Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Diski’


Berthe Morisot’s summer scene, reading on a lake, mother and child


Just Fine all Alone — Tammy Cantrell — — standing in for me and Ian (my latest time-line photos)

Dancing Day II by Marie Ponsot. Is it not a beautiful poem? It was just put on Wompo, a listserv for women’s poetry (July 9th).

Once, one made many.
Now, many make one.
The rest is requiem.

We’re running out of time, so
we’re hurrying home to
practice to
gether for the general dance.
We’re past get-ready, almost at get-set.
Here we come many to
dance as one.

Plenty more lost selves keep arriving, some
we weren’t waiting for. We stretch and
lace up practice shoes. We mind our manners—
no staring, just snatching a look
—strict and summative—
at each other’s feet & gait & port.

Every one we ever were shows up
with world-flung poor triumphs
flat in the back-packs we set down to greet
each other. Glad tired gaudy
we are more than we thought
& as ready as we’ll ever be.

We’ve all learned the moves, separately,

from the absolute dancer
the foregone deep breather
the original choreographer.

Imitation’s limitation—but who cares.
We’ll be at our best on dancing day.
On dancing day
we’ll belt out tunes we’ll step to
together
till it’s time for us to say
there’s nothing more to say
nothing to pay no way
pay no mind pay no heed
pay as we go.
Many is one; we’re out of here,
exeunt omnes

exit oh and save
this last dance for me

on the darkening ground
looking up into
the last hour of left light
in the star-stuck east,
its vanishing flective, bent
breathlessly.

All the characteristics and feel of l’ecriture-femme. She has just died — her life span was April 6, 1921 to July 5 1919 Long lived.

Dear friends and readers,

Moved by Ian Patterson’s essay in the July 4th issue of the London Review of Books, “My Books,” where he described his journey through life as a deep adventures reading, buying, and planning to read books (so acquiring them) until he found himself living in a diary of his life, the paths ahead of him, the books he will open, consult, live in, and when time permits, read next, I come back to continue this diary.

That’s how I’ve been, how I was with Jim. The essay turns into a memoir of loss of his beloved wife, Jenny Diski too. Truth to tell, I was irresistibly draw to the column when I saw the name that I knew from just one of her last essays was that of “the poet,” her partner (husband) of many years. In his The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes has his character declare the experience of life is “accumulation.” Taking on you the burden of memory to make a meaning or identity for yourself. Ian Patterson is at risk of losing his identity

The idea the man has is they are a manifestation of his very soul. I like how he remembers individuals by colors and look and feel and the visual memory of where some passage is on the page in the book itself So do I.

***********************************


Me, taken summer 2014

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference … Frost

This to share with my readers here my part in a thread of postings that went on for several days where people on my TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io, asked if they would once again or for the first time introduce themselves, began to pour out memories of (in Frost’s famous poems’ terms) the varied paths they took different (they felt) from many others around them, or in response to some painful events or losses, or their own needs, goals, desires.

It’s not my place to tell of these others, but I can post my response to theirs. Someone said she had had enough of schooling or college, after one post-graduate degree. So I replied:

I [too] felt after I finished my Ph.D. no more degrees. I know both women and men who have gone on for another degree, sometimes to the Ph.D again, often the professional one — the job-oriented lawyer’s degree. I said no more no matter what. I also was a secretary — some three times, the most fun being in Northern England. Secretary was a way in, but it was hard to break out of that. I’m also now at two Lifelong Learning Institutes and have the great pleasure of developing my own courses. I couldn’t agree more about being asked as a woman to read mostly dead white European males (and the usual token woman, e.g., Austen, Eliot, Bronte, maybe Woolf). But I’ll remark it was not all males who made the cut: not only Trollope but Collins was beyond the pale. F.R Leavis has a lot to answer for, but his book and Scrutiny were so enormously influential because by being ever so solemn, treating close reading as a hard mystery, and using only authors with lots of prestige did the profession justify itself. For a while in the later 20th century it justified itself politically by deconstructing these sacred works, but after a couple of decades that hadn’t gone over very well, feminism as dreamed of in the second phase had been beat back badly: now humanities departments are just shut down in many places.

For reasons beyond explaining, people began to use reading Spenser’s Faerie Queene as the “step too far” they had been asked to do as English or humanities majors. To this, I countered:

My dear, I have read the entire Faerie Queene and I wrote a paper on the sixth book which almost won a prize. I a couple of times almost won a prize: my short story out of Gone with the Wind, “Ellen’s Story” (O’Hara) almost won a prize …. I don’t regret reading  The Faerie Queene. Maybe I regret the years in the composition part of an English department where I gave in and assigned the community text. I wasted the students’ time with utter self-interested crap — books published by members of the department, this year’s fashionable book. I didn’t keep that up and so didn’t win Brownie points with anyone. I saw my younger daughter discouraged from being an English major when the older man who taught “The first half of Eng Lit” from the Norton retired, and a young faculty member assigned 12 sophisticated novels which assumed a sophisticated attitude to literature (one of which had been written by him, one by his wife) and also that you had read classics. She hated it and never took another English course; she did like Milton from the first half, Pope, Shakespeare — she like all that.

Yes for years I never read a woman’s book, or if I was assigned one, I was strongly discouraged from making that woman or art the focus of a term paper. I was astonished after I got my Ph.D, to discover a slew of Renaissance women poets, and now it grates on me at OLLIs where teachers (women too) just cite men’s books — or men’s films.

The internet has been a lifeline for me — transformed some fundamental attitudes and my life but this has been the result of activities online of all sorts, yet its been mostly posting and reading about books and movies with others. Maybe a course or so. Just learning about and reaching things I was unaware of before. My first true insightful social life occurred here

The question came up, what are we good at? what we choose to do is what we like and we like what we have talent for. A couple of people professed to be good only at reading, writing, and (say) crossword puzzles. So I said,

I’m down right hopeless at crossword puzzles but can with patience manage a jigsaw and when I was 15 I took up a year of my life buying jigsaw with lovely pictures and doing them over a long period of time. The living room table became my puzzle table — and I put it in our hall so as to try to get of sight and sound of the TV. By 15 I had stopped watching most TV. I loved Drabble’s memoir The Pattern in the Carpet, A Personal History with Jigsaws – she used the puzzle as a metaphor for our existence.

But I can parallel park a car on a city street into a tight space. I parallel -parked just today in order to go to the Farmer’s market. I had Volkswagon bugs for years and used to have to park them in Manhattan. So it was “on the job” training. I am no where as good at parking in garages and parking lots — I scratch (a mild term) the sides of my cars on pillars and yes on other cars … I find the lines are too narrowly drawn and wonder what people do who have truly big cars. I have a PriusC — compact Prius (Toyota with hybrid engine).

Among us book readers on this list for reading books together who wrote in on this theme, there were a number of people who once taught and a few who taught in senior colleges and left. And they gave different reasons for this or just expressed dismay, disgust, alienation, a desire not to become a migrant contingent teacher (with low pay and poor benefits). I expressed my feelings about this crossroads especially:

It seems that at some point at least some of us have taken some road or made a choice we could not come back from, or not retrieve easily. My feeling is for academics — people teaching in colleges, but maybe in high school too there comes a time when some of us ask ourselves, Do we want to do this for the rest of our lives? People I’ve talked to (and written with) often say that the decision time comes because they haven’t made tenure (will not get the truly respected position and decent money and security), and I have been made to feel bad because they go on about this choice to make a better salary – of course the ones who say this are those who went on to make a better salary. The implication is, what is the matter with you? why did you take this? because all my life I was an adjunct. Sometimes it’s accompanied by adverse criticism (often accurate) of the academy — though businesses are as and worse corrupted.

I am often silent when face-to-face because I’m outnumbered or the person has the American hegemony on his or her side. But when it is one-on-one or here on the Net I do reply and it’s that I said to myself, I don’t care if I never make even a full-time position (contingent). There is nothing else I want to do or can endure. (I admit I never thought of going back for another degree to be a librarian — I could have.) I would rather spend my life reading (here we go) and writing and teaching reading and writing at the cost of whatever. Of course I had a husband and I thought he was doing pretty well. (Since in these OLLIs Ive met people who have said, what a shame he didn’t rise to one of the super-high grades and make “real” money.) I did come to that  a place in the path where I saw this group of people would not even give me a full time contingent job, and yet I chose to stay on where I was … Now thinking there were opportunities for me to get behind someone with tenure to do with them what they wanted, an dwho could have helped me but there was no offer and it could have taken years and then I not be chosen. I’ve been lucky in that my mother unexpectedly left me money which is really why I am comfortable. But I’m glad I didn’t spend my existence in an insurance office — I’m not saying that those who have didn’t find satisfaction in that. The young man who is my financial adviser works long hours 5 days a week with little vacation doing nothing but working with money — it’s what he wants …. I can’t regret what I feel I have not truly suffered for by not having enough money to live right now.

As Frost’s poem says, I took another path, or unlike others who didn’t make tenure, I stayed in the path – that same one I saw as mine, all I could do with what I was and had – at age 19 sitting on a bench in a park with a friend I still know. She is today a widow like me, with her Ph.D in economics, she teaches as a retired person at a college in Florida — so an adjunct salary — she would never teach what she’d call and most people nothing — there’s that word nothing. I don’t teach for nothing. Shakespeare would understand my comment there & Austen too.

I can bring Trollope into this too: he gave up his good job at the Post Office because he was passed over for promotion. He felt humiliated. Yes he wanted to write full time, yes he wanted to start a periodical, yes maybe he was tired of the post office. But he gave up a pension to do this. And I have seen people say “the hell with it,” I can’t stand this and will give up my pension — they are usually younger, and maybe have a hope of providing for themselves in old age in some other way.

But Trollope did walk away. Took another path and look how many novels and short stories, and essays we have by him

And by the way, I have discovered that OLLI at Mason has book clubs where the group gets together and they read the book aloud! they do choose well-respected classics, and usually long ones. So this summer is Dr Zhivago in the best edition and a fine translation. I had signed up thinking it a discussion group so I decided to pass on it — I have a CD of Madoc reading it aloud brilliantly. I have read in the 19th century some book clubs just the book aloud — many clubs would have members who could not afford a copy of their own so this was a way of “getting” a book.

Something I had written about regretting not thinking of becoming a librarian, was misunderstood: “I have a hunch I would have liked working in a library — of course I dream of research libraries like the Folger or Library of Congress. Izzy so enjoyed her time in a Fairfax library where she joined in the children’s house. Now she is at the Pentagon library.”

Oh yes I know that librarians do not sit about all day reading — I did work as a librarian’s assistant (unpaid) in high school and one of my daughters is a librarian. When I said I should have thought of librarianship, I was thinking of all I knew about academia by that time, my weariness with endlessly teaching (it felt at the time but I did manage to stop teaching) freshman comp courses. What I was saying what I didn’t think of perhaps palatable alternatives — when I was young, to be a nurse was one. I was strongly discouraged continually from that.

I’m glad to come back to add to other reasons I’ve known a number of people to leave academia. Beyond money and promotion, having to move – and in the early years continually. I have met people living in NYC who say they will not take a job too far away – this is home to them, and for many good reasons. Continual moving is a continual ripping of our attempts at making relationships, transplanting ourselves, building a life apart.

Let me add on further reminiscences: I worked as an adjunct for many years, most steadily from 1989 (spring) to May 2012. For four years I taught in two places and had four classes so that would be 120 students. Sometimes I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. I’d become neurasthenic by the end of the day sometimes — especially when I did four in a row. I still remember Izzy as a small child coming up to my sofa, looking at me, walking away and returning with her blanket and a doll. She covered me with blanket and tucked the doll in, and then returned to whatever she was doing. Most years I did three classes in fall and spring each, and two in the summer (one 8 week term).

I think I did like being among people, young people, and I did like the students as a group overall. At the beginning far more of them had read more books and did not have jobs, by the end it was not uncommon for me to have students who appeared to have read hardly any books and were trying to go to college with full-time jobs at the same time. At the beginning (going way back) 1972, most classes met 3 times a week for an hour, then the thin edge of wedge was twice a week for 75 minutes. In my last years I taught classes meeting either twice for 75 minutes or once for a whooping nearly 3 hour stretch. It was then I turned to have students do talks and yes used more movies.

I did stop teaching between 1976 or so and 1987 or so. Then I read proposals for the Fund for Post-Secondary Education — piece meal work where I was paid per proposal or maybe it was per hour.

If I could understand the digital software I think I’d enjoy being an editor.

************************

Where Oliphant spent one summer: overlooks a lake near Fife, Scotland

I believe I said last time I have been much cheered because it seems my project to write about women writers who spend a long time unmarried is “on again:” my friend wants to do it and I feel is much more able than I to interest a publisher. Not an Anomaly a new working title.
I said I had just immersed myself in Oliphant one day; well, I’ve gone with it, and here’s a preliminary plan for three chapters: (after the introductory chapter, which might get written last):

I’m asking myself, how did being a widow affect Oliphant’s deepest being (the outward effect is obvious) and how did this enter into her fiction? I asked that question, but more superficially of Austen’s fiction and the great-great-grandmother? Now I’ll return to widows in Austen. The answer would probably make both women less of an anomaly, but that will be part of the theses: would bring home how unfairly and inaccurately people see widows, including widows themselves talking in public about themselves. Trollope has many widows and he deals with them as a man. How this differs. I could in passing bring in Christine de Pizan (I came across a CFP for a session for her out of the Christine de Pizan society — who knew there is a society?); of course Colonna was a widow; Penelope Fitzgerald who was a library waiting to happen when her husband died. Fitzgerald wrote introductions for three of Oliphant’s Carlingford novels; in her The Bookshop, she alludes to Oliphant’s stories of the seen and unseen. Realistically speaking such a chapter (if I’m lucky) I could manage by the end of the coming winter.

Looking realistically at the amount of work (including reading in Oliphant’s case) I should focus on three women. So first Oliphant, with her interest in autobiography, her Autobiography and Letters as edited by her cousin, Annie Walker, and autobiographical novels.


