Posts Tagged ‘teaching life’

Me at Hill Top House (Lake District, August 2018)

Dear friends and readers,

You owe this blog to my just having watched an extraordinary gem of a TV film made out of a masterpiece production of Macbeth done at the Royal Shakespeare Theater starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellan; with only the most minimal props and simple costumes, they played intensely from the depths of their psychic beings. To try to describe Dench’s performance of Lady Macbeth sleep walking would defeat me: it was a silent howling grief of her whole being.

The use of close-ups, and the intense sexual interaction of Dench and McKellan were all riveting. The opening (the musical accompaniment is not the same as in the film but endure it for what you see)

I could talk of the performances, played deeply straightly, no rejection of what drives each — three witches by Marie Kean (mother), Susan Drury as mad as Macbeth by the end, Judith Harte, against the calmer presences of Bob Peck as Macduff (who left his wife and children behind), Richard Rees as the nervous Malcolm, Ian MacDiarmid the politician Ross and the porter. But then the reader will pay attention to the names, try to remember other performances. No it’s the lines from Shakespeare that they speak so of anguished despair, transcendent horror, crazed hallucinations, and especially Macbeth’s in his isolation, and loneliness, and how the ambition which drove him to kill the king was idiotic. It is as ever easiest to quote the high peak

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

But the shorter lines matter just as much, the ones that in context depend on the action of the play but resonate in the heart: no troops of friends, not one of my children left, no all slaughtered that Macbeth’s hirelings could find.

So often people don’t want to talk about what so moved them — in this case McKellan in three features accompanies the film of the play. He speaks of the original production at Stratford (and like so many now lightly grazes over how the RSC now is not what it was then), of how to play Shakespeare, the choices that Trevor Nunn made (they did it in an inscribed circle on the “other space” which holds only 100 people); the history of the Scottish play, and particulars — like of course you should not bring on someone playing the ghost of Banquo: the point is no one but Macbeth sees him. He never speaks the way Hamlet’s father’s ghost does. The film’s genre seems to be film noir in its continual blackness all around the people interacting so clingingly, in tight groups on stage, though McKellan categories it as horror.

He is such a good friend to have with you — this summer I believe it is that Izzy and I saw his great documentary film about his career at the Folger. he says TV is talking heads, that’s what you should take advantage of. In the theater he has to talk to the others at large or in a small theater of 100 perhaps individually catch your presence one at a time; in TV he talks out to me, says he.

Categories: Mark Kermode has 5 not so intelligent takes on film categories, and Andrew Marr three brilliant on Spy, Thriller and Sorcerer movies — they are on movie genres, so little talked of, the packaging of these commodities. it was almost good enough to make up for the cliched in thought and name-dropping analyses of his first two, which I’ll remind any readers of this thread were on Rom-Com (romantic comedy, which includes the tradtional “wacky” comedy genre and famiial comedy, part of traditional family dramas) and “the heist movie” (which included male violence, crime, film noir, mystery, horror — male genres which females appear in only as sex objects for when a group of women replaces the central group of males).

In the third “new” genre he turns to coming-of-age movies and suddenly he’s better, more engaged, more personal and comes up with analyses that connect the motifs of this genre to social realities in the UK and US (however indiscriminately). He lumps female coming-of-age with male so there is nothing wrong with LadyBird and he does not recognize any difference in a movie where the center is a girl and woman’s friendship and all the mentors are either mothers or women friends or a male coming of age where the question is the place of the individual _in society_, his end success in society, and the mentors are a father or male figure of some sort (avuncular). All is lumped together, and he again reaches back to old classics and then speeds up to reach modern indies and films about minorities — which in this batch are singled as about minorities and so the analyses is again better (Moonlight — black young men are utterly disadvantaged).

Still if you yourself know the difference you can see these things in what you are watching: better, his theme is finding one’s identity. He says such films are about finding one’s identity and the parents regarded as good and authorities on the surface are often those you must get away from, those whose norms will destroy you. He Kermode identifies here and the movies he choses and comments are worth seeing in this light. Movies you might not have regarded as coming of age (for example Sally Hawkins and her fish lover) he does.

