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Posts Tagged ‘teaching life’

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An shot early in The Salesman before Rana has been attacked

Dear friends and readers,

In my mostly literally solitary widowhood — though I’m online with friends a good deal (letters) and participate in reading groups, Future Learn courses, and these blogs to the point I feel companioned and some of what I do regularly are these joined-in activities (more reading, more writing, occasional f-t-f meetings) — in my mostly solitary state (as like some Defoe character, I say), I’m finding that the love of characters so many readers attest to when they talk of what they read has come upon me more strongly than it used to. I feel this especially when I watch a great film adaptation of a great novel where there are many episodes. Good films, moving books. Beyond these imagined congenial souls, I have my cats — such my topic this week.

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A close up

I burst into tears at one point while watching the Iranian film, The Salesman, written, directed, produced by Ashgar Farhadi’s (2016): fine sensitive intelligent (keep adding good words). I saw this in a nearly empty theater late yesterday (Thursday) afternoon — a first it seemed I and one couple were the only people in the audience, but by the end of the film there were about 10 people I saw when I got up at the end and turned round to look. I urge you to see it if it comes near you. It is a touching realistically done story of a couple in Iran who are part of a theater group putting on Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Emad Etesami (Shabab Hosseini) teaches English in what seems the equivalent of an American high school, except all boys. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), his wife has no job or occupation beyond being his wife — though she is very capable one can see, even well educated (how I don’t know). Emad plays Willy, and Rana Linda. The play is acted in English and it seems everyone in the audience understands without subtitles.

[It has proved impossible to find any shots of the play within the movie; frequent shots are of Rana looking out a door from the side, through glass-y barred windows; standing behind Emad — these reinforce stereotypes.]

I asked about Iranians’ knowledge of English on two listservs but no one answered. I know few Americans can speak or read Arabic; even the state department under a decent president had limited resources this way. Miller’s is also apparently a story Iranians are familiar with. Does anyone who reads this blog know if Iranian education includes a thorough grounding in English? I used to have a loving friend on the Net, an Iranian woman and poet who shared my love of poetry, of Virginia (my friend has translated Woolf into Farsi), of books, and cats. She no longer can reach me by email. A great loss for both of us. She wrote beautiful English and Arabic and Farsi are both “Greek to me.”

As the movie begins, the building Emad and Rana are living in collapses, and they must move hurriedly, and get into an apartment where the previous female tenant’s things are still there. One afternoon while he is gone either teaching or rehearsing, she goes to take a shower and thinks he has buzzed her from the ground floor. She buzzes back without checking to see it’s him, and goes off to the shower. We stare at the door ajar — an allusion to Hitchcock’s famous sadistic scene. We hear screams, see a shadow. When Emad comes home she is gone, blood all over the floor, on the stairs. Cut to the hospital: he has learned she is there, her face badly bruised, arm wrenched, back sore, but apart from these ailments physically unhurt. She was taken there by a neighbor, Babak (Babak Karimi), also part one of the players. He found the apartment for them we later discover.

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After the assault

So that’s the initiating situation. The results in their emotional and economic (the play doing, the teaching) causes havoc. We see the problems in calling the police; she can’t tell. She is terrified to be in the apartment alone; she won’t let Emad near her at night. The rapist (? — we are not sure what he did, the wife seems to indicate not) left his pick-up truck downstairs. This furnishes the clue for the husband to find the man is a set of keys and pick-up truck downstairs; the keys are in the apartment and they fit the pick-up truck. Since Rana won’t go to the police (she’ll be blamed she says for opening the door to let the man in), Emad begins to have a need to find the man and punish him himself. It’s a telling detail (to my or American eyes) how no one in the apartment building appears to get excited over this pick-up truck. The women seem to turn a blind eye; the men say ignore it. Slowly we (and he) realize that other male neighbors, especially Babak,, were also this woman’s lovers. Babak (and everyone else) knew the woman supported herself by having lovers. Emad becomes furious: why did you not tell me? The film is not explicit but it seems that men are casually promiscuous in this society but they are also intently hypocritical and hidden and they do all they can to hide such behavior from wives and families. When wives find out they wax fiercely angry. The men seem to dread shaming of any kind.

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Emad pacing on the roof — he has much more active visible agency than Rana but she has power over him because he needs to be a respectable married man with seemingly loving respectful wife

The sex and family lives of these people is a different combination of hypocrisy and interwovenness than our own, and we are studying Iranian society from the angle of this situation. Rana cannot bear to be in the apartment alone; she wants to go everywhere with Emad. She appears angry with him and won’t let him near her at night (he says, accusingly); she can’t eat. One of the women in the cast who plays Willy’s on-the-road mistress, Sanam (Mina Sadati), is herself divorced with a child. Or separated. Sanam has accused the cast members of disrespecting her for the role she plays: Willy’s casual mistress upstate for whom he buys stockings. It hurts her reputation further to play such a role. She has her child with her always and it is a relief when Rana offers to take him home one night to keep Rana company. We see a family-group when Emad comes home and the two attempt to have a decent evening because the child is there. They are cheerful; she has cooked some food she bought in a store, but soon the pretended cheer breaks down when he realizes she uses money she found in a drawer that must’ve been this intruder’s. The marriage is now under terrific strain as he asks her to go to the police, and she says no, and she won’t leave him alone. He follows the pick-up truck to a restaurant and finds Majid (Mojtaba Pirzadeh), the young man who drives it. This is his rapist; Emad has to corner and pressure him to get him to work for Emad at a wedding (Emad claims — weddings appear to be sancrosanct and all bend before its needs and demands).

The play and teaching carry on. Emad can’t sleep and falls asleep as his class and he are watching a movie. The young men begin to cut up; we saw they were not disciplined much before. Their gender makes them all important. Maleness must be allowed aggression? Emad is now ridiculed by them, but he holds his own when he threatens to tell their families. At the theater, Emad and Rana are having trouble carrying on with their roles. Emad moves into a rage at Babak at one point — Babak is one of the characters in the play. Rana’s speech over Willy’s dead body was what hit me. Her grief let loose as Linda’s grief, mine at hers. I began to keen and sat there silently shaking and weeping.

At one point, cut to a new apartment Emad and Rana have found. The next day or so, not Majid, but his father-in-law, an old man shows up at this new apartment. And again slowly it emerges this old man knows is there as a substitute for his son-in-law because it was he who was an ex-lover, angry at the woman for something, who came into the apartment and then “tempted” attacked Rana. The confession is tense with shame; Emad is determined to make the man’s family know, especially his wife. We see how important are family ties in this society, far stronger than ours. The old man tries to run away, but Emad locks him in and he has a heart attack.

When Emad returns, with Rana (from another day of playing theirroles), they find him semi-paralyzed. Emad is still determined to humiliate the man before letting him go, and calls the family to get him. The family arrive, Majid all tender loving care for this old man, and the old man’s daughter, and a hysterical wife who says the old man is her whole life. Rana takes Emad aside and says if Emad tells them the truth, she, Rana, will leave him. She will go home to her family. She is making this family’s harmony more important than anything else, including her terror. They are at first grateful to Emad for saving their father as they know nothing it seems of this history of the man, but when Emad demands he take the old man into a separate room, they begin to be frightened. Emad is unstoppable and when he gets the old man alone Emad hits him hard. Another heart attack ensues. Emad had claimed to call an ambulance but hadn’t, now Rana or he does, and the family follow the instructions by phone to revive this father.

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An intense emotionalism characterizes the behavior of this family — yet in dialogues with the old man it seems that underneath there is distrust and all demand strict conventional behavior from one another; my father used to say among naive people emotionalism is prevalent (one reason for Dickens’s popularity)

The last scene shows us Rana being dressed for her part as Linda and Emad for his as Willy. They have stained unemotional looks on their faces. They have not broken up, but they have not made up. It’s probably significant that Rana has had no child, but I am not sure what how this would be read by an Iranian audience.

I was startled at the overt sentimentality of the families towards one another because at the same time the women overlook the men’s promiscuous behavior as long as they are not told or do not have to learn explicitly the men are unfaithful. The society is so interwoven and desperate economically (most buildings are aging, supermarkets are full but it’s clear that lots of better goods are not on the shelves for most people). Many people make it by odd jobs — taking in one another’s laundry I used to call it. Family members utterly need one another. They have no one else to turn to.

Best of all it made Iranians utterly human. I hope the empty theater is not the result of Americans not wanting to be associated with Muslims lest they somehow get into trouble. The Trump administration is demonizing these people so such a film is important. Iranians are so dependent on family members because the US among other powerful gov’ts and the leaders of factions in Iran prevented a social democratic gov’t which was elected in the 1950s from developing. A coup put back a dictatorial theocracy; then the Shah tried to develop capitalism, freeing women as a sop and as necessary for a modern society. We know where that went. A huge proportion of people were left in poverty. Men find keeping women submissive, under their control, soothes and bucks up their ego and pride. Today in our gov’t the Republicans are removing or trying to all our social helps outside the family, including a meritocracy through education so that they can keep their enormous, take in more, live off us more, and in the process destroy outer non-religious (and thus free and progressive) social world insofar as they can.

Don’t miss it! It won awards and is nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The director is famous, his films are events, so are the leading cast members stars.

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

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William Wordsworth when young — endorsed as strongly accurate by Kenneth Johnston in his Hidden Wordsworth, which I’ve been reading also

So, another week or so and now on bonding with characters in fiction. Take Wordsworth’s Prelude: it brought back memories. The natural world for me as a child. Not very much. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx. When I think of nature, I think of how Shakespeare says when we live in an artful world, the art comes from nature. Say the word nature to me and I remember a terrifying hurricane my family drove through when I was about 3 — my father’s family had a sort of cottage, home-made where we stayed for a few weeks in summer, on the north shore of Long Island, Suffolk county, a pump in the yard for water, an outhouse. Hurricane Carol hit not far from where we were, and the water coming miles up and high as the cliffs, roofs coming off, trees ripped.

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Turner’s Buttermere Lake — this image is the cover illustration for my parallel texts of two of Wordsworth’s Preludes (1805 and 1850; there’s a third, a short plain evocative 1799)

[I have no pictures of myself when young by a pump in Long Island, no photos of myself climbing up and down fire-escapes in the Southeast Bronx, anyway the block I lived in was torn down decades ago after it was (in my father’s words) abandoned by people, left to the dogs. Now it is rows of small private houses with hispanic families living in them. There is a Crotona Park, in bad disarray when I lived there. In the 1980s, my father meet other older white men from the suburbs there who once lived in these communities, and eventually these other white men brought their equipment from the suburbs and rebuilt the handball walls. Those playing, all male, all hispanic were grateful.]

When he gets to university, Cambridge, wow, the son of a high level agent of a ferociously mean high ranking super-wealthy man, his father dies and the lord refuses to pay the legacy the man had garnered up, so the boy or young man now has a precarious future. Still he is among the privileged boys of his era. As I read I see him as coming there with a group of expectations and a sense of his place. Myself I think how we measure our success or what we define as success comes from where we started out, and what we expected from life from that place. When I went finally to Queens College at age 18, public though it was, I was ecstatic, so relieved. College was not assumed in the cards for me at all. I never thought about — really — the lack of status or where I was going to go afterwards. To me this was a height. I didn’t want it to end. I was there to study, not to get somewhere. It was probably too painful for me to think about what might be my future. I did so much better than others in the class not only because I chose an area or areas that I find myself good at (English, humanities, history of art) but because I valued what I was doing. I knew all around me at the time many didn’t. Dorothy didn’t get to go.

He also says that when he was supposed to leave, maybe he was better off not to have a place to go to. He admits he missed out on something — did things he regrets, but doesn’t say what. For me I grieve not; happy is the man/Who only misses what I missed, who falls/No lower than I fell. Happy is the man is an old Horatian formula.

Well for me years after being in school I knew that I had not profited from “learning” forced on me,for which I had no aptitude — like math, physics — which I did poorly in. Rousseau in the 18th century says we must follow the child or person’s bent. That was a radical idea then: you were paying attention to the individual and saying he (not she in Rousseau) matters; you weren’t forcing them to do or become something for the family’s sake, as part of the family business. Rousseau also says that’s the way a child learns.

I wasn’t badly off in my undergraduate years. I was naively happy in my studies, though it took shutting the future out from my mind. I liked all my courses (even some of the required ones outside humanities) but the honor courses I found myself simply in in my last and have to agree I did read more interesting books in such courses. The shock was to come back and see this institution which had meant so much to me — it did free me, it gave me the scholarship to England I did leave the social class I had been born in basically forever — and that to another (my daughter) it was irrelevant as a place and worse. She couldn’t learn in it even if it’s academic program in music for a librarian was excellent. The social world mattered in her case.

We’ve also talked of Coleridge this week on Trollope19thCStudies: I’ve long loved best “This lime-tree bower, my prison” to Lamb, but as others spoke of Coleridge rhythmic ballads I conceded:

It’s both hard and easy to get back to an earlier self. I’ve said a few lines in Michael confirmed my resolve to be an English major, to go and study British literature for the BA. In that term where I first read Coleridge too I was swept away by the intensity of the “faery” side of his poetry, the unfinished romance, Christabel was it called, also loved and reread over and over Frost at Midnight. And Kubla Khan started — especially with the story about it. But I remember this and cannot feel the same today. I don’t mean to say they are at all inferior to the contemplative type poem only that as I look at them now, I remember how naive I was. I admit I was never “gone” on The Ancient Mariner. Him stopping one of three and the rest of the ritual type chant, even the moral with the albatross at the end seemed something imposed.I grant though lines have stayed with me all my life . Ah sleep it is a blessed thing/Beloved from pole to pole. How many times I’ve repeated that one. It is a mismemory I’ve just discovered: “it’s gentle thing ….” For me until I began with my nightly trazadone it was something often out of reach, only gotten in 3 hours snatches at best. Coleridge ended his life living in a kindly person’s attic, giving free lectures to those who could appreciate great literary criticism, among others of Shakespeare

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Kay Spark: Virginia Woolf or Seraglia

I’m now read/skimming and listening in my car to Woolf’s The Voyage Out as read by Nadia May. I remembered my “voyage out” as I read/listen. Over on Trollope19thCStudies I said going to Queens College transformed my life, but I was plucked out of the limited frustrating environment to which I was born by a scholarship offered through Queens: to go to Leeds University, half paid by Queens and half by a Chancellor’s scholarship from the UK. I took a boat trip that took 12 days. For 12 days I was aboard a boat loaded down with students my age — I had been married and had some adult experiences they hadn’t, but they had had all sorts of social experiences I hadn’t. Fine art films all day long, one of 4 in tiny rooms (Bunk beds). I’ll never forget that experience and coming up the channel to see the white cliffs of dover. Much as I didn’t understand was going on round me, and had a week long nervous collapse in Leeds as result of what to me was also an ordeal — I was with a group of 12 students shepherded by an British history teacher teaching at Queens for the great salary — but fascinating, all so news, 3 weeks in London, arrive at Leeds, a flat shared with another student in a private house (attached), Leeds itself and then I met Jim.

It’s a book much influenced by Austen — as her next, Night and Day, is much influenced by the Brontes. There is a trek the characters take up a hill to look down. It’s not that they go on donkeys or that the breaking into groups is uncomfortable, some of the conversation (though some sublime and refreshing), but Woolf’s characterization of the whole long incident as a group of people “very dull, not at all suited to each other,” and not really wanting to come (some of them). There’s a scene strongly reminiscent of everyone sitting on blankets in a circle and talking. At the end as in the 2009 Emma for some they’ve had too much of a good thing. Then there’s a dance, how Rachel loves dancing, the partners — just very like. She has Austen in mind.

And for a backwards proof, as with male critics writing about Ferrante’s fiction, so Mitchell A Leasla, resentful of Helen (shepherding Rachel in something of the spirit but much smarter, more generous, for the girl’s interest) of Emma with Harriet, Leasla cannot understand what this book is on about.

As for bonding with characters in films that go on for episode after episode and are taken from deeply felt realistic fiction, see my latest blogs on the new and old Poldark films and the 1972 BBC War and Peace (Anthony Hopkins Pierre, Morag Hood, Natasha, Joanna David Sonya …. )

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A Caturday entry: on bonding with my pussycats:

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We don’t credit animals the way we should. To my mind this is part of our defense from treating them with equal respect and affection. Since becoming so close with my cats my understanding of animals has improved and my general behavior. I now buy only “free range” chicken, and I look at labels where I ‘ve read the packaging or company treats their pigs or lambs decently — or not cruelly anyway (so it’s claimed). I try to eat much less meat. I wrote a couple of blogs on books that tell the history of the increase of animal protection laws and companionate relationships. For years when I taught Adv Comp in the Natural Sciences and Tech I had a unit where we read Jane Goodall, and a couple of times showed Wiseman’s Primate. We are such a cruel species it’s hard to get my mind around what scientists do to chimps: primates to other primates.

I was thinking that one of my narcissistic impulses is when I feel glad to see my cats react to things that are recognizable that seem more like a human reaction, something we wrongly do not expect from animals. So for example, when a car drives up to my part of the sidewalk — not close to my house, my boy growls and often the girl will get off her perch and trot to a front window — or she’ll scurry away. They know immediately when someone is coming down the path.

For a couple of weeks I lived with a woman friend who was vegetarian: her diet included cheese and eggs and she was wonderful cook so we had all sorts of vegetables and pasta. I didn’t mind being without meat for the time. I’ve never tried it otherwise but I nowadays understand the logic of the position. You’d have tobe careful to get the vitamins and nuitrition you need. I “use” far too much sugar, wine but we don’t eat much processed food. When we first brought our kittens home, they had one another and (it’s hard to remember) it seems to me pretty fast the problem was how to keep them out of the bedroom. They were too lively to sleep all night and Jim was very bothered by the whole thing. I somewhat forced the cats on him with my older daughter — I wanted them for myself, to find common ground with this older daughter (didn’t work) and to provide Izzy with more creatures to interact with. At the time she was not working and having a very hard time.

My two have been with me since birth. They are frightened to go out the door and start away from it. I know if I were to leave it open they would go out and so keep all doors shut. They both twitch with intensity when they see birds, squirrels outside but I doubt they’d know how to kill them. The boy, Ian, does stalk and by playing with kill insects and occasionally he has brought one to me to show his stuff. It is all routine. I wake with them cuddled into me. We get up when it’s fully light.Into the kitchen where I top up their dry food. Then they just stay round me all day as I go about my routine. They know when I’m going out of “our” workroom from when I turn off the computer or put on my coat. Clarcat looks sad then. They can tell time duration; when I’ve been away on trips, at first they are not friendly and then get intensely affectionate. Usual times away — say an hour or so or 4 at most – one or both come to the door. Around 5 or so they seem to know it’s time for wet food. They do know their names I think; at least they respond to them They know “wet food” I think. I go open a can and pour myself a glass of wine. So all are content. I do differ routines in food: sometimes I give them tuna with or instead of the wet food. About an hour before I go to bed, they go into my room and wait. I have a high cat bed near mine and Ian sleeps there. We have play periods and sitting on lap periods, and he presses himself against my chest and nudges my head. She thinks I’m another cat and licks me industriously sometimes.
Going to the Vet is an ordeal I have described here before.

They do love string. They can’t resist playing with me with string — like people, me, in front of a movie.

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New Yorker Cartoon

Last night I knew a strange moment of intense peace, highly unusual. I had read hard all day, written, and when I drank that glass of wine, and this mood came over me. My mind collapsed. I could no longer read or write. Suddenly I felt so deeply in my gut, What did it matter if I didn’t want to put myself through an ordeal of travel to a Jane Austen and Arts conference. I felt I could choose to not go without telling myself, where does it stop here? Lose contact? what am I talking of? what mad dreams obeying? I just relaxed into myself. I shall have no grandchildren. I re-watched Last Orders, the film I watched the day of Jim’s funeral as it only lasted for 3 hours and by 3 I was home alone again. i’m going to teach the book this coming spring, listen to it read aloud by Juliet Stevenson when my MP3 comes. I sat and tears came and went as I wiped my eyes. And went to bed.

I am now in the fourth year of widowhood and have no words for the kind of grief I live with all the time. Nameless because society refuses to recognize this, give it a vocabulary.

Next up: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, on the BBC radio worlds. I’m nearly to the end of her nearly perfect The Bookshop: desperation as courage who loses out to the machinations and human instruments of silent ruthless power enacted, controlled, by one blight of a woman. Any hope I ever had of a full-time contingent position at Mason was destroyed similarly years ago by Rosemary Jann, the chair of the department. So bonding again …

Miss Drake

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This (“Ugly Princess”) is the image wanted for George Eliot’s Romola (by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1902)

The face of all the world is changed, I think
since I first heard the footsteps of your soul.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I returned to my project of writing blogs on women artists: their lives and work (Joanna Boyce Wells to be specific), and came across this line of poetry, which made me remember Jim in the later phases of our marriage, when we ended up in Virginia and were thrown back on one another; and a picture new to me from one of two new books, Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn’s Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, both filled with strangely beautiful images and women artist’s names and something of their lives and art. I will be writing from these two books on Austen Reveries for a long time to come. One image from them lit up my mind, of Spillman’s of Dante looking to Virgil to lead him through hell, made me remember how Jim and I used to read Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Commedia together now and again: I began to read Dante because Jim loved the Commedia and eventually I taught myself to read Italian so I could read, study and translate women poets of the Italian Renaissance.

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Marie Spartalli Spillman (1844-1927, Dante and Virgil in the Dark Wood — Dante to my eyes last night looking like a young woman

I am almost to the end of listening to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as read aloud magnficently mesmerizingly by Gildart Jackson: Shelley’s is an astonishingly original book, with extraordinary for its time new ways of thinking, talking, writing, feeling about death. She was someone deeply griefstruck by loss and life. While indirect (made explicit in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein film) Frankenstein’s urge to create life comes out of his creator’s urge to bring back those death has destroyed:in the film, his mother, in Mary’s life her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, her babies all but one by Shelley and probably others I don’t know of. Passages like this:

I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized (Chapter 3, 2nd paragraph).

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Lucy Madox Brown, Margaret Roper rescuing the head of her father, Thomas More (1873) — only a mad picture can capture the truth of women’s experience as told to us by Mary Shelley

The monster grieves because he can’t share the burden of his existence with another, he can neither lean on someone or be leant on.

For the course in 19th Century Women of Letters I hope to teach this fall at the OLLI at AU (if they can find parking for participants) I’ll be “doing” Frankenstein with a class, and hope this week to try and then read through Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws on the mother and daughter. I daren’t do Romola as it’s too long and erudite: I conquered it, by listening to Nadia May read it ever so dramatically, touchingly on books-on-tape one summer so I’ve chosen a short story, “Janet’s Repentance” and we’ll read on-line if I can find it, and Eliot’s review of Madame de Sable, a 17th century woman of letters on how “the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language of French at the time, and began feminism in books.

When did I begin my feminism? what led to my seeing the world anew and comfortingly, strengtheningly, in which I could see a meaningful purpose for me to work through out of which I started to work on women novelists, women poets, and now women artists.

I was talking with two friends, one in her sixties and the other 72 (I am 69) yesterday over lunch about our “feminism” and I said I did not “convert” until the early 1990s because locally the only feminists I ever saw or knew were to me snobbish, exclusive upper middle girls/women. all white, who I saw as ambitious careerists (a no no for me, especially as seen in these girls) who cared nothing for anyone but wanted power and to show off, girls part of exclusive coteries (meaning from which I was excluded), the AP types who went to name colleges. It was not until I came onto the Net (1992) and met other women and came into contact with books that could speak to me that I began to see the good purpose of the movement. Woolf and highly literary women did not speak frankly and directly enough in ways I could recognize my experiences: A Room of One’s Own mattered but only theoretically and about older literary studies. An unearned income of £500 could mean nothing to me.

Then it happened: crucially for me I saw that for the first time I was given a language in which I could talk about what I had experienced sexually starting around age 12; I found other girls had had the same experiences as I (once I tried to tell a girl and after another girl came over the told me, why did you tell her that, now she is telling everyone, and I was shamed, and never told anyone again for years and years); for the first time I didn’t blame or berate myself but saw a system set up to crush me. The book that made the difference was Mary Pipher Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls; also important were Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf and (covering other areas of de-construction written in a language that I could understand) Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. I used the last again and again in teaching after that (not assigning it as I never taught any upper level feminist or theoretical courses), as a help with my own lectures about books. See Signs, Short takes.

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Lucy Madox Brown, Duet (1870)

This is the hardest summer yet. My third without my beloved, the admiral as I used to call him. Summer is hard in ways the other seasons aren’t except at ritual holidays marking passing of time and evoking memory. It seems everyone is having a good time. They go to the beach, take lovely trips, and these sorts of things are not done to see historical or other sites but to be together and happy. I felt left out as do I find many widows. The beach too: I had a strong fit of deep grief when I went to the beach with my friend last January in Florida. I just went to pieces because it is such an emblem of life too. There’s even a term for it: STUG (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief). I watched The City of Your Final Destination this week again for the sake of one line: uttered Laura Linney as the dead man’s widow, though it could have been Anthony Hopkins as the dead man’s gay brother.

How could any outsider
understand this place
or what it was like
to all live here together
or what it’s like now
without him?
— Ruth Jhabvala Prawer, the script outof Peter Cameron’s novel

So for the sake of my heart (literally) I am only going to those few Fringe Festival events that are close by, easy to get to, and classical and good plays I recognize.

Shall I end on an absurd or comic note: I’ve said I stubbed my big toe badly trying to reach Clarycat who appeared to be munching away on one of the computer wires: was in a stinging agony that night, had to take extra strength sleeping pill, lots of spurted blood and what I thought was dry blood sticking out. It wasn’t: it was a broken off big of a piece of wood under my toenail. I had not realized that I’ve been in a dull pain since that Sunday night. The white at the top of the nail was spreading, it was white around the nail (like pus) and it was going a dark dark and shiny red. I thought, maybe I have made it worse by bandaging it to protect it. Made the pressure worse. So I cut a slipper and tried to walk with that. No go.

So I phoned Kaiser for the second time, and it emerged from talk with an advice nurse, I may have an infection. I needed to come in that day. So after teaching, after the above, lunch, garmin plugged in, I drive from lunch place to the offices in less than 20 minutes. Dr Wiltz had actually phoned me and suggested I got to a podiatrist. When I arrive, she takes a look at it and pronounces “you have a piece of wood, a splinter there, no wonder the pressure hurt.” It took only years of study and a specialist to understand what we were looking at. She numbs the big toe thoroughly (more needles) and then clips half the nail off. Blessed relief: pain, pressure gone. For my bleeding disorder she had a new thing: a local coagulant. So now I should get better.

Who would have cats? it’s not their fault. They were being cats. My desk is old – Jim bought it as a present for me in 1970 when I started graduate school and I have lived sitting by and writing on it and now on this computer for half a century. When I stubbed the toe I drove a splinter from one of its drawers into it.

IngLook
Ing Look (supplied by my kind Net-friend, Sixtine)

My friend, Phyllis, said I had accepted all this pain because I expect to be miserable. That’s funny too. That’s what Austen’s Mrs Dashwood says about Elinor, my favorite character in all literature.

Miss Drake

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Squirrel
Beatrix Potter squirrel

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Photo of Potter in her mid-thirties with a rabbit (1866-1943)

‘In affectionate remembrance of poor old Peter Rabbit, who died on the 26th of January 1901 at the end of his 9th year … whatever the limitations of his intellect or outward shortcomings of his fur, and his ears and toes, his disposition was uniformly amiable and his temper unfailingly sweet. An affectionate companion and a quiet friend.’ — in privately printed early copy of Peter the Rabbit

homebody — a person who enjoys the warmth and simple pleasure of being at home

Dear friends and readers,

I carrying on my homebody life of reading and writing during the day and watching movies in the evening. I’ve not been able to go to the gym, swim or walk — as I wrote last time I hurt my big toe badly, it was all the wrong colors as Austen might say, with a trauma from blood under the nail. But I have hobbled about to less directly physical activities, including a mild dance session. Last Saturday Izzy and I went to a JASNA meeting where we heard a lecture on The Way People Really those Quadrilles in Regency England (see Dancing Austen style with a touch of extra historical accuracy), and then with the other people there danced three dances ourselves. I wore ballet slippers.

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How Hogarth perceived an assembly dance

I carried on my feeble gardening — I can’t dig very deeply since my right side and arm has become so weak — but I’ve a third patch of bell-like flowers and pretty-leaf plants, three silver.

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I’ve begun the summer Film Club at the Cinema Art (every three weeks and then once a month) and we saw a mildly comic fairy tale-like story centering on the plight of old people in the US (no or little money, not care for in their illnesses, prevented from living a comfortable enjoyable life of their own): The Last Man Club. This Wednesday I start teaching again: Trollope’s Small House at Allington.

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I write to record more at length just some of what I heard in an informative lecture (an hour and a half) which turned into a lively and insightful question-and-answer period (another hour) by Linda Lear about Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) at the Smithsonian Associates this morning. Lear revealed a woman whose work comprised more than her curiously memorable and phenomenally successful “small books” about small domestic and wild animals. Potter became a strong conservationist, an environmentalist avante la lettre, and used the money she made from her art and writing to set up working Herdwick sheep farms in the Lake District, Hill Top and Castle Cottage. She was such a good farmer, and breeder, that she eventually owned huge tracks of the Lake District and left the land to the National Trust. She had a strong social conscience and acted on it to back up social programs improving the life of people around her too.

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The 2006 film presenting Potter so positively (featuring Renee Zellweger) was not an exaggeration

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One of Potter’s earliest sketches

Lear told of a life where Potter had to break away from an unsympathetic pair of parents to find herself: they were themselves amateur landscape artists, and as wealthy elite people in Britain, who were themselves dissenters (unitarians) whose money came from industry in Manchester, brought their daughter and son, Bertram (six years younger) up among a literate, artistic and free-thinking scientific group, and they provided governesses and plenty of time (especially in long summer vacations in Scotland) for her to lose herself in the natural world. (Lear has written academic-style papers on these summers and Potter in Scotland.) But they imposed on her a stifling routine, and expected her not to marry but remain at home, obedient to them, with her duty to them and local society her first consideration, and caring for them in their old age her final goal. She fulfilled her talents slowly, beginning in her twenties drawing because she was looking for something to do, and sending exquisitely accurate and touching sketches of rabbits and other animals in letters to the children of her ex-governess, Annie Moore.

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Realistic sketches

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Peter Rabbit

As she was told by friends, family, and local people she was close to (one Charlie McKintosh who was missing an arm and became a mailman) that her talent, artistic ability, powers of observation and drawing were superb, she tried to publish her art as children’s books. She was turned down by a commercial publisher, so she began to publish the the books herself and hand them out to people she knew for their children. As this was noticed, an editor, Norman Warne (at Frederick Warne & Co) took her work on. The books became a stunning success.

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I suggest her fantasy pictures are filled with kindly warmth she felt towards her subjects. She sees small animals as tenderly affectionate creatures with no harm in them. The colors are exquisitely delicate, and (to some extent like Kliban cats), these creatures are pictured doing homebody daily acts together a small child might see in a sheltering home and local neighborhood. It’s no surprise that Potter liked Edward Lear’s lyrics.

She and Warne, fell in love but could not marry because her parents did not approve of him as a husband (too low a status). They finally disobeyed (she was in her thirties) and were engaged but he contracted leukemia before they could marry. She enacted a similar trajectory with the man she eventually married and spent 30 contented years with, William Heelis (this time the man was a solicitor, also not acceptable). Here her brother helped her break away by finally telling his parents around that time he had been secretly married for 11 years to a barmaid. Lear did not tell us her name (!); Lear showed a residue of snobbery I fear when she assured us the couple were happy together. (She herself is part of an American elite I could tell; she managed to publish her two superb books out of her relationships with people in national biographical societies and universities.) Bertram was also an artist; he died relatively young: stress had led him to become alcoholic.

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Benjamin Bunny

In Potter’s later independent life, an attempt was made by friends to introduce her to a a man actually named Thistle Dyer who managed Kew (the famous gardens) with the idea she could provide fruitful ideas: he dismissed her as a woman and amateur. She had interesting friendships with people like the Roscoes, Liverpool merchants by trade, they provided important centers of cultural life (my note: Maria Roscoe was the first English writer to translate Vittoria Colonna and try to write her life). Lear told of further books by Potter for adults, her life-writing, about her work as a landowner: Fairy Caravan. She recommended a book by a Potter friend and associate of Potter’s: James Weavis, A Shepherd’s Life, about the conservationist and farming movement, and an attempt to declare the Lake District a UNESCO site. Potter’s later years were spent with much activity preserving farming in the Lake District, and Lear said far more people visits Hill Top and Castle Cottage than they do the Wordsworth shrines. Lear spoke of the beauty of this natural sanctuary: the fells are mystic in feel (she said), the lakes mirroring the sky, the high mountainous terrain.

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Turner, Buttermere Lake with Park (Cromackwater)

Potter studied fungi especially (it doesn’t sound thrilling but she was fascinated by plant life) and introduced kinder and more productive methods for animal husbandry and sheep shearing, and did much landscape art. Herdwick sheep are small, black when young, turning white when older. Their fleece are good for carpets, and in the war (WW2) were used for warm blankets. They are hardy creatures whom Potter spent years trying to protect, went to shows for and so on. Recently the national Trust did sell off a farm with many Herdwick sheep on it; a protest was mounted that was strong, and much ill-will created, and Lear thought the National Trust would not do that for money again. Potter adumbrated the an understanding of symbiosis. She was in effect a scientist and a Temple Grandin roled into one. A paper she wrote was “tabled” at the Linnean Society (put there for others to read, the custom) but as a woman she could not be a member, attend meetings much less give a paper. Her paper was probably thrown away.

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Hill Top Farm today

I wanted to tell about this lecture because Jim had some favorite passages from Beatix Potter books, which he had read as a boy, quotations he would recite. We took out from the library and bought in bookstores too, a number of Beatrix Potter books which I remember Laura and Izzy could read by themselves. Perhaps children like these books so since they are readable on their own. Independence. Sadly, I can’t remember Jim’s favorite quotations any more. I did not myself read or have Beatrix Potter books in my house when I was young and maybe that’s why I can’t remember what he’d allude to. But allude he did. A favorite image was that of

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Jemima Puddleduck

and I know he liked to recite parts of this poem of the runcible spoon:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
        You are,
        You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
        His nose,
        His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
        The moon,
        The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
— Edward Lear

I saw Miss Potter, alone since Izzy didn’t want to come, and connected its warmth and a radiant kind of humanity to Zellweger’s Nurse Betty with Martin Freeman. I remembered the film ever after because of a sudden moment of startle: where we meet Potter’s grandmother and she turns out to be Barbara Murray in a wheelchair, once Madame Max in the Pallisers. I recognized her instantly and to see her so aged took my breath away.

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ZellwegerasMissPotteriwthdogbylake

I will soon watch again, with a DVD from Netflix.

Miss Drake

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

Keillor
My feeble effort using a camera on my iphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard

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

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

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

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

StevieSmith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widowhood is what I do now.

Ellen

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NewYorkerCartoonforCatlovers

Friends,

After today and two evenings past, and contemplating this week’s end, I say that’s one wise New Yorker cat.

Around 8 o’clock this morning this PC computer on which I am typing this blog went black, and I could not get the screen to function again beyond it asking me to switch the user. My guardian angel, aka IT guy who comes into my computer by remote control and makes visits (like physicians of old) picked up the phone after I wrote EMERGENCY on my Apple laptop to him and called.

“He who gives graciously gives twice.” I had emailed him yesterday (Sunday, Easter) because the upsetting messages that my computer did not have enough memory, that my files were enlarged, and sudden black windows taking over parts of my screen were beginning to unnerve me. He emailed a few hours later; he was away on a vacation but would be back Monday, but in the meantime I was assured (as he usually does) “it’s nothing to worry about,” just a minor glitch and he would attend to it tomorrow. Well it took him 2 hours of fixing in the morning with me looking on; I left at 11:45 to go to the OLLI at AU to lead (teach) a class on Trollope’s 1st 3 Barsetshire novels, and when I returned at 4, I recognized his presence working at it (the cursor, the changes going on in the screen).

I did have a moment of lost faith but screwed my courage up again, apologized and tonight my computer is “cleaned out,” all “junk” from 2 years of working using it eliminated, much updated, the back-up mechanisms re-set (including a program called Carbonite) and newly working right. I still cannot shut the large laptop attached to the PC without the screen on the PC going dark, but it’s not the worst thing in the world to leave the screen of the laptop open for now.

Next week Jonathan will visit and install more memory; then I’ll show this glitch to him. I did not think I had added so much to the computer: I do far less than I used to, and Jim is no longer here to add movies, power-point presentations, but I have been working for 2 years since I bought the computer, done a number of papers, reviews, so many blogs, endless postings, letters, pictures audio-books nowadays. It adds up.

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Davis and White — Olympic winners, among Izzy’s favorites

In the same early part of the morning I also drove Izzy to the train station. She was off to Boston to join in and watch for 7 days Junior World Ice-Skating Championship. This weekend she did her annual walk under the cherry blossom trees on the Mall, and took herself in the direction of the Vietnam Wall. Both of us were aware this is the first trip she’s taken by herself since August 2011 (she spent a week in NYC at the Princeton Club, going from there to the US open tennis championships in Queens). Izzy had a strenuous day too. The train took 9 hours! It seems a body was found on the tracks and the train was delayed for a couple of hours while an unhappy person’s remains were removed. She is in her hotel room now, ipad nearby, having devoured much Daredevil on her long long way.

The first day and night alone since Jim died. I’ve been away from her and the cats 5-6 times (!), never more than 5 days, mostly 3, and she and I have taken 3 trips together. This is the first night I’ve been alone in the house (except for my cats) since Jim died. I cooked my own dinner (simple affair) for the third or fourth time since he’s been gone. I did get to eat when I want, and choose to watch Amy Goodman (DemocracyNow.org) on Howard University TV and then switch to PBS Reports. Tomorrow I may actually cook myself a vegetable.

I watched Part 1 of Fellowes’s Dr Thorne after supper:

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An ITV Dr Thorne (badly scripted by Julian Fellowes, 2016): Tom Hollander as Thorne and Stephanie Martini as Mary

Listening

provide whatever good moments there are

As I’ve said I’m going to Pittsburgh myself this Thursday around noon, a 4 hour 16 minute drive there. Infinitely preferable to 4+ hour trip by plane, with cab fares, treatment on the plane on the edge of abuse, surveillance everywhere, starvation; the 10 hour train trip unthinkable especially since on Saturday I’d have to leave by 7 am to make it; and megabus doesn’t have a phone or office so no questions may be asked about where this bus lets you off. I’m planning to listen to Simon Vance reading aloud Dr Thorne for the long stretch of 230 miles each way. Garmin to the side, maps nearby, drawing of local streets. Being away will of course break up the time for me to be here by myself.

So today’s activities included me reading aloud my Poldark paper which I plan to deliver (“Poldark Re-booted: 40 years on” twice (practice, 17 minutes each time). This after returning from a very pleasant two hours with the class mentioned above, where we are reading Barchester Towers just now and I showed two segments from Barchester Chronicles — carefully chosen to show the skillful subtle art of Alan Plater who understands the book’s complicated mood and many themes — and the marvelous acting of all the principals. Much as I like to believe the students regard the class discussion as so much more important than movie-watching, they asked if I would bring my DVD back next week to show a scene with Rickman and Hampshire in Slope and Madeline tete-a-tetes.
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Alan Rickman as Slope approaching Susan Hampshire as Signora Neroni for their first encouncter (1983 Barchester Chronicles)

The trouble is these are not scenes that open the segments so we would have to watch more to get to them. They said they didn’t mind if we had to watch more scenes to get to these confrontations. How doth the busy bee improve each shining hour …

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My anxiety over my trip has been alleviated somewhat by a visit on Saturday evening by my friend, Phyllis. She drank my cheap Shiraz wine with me (Robert Shaw) and we downed pita chips. She lived right near Pittsburgh for years, and we went over the route a couple of times: better, she described what the streets I go through in the city itself would look like, why and where to turn. Funny, she noticed something I never thought about: my mail box by my front door comes from 1947. It is very ancient, black, rusted, half coming out of the wall. Why had I not replaced it, she asked. I must replace it! I said it was not important enough to think about. But when I finally have the kitchen painted, new vinyl on the floor, new cabinets, replace the doors, paint a couple and paint the house cream, and put the number of my address somewhere in the front while I’m about it I’ll pay to have smoke detectors put back and a new mailbox. Not that this would prevent lost or misdirected mail. Strange to say, after she left I found myself drained, emotionally exhausted. I had been reading all day, shopped with Izzy, wrote, but I think that I rarely have visitors may have been the root cause of my collapse. The next night I experienced the same sudden depletion of energy after friends had been over.

