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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’


Photo taken by Izzy at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC this week

She who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

Dear friends,

I’ve not been writing here because I’ve been so busy with trying to keep up with my teaching, reading with friends on a listserv, on good reads, and seeing if I can develop a project on a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels — I’m listening to a good reading on CDs of Warleggan.

If this were all.

I’ve also been involved with enclosing my porch, again trying to renovate or improve or alter parts of my house (the doors once again, electricity): among other things, a deeply spiteful neighbor apparently researched records available to discover I and the contractor had not taken out a permit to enclose said porch and registered a complaint with “code administration.” Or so I think — this man has done similar things to others, and once before said something to me which suggested he had been researching my title to my house! I am told he is an ex-FBI agent, retired; he was urging me to move. Maybe my house was bringing down property value — especially the kind of modest renovation we are doing. So today the contractor and I spent a long day at City Hall “pulling a permit” by proving to the city what the contractor was doing was adequate work, although it does need to be upgraded to prevent damp from destroying the room. Sigh. The truth is I’m not sure that this man will do the job and I don’t know how to get back to the screened porch. Jim was against enclosing the porch because it would cost far too much for the small room we would get out of it. The plain truth is also I have not that much use for it: yes another bookcase, a comfortable chair, lamp, table, maybe an exercise machine. I was trying no longer to be the neighborhood eyesore. I may (as last year over Expedia) have lost a lot of money. It won’t result in anyone wanting to buy the house for a larger sum; whoever buys it will regard the house as a tear-down.

So who has the heart to write?

The question that emerges in this newly rotten environment — that humanity, decency, privacy, reciprocal loyalty, obedience to human, civil, legal rights are ignored are nothing to the renewed resurgence of murder of hundreds of people and more to come in the middle east — so what’s a little local tyranny — is, how do I — how do you, gentle reader — avoid the rot.

The rot seeps in
The rot seeps in everywhere

Nowadays the best, maybe the only way to reach my friends as a group is through my own timeline on face-book. It’s time-consuming to click on one at a time and I’ve over 250 friends — all of whom I know in some way, many well. My general “feed” is filled with ads. I read the Republicans and Trump are signing away our privacy: if you use any large company for your email, they have the right to sell your data. Who would have their soul sold? My gmail is filled with junk in two categories. Commercial values, commodification shapes all experiences and people rightly flee back to exclusive pre-set-up groups. Face-book pages on topics seek to belong to institutions and rules are set up to control interchanges which put a damper on what can be said, what can be shared: rules make sure only what’s socially acceptable to belong to the agency or institution, or “on topic” is allowed and that is hemmed in. Only the NSA can read our private emails (we hope)– only! People I meet and talk to live these apart single lives as they obey the demands of capitalism today — for a job, a scholarship, as a groundwork for belonging. Adorno was accurate, prophetic is Patrick Wright on Journey through London’s Ruins. Time is money is no innocent utterance.

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This past week I shut this out by the classes I was teaching in and the class I am now attending: in Virginia Woolf, with a professor who is a better teacher than I am. She has strong self-confidence and doesn’t need to have extensive notes to talk from and is able to coax gently and create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect whereby a lot of the people in the room exchange views, high-minded on a great fiction, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.


Rupert Graves as the rightly suicidal Septimus, Amelia Bullmore, Rezia


Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway who says it was the only way to protect one’s soul …

I’ve seen three great films: (on a DVD on my computer) Ashgar Farhadi’s The Past (the film is searingly honest about people’s utter selfishness, sudden turns of intensely hot temper and resentment, spite without being judgemental); (on another DVD) the extraordinarily subtle Merchant-Ivory Mrs Dalloway, screenplay Eileen Atkins, where the filmic art captures the verbal art and meaning of the novel exquisitely; at my local Cinema Art with a friend, the moving film adaptation by Ritesh Batra and Nick Payne of Julian Barnes’s latest great novel, Man Booker winner for 2011, The Sense of an Ending.

I’ve kept up my friendships on-line.

This was Izzy’s week home: she’s started a new (if brief) touching song; as I watched her watch the World Championship Ice-skating contests at Helsinki, I suddenly asked, where is the next one: why in March 2018 it’s in Milan, Italy we learned. So she and I are going together next year: we’ll take two full weekends on either side and I can take buses and trains to nearby Italian towns and cities I’ve wanted to go to for years: like Brescia, Veronica Gambara’s home. Laura “signed” on and said she’d come and go to the fashion shows going on at that time. Milan —


Galileo as painted by Giusto Sustermans — but see Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (better yet, read it)

Tonight I spent 3 hours traveling by public transportation (and on foot) to go to the Folger to see an hour and one half staged reading of excerpts James Reston and Bonnie Nelson Schwartz’s Galileo’s Torch: a series of scenes showing Galileo joyous with discovery with his aristocratic friend-supporter in Venice, gradually driven when he leaves for Rome and Florence (why we are not told) by the power of the relentless church authorities to recant publicly (the threat is torture). The great actors (Edward Gero as Galileo, Michael Toylaydo as the Grand Inquisitor), the accompanying Renaissance music by the Folger Concert, a soprano singing two early 17th century songs, with a screen showing drawings and passages from Galileo’s Starry Messenger as well as beautiful shots of our universe (prettied up of course) — it was worth the travel, gentle reader. This was my second of three times this week at the Folger. The first was to see the HD screening of The Tempest from Stratford-upon-Avon. Sunday matinee Izzy and I go to the Folger for the full concert called Starry Messenger.

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Those are canines, people: as men legislate women’s health care and don’t want to pay for pregnancy …

Shutting the rot out: well here’s a meditation on where we see it continually and how to walk around it.

I admit for the ironic semi-amusement as well as edification of the people in the second course I’m giving (the first is on City and County Victorian novels, plus one Victorian Gothic) here is part of my opening gambit on the Booker Prize niche:

In the last 30 or more years ours has become a prize obsessed culture. Not everybody has won and not everybody’s prize is as good as others, but many win and they are advertised. It’s not just books: I asked Izzy if there are any ice-skating shows any more not connected to prizes? She replied: hardly any. From films, to sports, to classical music, to tattoo art; a concept of art as everything a contest. It does debase the art or sport or whatever: it’s about the relationship of any art to money first and foremost: prizes equate art with money and they enable art and artists to make more money. Then politics of all sorts, power, social and cultural agendas, power, prestige. Ironic that as inequality is still growing apace – or maybe to be expected that an art work is valued by its social capital – that’s a Bourdieu phrase. You can trade in the world with money as capital, but trading cards and chits also include your rank, status, institution, the red carpet extravaganzas are just an obscenely obvious edge of it. BAFTAs, Oscars, Emmy, Grammies, as each one is co-opted the prize is less given for the quality of whatever it was but who the artist is, who connected to. So once upon a time a Golden Globe may have meant a good movie, now it’s just like the Oscars.

It might seem and is a natural human activity but not to the extent it’s taken over. How this has come about and why tells us about our communications industry I suppose, but it’s more than that. Any comments or suggestions. There’s no correct answer. We could give Hitler a great fascist dictator. No one has come near him as yet. As our esteemed tweeter would say “tremendous.” Now in each profession probably a different set of circumstances could and would be produced to explain why.

In the case of books, in mid-century there was this problem distinguishing “serious fiction” from genre and junk fiction as TV and other medias spread and as paperbacks spread. Yes one explanation for the booker is the invention and spread of paperbacks which put books in the hands of people who could not afford hardbacks. The marketplace was flooded with low and middle brow paperback books. There suddenly was a collapse of a number of understood agreements where people didn’t undercut one another. Some of these protections still hold in Germany plus German federal policy works to protect bookstores among other businesses in Germany and not reward them for destroying themselves. – NBA the Net Book agreement – these are policies and practices of major chains of bookstores.


All winners must stand holding their book with the words Booker Prize winner prominently displayed


Short-listed do very well too

What happens is people stumble into things – they also conspire but sometimes they stumble; or one person has the idea and has no sense how workable and efficient it will be if done right. Todd’s Consuming Fictions gives the extraordinary figures as the early success of the Booker was felt. It was a coterie: an in-group of linked people living in and attached to London. It was the brainchild of Tom Maschler, a “rising” young celebrity editor at Jonathan Cape. Booker Brothers were a post-colonial agrobusiness company seeking to diversify and improve their public image with the collapse of colonialism as acceptable. I’m not saying colonialism collapsed; far from it, but it was no longer openly praised to steal another country’s natural resources and put the people into forms of servitude. A couple of other prizes from the 1960s: America Hawthorden and James Tait, Guardian fiction prize 1955.

Nothing remarkable about the Booker in its first couple of years; nothing unusual about their books, venture close to collapse. It’s said in-house correspondence of 1970s reads like a Black Box from a crashed airplane. 1970S a turning years: some extraordinary post-colonial books very like English Patient: V. S. Naipaul. In a Free State. JG. Farrell The Seige of Krisnapur. Books like The Bookshop: Susan Hill, the Bird of Night. Doris Lessing. Briefing for Descent into Hell. Movies helped: ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Heat and Dust is wedded to Merchant-Ivory type films (ah). They included books like Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor – imagine Lady Edith grown old and poor and living in a hotel. Iris Murdoch. The Sea the Sea. Kingsley Amis: Jake’s Thing (just what you think. Barbara Pym with her church jumble sale fiction: Quartet in Autumn – profoundly movingly sad. They cottoned onto the importance of planting stories, of announcing long list, short list, glittering prize ceremony. Series of scandals. J. G. Berger Ways of Seeing accepts his prize by insulting everyone as elite, corrupt, useless. The person who refuses to come pick up his prize – Dylan Thomas who sends the inimitable, unforgettable Patti Smith in his place. . This person gets a prize and that one not and it seems that the one who didn’t wrote the better. Who did she know? Then things like the Ayatollah Khomenai puts out a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie who won for Midnight’s children and has been long and short listed again and again.

All the talk buzzing around the Oscars is just a repeat of this early innovative group. The year of English Patient there were in the end two prize winners; Barry Unsworth no where near as dazzling and about slavery in a intense way ought to have won: Sacred Hunger. English Patient is more fun. Wolf Hall is set off by cult of Anne Boleyn and the marvelous acting talent of Mark Rylance (who can make a whole film come alive with the quiet question when you say shall I do this, “would it help?” So they gave her the prize for Bring up the Bodies. It’s not that good a book at all.

Possession in 1990 was a tremendous moment. It made Byatt’s career and made the prize. The movie wasn’t the center even though Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle were paired again. I find I’m not as enamoured of it as I once was. I prefer Atwood’s Alias Grace – a Jane Eyre immigration story: governess type goes to Canada, based on real woman and murder – Grace Marks accused — in a household of servants. Behind it a classic Canadian memoir: Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush and Moodie’s career as journalist where she interviews Marks –- and of course the Brontes’ art.

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What are some of the characteristics the Bookers share which do set them off. I suppose that’s the work of this term. What qualities are found in “serious” fiction that set it off from (sorry for the “terribly snobbish term”) middle brow books? I thought I’d call attention to just a couple in the hope of startling or creating interest or maybe opposition.


Luke Strongman: Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire: nostalgia, he says, the “clue” theme

After reading through our four and reading desultorily and listening to some of them read aloud on tape: beyond the historical turn accompanied by a deep questioning of what passes for history and why we want these stories told:

The central figure in The English Patient and a number of the events swirling round him: the deeply reactionary erudite adventurer, a Hungarian count Laslo Almasy: Ondaatje may have written an anti-colonialist, anti-war book but his hero is something out of The Prisoner of Zenda, related to royals in middle Europe: born 1896, he was a member of the Zerzura Club, desert explorers and adventurers, outlier types, presented themselves as explorers, lovers of fancy cars and women, looking for ancient cities in the desert, loses oases, but like communist spies inside M16 and Oxford in the 1940s and 50s, the Zerzura club were mapping the desert as spies for the fascists and Nazis, as military people in WW2, traitors some would say, Almazy died of dystentery in 1951 in Austria – never would take care of himself – he was awarded the Iron Cross by German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. People might remember the romantic film Out of Africa based on Isak Dinesen’s book with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (now married in earnest): the hero there was Anglo and part of a group from Kenya. Dinesen wrote great tales, gothics, but was as reactionary (crazy) as Ayn Rand. We have just two of this type but often when you dig a little in the background of a Booker Prize you find really interesting history, characters, authors events.

To continue: stream of consciousness as a central immediate confrontation of imagined mind with imagined reader; anti-colonialist (the legacies of empire) and anti-war: at some deep level –- and not so there is this perception of life, existence at terrifying. You never know what is going to happen next and you often can’t explain why so as to prevent next time. The Judgement scene in A Month in the Country. In the old English of Moon, a dreamer-archeaologist digging up the savage Saxons

And he shal com with woundes rede
To deme [judge]the quicke and the dede … (p. 34).

But as Amy Dodds puts it on the upper level of her twice weekly bus ride to her profoundly mentally disabled daughter, The thing is not to take it as a punishment.

If you are not terrified by the torture and landmines of Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient, you are not reading what’s in front of you. Water and sand as killers. Deep melancholy. But they are also for lack of a better term “quirky” – Mrs Palfrey at her Claremont is quirky, odd, unexpected. All these people living on houseboats, the book that won Fitzgerald her one Booker (all the others were short lists), Offshore seems to be about eccentric people. Fitzgerald’s point is they are not. But they seem to be. She was shortlisted a remarkable number of times: Human Voices about the power of radio really; In the spring time of the year, a kind of condensed Tolstoy. The Blue Flower.

I asked myself why did these two books by Swift win or were shortlisted and not these others. This works better with authors who keep getting short listed but don’t win a lot – egregiously given the number of authors there are some who win twice. So Ian McEwan is short listed frequently, winning for Amsterdam, but what is different about the books that don’t win. To ask such a question is to be non-cynical and say something in the quality of the book counts.

Last: the embedded narrative, the use of a central picture often one that really existed or exists: as in Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier which won other prizes. They are haunted fictions, sometimes by real banging ghosts as in the Poltergeist in The Bookshop or psychological projection. Memories. In The Sense of an Ending, a repeating motif: as you peel the onion, at the center is a mentally disabled person whose existence offers enigmatic explanations for the world of some key characters in the book.

And they are often turned into spectacularly good movies, commercial successes with screenplays occasionally vying in quality, adding to, enrichening the novels.

So the Booker Prize books reach us via people who know how to manipulate the rot use a long spoon.


And Izzy and I may make it to Milan ….

Miss Drake

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Caspar David Friedrich (174-1840), Le Soir (Evening, autumn), 1821

Dear readers and friends,

My friend, Martin, remembering this is the anniversary of Jim’s death wrote me tonight about reading Auden, especially “The Sea and the Mirror.” So I took down from its shelf W.H.Auden: Collected Poems — it was once Jim’s book, one of those he would return to read. I went to where Prospero speaks to Ariel and thought this closest to my condition:

Now our partnership is dissolved, I feel so peculiar:
    As if I had been on a drunk since I was born
And suddenly now, and for the first time, am cold sober,
    With all my unanswered wishes and unwashed days
Stacked up all around my life; as if through the ages I had dreamed
    About some tremendous journey I was taking,
Sketching imaginary landscapes, chasms and cities,
    Cold walls, hot spaces, wild mouths, defeated backs,
Jotting down fictional notes on secrets overheard
    In theatres and privies, banks and mountain inns,
And now, in my oId age, I wake, and this journey really exists,
    And I have actually to take it, inch by inch,
Alone and on foot, without a cent in my pocket,
    Through a universe where time is not foreshortened,
No animals talk, and there is neither floating nor flying.

When I am safely home, oceans away in Milan, and
    Realise once and for all I shall never see you again,
Over there, maybe, it won’t seem quite so dreadful
    Not to be interesting any more, but an old man
Just like other old men, with eyes that water
    Easily in the wind, and a head that nods in the sunshine,
Forgetful, maladroit, a little grubby,
    And to like it. When the servants settle me into a chair
In some well-sheltered corner of the garden,
    And arrange my muffler and rugs, shall I ever be able
To stop myself from telling them what I am doing,
    Sailing alone, out over seventy thousand fathoms -?
Yet if I speak, I shall sink without a sound
    Into unmeaning abysses. Can I learn to suffer
Without saying something ironic or funny
    On suffering? I never suspected the way of truth
Was a way of silence where affectionate chat
    Is but a robbers’ ambush and even good music
In shocking taste; and you, of course, never told me.
    If I peg away at it honestly every moment,
And have luck, perhaps by the time death pounces
    His stumping question, I shall just be getting to know
The difference between moonshine and daylight…
    I see you starting to fidget. I forget. To you
That doesn’t matter. My dear, here comes Gonzalo
    With a solemn face to fetch me. O Ariel, Ariel.
How I shall miss you. Enjoy your element. Good-bye.

