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Still of Ackerley and his dog, Tulip, from the cartoon movie by Saul & Sandra Fierlinger, with Christopher Plummer voicing Ackerley, & Lynn Redgrave, his sister, Nancy (2009, from Ackerley’s 1956 book)

Neighbor

Build me a bridge over the stream
to my neighbour’s house
where he is standing in dungarees
in the fresh morning.
O ring of snowdrops
spread wherever you want
and you also blackbird
sing across the fences.
My neighbour, if the rain falls on you,
let it fall on me also
from the same black cloud
that does not recognise gates.
— Iain Crichton Smith

Friends and readers,

If I’ve not written for over three weeks, it’s because I’ve not much new to say. I am prompted tonight because I have learned that sixteen (16!) years ago, Izzy wrote new lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas out of the Harry Potter world, and put it on our website. Now recently her song inspired someone calling herself Semperfiona to record it as a song, someone else, yue_ix, to provide a cover album for the song as if it were a record for sale, with the whole thing edited by a third person, pseudonym, flowersforgraves. Alas, I cannot transfer the podcast or picture over here, but you must click on this URL to reach this composition, an art work by 5 people (if you count in J.K. Rowling as inspiration, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Harry Potter Style, by Miss Izzy.


A Harry Potter Christmas moment …. a little out of season, but WTF, we are in need of cheer wherever we can find it

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I have been escaping myself into my past, bringing it up to the present. This morning as I lay in bed, facing another day at home, sheltering in place, I thought to myself, why does it bother me not to go out and circulate “in the world,” drive places to teach or take a course, see people regularly. After all at home I am among one of the lucky ones to be able to reach friends through the Internet by email, social media platforms, zooms, even the phone, and as I thought about the day ahead I told myself I or my life is not useless, empty and meaningless — for I am doing what I value and sharing my doings insofar as others want this – an authentic existence (as philosophers would say). So today I posted to my listservs, exchanged letters with friends, participated in a zoom session (a class on existentialism seen historically), then worked on Anne Finch, read more of Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, watched Part 3 of the three part movie: otherwise exercised, walked, talked with Izzy, was on the phone with a friend, ate and now am blogging here. Other days I have other schedules, but this is my main one for now. I’ll talk of these two projects (for they represent two sets of books) here.


Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), from a miniature, artist unknown

Today I worked on 25 years worth of materials gathered from libraries (manuscripts, printed books) in an effort to supplement Myra Reynolds’s sadly inadequate 1903 edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilesea: I ended up writing a biography, preparing or annotating nearly 300 texts, ordering them, writing about them, and putting them on my website. I have been asked to write an evaluative review of the new standard edition of this poetry published by Cambridge UP, from which there is a small archival site online now.

This is an ambiguous experience slowing going over my mountains of copies of original manuscripts, the letters I wrote, my hundreds of pages of notes, on sources too, rereading my biography: the first phase of being in a position to evaluate this new standard edition of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea’s poetry. They renamed the manuscripts in accordance with who owns them or where they were deposited: I named them after the places in which Anne and Heneage wrote them out.

Egoistically I was chuffed to see in my view the two editors have not (as I see this) truly gone beyond Reynolds because they have left out many poems that are by Finch — lest they be accused of false attribution. They have not (in Volume I — I won’t get Volume II until after the review of Volume I is done and printed) as far as I can tell as yet even included a section with poems of doubtful attribution. Doubtless because there are so many of them — about 30, with about 20 serious contenders. It would cost money, would it not? Mar their edition; they would have to quote me more centrally. Several of these are so strongly hers that they have been quoted elsewhere by scholars and written about (from my site); one is autobiographical but not sufficiently detailed to nail down an attribution. One cannot get rid of self. I ought to be so pleased that this edition exists for it makes of this poet for 18th century scholars an established central voice.

I am chuffed that they argue with me in their notes over my biography: they chose McGovern’s conclusions (she published what passes as a standard biography) over mine, several of which I am persuaded are wrong — so for those who come to my site, there is an alternative story which makes sense here. They do also correct me — apparently Anne’s older brother killed their Haslewood uncle (in a duel) not the uncle’s older son as I had thought: the two had the same names. I learned that one of the scholars who never answered any of my letters put on his dissertation a stop-reading so that no one shall read it for another 50 years!

Ah, me, were it not for Jim, none of this would have gotten out into the world.

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I am also hoping to teach online. It is evident that most Americans who can afford to stay home and avoid this dreadful COVID19 disease and the risk of death will do so until such time as it’s safe to come out, & that will not come soon for Trump is still refusing to allow “his” federal gov’t to do wide-spread testing and tracing across the US, and he squashed the CDC plan/strategy for opening the US in stages so as to minimize the risk. He thinks to force people out who need the money (by not sending them any more, by depriving the of unemployment insurance) and others will follow suit, unable to resist temptation to say make money on their businesses; universities he thinks will open up lest they lose the egregious fees they demand. He is counting on greed, fear, despair. But more than 81,000 Americans have now died — and early signs are that some or many universities at least, and more to the point the two OLLIs I work at, will carry on delivering their content remotely until well into the fall.


