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Posts Tagged ‘Poldark’


Charles-Francois Daubigny, Pond at Gylieu (1853)

… the most unsuccessful [life] is not that of a [wo]man, who is taken unprepared, but of [her] who is prepared and never taken — E.M. Forster, Howards End

Friends and readers,

What passes for autumn, or Indian summer, has arrived where I live. Dark mornings, hurricane season, heat less intense. A generous friend on face-book has been posting autumn poems and pictures which I’m sharing with you who read this blog tonight.

Autumn

THE thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.
The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bent dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.
Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

— John Clare

I’ve stayed put this last two weeks steadily. There is something to be said for staying put. I’ve ever liked the phrase: she stayed put. It’s enabled me to attempt to work at my projects for real, not just dream about them, or do a tiny bit a day. I am someone who does not work for money in this world of ours. And someone commended me for what is a justification of my behavior: I wrote to her it is better to work for yourself at home at what you love or what develops you or could be valued by others without making any monetary profit than work for bad people training to be a bad person at a bad place or misuse one’s gifts to send out distorting untruths to manipulate people into blindness — which more or less describes many enterprises in capitalism.

So I had this sudden change of heart or at least choice, and I’ve reserved a Road Scholar Trip in Cornwall for next May— not staying put there! Eight or 9 days, which Road Scholar has booked my flight for and I had the courage to ask for a flexible flight where while I come with them all the way to Cornwall, I leave on my own for 10 extra days to try to go to research libraries in Cornwall, and perhaps London or even Reading. In these places are the manuscripts and archives of information about Winston Graham. Prompted by a friend going to the ASECS (American 18th century Society) meeting in Denver, Colorado, this coming spring, I sent two proposals for papers in. One on Graham, which will not surprised any one who has read the first seven of his Poldark novels:


Eleanor Tomlinson, the latest Demelza (recalls one of the illustrations of the Oxford Bodley Head edition of the first four Poldark novels

The Poldark Novels: a quietly passionate blend of precise accuracy with imaginative romancing

While since the 1970s, Winston Graham’s 12 Poldark novels set in Cornwall in the later 18th century have been written about by literary and film scholars as well as historians because of the commercial success of two different series of film adaptations (1974-1978; 2015-2019), very little has been written about these novels as historical fictions in their own right. They emerge from a larger oeuvre of altogether nearly 50 volumes. Most of the non-Poldark books would be categorized variously as contemporary suspense, thriller, mystery or spy novels, with one winning the coveted Golden Dagger award, and others either filmed in the 1950s, ‘60s and 1970s (e.g, The Walking Stick, MGM, 1971), or the subject of academic style essays. One, Marnie (1961) became the source material for a famous Hitchcock movie, a respected play by the Irish writer Sean O’Connor, and in the past year or so an opera by Nico Muhly, which premiered at the London Colosseum (English National Opera production) and is at the present time being staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Some are also set in Cornwall and have been the subject of essays on Cornish literature. But a number are also set in other historical periods (early modern and late 19th century Cornwall, Victorian Manchester) and Graham published a non-fiction history of the Spanish Armadas in Cornwall. His historical fiction is usually identified as verisimilar romance, and he has been given respect for the precision of his archival research and his historical and geographical knowledge (especially of Cornwall). It is not well-known that Graham in a couple of key passages on his fiction wrote a strong defense of historical fiction and all its different kinds of characters as rooted in the creative imagination, life story, and particular personality (taken as a whole) of the individual writer. He also maintained that the past “has no existence other than that which our minds can give it” (Winston Graham, Memoirs of a Private Man, Chapter 8). I will present an examination of three of the Poldark novels, Demelza written in 1946; The Angry Tide, 1977, and The Twisted Sword, 1990, to show Graham deliberately weaving factual or documentable research with a distanced reflective representation of the era his book is written in. The result is creation of living spaces that we feel to be vitally alive and presences whose thoughts and feelings we recognize as analogous to our own. These enable Graham to represent his perception of the complicated nature of individual existences in societies inside a past and imagined place made credibly relevant to our own.

I know it might be rejected, so sent along a second proposal for a paper on a panel about Feminist Approaches to the Fieldings: this represents a smidgin of what I learned about Henry Fielding when I taught Tom Jones to two classes at the OLLIs at AU and Mason a couple of years ago now.


