Posts Tagged ‘retirement’

For the sake of the cafetiere by Mark Hall who specializes in tables by windows with a view

“Mi chiamo Isabella,” said Izzy to a group of 8-9 year olds like herself on the beach at Ischia, summer 1994

Friends and readers,

How to tell if it’s summer? In Virginia not by an intense heat as that may happen from anytime in April on; even if I find myself longing to be at a quiet beach or doing some out-of-doors activity (walking in the park, once upon a time a concert) signaling Memorial Day weekend, truth to tell that was not common in my life.

I can tell because summer school starts, and after 3 quiet weeks of reading towards my teaching and starting some reading for the courses I’m taking, OLLI at AU starts this coming week, as does one of my Politics and Prose courses (Middlemarch!), and I’ve a few sessions coming up from the English summer Hays Festival and nowadays the Yorkshire Festival (on Elena Ferrante) too. What a treat I never thought to participate in in any way — I’d love to be there, to be back in England each time has roused my spirit so as here I met and married Jim.

Tonight I began Mary McCarthy’s Stones of Florence, a book I read years ago, and again (I can see from my marginalia) marvel at how well she captures the atmosphere and feel of the city where I once spent 9 days too, and have seen so many photos and movies and read other books of.

I’ve a story behind this one, which I tell for the sake of reminiscing and also giving a more candid sense of these courses I take than maybe I usually do:

It may be that the course on Florence I signed up for at OLLI at AU is going to be very poor. Sometimes courses at both places are. The teacher is a journalist and claims to have taught and sent an offhand set of paragraphs on books on Florence as a substitute for a syllabus, using the words “required reading” between scare quotes as I just did. Apparently someone else in the course asked if there would a syllabus and he produces four paragraphs which seemed to have divisions that made sense but not really.

So I replied I hoped he was ironic or semi-ironic, to which he replied how this shows how difficult irony on the Internet.

So here is my TMI reply: Well I’m glad you were ironic — semi-ironic I thought. I read the Mary McCarthy (Stones of Florence was one of the books cited) years ago and was about to re-read it. In a previous existence I was a Renaissance literary scholar and read a lot about Florence — have a few books just on Renaissance Florence. I read Italian haltingly but used to be able to read more fluently and loved to read Italian books from the later 19th and then the two sets of war years and inbetween time too and right after (WW 2) Elsa Morante’s extraordinary La Storia. I know a couple of the authors and read one of the books you mentioned (the poignant Galileo’s Daughter). But all my real or serious knowledge of Florence is of the medieval through 17th century era so I was hoping you would give equal weight to all that has happened since.

Another Mark Hall, this one redolent of sunny Italy

I was once in Florence, again a long time ago, 1969, for about 9 days and I remember some of what I experienced. I also spent 2 days and nights on a nearby island I was told Byron stayed. I managed Venice for an inadequate 3 days as my next stop. I did stay in Rome in 1994 or so with my husband and children for some 5 weeks and we traveled about from Rome to other places as well as we could. We drove to Pompeii, to Naples, to Ischia. We took a train to the Colonna lair at Marina in the campagna. Very recently to Milan one spring with my two now grown daughters (4 years ago in my way of looking at time is very recently). I do love the “high” art of all the cities. Now it’s just books in English translation Once upon a time it was Norman Douglas’s South Wind I read (I loved his book on what was it “Old Calabria” with photos), more recently I read Elena Ferrante. Two very good books on Italy I’ve read are by Sean O’Faolain — I still own these — I’d say recommend them but they are probably hard to get nowadays.

At this OLLI twice Judith Plotz gave a splendid course In Jewish Italian authors — mostly from Turin (implying not like his). I took once of them’

So I was looking forward to being reminded but also to learning about Florence somewhat seriously. Forgive this letter which is me reminiscing. Of course he did not reply. Perhaps after this I should take it that any class where the content is learning about a place may well be touristic. There is still time to add on another, and to change the OLLI at Mason too. What I most dislike is misinformation presented as truth; the kind of thing where the person half-knows something but not enough about it to avoid giving a wrong impression. When that happens, I drop right away. Some of the teachers think we are ignorant mainstream conventional fools, glad to waste away time frivolously. Alas, some of the people at the OLLIs and P&P are

The major part of my DVD collection, all gifts sent by a friend who lives in Ireland – what purports the reprinting of this picture on my blog?

Adventures in the parts of the US gov’t still maimed and sabotaged by the Trump seeping poison legacy.

I wanted to send a gift, a book (cost under $20) to an Irish friend who has sent me countless copies of DVDs over the past year and one half filling three woven baskets, two shelf like containers, and bunches more on my DVD and book shelves according to their title or the author of the book or director of a bunch, or writer, e.g., Andrew Davies). All superb movies or serials, many of them of the older or classic type. His parents worked for the BBC a long time ago. I thought to go to Parcel Post because they usually don’t have much of a line — being a bit more expensive.

What do I find? It costs $200 (that’s right, two hundred dollars) to send a small package internationally. The word “international” is now intoned as if this was a leprous procedure. When I admitted that was too much , I was semi-jeered at — the American way. I did notice that the previous older white man who was owner is not there any more.

So today because the post office nowadays has a very long line I arrived at 8:45 am. It used to open at 8 am; now it opens at 9 (used to shut at 5 pm, now 4 pm).
The way it’s done is only one person is supposed to go in at a time. This is spiteful of Louis DeJoy — as the governor of Virginia has allowed full capacity as long as people are 6 feet apart for gov’t places & everyone wears masks. This post office area (an old one) accommodates at least 6 or 7 in the waiting area.
But when I came up to the counter (I was first on line) I discovered more shenanigans, now I must fill out a form which just repeats the information on the envelope, so I was told to go outside. People repeat the word “international” as if it had some leprous quality (they did that at the Parcel Post office). Of course nowadays there is no place to write in the lobby (all removed) so I squatted on the floor and dumped my stuff next to me. The form is tiny (of course) and I’m struggling because my handwriting is bad; in a couple of minutes someone came over and said I could come inside where there is a counter. It seems I was embarrassing the others. I look old? He had a courteous look on his face. The atmosphere in the place nowadays is usually awful, hard angry faces — not their fault but makes the experience not one I am eager to repeat.

I could not do the whole form. I didn’t have my friend’s phone number. There is no need for a phone number and they waived that. Good of them. They kept repeating the word “international” in this special conjuring tone. They also wanted his email but I had that in my purse. I bought two books of stamps, but after this I will buy stamps online.

I succeeded in sending my friend a small gift, a token of my appreciation for all his DVDs and letters over this period of more solitude than usual — with a card.
Fascism is not only a form of gov’t which is racist and cruel; it exists to serve corporations and gouge the average person so outrageous (as in US hospitals) are everyday and if you can’t perform a everyday task because someone’s profit motive counts more, tough luck. There are no public schools in Louisiana any more.
Below are just some of the DVDs he’s sent me. I have small gatherings in rubber bands next to the books or authors the films adapt (a bunch for Little Women alone; a big bunch for Anna Karenina; for Hardy’s novels ….)

Alice and Asia Roland (mother and daughter) have become Ada and Flora McGrath — the mother and daughter relationship is central to the novel, with the daughter by the end becoming very like Jo March as she is towards the end of Good Wives

For the courses I teach I read far more than the set books and I watch movies. I have mentioned how fine, interesting, rich I have found Jane Mander’s story of early colonialist experience in The Story of a New Zealand River.

Well several nights ago I re-watched Jane Campion’s The Piano — for the first time in more than 15 years. And for the first time I realized how shocking it might be to conventional people and students.

I once enraged a student by showing it in class. I remember that I understood it was outside the range of many people and told them before hand told quite literally all the sex that was there and invited them to skip the class. But when one of the male characters’ penis was seen, this student (it was a he) was horrified and told me he was a “Christian” as if that was some special sect and hardly anyone in the US was Christian. He was forever “polluted” (that was the word he used) because he had seen this movie. I had not realized how the overall effect of what they saw might hit the mind of a fanatically religious male — concerned with the “holiness of his body” (as he put it). He had a girlfriend with him and they agreed that she was not polluted. I never asked why she was not also forever “ruined.” I had never met this type of person before — he is probably today a Trumpite — paradoxically religious fanatics vote for Trump who is utterly amoral sexually and in all other ways too.

Since Jim died, and as the years have gone by on the Net and through the Internet, I’ve met so many people I never would have any other way that I see how shocking it must be to others now. It still is not to me (nor professional reviewers) — it’s what a lot of people (much less theatrically) do. It is a wild extrapolation from Campion’s imagination of what the inner repressed life’s imaginings of the heroine of Jane Mander’s River story might feel married to one man she does not love, living side-by-side in love with another, a close associate of her husband’s whom she does love and loves her.

Here is an insightful review in The Guardian: the reviewer are like me: don’t find it shocking. I also see why it was called Brontesque — she seems a refugee from a Wuthering Heights movie gotten lost at a strange beach; or the feeling like Jane Eyre. But it is also a modern fantastical development out of an idea about the inner life of the woman settler colonialist at the center of a classic 1920 novel.

I was shaken today when I came to the end of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I began it as the best way to enlarge my understanding of Ishiguro as he has not published any non-fiction, life-writing or literary criticism, and there are as yet few books on him. Well, I had a hard time putting the book down. My intensity and its irresistibility for me reminded me of when I first read The Remains of the Day or read When We Were Orphans for the first time (as a page-turner! to see if our hero-detective can find his parents). I call these compulsive reading books. It’s not that common with me that this happens.

Carey Mulligan again, this time as Kathy H.

I keep wanting to go on and it’s not because I don’t know what’s to come as I saw the movie.

It is nowhere as chilling or terrifying as the movie was to me: the story gradually unfolds as a science fiction of the kind Michel Faber wrote in Under the Skin — not obvious at first and then devastating: our beloved characters turn out to be clones invented so their organs can be harvested for the human race with each one of them dying as their “donations” deplete them literally. As in The Remains of the Day (and When we were Orphans) the “person” of the novel is a “you” — the narrator, Kathy H., addresses herself in this case to the reader whose “right” to be in the book is questionable. I become involved with type of character and mood Ishiguro is so successful at creating (as far as I am concerned: I’d call it harrowing haunted without knowing quite why. I am not anguished; I identify and find that the narrator is having good and deep experiences growing up (the book is about adolescence in a generous school environment) but somehow I’m unnerved by these hints of what’s to come, the way the book swerves back and forth on intangible incidents of a kind I recognize are almost everyday. There are also so many beautiful landscapes (as in Remains of the Day) that we are invited to revel in. Ishiguro’s are symbolic books with what Judith Wilt said were “ghosts of the gothic.”

So I came to the end later this afternoon. At the close Ruth has “completed” (died), Kathy’s best friend, and she and Tommy, who has become her lover, desperately try for a “deferral” — to be allowed to live together for three extra years because they truly love. They are turned down inexorably. It’s like being rejected without recourse, and punished without having done anything wrong: they and all other “students” (clones) stand for the powerless in our world as did he butler, Mr Stevens and housekeeper, Miss Kenton, Remains. The allegory had so many applications (petty but important ones, as I cannot get into my Washington Gas website and the company inexorably will not answer a phone, offers no help by email, insists you do whatever it is online &c) as did many social psychological talk incidents and so many thoughts were familiar (like George Eliot’s Dorothea at times). An allegory of life itself. In the end Kathy and Tommy were Jim and of course I’ll never let him go. I found I could not sit still; I could not turn to another book. I needed to calm down, needed to come into contact with something more cheering. So I went for a walk.

Then emailed the friend from OLLI at Mason who in a zoom class spoken so highly of the book, saying don’t let the (quietly) horror genre film turn you off. She responded beautifully:

I’m happy to be your sounding post anytime! I’m glad you also found this novel compelling- and we all have persons who are no longer a physical presence. What a rich literary background you possess to be able to make those connections! And we have come through those stages of adolescence and shared the development of our own two daughters, so that adds its own poignancy.

She connected Ishiguro to Susan Hill’s detective Simon Serailler books, saying rightly these books are literate, detailed, and full of drama – standing head and shoulders above the majority of crime novels. I’ve read the first, The Various Haunts of Men (almost compulsively, certainly consecutively on the train, anywhere as I did the first four Poldarks), and it so unnerved me, that I became frightened at the thought of someone stalking me. I’ve read and taught her purer gothic and grief-striken books, The Woman in Black, In the Springtime of the Year (a young woman’s young husband dies unexpectedly and suddenly) and The Bird of Night. She once irritated me by telling one of my students (who wrote her!) that her books are not gothic (don’t listen to silly English teachers), thus undermining his respect for me, and there is a certain repetitiveness about her work; but she does have power and insight to evoke the uncanny.


A highpoint in movie-watching this week I’d like to share is the one hour and one half documentary about Eric Hobsbawm: his four history books tell us all we need to know and understand about our world today politically, socially, economically and give far deeper sense of the dangers we face from authoritarian fascism:

I have all four books. Jim read them and respected the man so. He comes across as so good — how lucky his wife was to live alongside him. I stayed up to nearly 2 am watching it. Never fell asleep, not once.

I’ve provided too many descriptions of what are these courses I’m teaching and taking and talks attending.  So just particularize one I’m stumped over (as I am over Ruth Prawer Jhabvala recent neutral amoral stories)): Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts, in which I discovered show she is like her young characters in her Namesake, trying to make an identity for herself out of her sheer language and place study. A friend wrote to me: “She wrote the book in Italian and translated it herself. It consists of vignettes from the life of a single woman/academic. The narrator is an outsider living in an unnamed Italian city. Her writing has a pellucid simplicity, very little happens, yet some of the chapters have a haunting quality …” I replied:

Is it not a very strange text? I am very puzzled by it. Here we have this woman who appears to be living totally alone, and each time she explains something about her background it is devastating: husband an absolute continual cheat (did he have another family or mistress, yes), mother continually berating her. Children dullards. How is she living? We are told she is a teacher and marks papers

But as to real explanation half-way through there is none. Is she depressed? would you say this is a natural life style for many people today? I know that Elena Ferrante’s short novel ( but it is a full real novel in a way this is not) La Figlia oscura translated as The Lost Daughter presents a similarly isolated woman who is driven to steal the doll belonging to a near by family on the beach to which our narrator goes very day on a holiday. But we are told what happened to her marriage. She is still connected to her daughters. This time of isolation is not permanent. It is a similar text but not utterly unexplained — as yet. All tiny chapters, with titles recording a moment.

Vanessa Bell’s Bird in Cage, my new header picture on FB and twitter

Reading also Caryl Phillips’s deeply compassionate tales of women, of the enslaved, with Elizabeth Bowen as my cheerer (she has a deep congenial sanity, a laughter and reaching out for life that does me good — I read well into her A Time in Rome, companion volume for McCarthy’s — only somehow far deeper into or from the soul responding). I’ve told you also I’ve promised a talk for a video for the Trollope London Society zoom reading group on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove” and its brilliant film adaptation.

I segue here into a new sense of my end of life that is making me curiously both emptier and sadder and yet so less harassed and self-induced hectic and allowing me to read more freely more books — as I please for my courses, and just like this — I returned to the female detective this week (The Lady Investigates by Patricia Craig), partly the result of watching Miss Scarlet and the Duke, two weeks ago it was four Olivia Manning novels in a row (ending for now on The Rain Forest, a coda to her brilliant trilogies). Last diary entry (or the one before) I said I foresaw time to return to my book project on Winston Graham and the one on life-long unmarried women. I do, but only if I push myself, work intensely and then don’t follow through on reading that comes up from my teaching studies and other group activities. I have it seems decided I don’t want to push myself for nothing, to no sensible end. I didn’t decide, but (like Trollope says) I found that this is the way I’m acting.

I have this extra time for books, movies, YouTube also — because I find myself at long last giving up book projects. Looking at them. In the case of Graham, his son is dead against it; in the case of the women, there is little sympathy for the angle I want which includes belief in innate qualities in women and l’ecriture-femme (a strong gender faultline in writing as naturally emerging). No more of these will I dream of, plan, attempt to do. Face reality. Face my age. Face where I live. It’s over for me: I don’t have the wherewithal of connections, of ability to know how to draw people to help me, to attract a publisher, fear travel, strange or new places so. I’m taking real and what pleasure I can from what is available to me. Not forcing myself to do what is so painful, stressful, difficult.

After all all these writers need readers, people to write about them, ditto the movie-makers need watchers and critics, do they not?

And oddly I find I’m turning more to Jim, to memories of him, a sense that I am living out a life as his wife with his absent presence all around me, doing what I wish as if he were here with me. I have also made a home-life for Izzy and I, which we are both aware we are sharing. We both remember him; we both reciprocate with the cats.

Jim with Ian on his lap in July 2014 (the cancer had not yet metastasized)

I am living out his lifetime for him and with him in memory as best I can. This is partly what I would have done had he lived. The good thing that has come from all this (by which I refer to his death and now this pandemic solitude) is my finding the OLLIs and as yet fitting in, and finding other institutions and venues in my area where I enjoy the intellectual and social life.

A lovely idealization of a square in Bath Jim & I & Izzy walked together many a time for a week (there is the assembly room to the right) — it was spring 2002



Read Full Post »

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.


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.


Read Full Post »

Dora Carrington (1893-1932), Harmony: Labrador Coast: painted tinsel on stained glass (for Bernard Penrose)

In every government, though terrors reign,
Though tyrant kings or tyrant laws restrain,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
— Goldsmith’s The Traveler, attributed to Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I passed my 70th birthday. The hardest thing about the Day itself was it seemed to take such a long time. I felt it as hours of endurance to get through because I felt Jim’s absence all around me. So it helped enormously that over the 24 hours I had continuous “happy birthdays” from face-book, most by people I have a friendship with, some of which I’ve met f-to-f, many of which I’ve read and talked of books with, whom I like and like to think like me, with whom I’ve shared and had shared generously all sorts of sustaining thoughts. People like to make fun of face-book friends, to dismiss or jeer who are not on face-book with friends. Closer friends wrote letters and I had funny and sweet e-cards. Two phone calls with two family members (a cousin and aunt — aunts are important people Austen said) and in the evening at the Kennedy Center, supper in the cafeteria with a friend who insisted on treating me and buying cheese cake pastry cups as a way of celebrating. The concert afterward was a long modern composition by Detlev Ganert, a tonal dissonant, a calmness in despair left room for a few beautiful melodies (for lack of a better term). Then Mahler’s 5th, the first two movements done appropriately ominously. Home again to read, write and receive letters, another episode the 1972 Pulman War and Peace, and at long last bed in peace, release from consciousness with my cats.

Ian Pussycat with catnip mouse (photo taken by Izzy this morning)

I have been thinking a lot about immediate danger Donald Trump and his reactionary crew represents with respect to me and Izzy. Republicans in the house are just salivating to privatize, which would destroy, social security, to abolish medicare on the false theory it’s bankrupt (it can’t be as it’s supported through general taxes), with other delights decreasing the number of federal employees (this is called draining the swamp). These could affect me and Izzy directly. I reminded myself of four general modes of conduct Jim followed as a way to survive safely:

1) if it concerned money, sit on it. Wait. Don’t jump. He might have said, “Don’t enclose the old empty screened porch now,” except that he would have been against having the porch enclosed anyway. It’s a waste of money. I and Izzy don’t need another room. I can keep it swept, with the two ladders, the rake, the broom, the pile of wood no one will ever burn in a fireplace now. Even after I inherited my mother’s money he was reluctant to re-paint the house. He’d say the mortifying blue had long ago faded. I admit I know that one of the reasons he was unwilling to go to the super-expensive specialist outside Kaiser when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and we had the advice for him to have an esophagectomy and then chemotherapy an radiation within Kaiser was he didn’t believe that doctors who charged hugely and about whom so many believed they were infallible were any better than others not so adulated and he was aware that the expense was going to be outrageous. Months of treatment would have bankrupted our savings. I mention this to say how deeply in his psyche was the need to be careful about money — from his life and all he knew of life and his family background. He believed in any situation the most money won out. My mother believed that in money was an individual’s only safety — the only one.

2) if you have to do a thing, face it and do it. He did say when he was first trying to retire, we might have to leave this house. Realize that. That did not mean he would not retire nor listen to me when I had objections. So if I should have to sell the house, sell it. De-accession somehow or other a large proportion of the books, store them. Jim and I followed the idea that if we had to do without a thing, do without it. And we did that all our lives. No college for our daughters out of state. We had years of no vacation away, no book buying (would you believe), eating cheaply. This point of view enacted helped keep us safe because out of debt. We took on debt three times, twice for a car (Virginia has such poor public transportation and twenty years ago in places it was non-existent) and for this house. Otherwise, not and never.

I may become a nervous having to deal with realtors who I loathe as a species but I’ve a pile of money with Schwabb and that goes a long way in obscene America. I wanted to stay in England all those years ago, stay in Yorkshire but money won out – at the time Jim got a job paying 9 times as much; there were jobs galore. Today we might not have returned to the US. I think at this point, today, Jim would have applied for emigration papers for himself; he would not be able to take me right away (no longer as the spouse or widow of a British citizen no longer has right of abode) but there might be a mechanism for VISAs for a wife. If not, he would not have left me behind but would have said it might come in useful if he had this kind of document in place. He did want to go back to England when he first retired.

3) Don’t think too far ahead. He never did. He’d make budgets for the next year but that’s it. For people at our income and class level to think too far ahead is to live a deprived life in fear of what’s to come. I did try to qualify this attitude of his (in the sense of let’s not move into X unless we figure out we can pay for the heat and water and all the rest of it separately we didn’t have to in an apartment), but I was grateful for it. It was responsible for our moving into this house, and most of our trips. Indeed I think I married him partly because I knew he would spend for what I loved and let me spend too in a daily kind of way.

4) Finally what you can’t do, you can’t do. That’s it. You can’t do it. It’s a lie we can do anything and everything. Not so. Live with it.

So sit on it. If I have to sell the house, get rid of or store the books, do it. So don’t look too far ahead, take each set of weeks as it comes. Live with it. My father didn’t live according to No 3 and lost out — but then he hadn’t a partner to live a good life with. But the other maxims were his. None but the first was my mother’s.

That is really Jim — how he lived and I lived it with him and have to hold to that. If I can do that I can stop feeling such dread and anxiety when I awaken in the morning or read the name of the latest Trump appointee (what he’s doing is filling this metaphoric swamp with alligators). I sometimes can’t control myself and phone my congressmen. Jeff Sessions (set for what? attorney general? or maybe health and human services or maybe it’s education) mocked disabled people and derided special education. I phone three people demanding they speak up and speak out because silence is consent. At the OLLI at AU luncheon today it was good to hear a decisive “despicable” said by someone at the mention of Sessions’s name.

A Lily, another drawing this time by Carrington

This is not the hardest year I’ve known but I am losing some more illusions hard to part with (probably many people have divested themselves of these by the time they are in their 20s); as each one vanished I have catalogued it. But tonight I tell myself if any of the most intolerable above comes to pass, I should not seek to kill myself — that’s to give Trumpism what it wants. What the 53% (to use Romney’s formulation) want is the silence of those who object to the destruction of the New Deal, the 47% it helped (Romney’s layabouts). They have hated it since it was put in place in the 1930s. Not that it would deprive them of any luxury but it’s the principle of thing. My father told me what life was like for the elderly before social security: begging bowls, dependence on adult children who didn’t have money to help them. When I moved to this neighborhood and had my first conversation with one of these local upper middle people, an old woman told me how her black gardener didn’t rush over to do her bidding now he had social security. She resented that openly before me. Shameless. I’ve met rich New Yorkers who say the pleasure of being high in the hierarchy is seeing the the marginalized lives of the working class. When they want to take health care away from older people, they are indifferent, just hoping they have to die quietly out of shame. One reason to privatize the Net (beyond reaping a bonanza of profits for corporations involved) is to silence people, cut off information and communication.

An adult response is to hunker down and wait for the spiteful mischief-maker with his fake storm and real possible catastrophes to happen or pass by. I will not follow Carrington though I so feel for her.

So, what I need to do is return to the above and read and re-read it periodically.

I said in my last that Elinor Dashwood has been a model character for me: I’ve tried much of my life to come up to her, her self-control, her steady facing of deprivation, her holding firm in the face of loss, anguish, frustration. So this is said as what I’d like to come up to: a weird (using that word in its original sense too) clearness (out of reading Margaret Oliphant of late), no longer fooling myself about what to depend on, no longer reaching out to what I don’t want (which only ends in corrosion of the soul in various ways), recognizing what don’t like (and that if there is no alternative to that, stay home with my books, cats, and favorite movies), facing I don’t respond such-and-such a way even if most people do (so being more careful where I go to for what’s called entertainment), keeping that, staying in it, cold, cool enabling me to live more steadily.

The penultimate sentence of Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography: “And now here I am all alone.” I mean to go on to read as many of her novels and non-fiction as possible.

Drawing by Sylvia Plath

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Absence, hear thou my protestation
    against thy strengh,
    distance and length.
Do what thou canst for alteration:
    For hearts of truest mettle,
    Absence doth still and time doth settle …
== John Donne, from “What Time and Absence Prove,” spoken by Claire and Ned Gowan (Outlander, see below)

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I took myself to Wolf Trap to join in on the last (we are told) of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion concert/shows and heard this line as a refrain in one of his songs. By this third year I know how to drive to Wolf Trap, and I bought myself a picnic supper for the first time.

My feeble effort using a camera on my iphone

It seems silly to say I was alone. No more than any one else even if I was not paired or in a group. Alas, this my only second time participating is Keillor’s last season. He was less buoyant this year than last, and his irreplaceable form of gallows humor included the usual autobiographical sequence, this time about a visit to the Mayo clinic with prostate cancer. (I read the other day 1 in 4 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer before they die.) I laughed uncontrollably at moments, especially his genial mockery of our dependence on gadgets: his relationship with his garmin was likened to an imaginary spouse who gives directions, but does not recriminate when you get it wrong. Instead his (an Australian voice) says “recalcuating”). A British voice in one Jim and I used while in England would say “Make a U-Turn at the next available place … ” His moving themes were all about death, decay, a song about how few hours we have, taking stopgap measures to gild our moments.

