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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Trollope’


A duck on the Potomac — photo taken by Izzy

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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


Copperwood Tavern with Lloyd


La Fontaine in Old Towne

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Cover of 1970s edition of Penguin English library paperbacks


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

A zoom on Walter Scott:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

At Dryham Park:

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

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

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

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


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

Ellen

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Chief Inspector Morse (John Thaw) and Sergeant Lewis (Kevin Whateley) (1987, first season)

Friends,

Times being what they are, I’ve taken to watching Inspector Morse. I started last week, at my usual witching hour for self-indulgent TV series, 11:30 to midnight, and it took a couple of nights for me to realize these shows go on for an hour and 45 minutes! That’s part of why they are so good: they develop the situation and characters slowly, with nuance, clever dialogue, and continually deepening in curious ways the character of our man of integrity, compassion, with his love of classical music, and extensive reading in high culture texts, Morse. Lewis is no fool and has his own personality, but he is the stable “ordinary” usual ethical person to Morse’s enigma. The fourth was a little more conventional than the first three, but all of them have recourse to corrupt politics (ultimately someone is making money off harming or exploiting someone else’s vulnerability) in the context of deeply observed individuals in complex fraught situations. I first watched these in 1987; they were a way for me to spend some of Thursday evening with Laura as she watched too. Now I think to myself I must’ve missed a lot. I was then more naive than these shows seem now. I’m sure I have confused notion or who did what and why and wish there were a wikpedia site explaining it all to me. This is common for me with mystery/thrillers and especially contemporary ones which are aggressive, have short scenes, un-nuanced, ratcheted up. I am drawn to the pain and real life predicaments of the people in the embedded stories. I like the tone of this 1987 Inspector Morse series.

I know it’s a kind of gimmick but I do find appealing and can identify with Morse’s brand of despair as seen in his favorite poem, A. E. Housman’s The Remorseful Day.

Here is YouTube of Thaw reciting the last lines:

To be appreciated, you do have to know the full text:

How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

Housman is another of Jim’s favored poets (he had many), we even own Housman’s edition of a classical Latin poet, Manilius. Jim used to quote from the introduction.

I also watch the HBO My Brilliant Friend (1st book in the Neapolitan Quartet), Second Season, The Story of a New Name twice a week.


Elena (Lenu) (Margherita Mazzucco), Lila (Raffaella) (Gaia Girace) and Pinuccia (Giuliana Tramontano) arrive at the beach

This seems to me just now the best contemporary TV story program. What is so striking is the intense felt reality of the film experience. I’ve not seen or felt anything like this in a long time. It’s not just that all the actors and actresses project real feelings fully that we can enter into, but the whole ambiance of the situations.

For example, we first see them on Ischia as they trudge down the beach. In an other film it would be all surface, glamour, here we feel how tiresome beaches also are, how heavy the umbrella, how weary the walk, hot the sun, and a sense of sticky sand. I put it down to not magazin-ing everything. The house is like a house I would stay in, the curtains thin, the stone steps hard, the doors ugly and off-center, painted in such a way that the shades are not perfect. All the surroundings are like this — a boat is not super expensive, perfect in way but messy, slosh slosh.

Their dialogues are what people might say: not elevated into top wit or reflection, but such wit and reflection as comes out is from offhand, slightly spiteful distrustful talk, the way people do ever one-upping one another — a real sense of contingent interaction.

The fights every one has, the ambiguity of positions only once in a while made explicit: Lenu who is treated as a servant and yet is the educated person there with books with her. The mother says I’ll be blamed. When a quarrel happens, the debris and then how sordid things can be — yet the beauty of the air, light. When they swim, they swim as awkwardly as I do — I mean the girls, as feeble in the sea and yet moving along.

What the film does is give us in a way what book can’t — the viscera through sound, music, real presences — the series fulfills the book. Much enjoyment in the photography of the island of Ischia and the waters, the colors, the sunlight. A movie can do so much more than a book in presenting this — it’s like the pleasure of watching the Durrells. I have no screen shots of the water, but I do the beach

As with Outlander, the increase of monopolization, with only a few companies owning everything means I can’t buy DVDs of this series (the 5th season of Outlander is not available except if you buy a membership for the fascistic line-up of Starz). Now the site that offered scripts has been taken down too. One result is less wide popularity, but finally to those with the money to make such a series, the ratings far count less than sheer numbers of dollars. Worship of dollars everywhere.

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Last night months after I bought them my Bernie Sanders T-shirt and yard sign arrived. How sad this felt — it’s tragic for the people on this globe, that’s how powerful the US president has become

One needs to try to escape when one lives in a nation whose federal gov’t is controlled by a man whose activities show him to be engineering sickness and death throughout the people said to be those he is serving; doing what he can to milk their taxes to make himself and other friendly billionaires and wealthy corporations richer, refusing to let the federal agencies do anything constructive (like testing, like helping them to have medical equipment), to let people get online to by desperately needed health insurance. It is an stunningly shameless perverse performance. Everyone afraid of him because he is so vindictive and will castigate publicly anyone who asks relevant questions, lies egregiously (“we have the best testing system in the world”).

I don’t know why but when I realized he was determined to destroy the post office I became especially distressed. I was shocked 40 years ago when during Reagan’s administration the direct attacks on the PO began. It was and continues to be one of the most selfless and apolitical of our institutions, a rare one that serves all people equally very reasonably. During Bush’s administration they cooked the books to put the department in egregious debt and still they survived.

Now they are singled out as excluded from these trillion dollar bills. I read Trump himself openly intervened here (when he has his thugs and gangster types outbid states trying to get medical equipment he does not personally intervene) and insisted no one answer phone calls from the Post office. Now they are not to get any money like any one but only a huge loan at very high interest rates.

All my life I have depended on the post office to send out my bills and when I send checks to send them back. No interruption of mails The 1916 rising was about the PO as a central place for communication. A friend described this in these words:  “destroying simple ordinary dedicated people’s modest middle class jobs, destroying a perfectly good and worthy government (though I suppose in our country now mostly private) institution.”

In the US it’s also racism: the PO is a place where many minority people work. And now to try to destroy them will prevent voting by mail which we may need to do in November. I have today bought two sheets of stamps at the online Post office; I opened an account. I have discovered many people are buying. If millions of us bought stamps, in this area we could stop Trump. It is a quasi-separate corporation.

This to me is peculiarly stunning. As a faithful reader of Trollope who delivered a paper on Trollope’s use of letters throughout his novels to the Trollope society in 2001: Since Trollope was a postal employee for 37 years, and then on and off again was a negotiator, and gave up years of life to a devoted service to creating a public unbiased efficient group imagine my horror at what is now being done to the US post office. Imagine his. The committees of correspondence were essential tools for reformists in the 1790s. I was just so horrified by this one. Is there nothing this man can do which will be seen as grounds for removal? just nothing? No powerful person stops him. It is the fault of the republican party which has decided he can do no wrong no matter what and no lie is too much for them to utter. They continually act in bad faith.

Trump and his important allies do know when to back off. They have to keep the military on their side and when they thought (these evil people who recognize one another) they could fire a captain for trying to protect his men against utterly senseless sickness and death, they backed off. The man who fired the captain has now resigned and there is talk of re-instating the captain. If there is a coup and no election and whatever is left of democracy or any social conscience is thrown out, Trump will have to have the military to back him so as to force people.

I don’t know when it will be time to dust off the old joke, “Praise God/Marx and pass the ammunition.” It is no longer funny. He is making war on the people of the US. the NYTimes reports 17,000 have died in the US since the start of this pandemic in January, that Trump was warned again and again, and instead had Fox News sneer and deny what was happening, that China did inform the UN and early. We are in the worst condition of all the developed countries of the world because of our incompetent hateful hard capitalist government. Tonight I witnessed long food lines across the US.

Saturday I was also personally distressed. Again I shopped at the Giant and saw my young African-American woman friend Monica. She is usually so controlled but not Saturday. She was distraught and angry with over-work, fear, and from being lied to. She had on a two part mask, gloves. What is happening is she can’t stay home at all, and the way her boss is getting her to work all five days in the DC prison office is by lying to her and her co-workers. They are continually promised tests and none emerge. Trump’s lies as a way of being have spread. Monica is lied to about all sorts of things. The virus is spreading in the prison and hardly anything is being done to help these people, many of them there for minor non-violent law infringements, most African-American. I saw on Amy Goodman how 1800 African-American prisoners in Louisiana were transferred to some infamously punitive prison, many of the infected, a place which will have almost no health care. Taken there to die. Louisiana is more than a thousand miles away. Monica was standing in front of me, her face fraught. I wished I dared to hug her. It took me a couple of hours to calm down.

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Frits Thaulow, Stream in Spring (1901)

I try not to think about what will happen — especially if Trump manages to steal the election again. I am joining in on Zoom sessions some three to four times a week. I am registered and attend two classes sent out by the OLLI at AU (on Italian-Jewish writing, mostly WW2, but some more recent texts; on Hamlet, sources, different texts, different films, reception, critical history) and one by the OLLI at Mason (19th century existentialism up to today — who knew the earliest thinkers were fanatically religious, throwing over the crucial insights of the Enlightenment?). And I’ve joined in twice with my Aspergers group online. There are of course joke pictures (click to enlarge):

This is a generic picture of what I see in two of them:


Gallery it’s called

In the two at OLLI at AU I’ve been a participant/class member seen in one of the many boxes stretched across the zoom rectangle. I’ve now been told by three people that I don’t “fill the screen” when it’s my turn to talk and my small square in a room becomes the central picture. I know I sit an angle, putting my laptop on the corner of the desk and using a chair where one of legs is missing so I swerve it to the side so it leans on two books, and that sometimes my cats are on my chair with me. They tell me and I have experienced this too that the instructor fills or usually fills the screen — they say that’s because these people sit up close, have a big screen, and also stare directly out into the space (of their room).

In my case, those seeing me see a book-lined room! I didn’t realize that because the cases are very much to the side and my workroom or “study” is not so book-lined as others in my house. My desk to the other side of the room is seen, a table to the back. Also some of scotch-taped pictures on the walls. It seems I am at a distance from the screen, I am seen from a side sort of, so I’m unclear as an image but my voice is loud – and very recognizable because of my accent. Many of the other participants (discussants?) “fill their screen,” so now I know they are using bigger computers and sit up close.

For a few people I can see their surroundings; one woman appears to be in a sort of child’s nursery: there is a cradle near by, a roll of toilet paper as part of a kit to take care of a young baby. Another in a huge modernized kitchen in the round. Several contrive to or naturally have a row of books in shelves behind them …. de rigueur on TV.

An online friend who has not participated in these asked me more about it, and I tried to explain more — last week I tried to say how odd is the experience, not like a classroom in some centrally important ways (we are not there altogether). So I wrote this:

I’ve thus far experienced zoom with four sets of people; one (OLLI at Mason, Existentialism) I could see no one but the instructor and have been told she cannot see us; and everyone is muted until she un-mutes someone! two (OLLI at AU) have this have this gallery effect with the teacher in the middle and larger and they leave everyone un-muted; you are asked to raise your hand. A third, the Aspergers friends, has the leaders/friends (who are paying for it) with everyone else as part of a whole screen gallery. So I actually see just about everyone joining in. I am too anxious to hit an arrow which might let me see more rows of people at a time; I am told that the instructor at OLLI at AU can see all the rows of people. The center is sometimes used for a text or film clip. Most people are more like David Brooks on PBS; just side glimpses and now I’m told they sit up to their computer or it’s a big screen. A few like me or Mark Shields on PBS, you see far more of the room. I’ve seen people using false background — it’s very unreal. Maybe it’s the people I’m with but like so many of the people on TV many have bookcases behind them. I have seen a dog or cat to the side but no one but me with a pet on their lap. I’m not quite semi-profile just my face and body to the side — partly I’m sitting in a chair one of whose wheels came off so I have it perched against the near by case and I keep my laptop sort of catty-cornered to me and it feels close as I’m trying to hear what’s being said. It’s a strange, experience, you do have more information but the people are not there with you and they are behaving in differently controlled ways. The person at the center is very powerful. Three of the four I participated in there was a site assistant on line to help too – I only saw that person where all the people but the instructor could not be seen.

I believe I’ve said here that I volunteered to teach on-line for both places this summer: The Bloomsbury Novel. I will use the method of myself in the center, with all the people able to see one another and me see them, and everyone unmuted. I’ve been reading Forster and Wendy Moffatt’s wonderful biography of him (we’ll read Maurice), started LaSalvo on Woolf again (we’ll read Jacob’s Room); my third choice is the novella by Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent;. And I’m reading more about the Bloomsbury circles, and started the delightful Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London between the Wars.

There are now many places offering live-streaming of classics, operas, movies, some for free (as an advertisement for themselves). Actors and actresses reading books aloud. Other ordinary people trying to reach us and cheer us and themselves up. I do get more letters from friends and I answer them all. I am grateful to those who write me once a day a note — more more. Who chat with me. There are funny jokes too, meant to lighten and cheer:

The most endurable, and at moments comforting and yet truthful of the news shows is PBS reports, with Judy Woodruff at “the helm.” I am finding during this stressful crisis that along with factual truth I care about tone more than usual. Most of the time I appreciate gratefully the news Amy Goodman reports on her DemocracyNow.org, which no one else does, but lately her tendency to try to be so dramatic in order to entertain is getting on my nerves, her repetition and showing of Trump, and the leading long-winded questions (speeches in themselves), and I prefer the simpler direct questions, and the attempts at uplifting stories Judy Woodruff tries to include. I like her crew, especially recently Malcolm Brabant, William Brennan. I am laughing at myself, but honestly I find myself feeling better after an hour of Judy as opposed to an hour of Amy.  Click on the image to make it way larger and look at her after a half century of TV journalism:

Ellen

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This photo of my miniature maple in my front yard shows the coming of autumn

Robert Louis Stevenson: Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Dear friends,

Sometimes I think the hardest thing about being without Jim is living in the silence. I can’t remember that he and I kept up a perpetual stream of talk, but I did not experience hours turning into days and sometimes a week where the silence is broken only for a while after Izzy comes home and we have dinner together. October used to be my favorite of time of year: it was (so I thought before global warming) more or less guaranteed no more 90F days by October 1st; I still find the colors of autumn lovely.

Jim and I were married October 6th, 1969, a year to the day we met. His birthday was October 3rd, 1948. But now a new anniversary intrudes: he died October 9th, 2013, and that is now the anniversary that most matters.

I haven’t written because I hadn’t the emotional strength to say what I thought I needed to say if I were to keep this public diary truthful enough. I will keep it brief and general. I endured another of these incidents on a listserv where I end up scapegoated, humiliated, and excoriated — it occurred over a period of 3 or 4 days. I’ve learned since the years on Austen-l to say very little and keep away as much as I can during such distressful times, but not to say nothing and just get off. But a little fodder goes a long way with people intent on getting back. I then experienced a roller-coaster of emotion: strong distress over several days such that I found I had to tell my friend that I see locally (whose name I’ve mentioned here): Panorea picked up something was wrong and asked more than once and finally I told her about it. I know that this does not increase anyone’s respect for me but she did have some wise words about recognizing who is your friend (in the 18th century sense).

Then bitter anger; that morphs into sadnesss, and finally the world seems a bleak and empty place.


Elizabeth Mondragon as Butterfly and Amanda Palmeiro as her faithful servant-woman

Panorea did come with me during this time, a Sunday afternoon, to the In-Series theater in Washington, DC to see a modern appropriation of Puccini’s Butterfly. Extraordinarily well-sung, it was a 75 minute mini-opera where everything but the core of the story is cut away: we have left the Japanese impoverished girl in love, giving herself to the white American man, becoming pregnant, his departure and reluctant return to take the baby from her., then her suicide. Em Scow’s review for DC Metro describes the attempt to make the material speak to us in terms that critique the colonialist perspective of the original opera. Every seat in the auditorium was taken; alas, I couldn’t eat the meal we went out for later (because my denture would not stay on properly) and hadn’t the nerve to tell her then. But we both were much taken by the opera, had a good walk and good time.


Kenneth Branagh as the witty melancholy jester-hero


Cherie Lunghi — the lady who is not for burning

One of the way I dealt with this anguished memory of online betrayal (which did begin to fade) — as I do periods of anxiety, stronger depression than usual, worry-panic — was to work very hard on my projects, and so I was otherwise home a lot for the two weeks before the term began. It’s during such times that I become more aware of the silence. When I am imagining good social worlds I belong to I tend to be able to shut out the silence, and almost hear voices from FB friends and friends on other places on the Net. This is illusion, delusion. I do still shake when I remember how I felt those 4 days. I can’t always sleep as memories break in.

I now think to myself that it’s hard to say where we are safer or can make realer friends: cyberspace where no one can rape or harass you physically but the lack of bodies enables people to misrepresent what was said and there is no recourse against reiteration; or physical space where so much more information comes in immediately.

Luckily I found my book projects unexpectedly going well: Graham’s Marni (at least the opening part) is much better than I had remembered (Hitchcock’s ugly movie had obscured the real tone of the book), his Tumbled House is very good and even better the play it alludes to, Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s not for Burning, which I was able to watch in a quietly thoughtful BBC production with Kenneth Branagh (and a young Susannah Harker in a minor role — she is one of the actresses I like to watch) and Margaret Oliphant did not fail me — the novel I’m reading just now, The Doctor’s Family (a Carlingford novella) has a painfully accurate depiction of what it feels like as a widow immediately after your husband’s death, what you have to face.

Pussycats helps — my real perpetual companions, and I began to participate in Caturday on face-book. Marnie took such extraordinarily good photos of Ian and Clarycat while she cared for them I now have a bunch to share. Here is a close-up of Ian Pussycat (aka SnuffyCat as in Mr Snuffleupagus). He is notoriously difficult to take a close-up photo of, much less one intensely manifesting, and/or actively seeking for, affection.

When he comes over to my chair as I sit in front of my PC computer on my desk, he often does that. It’s the sweetest gesture. When I pick him up, he sometimes hugs his body against my chest with his paws around my neck, his beautiful tail swishing over my keyboard.

One result of this self-discipline of reading (I read the whole of Naomi Mitchinson’s The Bull Calves, most of Jenny Calder’s biography of this remarkable woman) and writing, reviewing a number of studies and books, my notes, all at once — the result I say was I finished the paper in record time, inside 3 days. I’ve never produced one so quickly before. I was chuffed because it does seem to me I am at long last getting the hang of what’s wanted in a paper for a conference and how to produce it. It has taken only 20 years (I began going to conferences in 2000). I also needed to complete the paper before the term started as I now no have the long periods of time (hours on end) that writing a good paper takes. It’s called “At this crossroad of my life: books and movies on Culloden and its aftermath” and I will share it with everyone on the Net who might like to read it in due course — early November.

I returned to blogging too (on reading Miss Mackenzie with Trollope&Peers), and then was just a miracle of efficiency and patience in obtaining a driver’s license (which I am well aware will be used part of the gov’ts mass surveillance programs).

This week teaching and going to classes began. I was too intensely cheered by how well both my classes on Phineas Finn went (Monday and Wednesday afternoons) — just splendid, and especially the second, at OLLI at Mason, where there were fewer people than I’d hoped (meaning maybe after all Can You Forgive Her? was just too long) but the people in the room greeted me with such praise, everyone seemed so friendly, as we went round the room telling names, where we were born, and for each of us (including me) what Trollope books have you read, or how did you come across him? it seems for a number of them it was I who introduced them to this remarkable novelist. Both classes of people seem to be very much enjoying the book and seeing its perceptive relevance.

Coping with the undercurrents of memories, though, when I came home, and (as often happens) hadn’t eaten enough, I overdrank too much wine too quickly and then later on collapsed in exhaustion from the effort.

I am worry about one thing I cannot easily do much about: my upper denture has a crack in it and it’s getting worse. I started the 6 week (I hope it’s no longer) process of having a new denture made — it’s a series of fittings and orders for teeth — the day I returned from Calais. I held off because I hoped the denture would last until next April when the insurance I bought would pay for what Kaiser/Medicare does not. But I saw it wouldn’t do. Now I am genuinely concerned lest it break before the new denture comes. It’s not the difficulty in eating but do I have the courage to go out and teach a class with no teeth in the top of my mouth. I have the semi-permanent denture with teeth on the bottom. (These need work she said and she’ll do that after we finish making and fitting a new top removable denture.) Would the class be able to control themselves and not keep looking with appalled horror at the astonishing sight of a seemingly middle class white woman who is toothless on her top jaw. I think I would go rather than cancel the rest of the term. But it will go hard with me. I am taking the thing off for many hours now, trying to be as gentle as I can when taking it off, cleaning it.


The chapters are set up like months of the year; each section begins with a recipe – it is very l’ecriture-femme

I know I can manage being in a class – so much easier, less demanding altogether, just have to exercise self-control — though I admit that when I go out nowadays without that denture I wear a headscarf in a style where I cover my mouth — I have two cut in the “Middle Eastern” (the phrase is a misnomer according to Adhaf Soueif.) I’ve been going out once a day this week: Tuesday a fun class on Laura Esquivel’s Like Water from Chocolate: it’s taught in a community college kind of way, power-point slides, then we go into groups (luckily some of the mostly women read the book carefully, looked things up on the Net and contributed much). What I want to say most about it is it is a book filled with tremendous cruelty (of a mother to a daughter — she beats her violently to prevent the daughter from marrying and having a life or any manifestation of feelings of her own), and for the first time I realized one of the uses of magic realism is to break up the grimness and insane irrationalities these third-world lives for women inflict on them – the dream fantasies make for pleasure, release. I’ve order the movie (I had not realized it was such a best-seller) and will watch it soon.

Today I attended an excellent class at Politics and Prose on Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love. The two women giving this class produced an immensely thorough presentation (wow), going over history (of Egypt and the brutal colonialist policies of the British followed nowadays by an equally brutal dictatorship by the military and elite Egyptians themselves, really discussing in detail the complicated stories and art of this very Booker Prize type (it recalls Byatt’s Possession) book. What they avoided was how she is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel (that was a remarkable feat but necessary as perhaps one third of the class were Jewish women who I could see horrifyingly accept what this terror state is doing.) Maybe I’ll be moved to write a blog – I wrote about it in a paper comparing it with Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake. I’ve read her non-Booker on the Edge of the Sun, her depiction of the Arab Spring in Cairo and even have her book of essays, Mezzaterra (Fragments from the Common Ground).

To round it the week off, tomorrow I got to OLLI at AU for a first class on Graham Greene in the early morning, Saturday in the later afternoon the Folger autumn concert (I enjoyed the utterly non-commercial simplicity of the presentations, to me an oasis, halcyon) by myself, and then Sunday with Izzy, to the local large library booksale and a nearby movie theater with HD screen where we hope to buy tickets for 2 Metropolitan operas to be aired there in February: Porgy and Bess, and Handel’s Aggripina. We have discovered in the ceaseless devouring commercialism of the Internet today, we can no longer buy these Metropolitan opera tickets at this theater unless we join Fandango (an advertising ticket-selling octopus). We hope to be able to refuse this joining by going directly to the theater and buying ahead at the counter.

I began this diary entry with my feeling sometimes that the hardest thing for me to endure is the silence. I believe I go out to these classes as much to hear human voices talking to one another and to me and to give me an opportunity to talk to others about what is meaningful to me and to them. Yes. Years ago I knew that I bought Books-on-tape for my car so I could feel not so alone as I drove — because even with Jim I was lonely and the voice of the brilliant reader was/is such a comfort. Right now Timothy West is making Phineas Finn such a delight. Izzy is for once listening with me again too.

In the evenings too I have returned to Downton Abbey — the first season at any rate.


Anna (Joanne Froggart) realizing that Mr Bates (Brendon Coyle) has brought her a tray of food


Anne watching him walk away (Episode 4 Downton Abbey 1st season)

The movie arrived in my local cinema art theater, and not altogether convinced it would be this alluring long-lasting hit, I hurried to see it later Tuesday afternoon and then wrote yet another blog — moved to: the trick, the involving magic begins one-third to one-half the way through and doesn’t quite succeed. I was reminded of what had drawn me in so emotionally in the first and parts of the second season so I have added the series to my watching addictively late at night beloved series — returning to old friends, the fourth episode of the first series where Mrs Hughes quietly decides against leaving her position as housekeeper where she feels wanted appreciated needed to be the wife of a man she had loved. Much more than that occurs — a favorite scene for me is when Mr Bates returns the kind favor Anna had done him the night he thought he had to leave (and was crying) by bringing him a tray of supper: he brings her one and the look in their eyes at one another brought peace to my soul. I need more than voices to assuage the aching emptiness.

I went to bed with Clarycat with the memory of their feelingful goodness in my spirit and slept the better for watching.


Close-up of ClaryCat at play with Marnie

Edward Thomas — October

The green elm with the one great bough of gold
Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one, —
The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,
Harebell and scabious and tormentil,
That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,
Bow down to; and the wind travels too light
To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;
The gossamers wander at their own will.
At heavier steps than birds’ the squirrels scold.
The rich scene has grown fresh again and new
As Spring and to the touch is not more cool
Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might
As happy be as earth is beautiful,
Were I some other or with earth could turn
In alternation of violet and rose,
Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,
And gorse that has no time not to be gay.
But if this be not happiness, — who knows?
Some day I shall think this a happy day,
And this mood by the name of melancholy
Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

Ellen

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This is a delightful book in the genre of what I have read and how it has affected me; I feature it since I too use paper clips to keep my place ….

“Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading.” — Logan Pearsall Smith

To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. –Robert Louis Stevenson

Friends,

Another meme about favorite books was started more than week ago now and again I joined in. You may recall the first meme asked for “10 books that have influenced me most in my life:” I wrote considerable sized blogs and then transferred the titles here. One problem with these memes is quite a number of people seem not to pay attention to what is asked for but just give “favorite” books. Seven books I have loved is quite a different questions from 10 books that have strongly influenced my life. Another quirk in this second one is the originator said one must not comment on the book, no explanation no review, just the cover. Why would someone place such a limitation on telling about 7 books I have loved? To encourage more people to do it? one person said the idea was to promote reading; surely then some idea of the content of the book(s) and why the person loved it are relevant. In any case the question is simpler: I tried to prove the 10 books influenced my life. The objection was made both times that such lists are hypocritical, people posing, pretending to like a fashionable or super-respected book. I’ve seen lists where that’s obviously true. But this is not true for everyone; there are people who can be sincere. You were to list one a day; I kept to that.

So here (once again), now Day 1, my favorite book, a book I have loved since I was 12-13, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: These are not the covers I read it in, that was a plain brown book with light gold lettering, part of a set of English classic novels my father had in the family bookshelves. The cover of the paperback edition I have read most often and is from the literal book I have most loved, and is very worn, and an explanation (and image) may be found in my blogs on books which most strongly influenced my life. I put here covers which derive from two beloved movies featuring some of my favorite actresses:

For Day 2, another book I have deeply loved, Elsa Morante’s La Storia, the story of Iduzza, then as years go by her disabled (epileptic, autistic) son, and then his dog against the backdrop of history from the 1930s to aftermath of WW2. I read it slowly in Italian (had no English translation) so when I would weep I had the problem of wetting two books, my Italian dictionary and my beloved novel becaue I had to stop to weep every so often. Despite the vast canvas, I think if it as in the tradition of Richardson’s Clarissa (choice no 2 for 10 books that influenced me). In 20th & 21st century Italian, Natalia Ginzburg and Elena Ferrante are followers of Elsa Morante at her best ….


The English covers rightly emphasizes the heroine, and here the first girl child she gives birth to ….

For Day 3 of books I have deeply loved, I remember Trollope’s The Small House at Allington. I cited Trollope’s Dr Thorne as my 4th choice of 10 books that most strongly influenced me because it was Dr Thorne that set me on this road I’m still on, but ask me which one have I loved best and I have a problem because I’m torn between Small House and Can You Forgive Her? Recently having reread CYFH? I have ringing in my ears still the punitive attitudes the narrator takes towards Alice who I wanted to love best. Trollope’s stinging sneer at Lily Dale occurs outside the novel and in response to those at the time over-sentimentalizing her. I loved her and her choice as I loved Mr Harding and his. Madame Max another favorite heroine is only a small part of Phineas Finn, and anyway I find The Small House so satisfying for many reasons and characters and themes beyond Lily’s. The picture below has the cover of the copy I first read. I probably also choose it because it repeats the paradigms and themes of Austen’s S&S. I believe Small House is one of those novels by Trollope hardly ever or never out of print since it was first published. I also have loved Millais’s illustrations for it, viz. Mr Harding meets Adolphus Crosbie

For Day 4 of books I’ve loved I chose Eleanor Clark’s Rome and A Villa. I loved this one so I am eager to tell others of this treasure. I first came across it as a chapter in the New Yorker (remember the long long essays in the middle once upon a time?) and then bought the book. It is everything a travel book should be: philosophical, beautiful in description, rooted in history, the imagination, answering the needs of the soul; immersing you in Rome and Italian culture, life, poetry. The villa in question is Hadrian’s Villa. I read (the closest writing to a review I can find) and reread it. It has recently (not that long ago) been re-issued with a new cover, which I admit I like better than the one I have at home:

Day 5 of cite a book I have loved and provide an image of one of the cover illustrations it has been graced by. There has not been much citation of poetry; for me the poetry of Charlotte Smith is my fifth inevitable choice. I just love her poetry, never tire of it, but first read them in library reading rooms because there was no single book: I found microfilms and microfiches of her Elegiac Stanzas; then in 1993 one of my heroes, the scholar Stuart Curran, produced a volume of The [More or Less Complete] Poems of Charlotte Smith. The cover is not exciting (just darkish pink with brownish-red lettering), so I’m torn between two more recent covers of the selected poem anthologies which are beginning to come out. She is known as the mother of romantic poets, the way Wordsworth is the father; since those dark ages days, most of her novels have appeared in print, and I am proud to say one of these is my edition of her Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake: I typed all 500+ pages to make a good text, wrote the introduction, notes, annotations; it was published by Valancourt, and I took it to one of the two thus far Charlotte Smith conferences where I met Curran!


A slender but good selection for those who want to start (she has poetry based on science and the natural world)

For Day 6 a book I was surprised into loving Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark. I had begun to watch the 1970s Poldark series in the early 1990s because I was studying film adaptations that were very popular, and as I watched the serial drama episodes (to my surprise as I’d read the usual negative reviews — “swashbuckling” and other stigmatizing terms), I realized I liked it very much; that it was well done, characters interesting, but I felt that the books behind were probably much deeper and I would appreciate the films more if I read the books. I bought the cheapest copy I could find, not being sure I would like the book, and found I couldn’t put it down, I kept reading it where-ever I went: I particularly loved the Verity chapter where she returns to her room after she is thwarted of her lover, the chapters where Ross and Demelza first make love, and then the Pilchards clinched it. I went on to read the first four books, watch the film adaptation of the first year, then the next three, and watch the next year, and then (lack of films intervening) just read the whole 12. I’ve since read RP and Demelza many times, the first quartet quite a number; less so the first trilogy; I ilke the last 5 books, but it’s The Twisted Sword another masterwork that comes up to the first 7. And now written there papers for conferences, and many many blogs and tell myself I am writing a book and maybe will write one. I’d have to find a vanity press (if such things still exist) were I try to publish it, so it may stay on my desk. I would need help to put it on my website.Despite reading my first copies in the splendid 1970s covers with their images of Cornish landscapes, I chose the early covers of both Ross Poldark and Demelza as a pair as they suggest we are moving into another realm, historical fiction.

Now I’ve come to Day 7 I am torn — like I’ve seen others be. I seem to have several to cite. I have loved far more than 7 books and loved them in different ways. So I’ll focus on one more because I read and reread it in the early 1990s, was almost obsessed when I taught it, making calendars, writing up lectures, and I’ll mention two more briefly. So for Day 7 my choice is A.S. Byatt’s Possession; in teaching Booker Prize books I later discovered it was the awarding of this book as first prize that brought the Booker into Big Time Advertising prominence and it sold fantastically well. So no need for me to describe or review except to say it has all the characteristics I’ve long most loved in literary women’s romances, I love the skeins of allusions, the imitation poetry, the scenery …. the story & some of the characters. The first cover is the one I first was allured by; I found an image blessedly without ads all over it. The second is a recent cover, much more tasteful, more respectable (so to speak): I am glad to see Byatt’s photo on the cover. I nowadays think her best fiction, Still Life, and much enjoy her biographies, literary critical essays, some of her realistic short stories (especially memorable “The July Ghost”)

As for the other two, I do so love the books of Iris Origo, and also Caroline Moorehead’s biography of her. I read avidly Origo’s book on Byron, Teresa Guiccioli, and their last Italian and Greek years (The Last Attachment), on Leopardi, but the one that truly counted and I’ve read more than once is her powerful diary on WW2 in Italy, as she took care of herself and her community: The cover is closest to the one I have: the image covers the front page fully, is beautifully reproduced in this first edition:

This last many may not have heard of, but those who have know how exquisitely passionate, understanding, and beautiful is the story Robilant drew from the letters of Andrea Memmor and Giustiniana Wynne and the world of 18th century Venice they lived in. A Venetian Affair:

***********************************
As with my first set, I found myself irresistibly led to tell of a book and author whose work Jim loved, & which connects to one of mine: I accompanied Eleanor Clark’s Rome and A Villa by a travel book I know Jim loved, and read around the same time I did Clark’s book: Norman Douglas’s Old Calabria. The wonderful thing about Old Calabria beyond Douglas’s style, outlook, that he was a rare gay man to let you know he was gay, is his book is filled with photographs he took. I have the book still in a plain hardback we found in a vast used bookstore: here is the cover of a more recent edition. Who knows not Douglas’s South Wind (Jim loved that one too) too: a wonderful novel that anticipates the fiction of Virginia Woolf: it’s all conversations.

A happy time when he and I read these books around the same time: a few years we went to stay in Rome for 5 weeks with both daughters in 1994 (also traveling to Naples, Pompeii, and for 3 days stayed on the beach in Ischia. An FB and 18th century friend said this “sounded dreamy,” so I replied: it was a fraught trip where we were learning how to travel for the first time, but we did go because I was teaching myself Italian, translating Vittoria Colonna, and Jim reading about Italy (he also has a public school background in Latin) and had long loved Italian opera …. Looking back sadly now I wish I had behaved better, but then all of us were struggling to adjust. Paradoxically the book that enabled me to endure the lows of that trip was Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset, which I found in a book market in a square, battered copy in English. It was August, and much was closed, and air-conditioning non-existent.

Ellen

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Berthe Morisot’s summer scene, reading on a lake, mother and child


Just Fine all Alone — Tammy Cantrell — — standing in for me and Ian (my latest time-line photos)

Dancing Day II by Marie Ponsot. Is it not a beautiful poem? It was just put on Wompo, a listserv for women’s poetry (July 9th).

Once, one made many.
Now, many make one.
The rest is requiem.

We’re running out of time, so
we’re hurrying home to
practice to
gether for the general dance.
We’re past get-ready, almost at get-set.
Here we come many to
dance as one.

Plenty more lost selves keep arriving, some
we weren’t waiting for. We stretch and
lace up practice shoes. We mind our manners—
no staring, just snatching a look
—strict and summative—
at each other’s feet & gait & port.

Every one we ever were shows up
with world-flung poor triumphs
flat in the back-packs we set down to greet
each other. Glad tired gaudy
we are more than we thought
& as ready as we’ll ever be.

We’ve all learned the moves, separately,

from the absolute dancer
the foregone deep breather
the original choreographer.

Imitation’s limitation—but who cares.
We’ll be at our best on dancing day.
On dancing day
we’ll belt out tunes we’ll step to
together
till it’s time for us to say
there’s nothing more to say
nothing to pay no way
pay no mind pay no heed
pay as we go.
Many is one; we’re out of here,
exeunt omnes

exit oh and save
this last dance for me

on the darkening ground
looking up into
the last hour of left light
in the star-stuck east,
its vanishing flective, bent
breathlessly.

All the characteristics and feel of l’ecriture-femme. She has just died — her life span was April 6, 1921 to July 5 1919 Long lived.

Dear friends and readers,

Moved by Ian Patterson’s essay in the July 4th issue of the London Review of Books, “My Books,” where he described his journey through life as a deep adventures reading, buying, and planning to read books (so acquiring them) until he found himself living in a diary of his life, the paths ahead of him, the books he will open, consult, live in, and when time permits, read next, I come back to continue this diary.

That’s how I’ve been, how I was with Jim. The essay turns into a memoir of loss of his beloved wife, Jenny Diski too. Truth to tell, I was irresistibly draw to the column when I saw the name that I knew from just one of her last essays was that of “the poet,” her partner (husband) of many years. In his The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes has his character declare the experience of life is “accumulation.” Taking on you the burden of memory to make a meaning or identity for yourself. Ian Patterson is at risk of losing his identity

The idea the man has is they are a manifestation of his very soul. I like how he remembers individuals by colors and look and feel and the visual memory of where some passage is on the page in the book itself So do I.

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Me, taken summer 2014

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference … Frost

This to share with my readers here my part in a thread of postings that went on for several days where people on my TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io, asked if they would once again or for the first time introduce themselves, began to pour out memories of (in Frost’s famous poems’ terms) the varied paths they took different (they felt) from many others around them, or in response to some painful events or losses, or their own needs, goals, desires.

It’s not my place to tell of these others, but I can post my response to theirs. Someone said she had had enough of schooling or college, after one post-graduate degree. So I replied:

I [too] felt after I finished my Ph.D. no more degrees. I know both women and men who have gone on for another degree, sometimes to the Ph.D again, often the professional one — the job-oriented lawyer’s degree. I said no more no matter what. I also was a secretary — some three times, the most fun being in Northern England. Secretary was a way in, but it was hard to break out of that. I’m also now at two Lifelong Learning Institutes and have the great pleasure of developing my own courses. I couldn’t agree more about being asked as a woman to read mostly dead white European males (and the usual token woman, e.g., Austen, Eliot, Bronte, maybe Woolf). But I’ll remark it was not all males who made the cut: not only Trollope but Collins was beyond the pale. F.R Leavis has a lot to answer for, but his book and Scrutiny were so enormously influential because by being ever so solemn, treating close reading as a hard mystery, and using only authors with lots of prestige did the profession justify itself. For a while in the later 20th century it justified itself politically by deconstructing these sacred works, but after a couple of decades that hadn’t gone over very well, feminism as dreamed of in the second phase had been beat back badly: now humanities departments are just shut down in many places.

For reasons beyond explaining, people began to use reading Spenser’s Faerie Queene as the “step too far” they had been asked to do as English or humanities majors. To this, I countered:

My dear, I have read the entire Faerie Queene and I wrote a paper on the sixth book which almost won a prize. I a couple of times almost won a prize: my short story out of Gone with the Wind, “Ellen’s Story” (O’Hara) almost won a prize …. I don’t regret reading  The Faerie Queene. Maybe I regret the years in the composition part of an English department where I gave in and assigned the community text. I wasted the students’ time with utter self-interested crap — books published by members of the department, this year’s fashionable book. I didn’t keep that up and so didn’t win Brownie points with anyone. I saw my younger daughter discouraged from being an English major when the older man who taught “The first half of Eng Lit” from the Norton retired, and a young faculty member assigned 12 sophisticated novels which assumed a sophisticated attitude to literature (one of which had been written by him, one by his wife) and also that you had read classics. She hated it and never took another English course; she did like Milton from the first half, Pope, Shakespeare — she like all that.

Yes for years I never read a woman’s book, or if I was assigned one, I was strongly discouraged from making that woman or art the focus of a term paper. I was astonished after I got my Ph.D, to discover a slew of Renaissance women poets, and now it grates on me at OLLIs where teachers (women too) just cite men’s books — or men’s films.

The internet has been a lifeline for me — transformed some fundamental attitudes and my life but this has been the result of activities online of all sorts, yet its been mostly posting and reading about books and movies with others. Maybe a course or so. Just learning about and reaching things I was unaware of before. My first true insightful social life occurred here

The question came up, what are we good at? what we choose to do is what we like and we like what we have talent for. A couple of people professed to be good only at reading, writing, and (say) crossword puzzles. So I said,

I’m down right hopeless at crossword puzzles but can with patience manage a jigsaw and when I was 15 I took up a year of my life buying jigsaw with lovely pictures and doing them over a long period of time. The living room table became my puzzle table — and I put it in our hall so as to try to get of sight and sound of the TV. By 15 I had stopped watching most TV. I loved Drabble’s memoir The Pattern in the Carpet, A Personal History with Jigsaws – she used the puzzle as a metaphor for our existence.

But I can parallel park a car on a city street into a tight space. I parallel -parked just today in order to go to the Farmer’s market. I had Volkswagon bugs for years and used to have to park them in Manhattan. So it was “on the job” training. I am no where as good at parking in garages and parking lots — I scratch (a mild term) the sides of my cars on pillars and yes on other cars … I find the lines are too narrowly drawn and wonder what people do who have truly big cars. I have a PriusC — compact Prius (Toyota with hybrid engine).

Among us book readers on this list for reading books together who wrote in on this theme, there were a number of people who once taught and a few who taught in senior colleges and left. And they gave different reasons for this or just expressed dismay, disgust, alienation, a desire not to become a migrant contingent teacher (with low pay and poor benefits). I expressed my feelings about this crossroads especially:

It seems that at some point at least some of us have taken some road or made a choice we could not come back from, or not retrieve easily. My feeling is for academics — people teaching in colleges, but maybe in high school too there comes a time when some of us ask ourselves, Do we want to do this for the rest of our lives? People I’ve talked to (and written with) often say that the decision time comes because they haven’t made tenure (will not get the truly respected position and decent money and security), and I have been made to feel bad because they go on about this choice to make a better salary – of course the ones who say this are those who went on to make a better salary. The implication is, what is the matter with you? why did you take this? because all my life I was an adjunct. Sometimes it’s accompanied by adverse criticism (often accurate) of the academy — though businesses are as and worse corrupted.

I am often silent when face-to-face because I’m outnumbered or the person has the American hegemony on his or her side. But when it is one-on-one or here on the Net I do reply and it’s that I said to myself, I don’t care if I never make even a full-time position (contingent). There is nothing else I want to do or can endure. (I admit I never thought of going back for another degree to be a librarian — I could have.) I would rather spend my life reading (here we go) and writing and teaching reading and writing at the cost of whatever. Of course I had a husband and I thought he was doing pretty well. (Since in these OLLIs Ive met people who have said, what a shame he didn’t rise to one of the super-high grades and make “real” money.) I did come to that  a place in the path where I saw this group of people would not even give me a full time contingent job, and yet I chose to stay on where I was … Now thinking there were opportunities for me to get behind someone with tenure to do with them what they wanted, an dwho could have helped me but there was no offer and it could have taken years and then I not be chosen. I’ve been lucky in that my mother unexpectedly left me money which is really why I am comfortable. But I’m glad I didn’t spend my existence in an insurance office — I’m not saying that those who have didn’t find satisfaction in that. The young man who is my financial adviser works long hours 5 days a week with little vacation doing nothing but working with money — it’s what he wants …. I can’t regret what I feel I have not truly suffered for by not having enough money to live right now.

As Frost’s poem says, I took another path, or unlike others who didn’t make tenure, I stayed in the path – that same one I saw as mine, all I could do with what I was and had – at age 19 sitting on a bench in a park with a friend I still know. She is today a widow like me, with her Ph.D in economics, she teaches as a retired person at a college in Florida — so an adjunct salary — she would never teach what she’d call and most people nothing — there’s that word nothing. I don’t teach for nothing. Shakespeare would understand my comment there & Austen too.

I can bring Trollope into this too: he gave up his good job at the Post Office because he was passed over for promotion. He felt humiliated. Yes he wanted to write full time, yes he wanted to start a periodical, yes maybe he was tired of the post office. But he gave up a pension to do this. And I have seen people say “the hell with it,” I can’t stand this and will give up my pension — they are usually younger, and maybe have a hope of providing for themselves in old age in some other way.

But Trollope did walk away. Took another path and look how many novels and short stories, and essays we have by him

And by the way, I have discovered that OLLI at Mason has book clubs where the group gets together and they read the book aloud! they do choose well-respected classics, and usually long ones. So this summer is Dr Zhivago in the best edition and a fine translation. I had signed up thinking it a discussion group so I decided to pass on it — I have a CD of Madoc reading it aloud brilliantly. I have read in the 19th century some book clubs just the book aloud — many clubs would have members who could not afford a copy of their own so this was a way of “getting” a book.

Something I had written about regretting not thinking of becoming a librarian, was misunderstood: “I have a hunch I would have liked working in a library — of course I dream of research libraries like the Folger or Library of Congress. Izzy so enjoyed her time in a Fairfax library where she joined in the children’s house. Now she is at the Pentagon library.”

Oh yes I know that librarians do not sit about all day reading — I did work as a librarian’s assistant (unpaid) in high school and one of my daughters is a librarian. When I said I should have thought of librarianship, I was thinking of all I knew about academia by that time, my weariness with endlessly teaching (it felt at the time but I did manage to stop teaching) freshman comp courses. What I was saying what I didn’t think of perhaps palatable alternatives — when I was young, to be a nurse was one. I was strongly discouraged continually from that.

I’m glad to come back to add to other reasons I’ve known a number of people to leave academia. Beyond money and promotion, having to move – and in the early years continually. I have met people living in NYC who say they will not take a job too far away – this is home to them, and for many good reasons. Continual moving is a continual ripping of our attempts at making relationships, transplanting ourselves, building a life apart.

Let me add on further reminiscences: I worked as an adjunct for many years, most steadily from 1989 (spring) to May 2012. For four years I taught in two places and had four classes so that would be 120 students. Sometimes I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. I’d become neurasthenic by the end of the day sometimes — especially when I did four in a row. I still remember Izzy as a small child coming up to my sofa, looking at me, walking away and returning with her blanket and a doll. She covered me with blanket and tucked the doll in, and then returned to whatever she was doing. Most years I did three classes in fall and spring each, and two in the summer (one 8 week term).

I think I did like being among people, young people, and I did like the students as a group overall. At the beginning far more of them had read more books and did not have jobs, by the end it was not uncommon for me to have students who appeared to have read hardly any books and were trying to go to college with full-time jobs at the same time. At the beginning (going way back) 1972, most classes met 3 times a week for an hour, then the thin edge of wedge was twice a week for 75 minutes. In my last years I taught classes meeting either twice for 75 minutes or once for a whooping nearly 3 hour stretch. It was then I turned to have students do talks and yes used more movies.

I did stop teaching between 1976 or so and 1987 or so. Then I read proposals for the Fund for Post-Secondary Education — piece meal work where I was paid per proposal or maybe it was per hour.

If I could understand the digital software I think I’d enjoy being an editor.

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Where Oliphant spent one summer: overlooks a lake near Fife, Scotland

I believe I said last time I have been much cheered because it seems my project to write about women writers who spend a long time unmarried is “on again:” my friend wants to do it and I feel is much more able than I to interest a publisher. Not an Anomaly a new working title.
I said I had just immersed myself in Oliphant one day; well, I’ve gone with it, and here’s a preliminary plan for three chapters: (after the introductory chapter, which might get written last):

I’m asking myself, how did being a widow affect Oliphant’s deepest being (the outward effect is obvious) and how did this enter into her fiction? I asked that question, but more superficially of Austen’s fiction and the great-great-grandmother? Now I’ll return to widows in Austen. The answer would probably make both women less of an anomaly, but that will be part of the theses: would bring home how unfairly and inaccurately people see widows, including widows themselves talking in public about themselves. Trollope has many widows and he deals with them as a man. How this differs. I could in passing bring in Christine de Pizan (I came across a CFP for a session for her out of the Christine de Pizan society — who knew there is a society?); of course Colonna was a widow; Penelope Fitzgerald who was a library waiting to happen when her husband died. Fitzgerald wrote introductions for three of Oliphant’s Carlingford novels; in her The Bookshop, she alludes to Oliphant’s stories of the seen and unseen. Realistically speaking such a chapter (if I’m lucky) I could manage by the end of the coming winter.

Looking realistically at the amount of work (including reading in Oliphant’s case) I should focus on three women. So first Oliphant, with her interest in autobiography, her Autobiography and Letters as edited by her cousin, Annie Walker, and autobiographical novels.


Lucy Hay (née Percy) Countess of Carlisle, c.1660-65 (oil on canvas) by Hanneman, Adriaen (c.1601-71) — one of numerous active 17th century women in the Civil War

The unconventional life seemingly alone. I’ll look to see what materials are truly available for Anne Murray Halkett — like Charlotte Smith she spent a long time alone; in her case I believe she lived with a skunk-type outside marriage and that is why all her papers, and especially her wonderful autobiography are in such a fragmentary state. She tried to tell about it and everything she said directly was destroyed. A new book where she figures as a major character has come out: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in 17th century Britain by Nadine Akkerman. Central books by her are at the Folger! Charlotte Smith tries to tell indirectly and she is excoriated in print, nagged to return to this abusive man in life. Censored women. Shut up women. Pariahs. Shunned women. “Cast out from respectability for a while” (Halkett’s phrase). The re-framed, posthumously published pious blank life that Woolf talks of her in Memoirs of a Novelist. That could be a second chapter.

And one for spinsters, real spinsters and lesbian spinsterhood. Living embedded in a family, living alone when they can afford it. Thus far there’s Frances Power Cobbe who lived as a lesbian and talks directly against concepts like “redundant” women, “wife-torture in England” (which laws encourage) — very rich and her partner has money too. Constance Fennimore Woolson also a spinster; thus far what I’ve read of her and about from Rioux is not about being a spinster. Anne Boyd Rioux is not interested in that — for Rioux she’s this writer wanting recognition, chasing after James – but Woolson spent her life with women relatives in the spinster pattern. The book(s) I could use here are Emma Donoghue’s — maybe including her fiction. She cites a number of such women. I’ve written two blogs on Donoghue’s books on lesbian spinsterhood

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July flowers

I have for quite a while been keeping a sort of diary on face-book, my time-line. I’ve been doing it more regularly as I stay home much more.

July 4th, evening, and a bit worn down: I shall allow Jane Austen (good of me) to express the tone of mind I’m in after a quiet day of study (reading, note taking) in the cool: My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. — Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798). Well actually I didn’t expect to be unhappy …. Izzy appears to have enjoyed her day watching tennis — and playing music — too.

To someone who had misread the above: I work at keeping my spirits up and yesterday was the second of four days I’m basically alone — for Izzy does her own thing in her room — each week. By 4 or 5 in the afternoon it gets to be a strain; I find when I’m tired depression is strong with me and I try to beat my perpetual enemy back by movies. I was reading Margaret Oliphant a good deal of the day. The tone of her mind appeals to me. I do find my face-book friends can help cheer me up when I come in the early morning and I read the entries, loo at the pictures …

July 7th: The hardest thing is learning to live alone. Now in this sixth year I go out less, much less, as I’m facing how I don’t enjoy say going to the Alexandria Community where the room is not pleasant, and the water often cold and I must go back and forth across the pool to swim. I’m not running out the way I did, not chasing will o’the wisps — as I do enjoy my reading, writing, movies, internet friendships. Several days of high heat go by and I hardly go out. I on myself can live — an opening line to an Anne Finch poem. This weekend about 3 more of these black-eyed daisy bushes bloomed as well as these pink flowers with black-brown centers. They are mid-summer flowers. Come late summer I’ll buy some fall flowers and ask the man who mows for me to plant them for me. He will do that, so I shall have flowers in fall too. All year round.

And July 10th: Just got back from teaching The Enlightenment: At Risk? at the OLLI a Mason. What a good class and what a good time we all had — they said it too. Then lunch with a friend. So much of my day gone since I spent the morning posting. And now the cats greet me. Given my situation, and what I am, whatever anyone might say at such moments, I know I’m spending these last few years of my life without Jim in a way right for me.


Ian making his presence felt — how glad I am Izzy chose a Scottish name (version of John) for him — one of my favorite characters in Outlander, Ian Murray (Jenny’s husband who writes such kindly intelligent letters) is called Ian …

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But I was over-excited, because it was the first time out in several days, and I couldn’t calm down properly to settle to read, and then I drank too much wine too quickly, and then after supper I kept falling asleep on the news, on my regulation Poldark and Outlander episodes. Finally I allowed myself to collapse into bed at 11:15 and then did manage 6 hours of deep sleep, and so recuperated today, inwardly active, writing, reading, taking notes, all day, and now achieved another autobiographical blog.


Claire in Outlander (in front of the stones) — I watch it nightly — this is from Devil’s Mark, the moment Season 1; Episode 11, where looking at the stones close up Claire decides not to return home (to not go back to the future) — for love of Jamie

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craig na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones. Except me (Dragonfly in Amber, Prologue).

Ellen

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Clarycat this afternoon — she grieved so when Jim died; she’s transferred her passionate attachment to me

Dear friends,

This day was often one where Jim would make a picnic lunch (complete with champagne) and drive Izzy and I into deepest Virginia to watch show-jumping of horses. Fox-hunting clubs put these huge gala occasions on on some wealthy person’s property (perhaps once a plantation) and high on the hills the elite in tents or by the parking lots, more elites in tents could be seen frolicking in their Anglo-oufits. In the center the plebians (us) could sit, eat, patronize shops-in-tents, watch the horses close up, make bets. Then get involved as the horses ran round and round. It makes the opening of spring. See a Trollopian afternoon from April 12, 2010 (or in Austen Reveries).

This week I found myself ever more losing my grip on Internet blogging. I’ve been busied so with:

teaching and going to classes — very enjoyable session watching part of Sandy Welch’s North and South, and then discussing the close of Gaskell’s novel, and beginning Trollope’s Framley Parsonage, really fun session discussing Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop (devastatingly sad book by the end), and a class on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, a work of extraordinary depth and reach (considering its outer form is hardly anything happens);

reading what I have of Winston Graham’s life and research materials, going through three of his Poldark novels and two of his non-Poldark (The Walking Stick, After the Act), a couple of these dreadful 1950s movies from his books, ending in sending out a query and letter to see if my project can begin (if I should decide it’s doable) of a literary biography whose working title is Winston Graham, Cornwall and the Poldark Matter,

handing proposals in to teach again next fall (another Booker Prize course, again 19th century women of letters); to do an essay for an anthology, one as a widow, another possibly on animals in Trollope (I’m giving that up more or less having found he is either indifferent or cruel to them)

exchanging letters with a few beloved friends, posting to a couple of listservs and one “good read” group on books and movies I’m reading and/or sharing with people, not to omit one lunch out with a couple of friends, and two highlights:


17th century: the Frozen Thames

the Folger Concert called Starry Messenger with Izzy — it took a while to build up and the earlier music is harder to respond to, but once we reached early 17th century how lyrical, how filled with quiet beauty. I talked with one woman who had read Dava Sobel’s story of Galileo’s daughter who spent her brief life in a convent deprived of much that makes life worth while — liberty, even food (all her teeth were removed); here the great man of Galileo’s Torch comes across very differently. This woman also attends an OLLI (at AU0. A session of my Washington Area Print Group which included a fascinating talk by David Norbook on the life and writing of Lucy Hutchinson (whose poetry and life of her husband I once loved and read so intensely), a talk about the treacherous internecine politics of the English upper classes post-civil war (resembles our own), and then a deeply enjoyable dinner afterwards. I will post separately on Austen reveries about Lucy Hutchinson (at long last, I’ve never blogged about her before). Oases of non-commercialized artistic historical intelligent talk

There have been no less than three visits from a (smart alec-y) City Inspector and re-workings by the contractor of my fitted in screened porch as a modest room. It has passed inspection and if the contractor should get his truck and tools back (apparently in the shop), by the end of this week might even be a pretty room to live in — a clean, well-lighted place. I’ve bought a new small luminously lit ceiling fan for the living room. The cream color for the house is picked out. My fixing mania has led me to ask the contractor to send his friend who “does” hard-wood floors and it appears after living in a house for 33 years where the tiles of parqued floor in the central vestibule are rotten and keep coming up, the young man at a reasonable price will replace the floor with a decently pretty wood one.

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Reading this the last twenty minutes of each day in bed, before taking my sleeping pill to sleep — it’s much better than I thought at first,

So why am I losing this hitherto compelling sense I need and want to write: Before this I must feel some more meaning than I do just now. On good reads one friend commented her life feels like a daily elegy. I am having to face a life alone, long evenings, weekends, weeks, months and if I last, years alone as what my future holds. I am trying to make real to myself, get myself thoroughly to face, accept, realize, and act upon, swallow that going through the paces of what I used to do with Jim is utterly changed without him so that I cannot enjoy what I used to do to anything like the same degree, or at all. To try to answer honestly what I enjoy and do that. I have to divest myself of my envy of women with husbands/partners, of others going out and socializing a good deal of the time. It’s just not meaningful without Jim. It’s one thing after another. I never did much of what I’m doing now and little socializing before he died, and now that he’s gone it’s not going to materialize because I don’t know how, because it’s too late (all other people have their lives filled). Making do with what’s left from my previous life — for this is not my previous life at all. Sometimes I feel everyone else has someone to be with but me. All gone out but me. I know this is not so but I feel it as I look round at the other houses.

I’ve begun going to a therapist once again (through Kaiser). At first it was very two and now every three weeks. She’s intelligent, perceptive, not into social coercion, no forcing the soul as Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway might say.

That’s the lesson I’m teaching myself. For now I will fall silent on the larger political world: I’ve lost heart: so distressed to see hundreds of people murdered endlessly, a rotten gov’t intent on ruining much that makes a worthwhile life available to huge percentages of people in the US and elsewhere today; then Clinton gives an interview, smiles her frozen complacent smile, approves of an open assault, showing she’s learned nothing from her defeat …

I tell myself too what I lack and lose in human contact I try to make up for in learning — reading, watching a movie, writing, and especially through watching a movie again and again I experience imagined inward contact. I have that too through letters I exchanged with others.

My dear friends, who I’ve been writing this blog too since I retired from what passed for remunerative teaching in May 2012, I hope my presence here whereby I reach out to others is of some use to you too. I am getting through my half-life as best I can …

Miss Drake

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standing_rock_thanksgiving_590
Standing Rock, this Thanksgiving Day: by Medea Benjamin the water protectors

Dear friends and readers,

For the first time since Jim died (and perhaps a few years before that), Izzy and I had a “proper” Thanksgiving dinner and with other people. A beautifully cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, a kind of puree of broccoli (with various delicious ingredients blended in), red cabbage (somehow made sweet), stuffing, muffins, for me wine, for her apple juice. My neighbor who lives across the street invited us over and made this dinner: I brought an apple pie and bottle of wine. We talked, and ate, and talked again with good music from NPR: like Aaron Copeland, while we sat around a table doing some serious puzzle putting together. I’ve no photos to prove it; you’ll just have to believe me. I did read an article in the Washington Post which had your regulation photos of turkeys (not cooked, but alive): Debbie Berkowitz told about the terrible conditions poultry workers (that’s people who prepared the unfortunate chickens too) endure (freezing cold, dangerous hard repetitive work, very low wages). A thought which might hinder the usual showing off by photographing the unfortunate bird.

We went across the street around 4 and were there about four hours. The generosity of this woman gladdened our hearts and made the coming winter time more cheerful to contemplate. I wish I could get myself to volunteer in a local homeless shelter where they make meals for people on Christmas day, but I hesitate each year since Jim died. They want me to fill out forms, to agree to have any photos they want, and this year $50 on top of that. So I don’t know again. At any rate, we came back me to read, and she to sleep because she’s promised to write for Fan-Sided another report on ice-skating (I think it is) which starts US time at midnight; she’ll watch, take notes, off to work at 7:30 am, and back again to resume work. Do not underestimate the great solace of writing. About mid-morning today I wrote four letters to friends who had written me, two because it’s Thanksgiving and they know I have birthday coming up.

Another is reading. Over on Wwtta @ Yahoo, about three of us are reading Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and we are into Chapter 24 or so where Lee writes of how important to Woolf was reading. I loved the chapter, but my companion in reading, Diane Reynolds, suggested there is something missing: Lee does not tell which were Woolf’s “touchstone” books (the word from Matthew Arnold’s famous essay on how he tells if a passage is great writing (he reads it against “touchstone” lines of greatness): “which books did she return to again and again in the course of her life.” And why these? In the case of Woolf, one problem is she read so much, it’s not clear she might have thought to write about this until until her immersion was such, she would probably talk of a kind of book (Russian, say, classical). Then as a paid reviewer, she’d have had to think about so many she was paid to read.

So I thought in this desolate, desperate and frightening time before Trump takes office (it’s hard to take in that huge numbers of human beings are willing to allow this corrupt bully monster such power — what a mass failure of imagination is here, Jim might have said), I’d cite the books that I’ve read and reread and reread and those that have changed my reading life and thus me profoundly.

girlandcatreading

At 8 I’d read and reread P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park — for the park: I lived in the Southeast Bronx and loved tracing the park on the end papers. I loved the quietly magical adventures where this enigmatic strict woman emerged as all kindness, courtesy, reciprocal love. In another of the Poppins books the children visited the Pleiade, the “seven sisters” Margaret Drabble called them and I remembered ever after the drawing of Maia skipping along on the sidewalk. Alcott’s Little Women over and over and I still think in terms of some of its parables. I was lured by The Secret Garden too. I read one copy of Gone with the Wind until it fell apart. All this around age 10 to 12.

From the time (same age) I’ve read Sense and Sensibility Elinor has helped me. She provides a way of thinking, a kind of (yes) self-control, self-protection, that I’d try to emulate and hold to. I remember doing that around age 17 and thought it helped keep me sane. Having spent 5 years on Richardson’s Clarissa it too has been central — though I wish I had known Mary Piper’s Saving Ophelia. It might have helped save me years of mental anguish — I probably would have practiced the same kind of guarded retreat as the best way for me to cope with aggressive heterosexual male culture. How I identified with Fanny, loved the melancholy neuroticism of Anne Eliot. I have never stopped reading Austen for long, especially the six famous books, even Emma which at least has the rhythms of deep heart beat with order and harmony in the sentences, rather like letting Bach or Handel get into the pulses of my blood going through my chest and heart Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre are books I read and reread in my teens. Bronte sent my pulses soaring with her comments about having a treasure within her she’d not sell away

These will seem strange and won’t resonate but this set of books has been as important: Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A user-Friendly Guide. For the first time I could understand what was meant by de-construction, all these “theoretical” outlooks put into words which were meaningful. It was Tyson’s book which made me a feminist. I am not a feminist out of a search for power, or influence, or about a career (none of which I’ve ever had), but as a liberation from the dark nightmare of the way sexuality is conducted in our society. For the first time I had words which did not shame me to discuss the experiences I had endured, and this book took me to others where I understood for the first time I was not only not alone or rare, but my experiences were commonplace. Lois Tyson’s book enabled me to utter my thoughts to myself clearly and at least think about them and then voice them (here on the Net mostly) to others. Emily White’s Fast Girls (about how such girls become “fast,” are stigmatized, treated horribly), Peggy Reeves Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape (ought to be required reading for every girl) and especially Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery (wherein we learn why there is no recovery if by that is meant forgetting, going back to what one was). These did changed how I read.

Close at hand, near to heart: I have Trollope’s books and all sorts of secondary studies in a book case that stretches from ceiling to floor and is about 4 feet wide — he helps and certainly he changed what I do 🙂 The novel I read first and never forget was Dr Thorne I was 18, it was assigned in a college class; I wanted to write a paper on it but was discouraged by the professor because Trollope was (just) “a mirror of his age. Then re-hooked when the Palliser films were aired on PBS in the 1970s: Jim and I watched and read the books in turn as we went through the series. Then re-hooked in the 1990s with Last Chronicle of Barset in Rome (it got me through) and The Vicar of Bullhampton (given me by my father when I landed in hospital.) I have read and re-read Trollope’s books, and while his depiction of women leaves much to be desired, his attitude towards colonialism shameful, he does see the truth and is candid enough to suggest it. I give him the high compliment of saying he sees the same world Samuel Johnson does.

Over the years I’ve added this or that author who speaks home to me: there has got to be a strengthening offered, a way of coping as well understanding what existence is — especially for women and in books by women. There is a strong perpetual fault-line between women’s and men’s art. Lately it’s been Margaret Oliphant and Elizabeth Gaskell (yes I like older books) but before that Elsa Morante (in the Italian) as well as Elena Ferrante’s first couple of books (Days of Abandonment is astonishing), Chantal Thomas (Souffrir), Jenny Diski. Graduate school introduced me to Samuel Johnson (how’s that for a different voice), Anne Finch’s poetry, Charlotte Smith but she is so corrosive; she permits self-expression through her but not the calm acceptance and understanding of how this came to be; now and again in different life-writing, memoirs I find women who do this: Iris Origo, George Sand, George Eliot (though too much violation of natural impulses).

In the first few years after graduate school, I discovered Renaissance women wrote (who knew?) great sonnets, and loved Vittoria Colonna (why I taught myself Italian, though I first loved her poetry in fin-de-siecle French translation), Veronica Gambara, Gaspara Stampa, Lady Mary Sidney Wroth. I discovered Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters, read all three volumes. Now and again I’ve clutched some contemporary woman author as yes yes yes: Rosamund Lehmann’s mistitled The Echoing Grove comes to mind (The Weather in the Streets might contain the first frank story of an abortion, had just around the time the heroine reads Austen’s Pride and Prejudice); Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children tells such good hard truth but offers not enough comfort.

Well of course each day (almost) I reach something which makes being alive worth while. I love reading about women artists, and reading women’s poetry. Today I was having a deeply enjoyable time reading Martha Bowden’s Descendents of Waverley, a stimulating book about historical romance and novels whose reflections criss-crossed with another set of post-modern historical fictions I had been reading about in another book I’m reviewing: Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and Cambridge. Between this book and others about historical fictions and films, and reading Booker Prize versions of these, thinking about earlier ones (Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, even the Poldark novels, Walter Scott) I’ve come to the thought that we so love post-modern historical fiction with great dollops of romantic fantasy (time-traveling, re-enactment, erotic giving of the self to a beloved) because through intertextuality they include precious historical documents (books from previous eras), the remnants of a past that have survived which can open worlds of minds and places to us, cultures, while the 20th and 21st century authors, film-makers produce a perspective on this past and our present that is sustaining and comforting today.

Do you love the older images on Virago covers? often I do. Also black-and-white picturesque illustrations.

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This Monet is my header picture on Twitter

So that’s what I have been thinking and what I did this Thanksgiving day. It was a day where no further irrational (unless you believe everything must be set up for a few people to make as much profit as possible), vile (deeply inhumane) and despicable (choosing inept people who known nothing about the area except that they want to destroy what’s there) appointments were paraded by the president elect, not even one of his snark jokes. I’ve in effect praised the Post for one of its Thanksgiving day stories, so let me be clear: the rest of their page was advice to those who see what Trump is to be humble before those who voted for this man if we have to sit down to dinner with any of them: the overt theory is again they are good deluded people (the old shibboleth of “false consciousness”) and we are to blame for this horror about to unfold because we have been elitist: with such a conclusion, how can the paper’s staff hope ever to help those poultry workers they grieved for on the same page?

So I also remember the lesson of the 1930s when a segment of my then extant family in Europe was rounded up, send to camps and many of them exterminated or died of hellish treatment or were shot. I’ve saved for last two books, both slender. The first a sine qua non for a 20th century reader: Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce (if you can in the Italian, but if not the English translation is good). I read these (bound together as one book) when I was teaching myself Italian (I was about 44). Indirect, but saying the same thing is Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, which each time I was given the second half of British Literature to teach I assigned as our penultimate read.

Miss Drake

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FullSizeRender‘ Sophie and I at the Metropolitan museum on Monday afternoon

Dear friends and readers,

Yes that’s another photo of me in a museum; this time with my friend, Sophie, at the bottom of the grand stairway at the Metropolitan Museum on Monday afternoon — we stood a long while in front of some Monets and Pissarros; we planned to spend Tuesday morning at the Whitney to see the new building and exhibit of the history of American painting and the museum’s collection (as if it were one), but found the Whitney was closed on Tuesday. (Later that day she did get to the Frick and mused surrounded by Boucher.) So we walked on the Highline park, and after walking about in the low areas (the village itself, shops and streets, and some originally beautiful churches still standing) had breakfast together.

I stayed at the Larchmont on West 11th on the advice of my friend, Diana; it’s relatively inexpensive, quiet, and comfortable enough. To have done with my Village adventures, I had a lovely dinner with another friend in Chapter One on Greenwich Avenue, and yet another long-time friend (on the Net, we met in person finally!) a hearty brunch at the French Roast.

The purpose of my visit was once again to go the Trollope annual dinner. Jim and I had gone the year Trollope on the Net was published, and I wrote and delivered at the Reform Club (Pall Mall, London) my “Partly Told in Letters: Trollope’s Story-Telling Art.” The Knickerbocker in NYC is now in a different place and I almost didn’t make it — taking a subway on the wrong side of the park and then resorting to Uber Cab to make it on time. This year John Wirenius who wrote the first true Trollope sequel, Phineas at Bay, gave a talk on the writing of his book, and since on Trollope19thCStudies we read the book and talked about it week-by-week, I wanted to meet him and to be there for his speech. I also renewed a couple of cherished and remembered friendships in person (since 2001 conducted by phone or email). Douglas Gerlach replaced Randy Williams as the president,and I met Doug’s wife — ate next to her. I can remember talking of Austen. Jim would have appreciated the wines. I liked the yummy vanilla ice cream.

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I enjoyed it– people who can afford such an event but liking Trollope in all sorts of ways and talking of the books casually — but think in future I should try for the lectures (less dressing up and more genuine calm talk, especially about Trollope). I could come by Megabus of a morning, stay at the Larchmont, go the lecture in the evening, and if there is no good theater (after having tried to research this) or great movie I won’t see otherwise, or museum exhibit, or friend to see, come straight back the next day.

I had had an ordeal of an exhausting trip to get to NYC from DC since the Amtrak train accident (on the avoidable causes for which see John Nichols), traveling hard 9 hours, but with the help of a cab actually got to and saw Wolf Hall Part 2 on Saturday evening. I regret to have to say it was very poor: it may be that the vast theater will not allow intimate drama (no close-ups), but some imaginative effort could have made some substitute for the subjective filmic techniques of Straughan and Percival’s brilliant mini-series (including the ability of a film to get close to an unflinching view of a someone experiencing beheading); totally unnecessary was the way Anne was blackened and Cromwell simplified into a stiff Machiavel. I quickly saw the audience was older mainstream couples. Their intermission talk was dismaying; how bad a woman was Anne Boleyn seemed to be the moral some drew. This kind of adaptation gives a bad name to historical fiction.

I had intended to see The Heidi Chronicles but it was cancelled (for lack of audience — the repeatedly obtuse New Yorker critic, Hilton Alys treated its feminism as corny)
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Perhaps the archly performative nature of the production was ironically appropriate to Mantel’s vision? (Bad joke alert.) While in my room or on a train I read straight through Hilary Mantel’s extraordinary Bring Up the Bodies, which I fear will be hard to do justice to in a blog: shall I read first a good biography of Thomas Cromwell, or Eric Ives’s Life and Death of Queen Anne (the stealth central character of the book), or turn to Diana Wallace’s The Woman’s Historical novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000 to grasp its context, or maybe I should add to her memoir Giving up the Ghost and Eight Months on Gaza Street (a revelation of the underlying terror of living in a place like Saudi Arabia for the average citizen not even a woman) — the bleak dark center of apprehension about the nature of human beings’ relationships to one another needs none of these it might be said, nor the occasional moving poetry of Cromwell’s quiet voice turned steely criminal. You should feel fearful when you finish it.

Not that reality is trivial in comparison (it mirrors our world). As my train neared Baltimore on my way back to Alexandria, and I looked out the window to see miles of semi-abandoned streets and houses, I wondered why the choice has been acquiesced to allow a very few to live in super-luxury hidden away behind closed and locks walls of all sorts, with the rest holding onto tiny vantage places equally closed off within such wasteland landscapes. The wanton vile brutal destruction of Freddy Grey (killed as if he were some foldable animal) was distressing to watch, worse the full realization of how this kind of thing has been meted out something like twice a week for years on those black people in the US who don’t end up surviving for decades in appalling prisons.

I wish I could say David Hare’s Skylight (which on the spur of the moment, I fitted in on Sunday afternoon) more than made up for the disappointment of Saturday’s late evening, but it was another stiff performance: I noticed very favorable reviews. But Bill Nighy seemed unable to forget he was Bill Nighy and only became Tom Sergeant towards the every end of the play; one of the best moments was Carey Mulligan as Kira his disillusioned girlfriend mocking his (usual) artifical shrugs and gestures. The play itself moved me: Kira has been his younger mistress, a close friend of the family until his wife Alice discovered they were lovers; Kira felt all she could do was desert the whole family she had been undermining but in the intervening three years of no contact, Tom’s wife had died of cancer: he deserted her too, physically after setting her up in a beautiful room with a vast glass skylight. The confrontations with death in the talk, and the ironic wit towards all sorts of cant conventions (Tom would like gardening to be made illegal) could have been moving had the theater been smaller. I was so aware of how fake the experience felt as a whole, from the jostlings of the audience to the audience laughing at the least excuse for a joke which both sets of actors played to (in both plays this was so).

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A rare quiet moment of genuine feeling only intermittently worked up to The city seemed to me sans Jim crowded, dirty, old, noisy, people struggling as best they can to carve out some modicum of quality life here and there in the crevices. I did find some food to eat now and again in not-such-expensive restaurants, two hearty breakfasts, one good dinner (where individual food items were recognizable, as eggs, bread, a piece of honest chicken plainly cooked). But mostly the eateries in NYC present the same hideous concoctions that I have noticed pass for food nowadays in most restaurants so I spent the usual long hours hungry, with styrofoam cups of coffee (sickening after a while) to get me through. I had a hard time getting cabs to stop for me; they kept shooing me away. I wondered if I look poor; was it a woman alone? One cab driver looked worried lest I not pay him. I discovered Uber cab operates in Manhattan by cruising (the hectic pace of life seems to preclude people standing and waiting for a cab to come using a cell phone app map) because they were willing to stop when I found myself (a couple of times) far away from where I needed to be at a certain time. I did use the subway and got quite good at the IRT lines, could tell north from south and east from west after a while. I kept in contact with Net friends through email on my cell phone mostly.

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Me at Highline park just before bidding adieu to Sophie and hurrying back to Penn Station to catch a train I remembered Jim again, moments here and there — on highline park the day of my mother’s funeral with Caroline and Yvette.

I was not so desperate as I have been traveling; after all NYC is the place I grew up in, know physically well (the Larchmont resembles the inside of my house in some ways). I still longed intensely to get home again — as if it is a substitute for him. I had left as soon as I could directly before Tuesday noon by taking a cab from the highline park to Penn Station — getting home to my cats by 4:30.

Both cats came to the door as I came in and have stayed close to me ever since. I missed them too, especially at night and in the early morning. Ian did sleep with Yvette, but Clarycat just was at a loss and kept to herself at night. She is sitting close to me now, nudging, putting her paw on me to pay attention and I am.

For tomorrow and on and off for four days I shall try to rest. I just about stumbled into the train home and my ankles now feel very weak. I am badly in need of rest, regular food and quiet.

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Retro- and prospective: Last week had been hectic with my two final lectures and a fine (enjoyable) concert by the aging pianist of popular music, John Eaton, the way the OLLI people at AU ended their term (my class on the first 4 Poldark books went very well), and a luncheon for me with the OLLI people at Mason. This will give you an idea of what John Eaton was like — and the taste of people at AU:

Very pleasant, moving, touching, invigorating:

I shall distract and enjoy myself this summer teaching Framley Parsonage at the OLLI at Mason where I sense I will have a number of students who read The Warden, Barchester Towers, and Dr Thorne with me. In the fall I’ll do a partial repetition of my Poldark course this spring at AU: only 2 of the novels to fit the new series of 8 episodes for Ross Poldark and Demelza (and to fit in 7 weeks). At luncheon I was assured if I played a whole episode for a session and left the left over 40 minutes for discussion that would be fine, so while I’ll do some history, I will be comparing the two film adaptations, and perhaps write a proposal to do a paper on the Poldark films at the ASECS next spring in Pittsburg: For Fall 2015:

The Poldark World. In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two of the twelve novel series, and we’ll watch and compare episodes from the first and second Poldark mini-series (1975-76, 2015). The first two Poldarks are brilliantly realized regional romances, excellently researched historical novels dramatizing later 18th century politically radical movements, medicine and, mining, prisons, custom and law and smuggling. Written in the aftermath of World War Two, the books mirror issues of concern to that war-torn world, and the 1970 and 2015 adapt them to speak to issues of the 1970s and 2015. We will treat the novels and films as historical fiction, creating usable pasts across 70 years. Suggested editions: Ross Poldark, Demelza. NY: Sourcebooks, 2009/2010, or London & NY: PanMacmillan, 2008. 7 Sessions, beginning the week of Sept 28th and ending Nov 11th.

I should stress how much I continue to enjoy the Poldark books and want to read more of Winston Graham’s mystery fiction. Just now listening in my car to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones as read by Ken Zanziger (for AU in the fall) — I sort of enjoy it.  And I’ll try seriously to think about colonialism in Trollope as reflected in his Australian or other travel books (including the fiction set in English new colonies) and write a paper deliverable inside twenty minutes.

Yvette and I will participate as we can in the summer activities of DC (Fringe Festival, this coming Saturday I will drive myself to Wolf Trap to watch and hear Garrison Keillor). I’ve got to go to City Hall as I discovered I may be eligible for tax relief on this house and property — that’ll be Thursday.

This will be my second summer without Jim, the third since he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I keep him with me in my heart.

Sylvia

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A recent photo of Ian high on his cat tree near the mantelpiece

Visitor:  ‘You will feel a gap in your life’ … Demelza: ’tis more than a gap …  ‘ (the cant of condolence answered in Warleggan, Bk 1, Ch 4, p 55)

“How doth the busy bee improve each shining hour …” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Dear friends and readers,

This weekend we managed to improve a number of our hours. On Friday night 31 years ago Yvette was born, after a protacted seige of labor, C-section, hemmorhage, and blood tranfusion for me, and tests for her that wrongly discovered she was in danger of a fatal cat disease so an ICU unit for her, needles in her tiny feet, and then when she forgot to breathe, an apnea monitor for the next four months. Caroline was lost to view and Jim went wild with grief. We weathered it, just.

On Friday night the three of us now left went to the Olive Garden and had a yummy meal and talked and laughed. Today Yvette and I went to a local cinema to see a second film adaptation of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.

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1967 Christie as Bathseeba, ludicrous seething-aggressive, with a lamb (looked stuffed)

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2015 Carey Mulligan as the same, rather witty-grated upon, alert, with Gabriel’s dog as second center

I’ve seen it twice before: once with Jim in the 1970s in a movie-theater (complete with a ten minute intermission between two-hour segments) because he so liked Julie Christie; and then again in the mid-1980s with Yvette and Jim having rented a DVD and having a color TV. Yvette still remembered it today; all I can recall is we saw it again and Jim could scarce understand why he had been so infatuated. Well the new rendition is very good, though both are Hardy by way of D.H. Lawrence; I will recommend seeing it, and rereading the book on Austen Reveries in the next couple of days. Yvette has begun working on another song, carries on with her novel, and Caroline, following Jim’s perverse bee, relaxed from Constant Writing.

For the rest when I’m not reading, writing, working towards teaching and otherwise like the exemplary busy bee (which Jim used to quote in the perverse version), the experience of widowhood now more than a year and six months after my beloved died, is of a silence without borders. It is endless and everywhere and goes deeper and spreads further and feels hard in the bearing of it as time goes on. This increase in iron shot through life’s experience comes partly from the sense I feel increasing from others’ implicitly (as usual unwritten codes enforced by expressions, gestures, silence) and explicitly (sometimes to me astonishingly, shamelessly I feel, voiced) that the past doesn’t matter, and memories should be erased. Get rid of memories’ objects. Then what are you left with? But to answer such a command, is dialoguing with, entering into it. As if memories could be erased, as if one could live extracted from one’s past.

Specifically in this instance of course the point made when I am around (advice given!) and at me is implicitly the person who is dead doesn’t count or matter anymore because he doesn’t literally exist and can’t know what you are doing now; one of them someone who supposedly believes in an afterlife. The person who isn’t there is irrelevant for everyday experience; it’s only when he or she exists elsewhere that the effect of his existence is acknowledged. I know that most people seem not to use words meaningfully, not think what their words mean when they say them or their implications, only the approved social message they think implicitly conveyed by it. So let’s think about that message.

Each minute of our existence comes out of the memory of the previous; we define and understand our identities, do what we do today because of what happened last week, last month, last year, memories from decades of life back to early childhood. Death (to quote the title of Rowling’s non-Harry Potter novel) is not a casual vacancy.

I watched Ian the other day, pick up a favorite string toy — it is just a string with a kind of knot at its end — in his mouth. He trotted along with it through the dining room into and out of the living room, into the hall which goes into the back of my house. There he did drop it and appeared for a moment or more to forget it was there, shake himself, turn about, look at Yvette’s door, for the umpteenth time not liking it to be shut.

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How he and Clarycat both behave when confronted with open doors they are not sure will stay open once they go through

But then as it were resolutely, he picked the string up again, and carried it into my bedroom, through to the bathroom — which is where I often find it. Later I came in and found both rugs all mussed up, with the string entwined somehow in them. He had proceeded to play with his toy. He acts on memory which enables him to plan and put into effect a desire to do something, be somewhere, feel something. How he loves to be high up on his cat tree, feeling safe and looking about to see far and wide across the house. The mantelpiece has fun objects sometimes too.

His personality emerges now that I am with him without any second human presence continually. He meows far more than Clarycat: I will come into a room and there he is waiting, and as I come in he meows. I’ve read meowing is the cat’s imitation of talk to human beings. They don’t meow that way to one another. He is trying to tell me something. Sometimes it’s “pay attention to me:” then he usually makes some rustling mew noise. Sometimes it’s “play with me:” then he comes over and puts his paw on my arm. Sometimes he has that string toy near him or is sitting on it, and the message is “play with the string with me.”

Clarycat does neither of these things — though she is direct, comes up on me and hunkers down cuddling up, and using her paws to clutch at me, pushing her face under my typing arm,nudge, nudge, nudging me with her wet nose and when I look down making intense eye contact with my eyes. Both will cry — separately, this to me distressing caw-sound and I go over and ask them, “what is wrong pussycat?” and cry back, slightly frantic, “don’t cry, it upsets me.”

Have I mentioned my grandchildren have four paws?

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Sent me today by Caroline because (she wrote) “it’s funny … ” It is.

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Trollope’s 200th birthday passed April 24th and it seems lots of people acted on memories they didn’t even have. Dinners, parties, lectures, and an announcement by Julian Fellowes at a particularly posh one (Susan Hampshire was there, so too John Major) held in the Athenaeum to which Trollope once belonged, a building he may have known part s of. Fellowes has signed a contract with ITV to do a three part mini-series film adaptation of Dr Thorne. The New Yorker felt it had to observe the birthday of this famous Victorian novelist and Adam Gopnik was given the task of reading enough of Trollope to write an essay. He called or his editors called it “Trending Trollope,” and indeed Hashtag-AnthonyTrollope (or ATrollope or just Trollope) was trending on twitter over the course of several days.

Gopnik had read enough Trollope to make some intelligent remarks and emerged with a man who shares many of our supposedly liberal enlightened attitudes. He says the form of these books takes is the novels of manners. Not all but any means, but many do, so, What is a novel of manners? Gopnik neglects to tell us. It’s a phrase used for English novels in general – from Barchester Towers to Brideshead Revisited. American novels are said to be symbolic: man called Ahab goes about chasing whales called Moby Dick. Women wear red letter A’s under their blouses and stand on scaffolds at midnight. William Styron wrote a hilarious play about a hospital for sick military men: each man wore a yellow Letter V under his shirt. Novels of manners dramatize customary codes of acting, behaving and thinking, and some of those who read Barchester Towers with me this term agreed that no police are needed in Barchester Towers because the codes are enforced and policed by everyone in the community.

In his Annoying the Victorians, James Kincaid suggest this category is a pious fraud. What Trollope does that makes him worth reading – and other novelists worth reading – is to expose these systems, and the values attached to them, and show how they work to protect the positions of those in power and in this novel at any rate how they hurt vulnerable others, those without rank, status, money, outcasts, misfits. The whole category is part of a “pious fraud” which allowed good novels like this to slip under the radar of the Cornhill disciplinary image of this is what upper middle class life looks like and to be part of it you must obey and be like. The problem is the way people often gossip about the characters as if they were people is ideologically conservative: characters are supposed to be admirable within the terms of the code so some readers use the exposure of the code to reinforce it. What Trollope does is he makes these codes talk, everyone is forced out of hiding. He is showing us bogus ways of thinking about what happens and why these things happen. He is exposing to us that why and how. Put case Dr Thorne, through characters like Miss Dunstable, Sir Roger Scatcherd, and Dr Thorne himself.

By digressions we find directions out (somewhere in Hamlet someone says this). This blog is partly about (what Dr Thorne is partly about) how customary codes of acting, behaving and thinking police people, hurt and maim them, leave them to turn to borderless silence.

Trollope also took up the 1st 3 articles in The Times literary Supplement for April 24, 2015; Two illustrations provided, perhaps not well known, the first not by both Phiz and Miss E. Taylor (as it was labelled); just Miss E. I add the correction because in the second of the articles there are several errors by Gerri Kimber on a new edition of the Autobiography edited by Nicholas Shrimpton (“Never a slave to it”),  If you make a very narrow definition of “major Victorian novelist,” he’s almost right that Trollope was the single Victorian well-known writer to write an autobiography — except he forgets Hardy and Edmund Gosse and Margaret Oliphant. Substitute writer and there’s Ruskin, Mill, and several others (see AOJ Cockshut, The Art of Autobiography, 19th & 20th centuries).

The first is by John Sutherland (still there, not yet erased!) centered on the new edition of The Duke’s Children and is (as usual) very interesting. The opening on AT’s last years of ill health fully described (not common), Sutherland suggests Trollope himself sort of elected to cut DC, some reasons for this, and he offers a reading of the novel “A father’s dilemma.” The third by Matthew Ingleby, “Town and Country” on new editions of all six Barsetshire novels, with commentary to show these new editions take exemplarily frame the books by our contemporary way of seeing Trollope, with Dinah Birch covering Amelia Roper much more (from Carolyn Dever); the theme of ‘precarious livings and tenancy” dominates Framley Parsonage (ed Katherine Mullin and Francis O’Gorman).  Simon Dentith, using “ground-breaking Queer Trollope by Holly Furneaux for Dr Thorne, tells us the novel presents an alternative or elective family group. There we are. In Barchester Towers we can console ourselves with the “delightfully unmarriageable Bertie Stanhope.” We’re told about continuing radio dramatizations, and although Trollope’s birthplace has been literally knocked down (replaced by new structures) he is now the subject of papers in conferences.

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An illustration sketching part of the place in London where Trollope was born in 1815, a place whose buildings are not so wholly configured as to erase any cement-and-mortar evidence of what Trollope’s world experienced on that site in 1815.

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This is for all those widows, widowers, people who have experienced loss and are asked to make their fundamental situation and realities invisible, to rip away the instincts of their hearts, by the assertion (hearts, realities, situation) they don’t exist, don’t matter. Yes the great fact of his death (and our mutual failure to act effectively in the crisis of our existence, from which there is now no retrieval) or whatever your grief or loss was — might seem to make small these codes, but if the codes don’t matter Trollope certainly wasted much ink and paper in many books analyzing, exposing and — let’s be as for Veritas as Miss Dunstable — in his most powerful novels attacking them.

Sylvia

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