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Archive for the ‘women’s lives’ Category


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


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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


How I dream of her and him too at night …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outside Izzy’s window


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

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


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

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

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

Ellen

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Izzy now guest-blogging:

“The ironic thing is, Megan Markle’s marrying Prince Harry really was a real life Cinderella story; she might not have been a lowly servant girl, but she was the woman considered unsuited for the hand of a prince, but she got to marry him anyway. Had the United Kingdom been a smarter place, instead of the sort of country to vote for Brexit and Boris Johnson, they would’ve capitalized on that fact.

We should’ve paid more attention to the fates of some of the women unfortunate enough to fall in love with and/or marry his father or brother. Camilla, forced to spend much of her life as the other woman, and still viewed that way by many even after she got to marry her prince. The less said about poor Diana, the better. And now the stories go around that even though William got to marry the woman he wanted, he still hasn’t been faithful.

In short, no woman should dream of marrying a prince. Your life will be taken over, and may well be ruined.

Really, Megan’s lucky, that her prince is low enough in the line he can walk away from his racist country and manipulative family with a clean conscience, and values her well-being enough to do so. But that they felt the need to walk away says everything.

Miss Isobel

See Two weddings: in Windsor and in Charlottesville

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Izzy and I at the National Gallery on Boxing Day

From the Christmas Revels, which when Jim was alive, he, I, and both daughters at first, and then just with Izzy, would regularly find a performance of somewhere in our area. Izzy now listens to it at least twice on CDs she has every year. It ends with Amazing Grace.

THE SHORTEST DAY

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us — listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

During this time Izzy finished a rendition of another of her expressive songs; she has been working on this for a couple of months now; she is basically a light soprano; somewhat outside her range she is singing her heart out.

The song is by Irene Cara

Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been,
Who I am,
Do I fit in.
Make believein’ is hard alone,
Out here on my own.

We’re always provin’ who we are,
Always reachin’
For that risin’ star
To guide me far
And shine me home,
Out here on my own.

When I’m down and feelin’ blue,
I close my eyes so I can be with you.
Oh, baby be strong for me;
Baby belong to me.
Help me through.
Help me need you.

Until the morning sun appears
Making light
Of all my fears,
I dry the tears
I’ve never shown,
Out here on my own.

But when I’m down and feelin’ blue,
I close my eyes so…

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We managed three Christmas events for this year’s Winter Solstice.


From Come From Away: a scene where the local inhabitants welcome the US passengers

December 21st, a Saturday, Izzy, Laura and I went to see the extraordinary (in the depths of feeling it occasionally reached) for an group concept, Canadian musical; and astonishing (in sudden individual moments, separate soliloquies, character sketches), Come from Away. It is the upbeat story of how a large group of American planes were landed in Newfoundland, Canada, because the area had a large unused airport, and how the people living in the towns all about welcomed the people on the planes, took care of them.

It’s a story we are much in need of since the spread of hatred and fear these past few years by Trump and his regime, and others like itaround the world. I’ll content myself with a review in the New York Times. Ben Brantley explains this show and its context better than I could.


The 12 players as puzzled passengers

I had not thought it possible to write and embody an meaningful humane tribute to the senseless slaughter of what happened on 9/11/2001; a reaction to decades of cruel repression around the part of the world called “the Middle East.” If it comes near you, try to go see it. It cannot be a film; it must be done live on stage.

Afterwards we ate in an unpretentious Asian restaurant (food yummy, wine good), joined by Rob, near where Izzy & I live, all four exchanged gifts. I got two velvet-like blankets, soft and warm, one for my bed, and one for my desk chair. The book Izzy bought for Laura a time-traveling tale: The Future Of Another Timeline — Annalee Newitz. I bought for Laura Charlie Ann Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night and for Izzy, Adam Rippon’s Beautiful on the Outside: A Memoir. Rob got a cooking book: Midnight Chicken & Other Recipes Worth Living for by Ella Risbridger. You see one piece of evidence that the two cats are of the opinion my presents were for them.

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Central to getting through Christmas Day: around 1 o’clock Izzy and I went to see Greta Gertwig’s splendid Little Women. It’s so good I haven’t got the time or vocabulary to list all the elements that are so effective and right. Gertwig has updated the material and yet kept the core content of the book intact, with the old moods, charity, and deep sentimental feeling. By the astute use of flashbacks for the first third or so of Little Women (Volume 1 of the two, the childhood years and most straight didacticism of the books), and making the last part of Little Women and most of Good Wives, the present, a reverse in emphasis without loss was achieved.


Jo, Meg (Emma Watson) and Amy Florence Pugh) walking about Plumfield Academy, the new school run by Jo and Prof Bhaer (Louis Garret)

It is thus an open scandal, disgrace, that nothing is going to be done about that fact that this movie — superior in just about everyway to all those now playing, all of them, this movie garnered but one award — for Ronan for acting. Even that is wrong as the film features all four girls and the role of Amy has been transformed from villainess to a heroine as worthy imitation as Jo herself. Thus do we today honor ambition, materialism, selfishness, and the burning of Jo’s manuscript is somehow regarded as not the heinous cruelty it is in the book. After all Jo writes endlessly, she’ll write on and she does. We have a confrontational Jo and Laurie


A confrontational Jo ((Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet)

And then Amy is made unselfish at key moments, and suddenly it is she who urges Jo to run after Prof Bhaer. Until now Jo needed no help from Amy to retrieve her love. It is very hard to find a good photo of Louis Garret as Prof Bhaer online with Jo, though the movie (rightly in my view) makes this relationship the partnership Jo chooses in life.

The movie auditorium for Little Women was far more crowded than those showing other junks — Cats, action-adventure, moronic Marvels and the deeply reactionary The Irishmen (a re-make of On the Waterfront in effect). I did see two men falling asleep. Is the gender fault-line that big? if so, well then we need to stop making the moronic violent curse-ridden movies and return to 19th and 20th century stories by women. I’m just now watching the 1970s Fortunes of War adaptation of Oliva Manning’s Balkan Trilogy: magnificent, beautiful, intriguing, and the material frighteningly relevant — fascism taking over, gradually killing destroying wreaking unretrievable damage …

Just 3 of the countless favorable reviews (if you include non-professional or unpaid ones like mine):

Some reviews:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/part-alcott-part-gerwig-little-women-is-a-very-nearly-perfect-film/2019/12/17/ce2ae21e-1eb0-11ea-87f7-f2e91143c60d_story.html?arc404=true

https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/little-women-2019/

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/movie-reviews/little-women-review-saoirse-ronan-and-florence-pugh-excel-in-greta-gerwigs-irresistible-adaptation-38809685.html

Ronan is now a “celebrity” — she was Mary Queen of Scots (she began with playing a very unlikable young woman in Atonement). Florence Pugh was Cordelia in the powerful (good) Lear movie with Anthony Hopkins in the lead ….


So many LW movies:   Trom Robin Swicord and Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 Little Women: a rare appreciation of the role of Mr Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne) in New York going over Jo’s (Winona Ryder) stories (see my “Christmas in Little Women,” book and films …. )

I am sorry to admit the meal at our usual Asian restaurant was not enjoyable. We finally faced up to the reality this restaurant is going down: this time the service was nothing short of terrible. Half a Peking Duck is no longer possible; you must buy a whole one, but they don’t bring it out hot in front of you and carve; it is pre-carved (yet it took ever so long for them to bring it out), and they had run out of the usual side dishes. We had ordered other dishes but as they seemed not to be coming, we canceled it all and left. We will find another Peking Duck Asian restaurant next year.

Come from Away and Gertwig’s Little Women are filled with progressive social values; semi-didactic scenes of charity, people loving one another, giving, forgiving accepting: works we are much in need of since the spread of hatred and fear these past few years by the lies and control over social media Trump and his regime have achieved, and others like it around this cold commercialized world. Journalists who once would have been continually helping are today regularly killed, imprisoned, cannot find paying jobs where they can learn to do investigative reporting.

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Mill in Winter, Edward Willis Redfield

Then there was Boxing Day (the 26th). We have been doing boxing day for about 20 years now; the last 8 without Jim but remembering him. How do we do boxing day? we go to a museum, of which there are many choices in DC. This year, like most, we went to the National Gallery. The advertised exhibits were neither that interesting (though I admit one was filled with precious historicals) or large; one small one not mentioned much, that we just happened upon (the best way) of the work of a 15th century Spanish sculptor was fascinating: remarkable moving statues and bas relief; the film brought the figures close up and was a good travelogue through Spain in its own right. For me best of all were old friends — paintings I like especially to look at and return to. The pizza wasn’t bad either (in the cafe) and people ice-skating just outside to look at. Above are a photo a kind African-American young man (with a friendly family, wife, three children) took of Izzy and me in the central atrium (high up is a giant Christmas tree ball — there were two of them above the flowers this year) and a reproduction (it does not convey the quality of the impasto white paint and just glorious sense of space and sky) Mill in Winter by Edward Willis Redfield (one of my favorite pictures in this museum, an “old friend”).

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I did have some good conversation at a Christmas luncheon with the other teachers and volunteer board members at OLLI at AU early in December, and there was a party on another later afternoon in mid-December — not as good because however well meant the noisy band got in the way of what most of the people were there for — to talk to those you don’t see all term.  Izzy skipped her Christmas dinner with her Aspergers Adults club this year (sometimes her outings with them are a trial, as in a recent dance), but she appeared to enjoy her party at work (the Pentagon Library). Apart from my own Christmas movie watching at home, and reading about and around Christmas (about which see, What do we mean by a Christmasy story & C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed), this exhausts our going out. I socialize on the Net and she does too –in her case this year through exchanging and reading aloud original stories with other people on a website.  We fall back on and support one another & our cats love us too, and we have our tree.


I am irrationally fond of the tree each year — somehow it is a cheering sight (if not over-decorated and a real tree)

In my view the way some practice Winter Solstice can be very stressful for people, for a good deal of unreality is expected and imposed. Family get-togethers are potentially fraught times. For older people they are often facing increasing deterioration (I can’t drive at night so that’s why Izzy and I are not going out New Year’s Eve for the first time in 4 or so years; I’ve now got a case of eczema because of the stress I’ve had to deal with on the Net), relatives and friends have died in the previous year. Do you know what I’ve liked? I think its rituals can make many people lonelier, especially if you are someone who doesn’t have other people to do these rituals with or feel yourself not comfortable or wanted among those you can go to. I sent out 20 paper cards and about the same number of electronic Jacqui Lawson cards, and in return I had letters from old friends I hadn’t “talked” to in quite a while, and a renewal of feeling. Perhaps the best way to endure and enjoy what you can is think of it as time off, a time to remember, time (if you can) to gain some perspective.

Ellen

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The first snow fall this year was what Izzy tweeted on twitter as she stood at the bottom of where Cloverway hits Janneys Lane & waited for her bus this past Wednesday morning


On the way home that night, as usual she stood a block away from the Metro under a wooden shelter just off busy King Street and glimpsed the full moon for this December

… there dwelt the realities of the appearances which figure in our world; so direct, powerful, and unimpeded were her sensations there, compared with those called forth in actual life. There dwelt the things one might have felt, had there been cause; the perfect happiness of which here we taste the fragment; the beauty seen here in flying glimpses only. No doubt much of the furniture of this world was drawn directly from the past, and even from the England of the Elizabethan age. However the embellishment of this imaginary world might change, two qualities were constant in it. It was a place where feelings were liberated from the constraint which the real world puts upon them; and the process of awakening was always marked by resignation and a kind of stoical acceptance of facts — from Night and Day, Virginia Woolf, Chapter 11, supposed to be Katharine Hilbury, heroine remembering her dreams but can also be read as what one experiences in poetry).

Friends and readers.

Starting this past Monday we’ve had an almost continuous rain all week, the air dank, though not as raw and bone-chilling as it used to be in Leeds, England (when I lived there 48-50 years ago now), too cold for me. I can’t seem to warm up the way I once did, and remain shiver-y for hours. But there was a break on Thursday; the sun came out and I was able to string my two miniature magnolia trees with colored lights. As usual, something that would take someone else 10 minutes, takes me 2 hours — I had to go to the supermarket to get a second working indoor/outdoor cord, and then discovered it was too short, so up the attic again to bring down the supposed non-working one but I found it did as an intermediary.

The rain also stopped for much of Wednesday evening, well rained less that night before, so for a second time I drove myself to City Hall, with the aim of speaking to the board of transit because they were threatening to eliminate a bus that goes through my area — the only one close by which can take us to and from the Metro. For the first time ever in 40 years of living in Alexandria, see Another Two Weeks Have Slipped By (scroll down to “new experience”).

I did not mention last time there’s been a second issue affecting my neighborhood. The city council has re-drawn the lines on the roads everywhere, including a very busy intersection by the highway (near huge buildings called Southern Towers), with 4 straight lanes going through in two ways, 4 feeder lanes from the highway, a footbridge — with the supposed aim of making the roads safe for these imagined bike-riders and slowing everyone down. They sure have slowed all the cars down: coming home on a given road took 10 minutes, now it’s 40. They are lying about the bikes; “special interests” are said to be behind this neighborhood-wide excruciatingly engineered traffic jam: wealthy people in big houses who give big campaign contributions are said to find buses noisy, traffic unpleasant and want to drive people to stop using cars, stop the very people who live her from “driving through.” That issue was part of last time’s meeting, and after all the talk and a couple of hundred people showing up, the board voted 4 to 3 to keep the new lanes. So I said to myself, maybe trying to stop these people from taking our bus is hopeless but I must at least try. My conscience would not let me stay home.

The meeting room was much smaller, far fewer people there and I got to speak. Here’s coherent typed-out (edited) version of my first public speech in this kind of setting ever (probably my last):

Good evening. My name is Ellen Moody, and I have lived at 308 Cloverway Drive since 1984. I am here to speak on behalf of daughter, Isobel, 36, who lives with me, and myself, to urge that we among many others use and need the AT2 service along Janneys Lane regularly for daily tasks.

My daughter has taken the AT2 bus most mornings and evenings 5 times a week to get to the Metro to get to her job as a librarian at the Pentagon for some 6 years now. She is autistic level 2 and cannot and will never drive a car. She is proud of her job, needs it for self-support and independence. The AT8 which has been said to be a substitute runs along Duke Street, and stops at a multi-lane maze of streets, feeder-lanes; last week, as Lisa said, a pedestrian was badly injured using a cross-walk. This is not unusual; I’ve seen some spectacular accidents there. My daughter can lose her poise, become nervous in crowds and among fast-moving objects. I am here to ask you not to take from her and other disabled people in our community this safe access to the Metro and public transportation around the region. Across the street from me is another mother and adult child; he is disabled.

I am 73, a widow and use and need the bus too. I still work, part-time, but my jobs are in places where it would take far too long or it is impossible to find public transportation to. I am a retired lecturer in English at George Mason university and American University, and now teach at these places in the Oscher Institute programs. But I do use the bus a great deal: when I need not get someplace at a specific time and go to DC or elsewhere by Metro I use the bus. There’s no free parking around there (little paid parking) and I cannot afford to take a cab regularly. There are many retired and older people like myself around my blocks who cannot walk to the Metro (it’s too hilly)

I have observed time and time again the bus in the morning and evenings is crowded. I do not know where the seeming low figure of 95 people using that bus a day comes from, but it seems to have been taken during summer when the Metro stop at King Street was not available to us (another hardship). People who work at the hospital, people who attend the Theological Seminary use that bus. I see people waiting during the day 5 days a week too, and if there are few on Saturday/Sunday it’s because the bus comes so rarely.

Finally, this board is supposed to represent a majority of your constituency. Insofar as I can tell from speaking to others, a community listserv I’m on that many people use, a majority of people in my neighborhood need & want that bus to stay. We pay our taxes, and have given you the responsibility to maintain and keep our needed social services up for us.

Thank you for listening to me. I know I sound narcissistic and have made few statements from larger perspectives but I thought telling a particular real story about two not atypical people in the community could help preserve our bus.

Before I got up, a very personable friendly man introduced himself (one of the elected city council) and told me that the hand-written copy of the above I meant to say last time had been put in the record. So these elected people pay attention even if they don’t necessarily represent the constituency. Other people talked in more general terms: how we all understand new built-up areas in the city need a bus, how public transportation costs, but why eliminate a needed one because there are now other needed buses.

The good news is for now we have a reprieve. This super-power group of people will not take away the bus for the next two years, but we are warned that they will monitor our numbers and so it’s up to us to take that bus (or else?). While I’m on politics, permit me to mention that the Tories under Boris Johnson won a large majority in parliament: to read my and others’ thoughts as well as some essays on matter, click here.

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Mozart on the floor, Salieri (Iago-like) prowling about behind him

My one remarkable experience — this was a mostly very quiet week and a half, at home mostly in the silence — was to have seen Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, featuring the brilliant Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri (we saw him last year as Macbeth in a formidable absorbing production of William Davenant’s Macbeth. The role demands astonishing acting: McKellen won awards for it, F. Murray Abramson in the movie, which I’ve never seen (I know, I know, I’m 30 years behind the times). Mozart is also a marvelous part and Justin Adams, a young DC actor enacted the role beautifully. The language is as intense, complicated and suggestive as any work by a poetic genius. Themes were so moving: that you write mediocre stuff, that you are not appreciated, the power of rank, status, the stupidity of audiences who don’t understand the fine art they are seeing, become offended stupidly, and just an endless delightful (somehow) exploration of one man’s personality to its core, of fire with hatred and obsessions, with all sorts of amusing quirks, witty, dare I say Shakespearean. The women all do have small roles; several just silent. Yvonne Paretsky did very well with her part as Mozart’s wife but however speaking and central for Mozart, in the play she is a limited role. I vaguely remember Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, which Jim and I saw in London so many years ago was a male-dominated play too.

The production was also a treat for anyone interested in or who loves 18th century art the way I do. The costumes, the repeated playing of Mozart’s music, all sorts of furniture, food, nuances, manners — it was this I also so enjoyed in the Davenant Shakespeare Improved production. Izzy and I came at the end of run or I’d have hurried to write a more complete review and put it on Ellen and Jim Blog to urge all in our DC area to go see this production before it closed. The movie by Milos Formanchanges the experience profoundly and yet goes over the same material.


I find this cover with No 15 Cheyne Walk where the Woolfs lived so appealing

For the rest — time home — I am reveling in listening to Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day read aloud by Juliet Stevenson. Once the reader gets past the opening deadly scene of Katharine pouring tea for her mother and mother’s friends (meant to be excruciating), it’s a superb novel, funny, I laugh aloud (not something I often do). What I am riveted by is the central characters care about what I care about: books, the problem of writing a biography, poetry. Mary Datchett is a single woman living alone who goes to an office as a volunteer in a suffragist society every day – her irritating work-mates, how progress is so much making out forms, phoning and pressuring people, nuanced & nagging relationships. Mary holds meetings in her house where papers on subjects like metaphor in Elizabethan poetry are read. Soaring sections where poetry is valued as providing the kind of life, thoughts, existence possibilities we long for, but never have, mocked by the world — as is Mary Datchett’s office building where there are floors of people working away at good causes (for no or little money), spending hours with dim people in a good cause. I’ve spent hours, about three years of my life a long time ago, 5 days a week in an office. It’s a much darker book than people out, pessimistic about people’s ability to know one another, much less love someone else except as a willed illusion.

Night and Day has many Austen-like passages: Katherine Hilbury’s mother is an excruciating innocent, like Miss Bates in a way, and she wears on my nerves a bit too much. Who could spend hours in the company of this imbecile talk. But I recognize what Woolf is doing as akin to what Austen did — except Austen does show us real cruelty; Woolf’s N&D is too kind to the characters; they are too well-meaning to one another. The book is a companion to Voyage Out: here we are in our every day world (in London city), a comedy, there we went to into colonial savage-world dreams and death. I bought a Penguin edition (above) with a fine introduction by Julia Briggs (I loved and learned so much from her Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, which reads like analytical prefaces to the novels, one by one in depth.)

See Mina Loy on the important question of whether you risk losing your individuality and selfhood if you give yourself a man …. her Song to Joannes

I’m reading at the same time Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, both in the French and (using it as a crib but also back-and-forth) James Kirby’s translation, together with Hazel Rowley’s biographical Tête-à-tête (mostly centered on Beauvoir, but she tells much about Sartre’s personality, life, looks I never knew), and Carol Ascher’s in-depth study of Beauvoir through humane and psychological analyzing of her books. These book make a kind of companion work of genius, for the theme of all is a young woman seeking to find herself. Beauvoir’s incomparably richer, truer to life, fuller, because so much longer (it’s the first of five volumes) and not hampered by having to have a novelistic story and character, much less plot-design. The patterns are the living life and development of Beauvoir’s mind and feelings. I am so caught by her tone: deep-feeling, earnest and sincere; as she works slowly through each phase of her existence I find myself thinking of parallels or contrasts in my life. Two books that meant much to her: Little Women and George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. She is Jo and then she is Maggie: she she goes through the novel making analogies with herself as she goes the way I do hers. Beauvoir’s temperament does remind me of Eliot. She wept over Maggie’s fate. I threw the book across the room in a rage against Eliot herself for immolating her heroine and making the heroine die loving the hateful brother. I wanted her to hate him, stab him to the heart and stand rejoicing over his grave. Both 19th century novels by writers in English. I hope to write a blog adequate to this book – and hope to go on to read Prime of Life and Force of Circumstances (Volumes 2 & 3, which I find I own copies of).


Did you know a young Emily Watson played Maggie Tulliver in the 1997 BBC Mill on the Floss – I have it here somewhere in my house and must re-see; Emily Watson now one of my many favorite actresses; I like to think Beauvoir would have bonded with this actress too

My third community daily conversation and reading project is almost over: I’ve now read Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, Aspects of the Novel and almost finished Maurice. Maurice a sine qua non in the Forster canon. I even opened up and read the first chapter of the new standard biography of Vittoria Colonna — I was both so disappointed in the lack of inner life found but eager to find out what is the life consensus scholarship written lucidly turns up, but must save these and my Winston Graham, Margaret Oliphant, and 18th century actress studies for separate blogs

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I end on a Caturday entry:
Punch cartoon — a middle-aged woman with her family — as in The Durrells in Corfu (which I continue to console myself through) somehow. All these animals are her friends and family. Even the turtle. So my Clarycat and Ian.

Ellen

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

And so time slips by.


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

Ellen

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

Dear friends,

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


A recent photo

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

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

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

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


Mary Trouille

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

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Gettysburg Hotel, 1 Lincoln Square

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


Gettysburg college

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

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


Aspects of Biography — I referred to this during the session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Clarycat

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Vilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941), Winter, Latvia 1910 — I’ve been reading much Atwood this week, stories of ice and snow …

“We still think of a powerful woman as an anomaly, a potentially dangerous anomaly; there is something subversive about such women, even when they are taken to be good role models. They cannot have come by their power naturally, it is felt. They must have got it from somewhere. Women writers are particularly subject to such projections, for writing itself is uncanny: it uses words for evocation rather than for denotation; it is spell-making.” Atwood, “Witches.”

From Atwood’s poem, “Spelling,” 1981

My daughter plays on the floor
With plastic letters
Red, blue, and hard yellow,
Learning how to spell,
Spelling,
How to make spells.
*******
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky, and the sun,
Your own name first,
Your first naming, your first name,
Your first word.

My blog-reading friends,

A friend and I were talking of how when people grow old, they must to smaller quarters. and that “it is extremely hard to pack up your life and say goodbye.” Especially, to sell and/or give away one’s books.

I remembered a section in Carol Shield’s Mary Swann where a character who is a widower is forced to sell his and his wife’s library and says “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” I thought of how Jim and my books were the center of our lives together: we read them together, consulted them, collected, loved, gave them a good home, and told him I have nearly 11,000 books now. About 1,000 more since Jim died. Specifically, 10,989. As I’ve said here more than once, I had told him I have 5 rooms (excluding the kitchen, two bathrooms and a hall and vestibule), large square spaces with high ceilings, and each room has two walls with one large window each. That leaves a lot of wall space for books. Since Jim’s death I enclosed my porch, adding a sixth rectangular sun-room (much sun comes in as it faces east) with one wall having two large windows on the long wall. I also use the long hall in the back of the house for book cases on one side.

And he replied: “I cannot visualize what 11,000 books look like.” So I took photographs across my house and sent a representative example to him.


My living room showing the fireplace, mantelpiece, coffee table and a ceramic cat I bought in Milan as a keepsake — also a home-made doll I fell in love with at the Museum of the American Indian and could not leave behind. You see a sort of shrine I’ve made for Jim: his urn, glasses, picture, a toy sheep we bought at Stonehenge when we went there with our daughters, and a toy penguin Izzy added after she & I visited Chawton House


Another angle


The same living room, the other side — facing the neighbor’s house


I and my cats’ bedroom with a tall cat tree Izzy and I built to one side


Another corner of the bedroom, door leading to the small bathroom just by it


Part of the hall between the two rooms — to one side is a large bathroom and on the other Izzy’s room and my workroom (in both the latter we have books across the walls)


My ex-porch, now an enclosed sun-room: you see my stationary bike


And one more of my porch — oddly the porch, though I don’t spend that much time in it, is my favorite room. It’s without any pretensions whatsoever and the chair is comfort itself.

Today is the 7th anniversary of Jim’s death: Oct 9th, 2013:

Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)

This week I saw on face-book many photos of women looking ever so happy in pairs and groups, dressed in 18th century clothes, at the JASNA: the cherry-picking who could come and who was excluded was shamelessly transparent this time, but as I told one friend I felt better off totally excluded because when I go I experience long hours of wasted time in soulless hotel spaces: nothing to do as only 4 to 5 hours have sessions of papers (9 on at a time, so you cannot participate in most of it). Last time I returned repeatedly to the pool where they serve decent whiskey and ginger ale. Another friend said of the 2012 as “the AMG committee thinks that by reducing the numbers who can attend and upping the cost they can “control” who can and cannot enter,” and found “dreadful,” “grown women dressing up, a clubbish attitude, a bovine-like system of hierarchy that puts one in one’s place if you didn’t “belong,” and on and on.” I don’t belong to any of the “clubs” (as in “life-long member reception,” with more and more private parties on in people’s rooms at night) so I’m left with no one and away from all the comforts of my home, in a sense my existence itself. This past week I enjoyed myself at the classes I taught and went to, and the rest of the time at home or in car listening to books, working away at projects so I was not lonely.

I had thought Izzy hadn’t noticed what this conference was like for real (so taken up was she by distracting activities, the sessions she did get to go to, the ball), because she never said anything (and loves to dress up and has learned to go to the ball and dance), but on Saturday evening when we returned from a marvelous performance of Henry IV Part I (Ed Gero as Falstaff unforgettable, so alive) at the Folger Shakespeare library, to eat out together, her talk suddenly showed she had: she said that people join professional organizations (for her librarians) and were they to be excluded from the AGM, what would be the point of paying the yearly fee. Said she, JASNA gets away with this because there is this “pretense of disinterest.”


A good review

I read this week the first of 9 tales of Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, “Alphinland,” (also all of The Testaments) and lo and behold it’s about a woman whose husband has recently died and she hears his voice over the day and at night talking to her telling her what she needs to do: it’s just ice-stormed so she must go out and get salt and food stuffs; the electricity goes out, so she must find her candles. Her grown children keep telling her she must move, downsize, sell her furniture, give away his clothes, but she will not because then she will be parted from him. In our end is our beginning, a powerful original early book of literary criticism about Canadian literature and culture by Atwood is called Survival and is about how the harsh cold climate is at the heart of their worlds. Our widowed witch remains seemingly cheerful because his spirit is with her. It is not irrelevant to know that just upon the publication of The Testaments Atwood’s partner of many years died.


Another fine review

I am still suffering from the loss of my supposed friend on the internet because I find letters so wonderful and now I have to get through most of my days without this imagined support. It’s time I learned to do without this — a last left-over from the idealism of the first decade of the Internet when one could make real friends even frequently through this medium. But, to paraphrase Johnson, it may there are some who would dismiss such susceptibility (“common losses”), but he says of their lack of tenderness, they lack humanity:

“It is the part of a man to be affected with grief; to feel sorrow, at the same time that he is to resist it, and to admit of comfort” (Rambler No. 47).

For this week’s Caturday I wrote about my “third” cat and put photos on face-book: I’ve been in a relationship with this cat ever since the man who owns him/her left him (I’ll chose a gender) for two weeks with only someone the owner called his (“my”) daughter visiting the house to leave food for the cat once a day. (Maybe 2 years ago.) There is apparently a way for the cat to leave the house. He first began to visit me during this time when I responded with affection. I left food for him as at first there was no collar and I thought he might be starving. But no he is “owned” by by this man who seems to show him little affection because the cat does not know how to show it easily and moves to hissing nervously. Other neighbors had complained because they saw him on their lawns and he might shit on these. Can’t have that. Or just a sense of nuisance: how dare this animal be there? Then I saw a raccoon and knew I was endangering this cat’s life. I tried calling local authorities but saw quickly all they would do was come and take and probably kill a cat without a “owner, and this one has this legal tie (such as it is)


The cat laying on my sidewalk waiting for me to come out

The cat apparently goes missing once in a while: once the man who owns him came over to see if he was with me — I said no and I had not seen him for several weeks. Nowadays the cat sits under a tree just on the side of my lawn, a bush, or lays on my sidewalk waiting for me. Often when I come out he scoots or walks slowly over to me. He meows at me and waits for me to pet her. I give him a small amount of food once in a while which he finishes quickly but he doesn’t go away. Stays mostly under the bush. He is very wary. He does not expect or know how to show affection: will hiss after he has nudged me lest I hurt him. The other day I saw on his head a shaved spot and wondered if the “owner” had done that. The owner is someone who moved into one of these obscene McMansions in my neighborhood after he married a woman who looks 50 from afar; she has a daughter of her own but they seem to have nothing to do with this cat. He is a small grey cat with white feet; if I thought the cat a boy for sure, I’d call him Martin. The photos were a close-up, him outside waiting for me, walking about me, wanting to be petted, coming over to me when I open my front door ….


Here is the close-up


Him circling me, warily but wanting to be petted

A small instance of basic human reactions this cat has mostly known, ranging from indifference to callous selfishness (neglect) in a world bursting with these … This morning the hairless part of this poor creature’s head has grown larger and looks reddish. He greedily drank the water I put out for him. The cat is going into a new phase. He avoids people — that’s what animals do when they are very ill. He stands aside on the side of my house all elusive, looking at me when I come out to go somewhere or stand in my stoop area looking about. Close-by or passing neighbors have asked me if he is my cat and I say no and they say he comes up to them and acts oddly and is seen now and then about my house. I point to the house of the owner and say “he is said to or does lives there.” There is so much misfortune in this world but this cat could have been taken good care of, and had a good longer life.

Having gone through all four seasons of Outlander (Claire a white witch) now four times, I’m back to re-watching the whole five seasons of the new Poldarks, one episode after another in a row as far as time and evenings allow. I had been doing that for over a month (or so) when my Irish Internet friend sent me DVD copies of the British BBC programs as they appeared on British TV. I much prefer these because the American ones are rearranged, often cut (sometimes drastically or carelessly, which comes down to the same thing).

So coming back to Season 3 (The Black Moon and part of The Four Swans), I am impressed by how a few of this particular season are mood pieces — if you simply ignore (more or less) the specifics of what’s going on, enough of that (like the seashore romance of Drake and Morwenna and Geoffrey Charles), of the setting (as in the episode where our local friends learn that the ship Dwight was in was captured or fear that Andrew Blamey’s ship has gone down), allows for many sequences of filming (or whatever you want to call this) of the sea, the near landscape accompanied by appropriate music. The effect is sort of symphonic — a pleasing visual and aural experience. There are mood sequences in seasons 1 and 2, but I feel that in season 3 this kind of thing is allowed to take over and is enjoyable if you can lend yourself to it. They did not try for this except briefly in the 1970s — they didn’t have the kind of mesmerizing computer techniques (and cameras) they do today.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (season 3)


Elise Chappell as Morwenna following Drake

I’ve also embarked on a study of Austen’s Sanditon, using Janet Todd’s edition, after reading her brilliant essay (crisply written, with a fresh feel), going over and over Davies’s new adaptation, returning to Brindle’s, Anna Lefroy’s continuation. See if I can make some sense of this fragmentary text, written by a dying woman, in bad pain on and off, where the beach, the seashore, the air all around it, is a central character.


From Episode 2 of 8 (2019, an ITV product, scripted mostly by Andrew Davies)

To conclude this entry, a woman on a closed face-book page for “Autistic Women” (how I was told about this or got on I no longer remember) told of how at her new job as a cashier, she found the pace and crowds hard, but was trying hard when one customer accosted her for “not paying attention,” and when the woman kept up this harangue and she tried to explain she is autistic, the woman rushed over to her employer’s office and complained bitterly about anyone hiring such a person. So I wrote:

I have learned, much to an increase in sadness and regret, that if you tell someone of your disability or inexorable problem, far from feeling for you, many will act out contempt and try to expunge you away. Thus the way to protect yourself is not allow most others to see your social predicament. It’s the only way to maintain the respect of the cruel, stupid, selfish, unthinking bandwagon types. And that is why a space like this where we are all here together in candour and true support and friendship can mean so much. It is very hard how one cannot tell but must bear on alone. You expected some understanding instead you got hate — you must tell yourself this woman is horrible, behaved truly horribly and not blame yourself but her even if the world is filled with people who react in such ways to disabilities.


A rare oil painting by Honore Daumier: On a bridge at night — a homeless woman, perhaps refuge, with a child or disabled adult

Ellen

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