I’ve been at a number of stopgap measures since I last wrote 16 days ago. Two others also musical: Keillor’s ironic routines are a high point, a momentary sceptical turning round and round in words, in a musical and skit evening. Friday (5/20) at the Abramson Recital Hall, the OLLI at Mason hosted “an evening with the Dick Budson Jazz Quartet.” I’d never been to a jazz quartet evening before. Jazz had seemed to me so formless. The members of his band improvized, but the rhythms and structure and songs were anything but formless. Lena Seikaly, billed as a vocalist, was there to bring the moments velvety variations on musically-projected experiences of life. The Days of Wine and Roses stayed with me. The whole stage seemed alive with harmonies.

Ireland 100 is at the Kennedy Center (it’s 100 years since the Easter Rising), concerts, plays, skits, dance, instrumental music. On Sunday (5/22), Camille O’Sullivan in the Terrace Theater. Before in the hall outside, people were very friendly, not all Irish. While she began slow, all dressed up in a long lace gown, about a quarter of the way in, I was roused to an exhilaration that her varied program of Irish, folk, recently famous and new original with her songs projected. A four man band, many props .She gradually stripped down. I ought to go there more often: it’s less than the big houses in the center, and probably more fun for me.

This Tuesday evening (5/29) I go again to hear Fiona Shaw read Irish poetry, sing songs, provide food for thought. I’ve loved her since I watched her as Mrs Crofts in the 1995 BBC Persuasion, listened to her read aloud (on CDs) and acted in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September.

I am sometimes distraught on my way home, so aware of how he’s gone, comparing myself to couples I’ve seen, and I come home and pour a large glass of Robert Shaw Shiraz and subside to watch Amy Goodman with her remarkable interviews and/or Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill and Hari Srinavasan on the news, and team’s human interest exposes around the world (Fred de Sam Lazaro, Malcolm from Australia, Jeffrey Brown).

Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou (a truly great role for any actress, the trajectory of feeling crossed astonishing and never less than in-depth

I carried on with Shakespeare: The Hollow Crown, this time three plays Henry VI parts 1 and 2 (condensed from Parts 1-3) and Richard III. The dramaturgy across the series is the first consideration. Then dramatic scenes and landscapes. The former is harder – to get in, my bore. the deaths of the two Talbots is emblematical, allegorical, ritual and cannot come close to the development of Hotspur and his death at the hand of Hal (he was trying himself to slaugther Hal).  But ritual worked: the presentation, capturing and horrifying death of Joan of Arc (which closes the actual Henry VI part 1 with the manipulated wedding. As in the one time I saw it previously (decades ago at the Delacorte theater in Central) park, Henry VI is abridged and turned into a 2 act drama.

The BBC is showing it can do the same superb dramas they once did — given money enough, great actors, a fabulous script. They are consciously advertising themselves too as doing English history, English heritage.

Tom Sturridge is playing Henry VI right — he was at the time called “feeble minded,” and some say he was epileptic; he was weak and could not contend with his courtiers once Gloucester fell from power. I did not know the story of his wife — Sally Hawkins was superb — but it’s believable the wife would be attacked first. Also Sophie Okonedo — extraordinary as an evolving personality. I’m not sure that in Shakespeare she openly goes to bed with Somerset — in the play it is a salacious flirtation. I was glad to see Hugh Bonneville so successfully shake off Lord Grantham and return to the great actor he is — it’s a mark of his greatness that he’s given one of the best older male parts; so too Suchet as York in Richard II, Anton Lesser as Exeter. Order your priorities. hey did overdo the coming of R3 — over the top melodramatic to the point of humor. I’ve an idea it was camped up in the original theater now and again. 

Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth, married off to Edward IV, whose daughter Henry Tudor (VII) married — a smaller role but she is excellent in i.

I watched this one using my BBC iplayer. Like Henry IV, part 2, the film-makers did this part so as to make a new amalgam and bring out new themes (so reflecting the plays). In this one the battle scenes were powerfully done – perhaps they overdid the violence, but this is nowadays par for the course. No one can say “old Shakespeare” was staid and safe now. I did think they brought out Shakespeare’s own development or growth. I mentioned in my recommendation of Henry VI, part 1 that powerful and effective as the deaths of Talbot and his son are, they are primitive against the depiction of the death of Hotspur in the context of the whole play (with Hal and Falstaff as the comparison). So apart from the cuts they’ve done (the rebellion of Cade for example), there is growth and development once Richard III or, in this play, the Duke of Gloucester takes the stage. Hugh Bonneville gave all he could to the part of the first Duke of Gloucester (Humphry) as a man of real integrity and strength who Henry VI is too young, idle, weak, to protect but the depth of insight into the intricacies of thought and human nature found in the last act of Henry VI part 2 (as parceled out by the BBC) suddenly brings us into the psychological world of Richard II. Sally Hawkins also delivered a terrific performance making of the hitherto arrogant Duchess of Gloucester, a frantically terrified woman now accused of madness and witchery and destroyed:


Bernard Cumberbatch has done it again: a complex, seething, humanly disabled deformed man, as physically violent as he is emotionally half-insane. He is a great actor.


Judi Dench his mother, Cecily, Duchess of York, in a couple of scenes bests him for a moment:


The problem in dramatizing these plays is you must show Shakesepeare’s later work first as Richard II and Henry IV came before Henry VI and Richard III in history so you can miss the progression within Shakespeare himself. His deep melancholy and questioning of war itself, of these political figures emerges slowly, his bonding with the outsider and poetic figures too. Richard III anticipates Macbeth, Hotspur figures like Anthony. I was glad to see Keely Hawes got the role of Elizabeth – she did very well with it. They’ve had a very strong cast of women. Margaret did (it is said) come onto the battle field; whether she wielded a sword and killed is probably not so. Shakespeare has her witness the cruel death of her son and that has become history for us.

From Carol Ann Duffy’s poem for Richard on the day his mangled corpse and bones were finally buried:


My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; your own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name

That I say it seems to me people are just now finally learning to make great films from Shakespeare may suggest to others solipsism. I long to see the DVD of Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in The Winter’s tale.

I’ve gotten a disk-player back onto my PC computer so can now watch movies on my PC computer — which has a reasonably big screen, though not as big as my TV — again. So back to my three different film versions of War and Peace too, looking forward to our summer project on Trollope19thCStudies at Yahoo: we’re reading War and Peace, biographies and criticism and people are invited to watch movies and write about them.



I’ve carried on with this summer’s post-colonial reading and writing project, this time focused on Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and her poetry. I’ve finished Oliphant’s superb Ladies Lindores and am into her Autobiography, am considering as post-colonial women’s texts: Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan (later 18th, early 19th century) The Missionary (about a rape), Ahdaf Soueif’s Map of Love. I’m deeply engaged by Smith’s one full-length novel I’ve not read (and I’ve not read them all so carefully): Marchmont, and the author Constance Fenimore Woolson. Or Adha Soueif’s Map of Love. Scott’s Surgeon’s Daughter appears to be an exquisite foray into a post-colonial empire text. I queried Shaksper-l and have now a list of recent good essays on the Henry VI plays and some citations of other DVD performances worth seeing. One cannot have too many holds to stay on. Listserves are not what they were (they have no writing selves – a person has to recognize he or she is that.

I semi-hired a contractor to replace the linoleum on my kitchen with pretty vinyl tiles, the white (ugly) cabinets (like a hospital) with dark honey brown ones, a new countertop, new sink faucet, paint 7 doors of this house (2 outdoor to the porch), remove two, and replace the front and back door. For the first time in decades the spigot on the side of my house is not a corroded unusable pipe, but a brass working spigot with a wheel, and I’ve attached a working hose. I have to wait a month: when he went on holiday last week with his wife, once in the water his wife could not breathe; rushed to the hospital, she was diagnosed with a large growth on her lungs. The man is devastated and cannot work this week, has two jobs before mine.


What a trouble I had purchasing the right kind of hose and getting the thing allowing water to course through it. I got myself two before I landed on the right one to reach around the property. I will eventually change the color of the house to a quiet cream (after 20 years of embarrassment from a blue I couldn’t get the contractor to change) and probably enclose the porch. The area is not usable though too small to make much of it. No doubt an essential part of the house before air-conditioning.

I need routine. Without a routine, I am at a loss. I’ve used routines since the 1980s. Since Jim died, I am also desolate without feeling some kind of connection or contact with the world outside my house. I have no local friends, and have discovered I would be developing any, just acquaintances I see once in a while to say go to a concert or do something specific. After all I’m not a lady who lunches. I have discovered I’m a person who needs real companionship though.

If left to my own devices I probably would eventually develop a project out of early modern women: Tudor matter, and queens and gradually develop some for the 18th century as well as nowadays women of letters for the 19th. I’d read Elena Ferrante in the Italian and another of Francoise Kermina’s wonderful biographies (hers on Madame Roland is the best thing there is in print): the French have women biographers too. But I would not know what to read first. I’m not sure I have the hope and confidence to write a book unless I know I could publish it and have learnt the way to publish a book is to embed yourself in some social context where the publisher sees an interest in publishing the content of this book. I don’t know now to begin to start a collection of essays. I don’t have the know-how to contact people nor know what to say and I’ve not got any kind of title or affiliation to gather good essays on a variety of aspeces of Henry Fielding’s work and especially Tom Jones.

I just need some sort of meaning in life, some sort of routine I can follow over a day. Since Jim died, I’ve discovered I need this more than ever or I will go to pieces, and have found that without Jim some sense I am active in the world. The only way I can do this is through books and writing. Teaching of course also takes me out, provides an imposed or enforced routine: it too is the result of books and writing (the lecture notes after thinking and reading). There I can immerse myself and discover new presences or renew old ones, deepen the relationship in my mind, new themes for me to understand the world.


Memorial Day weekend, the third of my widowhood — widowhood is a special condition, one if you’ve not been a widow and experienced private and social life from this perspective you cannot understand.

Izzy and I took Ian and Clarycat to the vet this morning for Rabies shots, a wellness visit and nail clipping. We captured them quickly but I could see Clarycat was very upset for hours afterward when we returned, skulking against the walls, hidden, not trusting me, slowly emerging to sit on the bed and then enacting a circle of anxiety. Ian perked up more quickly and sought reassurance. She’d had the harder time: a test of her kidneys (blood was taken).


Very late at night I wallow in Outlander on my big TV, never tire of it, see more of the female angle each time. The film-makers should begin with an homage to Daphne DuMaurier: Gabaldon combines King’s General (later 17th century civil war courts) with House on the Hill (traveling from present to 14th century and back again). Gabaldon either is unaware that her way of time-traveling, the choice of landscape, ethnic civil war, is ripe for post-colonialism or (more likely) is hypocritically not allowing any sense of this to come through lest it put off her common readers. I’ve half fallen in love with Sam Heughan as Jamie.


You need not be scared to me nor anyone else here as long as I’m with ye

Caitriona Balfe and Bill Patterson: Clare and Ned Gowan (Outlander, “Rent”) reciting Donne

Clare: You know John Donne?
Ned: — Oh, aye. He’s one of my favorites.

Jim used to read Donne aloud to me in spontaneous moments.

The cats come and sit next to me on the piano stool watching too.

She got up and went away
Should she not have? Not have what?
got up and gone away.

Yes, I think she should have
Because it was getting darker.
Getting what? Darker. Well,
There was still some
Day left when she went away,
enough to see the way
And it was the last time she would have been able
Able? …. to get up and go away.
It was the last time the very last time for
After that she could not
Have got up and gone away any more.
— Stevie Smith

Widowhood for me I’ve learned from experience is a life apart for the most part. This is what it is to be. What companionship I have is here on the Net with Net friends. The silent days pass slowly, each one, and sometimes I feel there has been time to move into and be with the presences of my books; yet each week flies by, and I feel every time I turn round it’s Sunday again. NPR music is best Sunday morning, then and each night after midnight they play beautiful classical music. I have a small radio in 4 of the rooms in the house now and when I’m doing chores, walking about, I have all of them playing on this station. Can Jim be dead 2 years, 8 months and 20 days?

Widowhood is what I do now.


Read Full Post »

Ian and Clarycat around 2 pm this afternoon in my workroom — they were glad I finished

Dear friends and readers,

How’s that for a header? If I take into account all that went into this paper, I began in 2004 shortly after I met an editor of an Australian literary periodical at a session about Victorian literature at an MLA conference. He recognized me (how I can’t say), told me he much admired the sections of my Trollope on the Net about Trollope and Ireland and urged me to try to write about Anthony Trollope and Australia from the same unconventional or at that point rarely done point of view. He would help navigate the paper for me if I could produce it within a year or so.

I even came up with a definition of post-modern and post-colonial and lest anyone ask me (I am very bad on my feet by which I mean miserable at spontaneous talk in such sessions) so I put it in the notes:

Post-modern may be defined as a set of ideas or practices that reject conventional mainstream values as having much effect on what happens in the world or what people do; that also eschew conventional means of presenting stories and films, any kind of art. An important facet is a questioning, sometimes disavowal of Enlightenment assertions about what is progress and the rightness of European ideas of civilization.

Post-colonial nowadays is used in a different sense from its original one: to identify a period where the colonialist powers were said to be divesting themselves of colonial state governments and looking out for the interests of the people in these previous colonies. Now that it is clear colonialism or imperialism are still dominating agendas across the globe, the term refers to an attitude of mind that analyzes and criticizes the way powerful imperialist gov’ts control and exploit countries they dominate through capitalist, militarist and nationalistic mechanisms (apparatuses?).

I mention post-feminist heroines towards paper’s end, but have no definition as yet.

Contemplating Susan LaMonte, Inside Out — if you want to parse this, don’t omit her pink umbrella and blonde ponytail


I worked for well over a year, and found while I loved the reading about travel and travel literature and colonialiast stories (“30 years in the Bush” anyone?) and Australia, I could come up with no thesis. “I hadn’t been to Australia,” I kept telling myself. “I probably ought to go to New Zealand too.” I broached this problem to Jim. Reminded him of a 4 part one hour each program on Australia hosted by Robert Hughes we both enjoyed. “13 hour flight!” said he. “Vast deserts. The price. Do you realize how far away from Australia New Zealand is? And upside down too,” and other cogent objections. I gave it up.

Years later (or “Fast forward to”), reading books in order to review a post-colonialist study I suddenly understood how I could write a paper on this topic without having traveled to the Antipodes: I learned about what post-colonialist studies were, read some and understood at last what was meant by the term. Also how women traveler writers and colonialists fit in.

So, still later (hit the arrow again), when it was suggested to me I come to the coming Trollope conference, I went right back to those folders thick with notes and worked up drafts on all sorts of topics, and postings with the people then on Trollope and his Contemporaries at Yahoo on Trollope’s Australian novels, travel books, John Caldigate, &c&c. I spent much of two months this summer reading again, finding new critical works (some too filled with jargon for me to profit much from) and rereading, watching films, looking at pictures too.

Photographed at the Torpedo Factory: Jacqueline Elwell, watercolor of Serengeti (South Africa — Trollope went there too and wrote an enormous book)

Then wrote and rewrote and rewrote and revised, and cut and now have a 19 minute readable talk. I write to record this.

Also (or as much) to say since Jim died how empty I feel each time I’ve finished a paper. I used to have a sense of accomplishment, as having done something worth while. Because he was here and regarded it so. Now I just feel sad that this is done, and I have to find something else to do.

He knew all about this one as of 2 summers ago. He wanted me to go to Belgium, wanted to come with me somehow. I remember him thinking, How can I do it? before he had that hideous operation which he did not realize would so demolish him. After it was over, before the cancer spread, he did not speak of traveling much any more.


I keep taking on papers (one I’ve promised on two women Scots poets, later 19th century, another proposal on film aaptations), reviews (book on Chardin) and going to conferences, but less and less as time goes on of the papers (as the old life and self wind down), but and conferences get no easier, yet can’t do without this kind of routine (teaching provides an illusion I can seen through but can’t not do), a few friends, writing on the Net, self-invented projects about films, women artists, mini-series and the like.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
paces from day to day,
as time takes us to dusty death
Jim’s candle is out,
he’s heard no more, and so now
for me it’s a tale told by me
signifying not very much

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Breaking the Silence (see below)

Dear friends and readers,

From a long-time Trollope and Net friend who I’ve seen three times in Oxford now — we read Eliot’s Middlemarch on Trollope-l together several years ago now and hope to meet in London for a day for a change this September —

When people used to ask me (people did) about my relationship with Jim, or somehow what our lives were about, how we coped came up, I’d say “I live by his side.” And I really did. My guess was people didn’t believe me or listen to the words. Who listens to other people’s words? The rest of the world was around his other side. Now he’s not there I seem to see so many people doing things, the way they live as I never did before, many alone. I recognize that my cats live by my side, and that their inner lives are not visible to anyone but me — and when I’m not here Yvette.

Clarycat shortly after Jim died

Ian this past month

I’ve rediscovered what I used to be aware of in a different way: the world I encounter has many stray people — even at the half-way mark (let’s say over 50) of their lives and close up. Not that they will drop what they are doing and come with me (which used to happen when I was in my teens), but more steadily, they are not fitted in tight anywhere (as many are, maybe most into bands of family and friends); these others contingent, available for a lunch, cabaret, movie, coffee. Women mostly.

