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My front yard this morning after a night and morning long rain of icy-snow — daffodils in snow!

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you — A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh [he speaks for me now when I think of Jim whose Latin copy of this book I have in my house]

Friends,

About a month ago I wrote about an Iranian film by Ashgar Farhadi, English title, Salesman (2016); I praised it highly and urged people who wanted to begin to learn something of Iranian and Muslim culture to see it. Last week I watched another earlier film by Farhadi, A Separation (2011). It won many awards, and is a better film because it’s not shaped by a “whodunit?” format (who assaulted the wife), and there is no climactic pathetic denouement. In this case I had rented a DVD which enabled me to change the language so I could listen to the actors speaking in French and as the film went on began to pick up a good deal (as I cannot from Farsi) partly using the subtitles. Reviews more or less uniformly credited the film with presenting a portrait of a modern nation during a troubled period attempting to live under Islamic or religious law


The opening shots: the two are facing the judge, she reasoning with him …

The story is quite complicated because so much nuanced reality is brought out: we have a couple whose marriage is shot; Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran in order that her daughter, Termeh (Sarian Farhadi) be brought up in a culture with different norms; Nader (Payman Mooadi) sees his father’s needs as primary (the old man has advanged Alzheimer’s disease). When she files for divorce and it’s not granted (her complaints are said to be trivial), she goes to live with her parents as she does not want to leave without her daughter. Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout Muslim woman desperate for money to stay with his father and care for him all day; the work is arduous, she has a small daughter with her and it emerges is pregnant. He comes home in the middle of the day to find her gone, his father seeming near death tied to a bedpost to prevent him wandering out of the house, and a sum of money equivalent to her salary gone. He goes into a rage and when she returns and has no explanation, he shoves her out of the house. A little later Razieh’s sister informs Simin that Razieh has miscarried. So this is the core event about one quarter into the film. The rest is consequences.

Razieh’s husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), a violent man initiates a prosecution for murder. A long series of scenes brings a number of witnesses to a judge (a teacher, neighbors, the daughter) and among other suspicions, it may be Hodjat hit Razieh, she may have gone to a gynecologist on her own (regarded as very suspicious); we learn Hodjat is vitriolically angry at his lack of a job and incensed at his wife at every turn (she never asked permission to work), and he is pressured by his family into accepting “blood” money, only to lose it when Nader asks Razieh to swear on a Quaran that she believes he caused her miscarriage. Razieh cannot get herself to tell a lie lest God punish her. Continual bickerings go on, the judge’s attitudes towards the men (Nader begs the judge not to jail him), the inflexibility of the laws, all around these people the busy streets, cars and bikes everywhere, the run-down buildings, the expensive schools (with girls kept in), everyone else seeming to be on the edge of quarreling, male shouts, women in burkas following behind men in modern clothes; little girls with covered heads following the mother. As with Salesman, these people live in these tight-knit groups, almost never apart. As with Salesman we see how human nature works its way through and is exacerbated by Muslim norms. No one is seen as criminal (in the way the man who assaults the woman in Salesman is). The film ends with similar ambiguity: it seems the old father is dead, Simin is again asking for divorce and permission to take her daughter out of the country; this time divorce is granted and Tehmen is asked which parent she chooses. She won’t speak in front of them. We see them waiting on the opposite side of a corridor with a glass wall between them. The film has come to its end.


Razieh — characteristic shot


She also stands so silently and often from the side

The characters are granted a depth of psychological reality, the circumstances fully developed sociologically and culturally; it’s superior to the American trilogy I saw in January, The Gabriels, because there is no urge towards allegory; you cannot fit what is happening into a particular political point of view. For my part since the wife was not centrally part of the action much of the time, I didn’t bond with her as her intimate self was not seen; it was Razieh who occupies the center of many scenes of around whose conduct or presence everything swirls. One is driven to enter into the mindset of this Muslim woman who herself tells as little as she can get away with.

I mean to rent his The Past next. This also a critically-acclaimed film, and it too can be listened to as a French film with subtitles. The very least one can do now is to try to understand Muslim culture in the middle east. I have read the monster who is now the US president is hiring yet another 10,000 immigration agents to prosecute the military action of ejecting 11 million people from the US, and banning as many Muslims as the law allows him to from ever entering.

I’ll mention in passing that on Saturday night I managed to drive to see at an Arlington Theater a black spiritual music rendition of Sophocles’s third Oedipus play as The Gospel at Colonnus. I say manage because when I arrived, I discovered the wrong address, a different theater had been cited, and to go I had to rush out, using my Waze software on my cell phone (programmed by a young woman at the box office) following directions half-madly (it was dark and I kept not being able to read the street names so missing turns) to reach another theater where it was playing. For similar reasons to A Separation, everyone, especially everyone of white-European heritage should see it.

I got there late (really just on time with several others rushing over) and one of the ushers actually helped me to a much better seat as I could not see from the back, and then another patron exchanged seats with me so I could have a chair with a back (I do not look young or strong, gentle reader). It’s not great, but the depth of earnest emotion and intelligence, the strong reaching out in song, the beauty and well-meaningness of the anguished lines and powerful acting (they gave it their all) should be experienced. It’s not Hamilton but surely some of the feeling of a black ensemble was so analogous. They wore typical suits one sees young black men sometimes wear, church gowns for the choir, Ismene and Antigone exotic kinds of headgear with gorgeous gowns, the preacher well preacher-clothes and Oedipus clearly blind, a heavy man, with gravitas. I feel so profoundly ashamed to be a white person living in America today and stood to applaud as my way of endorsing all of us to live as equals, equally safe together.

So much harm is planned: to deprive 24 million slowly of health care. To cut off mental health services yet more. Many more people will now kill themselves: separated from their families and friends and lives with no recourse or help; snatched out of churches, streets, for paying their taxes; isolated. At least three Muslim and/or Indian people have been shot dead by white supremacists. Bomb threats and desecration of Jewish graves and institutions occur daily. The Ku Klux Klan wants a public rally in a major town center in Georgia. LGBT people and children in public schools now going to be subject to bullying and given less funds. This is what Trump and his regime (this is no longer called an administration) want: the Syrian president directly murders, bombs, tortures people who live in the land he wants to control; this new rump are more indirect but just as unfazed, unashamed and determined. Destroy as far as they can a whole way of life. I’ve known for a long time the Republican point of view is one which disdains compassion (why Bush fils called his brand compassionate conservativism); their scorn for protest is caught up in the word whine. Joy only for the super-rich. Beneath it all hatred for people like us.

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Emma (Kate Beckinsale) painting Harriet (Samantha Morton) (1995 Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

This has been a very stressful week. My doctor suggested to me a 10 hour trip was dangerous; consider the 8th hour of driving, consider, he said, the 9th; how easy to tire, how easy to lose your way, and then tired and anxious, it’s a risk; even a 5 hour trip on two days was something I needed to think about and plan for by being sure to have a comfortable place to stay overnight half-way. Then when I finally looked again into taking a plane, I discovered that there was one flight to and from Burlington, Vermont, on Saturday it occurred half an hour after I was to give my paper; and I had to go through Expedia to buy the tickets. And someone from the conference drive there to pick me up and deliver me back. I worry about my cats again as a contractor and his workmen may be here while I’d be gone for 4 days. I might have to board them. Still, I almost bought that ticket but was advised by the conference head as “an older sister,” maybe not. So I finished my paper, “Ekphrastic Patterns in Jane Austen,” and think it is splendid and sent it to the organizer of the Jane Austen and the Arts conference at Plattsburgh, New York. She offered to read it aloud, sparing me a difficult arduous trip.


A watercolor by Turner of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth (as in Persuasion)

I am turning my attention to my teaching, delving the Booker Prize phenomena in the context of modern book selling. I might set aside some of my on-going projects — though I will still write a full summary review blog of an important book, Julie Carlson and Elisabeth Weber’s Speaking of Torture and feature it in my central blog as something I can do against the present deeply harm-causing regime.

I am seriously thinking of trying a new book project, even begun work on it: a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark books and by extension, the films; and am doing preliminary reading before writing his son to see if he would be agreeable to such a project and if he would help (for example, I would need to see Graham’s letters or private papers, the life-blood of biography). I would focus in the second half on his Poldark novels, so relationship to Cornwall, and finally the films.


The lizard, full sunlit — a paratext for season 2 of the new Poldark (2016)


One of the actresses’s cloaks …. for Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson)

The man I hired as a general contractor has begun work on my house, and already the porch is at long last enclosed by four walls, and has two windows which match the other windows in front. The whole process, all that needs to be done, will take about 2-3 weeks he says. (At most?) My beloved cats have to be put away once more in Izzy’s room while he and his workmen are about.


Kedi (2017, film about hundreds of thousands of Istanbul cats, genre: post-modern historical)

So I end on another film I saw with Izzy and my friend, Phyllis, this Sunday. I liked it so much I’m going again on Thursday with another friend, Vivian: Kedi. Kedi is ostensibly a film about the thousands of cats who live on the streets of Istanbul. We are told the story of at least 20 different individual cats and/or groups of cat (mother and kittens), usually (this is important) by the person who is providing food and care and often affection. The emphasis in some stories is the cat, in others the cat-lover and why his or her deep kindness and the good feeling and love he or she receives in return. I imagine much filming was necessary to capture the cat’s lives, and real social effort to get the caring people to talk to the director and film-makers .The film tells as much about these individuals and why they have taken it upon themselves (some of them go to vets for medicine or seemingly regular check-ups) to keep these cats alive and thriving — as far as one can thrive while living on a street: most of the adult cats look thin, and the babies are tiny, feeble. It’s really about Istanbul and its culture: vast areas of the city are impoverished, people living on the edge in a modern city. Erdogan’s name everywhere. A thriving garbage culture. The sea central to the feel of the place: I remembered reading Orphan Pamuk’s wonderful book about this world of Istanbul he grew up and lives in now.

It’s a movie made out of a deeply humanitarian spirit: real compassion for those who need the cats (the cats are therapy for some), identification and pity for some of the cats’ actions (one grey cat never goes into the restaurant, just bangs on the window in his or her need, stretched body reaching as high as possible). One of the sweetest moments (for a person like me who values language) was when one of the cat-caretakers in talking of the cat says in the middle of his Turkish a word sounding much like our English meow. So to Turkish ears cats make the same sounds. We watch cats doing all sorts of things, climbing high, fighting, eating, drinking, seeking affection, seeking prey, far too high up on a building, hiding out in cardboard boxes set up for them. By the end the cats are us; they stand for our own hard and at times fulfilling existential lives. I loved the one man on the ship who said he was so grateful for his cat’s love. Another who felt some divinity in the whole experience of life with cats in Istanbul. I, my friend, and Izzy were touched, vivified; for myself I knew some moments of shared joy as I watched so that tears came to my eyes. I just felt better about life after it concluded.

Of course I told Izzy about Christopher Smart, wrongly put into an insane asylum, treated cruelly, his only companion, a cat, Jeffrey, and read aloud to Izzy the famous lines:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.