I watch these sorts of things at night alone too, gentle reader.

In the silence. Ian McKellan my companion tonight bringing to me the Macbeth he did so long ago with these marvelous actors. Alone but for the imagined community the technology supplies. Yes I have much real there spiritual and emotional companionship from my many Net friends during the day with (as Penelope Fitzgerald calls them) imagined voices (in a novel on her time at the BBC radio) in the silence. I should put on the radio more, but often I don’t care for the music, even classical is too bouncy, loud, incessantly cheerful, too there. I like the music Izzy pulls up from her ipad when we are making supper: play lists of categories like calm; new age; folk music; specific kinds of classical, but then it’s enough.

Emily Mortimer as Florence Green (The Bookshop, Isabel Croixet from Penelope Fitzgerald)

That is the fate of the widow — or at least is mine and others who write about their lives as widows from time to time in newspapers and magazines — the French title of the film is Le Librarie de Mademoiselle Green. The emphasis on how she is single, not married without saying the dreaded word widow “la veuve.” I saw the excellent film adaptation by Isabel Croixet of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop in last week’s film club, and Emily Mortimer as Florence Green uttered a line from the book about how the word “widow” is so ominous (vedova parlando, an Italian phrase, carries strong disdainful connotations towards such talk). Florence is a widow of 5 years finally determining to try to work in the world, do something useful; the world does not want her she discovers. Or like Sister Ludmilla in Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, only if she costs them nothing, asks nothing, contributes without expectation of anything in return.

There’s your key. Alas, for Florence she did need money in return. When Mrs Gamart has the gov’t requisition the old house in which Florence made her bookshop, no one will give Florence any of the money back she sunk into the house, and now she is broke. Money. No matter how commercial motives have driven Croixet to soften the source book, she gets that dark hollow at the center of the book. And one is really alone when one’s life’s partner goes. It does seem as if no other relationship can come near this and not all do. All others not intertwined in the heart’s core where our breathing comes from, our oxygen. So how easy it is then, to drop people.

The year is turning into fall as the calendar directs many people’s activities to change. Not the weather, as at least in the Washington DC area, the temperature remains very hot, humid, uncomfortable. There is a softening as the sun does not emerge to glare down until after 6:30 am and fades away around 8 pm. As ever the dark mornings do not make getting up easier, but darkness does mean less heat, and when Jim was alive, we’d walk in Old Town as darkness was coming, and the twilight time in colors can be the prettiest time of each 24 hour cycle.

Alas I did not assign these — next time if there is one

And I’m finding people are behaving slightly differently to me — I’ve had a bunch of letters all at once as if people are remembering others who are part of the autumn pattern or saying goodbye to summer. I’ve been keeping my word to myself of not pushing myself out of the house just to be among people, staying in and finding more real satisfaction in at last getting to a given book or project of reading and writing more steadily and for real, thoroughly. I made some progress on my Winston Graham project this summer once all courses were over even if I went away for two weeks. Truly read carefully some eight or nine of his early suspense books, compared the original and revised first two Poldark books (Ross Poldark and Demelza were originally longer, RP considerably longer). I have found it in me to blog on some of this at Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two: “Graham’s Suspense and just pre-WWII novels.”

For the course I’m teaching at the OLLI at AU, The Enlightenment at Risk, I sit and reread or read for the first time astonishing texts by Diderot — La Religieuse, Rameau’s Nephew — Madame Roland, Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques, much more central to what I want to convey about the Enlightenment than Candide, which merely shows us the results of human nature let loose in intolerance. I am too lazy, or it is very hard to do justice to these in blogs, but I will produce a few for Austen Reveries as I go through the course and find myself having to put into words for lectures why these are so supremely important, and why another great tragedy is unfolding all around us as those who can understand find themselves helpless once again to implement their insights into what human life is, what happiness, what unacceptable (and should be forbidden) cruelty into law, make them central to custom.

