Posts Tagged ‘Outlander’

Alistair Sim as Scrooge dancing with his nephew’s wife at the close of the 1951 film of A Christmas Carol

“A Poem for winter Solstice”

The dead are always with us
The dead never cease to be with us
We need not imagine they have consciousness
No they are literally gone
But our minds and memories are strong
And take them with us everywhere
We want to bring back the past
Make it alive again
Let it wash over you, wash into you, become you
But we need not
We may turn to
The sublimity of historical romance
the ghosts of time-traveling

— by me, written in 2017

Dear friends and readers,

I truly meant to lead off my near Christmas diary blog with pictures of this year’s tree, of Colin, my beloved glittering penguin once again, which pictures should include our new presence or Christmas stuffed or pottery animal, Rudolph, but before blogging tonight, I decided I would give in to the time of year and watch the first of a series of Christmas movies I own. Where to begin? my oldest favorite, one that used to terrify me when I was not yet adolescent, the 1951 Scrooge (only recently have I realized it’s not titled A Christmas Carol).  Not totally to my surprise I found that as soon as the ghosts began the going back in the past, I began to cry, and then on and off I just cried, and cried, and cried, and when I was not crying, my face became suffused with tears.

I have so many favorite moments; to echo Amanda Price in Lost in Austen about Pride and Prejudice, this movie contains for me places I know intimately, that I recognize so many now still, the words and pictures are old friends. It’s like, with Scrooge, I’ve walked in, feeling there with Alistair  Sim. I watched other movies on Channel 9, Metromedia, in NYC in the 1950s, over and over (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Public Enemy No 1, with James Cagney, Talk of the Town, with Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, and Cary Grant, and at least 10 more) but this one has stayed more in my mind, perhaps because it was repeated year after year. It is a refuge movie because Christmas time is for me so hard to get through.

In then looking for a few stills online to share, I discovered the ones I wanted to show were those of Scrooge delirious with joy, suddenly released and half-hysterical from years of self-flagellation turned against others — with his char-woman, with the boy sent to buy a big turkey, most of all with Cratchit and Tiny Tim, who “lived” … I had to many. I also begin to cry when I remember Jim reciting the final lines one Christmas Eve when my parents were here, with a drink in his hand, “God bless us everyone.”

And yet those moments of trembling with fear and joy don’t make any sense unless you’ve seen the embittering ones in the first sequence (the last part of “the past”), the harrowing and scathing ones in the second (this boy is ignorance, this girl want), and the fearful scenes of Death in the last — of which my favorite is Alice grown up and old, oblivious of Scrooge, serving people in a workhouse. What has her life been?  So here is the whole on YouTube, which I urge you to watch if you’ve never seen it, or re-watch if you haven’t watched it in a long time:

The poem serving as epigraph is one that face-book sent me as a memory from 2017. At first I could not recall who wrote it, and it took a bit of time for me to realize it was by me. I don’t recall writing it — and the use of the verb “wash” is not satisfying. I should have a stronger verb there. But the sentiment is mine. I am explaining why I am so addicted to historical romance, historical fiction films, film adaptations of older books or books set in the past, and still at this time, Outlander:

I see Gabaldon’s books and Roger Moore’s serial (I name him as the central guiding presence, the “showrunner”) as at their deepest when they touch upon how Claire is beating death by going back and forth from the 20th to the 18th century. She is living among ghosts become real when she time-travels and then choses to remain among those people and places our daytime reality would look for in graveyards and find out about in old books. I’m told Gabaldon has yet to explain the appearance of the Scotsman Highlander in the first episode of the first season (and early in the first book):

is it Jamie come to claim Claire? in some mix of non-parallel years (the series use the conceit of near precise 200 odd years apart for the two time zones we experience)? for if it’s years after marrying her, it would be say in the mid-1770s in the UK and US while it is 1947 in Scotland.

Jamie (?) (Sam Heughan?) glimpsed in the darkness, a dark shade

Frank (Tobias Menzies) under an umbrella in the rainy night, unnerved

I was much moved today when I came to the end of Iris Origo’s deeply felt autobiography, Images and Shadows, a book vivid with viscerally experienced life, precise as reality gets, but born out of memory, and about herself as a descendent of two families of people, product of several different worlds, groups of friends, the history thrust upon her of the early to later middle 20th century, mostly in England and Italy. She ends also saying that her dead are with her, that

“I have never lost them. They have been to me, at all times, as real as the people I see every day … “

Maybe that’s why she excels at biographies of people who lived in the past. She quotes Edmund Burke to assert that “society” or “life itself” is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

So here is this year’s tree decorated: our eighth since Jim died — or entered his deathtime, kept with us in our memories, and as long as this house exists in its present embodiment with me living the rest of my life out in it.

Here is Colin once again waving to passersby (a present bought for me by my neighbor, Michelle, now, sad to say, gone from the neighborhood, having separated herself from her long-time partner):

He stands on a ladder I place in front of a window facing our front yard so he can be level with the window and be seen

And here is a beautiful Christmas card sent me by my long-time friend, Martin, from England, picture by Annie Soudain, called “Winter Glow: in the photo it’s sitting on my woodblock kitchen table whose true color is a dark honey brown (not yellow) in front of the above tree:

Because of this gift, I was in the post office (now, as you will recall, run by a criminal-type businessman determined to destroy it as a public service, and fire most of the workers who are not white) by 9 am this morning and sent it off and bought 5 sheets of ordinary stamps and 10 stamps said to be good for anywhere “overseas” (so Europe if I get any more paper cards from friends there). I had intended to send electronic cards to everyone but those few relatives and friends I have who are not on the Net, but have found that I have more than a few, and some of the Net friends are still sending paper cards. All placed around the piano (first my father’s, then Jim’s, now Izzy’s). I reciprocate Christmas cards.


So what have I been doing and thinking since my birthday? I have been reading away towards my course on Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays and Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia by reading other books by and about them, immersing myself once more in the later 17th and early 18th century worlds of Anne Finch for my review (and myself), and Hugo’s Les Miserables (stunning masterpiece but enormous) in a superb translation by Christine Donougher.

I’m reading towards a revision, a Victorianization so more thoughtful and thought-out and widened version of that paper, A Woman and her Boxes (Jane Austen).  It’ll also be about how much a woman could claim for real she owned personal property, how much personal property meant to women, and space.  These are issues in George Eliot and Henry James.

They are enacting people posing for a picture: Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell

I am mesmerized and in love with Foyle’s War (actors, scripts, programs, everything about them — I bought the 8 sets in a box, with lovely pamphlets as accompaniment beyond the features on the DVDs) – I love it for the ethical POV that shapes it, Michael Kitchen is my new hero, and I am drawn into learning about World War Two yet more. I read as a Trollope sequel, Joanna Trollope’s The Choir, which now I have the DVD set of, and will soon be watching at night.

I’ve gone to two museums with my new OLLI at AU friend, Betty. I attended two fine zooms, one from the Smithsonian on Dylan Thomas’s life and poetry, and one from OLLI at AU on Frederick Law Olmstead, the author, Dennis Drabelle, of a new good book on him, The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks, the kind of book one can buy for a Christmas present. I told in the comments about how Jim and I had been to the Olmsted park in Montreal; they spoke of Olmstead’s fat acccurate book on the cultural realities of life in the south in a slave society (very bad for most people), which I own and know Jim read.

Two wonderful zoom lectures from Cambridge: one on Virginia Woolf’s diaries, and the other on her first novel (one I love), The Voyage Out, as a result of which I bought two more books on Woolf that I hope to read before I die — years before that I hope. And a new image by Beatrix Potter, one I never saw before: a mouse at work threading a needle, which I am told comes from The Tailor of Gloucester. Is it not exquisitely because and full of love for animals and art:

Did I say I got excellent reviews from the people in my class on The Prime Minister for this past spring? well, I did. The best I’ve ever had. The class predominantly men. I got myself to write the blog I knew I should comparing PM to The American Senator.

Some troubles: paying bills online, fake emails from cheats trying to lure me into giving away financial data; now my ipad won’t recharge, and alas it looks like my multi-regional DVD player has died (I shall try to find someone to come and to fix or to replace it). A few zooms with Aspergers friends have helped me endure the aloneness more readily (sharing our experiences, talking and getting some intelligent advice). Worrying about Omicron covid: should I go teach in person in the spring after all? I have two serious co-morbidities.

So what does one write diary entries for? be they on face-book and what came into my mind that morning or I did the day before presented succinctly, or be they this kind of wider survey. A need to testify? A need to make my life more real to myself, to write it down so as to make sense of it, to remember (Jane Austen’s birthday) and record and thus be able to look back?

An interesting talk in London Trollope Society zoom last Monday. Out of a site called Reading Like a Victorian, an American professor, Robyn Warhol, showed how it was possible for 19th century readers (with time & money on their hands) to read synchronically several Victorian masterpieces at a time. I doubt many ever did that, and from experience know it’s hard to get a college student to read in an installment pattern.

For me for today the way she opened her talk was intriguing: what has happened to TV serial watching since people no longer have to watch a series week-by-week but can receive all episodes at once. She suggested something is lost. I know when I taught Phineas Finn (and also Winston Graham’s Poldark) we talked a lot about instalment watching. In watching Foyle’s War for the first time, I make myself wait 4 nights before watching another episode. They are not meant to be watched night after night or back-to-back (shover-dosing it used to be called). Through instalment reading, the diurnal happenings of one’s life get involved with the serial.

Izzy tells me recently DisneyPlus has been putting one episode a week on of its new serials, and then the viewer can see them in a row or however. I think people appreciate the series, remember it better and more by doing it apart in time, in patterns. How many people here when a new series “comes out,” watch the episodes over a couple of nights or stretch it out to feel like instalments? How many when you are reading, find yourself putting the books in dialogue? I am doing that with Christa Wolf and Iris Origo and Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is Anita Raja, the translator of Christa Wolf into Italian, and to read The Quest for Christa T is to read one of the sources of the main transgressive character, angry and hurt, Raffaelle Cercullo, aka Lila, in the Neapolitan Quartet.

A cat bewildered by snow

Also to learn what I am thinking and feeling. To reach out to others? Why do I want to do this? why explore my consciousness insofar as I can bear to tell truths about myself to myself — and others (thus self-censoring or judicious veiled language required). Why did Woolf, Burney, Wolf (One Day a Year, 1960-2000), Origo, and many male writers do this? Henry James and Virginia Woolf were getting up material for their novels. I am getting up material for essays. To invent a life you are not quite living (Burney fictionalizing away) or put it together in what seems an attractive experience ….

Enough. I hope for my readers they will have a cheerful and good winter holiday over the next few days, not too fraught if you are with relatives, don’t ask too much of yourself, stick to routines or a series of habits you’ve invented for yourself over the years, keep to low expectations, and oh yes remember not to blame yourself and that whatever happens is not to be taken as a punishment (however religions have set up & supposedly made sense of reality that way).

Scrooge on Christmas morning, delighted to find he’s in time


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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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