Camille Corduri as Jenny Jones accepting the responsibility for the baby Tom Jones’s existence (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Anne Boleyn, Jenny Jones, and Lady Townley: the woman’s point of view in Henry Fielding

I propose to give a paper discussing Anne Boleyn’s self-explanatory soliloquy at the close of A Journey from this World to the Next, Jenny Jones’s altruistic and self-destructive constancy to Mrs Bridget Allworthy across Tom Jones, and in the twelfth book of said novel, the character of Lady Townley in Cibber and Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Husband as she fits into a skein of allusion about male and class violence and marital sexual infidelity in Punch & Judy and the Biblical story of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:30-40). I will argue that the Boleyn soliloquy is probably by Henry Fielding and fits into Fielding’s thinking about women’s sexuality, and other female characters’ soliloquys in his texts; that Jenny’s adherence to a shared set of promises parallels the self-enabling and survival behavior of other women, which is seen as necessary and admirable in a commercial world where they have little legal power. I will explicate the incident in Tom Jones where Cibber and Vanbrugh’s play replaces the folk puppet-show to argue that these passages have been entirely misunderstood because the way they are discussed omits all the immediate (what’s happening in the novel) and allusive contexts from the theater and this Iphigenia story. I will include a brief background from Fielding’s experience and work outside art. I will be using the work of critics such as Earla A Willeputte, Laura Rosenthal, Robert Hume, Jill Campbell, and Lance Bertelsen. I taught Tom Jones to two groups of retired adults in a semi-college in the last couple of years and will bring in their intelligent responses to a reading of this complicated book in the 21st century. My goal is to suggest that Fielding dramatizes out of concern for them and a larger possibly more ethically behaved society the raw deal inflicted on women by law, indifference to a woman’s perspective, and custom

I believe I have told you how my proposal to talk of Intertextuality in Austen’s Persuasion (her use of Matthew Prior’s poignant satire, and Charlotte Smith’s deeply melancholy poetry in Austen’s Persuasion) was accepted for the EC/ASECS at Staunton, Virginia, where they’ll be two Shakespeare plays done by the Shenandoah Company. They are marvelous (“we do it in the light”). I’ll drive there: I’ve done it before. Later October.


Amanda Root, Ciarhan Hinds as Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth (1995 BBC Persuasion)

I’ve made my two syllabuses for the coming term, Wolf Fall: A Fresh Angle on the Tudor Matter, and The Enlightenment: At Risk? and am as ready as I’ll ever be to start next and the week after next week teaching and taking a few courses (which I named in my last diary entry blog — scroll all the way down if you’re curious.)

As if all that wasn’t enough I put in a proposal to each next spring at the two OLLIs and at long last I’m going to teach the same subject in the two places (perhaps for the next fall/spring 6 terms).

Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?

In this course we will begin a journey through Trollope’s famous roman fleuve: the 6 Palliser novels over 6 spring/fall terms. The series mirrors and delves many many levels of society and central issues of life in 19th century Europe. It contains a cast of brilliantly conceived recurring characters in a realistic thoroughly imagined landscape. CYFH? initiates central linked themes of coerced marriage, class & parliamentary politics & contains extraordinary psychological portraiture. As we move through the books, we’ll watch segments of the 1970s film adaptation dramatizing this material in original modern ways.


Susan Hampshire as Lady Glencora McClosky coerced into marriage (1975 BBC Pallisers 1:1)

Summer has ended for my daughter, Laura, with a paid for trip to Highclere Castle, with a group of on-line journalists (as a paid entertainment blogger) in order to write on the progress of the coming Downton Abbey movie. All expenses by Viking Cruises — for publicity. She enjoyed it immensely: to be “in” London (fashionable places), to live in a flat in Oxford (with working fireplace), to go to the Cotswolds, out to eat in old taverns, she immersed herself: she remembered how 10 years ago she was writing recaps no one read on this new show on PBS, Downton Abbey at her individual I should have been a blogger. And now, there she was, on a carousel on the grounds of faery.


Highclere castle from the angle of the carousel on the grounds (Sept 2018)

Summer ended for me with four (that’s four) spectacularly good women’s films: Puzzle, The Bookstop, The Dressmaker and The Wife (I’ll write on the latter two next week) Fall theater, movies, concerts start this week: Saturday Izzy and I go to D’Avenant’s rewrite of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Folger; I’ve now bought for the Smithsonian a few evening lectures and music (George Gershwin among them), and last Friday we had our first of six WAPG (Washington Area Print Group) lectures: it was Kim Roberts and on her Literary Guide to Washington D.C..

She told us about the lives of nine of her subjects from before the 1930s: writers and artists who resided in DC for however short or fleeting a period. Her book focuses on where they lived, house, lodging, friends’ place. She talked of Francis Scott Key, Frederick Douglas, Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar and his wife Alice Dunbar Nelson, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis (who should be read more), Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Thurston. She appeared to be a deeply “in” person in the arts worlds of DC, and when asked to talk of others had no trouble expatiating away: for example, Henry Adams. I asked about Frances Hodgson Burnett, told her about Trollope’s time in DC and Elizabeth Bishop’s poem. Her talk showed that there have been class and race obstacles in the way of building indigenous literary communities in DC; until the early 20th century there was a class of highly elite, rich, powerful people who regarded the place as unfortunately they had to stay in “while gov’t was on.” It’s in rivalry to NYC. We need more plaques to commemorate where these people lived and worked. But things are improving and it’s an alive active integrated place now …

I have much reading to do, and watching of movies. And writing. So best to end with another poem

No Make-Up

Maybe one reason I do not wear makeup is to scare people.

If they’re close enough, they can see something is different with me,
something unnerving, as if I have no features,

I am embryonic, pre-eyebrows, pre-eyelids, pre-mouth,
I am like a water-bear talking to them,

or an amniotic traveller,

a vitreous floater on their own eyeball,

human ectoplasm risen on its hind legs to discourse with them.
And such a white white girl, such a sickly toadstool,

so pale, a visage of fog, a phiz of

mist above a graveyard, no magenta roses,
no floral tribute, no goddess, no grownup
woman, no acknowledgment

of the drama of secondary sexual characteristics, just the
gray matter of spirit talking,

the thin features of a gray girl in a gray graveyard­
granite, ash, chalk, dust.

I tried the paint, but I could feel it on my skin, I could
hardly move under the mask of my

desire to be seen as attractive in the female
way of 1957,

and I could not speak. And when the makeup came off I felt
actual as a small mammal in the woods

with a speaking countenance, or a basic

primate, having all the expressions

that evolved in us, to communicate.

If my teen-age acne had left scars,

if my skin were rough, instead of soft,

I probably couldn’t afford to hate makeup,
or to fear so much the beauty salon or the
very idea of beauty ship.

And my mother was beautiful-did I say this?

In my small eyes, and my smooth withered skin,
you can see my heart, you can read my naked lips.

-Sharon Olds


The Schlegels: Margaret, Helen, Tibby

I wear no or very little make-up. Lipstick maybe, I have a pencil to fill in the eyebrows I don’t have. I sit and watch the new 4 part film adaptation of Howards End (script Kenneth Lonergan, dir Hattie McDonald, with Hayley Attwell, Matthew Macfayden, Philippa Coulthard, Alex Lawther, Joseph Quinn. Rosalind Eleazar) and I cry. The ambiance, the characters’ depth of feeling, I’m so with them. Maybe it’s the music. The landscapes so alluring. At moments it’s wonderfully comic. Tears well up. Tomorrow I’m due to go to the National Gallery with a friend to see a Corot exhibit: wish us luck, that the silvery green-blue pictures are autumnal.

Ellen

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Night time ending (Season 2, Episode 6, 2016 Poldark)

Night Thoughts

What pain did I see in your eyes
and still something beautiful inside?

My fear that you will go —
because no one stays forever.

This memory: at the outdoor cafe near the sea,
the waiter’s black shirt

and some stranger waiving to another stranger,
waving.

Live move on like shadows of the windblown willows
to other lives.

Wounds heal but the scars remain vulnerable,
Sand sifts across the high dunes endlessly.

My body turns and turns again moving in and out of sleep,
dreams like sand dollars sinking.
— Patricia Fargnoli

Friends,

I wake to find I’ve been dreaming of character in movies I’m moved by — especially serial drama, and lately the new Poldark series. I am not sure if I’ve always done this but think not: I remember when I wrote my books (my dissertation on Richardson, the unfinished ones on Vittoria Colonna and Anne Finch), I used to dream of these people I’d been writing and thinking about so much. Since I’ve known him, I’ve dreamt of Jim. He’d come in late from wherever and I’d lift my arms to him, “my darling,” and hours later wake having dreamt of him, too. Now I’ve not got any people that close any more. No person to dream of. So I dream of characters in movies. Much of our lives is spent in dreams.

Diary-journals shared with others are daylight events I record here. These past few weeks I tried taking or following a few courses at the two OLLIs I teach at, went to the Smithsonian, and also signed up for a couple of online Future learn courses. The first week I did and tried out too much, went out 5 of 6 days! (also lunch and a movie with a friend). By Sunday I was so dizzy I couldn’t keep it up. Now I’m down to two OLLI at Mason courses on Wednesday (four 1 hour and 1/2 sessions each): one on Sylvia Plath, and the other early modern American women writers (not just Anglo either). In a two session course I learnt a lot about making out my tax returns (what is a deduction anyway?) and where is the local AARP who will help Izzy and I for free. On-line I’m following an excellent course on autism at Future Learn once a week — I wish I had a way of telling how good it is to participate in these dialogues. Hope triumphed over experience at the Smithsonian again: of hearing good conversation or intelligent thorough analysis (which didn’t happen, again it was dumbing down, silly histories of kings and queens instead of the Scottish culture I expected to hear about from the descriptions).

I go because I spent so many decades of my life in effect (as to social life) alone. This is probably the social life I am most comfortable at.

I can offer informative detail for but a select few of such experiences. To round off this opening section, this week I read for the Plath class Plath’s night dreams under the title of a Mermaid:

Lorelei

It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river- lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier
Than sculpted marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear’s listening

Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source

Of your ice-hearted calling­
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.


Susan Herbert’s sad daylight Mercat

We have two more sessions of Plath and then I will make a separate blog for under Austen Reveries. Below, today’s middle section is on two lectures, the second one contrasted to my reaction to the early modern American women writers class thus far.

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A coherent lecture from the Washington Area Print Group last Friday afternoon: American romance in translation in Turkey


Harlequin marketed at Amazon: Twilight Crossing

Heather Schell talked of the business and production of Harlequin romances originally written in the US and translated into Turkish and sold across Turkey. She called it “American Delightz: Harlequin Romance in Turkey.” My sten is so weak I have had to omit much detail but I hope what I transmit is of interest. Prof Schell began with the assertion that Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is seen as the foundational text for romances. That observation, which I’ve no doubt is true in some large circles of people, is so ironic, but is the reason the subject belongs with Austen studies. Georgette Heyer is the modern quintessential regency romance; her Regency Buck was cited. Then she cited three recent American authors and two novels, one of which after the lecture another woman scholar at the meeting said she loved as a girl: Janet Daily with her Dangerous Masquerades; Violent Winsfrey; Shirley Jump’s Doorstep Daddy.

In 2001 supported by various grants, Heather Schell traveled to Turkey to Turkey and lived there for a year. She had taken a year of Turkish, and had been studying romance for some time. Alas when she arrived her main contact had died, but she made her way to this Harlequin company, which is located in a small townhouse (another shop in the front first floor). This was a small firm going since 1949; it began with 25-65 books a year and now publishes 110 books every month. They bought up Mills and Boon. She showed us a group of books, where the authors’ name is de-emphasized, the covers are naive pictures of sentimentally attached lovers. There are an astonishing number of small bookshops selling such books across Turkey; otherwise you must buy them by mail order.
Gov’t censorship remains strong; you can be put on trial. The books were originally about strictly chaste heroines, heroes successful in whatever they endeavor, and this utter mainstream point of view protects them still today when they have somewhat departed from this formula. They used euphemistic language reminiscent of US romance in the 1950s. Most authors and translators and bookshops seek to stay “under the radar: so pseudonyms are used; translators’ names rarely appear on the covers. She asked how the books are chosen: apparently the firm employees look at the number of stars given a book on Amazon and choose a book with the most stars.

She outlined the conditions and constraints under which this company published these translations: the translator is given a month to translate. He (there were two males hired by this firm) or she makes a pittance compared to translators in the US or Europe and even tinier in comparison to the original author whose incentive is they need do nothing for a good profit but offer the text. The books are regarded as interchangeable. She suggested in fact the books are individual, but the translators sit down to translate without having read the book through; they will omit descriptions and dialogues to keep to a certain length. If they find they have omitted too much and have too few words when they get to the end, instead of going back to find good passages and restoring them in translated form, they just add on their own stories and ideas. She found that the publishers and translators would not allow the idea that men read these books, and would not discuss anything having to do with religion in them

She told us the story of Shirley Jump’s One more Chance; Jump professed herself fascinated by the changes made to her book. A couple married for many years living in Indianapolis separate. Cade is a corporate attorney and Melanie has dedicated her life to him and her family for many years. Upon separation, she opens a coffee shop. The translator made many small changes, the effect of which is to turn a mildly progressive realistic book into a conservative romance. She made the heroine conventionally much prettier (e.g., thin waist); the American heroine showed her age. The translator also made them lower in class and status. In general translators play a mediating role, changing the book to suit the tastes and understood culture of their target audience. When American texts are translated in Turkey, the heroine is made less intelligent, less educated, without knowledge of sports (very common in American novels for heroines to be involved with sports). The woman’s function is to redeem the man. (This reminded me of the new Poldark films: the new Ross is made to say how Demelza has redeemed him, an idea and feeling no where to be found in Graham’s novels or the older Poldark films.) There are a large number of TV soap operas in Turkey, most of which do not go on for more than half a season and have happy endings, and such endings are tacked onto the American book if the American book is at all ambiguous. Asked, Turkish women said they long for very rich husbands, a prince in the story, or a cowboy. Sex scenes are varied and may be “hot” and “heavy,” and how they are translated depends on the sensibility of the individual translator.

The pseudo-contemporary content of the books as described left me cold, what material Prof Schell could carry away (filch) about authors, themes, ritual product promotion was not new. I love the Poldark, find Outlander irresistible, read when I can fictionalized biography and the Booker Prize books, but these sorts of contemporary things even when respected don’t attract me (or sometimes, conversely, threaten me), so what was interesting was all the Turkish sociological and other circumstances surrounding them.

Sometimes you learn by contrast. Other women in the audience said they had read more of the Outlander books than I have, and that these are a cut and more well above the Harlequins Prof Schell was describing. One woman said to me when she was a girl she devoured Violent Winsfrey. I replied that I never read these curiously innocent books: instead I veered between lurid, violent, openly masochistic journals like True Story, and the middle-brow historical and contemporary novels that came through my mother’s book-of-the-month club which were packaged with more staid pictures (of houses, or heroines say at the typewriter or doing some job) and were in more complicated language; and the 19th and early 20th century classics I found on my father’s bookshelves.