Lucy Hay (née Percy) Countess of Carlisle, c.1660-65 (oil on canvas) by Hanneman, Adriaen (c.1601-71) — one of numerous active 17th century women in the Civil War

The unconventional life seemingly alone. I’ll look to see what materials are truly available for Anne Murray Halkett — like Charlotte Smith she spent a long time alone; in her case I believe she lived with a skunk-type outside marriage and that is why all her papers, and especially her wonderful autobiography are in such a fragmentary state. She tried to tell about it and everything she said directly was destroyed. A new book where she figures as a major character has come out: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in 17th century Britain by Nadine Akkerman. Central books by her are at the Folger! Charlotte Smith tries to tell indirectly and she is excoriated in print, nagged to return to this abusive man in life. Censored women. Shut up women. Pariahs. Shunned women. “Cast out from respectability for a while” (Halkett’s phrase). The re-framed, posthumously published pious blank life that Woolf talks of her in Memoirs of a Novelist. That could be a second chapter.

And one for spinsters, real spinsters and lesbian spinsterhood. Living embedded in a family, living alone when they can afford it. Thus far there’s Frances Power Cobbe who lived as a lesbian and talks directly against concepts like “redundant” women, “wife-torture in England” (which laws encourage) — very rich and her partner has money too. Constance Fennimore Woolson also a spinster; thus far what I’ve read of her and about from Rioux is not about being a spinster. Anne Boyd Rioux is not interested in that — for Rioux she’s this writer wanting recognition, chasing after James – but Woolson spent her life with women relatives in the spinster pattern. The book(s) I could use here are Emma Donoghue’s — maybe including her fiction. She cites a number of such women. I’ve written two blogs on Donoghue’s books on lesbian spinsterhood

***********************


July flowers

I have for quite a while been keeping a sort of diary on face-book, my time-line. I’ve been doing it more regularly as I stay home much more.

July 4th, evening, and a bit worn down: I shall allow Jane Austen (good of me) to express the tone of mind I’m in after a quiet day of study (reading, note taking) in the cool: My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. — Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798). Well actually I didn’t expect to be unhappy …. Izzy appears to have enjoyed her day watching tennis — and playing music — too.

To someone who had misread the above: I work at keeping my spirits up and yesterday was the second of four days I’m basically alone — for Izzy does her own thing in her room — each week. By 4 or 5 in the afternoon it gets to be a strain; I find when I’m tired depression is strong with me and I try to beat my perpetual enemy back by movies. I was reading Margaret Oliphant a good deal of the day. The tone of her mind appeals to me. I do find my face-book friends can help cheer me up when I come in the early morning and I read the entries, loo at the pictures …

July 7th: The hardest thing is learning to live alone. Now in this sixth year I go out less, much less, as I’m facing how I don’t enjoy say going to the Alexandria Community where the room is not pleasant, and the water often cold and I must go back and forth across the pool to swim. I’m not running out the way I did, not chasing will o’the wisps — as I do enjoy my reading, writing, movies, internet friendships. Several days of high heat go by and I hardly go out. I on myself can live — an opening line to an Anne Finch poem. This weekend about 3 more of these black-eyed daisy bushes bloomed as well as these pink flowers with black-brown centers. They are mid-summer flowers. Come late summer I’ll buy some fall flowers and ask the man who mows for me to plant them for me. He will do that, so I shall have flowers in fall too. All year round.

And July 10th: Just got back from teaching The Enlightenment: At Risk? at the OLLI a Mason. What a good class and what a good time we all had — they said it too. Then lunch with a friend. So much of my day gone since I spent the morning posting. And now the cats greet me. Given my situation, and what I am, whatever anyone might say at such moments, I know I’m spending these last few years of my life without Jim in a way right for me.


Ian making his presence felt — how glad I am Izzy chose a Scottish name (version of John) for him — one of my favorite characters in Outlander, Ian Murray (Jenny’s husband who writes such kindly intelligent letters) is called Ian …

********************************

But I was over-excited, because it was the first time out in several days, and I couldn’t calm down properly to settle to read, and then I drank too much wine too quickly, and then after supper I kept falling asleep on the news, on my regulation Poldark and Outlander episodes. Finally I allowed myself to collapse into bed at 11:15 and then did manage 6 hours of deep sleep, and so recuperated today, inwardly active, writing, reading, taking notes, all day, and now achieved another autobiographical blog.


Claire in Outlander (in front of the stones) — I watch it nightly — this is from Devil’s Mark, the moment Season 1; Episode 11, where looking at the stones close up Claire decides not to return home (to not go back to the future) — for love of Jamie

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craig na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones. Except me (Dragonfly in Amber, Prologue).

Ellen

Read Full Post »


I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle standing stones on the crest of a steep green I hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.

Friends,

Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world


Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.


Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.


From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake

Read Full Post »

standing_rock_thanksgiving_590
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.

seinebougivalmonet69
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

Read Full Post »

somepeoplehavecats

Remembering Jenny Diski and her What I don’t Know about Animals.

