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Posts Tagged ‘Clive James’


Monet’s Path Through Forest, Snow Effect (1870) — what lovely shades of red against whites, greys, blues, black lines can do …


Paul Gauguin, Mimi and her Cat (1890)

Gentle reader,

Monet’s winter scene, is very pretty, no? A friend on face-book said to see it lightened his morning, another described it with delight in her tone: “And it looks just like someone would today, with a backpack & bag & maybe carrying a chainsaw to cut wood.” I have made it my header picture for my face-book time-line for winter. The second, Gauguin’s, I put on face-book the day after I was 73 (Nov 30th) to thank the whopping 40 Internet, FB and other friends (people I have met in the flesh too, and also on listservs) who wished me a good day. I’m not above feeling better for such support. I was alone most of the day — as I am them majority of most days since Jim died — and I believe that some of the people (however prompted by automatic software from FB) meant well: several added a thoughtful line to me. I wrote:

I want to thank everyone who yesterday made my day easier to get through. It was a peaceful, more or less a repeat of Thursday, which was more or less a repeat of Wednesday … once term is over (and they are shorter at these Oscher Institutes) I become a homebody again. You all really helped me stay cheerful. I felt surrounded by friends.

I will say this, despite the merits of good (recognizable) food, I have found that rest (sleeping the night for a minimum of 5-6 hours in a row) is more important in maintaining sane life — I should have said staying alive, having the will and strength to carry on, than food.

I got perceptive comments from others on Mimi and Her Cat:

I love the way he shows how a cat may lift as it is petted … Thanks, a new one for me. Lovely painting which was new to me as well … An unusual posture between child and cat. The animal seems so content. I could not imagine life without our cats.

I replied: I usually dislike Gauguin’s paintings: “native” women naked to their waists, with dull looks in their eyes. This is a rare one that for me shows he had genius: it’s reproduced in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, a book which combines a history of human attitudes towards cats with what we find in pictures of them.

Then another friend (also from a time long ago when I was on Arthurnet) said: “It reminds me of Vuillard in spirit.” and my liking of this image (I haven’t forgotten it since I saw it in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, and wrote: “Yes — I agree. Very good. Look at the arched feet. You’ve helped me understand why I liked this picture. I like Vuillard – I have a book filled with images of his pictures — from an exhibit I went to at the National Gallery, here in DC. I used to have one of Vuillard’s murals for one of my blogs — suitably cropped and lengthened out. Here that is before re-fitted:


Place Vintimille

People have asked me why I sometimes reprint utterances people write to me on these blogs: because I value them, think them worth saving, am grateful to people who speak to me as friends and want to remember what they said so I can re-find and re-live them. One of the purposes of a diary, is to live more intensely, with more awareness, adequately through writing, not to forget what has been.

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This is another of those hard times for me as a widow. The first week of October each year (which contain the day Jim and I met, the days and nights we first made love (no we did not buy it ready made), the day we married, the day he lost consciousness forever and the day he died). Christmas day a third — I have never been able to rid myself, expunge, gauge out this yearning for happiness and belief in it as occurring on Christmas day I was somehow inspired to feel as a child, despite some 65 years of disillusion and even wretched bitterness. New Year’s, the fourth. All in later autumn, early winter.

All these promote retrospective, memories, some good, happy now and again, most mixed with and a few almost all pain. I remember the year 2000 when Jim took Izzy and I to Paris during Christmas week and New Year’s. What a relief, to escape what I used to feel than as this imposition on us, an implicit demand we do likewise. On Christmas day many stores, restaurants, theaters are opened in Paris, the general atmosphere lively, gay, usual, light, none of this intensity the American holidays conjure up. Recently I quoted to someone, Johnson’s saying of “Nothing so hopeless as a scheme of merriment,” and to my astonishment, the person looked puzzled. “What could that mean? why?” she asked. Could she be that naive? That inattentive to all that is going round her on occasions made fraught by such expectations that cannot be met because of the baggage, history or past, and connections we all carry round with those we have known long and been involved with.

From this Thanksgiving morning:

I am driven from my study today. Izzy listening to the commercial-laden (imbricated?) Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (it started at 9 am!) in the next room: it is so noisy, made so deliberately continually loud, with continual accompanying high and low grade noise, shouting presented as singing (can you imagine “Jingle Bells” made rapid fire, speeded up?), with rhythmic accompaniments, I cannot shut it out. So must read in sun-room this morning — all the way in the front of the house. Nothing can be heard but a cat’s yowl from the back. The room faces east so what there is of sun streams in. One of my companions (advised by a friend) is John Mullan’s What matters in Jane Austen? and it’s not bad. An essay, “Why is it Risky to go to the Seaside” relevant to her and Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. Turns out it is risky in Austen, but also exhilarating. Mullan has the trick of continually interweaving, quoting Austen … (Later in the day)

I am finding myself not sadder than I was, but more aware of how nothing can replace Jim. Yes the grief of loss fades, we (or I) see we can survive without our best friend, life companion; we grow calm, and gradually get used to absence, to (in my case) being alone most of the time. This week two fine spirits died, both of whom Jim respected, enjoyed their work: Clive James and Jonathan Miller: I commemorated them, their lives, their work on my Sylvia I blog, to which I add James’s Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language.

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So what can I record happened over the last two weeks or that I am looking forward to or doing differently.

The look of my face has changed. My new denture fits me (as my previous one did not) and narrowly holds tight (with the help of a little denture glue) on what’s left of my narrow upper gum. I can eat more things now as the upper denture slams down on the lower (teeth!). But what has also happened (and has been mentioned by others to me who get up close) is “You [I] look different.” They decline to say if I look better. Probably I look worse by conventional standards. My face falls in more, my once high cheekbones now utterly vanished, my face just narrower from where cheekbones once were downward. But I notice too that I no longer look like my mother. Since I rather disliked her (to put this mildly) and when I had to look at her face in mine it could be demoralizing, not to say corrosively ironic (to me). It’s not too much to say I’d be filled with helpless anger, frustration. I was stamped with what I wanted to forget. My mother was responsible for my first marriage. I’ve not told you that as yet. Yes, she engineered it and then hid what happened from my father who went mad with fear, anguish, grief for that week. She meant to estrange us permanently; she didn’t succeed in that but she did part us as I never returned to live with them again.

Well now for the first time ever I see I do like like my father too — or did. People used to say when I would say I look like my mother, there is your father too, your eyes are his, and especially the expression. Well now that my forehead comes out and the upper face, yes, I see him there. I see a family resemblance with one of my male cousins (whom Jim used to say from a photo Jim saw of this cousin looked like my father). What a relief …

So there is a qualification to be made to Johnson’s:

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away…

For one of the Caturdays that passed:

This week I’ve been reading 18th century plays, about the astonishing but unenviable lives of Catherine Clive and Susannah Arne Cibber, and came upon Fielding’s Author’s Farce (mocking other productions, genres, authors &c) which concludes with an epilogue spoken by the actress as a cat. Luckless, our author in the farce, to show he does not value aid offered him by 4 different volunteering poets says “I’ll have the epilogue spoken by a cat.” The text suggests there was a real cat on stage. She or he came on and said “mew, mew.” Luckless is all encouragement but then a female player comes on and chases poor puss off: “Fie, Mr Luckless, what/Can you be doing with that filthy cat?” Upon which the cat exits. The actress (addressed as madam) and Luckless proceed to argue over whether a cat can “Speak an epilogue!” It can be only a “dumb show.” In the midst of this onto the stage “Enter Cat as a woman.” I have now been told in the revision of 1734 the epilogue by a cat was removed. So it’s the first one by an actress other than Clive who turns to the audience more or less in defense of cats, with some demurs, comparisons of wives with cats, and funny rhymes:

Puss would be seen where madam lately sat
And every Lady Townley be a cat.

She ends by suggesting many a husband would prefer to find a cat “purring by your side” in bed than a wife.


Clarycat watching me make our bed


Ian keeping warm on the DVD multi-region player where he can look out the window too

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I’m looking forward to the winter term at OLLI at Mason: I signed up for a movie course – this one will include going to art movies in this area, and meeting four times to discuss the movie together. Rather like the Cinemart summer film club — no surprise as this theater is going to cooperate for the month and try for better movies. At Politics & Prose I did sign up for a course meeting over 5 months, once a month, with two good teachers, where we’ll read and discuss the first two volumes of Olivia Manning‘s Balkan Trilogy (WW2 English people in Greece, adapted into a fine series, Fortunes of War with a young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson), Sarah Waters’s Night Watch (profound gothic), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’ve read them all but a long while ago. One I’m not sure of, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (a character is ceaselessly reincarnated — the writer is fashionable among P&P people, and she is Scottish), and then the cringeworthy All the Light You Cannot See.

I dreamed up two courses for P&P I’ll never teach: First three weeks on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie (in Sylvia Raphael’s wonderful translation), two week break, then a week each George Sand’s idyllic anguish of an Indiana (Raphael’s translation, an updating of Paul et Virginie), Marguerite Duras’s La Guerre (her diary-journal of the occupation in France), ending on the magical prose of Chantal Thomas in her lesbian inflected Farewell, My Queen. Or WII through Italian texts: Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (unforgettable bleak sojourn), Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and A Chill in the Air (marvelous review in NY Review of books by Adrian Lyttelton this week), ending on one of the best books in Italian of the 20th century, Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). All literary masterpieces.  But I have no idea how to sell anything to anyone.

Izzy and I will see Amadeus at the Folger this Saturday (rave reviews), the Christmas Italianate concert at the nearby church, with Laura and Izzy, Come from There (a remarkable musical play about all the people landing in northern Canada where their planes were diverted on 9/11 and how the Canadians welcomed them …. January a HD screening at the Folger of Winter’s Tale with Branagh (now old) and Judi Dench as Paulina.

List life: I’ve started Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (I find I can read the French alongside the English translaton), and it’s just so compelling, I love her deep earnest tone, serious grave, intense — and read into one-third of a fine literary biography of Beauvoir by Carol Ascher. And am reveling in E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Aspects of the Novel and Abinger Harvest.

For my projects I will soon be writing an omnibus blog on my reading of Winston Graham’s mid-career suspense books, and have found the Durrells: Larry’s island books, Gerald’s memoir, and Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory (my latest mid-night reading), which brings together Larry Durrell, Constantine Cavafy and Forster in non-genteel roles, working during the war to help others. i wrote up Oliphant’s Agnes.

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These costume drama people sink into my consciousness, I dream of them, am attached to many. I mean to watch movies differently — more candidly before myself. Or just am. Last week one night after weeping (yes I cried, and by the way so did Elizabeth [referring to this third season of The Crown] at Aberfan — that she couldn’t and didn’t cry is completely false) over the moving death of John Hollingworth as Henshawe in the fifth episode of the third season of Poldark, I was rejuvenated to see him brought back in the fifth episode of the third season of said Crown as Porchey (Lord Porchester) next to the queen, both of them so enjoying one another’s company and a life at the races, at stables, at dinners, that she (Olivia Coleman) is led to lament her unlived life (with him, horses and dogs, in her headscarf) … Such such are the pleasures of costume drama watching …

On just one, but best of the episodes from the third season of The Crown, “Moonstruck,” featuring the astonishingly powerful actor, Tobias Menzies, now Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

The Crown

I use the term “moving” too lightly sometimes, so when I want the word to be taken more seriously, I am without a fresh adjective except if I add very or a string of verys. So imagine a string of verys and the word moving on this seventh episode. At last they gave Tobias Menzies something adequate to his talents: this is another learning a lesson story. To say it’s about Philip’s mid-life crisis where he is feeling the frustrations of existing in a fish bowl and spending his “job” time as a symbol at occasions, giving speeches for worth causes, is inadequate.

The hour opens with his irritation at having to go to church by 9 am and listen to a doddering old fool because Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) expects this. It is the time of the moon landing and Philip then gets so caught up with watching intensely; the whole family gathers around the TV for hours, but they leave after a while and Philip is there for days. He is identifying, bonding and thinking a an “airman” himself is their equivalent and to prove it endangers himself and a courtier with him flying the machine way too high.

The queen (and she is again the quiet improver) then hired a new man she thinks Philip might like: Robin Woods (Tim McMullan), but Philip is not going to church any more. This new man asks if he can have the use of one of the unused buildings on the property as a center for spiritual renewing; Philip finds himself asked to go and when he has to sit there listening to these depressed men, he bursts out in cruel excoriation of them, ridiculing them. Telling them they will feel valued and part of the world if they were active. How about cleaning up this floor and out he rushes. The camera on the face of the actor enacting Wood, pained blankness, patience. When the astronauts come for a visit, Philip insists on 15 minutes alone with them, we see him writing questions, and when finally most reluctant they come in, he finds hi questions cannot be asked — they are young, inarticulate, hardly gave deep thought to what they were doing –too busy. They have silly questions about life in the palace for him.

Then cut to Philip walking away from them through Buckingham Palace, and then unexplained there he is close up he sitting and talking very gravely, and we realize at he is back to Wood and his clergymen needing spiritual renewal — Menzies delivers an extraordinary speech baring his soul insofar as such a man could, apologizes to them, asks them for help.

There wasn’t a specific moment, uh, when it started.
It’s been more of a gradual thing.
A drip, drip, drip of of doubt disaffection, disease, dis discomfort.
People around me have noticed my general uh, irritability.
Um Now, of course, that’s that’s nothing new.
I’m generally a cantankerous sort, but even I would have to admit that there has been more of it lately.
Not to mention, uh, an almost jealous fascination with the achievements of these young astronauts.
Compulsive overexercising.
An inability to find calm or satisfaction or fulfillment.
And when you look at all these symptoms, of course it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that they all suggest I’m slap bang in the middle of a [CHUCKLES.]
I can’t even say what kind of crisis.
[CHUCKLING.]
That that crisis.
And Of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better.
Uh Some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.
My mother died recently.
[CLEARS THROAT.]
She she saw that something was amiss.
It’s a good word, that.
A-Amiss.
She saw that something was missing in her youngest child.
Her only son.
Faith.
“How’s your faith?” she asked me.
I’m here to admit to you that I’ve lost it.
And without it, what is there? The The loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing, but haunting desolation ghostly silence gloom.
That is what faithlessness is.
As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.
What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery.
No, the answer is in here.
Or here, or wherever it is that that faith resides.
And so Dean Woods having ridiculed you for what you and these poor, blocked, lost souls [CHUCKLING.]
were were trying to achieve here in St.
George’s House I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation as I come to say help.
Help me.
And to admit [CHUCKLES.]
that while those three astronauts deserve all our praise and respect for their undoubted heroism, I was more scared coming here to see you today than I would have been going up in any bloody rocket! [CHUCKLING

Then we see them walking out and Philip looking more cheerful and an inter-title tells us the real Duke formed a close friendship with Wood and in later years this organization became one Philip was very proud of. Then the queen is seen in the distance walking her dogs, looking on. Her face lightens with relief and cheer. Doesn’t sound like much? Watch and listen to Menzies.

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Oh my friends, what else is there to say. I spoke once again to my 83 year old aunt Barbara who sent me the only birthday card I got – she said as she heard my voice, she sends the card so that I should call her once a year. We caught up: I told her about my, Izzy and Laura’s Calais trip: on Thanksgiving day over our roast chicken, Izzy and I toasted the 12 days as the best moments, of our year, the one we wanted most to cherish.

Surely with all the deep poetical spirits I commune with in books and through movies, surely surely there is a poem for me to end my recording of this interval on. Well Clive James’s essay on an Australian poet I’d never heard of before, Stephen Edgar’s two stanzas:

How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.

But you see he wasn’t just anyone. My Jim was a prince. And I am 73 and without him. I thought of titling this blog the 74th year except that’s not what matters. I have not been alone for 74 years. For 45 I had a friend. The 8th year of remembering begins. The play has ended, one of the two principle characters left the stage, and I am left to create an after-piece.


Gorey’s haunted Wintertime Dancing Cat ….

Ellen

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GeorgeClausenShadyGrove
Sir George Clausen (1852-1944), A Shady Grove

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve come across a fifth poem by Clive James as he lies dying:

Transit Visa

He had not thought that it would be his task
To gauge the force of the oncoming wave
Of night; to cast aside his jester’s mask,
Guessing it was not Ali Baba’s cave
That would engulf him, but an emptiness
Devoid of treasure heaped to serve his dreams;
His best hope, to be set free from distress.
No guiding light, not even moonlight beams,
Will lead him forward to find life refined
Into a fit reward or punishment:
No soul can well continue when the mind
Fades with the body. All his store is spent
Of pride, or guilt, or anything that might
Have steeled him for the non-stop outbound flight

Were it to lead somewhere, but it does not.
That much becomes clear as the sky grows dark.
He hears the rattle of his childhood cot,
The rain that fills the creek that floods the park:
But these are memories. The way ahead
Will send no messages that can be kept.
One doesn’t even get to meet the dead.
You planned to see the bed where Dido slept?
No chance. It didn’t last the course. Back then
They forged the myths that feed our poetry
Not for our sake, but theirs, to soothe them when
Life was so frightful that death had to be
A better place, a holiday from fear.
But now we know that paradise is here,

As is the underworld. To no new dawn
He gets him gone, nor yet a starry hour
Of silence. He goes back to being born
And then beyond that, though he feels the power
Of all creation when he lifts a book,
Or when a loved face smiles at his new joke,
Which could well be his last: but now just look
At how the air, before he turns to smoke,
Is glowing in the window. If the glass
Were brighter it would melt. That radiance
Is not a way of saying this will pass:
It says this will remain. No play of chance
From now on includes you. The world you quit
Is staying here, so say goodbye to it.

CLIVE JAMES

Grim. Rather like all the George Clausen’s paintings (19th century, with a speciality in the distressed suffering poor) I’d seen before I came across “A Shady Grove.” James is turning to the same comfortless comfort Jenny Diski did in her latest LRB entry (“Like a lullaby”). She quotes Beckett: “I too shall cease and be as when I was not yet,/only all over instead of in store” (From an Abandoned Work). Diski says she’s been there, done that, known non-existence, absence. She is trying to make this realization “soothe,” so she may stop trembling. I know have faced that Jim was trembling as he went out. James is (by contrast to Diski) reaching again for his sardonic ironies. “Life was so frightful” then “death had to be/A better place.” The next half-line and lines are savagely ironic.

I am going about the world with my beloved admiral near me in my mind and find this helps. I’ve set up all these structures I belong to, have friends on the Net who mean a great deal to me, my daughters, and am coming (not there yet) to feel that I can live on with cheer and enjoyment with his imagined presence by me — in my mind. I don’t think I can leave this house; I am literally alone a great deal of the time but all the things around me keep him alive for me too. Like the Clive James volumes and memories of Jim reading them aloud to me, and me not getting most of the allusions.

KeiraKittycat
KeiraKittycat — one of Caroline’s four

Sylvia

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John-Constable-1776-1837-Landscape-with-Clouds-ca-1821-22
John Constable, Landscape with Clouds (1821)

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight I was reading the hauntingly lovely section, Barchester by Moonlight, from Trollope’s Barchester Towers before I read Clive James’s latest poem:

The Star System

The stars in their magnificent array
Look down upon the Earth, their cynosure,
Or so it seems. They are too far away,
In fact, to see a thing; hence they look pure
To us. They lack the textures of our globe,
So only we, from cameras carried high,
Enjoy the beauty of the swirling robe
That wraps us up, the interplay of sky
And cloud, as if a Wedgwood plate of blue
And white should melt, and then, its surface stirred
With spoons, a treasure too good to be true,
Be placed, and hover like a hummingbird,
Drawing all eyes, though ours alone, to feast
On splendor as it turns west from the East.

