Posts Tagged ‘film scholarship’

Jean Baptiste Mallett (1799-1835), A Young Woman Standing in an Archway

Dear friends and readers,

I close the curtain I drew aside the last time I wrote. This is life n front of the curtain since coming home from Cornwall

My edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake has been published by Valancourt Press. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!” Here is the generic description and where and how to buy it When it arrived yesterday afternoon, tears came to my eyes because I loved the cover illustration. You see it above. The rest of the book is a pure white, it’s a quarto size but very thick, 506 pages. 136 of the 138 notes I wrote made it into the text at the bottom of the appropriate pages! It took 5 years on and off. I’ve made a blog with an account of the story and themes. At the beginning Jim was helping me adjust a scanner so as to be able mechanically to mount pages which I then would correct, type, annotate. When my computer died two months after he did, I was distraught over the loss of what I had done up to that point. It was all rescued and about a year after his death, I resumed work. it arrived on the day Jim would have been 68 (October 3rd); tonight it appeared on Valancourt’s site: we would have been married 47 years; this is the 48th anniversary of the night we met (Oct 6th, 1968).

A second new event for me occurred on October 3rd too: I drove into Washington, D.C. to go to an HD film at the Folger Shakespeare Library of a live performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as performed by players under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at his theater in London. I have seen two HD films from Stratford at the Folger (Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing renamed Love’s Labor’s Won — with the same actors), but never before drove in. I no longer trust the Metro as three weeks ago I attempted to go to the first of monthly Washingon Area Print Group meetings at the Library of Congress and found there would be no blue line for another hour. The published Metro schedule of the continual disruptions in service (due to danger, work being done) does not come near telling what is literally going on in that system from hour to hour. The schedule-writers couldn’t begin to. So I discovered that around the library the population is white and upper middle class or yuppy. People in gym outfits, women carrying yoga mats rolled. Men walking with pretty young daughters. Well-groomed dogs. There is in effect no parking during the day for people without permits until 6:30 pm when the two-hour permission ends at 8:30 pm. I didn’t want to fight a huge traffic jam so had left at 4:15 pm, and sat in my car reading once I found a good spot to wait for 6:30. I moved once lest I get a ticket after I left the car.


It was well worth it. I’m not sure the production entirely succeeded: Branagh situated the action in, had all the actors dressed and behave as if they were in a version of verismo, say Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana verismo played out with the desperation and violence of a 1948 Italian film I’ve never forgotten, Bitter Rice, with the belligerence of the males straight out of The Godfather. Some of the acting seemed too stylized, too forced: instead of watching characters dancing, we were watching actors miming intense patterns that characters at a dance might manifest. I found Derek Jacobi just too old for Mercutio, though I gather the idea was he was a kind of mascot, super-talkative and show-offy as this old man. The play has problems as it veers from ludicrous comedy to deep tragedy and Mercutio’s speech really doesn’t fit so some of the troubles of the first half were not Branagh’s doing: he was coping with these by borrowing from the comedy of a woman who has lost all her relatives and now dotes on her charge (Meera Syal as the nurse). He brought out how harsh Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) is to daughter, wife, nurse. But the play soared in the second half — partly this is Shakespeare pouring himself into these deeply melancholy, distraught, lightening changes into idyllicism to dark despair speeches. But I give Lily James (not given sufficient respect since the Downton Abbey role that brought her to prominence has a tendency to frame her as an easy pretty face) credit for inhabiting a young girl’s deeply passionate presence, one of wild impetus, deep sensuality, reluctance too at moments, bewilderment, and total absoluteness. Jack Madden with his dark-glasses, tie and hair-do put me in mind of West Side Story; the ambiguity of the Friar was caught by Samuel Valentine. It was in black-and-white which placed it in a film noir frame: I heard members of the audience not keen, but it was justified and especially by the final tableau of the bodies in this nightmare ghostly coloration. Together Lily James and Kenneth Branagh made Romeo and Juliet astonishing once again.

About the Folger concert at Kennedy Center that Izzy and I went to this past Saturday evening perhaps the less said the better. It was billed as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with speeches from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — and again Derek Jacobi was a box-office attraction. We hoped for a moving performance of the opera as we had during all three Folger concerts last year found the singers acted beautifully roles their songs implied. No such thing. They were not only dull but the least interesting of part of Measure for Measure were made to frame the opera: the story line omitting great speeches like “Be Absolute for Death” in order to understand life or accept death, in order perhaps to make a non-existent parallel between the classical lovers and the hypocritical Antonio and his pursuit of the nun Isabella, desertion of Marianne, and attempt to murder Claudio for sexual sins he commits. The woman singing “Remember me” had a reedy-voice and everyone seemed uncomfortable with the roles. Izzy fell asleep. One interesting element was how the audience in the intermission were looking for something positive to say aloud and then at the end clapped hard as if they were enthusiastic which they weren’t. No one wanted to admit they had thrown their money and time away. Years ago Jim and I tried the Folger Concert and had found it this bad often; I guess every once in a while they returned to uncompromising dullness.


Actually Izzy and I have eaten out twice in Old Town, once to a pizza place where we watched Leslie Stall exploring the North Pole, walking in the dusky light around the Potomac ….

I am kept very busy this sad week. My kitchen is being renovated. At one point last Friday everything was ripped out and Izzy and I had no sink, the dish-washer and washing machine and dryer were in the backyard under tarpaulin on pieces of wood in the pouring rain. I am not replacing the appliances and the stove was only not plugged in one night and fridge kept plugged in as well as the microwave oven. All the stuff that was in the cabinets is in boxes around the dining room table. Izzy and I have eaten at home chicken legs baked and basmati rice. I wash the dishes we have in her bathroom sink. I’ve gotten quite orderly and know where things are and manage breakfast and lunch on the coffee table in the front or at my desk in front of my computer.

I worried I would not get the work done I wanted: but this man is very good, and his two helpers do what I have wanted, getting rid of eye-sores like this thing on the wall for a phone to hang from; like the man in January fixing the pipes and they have replaced rotting walls with good wall. Jim and I had discussed renovating the kitchen, using the same super-expensive (and now I realize cosmetically oriented) crew that did our bathrooms. Patty the project manager never came by when she was supposed to; she did not like my sceptical attitudes towards what she called “creativity.” Of course we would want a new washing machine and dryer and she would put them in a cabinet one on top of the other. I asked what was wrong with having such machines in the kitchen? Why did she want to hide them? I am able to do this renovation far more wisely because my neighbor Sybille became my friend and recommended this man.

It will be very pretty when they finish: new cream-colored cabinets with designs or lines of soft brown beige; the walls of the room will be painted soft cream; the trim is soft brown. I’ll have lights under the cabinets. The tile is lovely and for the first time ever stretches from one end of the room to the other: it is a stony-beige color. I’ll have a kitchen chandelier of some sort too. I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen that was not done right in 1993 for a long time.

Jim did not live to see this, and I will have no one to show it too. I’m doing it to support my own self-esteem, feel better about myself. (I won’t describe what the room had become over the 23 years since we renovated.) My friend, Phyllis, did say she would come over to see it, and I said since I don’t know how to cook meals for guests or do what’s called “entertain,” I said if she came I would buy pre-cooked or prepared food from Whole Foods and we could eat that together with Izzy and the two of us drink wine. We could watch more Outlander again on my big-screen TV (she likes Outlander).


My poor pussycats are made uncertain of themselves and thus nervous. I keep them in the back half of the house to protect them from running out of the house in terror. And I spent three hours today in an equivalent nervousness (like my cats). Two hours yesterday. Izzy and I are both going to Chawton Library for the Charlotte Smith conference where I’m to give a paper on the post-colonial Charlotte Smith. We’ll be gone 7 days including traveling time. I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the visiting services: the contractor is not finished and they would have to be shut away in the back and hear these men with no one else in the house with them. I can imagine them frantic to run away and getting run over by a car or killed by some animal stronger than they or starving to death. I found the people who do house-visiting and offer other kinds of in-house services not reassuring enough. Would they be able to keep the cats in the back? what happens when no one is here but the men working? In short, I just didn’t feel it would be safe. Having now visited a Pet Resort boarding place I am persuaded it’s the safest & most cheerful choice. My cats will have a social life with other cats while I’m gone.


I drove to the place — I used the garmin to get there — it’s said to be Springfield but is in a remote outpost of Fairfax County. It used to be in Olde Towne but rents are too high now. A handsome older building, well kept up, 4 floors; my pussycat’s “penthouse” is in a large airy room. The penthouses with windows are the ones by the large windows, but they are catty-cornered to the windows. There is a large play area in the room. Toys. I saw sleeping contented and playing cats! They had company. I feel the cats will now be safe (they cannot run away). Clarycat, I can see, coming out to play. There’s a woman there all the time. I will take them on the Tuesday and have reserved until the following Wednesday though I hope to be back Tuesday and pick them up then. I now have peace of mind over them, my heart is easy.

I now think people who resort to neighbors, vague arrangements, to visiting services (not expensive, $20 a visit) don’t want to put their animals in such places because they don’t want to pay the money such a place costs. The money motivation for most people is high: for me too, but I find I’m often willing to pay for what others aren’t (say for a seat at Wolf Trap) and for what others are willing to pay (say an expensive gym rather than a public one), I avoid. I admit that it may be there are many people who can’t afford to pay $80 a night. I also have a car I could drive to get there and back. A British friend sent me the garmin which is so easy to use.

The Inevitable Navigation System: 'You have arrived at your destination.'

The Inevitable Navigation System: ‘You have arrived at your destination.’


I did have two more experiences I want to tell of: because reader, you could enjoy them too. The film club nearly two weeks ago before, Sunday, September 25th, had the Swedish film directed by Hans Holm, A man called Ove, based on a novel by Fredrik Bachman. It has rightly won many awards.

The story emerges slowly: we see Ove (played by Ross Lassgard), a large man get very angry at a flower shop because the flowers are priced so as to force him to buy two rather than one. At first we don’t realize what the flowers are for: but then we see he is daily buying these, and daily putting them by a beloved wife’s gravestone.


He has been let go of his job (forced redundancy, retired) because he is old, and stubbornly not keeping up with “new ways,” so now pensioned off, he lives alone. We see that he is an ill-tempered difficult man who scolds people and tries to get them to obey regulations, before where he worked and now inside his housing project. We watch and see amid his mechanical routines to get everyone to obey rules, he is a widower desperate to kill himself.

It’s surprisingly conservative parable or comic fairy tale: as in attempt after attempt, Ove is comically interrupted, prevented, himself does not plan his suicide carefully enough so it doesn’t work, we get flashbacks of his life. An immigrant family move in and he is led to give up his anger, scorn and alienation as a young wife (middle eastern, heavily pregnant) befriends and uses him to help her and her children and lends him her husband to fix his kitchen. The flashbacks show us a lonely life redeemed by one woman who brought joy into his life, she loved, married him and now is gone. The cards are stacked against him though. The film makes comedy out of deaths: Ove has been singularly unlucky: his mother dies in a freak accident, and father dies because a train runs over him after he is made so happy his son is promoted. He is all alone until a woman on a train recognizes his good heart and aggressively courts and then marries him. She almost dies in a bus accident; because he holds out against the hospital staff’s idea she will never come out of her coma and she does, he can take her home. We then see her fight to get a job in a wheelchair, fight to help others who are disabled. It is she who made him a happy life. Now that she is gone, he has wanted to die.


A small motif in the film concerns a long-haired cat. At first we see this cat as a mangy desperate animal everyone, including Ove, kicks. Gradually the cat begins to stay near Ove, and then he is pushed by his immigrant woman friend to take the cat in. He begins to buy food for the cat and by the end of the film is sleeping with the cat. She or he is there when Ove dies — for he does die by the end, when he is surrounded by the friends he has made through giving in. He leaves a note telling how the cat likes her food and how she likes to sleep.

I say the film is conservative because a repeating kind of incident happens which in effect condemns group judgements, activities, the state in effect. This pushes against the pro-social group and acceptance the story enforces. I mentioned the hospital staff. It seems the state in the form of heartless men with white shirts and ties have time and again imposed its will on Ove or his father and mother or his beloved wife. These men took from him and his parents a house they loved and replace it with supposedly a better neighborhood. These men resort to burning a house down that he built piece by piece. In the present time sequence we see versions of these men in white shirts and suits try to put in a home another old man whose wife finds her raison d’etre in caring for and who wants to be with her even if nearly paralyzed. Ove had been this man’s almost friend and so too his wife who needs his help. Ove is able to help this couple because he has been led by the same immigrant Iranian woman to cooperate instead of shouting and screaming at people and making enemies: he gets a lawyer to help and she exposes the truth these people are making huge profits. You might say he is redeemed, called back to life by a second loving woman.

This film is not playing locally in my area but is playing elsewhere. I recommend it. I was much moved and also absorbed — of course I would be. There is talk among the audience after the film led by Gary Arnold (the film critic who chooses the films, introduces them). One man said he found irritating the idea that people grieve intensely and want to kill themselves and called it cliched; he knew what would happen. I controlled myself and defended the film on the basis of the comic-anguish art. Arnold said, “You never know who is going to be killed next.” He thought maybe the train running over Ove’s father was over-the-top. In each case you don’t know how it will be that he won’t manage to kill himself. I did worry when he bought himself a shot gun, loaded it, sat down and aimed it at his chin and began to pull the trigger.

Back yet further in time, a Tuesday night, September 22nd, I went to the Smithsonian to hear an excellent lecture on “Frankenstein Revisited” by Bernard Welt (he lectures regularly). I’m teaching Mary Shelley as a 19th century woman of letters, with her Frankenstein as her first but by no means only good book, I dared to try to get to a lecture at the Smithsonian using the Metro. I did manage it — was lucky that night. There are two different trains that stop at the Smithsonian: blue and silver. If the blue line doesn’t work, I can take the yellow to the orange and then the orange to the silver; it’s roundabout and takes much longer but is doable.

The first third told the usual story of the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori in their Italian villa on the lake in a dark rainy summer challenging one another to write a ghost story. He went over Mary’s parents, the love match with Shelley (he omitted all the misery of Shelley’s equal affair with her step-sister, his impregnating other women), all the usual literary groundwork, its political and other radicalism, its susceptibility to all sorts of thoughtful perspectives. He emphasized the Rousseau one: everything about society is wrong, a challenge to Hume and Kant, science, to the idea that life must be good (Prometheus as Job). He added some I hadn’t known: like that summer there had been a vast volcanic explosion which affected weather across the earth. It was the second two-thirds of his talk that were stirring: he seems to be a film and cultural studies scholar. He talked of the early responses to Shelley’s book, the first play, how it became part of a discourse about outcasts, working people, a way to describe the human condition in extremis. Then he came to the 20th century and went through the film history: from James Whale in 1931 to the recent National Theater dual Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the doctor one night, and Johnny Lee Miller the creature, and then the next switching roles. I found his bringing him ideas about the golem, the use of light and darkness on the screen (as Branagh used it I discovered when I went to the Folger) fascinating and useful. Throughout the creature and doctor embodied reactionary ideas, hatreds, insane angers, and Prof Welt ended on how in cartoons recently the creature has been likened to Trump, with the villagers no longer throwing rocks at him, but following with their pitchforks gleeful to destroy the present world order.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (as Dr Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
Naomi Harris was Elizabeth


So gentle reader and friend, on from the time I arise from bed each morning to the time I take my nightly tradazone pill, cover myself, and Clarycat snuggles up alongside me. I have left out all my reading, teaching work, movie-watching — I’ve been blogging on some of that elsewhere. Like Fielding, a good showman if ever there was one, at the end of Book 6 (which I read and quoted from this week) in Tom Jones when Tom and Sophia have both set off on that road of life, with the audience (world as stage) watching, I say don’t pay a higher price for whatever it is than it is worth, try not to become intoxicated by emotion or drink, and don’t fall to weeping.

Samantha Morton and Kathy Burke as Sophia Western and Mrs Honor, setting forth with a good will (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Miss Drake


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Home again

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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

Miss Drake

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My friend, Sophie and I last week at Cinema Art Theater where we saw Gemma Bovery

Dear friends and readers,

Stumbling along is an accurate characterization of my life this summer in my 2nd year as a widow. In the UK people used to say they were “muddling through,” but that implied a goal to somewhere, which I’ve not got. My attachment to all but a very few things I do and few friends is artificially sustained so I may remain absorbed (reading, writing, watching movies) or active (out to see and participate in events, with friends and acquaintances, mostly the latter) simply because if I let go, I fear I will not know what to hold onto, and what then? If anyone objects to my frank characterization of myself as a widow, which is what I am seen as well as relate as, I ask them why: it’s no longer acceptable to object to people characterizing themselves as GLBT, or disabled, or depressed, or simply on their own in whatever way. So why is the designation widow kept so sotto voce?

A high point, a good evening out with a friend, Sybilla, my neighbor across the street who is a widow of four years, her husband died at age 67 of pancreatic cancer. I got the tickets, she drove us to Wolf Trap. Both brought picnic baskets to share with one another. We were too late to have our picnic in the first area beyond the roofed theater, but we managed to see and hear directly and intimately enough by walking into the area just after the theater and sitting on the stone quarter-size wall. John Fogerty had been Sybilla’s choice but I immediately recognized, the songs, the voice. He’s extraordinary; he gave enormously. He had with him a remarkable band of musicians. He told of his family, had his grown son wit him; the son also plays the guitar very well. His wife in the audience. What a light show, videos, fires …. sparkling balls. The crowd became alive with the music, people standing, swaying, dancing in their seats.

Many years ago:

It was not just nostalgia, but there were new numbers, contemporary ones. I haven’t been to anything like this in years or even before. He just never stopped singing and playing with and without his band. He did not stop for an intermission and was still going apparently strong as most people began to leave. He meant to do that, to make us remember him playing his heart out and entertaining us with all his might and soul and body …

Had also enjoyed a lunch date with a scholar friend (decent meal at Darlington House in DC) and planned for a coming panel at EC/ASECS: Forging Connections among Women. I’m loving Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountain, Essays on Superstitions and Memoirs of an American Lady. Like me she reaches out to friends by her writing.


Jacob Lawrence, from his Migration of the Negro (at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC)

I probably ought to write separate blogs about two museum exhibits I saw, except that while recommending them if they come near you, I found them disappointing so I cannot say that you should go out of your way for these. At the Philips, with another friend, Vivian, I saw a room full of small abstract-kind of paintings by Jacob Lawrence called “The Struggle.” These were a pendant to his Migration series: the pictures show the inception, origination of the US was in violence, and it specifically used and excluded from citizen rights to right, slaves, women, non-property owners.

Struggle Series No. 1

There are too few was the problem. Lawrence’s unforgettable Migration series makes the effect it does because of the plenitude of pictures. For all the efforts of local Washingtonian media to speak well of the Philips (and they do host remarkable lectures and readings of plays and poetry), their permanent collection is singularly uninspiring and small. Their cafe remains awful because they are perpetually understaffed — I feel for the staff working there who look so nervous.

With Sophie, Yvette and Sophie’s partner, I went to the Caillebotte exhibition at the National Gallery. It was oddly disappointing. Not because there were too few (5 rooms of paintings from a scarcely believable number of places disparate geographically so this was a major effort of cooperation and curator negotiation) but that they were not accounted for in an insightful way by the curator. The obvious was said (that we look at from a rich person’s window, that he painted family and friends, still lifes meant to make us think about how we treat animals, and landscapes very much in the mode of Monet). They were generally thematically group (as here are river landscapes, here the city seen from this window, here ordinary people going about their business). The exhibit led with “scrapers:”


It included superbly beautiful design work:

Boulevard Des Italiens Painting by Gustave Caillebotte; Boulevard Des Italiens Art Print for sale
Boulevard Des Italiens

There was nothing on the technique, on how Caillbebott differed from other impressionists — considerably. He uses lines heavily, and is impressionist rather with water and rain. Sometimes Caillebotte seemed to anticipate pointillism; there were Manet-like street scenes. I was impressed by how expressionless his people were. He does include animals in a sad state on the street — so perhaps someone should write about his capturing the vulnerable stray again and again:

On Le Pont de l’Europe long since gone to his or her grave

For the first time Yvette and I ate at the elegant 2nd floor cafe — we’ve been going to this museum for 30 years and never tried it before. My friend’s partner apparently would have hated the “plebian” cafe downstairs. The food was dolled up bits of meat, potatoes and vegetables, almost unrecognizable, overdone salad dressing on wilted stuff, undrinkable tea (with no milk) — at probably a horrendous price. This is to tell you if you go there, don’t be fooled. Get yourself something edible downstairs at 1/4 the price in 1/10th the time.

I’ve bought myself 5 tickets to plays at the Capitol Fringe Festival and hope to find the places and see some Shakespeare (A Winter’s Tale), his contemporary Middleton, and a drama about women’s roles working during WW1. I had my worst experiences of STUGs (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief) last summer as I realized the joy of going to these events was with Jim. Sophie is coming to one of them with me and three are easy to get to this time. So it’ll just be one that might be hard — at Gallaudet College (perhaps a long walk from the Metro), a Thomas Middleton play somewhat abridged and adapted. I’ll tell about these plays here.


Ippolito Nievo, The Confessions of an Italian (Italian text).

Framley Parsonage is doing well at the OLLI at Mason (I’ll blog separately on some Australian books and films my post-colonial project have led me to): I work away at my projects. I read and post with and to others on my listservs (Ippolito Nievo’s Confesssions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall on which I will write when we’ve done), not to omit blogging on the new Poldark mini-series, women artists, and Bernie Sanders.


I’m beginning to see my way in teaching Fielding’s Tom Jones, starting to reread it slowly once again (there I had a recording I realize was appalling as the reader worked hard to make the text into a comic romp which it is anything but) and see the usefulness and depths of perspective and information in approaching it the way I did the Poldark books, by going into the real history of injustice, law, custom, the era’s revolutions. I still love the 1997 Tom Jones mini-series movie though I now know it utterly misrepresents the tone and attitude of Fielding who remains behind a mask of double-turned intricate ironies.

Low points include the Dance Fusion Workshop becoming hard to get into. The instructor has decreed only 15 since we have to go down to the Dance Studio (more fun if you are there, immersion with a mirror) and there are about 40 women who came regularly. I find I have to phone on Sunday morning around 8 am at the latest to be included in the Tuesday session at 8:30 am. A small thing it will be said, but I need to get out each day and be among people. So I re-joined the Chinquapin Alexandria Community Center about 6 minutes away from me where there’s a pool and I’ve begun swimming 5-6 laps (very slowly and I’m collapsing by the end of the 6th) to swim a few later afternoons each week. In this 90+ degree heat (I don’t look at the humidity) the water is refreshing and between 4 and 5 there are no camps, no people home from work.


So it’s not that the old pleasures aren’t still strong for me: I’m just revelling in listening as I drive in my car to a brilliantly alive reading of Mantel’s Wolf Hall by Simon Slater (unabridged). The text is extraordinary. But all around me so hollow feeling, my existence so impoverished, hopes I once entertained for the future for both of us gone. The worded-truth is:

I can no longer convey how not okay it is that my beloved friend and companion and lover of a lifetime died so young, in such an agony and I have to carry on without any meaning, any deep companionship or understanding, any validation of how I see the world and relate to it. Yes time and new experiences change the nature of people’s grief and sense of loss, the meaning of what happened: the acute anxiety has subsided; but my sense of justifable anger at how he was treated, at how I now realize cancer is not discussed has hardened as I see more from my new knowledge. I’ll never forget what I witness and it will shape my conduct towards doctors and the medical establishment — all those cold hard people taking our, his money — ever after. My feelings are now turned into more clear awareness he’ll never be back. I can’t conjure up a ghostly presence (I’m not the type, the sky is the sky, nothing on another side of silence) and my memories are not pictorial or very physical. there are physical remnants in my arms, hands, central body. If I had been younger and could build a new or other life, it might have been different, but I cannot. I would not want to have been younger for that would have destroyed him earlier. Now the feelings as transformed and by new realizations become unspeakable as they go deeper and deeper, seep into my veins.

Clarycat stayed snuggled up to him until very near his death — late September 2013

Miss Drake

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Takasi Shimura as Watanabe (Ikiru)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been for months it seems writing about a subgenre of novels I called “grief memoirs,” some are ostensibly non-fiction and may be in verse (Donald Hall’s Without), others novels (Toibin’s Nora Webster), memoir’s (Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking), sermon disguised as science (Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die). I have bought myself an art history book, T. J. Clark’s The Sight of Death, which I found focuses on precisely a couple of Poussin’s paintings that Jim loved so, and will come back to that another time. For now I add movies, one 24 hours after the first viewing has worn off seems to me as meaningful and beautiful too (deep, true, subtle, complex and complicated emotions) as any list of best prose or poetry books you can find.

The trouble with hyperbole is when you want to single out something you can be at a loss for words. After I watched Ikiru by Kurosawa last night (Yvette told me about it over supper last week) I was at a loss for words to find adequate expression. Maybe unforgettable, maybe so direct with true emotions which in life we are taught by experience and our own need to guard ourselves from showing or even feeling, we hardly ever acknowledge openly and yet are in such need of — for ourselves, to help others, to be with, and to experience from others. I had never heard of Ikiru though I had seen (years ago with Jim in a tiny movie-house in Leeds, for 12 and 6) Rashomon. So here’s wikipedia for the vanilla version (it lacks stills), and Ebert, headed with the justly famous moment of the man at the close of the film on a swing.

The story: Kanji Watanabe, an old man who has spent 30 years in a dull office where work is meaningless, and promotions come by staying put and doing nothing that displeases those above you, discovers he has stomach cancer and less than a year to live, probably 6 months. This is 1952 and there is no treatment at all in Japan. He is not given the dignity of truth: told he has a mild ulcer and must try to eat as long as he can, but he has had a conversation with someone who told him just the same words from a doctor means you are dying of stomach cancer. Already he can’t eat much, vomits most of what he takes in. Shimura is a powerful actor; he is unashamed to put the most vulnerable abject emotions on his face: in his eyes come and go the terror of death, but since no one in the doctor’s office will admit he’s dying, and he cannot bring himself to tell the cold son, he has no one to express himself to.


Watanabe has spent 30 years in an office where nothing is done and any one trying to get help is given the runaround. Like Dickens’s Nobody’s fault – now not to get anything done. he has this intense revulsion and for several nights goes about with two young people, a man who is a novelist and has compassion for him when he tells the man he is dying of stomach cancer, a young girl who he is driven to tell as she tires of him and grows frightened. He tells her he has spent these long nights with her because her youth and intense aliveness makes him feel alive again, younger (Jim used to say that’s why older men left their wives for younger women). She calls him creepy. He is creepy looking. now unshaven, desperate, deeply hungry in his soul.


The nights are awful: hugely overcrowded places where people are in an endless circle of useless (meaningless) activities, all smiling and seeming to enact pleasure. Horrible nightmares really, but the old man tries to enjoy himself — his old hat is destroyed by a passing car and the young man helps him buy a snazzy one. At home his relationship with his son and daughter-in-law has become cold; they resent him, they want his money when he dies; they leap to the worst conclusions: that he is after the young girl sexually; that he is suddenly becoming a layabout; he is disgracing them the son says. He should stick to the job and do what’s wanted.


He remembers things as he is going about at the clubs and in the night streets — seeing couples, seeing groups of people. In a flashback, wee see him and his son in a car with his parents — they are driving to or from his wife’s funeral. She died very young. All crowded in. The feel so impersonal because there is a driver in front too. He remembers intensely happy moments as in later years alone he watched his son achieve this or that. He remembers his son making gestures of love to him. Oh it is just heart-breaking.


Well, when the young girl says she has had enough he remembers — finally — a group of women who had come to beg for having a huge cesspool near where they live fixed, and then if possible build a playground. We cut to his funeral where a Deputy Mayor and high functionaries are with his son and daughter-in-law. The DM is angry because people are saying the old man built the playground; he did not.

As these people talk, the women come in who he helped, and they cry and put incense in front of the Watanabe’s picture. As they sit there for a couple of hours and then are replaced by close co-workers, the story of how the playground came to be is told in flasbacks. The co-workers include a few people who have intelligence and hearts and under the influence of lots of liquor they realize the old man was transformed all at once, put together memories and realize he was dying of stomach cancer.


In the flashbacks we see that as a minor Chief Something-or-other he can and does sign for this project to be done, but to get it done requires terrific terrible patience, bowed over before so many mean hostile irritated selfish people — really it’s all about selfishness, how selfish we all learn to be.

Scene after scene of him bent over begging, of people — restaurant owners infuriated because they want the space for their profit-making establishment (doubtless another of the rooms crowded with people supposed to be enjoying themselves), whom he lurches past.


He is endlessly hunched over, whether walking the streets at night with the two companions, with his office workers begging for playground or with his son (a huge newspaper dividing them) or daughter-in-law, resentment itself.

It’s a parable. Alas it’s improbable that he would have gotten so many people to agree and act just to get rid of him. This is where we are in the improbable. By his open vulnerabilty he gets everyone to act to make him go away. We see him on the site. But Kurosawa has forestalled our objections.

Several times in the film he or others is nearly run over by cars and/or huge trucks as in one of the site scenes.

The workers getting ever drunker remember seeing the old man on a swing looking happy one night in the rain with the playground all around him — that is the moment of the miraculous serenity. When the co-workers are talking and one denies the old man had stomach cancer, says he is putting together a story that didn’t happen that way, it was by chance it was achieved, for other practical reasons it was done, because the DM had an election, another worker looks at him. He doesn’t believe this: the old man was an inane fool. The worker says if that is so, there is nothing but this dark place (as life, for life). The worker begins to cry. So if we rule out Kurosawa’s story, we are left bottomlessly bereft.

As all who have seen the film recall we switch to the old man swinging on the swing. It is night and raining. Kurosawa manages this shimmering beauty in the texture of what we are seeing. The old man sings a brief slow melancholy ballad which he had gotten one of the musicians on the nights he went out to play: life is brief, it urges you to enjoy it while you are young. My favorite of the many stills taken from this scene is one where we see the old man from the side, swinging, singing.

From what he sees at the funeral the son gradually realizes that he misunderstood totally, especially (the film continually does this, provides a mean motive for what is happening) as when he gets home, his wife finds the old man left him and her his whole pension. One of his grief feelings is clearly from his now being left with irretrievable remorse. He cannot undo the life they led.

He is intensely hurt his father never told him he had stomach cancer. But everything all around them pushed the old man to tell only the two semi-strangers at night in moments of sudden anguish, and the girl does not react well. The character who reacts best over the whole film to this news is the young man the first night, this novelist who can’t get his novels published, who looks poor and awful and who we at first fear will cheat the old man, but does not.


It is he who helped the old man buy himself the new hat. That hat all battered is in the son’s hands as the film ceases. This is, ladies and gentlemen, an affirmative film.

Someone in the group at the funeral asserts he has seen Watanabe walking on the bridge over the playground, wandering among the children. We see them in the office and the co-worker who cried sees another group of people in need of help come in and at first stands up to try to do something for them. But no one stands with him. He soon sits down.


How long will the playground last? who will mend it when things break? these children will grow into the adults we saw late at night wandering wildly.

The film’s last image is of a man in shadows standing on the bridge looking down: is it the co-worker who cried? Watanabe’s ghost? if so, this is a a redemptive ghost moment: most tales come out of the irretrievability of a life’s experience. But it’s not clear what we see.

A larger perspective: the film shows Japan after WW2: the devastation of the bombing from the Allies, dreadful before the atom bombs hit.


I felt I ought to write a novel about some of things I carry on thinking to myself and feeling since Jim died but when I once tried it came out so raw (and grim) I had to stop. What is astonishing is the control in the film which makes the surface cool and produces these capabilities of human hearts in the midst of a society desolate of uncorrupted structures for people to relate to one another too, instead with structures which reinforce the worst feelings of materialism and superficial gaiety.

Maybe in Wolf Hall there are in it, due to Rylance’s presence, tone, face, moments of deep gravitas, projections of still true emotion, that reach near what flowers in Ikiru.

Last night I dreamt of Jim, it was disturbing because the dream was he was back but with the cancer. Probably I was longing to have him back with me on any terms. Yes I can survive — I have conversations with people where I gather I am expected to have “gotten over what happened” by now. That is, by those who have never had such a loss or have never felt life at its core. Those who have know better.


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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?


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).


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.


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 ….


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.

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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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


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.


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)

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.

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.

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

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.

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.


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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