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ianthisevening
In my house during renovation of kitchen, Ian pussycat this evening — does not like to kept in the back half of the house so staring at closed door (cats don’t like closed doors either)

My own feebler effort as I watched:

How does it feel
to be
half a person?

Hard to describe.
I take
up half our space.

I stand there
next to
an alert silence.

My awareness
creates
him, there, unseen.

But people disappear,
all the time,
everywhere

The thread is to know how
to seek,
find what is lost.

“Where did you go,
you disappeared?!”
I once said to him,
half-frantic.

He replied solemnly
“I did not, I
remained
perfectly visible
all the time.”

And now
I am the one
who remains
perfectly visible
all the time.

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jamesnortonasandrei

jamesnortonjessiebuckleyandreimaria
James Norton and Jessie Buckley as Andrey and Marya Bolkonsky (2016 War and Peace, scripted Andrew Davies)

As you know, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the Maud English translation, with the Elisabeth Guertik French translation (La Guerre et la Paix) tucked in just below, and listening to David Case reading aloud Constance Garnett’s translation.

This is an extraordinarily good book: I can see falling back into it endlessly. Among so many other themes, kinds of scenes, characters, arguments about what is history, how large events happen, Tolstoy understands and records death, how the dying die, and how those of us left are split through the soul: in Tolstoy’s description of how Andrey went through the process of dying (Book 3, Part 3, Chapter 32), he seemed to me to capture in words how the person inwardly feels and outwardly behaves. Tolstoy has explained to me what I saw in Jim – but physiological, psychological, mental changes, what I saw in his eyes, the lack of affect,e.g., “his attention was suddenly carried into another world, a world of reality and delirium in which something particular was happening.” Natasha’s grief, “where it is a beloved and intimate human being that is dying, besides this horror at the extinction of life there is a severance, which like a physical wound is sometimes fatal and sometimes heals, but always aches and shrinks at any external irritating touch” (Book 4, Part 4, Chapter 1).

lilyjamesasnatashawp2016
Lily James as Natasha Rostova leaving Moscow, her eyes seeking (same movie as above)

I now know why all 4 films of War and Peace I’ve watched thus far (1955 Vidor; 1966 Bondarchuk; 1972 BBC Pulman; 2016 Davies) felt they must dramatize some of this – though to my mind Davies’s dwelling and Norton’s acting comes closest, there’s nothing comes near Tolstoy and his three translators’ words.

Miss Drake

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a_young_woman_standing_in_an_archway-largemallett
Jean Baptiste Mallett (1799-1835), A Young Woman Standing in an Archway

Dear friends and readers,

I close the curtain I drew aside the last time I wrote. This is life n front of the curtain since coming home from Cornwall

My edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake has been published by Valancourt Press. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!” Here is the generic description and where and how to buy it When it arrived yesterday afternoon, tears came to my eyes because I loved the cover illustration. You see it above. The rest of the book is a pure white, it’s a quarto size but very thick, 506 pages. 136 of the 138 notes I wrote made it into the text at the bottom of the appropriate pages! It took 5 years on and off. I’ve made a blog with an account of the story and themes. At the beginning Jim was helping me adjust a scanner so as to be able mechanically to mount pages which I then would correct, type, annotate. When my computer died two months after he did, I was distraught over the loss of what I had done up to that point. It was all rescued and about a year after his death, I resumed work. it arrived on the day Jim would have been 68 (October 3rd); tonight it appeared on Valancourt’s site: we would have been married 47 years; this is the 48th anniversary of the night we met (Oct 6th, 1968).

A second new event for me occurred on October 3rd too: I drove into Washington, D.C. to go to an HD film at the Folger Shakespeare Library of a live performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as performed by players under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at his theater in London. I have seen two HD films from Stratford at the Folger (Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing renamed Love’s Labor’s Won — with the same actors), but never before drove in. I no longer trust the Metro as three weeks ago I attempted to go to the first of monthly Washingon Area Print Group meetings at the Library of Congress and found there would be no blue line for another hour. The published Metro schedule of the continual disruptions in service (due to danger, work being done) does not come near telling what is literally going on in that system from hour to hour. The schedule-writers couldn’t begin to. So I discovered that around the library the population is white and upper middle class or yuppy. People in gym outfits, women carrying yoga mats rolled. Men walking with pretty young daughters. Well-groomed dogs. There is in effect no parking during the day for people without permits until 6:30 pm when the two-hour permission ends at 8:30 pm. I didn’t want to fight a huge traffic jam so had left at 4:15 pm, and sat in my car reading once I found a good spot to wait for 6:30. I moved once lest I get a ticket after I left the car.

branagh-romeo-4

It was well worth it. I’m not sure the production entirely succeeded: Branagh situated the action in, had all the actors dressed and behave as if they were in a version of verismo, say Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana verismo played out with the desperation and violence of a 1948 Italian film I’ve never forgotten, Bitter Rice, with the belligerence of the males straight out of The Godfather. Some of the acting seemed too stylized, too forced: instead of watching characters dancing, we were watching actors miming intense patterns that characters at a dance might manifest. I found Derek Jacobi just too old for Mercutio, though I gather the idea was he was a kind of mascot, super-talkative and show-offy as this old man. The play has problems as it veers from ludicrous comedy to deep tragedy and Mercutio’s speech really doesn’t fit so some of the troubles of the first half were not Branagh’s doing: he was coping with these by borrowing from the comedy of a woman who has lost all her relatives and now dotes on her charge (Meera Syal as the nurse). He brought out how harsh Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) is to daughter, wife, nurse. But the play soared in the second half — partly this is Shakespeare pouring himself into these deeply melancholy, distraught, lightening changes into idyllicism to dark despair speeches. But I give Lily James (not given sufficient respect since the Downton Abbey role that brought her to prominence has a tendency to frame her as an easy pretty face) credit for inhabiting a young girl’s deeply passionate presence, one of wild impetus, deep sensuality, reluctance too at moments, bewilderment, and total absoluteness. Jack Madden with his dark-glasses, tie and hair-do put me in mind of West Side Story; the ambiguity of the Friar was caught by Samuel Valentine. It was in black-and-white which placed it in a film noir frame: I heard members of the audience not keen, but it was justified and especially by the final tableau of the bodies in this nightmare ghostly coloration. Together Lily James and Kenneth Branagh made Romeo and Juliet astonishing once again.

About the Folger concert at Kennedy Center that Izzy and I went to this past Saturday evening perhaps the less said the better. It was billed as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with speeches from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — and again Derek Jacobi was a box-office attraction. We hoped for a moving performance of the opera as we had during all three Folger concerts last year found the singers acted beautifully roles their songs implied. No such thing. They were not only dull but the least interesting of part of Measure for Measure were made to frame the opera: the story line omitting great speeches like “Be Absolute for Death” in order to understand life or accept death, in order perhaps to make a non-existent parallel between the classical lovers and the hypocritical Antonio and his pursuit of the nun Isabella, desertion of Marianne, and attempt to murder Claudio for sexual sins he commits. The woman singing “Remember me” had a reedy-voice and everyone seemed uncomfortable with the roles. Izzy fell asleep. One interesting element was how the audience in the intermission were looking for something positive to say aloud and then at the end clapped hard as if they were enthusiastic which they weren’t. No one wanted to admit they had thrown their money and time away. Years ago Jim and I tried the Folger Concert and had found it this bad often; I guess every once in a while they returned to uncompromising dullness.

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

robert-leighton-i-m-not-a-guru-i-m-just-hanging-out-here-till-my-renovation-is-done-new-yorker-cartoon
Actually Izzy and I have eaten out twice in Old Town, once to a pizza place where we watched Leslie Stall exploring the North Pole, walking in the dusky light around the Potomac ….

I am kept very busy this sad week. My kitchen is being renovated. At one point last Friday everything was ripped out and Izzy and I had no sink, the dish-washer and washing machine and dryer were in the backyard under tarpaulin on pieces of wood in the pouring rain. I am not replacing the appliances and the stove was only not plugged in one night and fridge kept plugged in as well as the microwave oven. All the stuff that was in the cabinets is in boxes around the dining room table. Izzy and I have eaten at home chicken legs baked and basmati rice. I wash the dishes we have in her bathroom sink. I’ve gotten quite orderly and know where things are and manage breakfast and lunch on the coffee table in the front or at my desk in front of my computer.

I worried I would not get the work done I wanted: but this man is very good, and his two helpers do what I have wanted, getting rid of eye-sores like this thing on the wall for a phone to hang from; like the man in January fixing the pipes and they have replaced rotting walls with good wall. Jim and I had discussed renovating the kitchen, using the same super-expensive (and now I realize cosmetically oriented) crew that did our bathrooms. Patty the project manager never came by when she was supposed to; she did not like my sceptical attitudes towards what she called “creativity.” Of course we would want a new washing machine and dryer and she would put them in a cabinet one on top of the other. I asked what was wrong with having such machines in the kitchen? Why did she want to hide them? I am able to do this renovation far more wisely because my neighbor Sybille became my friend and recommended this man.

It will be very pretty when they finish: new cream-colored cabinets with designs or lines of soft brown beige; the walls of the room will be painted soft cream; the trim is soft brown. I’ll have lights under the cabinets. The tile is lovely and for the first time ever stretches from one end of the room to the other: it is a stony-beige color. I’ll have a kitchen chandelier of some sort too. I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen that was not done right in 1993 for a long time.

Jim did not live to see this, and I will have no one to show it too. I’m doing it to support my own self-esteem, feel better about myself. (I won’t describe what the room had become over the 23 years since we renovated.) My friend, Phyllis, did say she would come over to see it, and I said since I don’t know how to cook meals for guests or do what’s called “entertain,” I said if she came I would buy pre-cooked or prepared food from Whole Foods and we could eat that together with Izzy and the two of us drink wine. We could watch more Outlander again on my big-screen TV (she likes Outlander).

clarynearsept216

My poor pussycats are made uncertain of themselves and thus nervous. I keep them in the back half of the house to protect them from running out of the house in terror. And I spent three hours today in an equivalent nervousness (like my cats). Two hours yesterday. Izzy and I are both going to Chawton Library for the Charlotte Smith conference where I’m to give a paper on the post-colonial Charlotte Smith. We’ll be gone 7 days including traveling time. I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the visiting services: the contractor is not finished and they would have to be shut away in the back and hear these men with no one else in the house with them. I can imagine them frantic to run away and getting run over by a car or killed by some animal stronger than they or starving to death. I found the people who do house-visiting and offer other kinds of in-house services not reassuring enough. Would they be able to keep the cats in the back? what happens when no one is here but the men working? In short, I just didn’t feel it would be safe. Having now visited a Pet Resort boarding place I am persuaded it’s the safest & most cheerful choice. My cats will have a social life with other cats while I’m gone.

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I drove to the place — I used the garmin to get there — it’s said to be Springfield but is in a remote outpost of Fairfax County. It used to be in Olde Towne but rents are too high now. A handsome older building, well kept up, 4 floors; my pussycat’s “penthouse” is in a large airy room. The penthouses with windows are the ones by the large windows, but they are catty-cornered to the windows. There is a large play area in the room. Toys. I saw sleeping contented and playing cats! They had company. I feel the cats will now be safe (they cannot run away). Clarycat, I can see, coming out to play. There’s a woman there all the time. I will take them on the Tuesday and have reserved until the following Wednesday though I hope to be back Tuesday and pick them up then. I now have peace of mind over them, my heart is easy.

I now think people who resort to neighbors, vague arrangements, to visiting services (not expensive, $20 a visit) don’t want to put their animals in such places because they don’t want to pay the money such a place costs. The money motivation for most people is high: for me too, but I find I’m often willing to pay for what others aren’t (say for a seat at Wolf Trap) and for what others are willing to pay (say an expensive gym rather than a public one), I avoid. I admit that it may be there are many people who can’t afford to pay $80 a night. I also have a car I could drive to get there and back. A British friend sent me the garmin which is so easy to use.

The Inevitable Navigation System: 'You have arrived at your destination.'

The Inevitable Navigation System: ‘You have arrived at your destination.’

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I did have two more experiences I want to tell of: because reader, you could enjoy them too. The film club nearly two weeks ago before, Sunday, September 25th, had the Swedish film directed by Hans Holm, A man called Ove, based on a novel by Fredrik Bachman. It has rightly won many awards.

The story emerges slowly: we see Ove (played by Ross Lassgard), a large man get very angry at a flower shop because the flowers are priced so as to force him to buy two rather than one. At first we don’t realize what the flowers are for: but then we see he is daily buying these, and daily putting them by a beloved wife’s gravestone.

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He has been let go of his job (forced redundancy, retired) because he is old, and stubbornly not keeping up with “new ways,” so now pensioned off, he lives alone. We see that he is an ill-tempered difficult man who scolds people and tries to get them to obey regulations, before where he worked and now inside his housing project. We watch and see amid his mechanical routines to get everyone to obey rules, he is a widower desperate to kill himself.

It’s surprisingly conservative parable or comic fairy tale: as in attempt after attempt, Ove is comically interrupted, prevented, himself does not plan his suicide carefully enough so it doesn’t work, we get flashbacks of his life. An immigrant family move in and he is led to give up his anger, scorn and alienation as a young wife (middle eastern, heavily pregnant) befriends and uses him to help her and her children and lends him her husband to fix his kitchen. The flashbacks show us a lonely life redeemed by one woman who brought joy into his life, she loved, married him and now is gone. The cards are stacked against him though. The film makes comedy out of deaths: Ove has been singularly unlucky: his mother dies in a freak accident, and father dies because a train runs over him after he is made so happy his son is promoted. He is all alone until a woman on a train recognizes his good heart and aggressively courts and then marries him. She almost dies in a bus accident; because he holds out against the hospital staff’s idea she will never come out of her coma and she does, he can take her home. We then see her fight to get a job in a wheelchair, fight to help others who are disabled. It is she who made him a happy life. Now that she is gone, he has wanted to die.

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A small motif in the film concerns a long-haired cat. At first we see this cat as a mangy desperate animal everyone, including Ove, kicks. Gradually the cat begins to stay near Ove, and then he is pushed by his immigrant woman friend to take the cat in. He begins to buy food for the cat and by the end of the film is sleeping with the cat. She or he is there when Ove dies — for he does die by the end, when he is surrounded by the friends he has made through giving in. He leaves a note telling how the cat likes her food and how she likes to sleep.

I say the film is conservative because a repeating kind of incident happens which in effect condemns group judgements, activities, the state in effect. This pushes against the pro-social group and acceptance the story enforces. I mentioned the hospital staff. It seems the state in the form of heartless men with white shirts and ties have time and again imposed its will on Ove or his father and mother or his beloved wife. These men took from him and his parents a house they loved and replace it with supposedly a better neighborhood. These men resort to burning a house down that he built piece by piece. In the present time sequence we see versions of these men in white shirts and suits try to put in a home another old man whose wife finds her raison d’etre in caring for and who wants to be with her even if nearly paralyzed. Ove had been this man’s almost friend and so too his wife who needs his help. Ove is able to help this couple because he has been led by the same immigrant Iranian woman to cooperate instead of shouting and screaming at people and making enemies: he gets a lawyer to help and she exposes the truth these people are making huge profits. You might say he is redeemed, called back to life by a second loving woman.

This film is not playing locally in my area but is playing elsewhere. I recommend it. I was much moved and also absorbed — of course I would be. There is talk among the audience after the film led by Gary Arnold (the film critic who chooses the films, introduces them). One man said he found irritating the idea that people grieve intensely and want to kill themselves and called it cliched; he knew what would happen. I controlled myself and defended the film on the basis of the comic-anguish art. Arnold said, “You never know who is going to be killed next.” He thought maybe the train running over Ove’s father was over-the-top. In each case you don’t know how it will be that he won’t manage to kill himself. I did worry when he bought himself a shot gun, loaded it, sat down and aimed it at his chin and began to pull the trigger.

Back yet further in time, a Tuesday night, September 22nd, I went to the Smithsonian to hear an excellent lecture on “Frankenstein Revisited” by Bernard Welt (he lectures regularly). I’m teaching Mary Shelley as a 19th century woman of letters, with her Frankenstein as her first but by no means only good book, I dared to try to get to a lecture at the Smithsonian using the Metro. I did manage it — was lucky that night. There are two different trains that stop at the Smithsonian: blue and silver. If the blue line doesn’t work, I can take the yellow to the orange and then the orange to the silver; it’s roundabout and takes much longer but is doable.