My new experiences keep mounting up — simple things I never did before, like cook a bowl of spaghetti for myself, pick a sauce, warm it, and sit down and eat this in front of the TV, liking my program. This summer again going to a slightly different choice of plays from the Capitol Fringe Theater:

One of their icons

Today I went into DC and saw It’s What We Do, a Play about the Occupation, at the Atlas theater in DC on H Street, Northeast, one of the many plays part of the Capitol Fringe. It is drawn from the testimonies of Israeli soldiers who could not bear to destroy the Palestinian people bit-by-bit through the relentless harrasssment and disruption and intimatidation techniques of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Never mind murdering thousands and thousands in a few months every once in a while, it’s the daily corrosion, tyranny, humiliation, refusal to let these people work, get food, live and how this is done at the Check-points, through rampaging through their houses, through simply taking their land and destroying decades of family cultivation, through the ceaseless blockade. The Israeli gov’t is not able to exterminate so they are doing what they can short of that. Like the whites towards native Americans and in Australia aborigines, like whites in the south in the reconstruction period, like the US and French in Vietnam, so many in Africa over the centuries, like US police in many black areas of the US today. The parallels are ceaseless and new ones being made as I type.

A blog links providing context, perspectives, arguments: Going back before post WW2: the Greek and Palestinian regime today, the EU, the horrifying situation for immigrants in the US.

This was the second of five plays I’ve chosen; the first was The Hello Girls.
I had trouble getting an Uber cab back to the Metro: something about me, the way I was dressed (a new pretty blue sweater, my beige skirt and top) made the Uber man unwilling to somehow stop in front of me as if I would be offended. I intimidated him! There I was longing for my Uber cab in 95 degree heat, anxious lest it not show and I had given a wrong address. I was doing all that people do: I had my cell phone in front, watching the little image of the cab. Looking about me.

I’m beginning to face and accept that I don’t enjoy going to the Capitol Fringe shows alone. They are intellectually so engaging and they do expose what no one talks of but I wish they had more money to do them better. In England the theaters are still getting sufficient funds. It’s not easy to find the places; traveling by public transportation can take an hour and a half, and some of it is stressful (in areas I don’t know and am not comfortable in). And I need a companion to go with for fun. Sophie would, but she is so busy with her studies and her new partner. Maybe next summer I won’t go at all, if again I must go alone; and unless the play is in a place easy for me to get to. That it’s so dreadfully hot here during these trips doesn’t help either. I’d rather stay home and watch beloved mini-series on my computer — or read.

These new versions of old experiences entwine with my memories of his last year and months, our lives over the years, decades, but I feel guilty in the way of this profound poem in this week’s New Yorker:

Giving and Getting

I like that, he said in the hospital, where I was rubbing his feet
which were dry and smelled a bit.

Ahh, he said, ahhh, as I worried
what the nurse in the corridor might think,

pushing my thumbs into the pads and calluses,
the skin that had grown leathery and hard
over a lifetime of treets and shoes-

and me trying but unable to forget
some of the things he had done

over the course or our long friendship
Rubbing his feet was like reaching into some

thick part of my heart that couldn’t feel
and kneading away at it —

Blame caught inside the love .
like a fishhook or a bug in honey.

It is in my character, this
persistent selfishness —

one of my hand offering the gift, the other
trying to take something back.

Giving and getting
like two horses arriving at the same time

from opposite directions
at the stone gate

that will allow only one to pass.
— Tony Hoagland

Maybe I ought to have gotten Jim to do more by retiring with him earlier. I didn’t think of it. I console myself that perhaps he would not have wanted to live differently, say join an OLLI and play bridge with others (though he loved bridge). When I did propose this or that, he would often not seem to hear or say no. But maybe I didn’t propose enough, or think enough about what he might like to socialize over. At some level he intimidated me.

He did sometimes say I didn’t pay any attention to him — this way before the Net. I would laugh and say not so. I took it as a half-joke, the way he often said things. Now I’m thinking he meant the phrase in another serious sense than I could see then.

I seem to be going through another hard period. I’m doing a lot — going out to events (movies, plays, classes), sometimes with people and trying to keep up my reading and projects, interacting here with friends, reading with them and responding, sharing, watching movies, blogging, I get exhausted and puzzled. I’m not sure what my life is about, why I’m doing what I do. I’m pulled in different directions. It cannot be just to fill time though that is part of it. I think I do know who I am but am have lost the person I was myself with, through. I also used to say he was the blood that flowed through my heart and I meant that too.

Camille Pissarro, Lordship, Lane Railway Station, 1870

198 years ago today in Winchester, England, Jane Austen died, aged 42, after a horrific period of pain — she probably had some form of cancer. Think of the months of decline. Think of how she couldn’t walk; had to be put into a cart. Sitting on three chairs propped up by pillows, finally back to her bed. On July 18, 1817 died in Cassandra’s arms like Jim died in mine. I nowadays remember Cassandra’s phrase how the comfort, joy, gilding of her life was gone, and wonder how she did from day to day.

A silhouette of Cassandra, that’s all we have

Out of my friendship with Sophie, I’d love to take two months off all my regular work, start to listen to my French tapes or buy new ones, and read French novels once again so I could get my French back. I’d like to talk to her in French the way she talks to me in English. We saw Mr Holmes together.

Finally, some of my reading: as part of my Australia-New Zealand project I’ve come across a novel that crosses over into my interest in women living alone:  Sylvia Aston-Warner’s Spinster. Take that book of poems, Alibi, Italian on one side (by Elsa Morante) and French by Jean-Noel Shifano, on the other, on Morante’s cats and begin to translate again.

Spinster arrived this morning and I discover the heroine is a teacher of Maori children in remote New Zealand town, passsionate, uncertain, gauche, trying to help set her pupils free (“No man, dead or alive, can disturb the plot in the wild garden of myself where art grows, although mine is a self-sown personality, an enclosure of wilful wanton weeds, there is yet one dell of order. I am a flower reaching beyond …). It’s on a new TBR pile along with Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop (which came yesterday). Pissarro’s picture and these two books come from friendships here on the Net (Fitzgerald’s on how the class system can work against a person. It’s about a middle aged widow who opens a book store in 1950s East Anglia) and blogs I read by them or blogs they’ve pointed out to me.

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away. It is the putrefaction of stagnant life, and is remedied by exercise and motion — Samuel Johnson


Dear friends and readers,

Yvette and I had parallel activities these past couple of days. Both of us were interviewed for jobs, she for a junior librarian at the Pentagon, and me for teaching position at the Georgetown Continuing School of Education where I can fit into their BA program. We both came out feeling good so felt we did well. She prepared as if for some hazing game where there’d be several people confronting her and it would be her business to showcase herself and outwit any traps; instead she found a friendly lady librarian type who seemed worse than she in achieving that great desideratum, eye contact, and she felt she showed her qualifications and eagerness for the position in a way that found acceptance.

I prepared more casually but also with an eye to showing how well qualified as a teacher I am, thoroughly published (so to speak), prepared to say why I wanted to teach in this place, with these people, and also found someone who seemed friendly, open, with whose values underlying this program, sympathies I connected. He smiled when he saw me and I must’ve been there quite a while. At any rate I left with a sheaf of xeroxes explaining the humanities core curriculum, his card, knowledge of where the website for syllabi is, and an invitation to write up two syllabi before New Year’s Eve, and do a demonstration of my teaching before February. So I may just start teaching again, this time to my real strengths, humanities courses, survey-historical types, my choices probably the Enlightenment or the 19th century. And I bought an Enlightenment Reader (anthology), a slender single volume over-view of the 18th century Enlightenment from Amazon and when these arrive will proceed to syllabus-making. Tomorrow I’ll give some analogous thought to a 19th century course and buy two more similar type books.

I call this un-retiring except I have to admit that I haven’t felt retired this past year. I was in the early part of what is turning out to be a year and one half off cleaning out and re-arranging the attic to make it a usable space, then with the Admiral and Patty, “our project manager,” renovating — rebuilding really — our two bathrooms, making little garden plots. We did go to NYC a couple of times and our usual round of plays, HD operas, concerts, but (as you know if you have been reading this blog) he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer on April 28th, and all things people associate with retirement (except my pension for me), renewal, rejuvenation, retreat, reappraisal, were over.



I also began to go to a gym, “La Fitness” it’s called and is part of a chain of such places. I surveyed it two days ago and agreed to 7 free days. For that I had to give information — but not yet my credit card. I think I shall pay by check as I don’t like the pre-paid plan. It’s supposed to be $100 to join, $24 a month, first 2 months ahead, but after that if I want to opt out I can. A big big room filled with a variety of exercise machines and equipment. I find the bikes I can afford at home I am now too old for; I need more support. There is a room where classes are held; you just join in as you can. There is a room where people go for scheduled classes. It was the pool that looked so good. Warmish water, it has lanes but you need not do laps back and forth incessantly. I did notice older women there. I was worried it’d be all young people – the ads mislead you into thinking it fancy, with mostly adults in their thirties, very middle class looking. Not at all, it’s all sorts of people, all ages and the ceilings need a paint job. There is only one water fountain in the whole place. They also don’t supply towels. But TVs galore, all playing Fox TV, CNN, ABC or CBS.

My real problem in going to a gym is, When? I don’t have it in me to go out at 5:30 am. I want to read in the wee hours nowadays snuggled up with cats and blankets; but even if I didn’t, I still would not rush out. And then I like writing to friends or on the list-servs with those I’m reading or share interests with in early morning. I have no ambition at night, am tired, and my eyes are bad. I made my first attempt today: I went at an “off-hour” of the day, around 2:30 pm when there is least traffic. It took me 10 minutes to get there and 20 to get home. It’s next to a Shoppers Warehouse but I find I don’t have the energy to shop afterwards; just (as ever) long to get home again. I did the routine I used to do with the admiral: 15 minutes elliptical, 15 minutes treadmill, 15 minutes biking, and 15 minutes swim. I was shaking by the end as I had not done it in a long time, my poor feet clenched up. Next time I’ll be sure and take two towels (one for gym, one for pool), and slippers to come home with. I have to buy myself another bathing suit.

I’ve now got 4 books to review from academic journals/websites, so take all this with what I’ve begun on Austen (reading Emma) and my typing of Smith’s Ethelinde towards an edition for Valancourt, I’m scouring away. I do sleep little, at most 3 hours a night. I’m losing weight. Some of my pants are now too big around my waist and hips and fall off, others fit me much better. My skirts look full around me.

I spent tonight first reading the latest of the three sumptuous Downton Abbey books: Scenes from is not sheer hype (which I feared): its content is made of up discussions of real technical and practical problems of making that program — time, space, cost, where to film, how to build sets so rooms look like they are in the same house when they are not. Then I watched Anthony Harvey and James Goldman’s (on the face of it absurd) Lion in Winter, famously featuring Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, James Castle — the only essay on this film I could find is about its costume & setting anachronisms: Charles Tashiro’s Passing for the Past: Production Design and the Historical Film, Cinéaste, 29:2 (Spring 2004):40-44.

Lion in Winter family — mostly males

What both are about is family pathologies: insanities dressed up in costumes which allow for the pretense they are about historical periods and themes. No one mentions this in the books or essays on them; Downton Abbey is tiresomely supposed about hierarchy and great houses; Lion in Winter about kings and queens fighting over land which the film fails to show does them any good at all – or they have any connection to. Downton Abbey has a big family, 16 people and a group of them are kept downstairs serving the group upstairs, but they are one family continually in internecine parallel battles. Sometimes they eject one of themselves — as Henry and Eleanor reject one another, play strategic games with their sons, and behave as destructively as the characters in Miller’s Death of a Salesman. What happens has nothing to do with the real historical people whose names they are given.

Season 4 is going to center on Lady Mary as depressed widow

Season 3 — Ethel not permitted to keep her child

Edith wants mothering from widowed Lady Rosamund

Family life in the US in the twentieth and twenty-first century. I am persuaded my experience of family life is not all that uncommon. So since all has been done to destroy public space, set up all experience in exclusionary patterns (“the melting pot” is a myth – people in the US do not identify with one another), give people little time off from work, make that work people’s identity and center of self-worth, and then eliminate as many jobs as technology can (employers save money that way); is it any wonder that the matter of popular art is the intense strain of family life? The greatness of Trollope’s books is he shows us the family pathologies and admits this as central to his terrain in the books themselves. That people rarely discuss this content is not his fault. But we respond to it and his great calm in the face of it.

For those who keep up with my adventures, such as they are, I couldn’t get anyone in any company to agree to both provide and install a dishwasher so I hired someone to come and fix this one. For the last two days before he came, mine also decided almost to work. The soap went round and there was enough water to wash them as long as I put them having washed them individually myself.

Guess what? the man said the round turntable in the center was the obstacle. First of all it was loose. He pulled it apart and all its under tables and in them found years of disgusting filth, clumps of it. He washed all the parts, put them back, tightened the whole, and voila the dishwasher was working again. Perhaps the admiral had given up on it too soon. Any now if I renovate my kitchen, I need only have someone replace linoleum (Vinyl), paint the walls and maybe I should buy new cabinets because I hate the white of those I have.

And the kind gentleman-friend who originally advised me to buy a multi-system, multi-purpose DVD (brand: pioneer) told me to send mine back from Amazon; he’d send me a working one. So I pulled mine out (by myself, only dislodging a button the radio for a time), and when his present arrived, we plugged it in precisely as we had the previous model.

Guess what? it works perfectly. Indeed you need not do anything but press a button that functions as “on” and it plays both American (Before Sunrise) and British (Downton Abbey, the first series, episode 1) DVDS perfectly. I had the idea of giving my old one which plays American DVDs to Yvette and Caroline was here and installed it. So we now both have wide-screen flat TVs, cable and DVDs.

We don’t see the strangeness of US life, do we? Their gyms are strange places. People are there in droves and most of them utterly solitary as they go about their body fitness alongside one another. The way to find company is not even a job, it’s congenial work with others and what do they do, so those who are powerful throw wrenches in the way of landing well, which Yvette and I escaped as ours were not “personnel-dept-driven” interviews.


Read Full Post »

From graphic novel, Pride and Prejudice, illustration by Sonny Liew

Dear friends and readers,

Sometime in the early afternoon, I had an email confirming that my course proposal for a 10 weeks on Austen’s first three novels was accepted (see outline in this Austen reveries blog). I’ll teach a OLLi (Oscher Institute of Life-long Learning) this coming winter-spring for 10 weeks.

Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy.


Read Full Post »

Jim inside the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey (summer 2004)

She tells her love while half asleep,
   In the dark hours,
     With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
   And puts out grass and flowers
     Despite the snow,
     Despite the falling snow
—Robert Graves (a favorite author for the Admiral, the poem quoted 2X in ASByatt’s Possession, one of my favorite neo-Victorian novels)

Dear friends and readers,

A dear friend told me that in some countries (or religions) people do something to remember someone who has died 40 days ago. It’s been 40 days since my beloved died.

You see above from a set of photos I’ve not used before: Jim looking up from the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey the summer we spent 3 weeks in England with Laura and Izzy. To commemorate someone you really need a group of people to do it with or some ritual. I don’t have that tomorrow. I’d love to go to Roosevelt Island where in the 1980s when the girls were young we’d go walking on weekends: there’s a footbridge one takes from Washington D.C. across to this island in the Potomac which is beautifully quiet (no cars) and I have good memories of those walks. Just now it may be a bit cold and rainy for such a walk and it’d be desolating alone.

So instead I’m remembering our trip to England in summer 2005, how we went to Stonehenge twice, to Avebury, & found a third set of stones called Stanbury Drew; our day in Bath (and walk in Prior Park); a day at Longleate (picnic), Somerset itself, Brighton Beach —

Under an umbrella — sunny England, summer 2005

and all the many Landmark Trust places Jim rented over the years which we’d spend anywhere from 3 to 7 days in, including a 15th century gatehouse with a Jacobean ceiling; a clock tower by the sea, a Duke’s hunting lodge (meant for hideaway — it has a bed in an alcove with a mirror above it); an Oxford flat; Elton House with its widestairs for 18th century invalids in wheelchairs and its Roman floor in the basement; John Betjeman’s flat on Cloth Fair near Smithfield in London.

Another friend sent me earlier this week (when I put “Let it Be” and “The Land of Might Have Been” on this blog) this poem by W.H. Auden:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Read aloud by Tom O”Bedlam

As I’ve said I am two people: one is continually on the move, doing things, going places, with people, reading, writing, watching movies, apparently cheerful except when she breaks down (like today when I became hopelessly lost after my GPS broke down and were it not for a kindly black man in his 30s or so who drove back to Alexandria from far away in McLean with me following him so as to get me near my home) or is driven wild with anxiety because a clerk in a bank couldn’t be bothered to mail in in time some forms she filled out, or is required to cope with some website beyond her ability to fathom. The other, the continuo basso is desperately unhappy; her prognosis 20 years. I’m nearly 67, surely I won’t live past 87.

A scene repeatedly comes back to mind: not the one when I was 19 and sat on a park bench with a friend and told her I was going somehow to spend the rest of my life reading and writing, which I usually think of as a turning point, when I repudiated just about all the values and goals I had been taught, especially the Tennysonian ones about striving, conquering, not yielding; I made that sharp turn from shoddy, the meretricious which cost so much and others seemed to want (and to me were just vexation of spirit) though how I’d do what I wanted, last I couldn’t guarantee. No, I keep recalling the one when I was nearly 23 and walking along a sidewalk in Manhattan, looked up at that godawful strip of a sky, around at the anonymous decrepit block, and made up my mind to return to England and marry Jim Moody — forthwith. I would not be alone; he could sleep the night through, was stable, would provide a measure of peace and I knew was wholly unlike the world I came from when it came to enjoying life through spending what money he had. I thought it’d be okay. I’d keep up my end; I knew what he wanted.

