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Izzy took this photo of a tree on our block on her way to work about a week ago ….

Dear friends,

I’ve two happenings in my life since last I wrote that have mattered and I want to remember — and share with others. One began some 5 weeks ago now, and has (I regret to say) come to an end: I attended 4 sessions on 4 works by Margaret Atwood led, taught, more or less shaped by Elaine Showalter. I took a class she gave this past summer on Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, the book, together with the two film adaptations, the 1958 travesty which reversed Greene’s point of view, so that instead of an exposure of US brutality, and ruthless colonialism (as the US took over from the French) in Vietnam, we were to see Pyle as a hero undermined by Fowler, and the 2002 Philip Noyce film, which presented the book’s searing condemnation, but (as it had to) diluted by the usual anti-woman point of view of spy-thriller-mysteries. I was a bit disappointed in Dr/Prof (shall I give her the proper title?) Showalter’s presentation of clips from the two films (she is not a student of film) but I could see in her treatment of the book subtle insight where it mattered, albeit held back by her awareness of the pro-Americanism and patriarchal domination (by a few of the men and silence of the women) of the class members’ conversation.


A recent photo

Well in presenting Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, The Edible Woman, Stone Mattress, and a few texts online (like “Rape Fantasies” from 1975) to a class just about made up of all women (in each there was one male, but not the same one) she was not so held back: I found myself in a room of suddenly not-silent older women, intelligent and willing to speak for real. She was also absolutely in command of her material, which included a history of feminism (she told of events and phases in the 1970s-80s 2nd phase which she had partaken in), a full study of Atwood (well maybe she was not as up on the poetry as she ought to have been), and generous as well as evaluative responses to her audience (I’ll call this) for real.

I have long been an admirer of her books. How I was inspired by her A Literature of Their Own I told her at the end of that summer’s class. Over the years various of her essays, amused by her Faculty Towers — albeit taken aback by her buoyant optimistic outlook which in the 1970s I had not discerned. I began not to be sure how to take her – the way I am not sure about Margaret Anne Doody any more. I tell myself their willingness to conform, and real cheer reveals complacency due to luck; this temperament is how they got ahead — as well as having had the right parents or home environment that taught them what networking is, gone to the name respected schools. But I found myself forgiving her even when, as in a recent review of a biography of Susan Sontag where Showalter faults her for speaking out against the blind reaction to 9/11 (Sontag said, rightly, that this kind of thing is what the US as a military power has been serving up to other countries and all socialist progressives for decades): she lost adherents. There are more important things than our place in public media. I was able to speak of my own anorexia in one class, and in others contribute moderately to the discussion for real — though I soon understood most of the woman there, as in the OLLI at AU, I am not like most of those speaking as most of them (like Showalter) had gone to name colleges (where they had to pay real money to get in, pass interviews), most worked for much more money in professional occupations they were promoted in; or they were upper class home-makers for successful men. I’ve never experienced any of that — though I could (as no one else did) speak to what it is to have an eating disorder for real.

She was unpretentious, genial, as far as realistically possible, candid. It was enough to almost make me have some faith in the possibility of the academic world honoring someone worth honoring. Almost but I consider that if the norm is not this at least I have found an instance of a woman of integrity, remaining a Feminist (as she said of herself when described by the late Harold Bloom, the usual small man, with a capital letter), nonetheless rewarded. Not that she could understand someone like me. I do not kid myself. I volunteered when the class was talking of 1970s feminism that before then I found when I knew I wanted to write my dissertation on rape in Clarissa I couldn’t. I didn’t have the language to talk of this kind of crucial event in many women’s lives which would not shame me, would force me into taking attitudes I knew were falsifying my own experience. She looked surprised.

I am alive to the irony that at 72 I could have a somewhat self-altering experience from coming into contact with an outstanding woman I can admire. She told of what it was actually like to be a judge of the International Booker Prize, and I learned about this prize from an aspect I’d not considered: how sometimes when one wins, it can harm your career if the publishers and promotional booksellers don’t think your book is capable of being a best-seller. I’ve regathered up the books by her I own, the essays I have in my computer, and am making my way slowly through her Inventing Herself, which I hope to write a separate blog on for my Austen reveries, where I’ll include some of our discussion on Edible Woman and “Rape Fantasies” especially. It is too late to make any effective change in my life. I tell myself I will finally read all of A Jury of Her Peers, tackle Sexual Anarchy (on the fin-de-siecle) and go back to her 1980s essays.


Mary Trouille

I am reminded of how the French 18th century scholar Mary Trouille asked my some 10 years ago to be on her panel and deliver a paper on Rape in Clarissa. I didn’t have to produce a proposal, just send general thoughts, and then Mary included me in her decisions as to who to include, and I saw why she chose who she did. I longed then to have had such a woman as my dissertation adviser, or what’s called a mentor. Gentle reader, I never had what’s called a mentor. I had written a thorough good and favorable review of Mary’s book on wife abuse in the mid-18th century, and she had appreciated that. But she did what she did because she understood my mind moved in the same tracks as hers did. Mary also wrote Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment: Women Read Rousseau, which I studied, and she is the first modern translator of the important book by Rétif de la Bretonne, where in the person of his daughter, he retells the horrific abuse she suffered from her husband, and how all around her were complicit in urging her to endure it, Ingenue Saxoncour, or The Wife Separated from her Husband, which I have just bought! In all I’ve written about rape and abuse hitherto I’ve relied on a reprint of the 18th century French text.

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Gettysburg Hotel, 1 Lincoln Square

It was not the first EC/ASECS conference I attended partly at Gettysburg Hotel, and partly on the campus; I had come here with Jim in 2006 and remember vividly the day’s trip and talk (from a guide) around the infamous & huge battlefield. At that conference I gave a paper on Anne Murray Halkett and broke out in hives (hardly anyone came and I had delivered it badly; it was too long and too indirect). I’ve been going to these EC/ASECS conferences for some 20 years, almost without a break and was awarded the only prize I ever have gotten — for service to the group. I flubbed for I didn’t sit where I was supposed to, too embarrassed. This year I am chair of the Molin Award committee.


Gettysburg college

So what new mattered? The regional group seemed to come alive again on this 50th anniversary and I had a very good time at the sessions I attended, felt rejuvenated by the conversations I had with people who share my valuation of scholarship enough that they seem to be spending their existence as I do — or try to do. I drove myself there and back,without too much anxiety — I used both my garmin and the Waze app on my cell phone (which I still can’t get to talk). The person who was supposed to chair the Johnson panel didn’t come and asked me to substitute for him, and for the first time I didn’t read a paper through, instead half-read and half-talked it. The room was full, with a number of Johnsonians (!) and I was commended for my performance as chair. Thomas Curley’s paper was a retelling of his magnificent work on Robert Chambers with the startling (apparently to many in the room) that Johnson was a major collaborator in Chambers’s first works on law. Tom had parallel passages showing texts from this collaboration (in effect) and Johnson’s (highly conservative) False Alarm, Taxation No Tyranny &c — showing Johnson justifying colonialism, taxing colonies, and not all that against slavery. Chambers went on to become a supreme Chief Justice in India — married a woman many years younger than himself.

He had come a long way — I went to dinner with him — a cab to a plane, a plane and then rented a car. He is an older man and it was gratifying to see that his work is at least being made more public. He said since he wrote he has had hardly any sense anyone paid attention — someone remarked people might feel they have enough Johnson, also there’s the problem of what’s his.


Aspects of Biography — I referred to this during the session

I also was so gratified to listen to Lance’s paper and afterwards talk with him (as a Johnson expert) and a couple of other people. What emerged is that my view that Savage was a fraud, that the woman he claimed was his mother was not so at all is not uncommon! It was that insight that I couldn’t get past — I couldn’t get myself to write on Johnson’s Life of Savage because while it is a extraordinary work of biographical art, paradoxically it is centrally wrong and I felt I must bring that out. I wish I had known that more people think this – -they don’t write it down lest they be attacked or find themselves in a morass. That wouldn’t have bothered me. I find the Life of Savage more interesting because Johnson is so deluded — bonding so with this man and yet has written a remarkable strong biographical work. Lance and I talked of Holmes’s book and how his analysis of the trial is particularly illuminating — the man was also a thug murderer. I know to talk to students of this as a remarkable biography and maybe to the average person so “fact” oriented this would not make sense. But it does to me. Lance’s paper was about how much that is written about London is based on conclusions with inadequate evidence about Savage’s relationship to the poem.

I felt my own paper on the literature of Culloden and its aftermath went over very well — I did read it but it’s written in a talking style (I’ve put it on academia.edu so anyone may download and read it). We had a much larger audience than I anticipated as there were two other panels with far better known people going on at the same time.

I disappointed my self only when it came to going to the Irish folk singing in a tavern on Saturday night. I get almost no chance for such experiences, but I came back with Tom (above) at 8:45 pm or so and there was no one around to go with. It was dark, looked like a longish walk and I chickened out. But (I tell myself) I read away in my room and was fresh for the long Saturday. I will tell of this conference and some of the papers in more impersonal way on Austen reveries. For now we can listen to Jim McCann and the Dubliners singing Carrickfergus — I remember Coilin Owen, who was a friend, an older faculty member at Mason, liked this one so (he died this fall)

Most of all to be with like-minded kindly intelligent well-educated people who are spending their lives the way I am, who value the humanities, arts, liberal in thought was like coming to a halcyon haven.

It was important because (I find I must tell because not to speak of it would be to falsify this life-writing blog) for three days and nights I was bombarded by harassing bullying emails from someone accusing me of heinous treacherous behavior, I’m a freak who behaves strangely and with powers of intimidation beyond my own belief. I single-handedly seem to have silenced her face-book page (I should be so powerful…) and changed the minds of countless people towards a serial drama (seemingly at the center of her existence). I endured deep distress because I was away from this computer and could not block, ban, or respond to her restless immediate demands. I’ve had many soul-shaking experiences in social life both on- and off-line but this was a new form for me. Unfortunately (I’ve been told) I cannot ban her from seeing my blogs: the only way to do this is to make the blogs private and then other people could read it only if they have passwords. The same holds true of my time-line on face-book: I cannot ban anyone from reading it unless I make it private. I gathered from what she said she had been reading my blogs almost obsessively and with intense interest for months! I wondered if not setting up software to allow this makes more profit for face-book and wordpress.

It is (I hope) over, because I can ban all remarks from being recorded on the blogs, from reaching my gmail, and myself block seeing any remarks she makes on face-book. I am not sure this is enough, but I will not be threatened out of writing about the realities I come up against and have been helped to put this in perspective by my daily experience at the OLLIS I teach at, on listservs and different face-book pages, and during this time this conference (which I did have trouble in concentrating on — say the papers, the driving — and in sleeping).

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For the rest over the last three weeks I continued to go to classes, teach very successfully (Phineas Finn just about teaches itself) and carry on life with Izzy and my two cats. Two Caturdays on face-book: October 12th:


Clarycat

It is my cats who keep me sane because every morning they do want food, across the day they do enact a calm collected pattern of behavior which keeps them alive and active (they often look interested in what is going on around them), they rest collectedly and follow me about and would be disturbed if in my human way I acted out what I feel in my consciousness. They are alert around 5 waiting for their evening meal. They wait to play with string wit me around 6:30 pm each night as Izzy and I prepared our meal. They are there in my room late at night waiting to go to bed with me. If I behave in an upset way, they get upset. So they help keep me sane. Here are two further pictures of this needed Clarycat taken by Marni during the week I was away from her and Ian this August at Calais. Right now she is resting in her cat-bed and Ian is nearby gazing out the window while I sit and read and write at my desk in the same room.


Ian (as Jim used to say) “resting from the rigors of his existence while I work-play away on my teaching of the Pallisers DVD episodes adapting/along with Trollope’s novel, Phineas Finn. The other part of this desk has a laptop where I’m playing one of the DVDs. If you look carefully, you will see his eyes are open. He has two comfort toys under him — the small grey mouse with a tail and the smaller varied colored-mouse with a bell on a ribbon.

My cat, Ian, continually hides, and each time I find the new difficult-to-find hiding place and he realizes I know where he is, he will find a new one. A cat’s mind and motivations deviate utterly from the person he or she is genuinely attached to. They are predators and distrust the world — they have hardly any weapons now that they have evolved into 10-12 pound creatures. So the hiding is an experience of renewed comfort — he was in a comfort zone. One problem I have is I rely on my confidence he did not get out of the house and my sense of him that the last thing he really wants to do is escape: he keeps away from the door most of the time. Once when he was a kitten, and before the porch was enclosed he leapt into it; I got so excited at him, he never did that again. Why that’s a problem is occasionally or regularly I pay people to do stuff in my house. Every other week a 2-3 women to clean. So I feel I have to be here to let them in or out so as to be at the door when they come in; when I’ve had contractors in I manage to close both cats into Izzy’s room. But it means sometimes having to miss something so I can be here when the door opens and closes. Or I’d regularly lose peace of mind over wary Ian.


For my present Friday movie class (genre, gender, race & class in American film) I re-watched Woody Allen’s (and Diane Keaton in) Annie Hall for the first time in decades — I found much that still made me laugh, but on the whole felt saddened because romance companionship can be a form of happiness and it’s one beyond me now forever

What am I looking forward to: working away on my Poldark/Winston Graham and historical fiction projects; now a review of Berta Joncus’s immense Kitty Clive, or the Fair Songster. It’s hard for me because it’s part musicology — but it tells a story of the second half of Clive’s life that resonates with me. After Catherine Clive became so successful on stage, she attracted deep resentment, envy, and found herself under severe attack and had to alter her act to make fun of herself, to humiliate and ridicule herself to carry on. She needed to make money. Finally she retired to live on Horace Walpole’s estate. I’m not sure the biography goes over this second half but no one in my knowledge ever even explained the second half of her life

And after all I must read the long densely researched life of Charlotte Lennox — by Susan Carlile. I had put it up on the shelf in order to get on with Margaret Oliphant. Now I think no hurry on that any more. One of the scholarly experts on Lennox, a friend of mine, was at the conference & for the “newsletter” (it’s become a journal really) wrote a long review of this important book. Two new biographical books on Vittoria Colonna are sitting on my desk, and one interpretive of her relationship with Michelangelo. I still want to return to my Italian and French studies. And I’m back to studying a film adaptation of one of Austen’s books, the fragmentary Sanditon (scroll down to the last part of the blog), which I re-read this weekend.

So, gentle reader, I don’t change very much after all but the two experiences I’ve tried to convey here have made me feel somewhat better about the world and myself.

Ellen

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