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Tired of sleeping alone, Ian began regularly to invade Izzy’s room

Dear friends and readers,

Another three weeks have passed, and while I’ve seen and experienced so much that I can’t begin to encompass it all, at the same time I ask myself, what is hitting home most strongly: Paul Scott’s Staying On, which this time round and for the first time I can see my way into teaching. I began it in Scotland. I haven’t got time for the rich biography by Hilary Spurling, much less even on CDs read aloud the Raj Quartet (no such thing, only available as a download), but can’t resist this searing political writer (a son of Trollope).


Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in the poignant Staying On film adaptation (the Smalleys)

I’m going to write about my time in and around Inverness, Scotland, on my central blog as a travel and cultural history story,

My brief weekend with a friend in Pennsylvania (which followed, and I’ve just returned from), was a personal and social (and academic talk) experience. I stayed in Lewisburg, where Bucknell University is located, and experienced small town life, where everyone or many people know many, and all become intertwined as this criss-crosses groups. Where else can you eat in an Italian restaurant where on the menu is cannoli cake, and when the delicious object is brought to the table and finds favor, one of the people says it must have been made by the owner’s wife (whom she knows) and the other three agree. They do seem to know one another’s intimate lives, and I’ve an idea to live there means to try to hide a lot.

It was not quite simply a small town as the university’s presence brings into the town much aesthetic and intellectual experience the local people would not have: concerts, plays, lectures, events of all sorts, conferences, among which NET Live theater by HD screening so I again saw Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead as performed this year in the Old Vic — with outstanding performances by David Craig as the player, and appropriate ones by Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (respectively). I say appropriately because they were not funny, the link with Waiting for Godot was de-emphasized as the mood of the piece was tragic anguish as found in the words of the player king and all the many dialogues exploring death. I enjoyed conversations with three different groups of people, some of whom recurred in the other group: often presents or retired academics from Bucknell.

I saw the Amish — and learned not to idealize or sentimentalize. The immediate area my friend is in is middling middle class, and nearby palatial residences (not just McMansions) for the local superrich, but this is ringed about by another part of Trump’s base: the desperately poor, nearly jobless (certainly futureless) whites whose world is one of broken down houses, miserable-looking yards filled with cars, “adult” entertainment (two “massage” parlours per small area). I saw them with their baseball caps and pseudo-sexy jeans, T-shirts, on motorcycles. I say another for the people in the palatial residences are even more necessary to Trump and a base he is pleasing mightily by transferring as much money and exploitative opportunity to as a lawless US president can (that’s a lot). On the divides here:

Bucknell may be taken as a microcosm of what’s happening. Beautiful impressive place with ancient and modern buildings all harmonized. One conversation at one of the tables was all about the horrendous price and debts these people are taking on — or their children. This was a group who go to Ivy League schools (whence you might see how my story of going to Queens College by 2 buses, at $25 a term might startle — I told only Nancy that one) and so they pay big sums. Bucknell struck me as such a privileged place — campus on which the students must live. At Mason nowadays, which used to be a primarily commuter school, those not living on campus are made to feel they are second class citizens; they get parking after the live-in people, and yet they come by car. Bucknell is now some $60,000 for the year (not including everything) — so that’s $30,000 per term. It is a racket.

When Jim’s dissertation was rejected, all financial aid was cut off. One reason he didn’t write a dissertation that passed muster was it had to be in by the end of the fourth year. You see he did go for free (no payment for 4 years, but tiny sums like I paid years ago at Queens above), but the bargain was he would be done in 4 years and he would have a job waiting. He couldn’t pull that off at all — he had had to take an adjunct job the two last years too, and while I don’t remember (or maybe was not told) how much they wanted per semester, it was way above us. Then when several terms went by and Jim was working and inquired into doing the dissertation (he did), we discovered we would be asked for a large sum (not as big but sizable) to “cover” all these terms. To show himself matriculated. I wouldn’t know know how to fight them.

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Anna Karenina coming up


We on Trollope19thcstudies also tell about the movies and there are so many (as well as translations):

FYI: don’t say you don’t learn anything reading my life-writing blog …

* 1935: Anna Karenina (1935 film), the most famous and critically acclaimed version, starring Greta Garbo and Fredric March and directed by Clarence Brown.
* 1948: Anna Karenina (1948 film) starring Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson and directed by Julien Duvivier.
1953: Anna Karenina (1953 film), a Russian version directed by Tatyana Lukashevich.
1954: Panakkaari, a Tamil language adaptation directed by K. S. Gopalakrishnan
1960: Nahr al-Hob (River of Love), an Egyptian movie directed by Ezzel Dine Zulficar
1961: Anna Karenina, a BBC Television adaptation directed by Rudolph Cartier, starring Claire Bloom and Sean Connery.[2][3]
1967: Anna Karenina (1967 film), a Russian version directed by Alexander Zarkhi.
1970s: A Cuban television series starring Margarita Balboa as Anna,[4] Miguel Navarro as Vronsky, and Angel Toraño as Karenin.
1976: Anna Karenina, a Russian ballet version directed by Margarita Pilikhina.
* 1977: Anna Karenina, a 1977 ten-episode BBC series, directed by Basil Coleman and starred Nicola Pagett, Eric Porter and Stuart Wilson.[5][6] — my favorite of all I’ve seen, worthy the 1970s age of fine adaptations from the BBC
* 1985: Anna Karenina (1985 film), a U.S. TV movie starring Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve, directed by Simon Langton.
* 1997: Anna Karenina (1997 film), the first American version to be filmed on location in Russia, directed by Bernard Rose and starring Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean.
2000: Anna Karenina, a four-part British TV adaptation made in 2000 directed by David Blair. Aired in America on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in 2001.[7]
2009: Anna Karenina, a Russian mini-series directed by Sergei Solovyov.
* 2012: Anna Karenina (2012 film), a British version directed by Joe Wright, starring Keira Knightley.
2013: Anna Karenina, a Filipino drama series directed by Gina Alajar
2013: Anna Karenina, an English-language Italian/French/Spanish/German/Lithuanian TV co-production by Christian Duguay and starring Vittoria Puccini, Benjamin Sadler and Santiago Cabrera. Alternatively presented as a two-part mini-series or a single 3 hours and 15 minutes film.

In the four days I was home, I managed to buy subscriptions to the coming Folger Shakespeare season; to buy for a concert, a play, and a stand-up comic event at the Kennedy Center; three HD screenings at my local art movie-house and the 14th Street Shakespeare Theater (Kushner’s Angels in America, Part 1); to register for 3 lectures (literary, Wilde is one, the Bloomsbury group focusing on Woolf another, the last Gilbert and Sullivan) and a series of Sunday afternoons on photography (across the fall into the winter and two occur after the fall semester at the OLLIs ware over. Then to register for 4 courses at these OLLIs beyond the two I’m teaching. Three will not require any reading, and three (a different set) meet only 3 times or 4 times in the semester: Shakespeare’s late romances (with Rick Davis as lecturer — wow): a history and the aesthetics of film (with a film scholar from AU), a book club, and last a history of unions in the US (a man who worked in various positions of unions all his life plus is now a college teacher): I was told hardly anyone will sign for that of course — why? it seems to me the most important of all I signed up for and more important than either of mine. I began reading at night 20 minutes each night Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of America. It is still genuinely shocking how Columbus and the Spaniards literally enslaved and worked to death, beat or slaughtered literally several million Indians in the first 30 years of their ruthless brutal take-over.

So I should be busy because I’ve not given up my Poldark book project (though in the next week or so plan to find some much narrower focus so it becomes doable by me — the stress on the 12 Poldark novels, Cornwall and the 2 mini-series); we are about to read Anna Karenina (starting Sept 4th) on Trollope19thCStudies (16 week schedule); and of course there’s my teaching. I am going to give up the gym because one must cut out something and much as I enjoy the hour, it takes 2 and 1/2 hours out of my day, and worse, my arm is not getting better, nor my legs. The truth is it’s a mild distraction and amusement, and to me at least Yoga similar. I tell myself I will get back to women artists and foremother poets and also write my reviews on the recent resurgence of Anne Bronte studies (centering on Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte), Devoney Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen (a new book sent me by a generous editor as it’s such a beautiful volume, apart from anything else). When I finish my Bronte review in two days (fingers crossed), I will proceed to the Charlotte Smith paper: now called “Exile, alienation, and radical critique: Smith’s depiction of colonialism in Ethelinde and the Emigrants. While in central Pennsylvania, I read a new good book on Gaskell: Adapting Gaskell: Stage and Screen Versions of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction, ed Loredanna Salis: it has marvelously concise essays on her publishing history, the changes in criticism, not to omit I didn’t know that there was a 1972 Cranford, which is available. More importantly I learned that in fact numbers of 1960s and 70s films said to be wiped out, are not. It’s that the BBC doesn’t want to release earlier versions of the books they are re-filming (far more commercially), and there are far more scripts too. So there is hope for me to see the adaptation of Graham’s The Forgotten Story (1983) that stared Angharad Rees. My friend is a Gaskell scholar and I saw her library and wrote down the titles of some 11 books that looked so good: several had titles that didn’t tell you they were about Gaskell, one on her and Tolstoy’s realism compared.

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Many people do drive 10-12 trips (usually with someone) rather than take a plane

I will conclude on travel as such. All will remember how I didn’t manage to go to Jane Austen and the Arts because I didn’t realize there were no good train to Plattsburgh, couldn’t face two airplanes and having to be picked up at the airport, with extra days & nights on either side of a 3 day conference in order to achieve this, or risk a 10-11 car trip, a good third of which would be at night in a state and places I’ve never seen.

On my first return home — from the Highlands by Icelandic airplane. I just returned from a 10 day trip and on the way back had the unpleasant experience of being “singled out” at random (it was said) for “special security” scrutiny at Reykjavik. Supposed (frozen) smiles on the people doing this but without this happening to anyone in particular we are all surely aware that once entering certain large areas of a US airport nowadays one gives up most civil rights — or we appear to as most of us are not lawyers and so we don’t know what are our civil rights and are not told them in these situations. I almost missed my plane and if I hadn’t become very upset would have.

I don’t think we are chosen at random as Izzy and I were clearly not chosen at random when we almost didn’t get our seats on British Air back from the Charlotte Smith conference: the woman in charge came up all too quickly with the same seats we had on the flight coming over: human beings don’t work that way. As a white person, I would never say that TSA or the US especially but also other nations’ airlines or airports don’t profile people.  We don’t know. I’ve noticed that disabled people where the disability is the invisible kind (autism) get picked on. A friend told me she has been selected three times; her husband interviewed. An interview makes him sound important? maybe it was the beard?

It’s more than bad luck. They did it at the last moment, and I didn’t take too well to it after being forced to wait in a hanger that had no chairs, was overcrowded. The line went slowly as they scrutinized people to decide who to harass. Indeed, so badly did I read that I gave the Icelanders doing it a wee pause. The plane I was supposed to get on waited until I and (as well they might) 4 other specially scrutinized people from my plane were waited for (a 5th never made).