Mark Rylance as Cromwell trying to create a barrier between himself and power (the King)

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn adjusting the eye cover (2015 Wolf Hall, Straughn, Koshinsky, script, direction)

These imagined voices are my company too. I listen to Michael Slater read aloud Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and know she’s onto this too. I’m scheduled to teach Wolf Hall: A Fresh Look at Tudor Matter at the OLLI at Mason. I’m into Bring up the Bodies now, much harder, deeply pessimistic book as our hero, Thomas Cromwell, grows older and finds himself in Wolsey’s place against power now. Not read as well by Simon Vance who hasn’t the reach for the iciness and the deep turn to ghost figures for solace both books present in ironic guise.

Yet I’ve understood now how it was also necessary for me to go away in August — I should not spend weeks this way with no break — so upon one of the people in the Canterbury set I described saying twice, would I like to go on a Road Scholar trip alongside him (both take separate rooms) and we both have reserved places next May. I will go through with it with the appropriate low expectations. You see the Road Scholar programs for Cornwall do not occur in August, so I will have to find something for August too. Do I have the nerve to return to the UK for research in libraries about Graham? I’d love it, especially if I could get into BBC archives.

Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960), Winter Garden (1928): this week’s choice of artist on one of my face-book friend’s timelines ….

Most of the time I’m not literally alone in the 24 hour cycles — as I’m not literally with others on the Net. Most of the time Izzy is here in the evenings, weekends, and whatever other times she is not at work, and we go out together or live our lives in tandem, joining most closely for supper. Not these five Labor Day weekend days, as she has gone to NYC with Laura, where they appear to be having a very good time. Here they are at Coney Island in the blessed breezes.

Izzy and Laura at Coney Island.

They are staying in an apartment of one of Laura’s friends from the Net; they do thus far seem to be going to places Jim and I used to: the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum (where Laura found a fashion show), theater through half-price tickets. One day they will spend in Brooklyn, the museum, the botanical gardens, walking in Prospect Park. There is a great borough library too, but they won’t have time for that. One full day at the US open for tennis. I know Izzy the time she went alone enjoyed mightily the bus tours up and down the streets of Manhattan with the stream of talk from the guide-driver and regretted not taking one through Brooklyn.

At the Metropolitan Museum

At the Cloisters

A new level of companionship has emerged with my two cats as I carry on giving of myself in the way I do every where I am physically when one-on-one. I said how Clarycat kept up deliberately yowling-as-scolding the first two days I was back. As if to say you have some helluva nerve disappearing like that, without so much as a by your leave. Now she is under feet and all around me all the day, my perpetual pal, anticipating where we are going, what we are about to do. It can get a bit much.

But Ian or Snuffy has outdone her. He now wails with a point. He came to my room and set up a wail. I couldn’t figure out why. Izzy’s door was open: complete ingress and egress everywhere. So I asked him, what gives? and picked him up. Then he did it. He stared up at the ceiling and wailed again. What is on my workroom ceiling? why a ceiling fan! in these supremely hot dog-days of August, I not only put on the air-conditioning. I’ve taken to putting on all the fans I The house, one in each room. It helps circulate the air. Now in three rooms the fan is a (pretty) ceiling fan. He was telling me he objected to that noise and that turning gadget. A cat who wants to come into my room should not have put up with this. I obligingly turned it off. Absolute truth: about 10 minutes later I noticed him settling down into his cat-bed snoozing. Peace & quiet at last. The rigors of cat life are insufficiently appreciated, Jim used to say.

This is not the only instance where he has wailed in such a way as to communicate an idea, and when I have acted on it, (luckily) I have been somehow confirmed that we have had a good interspecies communication. On the same page as they say. Clarycat also talks at me a good deal, meowing, when I’m not there wailing and then when I call, coming to where I am to be with me.