One of Laura’s cats looking at her with loving eyes (very well taken care of)

Miss Drake

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Ian2015
One of my two perpetual companions, Ian Pussycat

Dear friends and readers,

One of my ways of getting through the hours of my life at night is to watch good movies and/or blog. After I finished my “The Importance of Screenplays” paper, I turned to the stack of DVDs I had on one of my two library tables in my “workroom” (study?). I began with 8 Acclaimed Films, and have now enjoyed 4 of the 8. Each has made my evening valuable to me and I shall try to share what I think was valuable as a form of recommendation.

I am not inclined to credit any institutionalized group with the aim of increasing compassion and understanding of individuals towards others in communities (I avoid the bankrupt term “society”), but the effect of these 1990s Miramax movies could be this (like drops of water on a stone wearing it away), even if their conscious aim was more like reaching a niche segment of the marketplace audience seen as liking Anglo-costume dramas of the non-violent, much “sensitivity” type liked by intelligent readers.

I read an article over lunch on film by Laura Riding Jackson (written long ago, reprinted in the January 2015 PMLA –- which I still get issues of even though I stopped membership in December 2013) where Jackson identifies a central flaw in popular films: they are capable of giving a strong education in feeling, of forcing us to enter the consciousness of the film team, the product and its process, but  they “fail to supply their audiences with an adult emotional language for the successions of emotions they induce. “ Why? lest they disturb or alarm or shock us by becoming aware of what we feel and expose to others (if they could see it).  It comes to me that this adult emotional language, stance, understanding is precisely what four of the 8 “acclaimed” Miramax films I’ve seen thus far attempt to do: The Ideal Husband, A Month by the Lake, My Life So Far and Her Majesty Mrs Brown (on IMDB just Mrs Brown).

My question is, Why were these not as good as they should have been? what held them back as a group and/or individually?

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MSDIDHU EC009
Central love scene between Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Northam – the emphasis on this heterosexual pair distorts the experience — she is a naive woman, and he bestotted sexually and emotionally by her is the core of the movie

Film adaptation from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband: first up because Jim bought and now I own a complete works of Wilde. He made efforts to see good productions; a high point of our 2004 3-week holiday in the UK with Yvette and Caroline was when the friend we were staying with, Angela, took us one summer night to watch The Importance of Being Earnest. For the first time I realized how funny it was; hitherto I was in audiences who didn’t get it or saw a film adaptation

It’s not Wilde but Wilde adapted into a screenplay by Oliver Parker. While I enjoyed it for the acting, beautiful settings, I was interested to find it didn’t work right. I have found that before in Wilde plays turned into movies. They are different genres, and often while updated, the adaptation is not sufficiently changed so what was intended as witty somehow doesn’t come across except as dull. Maybe it’s the pace of a movie (slower), the demand for a believable (seeming realistic) illusion, but I find Wilde most of the time does not translate into a movie without considerable change that weakens the heart of what he has to offer. You recognize the 18th century origin but it’s not enacted quite.

Still of interest: the theme is how you have to tolerate other people’s weaknesses and not have such a virtuous high minded view of yourself nor demand it of others if you are an ethical person. Seems strange. Did viewers ever really believe themselves so good they needed this kind of lesson? An Ideal Husband is someone with feet of clay, that way he can (among other things) grow rich, stay in power, do some good.

The wife is presented as a woman working for women’s causes, but the word “suffragette is not seen.” Otherwise all the women gain place and power in the world by marriage and the two central ones are conventionally in love and want to be submissive in romance. It would have been truer to the text to bring out the loss, the suffering compare these women to contemporary politically active feminist women.

It’s the subtext that is compelling I suggest — each of the characters is found out and the play-as-movie shows each of them tolerating one another and thus themselves. This is about homosexuality  — Colm Toibin has written that Wilde was ever trying to be found out, writing about it, and the urge destroyed him. Here in this play he is dreading his own impulse and exorcizing off what he anticipated would be and was the result. I would have preferred a straight dramatization of this darker fable and some sense in the movie of it brought out clearly. It was not at all but kept to the literal text — here and there in someone’s eyes you saw flashes of despair, which was steely (Everett) or just hardened to accept (Lindsay Duncan).

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Vanessa Redgrave challenging Edward Fox — the core is their ages and that he comes to accept her strength and see the beauty in her

Film adaptation of H.E. Bates’s A Month by the Lake. I don’t know how many of my few readers are familiar with the work of H.E. Bates — another “middle brow” or ignored/minor writer of the 20th century. If you’ve seen the superb mini-series from the 1970s, Love for Lydia, you know something of it: he’s called SubLawrentian and in a way it’s so. He’s a writer of short stories and has a marvelous three part biography, male version of Storm Jamieson.

The director John Irvin, screenplay Trevor Bentham, featuring as Miss Bentley Vanessa Redgrave (she reminded me so of her daughter in this one, Miranda Richarsdon); as Major Wileshaw Edward Fox and as Miss Beaumont a young Uma Thurman. The novella by Bates has not that long ago been reprinted (I just bought it); the movie reveals it’s another Lawrentian one: an older woman and man meet in an Italian resort by the northern lakes, and while he is attracted to her as a person as well as woman, when a young girl is hired as an au pair by a bourgeois Italian family staying, his librido goes in another direction. Older men want younger not older women. Luckily for all concerned she’s a of a shallow flighty disposition, can’t get herself to pretend even though she hates the upper class boarding school her parents had sent her to, and needs money (shades of Lydia). Fox’s character cannot accept the independence and athleticism of Redgrave’s (she beats him at tennis) and the story is of their gradual getting together, one attempted rape of Redgrave by one of the younger Italian men “around.” There’s a very much E.M. Forster feel here — like A Room with a View (Miramax did that too) — all last names, repressed English people abroad ….

It was somehow not as good as it should have been; as with the film of “The Ideal husband” in the same collection, despite great actors, wonderful script, good source, somehow doesn’t quite “soar” — but it is very good and touching. I wished I were Redgrave at the end where we see we have been in retrospective throughout and she is talking from later years of a partnership with Fox (not clear it’s marriage) where every summer they return to the mountains and spend a month by this lake. She is the center of the film and my guess is like Richardson (the character Christopher Blake played) in the book Love for Lydia. I remember Jeremy Irons as the drunken friend, opting out of life. In this film there is no opting out of life. One is not permitted to.

Don’t miss it.

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mylifesofar
The family group at one of their seasonal rituals — the point is there is nothing eccentric here …

My Life So Far. it’s the story of the boyhood of one of the founders of the BBC and a man who ran one of the major opera companies in the UK. Well you have to have built in strong self-esteem and contacts to achieve that. Well you have to have contacts, connections, a sense of your the worth of your own culture in negotiating with others. It’s based on a memoir of Denis Forman. It’s about a privileged life. Hugh Hudson the director, Simon Donald the screenplay writer, David Puttnam the producer.

What’s so effective is the film-makers managed to recreate the life of a rural country house estate, family and servants, houseguests, village, surrounding area, with all the appurtenances of what they do in daily life in a way that is so convincing — yet it’s “warm bath” stuff.  Since Cranford such movies have become common; this one was made in 1999. Many extras had to have been hired for some of the large group scenes — of yearly rituals, of games, of sports. Rosemary Harris is the grandmother who owns the house and her death at the end brings an end to the life-style after a while. She made me cry several times because she enacted her role as a widow so well — quiet and controlled, seeming the center, a kind disciplinarian to her grandchildren advisor to son, but then something would happen or she’d get drunk. That she once played George Sand as seen in her letters, is the mother of Jennifer Ehle made sense.

There’s a Chekhovian feel without the sense of tragedy coming so much.   It’s told from the point of view of a young boy, a new actor at the time who appears not to have gone on for a career; the famous actors who are very good include Colin Firth as this young man’s patriarchal but very stumbling and half-fantasy driven father, a squire in a great house in Scotland.

What made the difference in this film from the two previous is timing. Just as Harris is taken to bed weeping, at the right second we saw a full length of her now dead husband in a weak sort of Sargeant style — hunting or fishing gear around him.

We see the quiet and important miseries of such a place — Firth has a sort of affair with the fiancee of his brother, and hurts his wife intensely; she has had several children by him and her life wrapped around him, applauding him. The boy’s own hurts.

It’s very masculinist in outlook — shows the patriarchy without feeling uncomfortable about it. How many films there are about boys’ growing up. But this one was intelligent and its script and whole sense showed us the women’s lives too – -they are presented as happy (the wife at the end) but we may realize otherwise.  A Month by the Lake and An Ideal Husband had a lot more from a woman’s point of view — indeed that was part of their point. We don’t see much of the servants though they are there and we can see endlessly working, on the alert, and sometimes unfairly fired. We see the poverty of some of the artisans in the countryside.

I recommend it as a full realization of the privileged country life house from the standpoint of privilege. Not a melancholy picture like Isabel Colegate’s Shooting Party (and its remarkable film adaptation with James Mason).  I suppose a curiosity whose title might have been the Boyhood of a Privileged BBC executive, English upper class life in the country idealized ….

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MCDMIBR EC004
Mr Brown and the queen facing down, strong against the pressures of the outside world when they are out on their horses

Her Majesty Mrs Brown, directed by John Madden, screenplay Jeremy Brock, producer Sarah Curtis under a Miramax distribution and (doubtless purse). Judi Dench enacts the part of the bereaved queen somewhat brought back into life by Albert’s groom, Billy Connolly. This one might be a made-for-TV film (the credits suggest this, BBC) – except 105 minutes is a typical length for movies intended for cinemas. The film-makers mean to give us a touching depiction of real human emotion (what people do feel) with the movie there to make sense of the two people’s unusual depth of feeling; the story turns precisely on the evolution of the feelings the two people in the center experience together and over time.

I’m not sure the film-makers achieve it altogether, it sometimes seems strained.  Since 1997 Rumor has moved on to suggest a marriage between the two (so physical intimacy), but what the movie turns on is partly their partial defiance of her vast superiority to him (which now and again she insists on) and his corresponding movement from deference, to active concern that is sensible to a sort-over-compensation idea that he is needed to keep the queen from assassins. He did once save her but the movie makes him obsessed late in life, exhausting himself, and finally dying in this cause (of pneumonia). There are vignettes of familiar 19th century political figures either in Parliament or around Victoria. Beautiful scenery in (apparently) Scotland. There is said to have been a diary kept by Brown and destroyed by Victoria’s courtiers.

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againplaying
Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, making music together (Master and Commander, a Peter Weir film): no Miramax but it seeks to make sense of its heroic and anti-heroic emotions (when I’ve finished watching the extensive features, I’ll blog on it)

Riding’s question is what is a film for? What can it do no longer medium can? Movies which offer just immediacy of entering a kind of consciousness” are a “shallow pleasure,” an “emotional waste.” Movies can offer “new kinds of emotions” not much acknowledged, “sensibilities” ordinary people do have but which movie makers are afraid to present.  She talks of how color should be used to express emotion, and also music (not just as backdrop to add emotions or moods the film-makers haven’t been able to whip up). This is done in all four films. What went wrong? In each case they bowed to conventional ideas of women, of hierarchy, of monarchy. Oddly, the one which was most successful in what it endeavoured to do was My Life So Far. It was felt that the privileged who identify also understood more: surely a prejudice.

I’ve bought myself a copy of Bates’s A Month by the Lake. I have the highest respect for Victoria and Albert since reading Gill Gillian’s We Two.

Kayla was not the only ‘net friend who meant to comfort and give me company at Christmas time by such a present.  She and I and Yvette had dinner together at the Jane Austen Summer Program do in North Carolina in June 2013 . A restaurant you had to know was there to find it; a gate before you got in.  Another friend, a scholarly woman, professor, who I’ve met at ECASECS and ASECS and has read books with me online (including Clarissa) sent a lovely card and Jo Baker’s Longbourn.

Miss Drake

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JohnONeillandmeWAClarkMemorialLibrary

All summer all the time …

Dear friends and readers,

I write under a difficulty: I did not take any photos and we are not supposed to tell much of private conversations on the Net among friends and I have it on good authority that people like pictures and concrete conversation best. But unlike Jane Austen who claimed to have nothing at all to say when she wrote her letters, I have a few unseasonal thoughts on the place, the trip, and my experience of going to the ASECS conference for a second time since Jim died, and of the success of my paper and a book club meeting (a rare face-to-face experience of such for me). So I’ve found a few promotional and official photos of a couple of the places I was at, one book cover for Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee which I read preparatory to meeting with a book club in Santa Monica on this past Saturday evening. Not to omit stills from the 1999 mini-series, The Aristocrats, adapted from Stella Tillyard’s non-fictional study of the Lennox sisters and their worlds. I also can tell a little of the talk and more of a couple of books and movies. 3/29/15: a friend sent a photo of John O’Neill and I in the Wm Andrews Clark Memorial library

santa-monica-beach

Unseasonal because I found myself in another summer world. As the plane descended and I looked out, I saw a landscape that reminded me of Florida. Flat, meadows, a body of water stretched out, these tall palm trees, and trees whose trunks looked like upside pineapples. It differed because all around the plain were mountains. I began to wonder was my view of the US hopelessly parochial: until I was 33 I lived where winter was long, very cold, and often tough (two pairs of gloves on my hands during January), with an exception for a couple of years in Leeds, England, where it cannot be said to have been summery. And we can have bitter winters here in Virginia and long lovely falls. Perhaps much more of the US is this summer world than I ever realized. My norm is still winter and rain. I remember one February day in Leeds in 1969 walking to the bus and the sun came out, and I looked up and felt so glad. I had not seen that circle for ever so long. My good friend, Diana Birchall, who I stayed with for a full day and a morning and one night assured me that in summer one does not need air-conditioning; the humidity is not what it was even in January in Florida. Maybe. 60 to 70 degrees on average, blue skies, light winds, what’s not to like. We went to an old-fashioned thrift shop where people seemed to know one another and were friendly. She and her son took me for a walk along the beaches of Santa Monica and how alluring it all looked, complete with a boardwalk, ferris wheel and rose garden.

I had been there one night in 2001 when at an International ECS Jim drove me and Yvette to precisely that spot one afternoon, walked along the beach with us, ate out, and then drove us much further along to a beach where we tried to go into the Pacific. I remembered that ferris wheel and boardwalk. Memories. Not the cliffs and whole scene and not its context. This time I visited with Diana three other friends and saw how different people lived around there. I stared out at the sky once more and remembered.

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Nonetheless, gentle reader I don’t want to live in a summer world. I felt everyone was in such a state of undress. Maybe it was too much of a holiday world. It was also even when I was there outside the hotel too hot for me inside the various apartments and houses. LA of course differs from the places Jim and I found ourselves in most ASECS meetings: I was not in an isolated oasis of middle class life with all around me a vast hinderland of poverty. LA seems a huge city where much is higgledy-piggledy, some thriving, some middling, some impoverished, lots of cultural places, beaches, strips of restaurants, malls, parks. North of Montana Avenue it was all exquisite outrageously expensive homes, south apartment houses (or vice versa). A long-time friend who was part of the book club I participated in told me if you know LA it has a wonderful music, intellectual and theater world: concerts, lectures, plays, (and I added movies). You just have to know where to go.

The trip there was interminable and an economy seat is not much fun. I discovered I should have somehow put some app on my cell phone and then I could have connected to movies — for which I would have had to pay. On an airplane nowadays all you get for your ticket is a seat, necessary (for your bodily health) offers of juice, coffee, tea, soda, water, and bathroom. I bought a lunch going; it was as bad as almost every meal that passed for food in restaurants for the next 5 days. To my taste Starbucks coffee is too bitter, and their idea of a croissant is bread roll somehow or other rolled to look like a croissant. The trip home included sitting in one of the noisiest areas of rows of uncomfortable seats I’ve endured thus far. I was grateful to sink into a taxicab upon leaving the labyrinthine makeshift and ugly hangars both times.

Most of the time I was in the hotel — for the talks, for a session on how to do wikipedia in honor of Adrianne Wadewitz. Her parents were there and I talked with her father at the William Clark Andrews Memorial library a couple of evenings later. I crossed the street the first night, Wednesday, in search of food — I’d had nothing edible on the plane and saw nothing edible in the hotel spread of supposed snacks. So I accompanied an acquaintance from this wikipedia to eat some soup and drink a glass of sangria and talk of our lives as scholars and teachers.

The hotel was one of these awful huge anonymous luxury hotels set up to extract as much cash from each individual as possible. Four towers, many circles of cement and glass. There were two levels on which there were affordable and cheap eateries, and from one Italian place I ate with two of the friends who came to my lecture. One of my happiest moments was with them then. There was a reception on a rooftop on Thursday night and I joined with a young male Austen and gothic scholar from Liverpool, just appointed as a teacher, to have a good meal on that terrace with two people who teach the 18th century in a western college. I again talked with others of our work and lives. Very late Friday night I went to a reception where I talked with people of Jim, to a couple where the man had been widowed young and remarried, to an Irish woman who was at a session where 2 people showed up for the talks, and one left. There were too many talks and sessions on against one another for the number of people who came. Indeed a fairly visible percentage of people did not show at the last minute.

The hardest moments for me this as last time at Williamsburg was being in the hotel room alone. When my ipad worked and I was able to receive and send emails to friends, it was not so bad. (Sometimes it would not work.) Someone I spoke to told me he looked at his email inbetween sessions too, and pronounced it in the way people do “mostly junk.” And indeed nowadays over 75% of my email are forms of ads, promotional, requests; of the 25% left some are daily newsletters I get (which I may read), digests from listservs I skim, maybe as much as 10% are genuine communications from a listserv, friend or blog. But they matter and I felt like Jane Fairfax coming back from the post office in the rain with her precious retrieval listening to John Knightley tease her about going out in the rain in her present state of weak health (she is consumptive):

Mr. John Knightley smiled, and replied … The post-office has a great charm at one period of our lives. When you have lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going through the rain for.”
There was a little blush, and then this answer, ‘”I must not hope to be ever situated as you are, in the midst of
every dearest connexion, and therefore I cannot expect that simply growing older should make me indifferent about letters.’
‘Indifferent! Oh! no–I never conceived you could become indifferent. Letters are no matter of indifference; they are generally a very positive curse.’
‘You are speaking of letters of business; mine are letters of friendship.’
‘I have often thought them the worst of the two,” replied he coolly. “Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does.’
‘Ah! you are not serious now. I know Mr. John Knightley too well — I am very sure he understands the value of friendship as well as any body. I can easily believe that letters are very little to you, much less than to me, but it is not your being ten years older than myself which makes the difference, it is not age, but situation. You have every body dearest to you always at hand, I, probably, never shall again; and therefore till I have outlived all my affections, a post-office, I think, must always have power to draw me out, in worse weather than to-day.”
‘When I talked of your being altered by time, by the progress of years,’ said John Knightley, “I meant to imply the change of situation which time usually brings. I consider one as including the other. Time will generally lessen the interest of every attachment not within the daily circle–but that is not the change I had in view for you. As an old friend, you will allow me to hope, Miss Fairfax, that ten years hence you may have as many concentrated objects as I have.”
It was kindly said, and very far from giving offence. A pleasant ‘thank you’ seemed meant to laugh it off, but a blush, a quivering lip, a tear in the eye, shewed that it was felt beyond a laugh (Emma, Volume 2, Chapter 16)

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A side view of the Williams Andrews Clark Memorial Library

On Friday later afternoon I escaped that monstrous cavern for a couple of hours! This time I took a bus with other ASECS members to go to the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. For decades I was a member of this library receiving pamphlet publications of rare 18th century works — one I remember edited by my advisor, Robert Adams Day, one of the earliest sober, realistic epistolary novels — and then when these pamphlets stopped a newsletter telling of lectures, concerts, sometimes with informative essays about supported scholarship at the library. A long-18th-century oasis. It was much smaller than I imagined, and older. You cannot see the miles of books which are under the extensive lawn where parties, concerts and get-togethers are held. There is a concert room for the regular music and lecture events. Other rooms for exhibits and books. I did not know that the man who funded the place was gay: on the ceiling are figures of what look like classical gods, all resembling this man’s companion. A librarian took us round, telling us something of the history of the family then and more recently and how the library operates. They all seemed glad to escort the ASECS members around and tell them of the library, the man’s history, we were given wine or coffee and (the usual awful) snacks. This human dimension of the library made it come alive for me in a way it had never done before.

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An exhibition hall with painted ceilings and walls

I mentioned my talk or paper and the book club. I am chuffed to say that my paper, “Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films” was well-received. My boast is that Jeffrey Hatcher, who writes screenplays for a living, and wrote and delivered a talk in a session the day before on writing and producing The Duchess, liked my paper and asked me questions. Just as important beyond my two friends, there were here about four people who I know and have spent time with, one of whom I was on a panel about rape with, and the other gave a paper on Charlotte Smith’s poetry which I attended. And the Austen and gothic novels guy from the night before. The day before there had been two sessions on film with semi-famous people: Stella Tillyard told about Aristocrats, how she novelizes to make her non-fictional and real people appealing, and the nature of the commercial changes in the BBC adaptation into a 1999 BBC mini-series, as well as her A Royal Affair and the art film adapted from it.

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Lady Emily Lennox (Geraldine Somerville) and Lord Kildare, her husband, from the mini-series

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Lady Emily as painted by Ramsay

A panel of six notable 18th century scholars and film people were commentators on her and Hatcher’s presentation. And the day after the panel I was on was another panel on Austen and media; I was told still another session on Austen was made up of papers mostly on Austen film adaptations. So over the course of these days there were numbers of people lingering from session to session. I will write about the content of these papers and comments on Austen Reveries soon.

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Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee, Penguin edition

As to our Saturday book club meeting, one the women who was part of the club had made a delicious spread of food, and we did manage to talk of the book. Leading up to this for three weeks, a couple of people on Trollope19thCStudies had tried to read the book too — like me, and others they too felt it began well, hard satire on a foolish Anglo-Irish woman bankrupting herself to please a London English aristocratic gentry world made up of contemptible people who despised her. In the story, Lord Colambre returns to Ireland to discover to try recoup the family’s finances and recover a heritage. Edgeworth’s purpose is to educate the Anglo-Irish and English into acting more decently and humanely by the Catholic Irish because it’s in their interest to do so.

Here are a few notes from our discussion online at Trollope19thcStudies:

The hero’s foolish mother, the English woman whom an Irishman married for ther money, Lady Clonbrony, has given an extravagantly expensive evening party, dance, with cards, and for her pains all she got was sneers, derision, and is further wasting her husband’s property. She turns her house into a kind of Arabian Nights — rather like Miss Bates alludes to — only here the comparison is turned to genuine political and social account. The upper class English despise all Anglo-Irish, and anyone with a high rank such a woman as Lady Clonbury who rank is recent. Lady Clonbury’s good nature and inability to cope with nasty people is really why she is treated as badly as she is but the portrait is turned to make thematic points.

I can see why Austen would enjoy this book. She’d have loved the jaundiced sharp depiction of this party in London and felt for the son, Lord Colambre (his courtesy title) and his mother’s niece, companion, Miss Nugent who can stand up to the social cruelties of the crowd because (the fiction presumes this) her understanding of how worthless all this kowtowing and phoniness are protects her. Austen would have known better than to dramatize that idea — intuitively .But Edgeworth and she are on a same wave length — as she was on a different but alike wave length with Burney (an arch conservative consciously).

For Trollopians: there may be a character who influenced the depiction of Miss Dunstable in Dr Thorne. Miss Broadhurst has the same frank open sort of semi-masculine comic talk. She exposes with it – -she doesn’t care if she upsets others. Trollope does have two long sections of prose where he commends Edgeworth and hints influence. Miss Broadhurt is not as delighful as Miss Dunstable because Edgeworth is not as sparkling and clever as Trollope but the portrait does seem a sort of dry run; maybe it gave him the idea. Miss Broadhurst has the same frank open sort of semi-masculine comic talk. She does not exposes the values of others quite as sparklingly as Miss Dunstable – Edgeworth does not know how to frolic, but equally Miss Dunstable doesn’t care if she upsets most others. Maybe that’s the point. She also makes a friend of the hero when the hero’s mother wants the hero to propose to her because she’s rich. The portrait does seem a sort of dry run; maybe it gave Trollope an idea for the paradigm.

Chapters 5 and 6 showed me why many a modern Irish literature scholar say that Irish Literature begins with Lady Gregory. In chapter 6 Lord Colambre returns home. What has happened is the Irish Parliament has been abolished and whatever people met there must go to London. A sentence is devoted to Colambre’s sorrow for the Irish over their penal laws – these should be gotten rid of, but then that is forgotten over his noticing and begin grated upon by all these Irish people taking his bags, trying to get him to let them perform some service, any service to get little bits of money. They are disgusting beggars he says. Lord Colambre inveighs against the Jewish coachmaker and moneylenders. How dare they over-charge his friend. What amoral lousy people they are, crooks. Maybe they overcharge but the friend went for it. Why should these Jewish not get their money? They have to live and probably endure different penal laws than the Irish — just as bad or the same. We get this stream of antisemitism.

Edgeworth then proceeds to satirize how the middle classes ever so pretensious are taking over the houses and social places filled with super rich and powerful who went to London or back to their properties. This is what she doesn’t approve of. Right. That power is taken wholly from these people in effect and never even thought about for Catholics never reaches her mind. The women made fun of as deluded fools glamorising themselves senselessly, the man as throwing out money, not taking care of property. Perhaps so but what are the norms she wants to substitute here? It won’t do. It’s backhanded snobbishness as written. She never so much as mentioned the revolution of 1798, the failed French invasion, the savage put-down of the Irish, Wolf Tone’s execution. That’s the measure of this book. Read Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French, to see the vast world of Ireland absent from The AbsenteeNot only was there was 3rd but failed revolution; it defined and characterized the whole culture of Ireland for decades after — as the repression was so ruthless; part of the causes for starving the peasants and keeping away from them, were the exacerbated relationships amid the classes which had their nuances.

The Absentee is narrow and dated; but important novel for its era: maybe the first Anglo-Irish novel in the realistic tradition — for Edgeworth wrote Castle Rackrent before this. My friend at the book club said it got him reading about ireland at this peruiod. like the hard satire — I wish it had larger broader themes, and were not just aimed at social types that Edgeworth (rightly in my view) can’t stand, but she is painting a picture of this “illegitimate” society. In a way that’s the issue; these people are taking over and have no right to; they’ve been taking over for a couple of centuries so they don’t see it this way quite. Yet it’s unsettled; the upper crust has fled to London — maybe happy at the moving of the parliament.

There come so the fore two women, Lady Dashfort and her daughter. They are seeking a husband for the daughter. Lady Dashford reminds me strongly of Lady Delaforte in Belinda – -similar aggressive type. I’ve an idea that the female reader of the time woke up at this point and found this character compelling or appalling depending on their attitude. She is not the dragon lady Lady Catherine de Bourgh is and we could praise this as realer and thus more cogent for its audience, less frivolous if you will.

Edgeworth’s problem is she is not interested in romance at all – -Lisa Moore has it she’s a lesbian (closet? but knew her feelings and in Belinda one heroine is fascinated by another’s breasts) and so wrote sapphic fiction when she was following later 18th century conventions and types (like Leonora) but here she has no interest in romance either. It’s very hard prosaic depiction of these people’s houses and those they are dependent on. So there’s little Arabian Nights or fantasy here. The heroine is Grace Nugent who has to endure much slander as a dependent on Clonbury; at one point the hero thinks to break with her as of course he would not want to marry anyone tainted by illegitimacy; but in the end she is discovered to be an heiress. You see the level of Edgeworth’s interest.

The book is too didactic, too obvious. She implies she cares about the Irish Catholics but her aim is the Anglo-Irish and the English reader. She probably down rightly reflects many attitudes towards class and family that Austen held. While some of the characters are composite people (men more) others are types (lady Dashfort and Isabel who as problems for the good man appear in Charlotte Smith. I thought I would query one house. Count O’Halloran and his menagerie. Edgeworth has a decent regard for animals so maybe that’s why the chapter on this man with a menagerie. But it is strange. Could there have been such a man or people who might keep so many animals — in their front room. Probably he’s meant to be an eccentric

The point of these chapters is literally to depict the world of the Anglo-Irish at this point. It’s written from the point of view of someone who does not expect her fellow Anglo-Irish ever to have been in Ireland. I suggest Jane Austen’s relatives would never have permitted her to write a book like this — they would have regarded it as dangerous for their reputations; it might and would offend. That she would have read it in an approving spirit as so realistic.

The plot-line that hangs the novel together is Lord Colambre’s investigation of Ireland as a place to live, for him to reside in, and the attempt of various older women to persuade him to marry their daughters, specifically Lady Dashfort over Isabel. In this part of the novel Edgeworth brings in the establishment men (Anglo-Irish again) who live in Ireland. Sportsmen mostly with semi-political views. I really do wonder why present-day Irish writers want to respect Edgeworth so unqualifiedly. She means well?

Edgeworth’s Absentee is a cross between the 18th century novel with its social satire (from generic “universal values”), both from the Fielding angle (now that the men are brought in, Squrire Western no longer a caricature) and the Richardson-Austen (courtship) and 19th novel with a turn to cultural and national analysis. What Edgeworth misses is much, among others things, the long sense of history and historical forces which we do get in Scott even if he indulges in much fantasy, myth, legend; he is himself as a novelist more openly melancholy and so his novels are today still readable (I recommend as a historical cultural study, Old Mortality).

That night I managed to reach friends on Diana’s PC computer in the room I was given to sleep in. The next morning she arose, we had a coffee and croissants at a Starbucks and then she drove me to the airport. I’ve already told of that screeching airport lounge. I omitted how Charles Krauthammer, the reactionary TV pundit was aboard, now paid by Fox News to spout vicious ideas elegantly put and plausible, and treated like a king. A young black woman next to me talking of how people don’t want public transportation; if we provided it, they would not use it. I asked her if she thought about the average income of US people and how much it costs to have and to run a car. Her face went blank: she sure had thought of this, but had been taught not to give any stranger her real thoughts.  Cant everywhere.

I came home to two off-standish cats who had missed me, Yvette said; she missed me too. They went wild one night in the front room; Clarycat would not sleep with Yvette, while Ian tried to. Diana has three cats and I witnessed how one of them, Tully, at night, goes to the front door, meows and paws at the doorknob in order to go to her son’s apartment and sleep with him. Pindy came into my room but decided it was too risky as yet to make friends. Who says cats don’t have souls? I was so relieved to see her and them. A can of tuna (shared with Clary and Ian), two hard boiled eggs, fresh bread, and wine just for me.

I had trouble sleeping that first night as my body clock was totally perplexed but I did make it to the Poldark class the next morning at AU and from sten notes I talked and it went well. Two new people! We covered the rest of Ross Poldark. I think I am finally getting the hang of this kind of teaching. I proposed Fielding’s Tom Jones for the fall at that OLLI at AU, and everyone appeared so delighted that it is now all set.

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I then came home to the first unabridged complete The Duke’s Children as edited by Steven Armanick and Robert Wiseman. It came in a special bag which prevented it from being taken to a post office (since i was not at home when it arrived) which would have required a scavenger hunt by me to ferret it out. That’s what happened when I ordered a copy of a set of CDs of the whole of Framley Parsonage read aloud by Timothy West arrived. It is splendidly packaged — looks indestructible. The separate thin volume includes some of Steven Armanick’s essay notes on the cuts and editing, Wiseman’s textual apparatus, explanations of editing principles, and a description of the manuscript. No illustrations. I did it on the installment plan. It is outrageously expensive: they just couldn’t get a moderately priced academic or college-textbook kind of novel publisher to pick it up.

I wonder what Trollope would have said of this. Not the text itself, he would have been intensely gratified I imagine); as we know he cared about packaging from the customer’s point of view (I refer to a couple of cases where he gave a publisher a very hard time … I’ve just gotten off the phone with one of the board members of the NY Trollope society and we discussed the possibility of my giving a brief seminaor on Trollope’s great signature book, The Last Chronicle of Barset.

‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ There is not an hour goes by in my life when I am not regretting Jim’s absence, remembering, thinking of him, scarcely believing he’s not going ever to be here again. Unlike Jane Fairfax I cannot go to the post office to retrieve any letters from him ever more. I almost wrote him a letter before I left; let this be something of what I would have written.

Miss Drake

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