Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Izzy on the train

All the time they seemed to be skating in fathomless depths of air, so blue the ice had become; and so glassy smooth was it that they sped quicker and quicker to the city with the white gulls circling about them, and cutting in the air with their wings the very same sweeps that they cut on the ice with their skates — a dream of ice-skating during a hard frost, the Thames, Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding


While last week’s account was the last about Milan and nearby environs, I have yet to speak of why we came when we did: the World’s Championship Ice-Skating contest was held from March 21st to 25th at a nearby (just outside the city proper) forum. My daughter Isobel is a devoted expert, blogger, fiction writer, evaluative fan of ice-skating. There are people who know as much as she does of the recent history of ice-skating, but I doubt you’d find anyone who knows more.

Starting Wednesday mid-morning when the tickets were handed out (no, you could not print out the tickets on any website, though you were advised to buy them well ahead), until late at night for the next four nights, and Sunday 2 to 5 for a gala performance (aired on TV), she absorbed herself in the ice-skating. She also went to a couple of early morning practices:

Laura and I joined her for three afternoons and the gala.

I could wish you had her to blog here as I’m sure she could and would describe all that happened and the many technical and other contexts with a knowledgeable critical eye. Here you may read her many blogs since Izzy gave up on her own Miss Izzy and stopped blogging there for Fan-Sided for several months, and now to where Laura moved her website from “I should have been a blogger” to Miss Izzy Ani & Izzy. I can’t.

There is also an underside, the realities of the life, the pressures, and the politics of ice-skating. What happens to ice-skaters mirrors what happens to ambition in sports in American and global life (as seen in media too) today.  I review a movie, which, if you at all interested in ice-skating as presently experienced in the US, you ought to see: I, Tonya: Tonya Harding, an ambitious working class girl (and many of those who go in for the championship and those who go are working to lower middle people) driven by the lack of wins because she was not playing the role of a sweet gentile middle class girl, either herself encouraged or was instigated by her violent desperate husband, Jeff Gilloly (Sebastian Stan) into directly attacking her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The husband and a thug friend tried to destroy one of Kerrigan’s knees. It was quickly found out who had done and became the scandal not only of the decade but perpetually of ice-skating itself.

A photograph Laura snapped of one (athletic) pair

I can tell you something of the experience of watching ice-skating in the Milan stadium. We took a train from where we were staying some 8 stops to just outside the city. About half an hour’s journey after a 5-7 minute walk both ways. Here is what the place looks like from the outside:

Daytime from the side

Nightime from within looking out.

It looks innocuous enough but as one reporter who regularly goes to these mass events, the least of the stadium’s concerns were the human needs of the customers. There two toilets for thousands of women. Two. The lines were not as horrendous as you might imagine because I suppose most women did like me: held themselves in until they got home. Long lines were the order of the day and night. It took hours to collect our tickets. Huge crowds forced to move into five crowd and then thin lines, and all you needed was one person to have troubles on any given line.

Inside the forum you had to wait on three lines to get any food. A line to pay and get your tickets. A line to put in a ticket for whatever food or drink was available. Another line to collect your purchase. I was told this was because very few people were empowered to sell tickets because few were trusted with money. Why two lines and not one were then called for I know not. Maybe because food was so minimal, unvaried, and poor by the time you got it your spirit was cowed. You were not allowed to bring in food or drink. Three years ago I went with Izzy to a stadium in Boston also set up to prevent people bringing food: prices were exhorbitant and I didn’t recognize as food most of what was sold, but there was just one line and there was a large variety of food and drink. Most of the customers in Milan stadium played safe and bought water & simple chip snacks.

Inside the forum the seats were small, the steep incline of the stairs painful if you went up and down more than say twice. The ushers appeared not to know their own stadium and misdirected Izzy, Laura and I at least three times. It was not freezing cold as other ice-skating stadiums I’ve been to are, but it seemed to me the noisiest of all the stadiums I’ve ever been to. Constant loud music inbetween events, flashing commercials from a central turning box, strobe lights when a new turn in events was about to proceed. As if this wasn’t enough, they had hired a bellowing clown to demand of individuals in the crowd that they make spectacles of themselves, of groups to wave flags and clap and hammer the floor with their feet.

More than a decade ago, the first time I went to an ice-skating event at a stadium in DC, I was enchanted. It was not a competition, but a show, not televised. Each of the pairs or individuals performed as personalities; there were shared group sequences. There was no excess noise in the one intermission. Since then in DC no shows come anymore, and it is all fierce competition for places in line-ups for the next contest.

Our prize-obsessed culture has won out. Just about every event is a competition or contest, and the whole atmosphere of the event is intermixed with that of an ordeal. Each of the skaters has thrown their lives into this sport, and they have spent hugely (or their parents have) and it is crucial to win. Some of them fall away quickly; those who stay the course can become anorexic (if girls) or otherwise suffer the various ills that come from such a lifestyle. Their sexual orientation becomes a matter of speculation, and until recently gay men had to hide their sexuality. A figure like Michael Weiss did very well because he is so obviously stereotypically heterosexual white male.

In Milan stadium, after a given contestant’s routine was over, the contestant was led to sit before a replica of the Milan Cathedral waiting for their score: scores in ice-skating are subjective when it comes to decimal differences. most of them are trained not to show deep disappointment but now and then you would see it.

Do most of the people sitting there “tune out” what is going on about them? or does it excite them to feel they are in some celebrity aura? I know this celebrity aura is hard to resist, and when you are near someone thought so famous, and feel the way others about them, you yourself (I myself) act oddly. I once met a Prime Minister of the UK at a Trollope dinner: John Major. I found it hard not to try to impress him somehow in our talk and afterwards felt ashamed of myself.

In watching these young people, I found the earlier dancers (who were the less competent or less be-prized) sometimes more interesting. I wish some overt attention were paid to grace and lyrical beauty, but the way the scores are talked about are in terms of feats of physical derring-do or if the person defied physics in this or that way in how many times they twirled or jumped or in a pair stayed in dazzling sync while risking falling. Many hurt themselves on the ice.

During the Sunday gala I was impressed how a ballerina who was hired to do highjinks on a wire, was carried from the ice. I’ve seen announcers carried too. It’s hard to walk, and hard simply to skate, much less do the kinds of things these young people do. I keep saying young people because their career is usually over by their early 30s.

At Milan I found three hours my limit. The shows I’ve gone to with Izzy usually last two and one half hours with half an hour intermission. I went to one championship with her in Boston five years ago now and found I couldn’t last more than three hours either though the place was more comfortable. I couldn’t endure the noise, the flashing lights, and in the one case where we found ourselves the audience in a show that was televised — asked to sit utterly still, to clap here, to endure boredom there, to not mind all the cameras, I felt we were badly exploited.

People endure this because they have been taught that they don’t count, that it’s some how bad sportsmanship to complain of bad treatment. Attitudes like these are fostered by the celebrity culture and regarding some people as superior to others.

Most of the time I find individuals skating not as varied as the couple dancers and the athletic pairs, and enjoy the couples much more. Best of all are in shows when long-time trained performers know how to keep their individuality and yet be part of a group configuration. But if you watch carefully or take a photo and look later, you can appreciate individual feats & grace — though it’s hard to feel in the atmosphere of intense competition and in this particular case the discomfort of the Milan stadium.

Here is someone gliding:

Sometimes the camera captures gestures in dancers that in motion would be prettier:

Each set begins with the contestants lining up:


When they won, they were put into ritualized tableaux in princess or prince costumes:

One the elements of the experience that interested me was the difference between what we in the forum were experiencing and seeing, and what those watching broadcasts saw and experienced. It seems somehow to prefer the false to say ice-skating is more pleasurable (and much less expensive) in the comfort of your home watching TV or a digital computer screen, but I like to remember how thrilled I was in the early years as dancing, skating, athletics on the ice is hard. You won’t experience the same thrill that you do when you are there near the body that can fall or mess up and then doesn’t. Izzy is so invested in a number of individual skaters for her to see them is a kind of validation of herself, her dreams.

This gets me to the movie, I, Tonya. The actress who played the harridan mother of Tonya, La Vonya Fay Golden (Allison Janney) won a Golden Globe. I wish I could think the this prize did not reflect the misogynist pleasure of our world where people get a kick out of seeing a mother figure made into a cruel bitch. The mother is presented as the one who originally drove Tonya into becoming a competitive ice-skater. She is presented as deeply bitter because her husband (rightly) left her her; no berating is too far for this woman as she “coaches” her daughter; she also will do anything for money. At the close of the movie she accepts money from court authorities as she tries to trick her daughter into confessing she was the instigator of the crime while she has a tape going around her body.

The movie is darkly funny: part of the way it’s done is that the actors play the people being interviewed by a unseen reporter and there are continual flashbacks as the story in chronological order unfolds before us. This allows for many occasions for irony. We identify with the downtrodden working class Tonya, and she is not caricatured or condescended to nor the mother. But her husband is: he is presented as most Americans’ idea of someone trying hard to be a macho male and not quite succeeding because among other things he hasn’t got the competence to make enough money to support the role with the necessary paraphernalia: fine house, fancy car, “in” clothes. He has an idiotic sidekick who reminded me of Trump: continually lying, ceaselessly boasting, profoundly ignorant, he has the foggiest idea of how to to a deed and cover it up. It was apparently the sidekick’s continual re-parking of a car outside the event where the attack took place that provided the police with their first clues.

The scene where the police confront Tonya and her husband and coach

The value of the money is to expose the hidden injuries of class and the impoverishment of the American working and middle class. We see that in the mother’s life especially, in the dives these people eat in. As Helen O’Hara says, it was a trial by media, the very media which builds up celebrity. This is brought out. The acceptance of violence of American life is seen in Tonya’s relationship with her mother and then husband: they both beat her. The one half-humane relationship in the film is between Tonya and her trainer Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), but from what I have been told by college students in colleges where I’ve taught, these people are bullies too.

By the end of the film you feel for Tonya while at the same time are left unsure how complicit she was in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She is presented as someone with decent impulses whose life and surroundings teach her to make bad choices (in her husband and leaving school) and drive her to rages like the others around her. The jury decision suggests that the jury was undecided how guilty she was but convinced her husband and the friend who literally attacked Kerrigan were criminal. Harding did not lose her ambition or her turning to physical competition for prize money: later in life she tried professional wrestling, and even became a celebrity boxer. She was made part of the sordid underbelly of movies: for example,a video of her having sex with her husband was released. She used this notoriety to keep afloat.

I suppose what makes the film a story for 2017 is she is not a victim heroine but someone part of a system that is fosters internal war in people’s psyches, which they then bring to their social experience. I recommend reading Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas for the full context for all this.

Fixing her shoes — she is crying from dismay and hurt

It can all begin with innocent enough dreams of accomplishment, of pride, of achievement in the world’s eyes. I’ve been asked more than once if Izzy skates. She has, mostly for fun, and except for the one time I tried to skate with her by herself. I can think of five sequences in books and films where ice-skating is presented — H. E. Bates’s Love for Lydia, the opening; Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the opening; John Gay’s early 18th century poem; Trivia, or the Art of Walking in London, where a central sequence is devoted to showing life on the ice in the midst of one of the intense frosts of the 18th century in England , and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina where Levin and Kitty as ideal sweet lovers yearning for one another ice-skate together. In all these the moments are idyllic, a halycon hiatus, physically beautiful too. The fifth is in It’s a Wonderful Life where George’s brother falls on thin ice, and George risks his own life to rescue him. Deep heroism, self-sacrifice. It is somehow indicative of the human psyche that this sport is rarely presented with any reality to our eyes.

About two weeks before we went, Izzy took herself ice-skating (partly looking forward to our trip) and fell. When much younger, she did ice-skate regularly by herself. But I had to drive her and it was not that much fun by herself. Now she was kindly taken care of while there and came home limping. It was only a twisted ankle, and within a couple of days she had no pain. A couple of weeks after we came home, she went with her JCC social club ice-skating. She didn’t fall.

For her I believe the time was very good and she is planning to go to Nationals (as she calls them) the next time they come to Boston or perhaps the World’s at Montreal. She loves to blog about ice-skating, participates intensely in this world of ice-skating, knows the politics which she reports on too. The sport and her participation in it help give her life meaning. There are thousands of people like her; each time I’ve gone to an event I’ve been impressed by the variety of types of people who are there fully absorbed. I think they were not well treated in by the Milan stadium owners. Izzy used to put up lovely YouTubes on her old blog, and I would share some too — where she shows her gift for elegant concise writing and carrying much knowledge lightly — but the commercialization of YouTube has taken most of her hard-worked efforts down.

The famous Nathan Chen whom Izzy and I first saw as a 12 year old seeking a scholarship at a Michael Weiss run skating event in (remote) Maryland — what has his life been.

I liked how he made a point of dressing simply. I wondered if that was part of his way of dealing with the stress.

Miss Drake


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Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60): In the garden gardening

You did it for yourself, for you to be comfortable and take pleasure in — my therapist about this year’s renovations

Dear friends and readers,

I realize I’ve not been posting regular diary entries. As I’ve said (doubtless too often) I am probably in yet another phase of learning what it is to be a widow like me (not all that individual as a number of aspects of my situatio are found across the population). For me another fuller sense of what my loss means in terms of what my life is and can be like. Jim was my fortress of friends, and at my age, given how social life is organized, and my own particular version of if, the invisible ignored adjunct, I find I end up shaking some days after an unbroken period of literal aloneness. I am fortunate in having a deeply companionable online life; other widows have more family or career relationships. In the US generally people rely on their churches (or synagogues, meeting houses, mosques). I’m an atheist. I would be so much better off with a pub culture for the evenings. More prosaically until tonight I have not found a day when I could say definitely I have succeeded in my goals for renovation. This is something you can find older widows doing: renovating their houses. I try for each of my blogs to have something good to tell of.

So, as of several nights ago (about a week) I am the possessor of two items Virginia Woolf says I must have to be a woman writer of fiction. To be fair, I had a room of my own since the later 1980s when Jim and I turned a small room meant to be another bedroom into my study. It had become overloaded 10 years ago: too much stuff, too many projects, not orderly in its central thought-through core. But now I have a second room, and the fitted in porch space turned into a room crosses the yards of the house space. My study in 9 by 12; the new “sun-room” (it has two very large windows facing the front street — very old fashioned that) stretches out to something like 12 by 20 feet. It is colored light green with white trim. A very 18th century color scheme (as I discovered this is not popular when I paid for) shades a very pretty soft green. A photo would not capture the feel of this space. It does not fit most definitions: I find the workmen and contractor didn’t know quite what to call it and settled on sun-room. So I have taken my term from them. In the morning this room faces east and the sun comes shining in as it does in my dining room.

I also have a floor at the entrance to my house — a side door which is the culmination of something I have been unable to think of a better word for than a stoop (indestructible cement — well if someone dropped a drone on it I could see it shattering). This is a long impossible to explain story.

Only the surface events: we move as tenants into “this old house” in December 183, and discover a cast iron tub with feet leaks across the vestibule to the entrance of the house and probably hither and yon, meaning it loosens the once splendid parquet floors across a large front room area. We are able to buy said house four years later (June 1987) and hire a plumber to stop leaks, discover there were termites and get rid of them (but not before some base boards were devoured in this central wettish area). In a closet right next to the tub this plumber fixes said tub (he says don’t throw out cast iron even with feet) and rebuilds the floor with plain (but real) wood.

We are told in later years (1990s) twice to do anything about the vestibule where the tiles are can be regarded as a puzzle. one must put back into order every once in a while, we would have to remove all our bookcases from the front half of said house, and practically move out to replace the whole floor. How many times in this house have I had contractors tell me the house is about to fall down, or any small job is somehow an enormous one. But after Jim died, a kindly older man nearby (father to the chairwoman of the Home-Owners Association) fixed my fence after snow did some damage and told me “nonsense, you can certainly replace this small area of flooring.” I didn’t forget that remark, and when the contractor who succeeded in (in effect) doing my sun-room for much less money than a permit would have demanded (the requirements make money for the building industry) said, what else do I need done and I showed him this floor he gave me 3 small businessmen.

None of all this could have happened but that I made a friend who told me of these small businessmen contractors. Jim and I knowing no one fell back on these larger companies, and they do what they can to fleece you while cutting corners on fundamental upgradings.

Nonetheless, making a new floor for the vestibule was (like so much else in this house) a bad trial. The young man discovered asbestos riddled everywhere in a floor whose glue was 70 years old. He tried to remove the asbestos and glue in an inexpensive way and the result was a poisonous muck in the front area of my house. He worked on it for two days but since Izzy and I are living here (apparently the done thing is to lodge elsewhere) at night he had to leave the area somewhat cleared. Quarrels, he blamed me, and (as with enclosing the porch after the city got after me and my contractor) I began to despair. He found another option and (not as good) he “floated” a new wood floor using 3 strong pads on top of the dried concrete. I assure my reader it is a beautiful looking floor: a honey wood, he make all sorts of new baseboards, interim wood for thresholds. It’s as if for the 1st time in 33 years I have floor at my entrance. He also replaced a 30+ year old outdoor green carpet on the stoop (vile by this time) with a much more expensive silvery-brown one that is glued to the stoop! and a welcome mat. I did ask myself, “Why I waited this long?” I did say to myself no wonder people who came into the house were put off.

I’ve used the opportunity to have fewer bookcases in this new vestibule and in my dining area. I moved four bookcases into the new sun-room. It is by no means overwhelmed. One is a low wide one containing all my DVDs and books on CD and notebooks of films studies, another a narrow one for women’s studied. Two crossing one wall (and hiding a door) come from the dining area which is now less oppressed by having too much in it.

I hope I am not boring you, gentle reader. I will claim the authority of tradition. I’ve read enough early modern diaries by women to know that it is this kind of detail Elizabethan and 17th century women provide concretely when they are comfortably (because no fear of publication) writing of their life experience. Nothing the enormously wealthy (I’m not) Elizabeth Hardwicke and Anne Clifford like better to do than make a new sound floor. And they love to rebuild the outside of their houses. I can’t compete but my pièce de résistance is my whole house is now a beautiful, stunningly if I may say so myself, cream color. I was astonished to see that in fact power-washing does remove the previous coat (Jim doubted it would and feared we’d spend another $7000 for a worse color — maybe the compounds have improved). The dark red maple in the front and the white flowers and silver ferns are eye-pleasing enough for someone who can handle their cell phone camera better than I can. Gentle reader, rest satisfied with my words.

More by Evelyn Dunbar — in lieu of photographs of my house, which will not impress my reader. The simple modest changes I made and their beauty can only be seen in the reality (after all two of the walls are still brick outside walls in my sun-room, it’s the contrast of what was on the stoop; a hardwood floor is not glamorous; and the cream color itself somehow does not hit the eye strongly in my photo

Looking back, then, since Jim and I got hold of the money my mother unexpectedly left me, it’s been on and off renovation after renovation, starting with rebuilding 2 1947 bathrooms in March 2013. Summer 2013 rebuilding chimneys and major machines in the industrial closet (cleverly disguised as the back of a fireplace/hearth by an architect, Joseph Beach, whose work based on Wright has largely been destroyed across this neighborhood). Then starting in October 2016 redoing a good deal of the kitchen (though not replacing the large appliances except for the dishwasher), including pipes rebuilt, electricity recovered up to “code” in the attic (I have an attic), ending in November. Then starting up again in March for this new room of my own (porch transformed to a comfortable living space), all sorts of small but significant improvements (getting rid of unnecessary doors – yes houses from the 1940s had meandering halls and unnecessary doors), a smoke detector system, new lights in the ceilings (no more pull chains). A ceiling fan! — very pretty in the my official “front” or living room where the TV, piano, what passes for two sofas, and is a honey wood coffee table resides. On the two occasions since Jim died I have had guest, we’ve sat in that area and I’ve had a couple of women friends now and again there.

My latest therapist, a decent well-meaning intelligent young (in her 30s) cognitive therapist said in response to my plaintive I wish I had someone to invite and come into the house and “warm” it with praise, and I only will see it, that one fixed one’s house for yourself. And I’ve not had any kind of party or people for dinner over since the 1970s. I don’t know how any more (not that I ever did). I am thinking of trying for a dinner for my neighbor across-the-street who introduced me to all these contractors and had Izzy and I over for Thanksgiving dinner with her son.