Mecklenberg Square by Margaret Joliffe (1935): one of the squares where the four Bloomsbury women Francesca Wade writes about in Square Haunting, one of the marvelous books I’m reading

So I’m reading towards what I hope will be a wonderful course called The Bloomsbury Novel. I changed my books slightly from what I had intended:

This course will examine novels & art included in the term Bloomsbury through three texts: E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Virginia Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist, J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. Bloomsbury novels, books of all sorts really, are written by people who belonged to an amorphous early 20th century creative group, associated with a specific area in London, who were friends, or whose works were printed at the Hogarth Press. This (semi-invented) sub-genre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are good movies for Maurice, My Dog Tulip, & All Passion Spent. I ask everyone before class to read E.M. Forster’s “What I Believe” (from Two Cheers for Democracy); we may read a couple of other on-line shorter texts for context.

And also watching movies, and reading more than one excellent book on the Bloomsbury crowd, some on art. I know I don’t half-talk enough about the love and companionship dogs provide for human beings and (it is to be hoped) vice versa. (I’m ever on about cats.) JR Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip is about a deeply companionable interspecies love relationship; rated as a “classic” book and is certainly complex and beautifully written: he has his obsessions, some of which are clearly intended to shock the reader, wake us up to what an animal is(that includes us) , the book is at times hilarious and at others so moving: he also indites the way human beings regularly treat animals (dogs specifically); the brilliant cartoon (or should I say graphic novel, see way above, the picture from the film)rather indites British society vis-a-vis its treatment of animals; it too is a curious delightful experience. I am not sure you can get it streamed online — the creators intended this but other people may have gotten in the way since then. If you buy the DVD it comes with a marvelous feature about the making of the film. Here is Ebert interrupted by commercial ads (these are getting worse by the day, the hour). Ackerley was gay, a good friend to EM Forster, an important person at the BBC, editor for years for The Listener, wrote another “classic,” My Father and Myself, which I’ve sent away for.

As her final segment on PBS reports last night, Judy Woodruff did a number on pets; the pets of the staff and everyone working on the program, now all remotely. It was called the Newshour’s Furry Friends, and just delightful; she was so touching in her final words; she almost broke down saying how much they loved their companion-animals.

What had happened was people noticed cats in the background of William Brangham’s room — on the couch to the side of his wall of books; and also one cat in Lisa Desjardin’s space; sometimes on the couch but once the cat came up to look at the camera. This started mail which suggested viewers were not listening dutifully to the content but watching out for the cats.
So now we know Wm Brangham has 3 rescue cats and their names, and one dog (not permitted in TV room as he barks); and we have seen an array of pets. It seemed to me more dogs than cats; first with the person — very quickly shown — I spotted Amna Nawaz has a cat; then a shot of the animal alone posed properly as if for the cover of a book or other work he or she had achieved.

The title of the segment put in mind of a Sesame Street alphabet song, “4 furry friends, faithful together. Fun-filled, and forever free …” Jim used to say if he had to listen to that once more, he would do such things …. !! Aargh!!

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It is for me also an ongoing struggle just to carry on living sanely. Yesterday I was feeling parts of my body ache, and think that I am not getting enough exercise. As mild as it was, getting in and out of my car, walking to classes, to shop, to different places every day mostly was good for my body. I am exercising on the bike 20 minutes, walking outside 20 minutes but it’s not enough.

Nowadays social obligations shape my reading patterns. I’ve stopped getting on with my reading of Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light pile: each book just about belongs to a project or a group of books I love and am reading with it: in this case, a wonderful book on the man and poet, Thomas Wyatt, another on Cromwell (a biography), a French biography of another woman (beyond Anne Boleyn and the English) taken by Protestanism: Jeanne d’Albret by Francoise Kermina. I have put these aside for now.


Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame film (as powerful and relevant as ever)


Sanctuary! for Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) up high in the cathedral, he cries!

A set of books for the Bloomsbury novel course, a set of books for now this review I’m doing of the standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry, yes, I am participating in the listserv for Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, with Victor Brombert’s book on Hugo as visionary, and four movies to watch! My ongoing commitment to Winston Graham and the historical novel: I just finished Graham’s powerful and good The Black Moon, and am going to being The Four Swans; I’m well into Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, a detailed wonderfully readable description and evocation, utterly convincing of the worlds of the 1790s, Nina Auerbach on DuMaurier, The Haunted Heiress, and her fiction; with a biography of William Hamilton (for Volcano Lover). Piles of Italian-Jewish writing (Natalia Ginzburg books) left over and inspired by Judith Plotz’s course (an OLLI at AU, the one true good one I had this term); and still on that supposed anomaly, single women authors & women’s writing. I give little time to the courses I attend by zoom but I do give some. And they help during the day connect me to people. I know others look at my workroom, my files, and are alert to see my cats. Where are they today, someone asked?


They are in their cat-bed to the side of me, said I


My new backdrop in zooms — only I am in the way so some of this obscured, and at a slightly different angle

At night I work my way through serials, documentaries, and Un Village Francais — 7 seasons, 13 episodes each. I just finished My Brilliant Friend (book 2 of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet). On these I will write separately. I also keep up friendships by letter, am on FB, nowadays a little on twitter, and blog to readers and friends here — all of which keep me “grounded” — and give me preciously needed company if at a distance. I saw, thought and wrote about a film about autistic women made in Iceland; see the comments for a review, which links the book to violence against women: Seeing the Unseen.  Annie Finch revived Wom-po, a listserv for women who write, translate, write about love, women’s poetry. It is lucky and meaningful to me that this old project of a quarter of a century’s work, my love of women’s poetry suddenly is structuring my days, and if I can pull off online teaching, delving the ethically comforting and strengthening Bloomsbury group.

All this keeps me grounded. I read JK Johnstone’s superb study of The Bloomsbury Group, an old fashioned 1950s style oh so readable study, with a long section on the philosophy of GE Moore as well as Forster, Woolf, and Lytton Strachey, the art lectures of Fry and criticism of Andre Maurois.

I connect the seen with the unseen and imagined and remembered and learned from — and not only because we must not forget the tremendous misery that is being inflicted on thousands of Americans by the present stranglehold fascist regime. I try not to let convention, fear of others’ conventionality/disapproval, authority and power come between “me” and what? a life my instincts have led me to make and share with others who recognize what I recognize. I no longer have Jim, his life was taken from him by a dread disease, and I am honoring him and the dog he and I had, Llyr, by some of what I am doing this spring and summer.


Jim and Llyr in our apartment on 76th Street off Central Park, 1972

We did “own” a dog for 12 years, Llyr was her name, partly a German shepherd. I was too young to appreciate her, and wish I could bring her back and make up to her now what I couldn’t give when I was younger because I let my depressions and nervous breakdowns get in the way. I feel such remorse. I did not know how to cope, to control them, to what’s called comparmentalize.  We had $125 a week to live on, and so I starved us all, including the dog (but not the child).  The atmosphere in the last 2 years on Seaman Avenue was bad. She died of cancer; my father paid for a couple of treatments, but then the vet said it had spread throughout her body.  Now I would treat her with extra-consideration, the kind of respect I would an adult companion-friend, as I try to my cats. If the non-traveling continues I will think of a way to persuade Izzy to accept another animal in the house, a dog I shall call Llyr.

Ellen

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Our miniature maple last week

Fountain

Let it disturb no more at first
Than the hint of a pool predicted far in a forest,
Or a sea so far away that you have to open
Your window to hear it.
Think of it then as elemental, as being
Necessity,
Not for a cup to be taken to it and not
For lips to linger or eye to receive itself
Back in reflection, simply
As water the patient moon persuades and stirs.

And then step closer,
Imagine rivers you might indeed embark on,
Waterfalls where you could
Silence an afternoon by staring but never
See the same tumult twice.
Yes come out of the narrow street and enter
The full piazza. Come where the noise compels.
Statues are bowing down to the breaking air.

Observe it there — the fountain, too fast for shadows,
Too wild for the lights which illuminate it to hold,
Even a monument, an ounce of water back;
Stare at such prodigality and consider
It is the elegance here, it is the taming,
The keeping fast in a thousand flowering sprays,
That builds this energy up but lets the watchers
See in that stress an image of utter calm,
A stillness there. It is how we must have felt
Once at the edge of some perpetual stream,
Fearful of touching, bringing no thirst at all,
Panicked by no perception of ourselves
But drawing the water down to the deepest wonder.

— by Elizabeth Jennings, in Ann Stanford’s anthology, Holding Our Own

Friends and readers,

This is the freshest and prettiest time of year, and were I to detail Izzy and my daily routine, many might say this is privilege. We are early risers, she watches a favorite conversation show (people around her age just talking often about contemporary issues that concern her), I answer my personal mail, respond to FB, twitter, listserv friends, both exercise, eat, shower, dress casually (as if ready to take a walk)


Clarycat in sunpuddle nearby

She is teleworking from home to the Pentagon library and really sits down to it at 8:30 and works more or less (with some breaks) to 5.


To my eyes how beautiful she looks — at home she can use her heating pad for her back and she listens to music as she catalogues

On dressing (complete with necklace, earrings sometimes). After living most of my life partially at home (working part time) and many years in NYC where I was in an apartment on the third floor so didn’t get out all the time — from quite a young age I determined that each day I would dress myself as if I were going out. I am not dressing quite the way I do when I go out to teach: then I try to spruce up. Now I’m in jeans and tops mostly by about 9;30 am, though once in a while a dress, a sweater. Ballet slippers. My cleaning bill is near zero.  This pandemic has shut the hairdresser’s shop and so my hair is now going grey/silver/white and I brush and put it firmly at the nap of my neck in a clip. For me dressing myself for the day is a matter of staying cheerful, I keep to a routine too — of posting, reading, blogging. When I was young and talked NYC talk, I’d say I was “being a person:” that’s very crude or blunt. But I do need to dress myself as if I were going out, and I am going out most days — a walk, to the post box, 3 days to supermarkets, drug store. Some sense in myself a need for in order to be peaceful. I hate to use the phrase self-respect but I can’t think of a less loaded one. I need to go sleep at night and be up during the day with most other people. To eat at regular hours ….. This keeps me sane and anxiety- and depression at bay. I feed my cats at specific times too and they know when the time “has arrived” for breakfast, snack, dinner and to go to bed too. I’m usually back in nightgown by 9 to 10 pm. We are all following a schedule to try for some sense of meaning in life. As in Camus’s Sisyphus: each day one pushes the rock up and in the night it rolls back down again

It’s an attitude towards the self, how each of us lives with our self. To me this does not relate to any outward standards of accomplishment or even whether we look on life favorably — as a good thing — or other people. It’s about our relationship with our self. I’m very much a home-body, happiest at home where all is set up for me to do what I like to do. I have observed for a long time now Izzy behaves the way I do and now in this pandemic she is dressed (not as for her office but as she does on Saturday/Sunday or the evenings) and sits down to work at 8:30 am (she is supposed to clock in virtually, and clocks out at 5 pm). She makes plans for herself and follows through on them. I’m taking a course in existentialism this term; it’s historical in approach; still we are talking of how we make and find meaning in existence. I behave this way were there no pandemic.

Izzy did not pattern herself on me at all. That’s just her way. We do have to accept what life offers — the hand of cards we are given — and I’ve made of mine what was in my character to make.

I settle down after tidying up chores, to post, read, write. I have agreed to teach on-line (if I manage it) so am preparing for The Bloomsbury Novel, read for the one serious reading course I have (not a heavy schedule), for my list communities, my projects. I’ll begin a new review May 1st. I thread stuff in — I returned to the Winston Graham with my energy renewed (“A matter of genre”) and three different historical fictions. The Mirror and the Light and books on early modern people. 18th century studies. Trollope. Some wonderful books, and new authors, especially Italian, e.g., today for four hours, Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.


A wonderfully humane book which gets down the level of how people live and what they do — shocking how readily human beings learned to and did make horrific weapons — for money too; she tells it all prosaically, the political movements and daily lives from letters & diaries, newspapers

I am now making myself a small pot of coffee in the later morning. Both lunch by noon, and the afternoon is a repeat performance. Both of us walk from 20 minutes to half an hour in the later afternoon. Snacks, supper together.


Ian up from his afternoon nap coming to play with me and a colorful string I have while waiting for supper, watching TV

At this point I watch PBS reports steadily for the hour because Woodruff and Co make me feel better while informing me of what’s happening, true news as therapy.

Evenings I find I am too tired to read most of the time, so it’s movies (A French Village, My Brilliant Friend aka The Story of a New Name, Inspector Morse, documentaries, Civilisations, Lucy Worsley on Suffragettes) and blogging. I’m up to five zoom sessions a week: these do divide up the day and provide a sense of social life’s satisfactions. There are fine movies on-line, and I’ve started to plan joining virtual conferences (one on Jane Austen — at Chawton House in June, something I could never have encompassed). One does not have to drive anywhere but to shop locally.

She writes fiction, works on her music, sometimes draws, watches movies, reads books and online. Then to bed … without the cats. They come into my room with me.

I have gone out regularly however briefly — three days this weekend to shop, one day to the post office (doing what I can to support them), another the cleaners, drug store and so it goes. Izzy comes with me on weekends. Thus far my annuity, social security, Izzy her salary, all paid.

Just back from immense shopping for free range farm chicken, basmatic rice, a carton of Robert Shaw shiraf wine ($3.99 a bottle), unadulterated cheese (very plain) & other things I can’t get anywhere but Trader Joe’s — which was this morning very impressive. Not everyone is cooperating. So the line for seniors also included just regular customers — clearly not disabled. But the employees don’t want to be police; I saw them try on a couple of obvious people. In the store the way the lines are managed shows thought. They are protecting their employees. But it was an oddly fraught experience. I was offered free flowers on the way out and I took the chance (might they carry the virus?). Because they are yellow. Too many years to count and shortly after Jim and I met he bought me a bouquet of 22 yellow flowers (it was out of money he was getting as his “dole” — he was homeless just then, I had taken him into my room) about 10 months too late. But I had said something about not having any gifts or wanting any thing done for some years. I was so touched. All this tires me out …

You are seeing the top of a credenza (I’ve been calling it all these years) bought at some thrift shop; Laura (maybe age 10 or so) and I carried it out of the store and managed to get it into whatever car we had. Izzy in stroller watching. Now it’s in front of a window where I keep snack food, bread, cheese, various condiments, book called Natural Cat, and a photo of JIm… I can no longer remember where my flower vase is.

So what’s wrong: profound distress provided every day by the news from Trump (unspeakable inhumane behavior — just some monster) and his cruel regime edging us ever more into fascism, so many suffering from economic disaster, a painful illness and thousands (thousands) dying — in detention facilities, prisons. In Europe, gov’ts are simply sending people under order to stay at home 80% of their salary, supporting all small businesses, nationalizing health care, testing away; here a one shot of $1200 to everyone, 37% of people eligible for unemployment (but it does not come right away), long lines across the country of people waiting for free food. Congress sending billions to corporations, chain stores, it was a hard fight to get them to agree to fund hospitals better.

One night I went to sleep in a stunned state having read that Trump refused to sign any bill that would enable the post office to stay in business. The post-office. All my life this is the organization that I receive and send bills through, reach people, a life-line for the public — the man would carelessly smash it – wreck to prevent people voting in the next election. I was shaken

It all just preys on my mind. I made a joke of this:

Trump suggested that we could perhaps get rid of, cure, COVID-19 disease if we would “inject disinfectant through the skin.” Or drink some harsh commercial disinfectant (the kind you are supposed to handle with gloves, keep out of the reach of children or animals).

I remembered Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, where (as I recall) In an island of Lagado (or an academy?), there is a man who has been working at extracting sunbeams from cucumbers for some 8 years. It seems it was his idea to supply somebody’s garden with perpetual sunlight. Alas though, the year Gulliver arrived the cucumber crop was poor and so they were just then expensive. So plan had to wait and I seem to remember Gulliver gave him some money …. which man was glad to take

If it was a sardonic joke, it was a nasty sarcasm mocking all the people who have died and gotten very sick. He was irritated by all this talk of disinfectants, was he? But here is full description in French showing it was not meant as a joke:

N’essayez pas ça à la maison. Réagissant à une étude – très préliminaire – selon laquelle la chaleur, l’humidité et les rayons du soleil affaibliraient le coronavirus, Donald Trump a réfléchi à voix haute, jeudi, sur de possibles traitements à bases d’UV et de désinfectants. Des médecins ont aussitôt alerté sur les risques d’empoisonnement, comme cela s’est déjà produit avec de l’automédication à la chloroquine

Un peu de contexte. Lors du briefing quotidien à la Maison Blanche, un responsable du département à la Sécurité intérieure a présenté des résultats –très préliminaires– d’une étude. Selon cette dernière, la « demi-vie » du Covid-19 (la durée nécessaire pour diviser par deux sa puissance) sur les surfaces et dans l’air est fortement réduite par la chaleur, l’humidité et les UV du soleil. Du côté des désinfectants, l’étude conclut que l’eau de Javel tue le virus en cinq minutes et l’alcool à 90° en trente secondes.

Dans la foulée, Donald Trump s’interroge au micro : « Supposons qu’on frappe le corps avec une grande (quantité) d’ultraviolets ou juste une lumière très forte. Et ensuite j’ai dit, supposons qu’on amène la lumière à l’intérieur du corps, ce qu’on peut faire à travers la peau ou d’une autre façon… » Le président demande des précisions au responsable et continue : « Et puis je vois le désinfectant qui le neutralise en une minute. Est-ce qu’on pourrait faire quelque chose comme ça, avec une injection à l’intérieur ou… presque comme un nettoyage. Car vous voyez, ça (le virus) va dans les poumons… Ça serait intéressant de tester ça. Je voudrais que vous demandiez à des docteurs en médecine s’il y a moyen d’appliquer de la lumière ou de la chaleur pour neutraliser le virus. »

Un docteur, il y en a une assise à quelques mètres, Deborah Birx, qui fait partie de la task-force de la Maison Blanche contre le coronavirus avec Anthony Fauci. Face à la tirade du président américain, elle semble perdue dans ses pensées.

It is a strain being without human voices and the commonalty of acquaintances, friends, familiar and unfamiliar faces and bodies over the course of the day naturally

COVID19 Notes: “You don’t necessarily develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against every virus. Some viruses are very, very difficult when it comes to vaccine development – so for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to find ways to go about our lives with this virus as a constant threat,” said David Nabarro, professor of global health at Imperial College, London, and an envoy for the World Health Organization on Covid-19″ (The Guardian).

On DemocracyNow.org Juan Gonzalez said that in his part of New Jersey, New Brunswick, a few middle class people set up a crowd-source fund online, collected $17,000 within a week and a half and have now begun to distribute it. Direct cash payments to people who are out of food and need money for rent or a mortgage payment. The 2nd trillion dollar bill from the feds has no money directly for people; Trump assures us (lest we worry) that he has his own fund set aside for fossil fuel industry. Trump at last sends tests to NY when Cuomo visits him – or promises to. My two daughters need got a penny back from the airlines for the money they paid for their Montreal planned trip to ice-skating contest; a friend and her husband paid twice each way going and coming back from Mexico, never got a penny back; I never got a penny back from my attempt to go to St Louis — but the airlines get another bunch of money — there’s black humor here. Too bad I can’t laugh.

Gonzalez also told how his 92 year old mother contracted COVID-19; he and his wife took her to the hospital when she seemed unable to breathe; the hospital would not test her unless they took her in; when they tested her, they were about to give her that dangerous malaria drug until Gonzalez realized what they were doing, and stopped them. She did survive, without intubation and is now in a rehabilitation unit. Meanwhile his wife contracted the disease; Thursday night last week she could’t breathe, had a fever, he called 911, Emergency ambulance came but the people said she’d be better off at home, safer as she was not yet near death, gave him some advice about positioning her, anyway she lived through the night and this week is recovering.

A friend told me that her psychologist friend seriously thinks millions of US people are going through trauma every day – -as they worry lest their money be worthless with such a malevolent fool having picked the man who runs the federal agency which controls the money supply. Another sent me and a group of friends this to help cheer us up: perhaps the name of the city is repeated too often, but I found this brought tears to my eyes. People here might enjoy it. I recognize many of the streets and places filmed:

I make diary entries on face-book and even tweet quips, sudden utterances, and re-tweet similar language and pictures (increasingly videos) from others

I now think that the OLLIs won’t be back as meetings in classrooms and other kinds of social interactions for quite a long time – maybe next spring. The people are mostly people with more money than me — that means they are really set up — I am vulnerable to losing my social security and widow’s annuity and with these I need the rent Izzy gives me. That means they have no reason not to quarantine themselves. They are also the population that travels. Some of them take several trips a year to expensive places. The Politics and Prose store had an older population for their classes – -some younger people but they were the minority. So if the owner of the store wants to keep the classes up he shall have to use zoom. He is doing that for the nightly lectures — actually some other more impressive platform. He is selling online rigorously.

Some of the more expert commentators on BBC are saying that early lifting of the lockdowns – they instance other, more regional, virus outbreaks as examples – will produce a second wave of infection, perhaps more serious; perhaps that and their ignoring social distancing will sweep through the USA demonstrators. Munich Oktoberfest is cancelled.

Gradually becoming obvious in (informed) commentary in UK is the realisation that this is going to continue in some form for a year or more. Financial Times (UK) says that UK government are talking about continuation, not emerging (not exact words – paywalled).

I am spending less; I got Izzy to start cleaning regularly with me. We started this weekend. I will take all clothes that need dry cleaning to a store where you put the stuff in a machine yourself I can put what we have (very little now as Izzy not going to work and I didn’t dress up that much) in and then sit in my car for an hour to wait. There’s a lady laundromat owner who has a hard life: she used to be there 7 days a week, 5:30 am to 10:00 pm, and she does laundry for you. When my house was being renovated Izzy and I took our laundry to her. Now she’s there 6 days a week, 8 am to 9 pm.

I made myself unhappy yesterday because it totally slipped my mind to join in on the Framley Parsonage read being done by zoom by the British Trollope society. One might say unconsciously I was not eager, but if so it was not conscious. I meant to skim the first ten chapters of Framley Parsonage yesterday so that was my first lapse. It is true that it would add yet another book to my budget just now. Now I’m feeling next week I’ll be too far behind, but probably they won’t care so I shall try to remember next week. Had I been this zoom I would have heard more human voices and voices directed at me as part of a group and myself spoken back.

My hair is looking pretty bad. When I was a young teenager, maybe age 13 or so, I began to use a hair style that however I have tried to find something else I’ve never much strayed from. I brush my hair, part it in the middle sort of, then take a clip that is plain and widish and clip my hair at the nape of my neck. When my hair was thicker, it held. Over the years my hair has thinned and thinned. Now the clip (a narrower one than ever) keeps coming out and sometimes as the zoom starts and I get a look at myself I pull the clip out and just brush the air back. It’s a style you see on Jane Goodall. Tp be honest, I don’t really mind how it looks and like the severe look. I’ve given on make-up too — more or less since I was 19, and now altogether.

Jim always had a beard. I never saw him without one. When he first got cancer, I thought to myself he’ll lose his hair and probably his beard and I will see his face for the first time. He had a round face. Well he didn’t live long enough for chemotherapy to be started because we were so stupid as to agree to that horrific operation first so I never saw him without his beard. He’d go to a male hairdresser (never a barber shop) to have it trimmed.

Other widows have told me how they miss human voices. Penelope Fitzgerald calls her book on BBC radio: Human voices. Izzy does not _seem_ to miss this so much – though one of her favorite programs now is a one hour chat between people in their 20s — I think really set up in response to this quarantine. She can imagine herself as with them

Watch the family of ducks escorted to safety in Ballsbridge: These ducks are being escorted from a park in which they hatched to the river at left of where the video terminates.

https://www.independent.ie/videos/gardai-escort-family-of-ducks-to-safety-in-ballsbridge-39144432.html

Tomorrow I will see my young woman friend Monica — last week she told me that two had died among the offices she works in, many in the DC Correction Department now sick with COVID-19. They were not allowed to stay at home — would not be paid. Her hair no longer looks so shiny as it did. We go to the Giant around 10 am. From last week my forays in the early to make senior lines for Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods:

This morning I arrived at the queue to get into Whole Foods at Senior hour at 7:19 am. Again as with Trader Joe’s I could see people on line (in both cases it has been women) who were clearly much younger. Now inside this store (as with the Giant) there are arrows drawn to show you in which directions to proceed, lines to stand behind, you must have your face mask on at all times (the Giant more like Trader Joe’s — one does not feel constrained nor are there signs requiring a mask).

This time the queue was strictly managed (again as opposed to Trader Joe’s — at the Giant the line is wholly voluntary, thus fictional). And when you got up to the front to go in, you were supposed to produce documentation. So yours truly is digging in her suitcase of a handbag, and looks up and says “you know” I’m 73, but I’ll find it, and he smiles and says, “you’re fine.” Got in w/o documentation. I felt a certain glee.

I do think the culture of Whole Foods reflected a Bezos frame of mind …

How to end?


Mark Rylance as Olivia

Tuesday night of this past week I saw one of the most extraordinary performances of a Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, I ever have — and I’ve seen many many. I can’t find a solid review of it, only commentary on Mark Rylance as Olivia, where he performs a miracle of comedy that touches you: he seems to walk like a bell that is sweeping across the floor without ever touching it. Or maybe a chess piece.

It was done during a year when Rylance was the Globe director; a year notable for an equally astonishing (it’s said) Richard III (he played the part) and an embarrassingly bad Macbeth.

The problem is that the production is throughout inhabited by equally brilliant in their roles other actors: Fry as Malvolio, Liam Brennan as Orsino, I can’t find a cast list in words, so just single out the actor playing Aguecheek, Mary the housekeeper, John Hamilton Dyer as Feste (his singing was matchlessly in feel Elizabethan); here is an excellent review of movie version as it played at the Angelica movie-house not far from me.

I never quite realized everyone on stage was a man, only when I realized Mary was acted by a man did I began to understand this. Last week I watched a Globe Shakespeare with a lot of gender switching but they never fooled me for moment, so I did not suspend my disbelief, This production managed to engage me thoroughly with the characters and yet throughout their acting, the costumes, style never let me forget I was watching actors playing this play. A kind of legerdemain miracle.

When I was 13 I saw Play of the Week Twelfth Night which was utterly bitter and melancholy, and I’ve never forgotten it — alas at the time I didn’t note actors or directors — so I know how important it is to convey the bitterness with the comedy; this production had it but not enough — you can’t have everything. They did convey the extraordinary artifice of the language and yet I understood what they were saying (I did use subtitles).

For 3 hours I forgot all about this pandemic, my new worries (Trump is now beginning to pressure the Pentagon to open — not that they are not working from home and Izzy works there so today I must phone my 4 representatives — gov, 2 senators, congressman).


Stephen Fry as Malvolio

I mean to re-watch until I can find language to describe what makes it so good. So it’s worth buying or paying the fee for a watch if you cannot find it another way. I did buy the DVD which means I couldn’t find it another way — that does not mean it’s not there.

After a play featuring all men, it’s worth noting those countries and places where women are in charge there have been far less deaths, less illness, less profound uncertainty, destruction of ways of life (in the US millions of small businesses will never come back, livelihoods gone forever).


Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir listens during a joint press conference with her counterparts from Lichtenstein and Norway on February 3, 2020 in Oslo

So, daily life for us “sheltering in place” in our small but comfortable house has its compensations, is a simacrulum of usual daily life (as long as the checks keep coming). Two women and our two cats, our books, our inner resources using electronic equipment. Izzy is working on a new song ever writing short fictions and putting them on the Net. Laura (I should mention) has more paid work (reviews of life on the Net) than she has time for, and Rob cooks away. Both never leave the house, Laura assures me. (Whether he’ll get his electrician job back again is another question.) They pay no rent as they live in one of his parents’ houses, which they hope to inherit.


David Hockney, Hawthornes in Bloom (1937) — sent by an FB friend

Ellen

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Marianne Werefkin (1860-1938), Without Roofs

Dear friends and readers,

While I was going to amuse you with my stories of my experience as a participant in zoom experiences this past week and the one before (I have on my Macbook Pro managed to download Zoom and access its webcam and microphone — who knew they were there?), and tell you of how I have volunteered to teach an online class this summer, and also what it’s been like “sheltering at home” for fear of a virus that kills young as well as old, and mention personal worries over savings and investment accounts, I saw today (as is so common) on face-book one of these posts where people put pristine, set-up camera ready fancy meals as a symbol of their experience of life in the pandemic just now — it was a gourmet meal, not the first of such pictures in the last two weeks on FB. This trope bothered me more than usual

In context, I thought of a young woman I’ve known for years who I saw today for the scant five or so minutes I ever get with her weekly at a nearby Safeway. She’s an ex-student of mine, now aged 36, just Izzy’s age, and was at TC Williams High School when Izzy was there. (Laura went there too only she was threee years ahead of them in grade.) Monica was in two of my classes at Mason, and I see her weekly because Izzy and I shop on weekends, mornings, at that supermarket. We manage to talk a little. Weekdays she has a job in an office, in a DC prison. So she works seven days a week.

Recently she and her husband (they are recently married) bought a house. I should say she is African-American, very intelligent, very capable and her job situation is the (I am sure) direct result of being African-American and (I think) heavy. I know she is capable of a far better job and ought to be doing work more to her abilities. She looked exhausted and stressed today. She is working full-time in that office because she has not been declared non-essential so if she takes off she will not be paid. The prison population is beginning to have people sick with COVID-19. The medical staff is of course inadequate, four people in the offices have become sick with COVID19, and one has died. She has a daughter, age eight, and the daughter is home so Monica’s mother comes over to help the child read and do some studying, homework. But Monica’s mother works in a retirement home — she can’t take off or will not be paid — and she is needed. But she is at risk — she is not young either — though at least 20 years younger than me. She comes to Monica’s house risking infecting the people there. I have met Monica’s mother once. I used to look much younger than she. I don’t have good photos of them. But Monica is not infrequently on my mind.

Both my biological daughters are working from home, getting paid (Laura is in fact getting more work than she can handle because the world seems to have come online), both doing jobs commensurate with their abilities & educations. Another young woman, also 36 (Izzy is 36), Vietnamese Canadian, Thao her name, not that long ago married, I do regard as a third daughter has Ph.D in psychology, she is working from home, paid — so too Jeff, her husband who however as a physician goes in too. No fear of not getting paid for him. Thao was at Mason and took 3 classes with me; we spent one summer in close proximity. I’ve spoken of her before here, put her photo on this blog. Since this quarantine and spread of a serious disease, we have had face-time, talking to another (all three, Izzy, Thao and I) through ipads and cell phones, and I have seen Thao and Jeff sitting next to one another, two computers in a row, two computer tables … by a large window.

Having told this story on my three listservs, because we have been discussing the sharp class and gender divisions in Italy in the 1950s (and probably still) as dramatized on a HBO series, My Brilliant Friend, Season Two, or The Story of a New Name, the second of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet novels — how what opportunities, what kind of person you become, the experiences you can have are pre-determined by where and to whom you were born, and your gender — a friend, Diane, put on the list a letter and URL to another blog called Corona Crimes and I want to to share that with you.

Dear Friends,

Please check out and share my new blog, Corona Crimes. In it I am documenting the omissions, greed, incompetencies, and acts of callousness and cruelty that have enabled and are enabling this epidemic to become so bad when it could have been prevented, leading to the loss of thousands of lives, especially among the most vulnerable and marginalized in society (the frail elderly, inmates, refugees/immigrants, those in poverty. This includes actions/neglect by all levels of government, corporations and other powerful people/groups who profit off or contribute to the misery of this historical period. As this administration daily tries to change its versions of past events and moves toward a dictatorship-like deletion of the truth I think it’s important to have a central place to record and witness to the truth of what is happening, which grows more precious daily. The blog is very basic at present as I am new to this, but I am hoping to include interviews, reporting, maybe video and audio. I am open to suggestions on subject matter, so forward me news stories or other sources of information. Please help me spread the word about this blog.

In order to also celebrate the stories of heroism and selflessness big and small coming out of this pandemic, in a few days I will be launching another blog dedicated to people sacrificing for and helping others. I would welcome leads for that blog as well. Please read and share!

Peace and love,
Andrea

Enough said for this evening. More on this angle can be found in my Sylvia I blog.

Ellen

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Izzy teleworking at home in contact with the library at the Pentagon

Dear friends and readers,

As we all shelter in place as far as our economic situation allows (this is a central sure technique we can do for ourselves during this pandemic), I write more quickly than usual but then the blog is shorter than usual

I have come across some thoughtful advice. Stephen Fry suggests during self-isolation whether with a family, just a couple, or whatever group you are in, or literally solitary, leads to re-defining your sense of time — you will see that your sense of time suddenly alters completely; (among other things) you can take more time to do everything. He is responding to Andrew Marr, an intelligent interviewer on the BBC. (I apologize profusely for the godawful noisy commercial that precedes the piece, 14 seconds is 14 seconds too much; if I could, I would transfer just the talk to this blog; but if you click & wait, you will hear him.)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-51995797/coronavirus-stephen-fry-s-take-on-managing-anxiety

Now Izzy teleworking from home to the library, had time to put up her latest song, “Lights” by Journey earlier than she had planned:


Played on my Yamaha PSR-E363, Voice Setting #504: Bell Choir.

When the lights go down in the city
And the sun shines on the bay
Ooh, I wanna be there, yeah, in my city
Oh, whoa, oh
Oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh

So you think you’re lonely
Well, my friend, I’m lonely, too
I wanna get back to my city by the bay
Oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh

It’s sad
Oh, there’s been mornings out on the road without you
Without your charms
Oh, whoa, oh
My, my, my, my, my, my
Oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh

[Repeat]

By the way, anyone who says any of these remote access (Zoom, webinar &c) programs are easy ought to be taken out & shot (just kidding). I do find the way Isobel looks — dresses, the whole appearance — reminds me of the actress playing Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) in the first and second episode of this second season of The Story of a New Name, from the Neapolitan Quartet (on HBO, the usual misnomer of calling the whole series by the title of the 1st novel, My Brilliant Friend)

The third (and final) link: From a friend: I hope this will enable you to reach Anthony Hopkins playing the piano to his cat, Niblo, in self-quarantine together. (Again apologies for all logos; I cannot remove them.) You will see his own comment at the bottom.

Ellen

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

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

Dear friends and readers.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will finally phone Kaiser tomorrow about this perpetual cold …

Ellen

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Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe


La Peste by Camus

Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Bloomsbury Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ellen

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

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

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

Dear friends,

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


Snow in Abruzzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Clarycat and Ian


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ellen

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