There was a time when some of our young men
Walked plumply on the moon and saw Earth rise,
As stunning as the sun. The years since then
Have aged them. Now and then somebody dies.
It’s like a clock, for those of us who saw
The Saturn rockets going up as if
Mankind had energy to burn. The law
Is different for one man. Time is a cliff
You come to in the dark. Though you might fall
As easily as on a feather bed,
It is a sad farewell. You loved it all.
You dream that you might keep it in your head.
But memories, where can you take them to?
Take one last look at them. They end with you.

And still the Earth revolves, and still the blaze
Of stars maintains a show of vigilance.
It should, for long ago, in olden days,
We came from there. By luck, by fate, by chance,
All of the elements that form the world
Were sent by cataclysms deep in space,
And from their combination life unfurled
And stood up straight, and wore a human face.
I still can’t pass a mirror. Like a boy,
I check my looks, and now I see the shell
Of what I was. So why, then, this strange joy?
Perhaps an old man dying would do well
To smile as he rejoins the cosmic dust
Life comes from, for resign himself he must.

This the fourth of James’s poems written in these last months of his life: see Sentenced to Life (this includes Jim’s love for James and a biographical context); Rounded with a Sleep; Japanese Maple and Memories.

constable hampstead heath, looking towards harrow at sunset 1823
Again Constable: Hampstead Heath, looking towards Harrow (1823)

Miss Drake

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“Love rose in my heart like a sun and beauty blossomed in my life like a star. ”
e. e. cummings — a poet whose verse my Admiral liked very very much

He’s the blood that runs through my heart — how I used to express what the Admiral was for me

HelenAllinghamAutumn
Helen Allington (1848-1926), Gathering Woodfire, autumn in Sussex (or Suffolk).

Dear friends and readers,

Here am I keeping up poetry Sunday again with a poet whose work Jim read and liked ever so much: Clive James.

Sentenced to Life

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.

But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As ifI could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.

My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.

Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –

As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.

CLIVE JAMES
TLS MAY 2 2014

Claude-Monet-Autumn-on-the-Seine-at-Argenteuil-Oil-Painting
Claude Monet (1840-1926), Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil — the Admiral and I went to many exhibitions and museums featuring Monets we’d stand in front of.

I know, I know it’s not an English autumn sky. That’s why I have the Helen Allingham with the lone woman at the top of this page. And why I have the Downton Abbey, with its pulsing train and telegraph machine — like a heart beating, just below.

“Sentenced to life” seems to me unusual for James or not like the sort of thing James used to write: James used to write satiric verses, often rhymed, ironic, somewhat in the spirit of Pope’s Dunciad. Here he is aging, finding himself having to live with a daughter to survive. Is he sorry he wrote all those cutting poems? I doubt it. He’s still writing formal verse, stanzas with rhymes which reinforce and undercut his tones. Since my Admiral died I too notice many things I didn’t before, feel very differently about what observe going on around me, the lessons of affliction I call them. “Sentenced to life” all right. I’ve slept face-up for years: I dare not sleep on my stomach because my back needs firm support. There are some consolations, left overs from what was, the light in the sky in autumn is one of them.

My admiral bought four books by James either while we were in England or from the US (two were acquired when we lived in NYC so he managed it without the Internet). I have them here with me in this house and took them down from the shelf to look at: aging, one yellowed: The Fate of Felicity Fark; The Improved Version of Pererine Prykke’s Pilgrimage through the London Literary World; Britannia Bright’s Bewilderment, and Charles Charming’s Challenges. I remember that he knew a lot of the references. He would read Clive James’s poems to me aloud when he’d come across them in periodicals like TLS and explain the references to me.

Many times over the days I think to myself, had he (the Admiral, Jim) been willing to go to Boston that May and see that fancy specialist and then done the intense chemotherapy, he might be alive today. Were he alive and well reading this one he might remark that James was older than us and nearer death; were he alive and was enduring the pitilessness of cancer, he might see a parallel between himself and James and remark that he, Jim, was after all dying first.

Yesterday morning I remembered a saying I had when the Admiral was alive: he’s the blood that runs through my heart. Last night watching (yet again, I carry on with this) three more episodes of Breaking Bad (2:8-10) as with Downton Abbey I found myself forgetting Jim was dead. I get so involved with the characters in both series, so utterly absorbed somehow or other, that I turn round to say talk to him. When I watched Walter White fixing his house though I realized Jim will never be here to fix this house and it is rotting in spots. And then I recalled Lear’s sentence: never, never, never, never never, he’ll never be here again, forever this relentless blank. This sky with nothing there but the sky, this vast emptiness — maybe I should be losing myself deep into that light.

OpeningDowntonAbbey

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I went to the grief support group at the Haven yesterday and all but one person was there, and the talk (I thought) was good, comforting as well strengthening because the people feel and voice what I feel — versions close and different enough too. People talked of how badly they feel when they hear of others talking of coming summer vacations when these others are going here or there with a spouse or partner. Me too. Left out. How they too — women and men — can’t do all sorts of things their partner used to do and so leave them undo or go through many hours of nervous exhaustion getting them down or failing to. So I felt better about how doing bills is such an endurance contest and told myself if I couldn’t make the printer/scanner/copier scan or copy, it was all right.

I talked for the first time of my father’s death — in response to someone else talking of his still living father — and how with Jim there’s this problem of sometimes not quite taking in that he’s dead and then having to endure this total absence, no sense of him as a presence, this blankness, and how I wish I were like Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, haunted by him, with him in me. (The people there include two women who appear to be readers but no one but the guy who drives me home seems to have read anything beyond ephemeral modern books — he has read Trollope, and now parts of my book, Trollope on the ‘Net but that’s another story.)

But with my father I had such a strong psychological projection, probably partly of guilt, I used to be afraid to go into the kitchen at night lest I see his ghost, or some wisp of his ghost and he reproach me. I told of how I told someone who is also at teacher at OLLI at AU (doing Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and North and South), just suddenly as she was talking of her aging parents and her relationship to them (playing piano with her mother, trying to please her mother) how while I genuinely grieved for my father’s death, for months couldn’t get his having died off my mind, resented the continuance of other people who seemed to me so much less worthy than he, one of my strong emotions at the funeral was relief (another desperation). I was relieved I’d never have to look at his face looking at me so sad, disappointed, but so sad for me, that I had not come up to whatever he thought I should have. (Once he reproached me for leaving the clerical job in the federal gov’t — I couldn’t get over that; to me it was an escape from a death-in-life five days a week. I said as much but all he said was something to the effect you’d have Sundays. Another time I wasn’t wholesome like a cousin, didn’t look like I was in such a healthy state of mind or body, finally it was not attractive to him.) This is what I had come to. But this is not where my regret should lay. I do have nothing to feel guilty about when it comes to the way I lived with Jim all those years and what I did those last 5 months. Whatever he may have said to me in those weeks of dying, I know I gave my all.

The week before I told the group of these unexpected triggers. This time I didn’t tell a stranger something, but I suddenly found myself beginning to cry as I read aloud from Elizabeth Inchbald’s Lovers Vows, the scene that we are to imagine Austen’s Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram reading aloud in front of Fanny Price in her fireless, chilled East Room, about which one of my students said for her to listen to that must have been like someone taking a knife and twisting it into her heart: Amelia, the heroine, is being instructed on what makes a good marriage from Anhalt, her tutor, who she is in love with and who loves her:

Amelia. … I beg first to be acquainted with the good.