The first third told the usual story of the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori in their Italian villa on the lake in a dark rainy summer challenging one another to write a ghost story. He went over Mary’s parents, the love match with Shelley (he omitted all the misery of Shelley’s equal affair with her step-sister, his impregnating other women), all the usual literary groundwork, its political and other radicalism, its susceptibility to all sorts of thoughtful perspectives. He emphasized the Rousseau one: everything about society is wrong, a challenge to Hume and Kant, science, to the idea that life must be good (Prometheus as Job). He added some I hadn’t known: like that summer there had been a vast volcanic explosion which affected weather across the earth. It was the second two-thirds of his talk that were stirring: he seems to be a film and cultural studies scholar. He talked of the early responses to Shelley’s book, the first play, how it became part of a discourse about outcasts, working people, a way to describe the human condition in extremis. Then he came to the 20th century and went through the film history: from James Whale in 1931 to the recent National Theater dual Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the doctor one night, and Johnny Lee Miller the creature, and then the next switching roles. I found his bringing him ideas about the golem, the use of light and darkness on the screen (as Branagh used it I discovered when I went to the Folger) fascinating and useful. Throughout the creature and doctor embodied reactionary ideas, hatreds, insane angers, and Prof Welt ended on how in cartoons recently the creature has been likened to Trump, with the villagers no longer throwing rocks at him, but following with their pitchforks gleeful to destroy the present world order.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (as Dr Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
Naomi Harris was Elizabeth

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So gentle reader and friend, on from the time I arise from bed each morning to the time I take my nightly tradazone pill, cover myself, and Clarycat snuggles up alongside me. I have left out all my reading, teaching work, movie-watching — I’ve been blogging on some of that elsewhere. Like Fielding, a good showman if ever there was one, at the end of Book 6 (which I read and quoted from this week) in Tom Jones when Tom and Sophia have both set off on that road of life, with the audience (world as stage) watching, I say don’t pay a higher price for whatever it is than it is worth, try not to become intoxicated by emotion or drink, and don’t fall to weeping.

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Samantha Morton and Kathy Burke as Sophia Western and Mrs Honor, setting forth with a good will (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Miss Drake

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Potomac
By the Potomac on the Virginia shore, July 9th

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Oroonoko Park, facing the other way, July 9th

Dear friends and readers,

I am not sure why I keep this diary-journal up but either I carry on, or I quit. Considering these past two weeks, I am so aware that there is a boasting, possibly show-offy element in my writing up the good times I’ve had, or seeming successes, or just what I’ve enjoyed every couple of weeks, a feeling or characteristic I find is sometimes so falsifying, egoistic, and policing (of the reality of ambiguous experience) on face-book where this sort of thing goes on all the time.

Maybe not so much this last week or so: since Brexit and its aftermath (I was for Remain) and now another two clear-cut ruthless murders of black men by US police in Louisiana and Minnesota (apparently trained to shoot to kill even before any threat or wrong-doing occurs) and a retaliation in Dallas by another of these single young men, this time black and trained by the US military, to use assault weapons accurately and efficiently to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time — face-book has had less of this kind of thing; all of these popular social media have been filled with commentary on hatred and violence towards “minority” and immigrant populations in the UK and US. They’ve driven from the news the latest Trump ugliness, the results of NATO setting up military zones upon Russian borders after Russia secured the Ukraine, to say nothing of the killing fields of the middle east and the latest suicide bombings in public places around the world where large groups of people congregate.

I was thinking of presenting the way I, Izzy, and our friend, Vivian, spent a second Alexandria Birthday Party together in Oroonoko Park, out under the stars, picnicking, listening to a band play popular movie scores and a few famous military marches and symphonies, especially Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as prelude to, at 9:45 an outburst, flowering of 20 minutes of fireworks in the sky. In a large park at the edge of the town part of the city, next to the Potomac, a couple of hundred thousand people from the city show up, most of them with picnics, sitting on blankets, or lawn chairs. There are concession stands with ice-cream and pizzas, hot dog, and for free, cupcakes with icing (the “birthday cake” of Alexandria). Speeches from mayor and people like that, music and then fireworks. We parked with greater ease this year, Vivian and I tried for ice-cream (but the line was too long), Izzy wandered along the river. It was good to see this huge bunch of people, black and white intermingling (as well as Asian and Hispanic), sitting together within groups too. All peaceful, no guns. I’m not much for anthems but remarkably when the anthem begins to play, without any one policing all stand up in a group and seem to sing along. It was mostly democratic throng; they would have most of them lit up had Bernie Sanders come. We had a good time. It felt like the city had come out when we drove home as the streets were overwhelmed by cars. It took over an hour for us to drive back to where we live off Little River Turnpike, where it is usually a 10 minute drive. People were walking every where home too. All seeming cheerful.

But on the following morning I was brought up short. Each week I make an effort to shop in the morning at Giant because on weekends, an ex-student of mine, a young black woman, aged early 30s, is a cashier, and we manage to have quick but good talk together. She remembered me first (she was in my class some 13 years ago): she has a good degree, and even a masters but has to work 6 and 1/2 days a week it seems to make ends meet: she supports her mother, her child, herself, and now her coming wedding to a long-time boyfriend by 5 days in a local prison where she has an office job, and on the weekends at Giant. I told her about the fireworks in the context of quick comments about the week’s dire events: her reply was she didn’t go to, and would not take her small daughter to such large community events, stays away from this “sort of thing.” I heard her and replied, “Better safe than sorry.” I then thought a bit and realized that the number of black people at the July 9th event was much smaller proportionally than our black population. Those there were fully integrated, but they were decidedly in the minority. Hardly any Muslims. More hispanic and Asian people.

How white people do not begin to imagine what a black person’s life is in the US on a daily basis. I just know were this young woman white she’d not be working 6 and 1/2 days a week and would have a job more commensurate with her education. It is sad to think that this young woman is shut out. She knew about “the birthday party.” This keeping away has been her policy since a young girl. This is the life of an intelligent highly educated black young woman in the US

For the fourth of July I had listened to James Earl Jones reading Frederick Douglas’s “What to the slave is the fourth of July?”, listen to Howard Zinn on the “three holy wars” (showing that no war is a good war, none worth it, all started by, shaped, and in the end benefiting only the wealthy and powerful), and then the nearly 4 hour Hamlet with David Tennant as Hamlet, Patrick Stewart as Claudius, and Penny Downie as Gertrude.

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As with HD opera, and the Hollow Crown series (R2, H4, H5; H6 and R3), it made such a difference to have the actors close up; I saw what a great leap into subjectivity Shakespeare had made when he made Hamlet’s psyche the play itself, and from some Net talk with a friend realized the breaking down of stereotypes for men (so that they are vulnerable) and for women (individualistic, strong) in the Tudor Henry VIII and Elizabeth I plays is found in Shakespeare’s history and tragic plays too.

hamletPennyDown

My proposal for a paper on “Men under Pressure in Tudor plays: Overturning Gender Stereotypes,” was accurate, and maybe next summer I’ll get back to the subject as a project. Another Net friend who spent her July 4th watching the Hollow Crown, play after play, wrote me that she came to a similar argument: Hillary withstood another humiliation; strong and individualistic women then and now are punished — in these Tudor plays and Shakespeare too.

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A Bluer shade of blue; my new 2016 mini-Prius

Le pièce de résistance: what felt like and was a bold daring act (for me): I bought another car, a second one on my own. I invented its name: mini-Prius. It’s a PriusC Type 2. I have for quite a while been dissatisfied with the hatch-backed 2010 Prius I bought so hastily in January 2014 after I totaled the 2013 grey PriusC Jim and I had bought together as a car for the two of us to use in our retirement together. The 2010 HB Prius was just too large; there is no proper back window; the right side view is utterly obscured. I never got a sense of where it ended; it rattled. The last straw was I finally hit my right fender on another car in a parking lot: I didn’t realize the damage I’d done to my fender until I got home. I had thought it a light tap. That smash on the right back side came from not seeing properly and not having a good sense of where the car ended.

I had gone to have an oil change and scheduled check-up (like one does for one’s cats) this past Friday and was told I had a $500 bill to fix the body and do other things. I said, I was thinking of buying a new small Prius and could they show me one if they had a new or used one. Within a half-hour the salesman had produced a car that was just what I wanted: I wanted the same car or as close as I could to what I had in order not to have to learn a new dashboard. It’s much smaller. I could see out the back window; I had full vision from the right back; he took off those high head rests. I have room in the front which I didn’t before. My dashboard is simpler (I actually have less gadgets). I have a gear box again. A key, a real key with the computer gadget as part of it. And it’s even more efficient on gas than was the 2010. $14,600 after I traded in my 2010. This new one lacks a GPS system, but then so did the 2010, and today I bought myself a new garmin as the old one has been failing. I’m much more comfortable driving it. I’ll grow to have a sense of where it ends. Calm. It’s as close to the compact Chevy Cavalier I had for 20 years.

I did make a fool out of myself by falling for another $400 (!) sealing-in of my car’s color: I was told some malarky story about how water-based paint will fade, insects and leaves will get struck, the rain is acidic and I will just have to have it waxed once a month, and this wonderful sealing will do the trick. I know how I begin to panic when I am inside the machine car washes and waxes inside my car. I did it once and never will again. But as the salesman phoned for the mechanic to do this in another part of the store, I realized how silly this was perhaps, I’d been had, but it was too late. However I resisted all other add-ons and proposals.

There is a larger context, another final impulse. It is now difficult (time-consuming and awkward) to get into DCby train. If there is to be no Metro for however long I will have to drive into DC, and this past Saturday I was stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation in an encounter that resembled Sandra Bland’s except there was no escalation into violence. On the contrary, the police officer gradually became polite. Still it was scary (read about it here). So I need a car I feel comfortable in and can feel safe from police because I can drive it calmly. It’s not my old Chevy Cavalier but it may be the closest thing I could get in a modern car.

You might say these are successes but this time I am providing a genuine larger social context.

Clary
ClaryCat waiting inside

My last not very significant adventure has a context too. I lost the key to my house for the first time ever in 33 years of living here. The context here is I hadn’t taken measures to provide for someone having a key to let me in now that Jim is not here. I have vague memories of having to phone him for help like this; it might have been I was locked out for some other reason. As I told the two women I was having lunch with before going home that day, I remember at no time when Jim was not traveling (and he traveled very rarely as most of the time he didn’t care for it) that he was unavailable to help me. He would leave meetings: I could phone him and he’d pick up; I could drive to wherever he was and he’d come out. He’d drive to me if necessary, drop everything. I suppose my not sleeping deeply or more than 4 hours at a stretch because I didn’t feel I needed to as he was doing that sleeping for me, and if I grew tired or needed a nap, he’d be there was an analogous stance. We were utterly intertwined, our existences functioning as part of a pair.

What happened was I left my house to go to teach, and as I climbed into my car, I felt my house and car key entangled and disentangled them. I thought I put the house key onto the dashboard and then used the car key, but as I drove away and looked I saw the house key was not there. Panic and upset driving to teaching. I told myself I dropped the house key on the car park. Still I was somewhat distracted while teaching, and then the anxiety and worry grew during the lunch so driving home I found myself going faster and faster so as to get the experience over with when I arrived. I get there and no house key on the car park.

Suffice to say I broke in. I knew what window was openable and climbed in over the piano. The cats were startled. I remembered a time years ago when pregnant with Izzy, I locked myself and Laura (with me at the time) out of my car. I didn’t phone a locksmith or police. I went over to a nearby cleaner’s when I was able to push one of my driver’s side windows slightly askew. I took a hanger and made a tiny circle and after about an hour’s effort had opened the car by myself. That key was on the dashboard.

But it was upsetting. Later that day I had two more sets of keys made, and now my friend, Phyllis, has one and I can call her if I lock myself out. I put the third in my car permanently.

On the house: I finally saw my contractor and went with him to buy a new front and back door, and screen, and found him to be an honest decent man, I am now looking forward to a decently priced renovation of my kitchen, new front and back doors, a smoke detector system, two of the doors in the house removed, the other five painted (they are a mess). By August he’ll have painted the kitchen, I’ll have new cabinets I can reach, a new sink and working faucet, and a newly painted room.

I’ve a hunch I’ll be satisfied with the price and ask him to enclose the screen porch and make a modest room which is usable. The early years we used the porch for when it was super-hot and we didn’t have central air-conditioning: we ate on that porch (scandalizing the neighborhood), but since we have had central air, it’s a lost space. I feel a bit absurd as there is only me to use the room and maybe Izzy. But I have wanted to enclose it for some 20 years: it gets so filthy, the screens tear, the cement slab gritty and soaked. With a floor, walls, heat, electricity, it could be another small area for an exercise machine. A radio. More bookcases. A small TV or computer screen. Maybe I’ll put a large window facing out.

I will also at long last have the house painted a sensible color. I will remove the mortification of living in this light blue house. I’ve lived with this color (it has faded somewhat in 23 years) since 1993 when the contractor refused to do blended colors and when I saw the color, Laura made fun of it, and Jim said we’d spent the money. To try to get rid of the paint often made things worse, he said. Another $5000 thrown out. My choice will be a cream color that one of the contractors I’ve hired over the years to renew said porch painted the brick wall that separates the house from the porch. I will be sure to write into a contract, blended color.

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Izzy, a photo taken on the morning before she holidayed briefly in NYC

The degradation, danger and failure of the Metro system prompted Izzy to take off the first three days we lost a major connective piece of our yellow and blue lines here in Virginia. She stayed at the Larchmont where the air-conditioning was discovered not to be adequate for the heat the city was having. But she found that the cafe on the corner that I liked so did have scrumptious breakfasts, and she enjoyed her three hectic days in NYC: Tuesday night when she arrived, all day Wednesday and Thursday.

Here are her photos of the park after she reveled for a couple of hours in the Pegamon and Hellenistic exhibit.

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The Met by the side of the park as the sun begins to set

On Wednesday she waited for hours in lines to see the last live 5-10 minute show in the street. “If you have a slip and you’re not moving, you’re doing it wrong,” she said. With Lin-Manuel Miranda reading aloud a letter Hamilton wrote to Eliza Schuyler. She was exhilarated by the experience and will remember the brief skit and reading for a long time to come. She did enter the on-line lottery to see Hamilton but like most entering, was not one of those chosen by chance. See A farewell to #Ham4Ham

So that’s the news from Lake Potomac where in our house we have no men but Ian pussycat and all our women are surviving as best they can.

Miss Drake

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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A thank you card I received from the AU OLLI people

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

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Calling themselves the Rusticway Chamber Music Series

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

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Charlotte Bronte’s traveling desk

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

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

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Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spenser, Reed Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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Medium and then close up

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

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

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

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A younger Jenny, recalling her book smoking through America on a train

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

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

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

And Jenny Diski passed through her agon.

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

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

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

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J. Waterhouse, Miranda looking out at the tempest

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tapestry

I live in a strange quiet place where my heart beats slowly.
And I can hear icicles melting on a winter morning — Lise Menn, “None, I think”

Friends,

I thought I’d record that Izzy and I had pleasant later afternoon yesterday: The Folger Shakespeare Consort followed a program they called Playing with Fire, a mix of dance, instrumental and choral music. They cheated: by having a guest player on the violin (so they had an instrument not yet invented in Bill’s era). Bu otherwise, part of the delight was the way they played the real instruments at the time touchingly, quietly, gayly. I especially liked the bagpipes, the use of castanets, the drums, fifes, recorders. I recognized music I’ve danced to and music I heard played and danced to in the film adaptation of Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel’s book, script by Peter Straughn), so I imagined Clare Foy as Anne Boleyn dancing away.

annedancing

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The latest exhibit in the Folger Great Hall of fragile books and manuscripts related to Shakespeare necessitated putting the concessions into the older reading room. It was apparent to me many of the audience members regarded this as quite a special treat. The place brought back memories of my years reading poetry by Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, Anne Finch’s poetry in manuscripts, and (my last project) Anne Murray Halkett’s later 17th century autobiography. In all the years I was there I never looked at the tapestries above the highest shelves. A kindly woman helped me photograph one with my cell phone and you see it adorning this blog on top.

No one sang in this consort, but the next performance is a selection from Purcell’s Fairy Queen (opera, I believe by Dryden) and Shakespearean songs from his plays set by Purcell. I’d like to go as well as to the lecture beforehand. Yesterday’s experience was an oasis of delicate beauty, cheer, charm, harmony. I cannot find anything on the Net in YouTube one-quarter as lovely, controlled, sparkling, clear and somehow modern too as this consort produced. I may buy the album the next time I got to the Folger, and thenplay the CD on my laptop here in my room.

FolgerConsort

It was cold and wet getting there and back, but it ended a quiet fulfilling day insofar as Izzy and I can manage this. She had spent the earlier and mid-afternoon part of the day watching Junior World Ice-Skating and tennis, then writing and reading, and I similarly (writing to friends, reading letters and postings, blogs) and then immersed in a number of books, beginning with essays on Elizabeth Gaskell: Margaret Homan’s second book on l’ecriture-femme: Bearing the Word, 2 and 1/2 chapters out of a Preface, Postscript and 10 are devoted to Gaskell’s books; Chapter 4 is given over to Jane Eyre, 5 to Shelley’s Frankenstein. George Eliot gets Chapter 9 for Romola. The postscript is on Woolf. and towards the end Angelica Rosenthal’s study of Angelica Kauffman’s art. We stopped off for Chinese take-out to bring home. In the later evening she set herself to watch hours of Daredevil (Netflix serial); I shover-dosed on three episodes of Cranford Chronicles (script Heidi Thomas), where they dance walzes, and which series I find so touching.

walzes

Is there any filmic story which provides more roles for older women? many in this series my favorite older actresses and actors.

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Mr Holbrook (Michael Gambon) reading Tennyson, Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) — he dies soon after

Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!
Well — ’tis well that I should bluster! Hadst thou less unworthy proved
Would to God — for I had loved thee more than ever wife was loved ….

Recognition

The past is not past but makes the present what it is. I wake sometime between 6 and 7. One cat curled inside my arm, the other between my legs, a favorite moment. I wish I didn’t have to dislodge them. For me grief’s not past, it’s present. Every day I am missing Jim, sometimes with more intensity, say around 4 pm. I miss my life with him more acutely than ever. I hoped to “build” some kind of life or routine that would provide equivalent satisfactions outside. Naive of me. Improbable, given what he was, where I am. What I call “deep” reading assuages the loneliness: Elizabeth Gaskell has been doing that for a couple of months for me: books where the author’s presence leaps from the page to the reader, a friend. What I call ‘deep movie” watching also assuages the need. I can be cheerful when I’m with congenial people or just more superficial socializing — if all is pleasant. (At the Folger a man asked me about the reading room and I told him my history of work there for some 15 years; explained the pictures from the 18th century; he looked interest and said he would try the tour.) The past is in and fills immediate time, the present and as time goes on my missing Jim remains as strong as ever.

Today was not as good, today was harder for both of us. I now know why Jim made some of the choices he did, from the ways he would choose to travel to a place (now matter how inconvenient or long the car drive until his strength gave out), to how in his last years he did not want to go anywhere in the US but a few high culture places and only looked to Europe for when he reached 70 (that’s when we had to spend the money he said we had in an account I’ve turned into money by now and just invested as I didn’t know what to do with it), to how he turned away from most people, saying I was enough, spent his hours on the Net reading good things, all of it comes clear now. I come to his point of view with understanding after 2 years and 5 months. I seem ever to have a new naivete to peel away. But if I can stay with it, this is the path to at least some peace; this is the way to have good days: minimal expectations, bookish quiet art, music.

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Lisa Dillon and Judi Dench photographed and photograph colored so as to look like a 19th century painting: women have ever lived alone in effect and when rarely lucky supported by one another is Gaskell’s underlying theme

Miss Drake

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Flowerscomingupinmyfrontlawnundersmallmaple
Monday

Daffodilsincircle
Wednesday

I think it was Rilke who so lamented the inadequacy of our symbolism — regretted so bitterly we cannot, unlike the (was it?) Ancient Greeks, find adequate external symbols for the life within us — yes, that’s the quotation … we must not blame our poor symbols if they forms that seem trivial to us, or absurd, for the symbols themselves have no control … the nature of our life has determined their forms. A critique of these symbols is a critique of our lives, Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve

Friends and readers,

Spring is here. Two of the patches I tried to start flowers are in are not flowering. Green stubs and stalks come up but no flowers. I’m told that the unusual warmth in November and December made them start to flower then, but in the intensely cold time of January and February, with a major snow storm (huge amounts of precipitation) these vulnerable patches (one gets less sun, the other too much water) were confused and now won’t flower. But I have a circle of flowers and crocuses and narcissus around the small maple tree I put Christmas lights on in December

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crocuses

Monday I was gone from home for a few hours in the afternoon teaching — the second week on “Making Barsetshire” at the OLLI at AU — and thought I had thoroughly looked at every crevice and corner of my study or workroom (where I keep my two computers, where my desk is, my library tables with different piles of books I mean to read, and in which spend much of my waking hours as I watch movies at night on my PC) to make sure no cat was left in the space on the other side of the door. I have a hook that is latched to close my study off from my cats when I am gone because I’ve seen Ian chewing the wires. When I came in, I said, as I usually do nowadays “Here I am, Clarycat!” for she often trots up to me once I’m in. Maybe a minute later (maybe more) I hear a repeated and intensely felt mewing,loud. I walked over to my study, undid the latch and there he was, waiting patiently. He appeared to have done nothing to anything but simply waited there at the door. The unappreciated patience of cats.

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Ian in the catbed on one of my desks about a month ago (Clary is lying doughnut style next to him)

I’ve seen this patience in Clarycat when she’s been inadvertently locked in or stuck somewhere she cannot get out of by herself. I am not sure what suddenly makes a cat mew to tell their “person,” for I’ve known Ian to be missing (in effect) for hours before he’ll mew or I’ll find him say on top of Izzy’s hutch (for keeping books) where there is suede grey cat (with black lines) whom he sits near (as a pillow probably). In the above case I think he worried because he realized I was out of the house, and my coming in, my voice produced in him intense relief. At least I know he’s not deaf. Izzy has said she has gotten in to the house when both of us have been gone for hours, come into her room, been there for a while, and then said something, or made a noise, and then heard the same repeated intense mewing and followed the sound to discover Ian towards the back of an almost closed drawer, stuck. He had done nothing, but waited until she got there, but not quite as immediately voiced his need. I wonder if this waiting had gone on for days, Would he have become frantic and tried to break out?

This behavior of cats is instructive. Human beings show similar patience, but in the very different situation of self-control and repression in order to fit in with a what is imagined the general tenor of a group of other human beings. for safety? Lacan says that in our minds is this mirror in which we envisage what we think or feel “most people” would say and we behave in ways that obey their norms, or justify ourselves for not so behaving in terms of these very norms.

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I’ve been to three enjoyable events in DC in the last three weeks. About eight times a year the Washington Area Print Group (WAPG as it calls itself), a local offshoot of Sharp (an international organization studying book history) organizes a lecture at the Library of Congress. Last Friday later afternoon Marija Dalbello spoke about “photoplay novels,” a hybrid popular form of novella which flourished in the earliest period of film-making to the coming of sound. Published by Grosart and Dunlap, they combined stills of the famous actors/actresses from what the public regarded as thrillingly erotic and violent movies embedded in narrative and discursive writing to fill out the story line, nuances and even depths silent films could not begin to satisfy. They are popular lurid material.

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A typical image found in these books

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No one bothers to photograph the facing texts

Prof Dalbello studied 465 novels of this type: she was herself mesmerized by and spoke of the “punctum” of these stills and/or photographs (intense engagement) rather than the drive to rationalize them. I found parallels in the use of stills in those publications of screenplays that appear. It seems the stilted intertitle and silent films so defended by film artists in the 1910s were early on recognized by the public as frustratingly inadequate. In watching the Outlander mini-series at night at home I was struck how Gabaldon’s books were used as scripts with invented voice-over providing this deepening of emotional affect and identification rationales.

I connect Dalbello’s emphasis on the sheer punctum, the image she wanted to stay with, to Stephen Poliakoff’s Shooting the Past (early 21st century!), which I also watched at home. Poliakoff’s argument (a movie with an argument!) is how necessary it is to keep a rare vast photo collection together, because without context their specific real meaning is lost. Memory calls out for words and other photos, for documents, and knowledge of precise events media put before people. The ultimate context is the BBC archives: they must be kept and made available, not just what’s left of old videos and films but the library of scripts, of documents. Pace Dalbello’s fascination with and idea that it was the images people bought these books for, the words mattered as long as there were none or they were inadequate in the silent film era.

Shooting the Past is superlatively well done — the topic or story is what makes it. An ancient library — huge old building, first castle, then country house, now library houses a remarkable collections of photographs from the 1880s to the present. A corporation has bought it, wants to sell the photos that will fetch a lot of money, get rid of the rest, and rebuild the building to be a business school. Liam Cunningham is the American businessman, who is presented as not ruthless. Lindsay Duncan the librarian who seeks to hold onto the collection; Timothy Spall her assistant who is to a man like the American business man a wreck, unemployable, nor tech-savvy at all. His vast information is all in his head. After he is interviewed, it’s declared he should not be let near office buildings.

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Timothy Spall (as Oswald Bates) shows the photos of the past to the American businessman determined to sell what fetches big prices, the rest ditch (Poliakoff, Shooting the Past) — it’s about how memory is put together

It’s about the photographs. At intervals someone brings out some of these on a particular theme and the movie then turns its attention to these — it’s they who have great power. It’s not about film as such except maybe a documentary: what holds you is these are photographs from the past recording what was really happening, even the set up ones are revealing when put into context. It’s about context, about not losing context. The super-expensive photos would lose their meaning or be switched and meaningless when plucked out of context. And it’s also about telling the truth of lives, how sad, how courageous, how at the end people are wrecks but have known some moments of compensation.

Poliakoff’s much praised Almost Strangers fills us with similar stories of hidden lives: I’ve started this mini-series at night too: it features an extraordinary — magnificent performance by Michael Gambon playing a man who tries to tell his in public, mortifies everyone and breaks down in the effort. Lindsay Duncan is there in a subtle performance of a widow. Also Timothy Spall and Stephen Frye as chorus. How could one go wrong? Well it’s too upbeat; Poliakoff too determined to give the stories from the photographs an inspiriting perspective.

Gentle reader, I have not begun to tell my hidden life here, nor my past. People manage it in published novels (autobiographies in disguise) and some life-writing in published books.

Last Saturday Izzy and I saw the latest production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream done with as much theatrical flair and emoting and fun as the actors could manage with Adam Posner directing. It received glowing local reviews ,and it was enjoyable if wholly unoriginal.

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Holly Twyford as Bottom and Monique Robinson as Snout

Tonight I went to a sort of pre-program or preface to the last night of the season for this Midsummer Night’s Dream which did have some original thought: four actors performed a dramatic reading of an original play by one of the actors in the production: Eric Hissom (who played Theseus and Oberon)’s The Tragical Comedy of Thyramus and Pisbee: he plays Philostrat, then Shakespeare then Elizabeth I as deux ex machina. It was not as funny as the determined laughter of the audience (over 1/4 members of the cast as well as several of the Folger new “outreach” programs were there) tried to project, but it was an insightful commentary on how we or at least Hissom thinks we are happy to see Shakespeare himself nowadays (as gay, promiscuous [!], not caring about conventions but about money, as on a genius-level absorbed in his poetic visions). The conceit is a nervous actor, Henry Crosbie (Adam Wesley Brown) is trying to rehearse the play within a play and is interrupted and thwarted by Philostrat (the master of ceremonies), a woman (Rachel Zampelli as Rosemary Bassanio) who has written a version of The Tempest, about to be plagiarized by Shakespeare, and another egotistic male actors, (Henry Worthy (Tom Story, an exlover of Shakespearel’s). Henry may be literally or biologically be a son of Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s famous acting colleague; Rosemarie literally or biologically a daughter of Shakespeare’s. All are in their souls, minds, heart, history children of Shakespeare. It was most effective when it took Shakespeare’s own lines and re-contextualized them by the hidden lives of the Hissom’s invented players.

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Eric Hissom as Oberon/Theseus with Erin Weaver as his Puck

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I’m entering a new phase of widowhood. I have to try to appear cheerful because by the time one is a widow three years people really won’t tolerate anything else. I’m now following a Future Learn course on “Why we post,” and have been somewhat surprised to to be told that research shows (9 graduate students and 1 professor in 15 countries) that selfies and other photos of the self that people put online are not an expression of individuality or self, but almost consistently are embedded in socially approved forms of success, usually social, familial. It’s more than showing off. They say these photos function as a form of policing: as they lay out what those who don’t post pictures are supposed to be like and do. The majority of people on the Net hardly post words except to friends (their research suggests) and in the proliferating closed groups “memes” become another form of moral police that stands up for this value and disparages that.

A double life. There are phases of this experience of widowhood and as I’ve said the experience is individual, dependent on who you are, what age, importantly if there is any long-standing community you belonged to. More and more the Kubler-Ross and other formulaic models (used in the Mental Health and Literature course on Future Learn) turn out to be a form of moral, social and emotional policing of anyone who is bereaved: I come across references that are jeering to: someone whose point of view is mocked is called in Kubler-Ross’s first phase: “in denial.” I’ve never been in denial: I knew Jim no longer existed from 9:05 pm on October 9, 2013. And I went wilder because I knew he was better off, that he knew no more suffering and this ordeal of his body fighting annihilation. First I was in a lunatic phase, stunned, cannot take in the consequences of all that happened and shut out memories so devastating in all ways; then a long phase of sanity in contact with sheer emotional pain where I at least remembered much and managed to set up a daily life on the Net, as a teacher, working as an independent scholar, going to a Jewish Community Center for exercise. I was given advice to go out, build a new life, a social world. Right. Now I see this phase has been learning to keep up a public veneer. I now know the attractive idea I was still in the same play, but going on for a second act, is too neat, pat, and false. The condition of widow at my age, where I live, who I am and never having achieved place precludes local true companions (was not J.B. Priestley’s title to a book of yearning The Good Companions? I remember loving the book). I am in the same act only without him, which is all the difference in the world.

Maybe many people spend their lives making faces to meet faces that they meet as Eliot said (TS). Not all can manage. Some widows to avoid this making a false face, go into a partial retreat so that the double life becomes only a small part of her waking hours. Some every once in a while break out and write to newspapers. I’m teaching myself to stay in with my books, writing with friends on the Internet for company, blogging, watching movies at night. Somehow it’s not easy and that is a paradox as even now and all my earlier life I was and am happiest at home. A deep rootedness is my nature, and my home place has been my comfort. It’s only since Jim’ death I havee had this need to go out — and secondarily, be amongst people. I find myself remembering Julia from Brideshead Revisited, how she vows to keep what she feels strong so she can carry on feeling it (she will eat, devour, drink it down) and stay alive that way. I’m still going out but my expectations are now simply a hope I enjoy the lecture, the play, the movie, the exercise, no more, heeding Pascal’s reminder that “all humanity’s misery derives from not being able to sit alone in a quiet room.” Recognition is when you make yourself fully conscious of what you are doing. Trying to get used to this life — That’s what Fanny Price in Mansfield Park achieves as she grows up in the book’s first three chapters: she gets used to it without ever losing what she is, staying true to her self. She will not act because she will not let go, not be unguarded, not let herself be made a spectacle of (how I identity with that).

Part of this phase of recognition: I notice recently as I get used to fending for myself, doing things one step at a time, I feel more nervous because I’ve faced the insecurity and enforced autonomy as ongoing; at the same time I lose my fear of death; it becomes release. I won’t hasten it, but I accept it coming. All my regret would be for my beloved Yvette. I don’t want to leave her. I’ve been deep sleeping the last few days and known the peace of apparent oblivion and this enabled me to feel this new peace. I can wake up with spasms across my lower calves in the midst of such spells so I do dream. Each night I read in the Widows Handbook, ed Jacqueline Lapidus and Lise Menn, and find more and more of its poetry can now speak to me.

Old Woman Dreams

He came to her finally in his torn jeans and soft
tan jacket, came from feeding the horses,
their sweat still on his palms,
came redolent of hay, honey from his hives-
Solomon’s Song on his lips.
Came with the old scar on his cheek where
she left the chaste imprint of a kiss.
Younger, impossibly younger,
he told her what she wanted to hear.
But only in dream, night, the color of his black hair.

Around him, her arms wound like his branches,
his eyes were a garden she ached to lie down in.
They met in a wind-rush, and what she remembers
is a craving to follow where he was leading.
Also the impression of dissolving
against the astonishment of his chest.
Her desire seems to have its own life and will not be
expelled no matter how often she tries to banish it.

Somehow an old woman feels all this. Is it so odd?
She’s heard a dream embodies a message
from the totem spirit, like the fox
who emerges in flame from the forests
and goes to hide in the morning hours.
— Patricia Fargnoli

WithherCat
Gwen John (?), early 20th century

Miss Drake

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