Thin scabs covered jagged wounds.

I’ve lost my bargain. I was not alert enough, sufficiently on the watch for the axe behind that door. I had never heard of esophageal cancer before April of this year, 6-7 short months ago. When he was in his forties and developed acid reflux disease so badly, I should have questioned him insistently. He never told me that I can remember that he had an herniated disk in his diaphragm and that was what caused this condition. The doctor gave him three different tough prescriptions until one began to relieve him, and then for a few years he’d have his liver and kidneys tested every 3 months because these endangered his organs. I do believe had I asked him what were these prescriptions for he would not have been able to tell me; he did not question the doctor. There was no internet then to look things up. No wikipedia. Instead I just accepted this as a new norm and when the doctor said he could take a weaker over-the-counter medication, was relieved and didn’t think to act when I saw how many tums he ate. Mind you, I’m told his smoking cigarettes for 20 years and then cigars for 3 more, his drinking could have caused this cancer. I don’t believe it. I believe it was the acid reflux within a toxic environment, and a family susceptibility to cancer.

No retrieval. No going back. He doesn’t exist any more.

He’ll come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never.

Lear wants to know why a dog, a horse, a rat have life and Cordelia no breath at all. I want to know why so many people seem to have cancer or got it and live on, for at least a while. Why are they alive and he not? He refused to fight. Would I have fought? I don’t know. I have certainly similarly refused to go a conventional route to keep my teeth. But then one does not die of a lack of teeth. I remember before he had that criminal operation he was suggesting he would do nothing at all; he said how horrible all cancer treatments were said to be. I said it was a question of his dying. He said, no it was when and how he’d die. So he knew. I wish I had instead of arguing no, we must do something, then proposed one last trip to England. His bargain became he would gain 5 more years by that operation and chemotherapy. He lost his bargain.

Fall 2013 — he was feeling a malaise, but we had no idea what was the cause — we did go to the doctor but the right questions were not asked; he was not yet having trouble swallowing

My character is what it ever was. And life returns to what it was — something of an ordeal I’m not good at. Yes I’ve accumulated with him, through him over the 44 years: I’ve got a widow’s pension, my very own social security, insurances, savings, a house, 2 cats, furniture, books and 2 daughters — and some life’s experience so I can teach if someone will give me a job — doubtful but if I am willing to do it for free …

My admiral did say before he died that I should not berate myself if I can’t do the things others expect me to and if I live here quietly, just do it. Don’t drive myself with what I can’t do. If I find myself mostly alone, live with it. It’s what I knew before I knew him. Explanations help: my Aspergers traits; his reclusiveness and isolating us; my job which made me invisible. But the pain of feeling excluded is not easier. Still, he repeated over and over I could survive without him. There would be enough money. He would have told me not to go to these psychologists — I go to 3, Kaiser provides a psychiatrist (2 visits thus far but I will not go again, it’s a waste of time and money — all this man wants to do is give me pills which make me woozy, give me headaches), a psychologist (clever nice woman, every week and a half) and now I’ve a grief support person (ditto, twice a month). In a way what they are is a way for me to keep at a distance what I’m facing; there’s the time getting there, being there, and coming back. The two women have given me helpful advice and I can talk for real about what I’m feeling. Carol Bechl said my problem very well: I’ve lost my best and central friend.

Forty nights have not quickly dreamed away the time, but the time has slipt away. I should be trying for what was good, remember what was good — what hurts is they will come no more.

Jim and me at Niagara Falls (Izzy took the photo), May 2008

I can do this: I finished reading for him the last book he was reading when he could read no longer, when his brain gave out and he couldn’t process the words and his eyes were too tired to read a a thorough book: he stopped about one-third into Carolyn Steedman’s great Labours Lost: Domestic Service and the Making of Modern England. It’s actually a typical book for him, the kind he liked to read. I’ll make a blog on Austen Reveries as it’s centered on research in the 18th century England.

I have found two more good books written by people who have lost a spouse to death from cancer: Terry Tempest Williams: Refuge: An unnatural history of family and place (the slant is how environmental toxins have killed her family members, especially about her mother); and Jean-Louis Fournier’s ironic Veuf. I’d like to get Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life, but it’s still expensive, only one-third is a memoir (it’s padded) and I haven’t gotten to the library. I did begin a biography of Jane Kenyon by John H. Timmerman.


Read Full Post »

Where Clary spends much of her day — on the other side of the computer I type on

Yet another week. So what’s it like. My muscles pull on and off all the time. They harden and strain. The pain travels up and down parts of my body.

I had a letter the other day from the Admiral’s oncologist. It seems he heard Jim had died. How I wonder did he hear? did he come across it on his computer? He had paid no attention to this patient of his. He didn’t dare phone. I wish fervently that this man get cancer and then have a doctor just like himself. I will write to MedStar about the moral imbecile Antabili.

I’ve heard that some women who are widowed from a beloved husband-friend say they cannot believe he is not going to be there when they come home. They do believe he is there, and cannot somehow get themselves to understand he’s not there any more and not coming back. Not going to re-appear.

Jane Kenyon: Fear of death Awakens Me

… or it’s a cloud-shadow passing over Tuckerman Ravine, darkening the warm ledges and alpine vegetation, then mving on. Sunlight reasserts itself, and that dark, moving lane is like something that never happened, something misremembered, dreamed in anxious deep.

Or it’s like swimming unexpectedly into cold water in a spring-fed pond. Fear locates in my chest, instant and profound, and I speed up my stroke, or turn back the way I came, hoping to avoid more cold.

Once we were told it was terminal the Admiral never spoke of how he felt about death. If say, in later August he gave up, knew it was no use, what was going through his mind. I know he turned white when Pereira said chemo would give him two more months — as if he had no realized he was dying. Yet there was the rage for the first week of August. He asserted he wasn’t thinking of anything in particular when I asked, and I thought it cruel to press. Anyway I never pressed him for replies. But how did he endure it? knowing as he did he would become nothingness. I am remembering: he did once quote from Becket’s En Attendant Godot at me: rien à faire.

Today I’ve decided what I’m doing to endure it is telling myself this is a kind of pretense. I did not today send away an application for a voluntary teaching position at a place that has courses for retired people. I enacted it. I did not find bad links in my website in the worst possible place: the index to Colonna’s poems, which translations the Admiral was proud of (he used a version of the title of the whole translation for his passwords, would use numbers associated with Colonna for passwords). So I am fixing it in the meantime — I tell myself because he valued them and it and don’t want to bother him you see.

I am pretending. I am pretending to live on, acting as if I will. It’s a sort of version of smile and the whole world smiles at you. Like the Mary Poppins Disney songs. Only I do it on wine.

None of this happened. It’s all a very sad play I’ve gotten stuck in — like those unlucky six characters in Pirandello’s play. The Admiral did not die. My problem is the play seems to be overlong. I am waiting for the curtain to go down.

If I get lost what does it matter? I am not wrong to be scared. I have no one to advise with. Money but how can I prevent myself losing it, being cheated? My (male) cousin (a CEO of some financial company he started and is successful at) called and gave me the first good advice I’ve had. The Admiral did protect me. And it’s not his fault. He did all he could have for me. It’s this play I’ve ended up in.

Do tell me how people endure this? I remember watching a brilliantly acted version of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, here in DC (with the Admiral that first summer I retired). Great local actors: Brian Hemmingsen and Nanna Invargsen among them. I had not realized this meaning then.

Still Ian’s most characteristic posture: only know he’s at the side of my chair, gently putting his paw on my knee or arm to ask for attention


I have just returned from an evening with a friend: we went to Politics and Prose and heard Azar Nafisi absurdly overpraise what must be her friend, Goli Taraghi, who lives in Paris and writes supposed apolitical stories. Nafisi was asked because Taraghi is a naive woman incapable of rising to a higher level of generality: one of poignant stories is about a widow (yes) who sells her house to provide an apartment for a daughter who lives in Paris, but neither there nor her other two childrens’ houses provide a home for her. Her home is now a seat in an airplane flying between these adult children. Taraghi’s one generality: how varied is the lifestyle of Iran even today. I learned Nafisi will say anything.

But Vivian, my friend and I had fun. I was able to finger through this year’s expensive photograph book from Fellowes: Behind the Scenes in Downton Abbey ($30). It’s a third book, not one which prints the first two together. The text is yet thinner than the other two, but the photos sumptuous and telling so if I can find it on sale I’ll buy it. I did buy the paperback by Wendy Wax, While we were watching Downton Abbey. About reader response. A sort of Jane Austen Book Club?. I feel I should support Politics and Prose.


We shared a pizza, I had a glass of wine, we shared stories and will go to a movie together on Sunday.

Maintenant comme une veuve

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »