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Posts Tagged ‘Widowed’

“It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible” — Henry Tilney, from Austen’s Northanger Abbey


Stage 2: yesterday, Saturday, Dec 8th, tree brought home from nearby garden place (complete with stand), placed on credenza, and Izzy removing the last of the netting


Stage 2: Just the read and silver garland


Un arbre fini — it smells sweet as yet, fresh branches, it is still drinking the water in the stand

Friends and readers,

This is Izzy and my 6th winter solstice without Jim. This past Thursday (a balmy afternoon), I climbed down from our attic with Colin, our Christmas Penguin: I remember how Jim sang some version of this song when my neighbor gave Colin to me as a gift from Target when I told her I had seen him, and not been able to persuade Jim to buy him with the enthusiasm I felt:

— “Colin, the glittering penguin, had a very shiny sleigh, and if you ever saw him, you could even say he’s gay. All of the other penguins used to laugh and call him names; they never let poor Colin join in any penguin games … then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say, Colin with your sleigh so bright … won’t you lead our line tonight …. ” —

This year I first had him facing me and the pussycats in the sun-room; then I thought he is meant to be shared, so I put him before a window yesterday. I can’t put him outdoors because I fear someone will steal him. Would someone in this neighborhood do such a thing? yes. Years ago my next door neighbor’s partner, put out a full sled and reindeer and overnight he found it vanished. He was shocked. Also how cold poor Colin would be.

Last year I added a friend for him and my pussycats this silvery and white and greyish squirrel — if you could look close you see the little sparks which in life are silvery, shine out lightly and make the rest feel snowy. He sits by the tree.


Ian aka Snuffy, imitating Demelza’s word for her son from the Poldark books I call him “my lover” — when he hops on my lap, presses his body against my chest, his front legs (arms) around my head and rubs my head with his, what else is he doing?

Being without Jim doesn’t get any easier … how much living I’ve done in the last six years and how much I now feel I should have helped him to do …. how much experience we could have had together, how many possible memories we’ve lost — how much I should have to tell him of all this somehow interim time since. I like to think that had he lived I might have found these OLLIs and gotten him to go — he might’ve liked them. When we came into the money he was waiting for we would have traveled — he never saw Venice.

I am so just loving the Outlander films and even enjoyed listening to Drums of Autumn where in this fourth volume the homophobia, racism, and even egregious violence has dropped. Diana Gabaldon takes the humane sides each time: Jamie and Claire take refuge in America — of course upper class white style; but they will not own people and they do all they can to make friends with the native Americans. Davina Porter conveys how the narrator now often is Gabaldon herself somehow presenting her characters and then Claire again. But what I love is the central relationship. I watch the first season one-by-one at midnight whenever I am not too tired (I often am so have not gotten to where Claire tells Jamie where she came from) and twice a week each of the episodes of this fourth season. I do love how they ended up in a log cabin alone together — however improbable. Last night the last scene was of them love-making, he bathing her in a hip bath covered with a white cloth first. I know to me it’s a substitute for Jim and my relationship in dreams.


Caitriona Balfe as Claire last night — of course it’s her I identity with, her conception of this character — that involved me with these films and books from the first — she was nominated for a Golden Globe once again so someone besides myself recognizes how deeply appealing she is as this character

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Pissarro, Seine: From a Louvre bridge: Ships in Snow

I don’t find the season of winter depressing. (What is happening in our public worlds is another matter.) To me it has a beauty of its own, but this year I find I am less able to cope with the cold than ever before. The chill air seemed to lace itself into my skin and bones and I shiver and hurry back in to escape the bitterness of the air. So what is better to share than one of Horace’s Odes about winter, I:X, which I found in a better translation than Dryden’s (though I still don’t like the antepenultimate and penultimate lines — why do men think women enjoy (!?) hiding from them, being elusive but that they mistake wariness and rejection for a come-on), but having just returned from a very happy time out with my friend, Panorea, at the Kennedy Center seeing a Nutcracker performance, and then going to a nearby unassuming Asian restaurant, quiet inside, one tree decorated, good food (I’ve been there before with Laura and Izzy and had the same eggplant and garlic sauce with brown rice chased down by Merlot), and with her much good companionable talk, Horace’s outlook is one I offer tonight against the dark:

See how Soracte stands glistening with snowfall,
and the labouring woods bend under the weight:
see how the mountain streams are frozen,
cased in the ice by the shuddering cold?
Drive away bitterness, and pile on the logs,
bury the hearthstones, and, with generous heart,
out of the four-year old Sabine jars,
O Thaliarchus, bring on the true wine.
Leave the rest to the gods: when they’ve stilled the winds
that struggle, far away, over raging seas,
you’ll see that neither the cypress trees
nor the old ash will be able to stir.

Don’t ask what tomorrow brings, call them your gain
whatever days Fortune gives, don’t spurn sweet love,
my child, and don’t you be neglectful
of the choir of love, or the dancing feet,
while life is still green, and your white-haired old age
is far away with all its moroseness. Now,
find the Campus again, and the squares,
soft whispers at night, at the hour agreed,
and the pleasing laugh that betrays her, the girl
who’s hiding away in the darkest corner,
and the pledge that’s retrieved from her arm,
or from a lightly resisting finger.

That is, as long as we don’t forget others not as lucky as we and try to help them somehow. I give money to the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations working to improve the lot of everyone on earth using law, custom, humane principles. Poverty is utterly unnecessary in our world (it’s not just a distribution problem) is hard. so here is an accompanying image: a painting from 1959 by Peter Cook: Bitter Cold, Chapel Street …. the woman must put her clothes out in the street in hopes the wind will dry them. Frozen stiff. I have in my time hung clothes out on a line in very old dry weather. Consider the fortitude of the woman who did that.

And those inside. I know I don’t do enough by giving money to organizations working to change the economic order, to shore up what laws we have to protect against the deadly predatory class in power across this world.

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Achilles delivering Briseis to Agamemnon’s heralds; sentimental bas-relief by Antonio Canova, circa 1787–1790

I bought and actually hope to read Pat Baker’s much truer take in her Silence of the Girls which you can read about in this strong review by Patricia Storace (NYRB)

This past week was taken up by parties, luncheons for the two OLLIs at Mason and AU and one last class for my Enlightenment: At Risk course and the superb film course on morality, politics, and history in 10 soundly selected films. I can now share what we read and said in my Enlightenment course through four blogs I’ve written:

Voltaire’s Candide & Bernstein’s 20th century musical Candide:

On teaching Diderot’s La Religieuse & its 2 film adaptations, & Rameau’s Nephew &c

Samuel Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands, Scotland, & his other writing

Marie-Jeanne Phlipon Roland (1754-93): a great souled author of her own life

This week I shall write an essay for the Intelligencer about teaching the 18th century at the OLLIs (that includes Tom Jones).

For the film course I sincerely hope to write a few more blogs on these great and today perhaps forgotten films: since my last citation of the list I’ve seen Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth — I had forgotten how haunting that scene in the garage; the monstrousness and cruelty of wars is unforgettable in Stone’s film

I’ve gone on with Winston Graham whose suspense and spy novels between 1940 and 1943 impressed me as at their best anticipating LeCarre, reminiscent of Graham Greene and I add to No Exit (set in Prague the day Hitler’s armies invaded), Night Journey, the first version (1941, a very rare text, the 1966 one much inferior). And for my Anomaly essays (perhaps if I should live long a book) I have become enthusiastic over Frances Power Cobbe from her own writings (a novel told from the consciousness of a homeless beloved dog, The Confessions of a Lost Dog) and a superb study, Susan Hamilton’s Francis Power Cobbe & Victorian Feminism, and I am at least considering Anne Jameson from a biography by Clara Thomas, Love and Work Enough; I have read Jameson’s delightful Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada however many years ago.