Friedrichandme

The above photo is one taken by my old friend, Sophie, who unexpectedly visited me with her partner, Friedrich — remember how she just loves to take photos. Luckily I had bought some bel paese cheese, had Earl Grey tea and a fresh bread when I had shopped on Saturday, so was able to be hospitable. I showed him Jim’s books: he has Ph.D. in molecular biochemistry and does research for the NIH, in among other areas, cancer. He understood what some of Jim’s books were about, he recognized the languages they are in (beyond the math) better than I. I didn’t know several are in Hungarian. For the first time ever I had an explanation of how the underlying pattern of cancer can general and yet not reducible to finding a cure or how to predict how a given regimen of chemo, radiation, surgery and the rest of the torture will affect someone’s body. Briefly, reductively, as the DNA strands replicate themselves (billions of these), they make mistakes, and into the gaps in asymmetry a cancer can emerge, but each literally takes the form of the particular cell and the complicated surrounding chemistry and neurology is also on a molecular level almost impossible for now to understand with enough precision. After they were here for a couple of hours I felt drained.

Lovelytulips

Many firsts or unusual experiences for me these past few days. Such as more tulips came up on Friday, the day of the OLLI at AU luncheon where I met some friends, acquaintances I had not seen in quite a while. Two women especially, where one told me of where to go in Cornwall next August (St Ives!) and with the other we talked of books and plans for courses next fall. Today too I sent in my proposal for a course at the OLLI at AU next fall.

19th century women of letters. We will ask what did a woman writer’s career look like in the 19th century English-reading world? We will see what genres women published in, what kinds of journalism they did, what were the obstacles and advantages these women experienced. How is this like and different from the 20th and 21st century. We will read four books, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (gothic, 1818), Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (“condition of England” novel, 1849), George Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance” (one of the Clerical Tales, domestic fiction-romance, 1857) and Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography and Letters (posthumous, a fragment, 1899). We’ll also read on-line excerpts on women artists, travel writing by Harriet Martineau (abolitionist, de Toqueville-like US travels), mid-century journalists and 1890s suffragette writing.

To conclude this diary entry: I’ve bought for Izzy and I tickets to return to the Folger for another concert, April 10th matinee, this time Purchell’s Faerie Queen, a re-write and setting of the poetry of Shakespeare’s MND On-line I had caught these Renaissance Flemish dances:

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No diary blog without my cat companions.

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Ian three minutes ago — on my library table to the right of my desk where I’m typing

Pussycats will have to be alone together from Thursday around 10:30 am to Saturday around 6 pm. Caroline will visit on Friday to replenish the food supply and perhaps play with them a while. Ian may spend the time among Izzy’s shoes deep in her closet or in a cat bed under her desk — just now his favorite places.

I came home last Wednesday from OLLI at Mason (our subject, Gaskell and her “Old Nurse’s Story”), and a full half hour goes by and no Clarycat. Unusual. She usually trots up to greet me. So I go into my room and start opening drawers, in the high narrow bureau I hear her tinkling bells. I pull open a drawer, and I see the back part of her body all tense, tail erect at me; she’s stuck somehow. But cat-like she instinctively moves in a direction opposite from me, and falls behind the drawers in the space between the wooden back and the backs of the drawers. A yowling kind of mewing ensues. I pulled out the drawer so insistently, that I broke the runner. She leaps up and out and scrambles away — made very nervous. Where she went I know not. But it took her some time to calm down when she turned up nearby, a crouched-down catloaf.

Clarycroucheddown

It seemed amusing until I saw her on the floor nearby me like that.

I have not felt nerve-wracked; more that life has been strenuous. All of it pales besides my sense of loss of Jim. What does it matter if I have an old mail box or not? Hold on.

While at AU today I ate at a table with other people; I did say something to convey I’m a widow; another woman was talking of her grown children, living in three places in Europe; a daughter who works in one city and commutes to her husband in another, and she mentioned her husband and she hesitated before she used a tense: the past. She described him as in the past tense and could not just do it. No one who loved or was loved ever forgets.

Life without Jim is wearing. I feel worn.

It gives me this funny feeling when I remind myself Izzy not here and I hope blissfully absorbed while watching ice-skating live in Boston. She’s earned it at the library in the Pentagon (where she’s now a GS-ll)

So, a poem and picture for this skating and travel week:

Woman Skating

by Margaret Atwood

A lake sunken among
cedar and black spruce hills;
late afternoon.

On the ice a woman skating,
jacket sudden
red against the white,

concentrating on moving
in perfect circles.

    (actually she is my mother, she is
    over at the outdoor skating rink
    near the cemetery. On three sides
    of her there are streets of brown
    brick houses; cars go by; on the
    fourth side is the park building.
    The snow banked around the rink
    is grey with soot. She never skates
    Here. She’s wearing a sweater and
    faded maroon earmuffs, she has
    taken off her gloves)

Now near the horizon
the enlarged pink sun swings down.
Soon it will be zero.

With arms wide the skater
turns, leaving her breath like a diver’s
trail of bubbles.

Seeing the ice
as what it is, water:
seeing the months
as they are, the years
in sequence occurring
underfoot, watching
the miniature human
figure balanced on steel
needles (those compasses
floated in saucers) on time
sustained, above
time circling:     miracle

Over all I place
a glass bell

SusanHerbertJapanesecat
Susan Herbert

Miss Drake

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fielding Carriage3 Falls

John Sessions as our narrator, Mr Fielding, at the crossroads (of life?), a coach appears, and with great apparent indifference to him knocks him over (1997 Tom Jones) — but then it is no worse

Trollope worried that when he died and got to heaven people would not want novels …. [my paraphrase from memory]

Dear friends and readers, After much perplexity and in the midst of a daily engineered horrendous traffic jam (epic-romance proportions), I see it.

As I may have mentioned, I submitted a proposal to teach Fielding’s Tom Jones at the OLLI at AU next fall and it was accepted. A 10 week course would mean introduction, context and then for 9 sessions 2 books a week, with different themes and other contexts brought in to frame the discussion:

Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. When Fielding died, a cousin quipped: “It is a pity he was not immortal, he was so formed for happiness:” the nature of happiness, and all the many obstacles to its pursuit, are what this big book is about. We will read it, see why in its era it was called “immoral;” how recently it was adapted into films filled with wild hilarity, sexual salaciousness, and subversive irony, and discuss its narrator and concerns like where power comes from, charity, and hypocrisy and the masks of social life. The full context will be Fielding’s life and careers (dramatist, political journalist, satirist, magistrate). Topics will include include crime and punishment, law and justice (poaching as disguised class war over property rights?), coerced marriage and rape; Hanoverians and Jacobites. Can you imagine a world without novels? This is one of the books that established the genre.

The curriculum committte was delighted. Some remembered the 1966 Tony Richardson Tom Jones still — or had heard of it. What’s liked is a great masterpiece everyone is said to enjoy. What’s to object? but then I began to listen to the novel in my car read aloud brilliantly by Ken Danziger — but with great care, exaggeratedly, over-the-top accents and comedy, and slowly to get the meanings of the words across. And I began to doubt the success of the project even before serious reading this summer of the book and on and about and other texts by Fielding had begun.

These courses or semesters of 8-10 weeks are for retired people, and are a sort of cross between voluntary college, seminar, reading group, and 3 terms of teaching has shown me they do the reading — or most of them do. They come prepared to like a book but if it’s foreign to them in some fundamental ways there’s problems. Most of them are so used to realism, realistic characters. Their model is Dickens’s David Copperfield. Thomas Hardy, modern 20th century novels, middle brow. The language of these characters is not persuasively particular at all. The utterances are burlesques. Fielding’s (seemingly?) cavalier attitudes towards violence and sex did not seem propitious, much less acceptable — as when it’s a joke that the poverty-striken semi-criminal gamekeeper types, Blackgeorge quiets his family with a switch; or it’s supposed to be hilarious that our elegant gentleman hero Tom can’t resist the filthy “slut” Molly, not to omit the slurring and utterly discriminatory treatment of her.

I began to remember how rape was seen as a joke or something women fake. At one point I was listening with Yvette in the car with me and she looked thunderstruck at the caricature of Mrs Honor, Sophia’s lady’s maid, and the scenes where Squire Western is hideously cruel to Sophia and her impossible absurd “worldly” ignoramus aunt, Mrs Western — said Yvette how can he say that woman (Mrs Western) has a “tender heart?” The language is abstract and slow-moving, yet the ironies multifold, not obvious. All those introverted meditations on classical literature. I know while I did love the 1997 movie though — as will be seen by my use of stills from it and a blog I wrote, and I liked the opening of Richardson’s Tom Jones which captures pace, mood, stance of the narrator, and the famous hunt, I do not like Tony Richardson’s take on women as sex kittens. My class will be preponderantly women.

So, hastily I queried C18-l for advice, sources, books, ways to think anew about this book. I got good advice (“Think about cruel humor”), books, like John Allen Stevenson’s The Real History of Tom Jones, one site where a teacher outlined how he or she handled the novel book by book. All this okay for particulars — but how was I to get these people to care about these 18th century particulars.

And then as part of one of my many over-scheduled days, I found myself unexpectedly caught in a major traffic jam, only it was not being reported as a traffic jam where cars were all inching along, bumper to bumper and what should have taken me 40 minutes took me an hour and one half. I was on my way to Loudon Country Mason where I was to listen to a 2 hour session on taxes, investment for retirement strategies and the like.  I was of course listening to Tom Jones read by Danziger.

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Ron Cook as the ex-schoolmaster Patridge who has spent his life an outcast since wrongly identified as Max Beesley or Tom’s father

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They cling to one another

I suddenly saw, I understood, “got” Tom Jones— sort of gut level. It was getting there that did it.

I was 25 minutes late and missed the opening which I had wanted to hear (about pensions and taxes on pensions): as I had driven along I realized the horrendous traffic jam I was in was the result of the way the local authorities have engineered the roads. They have taken E-Z passes which used to be for going through tolls without having to produce coins (paying ahead by credit card and topping the amount on your card up on-line) to being passes which allow people to use newly created separate pairs of HOV lanes where you pay more according to how far you go. The left over others (much narrower), three of them are now jam-packed. There are iron railings between these E-Z HOV lanes and the “regular lanes.” Since I had to turn left I began to worry how I would reach my exit. But of course just as I got there the iron railings fell away and then resumed after the unusual left-ward exit. The EZ passes which used to be just to pay tolls easily have been transformed into engineers of visible inequality. Then there are regulations for which kind of car can go where — or you get a ticket; you are photo-monitored everywhere. Your license is of course in cop’s computers if they come upon you; they can look all the information they need about you through that license. No one protested. People did not jump out of their cars to scream this is taking hours. No. I thought to myself here we are in Tom Jones world.

Fielding refers to the the absurdity of human nature, when he is showing continually versions of our moral stupidity, endless exploitation of one another, greed, avarice, complicity of some in their attempt to get just a small percentage of the take, to lord it over others on the smallest grounds. Hypocrisy, affection, charity, humanity, all those things people discuss when it comes to Fielding, the topics I listed (18th century ones) are just local manifestations of this traffic jam. Fielding run over right before me as the 1997 film begins. Continually what i happening in this book is all the people are making everyone else and themselves miserable — in order to one up one another, to gain an advantage. Male sexual appetite seems to be a matter of using up animal energy; not all males have it, and for many money is far more important. Fielding loves to have us see them having arguments in their heads about what is the safest and most expedient and advantageous (from the point of view of money, rank, immediate gain) step to take. Without any regard to common sense, humanity — which they are all pretending to all the time. That is what Tom Jones is about.

It’s the propelling idea and then all the antics, the performances, and few mostly good because naive and/or sheltered, growing up in private places (where social life does not impinge its common denominator survival struggle), where people who have been able to keep away from that highway, in well-padded retreats, with their books and brains in high-minded dreams, fell into place. You see when you are 19 as I was when I read Tom Jones as an undergraduate and did a paper showing the plot-design forced the characters to behave inconsistently, I didn’t think of the larger question.  I accepted the book was a masterpiece and it was my task to explicate parts of it. Not what is this man on about for hundreds of pages?

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Samantha Morton as Sophia (pistol hidden) protector of her maid, Honor (Kathy Burke) looking on

The instructor (there for free as I do it too) did enlighten me, but not enable me the way I wish I could be — no one can probably. But I was struck by how she talked about the market and EU from the point of view of a complete lack of concern of how its policies affected ordinary people. How was it affecting money. What we didn’t want was inflation or high interest rates. Oh the recovery? it was just fine. The Greek people. Not to worry: their gov’t would step in line and international investment would be safe, stable, good yields. Her course fit into Tom Jones too; it was one of the polite rooms.

Later in the afternoon I hurried to the huge Northern Virginia Book Sale in a George Mason Library. It’s on an open road (no highway), so no exclusions by EZ passes. I got there just as it opened for the first time in years. Booksellers everywhere glomming up books. In the first 4 minutes I found a beautiful copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall to replace my ugly paperback doorstop with its blaring advertisements all over it. Hard-cover, sewn. Clutching it, I saw myself as playing my usual role in the world’s panorama too. I’ve bought a ticket for Wolf Hall Part 2 (on the stage) for when I come to NYC this May. One of the introductory chapters is a elaborate meditation on the Shakespearean insight that all the world’s a stage.

Jim loved satire — probably Clive James has some satiric passages in his earlier poems which “get” Tom Jones too. I just have continually to transfer the parallels, the metaphors and hope the older students will understand the book too.

Sylvia

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ClaryMarch2015
Clarycat last night — she stays with me, playing, sitting, resting …

Dear friends and readers,

This was to have been a week where I began teaching again, resumed the dance fusion and core classes at the Jewish community Center, and went to another of the Washington Area Print group’s lectures. Snow and ice have cancelled out the first two, my own lack of alertness led to my car’s battery dying so I ordered a tow truck which took my Prius to the Toyota dealership for fixing, and tonight it’s looking like there will be more ice, snow and cancellations on the way. I’ll be lucky if I can pick my car up before Saturday. I discover I have a high tax bill this year so going to an accountant is no panacea there.

Small beer I know, my deep deep loneliness, all that Jim lost in comparison to skies filled with helicopters and bombs elsewhere, paramilitary police and so on. In news affecting large numbers of people: Very bad things to many threatened: loss of health care through the supreme court, yet worse war with Iran: if the elected mass murderer Israeli Prime Minister has his way he’ll kill & destroy with impunity some more. Is there a word bad enough for this criminal type (More’s “pest” sounds too trivialzing) seeking an aggressive war against the Iranian people? Have they not suffered enough? They are trying to build their country again. Hilary Clinton a bad choice for the president; Jackson Lear on identity politics. The college which provided Yvette with the happiest four years of her adult life thus far, Sweet Briar, has announced it will shut down — heart-breaking that. It is said to be ceasing operations before it reaches a bankrupt crisis so it can provide pensions and severance pay for its teachers, help students find other places, be responsible. But does it have to close? It is such a rare fine school for anyone, not quite unique as yet (as there are still some others) as just for women. But important victories too: Net Neutrality was affirmed by the FCC so this vast communication network will be preserved for all of us to reach one another, to find out information, to enjoy communication across time and space, as a utility, a lifeline.

On that note I’ve almost finished another Future Learn Course: Film-making: from Script to Screen, from Exeter University, in the UK. It’s been highly uneven but enormously helpful to me as I write my paper.

The first week dismaying: the people in charge were showing off who they were, and what they were going to tell us. There was some discussion of writing scripts — how you have to visualize — and sound design, but nothing developed. The talk and questions in the “learners'” discussion spaces, made me think about how I came to want to study (or make) films and suddenly remembered years of watching Channel 9 in NYC and the old films endlessly replaying and how I was deeply moved by The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara — especially two haunting moments: her up on the scaffold about to be hung, ethereal, beautiful, and him siting on the cathedral next to a gargoyle as the movie ends, weeping weeping and asking why no one can love him.

The second week was all I had hoped for — explanatory and for me transformative talk about the process of film-making as one moves from script to filming, what does the director do, Tony Grisoni and David Peace’s and Destiny Ekaragha’s films (about English Nigerian people, the careless spiteful murder of a Kurdistan young man in London, Kingsland) — I felt ashamed I had not gone to see the film about the young nun, Ida and the mini-series about Yorkshire, Red Riding, which Jim downloaded for me.

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From Red Riding Trilogy — films by men are often about troubled young men

The third week the guide was Mike Figgis who talked about camera work in a concrete real way; he showed clips from one of his popular films, Leaving Las Vegas, and talked about what drove and shaped his decisions for where he filmed, how he visualized, when added sound; and then a powerful movie he had made: The Mass of Man. A man is 3 minutes late to his job center and is told by this merciless woman that he will be stopped from getting any money for a month unless he signs a form; if he signs it he will still be stopped for 2 weeks. He missed his bus. It is clear that the job center has no jobs to give out. This reminded me of what I saw in all the places said to be open to help disabled people find jobs. They are useless and the employees there punish the disabled people in order to shut them up and keep them cowed lest these employees lost their jobs. What happens is an infuriated person comes in and starts to shoot people with painful darts — we were meant to understand and feel for the infuriated man and see the cruelty of the whole arrangement, its hypocrisies. Figgis had his favorite producer there and we learned how a producer works with a film-director — funding his project. How to try to control what you write by asking yourself how much time each page will take to film. We were to try to see the distance from the script to visualizing the film

The fourth week was the worst Future Learn week I’ve experienced, the guide prurient without an ability to articulate anything about his (awful) film. There were two interviews worth watching: David Morrissey about his experience of acting in a film recently (in Georgia) and Martin Scorsese on the reaction to a film about a serial killer that offended people deeply in the 1950s (but today alas might pass without comment, much less anything adverse), Peeping Tom. Some film-makers have little intellectual understanding of what they are doing; they can understand how a camera works and what angles they could to produce certain effects. Often the actors understand more of their art as an art and its value than anyone else — I see this during interviews.

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Wright concentrated on scenes of Meryl Streep Margaret Thatcher neither all powerful nor in dementia, but inbetween

Week 5 the guide, Justine Wright, articulate and insightful. She began as a person editing commercials; went on to documentaries (where the script is minimal making them very arduous to do as the amount of material gathered is often enormous) and recently features. She showed the script is a central prescriptive text everyone follows, as they went might alter, but kept to more or less generally as the plan of the shoot. She talked a lot about time and space in a movie and how you must zero in on specifics to tell a story. She showed clips from a film she had edited about Thatcher, the Iron Lady, where the question was how to show her needing to shop for breakfast things, shopping, then coming home, then eating. Lewis Arnold was next with a short Caroline about a girl compulsively reliving her grief over her father’s death in a car accident — I would not have understood it without his explanations, sheer cutting and editing of images and sequences.

Week 6: sound and music, added on last. The last week was excellent and as there is still time to register and follow the six, I recommend this series to all. The guides were Danny Hambrook, a sound editor, and John Keane, a composer; the films includes Kureishi’s Le Weekend, the 1999 mini-series Wives and Daughters (scripted by Andrew Davies), and a remarkable cartoon, The Hill Farm (nominated for an Oscar). I did notice once again that men film-makers just love to make violent films and enjoy presenting violence in the guise of “action-adventure.” As in previous weeks one reason I enjoyed most of the videos, extra lectures (one at the BFI site) and talk by the two guides was I liked the movies. It seems odd but sound and music are attached last; that seems to be a practuical necessity. It’s after the film is laid out you can attach the sound. Hambrook discussed how he made the sounds of Paris in Le Weekend; how he developed a thematic motif for Cynthia in Wives and Daughters and how that worked; Keane talked of many experiences of creating different kinds of sounds, tracks, atmosphere — cartoons are a special case because the sounds are often far more artificial than we realize and yet have to move us as natural. The story of the film was touching.

Ellen

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Idyllic drawing: The Poet’s Window by Pytor Konchalovsky (Russian, 1875-1956) – again from a Net-friend, Camille, on face-book, to cheer herself and others

I work away on my paper due for the coming ASECS conference at LA (Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films), genuinely begun and read with understanding some new or old books (Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chapter I) and others I was kidding myself I was managing (Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground on Cornwall); I’ve been mesmerized by movies by Victor Nunez, the older Poldark Series (the last 4 powerful episodes of the first season, 1975-76), watched yet more Downton Abbey, most precious of all good letters from and to friends, talk about art and politics and just anything and everything (visiting Godolphin House in Cornwall, large topiary cats) with acquaintances too on the Net, even spent time with my daughters, ate, slept, sat by my real sweet Clarycat and played with nudging pressing Ian. They seek companionship too.

On Marsden: What he’s exploring is why some people become mythic – and Cornwall has been one of these, the capacity of a place to create mythologies about them too. I just loved Wilkie Collins’s book on his time in Cornwall. It has to do with topography, with the distinctive space of the area, what it looks like and has enabled its history to be — and he had just gotten to the neolithic objects and stones and King Arthur when I left off. Cornwall is a place with many neolithic stones, and like elsewhere they are found in formations which suggest people moved them. Marsden meditates this too. Marsden shows how Cornwall can depress some people – not him, a friend who came with him. David Craig’s review in the LRB emphasizes Marsden’s use of previous writers from and on Cornwall from the 17th century on. This is an 18th century topic — as modern archealogy takes off then. I’ve read a couple of excellent books on Stonehenge and this review fits in there too — about theorizing these stones. Political geography can explain something of what happens in areas so “gifted” and returned to and written about — books and people who were there count too I should think as well as some literal history. Another great travel book of this type is Orphan Pamuk’s Istanbul — I’ve longed to go there and see the great sea by it.

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View of Estuary from Fowey and Bodinnick — I dipped into DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall too

On Nunez: A Flash of Green, which may be watched whole through 5 YouTube sites. The 1980s film is about reporter who is partly seduced into operating as a mole on behalf of his friend, a corrupt politician, and destroying the individuals part of a movement to stop a corporation from turning a lake, woodlands into a development of expensive housing and malls. It’s the lack of sensationalism that is so striking.

I can see how Ruby in Paradise is an Austen adaptation: in comparison while deeply and truthfully seen, it is a simple coming of age story about a decent young girl, surrounded by mostly well-meaning people — in a rotten society (not explained how it got that way).

Ulee’s Gold (I rented a DVD from Netflix) — powerful and real. There is uplift towards the end; I see Nunez practices this for all his films I’ve seen thus far (including Gal Young’un, where a young man deludes an older woman into marrying him, mortifies her [“slack face”], takes her money, brings home a stupid sexy woman but she wins through threatening to kill him with a rifle, and the poor girl chooses to stay with her) The endings arenot tacked on and is believable. In Ulee’s Gold, what’s startling is the frank portrayal without any holding back of family relationships and especially drug addiction – without overdoing it (what Breaking Bad does about addiction, it’s too melodramatic, too crass awful).. There is a violent subplot where two of the grandfather’s (Peter Fonda)’s son’s buddies in crime threaten to and then come back to wrest a huge amount of money hidden away — they threaten to kill him, his daughter-in-law and grandchildren and they are rescued by a nurse across the way (who is becoming the grandfather’s half girl-friend by the end, she’s been divorced twice, no children). I can see how the story could have been presented so melodramatically and it’s not. Things emerge naturally — as every day life. This is like his other films. Beautiful shots of northern Florida and beekeeping.

still-of-peter-fonda-and-vanessa-zima-in-ulees-gold-(1997)-large-picture
Peter Fonda and Vanessa Zima as grandfather and daughter from a typical scene in Ulee’s Gold

Miss Drake

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