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Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey — the “vicious sick” heroines of Winston Graham’s suspense novels, often use several names too, but here we learn why

I watched Aisling Walsh’s rewrite of Priestley’s wonderful An Inspector Calls (2015) late one night week, and when I’ve renewed my attachment to underated because communist and no snob J.B. Priestley will write a separate blog on his Angel Pavement, Good Companions, and once again that the way to rescue thrillers is to turn them inside out and pay attention to the trauma and make of the central woman victim, the heroine

Back home again, and trying to resettle in ….

Dear Friends,

Ian pussycat was just having a good dream. He woke in his nearby cat bed, murmured and jumped over here, and came into my lap and then hurriedly pushed his body against mine, his face after my arms, chest, nudging away, his paws on either side of my neck. When I came home Saturday, Clarycat came trotting over, and back to lick me thoroughly. Glad I was back.

I arrived home late Saturday evening, and since then have been first working on my teaching Can You Forgive Her?, and now today begun to pick up my projects of study and towards books and/or papers and blogs amid my teaching and going to courses for the next few weeks.

On the trips to the ASECS hotel in Denver, Colorado and back: uneventful — one plane delayed going home, but my last so that I didn’t miss the next as there was no next. My bag made it with me to Denver and back. I want to report one new (or new to me) development on Southwest. A overt courtesy, an attempt at least to voice that these conditions in which we travel are dreadful, and even attempts to improve them where it didn’t cost Southwest anything.

So the airport space very small with not enough seats for everyone in the plane to sit near the hangar and plane while waiting; the chairs in the plane are as tiny (maybe tinier); the space between the two rows of seats so narrow only one person can walk through standing forwards at a time, the use even there of “business” seats — some seats in front not yet sold but on the spot for another hundred or so you could sit in one of them. Not that they looked bigger only you got to get on first. But questions answered politely and quickly and as if the person cared about your problem; when you got aboard, jokes like “sit anywhere folks it’s just like church;” free snacks (very small and little choice of snack, but plenty of juice, coffee, tea, sodas), wifi when it works. Instead of (as I’ve seen) jeering at people or doing whatever necessary to stop people lining up to go to the bathroom, cajoling remarks which took into account that this “made the aisles hard to pass,” or you can if you (see this) put your coat or jacket or whatever cloth thing under your feet, keep this with you because the overhead cabinets are needed for rolling baggage. As if we were all in this together folks and it was some mysterious power giving us these conditions, and they too (which is partly true) were “in it with us.”

I told a woman sitting next to me how in the African-American museum I noticed the chairs so much larger and two sets of seats facing one another and water-fountains and toilets made available to “coloureds” in railroad cars where they were segregated from people with European genetic heritage, and she produced a list of improvements for the conditions we were in and said how wonderful and inspiring it was to see how people were so polite and patient, but without ever acknowledging this was a choice on the part of southwest. I said you could take this quiescent behavior very differently; this was a choice and for profit and (as I now know this) that plane that killed 157 people in Ethiopia and the one in October was missing a “safety” feature made optional (costing $8000) and had in both cases, it been there the people would have lived. There was an acknowledgement in her face but all she said was she had not been to that museum as yet.

All four cab drivers immigrants: two Ethiopian men, one Mexican, with stories of their own hard-working lives, children, grandchildren, and countries.


What I could see from a high window —  I don’t go anywhere usually outside the hotel hardly when I go on trips to conferences unless there is a group tour or someone invites me along or says let’s go to X. Why? I fear getting lost. I become highly anxious when I don’t recognize where I am. New streets confuse me. I read signs wrongly, choose wrongly. I fear I won’t be able to get back. There is no getting round this. What’s why trips themselves are an ordeal. I must not step out of the planned rout.

Central downtown Denver where the hotel was cold and dreary, many impersonal buildings. A nearby public park filled with homeless people. I did twice get up to the 38th floor and could see the city from wide windows and the snow-covered mountain tops encircling. Wide flat beige-colored plains like those of New Mexico where Jim and I attended another ASECS, only these had factories and some industries. A big city with its own mid-west cultural life glimpsed from cab, hotel window, and talk I overheard. I am learning how to do these conferences at long last, becoming inured to the impersonal lonely room when I stay in one, as I managed this time, only to late at night, three at most. Food as usual very bad, scarce, expensive, but I stocked up at a Starbucks, and just ate very sparingly at the reception, luncheon, & dinner I attended. My ipad worked so I could reach friends on the Net, and I renewed a couple of friendships briefly and many acquaintanceships. I received a resounding applause when I finished reading my paper: I had worked hard on it, and the two sessions of “factual fictions” I was involved with (the other I was supposedly chairing) went over very well. Lots of good talk. On the conference sessions themselves, meaning their matter I mean to make a brief blog, but here I’ll say a wondrous keynote lecture on two unknown 18th century women painters did not get enough time! and I acquired a new good edition of Charlotte Smith’s poetry published by Broadview so it has excellent notes and contemporary and recent commentary

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Another OLLI: Vanderbilt

My essay on my experiences at the OLLIs at Mason and AU will be published soon in the 18th century newletter-journal, The Intelligencer

March into May provides much for me to go out for at both OLLIs, I have two lovely events at the Folger coming up (one evening, an HD screening of a magnificent production of Shakespeare and then a lecture, and one Saturday Folger concert), one Smithsonian lecture (on the Poldark serial drama) and the tasks of daily (tidy up, eating during the day, wash up after dinner, shopping, taking cleaning in) and monthly or yearly life (bills, coping with taxes and investments), the cats to keep company (sometimes I feel I am keeping them company, helping them to be active not the other way round), Izzy to be with for a time each evening. Once again the Trollope fiction (Can You Forgive Her?) just about teaches itself, the people in both classes have so much to say, and my proposal of Phineas Finn accepted for the fall in both places:

Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, the Irish Member (Palliser 2)

We continue our journey through Trollope’s 6 Palliser novels over several terms. The 2nd Palliser differs from the first (CYFH?) in making central stories from how politics works from inside Parliamentary circles to outside in society & elsewhere. Phineas Finn dramatizes fights over crucial transformations in law & electorate politics that occurred in the mid-19th century UK, and also belongs to Trollope’s Anglo-Irish fiction because it adds to its recurring characters, & English landscapes, Ireland as a place, Irish characters & issues. Trollope again examines sexual and marital conflicts & produces extraordinary psychological portraiture in socially complex situations. We’ll watch clips from the segments of the 1970s film adaptation that realize this second book. There is no need to have read CYFH? Recommended edition: Trollope, Phineas Finn, ed S Dentieth. Oxford 2011. ISBN 978-0199581436

Teaching Can You Forgive Her? in two places, one class four sessions behind the other, reading two sets of 10 chapters and listening to Simon Vance reading it aloud wherever I’m getting to know the book by heart.

I’m taking a film noir course (have watched M for real for the first time, and next week we’ll have The Maltese Falcon and the man does provide insightful informative 20 minute lectures), a course on the American revolution from the British point of view, a Shakespeare Lear/Tempest pairing and August Wilson. The continual insecurity, you cannot know you will be alive two hours from now, the prison systems, the re-enslavement, until recently and once again the prevention of money-making, accumulation. The effect on a people of being treated as inferior. I wish I could convey how stunningly effective and to me utterly new riveting, instructive (I find I knew little of what black people have gone through) poetic these plays: a new desire, a new set of texts to somehow get to are Afro-ones, African-American, African-British, African-Carribean, these are all deeply linked by the way whites around the world have oppressed, victimized, rendered anguished these brave people who somehow come through (some of them) to develop and enjoy life as a gift. I have also at long last understood Toni Morrison in one of her essays on Wilson.

The latest has been The Piano Lesson, a filmed version of which I watched and listened to online at YouTube:

Gentle reader, take the time to watch it. I feel inadequate as a white to comment on it but found myself for the first time in a long time finding American literature deeply absorbing and expressing realities of life that matter. I love the soaring introspective passages all of his plays seem to be filled with. I want to read and see more of Baldwin, I’m into Caryl Phillips, and tell myself I’m going to read more Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith.

Rita Dove: Canary

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

Audre Lord: A litany for survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Recently as a result of my Anomaly project, I’ve been wanting to know far more than I do about American woman writers: they do seem to have lived independent lives earlier than their British counterparts. Also as a result of courses at OLLI more about American history in the 18th century than I do.  Often the lectures can be too simple (even for someone like me who knows a little but not much), but what’s implied fascinates me. I know so little of the realities on the ground in the era.

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Storia del nuovo cognome – a central sequence occurs on Ischia

For myself here now tonight, other nights, up in bed betimes, I think of another older woman alone moved in next door: this block has not changed that much after all; older women living alone in the smaller houses still common after 39 years. Of friends and acquaintances: a dear friend’s husband has died the same kind of grueling ordeal death Jim did and she suffered it alongside him; both in their early sixties, she now in the first throes of grief. I made a fourth highly intelligent male friend (I talk in those social space provided at OLLI), remarkable guy, but he told me he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago; as yet it has not shown up much, but his wife also severely disabled, no children, what will they do when he weakens? My one friend, Panorea,  I sse regularly outside these group organizations, recovering from her dreadful operation, but still in pain and it’s very hard for her to move (no lifting, bending, twisting her body)

I made a date with David to go to his house where he has promised to help me learn to use laptop in front of others to play clips from DVDs; today I go to financial advisor in the intense hope he will help me change my withholding: show me how to do it, what to do, help me understand what sum I should withhold. My hepitatis C has disappeared from my blood so medicine working. At ASECS I told my story to a couple of people and they told me worse horror stories: a woman with a child with cancer, may be cut off from his medicine next week; people dying, going without medicine they need. The US society arrangements have become one of the worst in the so-called developed world. Roads just pitted with holes is a symbol of this.

I carry on my Andrew Davies marathon: I finished Little Dorrit, but Bleak House seemed to overwhelm me tonight so must try again. Midnight I read Outlander (Novel 1) and try to remember love-making. An article in The Women’s Review of Books on a recent anthology of erotic poems by women shows me that Gabaldon is far discreeter than these younger and older women poets today and I again prefer her: centrally a love story, by which gradually he makes her part of him, for me enough intimate sexual gestures, images, feelings to identify with. And I’m four-fifths through Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name and Lila and Lenu continue to express not ideas analogous to those I’ve thought when younger, but those I actually had. Ellen in Italian.


Since Levy’s Small Island filmed one of my favorite black actresses, Naomie Harris OBE by Elizabeth II

So I’ve begun to blog again, I do this, gentle reader, so as to keep myself up until 1 o’clock. I can sleep at most 6 hours a night, more usually 4-5 and this guarantees I will not be up at 3-4 to have bad thoughts unless I take a sleeping pill …. And to talk to the world and put my thoughts together to remember them. It’s a form of being alive, of making my life more vivid to me, of living it, and reaching a few people.  And I so enjoy writing.

Ellen

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Clara Brown, a statue I saw in the African-American museum this past Tuesday:

Born enslaved in Virginia, Clara Brown married at age 18, and had to endure all four children being taken from her and sold; after the Civil War she moved to Colorado and worked as a cook, laundress and midwife; she invested her money in mines and land, and used it to help support community organizations. All her life she searched for her four children, and when quite old was re-united with one daughter.

Dear Friends,

It becomes harder and harder to keep this blog up because I don’t change very much within, and I find that I’m driven to be more upbeat or cheerful than I usually feel in order to present something enjoyable, pleasant, instructive to my reader friends here. If I say that it is true I have grown a lot inwardly, had quite a number of strengthening and fun and comforting experiences in the five years since Jim died (I am now in my sixth year of widowhood), I suspect that congratulations would seem to me a grating response. If I say I have a lot of new enjoyable experiences I’d never have had, learnt I am more capable, am calmer, I still would not respond well to people saying that’s good. Because I don’t change: travel remains an ordeal.  Things don’t get easier. I didn’t ask for this new understanding of the world I didn’t have before. OTOH, if I say that occasionally now Jim’s dying and death seems a mad nightmare, and I can hardly believe he’s not around the corner, and how empty the world seems, how alone I am most of the time.  How I just don’t make or sustain friendships (as I understand these they including going out together and visiting). How can he have vanished so completely? only of course he’s not vanished completely at all: I am surrounded by all that is left by him of our lives together and I’m carrying on the play he and I began so many years ago, but by myself now.

I could repeat this paragraph as an entry endlessly.

I am probably not for as long as I live (smiling), headach-y and tired from these obscenely expensive pills to scotch this hepitatis C infection. I sleep more deeply with cats right by me, but I don’t wake rested. I am reading Outlander  (the first volume) just before going to bed each night — trying to dream of Jim. Came across excellent essay on Outlander and Poldark. Do read it; it’s not long or hard.


Is not Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser made to resemble Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark working in the fields shirtless — it is after colder in Scotland (joke alert)

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The interior of an early log cabin that housed freed slaves, the photo by Jahi Chikwendiu makes the inside look a lot larger than it is

I could list books, movies, some things I’ve done: I did get to the African-American museum. I found it by going to the Smithsonian stop (so glad I had wit enough to chose that one of the three cited on the website), and with the help of a man who works in the Metro: he came up the escalator with me and walked into the Mall park and pointed to the building. I just had to walk in that direction and it took about 10 minutes. As part of my attempt to learn more about African-American life and culture, before going I watched Moonlight (two years too late) written by Alvin Tarrell McCraney, and while it showed truthfully aspects of African-American male lives, I found it misogynistic in its portrayal of the mother as a helpless hateful and then pitiful drug addict. I know why the brilliant Naomi Harris was at first unwilling to take on the role. An hour long Smithsonian documentary, Green Book, tells of how hard it was as a black person in the US throughout most of the 20th century to go anywhere safely. I’ve much to say about the museum, and when the Guide comes through the mail I shall: I am waiting to make sure I don’t make mistakes in what I describe and comment on.

The Slave Mother by Frances Ellen Walker Harper (1825-1911), born of African-American parents who were not enslaved and lived in Baltimore, Maryland; a chronology of her life and work

Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seemed as if a burden’d heart
Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped–
The bowed and feeble head–
The shuddering of that fragile form–
That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kirtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light
That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one–
Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair

I bought the Vintage Book of African American Poetry, edd by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton in the museum shop, and have promised myself to make my last poem for the day each night one from this volume so as to learn the history of black people through this poetical volume. All the poems in this blog are taken from this anthology.

I also saw an extraordinary film about the German Stasi, finely acted, written, filmed, The Lives of Others, and was much moved by the hero’s transformation and sacrifice, but could hardly believe thousands of people could spy on one another to such a nth degree and then turn around to stop when a wall was pulled down.

I am into some wonderful books again, a lucid inspiriting deeply researched “biography” of Hugo’s Les Miserables by David Bellos, a similarly intelligent account of Diderot’s life and “art of thinking” by Andrew Curran (he teaches me about Voltaire and Rousseau and other writers books as well as Diderot’s friends and life), the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, The Story of a New Name. On Trollope&Peers we are about to begin a 9 week reading of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, and on WomenWriters are reading Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart.


Virginia Nicholson

On my and my friend’s Anomaly book project: I’ve finished Liberty: A Better Husband: Single women in the US, 1780-1830 by Schiller-Chambery and hope to write a full blog-review on it in a couple of days. I know I must read and learn more about 19th century American women alone and as writers. Next up: Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Ladies and the rise of an Independent Nation, and then Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality: Women Writers and the Emergence of High Literary Culture in America and Virginia Nicolson’s Singled Out, a history of the real lives of single women in the UK for the 2 years after World War One — their generation of men had been killed in huge numbers — Nicolson has written on the books written in this era about single women. I still have not finalized my five candidates for five chapters: as of now they remain Anne Murray Halkett (very late marriage), Charlotte Smith (fit in uncomfortably as separated, an example of what happens when you are not permitted independence), Frances Power Cobbe, Constance Fennimore Woolson (both never married), and Margaret Oliphant (as widow).

Learning to Read by Frances E. W. Harper

Very soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,—
It was agin’ their rule.

Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery—
’Twould make us all too wise.

But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book.
And put the words together,
And learn by hook or crook.

I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his hat.

And had his master ever seen
The leaves upon his head,
He’d have thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.

And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,
Who heard the children spell,
And picked the words right up by heart,
And learned to read ’em well.

Well, the Northern folks kept sending
The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
Though Rebs did sneer and frown.

And I longed to read my Bible,
For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
Folks just shook their heads,

And said there is no use trying,
Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;
But as I was rising sixty,
I had no time to wait.

So I got a pair of glasses,
And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
The hymns and Testament.

Then I got a little cabin
A place to call my own—
And I felt independent
As the queen upon her throne.

Next week OLLI at AU starts and I will be this weekend watching King Lear (either the 2016 version with Anthony Hopkins once again, or the 2008 version with Ian McKellen (in the mode of the famous Macbeth he did with Judi Dench), for the Shakespeare, King Lear/Tempest course I am registered for on Monday, for next Friday, read my first August Wilson play, The Gem of the Ocean (I have seen Fences as a movie).

I also bought at the African-American Museum Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s edition of Classic Slave Narratives: The Life of Olaudah Equiano (which I’ve read in), The History of Mary Prince (which I’ve never read), Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (which I’ve taught) and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (which I’ve never read but now hope to). Centrally important to Jacobs’s life was her friendship with Lydia Maria Child, who helped her to write and to publish her book, and her relationship with her grandmother (as Oliphant’s was with her mother). Gates quotes this:

Yet the retrospection [into my years of bondage] is not altogether without solace; for with those gloomy recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother, like light fleecy clouds floating over a dark and troubled sea ….


Robin Damore: Carol Diane Brown — I thought this picture of a magnificently dressed African-American woman today appropriate for my blog this evening

I today finished another good draft of my paper for the coming ASECS at Denver: “After the Jump:’ Winston Graham’s Uses of Documentary Fact and Silences in his Poldark and other Cornish Fiction.”

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Said to be a photograph of cats waiting for fisherman to come to the pier in Greece

You see, gentle reader, this is turning into a list of “good things” and too upbeat, leaving out the true complexion of life. I had some not-so-petty troubles: the cleaning team who come every two weeks broke my study chair — they broke off one of the wheels and this happens to be a kind of chair where the wheel is not replaceable. Had the management told the truth I would have accepted this and tried to fix or buy another chair, but no, they lie and first say the chair was broken when they came in the room, and then another lie, and then offered to send one of their bully women here to look at my chair (I hope, gentle reader, you have read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed where she tells what it’s like to be on one of these cleaning teams and the bullies put in charge of working people), so I decided I must change my service. A happy ending: a new team came yesterday and they cleaned my house far more thoroughly than anyone ever did. They cost more, but the supervisor who came with them was not a bully but another nice Spanish woman.

The loss of the chair is no small thing. I am now using the second chair in this room, which was Jim’s, and under the fourth foot of my chair are two books. I can’t move the other chair easily and it will be for watching movies on Amazon prime on my laptop.

I could tell other things of this type. The class I am to teach Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? in at OLLI at AU was brought down to 21, and we were put in a small room. I had chosen less popular topics for two terms so had less people? but it was interesting for me to delve the 18th century and the later Virginia Woolf — and those who stayed with me. The new director is after prestige people for lectures and is trying to push people into classes they may not want. My class was waitlisted for 8 and he is trying to make these people take other courses. But these are not undergraduates who can be pressured this way.

I got something through my email from the airline I am to go to Denver with and I couldn’t tell if I needed to do something, and if I did, couldn’t figure out what to click on. Finally I told myself this is meant as what’s to come or ahead of time, and ignored it. I didn’t need to be made anxious a full month before the trip comes.

Bad dreams and foolish good ones.

But I refrain, I’d rather offer something more meaningful, than human stupidities, venalities, petty false values, nagging advertisemens, which at the same time is something you might not find elsewhere, about a work you don’t know or is not fashionable, which you might pursue.

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The Oxford Bodley Head edition or Cordelia (Bodley Head reprinted 12 of Graham’s books, including the first four Poldarks)


A rare Henry James looking image

So, just before returning to the paper, I read Graham’s 1949 historical novel, Cordelia, set in the mid-19th century, and thought maybe a review of it might be useful — for this book is again available in paperback and is worth the reading: for a reader who has not read the Poldark books or seen the films, you will find I draw parallels.

Cordelia is his one novel set in Manchester: Graham was born and grew up there in a genteel Edwardian family whose roots were strongly chartist, union, liberal, and who made their money first in drugs, chemistry.

It has interesting self-reflexive opening. Graham’s narrator sees the name Cordelia with the date 1869 carved on an old once richly- made mantelpiece and this occasions now and again thoughts on how hard it is to know what happened in the past. There is a first wife in the novel who leaves a diary and only after Cordelia has lived in the house for some time can she decipher that diary. In reality Graham was moved to write the novel because he had come across a corroded 19th century gravestone with just the name Cordelia and 1869 legible. I discovered that I wrote about this book in 2011 but since I’ve written again, this time with more knowledge of Graham, I’ll still share what I wrote tonight


The first page

The story: the heroine, Cordelia, is gently coaxed into and agrees for herself and her family (whose father owns a clock-maker and repair establishment) to marry for the aggrandizement the gentle son, Brook Fergusson, of a wealthy dye manufacturer, Frederick Fergusson. Brook’s first wife has died (in somewhat mysterious or questioned circumstances). He does not create Manchester with the full power that Gaskell does in her contemporary fiction or other writers of the 1930s and 40s say of Ireland but he does have strong political themes that are progressive. He deals with controversies in religion, the spiritualist movement &c. There is a reference to Palmerston whose significance you can get if you are aware of Palmerston as cruel Metternich kind of figure. Graham attempts to recreate the music hall world of the mid-19th century.

Once living in the mansion, Cordelia discovers that she and her husband are utterly domineered by his father: the choice of a Victorian ethos and time brings forth a story about repression and how it can destroy and pervert personalities, but in one way Graham is anachronistic in ways he is not in fiction set earlier: Cordelia falls in love with and has a brief liaison with a passing theater entrepreneur, Stephen Crossley by name: she almost runs away with Stephen. As presented her inner life is not agonized as it would have been in 1869 — she stays because an accident prevents her from going, and then she thinks better of it plus (convenient plot) her husband, Brook, whom she does like and feels loyalty toward, contracts pneumonia. Brook is a poet, probably named after Rupert Brooke whom Graham read (and quotes in another text). Cordelia stays to nurse Brook back to health. While I think Trollope represses and won’t tell us the full truth about the thoughts and feelings of women who long to leave a husband or difficult situation, this refusal to realize the trauma does not persuade me. There is a “Trollope sighting” in the book: Cordelia reads aloud The Warden to Brook, and they both so like the book, they follow it up with Barchester Towers.

Cordelia finds she is pregnant and it is obviously Stephen’s son. So this is a parallel with the Graham’s Elizabeth-Ross-George paradigm in the Poldark novels (Elizabeth becomes pregnant by Ross Poldark just before marrying George and when she gives birth to Ross’s son, every attempt is made to hide from George Valentine’s problematic parentage. This boy is named Ian (a name I happen to like — Izzy named our boy cat Ian.

A second opportunity arises between Cordelia and Stephen to perhaps elope but this time she discovers what we are told early on: he already has a wife. And here is another group of parallels: Cordelia in outlook and type and looks anticipates Clowance and the man she falls in love with, Stephen Crossley, anticipates Stephen Carrington, introduced who in the Poldark novels turns out to be a truly bad man in many ways. Carrington probably commits bigamy when he marries Clowance — not clear. Carrington is much worse than Crossley as Crossley is robber, thief, continual liar — Crossley is merely an unscrupulous manager of music halls and spiritual seance mountebanks. but then we do not know much about Crossley, only that he does have a wife and Cordelia learning of this in time stops her elopement. Cordelia is named after Shakespeare’s heroine and there are explicit passages about how this Cordelia’s initial flaw is Pride and her real virtue loyalty. Really she stays with Brook out of loyalty. Names mean a lot to Graham. The name Valentine turns up in a novel early on, Dangerous Pawns; the character types anticipates the older Valentine in the last Poldark novels.

There’s a wonderfully eccentric uncle who everyone despises — especially the tyrannical old man — Uncle Pridey, who half-way through is discovered by the London scientific world. Graham satirizes the literary world through Uncle Pridey who is valued (he says) for the wrong things; his work on shews, which supports the Darwinian thesis of pangenesis. It’s his work on mice, and his love of small animals that matters. He has been studying this monk’s work on heredity and corresponding with him (Mendel), whom no one seems aware of. Graham’s little joke. There is a character very like Uncle Pridey in A Forgotten Story but not presented truly sympathetically.

Through Pridey’s contacts, Brook makes some literary friends and has an offer to become a sub-editor in a London periodical but he must bring with him 5,000£ pounds; the domineering tyrannical father informs Brook that his father wrote a will which will permit his part of the partnership only to withdraw 500£ at a time, so he is tragically thwarted. Brook dies, in a sense of a broken spirit and heart (not from Cordelia’s doing). Pridey has moved to London, and terrified for her individuality, her son’s character, her future, Cordelia flees with little Ian to London to live with Pridey.

There she again goes to the music theater world (though Pridey’s auspices) and once again meets Stephen. She finds he has another girlfriend; that is to be expected as four years have gone by, but he lies about this and she now understands how completely untrustworthy, shallow and selfishly ambitious he is. Graham’s Clowance never has a chance to speak to or look at Stephen after he learns that his life was a lie and thus hers false because based on his lies; she knew he was a murderer, but she never learns the extent to which Stephen’s thievery helped destroy Clowance’s brother Jeremy’s life. Cordelia too doesn’t get to tell Stephen of her decision or why; she assumes he would not understand or empathize. But she does get to decide freely.

She returns to Manchester and her father-in-law’s house but now the terms of their existence together have been altered. She will be a partner on her terms. I’m told that a doctor with integrity, knowledge and skill, who has shown a warm friendship for Cordelia and been helpful, was originally going to be set up to become Cordelia’s husband by the end. I am glad for once that Graham listened to advice and ended instead on Cordelia as an independent woman determined to bring up her son to be independent too. It is, as some of the other readers of the Poldark novels and watchers of the Poldark films I’ve grown to know who have read the book said “a very satisfying ending.” One woman agreed with me that Brook is a tragic figure. One gap in the book is a lack of women friends, relationships among women — to me that suggests the male author who doesn’t realize quite how important women’s friendships are to one another.


Here is an early Book-of-the-Month club cover

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Gentle reader, on Saturday Izzy and I go to the Folger Shakespeare Library to see the contemporary play about Nell Gwynn, now there. Fingers crossed for us it will be very good.

My Grandfather walks in the Woods — by Marilyn Nelson (1946 — present)

Somewhere
in the light above the womb,
black trees
and white trees
populate the world.

It is a March landscape,
the only birds around are small
and black.
What do they eat, sitting in the birches
like warnings?

The branches of the trees
are black and white.
Their race is winter.
They thrive in cold.

There is my grandfather
walking among the trees.
He does not notice
his fingers are cold.
His black felt hat
covers his eyes.

He is knocking on each tree,
listening to their voices
as they answer slowly
deep, deep from their roots.
I am John, he says,
are you my father?

They answer
with voices like wind
blowing away from him …


August Macke, Still Life with Cat (1910, Germany, found on the Net over this past week) — I couldn’t find a good picture of March trees in black and white

Ellen

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