Frances Power Cobbe with her dog, Hajjin (pilgrim), in a series of lectures dubbed “The abberation” (in Wales)

It is heartening how many serial dramas on TV today are feminist: I recently mentioned the 2018 Woman in White as strongly feminist when scripted by Fiona Seres and featuring Jessie Buckley as Marion Halscomb; add to this the 8 part film adaptation of the first novel of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet (as it has come to be called), My Brilliant Friend: an Italian TV film by Antonio Costanza and (by email) Ferrante herself, it’s airing on HBO. This realization has brought to live much in the first novel I had not adequately responded to before. Don’t miss it. Told of it on https://groups.io/g/WomenWriters

Inadequate and at times snarky over intelligent girls as Emily Nussbaum’s review for the New Yorker is, she does provide background, a general summary and some good comments. I’ve been writing a summary and evaluation for every two episodes. On WomenWriters@groups.io, I have tirelessly maintained the earlier slender novels are better than this mainstream book but am now changing my mind; however you can’t understand this big mainstream unless you’ve read Days of Abandonment; The lost daughter, the nightmare on the beach (marketed absurdly as a child’d book) and know Ferrante is the translator Christa Wolf, she of Cassandra fame (a feminist take on the Iliad, deeply anti-war too). There is no sign Nussbaum has read the other books by Ferrante — for they are not about intellectuality but mother-daughter relationships, the macho male culture that suppresses and twists women, are nightmares of self-destruction (using dolls as one metaphor).

So setting all that aside, she does cover the series and says some interesting things. It is like a complex novel; it is the ‘faithful” type of adaptation. I did not realize from the two times I was able to watch the first hour that Costanza and Ferrante had picked from Little women just those passages where Jo reads aloud her book to Meg and family! I knew there was no such dialogue in the book — I looked and couldn’t find it at any rate. It’s about the two girls, about class-jumping, has wonderful dream-like sequences, goes into the ugly sexual aggressiveness of males in teenage years and how girls they don’t attack collude to despise those they do.

But there is so much more to say I was also disappointed — I feel she has not paid attention enough to episodes 5 (Shoes) and 6 (The island, aka Ischia)– nor the young men emerging (Nino, the highly intelligent young man; Pasquale, appealing coarser features projecting integrity and decency and Lila’s brother, Rino). Nussbamd (given her stance) neglects the central role of Lenu’s kind teacher in keeping her in school and the other women — the mothers who lives are so circumscribed and are angry or the women who puts up with male promiscuity because the man behaves better to them when around. The colors of the series at Ischia. I find so much in it reminds me of my experience of life in the southeast Bronx, circa 1950. Hour after hour there is some scene I’ve experienced — and not just reading Little Women.


Raffaella or Lila (Gaia Girace) and Lenu or Elena (Margherita Mazzucco)

By contrast, an excellent review by Alan Hollinghurst of A Very English Scandal: Class as central as sex and gender — the attempted and its motives reminded me of the actual murder in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Far too much sympathy was given to Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant with a granite face): I suppose because only in that way could the drama be made complex and interesting. My heart was on Norman Scott’s side (Ben Wishaw) much of the time — the speech that Norman Scott manages to make about his being one of those “thrown away” (according to Alan Hollinghurst not at all what Scott said — Scott went to pieces on the stand and cried) would fit the statement Scott made early on about his fixation over his National Insurance Card. Scott believes one needs an employer (in effect) to vouch for one’s “good character” in order to get another job or eventually collect one’s pension. We are even supposed to feel sorry for Thorpe’s best buddy (played by Alex Jennings) whom he betrays and humiliates through the lethal attorney (Adrian Scarborough just inimitable). The man sent to murder Scott murders his dog first (and then runs out of ammunition) Rinka, the dog, shot dead. Wishaw is first seen hugging a small beloved dog, Mrs Tish; last seen from afar, still alive


Ben Wishaw and the real Norman Scott – he kept loneliness at bay by caring for dogs

Oh, we got into quite a dialogue on translation on https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries with me as usual defending them as creative art on their own, occasionally better than the original text. But I’ve gone on too long already and said this all before. And it’s exhausting — when you can make no inroads into deeply entrenched prejudice — who wants to admit you didn’t read Tolstoy but rather reveled in Louise & Aylmer Maude, with a little help from Amy Mandelker, & (!) Elisabeth Guertik (I read Tolsoy in a wonderful English version with a French version underneath and the French was just superb)?  There’s a lot more at stake than these translators of course: copyright, intangible private property, centuries of thinking otherwise, a fetish I share of concentrating on an individual “behind” the book, amour-propre … I read translation studies  too you see.

How I wish I could listen to more than one novel at a time in my car: I am listening to the brilliant reading of Trollope’s extraordinarily strong novel, The Way We Live Now, as our group of friends on Trollope&Peers are now reading this novel.

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I am gaining weight now — my body more like a grandmother’s but it’s eat or conk out, and I cannot survive without my car. That’s partly why so few pictures of me: I am old and cannot face my face: dry looking, wrinkled, colorless in the photos, tired. I do exercise now 15 minutes a day in my sun-room, listening to Pete Seeger or Nanci Giffith radio (Pandora).

This week I hit a bad patch on the road, and two of the hubcabs on my tires went bouncing and flying high away, I got a flat, and a rim of one of the wheels is permanently somewhat bent. I phoned Toyota and when I saw they would do nothing, I walked a block and a half down and up a steep steep hill to a Midas where a kind man for some $500 replaces the tires, mended the bent as best he could, put on generic hubcabs and I was in business again. I have to spend — Izzy and I cannot survive without beautifully working computers attached to the Internet and all that takes. Comfortable rooms and our cats in good health. I’d adopt a dog if Izzy would agree (she won’t) — see my motto above.


A very intense Clarycat — who might not take kindly to another species of rival

Gentle reader, I hope you are doing something fulfilling during this cold and dark time; something you consider good work, keeping in touch with friends, staying well. Trying to make your surroundings pleasant to your eyes. Seek that contentment available to you. Keep loneliness at bay. I echo Garrison Keillor’s old three-part salute.

Ellen

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My new stationary exercise bike

Friends and readers,

I hope all who read this diary blog had some good enjoyment yesterday. Izzy and I passed the day as we have three out of the five times we’ve live through this one since Jim died — more or less alone together.  Once a friend-daughterlike-student came with her partner from Canada to meet over a chicken with us, and once we were invited to a neighbor to partake of a turkey dinner with her and her disabled son.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the new photo. Yes I bought a stationary exercise bike at last: it arrived this past Tuesday in a big long box I could hardly move; if I understood Amazon accurately (it was not clear what would happened until I clicked to spend $148 for the bike and $73 to have it put together, separate buttons) soon after a man would come to put it together. Well he did. I almost missed him because he texted me to try to see if I was home and when I heard the call, I picked up the cell phone and tried to talk to him. No matter, I had clicked on Amazon I would be there. I have done another 8 minutes this morning and realize I have also to invent a warm-up pattern to help myself some more.

Well, back to yesterday: in the morning Izzy watched the Macy’s Day Parade, and after household tasks, I read & wrote: yesterday on Winston Graham’s No Exit, one of his few worthwhile suspense novels (not marred by misogynistic and other trash & silly tropes). I have identified thus far two other good, ethical, even fine fictions by him in the suspense mode: The Dangerous Pawn and Strangers Meeting (I recognize some of the misogynistic books have attracted male mass media movies, plays, even an opera). And I posted on my two listservs @groups.io on good books and films we are doing there, to Victoria on women’s hats in the era as showing status, rank, all sorts of cultural signals, even Outlander on the recent episode of Season 4 (caused an explosion of comments, some 246 over the day). We were unable to go for our usual walk in Old Town Alexandria or a nearby park — it being too cold where we are, so in the later afternoon I watched the 1974 Oliver Stone’s All The President’s Men. Excellent film where we watch the very early stages of finding out hard-to-get necessary information and clues to understand something important had happened and to begin to find out what it was. All actors superb. Then Izzy and I had a usual good dinner we both like and are able to eat: a roast chicken (from a family-owned farm, free range) with basmati rice, Dell Monte zucchini with yummy sauce, orange juice for her and wine for me, all while listening to good music and talking.