Then there were 12 for dinner and the talk was good and lively. I was snubbed by one woman. I tell about this since she snubbed me by saying to my attempting to introduce myself, “oh I knew you, from WMST-L and your blogs” in this dismissive kind of voice. Well “there was me placed,” not the tenured person she and her husband (aging, half-blind) were as she proceeded to let me know, by telling me of how she lives in Dupont Circle and travels back and forth between DC and to where their prestigious Pennsylvania college is. I, OTOH, waste myself in these blogs, which so tiresomely make some names better known than others on lists (of all places).

And so to class and race in the US: A muddled lecture, a reflection of US culture accompanied by a selection from early 20th century paintings and films


Edward Potthast, Coney Island (this was not one of the paintings shown in the course below)

The OLLI at AU (3 morning sessions): Art and film, 1900-1950:

Unfortunately the woman appeared either to know little about the art (paintings) of the 20th century or be unwilling to discuss or evaluate it. She was even more reluctant to discuss her very early films, which she was unable to show for the most part because power-point presentation is not that easy. She refused to (or could not) describe them in words. Surely she was not as empty-headed as she seemed, but worried lest she offend someone somewhere somehow.

What I picked up from her selection: US paintings and films of this era were as egregiously racist, class-ridden, and commercialized as today, only the surface content different. According to her, some artists drew rich people portraits (like John Singer Sergeant and Cecilia Beaux), some piously sentimental group pictures where poor Negroes are happy all the live-long day and while working people just enduring all stoically, to these abstract pictures of the city (awful, hardly any sun, or moon, or even recognizable buildings, all abstraction, stick figures for people). She showed no influence from Europe and when I asked about the 1913 Armory show, she seemed to know nothing!. Moving along with what slides she managed to show, she cited all sorts of names, mostly men e.g., Henry Ossawa Tanner, Alfred Steiglitz, Robert Henri (many socialite types), a roster of early 20th century commercial male artists, photographers who sold from NYC galleries, now and then a woman (Georgia O’Keefe, Isobel Bishop). We saw “The Great Train-Robbery,” some railway scenes, proto-typical Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers luxury liner piece. All she could say over and over, was “see the movement.” Well, duh. The high-point (or shall I say low) of these films was the 1915 Birth of Nation.

The above is the first full-length film made in the US and is referred to as a “classic.”

All her chosen material was part of the formation of a nation all right (not just the Klan, the US itself) or one stream of it, based on fantasy norms, atavistic nightmares and slapstick. This very real American grain group just voted in the hideous Trump. She appeared to condone the depiction in paintings of blacks as innocuously innocent or wild devils. I was uncomfortable to have to sit there and be silent while hardly anyone spoke so asked a few questions. When I asked if the 1910 Fry Exhibition influenced the 1913 Armory Show, she muttered something about not wanting to describe or discuss anything not American. She also seemed not to know what was in it, and finally came up with (as if this said all one needed to say, as when someone says of someone else they “Have you seen their resume?”): “it was curated!” A little later I asked about audiences who went to galleries to see these pictures (were they elite?) and mass audiences for films? so how much interaction could there be between these classes and thus between films and art? somehow she resisted that. No, lots of people went to museums, but then she began to drip with condescension over the guards at museums today. “Did you ever ask them if they stay and look at the pictures?” “Of course not” and as she answered her rhetorical question, she smiled. Far more professional looking than me with her styled hair and even a two-piece pantsuit. She was well packaged (most presentable — she claimed she was once a writer for the New Yorker). What talk she had (without statistics) was how much money someone could make or how their career demanded this or that. That was her level, what she thought motivated each artist whose work she showed.

By contrast, the female professor at the OLLI at Mason who presented real material about two early women writers (Sor Juana de la Cruz and Anne Bradstreet), was in a relaxed sweater over a blouse, and jeans: she gave concrete details, evaluated, critiqued. After about 10 years of my life going to the Library of Congress at night and on weekends during the 1980s and early 1900s where I used to read these early modern and 17th century women writers alone, now I heard two discussed for the first time, and it was a kind of revelation to hear the perspective, the context offered. Also the other women in the audience reacting, commenting. This is the sort of thing I used to read by myself in the library and at home: personal poetry by these women:

Sor Juana On Her Portrait

This that you see, the false presentment planned
With finest art and all the colored shows
And reasonings of shade, doth but disclose
The poor deceits by earthly senses fanned!
Here where in constant flattery expand
Excuses for the stains that old age knows,
Pretexts against the years’ advancing snows,
The footprints of old seasons to withstand;

‘Tis but vain artifice of scheming minds;
‘Tis but a flower fading on the winds;
‘Tis but a useless protest against Fate;
‘Tis but stupidity without a thought,
A lifeless shadow, if we meditate;
‘Tis death, tis dust, tis shadow, yea, ’tis nought.

(A poor online translation — I will see if I can find something better in my conventionally printed older book)

This professor presented very different difficult-to-read verse by these women meant to make very compromised public statements. Her material too I shall present separately after all four sessions are done with the lectures on Plath (on Austen Reveries). After all the OLLI at Mason these past weeks was not for me what Feynman used to call Cargo Cult Experience.

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Walk Where They Fought. Battle of Waterloo. June 18, 1815. (Petho Cartography)

Daylight hours at home, on the train, in my car: reading and writing (though not my paper, only notes towards it and postings). Outstanding best critical book has been Andre Maurois, Aspects of Biography. Deeply moved by Graham’s Twisted Sword (the 11th Poldark novel, where Demelza and Ross’s son, Jeremy is killed at Waterloo), re-fascinated by the de-constructive abilities of Trollope (in An American Senator), now listening to every single word garnered by Boswell in his Life of Johnson, unabridged!) as read by Bernard Mayes. Lots of Latin quoted and then patiently translated …

Sometimes it’s been freezing cold, and sometimes balmy.

Miss Drake

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TulipTreeatNationalAirportStop
On Yvette’s journey by Metro to the 2015 Japanese Stone Lantern Lighting Ceremony, she snapped this photo with her cell phone at the Reagan National Airport stop

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve counted four daffodils and three crocuses. They have come up out of the ground from the small plots I made that first year Jim was retired. I take no responsibility for their persistence. Since we had such a astonishingly cold February into March, in reality the flowering trees were rare today.

NotbuddingYet
A photo Yvette took at the above Lighting Ceremony — the birds were there and that’s an early spring sky

In our neighborhood (called Clover) the only ones flowered were the very young; the tulip tree that hangs over my window has flowered on part of one side, and it looks like 3/4s will not make it. We had high winds yesterday and a couple of days of rain. Yvette said the ceremony was lovely; there was a good speech by a Japanese clergyman (I’ll call him), and music.

InvocationWashingtonInternJapaneseChurch

Jim and I used to observe Easter-time, spring, an equinox by going, most of the time with Yvette, to point-to-point races about an hour or more drive away into middle Virginia. It’s breeding time for the foxes so the elite hunting clubs host races, and the hoi polloi (like our small family) were invited to come too, and there would be bookies and tents of items to buy (I bought a big hat a couple of times), food. Sometimes the day would coincide with Easter or Passover, but not always. I’d come home exhausted from a long day’s outing. I remember Caroline came once and she bet with Jim (I’m not much on betting, my US working class background prohibits any enjoyment of this), but most years he’d bet alone with me looking on and sometimes chosing “our horse,” so we would have a horse & jockey we were “rooting” for and watch. We’d take his father’s indestructible binoculars, which his mother gave us after his father died of cancer. I remember the NYC festivals we’d join in on too.

How do identities form? A lecture I went to on Friday night, the Washington Area Print Group’s monthly meeting at the Library of Congress prompts me to see this previous existence of mine and Yvette’s trip to DC to join in a local public ceremony as a matter of having an identity one can see oneself in. Vanessa Harding, a professor of history at Birbeck College, University of London, is spending a couple of months at the Folger Shakespeare library researching a learned 17th century book collector, and chronicler, Richard Smythe (1590-1670). Her research is into early modern London and published book is The Dead and Living in Paris and London (1500-16770) and she told us about the social and cultural world of this man as projected by his collection of books, his annotations in them, his unpublished papers (which he kept in the form of little booklets) and a published Obituary (list of all the people who died and how,from the famous and notorious to the children of his friends) during his life. Prof Harding is just now developing a project with the Historic Towns Trust to map London on the eve of the Great Fire of 1666. So you can see she is interested in the larger city Smythe lived in.

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Stowe’s Survey of London, mapping

She held her audience’s interest all she was able to say of this obscure man (he never signed anything), and how his (in effect) scrapbooks carefully preserved contributed to a wider urban consciousness while that developing urban consciousness experienced in ceremonies (like the one Yvette attended and those she used to go to with Jim and I) sustained him. Prof Harding’s descriptions of these stitched together booklets, with their inserted pages, and portraits reminded me of descriptions of Renaissance women’s manuscripts to Jane Austen’s. He had a vast library for someone of this period (could she have said 2000? or was it 8000?), and was known by other book collectors, sellers, learned and scientific people (acknowledged in some central sources); he was a polemicist for the Church of England (Anglican, and this during the interregnum too), and used books like Stowe’s Survey of London (1720, a massive folio edition), Fuller’s church history. Smythe was writing London’s history, which had a diverse rapidly changing population during his long lifetime. His personal contribution is that of a bibliographer (he left lists of books), of a corrector of misinformation. He was a socially gregarious man who was able to spend his time with like-minded men. Off he would go to Little Britain to look at books (St Paul’s became a center for book selling later). She talked of her frustrations over what he does not tell: he never described his library (by contrast, Pepys tells us he had modular bookcases). She was able to tell us of his wife, Elizabeth, whom he was married to for 44 years, a widowed daughter who he lived with in his last years and inherited his library. his sister-in-law became important to him after his wife’s death; he mentions other women friends. She told of how there were more records of him in St Giles, Cripplegate, but they were destroyed in WW2.

As usual with me now I went with the group to dinner afterward, a nearby Thai place and the talk was good. Two people who are regulars are mounting an exhibition of Lewis Carroll books and memorabilia (we are talking 4700 items they own in their own library). The central field of research for one of the organizers of this group, Sabrina, is the early to mid-17th century and book history. The talk veered into university gossip and we talked of what is happening in Britain and the US to universities today, about online sites for research. I mentioned Future Learn and asked how much pressure there was for university academics and staff to participate in these online MOOCs, to get credit for being involved in communities. I probably drank too much or didn’t eat enough (pain in dentures prevents eating much), and going home alone I ended crying bitterly for Jim.

I was glad this morning that Easter has remained a religious holiday (and passover too) and is not made into insistently public group rejoicing. I thought I’d bring spring in by staying longer in bed, and began Rumer Godden’s “middle brow” “woman’s novel” (both no-nos), China Court, a deeply felt evocation thus far of a house through the memories of an old woman who has just died, and those of her close servant, Cecily. Set in Cornwall. Books like this provide peace.

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Clarycat this past Wednesday, photo taken by Caroline who came over to download Episode 4 of the BBC 2015 Poldark

My schedule had kept me very busy all week. Friday morning I had been to the JCC for Dance Fusion and Core, I taught (and think it went very well) at the two OLLIS, AU and Mason, Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, and Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers, respectively. Monday was especially wearing as I went into DC twice, the second time to watch an HD screening of a truly interesting production of Love’s Labor’s Lost done in Stratford by the Royal Shakespeare Company (Christopher Luscombe’s production, featuring Richard Bennet as Berowne and Benedick, and Michelle Terry as Rosaline and Beatrice). I hope to go again tomorrow after teaching and see Love’s Labor’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing) which my experience of Future Learn has shown me will be powerful; I did not realize that it was paired with an unusual production of Love’s Labor’s lost; I mean to write a blog on this pairing by Tuesday (strength holding out). Would I be doing any of this if he were here? maybe not. He might have found the HD production of these two plays; that’s the sort of thing he looked out for. A friend who is semi-retired told me of how he and his wife go kayaking in Florida for a couple of weeks of February. We never had a chance to evolve a retired life together, different from the one we had endured and enjoyed as working people together.

Nonetheless, I found time late at night to watch all three 2 hour episodes of Ken Burn’s Cancer: the Empire of all Maladies, which appears to have been based on Pulitzer Prize winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee who appeared in the film as a explanatory narrator. It was not as bad as I feared it might be. I did cry for the first hour and had a hard time watching it now and again, but although (as these shows did) it focused on the few people who lived because of these horrific treatments, and its outline was that of a story of progress, it told a tale of dysfunctional knowledge. Yes human beings have gone from knowing nothing and being able to do nothing about any cancer, to knowing a lot of details about specific manifestations (kinds of cancer) and having unpredictable ever-more narrowly targeted treatments where some people can be saved. Hard economic topics were avoided — like the use of devastating surgeries. And no individual groups were blamed. It was generally that prices are well beyond the means of many; that pollution is playing a major role. But at the close of the first two hours it was insisted that we do not know fundamentally what makes a cell turn cancerous. I learned what the mass mainstream media says about cancer. Meanwhile I read stories daily about people dying: a friend’s 10 year old niece died after she was first diagnosed at age 6. Unfortunate lovely child. Her photo appeared and story was told in a local Italian newspaper. Oliver Sacks tells of his embolization of his liver cancer (he is dying, NYRB April 23, 2015 issue); I read the increasingly poignant story told by Jenny Diski as she faces death from lung cancer. She has kept up a stages diary (LRB, 9 April 2015): how do you go about imagining your death? can you?

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Jenny Diski a couple of years ago

After watching this determinedly upbeat presentation where all was done contradicted what Atul Gawande had said of not giving people false hope which drives them to make their last months miserable through torturous procedures (and Marcia Angell’s review of Being Mortal), but to tell them their prognosis so they can decide what they want to do with their last months, I wondered to myself after all, can people enjoy their last four months if they are told they are going to die? Look at Diski. She can’t forget it. Look at how Sacks is putting himself through such a horror of pain, himself a doctor. I wondered to myself if Jim had not been given false hope, would he have had the strength to enjoy a trip away or would he have ever wondered if he had tried, he would have had more life? he was extraordinarily patient in that last two weeks, brave, silent mostly, kind to me. What were his thoughts? I fear that he went for the surgery because he had decided he would not have been able to enjoy a trip away — probably though it was the false hope of five more years. Yvette at breakfast told me of a classic Japanese film, Ikiru, where a man is told he has only a few months to live and tries to do what he enjoys to experience a last happiness. He cannot. Daily life with others and his own dread will not permit this. What can he do with his last time alive. He conceives of a plan to make a meaningful contribution — to build a playground. What troubles and vexations he goes through to achieve this. The film seems to end with the playground built and him sitting on one of the swings and in flashbacks remembering back. The wikipedia article makes these last memories into something more peaceful than they are; but they do compensate. They kept him busy with a hope of some form of useful immortality. Yvette and I talked of our desire to have what we write on Net saved. I know many people talk of carrying on in their children and make do with that. I’ve put Ikiru on my Netflix queue as next.

I’ve made a proposal to teach Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones next fall at the OLLI at AU. I realize I cannot do a second new course again and also a paper on Trollope for the Belgium conference and teach Framley Parsonage in summer. So I will offer to do the two Poldark novels at Mason in the fall. If that won’t do, sobeit. The next spring I’d love to work up a course on Gaskell’s North and South but it must wait. I am doing these courses for my own enjoyment of study and learning too.

I keep getting thinner. Eating a problem. Gum ache and a dull hard pain: either one of my eyeteeth has now gone bad, or my jaw is sore from my denture and I can’t bite down. Now there’s not only, Can I bring myself to eat it? There’s, Am I successful at eating it? I have to wait until Friday to see the dentist. My clothes drop off me; my trousers grow longer, past my shoes. Bad moments: Thursday morning 3 viruses invaded my computer; within 2 minutes of my contacting him, my hero, my IT guy, Jonathan, had come into my computer by remote control and “quarantined them,” uninstalled Yahoo (the portal was the culprit) and after 3 hours of scrutiny, declared the computer fine, reinstalled Yahoo and I could be at peace again.

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Ross (Aidan Turner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) — at beginning of long sequence just after they marry

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At close after pilchard episode, death of Charles, Christmas

I had one insight important to me this week in teaching the Poldark books and watching the fourth episode of the new (2015) Poldark: films can bring out graphically what is deeply appealing in a novel without discussing this explicitly: I have wondered why I love these books so. Well I saw in the fourth episode that what I love so is the relationship between Demelza and Ross Poldark: I identify utterly with her and find him intensely appealing through her eyes. Horsfield at long last was closely faithful to several long episodes at the close of Ross Poldark, allowing for the long scenes at the pilchard harvest, the visit of Verity and friendship with Demelza, the finding of copper, and finally at Christmas where the couple find themselves pulling apart as his upper class heritage closes in on them and then somehow manage to overcome this: they achieve communion of spirits walking home in the landscape as Verity, his close beloved cousin, has walked by his side with him. Far from this ancient imposing house, with its pictures, that hard social world, and in the night, the “old peculiar silence” ceases to make a barrier and “becomes a medium.” Their different pasts and personalities “could not just then break their companionship for long. Time had overawed them. Now it became their friend.” That’s how it was for us.

I also watched the first episode of Wolf Hall, the film adaptation mini-series from Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction. Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell the best new actor (to me) I’ve seen in a long time. He seemed to transcend the drama of wolves he is caught up in. Heidi Thomas has made Rylance as Cromwell a quiet watcher, a POV, and Rylance in conveying how amoral, lying, snobbish to the nth degree, and awful everyone is to one another as some of them try to protect themselves (Cromwell’s father or brother by contrast savagely beats a boy servant or his son), conveys how strange costume drama itself is. He makes you feel how bizarre it is to watch these people in their extravagant outfits. His calm reasoning presence, and his stance in his outfit, unostentatious (yet rich and becoming — blacks and greys mostly), brought home how strange these costume dramas really are: a ritual version of our humanity.

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He is the only sane spirit about — looking on

Hilary Mantel has re-seen most of the familiar characters: More (Anton Lesser, a great reader for books on CDs) is not the noble martyr, but a narrow minded dangerous man; Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) sly and manipulative; Wolseley (Jonathan Pryce) is not a seething bully but a individual without the power to do what others want, and above all the striking change, is Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless politician, is now an ordinary decent man, lower class, quietly, intelligently, patiently trying to make his way. Making Stephen Gardiner (Mark Gatiss) important is historically accurate. How Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, must’ve grated on Mantel. Henry VIII remains the same complicated enigmatic figure — in reality a fearful tyrant and more than half-mad by the end. Damien Lewis plays the role; he is as big a star as Bernard Cumberbatch. He’s not an heart-throb but is as ubiquitous in big parts. Joanne Whallay a dignified pathetic Katherine of Aragon. During the course of the first hour, Cromwell’s wife (the actress playing his wife was familiar to me, Natasha Little, once Becky Sharp, and very touching) and children (beloved by him) all die suddenly of the sweating (or sleeping) sickness as it was called. They did, and there was such a fatal illness which killed for a decade or so and then vanished.

I fill my life at home with such presences.

Sylvia

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