Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Trollope’

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.


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, 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.


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.

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.


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)

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).


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.

EllenHighLine (1)
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.


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.


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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.

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

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.

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?

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


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.


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.


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.


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