Eileen Atkins performing Woolf in a reading of A Room of One’s Own (she wrote the screenplay for Mrs Dalloway)

My teaching and being a class member are going well: in one we have moved from Gaskell’s masterpiece, North and South to Trollope’s, Framley Parsonage; in the other, from Penelope Fitzgerald’s Bookshop to JL Carr’s Month in the Country onto Ondaatje’s English Patient). As class member I reread Mrs Dalloway, to the Lighthouse (and watched the two marvelous films), A Room of One’s Own and many of the essays in the first Common Reader. The class is fun as the teacher knows how to coax people into revealing their views of these books.
Virginia Woolf’s Monk House — a country residence

How Chekhovian is Woolf? I went to Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Kennedy Center. It was not just performed in Russian with English subtitles (in 2 inconvenient places if you are trying to take in much nuanced movement and acting and words). The production taught me I don’t sufficiently appreciate how hard subtitles are if you really want the audience to understand who is speaking to who and what’s happening — because you must epitomize. I leaving with a new feeling: along side the desperation of these aristocrats to find something to do: for the first time I saw Chekhov as comic. the players were half-mocking the intense melancholy, delivering the lines so differently. Attitudinizing funnily. This may not be Chekhov as his stories translated well are not like this. Cheknov’s Three Sisters is aimlessly, feelingly inconsequential much that is done. This is closely aligned with the movie, To the Lighthouse, which uses many of Woolf’s dialogues and words. The film with Rosemary Harris and Michael Gough as Mr and Mrs Ramsay is not funny or mocking but there is this utterly Chekhovian life going on feel — if only she could have been thrown off somewhere into deep (a cliff). One of Woolf’s essays in her Common Reader, “From the Russian Point of view, ” concentrates on Chekhov who she does discuss as intensely melancholy but she would have been aware of this aspect of his art which resembles hers. No imposed patterns.

I did wonder if this was rather the reaction of a common wider harder sensibility which finds the Chekhovian point of view ludicrous because in his prose (as translated) I’ve never seen much of this parody. And for me it didn’t work, quite. Apart from the inadequate subtitling, the play seemed to make no sense. If they weren’t grieving, frustrated, bitter and so on, then what was this all about: happy family pictures (because several times all the actors get together and have a happy family photo)? or sudden out bursts of dancing (this too happened). Some scenes of love-making were presented seriously but there was no over-arching idea.

So I’m not Cheknov is comic but it’s clear that the cast presented it this way and in the audience many Russian people were laughing. At the same time while people were not leaving in droves at the intermission, I was by no means alone going down the escalator to the garage for my car to go home. But it’s clear that Woolf in her To the Lighthouse (and its film) is the serious Cheknov

It’s been something of a Russian week: I saw the HD screening of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

We are not told the librettist most of the time, and a plethora of writers including Pushkin are cited in Wikipedia. I went because of my reading and discussion of Tolstoy’sWar and Peace the last half year has excited my interest in Russia Literature, and what I enjoyed most or what held me truly was the story: this inward story of twisted people. I have not been able to carry on reading the biography of Sophia Tolstoy I started but I hope to return to it when we finally get back to Tolstoy and Anna Karenina. The story moves slowly in Deborah Warner’s production (Fiona Shaw the director) but the sets are what they should be and not overdone. But I did stay the whole of the performance: I’ve not been doing that lately. I know this is very unusual but I find Anna Nebtrebko dull, unable to act, stiff, and any scene she’s in feels somehow tedious in places, but I admit she has a gloriously beautiful voice and can sing for hours. The conventional costumes suited her too. Still for me when she’s in something it is never what it could be since acting counts.

Still I stayed. I just loved Alexey Dolgov’s plaintive (poignant) rendition of Lenski’s aria before the duel (fatal to him). I had never heard it before and thought the man sung so poignantly. Mattei is very great: handsome, beautiful voice, he can act. I’ve seen the movie of Onegin with Fiennes in the role.

Someday maybe I’ll read the novel in verse. I’ve only an old copy — not a good modern translation at all. The interviews felt phony over the source — Renee Fleming would ask the Russian singer how much the poem had meant to him or her, and they would say ever since a young child. Haaa…

Nineteenth century English novels in verse include Aurora Leigh, The Ring and the Book, the form was used: George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy, which is good and I’ve even read! It’s good I’m remembering that this morning.

At home I watched on DVD, a marvelous 2002 film adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, scripted by Douglas McGrath. I was deeply moved and for the first time had a real feel for what this famous book by Dickens is. My father thought NN the most characteristically Dickens of all his books. I had realized that Smike (Jamie Bell) was another of Dickens’s disabled characters and he dies of the world’s treatment of him. Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) befriends but cannot save him. I had not understood who or what the Cheerybles or Crummies are. By unashamedly and boldly dramatizing the simple goodness, or exploitation and suffering of the characters, the burlesque-like caricatures against the sheer evil of the Squeers (inimitable performances by Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson) and hypocritical insidious venom of Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer), McGrath crossed the wide range of emotion. The women cast included Romolai Garai as Kate Nickleby, Anna Hathaway as Madeleine Bray, for comic good people Timothy Squall, Tom Courtney (the butler who betrays Ralph), Sophie Thomson as Mrs Lacreevy, and a rare ambiguous presence. Phil Davis.

I have a beautiful illustrated edition of the book from my father’s collection, and perhaps if we all are here and the destruction of Net Neutrality does not thrown the last wrench at Yahoo, we could as a group read the book together. It’s be the only way I’d read it 🙂

Nicholas and Smike on the road of life

Another brilliant use of over-the-topness is Ozon’s Frantz.

Not much else notable. I listen in my car to good dramatic readings of the Poldark novels (the dark Black Moon right now). but it seems I may not be able to throw myself into a literary biography of Graham.

The first half would have told Winston Graham’s life, where I would bring out how important Cornwall was to him but not dwell on this at length, keep it in perspective across a whole life. I would be discreet as large numbers of the people involved with various aspects of your father’s life are still living. In this first half of the book I would then discuss his non-Poldark books as a group, mostly the contemporary novels. I would bring out those elements in this which connect them to his historical fiction (the characters, the archetypal situations), situate them in their eras, evaluate them (I am aware of how much rewriting there was). The second half of the book would begin with how much Cornwall meant to him, be about Cornwall, and also historical fiction. A fairly long section (proportionate to the book’s size) on the Poldark novels, the couple of historical fictions set in Cornwall, would come then. I’d end on a film study of the two mini-series.

I’ve now written Winston Graham’s son, Andrew twice (email and snail mail) and he doesn’t even deign a response; my next try will be the assistant of the man who was Winston Graham’s agent for many years. I can’t begin to do research unless I know I will have permission to quote sources in the library, and a contact with an editor at Macmillan say would perform a miracle. I’ve never had many miracles in my life: the only I can think of was meeting and marrying Jim. It was to be Winston Graham, Cornwall and the Poldark world (or novels):

Consequently I’ve begun reading as a book project (early stages) on “The anomaly” and am so enjoying Oliphant’s Kirsteen. How anxious and involved with the heroine I am. Women to include Margaret Oliphant, Geraldine Jewsbury, Anna Jameson, Julia Kavanagh ….

I don’t know that I have it in me to write fiction but I could write about fiction, through literary lenses on fiction. That way I can express myself indirectly.

On our Trollope19thCStudies yahoo listserv, we are just finishing Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, about which I’ll blog separately — bringing in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale which I’ve managed to see the first terrifying episode of on Hulu.

Tomorrow is the Climate Change March in DC and I am going. I’ll be on the trains on my way to a concert with a friend (!) at the University of the District of Columbia (lovely classical music if I make it), and on Sunday, the Folger Concert again, this time The Play of Love, about which I’ll write in my next diary entry.

Miss Drake

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

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


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

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

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

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

Razieh — characteristic shot

She also stands so silently and often from the side

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Drake

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From Edward Gorey’s The Bug Book


It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I last wrote. Although, as I reported, in the snowy ice cross-hairs of Snowzilla 2016, social life had not come to a standstill, Edward Gorey’s memorable tale where this dire reality had indeed come to pass has been much on my mind. You see I had a partial renovation done for one part of my kitchen which occasioned other gaps and slips of my mind. I had some computer renovation too. It was all very stressful for me to do this without Jim. Comically my Ian cat during the whole thing looked like I felt. Nervous wreck, his body somehow tight and his tail never up it seemed for days on end.

IanNov2015 (2)

I may not have reported that some 3 weeks ago my 23 year old dishwasher died, that I attempted to pay for a new one to be brought to my house and installed by Home Depot, but that just as had happened some 10 years ago when Jim tried this, the delivery and installation men said they could not install it. Last time the machine was bought from a fairly small store and Jim was convinced we had been over-charged and lied to, and had a helluva time getting our money back.

This time the workman explained to me what Jim and I knew to be true: that our somewhat renovated 1947 pipes in the kitchen were not up to code and needed to be rebuilt first. He did take the new machine away. The good news was that the third of the kitchen next to the outside grounds had not been flooded because water was seeping in from outside, but because the old dishwasher was leaking. This means that I do not have to pay to have an outside wall and new disposition of the grounds outside done to stop flooding when I come to fix the rest of the kitchen.

Then Caroline gave me the name of a reliable plumber and I bought another dishwasher from Home Depot for this plumber to install; the blizzard got in the way but this past week 2 and 1/2 days saw two men in my house for hours rebuilding pipes and installing this dishwasher, re-attaching the washing machine, putting good pipes under the sink. They did it all at long last. The dishwasher fitted in. The washing machine works right now. Separate pipes for all three, proper ones under the sink, and then all linked together. They also saw that a pipe for heating was not right and fixed it so no carbon monoxide can came out — it hadn’t but the way it was set up it could.

It was all uncertain if this could be done. I felt such anxiety over the sums paid, sums refunded, paid again, the size of the new dishwasher (would it fit? in the house? in the space?) and then rescheduling that can only be gauged by revealing how my male cat, Ian (Cookie) outwardly suffered. He hates strangers walking up our path, and having them in the house making huge noises is excruciating. He no longer spends his existence hiding out under beds and in drawers, he is used to enjoying his cat life, and did not retreat. Instead he spent the days with his tail down or tucked under his legs; he sat with his body in a kind of pyramid, rocking slightly near my chair, he seemed to shrink to 2/3s his size. He had a plaintive look on his face.

In some moods he seemed to me a comical image of myself while the stress was very real too.

I have never wanted a room that looked like a magazine but did want something sound. And now I had this soundness in the kitchen. What need more? Sometime during all this I remembered Gorey’s The Bug Book and the unfortunate black bug who I had felt sorry for. I realized I had missed the point, been misinterpreting it all these years.

This neurotic tragedy all began when a group of red, blue and yellow bugs, who were all related biologically, genetically and by temperament formed a community whose most salient characteristics were that they were house-proud (and polished the blue bottle in which they lived on both sides), spent most of their time together, pensively on leaves, were (as it were) invaded by a black bug who attempted to make friends:


When Jim and I read this aloud to our older daughter, Caroline, when she was around 9 we left her to work out that the moral of the story was not attack your fellow creatures publicly with personal remarks:


But upon returning to said story and rereading, I began to feel the mischief lay in the house-proud and consequently exclusive nature of the differently colored bugs, which the poor black bug was unable to articulate since all the bugs thought these behaviors unquestionable. Had he been able to say, No, I will not spend thousands and thousands renovating my bottle, or painting its outside in an exquisitely fashionable shade, perhaps they would simply have scorned him, turned away, and he would not have been smashed to smithereens but rather living today.

I likened the story for the first time to how way back in 1993 when the dishwasher which died had been purchased when we renovated out kitchen, put in heat insulation in our attic, pulled out all the casement windows and replace them, a new heating system, central air conditioning, re-landscape the outside so it was no longer a swamp with 7 trees, each the contractors had wanted me (and Jim) to do far more. Their mantra had been, this is not quite the fashion. People coming to buy the house, will not like this or that; they will prefer — and we’d be shown some magazine alternative. Mostly my choice in 1993 was too plain. Then I had tried to explain that I was not interested in the taste of some future possible people unknown to me. Had I meant to sell, I would not renovate. I was making the house the way I would be comfortable in.

The analogy in my mind up to this point that was more vivid was that in Jim’s last year of life we renovated our two bathrooms and it cost us 1/3 of the price we paid for this house originally. The rooms were gutted from cement slab to attic, new walls built, but as I’ve discovered since still there is a fundamental plumbing problem in a closet that links these rooms. It was more cosmetic than we were given to understand.

We had been offered a renovation price for the kitchen too. We did not do it because I was so put off by Patty, our project manager’s norms. Her plans were for replacing our washing machine and dryer with much smaller ones inside cabinets so that no one would be able to tell these were machines. Her aesthetic assumptions about the kitchen were if in doubt hide what a kitchen is for. If a machine was still working (my 1960 dryer still works perfectly well), that did not matter. Did it fit a modern color scheme? she and I had never gotten along, and Jim was so relieved when we saw the back of her. $600 for an ever-so-cute wooden medicine cabinet was what he succumbed to. Recently someone looked at my bathroom and disapproved: it seemed the two different levels of tiles and wall was not “the thing” this year. I said I took a long view.



To be accurate, my cats were not suffering just from workman, and machines moved about, doors removed and put back, attics gone into, ladders, noise. Early in the week during one of my trips (with Yvette) back and forth from Home Depot, I thought I had lost my checkbooks or they had been stolen (say when we were at the HD-opera on Saturday), he did one of his deep retreats into the tangle of Yvette’s shoes in the back of her closet. I had to call three banks to stop payment on three sets of checks, get online and cope with websites. I must’ve lost 5 pounds and for part of the time could scarcely breathe, my mouth all parched. I faced the reality that I hardly ever write a check: I either charge or pay cash. I learned a lesson: I will no longer carry checks with me.

Worse yet in terms of being able to breathe. One of my email addresses from when Jim was alive was being bounced by several listservs and this meant I had now myself to phone the people he bought our website space from and explain to a “mail administrator” my problem and ask for help. Anything having to do with that website now causes near heart attacks because I can’t understand what this is all about. Suffice to say that I did find myself on the phone with a courteous and knowledgeable young man who walked me through the steps of eliminating some thousands and thousands of emails over the years and renewed my old address, updated the website, gave me new passwords and a set of instructions I can actually follow. This website has been much improved, made user-friendly to even the digitally-challenged. I did have to resist various sales-pitches and blandishments. Did I not want to reconceive my whole website? have the “challenge” of re-making it to look professional, snazzy, all pictures to be clicked on for the various sections. He would help me. And send me the prices. No thank you. I had already lost two nights of sleep. Looking at Ian nervously peering into the hallway from near my chair I decided he had had enough too.

All’s well that ends well. Six days later I have resubscribed to the listservs I’d been bounced off. I have today found my checkbooks stuck in the back of a drawer where I keep stamps — probably put there when I last wrote out bills. Even better, now that I have conquered the machine problem in my kitchen I will not have to renovate the place the way I had dreaded. I felt such relief to think I would not be bothered beyond, paint, tiles, cabinets. Everything else stay put as is. I now need only have the room painted, new vinyl for the floor and yes (outrageously expensive as it will be) new cabinets, not white (as I dislike white intensely because it brings hospitals to mind) and fewer of them as I don’t need so many. With the enormous difference I will not have to spend maybe at long last I will have the house repainted whose blue color I was driven to accept by a contractor (who was suddenly going to charge twice as much for a blended color). I want a quiet cream color just like in my old screened porch.

I admit I do not remember what exactly was the behavior of the cats during the weeks of renovation over those bathrooms, only that both stayed in Yvette’s room with the door firmly closed. In those days Ian did spend much of his time under beds so he was probably under Yvette’s bed, with Clarycat sat like a loaf on top of her baby blanket, weathering this stressful time.

The Onedin theme, the adagio from the ballet Spartacus:

For the rest this week I carried on my film study project. I watched four mini-series back-to-back, as I studied the old (1975) and new (2015) Poldark films against closely similar films of their eras: The Onedin Line (1971-80) and Outlander. The real difficulty in writing about films, in doing a film study is it takes such time to watch them. I also made progress on the 20 hour 1972 War and Peace, scripted by Jack Pulman, featuring (he is remembered for this) Anthony Hopkins as Pierre as against the 8 hour 2016 War and Peace, scripted by Andrew Davies, with Paul Dano in the same central role.

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp Randall, heroine of Outlander

The mini-series intersects among texts & films, from Dorothy in the Land of Oz wanting so to go home yet being allured by this fantasy world; time-traveling, harking back to Daphne DuMaurier, the central character an experienced nurse from WW@, with some knowledge of 18th century Scottish highlands thrown in .. an extraordinary concoction of historical romance …

I have come up with a thesis or explanation for one of the central differences between these historical film adapations 40 years on: nowadays such films are done with an eye to responding to what is perceived as the popular audience’s use of them to construct some ideal ethnic, national or local, religious or racial identity, often asserted as essentialist, half-mystically apprehended (complete with megalithic stones, eternal landscapes, seascapes, “natural” industries). I do love the thematic music in all of them, used to frame them as apart from your “usual” TV fare. I will write about The Onedin Line, Outlander, and the re-booting of War and Peace in a separate blog soon — the 1972 is the finer, just magnificent, but both the 1972 and 2016 brilliantly ironic in their differing depictions of the slaughter of 1812. I did say in my last entry a group of us on Trollope19thCStudies have now elected to read Tolstoy’s book (in English translation of course) this summer.

I also read Gaskell’s extraordinary story of “Lois the Witch” (about fanatical religious hatreds, hysteria, bigotry destroying all outsiders — outlanders) and read about her more. More work and blogs on women artists.

And so closed another week in the life of a widow and her cats and younger daughter (for Yvette was involved in some of this), a ridiculously stressful series of days — considering that like physically speaking I was indoors and quiet most of the time like most Washingtonians who stayed in their respective bottles.

Sometimes I think I’m changing so within somehow. Like the Outlander Claire, I want to return to my husband, want him back again so intensely

Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall in Starz’s Outlander
with Tobias Menzies as her husband, Frank Randall, professor-scholar of history

and yet time pushes me inexorably forward now that he has disappeared, never to return. I don’t know if I’ve conveyed what a hard week it was: I count three panic attacks, all favorably resolved but all very wearing. I feel worn while I change into someone somewhat different in behavior than I was and so difference in desires too.

Yet I stay the same too. I have not yet used my new dishwasher (!). I discovered that with two of us it is often easier to wash our few dishes right away. Then I don’t have to wait two to three days before enough pile up to do a wash and have the task of unloading said dishwasher. Nor do I run out of glasses. It cheers me to realize that I remain the same. Like Dorothy and Claire, I would be happy to go back to Auntie Em or Frank but unlike her I would stay there. There is an allusion in Outlander to Frank Baum’s books: Claire is told she can cast a spell by clicking her heels three times together and say There is no place like Love. She need only reach Craig Na Dune.

One last story: when I first had a dishwasher in an apartment complex called the Hamlets in the 1980s my luddite, anti-technology, anti-new machine attitude was to the fore. I decided the cavity was a good place to store cardboard boxes for the garbage. Jim laughed at this and quoted what he said was a campaign slogan of the Tories in later 19th century, perhaps repeated in the 1960s when the British gov’t offered to pay half the price of a kitchen renovation for anyone who wanted a working toilet and bathtub in the house. “Give the poor bathtubs and they’ll keep coals in them.” I feel the same kind of satisfaction when I’ve washed my dishes that I used to feel when I hung out clothes on the clothes line in summer to dry.

Miss Drake

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Caroline’s calico cat

Dear Friends and readers,

These couple of weeks of autumn used to be my favorite time of year. No enforced happy holidays, rarely burning hot, not freezing cold, the glory of the variegated leaves, fall flowers. I am still alive to its calm and ease, but to do so I’ve been tiring myself out in it so that I sleep each day until a quarter to eight (with the help of blogging at night and trazadone).

My teaching is now going well, and all that has to do with Tom Jones plus novel and The Poldark World takes say three full days of the week up, I go to movies with friends, the occasional lecture, even a cabaret musical. A few highlights and one disappointment:

Probably few but scholars in love with book history might have found Nicholas Smith’s talk on David Garrick’s library fun, but a group of us did. His abstract:

David Garrick, the celebrated actor, playwright, theatre manager and book collector, assembled a private library of considerable distinction. Rich in English drama and books on theatre history and the theory of dramatic character, the library was recognised as an important scholarly resource by eighteenth-century editors of Shakespeare and other English dramatists, and by literary and musical historians. Garrick extended liberal access and borrowing privileges to friends and acquaintances, even if these privileges were, in the case of Dr Johnson, abused and unacknowledged. In this presentation I will identify the surviving documentary evidence in British and American archives that enables a study of the formation and dispersal of Garrick’s library. I will focus in particular on the controversy over Garrick’s will, the role of Mrs. Garrick’s executors in the division of her property, Robert Saunders’ sale of the general library in 1823 and the location of Garrick’s books today. I will also reveal why Mrs. Garrick’s executors resisted the Trustees of the British Museum’s claim to Garrick’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Garrick’s folly on his estate: A temple to Shakespeare (painted by Zoffany)

He became interested in Garrick’s library when he was looking for a rare copy of Plato and found it among Garrick’s books. He talked about how one discovers what books comprise a library; about the hunt through auction catalogues, about the world of jealous rivalries (sometime sordid goings on) between bibliomaniacs (he called them); there were two wills; how Garrick hurt his wife in a will that forbad her to marry on pain of losing her legacy and left the library away from her — a huge part of which were French books (she was French). He read her poignant entry on the last book Garrick owned. How it was a huge library for a private person for the time (by then people were owning 30,000 volumes!). Then there was which library owns what Garrick books (Hereford library in England has a majority — forsooth because he was born there; then there’s the Folger, the Berg Collection, the British museum, Houghton Library). We heard of big sale events (1823 a threshold). He collected for the same reason as he bought two houses, expensive decorations for them — to raise his status. He had surprisingly few of the plays he put on at his Drury Lane Theater.

We then went out to eat in a nearby Thai restaurant with its delicious food and talked with enjoyment some more. A friend and I shared a half-carafe of white house wine.

I saw two movies. Learning to Drive (with my friend, Vivian) had its merits, mainly good feeling (as did A Walk in the Woods with Emma Thompson and Robert Redford):


Written by Sarah Kernochan, directed by Isabel Coixet, 3 of the producers women — about a woman learning to drive. It’s a very free adaptation of an essay by Katha Pollitt. For what it aims to do, it is well done. Patricia Clarkson plays an aging woman scholar (a favorite type this summer, vide Lily Tomlin in Grandma) whose husband leaves her for a much younger woman, her student; she has never learned to drive, part of her dependence on this man. Over the course of the movie, she develops a relationship with a Sikh, payed by Ben Kingsley, one of whose jobs is teaching people to drive: he is idealized, a very good man, and their relationship is paternalistic (he acts first as father figure) and gradually they seem to fall in love. But he has just married through an arrangement a Sikh woman played by Sara Choudury (I’ve seen her in Indian films). What’s appealing is the attempt at a juxtaposition of the two cultures — we see primal emotions and desires as they are dealt with in two disparate cultures. As with Grandma, the scenes are photographed in real places and realistically; as with I’ll Dream of You, all ends well enough but issues are shown that matter in intelligent ways. Vivian agreed what made it was there was no falling in love, but stepping back from delusion. I recommend it in the same spirit I did Lily Tomlin in Grandma. It’s more of a comfort film for our time: here we see the strangers with only one or two relatives of a younger generation to have a tie to making it somehow.

Ralph Fiennes’s Invisible Woman about Dickens’s 13 year liaison, life with Ellen Ternan and separation from his wife was the disappointment. What was the problem is the film-makers were unwilling to show Dickens to have been the shit he was in this situation — they cannot get themselves to. The two actors, Felicity Jones self-involved (and like Ternan so much younger than the man) and enjoying the wind and sea and Ralph Fiennes talking earnestly to her remind me of numbers of their scenes together done with real delicacy in the film, and Kirstin Scott Thomas as Nelly’s desperate mother; the cinematography is also well done, tremblingly effective, the abysms of poverty in London are captured, the connections between the theme of “the buried life” in the play and Dickens and Ternan’s lives as well as lines Dickens wrote for social causes quoted:


I’ll write about this film separately as well as a proposal I wrote to do a paper for a volume on costume drama, on the two Other Boleyn Girl films, Gregory’s book and Wolf Hall, book and film: Men Under Dire Distress: The Tudor Matter: it’s not Henry VIII and his six wives who so fascinate but a depiction of masculinity that undermines modern norms and taboos utterly together with strong and yet enslaved women. I’ll write about these separately.

I’ve handed in proposals a course description for the spring at Mason’s OLLI to teach Gaskell’s great novel, North and South and will share that here.

Elizabeth Gaskell by Emery Walker

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South: A Tale of Manchester

Daniele Denby-Ashe as Margaret her heroine, our consciousness for the novel

Gaskell wrote introspective domestic fiction, strange melodramatic gothics, political historical fiction, an influential passionate and great biography (of Charlotte Bronte) and novels of social protest set across the landscape of Victorian industrial cities, covering disability and emigration. Born to Unitarians, becoming a clergyman’s wife, she wrote fiction from her earliest years, published in magaizines, and lived for many years in Manchester, and her tale of this city, North and South centers on a strike (covered by her frequent publisher, Dickens in Hard Times and Marx in the newspapers), on religious controversies of her era, injustices in the navy, the psychic pain of displacement for her heroine and heroine’s brother, and in its central romance issues of class and region. We will read her book in the context of her varied and full oeuvre, the 19th century, and see how it also fits into other Victorian women’s novels, from Bronte’s Shirley, Eliot and Harriet Martineau to suffragette and new women’s novels (Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert). She is an intriguing and exciting novelist; and this novel will give us a chance to view (outside class) and discuss Sandy Welch’s 2004 film adaptation for the BBC, North and South.

Brendan Coyle and Richard Armitage as master and working man (Welch’s film)

Yvette and I went to Michael Weiss’s annual ice-skating show in remarkably remote Maryland (over an hour’s drive) two weeks ago, and to a picnic with her social club last Sunday. I gardened with my friend and neighbor Sybille today: we planted bulbs again in two patches of ground prepared for flowers *by me in part) especially: daffodils, tulips, crocuses, narcissus — lovely colors on the packages at any rate. And with watching Danger UXB (I’ll write a separate blog on this one too), reading women’s books at night, e.g.,

Dinnage’s Alone! Alone!: Lives of Outsider Women

There’s something strange or worth remarking upon in Dinnage’s book: the first section on “solitaries” really is about highly unusual women, women who stick out as solitaries and just about destroy themselves: Gwen John, Simone Weil, and — not so strange — Stevie Smith. In life circumstances type she’s more like Pym. It seems to me solitary people include far more than this obvious kind. Second section is partners and muses: Clementine Churchill, Ottoline Morrell, and Dora Russell. What really unites them is their lives are the direct result of a specific powerful or much respected man treating them in a way that estranges them from others, either by setting limits to what they can do (Clementine) or leaving them, and quite abruptly (Morrell and Russell). So the first women have no man and want none (it seems) and the second set are a function of a specific powerful man deserting or estranging them. All had families with money

Rachel Cusk
A promotional shot in 2007 of Cusk for her book

Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath:

I was told she was castigated for the book. Surely it cannot be that people are angry she is exposing details of what went wrong. She does not. But she does as I’ve seen hardly anywhere show what a rotten soul-torturing time divorce is — how others treat her, it seemed to me a simulacum of widowhood. Bitter, exhilarating in its causticness. Cusk shows how women alone, especially with children and older are taken advantage by crook types in all areas of life.

and playing with my cats I got through October 2nd through 10th.

Yaroshenko Nicholas Aleksandrovich (1846-98), Portrait of a Lady with a Cat — sent me by my kind Internet-friend, Sixtine, niece to Francoise.


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Ian last month

Dear friends and readers,

I want to record a theft that I witnessed and put a stop to last week and, having seen it, I was on the alert for to stop again. I will also connect many people’s love for their pussycats with today’s world via Manglehorn’s Fanny (movie directed by David Gordon Green, screenplay Paul Logan, featuring Al Pacino).

For at least thee years now I’ve been suffering chilblains on the skin of my hands. This is the 18th century word for a condition where your blood doesn’t circulate efficiently and if you experience sudden heat or cold, your skin turns red, burns, feel itchy and no cream seems to be able to soothe it. I first noticed it in supermarkets in the summer where the air-conditioning is fierce. I now take with me when I go out a pair of thin wool gloves because I’ve learned the best way to deal with this condition is to not let it happen. It’s worse when it’s a matter of burning cold, but I’ve suffered from chilblains in sudden heat. I’ve had people look at me strangely, but I explain and tell them they should look at Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg’s hands. She is never without white cotton gloves. I don’t know where she gets her beautifully thin lacey pairs; I’ve not been able to duplicate it on the Net. The only thin gloves I can find are the sort used in hospitals, throw-away gloves that don’t warm you. And thin wool gloves are not everywhere either.

I’m now on at least my third pair of such gloves. I often lose gloves but in this case what happened was I found now and again when I went into my handbag, there’d be only one thin woollen glove. The other had gone missing. I blamed myself but now I feel that at least some of the time the culprit was my ginger tabby, Ian.

Last week I happened to turn around and witness Ian on the floor of my study patiently pulling at a piece of leather that forms a kind of tie to the zipper of my handbag. He had discovered what I know to be true: the leather stips facilitates pulling the zipper open. He pulled and pulled until he had the handbag about 1/3 of the way open. Then he put his paw in, rummaged about, and managed to lift one of my gloves. Next thing he has it in his mouth and is trotting away with it! I headed him off at the door, and plucked it back. I put the two gloves in a drawer in my bedroom bureau.

But I have to use them, and each time I go out remember to put the gloves there. I usually do because I also have to remember (nowadays) to take my cell phone (unplug it from the wire where it is continually being re-charged). But I’m not so good at remembering to take the gloves and cell phone out again.

Two days ago, there he was at it again. This time he had pulled the handbag opened, secured the glove and all I saw was him trotting away. Again I thwarted him. Tonight I know there were no gloves in the purse, but I saw him nonetheless with the purse one-third open fishing.

What to do? Put the handbag high up somewhere? he can climb high. Reason with him? He doesn’t speak English. About a year and a half ago my lower partial denture went missing from the supper table. I didn’t think I had dropped it. To replace it cost me $1600. Now I know for sure who took it. It’s probably behind one of my 43 bookcases.

He mews at me on and off during the day in an effort to get my attention, to say something to me, to get me to play with him, or hug, and I usually talk back before leaving the room. He knows I’m talking to him and will follow me about. He likes to climb very high on the bookshelves — believing I surmise he is out of sight. (When he was a kitten, he’d hide 2/3s of his body under a stool under the impression he was invisble that way — my little Snuffle-upagus). I have to take a broom to get him to come down and then while leaping he can break something if he hits it — like a glass. Nowadays when he comes into a room, he often murmurs and meows softly to let Yvette and I know he’s there. He will jump up on my lap and press his body stretched out against my chest, and put his head next to head, rubbing. He brushes up against my legs when I’m eating, tries to climb on my lap during breakfast and after supper if Yvette and I sit there talking. He will re-discover, as if it were new, an old spot; and then inhabit it obsessively for a few days — these past few days he re-found his grey cat pad in the front room and has been staying in it for hours.

Caroline remarked that if I didn’t have a video of him persisting at my purse, it was almost as if it didn’t happen. She has her cat on a video slowing opening a cat-proof container and taking out food to eat. Who says cats don’t execute plans? don’t remember the past? they do when it’s repetitive and people are creatures of routine.

Face-book by one of its algorithms sends me photos from years ago I put on face-book. This week it was one of ClaryCat that Jim took five years ago. She is two:


The photo was taken by Jim close-up and brought back memories. Chris Hedges’s is over-the-top and he is blaming technology when the way technology is used is a reflection of a deeper malaise of skewed values and social structures: The Lonely American.

The bowl of varied fruit, the different wines, the treats in tupperware, another world, a previous life over now. For Yvett not such a happy time that year — she had finished graduate school and seemed unable to get a job of any kind. I now love & understand Clarycat and Ian more than I did then. How close she came to me. How in character is that pose I now realize. In the mornings when I wake she is snuggled up to me; most of the day she’s not five feet from, often a lot closer. She never disappears for several hours the way Ian does. She does still hold on fiercely to her favorite toys, and will hiss and growl at him if he tries to take one away she is playing with at the time.

I believe for a long time afterward both were affected by Jim’s death. Upset by the long dying over 4 days and then when he so totally disappeared. When I take them to the Vet, it takes Ian several days to trust us again.

Sometimes I hear one or the other of them crying in another room — or they are making a complaint-like sound. I get very upset when I hear that and rush over to see what’s happening. If it’s nothing or they can’t stand that Yvette has her door closed, I tell them “don’t cry! I can’t bear it!”

When you allow yourself to get into an intimate relationship with your pet, you identify with other like animals. This Sunday the film club was disappointing: for the first time the Cinema Art Theater owner picked the film — it seemed. It is one he means to show in the theater anyway! I thought the idea was to show us films we would otherwise not see chosen by Gary Arnold, a Washington Post film critic-reviewer. On top of that it was awful: Manglehorn, well-acted by Al Pacino (now 75) but a senseless movie where we were to believe he behaved indifferently to everyone because he could not get over the loss of a girlfriend to whom he was writing letters for years; all sent back by the post-office. He is implicitly criticized for telling hard stories of death when he goes to group meetings. What is wrong with him is the feel of the other average people there. What they talk about we are not told. The ending was sudden reform (“redemptive”) because he begins to go out with Holly Hunter who is so dismayed by him. Her view is he needs to work at being a 12 before she will open again.

The reality was a depiction of a depressed man who does not understand himself; who is deeply disappointed by a shallow son who seems to spend his life pressuring others meanly in order to make money off of them; whose wife left him (we are not how that came about). It is another one of these films where we see such lonely people; a distraught man half-mad in a bank; a vile noisy brothel where in fact people are desperate, hideous neon lights, people dressed in the ugliest of ways; everyone alone with memory objects. The film-makers offered no understanding of the deeper human realities and misbegotten society they were visualizing and dramatizing.

The film features a cat called Fanny, a long hair white cat who I worried very anxiously about. This depiction was the best thing in the film. Manglehorn pays for an expensive operation to remove a key she swallows by mistake and seemed to have affection for her and nothing else. But I didn’t trust him; he’d leave the house without checking to see that she was not caught in a closet. We did see her hide in closets the way Ian does. He’d take her out on walks where there was no leash keeping her securely attached to him:


Or he’d put her on a branch near where he was sitting, or sit high on a branch with her in his arms, looking like they were going to tumble down.

I noticed this particular cat was picked because her face was probably seen by the people who made the film as grumpy (a factor in her genes probably). Since the unexamined acceptability of cat pictures and messages have flooded the Internet, it is more acceptable for even men to love cats, and this is the second recent movie where a man’s close relationship to a cat was the only element in the film that was believable or absorbing, the only comfort in sight. The cat’s affectionate nature has not been perverted by the false structures around her. She is oblivious to them because they are absurdly irrelevant to her basic (eat, sleep, play) and emotional needs.

Jim used to say that most social experience in the US nowadays is dysfunctional. The dismaying isolation seen in Manglehorn is depicted from an upper class older woman’s point of view in I’ll Dream of You, from a working class Milan man’s in L’Intrepido.

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man
but deteriorate the cat. —Mark Twain

My two cats are my last companions before I go to sleep. In the morning Clarycat is there and soon she is nudging her head at me, licking me. Ian comes to greet me from elsewhere, somewhere else on the bed, in the short cat-tree near my bed (with a green pillow), from one of the cat pads around the house, from where Jim used to sit. He puts his paws out as hands to me. She does too.

50JimClaryASept2013 (2)
Jim and Ian, September 2013

Miss Drake

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Abram Louis Buvelot (1814-88), Australian landscape

We’ll meet nae mair at sunset, when the weary day is dune,
Nor wander hame thegither, by the lee licht 0′ the mune!
I’ll hear your step nae longer amang the dewy corn,
For we’ll meet nae mair, my bonniest, either at eve or morn.

The yellow broom is waving, abune the sunny brae,
And the rowan berries dancing, where the sparkling waters play
Tho’ a’ is bright and bonnie, it’s an eerie place to me,
For we’ll meet nae mair, my dearest, either by burn or tree.

Far up into the wild hills, there’s a kirkyard auld and still,
Where the frosts lie ilka morning, and the mists hang low and chill
And there ye sleep in silence, while I wander here my lane,
Till we meet ance mair in Heaven, never to part again.
— Alicia Anne Spottiswoode (Lady John Scott, 1810-1900), from An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets, ed. Catherine Kerrigan, where I found Anne Hunter, Anne Grant, Kathleen Raine …

Dear friends and readers,

One way or another immersed in Scotland or Australia since I last wrote — all imagined to be sure.

So it’s been an eventful week here in my house. Last week a series of incidents and this week the aftermath in test diagnoses and symptoms suggests I’m not going to make “old bones” (as my father would have said) after all. I need not be haunted by what’s to come, about being a burden to others or losing my independence, need not be sure to have enough for 25 years from now. I feel a certain relief at this. Less stress.

Among other conditions, I now have a weak right arm, so license to indulge myself. Yesterday there arrived two women from Maid Brigade who (I paid to) spend 5 hours here cleaning my house. It’s cleaner than I ever remember it. I can now conceive of having a guest. I naturalmente wish Jim were here to see it. I’m going to have them come to do their thing twice a month from now on. Our 26 year-old air-conditioning system and machine from 1989 has been pronounced by a man from Michael and Sons to be dying an honorable death. Whether true or no, it certainly makes worrying whirring and wasp-like sounds so on Friday will arrive a couple of men to install a new system.


For two nights I watched episodes of a Starz mini-series called Outlander; women’s romance history-fantasy, Scottish, based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon, it’s updated Daphne DuMaurier; a sort of cross between DuMaurier’s Hungry Hill where the narrator-hero crosses several times between southwest England in the 1950s and the 13th century and and the heroine’s thrill-romances of Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and A King’s General (set in the later 17th century, the heroine crippled in a wheelchair, in my judgement her best) and Rebecca, all interwoven.

OutlanderSamHeughanJamie FraserCaitriona BalfeClaire Randall

The Outlander resembles the new (2015) Poldark in its grimness, brutal violence, grimyness, the POV from below, the peasants and outlaws, not the elegant and fringe people of the older (1975) Poldark, Oneddin Line. DuMaurier’s Hungry Hill, one source, an enfeebled book because the narrator is one of these unconvincing males — a sort of neuter figure (rather like the later George Sand when vilification drove her from her Indianas, Valentines and Lelias). By keeping the central consciousness a woman’s, the narrator a heroine, Gabaldon kept all the intense ambiguity about a woman’s helplessness in pre-19th century eras against males, who then in reaction to the heroine manifest unashamed or shall I say unhidden attitudes towards her sexuality (the film is written, directed and produced mostly by men): upon meeting Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) the film’s 18th century men, British soldiers and aristocrats, Irish thugs and clansmen alike promptly think her or ask if she is a whore because she is alone.

As our story begins, Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) has been a nurse in WW2 and presided over and helped in horrifying operations, and the war now over, she and her her academic archaeologist husband, Frank (set for a professorship in Oxford), meet again after a near 5 year absence. They visit Scotland for its ruins, look at neolithic sites. Left to herself one day she melts into history. Her first encounter is her husband’s relative (mentioned by him), a snarling redcoat, Jonathan (Black Jack) Randall (Tobias Menzies plays both parts), and finds herself shot at, is taken up, rescued (or herself takes up, saves), the wounded Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), and soon she is riding in front of him (anticipating Turner and Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza). The band comes to a stone castle that she and her 20th century husband explored now become fully inhabitated. I thought I was back with Frank Yerby’s The Border Lord, Book-of-the-Month club special,also from the 1950s.

It’s the voice-over that I found especially compelling, Catrionia Balfe’s voice perfect for Rebecca. A sophisticated use of old-fashioned realism smashed together with fantasy gothic and superb cinematography, a richly colored Scotland complete, with the themed music part minor key bagpipes, make for an undercurrent of thrill.


Incomparably superior was Nick Cave and John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, filmed on location (a feat in itself), featuring a stellar cast and performances (as they say) by Ray Winstone as the British police officer determined to bring civilization to the Australian outback, which means not only keeping a kind of word with bushrangers (murderously violent whites, some ex-convicts transported, treated horribly themselves), but moderating the savage behaviors of the settlers and getting alone with the aborigines he needs to help him and his (intransigent) wife.

The British flogging one of the Burns brothers

It’s such a worthwhile film, it demands study and a paper rather than a blog. Emily Watson was the English wife, Martha, determined to keep up elegant manners and customs, even Christmas complete with turkey dinner and a transposed Dorsetshire garden in the searing heat of a desert. I bond with her in every movie she’s in, her husband all in all to her, or why is she there?


Settler colonialism (interwoven are old photos of aborigines chained by the necks) is fully dramatized. John Hurt the wandering figure, belonging nowhere anymore. Danny Huston, the Burns brother:

Arthur Burns (Danny Huston)
Danny Huston as one of the Burns brothers

Trollope would have understood it.

I watched because there are no film adaptations for Trollope’s colonialist writing which I’ve been reading for several weeks now. Cave and Hillcoat’s realization and themes, Watson’s acting against Winstone’s will help me (I hope) with my paper. Having finished reading John Caldigate, “Catherine Carmichael, or Three Years Running,” Harry Heathcote, to say nothing of the ginormous Australia and New Zealand (I even found myself companionable with his Twenty Letters from Liverpool, a tireless traveller indeed was Mr Trollope), and gone over some of the stories I read last fall with a class (especially “Aaron Trowe” and “Returning Home”), and some very good recent post-colonialist recent essays on Trollope, I’m on track for a paper for the coming Trollope conference: “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Settler Colonialism.” I should make room for a couple of Mann Booker books in this vein, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, to say nothing of Australian heroine’s texts (by Kate Grenville, 1890s new woman author, Barbara Baynton), and Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost Trollope goes to Sri Lanka too — the man left nothing in his path out. I want to take out the time to read John McCourt’s Writing the Frontier, on Trollope’s Anglo-Irish writing, but an abstract is due by the 30th of this month.


I seem not to be able to fit in returning to studying French and trying to speak it (for the sake of my new French friend, Sophie), much less Italian, which I’m drawn to just now by a book we’re reading and writing about on Trollope19thCStudies: Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian reminds me of how rich this literature is. I’m getting into a new 18th century women writer for me, Anne Grant (Scotswoman), who writes an anthropological (not to say colonialist) Memoirs of an American Lady, and not given up on my Tudor matter either: I’m up to Julia Fox’s Jane Boleyn, and listening to a brilliantly read Wolf Hall unabridged (Simon Slater).

Be not mistaken, gentle reader, it’s my second summer without Jim and I am now literally feeling it in my heart, but I feel more at peace. Maybe it will fall to me to sell or somehow or other de-access our whole library to a reputable place where the books will be appreciated and eventually find their way to other readers who value them.

I take courage because the women’s poetry I read shows me that my case is central to a lot of women’s poetry. It was Beatrice Didier’s L’Ecriture-Femme I told Sophie about: a chapter in which Didier cover Raine’s translations of Virginia Woolf. What if people paid attention to what is to be learned from the parallels between Raine and Woolf?

This too is an experience of the soul
The dismembered world that once was the whole god
Whose unbroken fragments now lie dead.
The passing of reality itself is real.

Gathering under my black cloak the remnants of life
That lie dishonoured among people and places
I search the twofold desert of my solitude,
The outward perished world, and the barren mind.

Once he was present, numinous, in the house of the world,
Wearing day like a garment, his beauty manifest
In corn and man as he journeyed down the fertile river.
With love he filled my distances of night …

I trace the contour of his hand fading upon a cloud,
And this his blood flows from a dying soldier’s wound,
In broken fields his body is scattered and his limbs lie
Spreadeagled like wrecked fuselage in the sand …

Oh in the kitchen-midden of my dreams
Turning over the potsherds of past days
Shall I uncover his loved desecrated face?
Are the unfathomed depths of sleep his grave? …
— Kathleen Raine, in An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets

Ian, photo taken by Caroline in the past couple of weeks

This morning (6/18) I can report I slept better last night than I have done since I went to NYC.

Miss Drake

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Me with friends this a week and a half ago — in DC, in a restaurant near Kramerbooks

Yvette two weekends ago

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did a diary entry here, and what I most want to tell about are how two movies I’ll See You in my Dreams and L’Intrepido, became interwoven with my thoughts about lives lived in our contemporary world, their aporias, one of which is mine and others not much different from mine after all that I seem to be observing.


Blythe Danner as the often wry Carol

I’ll See you in My Dreams, written directed and produced by Brett Haley, the writing with March Basch, the producing with Rebecca Green, is a touching slow-paced, for the most part naturalistically done and convincing portrait of Carol (Blythe Danner), a woman in her late 50s to early 60s who lives alone. As the movie opens, we see her living companionably close with a beloved dog, Hazel; we watch her move through her day from getting up, eating breakfast, playing bridge and going out with women friends in a retirement community near-by, shopping; and having lunch or supper or in bed late at night watching TV or reading, with Hazel always by her side. As is so common in movies made for middle class mainstream audiences no one has a serious problem with money in the movie (no one at risk of starvation, homelessness); Carol herself as heroine lives in a splendid house. Her dog, though, is ailing and dies; we watch her watch him “put out” and then grieve by his side.

With her friends at the supermarket

It emerges that she is a widow of 20 years (it may she is older than she seems as the pictures of her with the husband on her mantelpiece show a woman in her later 30s at least, or 40s), with a daughter (later 20s, early 30s) who lives at a considerable distance from Carol. We get to know her friends; they do not seem lonely but they seek companionship continually. Over the course of the movie Carol becomes friends with Lloyd (Martin Starr) a much younger man who comes to her apartment complex to clean her pool; he lives with his mother (perhaps he has a money problem), does not know what to do with his life; there are no good jobs; he wants to be song-writer and sing but when he and she go to a club where amateurs can get up and sing we find he is bad; she is very good. She sang when much younger with a previous husband or partner. One of his songs though is I’ll See you in My Dreams which gradually becomes the non-sourced background music of the film.

She is urged by her friends to go to a “speed date” meeting (awful, just like men on Match.com), a kind of vast room where men and women sit across a table from one another for five mintutes, get 30 seconds to exchange phone numbers and then must move on. Awful: one man insisted on how he was interested in sex; another asked her interests, another was all upbeat. My friend, Vivian, said this was real; she had gone to such a “meet-up.” One night she and her friends smoke medical marijuana and are embarrassed and frightened when stopped by a police officer. The feel of real life is effective.

Bill (Sam Elliot) who never lights that cigar

The central motivating incident of the movie is Carol meets Bill, an older man who she is attracted to and he her. They begin an affair, have a beautiful day on his boat, and within a couple of days — while her daughter is visiting her — a phone call to her, tells her he is in hospital. She rushes there but cannot get entrance (not a close relative), but through a stratagem learns sudden death took him. It’s a moment of intense grief, far stronger than she’s manifested thus far, for him (who was alone he said, not married any longer, no relatives — he had begun to ask her to marry him). She returns to the dock where his boat still is


Some transformation within her goes on; and she talks deeply with her daughter over photos of them much younger; Lloyd returns and they talk of his non-future, clearly though as her friend still. The older self-deprecating woman with a young male friend is a repeated trope from women’s novels.

The ending is her showing up at an animal adoption fair and coming upon a 12 year old dog who looks all forlorn, and adopting him. When the screen closes we see her in her car with the dog at her side, a flashback to her house where we see the dog bowl and toys waiting. She is making the effort again, connecting.

The pace is natural, the dialogue believable, the mood is on the whole one of qualified hope, sturdy going on, sweet at times. What I especially liked was it appeared to go nowhere. The movie action often contradicted or prove wrong typical advice Carol is given (she should immediately “get another dog”).

Of course I utterly bonded with Carol — as did my friend, Vivian, who did not at all nod off or fall asleep (which she sometimes does when she comes to the kind of movie I like best to see).



L’Intrepido did not get as postive reviews apparently because it did not come up to Amelio’s other masterpieces in the estimation of film critics. I saw it as the first of this summer’s once-a-month Sunday morning movies introduced by the Washington Post film critic, Gary Arnold. He told us a great deal about the man’s live and career and afterwards there were quit a number of intelligent comments made by the audience members about the film.

It is also about someone living alone, also older, but a man, and living in 21st century Milan. The translation of “lonely hero” is not literally accurate: the title emphasizes the man’s courage, his intrepidness. The film was said to mirror the job situation in Italy, as desperate as our own and many another society where “austerity” measures have cut into the fabric of social services (to allow the wealthy to pay few taxes) and laws have allowed companies to take their businesses to where they can pay very low wages and enforce poor conditions on the workers. So our hero, Antonio Pane (the second word means bread) survives by hiring himself to a man who provides “filler” occupations to people who come to him; he gets the salary and pays them — when he pleases. Antonio has a son who seems to be doing fine at first: at university, a musician, but as he tells his father, it is one thing to do splendidly in school, it is quite another to succeed outside in the marketplace world. The son seems to be someone making money and being kind to his father; it is a hard relationship as they live apart, the son sees the father as a failure who is in need of basic things like socks, daily money. The family is broken up. Antonio’s wife is said to now dislike him, be estranged from him. It emerges thought that that the son is subject to panic attacks, cannot compromise to produce goddawful loud poor music, and has a hard time finding a place in a orchestra. Antonio’s wife long ago left him for a man who seems to be making a lot of money producing fine goods: when he finds Antonio a job, though, it’s a false business, a pretend shoe-store which is a front for drug or other illicit traffic. Gary Arnold said Amelio’s father had early on deserted him and his mother.

This is a world where people are disconnected much more badly than Carol’s world. Again and again in passing he makes conversation, starts relationships and they are broken off because he does not return to the job the next day or consecutive days. He lives alone in a small flat — as it seems many do in Milan. The film needs a stronger fantasy element to give us the required uplift — it is an art film but is made to reach people. In the second half of the film Antonio takes increasingly harder jobs; when his son collapses, he takes over and plays a saxophone in his son’s place until his son gets the strength to come on stage and we see in the son a forlorn Christ-figure, the next generation:


Instead of silent, downtrodden, desperate, he becomes a man determined to do no harm and help others. His life is meaningful. He will not take a job delivering a boy to a man who is said to be his father and is not. He finds comfort in working in a library among books.

Among those he meets and passes conversation and time with in the later part of the film are two women much younger than himself, one taking a competitive exam where he is taking one. He allows her to see his answers. Of course neither of them gets any response back from the testers – nor the hundreds of other people taking these tests. The other is doing hard menial work of the same filler kind and he takes her out to lunch. There is a parallel of Carol and Lloyd here. The girl seems to confide in him, but she suddenly goes wild and hastily flees him. The next thing we hear she has killed herself. but he has tried. When last seen he is walking on some high bridge looking cheerful; he turns round to smile at us, content with his lot.

The profound inhumanity structured into the way our economic relationships are conducted, family distancing, our autonomous, anonymous cutural worlds, the theme of this movie, is sidelined, and we end up in a kind of Voltaire’s Candide (without the overt violent wars), where survival means hope. One of the audience members mentioned Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times but the movie is meant to be much darker than that.

For me the question at the core of both films is how do people endure it? It being life. The answer is not quite that they find someone to love for real who loves them as these relationships support but do not sustain continually and it’s that that’s needed.


This past week I became a lady who lunched: I went out three times to lunch or coffee with someone and one night to dinner. For example, this past Wednesday I met with two women who were in my Barsetshire class this spring at the Olive Garden. We had unlimited soup and salad and stayed talking for more than an hour and a half. On another day it was Noodles and Company, pasta and wine, and afterwards I helped a friend try to conquer the kind of questions GREs pose for those wanting to be accepted into a graduate program. Sophie took some more photos, one of which captured me in the midst of my library at an angle that caught a sense of the books in my house much more accurately than usual: A Library: A House of Memories.

I found four Wolf Trap shows to go to: with my neighbor across the street we’ll go twice, John Foggerty one June night in 2 weeks and the Piano Guys another August one, and take picnic suppers; with Yvette to the Barns at Wolf Trap for Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and a 20th century opera by John Corigliano, Ghosts of Versailles (characters include Marie Antoinette) on two Sundays; maybe we’ll take picnic lunches. I took my car in to be fixed, a long day where this friendly mechanic (I’ve gone to before) showed me what was going in with the car when it was hoisted up. I went far less to Dance Fusion and water-aerobics than I thought I would: I couldn’t find time and read for my projects too — though I did go twice and the classes were crowded. I’ve given up on core: too hard for me and not any fun.

Yesterday part of our day Yvette and I put our cats through the ordeal of going to the Vet. We had outwitted them by keeping the carriers hidden until the last five minutes and cornering them in my room where there is no place to hide. The minute Ian saw the carriers he emitted cawing crying sounds, which he kept up all the way there, at times while there and all the way home. Clarycat squeezed down in her carrier and was not eager to come out. We had been made to wait a long time — there were some very sad looking animals there as well as one poorly dressed older woman in bad health. So the Vet made up for this by an extra careful visit, looking over them, and for the first time I witnessed nail clipping: well, Clarycat growled fiercely while it was happening. When we got home, she growled warningly at Ian to keep away; he remained hidden for two hours. It has taken over 14 hours for them to behave more tranquilly again.

Does she not look a little grim?

Three times now after going to bed between 12 and 1, I’ve woken after 8 am in the morning. That’s a powerful lot of sleep for me. It means I’ve been super-tired from the effort of living.

So I asked myself, How do people endure this, meaning life? Yesterday it came to me that what I need as a widow is peace of mind, quiet within me to keep at bay the aporias. I no longer have a beloved and cannot replace him. Nor will daily structures and routines (I used to feel I so relied on), and goals (to give meaning) replace a loving companion. Is it for Carol has her dog, Antonio going out every day (he puts it this way)? My cats? Carol is lucky to have those friends, her money, her cherished memories; Antonio his even fraught relationship with his son and a wife who does not forget some obligation. I have some friends, two daughters cats, my memories, books, enough money, but I find it hard to realize his death; it sinks in deeper and deeper. One basis for me could be contentment within the environment Jim and I made together, this world of my house and books, with the car and enough money to take me here and there. How does one achieve peace of mind? Accept what is and don’t yearn for what cannot be.

My books for pleasure and interest are of the type Jim would have appreciated: Jenny Uglow’s In these Times: Living in Britain Through the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815; Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall (a masterpiece of the type of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, only deeply liberal, pro-Risorgimento, set 1790s to 1850s), and I hope to begin soon the suffragette Constance Lytton’s Prisons and Prisoners (a memoir). I’m listening to Simon Slater read aloud all of Mantel’s very great Wolf Hall. All of them I would have talked of to him.

Miss Drake

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George Balanchine with Tanquil’s Mourka

    Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will
— Steven Dunn, poet

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve written no content since October 19th because I’ve been that discouraged and disheartened: teaching is not going to be for me what I had hoped. I had not realized what a hard prescription is Robert Louis Stevenson’s: “There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.”

No one who reads this blog will believe I’ve been putting up a brave front, but I have. So I must fill this blog with other lives, other adventures.

One of Gary Arnold’s recommendations (from the Sunday once-a-month film club I’ve been attending) was Afternoon of a Faun. I watched it two nights — using a DVD from Netflix and want to recommend it strongly.

It’s the story of one of the central ballerinas of Balanchine’s life: at the height of Tanaquil’s powers, dancing extraordinarily at the American Ballet Theater, and married to Balanchine, she came down with polio. She spent time in an iron lung and never regained her ability to stand much less dance.

afternoon of a faun 1
Dancing Afternoon of a Faun

A more classical ballet symphony

It’s very much a woman’s film: a sensitive retelling of this woman’s life from the time and milieu of the 1950s in NYC and the building of American ballet theater: Le Clercq had a ballet mother who had come from a middle class family and enrolled her daughter in the Manhattan ballet school at Juillard; Tanaquil caught Balanchine’s eye one day in the corridor after she had been thrown out of the class. He discovered the way she danced suited his ballets exquisitely well. She collapsed suddenly in one of the Scandanavian countries. She was 26. After this terrifying ordeal, from which she came back in part sufficiently to sit comfortably in a wheelchair and allow him to try to manipulate her into standing, dancing once more. She could not. Surprisingly (to others), Balanchine was far more loyal to her than one might expect, stayed with her much longer,



but eventually he tired of trying to bring her back, saw it could not be, and moved on — as they say — to Suzanne Farrell. Took Farrell over, married her; yes Tanaquil was very hurt. She then lived alone for 25 years, never remarried. The story of the movie is done partly through interviews with those who remained her friends, including a rival of Balanchine’s, Jerome Robins; a loyal friend, Patricia McBride, another Barbara Horgan. Exquisitely appropriate film clips as it moves back and forth through older memories and then forward through her life. Tanaquil did have enough money to live a physically comfortable life in a fine apartment in Manhattan; we see her at a picnic with friends; and she publishes a book on her life with her cat,


reminding me of Doris Lessing, Olivia Manning, Marge Piercy, Elsa Morante and Remedios Varo, and their books and poetry and pictures of cats, only the photos I could find were all of Balanchine and Mourka.

Late in life the African-American dancer turned choreographer, Arthur Mitchell, who ran the Harlem ballet theatre was willing to give her a job teaching ballet classes and mentoring individual ballerinas there — from her chair.


It’s the story of a disabled woman’s life. She is photographed in all its stages across the film, and looks as poignant in her later years with her hair thinning and her body increasingly frail as she does at the start. There was something ethereal about her wiry strength when she was young, and when she ages there is something plangently ethereal yet strong from her waist up and through her arms when she ages.


A touching and yet real account of the life of artist bereft of her gift. Gary Arnold connected it to the film Casa Verdi — the realities of lives in the “high culture” theater and the aftermath when they can no longer exercise their talent.

How difficult it is to claim one’s right
to living honestly. The honesty
you taught was nothing quite as true
as death, but neither was it final
—–Rafael Campo, poet



A absurdist funny (if you are not involved) story of a friend’s fence. Let’s call her Sharon: Sharon lives in one of these controlled “developments” of townhouses which allows a Homeowners Association’s petty tyrants to reign supreme over all that can be seen outside of the houses. Sharon and Don’s fence needed replacement and because they have cats, they decided to have a fence precisely 6 feet high (the highest allowed) to try to keep the cats inside their back garden/terrace. After it was built with a shed attached to one corner, one of the people in the area snuck round and measured said fence and discovered it was 6 feet 3 inches or so and reported this to the HOA. You’d think Sharon and Don had committed a felony. What power the HOA has over them I don’t know. All this is about more than property values (money); it’s about insisting on a narrow image of middle class respectability. It’s about those given petty power.

The situation was most people have fences of 5 feet and the previous fence had been 5 feet. So this was daringly unconventional. Sharon’s mother-in-law was actually going to go round the fences in the compound and measure others to show others were slightly over 6 feet. That is, she was willing to think and act the way this HOA did. But such measurings got nowhere. So should they pay to cut it by 5 inches along the top — expensive. Finally it was decided to bring in dirt to raise the level of the ground.

I’ve been told there are communities where you are not allowed to have a line of rope to hang your clothes out in your backyard on a sunny afternoon. Rules for how many bushes and how high and where. If you can have a basketball circle. It seems to me this kind of thing also shows insecurity about class, for the higher and richer and bigger the houses, the less you see people allowing others to police them in this way.


Why I wanted to escape experience is nobody’s business but my own,
but I always believed I could if I could

put experience into words
Now I know better.
Now I know words are experience
—– Vijay Seshadri, poet

And pictures and colors. Don’t miss Michael Gorra deep into green.

Remedios Varo
Remedios Varo

Miss Drake

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