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay;
I am already on the way,
And follow thee with all the speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed.
Each minute is a short degree,
And every hour a step towards thee.
At night when I betake to rest,
Next morn I rise nearer my west …
Henry King, after the death of his beloved wife, his “matchless friend”

“the poet” announced this past Thursday morning on twitter “my darling Jenny @diski has died — perhaps in his arms

Dear friends and readers,

I have just heard the news that Ted Cruz has dropped out of the presidential race; there is no one on the Republican side to stop the coming catastrophe if Trump should win the presidency. Thus it seems tastelessly solipsistic for me to carry on with my calendar diary, each time a few experiences I’ve had,this time since mid-April — without first acknowledging we live under the shadow of a possible social breakdown as a paranoiac and bankrupted state (considering the threatened lawless commercial and totalitarian tactics and tax cuts for the wealthy Trump plans), not to omit nuclear catastrophe. The moral disaster has been with us for a long while; it began a new phase at the time of 9/11. It’s so worrying as Hillary Clinton is so weak with voters: consider her “New College Compact:” lower costs for students, expand Obamacare, family leave, veterans and child services, a surtax on the very wealthy, rates on capital gains, change the immigrant system carefully — all thought out — then Sanders beats her in Indiana.

But what I am to do? I excuse myself with Voltaire’s advice from Candide, ou l’optimisme: like Gorey who has his Mr Earbrass close the curtains, with the crippled Cunegone, he gathers what is left (he has not lost all his sheep), to live on with the exhortation: “il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

LilyJamesasLucky
Is not Lily James somehow exquisitely appealing in this photograph (from my desk calendar for this week)

The good news I told about on my Austen reveries blog that my proposal for a paper on Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; has been accepted for the coming Chawton House Library conference and my edition of the novel will be out by later this summer has begun to keep me busy. I’ve begun reading away Smith’s letters, on Scottish literature, and Margaret Oliphant’s The Ladies Lindores, a Scottish-English novels which shows the same strains, implicitly international or global and post-colonialist perspective, with an accent on women’s issues found in Ethelinde, and (to allude to my paper last fall) Anne Grant and Anne Hunter’s poetry and prose. I carried on with my women artists blogs (Angelica Kauffman to be specific), Constance Fenimore Woolson (I find the tone of her mind deeply congenial). The course I gave on Making Barsetshire at the AU OLLI came to an end; the people applauded me and were very kind; it was really friendly the last day so that felt good, and to tell the truth, I thought about how Trollope came to make this sub-genre to create a commercially successful career for himself than I had the first time I taught these three books. I gave a first lecture on Austen’s Lady Susan, guest invited at NOVA (this is stuff for a full separate blog). I’ve another two sessions on Gaskell’s profound North and South — it’s l’ecriture-femme structure, deep melancholy sustaining me. I would not have looked for these teaching satisfactions and the worlds I’ve become acquainted with were Jim here.

ThankYouCardOLLIatAU
A thank you card I received from the AU OLLI people

Good moments this time have been as much at home as in theaters, auditoriums, and someone’s house (!).

chambermusic
Calling themselves the Rusticway Chamber Music Series

New experiences. Sunday afternoon (5/1) I went to thoroughly delightful (charming was a good word, tasteful) concert which my friend Phyllis told me about and drove me to. It was two men (Robert Petillo and Alex Hassan) who have not that much fame but highly gifted professional artists who’ve had long careers and played in European concert houses, Festivals around the world, in a woman’s house set up for these kinds of concerts, a series organized by the local community — upper middle class people in a kind of select place called “Lake Barcroft.” It felt like a 21st century variant of private concerts in 19th century genteel homes. Complete with a garden outside, wine and an edible cake-bread and conversation inside afterward. I was struck by one comment: someone asked Mr Hassan if he needed the scores to play; Mr Petillo said the sheet music was for popular use and thus very simplified. I knew what we had heard were varied intricate melodies all intertwined, melodious. How hard it is to get anything serious in this world; you have to train yourself in the initial stages and then look out for the rare serious text of whatever it is. The music played had been mostly the kind of music played in Gosford Park, 1930s and 40s Tin Pan Alley songs (“You oughta be in pictures,” “Youre’ the Cream in my Coffee,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” a couple of Handel’s songs, songs from musicals of the era, long forgotten — brilliantly played by Hassan as virtuoso pianist, so touching and warm, with Petillo the Irish tenor type, Handelian by training. I put my name down on the mailing list and could drive there on my own. I bought a DVD of British 1930s and 40s songs I like.

charlottesdesk
Charlotte Bronte’s traveling desk

Old. We went the Northern Virginia Library book sale together once again, found a couple of treasures. Thursday evening (4/28). The Vintage Book of Contemporary Poetry for me — superb poetry, I am astonished at how good they are, translations excellent, editor J.D. McClatchy. We went separately to museums. I went to the Smithsonian the next night (4/29) for the best lecture I’ve heard thus far: Deborah Lutz out of her book, The Bronte Cabinet, encountering the Brontes through what was left after death, how they themselves saved bits of one another’s hair, relics, papers. The depths of opening yourself to death, of religious sensibilities, pre-photographic era. Body wants that evening: I had to leave too early to eat, so by the time I got home I feel weak with hunger for supper. I cook for myself a bowl of farfalle, heat sauce. throw on ketchup, with glass of shiraz, better than Noodles and Company. Saturday we saw our last HD opera, Elektra (also must have separate blog). I had picked Izzy up to come with me when I had my hair dyed and cut to have her hair trimmed and for the first time ever she allowed the women to cut her hair more so now it’s trimmed beautifully — it’s still long but like a bow and looks beautiful brushed, and with a ribbon across her head. She took her trip to the museum of American history looking like that, and told me all about an exhibit over Sunday supper.

***************************

Returning. I’ve begun journey back to Shakespeare I hope to continue. It began with the birthday — Izzy and I went to the Folger on the 23rd to see The Lost First Play of Shakespeare (by the Reduced Shakespeare Company) . ..

ReducedShakespeare
Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spenser, Reed Martin

I enjoyed the abridged group and this is a different or new 3 hours of “fun with Shakespeare.” The one I saw years ago was very like the Fringe theater one or Stoppard’s play. The idea was rapidity and to make fun of the typical way a Shakespeare play feels, how the language is hard for some, and the whole hysterical kind of mood (Voltaire noticed this a while back), the wild melancholy, the coincidences and so on. Plays focused on where the (to modern audiences) strange history plays, the wild tragedies. Now the idea is they’ve found Shakeseare’s lost first play. To some extent they are doing the same thing but not quite. They hardly include the history plays and little of the tragedies — prime fodder for the older type. Instead they try to tell a story combining Ariel and Puck as rivals, with bringing in so many characters and lines from across the plays. The fun was to recognize the original lines and see them displaced, revamped, put in new contexts, with now and again one of the actors did a speech from a play seriously bringing out (to me) the original thought and deep feeling. I’m not sure it worked, at moments they were tedious (to me); they didn’t seem to know when to have done lest they not have given us our money’s worth of inspired silliness, but they had a warm-hearted spirit and they honored Shakespeare thoroughly by the ending.

whislaw
Ben Whislaw as Richard II (how can he compete with David Morrisey as a brutal Northumberland, Rory Kinnear a wily enimgmatic Bolingbroke)

I did feel I had attended a sort of travesty so I told myself it’s about time I watched my 4 DVDs of Hollow Crown. So that evening I had two and a half more hours: Richard II was beautifully well done and lovingly with attention to detail, depth psychology, scenic designs in perfectly appropriate places (the churches, landscape, rooms) — what struck me and why I’m writing this is the film seemed to be a descendent of the 1972 War and Peace. It is vivifying to see the BBC can still do this — and they did it for Wolf Hall. The elaborate art has changed, there is more symbolism but essentially it was very like and in its likeness was its strength. Many great actors. David Bradley as the allegorical gardener superb. And my favorite Lindsay Duncan was there as the Duchess of York, the vignette of the family life with Suchet as the Duke hardly having any feel for his wife, despising his wife, she too despising their son, but fighting for his life frantically as he is all they have. Ben Whislaw as Richard II’s speeches at the close reminded me of how Shakespeare himself speaks to us through this character. I had forgotten how Shakespeare’s deep depressive insights and radical pouring of himself into his characters began so early.

LindsayDuncanasDuchess
First shot of Lindsay Duncan as Duchess, a moment of still hope as she turns to look at her son

Then Henry IV Part 1 this past Saturday night: what was remarkable was how realistically they did it, it was not over-produced or over-acted and they spoke the lines as one would ordinary talk. I had never seen anyone try to dramatize what a 13th century battle was like: as vicious as Culloden’s 18th century distraught destruction and our own bombing and fueled horrors today. Simone Beale’s Falstaff”s nihilism to Julie Walters’s much put-upon sentimental Mistress Quickly was pitch perfect. But I learned too — how hard both Jeremy Irons as Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston on the battlefield as Hal played it replicated the heartless ruthlessness of life. How early on Shakespeare rejected the cold manipulative performer and saw how the passion-ridden person is deeply at risk — Worcester keeps from Hotspur Henry IV’s offer to reconcile, Hal’s to have a one-on-one honorable combat to end the day. I was especially moved by Joe Armstrong playing Hotspur to Michelle Dockery’s Kate (son of Alun, who appropriately played Northumberland, Hotspur’s father). As it used to in reading, their wild love and ironies reminded me of Jim and I when young; I remembered Hal’s mockery spoken so swiftly by Hiddlestone as one throws away a joke, but he said it all and yet I cared not what happened in the junkyard of what did not matter when I was young too.

hotspurkatemediumshot

hotspurkate
Medium and then close up

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air …
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

How better can one pass one’s hours than comforting the self with imaginative truth. I love Shakespeare. I once hoped to do my dissertation on Cymbeline. I’ve read all the plays, some several times, lines from the sonnets run through my head. I taught R2 once, Hamlet once, and Winter’s Tale (a favorite) 3 times. So for me this past Monday night even the popularly conceived Shakespeare Live! on my BBC iplayer was mostly compelling. I had never heard Shakespeare’s speech for Sir Thomas More before: when Ian McKellen said it’s hime and then did it I knew. The words to the cruel idiot mob bent on destroying the stranger immigrants could be said of those voting for Trump today. A ballet of Othello and Desdemona was revelatory of male violence and female shattering. Harriet Walter enacting Cleopatra’s suicide to come nearer Anthony. My favorite Marie-Anne Duff as Lady Macbeth and (again) Rory Kinnear as Macbeth just come from the murder scene. Yet as Anne Elliot says the deep wretchedness and letting go of the self in mutual passion went through my body until I writhed in missing Jim. Paradoxically I grow more wretched, more desperate at night than I ever did before. He is gone and what makes it not a dream is all I am surrounded by, my solvency, the life he has provided for me.

