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Posts Tagged ‘historical romance’


1999, Jim, me, and Izzy on a visit with Trollope Society friends to Salisbury Cathedral, we stopped off in a pub


Laura around the same time (so 21 years ago)

And it looks like you’ll stay …. from Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along

Claire tells Frank several years after she has returned to the 20th century there is not enough time in her lifetime to forget Jamie, from Gabaldon, Voyager

Dear friends and readers,

Once upon a time October was my favorite time of year. Usually the weather is so pretty, and it was in October, the 6th, of 1968 to be exact, that Jim and I met, and again a year later October 6th, 1969, that Jim and I married; October 3rd was his birthday — he was born October 3, 1948. When Laura was married for the first time and planning an autumn wedding and settled on September 30th, I said wait a day and it’ll be in October. But now it is the hardest time of year: Jim died on October 9th, 2013. He was just 65. He stopped talking to us the 7th, that morning he had said “goodbye” to Izzy, the day before to Laura.

He died of esophageal cancer, one of the many cancers that are now not uncommon (once far rarer) because we live and breath and eat polluted air and food. I wrote about the whole course of this dreadful experience here, as well as an obituary for him. He was my prince, he was everything to me. Today I listened on and off to Stephen Sondheim songs — he loved Sondheim’s music, lyrics, the musicals themselves. So many capture my love for him, how I miss him, but I must choose just one for a blog, and it’s “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along (which Jim used to say was his favorite Sondheim musical) — I am so lonely for his company.

I am not in as much pain as I was the first few years; I am no longer reading memoirs of grief, but the staying home in this pandemic strains me badly. Perhaps all the driving about to courses, to entertainments, very occasionally with a friend, or Izzy and once in a long while Laura, was distraction but it helped. Christmas is going to be very hard this year since the way Izzy and I got through was to go out to Kennedy Center with Laura, then dinner out with her and Rob, Christmas day a movie out for Izzy and I, and again dinner out. We go to see some Christmas play or concert, on Boxing Day, a museum, and until I could no longer drive at night, the Kennedy Center again for some gay entertainment. I’ll buy a tree, Izzy and I will decorate it, but beyond that, with a hope of Laura coming over once or a daring visit to a museum, it’ll be Christmas movies, friends on the Net.


Jim, Izzy as a baby, Laura a young child (perhaps 1985 or so)

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Phineas returns to London (1974 BBC Pallisers, Donal McCann as Phineas)

My teaching has begun and I feel my course in Phineas Redux is thus far going very well. Talk about how Jim remains part of my life every day, I’m taking a course in “Kipling and Colonial literature,” because Jim liked Kipling: he read aloud the Just So stories to both daughters and me, he read to me two short stories that were comedies of manners (not these god-awful misogynistic, racist, patriarchal soldier stories I can barely get myself to skim. The teacher is an intelligent woman and I hope the latter part of the course we’re we’ll read at least one woman writer from the period I’ve never read before and V.S. Naipaul’s Bend in the River will be more enjoyable. I’m also taking a course in Sondheim — six sessions, and tomorrow the topic is the musical Company: I watched it online just now and here it is if you would like to watch a splendid TV version:

Everything all around me that makes my life pleasant was and is part of him: the house, the books, my solvency, my daughters.

I did say my courses for the coming winter (online at OLLI at Mason), Two Novels of Longing in an Imperial Age (Forster’s Howards End and Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans) has been accepted and for the spring (online at both OLLIs, Mason and AU), 20th Century Women’s Political Novels (Bowen’s Last September, Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, Hellman’s Scoundrel Time, and Morrison’s Bluest Eye) also accepted (see two rough weeks for descriptions, scroll down). To these I’ve now added the coming summer, 2021, when there is a good chance the teaching and courses will still be through zoom:

Post-Colonialism and the Novel

In this class we will explore some realities covered by terms like colonialism & imperialism, nationalism & tribalism or identity politics as dramatized in three novels, viz., E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival; and a couple of short stories from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreters of Maladies. Beyond the seeing obvious inflictions of capitalism & industrialization, displacement of peoples & forms of enslavement, we will ask why people develop passionate identifications with a place (countrysides, cities), nostalgia for some imagined past (enjoy historical novels, romances & films), turn cultures into religions (& vice versa), how gender & art movements inflect all this

I am very much looking forward to re-reading all these books and discussing and talking and teaching (if that’s what it is) them to these classes of older intelligent people. Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival has personal meaning for me: I had begun to arrive, be embedded in England, when we had to leave for a better income and opportunity to go to graduate school, but periodically we did return. And the reason I’ve taken trips with Road Scholar is to return to the UK where I met and married Jim and gave myself a happy peaceful life with him for so many years. I wrote on Austen Reveries of my other reading and writing projects: I too dwell in possibility. I finished reading Anne Enright’s Actress, it is finally a searching sceptical and pessimistic take on the life of an actress; I will use it as context and critique for the blog on Harriet Walter (and her book on playing male parts in all female-cast Shakespeare plays) on Austen Reveries soon.

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Claire (Caitriona Balfe) teaching Marsali (Lauren Lyle), making her an apprentice doctor (Outlander Season 5)

I have been just loving the 5th season of Outlander; it can hardly be more perfect: they have rewritten the 5th Outlander novel, Diana Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross, which just is without a story, blended it with episodes from the 6th, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, to provide a slender action-adventure plot-pattern across the series, plucked out several of the moving episodes (anecdotes) and rewritten these to reveal characters movingly, interestingly, relevantly to us today. I am watching the series for a second time and will make one or two blogs — wordpress has renovated itself so now it’s harder to get to and use the “classic” template (which I know how to use) so I cannot write as many blogs I might have wanted to. I would, though, like to admit, that the intense joy of these books to me is the relationship between Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire: absurdly but irresistibly I find in their relationship elements of what I knew with Jim, with Balfe all along, from Season 1 on I have bonded, even deeply. I am back to dreaming of this series at night. I wrote as follows on face-book early one morning:


From the episode, the night of Brianna and Roger’s wedding in North Carolina

When long ago I wrote a book on Richardson’s Clarissa (an 18th century novel) I dreamed of the characters (these were often distraught, deeply upset dreams); when I wrote a book (about 20 years ago) on Anthony Trollope and his novels, I dreamed of him and those characters I was writing about; I used to dream of the Poldark characters (in the early 2000s from the books and actors of the first series, much less so during the era of the 2015 series — I never quite warmed to or credited the feel of the series) and now I find I dream again each time a new season comes of the Outlander characters. I cannot remember particulars once I am fully awake but I know this time as I awaken I am glad I was dreaming.

Until now (writing blogs) I never dreamed of characters until I was writing a book or something quite long. I have not dreamed of the Austen characters much that I am aware of, or in the same way, because although I’ve written about Austen’s novels and the movies, it was not consistent total immersion with a single set of actors or big text or texts over a long period of time. I received very interesting replies: I was especially struck by how the readers of Trollope shied away from admitting to dreaming about these characters, but not the readers of the Outlander books, and were I still in contact with the readers of the Poldarks, I’ll bet they dream too (a vindictive woman who runs one of these pages, not understanding my Aspergers ways blackballed me off these places).


A moment of upset for Becky as old Lady Crawley laughs at some make-shift that Becky has invented — not a characteristic moment but showing Hampshire’s talents; the series aired in black-and-white as did the original Forsyte Saga

I’ve carried on my project of watching 1970s BBC and British series adapting remarkable books, and have finished the 1967 BBC Vanity Fair, and would like to recommend it to you, gentle reader. The film-makers (David Giles, the director) manage to pluck out the central emotional and thematic elements of Thackeray’s extraordinary book, as well as its comedy, and with the strong performances of Susan Hampshire as Becky Sharp (one can see why she became Fleur in Forsyte Saga, Lady Glencora in the Pallisers) and Bryan Marshall as Dobbin (even better than Hampshire for he is given depths of plangency she is not), and a mostly good supporting cast, good scripts, well done scenes, you end up with a reading of the book that concentrates on Becky’s position in the world, and gifts as actuating her choices in life.

They condensed the novel by making Becky the central linchpin, then having key episodes or turning points of her story as climaxes in each of the episodes. It works, for Amelia’s occur alongside Becky’s and turn into a parallel. Their early adventures together, and then apart, Becky landing among the Crawleys, their marriages ending part 2, the calamity of Waterloo Part 3 (which Becky turns to her advantage and is superlatively anti-war), Part 4 with the jailing of Rawdon. Susan Hampshire began to resemble Sarah Badel as Lizzie Eustace in the Pallisers in the fourth part. My only complaint is the ending. The film makers did not have the guts to end on Becky living off Sedley and poisoning him slowly so we ended on her good deed, awakening Amelia, Amelia folded in Dobbin’s arms so no time to see Dobbin disillusioned. The lines about the puppets and ever all dissatisfied are uttered. As the budgets were as small as those for the Austen films (and a 1971 Jane Eyre), nothing outdoors, all sets, it’s remarkable how effective they were in using symbols.

Gentle reader, I prefer watching these British series of 50 years ago to contemporary films online. I mean to go on to watch the 1987 BBC Vanity Fair (which I’ve never seen but have had for a long time on a TBW pile) and Andrew Davies’ brilliant 1998 six part-er with Natasha Little and Philip Glenister in the two roles I just singled out

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Sunday morning, home from Trader Joe’s


Ian among books, an active, vocal part of my life today

So how shall I end this diary entry? I have spoken less of politics here than usual — this is not a political blog but usually what is happening in the public political world presses in on me. I shall confine myself to the dire possibilities that the Trump Junta will attempt to steal the election, undermine so totally the vote, suppress, throw out, start violence: read Barton Gellman in the Atlantic. I feel I have enough to communicate without it. I met an old old friend the other day, in front of the local bakery. Mary Lee Charles, a highly intelligent devoutly Catholic woman with whom I formed a deep feeling relationship for a time as our older daughter, Katie (hers) and Laura were friends. I would not have recognized her in her mask, she has grown so thin. She stopped me and attempted to convey a warmth of the old feeling when I told her Jim had died. I believe she stopped me because she wanted to tell me Katie has a Ph.d in English literature and is now going for tenure in a Maryland college. She looked at me significantly; she wanted to tell me this, remembering my vocation. We have now exchanged emails and I’ve told her that after all she was right so many years ago, and I do love the Poldark series — we knew one another in the early 1980s you see.

Last night I re-watched a TV series someone gave me a copy of shortly after Jim died: Coogan and Brydon in The Trip: to me a comforting movie because the film-makers and actors manage to convince you somewhat this trip to sample fine food for a magazine column (whose we are not told) on a drive through the north of England is really happening non-fictionally. Their conversation because of its edge is convincing, their lives suggested persuasive, and the filming of the countryside to me so appealing: I lived up north with Jim. I saw the second series too, the tour through Italy which conveyed genuine feeling about the past in the landscape, playing in individual memory. I shall never capture again the happiness and even innocence I once knew when Jim was in the world with me, but I can re-visit the landscapes in England we loved together. This is his (as Julian Barnes strikingly put it) death-time which I keep in my continuing existence.


Coogan goes out for a quick cellphone photo in Derbyshire


Lake District — the photography imitates ordinary people taking camera shots ….

Ellen

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Standing Rock, this Thanksgiving Day: by Medea Benjamin the water protectors

Dear friends and readers,

For the first time since Jim died (and perhaps a few years before that), Izzy and I had a “proper” Thanksgiving dinner and with other people. A beautifully cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, a kind of puree of broccoli (with various delicious ingredients blended in), red cabbage (somehow made sweet), stuffing, muffins, for me wine, for her apple juice. My neighbor who lives across the street invited us over and made this dinner: I brought an apple pie and bottle of wine. We talked, and ate, and talked again with good music from NPR: like Aaron Copeland, while we sat around a table doing some serious puzzle putting together. I’ve no photos to prove it; you’ll just have to believe me. I did read an article in the Washington Post which had your regulation photos of turkeys (not cooked, but alive): Debbie Berkowitz told about the terrible conditions poultry workers (that’s people who prepared the unfortunate chickens too) endure (freezing cold, dangerous hard repetitive work, very low wages). A thought which might hinder the usual showing off by photographing the unfortunate bird.

We went across the street around 4 and were there about four hours. The generosity of this woman gladdened our hearts and made the coming winter time more cheerful to contemplate. I wish I could get myself to volunteer in a local homeless shelter where they make meals for people on Christmas day, but I hesitate each year since Jim died. They want me to fill out forms, to agree to have any photos they want, and this year $50 on top of that. So I don’t know again. At any rate, we came back me to read, and she to sleep because she’s promised to write for Fan-Sided another report on ice-skating (I think it is) which starts US time at midnight; she’ll watch, take notes, off to work at 7:30 am, and back again to resume work. Do not underestimate the great solace of writing. About mid-morning today I wrote four letters to friends who had written me, two because it’s Thanksgiving and they know I have birthday coming up.

Another is reading. Over on Wwtta @ Yahoo, about three of us are reading Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and we are into Chapter 24 or so where Lee writes of how important to Woolf was reading. I loved the chapter, but my companion in reading, Diane Reynolds, suggested there is something missing: Lee does not tell which were Woolf’s “touchstone” books (the word from Matthew Arnold’s famous essay on how he tells if a passage is great writing (he reads it against “touchstone” lines of greatness): “which books did she return to again and again in the course of her life.” And why these? In the case of Woolf, one problem is she read so much, it’s not clear she might have thought to write about this until until her immersion was such, she would probably talk of a kind of book (Russian, say, classical). Then as a paid reviewer, she’d have had to think about so many she was paid to read.

So I thought in this desolate, desperate and frightening time before Trump takes office (it’s hard to take in that huge numbers of human beings are willing to allow this corrupt bully monster such power — what a mass failure of imagination is here, Jim might have said), I’d cite the books that I’ve read and reread and reread and those that have changed my reading life and thus me profoundly.

girlandcatreading

At 8 I’d read and reread P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park — for the park: I lived in the Southeast Bronx and loved tracing the park on the end papers. I loved the quietly magical adventures where this enigmatic strict woman emerged as all kindness, courtesy, reciprocal love. In another of the Poppins books the children visited the Pleiade, the “seven sisters” Margaret Drabble called them and I remembered ever after the drawing of Maia skipping along on the sidewalk. Alcott’s Little Women over and over and I still think in terms of some of its parables. I was lured by The Secret Garden too. I read one copy of Gone with the Wind until it fell apart. All this around age 10 to 12.

From the time (same age) I’ve read Sense and Sensibility Elinor has helped me. She provides a way of thinking, a kind of (yes) self-control, self-protection, that I’d try to emulate and hold to. I remember doing that around age 17 and thought it helped keep me sane. Having spent 5 years on Richardson’s Clarissa it too has been central — though I wish I had known Mary Piper’s Saving Ophelia. It might have helped save me years of mental anguish — I probably would have practiced the same kind of guarded retreat as the best way for me to cope with aggressive heterosexual male culture. How I identified with Fanny, loved the melancholy neuroticism of Anne Eliot. I have never stopped reading Austen for long, especially the six famous books, even Emma which at least has the rhythms of deep heart beat with order and harmony in the sentences, rather like letting Bach or Handel get into the pulses of my blood going through my chest and heart Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre are books I read and reread in my teens. Bronte sent my pulses soaring with her comments about having a treasure within her she’d not sell away

These will seem strange and won’t resonate but this set of books has been as important: Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A user-Friendly Guide. For the first time I could understand what was meant by de-construction, all these “theoretical” outlooks put into words which were meaningful. It was Tyson’s book which made me a feminist. I am not a feminist out of a search for power, or influence, or about a career (none of which I’ve ever had), but as a liberation from the dark nightmare of the way sexuality is conducted in our society. For the first time I had words which did not shame me to discuss the experiences I had endured, and this book took me to others where I understood for the first time I was not only not alone or rare, but my experiences were commonplace. Lois Tyson’s book enabled me to utter my thoughts to myself clearly and at least think about them and then voice them (here on the Net mostly) to others. Emily White’s Fast Girls (about how such girls become “fast,” are stigmatized, treated horribly), Peggy Reeves Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape (ought to be required reading for every girl) and especially Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery (wherein we learn why there is no recovery if by that is meant forgetting, going back to what one was). These did changed how I read.

Close at hand, near to heart: I have Trollope’s books and all sorts of secondary studies in a book case that stretches from ceiling to floor and is about 4 feet wide — he helps and certainly he changed what I do 🙂 The novel I read first and never forget was Dr Thorne I was 18, it was assigned in a college class; I wanted to write a paper on it but was discouraged by the professor because Trollope was (just) “a mirror of his age. Then re-hooked when the Palliser films were aired on PBS in the 1970s: Jim and I watched and read the books in turn as we went through the series. Then re-hooked in the 1990s with Last Chronicle of Barset in Rome (it got me through) and The Vicar of Bullhampton (given me by my father when I landed in hospital.) I have read and re-read Trollope’s books, and while his depiction of women leaves much to be desired, his attitude towards colonialism shameful, he does see the truth and is candid enough to suggest it. I give him the high compliment of saying he sees the same world Samuel Johnson does.

Over the years I’ve added this or that author who speaks home to me: there has got to be a strengthening offered, a way of coping as well understanding what existence is — especially for women and in books by women. There is a strong perpetual fault-line between women’s and men’s art. Lately it’s been Margaret Oliphant and Elizabeth Gaskell (yes I like older books) but before that Elsa Morante (in the Italian) as well as Elena Ferrante’s first couple of books (Days of Abandonment is astonishing), Chantal Thomas (Souffrir), Jenny Diski. Graduate school introduced me to Samuel Johnson (how’s that for a different voice), Anne Finch’s poetry, Charlotte Smith but she is so corrosive; she permits self-expression through her but not the calm acceptance and understanding of how this came to be; now and again in different life-writing, memoirs I find women who do this: Iris Origo, George Sand, George Eliot (though too much violation of natural impulses).

In the first few years after graduate school, I discovered Renaissance women wrote (who knew?) great sonnets, and loved Vittoria Colonna (why I taught myself Italian, though I first loved her poetry in fin-de-siecle French translation), Veronica Gambara, Gaspara Stampa, Lady Mary Sidney Wroth. I discovered Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters, read all three volumes. Now and again I’ve clutched some contemporary woman author as yes yes yes: Rosamund Lehmann’s mistitled The Echoing Grove comes to mind (The Weather in the Streets might contain the first frank story of an abortion, had just around the time the heroine reads Austen’s Pride and Prejudice); Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children tells such good hard truth but offers not enough comfort.

Well of course each day (almost) I reach something which makes being alive worth while. I love reading about women artists, and reading women’s poetry. Today I was having a deeply enjoyable time reading Martha Bowden’s Descendents of Waverley, a stimulating book about historical romance and novels whose reflections criss-crossed with another set of post-modern historical fictions I had been reading about in another book I’m reviewing: Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and Cambridge. Between this book and others about historical fictions and films, and reading Booker Prize versions of these, thinking about earlier ones (Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, even the Poldark novels, Walter Scott) I’ve come to the thought that we so love post-modern historical fiction with great dollops of romantic fantasy (time-traveling, re-enactment, erotic giving of the self to a beloved) because through intertextuality they include precious historical documents (books from previous eras), the remnants of a past that have survived which can open worlds of minds and places to us, cultures, while the 20th and 21st century authors, film-makers produce a perspective on this past and our present that is sustaining and comforting today.

Do you love the older images on Virago covers? often I do. Also black-and-white picturesque illustrations.

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This Monet is my header picture on Twitter

So that’s what I have been thinking and what I did this Thanksgiving day. It was a day where no further irrational (unless you believe everything must be set up for a few people to make as much profit as possible), vile (deeply inhumane) and despicable (choosing inept people who known nothing about the area except that they want to destroy what’s there) appointments were paraded by the president elect, not even one of his snark jokes. I’ve in effect praised the Post for one of its Thanksgiving day stories, so let me be clear: the rest of their page was advice to those who see what Trump is to be humble before those who voted for this man if we have to sit down to dinner with any of them: the overt theory is again they are good deluded people (the old shibboleth of “false consciousness”) and we are to blame for this horror about to unfold because we have been elitist: with such a conclusion, how can the paper’s staff hope ever to help those poultry workers they grieved for on the same page?

So I also remember the lesson of the 1930s when a segment of my then extant family in Europe was rounded up, send to camps and many of them exterminated or died of hellish treatment or were shot. I’ve saved for last two books, both slender. The first a sine qua non for a 20th century reader: Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce (if you can in the Italian, but if not the English translation is good). I read these (bound together as one book) when I was teaching myself Italian (I was about 44). Indirect, but saying the same thing is Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, which each time I was given the second half of British Literature to teach I assigned as our penultimate read.

Miss Drake

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