I am such a home-body (in that we are utterly alike) and I think it was my deep longing to get home that made me refuse to accept the treatment. Some of my readers and friends will reco gnize this line from Mansfield Park: it’s Fanny Price channellng Wm Cowper: with what intense longing she wants her home — though I am very glad I went and had a very dulce et utile time. (I did discover I can’t take more than 10 days with a group of acquaintances where we are herded together each day to travel miles and see three different places, attend lectures and have meals together.)

I was not staying at that airport overnight. I wish I could say my fellow passengers waiting on that plane were on my side, but they seem not to have wanted this wait. I did not play the let’s shrug and accept game, I didn’t smile — they really wanted that and when I refused I got grim glares. A small win — when I sat down I was brought a cup of water. The poor man next to me was way to big for his seat. This is the second time. I doubt they made the plane wait for me because I’m a US citizen, white, older, (harmless) female, but decided they would rather not have to cope with me in that airport that night — I was decidedly unenthusiastic about a hotel. I have to fly if I want to go the UK or other far experiences (say in Europe or Italy), trains and Queen Mary very expensive & time-consuming. But I will not fly Icelandic air again. I suppose my reaction was risky; I could have been maybe arrested. That in itself is telling what I mean to infer now.

Narrow immediate lessons to be learned:

someone or group of people have to work once more to break up monopolies and equally organized people have to go to court and defend our civil rights once again. We need a different group in power. A person should not have to become genuinely deeply upset in order to board a plane that she paid good money for well in advance, unless there is a genuine reason to believe this particular individual poses a threat to the other people on the flight.

Wider or longer views:

it seems to me most gov’ts with the power to do it have always tried to control the movement of people living in their purview — if they can.  Local, national, international.

I am thinking of early modern period or Renaissance as it was once called (and which I once studied diligentlY). When people who had money and could travel did, and this is especially true of those close to a king or powerful leader, aristocrats, those part s of the gov’t, they very often are described as obtaining permission. Philip Sidney would check with Elizabeth before he’d go off. They write of taking letters of introduction, but they also are described as having documents to show who they are, what is their purpose. Nancy mentioned how local county groups did their best to keep poorer people from moving into their area (they couldn’t stop them if they could prove they had been born there).  You see this kind of checking out inside Italy during the early modern period when people travel from one city to another. All these papers people carried about  identified them.

During periods of high immigration, those countries who open their borders do it for a reason: they want cheap labor but they too attempt to keep tabs on those coming in. Trollope (Anthony) talks about specifics on this in his account of Australian labor contracts and practices during the later 19th century. 

And one can see there are changes in attitudes during different eras, some freer and some restrictive. We are suddenly in an era of ‘strict’ attempts at control and keeping people out partly because the numbers of refugees, of immigrants/emigrants has suddenly mounted very high because of these ferocious wars. The 19th century British “poor laws” were an attempt to stop and control movement under the pressure or impetus of industrialization, zooming numbers in cities — that’s what workhouses were about.

Other eras show gov’ts or local powerful groups forcing people to leave. Take the highland clearances during our era. Read John Prebble’s powerful books on Culloden and then The Highland Clearances for an accurate account of this. The later part of the 18th and early 19th century in Scotland. As we know in the 1790s how emigrants into the UK were treated became a subject of controversy which was debated strongly.

To me it is astonishing that people will put up with in airports and airlines today.  When preparing for my second trip, 1 evening, 2 full days, and one brief morning to visit a friend I’m packing a case and feel so cheerful I can put all my stuff in it — not in carry-ons, stuffed in my purse lest I lose the bag.  I think by this point if you or someone who are traveling with has not had a bag lost temporarily or permanently you are very lucky. Or pay first class.  They are beginning to give out water for free in economy I noticed this time round — maybe because the incident made so public about a man dragged and beaten on a plane to the point he was hospitalized and successfully sued.

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Trump has put in bill to decimate Amtrak further

On this second trip: driving home from Central Pennsylvania, an at least 5 hour trip if you don’t come up against any obstacles. Which I did. as in previous trip; while getting there was merely tedious, not an ordeal; coming home was another kind of battle. Just outside Baltimore, my garmin froze! Before I realized this I was in Baltimore. I tried to use my cell phone Waze but could not figure out how to make the voice louder than a light whisper, and so couldn’t quite understand instructions. At each turning point in highway I seem to have guessed wrong. Had it not been for three different kindly black men maybe I’d still be going in circles on Washington/Baltimore Parkway, or DC, or (agonizingly close) the highway just off Alexandria — where I had the bright idea to get the hell off the puzzling labyrinth look-alike highway and get onto a street. I immediately half-recognized buildings, roads, street names and made my way home at last. I’m no traveler. So what does one do with a frozen garmin to un-freeze it?
I did get an answer I could re-set it by a paper clip into what is claimed is a tiny hole in the garmin. I will look tomorrow when I get into my car.

A friend meaning kindly called me “Traveler Extraordinaire. You did what you had to do to figure things out, and didn’t panic. Now that the garmin wobbled, you can think of a backup plan if it happens again. One thing you can always do is pull over and find a map on your cell phone. Or carry a (gasp!) paper map in the car! You’re ahead of me on this one, I have never used a garmin at all, but would like to learn.

This is not exactly how I see what I’ve written or what I meant. Far from a traveler extraordinaire, I have had confirmed on how a trip is an ordeal and how it need not be one. It reminds me of how there’s no need on earth for US people to find health care out of their reach. It is not true that it’s anxiety that drives me not to take trips but dislike of the choices on offer. We should have trains, good trains running frequently. Cars are dangerous, long trips arduous. I discovered quite a while ago that rest areas were far fewer than than had been, and that no longer can you get gas and good on the road, but must exit first. I have read that upon inventing his car and making the mass assembly line Ford went around the US buying up local railroads and shutting them down. Imagination based on the obvious idea this need not be is the inference I probably meant. When I lived in Leeds next to all train stations were buses that went everywhere. Why have we not a national bus service?

A person should not have to be a heroine, nor do I want to be, nor was I, to get home. She was right to suggest I am getting more used to doing these things and perhaps travel more confidently. But even there I don’t know. I couldn’t figure out how to make my Waze program on my cell phone louder. Izzy has made the ringer louder but I took the cell phone into the car and still the Waze program is soft;. I think I got home finally because I asked three decent people and they gave me good directions plus one drove a bit with me following. Before I used maps, before these gadgets that’s what I used to do: ask local people continually. So my behavior is the same.

I did work at not getting freaked out lest I got into an accident, but I came near twice as I tried to follow the man in the van who helped me and as I made a U turn on the directions of the second man.

I agree the thought that crossed my mind was it’s not a matter of anxiety after all; it’s a matter of dislike. What a scene. Thousands of cars at top speed on a 4 track highway — one should protest against the capitalism vise that have led to this madness.

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I will write on my Sylvia political blog (if I can find the time about the allowed racist Ku Klux Klan demonstration in Charlottesville and Trump’s pardon of the lawless criminal Arpaio), for here I ought to fend myself from solipsism: yes the strongest hurricane to hit Texas in 50 years continues to wreak devastation. Amy Goodman shows the scope of this and its true dimensions. Nowhere is anyone reporting that Houston is the gas and oil capital of the country; huge refinerys right by the Bayous and no regulation whatsoever. One area is called Cancer Row. Just read the transcript:

https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/28/as_catastrophic_flooding_hits_houston_fears

All CNN and MSNBC tell these heroic moving stories of good people saving one another. They leave out thousands of Spanish and immigrants are terrified of looking for help as then they’ll be deported. And how they have been dumped at bus stations and herded into other detention centers:

https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/28/a_dilemma_for_undocumented_in_texas


Just one of many oil and gas refineries in Texas

The weather is not a trivial subject any more (if it ever was); it matters.

Miss Drake

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From Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1990 film, scripted by Harold Pinter, featuring Natasha Richardson and Elizabeth McGovern)

Dear friends and readers,

It’s probably not a pure coincidence that a new version of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is going to be screened on Hulu, a new computer channel which shows movies, that they have chosen this distopian tale for their first venture. I’ve read that top sellers for this week at Amazon (which by the way operates with Trump businesses, so if you want to boycott these you can at least try to find other online stores to buy your books from), as listed in the New York Times Book Review include Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. If you want genuinely to understand what we are living through, what we appear to be watching happening at its final visible phase (it’s been mostly stealth or only seen in local instances for some 40 years) — the setting up of a dictatorship, you might do better to read a serious history of the first hundred days or say six months of Hitler’s regime.

I’ve not read It Can’t Happen Here, but have read the others, probably with the mistaken impression in my mind that in fact this is a democracy, people, real individuals in the millions, believe in voting and having their votes properly counted. I have now seen how such a certainly in the mind (I thought) of every American citizen makes it hard truly to believe in the dystopia of your choice. Trollope wrote one: The Fixed Period, taking place on an island that seems coterminous with New Zealand. All people at age 67 are required to “deposit” themselves in an asylum, a year later they will be killed. (His New Zealander, first published in 1972 in an edition by N.John Hall, is a somber analysis of 19th century British political culture as he so lucidly understood it.)

The roll out of destructions by the Republican rump and their ignorant malevolent shamelessly self-centered leader has been and continues to be done piece-meal. He’s putting it together with remarkable ease. His vicious people in the powerful places. Firing the staff just below. Slowly felt contradictory vague executive orders are an attempt to divide people by when they are hard hit – all the while lying. So I have not yet personally felt anything economically critical gone. Just heart. Just. The grief is hard to characterize. This morning I tried Dance Workshop again: they have a new woman, just relentlessly cheerful. Talks about the 45 minutes as a party. I wilt under such treatment.

kathryn-schulz
Kathryn Schulz

I recommend to my reader Kathryn Schultz’s “Losing Streak,” or When Things Go Missing, in this week’s New Yorker (13, 20 February 2017): she begins with the word loss, which apparently goes back to “Old English” and means “perish;” it was in the 13th century that “lose” meant failing to win; in the 16th century we began to lose our minds (so mental distress, trouble), in the 17th century our hearts. It’s been expanding so now it includes all those hundreds of losses of things we endure over the course of our lives, from “mittens” to money, to beloved people. Now we are feeling our whole future has been stolen from us, robbed by the gerrymandering, politicization of our courts, electoral college, insane campaign against Hillary Clinton; all that we could had in improvement is now reversed and our very republic, safety from all-out war, civil and human and women’s rights about to be lost and in a way that might be irretrievable for decades and more to come. Losing a beloved, losing her father, she talks of death, not of losing friends, which has been part of my losing streak this year.