*****************************

Elie-Daniel-Berrigan-Postscript
Daniel Berrigan around the time of 9/11 when he commented on what had happened

Jenny-Diski-thumbnail-8
A younger Jenny, recalling her book smoking through America on a train

More good people gone. Daniel Berrigan at age 94. How that man’s noble soul seems so out of place today.

I have in my house a book of poems by Berrigan, which I can see Jim read, but I’ll chose a less religious one, by Patrizia Cavalli (from my New Vintage Poetry Book) as it is about coping with the death, the loss of a beloved friend:

Now that time seems all mine
and no one calls mefor lunch or dinner,
now that I can stay to watch
how a cloud loosens and loses its color,
how a cat walks on the roof
in the immense luxury of a prowl, now
that what waits for me every day
is the unlimited length of a night
where there is no call and no longer a reason
to undress in a hurry to rest inside
the blinding sweetness of a body that waits for me,
now that the morning no longer has a beginning
and silently leaves me to my plans,
to all the cadences of my voice, now …
— translated by Judith Baumel

And Jenny Diski passed through her agon.

And what do you think, that I couldn’t see you
die around a corner …. if I really think about your death
in whatever house, hotel or hospital bed,
in whatever street, perhaps in air
about your eyes that surrender
to the invasion: about the ultimate terrible lie
with what you will want to repulse the attack ….
what will survive you
well then, how can I let you go away
— Cavalli trans Baumel

I was expecting it. I had noticed that more LRBs had gone by without her than usual. I had told myself, she must be very ill now, near the end. When a friend emailed me to tell me I cried on and off that morning. I felt her to be an intimate friend, almost. I loved her essays, travel writing, the novels, her book on animals. She spoke up for the vulnerable, the lonely, those who felt and acted differently from many, and for the depressed — as far as I read, she seemed almost never to think cant (well once in a while). I first encountered her in the LRB in a diary entry telling the full truth about when she was raped at age 14. It stayed with me because she was more accurate about how assaults happen: first she did go back with the man to his flat. As I grow more aware of how much my cats are reacting to me, how much they understand, I want to tell her Bundy was waiting for you. I’ve written at length about her too often. Tributes from The Guardian and Tim Adams’s memory of her and the last columns. Robert Laird in the Paris Review characterizes how we now die in the world through the Net and her characteristic tone and stances so well.

Her last gift to us was to tell us blow-by-blow of her experience of cancer. How few do this. Here was courage.

MIrandaTEmpest
J. Waterhouse, Miranda looking out at the tempest

Read Full Post »

Lovelytulips
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

2015EllisasHalse

2015AidanasRoss
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.

omni-main-lobby

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.

hogarthdistressedPoet
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?

Snow
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.

Flags

Rink

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:

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.

Boston

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

Read Full Post »

4-November-Afternoon-Stapleton-Park-city-scenes-landscape-John-Atkinson-Grimshaw
Stapleton Park, Leeds, November [4] Afternoon by John Atkinson Grimshaw (Leeds, 1880s)

I can’t even get close to what they call faith, though I quite see Pascal had a point; and so did Wittgenstein (though quite wrong globally) when he said: ‘Go on, believe! It does no harm.’ I don’t and won’t and there it is — Diski, “Who’ll be last?”

Dear friends and readers,

The third November without Jim is passing by and by the calendar we are almost up to Thanksgiving once again. Lately I’ve been remembering Leeds, the excellent bus service when I lived there (1968-70), how once I needed to get somewhere and took 6 buses, but the service was so frequent and stops so many that I got where I needed to go and back again in what felt like record time: and how beautiful Yorkshire was, I went all around the West Riding. I remember Headingley, Horsforth and then round in a circle to Wakefield, and home again to Leeds.

I find it more and more difficult to write on this blog. I don’t know what to say that is truthful. I mostly talk about my outer life, and I go on about how I’m doing this, attended that, was active with new acquaintances locally (after all I’m not sure I should say friends except that a couple nearly fit the definition as I’m coming to understand it), seeming cheerful and fulfilled enough. This is quite different from how I would talk about my inner life, where inside me, I’m very still, in a stasis. I can’t say I’m in a struggle to be or find myself as my experience is when I try to go outside this self, which I’ve come to see is now an independent scholar (yes that phrase captures this), I cannot because I can’t misrepresent my tastes, inwardly compelling ideas about what is worth spending time on or why I spend it this or that way. If I try, I’m found out, or a reaction to me grates on me and I (as it were, using the modern slang) push back, if only to protect my past, memories, self-esteem, present. So the 3 local friends I made attenuate.

My entries read this way mostly so here’s another: This past week I went to two lectures, one at the Smithsonian on Castles, Country Houses, and Cottage (by Bill Keene, introduced as an independent scholar) was not disappointing in the sense I was given huge amounts of information and saw many slides of wealthy and powerful people in the UK and US since the middle ages. I was not sure there was a perspective beyond evolution of structural elements and lifestyles. The auditorium was full, lots of “mature” women (as usual), and the occasional extra comment, wry, usually about the blindness of the rich to their privilege, elicited laughter. Keene did provide a long bibliography which I can avail myself of. Another at the Folger (members only sort of thing, the first time I’ve gone since I joined about a year and one half ago), about the life of someone studying law, what they studied, what courts they argued in, some central content of their arguments as they affected life in Elizabethan England significantly. Not quite dryasdust in comparison: I learned who Edward Coke was, why his legal views important (he argued the king was subject to the law) and also (very bad) he was a violent man, jealous, and beat his wife, what was the life of a law student at the time, where did they get the books they studied (private libraries mostl). Movies at night, including the remarkable 1979 The Long Good Friday (which maybe I’ll write a blog about), Shoulder to Shoulder into Suffragette.

I’ve been glad of less teaching (at the same time very glad of reading and reading about Tom Jones) and more time to follow my own bends again: I finished Linda Porter’s felicitously written and perceptive Katherine the Queen [Katherine Parr the subject] where Porter explained more lucidly and memorably to me some political movements at the time which shaped Parr’s life (Pilgrimage of Grace, the evangelical turn of forward-thinking religious writers and readers). I wrote more about this sort of thing for me in my Victorian to Edwardian. I’ve begun Ford Madox Ford’s The Fifth Queen (first of a trilogy on Katharine Howard’s life): who knew that Katharine Howard was a component in Thomas Cromwell’s downfall? No wonder it’s taking Hilary Mantel so long to write the 3rd book of her trilogy. I do things that interest me because what else can I do?

But only fractionally does any of this touch me where I live. Do my cats? I’ve grown very fond of them indeed, and IanPussycat comes out of his former shell more and more. When I came home last Sunday, he was in some hidey-hole (seeking refuge in a closed tight space to feel secure is certainly his way):

cat-in-a-box
From a study on the Net which informed readers that cats are calmed by placing themselves in snug places — Yvette (Izzy) said to that, it’s true of large cats too.

He came out and sat like a top in the way cats do (tail wrapped around their close-together feet), and swayed slightly, he was tremble-shaking ever so perceptively. He had missed me. Clarycat thinks she is a dog and comes right up, tail not wagging, but miaowing at me, standing on chairs and whatever is near by, reaching out to stay my progress or movement with her paws. This is heart-rending and comforting (such self-centered creatures that we are) and I reciprocated in all physical and word ways I could, assuring them (though they have so little English) at the same time that I won’t be away again until next March.

FunnyCat
Yvette’s great joke: this is wrong, we ought to see the cat inside heaven, looking at the barred way, glaring at St Peter to be let out …

The best way to communicate with cats directly through playing is string. My two never tire of playing with string with me.

Rack up my achievements? I have learned getting, using , accessing, spending money while traveling as far away as Europe, and to more than one country, is no problem for a lady like me. I can drive long distances by myself — with within reason for a 69 year old woman. (Note the different formulation.) I could tell of my daughters and me, and their lives but that is trespassing.

I admire Jenny Diski (her latest, “Who’ll be last”) but cannot myself imitate her nuanced detail of misery — any more. Hers she still thinks is soon coming to end. I’ve been led to think not so for me, nor do I want the end as I know it will, must go hard. So to take a metaphor from Samuel Johnson on Henry Fielding’s art, I’m telling my readers and friends what time it is on the clock, not how the clock is working or why, not how it feels as it ticks away. I fear to dismay those few and valued real friends and family who might read what I write by putting into words the full effect of his absence on me. But (like Diski in this) do not want to give a false impression for the sake of my fellow widowed.

From another perspective I sometimes say to myself I have two selves; in literature it’s so common to come across the doppelganger figure, either in parallel characters or within one character. I probably parroted this theory without crediting it. Now I wonder if I have two selves.

A poem I found:

Unpalatable

Living with grief is like having to eat what is put in front
of you.
You look for the napkin,
    or the dog
but they are nowhere in sight. So you have to swallow the
whole thing.

The friends who are willing to sit at the table with you
are the water that helps to wash it down.
— Seren Fargo

Just make that napkin a glass of wine; that dog, two cats; and friends, Net-friends.

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »