Posts Tagged ‘Adhaf Soueif Map of Love’

New Yorker cartoon: On rereading together …

Gentle readers,

I’ve had one marvelous and one worrying experience since I last wrote: I braved the disrupted Metro services last a week and a half ago to spend nearly 7 hours listening to a lecture on and the music of Beatles, and wrote more fully about it on my other blog than the remit of this one allows; I found myself surrounded by huge number of people going and coming from a mass prayer rally (frighteningly delusional and non-questioning, ultimately a political demonstration if only the mass of people would or could acknowledge this).

The last of this summer’s flowers

Summer teaching at the OLLI at Mason came to an end: Trollope’s The Small House of Allington went over very well, and I was taken out for lunch by some 14 people in the class today. I keep on teaching at two places because I enjoy and need them both for company and direction, though I don’t have time to present original material at both each term; today confirmed I’m right to do so. I finally finished Adhaf Souef’s Map of Love, whose last pages I found unbearably moving. There are at least four heroines, they blend together from at least four different periods, all indwelling in our narrator’s mind as she sits in her room reading and writing. I had to keep putting the book down as I would look away, or find myself tearing up, calm and then return. The 19th century heroine’s beloved Egyptian husband is murdered, and she returns to England with their son, and finds it in herself to retire from social life, staying at home bringing up her son, with her beloved father-in-law (from her first marriage) to whom she had written regularly across the novel. I so envied her ability to do that. I wish I could have when Jim first died, and wish I could be more like that now.


But I’ve had a new invite, which I’ve almost accepted: to give a paper on Ekphrastic patterns in Jane Austen’s writing. A conference on Austen and the Arts (dancing, pictures, music) at a SUNY college in October.

Mirable dictu brought up an interesting topic to which I don’t have a quick answer: which authors do we reread? we don’t reread all authors we decide are truly great. And if we decide to reread, why do we reread this author over and over, and which of his or her books do we favor? Trollope is to me endlessly rereadable. I am ever finding something new, especially if I let a few years go by. That means that far from obsolete, his books “update” themselves, naturally. Anyone who feels like me (there are some I know who find it hard going to get through one Trollope novel, even Dr Thorne)? So too Richardson’s Clarissa. And of course Jane Austen: I’ve read her books so many times they are interwoven into on my soul. I am again re-reading Margaret Oliphant, this time about her novels. I find what she writes sustains me: her strong intellect and deep disillusion, and how she holds out seeing what is all the while. I spend a lot of time rereading — to teach too. With the right author it can give deepening satisfaction. On Trollope19thCStudies we are embarked on a slow reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, giving time for people to read other texts by, about, and related to him as we go. I know of two people there who have read and re-read War and Peace.

Also re-watching good films so as to draw more from them. Just now The Hollow Crown once again: I am persuaded these marvelous Shakespeare reproductions are really the old-style BBC mini-series, brilliantly updated but keeping the sterling qualities of the old: lingering pace, inwardness, profound acting, extraordinary dramaturgical brilliance. i am almost to the end of the first season of Outlander: this is my third time through.

It’s probably what one takes from this process of re-going that makes people say they could manage on this or that book for the imagined desert island. For me Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale used to encompass all I needed. Jim used to say he’d want a manual on how to build a boat.

Hubert Robert, The Gardens around the Louvre Palace (1802-3)

I also took myself to a one of these blockbuster exhibit of great art: at the National Gallery, at least 7 rooms given over to paintings and drawings of Hubert Robert (1733-1808), long one of my favorite painters of the 18th century. It made me meditative: not many people came to this exhibit; the pictures were quietly contemplative. This too I want to write at length about and provide pictures elsewhere (Austen Reveries).

I spend long hours alone. What intimate companionship I have is with a few friends here on the Net through letters. Jim had now been dead 2 years and 10 months. I’ve had people say (write) to me, he’s been dead a few years now. That is how they see it. The phrase feels so light. I used to see the world through him; he was my all. Now I see it through so many experiences, passing, closer up (some people talking with more details); I am still puzzled by insistence on some social phrases and emphases that puzzle me (such as to me the silly reiteration on the Republican convention that “members of the party are not here” with the implication of “many,” but that seems to reduce itself to the Bush family, Romney and those Trump treated with shameful derision, so why is this repeated?), but I assume now this emphasis is understood by those who understand social life.

Three of us (it’s down to three) on Wwtta are trying for a group read and discussions again: several years ago we had a real success with a Virginia Woolf summer. I read a good deal of her criticism, some of the life-writing, and The Years (which I loved). Everyone read slightly different books, overlappings of course. The fiction seemed to be preferred. I listened to To the Lighthouse read aloud in my car. Now we are beginning with Hermione Lee’s massive literary biography, reading a bit at a time, hoping that this will re-make a community of sorts slowly. I hope to go off on tangents now and again, read this or that by Woolf.

Woolf’s working table at Monk House

A sad loss: I can’t find my Woolf files. I know I wrote and saved a large set and they have vanished. I probably by mistake placed them on a wrong stem. I’ve no idea how to search my computer efficiently (the engines I know of are crude) and cannot re-located them. I read the Death of the Moth for the first time not long ago, and made a blog of that meditation last year so do have that: Upon first reading The Death of the Moth. From that:

It is extraordinary. To me it seemed about how life is death, that every moment of living is a fierce struggle and exaltation of the particular creature to experience what he or she is capable of feeling. That in that is why animals, including people, carry on. We don’t live on for anything rational or any of the excuses we might give ourselves but simply the experience of being alive as comes deeply natural to our material selves (which includes our mind as part of our functioning brain and neurons). The moth is so fragile and its life so limited but there it is trying to get all it can. …

Moths don’t appear to have a consciousness — at least not one that is coherent and can express itself in any way we can reach. That’s what people so value and some use this to use badly other creatures who seem not to have as much mind — like cats or other mammals we come close to. Her short piece then includes a sense of all living being’s equal rights.

But I love best Woolf’s fierce uncompromising sense that life is death and in death’s wild moment we touch life’s electric essence — my words are inadequate as only poetic images can express this. Now that I’ve come as close as any in having held Jim in my arms in his last moments of being, of being alive, and felt his heart gradually stop and that moment when his being suddenly let go, I know life is death too. We are ever watchful once we awaken until we let go to sleep again, in a state of self-protection, ever keeping ourselves going, drinking, eating, sleeping, keeping warm (or cooler) …

Yet Jim gave in to death, saw it was coming soon, as of August and would not consciously engaged in the fierce struggle. His body did and he couldn’t stop it doing that. Had there been euthanasia available I thought in September that I would have helped him to reach release. The horrible doctors were horrified when I mentioned this. … I know now that I would have made the same choice as Jim did. I felt bad for him sometimes that he could not reach release but I wanted him so to be alive I couldn’t make that thought any more active than inquiring to these deeply inhuman physicians.

But not Woolf’s moth. It would not make this choice for death. Yet there’s Shakespeare’s Duke in Measure for Measure: Be absolute for death says the Duke in Measure for Measure.

I write blogs so I can return to what I wrote seriously.

I called this entry, Marcus Aurelius because one of the reviews of the Hubert Robert exhibit I came across (in the Washington Post) included these words by him:

Everything that belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and a vapor, and life is a warfare, and a stranger’s sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion.

Most of the time when I come across phrases from Aurelius’s writing, I cling to them; they resonante with me. One of the most profound books I’ve ever read is Eleanor Clarks’ Rome and a Villa (a sort of meditative-cum travel book) where she makes his consciousness her perspective again and again. Now there’s one I should reread.


Miss Drake

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