The cover of Barnes and Noble edition of Howards End — the importance of home, place, history is central to the novel

In about two weeks my fall schedule kicks in and I’ll be going out again: at the OLLI at Mason, I’ve gotten into “The Poetry of Robert Frost,” “Four famous propaganda films” (important ones, two on labor, fancy that), Green’s The Quiet American (which I once taught) and go to a book club three times over the next 4 months (choices are like Exit West Moshin Hamid, whom I’d never heard of); and at OLLI at AU another serious course on films (politically, morally considered), the first half of War and Peace (where I can just come as I read it so carefully two years ago now on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io. There we are beginning E.M. Forster’s Howards End (book, two films, all else about Queen Forster — how Jim loved his letters with Cavafy), and are in the middle of Elizabeth Taylor’s Soul of Kindness (the lady is anything but).

I do have another personal blog, one which is crucially political to tell about my trip: the abuse of travelers on an airplane in the year 2018, the ugliness of the way the airline and the airport authorities and to say a lot about TSA who know how dispensable you, my fellow traveler and me are.



Read Full Post »



More than two weeks since the festivities were over, and more than a week since I turned into a class member at the Oscher Institutes of Lifelong Learning for 4 weeks at Mason (and soon, very briefly, but 3 mornings worth) at AU. The above tree has been taken away, and bitterly cold spells keeping us in so that after weeks of pushing myself reading as much Virginia Woolf, Samuel Johnson and on biography as I could take I achieved the proposal and an outline and plan for the paper I’m working on: “Presences Among Us Imagining People: Modernism in [Samuel] Johnson and [Virginia] Woolf’s Biographical Art” — too long to quote here – and send it to the editor of the volume it’s intended for, whereupon it was approved. And there’ve been balmy afternoons, permitting a museum visit and afternoon walks,

Me at the National Gallery with

my friend, Panorea,

much reading, as in Roger Fry, whose Vision and Design taught me what was wrong with the Vermeer and His Contemporaries exhibit we saw on that day in the museum (when we also had that hellish experience of parking in today’s world):

I liked the paintings, and of course, especially Vermeer, who of course stood out, but of course one knew that would be so already. I saw two new Vermeers I’d seen before and some of his contemporaries’ paintings I’d only seen in reproductions were made far truer for me. But it was a disappointment. Why? it was organized by motifs, by what was shown, the literal content (musicians with women of dubious reputations, women writing letters &c) and I learned nothing new. It should and could have been organized by painter. I did see that several had one or two paintings as good as Vermeer and there were two Vermeer duds. I could get no sense of the vision or development or uniqueness of these others.

I’d been reading Roger Fry and while looking at these persuaded me his total dismissal of content, of imitation of reality, as unimportant won’t do, his insistence this is a medium that the artist expresses emotion through and we contemplate and enjoy from aesthetic criteria is accurate. I couldn’t do that because the exhibit was arranged only with literal content in mind. Outside the exhibit there were two expensive books filled with artistry of one or another of these people separately ; that means they could have organized the exhibit that way. Surely they know better too.

Amelie Beaury-Saurel, Dans Le Bleu (1895?) — one of the many artists and pictures I’ve never seen before

I did buy a book, an equally expensive one — under $40 — Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900, once I stop this doing of papers for others and get to my own projects I will return to blogging for women artists among other things.

Also in no particular order a few marvels of novels, literary criticism, and biography, and movies, of which I’ll describe just one: Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent:

On her own at last (Wendy Hiller as Deborah, Lady Slane)

Deborah, Lady Slane, is an 88 (!) year old heroine. At long last she is standing up — well sitting down mostly — for what she would like to do with her life, where she would like to live. Her husband dies — shall I say at long last again?– and she refuses to live with her children, or to travel from one to another but instead sets up her own apartment in Hampstead in a place she saw 30 years ago. I couldn’t quite believe that not only does no one want to cheat her but she comes across two elderly men who do all they can to cater to her — she meets these gentle non-materialistic noncompetitive people, giving her book a long central space for a long soliloquy in the middle of the book (very like Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse) that just riveted me. How she was deprived of her deepest desire to paint; how no one of course wanted to deprive her, but neither could anyone take such a desire seriously. She must (they all thought) value her work as a mother (and especially of sons) infinitely more. She thinks about the anti-feminist point of view, and asks herself why is life as a mother not as valuable? why is producing a fine human being not as valuable as a work of art. The answer is the other person is apart from us and it’s us we want to embody in something beautiful or truthful or relevant that speaks to others.

It has funny passages such that I laughed aloud. Not a very common occurrence with me. Jokes in the dialogues between Deborah, our 88 year old heroine, and her beloved maid, Genou (played by Eileen Way, barely recognizable from her part as Aunt Agatha in the 1970s Poldark). As novel began, it resembled the humor of Patricia Duncker’s Miss Webster and Cherif, about an aging spinster to whose door comes a young African or black English young man and she takes him in as a handyman about the house. Very dangerous and Andrew Davies picked that up in his film adaptation of Barbara Howard’s Falling with Penelope Wilton as the older woman living alone who takes Michael Kitchen, as the seeming kindly alone older man, who becomes terrifyingly abusive. It’s probably skirting that which makes the delight of such books. The origins are ultimately the kind of thing we find in Mrs Miniver, or The Egg and I — or they participate in this fantasy.

Her unkempt garden

When Mr FitzGeorge, an equally elderly man who has kept an image of our heroine somewhere in his mind for many decades since the time when he saw her in India (despite hemmed in by family and children) and recognized a kindred spirit, when he I say comes to visit, and then he leaves her his vast collection of art objects, what does she do? Not leave it in legacies to her children (most of whom she dislikes — her spinster daughter so happy on her own at long last and unmarried son not so much), but give it to the state and charities. Everyone thinks this is throwing it away as the worst people may get their hands on it and what will they do with it.

The meaning the heroine’s mind wants is a final gesture contra mundi. She refuses to acknowledge that all this is valued for the money it will fetch, its status (who did it), its prestige – what Roger Fry said was true of why people valued what art they paid for. Then a visit from a great-granddaughter shows her that this one girl despite the photos which made her out to be an utter sell-out don’t represent her for real. Soothed by this thought but not regretting she didn’t leave this granddaughter anything she dies.

I love the way S-W’s mind just leaps on to the telling descriptive detail that so convinces and amuses — suddenly she lifts, John, her cat, John off the magazine she is pretending to read. Of course John was there, and of course he struggles when she attempts to make him look at something.

Ah me

Also the depth of feeling between a woman and her “maid” found in Jenny Diski’s Apology for the Woman Writing (a historical novel centering on Marie le Jars de Gournay, her maid and Montaigne), for the two live meaningfully because they are together, one serving the other, with the tragic close of the death of the rich one with the poor thrown out. Poor Genou. She will be kicked out and only if there is some kind of tiny legacy will she know any comfort after this. We get a quick picture of what her life was before becoming this 24 hour servant – one where she was 12th child, utterly mistreated. More than merely bitter-sweet.

With her faithful Genou (Eileen Way)

And I watched a deeply satisfying dream-like realization of it in a film with Wendy Hiller (1986, TV film) at the center this.

What does a diary do but mark time? I’m not the only one in this house who has changed in the last four years. I newly appreciated Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat That Walked By Himself” (a story that in another life Jim read aloud to me and Laura when Laura was around 9, sitting in front of a winter fire in the front room fireplace).

Snuffy in the morning near his cat tree and water bowl

My cat, Ian, now Snuffy has undergone a profound change. Four years ago when Jim died, Snuffy spent most days under the bed or hiding somewhere. He’d come out to sit on the top of chairs and watch us, seemingly for hours never moving. Each night after dinner when Jim and I would sit by the table drinking wine or coffee, he’d come onto Jim’s lap. Once in a long while, he’d come over to be petted by me. After much effort, when Laura spent four days and nights he, he began to play with her, follow her about and open up his body to her, sitting up straight, putting out paws, and looking at her longingly. But he remained wary and played from a corner of the room. He never asserted himself that I could see. Jim had forbidden him and Clarycat to come into my study during the day because once long ago Snuffy had eaten the wires to the computer and messed them all up. It took Jim hours to repair and replace.

Shortly before Jim grew sick, shortly after I retired, I rebelled against this regime and said they come into my room with me because they are old enough to know not to gnaw on wires when bored, lonely, tired, frustrated. (I am not sure of this and would not want to leave them in this house alone for days to try this out.) Gradually I was making better friends with them.


Well now four years have gone by, and I have let them become part of all my daily rhythms; they have their place in all that happens. He still hides out for a couple of hours a day, but when he’s finished this calming stint, he comes over to me, puts his paw out and nudges me gently and gets onto my lap. We have lap time. We also have chest and head time; he pushes his body against my chest, his head against mine, his tail waving away, and lets me hug him tight. We do this a couple of times a day. He follows me from room to room, sometimes getting out in front of me and then moving on in the expectation I will follow him, but turning to make sure and then alter his path if I do. He spends most of the rest of the day quite visible — running about, sitting in front of windows, hanging around me or ClaryCat — often making a nuisance of himself as he tries to mount her (she will spat at him after a while), wrestle with her, or lick her thoroughly all around. She cannot bully him the way she once did as she held fiercely in her mouth a toy. He remains wholly unimpressed nowadays. Night time he takes his place curled into my legs; Clarycat has lain nestled by the side of my body most nights for years. (This is how I slept with my dog, Llyr, and 40 years ago, with another cat, Tom I called him, the stray-feral I had to leave behind in Leeds.)

Clary waking one morning

Izzy’s door. This is a bone of contention and he is winning. He stands by her closed door for hours mewing. He used to make half-hearted attempts to get her to open it, but now he is persistent. We open it, and he goes in, but he wants out. He stands before the closed door on the other side. Goes over to Izzy, paw on her arm. He then stands in front of the door after she opens it. What he wants is a door ajar. And he is winning. I threatened to strangle him one day if she didn’t leave that door ajar. He will trot over to my chair and mew at me, and put his paw on me to get my attention. If I talk at him, it doesn’t help. Another day she threatened to go mad if he didn’t leave the room so she could write in peace. She says the room gets cold if it’s ajar, since he opens it farther to come in and farther to come out. I don’t like hearing her music. But he is winning. He wants access to us both at once. He feels securer. Access to her room where there are places he hides. As I type this this morning the door is ajar, he has pushed it and trotted into her room. Clarycat in front of my computer looking out the window with alertness.

Most striking of all is how he treats others coming to the house. Yes he will still run and hide when people come into the house. And most of the time not come out until they leave. He does not chase or pursue insects the way he once did, keeping at them and then somehow killing the poor things as they become exhausted or crippled, and then pushing them with his paw. He grows older I expect. Maybe wiser in the sense that there’s nothing practical here for him. He was never one for toys the way Clary is. Yet once in a while he will venture to show himself to people and have a look. But often time nowadays as someone comes down the path, he growls and loud. He shows his displeasure by going to the door and growling. Sometimes he prowls about guarding the space. We have never had a guest who brought in a pet.

Startlingly he solved the problem of Greymalkin. You may remember Greymalkin as this peremptory grey cat I thought was a feral or stray and was putting food out for when I discovered that she or he had an owner, a neglectful one who had left her or him there for two weeks with only a brief visit a day from his daughter to replenish food. I can do nothing for him or her because he or she is defined as property, “owned” by this man. That cat is still neglected and still comes round and meows quite loudly on my stoop for food and water — and attention. He or she wants to be petted, and I can see wants to come out of the cold and wet by immediate feeling; if I thought it wouldn’t cause trouble, and I’d let him or her come in. It’s been very cold, sometimes pouring ice when I see this poor cat come round. It would cause trouble for me, for what would happen if this cat ran under a chair or hid, as it has no bell as part of its collar the way mine do and it is “owned” by someone else. (Thus I experience how someone living near an enslaved person could be helpless to protect him or her).

Well, Snuffy does not feel this way. He apparently resents the cat coming to the stoop and eating food I gave him or he. Some “smart aleck” type person would say Snuffy is wise to this cat. When Snuffy sees this cat coming down the path, he leaps off my desk (he might be sitting between the back of my computer and the window over my desk), growling and spatting and runs to the door and makes loud noises. Poor Greymalkin flees in fright, leaping away like a kangaroo.

Snuffy’s basic wary nature is still there. I mention he needs hiding time. He will spend time opening drawers and then getting in and staying there. It is important that I don’t let him know I see him, which I do (he thinks if he cannot see me easily I cannot see him), for when he sees that I know where the place is, he finds a new place. Were he a human being would he be the less intelligent seeming, less senstive type, and (forbid the thought) vote conservatively. I feel sorry for Greymalkin, who is a neglected cat. He or she is a hard fat sturdy cat, but I feel the hard behavior is in imitation of his or her owner and if he or she had a kinder environment a nicer personality would develop eventually. Greymalkin does not expect to be treated with affection.

Clarycat is not quite the same as she was when Jim lived either. She was deeply attached to Jim, and grieved for days after his death. She knew he was dying and was distraught the two days he died. Caw-cawed and walked back and fourth in the corridor between the front part of the house and the bedroom where he lay. Then she sat squat down in his chair tight for days on end. Now she is attached to me. But not quite the way she was to Jim because he was a different personality.

She is my perpetual pal, murmurs and talks to me all the live-long day, my companion, ever there. She was attached to Jim, but not in this way. Snuffy is nowadays around my computer much of the time, but he does not make little murmurs in reply to my speech the way she does. He is not Loving or dependent in the way Clary is. He is a cat who walks by himself, she is not. She is also much more alert, picks up what’s happening around her, eager to join in once she deems it safe, pro-active, open to experience: as to Greymalkin, Clary was terribly curious but would just watch from the window. Jim would not permit the endless interventions she imposes. He would have her in his lap and engage in eye-contact time for a while; he’d play with her, letting her cat-bite him gently; then that would be that. I don’t play; I’m not playful with people either; most games bore me. She has just now lost her little grey mouse toy; it’s disappeared. She probably took it somewhere I can’see and for a time, it’s gone. She does walk by herself in the manner that Kipling suggests: she negotiates. In return (she is aware) for good treatment, she sits by my radiator, drinks what I give her, but as for killing (another aspect of the negotiations in Kipling’s story; the cat agrees to seek out and kill certain yet smaller animals) that’s out in this house.

What is the refrain of Kipling’s story: “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come …. And he went back through the Wet Wild Woods, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone. And he never told anybody” (This is much resented by the Man and the Dog.)

Emma Lowstadt-Chadwick, Beach Parasol (portrait of Amanda Sidwall, 1880) — another from Women Artists of Paris

Miss Drake

Mary Poppins’ Cat: and some considerable sorrow for Garrison Keillor, with troubles over taxes, Yahoo groups, and (sigh) once again travel in the NB and PS comments

Read Full Post »

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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

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 …. )


A Caturday entry: on bonding with my pussycats:


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.

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

Read Full Post »

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.

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).

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.

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.

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

Read Full Post »

Beatrix Potter squirrel

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.

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.


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.


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.

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

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.

Realistic sketches

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.


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.

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. Potter herself was also a landscape artist.

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.

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

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.



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

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

My feeble effort using a camera on my iphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widowhood is what I do now.


Read Full Post »



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.

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:

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


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.
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 …


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.


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.


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:


No diary blog without my cat companions.

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.


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

Susan Herbert

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »