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Sunning cat

Disappointments, heartaches, things cannot do; things done, things doing, things to look forward to

Dear friends and readers,

Summer unofficially began last weekend, Memorial Day, and it was not exactly a rousing start. We (Izzy and I) failed to get aboard a boat ride, which we were told was planned for our (my) Aspergers nowadays online group, meeting every other Thursday (an hour starting 7 pm) and once a month Saturday (7-9).

The ad lied and said you could buy tickets as boarded the boat, but in fact you were supposed to book on-line — in the sense of reserving a seat. (We did not book online partly because until 10 in the morning it was not clear it would not rain.) So all the people with pre-bought tickets got on and then the guy would not let those willing to buy there until on the dot of 3 pm lest any pre-bought tickets came along. His mean face and tone and words assured us they were “really” full up, as probably was the 6 pm boat.

Izzy said she was not playing this game. In other words, she refused to be humiliated. I’m with her. It does seem to me a great deal of US life nowadays demands versions of humiliation.

So, my friends, avoid Capitol Tours. The boats look awful.

We then found a cab to take us home, using lyft. We had a wait because traffic was so heavy. We had paid a red cab (booking it after 10) to get us there as the Washington Harbor area (like all Georgetown) has no Metro stop nearby: you want to know why Biden couldn’t pass his BBB bill: huge numbers of middle class whites don’t want public transportation in their area. Many areas in DC have no Metro stop. Should I repeat this?
As to Washington Harbor, it is hard to buy the simplest bottle of water or non-alcoholic drink; just about all the places require you to sit down and spend a lot for a meal too.

If this sounds ultra-disappointed, it’s not. I went in order to show all the people I’ve enjoyed zooms with for so long how I want to meet in person and for the 40 minutes or so waiting together I met all who came. They met Izzy who I’ve mentioned on and off for so long Myself I’m relieved to be home early, back to comfort (I have the air-conditioning on), my loving cats, my books and movies

We did walk along the water and Izzy took a photo of a sensible water bird family who do not carry guns and do not live in an unmitigated racist capitalist world.

Izzy and I did take a lovely walk in Old Town around 5 in the evening the next day. The whole park front on the Potomac was re-vamped to leave a good portion a people’s park; on one side and in one portion capitalism reigns supreme but even there the number of restaurants are kept more reasonable and people can still walk along the edge of the water without incessant noise. There are areas to sit, to play games, one dance area, much grass and trees. Again ducks along the edge of the shore …

It’s a good walk up and down, for we start not far from the King Street station and go down to the water and back. There’s a new nice used bookstore! we stopped in it and it’s good place with books organized by type. I used to do this walk almost daily with Jim in the afternoons or evenings when he was working and after he retired; when Vivian was alive (that friend I made who died of cancer) I’d walk sometimes with her. I don’t like to walk it alone because it brings memories of Jim and the kind of life I led with him. Izzy won’t come with me regularly but for special occasions and yesterday we did. No cab, no $50. There are two boats you can buy a ride on up and down the Potomac — they are not popular in the way of the DC rides. You don’t “see” as much — no tourist sites to look at, and be told bogus history about, but we have gone on them a couple of times. Jim would never go (he thought it silly) but when he was away in summer Laura, I, and Izzy did the ride a couple of times just the 3 of us.

That night I enjoyed my books very much (among them The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins), and at night was fully absorbed by Indian Summers Season 2 again. Today it’s supposed to be super-hot — 100F with heat index, so we’ll stay in Izzy watches the French open (tennis), and I’ll do my syllabus for the June mini at OLLI at AU.

To conclude the thwarted and ambiguous and heartaches: This past Saturday I met at the hairdresser’s a woman I’ve thinking of as an old friend. Lately her husband of man years died. From the conversation I realize she is actually fine (doing better than I did after Jim died). I had interpreted her non-response to an email as her being still too grief-stricken to be active this way But her words and then a polite email that she doesn’t want to continue the friendship. This is always so hard when I’m rejected especially when I can’t figure out why. It happens repeatedly in my life — I can see she has nothing against me personally. This is the sort of thing Aspergers people have to live with — many years ago my younger daughter, also Aspergers, asked me why do not others reciprocate (after she had gone to a girl scouts meeting several times, tried hard and no one would even be her partner in dancing), and I answered I don’t know, I wish I did.

I’ve exchanged emails with this woman the next day again and have a better idea why she wants to — or has — broken the beginning friendship off, for it was just beginning again. After all she did this 20+ years ago. It’s too particular for me to tell but I do think this has to do with her husband’s death. Partly she is in a fragile state and doesn’t want to be disturbed by any ideas outside her usual ones – not that I would disturb her. But she knows I’m an atheist; indeed why should I hide it. She does not hide her intense religious (Catholic) faith. She said she was doing fine because she “firmly believes” she “will see Roger again.” Maybe just my presence would get in the way.

These things hurt Aspergers people like us because it’s so hard to start a relationship or begin to sustain one and when we lose it, we don’t have a substitute. We don’t just move on to another relationship. It’s like a child with one train as opposed to a child with many.

I learned a new word — or understood a word for the first time. In a previous zoom I said I didn’t understand the new and various ways the verb to gaslight someone is nowadays used. I know the original film and original use but all the recent extrapolations were confusing. So I’d heard the gerund “ghosting” — or, as a verb, someone ghosts you. I thought it was the equivalent of snub, they make you vanish, ignore you, but no, it means the person makes him or herself vanish. It comes from internet experience where the person does not answer an email as if they are not there. I had had people do that to me, yes.

Not traveling anywhere this summer. Cannot drive at night so no Wolf Trap. You must test negative for Covid going and coming on airplanes internationally. Told airports are again these scenes of wretched crowding, cancelled trips. Nothing nothing is worth such experiences. So Ireland put off for another year. Still sorry not to escape this heat but for three days visiting Thao — see below. The beach is too far for day trip. That is the worst of this area in summer. No nearby beaches.


Where I might go if I could: Monet’s Beach at Trouville

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So now positive developments. Events and experiences to look forward to this summer.

My young friend, Daughter No 3, Thao, had her baby! He and mother doing very well. Auntie Izzy and Grandma Ellen had face-time with Thao and Jeff and this tiny baby last night.  Auntie Izzy there too. They said it is now just about procedure to induce a young woman after 39 weeks. The medical establishment has decided why wait? She has endured massive intervention during most of this pregnancy and it was a good deal of it overdone, unnecessary and made her anxious again and again. So this refusal to let her carry the baby to term is part of that — the people were at her since this past Thursday to come in — like she had a ticket for a seat (in this case bed) and was not showing up.

A boy, weighing a about over 5 pounds. It’s clear he can’t see. He was quiet while we talked. They were exhausted and very happy I could see. Izzy and I shall try to come for a 4 day visit in August. They had planned to name him William and call him Will but they seem not to be sure now and have not yet signed the papers. I wish I had a photo. I don’t. The first one I do receive from Thao I’ll put here (until then all I’ve got is this one of Sam loving baby Catherine).


Honeysuckle Weekes as Sam cherishing, joyous over baby Catherine for her father Gabe Kelly (Killing Time, Foyle’s War)

Would you believe Barsetshire in Pictures? I gave this talk, which turned out to be difficult work, and I was stressed about but managed to pull off. The first time since 22 years ago I used (went over) that original research reading and staring in the Library of Congress at the original illustrations for Trollope’s novels over much of his career. I believe at the time I viewed and described some 450 images.

I’ve had the idea for my timeline I’d put my reading aloud copy of Barsetshire in Pictures on academia.edu. The talk went over very well (I trust – people seemed to be laughing in the right places), and I do this in the interim before the talk itself with the pictures comes online on the Trollope Society (London) page — if anyone wants simply to read it. When the video appears, I’ll make a blog and then distribute this in different places.


Lily and Grace sewing together by candlelight — George Housman Thomas’s 32 full page and 32 vignette/letter illustrations for the Last Chronicle of Barset

Today, this afternoon I returned to teaching in person for the first time in 2 years and 5 months. A tiny class as so many at the OLLIs are so wary (rightly), but it went so well. So much better than these zooms after all. People really talking to one another in the class. Everyone seen. No one a black box with white letters. It’s the rejuvenation I felt this afternoon to which you owe this diary entry, gentle reader.

And my schedule for the summer and fall all worked out.

I will be teaching this “Alternative POVs on Traditional History and Myth”; also in person for 6 weeks, once a week “Sensation and Gothic Novels, then and now:” Wilkie Collins, Woman in White and Valerie Martin, Mary Reilly, books and movies.

Online at OLLI at AU: a wonderful class, genuinely learned professor from University of Pennsylvania on SouthAsia, once a week — I learned a lot this past week about the Indian subcontinent, geographically, historically, ethnically, religiously; a course, Beyond Musical Standards, on the music of people like Harold Arlen, also once a week for 4 weeks online, but in person (!), 5 days in a row one week, on “Women’s Suffrage.” OLLI at Mason: again 4 weeks of a movie a week, well chosen, with Russell (from Pennsylvania now) and Stephanie; 6 sessions on a history of basic civil rights in the US, online, and then 2 sessions on W.E.B. Dubois’ Black Reconstruction (that’s a Library of American book).

Online at Politics and Prose: end of July, early August, online with Elaine Showalter, “Difficult Women Take Two,” Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights (how I loved this decades ago when I read it riveted), Jean Rhys, Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Angela Carter, Bloody Chamber, Nora Ephron, Heartburn; August, online with Helen Hooper, “The Other Elizabeth Taylor,” Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (very good novel), Angel (one of those by her I’ve not read), and New Yorker short stories; September online with Michelle Stimms-Burton, James Baldwin, his later years, from 2 Library of America books)

I vow in August to write that review of the Anne Finch Cambridge volumes, and the short paper on the manuscripts of Finch and Jane Austen for EC/ASECs in October. I will study Italian and return to Anglo-Indian novels and memoirs.

August you see empty. Lots of horror stories about plane delays, weeks spent not being able to get out of a country because of testing positive for COVID, planes cancelled. Oonce again the airplane industry shows itself not concerned in the least about passengers. They follow the “just in time” theory. No preparation whatsoever for sudden surge of people. No re-hiring. What do they care? As long as their CEOs rake in millions in bonuses they give themselves.

So I will sustain my soul by my Anglo-Indian studies, Italian studies — for a future course at the two OLLIs. As when I started my studies of film, I feel like a child with a whole new candy store waiting for me.

Then carrying on for the rest of the year: London Trollope Society online: The Eustace Diamonds and Can You Forgive Her?. I’ll “do” in person in the fall at both OLLIs, “The Two Trollopes:” Last Chronicle of Barset, and Joanna’s Rector’s Wife and The Choir (books & films), once a week, September through November.

So there we are. Too busy to think about how lonely I am, and how hot it is outside. As for movies just now: Indian Summers, Foyle’s War, three Woman in White movies, two Moonstone. I’m finding the biography of Mazzini by Denis Mack Smith very good, so too near the end of Catherine Peter’s biography of Wilkie Collins (probably cannot be bettered), Maria Tatar’s Heroine with 1001 Faces — to say nothing of listening to Davina Porter read aloud Outlander once again in my car (sexually very stimulating for me).

Managing to keep Internet friendships on FB, TWWRN, my one alive listserv, Trollope & Peers, my online Zoom Aspergers group (every other Thursday and Saturday evening once a month). Here is my beautiful boy who does love me and Izzy

Have I accounted for myself enough? The ninth summer without Jim — carrying on our way of life insofar as I can without him, here, by myself.

Ellen

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Me and Ian, photo taken by Izzy this past month

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I was looking forward to much less to do, but find after all I made new commitments on top of my old ones and am struggling to catch up. This month too I felt again worried about my health (signs of aging); I had some good moments — mostly honestly when I was teaching, or reading a good book; and some bad — I got lost twice trying to get to the Tysons Corner clinic center, and when by myself simply returned home without getting the scheduled second booster shoot; when with Izzy, she saved the day by whipping out her cell phone and using the app called apple. Though she said the apple app (a mapping software) was inferior (as it did not tell us which direction to go in, only showed the road itself), the apple app as used by Izzy got us to the Tysons site, where I had a heart stress test. The nurse practitioner pronounced “you have a healthy heart” after I had sustained quick walking on a ever faster treadmill for over 20 minutes.

In some of this there was a lesson to be learnt — or reminded of. I rescheduled the trip to Ireland for August 2023; yes to go and come back on the plane I’d have to be tested for Covid, and if the test were positive have to stay for 2 weeks in self-quarantine in a hotel room. I would truly become half-crazy were I to be so stranded (and charged for it). Tonight I made an agreement with a male friend with whom I once before went to ES/ASECS in October with to go again this year: he flies here and stays with me one night; drives me to the place (a inn in Wilmington, Delaware, near the Winterthur museum where the conference will be held); we stay there together for 2 nights, 3 days; he drives us back, and then takes an airplane back home (Arkansas of all places — poor man). When I looked at the address, I knew I couldn’t find it myself and on top of that can not drive at night even the shortest of distances.

My friend has made two panels up, and will himself chair a festschrift meeting in honor of a long-time member of EC/ASECS, head of the Bucknell Press. For me this means I will automatically be part of 3 sessions, active, and due to the way he wrote up the panels, I’ve thought of a new paper: “From Either End of the Long Eighteenth Century: Anne Finch’s ‘Folger’ Book and Jane Austen’s Unpublished Fiction.” I’ve now for months (on and off) been studying how the new Cambridge complete edition of Finch’s poetry is a book which attempts to give the reader the closest experience one can have of the original 3 manuscripts they are found in, and a number of years ago I wrote a review of the Cambridge edition of the later manuscripts of Jane Austen where I studied how these works are shaped and project meaning through their manuscript state. It’s is almost a matter of reading quite a number of blogs and sitting down and writing it out, and then turning to the review of the Finch book at last, and writing it. My friend’s financial needs and academic outlook are fitting mine. A positive development, no?

Another lesson came out of my PC computer acting up in the later afternoon. The fan kept coming on. I emailed the IT guys and one came on quickly and did a bunch of updates for about half an hour and the problem seemed to cease. Alas, the next day it came back in a milder form. I had the idea to google and ask what I should do and read there that fans can come on if one has too many applications open. So I put a huge number of files and pictures on my desktop away in windows explorer, and voila, the fan ceased. My desktop is also clear. The IT guy had claimed to fix my landscape mechanism so that it would once again change every once in a while the first picture that comes up after turning the machine on, but he had not succeeded. In a way I prefer it — changes make me nervous.

Below is a favorite image — one I would not mind as my wall paper. You have seen it on this blog before, gentle reader. I am imagining I am by the sea (by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea … ), a beach — something that does not happen to me much (at all?) any more. Staring out into the sky, at the birds.


Sara Sittig — By the sea (by the sea, by the beautiful sea ….) — knowing Jim not out there any more

Much solaced and compelled absorbed this month by Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (I’m in the third volume, Barbie Batchelor’s mind pure visual poetryI’m teaching only Jewel in the Crown), Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (where she lets loose at long last the tragedy of diasporic disconnection and search for individual fulfillment through a woman character who ends up alienated from all who would have loved her), and have learned of and enjoy her rich Italian identity and beautiful language In Altre Parole and Trovo Mi Dove.

To speak in, think in, read and (the highest attainment) write in another language is to become part of another world — and I too love the Italian one. On Trollope&Peers our book for this month of June-July is Tarchetti’s Fosca as translated by Lawrence Venuti as Passion(the name from a 1980s movie and then Sondheim’s musical). Lahiri’s In altre parole is actually a perceptive study on what one gains by reading a translation consciously — not pretending it is the actual original text but a translation into another language and (often) place.

As to movies I was truly absorbed once again in all four Mansfield Park (Metropolitan one of them) movies as I reread that strange book by Austen — and it is strange the perceptive heroine, full of a depth of emotion, imprisoned in taboos. I’ve also been reading through the startling depths and intricacies of everyday life and emotional attachment and cool calculation in Trollope’s masterwork, The Small House at Allington (modeled on and meant to surpass I’m sure Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, with Lily a fully sexualized Marianne, and Bell a yet more careful of her heart, Elinor Dashwood). I promised a talk to be called Barsetshire in Pictures.  I admit the sex is pretty good in the first Outlander book, and I’ve bought the DVD for the sixth season and await it impatiently.

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Barkley L. Hendricks, George Jules Taylor (1972)

The above is but one image of many works of art of all sorts that make up some seven rooms of an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC, called Afro-Atlantic Histories. I had made a date to go the National Gallery and have lunch there too with a friend, and see any new exhibits and old favorites. I did not realize was one of these blockbuster shows which offers unexpectedly extraordinary experiences, but individually and within the context the show creates. Powerful art depicting and showing frighteningly inhuman remnants (e.g., irons to put around enslaved people’s necks to continually hurt and cow and control their every movement) and recreating the experiences of slavery in the Afro-Atlantic world from the 17th century to the 19th, and then a recurring reformulation (direct choices by powerful people in gov’t and business in cahoots) of impoverishment and immiseration for black people by making situations where they stay in the lowest and poorest classes of people. Not all was despair, for the art tended to be modern, 20th century and after because only in the 20th century are the realities of the experience for enslaved people and then impoverished people acknowledged. Some striking photography in the 20th of admirable looking or celebratory people (mostly black) in the US, or Latin or South America. Portraits of individuals. Some of the older pictures were beautiful too — done by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th century following picturesque and other eye-pleasing costume and arrt conventions.


Theodore Gericault’s 1811 Portrait of a Mestizia

I came home to buy at ebay the companion book which includes 2/3s as many art works as are in the exhibit. It came very quickly and I’ve been finding it very much worth immersing yourself in. Sometimes going to a country does not help learn its history since those who were in power erased everything they could about the means they took inflicted on other people. Art brings these things to light and re-imagines and re-creates them here. I’ve been taking two superb courses at OLLI at AU: one on the achievements of Thurgood Marshall, and the other on Lincoln which focuses on his evolution towards complete emancipation for all enslaved people, and his thinking about political and civil rights for African Americans which they as all people innately must have to live a good human life. Lincoln not only opposed the expansion of slavery but also condemned slavery as evil and wrong. I bought and am reading Eric Foner’s Lincoln and American Slavery and Juan Williams’s Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. There is a coterminous area between the two men: no one anywhere has a right to anyone as property. Marshall saw the way to achieve equality of life and fulfillment for black people was full integration.

One striking if not unique I hope rare desperate-helpless kind of experience this month was when face-book a few days suddenly would not download on my Macbook pro laptop and on this PC Computer none of the postings I wrote or anyone wrote to me or any postings at all were visible. My groups pages were all awry. Extremely trying since on google I was told face-book was not down, and therefore something was wrong particular to my computers or settings. But then I found where it seemed many people were having all sorts of odd barriers and problems, and a few the same as mine. So every three hours or so I sent messages to places on face-book where it says “report a problem.” You were told you would not get a reply and it would be used “to improve the general service.” But who knows? Here is what I found two mornings later on google: an explanation of sorts:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/10158791436142200/

And then last night around 1 am I went to face-book once again and all I need had returned. All messages are visible. My laptop uploading normally again. FB has changed again. All the groups have been reconfigured so the banner is smaller. What I can do, or the software and links on my timeline are slightly changed, so I can do less. I know an algorithm began to do to FB what it does to my gmail; in a pattern not all messages show all the time. I conclude they made it less expensive to run. It was not all bad. Numerous kind and generous people emailed me off FB, replied for me on FB — and I felt indeed I have FB friends with genuine concern for me. Pace all the pundits and political savvy types can say, I come to FB for companionship and they validated my raison d’etre for being there.

Here is my experience of the internet as of 1995 and then when these social media emerged from 1998 or so (blogs) and 2003 or so (social media, from livejournal to wordpress to FB, twitter &c): for the first time in my whole life I made a number of friends at once. Real friends then — some people I’ve never lost contact with — Michael Powe, still co-owner of Trollope&Peers; Diana Birchall, plus others. I found myself talking about books to others for the first time. I could read others’ opinions and yes tell my own more bravely for the first time. I was in an ongoing social life for the first time. Hitherto I was mostly alone. I loved it. I have omitted all the bad stuff — the bad stuff is a cyberspace version of the bad stuff in life. On FB over the past 9 nine years I’ve found forms of companionship I needed since Jim’s death — and the near death of listservs — surely you see how few of us there are here. Mine died because I gave up volunteer schedules, elections of books (where people vote books they don’t read) and because my approach is intellectual and often radical in some way or other or just doesn’t please – but also much competition. I now regard it as a small group of friends who read slowly together sorts. Social life through writing used to be the sole center — now I contact people by zoom, face-time, google hang-out and hear and see them and they me — am part of worlds and these worlds lead to worlds in physical space with others.

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The Stanhopes arrive at Mrs Proudie’s Converzatione (at the center Susan Hampshire as la Signora Nerone)

So what lies ahead? why so busy? In a few weeks I shall give another talk to the London Trollope Society group: Barsetshire in Pictures. This necessitates (see above) having read all The Small House in Allington (for Millais’s illustrations), going over all the many pictures by George Housman Thomas for Last Chronicle of Barsetshire, and watching once again the delightful (work of comic-grave genius) 1983 Barchester Chronicles – to get up and present and make interesting the pictures and sets of stills.

June I re-give my 4 week course (this time OLLI at AU) Retelling Traditional Histories and Tales from an Alternative POV. June into July a six week course on Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly) with two superb film adaptations for the Sensational and Gothic Novel Then and Now. Fall in both places: Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle (yet again!) with Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir (and their film adaptations): Barsetshire Then and Now. I am really wondering if I should take off next winter, but now without Jim all alone here for weeks I would lose perspective (so to speak) so The Heroine’s Journey it is for 4 weeks a OLLI at Mason online next winter (Atwood’s Penelopiad, Wolf’s Medea, Ferrante’s Lost Daughter & Austen’s Northanger Abbey).

A surprise for me is the persistence of online classes: for OLLI at AU in June out of 29 classes, 18 are online, 2 hybrid, and only 9 in person; for OLLI at Mason in June-July, the greater number of online and hybrid to in person is even more striking. Do people fear Covid? Is it not worth the time and trouble to drive in and they feel they “get what they want” out of zooms: but 2/3s of a class may stay in black boxes (as if they had bags over their heads). Do you have any understanding of this?  I’ll be there in person with no hybrid alternative.


Olivia Coleman as a lost daughter (La Figlia Oscura)

August Izzy and I will travel to Toronto, Canada! to visit Thao who will have had her baby (William) in June: her first, and my first sort of grandchild, with Izzy as Auntie. We will book in later June. We are face-timing with Thao now once a month on Sunday evening.


Izzy this morning, as yet unlost

And I thought I had nothing to tell you. All this to fill my mind so that I can be at peace alone for reality, and with Jim in my mind and memory in the house and world he and I made together

Away, Melancholy

Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Are not the trees green,
The earth as green?
Does not the wind blow,
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
Away melancholy.

The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
All things hurry
To be eaten or eat.
Away, melancholy.

Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
He is an animal also
With a hey ho melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Man of all creatures
Is superlative
(Away melancholy)
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
(Away melancholy)
Into the stone, the god
Pours what he knows of good
Calling, good, God.
Away melancholy, let it go.

Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Saying, Can God
Stone of man’s thoughts, be good?
Say rather it is enough
That the stuffed
Stone of man’s good, growing,
By man’s called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.
Man aspires
To good,
To love
Sighs;
Beaten, corrupted, dying
In his own blood lying
Yet heaves up an eye above
Cries, Love, love.
It is his virtue needs explaining,
Not his failing.
Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Stevie Smith (1902-1971)

See Cats in Colour,

Ellen

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Gentle reader,

We begin the new year with a new rendition of a song by my daughter, Isobel,

Here are the lyrics.

There are many customs for bringing in the new year. One I’ve followed before is to sum up my best reading or watching experiences, which have turned into an account of what I read all year. The truth is I don’t distinguish last January from the year before, and so much gets mixed up in my mind. I’ve felt, though, that so often these lists become modes of showing off, or people find turning outward to account for the book to others.  One also cites books that one can explain, explicate, or describe in public. I hope to escape that this year, but egoistic as it sounds, just list a few that meant a great deal of me, spoke to me personally as I watched or read, what I learned most from.


Jean Argent, Alice through the Looking Glass, at Guildford castle in Surrey

This year I at last finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet; I would become so involved I would get angry at Elena for doing this or that (leaving a fine man for a husband for a selfish liar for a lover, deserting her children for years) or feel so deeply for Lila though I knew she did not want my pity. I realize the four big books may be a partial collaboration of Anita Raja with her husband, Domenico Starnone (not that he wrote it, but contributed as a dialogue with her). She is foolish for refusing to come out since this allows the awful people to besmirch her when she has translated, learned and taken so much from Christa Wolf, whose work also astonished me this year (Patterns of Childhood).

I just loved the depth of feeling in Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows. an autobiography of herself as a product of her central grandparents, parents, background, education, all leading to marriage, the war (WW2).

A new 19th century author and new book for me was superb: one of the friends of Charlotte Bronte who moved to New Zealand for most of her life, lived and worked there and towards the end of her life returned to Yorkshire to live upon her considerable savings. Her family had had money to start her off and keep her going in hard years: Mary Taylor’s Miss Miles: A Tale of Yorkshire Life 60 Years Ago. I also delighted in Us, the book, by David Nicholls; it was the British serial on PBS that brought me to it (favorite actors, Tom Hollander and Saskia Reeves), but the book was so much better, I just laughed and laughed. I thought to myself Laura would never believe this. I read it twice in a row.

I learned finally how colonialism works, how the system is put together and how it starves and kills the native people it preys upon in Eduard Douwes Dekker (brave and remarkably selfless) Max Havilaar, or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.

I watched and re-watched the exquisitely or quietly funny and subversive Biederbecke Tapes, 3 seasons, written by Alan Plater, starring my favorite Barbara Flynn. I mean watched and re-watched, bought the novelizations …

I returned to loved topics and authors: I was mesmerized by Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, fell to crying over the movie. I practiced (so to speak) more immersion in E.M. Forster (latest Damon Galgut’s convincing fictionalized biography out of Forster’s fragment, Arctic Summer). I can even now learn and love good books on Jane Austen: Sandie Byrne’s JA: Possessions and Dispossesions

I’m still busy falling in love with Michael Kitchen and Foyle’s War I’m only in the 6th of 8 seasons and must re-watch at least twice more before thinking of writing about it.

I admitted to myself that had I encountered Gabaldon’s Outlander, the first four books, and the first two seasons shaped by Roger Moore at age 13-15 I would have been enchanted, and faithful to texts, and actors for life. Like the Winston Graham Poldarks which I discovered in the 1990s, these books came too late, 2015, so I am not up to quite the same intensity of impressionability. Nonetheless, I don’t do too badly. I love the scenes best when Claire and Jamie are in bed together, or talking, or alone doing things together. As a second narrator, I am very fond of Roger Mackenzie Wakefield.

What teaching did I enjoy most? in the end Trollope’s The Prime Minister; throughout E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End and Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day plus all three movies. What class did I truly enjoy to be in? Maria Frawley’s Middlemarch (I re-read that book for, would you believe, fourth time!) and of course that magically true film adaptation by Andrew Davies. The Cambridge lectures on weekends mid-day on Woolf, one on Forster. I must not forget Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (her whole oeuvre) and Alan Parker’s Come See the Paradise, seeing both the result of Leonard King’s astonishing movie classes.

Will this do?

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True Grit up North (a winter scene) by Geoff Butterworth, watercolor, 20th century

Then there are New Year’s resolutions. Try to maintain cheerfulness. You will feel better from this and other act better towards you. Practice self-control. Ditto. Not to get angry or resentful over those who do not ask me to lead groups or do talks because I have no titles, no fame, only 2 unimportant books, was for many years an adjunct (one of the dalits of academic life).  Remind yourself continually how much work these things take, and how you don’t need it, are not paid.  And any I just got $290 as honorarium from people at OLLI at AU for class on The Prime Minister. In the US the way you are shown you are approved of is people give you money.

Vowing to stay calm is easier said than done — for today I did panic or the need to resolve what to do in spring became too strong, my worries over getting it, the chest pain near my heart, in my right upper arm.  Or transmitting Covid to someone else. I thought about how badly I drive nowadays, even in daylight I must exercise caution. How much time it takes to drive in, out, park, and how useful the time to do my reviews and projects.

So I switched and now will be teaching online this spring and take only online classes once more. No one in either place seemed to think I made an untoward or inappropriate or unfortunate decision at all. They switched for me immediately. Now there’s another classroom freed and my place in in person classes can be taken by others.  I regret this a little, but I’d never forgive myself if I brought infection to Laura and Rob. I don’t like uncertainty, the waiting was too much. I worry about what happens in hospitals, which places I loathe anyway. (See Hospitals in serious trouble at DemocracyNow.org).

PBS says what a mystery it is so many US people are again dying.  They can only reference (it seems) unvaccinated!  No it’s the miserable lack of a health care system that will not bankrupt you and is there to care for you for real

So it’s done. Maybe I’ll try in June to come in person after seeing what happens in the spring. At OLLI at AU I’ll miss the coffee times together, the chat before and after class. It is harder to make new friends unless you are literally there, zooms are not conducive to making friends — except I made a new one this year, Betty, through zooms including at Politics and Prose.

I do suffer from sad and angry thoughts — especially when I wake in the morning. This is a central way I experience my depressive state. When I go out among people, the experience (somewhat abrasive but cheerful and often people act in a well-meant sensible way) and perspective (what they say, how I do take it most of the time) is enormously helpful. The long hours Jim would sleep meant that mornings were then the worst of these experiences (feeling bad at my life, that I’ve never come never an achievement others truly respect, never made money, that people reject me and I can’t figure out why — my experiences from autism) had no counter; he’d get up, and make comic and ironic comments and set the world in perspective for me again. Most of all he was there, and I was never as afraid of anything when he was here with me. But I worried so about ending up in a hospital, dreadful places in the US in normal times. And causing Rob or Laura to get sick.

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How did we manage Boxing Day, after all? bring the new year in?


Izzy and I on Boxing Day, in front of the tree at the new City Center in DC, Laura taking the photo …

I have not yet made it to the National Gallery this year. For the second day of Christmas, Laura invited Izzy and I to go with her to see Joel Coen’s Macbeth, then afterwards home to her house to one of Rob’s magnificently yummy meals, opening and exchange of presents. I had the happiest day I’ve had in a very long time. The movie was not exactly subtle; much was cut, a character was added or totally changed, but it was effective film. I thought Brendon Gleeson as Duncan the most human of the characters, and allowed to deliver the best performance.

On Laura’s lawn Rob had gotten some sort of Marvel dragon figure in green hugging a Penguin. Would you believe? I met her cats — I missed their kittenhood. Maxx is smaller and more delicate than I imagined, and Charlotte looks bigger than she is because she’s a long hair (like him). They are healthy happy cats. I had a whiskey and ginger ale with the meal plus wine so was a bit dizzy for the presents ceremony. Driven home, we were back by 9 and I finished out the evening with Shadowlands, and felt good uplift.


Maxx in a new blanket

We tried for a repeat performance on New Year’s Eve night. Before Omicron Covid emerged we had bought tickets to go to a stand-up comic night with John Oliver at 7:00 to about 8:30; then we figured we’d have dinner there, and go to the gala ball. Arrive at the hall and immediately you’re on line for checking vaccination cards and no one is to be without a mask. Each person got a blue paper wrist band who passed through. We did walk about and onto the terrace a bit. Laura had gotten us box tickets so we were four to some extent away from others. It was fun to watch the people. It was not crowded in the garage nor the convention hall but there were people enough to people watch. I’m not sure Laura has ever been to the ball, but we were thwarted. Caution (the Kennedy Center does not want to be known as a bed of disease) closed the restaurants and cancelled the ball. It was a bit of a letdown and sad to have to turn round and come home, but then we couldn’t have been safer the way the thing was done.


John Oliver — not the greatest photo — he told us he has two small children, and the difficulties of filming the show from home with them in the next room …

It is telling the difference between Oliver on TV or the Internet and live at Kennedy Center. First the audience is bigger and not self-selected in the same way. People were there to be at the Kennedy Center, to be out at New Year’s Eve so his humor was not quite as strongly directed, more muted. I think being live also made him more careful. His themes were relevant if you thought about it through the jokes. How US people defy reality while British people swallow it down. He told of how he became an American citizen because he became aware in Trump’s regime how fragile a hold on staying for a non-citizen resident is a green card.

We were dropped off again around nine. Kisses and hugs with promises to see one another again soon. Indeed they were here this Saturday and discovered my DVD multi-region player was not working because two plugs were loose. So I put my new one away for a rainy day. They mascin-taped the plug strip to the wooden furniture right behind the TV instead of letting it lie on the floor behind and taped the plug below too Now I must keep the cats away from behind the TV too. He didn’t need a tool to pull the stand from the Christmas tree, and I have put it on the street now (sad each year) for to be picked up in due course. They were here for less than 20 minutes but for me brightened my day considerably.


Charlotte in a bright red blanket

I admit I recognize in myself at long last material to become an enamored grandparent, but it is better for them to remain childfree — for both their health and their pocketbook. They need not worry when he doesn’t work because of Covid, and just rejoice he is the safer. Some 12 people came down with Covid where he works about 3 weeks ago; he had been off for 2 weeks before that. I have told here he has had cancer so is vulnerable to Covid.

This time I was watching the film adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s The Choir and M.R.James’s Stalls of Barchester Cathedral for the Twelfth Night blog I have since written as a Christmas miscellany of sequels to Anthony.

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Izzy and I made up for not going out to a movie on Christmas Day the Sunday after, January 2d, by going to see the new West Side Story. A brief review:

The new West Side Story. I retract my comments in my blog, based on what other people said and reviews, — To be sure the New Yorker critic hated it.  Brian Tallerico of Egbert.com is fairer – it is a modern mesmerizing.

This is to take back the dubiety I expressed over this movie, partly the result of reading reviews, which I now find obscured and did not give accurate detail, and memories of the previous movie, which movie I remember thinking poor and miscast in all sorts of ways. People were saying not much had been changed. Don’t trust reviewers (say she smiling).

Izzy’s eyes were shining soon after it started; she was thoroughly engrossed by the time Maria and Tony had met at the dance. The actress playing Maria can sing and looks right – so young, the actor doing Tony not a thrilling tenor but he looks right and plays it poignantly; he is so well meaning – as does the actress playing Anita (she is a genetically Black Puerto Rican woman – they have updated it for our era. They have an equivalent of Romeo and Juliet saying a sonnet in turn.

A lot is different, and especially the last third which is not wholly original as the Spielberg and associates went back to Shakespeare. Instead of a quickly truncated ending after the rumble, we have our Romeo (Tony) making his way back to Juliet (Maria’s) bedroom and a night of love-making after he confesses he murdered Bernard. The murder was his rage at Bernard murdering Riff. All with knives. Anita returns after a hard night identifying Bernard’s body and we get the duet of the two women about how can anyone love such a murderer? This song was hypothetical in the original. “I feel pretty” is replaced to after the rumble and the murders.

Rita Moreno’s (Valentina) role improves and makes more Shakespearean the story. She is Tony’s mentor, owner of a drug store who has given Tony a job after a year in prison. Then he comes to her after murdering Bernard. She comforts him; he believes he and Maria can take a bus far away. If only she will fork out the money. Then she stops a rape of Anita come to deliver a message from Maria, with my favorite lines of this movie: these white men are all shits, they have grown up to be rapists. But Anita enraged, lies and says her message is Maria is dead. Valentina is driven to tell the frantic waiting Toni, he rushes out only to see Maria coming with her suitcase, but Chino behind kills him with the gun.

There is a deep anti-gun visual theme of this movie. Bats, razors, even knives do not do as much immediate quick damage.

Finally both Hispanic (Puerto Rican) and white men lift Tony’s body to take it to the hospital. Then Moreno as an old woman sings “here is a place for us — the last song of this movie. Pitch perfect, not over taxing her voice at this point. The whole thing is more upsetting than the original play or movie. The setting of slum removal to replace with luxury apts and Lincoln Center is meaningful. They have made too pretty, too symmetrical their 1950s sets but I recognize these places — I grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s.

The New York Times liked the modern ambiance. The Washington Post critic loved it. I agree it is a rethink.

What is it that the witches in Macbeth say? the charm is wound up, read for another year of diary entries …


The Guests (Russian, later 19th century/early 20th)

Ellen

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Alistair Sim as Scrooge dancing with his nephew’s wife at the close of the 1951 film of A Christmas Carol

“A Poem for winter Solstice”

The dead are always with us
The dead never cease to be with us
We need not imagine they have consciousness
No they are literally gone
But our minds and memories are strong
And take them with us everywhere
We want to bring back the past
Make it alive again
Let it wash over you, wash into you, become you
But we need not
We may turn to
The sublimity of historical romance
the ghosts of time-traveling

— by me, written in 2017

Dear friends and readers,

I truly meant to lead off my near Christmas diary blog with pictures of this year’s tree, of Colin, my beloved glittering penguin once again, which pictures should include our new presence or Christmas stuffed or pottery animal, Rudolph, but before blogging tonight, I decided I would give in to the time of year and watch the first of a series of Christmas movies I own. Where to begin? my oldest favorite, one that used to terrify me when I was not yet adolescent, the 1951 Scrooge (only recently have I realized it’s not titled A Christmas Carol).  Not totally to my surprise I found that as soon as the ghosts began the going back in the past, I began to cry, and then on and off I just cried, and cried, and cried, and when I was not crying, my face became suffused with tears.

I have so many favorite moments; to echo Amanda Price in Lost in Austen about Pride and Prejudice, this movie contains for me places I know intimately, that I recognize so many now still, the words and pictures are old friends. It’s like, with Scrooge, I’ve walked in, feeling there with Alistair  Sim. I watched other movies on Channel 9, Metromedia, in NYC in the 1950s, over and over (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Public Enemy No 1, with James Cagney, Talk of the Town, with Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, and Cary Grant, and at least 10 more) but this one has stayed more in my mind, perhaps because it was repeated year after year. It is a refuge movie because Christmas time is for me so hard to get through.

In then looking for a few stills online to share, I discovered the ones I wanted to show were those of Scrooge delirious with joy, suddenly released and half-hysterical from years of self-flagellation turned against others — with his char-woman, with the boy sent to buy a big turkey, most of all with Cratchit and Tiny Tim, who “lived” … I had to many. I also begin to cry when I remember Jim reciting the final lines one Christmas Eve when my parents were here, with a drink in his hand, “God bless us everyone.”

And yet those moments of trembling with fear and joy don’t make any sense unless you’ve seen the embittering ones in the first sequence (the last part of “the past”), the harrowing and scathing ones in the second (this boy is ignorance, this girl want), and the fearful scenes of Death in the last — of which my favorite is Alice grown up and old, oblivious of Scrooge, serving people in a workhouse. What has her life been?  So here is the whole on YouTube, which I urge you to watch if you’ve never seen it, or re-watch if you haven’t watched it in a long time:

The poem serving as epigraph is one that face-book sent me as a memory from 2017. At first I could not recall who wrote it, and it took a bit of time for me to realize it was by me. I don’t recall writing it — and the use of the verb “wash” is not satisfying. I should have a stronger verb there. But the sentiment is mine. I am explaining why I am so addicted to historical romance, historical fiction films, film adaptations of older books or books set in the past, and still at this time, Outlander:

I see Gabaldon’s books and Roger Moore’s serial (I name him as the central guiding presence, the “showrunner”) as at their deepest when they touch upon how Claire is beating death by going back and forth from the 20th to the 18th century. She is living among ghosts become real when she time-travels and then choses to remain among those people and places our daytime reality would look for in graveyards and find out about in old books. I’m told Gabaldon has yet to explain the appearance of the Scotsman Highlander in the first episode of the first season (and early in the first book):

is it Jamie come to claim Claire? in some mix of non-parallel years (the series use the conceit of near precise 200 odd years apart for the two time zones we experience)? for if it’s years after marrying her, it would be say in the mid-1770s in the UK and US while it is 1947 in Scotland.


Jamie (?) (Sam Heughan?) glimpsed in the darkness, a dark shade


Frank (Tobias Menzies) under an umbrella in the rainy night, unnerved

I was much moved today when I came to the end of Iris Origo’s deeply felt autobiography, Images and Shadows, a book vivid with viscerally experienced life, precise as reality gets, but born out of memory, and about herself as a descendent of two families of people, product of several different worlds, groups of friends, the history thrust upon her of the early to later middle 20th century, mostly in England and Italy. She ends also saying that her dead are with her, that

“I have never lost them. They have been to me, at all times, as real as the people I see every day … “

Maybe that’s why she excels at biographies of people who lived in the past. She quotes Edmund Burke to assert that “society” or “life itself” is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

So here is this year’s tree decorated: our eighth since Jim died — or entered his deathtime, kept with us in our memories, and as long as this house exists in its present embodiment with me living the rest of my life out in it.

Here is Colin once again waving to passersby (a present bought for me by my neighbor, Michelle, now, sad to say, gone from the neighborhood, having separated herself from her long-time partner):


He stands on a ladder I place in front of a window facing our front yard so he can be level with the window and be seen

And here is a beautiful Christmas card sent me by my long-time friend, Martin, from England, picture by Annie Soudain, called “Winter Glow: in the photo it’s sitting on my woodblock kitchen table whose true color is a dark honey brown (not yellow) in front of the above tree:

Because of this gift, I was in the post office (now, as you will recall, run by a criminal-type businessman determined to destroy it as a public service, and fire most of the workers who are not white) by 9 am this morning and sent it off and bought 5 sheets of ordinary stamps and 10 stamps said to be good for anywhere “overseas” (so Europe if I get any more paper cards from friends there). I had intended to send electronic cards to everyone but those few relatives and friends I have who are not on the Net, but have found that I have more than a few, and some of the Net friends are still sending paper cards. All placed around the piano (first my father’s, then Jim’s, now Izzy’s). I reciprocate Christmas cards.

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So what have I been doing and thinking since my birthday? I have been reading away towards my course on Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays and Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia by reading other books by and about them, immersing myself once more in the later 17th and early 18th century worlds of Anne Finch for my review (and myself), and Hugo’s Les Miserables (stunning masterpiece but enormous) in a superb translation by Christine Donougher.

I’m reading towards a revision, a Victorianization so more thoughtful and thought-out and widened version of that paper, A Woman and her Boxes (Jane Austen).  It’ll also be about how much a woman could claim for real she owned personal property, how much personal property meant to women, and space.  These are issues in George Eliot and Henry James.


They are enacting people posing for a picture: Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell

I am mesmerized and in love with Foyle’s War (actors, scripts, programs, everything about them — I bought the 8 sets in a box, with lovely pamphlets as accompaniment beyond the features on the DVDs) – I love it for the ethical POV that shapes it, Michael Kitchen is my new hero, and I am drawn into learning about World War Two yet more. I read as a Trollope sequel, Joanna Trollope’s The Choir, which now I have the DVD set of, and will soon be watching at night.

I’ve gone to two museums with my new OLLI at AU friend, Betty. I attended two fine zooms, one from the Smithsonian on Dylan Thomas’s life and poetry, and one from OLLI at AU on Frederick Law Olmstead, the author, Dennis Drabelle, of a new good book on him, The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks, the kind of book one can buy for a Christmas present. I told in the comments about how Jim and I had been to the Olmsted park in Montreal; they spoke of Olmstead’s fat acccurate book on the cultural realities of life in the south in a slave society (very bad for most people), which I own and know Jim read.

Two wonderful zoom lectures from Cambridge: one on Virginia Woolf’s diaries, and the other on her first novel (one I love), The Voyage Out, as a result of which I bought two more books on Woolf that I hope to read before I die — years before that I hope. And a new image by Beatrix Potter, one I never saw before: a mouse at work threading a needle, which I am told comes from The Tailor of Gloucester. Is it not exquisitely because and full of love for animals and art:

Did I say I got excellent reviews from the people in my class on The Prime Minister for this past spring? well, I did. The best I’ve ever had. The class predominantly men. I got myself to write the blog I knew I should comparing PM to The American Senator.

Some troubles: paying bills online, fake emails from cheats trying to lure me into giving away financial data; now my ipad won’t recharge, and alas it looks like my multi-regional DVD player has died (I shall try to find someone to come and to fix or to replace it). A few zooms with Aspergers friends have helped me endure the aloneness more readily (sharing our experiences, talking and getting some intelligent advice). Worrying about Omicron covid: should I go teach in person in the spring after all? I have two serious co-morbidities.

So what does one write diary entries for? be they on face-book and what came into my mind that morning or I did the day before presented succinctly, or be they this kind of wider survey. A need to testify? A need to make my life more real to myself, to write it down so as to make sense of it, to remember (Jane Austen’s birthday) and record and thus be able to look back?

An interesting talk in London Trollope Society zoom last Monday. Out of a site called Reading Like a Victorian, an American professor, Robyn Warhol, showed how it was possible for 19th century readers (with time & money on their hands) to read synchronically several Victorian masterpieces at a time. I doubt many ever did that, and from experience know it’s hard to get a college student to read in an installment pattern.

For me for today the way she opened her talk was intriguing: what has happened to TV serial watching since people no longer have to watch a series week-by-week but can receive all episodes at once. She suggested something is lost. I know when I taught Phineas Finn (and also Winston Graham’s Poldark) we talked a lot about instalment watching. In watching Foyle’s War for the first time, I make myself wait 4 nights before watching another episode. They are not meant to be watched night after night or back-to-back (shover-dosing it used to be called). Through instalment reading, the diurnal happenings of one’s life get involved with the serial.

Izzy tells me recently DisneyPlus has been putting one episode a week on of its new serials, and then the viewer can see them in a row or however. I think people appreciate the series, remember it better and more by doing it apart in time, in patterns. How many people here when a new series “comes out,” watch the episodes over a couple of nights or stretch it out to feel like instalments? How many when you are reading, find yourself putting the books in dialogue? I am doing that with Christa Wolf and Iris Origo and Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is Anita Raja, the translator of Christa Wolf into Italian, and to read The Quest for Christa T is to read one of the sources of the main transgressive character, angry and hurt, Raffaelle Cercullo, aka Lila, in the Neapolitan Quartet.


A cat bewildered by snow

Also to learn what I am thinking and feeling. To reach out to others? Why do I want to do this? why explore my consciousness insofar as I can bear to tell truths about myself to myself — and others (thus self-censoring or judicious veiled language required). Why did Woolf, Burney, Wolf (One Day a Year, 1960-2000), Origo, and many male writers do this? Henry James and Virginia Woolf were getting up material for their novels. I am getting up material for essays. To invent a life you are not quite living (Burney fictionalizing away) or put it together in what seems an attractive experience ….

Enough. I hope for my readers they will have a cheerful and good winter holiday over the next few days, not too fraught if you are with relatives, don’t ask too much of yourself, stick to routines or a series of habits you’ve invented for yourself over the years, keep to low expectations, and oh yes remember not to blame yourself and that whatever happens is not to be taken as a punishment (however religions have set up & supposedly made sense of reality that way).


Scrooge on Christmas morning, delighted to find he’s in time

Ellen

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I still buy books faster than I can read them. But again, this feels completely normal: how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life … And I remain deeply attached to the physical book and the physical bookstore [not so much that latter as the days of vast caverns of books, floors of them, you were left to explore on your own, i.e., the Argosy in NYC, 2nd Hand Bookstor in Alexandria, Va are gone forever, or so it seems mostly …] — Julian Barnes, A Life with Books

Friends,

I thought I’d begin with an autumnal poem, W.B. Yeats’s “When You are Old” as read by Tobias Menzies:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Equally moving for me is Izzy’s latest song, “All I want” by Toad the Wet Sprocket:

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Last night was Halloween, and from my hour-long zoom chat with Aspergers friends, to the few people I talk and email with, I was wished a happy Halloween. We did try: Izzy thought she was invited to go to a party on Saturday night by a man in her Wednesday in-person Dungeons and Dragons group, but when the time came close it seemed the party was to be an hour long or so, after which it would break up into people doing different things together, among these, bar-hopping. This is not for her, especially as getting there was an Uber (and back). So she thought the better of it – she is now getting older than many of the late 20s people who would show up, several gay (as the man was gay), what she had to wear was the regency dress she wore for JASNA (not appropriate for this, too naive). Instead she recorded her song.

I had hoped to join in on giving out candy for the first time in years as I still have the battery-operated candles I had found for Biden’s night-before-inauguration so I could light up my pottery pumpkin, put the stoop light on and be all welcoming. Well I got three groups and one lone girl in a clown’s outfit. Next door and across the street from me are older women too, who also had welcoming light and symbolic objects — they seem to have gotten the same groups. And then it was over.

As has happened to me before, I discovered that there is little to join in on if you are trying simply to be part of a neighborhood community. Halloween you must go to a party, some 15 years ago, for two years running at the Torpedo Factory museum in old town, a Halloween dance was held, for the public & Jim and I went; one year we traveled to NYC to go to a Halloween dance at the Princeton club (as members of the Williams — old-fashioned rock for people mostly in their 50s too).  Thirty-five, say 1980s when we still had a (what I called) Welfare project down the hill, endless children and adolescents came, many Black. Thirty years ago in this neighborhood (all private houses, as we say in NYC) there were several floods of children coming through this neighborhood, and I’d give out candy, chocolates, cookies, pretzels with Izzy.  Twenty I went myself with Laura and Izzy (age 15 say and 9) with them in costume trick-or-treating. I’d stay back on the sidewalk and there were really lots of people. But this neighborhood changes every 7 years, and about twenty years ago, the welfare project was knocked down, super-expensive houses and condos with what’s called a few row of “scatter-site housing” for people getting subsidized rents, built in its place. Ten years ago or more a scheme in my neighborhood not to let most of their children trick-or-treat but make a party. Immediately it’s exclusionary of course. Excuses like strangers put razors in children’s candy. Tonight I wondered if the upper class mostly whites here did not like the children from elsewhere


A photo Izzy took that lovely afternoon as she stood by the Potomac in Old Town

I was advised to watch movies, told by others that’s what they did — horror ones — so I told myself I’d watch movies too and my choice was Shades of Darkness, a 1980s series of hour long adaptations of ghost stories, all but one by women, done with great delicacy, insight, mood creation. I bought it sometime after 2000 as a DVD — I watched one I’d seen before and one I probably hadn’t. Elizabeth Bowen’s “Demon Lover,” very well done, as much about WW2 in England, the Blitz as about this ghost that seems a distilled eruption of senseless indifferent harm I’d seen it before but have forgotten how well done. Dorothy Tutin, the central figure. This is a traditional ghost tale where the ghost is malign and we are made nervous because the whole experience is regarded as fearful, hostile — popular Kafka stuff in a way.


Dorothy Tutin as our Every ordinary women profoundly disquieted as she sees him across the room …

The other May Sinclair’s “The Intercessor” (first time seen), to me a strange ghost stories to me because the ghost is simply accepted as part of universe and the theme is we are supposed to understand the revenants, accept them — not pitiless mischief, but the ghost a redemptive pitiful ghost. The human story is dreadful — people can be dreadful and have very bad luck, but the ghost, unprepossessing as she is, brings renewal. John Duttine, the hero, often played deeply sensitive men in the 1970s-80s BBC dramas. I’ve read other Sinclairs of this type. This set includes two superb hard gothic Whartons, “Lady’s Maid’s Bell” and “Afterward” (stunning). This was an era of fine dramas from the BBC — and there are other series of this type — all June Wyndham Davis produced.

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Lucy Worsley getting to sit behind Austen’s writing desk with some paraphernalia Austen would have used

So my teaching and scholarly life went on. Some successes: my two classes on The Prime Minister are going very well. My paper, “A Woman and her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen,” went over very well and I much enjoyed the virtual EC/ASECS. I’ve not yet returned to Anne Finch, though the term is winding down, because I changed one of my books for my coming 4 week winter course teaching at OLLI at Mason, and am very much engaged by the books:

Retelling Traditional Tales from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her Tuscan estates during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing.

I’d get a crowd if I were doing Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, but no one needs me to teach these. I’ve learnt that Florence Nightingale wrote a novella turned into polemic essay, Cassandra, only published recently: beyond protesting the restrictive life of an upper class Victorian young woman, exploring her own depression, it’s an exposure of the Crimean war. Finally an excuse to read away books on and by these two brilliant serious women.


A modern Cassandra: Wolf has Aeschylus’s proud victim in mind

I got involved in a wonderful thread on Victoria when I told of my coming Anglo-Indian Novels: Raj, Aftermath and Diaspora (I’ve told you of this one before), this spring at both OLLIs and in person. I told of books and they told of books, and we all dreamed in imagined company. My thanking people included this:

I did send away for the Metcalfs’ Concise History of India, and Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India (2016 in the UK). I have the Dalrymple volume on the East India Company and am grateful to the pointed to the specific chapters. There’s nothing I like better than articles when I’m looking for concision and I have access to the George Mason University database and their interlibrary loan.

My course itself is not on the Victorian period as all three books were written in the 20th century: the first is Forster’s Passage to India, and I have got hold of his Hills of Devi, and a book of essays published in India about the relationship of his time there and books to India. One book I have read and is about 19th century colonialism through 19th into 20th century books (novels and memoirs) is Nancy Paxton’s superb Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947

Not for this course but about the 19th century and colonialism through another and classic 19th century novel is the Dutch Max Havelaar; or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Eduard Douwes Dekker (1859), using the pseudonym he often used Multatuli . Now this is a superb book where you will learn that not only the British were stunningly brutal to native populations when they took over, but also how the colonialists did it. It’s a novel that is heavily true history (disguised only somewhat) – a peculiar imitation of Scott as if through a lens like that of Sterne in Tristram Shandy. Dekker risked his life while a resident manager in Indonesia (and other places) and came home to write this novel.

I strongly recommend it – and it’s available in a beautiful new edition by New York Review of Books, paperback, good translation. I just so happen to have written a blog last night half of which is on this novel – the other half a film adaptation which descends (in a way) from it, Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (by way of an intermediary 1964 novel). Arguably MH is most important one volume 19th historical novel about the Dutch in Indonesia. The volume includes an interesting introduction by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an important writer and political activist (spent too much time in prisons).

The other two for my course are Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, the 1st volume of his Raj Quartet (a historical novel, familiar to many people through the superb BBC TV serial in the later 1980s); and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake (a book showing the diaspora). The movie I’ll assign is Merchant-Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah, which I also cannot praise too highly


Outlander begins in Scotland, Inverness, at Samhain or Halloween — it is also a ghost story

I’ve splurged on two beautifully made copies of the first two books of Outlander (Outlander & DragonFly in Amber) for my birthday and am back reading these books at midnight after realizing I’d been dreaming for sometime of myself in an Outlander adventure. By the time I was fully awake, I had forgotten the particulars and wonder what was the prompting: it’s been weeks and weeks since I last watched an Outlander TV episode and months since I read in one of the books. Maybe it bothers me that I don’t have Starz so will have to wait to see Season 6 until the season comes out as a DVD.

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The cat meowed — the first voice of the series

I do most days need some cheering up, so often so sad that right now my movie-watching includes this year’s All Creatures Great and Small, the set of DVDs sent me by my friend Rory. They still my heart with the strong projection of love, understanding, kindness between one another. I am especially fond of the direct emphasis on the animals the Vets and everyone else too are caring so tenderly for. The first episode opened with an temporarily ill cat being taken care of by James (Herriot, Nicholas Ralph). As my daughter Laura (Anibundel) wrote: “Snuggling down in the Yorkshire Dales to save a few cows turned out to be just what the doctor ordered last winter.”. I regret only that there are only six for this year, so I’m re-watching last year’s seven. Re-watching beloved series is what I do a lot.

Izzy and I did vote early, this past Saturday at our local library. We got there early and found a reasonably long line. We were told turnout is high. Everything was done peacefully and democratically. No one there to intimidate anyone. My neighborhood is showing signs for Youngren and I’ve encountered the seething racism in many of these rich whites — they will vote GOP because they are most of all about their status (and feel it’s threatened by not having whites in charge), see Black people as dangerous and inferior, and yes the campaign against Toni Morrison’s Beloved has traction. The GOP even has a mother-type inveighing against the book in a campaign commercial.

One reason for this is it’s not a good choice for a high school class. It’s too hard (not linear at all); its content is problematic: the use of the ghost is part of a skein of irrationality and violence justified in ways that most high school students will not understand. But she won the Nobel, and this is the most famous one: much better, more appropriate are Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (varied, sane, also about economic structuring to keep people poor), Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun, August Wilson’s Piano (Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is rightly assigned in junior (3rd year high) years. But this is an argument for people teaching literature to think about. Youngren is insinuating profound resentment, implying this book teaches white children to hate themselves and their parents. The reality is it’s a book too hard for students to take in, with some of the same problems of vindicating violence you see in popular US movies. I never assigned Twain’s Huckleberry Finn after seeing a Black young man get up and do a talk about how painful it was for him to read such a book and hearing white boys in the class snicker at him. The choice of Beloved tells about the conformity and non-thinking of US high school curricula than anything else.  And now it’s weaponized against Democrats and liberal gov’t.

If I could bring Jim back, I’d give up all I do — for I wouldn’t be doing much of this probably, wouldn’t have known of the OLLIs, of the Smithsonians, become part of these zooms, but I admit it does make me feel good that I prove to myself and do cope with so much nowadays. Today I resolved two bill problems from goofs I made in using websites to pay my bills — I now get e-bills for seven of my bills (post office becomes worse each week). I’m not as afraid as I used to be — though still frightened some (terrified at what could be done if the GOP cabal does take over), at least I know so much more about all that I need and do related directly to my life, who to go to (AARP, EJO-solutions for my computer, Schwabb guys for money). It is good to feel capable and useful and appreciated – though I began with the Yeats poem because Jim was and will be the one person in the world who loved the pilgrim soul in me. And every day, every night I feel his lack. So much I could do were he here, so much I miss out on (the new Met Meistersinger 6 hours!) how he would have reveled in it.

Ellen

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Seen on twitter

Friends and readers,

The past couple of weeks may be divided into four themes. My yearly October memories, sad now since Jim died October 9, 2013; autumn events, like conferences, Laura and Izzy going to New York City for five days of fun and ComicCon in Manhattan; planning for next spring and summer courses and this term the wonders of Trollope’s masterpiece, The Prime Minister (I never realized before quite how brilliant and absorbing it is); my usual latest books (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables) and writing (“A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen” for EC/ASECS) and continued investment in Austen, her movies and JASNA politics: and the recent very worrying political developments. I usually reserve the last for my Sylvia I blog, but tonight I’ll write about the coming immediate elections (one here in Virginia for governor may, frighteningly return us to a Republican leader who supports the openly destructive vengeful Trump) as I experience it — because it seems to me we are seeing an open repeat of the post-Reconstruction era where White Supremacy and ruthless political reaction is taking over parts of the US.

I wrote about nearly all of this on Facebook and twitter which have now assumed a kind of public short diary entry function for me — to remember for this blog and to express myself to others.

I began the first commemorations on October 3rd: My beloved husband, to whom I would have been married 52 years ago (Oct 6th, coming in 3 days) would have been 73 years old. Here’s a photo of him taken when he was probably 63 …

I re-shared the obituary I wrote for him. He was beloved by all three of us — and Clarycat. In my sadder moods I worry he didn’t know how much I loved him. But I think he did when his mental health was strong. People were very kind. October 6th, would have been Jim & my 52nd anniversary; we married a year to the night we met (so 1968 to 1969). In remembrance one of his favorite poems, one he’d quote once in a while, by Basil Bunting, a Yorkshire poet, a book of whose poems I bought for Jim one Christmas:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!
— Basil Bunting

More favorite poems, one brief lyric he wrote himself, some favorite songs, and Clarycat as she was when she at the time was so deeply attached to him (she is the kind of cat who attaches herself to a special person and stays around that person all the time; now I am her staff (pun intended): Poetry and Song

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Outlander — poster for 6th season, a key sentiment for me for my love of the series: they will be together forever come what may (as in the haunting song, Never My Love) — I put it on a wall in my workroom

What a splendid time Laura and Izzy had in NYC. I read their tweets as (for example) Laura attended the Outlander session (the only actor there was Sam Heughan, together with key producers and Diana Gabaldon — all else zooming in); Izzy walked on Highline Park (near where their hotel room was), they ate out, saw many amusing sights.

They visited the 14th street subway station to see the Live Underground statues:

Laura has lifted my heart by saying yes, she’d like me to come with them next time they go to the city. I’d like to try again. There’s some life in the old girl yet. I enjoyed her homecoming tweet:

Maxx jumped on the counter while I was prepping dinner and knocked a bowl off the counter and it shattered.

Dinner was then delayed by 15 minutes while staff vacuumed and mopped the kitchen.

His Royal Fluffytail was most displeased.

Welcome home, me.

I spent about three weeks altogether with Austen’s novels and a set of very good books on them and the topics of personal and real property in her life (she had so little control over anything), space (ditto). I re-watched in binge ways the 2009 Sense and Sensibility (Andrew Davies, featuring Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Dan Steevens), the 1996 Persuasion (Roger Michell, featuring Amanda Root and Ciarhan Hinds), Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home, Amanda Root’s At Home with the Georgians; I’m now into 2008 Lost in Austen, Guy Andrews wrote it, and I swoon with Amanda [Jemima Rooper]) I’m not sure I realized how much this travel back in time enables a serious critique of the characters as conceived by Austen (hard and mean Mrs Austen, irresponsible Mr Austen), a critique partly meant by Austen herself.


Anne and Wentworth coming together in a sliver of space and quiet within the crowd ….

I enjoyed reading Wilkie Collins’s No Name (so there’s another Collins’ novel I’ve managed to process) and see what a strong male-type feminist he is, partly enthused by a class I’m attending at Politics and Prose via zoom with a very bright teacher, and so put in for a summer 6 week course at OLLI at Mason in person!

Sensation and Gothic Novels: Then and Now

In this course we will read Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White (4 weeks) and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a post-text to R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, the novella retells story from a POV of the housemaid (2). We will discuss what is a sensation, what a gothic novel, and how both evolved out of the Victorian era: what are their characteristics? how do these overlap & contrast; how do the genres differ. Many movies and plays have been adapted from Collins’s and Stevenson’s novels; we’ll discuss some of these, and I’ll ask the class to see the latest (I think brilliant) BBC 2018 Woman in White serial, featuring Jessie Buckley, scriptwriter Fiona Seres; and Stephen Frear’s 1996 Mary Reilly film, featuring John Malkovich, Julia Roberts, scriptwriter Christopher Hampton


First shot of Jessie Buckley as Marian Halcombe

I admit I so much more enjoy these serials and film adaptations of novels than the famous “art” movies we are supposedly studying in my Foreign Films course this term: the teacher carries on unerringly choosing these masculinist films (400 Blows, Fellini 8 1/2, King of Hearts), but even when the film’s center is a woman, Bergman’s Persona, she is kept at such a distance, cold and strange. I have dropped two of the courses I intended to attend — I grow so impatient with moral stupidity (how arrogant is the hero!) or complacency and conventional religious assertions over Oedipus in Oedipus Rex after the night before I’ve watched the old BBC 1980s Theban play with Michael Pennington playing the role so brilliantly, movingly, so shattered holding onto dignity. Claire Bloom as the mother forced to give up her baby only to find the gods have a wonderful joke of returning him to her. Who says Euripides is the more subversive?  The teacher makes good comments: how astonishing 15,000 men watching, all men actors, and the center a woman (I thought of the marginalized cripple Philoctetes). Enjoying Smithsonian lectures very much thus far — on Notre-Dame de Paris, moving account of the life and work of Van Gogh, now a series of musical concerts with Saul Lilienstein (he is aging but still so fine).

So my nights and days pass when I am at my best or luck in. Kind friends’ letters, poems sent me: a new friend made from Trollope zoom has organized a meeting: we are to meet with a few local Trollopians here in DC in November in a park one Sunday morning. Bad moments too, anxiety attacks: worry over bills, comcast (the bill never came; no use phoning them; did the check arrive? who knows?), the computer mysteriously shutting itself off so I babysit it for a couple of days. I remember what a desperately unhappy teenage-hood I experienced: came near killing myself at age 15. Literally took decades to come away from all the inward destruction of what was best about me and throw off bitterness and resentment. What’s not gone yet is the later results of that teenage-time in my life’s occupation, as a mother. What ever proliferating harm class contempt, predatory male heterosexuality do.

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Serious worry about the coming election at 5 in the morning, when the sky is dark:

I’m up early because I got out of bed as I was worrying about some serious developments happening which I daresay, dread, will affect the coming election. I probably will write a blog about this and put it in my Sylvia I because it’s my own POV and is about what I see affecting ordinary life which I’m part of. It seems for fear of losing many of these GOP people are running not only on the lie that Trump won but with the determination to rig the election if they are in a GOP controlled state (through votes out, refuse to certify) and if still the democrats win refuse to accept the results. This is what Trump wants; he wants default, he wants to see the US govt as we know it now destroyed. He made speeches openly asking for this — the last one in Iowa where GOP is dominant (Trump did win the state and the machinery there is GOP). If you stop doing elections fairly and stop accepting results, the US gov’t is over. It is true that in numbers there are now more democrats than republicans but since so much is gerrymandered, the electoral college and way senate is set up, GOP could still win “legitimately” — but they may not and that’s not enough for them.

There are Republicans now telling fellow GOP people to vote democratic on the issue of democracy. But not enough will do it. I have one of these angry faced women in my OLLI at Mason class: she is a classic white middle class GOP person voting for Trump. There are 3 males in my OLLI at AU class (uncomfortably to me but I ignore it) who look all iron indifference at any mention of women as a subject class — just bored silly and oh no that cop who murdered Floyd he did not lean on the black man’s chest the way is claimed (very unusual for any literature class I’ve seen in either OLLI and highly unusual for me to have so many males and they don’t go away) — in local neighborhoods I see red signs. Izzy says locally people don’t like Terry McAuliffe, a long time democratic political person. I don’t know him — I think of how we talk of politics in the class on The Prime Minister and realize such meditations make no transfer for most people to their lives.

Some of this was put on PBS last night – segments about how the GOP is now determined to rig the elections to come to win — and 90% of those calling themselves Republican are pro-Trump. It remains to be seen how people will vote of course. He is not literally on the ballot and it’s hard for me to accept that a huge minority of US people would vote Trump in again — his presidency was a disaster because of his treatment of COVID and because he was dissolving all agencies insofar as he could and setting up a kleptocracy. But they are (I think) determined to put down all social changes so as to keep a white male supremacy in charge — these people do not want the infrastructure bills — they don’t care if a huge number of US people live in hard poverty because they think only this way can they keep their privileged lifestyles. They want to see woman kept subordinate

Stupid stuff in a way shows this serious riff. It’s serious because Trump for example would end social security. He’s shown out: stop the central funding mechanism. Really put the US back to pre-1920 — I would not put open concentration camps beyond him — prisons are now partly that. Which stupid stuff. Well was yesterday Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s day. Biden signed an executive order calling Oct 12th Indigenous People’s Day. But he did not end Columbus Day. In NYC Columbus Day had become fraught years ago when the people living there started having 2 parades: one down one Avenue by Spanish people and another another avenue by Italians. Now you are getting demands not just for celebrations of Indigenous People but demands that Columbus Day be abolished. It was apparently signed into law by FDR — in the same era as these Confederate statues went up — and it was backed for years by Italian-American and Catholic groups who made Columbus their patriotic symbol. The man was a cruel thug, a thief, cruel beyond speaking (see Even the Rain), was failure in what he tried, but then was followed by similar Spanish behaviors (he was funded by Spain), he would not have regarded himself as Italian; he was Genoese. It’s all bogus history what’s said — many of these statues have been taken down in the past couple of years. US people are regularly refusing to recognize one another’s symbols and it is true progressive do want to change the way history is taught because what was taught was nonsense and validated great cruelty.

I tell the above because I think it indicative.

Yes maybe a civil war is coming. See these GOP governors resorting to ending all vaccines, literally amassing troops. AT core it is money for it began in the 1980s when the corporations put their money behind Reagan and the tax structure was altered dreadfully and it’s only gotten worse since then. Biden was to return to pre-1980s but is taking baby steps in that direction and he can’t get that passed. This propaganda on behalf of forcing women to remain pregnant when a man impregnates them, white supremacy, tyrannical police are what they (the wealthy and smart) have used to push fascism in its primal sense (states run by corporations and military) into now near wins if you rig the elections.

Biden of course was put into power because on the area of foreign policy he remains a modified colonialist, imperialism (he keeps up all Trump’s sanctions thus far — on Cuba which Obama was changing, on Iran thus far which Obama was changing, and on Venezuela where Biden is in the position of claiming the legitimately elected socialist president is not legitimate – he is still deporting these non-whites in big numbers, still building and expanding private prisons. He would have a qualified imperialist state where the people within the US would live decently: the GOP and corporations are no longer compromising and want the whole world to be impoverished to keep themselves in great wealth. The EU are a bunch of bankers. But he is law-abiding and within the US and for other peoples round the world is trying to re-spread social people-centered democracy

So there’s where we are — I am – on this October evening.


Autumn Woodland by Mark Preston

And dreams as reality: this comes from the long hours alone. I sleep but 4-5 hours a day. I get up and at first am drowsing and what happens is some dream I’m having is taken by somewhere in my mind to be real. In the afternoon my mind recurs to it. And I dream it again at night. Only if it lasts until wakefulness in the morning do I realize this is not so. For weeks I’ve been dreaming I’m writing a book on Austen; there is an author I’m dealing with, a publisher. Often the figures of these dreams come from movies I’ve been watching of late and so yes I’ve been steadily re-watching favorite Austen movies. This is innocent, non-hurtful dreaming, obvious wish fulfillment but other fragments are of the type I can’t tell about.

From Lost in Austen: she watching (Amanda in lieu of Fanny Price); a male figure emerging from the depths of consciousness (Mr Darcy), the used-up book dropped by a fountain (in the movie a Penguin copy of Pride and Prejudice)

The following morning into early afternoon: What I especially love about my Sylvia II blog is it allows me as far as doing such a thing in public is possible (I can’t openly discuss sex, nor specifics about individuals nor names) express my grief and occasional happinesses.

I now realize this coming weekend when I’ll be attending the EC/ASECS virtually, is also the first in-person JASNA in three years. I couldn’t go anyway as there is a conflict; I’d hate the hotel and the times I went to Chicago to conferences, disliked it. Once Jim and I went for our 39th wedding anniversary and explored the city, and we did enjoy it — except for that anonymous granite lonely hotel. But I am excluded regularly now because there is no reason to include me — no patronage, no title, no business I’m running, and so on, and I’ve written reviews which didn’t please (& I don’t fawn on people), gotten into miscommunications with the business DC group (enough to remind me of how I felt about feminism in the 1970s — for middle class snobbish ambitious privileged women). The last three times Izzy was hurt — she went out of her way to register promptly and saw herself put back again and again until of course there was no room. Years before I had bitterly complained and that was why we were allowed in. The price is very high. The dinner is a display of who you know. But Izzy has loved Austen (like me) and written fan fictions, enjoyed some of the lectures and the dressing up (the last time she bought herself a splendid hat) and conquered an original trauma over the ball so that she got to the point she stayed to the end.

Why do people love to exclude others — I regret that my daughter is excluded — and so enjoy getting back? I’m sure there are hundreds of variations on this story when it comes to conferences where exclusion patterns do not cost organizers anything. This is the reality of JASNA.

Ellen

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Sophie Thomson as Miss Bates: in the 1996 Emma: I dislike most of the movie, but her performance as Miss Bates and the way she is filmed is the best Miss Bates of all I’ve seen

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

Friends,

On October 9th of this year, Jim will have been dead 8 years. I have learned many things since he died (because I had to or die myself), and much has seemed to change or alter in the world over these years (not fundamentally but surface changes make a lot of difference to individual ordinary relatively powerless lives). I wish sometimes I had behaved differently when Jim was alive but I do not believe that anything I refused to do or was lacking in fundamentally hurt or deprived him of anything he wanted.

For myself I am again not not sleeping well. I have periods where I sleep fine (5 hours and a bit more on average) and periods where I don’t (waking in the night, up after 3-4 hours). Just now it is the stress of returning to these classes via zoom, worry the two classes I teach won’t go well, the new relationships, and seeing out in the world that the present peaceful seeming settlement in the US is at risk.

The lack of a close relationship such as I had with Jim is, though, what is very wearing to me. I am not made to be alone I need someone to confide in, to turn to for advice, support. I’ve now tried several friendships and friendship is not a substitute for a partner/loving spouse. I have had a hard time even sustaining these, most have broken up, attenuated, the person moved away or died. No man I’ve met or briefly gone out with (3?) or known more at a distance comes near him for compatibility, intelligent understanding and of course love for me. Nor will there ever be.

I’ll mention this:

For the last few days I’ve had a persistent pain in my chest; for a few days before that side (right) arm has been too painful to lift
sometimes. I did take a weaker pill, one I’m told to take twice a day at 12 hour intervals, and while it helped, the pain did not go away. I don’t feel the pain when I’m standing or sitting up most of the time, some movement brings it out. So I couldn’t do my full set of exercises yesterday. And do them but one a day, trying to walk (earlier) in later afternoon or evening. I should phone the doctor and go. I have said I’m told I have a aneuryism in my aorta.

I suppose you (those who read this frankly autobiographical blog) know that writing itself cheers me up. Writing helps buoy my spirits after I wake and as the day begins. I don’t need the helps visualized in this film adaptation of Mansfield Park (1983), with Sylvestre Le Touzel as Fanny but I know why the picture of her beloved’s ship as drawn by him, the transparencies, and other meaningful objects are set around her on her desk near a window

I am feeling slightly overwhelmed just now. Take this past Monday:

I had 4 zooms. I was dizzy by the end but I will stay with all 4. One, mine (I taught, The Prime Minister at OLLI at AU online), went well, but too many men. I don’t do that well with men. And my anthology is all women and my desire for truer representation on behalf of women, so I may have a small class eventually. 3 people were already not there. They emailed to say they had a conflict and they would watch the recording later in the day. 3 people for the repeat tomorrow later afternoon at OLLI at Mason online have already sent messages to this effect. So recording has a down side in a sense — the classroom experience must be redefined.

I had suspected the teacher for the Theban Plays would be very good — that she is very intelligent and, alone (not with the usual partner) a good teacher whatever she does – and she was — though she did not handle the zoom aspects of calling on people or any of it at all, which did make her presence less felt, less effective (she seems to erect barriers between herself and others). There was the London Trollope Society Zoom at 3 (BST 8 pm) on The American Senator (with two talkers) and then at 6:30 pm EDT another fine teacher (from Politics & Prose) on Wilkie Collins’s No Name. I was probably too tired by that time to take it all in coherently.

No London Trollope Society zoom next Monday and the No Name class is only 4 more. So it will be only 3 more Mondays this 4 zoom line-up will happen.

Meanwhile last night I was reading the book by Fagles (translator, editor, introducer) the Theban Plays teacher had suggested. Wonderfully naturalistically translated. I thought of Philoctetes and how Sophocles made marginalized powerless people his central figures: a woman (all 15,000 spectators men, all actors men) and a cripple. I loved it and wrote my one paper on an ancient classical work on it (with a little bit of help from my father): the teache, a long=timed tenured person hated it and gave me a B. “How could you talk about heroes in this vein?” I am fascinated by Collins’s power of description of the 19th century cityscapes (walking on a wall) and charged feminism of No Name (two heroines completely cut off from any money because their parents married after the father made out his will), and am reading a new edition of Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, early feminist masterpiece, by Stevie Davies (Unbridled Spirits, effective half fictionalized accounting of 17th century women involved in the civil war; Impassioned Clay, with its insight into how historical fiction is ghostly, about the now dead and vanished bought back (one feels that in Gabaldon’s Outlander serials).

I napped twice to do it that day. Just fell asleep around 4:20 (I did lay down on the bed telling myself I was just laying down) and then woke at 5. Again around 8:30 and woke at 9 pm — watching PBS, Judy Woodruff had put me to sleep.

I also “visited” the National Book Festival and for a while listened to & watched Ishiguro manage to make intelligent talk. On a JASNA channel of some sort for about a third of a session, listened to Janet Todd, some of whose books as a scholar I admire, who has written a new novel on Jane Austen (and Shelley I thought but not quite) and whose fantasy I thought might be like Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth, where early 19th century Germany romantic figures who never met meet. Alas, not so; it’s a re-hash of a biography she did of the Shelley women (Fanny Godwin who killed herself, Mary Shelley).

Tuesday so much easier. I re-make lecture notes for tomorrow’s class at OLLI at Mason on PM, and I’ve a later afternoon class at OLLI at Mason on Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall (I’ll be writing a blog on this book & the Brontes, Gaskell & Scott later next week).


Egon Schiele, Four Trees (1917)

So Anne Finch has been put to the side again, and I’m struggling to do the reading for a paper centered on Austen I’ve promised for October 16th: A Woman and her Box: space and personal identity. Luckily the book I agreed to review for Peter Lang was on Jane Austen, Non-Portable Property and Possessions (not the exact title). (They have not acknowledged receipt of my report nor paid me in the books they said they would. I love getting back to Austen (as you can see from the stills I’m using for this blog), and the books I’ve read for it (Barbara Harding, A Reading of JA; Amanda Vickery on what Katherine Shackleton bought, lived in, made a life out of; Lucy Worseley on JA’s life through her houses once again. I’ve learned about traveling libraries: books put in boxes that are bookcases! A sudden spurt:

Which of us is not familiar with the much-attested to story of Jane Austen hard at work on one of her novels, toiling over tiny squares of paper held together by pins, crossing out, putting carrots and arrows into the lines, second thoughts or words over the lines, on one of her novels in draft. Where?  on that tiny round table, sometimes referred to as her desk, a relic now found in the Jane Austen House museum. We are told that she did not want a creak in the door to the room fixed because it functioned as a warning. Upon hearing the door open she would of course stash these papers away – perhaps in that writing desk, which, another famous story tells us, was filled with many such manuscripts and was almost lost forever on a trip where it landed in the wrong coach? The writing desk is another relic to be found in the Chawton Jane Austen House museum.

The inferences I take from these are that Jane Austen was a woman who had no control over her space and no control over her portable seeming property. She had not been able to place the writing desk on her lap in the coach.  Remember Fanny Price seated in her unheated attic room amid her nest of comforts, not one of which she actually owned, not even the row of workboxes abandoned by the Mansfield Park heir when someone was trying to instuct him using them as a device for organization and storage.

Still it won’t do to say I don’t believe in the first story because I cannot conceive how anyone could produce the artful and controlled four novels.  The first two, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, to some extant flawed, when studied carefully, now and then revealing curious gaps which can be explained by too many revisions, but on the whole extraordinary.  Much less all six famous books, including the posthumous, to some extent, not finished or truncated, named by Austen’s brother and sister, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. For these she must have had far more consistent hours of time free of anxious worry lest someone coming with the right to interrupt create an embarrassed moment to find this woman writing. Is not Emma virtuoso perfection in its use of ironic perspective and voice? Despite what some today might feel to be a narrow rigidity of moral judgment actuating aspects of Mansfield Park, it is arguably as strong a protest and radically questioning as well as aesthetically exquisite book as any of the 19th century novel masterpieces produced in Victorian England.

But there is the table, there the desk and document describing the second incident refuting me.

Such a warm comfortable scene by Joe Wright from P&P — filled with food and things for the table, in a relaxed comfortable aging home:


Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike, Keira Knightley and Jena Malone as Mrs Bennet, Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice (2006, Joe Wright)

I am pushing myself every minute I have extra around my other commitments to get this done. I don’t know if I’ll make it as I feel I must go through her letters once more — skimming but taking them in. E. M. Forster wrote one problem he had in reading Austen was he tended to be like someone in a beloved church; I’m like someone scrambling in a coach with her by my side, me holding onto to that writing desk and those papers.

So now I’ll subside into a movie:

I’ve understood that Simon Raven in his 1975 26 part serial of The Pallisers tried to turn the secondary story of The Prime Minister (Lopez, Sexty Parker, Emily Wharton, her foolish brother and strong wise father) into a sort of Washington Square, Lopez into a sort of lion-feline gay and violent macho male cad, Emily a Catherine Sloper who is loved by her father, and was sexually entranced and excited by Lopez, but does not succeed in understanding him, or growing up so at the end she does not set her face to the wall (a la Catherine Sloper) but turned from the world to her father’s arms. Olivia de Haviland would have done justice to this as she could not to the 1940s Washington Square movie (The Heiress) she was inserted into. So you see I’ve been keeping up with watching The Pallisers for this course I’m teaching too — for insights into the novels. For lovely pictures go to: syllabus for reading The Prime Minister together. Here we see both the Duke and the Duchess miserable from the social life they have kept up: it’s from the political story:


Her hands are shaking with tiredness (Susan Hampshire as the Duchess, Philip Latham as the Duke)

All this is the usual screen to what I let you see in my opening paragraphs today as I approach the 8th anniversary of my widowhood. Deep loneliness with a wish I could do the sort of things I could with him. I like the teaching and classes very much  but they are no substitute for the fulfilled reality I had with him, and the sense of security and peace and understanding his presence provided.

Izzy has been without him too. Tonight we watched on her ipad as we ate together a soothing episode of Critical Choice as lovely cartoon, Mighty Vibes: two siblings sitting close, she reading, he working on the computer, keeping us and themselves company. She’s got a new bed coming in early November, and Mr Christbel will take apart her present one (Jim and mine from 1983 to 2000) and put it in the attic with the beautiful crib (first Laura’s and then Izzy’s) no one will ever use again …


Laura’s Charlotte, in a chair, making a mighty mew — one of my grandchildren with 4 paws


Maxx as snugglicious — another

Saturday night our monthly Aspergers meeting online. The topic “personal safety and emergency preparedness.”

Ellen

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A duck on the Potomac — photo taken by Izzy

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and is gone forever — how else shall David Nicholl’s One Day end?

Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, the movie does not manage the depth of truth or more occasional fun of the book

Dear friends and readers,

I would not have believed I could ever say of a day where it was 97F at 5 pm, the air literally hot on my skin, that I was at long last recognizing autumn on its way, but after 33 years in this southern city, I can: it’s dark by 8:15 at night, and dawn does not come until well after 6 am. Some late summer events I’ve had and to come:

I have had three very enjoyable lunch dates, with two more to come. With an ex-student, grown older man. We had been meeting once a year; well we renewed our date three weeks ago — an wonderful two hours of talk at Copperwood Tavern. I experienced intense distress getting there but once there all was well. Shirlington where parking is a nightmare. Then twice to a lovely local cafe, Fontaine here in Alexandria, first with my old friend, Mary Lee, whose idea this place was; second with a new friend, Betty, from OLLI at AU, whom I took there. Yummy quiche, lovely light salad vinegar dressing both times, camomile tea. I will meet her at Pain Quotidian this Friday across the street from OLLI at AU. Would you believe I had to look up the instructions to get there to re-visualize. This is a place I’ve gone to for years on end. Maria Frawley, the teacher of Middlemarch I believe I’ve not spoken about an inspiriting inspiring 8 sessions at Politics & Prose with her as teacher; how they lit up my June and July each Thursday evening for an hour and a half. I have signed up for an in-person meeting with 29 other OLLI at AU people, a pizza and Italian food place, also across the street from OLLI at AU. For this I’ll wear one of my two cloth masks with drawings of cats all over them.


Copperwood Tavern with Lloyd


La Fontaine in Old Towne

And one precious evening out at Wolf Trap, where with a friend I saw and heard Renee Fleming singing inimitably with the National Symphony Orchestra. Alas all too short — just one hour and about 10 minutes. Mozart, Haydyn, Gershwin, a perfect Carousel Overture, and her songs were exquisitely beautiful — from Puccini, favorites and also lesser known, then popular, one about never leaving

About 50% of the audience in masks (which were optional).  It was marred by a tiresome, ridiculous and dangerous trip there: the person I was with was determined to avoid the toll ($3!), and drove round and round (her GPS actually programmed not to make the correct turn) and coming back in the dark streets unknown with no lights, and then speeding crazily on the highway. I do have to give up Wolf Trap if I can’t drive myself safely so this may have been my farewell time.

I grieved at another profounder loss: Nanci Griffith has died at the relatively young age of 68; so did Izzy find herself crying. We replayed our favorite songs that night we learned of her death as we prepared supper and ate together.

Otherwise the days and nights go by. I do manage most days 20 minutes of exercise on bike and cathesthenics around 9:00 am, then 5:00 pm, then 20 minutes walk by myself around the neighborhood at dusk


Unexpected flowers: I water my outside plants (in garden in ground) twice a day, and some have bloomed twice

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It’s not as fiercely breathlessly hot as it was few weeks ago, and of course I’m now engaged in reading towards my course for this fall, have signed up for various fall classes and events, all online for me still – and how grateful and relieved I am that much of what I enjoyed these 17 months online will still be so. Beyond the London Society every-other-week zooms, I’ve found there is nowadays a once-a-month-and-more schedule for talks from Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester. Would you believe I’m just about reading three Trollope novels at once, and truly enjoying them all?: The Prime Minister, The Vicar of Bullhampton and soon The American Senator. I am seeing so much more than I ever did in PM (the exploitative colonialism Ferdinand Lopez is trying to leap upon I had not noticed) and the darkness of V of B: the strong critique of the Vicar and his friends over their class as well as prejudiced blind injustice.

At this week’s Trollope zoom we were asked when, how, did you discover Trollope and come to read him avidly? why do you enjoy his books so much? This was the question — or something like it — posed and about 14 or so people volunteered to answer for about 3-5 minutes each. I was one of them. I typed out the first paragraph below and read it so as to be concise and keep it to under 3 minutes. The second paragraph was not written out, just spoken. So although that is the quotation I used (Dominic Edwards, the chair, had asked in a letter could we quote from Trollope), the last couple of sentences I said were not so clear. I saw that most of the people wanted to say why they loved Trollope as much as how they came to him and also uttered various truths that they liked best, told stories they liked so much from the novels — many also liked how Trollope seems to break the novel conventions suddenly and talk directly to the reader — like tell the reader some secret of the novel well ahead of time (so, do they in fact love spoilers?) So I added the second paragraph. I admit I did leave out a couple of intermediary reads between the cited dates & books For example, In 1994 I went to Rome with my family and it was The Last Chronicle of Barset that got me through that partly ordeal of an experience. I found an old copy in a marketplace which I still cherish.


Cover of 1970s edition of Penguin English library paperbacks


From Pallisers Episode 1: the young Lady Glen, with Burgo, her infatuation, encounters the young Mr Palliser, with Lady Griselda, his

I’ve told how as an undergraduate in a class on the Victorian novel I read Dr Thorne for the first time and fell in love with it (say 1965). But I didn’t go on to read more. The Professor had discouraged me from doing a paper on the novel. Then about 10 years later (1975) I watched the Pallisers on PBS TV (in black-and-white) and fell in love with that, and with my husband we read all six novels. But we were busy doing Ph.Ds on something else and I didn’t go any further than The Duke’s Children. Then 1989 I was in a fearful car accident in NYC and landed in Metropolitan Hospital on the upper East Side. I spent a week in that place: it has one man to do all x-rays; Jim promptly labelled him the bottleneck of the hospital. My father brought me a Dover copy of The Vicar of Bullhampton saying Trollope was very wise. It helped me get through that week. Finally in 1993 Jim and I got onto the Net through a phone line and he said he would find something called a listserv for me: he found one on Trollope, and I started leading groups reading Trollope. First up was Macdermots of Ballycloran. I loved it and have not stopped reading Trollope since. Partly I was invited to write a book, then an essay. Note, each and every time there was an outside prompt. Immersion in Trollope did not come from within in any of these cases.

Dominic asked us for a quotation, an utterance: mine is “Great and terrible is the power of money” from An Eye for an Eye. What I love about Trollope is the accuracy with which he sees the world and people, how people interact with one another and in themselves – truly – and he remains calm! What’s more he offers advice, explains things well. I love the characters too, but I keep in mind they are not him and it’s from his narrator/implied author these startling truths come.

I can add here that Trollope’s utterance seems to me to provide a central explanation for what happened in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Trollope is also an astoundingly perceptive political novelist. How much meaning he can pour into a few words if you listening hard or for real

Have I told you about the talk I gave on Malachi’s Cove?

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My header refers to continuities deep and longer than the continuation of a zoom group. I find after all I don’t or can’t change my taste. I like best earlier serious literature — for example,for a fourth time, Eliot’s Middlemarch (thus the above coming lunch with Maria Frawley — see above), which I also re-saw — the 1994 Andrew Davies’s film adaptation. I just love the BBC dramatic serials of the 1970s (which begin, illogically, with the 1967-68 Forsyte Saga (I read 6 of the 9 novels years ago), which I’m watching avidly, an hour each night just now), to early 2000s, and those few nowadays which keep up the tradition of long thoughtful scenes, complicated dialogues, true novelization on film; I prefer Anglo literature and European art, realism, melodic classical music, modern only until say pre-rap, mid-20th century country. And my way of interacting with people, however inadequate, is grounded in polite manners.


Kenneth Moore, inimitable as narrator and Jolyon Forsyte (he’d never get the part today as too old and ugly)


Eric Porter as the aging softened affectionate Soames with his beloved daughter, Fleur aka Susan Hampshire once again

A zoom on Walter Scott:

Who produced more fine and influential work than Walter Scott? think of so many English, French, German, Italian, Russian historical novelists for a start.

I attended a 2 and 1/2 hour session on Scott: it’s part of the Scottish celebration of Scott’s 250 year anniversary (though I’m not sure of what — he was born August 15, 1771)
It was not as good as it could have been — three remarkable Scotts scholars and people involved in the U of Aberdeen exhibition and all sorts of events around Scotland and elsewhere — for example, in Italy, because of the number of operas (93) that have been adapted from Scott’s novels. I think to enjoy it, you have to have been a reader of Scott at some point, read a number of his novels and about him. I have so like the Gaskell session from Gaskell House, Manchester, last week I very much enjoyed what they presented. They had first editions and illustrations and talked of how prolific he was — how much he wrote, and how his position wealth prestige enabled him to do important things still not unimportant — like saving the ability of Scotland to print its own currency. One scholar outlined what are central to Scott’s novels: processes of historical change, political arrangements, people on the edges of society for different reasons (very high up and thrown out, marginalized, disabled, lawless rogues). She brought out Scott’s interest in his characters’ mental health (as we’d call it). Then a lovely film from Italy about two productions; one from the Lady of the Lake, by Rossetti, Donna del Lago, and the other by Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor — one must keep an open mind. I’ve seen good movies — one scholar said her love for Scott began as a girl watching the BBC serial Ivanhoe with Anthony Andrews. They insisted Scott’s work is politically very involved, aware, that underneath “it all” souls of people drive economic and political arrangements.

They did recommend the Future Learn 3 week lecture course: Scott, the man behind the Monument. I saw that and it included wonderful clips. I don’t know if you can find it there any more as the site has gone distressingly commercialized. Andrew Marr’s 3 episode series on Scots writers devotes one hour to an exhilarating somehow ironic hour on Scott. I regret to say the videos I linked in to a blog on Marr which includes good descriptions of the hours on Scots literature have been removed — I shall have to delete the URLs and substitute pictures — but the content by me is still there and what is central to the blog

They omitted what a reactionary Tory he was; how he was vindictive to any family members who didn’t marry for aggrandizement; was behind the worst political attacks of literary journalism.


John Brett — Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily (1870), another edge place; in lieu of Northern Scotland, the south, the Mediterranean — put on twitter

This new material but now aware of colonialism:  Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River (with two accompanying movies).  About her too.

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I have had a renewal of a worry: my cat, Ian, again has a heavy discharge from his right eye. Last time I took him to the local Vet I’ve been going to since we adopted the cats, I was charged $350+, told how serious this was and that he needed a series of heart tests (a couple of thousand dollars), and then if the tests warranted this, give him a pill every day of his life ever after. It is impossible for me to force pills down either of my cats.

To say I don’t trust these (or any) vets is an understatement: previously I was told to clean his teeth, we needed to anesthetize him (a $500 bill and dangerous), did I want to install a sort of tag in his neck which will help if he gets lost (surgical insertion of course). When I tried to buy a local gel recommended online and in a book I have on cats, I found local pharmacies refused to sell it except with a prescription from a Vet. I was told it’s “against the law” for pharmacists in drug stories as well as vets working for the ASPCA to give a pet owner advice on an eye discharge: that sort of thing forbidden.

I call round today to three different vet places, and was greeted with indifference, appts a long time away and oh yes this is an emergency, so clinics I could go and wait at. Petsmart a store seemed more sensible but no appts until later September. Vets are kept to small numbers but vet lobbyists seem to be very busy. And we hear about the corruption of the Afghanistan govt. What are lobbyists but allowed bribers? We have whole organizations dedicating to bribing politicians in office. As for today’s Vets as a group far more important is the money they can wrench from pet owners than safe harmless care which reaches all pets.

It’s how they frighten me that angers me. It makes me angry to be told I have to do this to Ian’s heart and give him this preparation every day for the rest of his life; or to clean his teeth risk his life (he must sedated by an anesthesiologist — the vet said she had lost only one cat – i.e., she killed a cat). They could tell me Ian could go blind or something — and I no longer trust them. Only if the condition really seems threatening do I want to go. I will try Petsmart next month.

In the US the climate is money-driven medicine. Just imagine outlawing, forbidding by law a pharmacist to advise a customer on which prescription to use. Jim said to me as he lay dying, protect me from these people. It was by then too late because he had agreed to that godawful operation which removed his esophagus (I didn’t understand that that would not stop the metatasis), but I kept clear of all in-hospital, in clinic and anything else that seemed to me we could avoid. So I’ll wait for this ointment and if it helps, spare the cat and myself any visits to Vets I don’t trust. But meanwhile I feel bad for the cat and wish I had someone I could turn to — that there was a Kaiser Permanente type organization for animals.


Ian close-up, sleeping peacefully on cat blanket given me by another friend

I wonder why people are so naive not to see how these Vets take advantage of social norms for human beings to push painful procedures (and sometimes an early death) on pets.

I’ve semi-adopted another third cat, also grey like the first who has now vanished. This one also comes from the very rich mansion across the road from me where they are deep reactionaries (snide comments on neighborhood listserv); also semi-abused. I am also calling this new one Fiona, and she also behaves in ways that show a craving for affection but when you respond she quickly spits at you, hisses — I think they mean-tease her and she does not know how to carry on a relationship with a person. She is very thin. Poignant when she is crying out there – not kept in during rain; sometimes I daresay the owners of that collar go away for weeks or days. I can do so little for her — I inquired into this last time. I feed her whenever I feed my two and talk to and pet her when I pass her by — she stays in a near hedge or my porch — as you see her peeping out.

How to close? My own naivetes of course. An important story in the New Yorker. Sam Knight hints at the hideous things, heinous crimes owners and builders of these idyllic country estate houses which so dominate these costume dramas I’ve loved — did for decades, nay full centuries in the subject colonies to support these “wondrous” places, where some of the art was stolen from too. Famines inflicted on people forced to grow crops to sell elsewhere so they have nothing themselves to eat; forced to pay taxes they cannot afford. Removed outright. Enslaved. This does not include the conditions under which the servants in such houses worked, their pittance wage. What is happening is the National Trust has been at long last trying to tell the truth, and the UK gov’t and present descendants of the owners of such places, and those who just want to carry on these delusions (as patriotism) are being successful in stopping them or getting them to mute or qualify their knowledge. I will be sure to assign this story to my class in Anglo-Indian novels in the spring. Where did the money for Dryham Park where The Remains of the Day was filmed come from: what were the politics of its owner. How about the dream houses of Howards End in reality?

At Dryham Park:

On the second floor is the Balcony Room, which affords fine views of the gardens. … Facing into the room, with their backs to the wall, are two statues of kneeling Black men with rings around their necks. …

The slave figures hold scallop shells over their heads. These were probably filled with rosewater, so guests could wash their hands. …

They were probably made in London, inspired by Venetian “blackamoor” art, but they are unquestionably depictions of enslaved men, in idealized page’s costumes, with gilt chains tumbling from their right ankles. … They have knelt in the same place for more than three hundred years. …

When Sobers [a Black professor] and his group entered the Balcony Room, they came face to face with the slave stands and stood there, listening politely. “I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it was happening,” Sobers told me. “And the tour guide talked about every single thing in that room, you know, talked about everything for a good ten, fifteen minutes and not once mentioned it.” A rope cordons off most of the Balcony Room, so visitors stand on a narrow walkway, facing the stands. There is nowhere else to look. “There wasn’t even a kind of a, you know, ‘Yeah, we don’t know what those are. . . .’ There wasn’t even an explaining it away,” Sobers said. “They just acted as if they just weren’t there at all.”


The strained tragic existences of the butler (Hopkins) and housekeeper (Thompson) at Darlington Hall (Dyrham Park)

Ellen

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Myself and my cousin, Pat, both age 8, Crotona Park, the Bronx


Me at a waterfall park in Maryland, age 72

Gentle readers and friends,

Above you see a photo of me from long ago, one I think I dimly remembered when my cousin, Pat sent it to me last week: I am 8 years old and so is Pat, we are in Crotona Park, in the Southeast Bronx, at a point where it intersects with Charlotte Street, on which I lived some 3 blocks down. My aunt, her mother, took the photo, behind us is her older brother (by one year), teasing us. The other is of me, age 72, spring, Maryland, at a waterfalls in a park.  What is remarkable to me is not only has my facial structure remained the same (allowing for my present fallen cheekbones, toothless state, wrinkled skin), the angle at which I hold my head when faced by a camera, my resort to nervous hand gestures has changed little. I couldn’t skate for the same reasons I was not able to bike ride about 20 years ago, and I now can’t do power point or share screens (or do any more beyond be there and talk) on zooms — too nervous, can’t let go, too unsure of myself, nowadays fear of embarrassment and making people impatient, allowing them to see (while I feel can be seen) aspects of my personality that make me very vulnerable. By contrast, there is Pat, looking out confident, smiling, the only barrier before her, the sun in her eyes, which she fends off.

This evening I sat mesmerized as I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation (with a little help from Harold Pinter, i.e., most of the script) of The Remains of the Day for an umpteenth time. Ishiguro says he means us to take the butler as standing in for all of us: he gets to do a small job, but cannot control how his labor is used. He has little individual say in many major social and political and economic decisions affecting his life. He is also a man afraid of emotions, a man who failed to let his emotional life have any fulfillment. I do identify — and also with Miss Kenton — I’m a profound failure. It’s not that I threw it away, wasted it with no emotional satisfactions (I had my 45 years with Jim, have two daughters, have had a few friends, and continue to make one or two now and again, but barely sustain them), not that I didn’t get to make my own mistakes (which Mr Stevens laments he did not), enacted my own bad judgements. It’s that the disabilities which manifest themselves so clearly to my eyes so in the old photo have prevented me from doing the writing, achieving the book(s), having a social life that I have longed for, never had, never will. Why I am here all alone this evening and will be so for most until I die. Why I go few places.

The first time I watched this I burst into hysterical crying and it took something like 10 minutes for me to calm down. Jim was sleeping so I went into the bathroom in order to muffle the sounds.

I’ve been watching it again as part of re-teaching this course I called Two Novels of Longing etc. , and it is going very well for a second time. I love the books, and the second time through I am handling what I did well the first time even better.

I’ve thought over these couple of weeks since I last wrote how I have still not learned how to refer to saying something without saying it, still often cannot tell what is hinted at in general terms unless someone drops down a notch into something more concrete, that this middle class or level way of talking is beyond me. Each time I bump up against these ever-so-tactful ways of talk, I ask myself, now is this as Aspergers trait or is it rather than I’m not middle class, and a foundational (so to speak) working class identity that I have fled from in numerous ways (and am sitting her at peace because that I did succeed in with Jim’s help) cannot be eradicated. The pain this lack causes me, the mortification I know I’d feel if I had to watch myself teach on a video (my classes are now recorded), I have to hold in check. When I told someone I have not watched myself teaching, she sent me a written description.  I thanked her. Sometimes I think to myself so much has to be held in check. To get along with others pleasantly.

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Summer is definitely here, and in some ways we are post-pandemic, Izzy and I. We went out to a movie the other day, and I discovered that people are behaving very badly on the highways. At high speeds (65-70 mph) they dart in an out of the traffic lanes, move in front, around, speeding up to the side of other people in cars. I came home exhausted that day and another when I visited a friend. Calmed myself down, pulled my emotional temperature, excitement down by a glass of wine, but taking it too quickly, I found after supper I had to go to bed and sleep — for several in one case for a couple of hours in the other. So another response to the dissolution of quarantine, is collapsing, twice, from the effort I have not been called upon to give for quite some time. My first time out I got lost.  In some ways the pandemic is not gone. Both of us still working remotely from home, me still on zooms for teaching, courses, lectures, friends’ sessions. Still over 50% of Americans not vaccinated (what great fools), across the world in poor countries, only a tiny number of people vaccinated and this Delta variant (high contagious and the vaccines are not a total barrier against it) spreading across the globe.

Five of the nine shops that used to be next to the movie-house are now emptied of their businesses. Vanished. Went bankrupt. Who says we don’t need another giant stimulus bill?

The cleaning ladies have now been here three times and done a marvelous job each time – the first for well over 2 hours, which included washing from the inside all 14 windows. (One of them, a Black woman in her later 30s looks very well, all of her four children survived without getting sick.)

Ian the ginger tabby reacted with strong upset. He stayed in hiding under Izzy’s bed from 10:30 when he seemed to vanish until 8 or 9 pm. Then he came out steathily, standing there so still. Since then he has kept making these poignant dismal sounds, wandering about. Last night he wanted to go back under Izzy’s bed but she wanted to go to sleep and she doesn’t like to have the cats in the room with her when sleeping. She does let them in the times I’ve been away, but she prefers strongly to sleep alone. He sat at her door and kept up that mewing sound for quite a while, scratching on the door, and the next morning he was back to that mewing again. Not so frequent. It’s this insistent demanding sound or weak and so desolate And wandering about. I gave him tuna the day after. Two days and nights have gone by and he is now returned to his quiet routine patterns.

So cats have to re-adjust too. Clarycat has spent 15 months as my nearly perpetual companion and I find she does not like when I go out for a whole afternoon.


Clary my perpetual companion

I spent far too much money to have my front patches of flowers and yard once again weeded, mulched, cleaned up, new flower bed put in — I can’t keep this up I think to myself. The man a mean ignorant Trumpite not vaccinated at all, but his wife I’m discovering is a decent person.


Roses and daisies

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I have a book to tell you of, A. N. Wilson’s Stray; a new serial, Us, a four part BBC serial, based on a book by David Nicholls, which reviewers denigrated as a comfort book about divorce; a couple more thoughts on listening (once again) to a four book roman fleuve in translation: Elena Ferrante’s L’amica geniale (aka My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein who I’ve now seen often enough to know she is dumb when it comes to having ideas about literature) — and the opening spiel for the the course I’ll be teaching the next five weeks, now called more adequately called Writings about Colonial Experiences.

A.N. Wilson’s Stray is a gem in the animal story for adult kind, one which deserves a blog in its own right, together with another moving animal study I read before the pandemic, as thorough in the prose way, as sensitive, Roger A Caras, A Cat is Watching: how cats see us. But I’ve not the ambition so you’ll have to settle for this:

Pufftail has an outlook an outlook and experiences matched by Paul Auster in his book on Timbuktoo, a dog we first meet as “owned” by a mentally ill homeless man in Baltimore. The frame is this is a tale told by our narrator late in life to a grandkitten. This helps me as I know our narrator survived until old age Timbuktoo did not or several times it would have been too painful. The novel proper begins with this novel Puftail as a kitten with his brother taken far far too young from their mother –- the first tragic wrench. The animal store manager is a man interested in animals only insofar as he can make money. They soon are fed as minimally as possible and left in a cage. They realize – because he says so (how they understand English is not explained) – he will drown them. An elderly woman, Granny Harris, comes by and tries to negotiate for one by lying; offers too little, lies about why, and almost takes just one — the brother says goodbye to our hero so plaintively, but the owner throws in the other kitten for a pound. We see the old lady knows almost nothing of kittens for real.

They become indoor-outdoor cats – he and his brother who are named by her Fluffie (that’s our narrator because he has a very fluffy tail – -maybe he’s a middle haired cat) and his brother, Bootsie because his feet and ears are white. He dislikes these names. What is riveting is he tells of how he and his brother kill birds. In a very violent scene we see them stalk and kill a thrush, but not before they “tease” the poor bird a bit, and then we get a description of how they devour the bird. It’s upsetting yet we are distanced because our narrator stops to argue with us — why should we be put off when we eat animals every night. We have someone else do the killing for us. He said he thought Granny would be pleased if they presented the thrush to her. She was horrified – that’s when we get this argument about the hypocrisy of people. She even buried the bird – – and scolded both cats.

What happens is the kind of old lady dies and the cats have to learn about, confront death but the two younger adults are nowhere as responsible and they don’t remember to do things for the cats, yet lock them in. Her adult children come to visit and our narrator and his brother learn to stay away. They are not kind people, have no feel for animals for real, no imagination. Then a truly terrifying moment. I know from all previous cat literature of all kinds I’ve read it’s okay among human beings to kill cats for fun; they were persecuted for some centuries; in the 18th century there is recorded a great cat massacre; torture for entertainment of all sorts was common. Well, the male of the younger couple wants to get rid of these cats as a nuisance — outright kill them. We get this whole sequence as Bootsie, our narrator’s unfortunately named brother, dithers over plans to leave and then it’s too late; they are caught after a fierce struggle and put in bags and throw out of a moving car crazily. Bootsie is almost killed instantly and then run over by a bus.

It is at the same time intermittently very funny. Wilson keeps up a satire on human beings: he describes us as ridiculous from the POV of a cat: how we dress, our sports, out TVs, radios, cars (engines of murder); this undercuts the central story. We are only one-third through. For the rest see the comments. I’ll reread it and perhaps write another blog on compassionate animal books soon.


Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves)

Us is not really serious work as Wilson’s is (it’s made for money, finally all about celebrity, success, and glamour somehow), but it is interesting to watch. What resonated with me was the POV of the husband, Douglas Peterson. He has spent more than 20 years of love and marriage working as a serious scientist and has meant very well by his family. Connie offers no reason to leave him but that now the son is leaving home, she feels she need no longer stay — no other reason is cited (Saskia Reeves as an actress is given the most superficial of roles): it appears she is bored; he irritates her with his earnestness and conventional morality when for example (she says) he should be siding with his son (it seems no matter what, how badly behaved he is to an admittedly thuggish bunch.  He should, do more than tolerate the son’s equally outrageous sudden girlfriend (openly indifferent to everything but what suits her today), even like her because the son is attracted to her. So I don’t see the interesting element in the story as about how a man tries to win his wife back (with the implication he deserves to lose her, though I realize many a cold-hearted neurotypical coarse person would respond this way), but (as The Guardian reviewer says)

Us worked best as a study of a middle-aged man who has the rug of familiarity pulled out from underneath him … Hollander is superb as a man baffled by the need for change. His family want to eat adventurous meals, while he would like to stick with steak. He sees great works of art and can’t help but say that they’d be “a nightmare to frame”. He is everydad, just trying to get by. For all the joviality, though, it makes serious points about the damage that an inability to communicate can cause …

And the indifference of his family (how tiresome he is) to such a person. They wish they could drop him, but are conscious of how bad they look, and they do feel guilty.

It is curious how the focus is on the older husband and then the husband and son, and how thin the depiction of the husband when younger is (a different actor); all three actresses (wife and mother when old; Connie played by a different actress when she is young, and the obnoxious son’s girlfriend) are really dismissed or treated as so many troubles or soothing machines in life. I do wonder if the book is much better ….

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Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) (as to a third season?)

I’m more than half-way through Ferrante’s third book (Those who Leave and Those who Stay) for a second time. I find I underestimated the deep bonding of Elena and Lila – because Elena destroyed Lila’s notebooks and herself literally moved to live elsewhere, but Elena is repeatedly going back; she’s there at crucial moments for Lila and they are a doppelganger of sorts with Elena the Elinor Dashwood and Lila the Marianne. Both are sensibility figures. I feel Ferrante saw this — as she suggested in her introduction to an edition of Austen’s S&S. Sometimes I stop to compare the Italian to the English and often the Italian is not only much better but gives different slant, more political, more socialist, more desperate against the fascism and patronage society of Italy in the later 1960s.


Gilbert (David Oyelowo) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson) — from Small Island (which I’m not doing as too long but hope some to) — they cannot escape their identities

And as for the Literature of Colonialism, from my lecture notes:

But until a couple of months ago my reading was very narrowly focused. I did not realize what a large and varied picture if you start to read stories and essays about colonialism comprises. Hitherto I defined colonialism as usually one group of people traveling to a country say owned or lived on by another group to take over their land, control where they live, live upon it – settler colonialism. Or one group of people traveling to another country and taking over, controlling the reigns of government, and setting up let’s call a layer of powerful functionaries with armies to back them – often using a minority population in the country as their front, with the aim of extracting natural resources and selling them elsewhere or forcing the people there to form a marketplace to buy their goods, also trading with them.

It’s must much wider and concerns many kinds of experiences for many different reasons. I added to our blurb on the syllabus: What is it like to invent a new country? to live in a country that is being invented and excluding or exploiting you? Or a curiously isolated upper class who don’t belong to the country and yet are supposed to be in governing positions? Or to live in an old country where you are not allowed to belong?

But that just covers our books & movies. I will also try to bring out over the next sessions these other characteristics which are so important – repeating characteristics

migrancy (people moving about, and changing their home to another world, refugees, war) – the dangers of this as you don’t know the people you are landing among at all, unless you’re coming to a relative,

liminality (crossing all sorts of crucial and trivial thresholds from going on a trip to getting married to someone or going to live with someone or along) – opening new opportunities you couldn’t have where you were – what does this mean? How does it affect people

hybridity (several cultures and sometimes a new emerging one)

and last, multiculturalism (different groups of people originally separated geographically and now also by ethnicity, race, religion &c)

People do go for all sorts of reasons and a major one is simply war – to escape violence and death and poverty.

And last prejudice, this somehow deeply seated fear of the other – now you are the other or those coming in are the other. There’s an argument we should be doing as we did until 1900 – just let people come in – it would expand our economy, make for new kinds of businesses, new ideas – only controlling for the criminal types who I fear we now let in because they know how to appear rich

The literature also includes this intense yearning for something other, for landscape – yet roots are tremendously important – Simon Weil’s Needs for Roots, existentialism says a lot of what is at the heart of a modern malaise is a lack of meaning from a lack of belonging – but who do you want to belong to? Capitalism recognizes no obligation to anyone but the contract.

Later in the afternoon I was exhausted in the good way, not a collapse. The odd thing is that with all the intense anti-immigrant (because racist) talk, the way I’ve presented the material elicited lots of friendly responses. Of the 30 or so people there I’d say VERY FEW had ancestors who went back beyond their grandparents. Now they are grandparents (many) but their grandparents would be say 120 years old or so – and like me many came from places in Europe, but there were two hispanic people. Also the US has 800 bases around the world (Russia has 4); a huge diplomatic core and is incessantly itself imperialist whether aggressive and nasty and lying like Trump or friendly and let’s cooperate like Biden. All the reading I’ve done has made me expand my understanding and if I were to name the course today it’d be Writing about Colonialist Experiences and the literature since the 1970s is continually pouring out. I’ll include my lecture notes — look at the first three pages and you’ll see what I said — I left out religious persecution as a reason for migrancy, professional reasons (that’s someone else’s words — I’d call it your job). Not in there are spontaneous comments — I told of myself in the south east Bronx for example, Jim from England.

The real paradox is the US is still a nation of immigrants and the people among the US population who go back in time with the families the longest are Black people and a core of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Biden is Irish, Trump Scottish — Clinton represented a family here longer. If I had it to do all over again I might choose different books; but I’ll manage. I do think though a true present-day GOP person might well hate it — they don’t want the truth discussed at all, and the site assistant I know does not like me; she smiles at me with narrow eyes and a hard face — she was offended by me in one of the two previous courses I did where she was site assistant — maybe the Trollope but she could have been there for Bloomsbury. This is my fourth zoom at OLLI at Mason. But if there are (and there are) Republicans in the group they are of the old style “liberal” “moderate” type and no longer represented by the present GOP. Here and there a justification kind of comment or someone saying why this topic …


On my appts book calendar for July: Prendergast’s watercolor, Excursionists (1896)

To conclude: even if through the Internet I have a good deal of companionship when I think of the years ahead w/o Jim, all the daily happinesses I would have, the things we would do together, and now how empty in comparison — also that he’s gone (his own loss) – I’m very saddened. Life was actually easier for me as a widow, staying in. (Among the many comments I have to hear are tactless remarks about how it was our fault he died … ) And the reverse idea were he here I’d have far more to want to go out for, know the surprise joys again.

Ellen

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For the sake of the cafetiere by Mark Hall who specializes in tables by windows with a view

“Mi chiamo Isabella,” said Izzy to a group of 8-9 year olds like herself on the beach at Ischia, summer 1994

Friends and readers,

How to tell if it’s summer? In Virginia not by an intense heat as that may happen from anytime in April on; even if I find myself longing to be at a quiet beach or doing some out-of-doors activity (walking in the park, once upon a time a concert) signaling Memorial Day weekend, truth to tell that was not common in my life.

I can tell because summer school starts, and after 3 quiet weeks of reading towards my teaching and starting some reading for the courses I’m taking, OLLI at AU starts this coming week, as does one of my Politics and Prose courses (Middlemarch!), and I’ve a few sessions coming up from the English summer Hays Festival and nowadays the Yorkshire Festival (on Elena Ferrante) too. What a treat I never thought to participate in in any way — I’d love to be there, to be back in England each time has roused my spirit so as here I met and married Jim.

Tonight I began Mary McCarthy’s Stones of Florence, a book I read years ago, and again (I can see from my marginalia) marvel at how well she captures the atmosphere and feel of the city where I once spent 9 days too, and have seen so many photos and movies and read other books of.

I’ve a story behind this one, which I tell for the sake of reminiscing and also giving a more candid sense of these courses I take than maybe I usually do:

It may be that the course on Florence I signed up for at OLLI at AU is going to be very poor. Sometimes courses at both places are. The teacher is a journalist and claims to have taught and sent an offhand set of paragraphs on books on Florence as a substitute for a syllabus, using the words “required reading” between scare quotes as I just did. Apparently someone else in the course asked if there would a syllabus and he produces four paragraphs which seemed to have divisions that made sense but not really.

So I replied I hoped he was ironic or semi-ironic, to which he replied how this shows how difficult irony on the Internet.

So here is my TMI reply: Well I’m glad you were ironic — semi-ironic I thought. I read the Mary McCarthy (Stones of Florence was one of the books cited) years ago and was about to re-read it. In a previous existence I was a Renaissance literary scholar and read a lot about Florence — have a few books just on Renaissance Florence. I read Italian haltingly but used to be able to read more fluently and loved to read Italian books from the later 19th and then the two sets of war years and inbetween time too and right after (WW 2) Elsa Morante’s extraordinary La Storia. I know a couple of the authors and read one of the books you mentioned (the poignant Galileo’s Daughter). But all my real or serious knowledge of Florence is of the medieval through 17th century era so I was hoping you would give equal weight to all that has happened since.


Another Mark Hall, this one redolent of sunny Italy

I was once in Florence, again a long time ago, 1969, for about 9 days and I remember some of what I experienced. I also spent 2 days and nights on a nearby island I was told Byron stayed. I managed Venice for an inadequate 3 days as my next stop. I did stay in Rome in 1994 or so with my husband and children for some 5 weeks and we traveled about from Rome to other places as well as we could. We drove to Pompeii, to Naples, to Ischia. We took a train to the Colonna lair at Marina in the campagna. Very recently to Milan one spring with my two now grown daughters (4 years ago in my way of looking at time is very recently). I do love the “high” art of all the cities. Now it’s just books in English translation Once upon a time it was Norman Douglas’s South Wind I read (I loved his book on what was it “Old Calabria” with photos), more recently I read Elena Ferrante. Two very good books on Italy I’ve read are by Sean O’Faolain — I still own these — I’d say recommend them but they are probably hard to get nowadays.

At this OLLI twice Judith Plotz gave a splendid course In Jewish Italian authors — mostly from Turin (implying not like his). I took once of them’

So I was looking forward to being reminded but also to learning about Florence somewhat seriously. Forgive this letter which is me reminiscing. Of course he did not reply. Perhaps after this I should take it that any class where the content is learning about a place may well be touristic. There is still time to add on another, and to change the OLLI at Mason too. What I most dislike is misinformation presented as truth; the kind of thing where the person half-knows something but not enough about it to avoid giving a wrong impression. When that happens, I drop right away. Some of the teachers think we are ignorant mainstream conventional fools, glad to waste away time frivolously. Alas, some of the people at the OLLIs and P&P are


The major part of my DVD collection, all gifts sent by a friend who lives in Ireland – what purports the reprinting of this picture on my blog?

Adventures in the parts of the US gov’t still maimed and sabotaged by the Trump seeping poison legacy.

I wanted to send a gift, a book (cost under $20) to an Irish friend who has sent me countless copies of DVDs over the past year and one half filling three woven baskets, two shelf like containers, and bunches more on my DVD and book shelves according to their title or the author of the book or director of a bunch, or writer, e.g., Andrew Davies). All superb movies or serials, many of them of the older or classic type. His parents worked for the BBC a long time ago. I thought to go to Parcel Post because they usually don’t have much of a line — being a bit more expensive.

What do I find? It costs $200 (that’s right, two hundred dollars) to send a small package internationally. The word “international” is now intoned as if this was a leprous procedure. When I admitted that was too much , I was semi-jeered at — the American way. I did notice that the previous older white man who was owner is not there any more.

So today because the post office nowadays has a very long line I arrived at 8:45 am. It used to open at 8 am; now it opens at 9 (used to shut at 5 pm, now 4 pm).
The way it’s done is only one person is supposed to go in at a time. This is spiteful of Louis DeJoy — as the governor of Virginia has allowed full capacity as long as people are 6 feet apart for gov’t places & everyone wears masks. This post office area (an old one) accommodates at least 6 or 7 in the waiting area.
But when I came up to the counter (I was first on line) I discovered more shenanigans, now I must fill out a form which just repeats the information on the envelope, so I was told to go outside. People repeat the word “international” as if it had some leprous quality (they did that at the Parcel Post office). Of course nowadays there is no place to write in the lobby (all removed) so I squatted on the floor and dumped my stuff next to me. The form is tiny (of course) and I’m struggling because my handwriting is bad; in a couple of minutes someone came over and said I could come inside where there is a counter. It seems I was embarrassing the others. I look old? He had a courteous look on his face. The atmosphere in the place nowadays is usually awful, hard angry faces — not their fault but makes the experience not one I am eager to repeat.

I could not do the whole form. I didn’t have my friend’s phone number. There is no need for a phone number and they waived that. Good of them. They kept repeating the word “international” in this special conjuring tone. They also wanted his email but I had that in my purse. I bought two books of stamps, but after this I will buy stamps online.

I succeeded in sending my friend a small gift, a token of my appreciation for all his DVDs and letters over this period of more solitude than usual — with a card.
Fascism is not only a form of gov’t which is racist and cruel; it exists to serve corporations and gouge the average person so outrageous (as in US hospitals) are everyday and if you can’t perform a everyday task because someone’s profit motive counts more, tough luck. There are no public schools in Louisiana any more.
Below are just some of the DVDs he’s sent me. I have small gatherings in rubber bands next to the books or authors the films adapt (a bunch for Little Women alone; a big bunch for Anna Karenina; for Hardy’s novels ….)


Alice and Asia Roland (mother and daughter) have become Ada and Flora McGrath — the mother and daughter relationship is central to the novel, with the daughter by the end becoming very like Jo March as she is towards the end of Good Wives

For the courses I teach I read far more than the set books and I watch movies. I have mentioned how fine, interesting, rich I have found Jane Mander’s story of early colonialist experience in The Story of a New Zealand River.

Well several nights ago I re-watched Jane Campion’s The Piano — for the first time in more than 15 years. And for the first time I realized how shocking it might be to conventional people and students.

I once enraged a student by showing it in class. I remember that I understood it was outside the range of many people and told them before hand told quite literally all the sex that was there and invited them to skip the class. But when one of the male characters’ penis was seen, this student (it was a he) was horrified and told me he was a “Christian” as if that was some special sect and hardly anyone in the US was Christian. He was forever “polluted” (that was the word he used) because he had seen this movie. I had not realized how the overall effect of what they saw might hit the mind of a fanatically religious male — concerned with the “holiness of his body” (as he put it). He had a girlfriend with him and they agreed that she was not polluted. I never asked why she was not also forever “ruined.” I had never met this type of person before — he is probably today a Trumpite — paradoxically religious fanatics vote for Trump who is utterly amoral sexually and in all other ways too.

Since Jim died, and as the years have gone by on the Net and through the Internet, I’ve met so many people I never would have any other way that I see how shocking it must be to others now. It still is not to me (nor professional reviewers) — it’s what a lot of people (much less theatrically) do. It is a wild extrapolation from Campion’s imagination of what the inner repressed life’s imaginings of the heroine of Jane Mander’s River story might feel married to one man she does not love, living side-by-side in love with another, a close associate of her husband’s whom she does love and loves her.

Here is an insightful review in The Guardian: the reviewer are like me: don’t find it shocking. I also see why it was called Brontesque — she seems a refugee from a Wuthering Heights movie gotten lost at a strange beach; or the feeling like Jane Eyre. But it is also a modern fantastical development out of an idea about the inner life of the woman settler colonialist at the center of a classic 1920 novel.

I was shaken today when I came to the end of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I began it as the best way to enlarge my understanding of Ishiguro as he has not published any non-fiction, life-writing or literary criticism, and there are as yet few books on him. Well, I had a hard time putting the book down. My intensity and its irresistibility for me reminded me of when I first read The Remains of the Day or read When We Were Orphans for the first time (as a page-turner! to see if our hero-detective can find his parents). I call these compulsive reading books. It’s not that common with me that this happens.


Carey Mulligan again, this time as Kathy H.

I keep wanting to go on and it’s not because I don’t know what’s to come as I saw the movie.

It is nowhere as chilling or terrifying as the movie was to me: the story gradually unfolds as a science fiction of the kind Michel Faber wrote in Under the Skin — not obvious at first and then devastating: our beloved characters turn out to be clones invented so their organs can be harvested for the human race with each one of them dying as their “donations” deplete them literally. As in The Remains of the Day (and When we were Orphans) the “person” of the novel is a “you” — the narrator, Kathy H., addresses herself in this case to the reader whose “right” to be in the book is questionable. I become involved with type of character and mood Ishiguro is so successful at creating (as far as I am concerned: I’d call it harrowing haunted without knowing quite why. I am not anguished; I identify and find that the narrator is having good and deep experiences growing up (the book is about adolescence in a generous school environment) but somehow I’m unnerved by these hints of what’s to come, the way the book swerves back and forth on intangible incidents of a kind I recognize are almost everyday. There are also so many beautiful landscapes (as in Remains of the Day) that we are invited to revel in. Ishiguro’s are symbolic books with what Judith Wilt said were “ghosts of the gothic.”

So I came to the end later this afternoon. At the close Ruth has “completed” (died), Kathy’s best friend, and she and Tommy, who has become her lover, desperately try for a “deferral” — to be allowed to live together for three extra years because they truly love. They are turned down inexorably. It’s like being rejected without recourse, and punished without having done anything wrong: they and all other “students” (clones) stand for the powerless in our world as did he butler, Mr Stevens and housekeeper, Miss Kenton, Remains. The allegory had so many applications (petty but important ones, as I cannot get into my Washington Gas website and the company inexorably will not answer a phone, offers no help by email, insists you do whatever it is online &c) as did many social psychological talk incidents and so many thoughts were familiar (like George Eliot’s Dorothea at times). An allegory of life itself. In the end Kathy and Tommy were Jim and of course I’ll never let him go. I found I could not sit still; I could not turn to another book. I needed to calm down, needed to come into contact with something more cheering. So I went for a walk.

Then emailed the friend from OLLI at Mason who in a zoom class spoken so highly of the book, saying don’t let the (quietly) horror genre film turn you off. She responded beautifully:

I’m happy to be your sounding post anytime! I’m glad you also found this novel compelling- and we all have persons who are no longer a physical presence. What a rich literary background you possess to be able to make those connections! And we have come through those stages of adolescence and shared the development of our own two daughters, so that adds its own poignancy.

She connected Ishiguro to Susan Hill’s detective Simon Serailler books, saying rightly these books are literate, detailed, and full of drama – standing head and shoulders above the majority of crime novels. I’ve read the first, The Various Haunts of Men (almost compulsively, certainly consecutively on the train, anywhere as I did the first four Poldarks), and it so unnerved me, that I became frightened at the thought of someone stalking me. I’ve read and taught her purer gothic and grief-striken books, The Woman in Black, In the Springtime of the Year (a young woman’s young husband dies unexpectedly and suddenly) and The Bird of Night. She once irritated me by telling one of my students (who wrote her!) that her books are not gothic (don’t listen to silly English teachers), thus undermining his respect for me, and there is a certain repetitiveness about her work; but she does have power and insight to evoke the uncanny.

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A highpoint in movie-watching this week I’d like to share is the one hour and one half documentary about Eric Hobsbawm: his four history books tell us all we need to know and understand about our world today politically, socially, economically and give far deeper sense of the dangers we face from authoritarian fascism:

I have all four books. Jim read them and respected the man so. He comes across as so good — how lucky his wife was to live alongside him. I stayed up to nearly 2 am watching it. Never fell asleep, not once.

I’ve provided too many descriptions of what are these courses I’m teaching and taking and talks attending.  So just particularize one I’m stumped over (as I am over Ruth Prawer Jhabvala recent neutral amoral stories)): Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts, in which I discovered show she is like her young characters in her Namesake, trying to make an identity for herself out of her sheer language and place study. A friend wrote to me: “She wrote the book in Italian and translated it herself. It consists of vignettes from the life of a single woman/academic. The narrator is an outsider living in an unnamed Italian city. Her writing has a pellucid simplicity, very little happens, yet some of the chapters have a haunting quality …” I replied:

Is it not a very strange text? I am very puzzled by it. Here we have this woman who appears to be living totally alone, and each time she explains something about her background it is devastating: husband an absolute continual cheat (did he have another family or mistress, yes), mother continually berating her. Children dullards. How is she living? We are told she is a teacher and marks papers

But as to real explanation half-way through there is none. Is she depressed? would you say this is a natural life style for many people today? I know that Elena Ferrante’s short novel ( but it is a full real novel in a way this is not) La Figlia oscura translated as The Lost Daughter presents a similarly isolated woman who is driven to steal the doll belonging to a near by family on the beach to which our narrator goes very day on a holiday. But we are told what happened to her marriage. She is still connected to her daughters. This time of isolation is not permanent. It is a similar text but not utterly unexplained — as yet. All tiny chapters, with titles recording a moment.


Vanessa Bell’s Bird in Cage, my new header picture on FB and twitter

Reading also Caryl Phillips’s deeply compassionate tales of women, of the enslaved, with Elizabeth Bowen as my cheerer (she has a deep congenial sanity, a laughter and reaching out for life that does me good — I read well into her A Time in Rome, companion volume for McCarthy’s — only somehow far deeper into or from the soul responding). I’ve told you also I’ve promised a talk for a video for the Trollope London Society zoom reading group on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove” and its brilliant film adaptation.

I segue here into a new sense of my end of life that is making me curiously both emptier and sadder and yet so less harassed and self-induced hectic and allowing me to read more freely more books — as I please for my courses, and just like this — I returned to the female detective this week (The Lady Investigates by Patricia Craig), partly the result of watching Miss Scarlet and the Duke, two weeks ago it was four Olivia Manning novels in a row (ending for now on The Rain Forest, a coda to her brilliant trilogies). Last diary entry (or the one before) I said I foresaw time to return to my book project on Winston Graham and the one on life-long unmarried women. I do, but only if I push myself, work intensely and then don’t follow through on reading that comes up from my teaching studies and other group activities. I have it seems decided I don’t want to push myself for nothing, to no sensible end. I didn’t decide, but (like Trollope says) I found that this is the way I’m acting.

I have this extra time for books, movies, YouTube also — because I find myself at long last giving up book projects. Looking at them. In the case of Graham, his son is dead against it; in the case of the women, there is little sympathy for the angle I want which includes belief in innate qualities in women and l’ecriture-femme (a strong gender faultline in writing as naturally emerging). No more of these will I dream of, plan, attempt to do. Face reality. Face my age. Face where I live. It’s over for me: I don’t have the wherewithal of connections, of ability to know how to draw people to help me, to attract a publisher, fear travel, strange or new places so. I’m taking real and what pleasure I can from what is available to me. Not forcing myself to do what is so painful, stressful, difficult.

After all all these writers need readers, people to write about them, ditto the movie-makers need watchers and critics, do they not?

And oddly I find I’m turning more to Jim, to memories of him, a sense that I am living out a life as his wife with his absent presence all around me, doing what I wish as if he were here with me. I have also made a home-life for Izzy and I, which we are both aware we are sharing. We both remember him; we both reciprocate with the cats.


Jim with Ian on his lap in July 2014 (the cancer had not yet metastasized)

I am living out his lifetime for him and with him in memory as best I can. This is partly what I would have done had he lived. The good thing that has come from all this (by which I refer to his death and now this pandemic solitude) is my finding the OLLIs and as yet fitting in, and finding other institutions and venues in my area where I enjoy the intellectual and social life.


A lovely idealization of a square in Bath Jim & I & Izzy walked together many a time for a week (there is the assembly room to the right) — it was spring 2002

Ellen

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