes of War. There is so much time to be alone.

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Sometimes it is so hard to get to and from these places. This to introduce a distressing — frightening in implications — experience I had this past Friday early afternoon.

As I was driving from Northwest Washington DC to get to Northern Virginia and took my usual turn to get onto some feeder road which takes me to South 110 and that to South 395, I found the whole roadway blocked. There was no way I could get onto that feeder road. I was quickly hopelessly lost. I became bewildered as I usually do in streets I am not accustomed to even if some of them were familiar to me from previous excursions. My garmin showed itself to be dead and I couldn’t get the cell phone even to connect to the network. I kept making wrong turns and feared in my bewildered state I would get into an accident. Finally I remembered I had put the phone on airplane mode so that it would not disturb a class I had been in. Luckily I was able to find a sidewalk I could park by. I put the setting back and voila the Waze program began to work.

But alas I have never been able to make the Waze program or app talk — or to be truthfully only intermittently. In fact what has happened is once it starts talking and I get home I can’t figure out how to shut it up. I don’t always get an “exit” box.

Another problem I have is I never knew where I want to go west or east — say on 66. I can’t tell what is north, south, east or west. I can with thought say to myself this is left and this right. Is there a long word for this for an autistic person? So that’s my first question. I would feel better if my condition — this has happened before – had a name. Getting lost. Not being able to tell where I am — have a big picture of coordinates unless I’ve lived in an area for a very long. A good pictorial memory but it has to be real buildings or streets I recognize.

So what I had was a map with lines and arrows. I managed to put it on the seat next to me and very slowly attempted to follow all the turns and arrows. It was difficult because Arlington around Rosslyn (I live in Alexandria) is no fun. The ironic paradox is what I knew to be true; I was at most 5 minutes away from some highway if I could figure out how to get to it. What happens is the lines and arrows began to show this way to South 110. I recognized that was one of the highways and going in the right direction. I drove very slow and kept adjusting the cell phone to face me.

Anyway I swung onto the highway from another exit but I could recognize pictorially where I was, and could calm down and saw this way to Exit 27, South 395 and knew where I was and then got home. Whew!

I am like a blind person when it comes to understanding directions or what I am on a map. Utter bewilderment is awful. I have tried buying a new garmin twice. But I cannot program it. All of them require some programming and I have no one to do that for me. Everyone says it’s so easy, nothing to do. I have no idea what to do and twice I have had to take back an expensive Garmin or GPS. The one I have now was programmed for me by a kind IT guy who was in my house shortly after my husband died — and helped me install a computer.

Intensely relieved to be back home. My younger daughter, Isobel, cannot help me because she is autistic and asking her to help, this kind of experience makes her intensely nervous.

My older daughter came the next day and — what happened? — within no time she had no problem.

At first the Waze was silent. Her response was to say “Waze stinks” and download google maps. She tried to look at the settings and could find nothing wrong. She did fiddle with them. Then she tried both Waze and google maps and both talked! We get in the car and both talk. But the problem is she never figured out what I had been doing wrong or what I needed to do to make the thing talk because it was talking. I did see that I often put my own address into location and she said don’t do that, just type where you want to go in the next rectangle below.

The problem is Laura (her name) really had no problem. She clicks away and after a while the Waze program talked. She finishes, somehow an exit box is there, and she clicks on it. Calm as the proverbial cucumber. I did sit with her in my car and I clicked and it talked. She could not fix for me what was working.

So a week and a half from now I have two new places to go. I worry the thing won’t talk for me. Has anyone had this problem of the cell phone Waze not talking — My cell phone is an Apple iphone 8 — I think.

To me it’s a wonder I go anywhere at all. If I were black, I would fear a cop might kill me. Laura installed for me Uber — I have Lyft. This is for my coming trip to St Louis. If I want to find a restaurant I am to go to on Friday night, and then a play on Saturday the only way is to hail one of these cab services there and back.

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The destitute-desperate family in The Parasite

Bong Jong-ho’s Parasite is part of my theme tonight: it seems to be a study of social modes of interaction exposing gross class inequities among three families. I’ve now watched it twice and people you should not miss it. It will absorb and entertain and then maybe horrify you. I am still not sure what I think about it.

First thing to be said about the film is how hard it is to talk about it, part of this Is the story line is unpredictable – that’s why you keep watching (even if it’s not assigned). You get drawn in because you are not sure what is going to happen next at all

Second it seems to me most of the thematic descriptions don’t apply generally. It’s not a thriller. We see a class war only at the very end when the destitute family driven to desperation because there’s another desperate destitute pair of people hidden deep in a many level basement of the super-rich people’s many layered – crack up and out comes from them terror, hatred, an urge to destroy these people who are exploiting them utterly – smiling all the while as if it’s perfectly okay to the destitute to be so exploited. The super-rich husband-father drops his mask for a moment when the destitute father playing a chauffeur for the first balks at an order – and threatens to fire him.

For a horror film (another designation) it’s constantly witty and funny – we laugh very uncomfortably at these desperate people – up to their chins in sewer water when it rains – yet they are endlessly ingenious, crackerjack it seems at surviving – they are all kept at a social and psychological distance from one another.

Realism is besides the point: the mother-wife is unbelievably naïve, believes anything – I saw misogyny in the way she was treated as someone who has nothing to do with her life but make expensive parties – we are better not knowing what happened to the employees the destitute family replaces – the housekeeper come back is living nightmare with her husband fleeing creditors

So I looked up Korean films and could find only a history which offered no interpretation, but I did find an essay on films called “periphery” films. Idea is developed countries, run by white people are at the center, and countries like Korea, Palestinine, Saudi Arabia – countries colonized – Australian are periphery. So I’ll conclude on 4 characteristics such films are said to have and this one has these:

1) An intense focus on place and setting. You never forget this is Korea and the two different houses are centrally photographed to stay in your mind as character in the drama – the people in the semi-basement stealing wifi in such appalling conditions – and the rich with all space hardly enough furniture, gadgets everywhere – I suppose it’s order if order is soulless.

2) A use of folk or story telling traditions – at the beginning of the film a brief fairy tale looking picture seems to suggest that the family is going to get their dearest wish using some stone – and this stone appears in the opening and closing sequences of the film. The son carries it around – it is dangerous and bad things happen around this stone. The talk is in European tradition — the fisherman and his wife, with its moral of watch out what you wish for ….

3) Looking at everything from the point of view of the excluded – no matter what it is or how – you might say those colonized whose everything is taken from them or are not allowed anything – cannot accumulate – so destitute cannot go to college — along with this these excluded people feel they can’t belong anywhere. They don’t fit in. The son says this at one point. It ends on the father in the deep basement obviously doesn’t belong anywhere. Even the super-rich don’t belong anywhere – their home is not a home, it’s an place for the real estate sellers furniture makers gadget makers, party makers to supply and sell stuff to — to make money on

4) Money and bullying. Any time a rich or powerful person is denied anything he or she resorts to bullying. But the predators all of them prey on other predators – -like the destitute family on the original employees – everyone searching for an identity – I saw an Israeli film (art film) where the characters are all seeking an identity – queasy comedy and sudden stark tragedy happen over money and bullying ow or what – at any moment a mask drops and you are facing the faceless

At any time the mask drops and you are facing the faceless

So I thought about movies made from the center as a control mechanism –- say The Durrells of Corfu, which I wrote about in my previous diary entry.

The exact place does not at all matter – they can make a home of anything.
No one bullies others and minimal money does – you need some but not a helluva lot.
The know who they are – they really do.
Point of view is that of the privileged those who assume courts are on their side – no masks – and those who have to wear masks very poignant, like Sven the homosexual man – everyone feels for him.

Last night I re-watched The Parasite, having read about cinema at the periphery (movies made by film-makers who don’t come from powerful countries run by white people, countries not colonized i recent history) and it struck me the destitute desperate family’s behavior is like that of us — when it comes to airplane travel. That is one place middle and upper middle white people come across the treatment poorer people across the globe do all the time. Similarly it appears on the surface and maybe is true that these white people accept this treatment from the airlines. They don’t go to war or paroxyms of rage, the candidates for office don’t use as one of their promises to regulate the airlines and stop their outrageous behavior to everyone but those who can afford to be deeply gouged.

OTOH, the movie makes this analogy hard to see because it calls itself Parasite and in Korean parasitic worm and seems to refer the to the destitute desperate family – a squalid word, and it also means blotches on your skin from such worms. I am not sure that the film is not problematic — partly because in the class I was in many of the people in the room defended the super-rich family: they were paying the others, they were “decent to them;” okay they were tactless and unaware of the horrible conditions of life of the others. But that’s not their fault.

If you can reach it, Michael Wood of the London Review of Books for January 2020 is very worth reading

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How to end this entry? We are today surrounded by creeping and overwhelming fascism in our public media and art — that is the mindset actuating not only the Trump administration. Every day another evil deed, yet more ugly hateful ideas and feelings spewed out. Yesterday the Trump regime rescinded decades of work to change attitudes to protect birds from wanton killing — now you may kill them as you please (and you can have as many and what kinds of guns you want. Public schools? why these are low-class government schools which debased people attend — a sign of their inferiority is no one is excluded.

Human beings need to think more about the nature of our social lives today in the year 2020. What are we seeking? What do these activities of ours depend upon? how or on what basis are we setting up our relationships with one another? Is it to escape from a default setting (to use the ubiquitous Internet jargon) of alienation, a world of cruelty and indifference as seen in Parasite and Last Chronicle of Barset and Curate in Charge? (David Copperfield ends in a wish fulfillment fantasy and the emphasis is — to be fair to the book — more about the richness of a life of solitude, of inner development of self and strength and also about death and sheer vulnerability.) These questions are urgent as we find ourselves more and more without the solid social support systems our daily lives and attitudes (beliefs in our togetherness) used to provide, more and more turning to the Internet worlds, to voluntary organizations unsupported by anything but human need.

Ellen

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From Durrells of Corfu (2016, first season, first episode): family on boat coming to Corfu


St Michael’s Mount, at first I thought Cornwall but now I know it’s Normandy? — it has this odd darkness because it is the screen image I see on my computer when I first rise and I used my cell phone to snap the picture; so it lacked the luminosity of the computer light

Friends and readers,

Hard as I try to find activities which keep me cheerful and feeling I have a meaning, in this 7th year of widowhood — maybe starting this past fall, I have had to face once again I am so deeply lonely. Last night I re-watched the second episode of the first season of The Durrells in Corfu and despite their troubles (they are real in the fiction and reflect real individual people’s lives) I find my spirit lifted and then last night I dreamt of them. As I woke in the night and again this morning I knew I had. I know I often dream of movies where I re-watch or if it’s a series and it gets under my skin (to use a metaphor), and then if there is a love relationship or character I can bond with, the vivid images and memory of sounds and places helps. I put one of the early stills at the head of this blog. Those who have watched the series remember how the headmaster caned Gerry and then was utterly unrepetent and how Mrs Durells (Keeley Hawes) refused to accept; but maybe we forget upon coming home how the next-door male neighbor speaks to her friendly-like and before you know it he is offering to marry her and telling her how he approves of boarding schools, and then her walk on the beach where she sees a girl running ahead of her parents from the sea and a tired old woman next to her on a bench, and makes up her mind to take Larry’s suggestion:

Trying to avoid taxi, she tells her four children Larry (Josh O’Connor), Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), Margo ( and Jerry they are not on vacation, they have come here to live on a meagre widow’s annuity, to escape the culture of civilization, which as far as she can tell is one of alienation and cruelty. But a generous taxi man who wants a fare comes along and he shows her respect: the mother, an important person:

To day I am working on this short paper for the coming conference – I hated getting the plane, will hate getting there, will be alone a lot as I have no rank and have not made any close connections or relationships where individuals are willing to go to a planned lunch or dinner with me, hate grand hotels and their anonymous rooms, but I will enjoy the sessions and doing papers gives me something to do on and off for weeks. I love the books I’ve chosen: Sontag’s Volcano Lover and DuMaurier’s King’s General and other books by them to make out my thesis with evidence. Last night I began to find what I needed for DuMaurier in her Enchanted Corwall and Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik’s collection of essays on her work. So you see how I manage.

I also today go to a movie an HD screening of Miller’s All My Sons – I’ve joined the OLLI at Mason theater group. One doesn’t go with these groups but arrives alone (so I must find the place) and because I can’t drive at night I won’t be able to go to a meal with them afterwards, but I’ll see friendly faces and probably a great play well done — it’s from the National theater in London at the Angelika theater in Fairfax (I ignore the ambiance and gimmicks as far as I can). Yesterday I was at the OLLI at AU main building to hear an hour talk by Helen Zughaib: she has had a hard life — born in Syria, an Arab family in a war zone, terrible experiences; they survived to weather life elsewhere — they were originally upper class and she grew up in Paris after they fled and then came to the US. She was enacting too much a sweet girl about to cry from trauma for my taste (there was something false about the way she performed her grief — apologizing for showing us torture in pictures when they were no such thing), but I felt what she has known, and all the people like her continuing endlessly to suffer & die so horrifically, in such squalid death camps (which are taken down if they become habitable civilized places) from ultimately US and powerful people’s ruthlessly greedy and crazed religious-grab power behavior.


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

Those in charge of so many powerful gov’ts and militaries across the globe are making a befouled burning flooded global dystopia — they are just now doing all they can to destroy and steal from the people of Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Brazil, the list goes on and on.

Today’s picture is my present screen image of Mount St Michael, which I had thought the one in Cornwall but is actually be the one off the Normandy coast; I’ve now been to the one in Cornwall there twice (I read years ago in Henry Adams’s famous meditative Mont St Michel & Chartres,  funny to remember all these years later and how I wondered if I’d ever see it). In Cornwall, once for real with two kind friends (who however dropped me afterwards) and once fakely (a Road Scholar group where we saw it from across the water in a sort of bus stop place and all the people took photos — but me). I still work on my Winston Graham-Poldark paper and am now reading his excellent (though so narrowly conceived, too apolitical) history narrative, The Spanish Armadas.

More on the upset, cynicism over, and defense and excoriation of Megham Markle and Andrew Windsor’s decision to live a different kind of life from that of dolls in rigid repeated silly rituals:

Yes. I agree. Misogyny. And also virulent racism aimed at Meghan Markle. It’s just fine for Andrew X to join with a vicious sexual predator and trapper of women like Epstein — you can stay POTUS even after breaking central laws intended to control the POTUS so he works for the American people. But say you don’t want your wife and child to be vilified racially in the press and you are a pariah. You upset everybody. Indeed.

I wrote a blog remembering Martin Luther King the other day, the tragedies of American racism, especially for African-Americans (Baldwin’s If Beale Street could Talk, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, on cat literature, cat art, studies of cats and other animals, what I read this year, made a start on my women actresses and artists series (Susannah Arne Cibber and Adelaide Labille-Guiard). Isobel, bless her strong heart, started her art course (once a week, 10 weeks at the Torpedo factory) and cancelled her membership to JASNA (I haven’t quite done that but getting there, as in my “Hardly Any Women at All!”). I am saving my re-watching of Sanditon for a separate blog,


The two friends, Crystal Clarke as Georgiana Lambe and Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood

But here can talk more briefly of The Two Popes and Edge of Democracy on Netflix


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

I endorsed Laura’s very sceptical (robust as they say) take on Netflix’s new line-up and choices of what to advertise, but I have to say they are also using their money to make some superb films. Last night I watched Mereilles’s latest, The Two Popes. Of course the two actors are unbeatable: Jonathan Pryce as the Argentinian priest and bishop who became Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Benedict 16. The film has a deep appeal of humanity — kindliness, two old men remembering mistakes — especially Pryce. Not so much Hopkins who does have a scary piercing look in his eye.

What is valuable is their relationship enables them to offer up memories of horrific scenes in Argentina when the US backed junta took over and slaughtered so many and destroyed all social progress that had been hoped for — since then there has been a real change and progress but the US with its instrument the OAS is again trying to create a real life dystopia

We see two people exchanging views, talking to one another.

Apparently, though, we are again in The Crown and Downton Abbey areas, for much is fantasy and idealization, especially of the retired pope (the real story)

I (honestly) personally don’t take the Catholic Church’s pronouncements seriously, so it didn’t bother me that except for the return to approving or disapproving homosexuality (part of the celibacy controversy), there was no resolution. I was interested – very much — in Bergoglio’s history and his behavior during the 1980s when the US backed coup destroyed so many people and a country for say 20 years. Human life is so short so 20 years means a lot to any individual living then. Maybe it was Mereilles in a relaxed mood. I do see that it can be called “cute” or a buddy film: it even ended in an absurd scene of them drinking beer together and watching football.
I was carried away by the good feeling of Jonathan Pryce’s character, the quietude, the whole ambiance of conversation. So many movies move frantically (including Little women) are violent, this was like The Crown in this way, a relief. There was no implicit endorsement of violence or capitalism, which most films (including the new Little Women) endorse.


Not a dream, a photo of one of these mass street demonstrations — where many are killed, maimed, and then imprisoned or disappeared for life ….

As for the Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa (she also co-wrote the script and co-produced and she narrates and is the over-voice). As a film, it was not as entertaining or absorbing as The Two Popes, but as an explanation of what happened in Brazil recently it is superb, how democratically-elected social democratic gov’t whose leaders (especially Lulu) were on the side of the people, had succeeded in improving their standard of living, had spread literacy from a dearth to almost everyone going to school and learning to read and to write and a profession or useful skill of some sort, could get thrown out — successfully! overlooking an election. And then how a cruel monster, Bolsonaro, another killer for capitalism, and for destroying whole tribes of people and a vast swatch of the earth’s environment (the rain forests of Brazil) could get into power was startling.

So now I know. And it’s demoralizing. It seems all one has to do is lie, lie very effectively — after having managed to squeeze the country into a financial crisis (this takes the help of other gov’ts and agencies also determined to wipe out any social progress or indents on their profits) so the average person is now suffering — just what Trump is doing to Venezuela, Cuba (and Puerto Rico too – see above) right now. Then the people themselves deluded, with no understanding they are putting devils in place, ignore the previous election, say a coup is fine, put the good people in prison. So the decent parties of this earth have to figure out a way to fight these new sets of behaviors and tools that have brought us dictatorship everywhere (and it’s here with us in Trump’s gov’t in front of us) and misery and destruction of much that we hold dear in principle and eventually for each of us in reality in various ways.

So I recommend The Edge of Democracy. It’s told as a story of the director from her personal standpoint — that provides the line of narrative.

One afternoon, suddenly Oh I was chuffed. A beautiful book (on art paper like the last) — The Making of Outlander: the Series, The Official Guide to Seasons Three and Four by Tara Bennett — arrived on my stoop. It was all I could do to stop myself from putting everything down and just luxuriating in it. I am on my third or fourth watching of the second season. I’ve read Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, but thus far only listened, skimned and dipped and read in Voyager and Drums of Autumn, but I do think some of her best writing I’ve read thus far is in Voyager and it must’ve given them the most headaches — they filmed in South Africa as well as Scotland — to turn into a genuine movie.


How I dream of her and him too at night …

I wish there were something like this for Poldark. The scripts for the first two seasons were published and a single Companion, but the Companion swung between historical short essays (some of them very good) and fluff about stars, then towards the end about the settings, and costumes (paintings used). What these Outlander volumes do is closely compare novel and film. The Outlandish Companions for the first six novels provide the historical background as Gabaldon understands and sees it — with dictionary style sections, and a wide purview on culture, lots of illustrations, bibliographies &c

Someone (or a couple of people) have suggested to me that Outlander is more popular: more books sold and the series too. It may be more books have been sold, but I doubt the series was at first more popular. It is slowly gaining recognition: they had it on expensive high tier channels. For my part I think the series is done much better than the Poldark series, but the Poldark books are very much superior to the Outlander ones. Probably the difference (my view again) between what’s available comes from WG himself being dead and his son very unsympathetic to his father’s work and the public, while Gabaldon is there all the time trying to promote and involve herself productively.

Still lower budget is not responsible for the poorer scripts for Poldark— though it is true that Outlander had several superior writers, and a crew of superior directors. Another factor (this is again my subjective judgement) is that the leads (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson) were just not as convincing as a couple as the principal pair (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) in Outlander. The Outlander books have power but they remain romances whose central raison d’etre is the intense love of Jamie and Claire for one another (that is what fuels whatever there is of deep life) and they are structurally after the first book or so a mess. Poldarks are much more seriously historical fiction and the central relationships all have a realistic or more common ambiguity. Neither compares as historical fiction to Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levantine trilogies or Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet … as DuMaurier’s King’s General does not to Sontag’s Volcano Lover: the good ones are brilliant history too, not slackened softened history as romance. With a friend I am eagerly awaiting the last volume of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

Signed up for Italian Jewish writing for the spring at OLLI at AU (books like Christ Stopped at Eboli — I’ve read it in Carlo Levi’s Italian –, Primo Levi’s Periodic Table, Natalia Ginzburg, Lampedusa’s Gattopardo (I will add that last), shut of out but still hoping for “Difficult Women” (I’m first on the wait list I’m told) with Elaine Showalter at Politics & Prose Bookstore (MacCarthy’s The Company We Keep, Patricia Highsmith’s scary angry-depressed Edith’s Chair — maybe she will explain to me why people read cruel mean spiteful mysteries — a Joan Didion and a Susan Sontag anthology). Cross your fingers for me.

Taking a Future Learn course at Night: How to Read a Novel. Actually teaching me something, insightful, and useful for teaching. Very contemporary novels and topics (autofiction) under discussion (Olivia Lang’s plagiaristic distasteful novel, which, much to my disillusioned grief, told me that Ian Patterson, the poet-husband of “my” Jenny Diski has already re-married), but I used as an example of powerful art using free indirect discourse, complicated presences for characers, and POV, Anthony Trollope:

Anthony Trollope uses shifts in perspective a lot; these shifts make for fascinating different interpretations of the same story matter that makes up the novel. Also the characters change so a perspective a character has at the beginning is gradually altered. In Small House at Allington, Lily Dale intelligent, wry, clear-sighted and non-pompous says of the man she will fall in love with: “I’ll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell.” Later she will see him so differently and use highly emotional language when in love; when he betrays her, she changes again — her idiom the same but her understanding of this man altering. I love how he uses letters: the letter is clearly by someone whose language is utterly that person but is read by someone whose perspective is quite different, and then we have the narrator’s impersonal ironic voice joining in. This kind of thing to my mind makes Trollope one of the great novelists in the English language.

Listening in my car to Juliet Stevenson reading aloud Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day still and sometimes reveling in the descriptions and Mary Gatchet, coming spinster, and Katharine Hilbury, enduring slavery to her family.

It is very cold out just now, Winter, the air closing in round my skin deeply chilled, fridge-like. A hollow sound from the damp edgy quiet winds pushing at my robe as I step out to get the paper or feel the air.


Outside Izzy’s window


My beloved Clary warming herself on the Cable Box and my multi-regional DVD player

So that’s for this past week or so. To end on cheer, I am re-watching Mary Beard‘s intelligent enlightened humane deep history, Ultimate Rome  (also called Empire without Limits) and will soon make a separate blog — what makes for real prosperity for human kind, a good world is her underlying theme. You also get to visit places far apart in the middle and at the edges of the empire; two I’ve been to: Hadrian’s Wall and Rome itself.


I am fond of her act, how she dresses, her tone

I — & Mary Beard — have been lucky.  She so much more.  I am alone, she is anything but. == at least as to her outer existence.  Good thing my mother and father worked all their lives, spent so little of what they accumulated, for now I have it to do such things with as assuage and compensate — buy books, join groups, go places. And keep Izzy company in her good spinster life. Widow and spinster, mother & daughter.

Be well, take care, do good work, and keep in touch (I miss Garrison Keillor)

Ellen

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Wooded Path in Autumn, attributed to A.H. Brendekilde, dated 1902 (click to enlarge).

In the middle to late afternoons in fall and winter when Jim was alive, I’d sit by a window reading (or writing) as I still regularly do now, and think to myself with regret, how sad that Jim cannot get out of work (as a prison) for another couple of hours. By the time he’s home, that soft twilight light will be gone from the sky. Now of course he won’t come home at all, won’t see any light at all.

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been more than two weeks since I last wrote. I have taught (Trollope’s Phineas Finn at both OLLIs) and gone to classes — on Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White at Politics and Prose, Films from the perspective of a few popular genres – last week I did see Spike Lee’s moving Malcolm X (yes he emerged from a destroyed family and enduring his self shattered to create the identity finallyi of a prince, and then he was murdered). At home I have returned to my projects and have been reading, studying, thinking about Winston Graham’s Marnie in the context of the films made from, which his book alludes to, which others have connected to the book (Hitchcock’s sensational voyeurism, called Marnie; Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s touching, A Taste of Honey (another deprived working class heroine at the center, not angry, just confused, deprived, lonely, finds a partner in a kind gentle homosexual young man); and Sundays and Cybele by Serge Bourguignon:

A deeply poignant film about the destruction of a young man and adolescent girl because they are different, don’t fit in, and spends Sundays openly together — the world around them is post WW2 France, a disaster arena. The young man is suffering from PTSD after he killed a young girl by dropping a bomb on her from his plane. She is, like Marnie, like Delaney’s Jo, is deprived of warm family life, of love.

I’m now half-way through Oliphant’s Agnes: I find her acid and disillusioned tones so deeply congenial to my way of feeling, her penetrating candour about psychologies, her outlook. I transpose the story of Agnes and her father to see how it’s so analogous to me and my father’s. Soon our heroine will be widowed and then she will grow up.

I am reviewing an immense and seemingly learned biography of Catherine Clive, and back to reading plays, farces, about the theater of the 18th century. Alas, somewhat of a disappointment:  agenda filled, the author omits half Clive’s career (the acting part), the long years of retirement (important, she was alive still and why is an important question). She ceaselessly attacks Fielding (so he is a whipping boy) for his obsessions over sex.  She does not distinguish satire from face-value misogyny (admitted the popular plays of this era are dismal). But her research also overcomes these attitudes and the book is rich with theater history and the general life of the era.

Family life: one of my older daughter’s cats has died — she has lost three in the last year and one half, and this death, so rapid (cancer), so unexpected, the cat with her since a kitten, was a hard blow. I’ve offered to go with her to buy for her two kittens. She said “we are not there yet,” a hopeful utterance (as I see it, a sign of recovery). For one Caturday, Izzy took this photo of her room. I call it “All but the cat:”

This is a pile of Izzy’s clothes we had to pull out of her bureau when we discovered that Ian was stuck behind one of the drawers. For a short while we thought we’d have to find some way to take the back off the bureau, but he did find a way to wiggle out as we pulled stuff out of the drawers and begin to push and pull at them up and down in an effort to help him without breaking the drawer. Freed he sprinted away to hide somewhere else to calm down again …

Halloween: for the first time in a few years several crowds of children, some pairs, some trios, far too many for my small (bought that morning) stock of chocolate chip cookies, lovely creme-filled sandwich cookies, chocolate kisses, kit-kats, and cashews and I ran out, so I emptied out cupboards of Lorna Doone cookies, and handfuls of potato chips from forgotten bags as what I had on hand.

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So, November began, an evening of bill-doing: from my Gorey calendar: it is cold here now

A new experience: I went to a City Council meeting of one of the boards (transportation, roads) because they are threatening to eliminate the one bus that goes by our neighborhood, a bus crucial for Izzy to get to the Metro to get to work (and back). My whole neighborhood is “up in arms,” with many people showing up to complain and to protest. I didn’t get to say my little speech (25 had signed up before me and I worried the parking garage where I left my car would close) but I did hand it in, and it was duly recorded and part of the record the board is supposed to take into consideration. It is looking like they might relent, but I wouldn’t count on it. At the same time, they have redrawn the lines on the nearby roads, engineering traffic jams so as to discourage people from using their cars. I kid you not.

An old experience: suffice to put it I looked into possibly teaching at Politics and Prose, and a friend told me my tones in my letters were just right.I am now waiting to see (more in the next entry). It’s best to be thus brief because all the old justified bitterness has been aroused. I met a woman at OLLI at AU the next day who was there while I was, only she was promoted to full-time contingent. Now I know she has no scholarly credentials, in fact has no urge to teach, yet she was lifted from the “cattle room” as she tactlessly put it. When she saw the look on my face as she uttered that one, she awoke for a minute. How could it be we never met? I was invisible said I.  I smiled and said “see you next week.”

My top paper on academia.edu this past week was “Disquieting patterns in Jane Austen” (mostly reading the novels through the letters). Eleven new readers.

Less happily, my right shoulder and arm ache very badly, a dull pain when I try to lift my arm, stretch it out. I’m told this is arthritis. I am fortunate to be able to afford a cleaning team (four hard-working women for an hour and about 20 minutes) every two weeks.

Memories: A PBS hour long documentary about the deliberate burning down of a vast area in the south Bronx. I grew up between the ages of 4 and 10, 1950 or so to 1957/8. I describe the program and then correct and critique and evaluate: in brief, the landlords abandoned the buildings, set them on fire for the insurance, rotting and un-cared for buildings are susceptible to fire; the city cut down on the number of firehouses and fire engines available …. No one responded when I told about how I lived there. A formative experience.

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Keeley Hawes as Louisa Durrell — far too much romance ends too many episodes


Barbara Flynn as Aunt Hermione looking about her, expectant … I first loved her as Mary Bold in Barchester Chronicles

I cheer myself nightly by watching episode by episode, the recently ended Durrells of Corfu, touching if too broad in approach, not subtle at all. I’m into the second season of four. Keeley Hawes is another favorite actress for me. Its atmosphere is perfect for Barbara Flynn, whose personas I never cease to enjoy — just that right amount of grudging hurt amid the comic acceptance. I did find the hour-long documentary about what happened to the Durrells in later life very interesting. I read 3/4s of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet in the 1980s. Josh O’Connor as Larry in the series is given some of the wittiest lines: one on Jane Austen about how she did participate in scuffles. Not altogether cut off from reality then — delivered by O’Connor in throw-away dry ironic utterances.

Izzy and I will be going to see the Met Porgy and Bess in February (HD screening live), and I was reminded of some George Gershwin songs in Hawes’s dramatization of the unconventional mother’s behavior: she watches over her children and they love her back. All the characters so kind to one another, so forgiving, even unpretentious the Greek good man, Spiro. Perhaps better for me than my other expedients ….

Midnight reading includes a few select pages from Outlander, from Gerard Durrell’s trilogy, and the revealing Inventing Herself by Elaine Showalter. Nothing could be more different from the idealizations I’ve just mentioned and that Clive book I’m reviewing: intelligent, clear, I will give it a blog of its own. I’m startled to understand the real lives of so many recent feminist authors whose books have made a difference in my thinking: I seem to have read the same authors Elaine did, so many whom when I mention to supposed like-minded friends they’ve never gone near or don’t seem to register (as Nancy Miller … )


Illustration for The Yellow Wallpaper: Charlotte Perkins Gilmore one of the many many feminist women whose real life Showalter tells

And so time slips by.


Probably not Georgia O’Keefe, I would it were by her

Ellen

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Izzy took this photo of a tree on our block on her way to work about a week ago ….

Dear friends,

I’ve two happenings in my life since last I wrote that have mattered and I want to remember — and share with others. One began some 5 weeks ago now, and has (I regret to say) come to an end: I attended 4 sessions on 4 works by Margaret Atwood led, taught, more or less shaped by Elaine Showalter. I took a class she gave this past summer on Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, the book, together with the two film adaptations, the 1958 travesty which reversed Greene’s point of view, so that instead of an exposure of US brutality, and ruthless colonialism (as the US took over from the French) in Vietnam, we were to see Pyle as a hero undermined by Fowler, and the 2002 Philip Noyce film, which presented the book’s searing condemnation, but (as it had to) diluted by the usual anti-woman point of view of spy-thriller-mysteries. I was a bit disappointed in Dr/Prof (shall I give her the proper title?) Showalter’s presentation of clips from the two films (she is not a student of film) but I could see in her treatment of the book subtle insight where it mattered, albeit held back by her awareness of the pro-Americanism and patriarchal domination (by a few of the men and silence of the women) of the class members’ conversation.


A recent photo

Well in presenting Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, The Edible Woman, Stone Mattress, and a few texts online (like “Rape Fantasies” from 1975) to a class just about made up of all women (in each there was one male, but not the same one) she was not so held back: I found myself in a room of suddenly not-silent older women, intelligent and willing to speak for real. She was also absolutely in command of her material, which included a history of feminism (she told of events and phases in the 1970s-80s 2nd phase which she had partaken in), a full study of Atwood (well maybe she was not as up on the poetry as she ought to have been), and generous as well as evaluative responses to her audience (I’ll call this) for real.

I have long been an admirer of her books. How I was inspired by her A Literature of Their Own I told her at the end of that summer’s class. Over the years various of her essays, amused by her Faculty Towers — albeit taken aback by her buoyant optimistic outlook which in the 1970s I had not discerned. I began not to be sure how to take her – the way I am not sure about Margaret Anne Doody any more. I tell myself their willingness to conform, and real cheer reveals complacency due to luck; this temperament is how they got ahead — as well as having had the right parents or home environment that taught them what networking is, gone to the name respected schools. But I found myself forgiving her even when, as in a recent review of a biography of Susan Sontag where Showalter faults her for speaking out against the blind reaction to 9/11 (Sontag said, rightly, that this kind of thing is what the US as a military power has been serving up to other countries and all socialist progressives for decades): she lost adherents. There are more important things than our place in public media. I was able to speak of my own anorexia in one class, and in others contribute moderately to the discussion for real — though I soon understood most of the woman there, as in the OLLI at AU, I am not like most of those speaking as most of them (like Showalter) had gone to name colleges (where they had to pay real money to get in, pass interviews), most worked for much more money in professional occupations they were promoted in; or they were upper class home-makers for successful men. I’ve never experienced any of that — though I could (as no one else did) speak to what it is to have an eating disorder for real.

She was unpretentious, genial, as far as realistically possible, candid. It was enough to almost make me have some faith in the possibility of the academic world honoring someone worth honoring. Almost but I consider that if the norm is not this at least I have found an instance of a woman of integrity, remaining a Feminist (as she said of herself when described by the late Harold Bloom, the usual small man, with a capital letter), nonetheless rewarded. Not that she could understand someone like me. I do not kid myself. I volunteered when the class was talking of 1970s feminism that before then I found when I knew I wanted to write my dissertation on rape in Clarissa I couldn’t. I didn’t have the language to talk of this kind of crucial event in many women’s lives which would not shame me, would force me into taking attitudes I knew were falsifying my own experience. She looked surprised.

I am alive to the irony that at 72 I could have a somewhat self-altering experience from coming into contact with an outstanding woman I can admire. She told of what it was actually like to be a judge of the International Booker Prize, and I learned about this prize from an aspect I’d not considered: how sometimes when one wins, it can harm your career if the publishers and promotional booksellers don’t think your book is capable of being a best-seller. I’ve regathered up the books by her I own, the essays I have in my computer, and am making my way slowly through her Inventing Herself, which I hope to write a separate blog on for my Austen reveries, where I’ll include some of our discussion on Edible Woman and “Rape Fantasies” especially. It is too late to make any effective change in my life. I tell myself I will finally read all of A Jury of Her Peers, tackle Sexual Anarchy (on the fin-de-siecle) and go back to her 1980s essays.


Mary Trouille

I am reminded of how the French 18th century scholar Mary Trouille asked my some 10 years ago to be on her panel and deliver a paper on Rape in Clarissa. I didn’t have to produce a proposal, just send general thoughts, and then Mary included me in her decisions as to who to include, and I saw why she chose who she did. I longed then to have had such a woman as my dissertation adviser, or what’s called a mentor. Gentle reader, I never had what’s called a mentor. I had written a thorough good and favorable review of Mary’s book on wife abuse in the mid-18th century, and she had appreciated that. But she did what she did because she understood my mind moved in the same tracks as hers did. Mary also wrote Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment: Women Read Rousseau, which I studied, and she is the first modern translator of the important book by Rétif de la Bretonne, where in the person of his daughter, he retells the horrific abuse she suffered from her husband, and how all around her were complicit in urging her to endure it, Ingenue Saxoncour, or The Wife Separated from her Husband, which I have just bought! In all I’ve written about rape and abuse hitherto I’ve relied on a reprint of the 18th century French text.

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Gettysburg Hotel, 1 Lincoln Square

It was not the first EC/ASECS conference I attended partly at Gettysburg Hotel, and partly on the campus; I had come here with Jim in 2006 and remember vividly the day’s trip and talk (from a guide) around the infamous & huge battlefield. At that conference I gave a paper on Anne Murray Halkett and broke out in hives (hardly anyone came and I had delivered it badly; it was too long and too indirect). I’ve been going to these EC/ASECS conferences for some 20 years, almost without a break and was awarded the only prize I ever have gotten — for service to the group. I flubbed for I didn’t sit where I was supposed to, too embarrassed. This year I am chair of the Molin Award committee.


Gettysburg college

So what new mattered? The regional group seemed to come alive again on this 50th anniversary and I had a very good time at the sessions I attended, felt rejuvenated by the conversations I had with people who share my valuation of scholarship enough that they seem to be spending their existence as I do — or try to do. I drove myself there and back,without too much anxiety — I used both my garmin and the Waze app on my cell phone (which I still can’t get to talk). The person who was supposed to chair the Johnson panel didn’t come and asked me to substitute for him, and for the first time I didn’t read a paper through, instead half-read and half-talked it. The room was full, with a number of Johnsonians (!) and I was commended for my performance as chair. Thomas Curley’s paper was a retelling of his magnificent work on Robert Chambers with the startling (apparently to many in the room) that Johnson was a major collaborator in Chambers’s first works on law. Tom had parallel passages showing texts from this collaboration (in effect) and Johnson’s (highly conservative) False Alarm, Taxation No Tyranny &c — showing Johnson justifying colonialism, taxing colonies, and not all that against slavery. Chambers went on to become a supreme Chief Justice in India — married a woman many years younger than himself.

He had come a long way — I went to dinner with him — a cab to a plane, a plane and then rented a car. He is an older man and it was gratifying to see that his work is at least being made more public. He said since he wrote he has had hardly any sense anyone paid attention — someone remarked people might feel they have enough Johnson, also there’s the problem of what’s his.


Aspects of Biography — I referred to this during the session

I also was so gratified to listen to Lance’s paper and afterwards talk with him (as a Johnson expert) and a couple of other people. What emerged is that my view that Savage was a fraud, that the woman he claimed was his mother was not so at all is not uncommon! It was that insight that I couldn’t get past — I couldn’t get myself to write on Johnson’s Life of Savage because while it is a extraordinary work of biographical art, paradoxically it is centrally wrong and I felt I must bring that out. I wish I had known that more people think this – -they don’t write it down lest they be attacked or find themselves in a morass. That wouldn’t have bothered me. I find the Life of Savage more interesting because Johnson is so deluded — bonding so with this man and yet has written a remarkable strong biographical work. Lance and I talked of Holmes’s book and how his analysis of the trial is particularly illuminating — the man was also a thug murderer. I know to talk to students of this as a remarkable biography and maybe to the average person so “fact” oriented this would not make sense. But it does to me. Lance’s paper was about how much that is written about London is based on conclusions with inadequate evidence about Savage’s relationship to the poem.

I felt my own paper on the literature of Culloden and its aftermath went over very well — I did read it but it’s written in a talking style (I’ve put it on academia.edu so anyone may download and read it). We had a much larger audience than I anticipated as there were two other panels with far better known people going on at the same time.

I disappointed my self only when it came to going to the Irish folk singing in a tavern on Saturday night. I get almost no chance for such experiences, but I came back with Tom (above) at 8:45 pm or so and there was no one around to go with. It was dark, looked like a longish walk and I chickened out. But (I tell myself) I read away in my room and was fresh for the long Saturday. I will tell of this conference and some of the papers in more impersonal way on Austen reveries. For now we can listen to Jim McCann and the Dubliners singing Carrickfergus — I remember Coilin Owen, who was a friend, an older faculty member at Mason, liked this one so (he died this fall)

Most of all to be with like-minded kindly intelligent well-educated people who are spending their lives the way I am, who value the humanities, arts, liberal in thought was like coming to a halcyon haven.

It was important because (I find I must tell because not to speak of it would be to falsify this life-writing blog) for three days and nights I was bombarded by harassing bullying emails from someone accusing me of heinous treacherous behavior, I’m a freak who behaves strangely and with powers of intimidation beyond my own belief. I single-handedly seem to have silenced her face-book page (I should be so powerful…) and changed the minds of countless people towards a serial drama (seemingly at the center of her existence). I endured deep distress because I was away from this computer and could not block, ban, or respond to her restless immediate demands. I’ve had many soul-shaking experiences in social life both on- and off-line but this was a new form for me. Unfortunately (I’ve been told) I cannot ban her from seeing my blogs: the only way to do this is to make the blogs private and then other people could read it only if they have passwords. The same holds true of my time-line on face-book: I cannot ban anyone from reading it unless I make it private. I gathered from what she said she had been reading my blogs almost obsessively and with intense interest for months! I wondered if not setting up software to allow this makes more profit for face-book and wordpress.

It is (I hope) over, because I can ban all remarks from being recorded on the blogs, from reaching my gmail, and myself block seeing any remarks she makes on face-book. I am not sure this is enough, but I will not be threatened out of writing about the realities I come up against and have been helped to put this in perspective by my daily experience at the OLLIS I teach at, on listservs and different face-book pages, and during this time this conference (which I did have trouble in concentrating on — say the papers, the driving — and in sleeping).

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

For the rest over the last three weeks I continued to go to classes, teach very successfully (Phineas Finn just about teaches itself) and carry on life with Izzy and my two cats. Two Caturdays on face-book: October 12th:


Clarycat

It is my cats who keep me sane because every morning they do want food, across the day they do enact a calm collected pattern of behavior which keeps them alive and active (they often look interested in what is going on around them), they rest collectedly and follow me about and would be disturbed if in my human way I acted out what I feel in my consciousness. They are alert around 5 waiting for their evening meal. They wait to play with string wit me around 6:30 pm each night as Izzy and I prepared our meal. They are there in my room late at night waiting to go to bed with me. If I behave in an upset way, they get upset. So they help keep me sane. Here are two further pictures of this needed Clarycat taken by Marni during the week I was away from her and Ian this August at Calais. Right now she is resting in her cat-bed and Ian is nearby gazing out the window while I sit and read and write at my desk in the same room.


Ian (as Jim used to say) “resting from the rigors of his existence while I work-play away on my teaching of the Pallisers DVD episodes adapting/along with Trollope’s novel, Phineas Finn. The other part of this desk has a laptop where I’m playing one of the DVDs. If you look carefully, you will see his eyes are open. He has two comfort toys under him — the small grey mouse with a tail and the smaller varied colored-mouse with a bell on a ribbon.

My cat, Ian, continually hides, and each time I find the new difficult-to-find hiding place and he realizes I know where he is, he will find a new one. A cat’s mind and motivations deviate utterly from the person he or she is genuinely attached to. They are predators and distrust the world — they have hardly any weapons now that they have evolved into 10-12 pound creatures. So the hiding is an experience of renewed comfort — he was in a comfort zone. One problem I have is I rely on my confidence he did not get out of the house and my sense of him that the last thing he really wants to do is escape: he keeps away from the door most of the time. Once when he was a kitten, and before the porch was enclosed he leapt into it; I got so excited at him, he never did that again. Why that’s a problem is occasionally or regularly I pay people to do stuff in my house. Every other week a 2-3 women to clean. So I feel I have to be here to let them in or out so as to be at the door when they come in; when I’ve had contractors in I manage to close both cats into Izzy’s room. But it means sometimes having to miss something so I can be here when the door opens and closes. Or I’d regularly lose peace of mind over wary Ian.


For my present Friday movie class (genre, gender, race & class in American film) I re-watched Woody Allen’s (and Diane Keaton in) Annie Hall for the first time in decades — I found much that still made me laugh, but on the whole felt saddened because romance companionship can be a form of happiness and it’s one beyond me now forever

What am I looking forward to: working away on my Poldark/Winston Graham and historical fiction projects; now a review of Berta Joncus’s immense Kitty Clive, or the Fair Songster. It’s hard for me because it’s part musicology — but it tells a story of the second half of Clive’s life that resonates with me. After Catherine Clive became so successful on stage, she attracted deep resentment, envy, and found herself under severe attack and had to alter her act to make fun of herself, to humiliate and ridicule herself to carry on. She needed to make money. Finally she retired to live on Horace Walpole’s estate. I’m not sure the biography goes over this second half but no one in my knowledge ever even explained the second half of her life

And after all I must read the long densely researched life of Charlotte Lennox — by Susan Carlile. I had put it up on the shelf in order to get on with Margaret Oliphant. Now I think no hurry on that any more. One of the scholarly experts on Lennox, a friend of mine, was at the conference & for the “newsletter” (it’s become a journal really) wrote a long review of this important book. Two new biographical books on Vittoria Colonna are sitting on my desk, and one interpretive of her relationship with Michelangelo. I still want to return to my Italian and French studies. And I’m back to studying a film adaptation of one of Austen’s books, the fragmentary Sanditon (scroll down to the last part of the blog), which I re-read this weekend.

So, gentle reader, I don’t change very much after all but the two experiences I’ve tried to convey here have made me feel somewhat better about the world and myself.

Ellen

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