But in the meantime I’ve met an honest man! My neighbor-friend recommended as a contractor, a German man, semi-retired, and he has offered to do all I want (enclose porch, and make a fully functioning room, paint outside of house cream color, update electricity in house &c&c) for what may come out to be less than the kitchen renovation cost. It seems the demand I have the foundation dug out is a way for builders to make huge sums; the way veterinarians to clean a cat’s teeth want to put them under anesthesia and stick a tube down them (risking their lives) in order to make $500. So after all I’ll have what I’ve longed for for so many years. Too bad Jim is not here now. I’ve no one to take pleasure in it but myself. Izzy approves but it does not mean for her what it does for me. The neighbors will like this as it will help property values. I will have more space for my books 🙂 and not be ashamed any more.

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I can link the two entertainments I’ve gone to over this week to our present dystopia. I was finally able to remember the name of the woman who ran an inexpensive and sometimes innovative and intelligent repertoire company in DC: Carla Huber; her group, The In-Series, located in DC just off 14th Street, a walk along U Avenue (from the Metro). It was a show made up of songs of Irving Berlin with a narration carried on by the performers situating songs in his life, his career, the particular musical or just song cycle. The songs were chosen to reflect some characterization of a type in one of his musicals, the actors and singers people one knew would put the material across. I conquered driving there and back by car, so learned where it was, and then going there by Metro on Saturday evening. One song prompted long, strong and extended applause: a black woman singer-actress, Krislynn T. Perry, sang “Supper Time,” in a deeply moving way, belting it out. I did not know before this that it’s a song by a black woman whose husband has been lynched. Here’s Ethel Waters performing the song:

I attended the first of our Washington Area Print Group’s lectures for this spring: Deirdre Johnson discussed popular series fiction by two American women: their circumstances and what they produced are typical of the era: Adelaide F. Samuels (1845-1941) and her much more upper class sister-in-law Susan Caldwell Samuels (1846-1931). Middling educated white people with connections to publishers, especially through a father, Emanuel Smith (1816-86, zoologist, botanist, collector) and Susan’s husband, Edward Samuel (1836-1908, naturalist). The stories focus on central characters who live individualist successful lives, attached to churches, looking now and again to their family for help. Although strongly teleological, the titles tell an occasional tale of lives stranded and broken (Adrift in the World). Susan and Edward’s divorce led her to concentrate on how the power a husband has can inflict cruelty and failure on those in his charge. Adelaide had come from much poorer people and when she was widowed, with one son, she listed herself as a “writer” and attempted to live off her earnings. Her stories are less moral than Susan’s. But (what the lecturer didn’t say) all these stories are a depiction of a large (taken as a whole) ceaselessly on the move culture treating itself as ever so moral. We got to talking as a group about children’s literature, how it’s changed in the last half-century, and how in contrast to American, British books for children were a melange of fantasy and realism (e.g., The Borrowers). What American children were give was imagined communities. British children were offered an escape from local reality.

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Robert Southey’s desk in Greta Hall as drawn/painted by Caroline Bowles Southey: it’s the world as seen from her husband’s desk; he had the biggest best room in the house; not entirely unfairly as he supported himself, his nuclear family and Coleridge’s, as well as women and children attached to other romantic and dispossessed poets and writers when needed

On Trollope19thCStudies we are into Wordsworth’s Prelude and I’m reading Kenneth Johnston’s excellent The Hidden Wordsworth (it’s really a history-biography of the realities of intimate oppression in the later 18th and early 19th century in Cumberland), and I’m trying to accompany it with reading a fine woman poet’s autobiographical poem, much less well-known, Caroline Bowles Southey: The Birthday: A Life in Verse. I hope by the time we finish I can wrote my first foremother poet blog in a long time. For now, in case you’ve never heard of her (talk about the enemies of promise), here’s a brief literary biography by me:

Caroline Bowles’s years were 1786-1854 so she crosses the 18th and 19th century eras. She was born to people with money but as when her parents died her guardian absconded with the money that was to support her, she grew up very poor. She was educated (she was a genteel hanger-on in a big family and I imagine might have loved Jane Eyre and identified readily with Lucy Morris in Trollope’s Eustace Diamonds or Kirsten in Oliphant’s wonderful novel of that name). She published other books of poetry; The Birthday was originally compared with Cowper’s Task. She does write in the poetic diction of Cowper. Wordsworth’s greatness is based on his original use of a natural spoken English not seen before. At the time Wordsworth’s Prelude was hardly known. Robert Southey met, introduced her to Wordsworth, and they collaborated on a poem called Robin Hood. It never saw the light (was not completed). When Southey’s wife died, Southey married Bowles, but he was very ill by that time and his illness blighted her later life. She received a crown pension in 1854. Unhappily too she has been blamed for marrying him, blamed for somehow getting between his wife and him (she didn’t) and then her own work seen as super-influenced by him — which it wasn’t.

There’s a wonderful essay on Bowles Southey in Romanticism and Women Poets: Opening the Doors of Reception, edd. Harriet Linking and Stephen Behrendt: Kathleen Hickok, ”’Burst are the Prison Bars: Caroline Bowles Southey and the Vicissitudes of Poetic Reputation,” pp. 192-213. There has been an edition of Caroline Bowles Southey’s poetry and a biography by Virginia Blain:, Caroline Bowles Southey, 1786-1854: the Making of a Woman Writer .

“The Birthday” is a longish blank verse poem telling of the growth and development of a poet’s mind through retelling her story. It’s called “The Birthday” because it’s imagined that she begins to write it on her birthday one year. “The Birthday” gives us a woman’s version of Wordsworth’s Prelude. It’s shameful “The Birthday” is not better known. Unlike Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh as it hasn’t got a melodramatic story at its center, but a real one. In the excerpt I sent the poet goes to a filthy shop in London where she meets a laboring man who loves to read and has aspirations to write. He can’t. He can’t begin to get the books he needs (shades of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure) and hasn’t got any time to himself at all. He must work from early morning to late at night. Wordsworth refers to poor people but does not give them reality; in her Aurora Leigh, Barrett Browning gives us this melodramatic story of the seamstress in love who has a baby out of wedlock and (in the poem) deserved to be dropped. Not Caroline’s heroine, herself.

To the reading and papers I’m working on (described in previous diary entries), tonight I begin the second of my chosen books for the course I hope to teach at the OLLI at Mason, Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop (short-listed), a kind of distilled Cathy Come Home, starting late March. I’m now listening to Nadia May read aloud Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out: it focuses on the coming into maturity of a super-sheltered, minimally educated intelligent young woman, Rachel Vinrace. Much water imagery. This from The London Scene which I read with someone on Wwtta last week:

A group of sketches, all at most 5-7 pages or so; like much of Woolf’s work, it’s a posthumous publication carefully staggered/staged and packaged by Leonard. I have separate thinnish books of non-fiction by her and for the first time I understand how they came to be and why they are so heterogeneous. This is a late book, first published in 1975, put together by Angelica Garnett and Clive Bell, niece and brother-in-law, published nominally by Hogarth Press but really a small press hired and in a limited edition. These feel bright, seemingly cheerful excursions — the sort of thing one sees in a magazine. I say seeming because the undercurrent leads us to her The Waves. Time is doing its work across the centuries and in single hours, days, weeks, years, all is going to rot or was once (so relics, remnants)

What strikes me as I’ve finished The Waves, and begun The Voyage Out, how water (as in Shakespeare) is central to Woolf, waterways of the world, oceans, rivers, streams. While the sun controls the seeming 24 hour structure of the Waves, the imagery is watery or about stream, life as ooze. Orlando crosses time as in a reverie: Eva Figes’s greatest novella is The Seven Ages of Women. Here we have a eye going through the river recording different phase sof English history by different classes at different times – in 8 pages the eye bypasses very different ships and boats, from Liner and streamers with crowds of ordinary people on the shore, to a dingy warehouse area (very Dickensian), to left over village, with a desolate pub (note desolation), church, a cottage or house gone to ruin, trees, bells once rung here. Then barges, rubbish and Indian, next to the Tower of London, commerce, the city, factories with chimnies. On we go to indefatible cranes unloading and loading according to exquisitely understood plans by mazes of peple. (Le Carre’s Night Manager shows all this replaced by these intensely dull boring containers and very few people employed.) I have read the ships which carry these containers can be dangerous for passengers if not enough of them. Jenny Diski traveled on one in one of her books. Then the beautiful things packed, the oddities, the jewels, sports of nature – Woolf imagines all this. Now we realize if we didn’t before this is a kind dream. Then the wine-vaults: Cask after cask. Customs officers. No smuggling here: stamped out in the mid-19th century by England’s first determined army of police effort.

The phrase “use produces beauty as a bye-product” could sum up all Jane Austen on the picturesque … Then words have been invented out of all we see.I don’t understand a couple of them, nor understand why flogging is there but that sailors were once flogged to get them to do this work, flogged if they mutinied and disobeyed. (Will Trump bring flogging back; there is nothing he can do which bothers his followers or the Republicans. I am waiting for him to beat the hell out of his wife, and the tweet: “I lost it – my temper.” ) Last: all we see is the result of us, of our bodies. All the things and animals that made these products were created and used by us – Australian sheep say. And this rocking rhythm and final peroration. L’ecriture femme with the full stamp of Virginia Woolf

pytorkonchalovskyrussia1876to956poetswindow
From my window where I sit most of the time there has hardly been any snow: very summery days, so here to remind us of winter: Pytor Konchalovsky’s Poet’s Window (1875-1956)

I handed in a proposal for teaching at OLLI at Mason for this coming summer (how relentless is time and it’s been just about accepted:

Romancing 18th century historical fiction

Our topic will be the nature of recent post-modern post-colonial historical fiction as well as how as a genre historical romance differs from historical fiction, and what happens when the two subgenres mix. We’ll read as examples the older traditional The King’s General by Daphne DuMaurier (1946) against the recent innovative The Volcano Lover (1992) by Susan Sontag. Bringing in as part of the discussion, other popular novels set in the 18th century (from Poldark to Outlander) and 18th century historical films (from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon to Scola’s That Night in Varennes), we’ll explore these questions: How do such books use documents and relics (e.g. houses and paintings) from an era; landscape then and now, history, biography, life-writing; biographical fiction and fantasy, to reach and recreate the irretrievable, the unknowable past, to persuade us to imagine we are in the past as presences with the author. Why do we want to do this? Why is it important for the text or film to be authentic and yet familiar? For us to bond with the characters? And be fascinated by their era?

I end on yet another woman poet-writer, 19th century, American: Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919). In Cox’s case what’s telling is she was very popular, and part of the 19th century progressive or populist socialist movement (Bernie Sanders is a rare unashamed modern representative), which has been crushed since the advent of the FBI and ceaseless repression from the 1950s on.

Protest

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.

I just thought that I’ve never focused on Scarlett Johansson’s eloquent speech at the Women’s March, on January 21st:

It is still hard and brave for most women to speak before a huge audience, and she’s telling intimate realities of her life. Elizabeth Robins’s The convert is about how hard it was for the first suffragettes to talk before a crowd. It is harder yet to be sincere.

Miss Drake

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A recent photo of the woman who should right now be our president and is not — and a gov’t is being set up in the courts and elsewhere which endangers us all in every way

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d start this week’s diary with a couple of incidents that seemed more significant than my having seen a brilliant production of Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette at a rerun of the HD screening at movie-theaters, and heard two (to some extent) informative lectures on another opera, Carl Maria Von Weber’s Magic Marksman (English for Der Freischutz) about to be staged at George Mason University this Saturday evening, which I’m not yet sure I’ll go to. It was an slightly dramatic occurrence that helps explains why Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college, why it seemed so acceptable to excoriate her in public hearings repeatedly (and “lock her up” is still a rallying cry for Trump’s “base” — a scary bunch they have become) and accuse her of doing things called crimes which are in fact everyday business in top gov’t executives’ lives: Trump and his gang use private email servers — meanwhile she was not allowed to use a reasonable excuse that it is common, especially among those not so good at computer programs. Another example, commonplace, of what Rebecca Solnit wrote about so brilliantly last week in the LRB. In the case of Romeo and Juliette, the actress-singer was put into an outfit near falling off her; for the Weber opera, a member of the Virginia Opera Company made a mishmash of perhaps great art.

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Susan Herbert’s ballerina

I still go to a gym (in the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center) two mornings a week (maybe I should go three) where I take an hour long strengthening class. As with so many of these classes I teach or go to everywhere (not the individual lectures at the Smithsonian though) the ratio is 5 to 6 women for every man on days when there are a number of men. Some days there are few men (they are much less joiners of institutionally-formed groups). I’ve noticed (and thought to myself does the instructor knows she is doing this?) she calls on men all the time to count, to do attendance, she kibbitzes with them, she consults with them in front of the class as authorities. The other day I thought she was flirting. She is 60 and in good physical health, a grandmother as she likes to present herself, living alone with dogs, gardening. She does sometimes address women and there I’ve noticed she has the curious social impulse to talk to women I recognize as alpha types, respected, sometime previously in their life, asking them how they are doing. So maybe the calling on men was not a totally aware act.

But this Monday the man who counts as we exercise and another favorite male who sometimes replaces him were not there. She seemed to ask someone to count as we exercised. She keeps up a patter of talk and she watches to see if people are okay (the average age is 55-65 and older). So I started. I felt a curious frisson. So I changed to French numbers for two sets and that seemed to somehow break tension but then I returned to English (as I had no intention of showing off if it would be seen this way). Then — and this is what I want to communicate — between sets one woman near me quickly came over to me and said how strange to hear a female voice. Yes,she said that and did not look glad. Another said I was not quite carrying across the room. So I spoke louder. And finally one or other of the women half joined to count as if one woman could not do this alone, as ifshe should not.

In other words, they knew and approved of her behavior to men.

Today I realized had I any doubt, she knows it too. When we finished the first half hour of dance, and it was time to exercise, I was not sure she would like this, not sure it was not pushing myself in to be the counter even though both men were not there again. Clever lady, she encouraged me when she saw me begin. I am doing it differently than the men. They seem to sing out a number only at intervals (five, fourteen, and then the last), rather carelessly as a joke, drawling sometimes, but I did it throughout regularly on a regular beat. She said aloud she liked that and my voice was carrying. I wanted to say I’ve taught for over 33 years and think I know how to project. She then went to the trouble of indicating first she always demonstrate so the second movement is no. 1. Then as I continued, she complimented aloud, and said this was very good. So did someone else — a woman. I’m not her and not strong, so some of my numbers start to wilt or groan as we proceed and there was laughter –congenial as if I was expressing what others felt. She indicated a thank you when this part of the strengthening hour was over.

These two incidents went well beyond making a minority of people in the room comfortable. Not just to the men but for the women a woman having any authority disturbs the group. She complimented me to give me legitimacy to give me legitimacy. I was doing it differently, more plainly and seriously. Not cavalierly as if we were above our exercises, didn’t care about our bodies this way.

Even in such an unimportant powerless kind of assertion, this society is made uncomfortable when an ordinary women is given some kind of authority that is not granted because she is a trained teacher. I know as a teacher at OLLI I find the men raise their hands and tend to dominate the discussion; my unashamed feminist outlook is not liked and when I did Tom Jones with a class I got into contentious altercations with men that women in the class had to interrupt and stop.

Sickening when I think of what this past couple of months would have been — only that a ruthless horrific attempt to impeach Clinton would have begun. Reporters actually asked Trump if he would accept the election if he lost. Would they have asked her? Wisers head might have prevail as gov’t is needed and she not be impeached, and then we’d have had a repeat of the Obama frustrated years, but not lose ground and end in a nuclear war. She was demonized to the point she was likened to him which anyone with brains after a week or more sees is governing as a dictator and looking to turn the US gov’t into a male white supremacist fascist oligarchy for a long time to come. Hillary Clinton would have done nothing like what he’s done to Muslims, she’d be improving our social services, not shutting agencies up, putting idiots and corrupt people at the heads of those he wants destroyed, and planning to eliminate health care and slash social security for millions. Soon he will attack voting rights directly. She was going to try to get rid of Citizens United and fight for a constitutional amendment so that money could no longer carry doing what it’s succeeded in doing over 40 years and we could slowly resume our republic.

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Susan Herbert’s Fidelio

So what shall I say of the HD Met’s Romeo and Juliette? what was remarkable was how everything beyond the central love relationship was carved away from Shakespeare’s play. You were given the minimum story line you needed to have to understand the lover’s desperate situation. the set made a single slab the center which became marketplace, bed, tomb, a place for ghosts to wander.

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Set designer Bartlett Sher

There was a powerful actor-singer for Mercutio (Elliot Madore) a part necessary for the plot-design: he must be killed by the fiercely hateful Tybalt (Diego Silva), and we must have the nurse (Diane Montagu), Friar (Mikhail Petrenko) and at least one parent: the librettist has Juliette’s father. Other than these it was simply a chorus. The major songs and long scenes between Diana Damru and Vittorio Grigolo were not only beautifully, alluring, magnificently sung, but acted. They really were psychologically persuasive. All the actors looked the roles too — dressed as young twenty year olds in outfits redolent of today’s teenagers or people in movies in Renaissance garb. Despite my anxiety-ridden and troubled state of mind I was moved. Is it patriarchal? Not as strongly as the Kenneth Branagh production I saw at the Folger (also HD screened, with Lily James as Juliet) because Damru did not seem as much a victim as James, as a passionate woman choosing her fate: but throughout she wore this nightgown which displayed as much flesh as could fall out of the gown, arms, legs, thighs, breasts, this flowing blonde wig. Was it necessary for her to be on the edge of such exposure from the the middle of the first act on.

02romeo-superjumbo

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A typical poster

The two lectures on The Magic Marksman were part of a four session course on Opera given by the “community outreach music director of Virginia Opera company, Glenn Winters, and his lectures function as advertisements and explanations (pre-opera lectures so to speak) for the productions the company mounts at Mason. I went because the dates of the composer, Carl Maria Von Weber (1786-1826) and his opera are in the romantic era and looked so interestng. I thought I might learn something about the 18th century. I hesitate to go the opera because while years ago Jim and I saw a marvelous production by this company of Aaron Copeland’s The Tender Land, a deeply thoughtful meditative opera, more recently three productions have been awful: there was a boring Marriage of Figaro and Jim said if you make Marriage of Figaro boring something is wrong. And Winters was excruciatingly condescending; tasteless jokes he thought would go over well (one of them with a semi-racist poster); he seemed determined to reach an audience he set up as stubbornly bored and hostile to this opera by making as many popular vulgar comparisons as he could.

The story is a folk-fairy tale one of a young man who is mocked by his village when he fails to win a shooting contest, and who is tempted by a devil with his sidekick to take some magic bullets, and who with these wins but in doing so cheats and almost causes the death of his beloved Agatha. He has to go before a trial, is judged guilty but is not executed; compassion makes the sentence a year long wait in exile. He can then return and marry the heroine. Mr Winters said music is a follower of style, not an innovator (he made large general assertions over and over), yet the interest of the opera is how it anticipates Wagner, and substitutes the old witty rational stories for a this folk one. Winters retold The Sorrows of Werther in a mocking way, but I could see the character of the sensitive alienated young man is that of this hero.

The transformative forces are from witchcraft and the famous scene set in a “Wolf’s glen” in the forest where our hero and he devil Samiel; and the man who has sold his soul already, Caspar, meet to forge seven magic bullets, the seventh of which (unknown to our hero) will kill the heroine. There is a dead mother’s ghost who comes and warns the hero — and when the clip was played this audience (alas) laughed. I had a hard time asking if he thought the center was gothic because he wanted to liken it to Star Wars and showed a clip of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and the central Flash Gordon sequence of one of the movies as the opera’s equivalent. He did respond when I asked if Weber was influenced by Anne Radcliffe and Mysteries of Udolpho with a yes, and looked at me, curious, but didn’t want to go in this direction. I would have liked to say gothic movies are done today but he was intent on his male action-adventure with stunts super-popular comparisons.

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I did find a staging of the Wolf’s Glen which is reminiscent in an austere way of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, with one of her male-father villain type stalking along

He himself seemed to think the contemplative tranquil arias of the heroine were exquisitely beautiful but he talked of them as if we his audience would be bored, and want the passionate arias found in Puccini in all operas. Agatha is not sexy, not sensual he repeated over and over. It seems strange to me to try to appeal to an audience by talking to them half-hostilely about how they’ll be bored, seeming to complain and then playing music which is so appealing. At least I thought so. Maybe he did not and only liked the Wagnerian forceful macho magic music of the Wolf’s Glen which he did take a little time out to describe musically.

der_freischuetz
To my dismay I discovered most Agathas are dressed ludicrously sexily or they are put into witch outfits (in dark red): here is a rare attempt at some tasteful fidelity

He did mention that Beethoven’s Fidelio is exactly contemporary with this piece and described Fidelio as a flop (not popular, not making money). Fidelio is to me a neoclassic opera moving into austere romance, with serious ethical themes in a story about prisons and liberty: in other words Enlightenment. What was the shame was I could see he might have given such an interesting talk on this opera and yet did not, substituting crap comparisons because he thought these might get the audience to come see this opera. The Magic Marksman was a tremendous hit and has remained a staple of German opera since it was first played. His argument was Max is undergoing an existential crisis, his identity is threatened and the opera teaches him and us to lose yourself in the German world, its community, its rituals. You must be a huntsman and not by cheating.

I do worry that if he had anything to do with this production he’d be so cowardly as to ruin it by downplaying what is best about it, and going for spectacular scenery and special effects so I am still not sure if I should go. For all I know the costumer will have been directed to make an outfit for Agatha as searingly revealing as Damrau’s for Juliette: she is supposed to be all innocence, virtuous, all obedience to family, a coming mother. What he could not stand perhaps is this is an opera for a sensitive romantic person which uses folklore; that its sources include a female gothic which I doubt he will know anything about any more than he really did Goethe’s masterpiece. He opened the lecture by saying there were three kinds of operas goers, papa bears (dedicated, knowledgeable for real), mama bears (casual) and baby bears (hostile and ignorant). This was embarrassing to listen to but note the knowledgeable is the male. He then said for years he was bored by people watching car races and had to learn it’s as legitimate an activity as opera lovers (perhaps they are fantastically mechanically learned). I was waiting for him to try to bring in football but he never did. He was content with the father-son battle in Star Wars.

An opera with a Werther at the center, a sensitive ethical heroine, caught up in the dark forces of the natural and gothic world, becomes a variant on Star Wars …. This is a stupid mishmash of an opera to try to make it appealing. As I write this out (and see what I think) I realize I’m not going. I am glad I have learned there is such an opera and have been able to gain some insights into it by listening against the grain.

But I am losing my thread. A male hegemonic order which intensely sexualizes women was seen in Gounod, and in this man’s drawling discourse was dismissive of anything intellectual, sensitive. And oh yes to be good and valuable it must be popular and make money.

What if we had a body of opera by women? It would tell such different stories.

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17thcenturywheelchair
An example of one found in Menabilly began DuMaurier’s The King’s General where the heroine is crippled; Rose Tremain’s Restoration focuses on a mental aslyum and the plague in London — women’s historical fiction is a site for disabled characters, filled with grotesquerie

I am deeply engaged in my reading of Austen and the picturesque, in my reading for my coming teaching of a course on Booker Prize winners: I’ve now reread Michael Ondaatje’s masterpiece, The English Patient, Anthony Minghella’s screenplay and watched the movie. I carry on exploring historical fiction and the sources for Sontag’s Volcano Lover: a volume of fascinating essays called Vases and Volcanoes (collectors and wild geological and political forces). I watched the interesting film adaptation of Rose Tremain’s Restoration, have been listening to Gabaldon’s Outlander and browsing in Daphne DuMaurier’s The King’s General. I’m still reading about Surrealism and women artists (Whitney Chadwick’s book). About these more anon in separate blogs. I’ve much to do to interest me as long as I can stay among my books in my house. But I should not stay in alone altogether. Friends on the Net are not enough. I become desperate, and have panic attacks because of what is happening to the US and may hit Izzy and I hard. I was going to go to a local concert at someone’s home in Fairfax on Sunday, but it is the day of Izzy’s first social club of the year and I must drive her there.

So that’s this week from Lake Woebegone. Where we are really and truly Woebegone.

herbertedgarfromlear
Susan Herbert’s mad Edgar from Lear: Tom’s-a-cold

Ellen

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treeputout
January 2nd, 2017

… as to be hurt is petty, and to be hard
Stupidity; as the economists raise
Bafflement to a boast …
… the flat patience of England is a gaze
Over the drop …
There is not much else that we can praise.
— Wm Empson, from Courage Means Running (not!)

Dear friends and readers,

Given that I live in a country where those who have the power to stop this a fascist regime from taking over its central gov’t, at its headed a narcissistic sociopathic man whose public positions veer like some weathercock, it’s hard to look forward to kind any of certainty in the future, much less count on or plan for a good one. I’ve spent the time since I last wrote a diary entry (nearly two weeks ago) in the usual ways of reading, writing, watching movies at home, punctuated by going to the gym, or shopping, two times out to lunch, once with a real friend. It’s been cold, rained, snowed.

(i)
As ghosts obscurely trail the past
She is posthumous
She haunts the future.

(ii)
Late in the night
The lit house she comes back to
Is empty, echoing
— “Widow,” Barbara Everett

What can I share? It’s that time that people assess where they’re at, and so here are a few areas of my continuing life I’ve thought about a bit.

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A blogging cat …

Blogging itself.

The nature of blogging has changed over the 15 years or so since I began blogging and what’s called the blogosphere emerged. I find I blog less because more is expected: blogs like mine (literary, semi-political, life-writing) could be seen as a form of privately-run mostly unpaid journalism, especially if you write about books where your reader is probably literate and wants good information and insight. I try for four a week (one on each of my four blogs), and know I invent projects (women artists is my latest series)-— the way other bloggers join in web-ring marathons: a group of people who’ve met somehow or other all read but more importantly write about a specific author or books published in a specific year around a certain date; or they agree to blog about this kind of movie or by this director in for a given month. Then they comment on another’s blogs, link into one another’s blogs. These are planned and controlled performances where a social world you belong to is presented.

I’m not bored with what I do. I pick projects that I love to develop: read about, write about as I learn what I’m thinking, enrich my experience by writing, it’s almost as if I didn’t have the experience or make it real to myself unless I write. But it’s hard to balance this with say my teaching, or doing papers for conferences, or going out to do something. There is a conflict: I would read more if I wrote less, watch another movie. I find I also respond to the audience: so if a particular topic gets more clicks I develop it more: so for example, my Poldark blogs are responsible on some days for as much as 3000 clicks (hits!) — though I don’t read the books or watch the two mini-series to get an audience. I love them: last night I was much moved by the death of one of the heroes in Warleggan and its presentation in the new Poldark as well as Debbie Horsfield’s script.

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Susan Herbert’s Taming of the Shrew — the key to all of these is they re-contextualize by replacing people with cats, and are done with a slightly parodic feel

Teaching and offering readings of books and films

Since we already are suffering from a surfeit of false news-stories and popular entertainment which is becoming more frankly racist, sexist, intolerant pro-violence every day another topic to think about at this point for me is teaching. I choose to carry on teaching, if not quite for free, for very small sums. In a way writing blogs on books and films and the kinds of topics I chose (or postings to listservs and face-book) are forms of teaching, sharing insights and knowledge. I teach to get out and write to be part of a social world, but if I didn’t think these activities valuable in some way or other I would stop.

What should one do in such eras as a teacher? or writer? I re-watched John Berger’s famous four-part 1970s mini-series Ways of Seeing (he died recently) the other night and remind us all of what he said. (You can find and watch all four on YouTube.) I found I had forgotten or never realized some aspects of it.

I did not realize how quietly feminist it was. I say quietly because at no point is Berger overt about feminism, never goes near any of the terms associated. The first half hour seems t be the most famous: like people starting a book. Here he argues how the context of a work enforces how we see it, how hard it is to ignore this: it’s not just an imaginative understanding of the time of the work (he hardly goes into this) but how the era the person lives in, where they see it, how it is framed there (as a precious object in a museum), where it’s discussed, if reproduced what surrounds the image in the book. He has a funny imitation of the usual hushed tones within which the pictures are discussed. They are fetishes because sold for such huge sums. This contextualization and re-contextualization is so important that one must stop and consider it a bit.

Berger teaches us why a text that in itself is an enlightened and good one (teaching say good values or meaning) can in a different context, different era, different audience, have a pernicious effect. That’s what happened to the class I tried to teach Huckleberry Finn to. No matter what I said, the way they saw it was racist: several of the whites triumphing, the black kids feeling pain and (the one who gave a talk) anguish.

Trump is said to have read All Quiet on the Western Front (he seems to be a functional illiterate). I went back to it: it is characterized by very easy language, simple sentences, a very easy reading book, one you could give to junior high school students (12 and up). I remember teaching it — like HF fruitlessly to even most in a sophomore level general education literature class, though not with the same evil effect. When we came to the end of AQWF, a number of the students raised their hands (a number) and said how disappointed, dismayed, angered (!) they felt at the hero dying — I added so meaninglessly, hopelessly. Today I’ll add the same is true of the death of Francis Poldark in Graham’s Warleggan which I watched last night. I tried to tell them the book is anti-war, anti-heroism, that it fits the meaning; if I wrote that in huge letters and talked with examples till i was blue in the face it would not matter. Many in the class had actually read it; it was seen as a man’s book. But they had read the book in the context of 2006, many of them having fought or having relatives who fought in of our colonialist wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. It must be for them something
that was pro-war and pro-fighting people. They were able to read it literally but not able to understand what was meant in 1929.

What they objected to (even vociferously was not having an ending where the hero was rewarded. Again it was useless to argue a book can have ambiguous endings. I have been told most in American audiences do not accept ambiguous endings and British movies are changed to have them or the larger numbers in US audiences object, won’t go. I remembered how Hitler hated the book, burned it, and to take revenge on the author had his sister beheaded (literally did this).

As I stopped teaching ghost stories after I realized so many in the class believed in ghosts and I was reinforcing atavistic ideas, never assigned HF again, so after that I knew it was useless to assign All Quiet on the Western Front to class of American college students of average intelligence. I brought up Graham because I discovered that for reasons I don’t quite understand they did respond in the way intended to Ross Poldark (the novel); hence I assigned it again and again. Also Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. Why they understood this one or were capable of understanding (empathizing with) Bolt’s play as intended by the author I never figured out.

Re-contextualization is inescapable Berger says. Learned books surround pictures with abstract discussions that deflect the reader’s attention from the content of the pictures and what the viewer might intuitively see accurately if left out unintimidated. Berger says it is also the whole context in which the work of art is experienced, the photograph, the sounds. Many people don’t read literary criticism because it asserts things about texts they can’t see themselves and in classrooms there are students who don’t believe or don’t like when teachers present readings of books — it’s elitist. They can’t see what you are saying or react negatively from their culture.

I know my attitude is not common in the academy. I have no faith I’ve made any difference whatsoever (like Leonard Woolf) and when I see a person in pain in classroom (as in the HF experience) I know in my gut I’ve done wrong to that person. I can see that. As in the movie adapted from LeCarre’s The Constant Gardener, the heroine (tortured, raped, murdered for her pains) says we can do good for that one person if we act like our brother’s keeper and the hell with the law so I can refrain from doing harm. Maybe there were people in the classroom who learned from reading AQWF but no one said. It was me talking and I won’t do it again. It was feeding the beast. One can find books where there is no harm done and something good in it. I mentioned two, another was Jane Goodall’s books on chimps.

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Edouard Manet, Dejeuner sur l’herbe

For the second segment Berger demonstrates and reiterates over and over how women are made to see themselves first and foremost as they assume (from this culture) how others see them which turns out to mean how men see them, and then a particular man. Their destiny is defined by how they look. The woman before the mirror is the truest way women see themselves. He shows so many pictures of women, how they do dominate advertising, how attention-grabbing they are made. Men he says are not self-conscious about their looks in the same way at all: they see themselves more generally in society as free agents. Naked women; he goes over Kenneth Clarke’s famous book filled with beautiful reproductions of naked women in European art where he said he was looking at nudes, not naked woman. The difference seems to be these are fine art, not coarse salacious calendars and presented as goddesses or Biblical figures in Bibles or high culture stories.

After this second half hour the third and fourth can be seen to have these images of women throughout, which I would not usually notice. He has made the point and now it lingers. And endlessly for four half hours the The pictures of women with unreal bodies (only gotten for a few short years after dieting, exercise, efforts of all sorts) to resemble a white European norm of sexual objectification (recently intense thinness is associated with youth) or nurturing women for strong agressive men.

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Herbert’s Lady Anne (seduced, enthralled, abused, murdered by Richard III)

The third and fourth had a series of themes: how pictures are still and silent. He reads aloud typical academic style literary criticism which ignores the relationship of the author’s life at the time to the picture, and is general and abstract and often erases what people are seeing in the content. He has a group of youngsters and then women simply give their uneducated responses – in one we are show the famous Manet where men fully dressed sit on a blanket with a naked woman (Lunch on the Grass). One woman frankly says how she hates the Manet. It’s mortifying. This lead to the most refreshing discussion of his famous cool portrait of Olympia (a prostitute) I’ve ever heard. The last ten minutes allow us to see (or he interprets for us — for he’s not neutral nor can anyone be) how painting and today most photography are about presenting wealth, most often people but sometimes landscapes and rooms and the point is see all the objects this person has and what they mean symbolically about the person’s prestige, the room and landscape as a symbol of wealth, power, control.

The last segment ends on advertising and shows modern ads all around us are utterly ideological, teaching us that we will be happy if we have all these wonderful things. The thing sold often has nothing to do with the image attached to it for real.

Nowadays when I go to museums I am so alive to the third perspective — all this is the patron showing off — I am sickened and need to go to rooms of paintings of landscapes or mythical figures or simply pictures which don’t do this, but I equally find deeply distasteful deliberate ugliness, over the top preaching (so that I need to read the card next to the object to understand why it’s there), grotesqueries. If our large and sometimes local social political and economic world is vile, and so the psychological one underneath this, presenting vileness doesn’t help. This does come out in the fourth half hour of series where he juxtaposes photographs of the powerful, of displays of luxurious food,dresses and so on with photographs of refugees and the poor, miserable, and imprisoned and tortured. These latter are not vile and grotesque; they are simply photographs.

What Berger does enable, encourage me to do (paradoxically) is carry on. His idea is to encourage people on their own to discover what they think and feel by becoming aware of how they are manipulated. The idea is to help them free themselves to feel and think. To show also how to go about conventional close reading. The task though thorny and often vexed can do a little good if genuinely throughout with the underlying notion of do no harm. So my last are trying to enact something of what Berger encourages.

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

Two films: the HD Screening of Nabucco and Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado About Nothing (on DVD)

Izzy and I went on that Saturday (January 7th) and left at the first intermission. I don’t say it wasn’t interesting — the opera is one of these museum pieces, and I felt watching it, How different from most previous operas, the music was different, and whole sense of some natonalistic seriousness. We probably listened to one of the best or famous arias. A soprano (Liudmyla Monastyrska) who has sung Santuzza (Cavaliera Rusticana) was Abigaile (she thought herself Nabucco’s daughter but has learned she is a slave) was powerful: seething, angry, and singing away. There was a man who was priest of some sort, Ismaele (Russell Thomas) with an aria like the one in Magic Flute — base voice. Very Verdi though. I noticed the parallel with Mozart’s Magic Flute: the women aria singers are all seething, spiteful, erotic, powerful; the men singing low base music, also powerful aria singers are singing of reason, enlightenment, and are commendable. The gender faultline never ceases.

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I couldn’t stand the story matter: wikipedia quoted some contemporary critics who were candid enough to express loathing of its material: rage, bloodshed, murder. If in modern context (a la John Berger) it could be seen or felt as pro-Israel, all it did was make me remember a video online I saw briefly of a Palestinian man lying on the ground and then a Israeli officer comes over and shoots him point-blank in the head; a towel is fetched to cover the eye-sore, and when the officer is not indicted even a judge protests some Trump-tweeter in training tweets how the judge should be cut up into pieces and fed to dogs. There are Bible stories where this happens. Izzy said it was Christian opera because we are to rejoice at conversions. The set an imitation of the barbaric — and seemed thus to connect to our present political era.

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Domingo sang the part of the aging Nabucco who has declared himself a God and is a murderous tyrant. He is now too old; his voice didn’t carry; he just doesn’t have the strength. I felt sad to remember another video (a feature in one of these HD operas where a young “Jimmy” Levine playing a piano and a young Placido singing next to him. Now we saw Levine already set up in that chair of his looking so weak. But I often do think such operas are better in concert form.

I felt sorry for Eric Owens who was host and trying so hard to be unnaturally ebullient and just going on about how ecstatic he found the whole thing; I know he’s paid very well so I must not be embarrassed for him. He repeated what one scholar has said is not true: that the audience was so deeply moved by an aria about freeing Israelis as a metaphor for themselves (“Va pensiero”), according to this scholar, it was another aria altogether, a hymn thanking God (for what I don’t know) TMI

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Susan Herbert’s Shakespearean Cats — this is too charming not to offer an enlargement

I had brought in the New Year in typical evening fashion. A kind friend had sent me a DVD of the Kenneth Branagh film of Much Ado About Nothing. As a film or interpretation of the play it didn’t work: he did all he could to eliminate the Hero-Claudio plot, downplay it, and what we were left with was a brilliant performance by him and especially good Emma Thompson of Beatrice and Benedict but it was not rooted in anything, they were deeply emotional in fact, more than these characters usually are. But all around all the actors were grinning for nearly 20 hours, hectic dances, silly pictures of Italian rural life as a happy place. Early on it seems Branagh liked to have a whole concept within which he would pour Shakespeare …

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

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My daughter, Isobel, with whom I am fortunate to live

The TLS carries on

I sometimes think that if I had to give up all my subscriptions and just keep one, it would be the Times Literary Supplement. When Murdock first took over, it took a bad dive: became 1/4 its size, the reviews began to be so reactionary that you could no longer trust the information. About three years ago, it changed back: never as long, but the reviews suddenly improved, went back to the previous mostly disinterested or at least seeming neutral point of view (literary) that had dominated. Recently the editor has begun to include more political reviews (with the excuse books on politics) but by no means do they overwhelm the issues. It’s not as good as being in London, but I do learn what has been on in all sorts of venues with a review that gives me a real sense of it. Where else can you learn the latest in academic politics about classics? Their bloggers are very good (include Mary Beard).

Last month they had a fine review of poetry published in pamphlets and by small presses: “Safe from Devaluation” by Paul Batchelor, two pages of four columns each: 12 books covered and much apt quotation. That was followed up by a “Seven Poems” by Barbara Everett. I know I must not quote the whole set but only a selection in good critic’s fashion. She was capturing the experiences of a day: who the poet might see (“Workmen”), what she might experience (“Storm”), a dog and his or her owner hard-put but happy because together). Here are three (the fourth is my preface): the first a tragic story, austerely told; the second reminds me of how I am now so close to my cats, we are one another’s company on and off all day, in communication, the boy daring now, he persists in keeping both Izzy and my doors open; the last how I feel when I come out in the morning to pick up my copy of the Washington Post:

Partners

Seeking answers, she
Plunged, and finding the water
Lethally cold, drowned.

Wiser, luckier,
He skated on thin ice, always
Upright, in motion

Alzheimer’s

(i)
He walked the streets by
Night, and when retrieved, asked the
Way back to Warsaw

(ii)
The loved dog saw no
Difference, or at least chose
Not to speak of it.

Snails

The world was sometimes
So empty the slow grace of
Snails stealing breadcrumbs

From the paving-stones
Outside in early morning
Was almost welcome

To conclude:

I have decided to hold off on enclosing my porch. Given the attitude of those in power to federal workers (Izzy’s job), to people on social security and medicare (me), the looting of the US treasury for corporations that is about to begin (justified as giving them tax breaks to hire people with no guarantee they will), it’s foolhardy. I have longed to do this for years. The porch floor is cement; it becomes filthy easily; the screens have again torn. Had Jim lived, even with my mother’s money, he might have said this is unnecessary: you don’t need the extra space for living. I know if I sold the house it would still be a “tear-down,” so I’d gain nothing there. I guess this was not in the card for the likes of me. I will still pay to have my fuse or “switch” box replaced later this spring as it is so old. I have been embarrassed for twenty years now about the blueness of my house. So I may yet pay to have it painted a decently unobtrusive cream color, but next year, and then I’ll put out for the first time a little sign with the house’s address (from Home Depot or some such place).

I am beginning to teach myself to accept my mostly solitary life. Sometimes I am quite cheerful. Almost at peace. Because of my real long-standing friends here, my cats, my reading presences, the Internet, my movies it doesn’t feel so solitary. Better than seeking elsewhere for what is not going to be there. I am trying harder to go to better plays, concerts, movies I might really enjoy, and if there is nothing out there I’m sure of, stay in.

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New Year’s Eve night this year — looking out my window

Miss Drake

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Dora Carrington (1893-1932), Harmony: Labrador Coast: painted tinsel on stained glass (for Bernard Penrose)

In every government, though terrors reign,
Though tyrant kings or tyrant laws restrain,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
— Goldsmith’s The Traveler, attributed to Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I passed my 70th birthday. The hardest thing about the Day itself was it seemed to take such a long time. I felt it as hours of endurance to get through because I felt Jim’s absence all around me. So it helped enormously that over the 24 hours I had continuous “happy birthdays” from face-book, most by people I have a friendship with, some of which I’ve met f-to-f, many of which I’ve read and talked of books with, whom I like and like to think like me, with whom I’ve shared and had shared generously all sorts of sustaining thoughts. People like to make fun of face-book friends, to dismiss or jeer who are not on face-book with friends. Closer friends wrote letters and I had funny and sweet e-cards. Two phone calls with two family members (a cousin and aunt — aunts are important people Austen said) and in the evening at the Kennedy Center, supper in the cafeteria with a friend who insisted on treating me and buying cheese cake pastry cups as a way of celebrating. The concert afterward was a long modern composition by Detlev Ganert, a tonal dissonant, a calmness in despair left room for a few beautiful melodies (for lack of a better term). Then Mahler’s 5th, the first two movements done appropriately ominously. Home again to read, write and receive letters, another episode the 1972 Pulman War and Peace, and at long last bed in peace, release from consciousness with my cats.

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Ian Pussycat with catnip mouse (photo taken by Izzy this morning)

I have been thinking a lot about immediate danger Donald Trump and his reactionary crew represents with respect to me and Izzy. Republicans in the house are just salivating to privatize, which would destroy, social security, to abolish medicare on the false theory it’s bankrupt (it can’t be as it’s supported through general taxes), with other delights decreasing the number of federal employees (this is called draining the swamp). These could affect me and Izzy directly. I reminded myself of four general modes of conduct Jim followed as a way to survive safely:

1) if it concerned money, sit on it. Wait. Don’t jump. He might have said, “Don’t enclose the old empty screened porch now,” except that he would have been against having the porch enclosed anyway. It’s a waste of money. I and Izzy don’t need another room. I can keep it swept, with the two ladders, the rake, the broom, the pile of wood no one will ever burn in a fireplace now. Even after I inherited my mother’s money he was reluctant to re-paint the house. He’d say the mortifying blue had long ago faded. I admit I know that one of the reasons he was unwilling to go to the super-expensive specialist outside Kaiser when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and we had the advice for him to have an esophagectomy and then chemotherapy an radiation within Kaiser was he didn’t believe that doctors who charged hugely and about whom so many believed they were infallible were any better than others not so adulated and he was aware that the expense was going to be outrageous. Months of treatment would have bankrupted our savings. I mention this to say how deeply in his psyche was the need to be careful about money — from his life and all he knew of life and his family background. He believed in any situation the most money won out. My mother believed that in money was an individual’s only safety — the only one.

2) if you have to do a thing, face it and do it. He did say when he was first trying to retire, we might have to leave this house. Realize that. That did not mean he would not retire nor listen to me when I had objections. So if I should have to sell the house, sell it. De-accession somehow or other a large proportion of the books, store them. Jim and I followed the idea that if we had to do without a thing, do without it. And we did that all our lives. No college for our daughters out of state. We had years of no vacation away, no book buying (would you believe), eating cheaply. This point of view enacted helped keep us safe because out of debt. We took on debt three times, twice for a car (Virginia has such poor public transportation and twenty years ago in places it was non-existent) and for this house. Otherwise, not and never.

I may become a nervous having to deal with realtors who I loathe as a species but I’ve a pile of money with Schwabb and that goes a long way in obscene America. I wanted to stay in England all those years ago, stay in Yorkshire but money won out – at the time Jim got a job paying 9 times as much; there were jobs galore. Today we might not have returned to the US. I think at this point, today, Jim would have applied for emigration papers for himself; he would not be able to take me right away (no longer as the spouse or widow of a British citizen no longer has right of abode) but there might be a mechanism for VISAs for a wife. If not, he would not have left me behind but would have said it might come in useful if he had this kind of document in place. He did want to go back to England when he first retired.

3) Don’t think too far ahead. He never did. He’d make budgets for the next year but that’s it. For people at our income and class level to think too far ahead is to live a deprived life in fear of what’s to come. I did try to qualify this attitude of his (in the sense of let’s not move into X unless we figure out we can pay for the heat and water and all the rest of it separately we didn’t have to in an apartment), but I was grateful for it. It was responsible for our moving into this house, and most of our trips. Indeed I think I married him partly because I knew he would spend for what I loved and let me spend too in a daily kind of way.

4) Finally what you can’t do, you can’t do. That’s it. You can’t do it. It’s a lie we can do anything and everything. Not so. Live with it.

So sit on it. If I have to sell the house, get rid of or store the books, do it. So don’t look too far ahead, take each set of weeks as it comes. Live with it. My father didn’t live according to No 3 and lost out — but then he hadn’t a partner to live a good life with. But the other maxims were his. None but the first was my mother’s.

That is really Jim — how he lived and I lived it with him and have to hold to that. If I can do that I can stop feeling such dread and anxiety when I awaken in the morning or read the name of the latest Trump appointee (what he’s doing is filling this metaphoric swamp with alligators). I sometimes can’t control myself and phone my congressmen. Jeff Sessions (set for what? attorney general? or maybe health and human services or maybe it’s education) mocked disabled people and derided special education. I phone three people demanding they speak up and speak out because silence is consent. At the OLLI at AU luncheon today it was good to hear a decisive “despicable” said by someone at the mention of Sessions’s name.

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A Lily, another drawing this time by Carrington

This is not the hardest year I’ve known but I am losing some more illusions hard to part with (probably many people have divested themselves of these by the time they are in their 20s); as each one vanished I have catalogued it. But tonight I tell myself if any of the most intolerable above comes to pass, I should not seek to kill myself — that’s to give Trumpism what it wants. What the 53% (to use Romney’s formulation) want is the silence of those who object to the destruction of the New Deal, the 47% it helped (Romney’s layabouts). They have hated it since it was put in place in the 1930s. Not that it would deprive them of any luxury but it’s the principle of thing. My father told me what life was like for the elderly before social security: begging bowls, dependence on adult children who didn’t have money to help them. When I moved to this neighborhood and had my first conversation with one of these local upper middle people, an old woman told me how her black gardener didn’t rush over to do her bidding now he had social security. She resented that openly before me. Shameless. I’ve met rich New Yorkers who say the pleasure of being high in the hierarchy is seeing the the marginalized lives of the working class. When they want to take health care away from older people, they are indifferent, just hoping they have to die quietly out of shame. One reason to privatize the Net (beyond reaping a bonanza of profits for corporations involved) is to silence people, cut off information and communication.

An adult response is to hunker down and wait for the spiteful mischief-maker with his fake storm and real possible catastrophes to happen or pass by. I will not follow Carrington though I so feel for her.

So, what I need to do is return to the above and read and re-read it periodically.

I said in my last that Elinor Dashwood has been a model character for me: I’ve tried much of my life to come up to her, her self-control, her steady facing of deprivation, her holding firm in the face of loss, anguish, frustration. So this is said as what I’d like to come up to: a weird (using that word in its original sense too) clearness (out of reading Margaret Oliphant of late), no longer fooling myself about what to depend on, no longer reaching out to what I don’t want (which only ends in corrosion of the soul in various ways), recognizing what don’t like (and that if there is no alternative to that, stay home with my books, cats, and favorite movies), facing I don’t respond such-and-such a way even if most people do (so being more careful where I go to for what’s called entertainment), keeping that, staying in it, cold, cool enabling me to live more steadily.

The penultimate sentence of Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography: “And now here I am all alone.” I mean to go on to read as many of her novels and non-fiction as possible.

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Drawing by Sylvia Plath

Miss Drake

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Lovelytulips
Home again

Dear friends and readers,

The temperature going down to freezing here; I’ve flowers in all three patches, white tulips, soft lavender, clumps of different flowerets and buds.

For these weeks I’m feeling I am moving in and out of peopled worlds in Pittsburgh and here in DC and Alexandria, where I abide. Who knew there were so many constantly reforming clouds of people. And then Izzy finds herself over the moon after several 10 hour days watching ice-skating at Junior World Championship in Boston.

For myself: Around Thursday noon I started off. So many miles. Thanks to my “garmin,” which talks to me with a bland American women’s accent, I had little trouble driving from Alexandria, Va to the Omni William Penn Hotel. The voice is most important at these transition moments when the highway gives out, you have to come off and drive through some series of low-cost gas stations, “family” food restaurants, and motels that have grown up precisely because this the highway gives out here. She tells you a few minutes ahead to bear left or bear right, cites the sign accurately, and with ease you get back onto said highway going in the right direction.

The route in the city reminded me of old highways in Brooklyn, and then I had simply to drive up a wide street, turn left twice and there I was, in front of the hotel. Nearly 5 hours each way. Homeward I worried intensely at one point because my gas was low and I had to realize that there were no on-highway gas stations. I got off said highway and nearby filled “‘er up,” and back on I went. I began to feel dizzy once I was near home, so got off the highway and found myself in a traffic jam around an accident.

This led me to stop off at Noodles and Company for a pasta dish to bring home; I downed it with Shiraz wine while watching yet another episode of the very well-done 1972 War and Peace scripted by Jack Pulman and the 2nd episode (Of 3) of the utterly inadequately adapted Dr Thorne, scripted by Julian Fellowes: a friend has likened him to Popplecourt; it’s as if Popplecourt were explaining Trollope’s art to us. I’ll write about this film adaptation separately too: coming to and going from I had listened half-way through Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read dramatically well by Simon Vance. I collapsed into bed, by that time my pussycats staying close by.

I had a good time while there: it was rejuvenating to go to sessions filled with varied intelligent talk and papers on new aspects of a subject matter I’ve spent my life reading about, studying. I’ll write of these separately. I was at two nights of receptions. I renewed old friendships during the first night’s dinner and first day’s lunch

2015EllisasHalse

2015AidanasRoss
40 years on Robin Ellis returns as the deeply reaction Halse and Aidan Turner defies him (2015, scripted by Debbie Horsfield)

My paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 4 Years on” went over well; the three other papers were from different points of view and done differently yet all linked as about recent TV and movie films (Outlander among them). The audience was not too small and we got good questions. The second night I seemed to gravitate towards the Burney group, and spent the second night’s dinner time and the next day women’s caucus with them. I can’t say I participated in intellectual political talk (as I do regularly now at the OLLI at AU in DC), but I did hear about local politics in different places from friends as well as happenings among books and writers and coming conferences (at Chawton). What people were working on, their topics of special interest and told of mine. One woman on sabbatical reading Burney’s manuscripts in the NYPL, living in Brooklyn for the year.

omni-main-lobby

The William Penn Omni hotel is a beautiful building: art deco central hall or lobby downstairs, and the grand ballroom beautifully carved. It was the second time I’d been there: before with Jim I arrived at 11 at night and remember we got a meal!

As a memento I found on sale Norma Clarke’s probably highly readable biographical Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street — its cover takes the left-hand side of Hogarth’s picture, enrichens the browns and yellows, suggestive of Grub Street life.

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William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

The experience occurred in the context of the two OLLIs, going to the Jewish Community Center, Smithsonian, the Folger, so I felt how I enter into and float out of differently peopled worlds. How different this is from the way I lived by Jim’s side. It’s like a quiet merry-go-round or roundabout. You get off and find under this pavillon a set of numerous people having adventures, stay and talk in whatever form is appropriate, then you go back to the path towards the merry-go-round and get on and off at another place. Interesting and informative discussion over lunch at Temple Baptist Church (one of the AU OLLI locations) by a retired lawyer and an economist about the importance of the supreme court, how much of US civic life corporations through their control of media is being poisoned.

But how and why do all these people keep it up? Cheerfully too. I feel so aware of these worlds’ fragility. That’s the strange and built-in dangerous thing: the necessary disconnect between casual friends and other people all the while you renew what you can or just have fleeting good talk. Here’s a question: how do you define friends?

Snow
Outside Izzy’s window in Boston: celebratory and commentating snow ….

Izzy had taken a 10 hour train trip to Boston via Amtrak. She had a long trip there and back and there was an accident at Philadelphia the day before she came home. No money in the US for public transportation. Fortunately her trip back was only (only) 40 minutes longer, so it took 11 hours. But she was comfortable the whole time. A decent seat, decent enough food available (real sandwiches with people to serve it), free wi-fi. She was not continually photographed or scrutinized as in a airport. She did not have to sign up for “paid privileges” which allow a cell phone or ipad to work, and separately for any music or movies (as in abusive airplanes).

She stayed in a hotel in Boston, from the which there were trains each day going back and forth from hotel to convention center. She found herself coming back to the hotel with the same people each night. Her day sometimes started after 10 or 11 or once noon. She often returned at 11 at night, once much later.

Flags

Rink

She got herself to the Museum of Fine Arts twice (it was a stop on her train), and explored the first floor. She said it was huge:

HUge

She saw a sign outside “to the Isabella Gardner museum,” but did not have the time for it. She walked in the city commons, on three different mornings, and late in the evening ate in different places around her hotel room, mostly Italian restaurants. Those nights she did return early it was very cold out; her window high and the winds strong. So she stayed in with her ipad and books.

Boston

Since she had the same seat for all but one day (as did most others), she sat behind the same group most days: British women who talked to one another and briefly to her too. Her sense of ecstasy as she watched and watched and the experience mounts she captured in a phrase she used to my question, “How’s it going?” “I’m over the moon.”

Miss Drake

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rainraineth
Norman Garstin (1889), The Rain It Raineth Every Day — Hermione Lee in her extraordinary book about Penelope Fitzgerald says it was one of Fitzgerald’s favorite pictures — this is my late afternoon silent-reading to myself book

‘What’s to become of us? We can’t go on like this.’ “Yes, we can go on like this … We can go on like this for the rest of our lives’ — the last words of Fitzgerald’s Innocence in the manuscript

Friends and readers,

Most of the advice I’ve had since being widowed — to find new friends by doing things in groups where people share my interests, to find new interests, rediscover old that I had forgotten from years back, say before I knew Jim, to take a trip, get some kind of job — has been well meant. But I’ve found myself not able to follow through on much of it because in reality these things do not turn out as conventionally imagined. Mostly for me it’s been a matter of returning and carrying on. Returning to what I so enjoyed when Jim was alive or going on with what I’d become over 45 years.

Among these has been listening in my car to wonderfully imagined, deeply felt books read aloud so well I thought a scene was occurring somewhere out of the book even if I could not see it, and felt I had heard different voices speaking in all sorts of tones. It began around 1993 when I was told by someone on the Net that there were companies who allowed someone to rend books-on-tape that could be listened to in a car or at home. I could get catalogue books and order them through the mail. I sometimes ended up with awful readers, but I began to encounter fine and great ones and of course kept a list of names. I was never been able to account for the deep pleasure this kind of experience gave me. It was more than a matter of feeling bored, frustrated, imprisoned in a car for the time and distance it took me to go somewhere or take one of my daughters somewhere, wait around sometimes (as there was not enough time to go home) and come back. I didn’t like to admit aloud that I was lonely even then, and these human voices felt like friends, presences keeping me company whose minds were filled with intelligent thought and feeling. But it was so.

So strong was the pleasure that it really distressed me when in the very late 1990s conglomerate corporations took over these companies, got rid of audio-books that had no wide popularity, except for the usual mainstream 19th century “classic” novel, proceeded to put up the price, refuse to rent (you had to buy), and changed the merchandise to modern sufficiently wide-selling novels and various sorts of fashionable trash. I especially missed good non-fiction books, literary biographies, informative and insightful histories, meditative travel writing. Then tapes went out and there were only CDs and increasingly only CD players. Jim and Izzy both understood the loss for me was real and separately tried to convert some of my tapes into CDs so I could substitute these in my car. They couldn’t manage it, so clever had been the built-in obstacles. I felt grateful for their efforts.

Over the years, I’ve learned to make do with buying and rely on classic novels or the better fashionable (Booker Prize say) novel, once in a while a good non-fiction. Learned to download onto my computer desktop — though I don’t listen much since at home I can read them myself. I sometimes listen very late at night when my brain is too tired to read and I prefer the book to a movie.

Recently I’ve listened to the whole of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South read by Clare Wille, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall read by Simon Slater and any number of Trollope novels, read with imitable perfection by Timothy West. Slater brought the text alive to me in ways I hadn’t managed reading on my own. I write tonight because the pleasure I used to know has not been so fully renewed until thee Gaskell texts (before North and South I listened to Mary Barton read by Juliet Stevenson and before that Cranford with Nadia May), and I’m thinking maybe I have had a new insight into why I like this experience so – and why I love Gaskell. These fictions (and hers particularly) are like having a front seat at a performance of dream-thoughts translated into dream-content that mirror the author and reader’s enacted deeply yearned for kind of self, or experience, or landscape, a transcript. What’s on the page or in the air is a metaphor by which the author through the reader re-conceives his or her identity or re-lives and reshapes a traumatic experience, creates a fabulous kind of idyll out of the materials that conventional novel making (especially using historical material) offers. In Gaskell’s case transcript sustains me, and enables me to act out my grief and loss as she acts out hers. I’ve learned this is what I love most about her: those frequent moments where there erupts into her text this enacting of wrenching sorrow. Or such vividly felt moments of wild funnyness and upsurges of rescuing joy. All this was for the author originally (and now this includes many other authors I turn to beside Gaskell) and the responsive listener now is work, hard work to stay together, not to lose one’s grip on where you are at the same time (I driving my car) — and a means of keeping at bay what troubles you, what you may be surrounded by.

These thoughts are also prompted by what I heard and read in the Future Learn course in Mental Health and Literature I’ve been following for 6 weeks now. Someone there did write of a story Mary Beard told

about a slave in the household of Emperor Augustus. This slave had an impressing skill he now and then was demanded to demonstrate in front of the court; He could namely read in silence, ie read a text to himself and afterwards explain the content of what he just had read. And that was regarded with the deepest respect, as being something very remarkable. If the story is true — and I’m not sure, as I said — then it is a fascinating tale about how people in ancient days consumed a written text. Aloud, in front of others, as if a performance event. But reading aloud in front of a group of people, is today more or less the inverse, we have to learn it again. To do as the classics did.

I was reminded of how Chantal Thomas turned that into a moving subjective novel, Farewell my Queen (Les adieux a la reine) a fictionalized story of how Marie Antoinette so valued one lady of her court who read aloud to her beautifully. Our modern way of reading in silence and to some extent against loneliness as the primary or sole way to take in a book is relatively new. This summer I mean to listen to David Case reading aloud Constance Garnett’s English translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

portraitofLadywithCatYaroshenkoNicholasAleksandrovich1846to1898
Nicholas Aleksandrovich Yaroshenko (1846-98), Lady with Cat — the title does not mention her book or instrument, perhaps an old-fashioned page cutter —

Today I used a page cutter for the first time in years and so know I am the first person to have read my copy of Thackeray’s Denis Duval, part of a complete set of his works edited, introduced by his daughter, illustrated by him. It was gift by someone’s special friend to them, and when he gave it to me he asked that I never tell her he gave it away …

I looked for pictures of people reading aloud to one another: I’ve discovered that the typical and frequent one is of a woman reading to children; indeed there are very few that show anything else usually. Paintings are of people in luxurious circumstances or very poor; again mostly adults reading to children, though there are pairs of lovers where the woman reads aloud to the man or a woman to another woman and the listener is as much looking at the other person as taking in the text.

BeckerCarlLudwig
Typical of what I found — by Carl Ludwig Becker

Victorian pictures are exemplary groups of people. We know the Austens did this nightly when they could; I almost believe that Frank’s first wife in Southampton (this would be 1809) left the arrangement (which included Martha Lloyd), insisted on living elsewhere because (as Austen notes) she could not bear it. Fanny Price gives up on reading aloud from history books with her sister, Susan, who is much more able to listen to Fanny with interest — Fanny regrets to admit she has not formed habit of reading.

bringinghomebooks

SusanNotEnthusiastic
Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny — “a renter and chuser of books!” — bringing home a few from the circulating library, Susan not as enthusiastic as Fanny could wish (1983 MP, scripted by Ken Taylor

There are much more lively pictures show a person telling a story aloud (without a book) — these are often Christmas pictures.

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John Millais, “Christmas Story-Telling,” “Christmas Supplement,” London News, 20 December 1862

I am aware that as reading books seriously as a habit is not common among people; that therefore it’s even less common to listen to a book or text read aloud because it takes concentration and is a form of mental work, and I’ve discovered paintings that are made are most often made to sell to a generality. Photographs record some special occasion, like a festival of poetry or conference where someone up front reads aloud to the others sitting down, then usually the person reading has some authority otherwise or the person gathering the group together. Finally there is implied some special relationship between reader and read to. The best ones do capture the listener concentrating on the text.

Readingnewspapertochildren
Notice the little girl to the right, she is not looking at anyone but taking in the text intently

I found an article arguing that it’s better to read silently because you process the words quicker and thus can get more reading done (!). It is true that when you read silently to yourself you go at your own speed, can stop and dwell, and the tones and interpretation that emerges is yours. Then again a reader will have different emphases and bring out meanings I’ve never noticed. There is a prejudice against listening to a book read aloud. I’ve heard people express the idea this is cheating somehow, not real reading. Here’s an article from The Guardian on reading aloud in a circle, defending and explaining what is to be gained; we are told it’s back in fashion and of course see a group of people doing this and are told more and more are doing it today. Most articles though defend reading aloud as a way of helping children learn to read, value it, and bond between parents and children.

When I was between 8 and 10, my father read aloud to me. He read Dickens lest I not like Dickens. He tried to read The Secret Garden which he had loved as a boy, but found it so egregiously snobbish, class-ridden, reactionary he had to give it up. He was embarrassed in front of himself that he had been so fooled. Two of the happiest moments of my life when I was around 12 or so: he read aloud to me Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Sire de Maltroit’s Door” and “A Lodging for the Night.” I’ve loved those texts ever since. I don’t remember why he did that. So there is the idea of a special circumstance.

ReadingfromFaerieQueene
Here Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon reads aloud to Kate Winslett as Marianne: she has been very ill, the lines are especially comforting, and she is falling in love with him (1995 S&S, scripted Emma Thompson, directed Ang Lee)

What though the sea with waves continuall
Doe eat the earth, it is no more at all …
Nor is the earth the lesse, or loseth aught,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto another brought …

When Jim and I were young and had only a radio (at the earliest part of our marriage) and then in NYC had no TV, we read aloud to one another, he to me mostly. He read mostly Virginia Woolf, her essays and meditations, some letters. Once we tried Can You Forgive Her? by Trollope but it was too long for such experiences together. When he was promoted to a more senior job in an office, and began to work long hours, and I was teaching and going to graduate school we began to be too tired. Nothing more discouraging than the other person falling asleep. When Caroline was young (age 9 or so), he read aloud to her and I Kipling’s Just So Stories. I don’t know if she remembers, but she appeared to love this. Once at the Library of Congress a book I cherished was stolen from my “shelf” (a place you can have to keep books in) and I was so upset. Jim read aloud to me that night a story from Kipling. The whole experience comforted me so.

I have no photos of these times. Would we have taken snaps using our cell phones or ipads today? Perhaps. Jim took most of the photos of me reading I’ve used on this blog and other places from time to time with an ipad.

Now the real treasure of this blog: listen to Stephen Fry reading aloud Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale

I know I love to go to the Jewish Community Center for exercise classes because this requires me being in my car 35 minutes there and back and now listening to Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. If I had no way of listening to a good book read aloud this way, I might not go as often.

Miss Drake

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