Anhalt. When two sympathetic hearts meet in the marriage state, matrimony may be called a happy life. When such a wedded pair find thorns in their path, each will be eager, for the sake of the other, to tear them from the root. Where they have to mount hills, or wind a labyrinth, the most experienced will lead the way, and be a guide to his companion. Patience and love will accompany them in their journey, while melancholy and discord they leave far behind.—Hand in hand they pass on from morning till evening, through their summer’s day, till the night of age draws on, and the sleep of death overtakes the one. The other, weeping and mourning, yet looks forward to the bright region where he shall meet his still surviving partner, among trees and flowers which themselves have planted, in fields of eternal verdure.

Amelia. You may tell my father—I’ll marry. [Rises.]

Anhalt. [rising]. This picture is pleasing; but I must beg you not to forget that there is another on the same subject.—When convenience, and fair appearance joined to folly and ill-humour, forge the fetters of matrimony, they gall with their weight the married pair. Discontented with each other—at variance in opinions—their mutual aversion increases with the years they live together. They contend most, where they should most unite; torment, where they should most soothe. In this rugged way, choaked with the weeds of suspicion, jealousy, anger, and hatred, they take their daily journey, till one of these also sleep in death. The other then lifts up his dejected head, and calls out in acclamations of joy—Oh, liberty! dear liberty!

Amelia. I will not marry.

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1983: Fanny listening to Mary and Edmund acting out Amelia and Anhalt (MP)

It was when I got to “the sleep of death overtakes the one,” I lost again and my voice broke. I skipped down to the “aversion” couple but again “one of these also sleep in death” was too much and I didn’t carry off Amelia-Mary’s quip in the style I should have. I did learn that Inchbald does convey depths of feeling in this pandering translated play with its clichéd language.

I’ve had a card and present and a letter from one student telling me of how much she enjoyed the Jane Austen course I gave, especially my playing 3 clips of S&S films, and 4 clips each of P&P and MP films. She said I had introduced her to a body of films she could look forward to enjoying all summer long. She had in fact begun by watching the 1971 S&S (with Robin Ellis, Patricia Routledge, Joanna David) and was now 4/5s through Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. I told her I had worried that bringing in the films in the way I did would distract and yet not add to the course. OLLI does not itself appear to have the kind of equipment needed (they’d really have to be in some space in the university probably), or (as a substitute) I don’t have the knowhow and technical ability and equipment to present precisely the kind of clips and stills to demonstrate arguments about film studies. That I’m a lonely soul and even before my Jim died I kept myself company by studying these film adaptations of great books. I have about 6 chapters towards a book. That I felt after some sessions where the students and I talked as equals reading together and said what they felt about the books I went back to them seeing them anew and asking different kinds of questions. And it provided a needed bright spot of face-to-face people companionship for my week.

As does this grief support group, which will have its last meeting next week. I had the same Uber cab driver I had the first time I went — he remembered me and taking me to a place called The Haven.

At the grief support group were told of a tour group I can conceive of myself as enjoying and when I told Yvette about these, she said she can see it might be fun for us, Road Scholars. I’ve sent away for a brochure. A long summer of alone-ness lies ahead. I have thought that if my drivers’ license is not returned to me by mid-June if I go to wherever the central DMV office is and have the guts to burn myself alive like one of these protesters, would it attract any attention to the extraordinary capricious use of punitive and destructive power this group wreaks in a country bereft of adequate public transportation? Or would they sneer the way they do on the phone. I would be teaching this summer, I would join a film club once a month, I’d look into joining the N. Va. Jewish community center: I can do none of this. I am not the only person they are destroying in this way.

I tell myself I have to remember that life is little to be enjoyed and much to be endured and I have less to endure than most and enjoy quite a number of things. I have quite a list of projects to do over the summer — reviews & blogs promised, possible papers, my book, my film studies and readings and discussions with list-serv groups. What I shall have to get myself to do (and am not doing it this morning by writing this blog spontaneously) is make a schedule and keep to it. Make an effort, stick to it. If you cannot, how will you not end up not losing all self-respect?

Call it Pavane for a Dead Prince:

Sylvia

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