From friends over the day letters, emails and from Nick Holland’s blog on the Brontes an unexpected photo of Emily Bronte’s Keeper, which made me hope that Gaskell’s story of the beating of that dog by Emily which probably the truth was a rare moment in the life of that animal:

I’d gotten into Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and returning to it for my historical fiction project. She then read and watched TV & was on the Internet too, perhaps saw a movie.

Our cats played, hung about, stayed near to us, & rested & slept a lot ….

It doesn’t seem commensurate but of the good things that happened this year: I was able (with help) to move my three long-time listservs from bad yahoo to good groups.io, and made it back after many years to the lake district in the UK, and Ian, my boy pussycat is looking better of late than he has, for unknown reasons his fur a better color, smoother, fluffier, and his eyes while still surrounded by grey, somehow his face a healthier ginger with light yellow and white once again. Of the bad and losses: my friend Vivian died. One year Christmas eve we walked with her in the twilight to look at the Alexandria City Christmas tree.

A favorite a propos Jane Austen remark: “My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy.” –Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798). Clarycat and a truly congenial book-as-friend await me on my pillow for the night …..

I posted this to face-book at the end of the day, but found that because I did not pretend to more cheer than I felt or talk of joy or post pictures signifying these things — though I do believe conviviality and sharing the good things about this holiday ritual — I received replies which implied I was sad or in such a mood because of Vivian’s death: “condolences” and “sorry for your loss” sort of thing, which grated so I put a comment onto face-book that I’ll recycle here:

The above intendedly mild paragraph in response to FB well-meant conviviality is being misunderstood or one detail too emphasized. I mentioned Vivian’s death but my mood and point of view is not the result of that one event but the whole year I have lived through, and the kind of day I passed truthfully described amid this hegemonic order. There is one correction I should make this morning: I did not read Tomalin (who is on the pillow for what she stands for in my mind), but instead her biography of Katherine Mansfield and the very great literary biography by Nicola Beauman on EM Forster called Morgan, worth probably far more than countless books. How well she quotes Woolf on Forster.


He and she my companions

I am so tempted to cite Merwin’s Thanks in order to try to reinforce the balance I intended that I will:

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

But I found Merwin inadequate or simply comes across as ill-tempered not to forget for a few hours, so wanting to be adequate I watched DemocracyNow.org with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh discussing what is happening in our world that matters this very week and put links to that on face-book too:

among other things, a new Brazil emerging which returns us to the horrors upon horrors of the 1970s and 80s fomented by the US gov’t (and its corporations and military). The transcripts are there too: the caravan of wretchedly poor miserable people in danger of losing their lives to be met by guns and detention centers (and separation) at the US borders, the looming nuclear war ratcheted up, and how he who I won’t sully this page by naming knows there is climate break-up as his request to Ireland to allow one of his companies to build a wall shows. Lula in prison the equivalent of Mandela.

For today another day’s study, reading, writing, communicating as best I can with what uplift I can that is nonetheless truthful to be with others in the best way available to me ahead. Izzy is preparing a new song for us … and worked on that yesterday too, several times.


My computer’s automatic Windows 10 computer-enhanced latest wallpaper — as of November 23rd, this morning (click to enlarge, remembering that yours truly cannot reproduce the luminosity of the original, which comes from the computer light and had to cut off the edges in order to cut off metal frame of the computer that the cell phone software caught)

Ellen

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Early this morning just as the sky lightened and the snow and ice began …

First day of snowing — it is pouring bits of ice as well as hard pellets soaked with rain. Izzy had kept a record for many years (yes many years) of the first day it snowed. Maybe since she was 10. November 8 1995. I do feel the cold this year, more strongly than I ever did before. I have to wrap up to prevent chilblains. As also find myself reluctant to go out in the dark and winds. But I still like winter … as a very pretty time as long as one is not homeless, and (better yet) has a warm house to live in with windows looking out over a pretty scene ….

Friends,

Fall took such a long time to arrive, and hardly here, she has vanished to be replaced by Winter. I discover I cannot ignore the cold, dark, and wind as I once did, so I stay home most of the time — to remain warm, in the light, and safe from any automobile accidents. Happily, the electricity has not wavered and I’ve returned successfully to my two projects, the first of which has changed, now a book on the Poldark novels (switching context so that the genre of historical fiction becomes central),

instead of trying to write a biography where I do have to travel and have to have a lot of materials and probably some help from his family or friends — none of which is truly materializing in any way I could begin with historical fiction/romance. It would be a book of literary and film criticism with a section on Graham himself _after_ a chapter on historical fiction. I want the emphasis to be this set of books and films, and I see these suspense novels as part of an explanatory context. I don’t know if I could sell such a book to anyone but I could try to write it. The first chapter would be on historical fiction/romance which is a great love and interest of mine. Many of these are set in specific regions as an important characteristic of the type — this is as true of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as it is of Sontag’s Volcano Lover or DuMaurier and Graham. My idea is to write a second chapter on regional romance and Cornwall. Move to these marginalized communities, and why they are important to the genre. So two chapters by this coming May of this — I don’t know if I could but if I don’t have to worry myself about pleasing editors using word software or anything else of that type I think I could literally do it. I think I could then “do” Graham with the amount of material I even have now (as Part 2), but If I were to go to the libraries, say 4 (one I dream of going to is BBC for their archives) I could do much better.

The second is a hoped-for book of essays on that anomaly, a woman living (in effect) alone becoming clarified. Candidates for separate chapters by me include:

Christine de Pizan, Anne Murray Halkett, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Francis Power Cobbe, Margaret Oliphant. I have to ask myself which woman best exemplifies what I want to say, and there are a number of candidates for the 18th and 19th century, as Sarah Fielding, Elizabeth Carter, Harriet Martineau, Anna Jameson, Geraldine Jewsbury. I returned today to Bridget Hill’s grim Women Alone: spinsters in England, 1660-1850, and the moving Singled Out by Virginia Nicolson, women in the UK and fiction after WW1; and have been thinking of this figure in fiction. I’ve begun Martha Vicinus’s important Independent Women: Work & Community for Women 1850-1920. I bought Sheila Jeffreys’s The spinster and her enemies: feminism and sexuality, 1880–1930


On the cover of one of her books she has that image of a woman on all fours on the floor grieving with which Mantel almost concludes the story of Anne Boleyn

I have a partner whose ideas are very rich. One of her candidates is Virginia Woolf’s Quaker aunt, Carolina Emilia Stephens.

I wonder if others dream of going to library archives and spending hours in one

I’ve plunged into my historical fiction column reading (Jane Stevenson’s The Winter Queen) — part of my Poldark novels project now, and reading and watching movies with, and writing to my friends on two listservs and the face-book pages where I participate (now a regular on an Outlander page not controlled by Gabaldon or her film agents). Evenings I revel in watching the 1970s Poldark episodes against the 2015, followed by the first season of Outlander (after which I’ll turn to the second)

Tonight I re-watched Ava Duvernay’s Selma and I cried and cried for them winning and for us winning for the time we did and now losing ground. I’ve never done such an admirable thing as these black people, so courageous. They did win over Johnson and the Civil Rights bill was passed, and eventually one wondrous result was that night Obama was nominated for the presidency.  What a moment! — I saw Jessie Jackson in the crowd his face suffused with tears.


The Selma cast on the bridge at Selma; King and everyone on the bridge that day in 1965

Have you seen Duvernay’s 13th? Its center is the 13th amendment, which does not forbid slavery as a punishment for a crime. It is there specifically as a clause exempting slavery as punishment for crime. So this incarceration was envisaged from the very first by whoever worded that amendment.

In my car there and back (weather permitting) I’ll be listening to the marvelous (thus far) Drums of Autumn by Gabaldon as read so effectively by Davinia Porter.

I’ve still one course I’m teaching too: The Enlightenment: At Risk. We have been discussing Samuel Johnson and this week saw the stunningly effective Culloden by Peter Watkins. Soon I will be ready to blog on E.M. Forster’s extraordinary novels and Scotland in the Enlightenment. I need not start for quite a while Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?, which I’ll be teaching at both OLLIs this spring.

So there’s where I’m at in spirit and imagination.

Practically and locally: I bought a bunch of winter clothes, including shoes, and have taken a chance and ordered a semi-pre-assembled stationary bike to arrive this Saturday, with an appointment with someone to come on Sunday to put it together. I am so glad I renovated my house and have my sun-room. I also bought four sets of tickets for Izzy and I to enjoy Christmas festivities, once with Laura with us come December.

I’ve decided to take a plunge and when it’s time to register for the ASECS conference in Denver this March, to stay in an airbnb. I so loathe those soul-less hotels where I feel so alone when there are no sessions on. I think I’ll endure the time there better. With a friend I planned a Road scholar trip to some Shakespeare plays this August; we will do it in January if her health permits.

My pussycats stay close, Clarycat my perpetual companion, Snuffy aka Ian coming by for sessions of hugging and snuggling down in my lap.

I wake in the morning (as Jim would have said) unsteady on my pins. Dizzy at first.  Hard time asserting my balance.  A new small deterioration.  The worst thing is the cement-glue that is supposed to hold my upper denture to my jaw: the taste is continually nauseating, to the point I cannot resist trying to retch violently and frequently. I find hours after taking them off late into the wee hours I’m still coughing.

Allow me to crow a little: my “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism” has been published in Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian and New Zealand Literature, but I discover this beautiful issue is available as a series of pdfs online:

It is not a dry-as-dust academic journal with all essays in mandarin overtly intimidating language (gobbledygok) but combines poetry, fiction, belletristic non-fiction, the usual essays (all readable. of which mine is one) and reviews.

And as appropriate for this time, I send along a poem by Louise Gluck, which appeared in the most recent New Yorker issue:

POEM

Day and night come
hand in hand like a boy and a girl
pausing only to eat wild berries out of a dish
painted with pictures of birds.

They climb the high ice-covered mountain,
then they flyaway. But you and I
don’t do such things —

We climb the same mountain;
I say a prayer for the wind to lift us
but it does no good;
you hide your head so as not
to see the end —

Downward and downward and downward and downward
is where the wind is taking us;

I try to comfort you
but words are not the answer;
I sing to you as mother sang to me —

Your eyes are closed. We pass
the boy and girl we saw at the beginning;
now they are standing on a wooden bridge;
I can see their house behind them;

How fast you go they call to us,
but no, the wind is in our ears,
that is what we hear —

And then we are simply falling —

And the world goes by,
all the worlds, each more beautiful than the last;

I touch your cheek to protect you —

-Louise Gluck

How I wish Jim and I were boy and girl still going downward together. Do I long for that kind of physical closeness? I’m not sure. For a man I need to trust someone first truly and feel and be loved and love myself.  I wish I had such a relationship with a daughter. How fast you go they call to us. Ghosts calling to me who walk alone.


Monet, Cornwall in Winter

So I continue lonely  — when I go to sleep — and I age.

Ellen

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Jim, summer 2006, on a bridge in London leading to the Globe theater

Friends,

My late husband, Jim Moody, was born on October 3, 1948; he would have been 70 today. When I would ask him, if he would like to travel here or there or he himself would talk of it, it was ever when he was 70 and some percentage of the money he had set aside for us via his job and added to over the years, would have to be spent, so much each year. I reached 70 more than a year ago and have found an alternative is simply to take out this percentage and put it in my taxable Schwabb account. I have also been spending it — with the money unexpectedly to me left me by my mother and the unexpected windfall amount from the insurance company as he died at age 65.

We married on October 6, 1969; we had met October 6, 1968 and we married a year to that first night. We went to a registry office and it took 5 minutes. We were married 44 years, together 45, to the day (or night). His parents and two girlfriends of his (friends) showed up; his parents took us out to dinner and when we woke and discovered we had 10 shillings between us, we shared it out, 5 each, and then went to work that day. I asked for an advance from the Chief Engineer whom I worked for and got £25 in cash across my palm. Not the first time I had had a pay packet that way. I told him I had been married the day before.

The last day he spoke was October 7, 2013. He had been been doing that hard dying for a few days. He made some sign for Izzy to come in before going off to work and she came in and he said “goodbye” and kissed her. Later that day he said to me “I don’t want to die.” These may have been his last words.

He died October 9, 2013, at 9:05 am, in my arms. I felt his heart stop and was glad for him that he knew no more suffering.

I am aware that since his death I have done a number of things he said were not a good idea, or had stopped me from doing, and that I couldn’t get him to agree to travel to the Hebrides, where I had this long-held dream to follow (more or less Johnson and Boswell’s route), he wouldn’t hear of Cornwall (not as bad an idea as Australia as impossibly far away), and didn’t want to return to the Lake District either. I can remember him only talking of Venice. If he knew how I loathe airlines, airplanes, airports, he would think I might go for his dream of taking one of these ships that carry cardboard boxes all over the world. Jenny Diski went round the world in one, but I had read they are dangerous, and wouldn’t hear of it. We both agreed we’d be bored out of out wits in a luxury cruise as I nowadays know I dislike luxury hotels, large anonymous soulless tasteless exploitative palaces. You can’t take a train to Venice ….

This to introduce my six blogs on my time in the Lake District and borders of Scotland and Northern England. I went with a tour group: I don’t see how he would have been able to get himself to try that — though he once said of a tour we took with a guide to Gettysburg battlefield, we did learn a lot. And there was no other way to see it. For me there is no other way to travel without enduring an ordeal of intense anxiety and perpetual mistakes (which end in my being cheated of too much money). I already told of this time in my Canterbury Tale of Road Scholars here.


Alnwick Castle, a photo taken from a bus stop by one of the “pilgrims” as Jim and I once took pictures of Eastwell, Kent, where Anne Finch had lived

The Wordsworth people and their sites; Keswick & neolithic stones

More Wordsworth sites; Beatrix Potter; lakes, mines & churches

Roman, ancient Celtic and Reivers Britain; castles, fortresses, dungeons …churches & mines …

Carlisle & the Tullie Museum; Lannercost & Hermitage; Scotland & Lindisfarne

Wallington Hall, Vindolanda & Hadrian’s Wall, Durham Cathedrale & heading home again

He had stopped me for many years from enclosing the porch; well, now I have, and did manage by lying to the city at first and not taking out a permit so I escaped the absurd expenses builders are able to pile on through these permits. Jim would never have done that nor permitted me to. I spent under $30,000 to enclose the room, build a new floor in our vestibule, paint the house and install a new ceiling fan. The room is far larger than he and I imagined it could be. The cats love it for the sunshine. I like it as a quiet rest away from the Internet, TV. I like looking at the world from the large windows and garden I have overpaid for (but not badly).


Suits me perfectly … my father used to say I never use a room in a single consistent way. No.

Jim thought working for nothing a very bad idea. He was thinking of how I got for Izzy two volunteer jobs working at libraries through a couple of students I knew. And he was correct insofar as enabling the capitalist system to flourish on the labor of ordinary people at wholly inadequate compensation. He saw she learned that she loved library work and had a good letter to show for the one chance she was given. Wage theft, starvation wages, have grown much worse since his death. Imagine college students now get on lines to receive bags of food sent by charitable organizations. Don’t even think about what Obamacare is fasting becoming.

Well, I spent 5 hours just doing the lecture and notes for my course on Monday (The Enlightenment: At Risk) and 5 yesterday for my course today (Wolf Hall: A Fresh Angle on the Tudor matter). I expect he would understand as he said to me “do what you can to get through the rest of your life.” Also “if you can’t do something, live with it.” I need company of like minds, and I love the work no one would ever pay me for. They paid me a derisory sum for years as an adjunct teaching undergraduates introductory literature and composition courses (one on Science and Tech writing faute de mieux) and when I had the first grounds of a job being paid similarly for teaching this sort of thing again I couldn’t manage it.

I sometimes ask myself if he knew about the OLLIs. My guess is no, because he would have enjoyed some aspects of both: Bridge at Mason, and the intellectual challenges and new materials in both in some classes. He did try to join the Wagner Society of Washington DC, and was bitterly disappointed when they excluded us from their yearly weekend away. He liked going with me to the 18th century conferences and even insisted I try (with him) two Victorian ones and both Trollopes. There is another one set up the London Society about to go on now in some far away expensive place — I just learned about it on the Trollope face-book page. Did he know about these package or Road Scholar type tours? I’ll never know. He spent so much time on the Net in later years, how could he not have come across them? but he never mentioned any of this ever.

He must have known about the Smithsonian where I’m going tonight for a George Gershwin concert — if I can find it, if the Metro works, if the crowds don’t stop me (I’m told Gallery Place has some kind of celebration on – I hope not). Note: I went, found it easily and the man’s talk was so stupid it was embarrassing: silly really, but he played wonderfully well and had remarkable clips and knew Gershwin’s career. My feeling is Jim would not go again while I am willing to compromise now that he is not here.

It has not been made much easier today because one of my proposals was rejected: the good original strong one on Anne Boleyn, Jenny Jones and The Provok’d Husband in Fielding’s Tom Jones (scroll down). In a text message though an app on my cell phone (which happily I don’t know to read so managed only so a part on face-book messenger) which mentioned my [lack of] “rank” and being a “senior” [age] as why she had to reject it. Is it that serious research and original ideas is not what conferences are for?  I will put my thoughts towards this paper on my Austen Reveries blog.

I still have a chance to go to the ASECS in Denver if the panel head for my other proposal (on Graham’s Poldark novels) get two panels. I thought I’d like to see Denver; have never seen the middle west of the US; it’s a single plane, direct and for all I might dislike the hotel, there is one set up.  Sometimes these conferences include tours for the people to go on so I can get out of the hotel. I am not holding my breath.

Jim was even against my developing the Poldark material seriously for scholarship on the very good grounds I have not the personality or connections to try to make this material respected after all these years. He did not live to see the new Poldark mini-series. He would not have been surprised at Andrew Graham’s grudging half-permission to look at his father’s archives.

How ironic all this is. Am I happy in this new life? I am cheerful, I sometimes enjoy myself. There is much to interest, amuse me, I do know some deep pleasure. I have companionship now and again. I’m thus far solvent. He would never write such a blog as this. The way he dealt with grief and rage is silence and eventually humor or poetry.

He had a wonderful sense of humor, the ability to make a funny joke which did not hurt people and yet could turn an experience around to put it in its place and make as absurd as much of life is. Now and again Izzy will remember his gentle jokes at her.

So why did I marry him and was so happy — I’ve given so many grounds and reasons in this blog since he died, I will only refer the interested reader to explore, among other things his love of poetry, a shared love of the intellectual and imaginative life, both of us strong leftists in politics, both atheists, we liked the same paintings?

But there is something specific I wanted to commemorate Jim today for, which I may not have mentioned as yet. Yes. We have today had the loathsome creature who some large enough minority of Americans voted for to become the new corrupt president ridicule, deride, and mock a courageous woman, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward to give credible evidence (as they say) that the new nominee for the supreme court (a lifetime appointment) is a thug, was a rapist for fun, a perpetual drunkard during his “glorious time” in prep school and at fraternities in college. I have been aroused so deeply by her testimony that in my blog on his motivations and behavior (An Instance of Male Bonding) to tell however briefly some of my story as to why I married Jim.

I experienced a series of deeply traumatic experiences from age 12 to 15. I finally tried to kill myself and when I didn’t manage that I retreated and retreat became my safety. It was the males who attacked but my experience was females didn’t support me at all and I saw they didn’t support others. Far from it, they spread rumors about one as a tramp, slut. When I had tried to find a friend and tell someone I thought was my friend, another girl came over and “as a gesture of friendship,” told me mot to do that any more. That girl had promptly told others so they could all jeer together and triumph as “chaste” and “good girls.” I never forgot that lesson. It was as important in understanding safety as keeping away from abrasive vile males of the Kavanaugh type and his buddies. So I went anorexic and was left alone. It has taken me decades to eradicate some of this anorexia (like alcoholism, one never recovers fully.)

She has said once of the same kind of treatment maimed her for decades. How shocked she was — coming from the sheltered privileged environment she had known. It apparently did not stop her from being (as all report)  “in the midst of a distinguished career.”

Unlike most other boys or men I ever met, Jim never tried to harass or rape me; he never came near to insulting me or making fun of me. He never treated me with discourtesy. He never badgered, never pressured me — well over traveling he did, but I did manage quickly to bring an end to that and we came to a compromise over his desire in the 1990s to begin to travel to Europe. And there was no residue. No reminders. No asking for gratitude for anything he didn’t do because he shouldn’t. He didn’t pretend to do what he didn’t want to do and kept his right to his own life — as how long he would work, where, and how. He never told defamatory stories about other women or men: he said of a man who refused to marry someone because she had had some unfortunate sexual experience, it was “a failure of imagination.” I can never remember him lying. He did omit to tell the truth sometimes but never concealed that ploy either. When he said he would meet me somewhere at a certain time, he never failed me. He was there and on time. He was to me utterly trustworthy.

I’m now taking on Future Learn a course on Violence Against Women. I recommend it. In the first week, the women scholars stressed that violence connects directly to the way women are gendered: men are violent to them because they can be and the gendered behavior imposed on women, how they are understood allows men to get away with.

Women do not trigger violence and victims are never to blame and the way she does this is to show all the different each of us live in: our habitas, our family and friend types, our class, what community we live in; all these show that women have to and do expect violence because it comes; it has nothing to do with them personally often. I was struck by how Dr Ford talked about how shocked she was when she was assailed. She repeated that word shocked and over. Well I never was shocked, not I had seen my uncle beat my aunt, other people beat up, the lack of respect and status for many people around me, the way the police behaved to people in the South east Bronx. Dr Ford never expected such a thing could happen to her and there she was treated as a female thing. Remember the crude medieval tales: all women are alike. I will put in the slides that were used to identify these contexts into our files — if they will go.

This was not yet been brought up except tangentially: an important point is ever after you lose your trust in everyone. If it’s someone inside your family and the family ignores it, and he has full access to you, imagine the loss of security and trust. That’s Woolf’s case — and many women in traditional family structures. Someone in her family did it, and no one would show they noticed. In many cultures, if the woman tells, she is punished, disbelieved (as Freud disbelieved Dora). In some, they’ll be honor-killed. My experience was I lost trust in everyone, not just the people who did it and laughed but those who from afar spread rumors, mocked, and then tried to climb on board. So how escape? retreat, anorexia, suicide ….

In the second week how violence exists in contexts and all these contexts are set up to shape what happens and exert control over women. Lots of slides. From all of it I take away this:

Violence against women begins early, the girl’s earliest years. I knew this and that this takes the form of setting up coercion in such a way that you prevent the girl from learning a skill, or idea that is enabling, gives power to act freely on her own behalf. Later on when she is married (forced or seeming to choose), more than half the battle is done for the husband whose pride is made to inhere in controlling her to do his bidding and act out of his interest. Again I knew this but didn’t make it explicit to myself in quite this way.

What I had not thought and this relates to the Woolfs is this silent violence against the child is secondary; it’s first aim is against her mother who is kept in an invisible straitjacket this way. The aim is twofold, mother and child. If we think about how Woolf hero-worships her mother in her Moments of Being, the first long piece and will not blame her but sees her father as the ogre, we see she is not understanding the full source of her oppression. In To The Lighthouse she does see how Mrs Ramsay is a controller, a forcer of marriage, teaching her daughters to re-enact her life but she is not truly seen as complicit.

Where Virginia broke away, was she did not grow up to be another women like her mother or at least she tried. When she became too ill (that is too nervous, too unable, too sad, or too angry to function), then she too came under the control of Leonard and the doctors and also her sister. I don’t know how Vanessa treated her daughter, I do know she rebelled utterly against Clive and lived the way she wanted to — it ended in great emotional pain for her since her choice was a man who was homosexual and promiscuous. But did she leave Angelica free?

I am probably not expressing what I want to as strongly or focusing sufficiently on it. It’s the early coercion which is not visibily violence except when the child disobeys and is punished (say put in her room, deprived of this or that) with this act being a secondary accompaniment to making the mother obedient and having her enact forcing obedience on the daughter I think so interesting.

As part of the second week, there is a number delving into female genital mutilation showing a girl who was mutilated growing up to understand how terrible her physical condition and returning to Gambia to be part of a campaign to stop the practice.

I hope they go into this from an inside view — thus far they have emphasized the larger outside view to show how women exist in contexts and these violations occur in contexts. The inner people count just as much in the experience of life

So why did I marry him and love him: he was everything most of the men I ever met were not. Only twice in our lives together did he ever become violent and in both cases he was provoked beyond bearing (the first instance included mockery and humiliation). I am not a sentimental liar; I can’t write a “how do I love thee” poem, so I wrote this.

He used to say: “I can deny thee nothing.”

Ellen

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My house, photographed from the right side

Funny, the things that cheer you up.

Without much thinking about it, to people walking by who bring up my renovation of my house or my newly made garden (usually to compliment me), I’ve been calling the house a “cottage.” It is probably too difficult and would not be socially acceptable to explain my aim was to make the appearance of my site in the world respectable. I’ve an idea it differs from other houses in my area … like Widmerpool’s jacket at the opening of Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

Well, a friend was over here the other day and said in reply to my unconscious characterization, that yes my house does look like a “cottage,” and then obviously trying to be tactful said the new garden, trees and flowers “soften” the effect, for now the house looks “less stark.” Then: “maybe you should get shutters on the windows.” I looked at her. “It would be more cozy,” she said. Today someone came over and offered to give me some sort of grass, to put on the two corners of the fence, one on each side. I told how another neighbor took back her sedge grass (turns out she was an Indian-giver) because she was not pleased with how I was behaving towards it with less than regular watering this summer. Then we turned to look at all the trees and plants, she said, congratulating me, also said something like the house is now not “so stark” and suggested “shutters.” So I remembered Austen about how the Dashwoods’ house “as a cottage was defective.” My house is regular, I’ve not even got shutters, much less green ones, no ivy, no hopes of honeysuckle at all. “As a cottage it is defective.”

I had told the woman neighbor whom I paid to do a garden plan when she asked me, What is your vision?” — stumped at such an unexpected pomposity (she really asked that) –, I paused and then came up with “I like clarity, simplicity, and symmetry.” Like a Pope couplet, explaining who Alexander Pope was. She looked at me as if I were mad. This is not what she expected me to say. What was she expecting? me to cite some super-expensive bushes? I don’t know the names of most plants, much less how much they cost one compared to another or rate on the scales of admiration.


Drenched by hose twice a day, my miniature magnolias begin to thrive

No I won’t add shutters. The way I put it to myself is it would cost money and would be a bother, is not easy to do. Besides which, the windows’ frameworks are utterly minimal and shutters would look absurd. Out of place. I would never have used that term stark for the house, and though now I half-see it, to me the house is plain, functional, simple, four walls on two squares, with two triangles, one on each square.

Would I do better to drop the word?

This is not coming out funny — the important inner point is I am no longer ashamed of my house, I know it does not have to look like a magazine image — but I did laugh when I thought of Austen. How ridiculous we all are.

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. (Austen, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 6)

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Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel (2018 HBO Howards End, scripted Kenneth Lonergan, directed Hettie Macdonald)

The hardest thing about life as widow for me is to live without love. I can be cheerful from much that I do, feel buoyant, deeply satisfied by reading a great text (say Forster’s Howards End), watching and re-watching the two film adaptations (1990s, Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 2018 Lonergan), but happy no.

I’ve discovered that Ian wants laptime and playtime every day. Yes. A new demand. He never used to. Ever since I can remember Clarycat has plumped herself on my lap and looked up to me with yearning eyes. She wants me to look down and make eye contact for hours. If I don’t look down, she puts a paw on my arm, or hand, nudges me with her whole body. When I give in, look down, she begins to lick my face thoroughly and nowadays I do look down and far more quickly and let her lick to her heart’s content. Such have I become because I lack love.

Now Ian aka Snuffy has taken to following me about about sometimes, wherever I am, and making little mews. I ask him, what do you want? but he can’t say. Over and over this interaction until today I have figured it out. From his new patterns of behavior. Periodically over the day, he comes over to the side of my chair, and puts a paw on my arm. Waits. I turn to him, look down and he waits for eye contact, and then jumps up. He will not allow me to pull him up, no he must jump up in his own right. Then he pressed his whole body against mine on the left side, with his head pressed to mine, facing backwards. He nudges my face with his cheek over and over, one paw winding around my neck. And there we sit, I stroke him, behind the ears, under the neck and he stretches, purring with a low growl. His tale moves back and forth, fat, full, on top of my keyboard. In effect we make love. He likes to do this around midnight too when I am sat here watching a movie or writing a blog.

Around 6:30 each evening when Izzy and I get together in the front of the house (dining room, kitchen) to do what’s necessary to finish off preparing supper (takes about a half-hour), there is Snuffy, looking expectant. What does he want? Without realizing this I had begun each night to play with a string with him. He began to remember this and now each night we must do it. He looks forward to it. Sometimes Clarycat joins in. Playtime.

As I type this tonight after having failed not stop myself suddenly falling asleep for over an hour it seems, and lost my reading glasses (hopelessly misplaced), so bought yet a fourth pair on the Net (cannot read without them), Clarycat is firmly ensconced in my lap, with Ian over on the library table in the cat bed seeming asleep. Their softly jingling bells silent.


One afternoon not long ago, the pair on the library table, he looking out the window …

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As a policy I find it counter-productive to go to the trouble of critiquing harshly any book or movie at length (in a separate blog), and as I often on this blog talk of my social time, especially my going to the OLLIs, conferences, out to plays and so on, and this story is more about the reaction of others to a book, than the book itself, so for the last third of this week’s diary, I’ll tell it here.


Jia Torentino writing smoothly in the New Yorker says the novel “instantly feels canonical, a world remarkably gorgeously permanently overrun by migrants ….

I read swiftly last week, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. It’s one of these be-prized, widely-read recent best-sellers — just the kind that book clubs with discrimination choose to read as a group. When I read it alone, I thought it fairly good. Do you know it? a fable about refugee immigrants fleeing about the world, in each place at continual risk of horrifying senseless death from crazed bands of people locally or bombs from the air. Hamid uses magic realism so they keep exiting through magically appearing doors. Beginning perhaps in Pakistan, or Syria, Turkey, they move through (Mary Poppins like?) and find themselves first in a refugee camp on an island in the sea, then in London, then California ….

When I wrote briefly about the book on WomenWriters@groups.io (apologizing for bringing up a book by a male), I linked it into a book read and discussion we had had of Kamilla Shamsie’s Home Fire:

On my own, I saw the fluidity of the style, its grace, the occasional gnomic statement, the poignancy of some of what happens and is felt. But I was disappointed at the end. As the story carried on, to me the underlying archetype that was keeping all these zigzag moves, the improbable fantasies together was the intense relationship of Nadia and Saeed and I began to see parallels continual with the ancient Daphnis and Chloe story (by Longus) and so Paul et Virginie or Tristan and Isolde aesthetics. So I felt thwarted when they just gradually separated. Not that I had another ending in mind (as some say of say Mansfield Park or Little Women). Only the end I was fobbed off with didn’t work — had there been a political ending (as in Shamsie’s Home Fire, another Pakistani fable written in English to appeal to wealthy western audiences) I could have understood something, but Hamid to me just punted. He didn’t know what to do.

I realized then the real ending of the story is senseless death. They should have died like the couple in McEwan’s Atonement. Saeed just shot one day as he walks along, and Nadia beat to the death anyway despite her burka. Or from disease, from hunger. Now that would not have been a Daphnis & Chloe Or Tristan and Isolde ending: in both the lovers are either in bliss forever or they die together. What Hamid couldn’t face, and despite his false anti-Clarissa fable, McEwan could — senseless death, apart, absurd. Like so many in Candide. That’s the probable fate of this young couple and he hadn’t the heart or wit or stomach for it.

True, they never consummated, had full sexual intercourse. The rationale is he is religious. They are not married. I’ve read and know from personal experience, a woman’s inability to have full sexual intercourse even in marriage for years is not uncommon and most of the time when married they are forced. This turns up in literature again and again: one place is Byatt’s Possession: Ellen Ashe. It’s theorized Anne Radcliffe couldn’t let her husband “go all the way.” The burka was to keep men and all sex off. So I’m not sure of that. I also thought maybe we are to think she was inflicted by FGM. She is a Muslim, maybe her vagina has been destroyed. The book has this curious discretion: no soft core porn here 🙂 I didn’t laugh at him, I figured he had been kept innocent and was kind or sensitive if a bit dumb (like the male in Shamsie).

A member of WomenWriters@groups.io suggested we were to understand Nadia is lesbian. Nadia gets involved with a woman and I thought this a daughter-mother pattern, but then it didn’t go anywhere. Jim used to say I was hopelessly heteronormative. Maybe — like Henry James’s closet homosexuals, she is all the time and ever alone — except for Saeed, his father and one woman friend late in the book.

Then I attended a face-to-face talkative book club — and they talk about the book (not gossip about themselves).

While they are an intelligent group of women who know how to analyze a book, what the book allowed them to do was feel self-congratulations at their own positive attitudes towards immigration and refugees. The great moral a few kept saying was the book taught us we must move on, we must change with the demand for change. And they produced stories of older people who don’t change and they will be sorry for this soon …. It was a story we could all experienced, had experienced. They quoted a line from the book about how we are all immigrants in time. They implied they of course moved on.

Until then I had not realized how book shows a remarkable lack of anger in the protagonists, how all the character but one that we know live, how in fact the ending is benign, that this is a a providentially gentle book.

So after a while I brought up that the immigration or refuge stories were not the same as they had experienced, but was more like hispanic people coming to the US and being murdered (there was a grave of hundreds of people found in Texas a few years ago), that the whole thing was shot through with violence, terror, and while no one denied that, no one elaborated on that angle. I mentioned the detention camps around the US, the 1300 children now jailed. They seemed not to register that one at all. That part of this silence is they try not to discuss anything seen as taboo or partly controversial came out when I told of my friend saying the heroine was lesbian. I did this half-sceptically but they responded, oh yes, of course. They had seen that …

Then as one woman had been objecting to the magic realism (like her I do prefer straight realism), another commented (changing the subject), the doors are a deux ex machina, but I, persisting again, said yes when things are getting truly beyond endurance, a door opens and they escape. (Silently to myself I thought: in A Man for All Seasons when Robert Bolt’s More says “our natural business lies in escaping,” he means something else. Alas Bolt’s More does not want to escape — now I see everywhere in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies those not gone mad with religion do want to escape and most of the time try to only when it’s too late.) I then repeated how the book’s actual content is utter misery, abysmal poverty, deprivation, violence, they protested that that violence was not the purpose of the book. It didn’t need to be angry. It was about how people managed, how they functioned so well in these dire conditions.

One woman each time brings in research, sometimes from the New York Times book club discussions, or questions. This time she brought and read aloud from a biographical essay on Hamid. While he’s a Pakistani he also comes from a dizzingly privileged environment, seems to have hit every Ivy League college in the US or UK one can imagine (one parent a professor at one), when he went into business to pay his loans, he quickly rose to CEO, made just oodles more money. No wonder he writes the kind of distanced fable he does. Not Hamid’s fault these readers turned his story to one analogous with Fairfax housewives’ family pasts? They wanted analogies from long ago, say the Japanese in the US in the 1940s, not the Nazi state being set up by Trump.

My friend on WomenWriters (where as I said we had read as a group Kamilla Shamie’s Home Fire, whose story is far more genuinely about the plight and tragic and co-opted lives of immigrants) said that Hamid said he quit the CEO job because he realized he was joining the predators. She wrote: “I do think the title of Exit West gives away his politics. One could certainly object to his “tour” of refugee camps. Nothing too upsetting there. In a weird way, the novel almost ends up being a feel good piece — pretends to raise political awareness without making any demands on the reader. But it’s well written and sells. Hamid must be laughing” “All the way to the bank” I quipped. She then said it is even now being filmed.


Alice Bailly (1872-1938) A Concert Garden (1920)

But this time I didn’t laugh: it seems Helen Keller may be eliminated from school curricula across Texas, about which see my next Sylvia I blog.

Ellen

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Lake Windermere, the largest of the lakes (second is Ullswater, all others much smaller, meres, waters)

There is a comfort in the strength of love;
‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would break the heart … ” — Wordsworth, Michael

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve been back from the Lake District and Northumberland for two days now, and am re-settling in. I fulfilled a long-held wish thoroughly: for six days two tour guides, one from the area, Anne (with a strong Lancashire accent) and the other originally from London, Peter (so a sort of Cockney accent now laid over by several others), who was said to know a lot about local northern border history, took 20 Americans on two mini-buses for an average of 8 hours a day up, down, and all around the winding roads and many lakes of Cumbria. Immersion. Like last time, the first night we were asked each of us to tell why we had chosen to come to this area, and a little bit about who we are. I spoke (briefly) of my bad miscarriage in 1974 in the Lake District, which had led to Jim and I spending the five days we had planned to travel about in, in a small Kendal hospital, that I had come originally because it might be said 5 lines of Wordsworth’s Michael decided me in my line of life, English major, teacher of English literature, then literary scholar and college teacher, writer. I had come back alone because my husband died 5 years ago, but I was there with him in my spirit. I came to England after the first year every year since he died.


Otterburn Castle, where we stayed — the Internet access was dodgy, but my room was magnificent, large, with a landscape tapestry above my bed

That first night was indicative of an important aspect of the trip this time: it was a Road Scholar experience. I had not realized this so strongly last time. Last time had been 7 days at the Aigas House restoration ecology estate (2 days arduous traveling), in Inverness, and I sort of put down what happened to John Lister-Kaye, and his wife, Lady Lucy, with their hierarchical ways, and various interning science students as guides with deep interest in the area, its history, its culture, gardens, cookery, animals, the Scottish environment and history. Now I realize whatever they were individually, and the local culture, the program was shaped, inflected by the Road Scholar point of view, which is thus far educational touring. There are athletic programs, and (I was told) much more “commercial” ones with a large group of people, say a cruise. I thought people were friendly but last time had gotten to know only a few people’s names well, and little about them individually (one woman artist, a widow, working in New York City, and another never married woman who lives about five minutes from me especially); I just saw most of the people as types. This time it was some 11 days (again 2 day traveling ordeal), in three hotels (one in Manchester one night at airport), two places, Lake District in Cumbria, Lindeth Howe Country Hotel, Bowness, which had been Beatrice Potter’s country house mansion; Otterburn Castle, Northumberland, which had been a Peel Tower in the days of ferocious Reiver violence, then a 10th century castle (which is from the outside still what it looks like), renovated again and again, especially in Victorian and then later 20th century. The Aigas experience dominated by two people, all tourists in single large bus, with little free time, evenings occupied too (lectures, music one night); this time four different Road Scholar tour guides, evenings free, a full Sunday free day to do what I liked — I mostly sat in front of a real fire reading Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques. Free hours in several towns — I saw exhibits, and there were pre-paid lunches sometimes together, sometimes separately or formed into smaller groups: Keswick, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Jedburgh (Scotland), and Durham. This time by the end I knew everyone’s name, something of the history and character of each individual or couple; they became very vivid in my mind. I keep hearing one man’s pleasant voice.


The tapestry over my bed in Otterburn castle

One problem I’ve been having is I dream of them. Each night I find myself waking early and not realizing I am in my house in my own bed living my usual life in Alexandria, but coming out of a dream which is inhabited by these people, and for a few moments am so confused as I try to work out which hotel I’m in. Usually when I wake from a troubling or obsessive dream, I break “the spell,” and it stops or is transformed so that the material is being lived in by someone else and begins to fade. But today I had a brief nap in the afternoon (I am very tired) and found the same phenomenon occurring: I woke in confusion, got up and began to walk about, stressed, to see what was happening now, where I was, only to find that I am home after all, not surrounded by these others, but rather my two very loving cats:

Clarycat missed me badly: Izzy said Clary would not have anything to do with her, but remained in a kind of retreat, and until today Clary has been yowling at me (vocalizing) in a harsh tone, now she is simply all over me, all the time. Ian did sleep with Izzy, stay around her, and at first stayed with that pattern, but today he began to nudge me, rub me, stay close, playing, and making me alert to his companionable presence.


You see some of the group: the woman with white page boy hair facing us and other woman, helping her, is the fellow New Yorker, Barbara (same accent as me): Inside the Hermitage: a place of fierce cruelty. The story repeated is how Bothwell was badly wounded trying to arrest some murderous Reivers lords so Mary Queen of Scots rode here to see him. She didn’t stay long. Walter Scott included it in a couple of his historical romances …

I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy, but would like briefly to name and describe them (using substitute first names) so as not to forget. It was a group of people very similar in type, age, profession, and marital status and income to last time: ages from mid-50s to later 80s, mostly retired, though some had jobs they could carry on with in older age or volunteered (teachers for example, writers).  Mostly pensions from years of working were enabling this. Both times I have been in all white groups but then my choice of literary writers and places would lead to that.

5 married couples in their sixties to mid-eighties. Larry and Lea (from Oklahoma, he wrote a poem for the last night, not very good, she boasted of how he was thinking all the time); Clarence and Sheila (from Alabama, not far from Asheville, North Carolina, where they attend an OLLI as students; he a retired mine owner, she with him had had 4 children, then discovered she was good at running non-profits, he went to Yale, she Vassar, living a charmed life, by virtue of wealth from his career, and a sale of property in Florida so that today they have a beautiful apartment in Tudor City, Manhattan too, conservative democrats); Bob and Cynthia (New York Jews from Rochester, he a practicing psychiatrist of the old school who really try to help people, humane brilliant witty man, interesting to talk to about human relationships, with daughter who was a White House correspondent but quit after Trump and wrote a book about a community destroyed after a corporation left, Janesville (Amy Goldstein), Paul Ryan’s home town); Sandi and Dave (from Florida, decades ago he traveled with a friend all over southeast Asia, he kept getting left behind, at one point locked into a dungeon like fort-castle, he was determined to do all as if he were 40, and not so forgetful, refusing one of the guide’s offer of his van instead of walking, she told a story of a previous miserable Road Scholar cruise tour; as in the previous trip here was a couple who were living in a late second marriage); Rick and Maggie (she originally from Australia wrote a wonderful Chaucerian parody with vignettes of all the people channeling different Canterbury Tale characters, which gave me the idea for the title to this blog; he helped me download my boarding pass from my cell phone in the 10th century castle renovated into a hotel, the hotel reception clerk helping; otherwise they go from holiday to holiday, from Broadway play to musical). All with children and grandchildren.

Four aging widows: me; Norah (from North Carolina, husband died at 40 but as alive in her mind today as he ever was, an environmentalist, she has written 7 books, gave the impression of countless articles, reviews, post-polio she called herself, but personally daring, at dinner an effectively sharp tongue when she wanted to); Suzanne (also North Carolina, Bavarde, social worker, psychologist, doing good work with groups trying to raise minimum wage, kindly easy going mostly silent lady with a cane, lucky to be alive after many operations, husband died 24 years ago next month); Sara (Cape Cod, widowed 3 months, in throes of trauma, ceaselessly talking, insistent). Two sisters, Ginny and Linda (from California, perhaps divorced, perhaps widowed, living near one another, lots of stories, one a teacher of disabled children, teacherly; the other living this seeming cheerful life, so good-humored, with children living these successful prestige lives of university, laboratory and business). One widower, Gary, turned out to be divorced years ago, brought up his children himself (Swedish by background, has traveled to every continent, so many countries, son lives in Germany and talked of how good life is there for him). All with children and some grandchildren.


Steve, one of the 20, at the Wallington House conservatory gardens

Single people. Two never married women living in mid-town Manhattan, Dorothy (successful academic art historian professor, interested in 12th century church architecture, lived much in Italy, worked for the Met); Barbara (high school teacher in English for 35 years, I liked her, we compared notes on British costume dramas, including Poldark, liberal democrat, Jewish her talk of nieces, nephews, brother she reminded me of Vivian). They told me of how in the last 10 days of August, the Met Opera puts up a huge screen in the Kennedy Center square and screen one a night each of the 10 HD operas for that year for free. Who knew? and other stories of delightful lectures, poetry reading (Jeremy Irons reading Eliot’s The wasteland at the 92nd Street Y. One single man, Steven (from Texas, MD, PhD, pathologist, retired has taken or is taking anywhere from 17 [to 34?] Road Scholar and Overseas adventures tours, highly intelligent man, vegetarian, up early in morning, walking away, something of a loner,thought grave by the others, prickly).

One conversation. How what we use as words matters. Somehow famine came up, and I said that famine is not the result of not enough food in an area; it’s that a group of people have precarious entitlement to the food that is there, and the amount of food goes down, becomes scarce and prices soar. Steve said, “yeah, it’s a distribution problem.”

Then two of the tour guides who were with us most of the time: Anne, “happily divorced” (from the Lake District, northern Lancashire accent, thoughtful of everyone, conscientious, a model of patience, good driver, knew a lot about the area’s culture and history and geology, botany, bogus and real history, very bright, as so many Brits accepted her lot and the world she finds herself in, loves to hike, bike); Peter, now living alone on a small island (from London originally, said to be an expert in history, he did know the fierce legends, about battles, lively and tactful, bubbling over if a man can bubble over, also conscientious and knew better than a GPS where everything is, except when he got tired).

Something like 10 people had Ph.Ds, several had been teachers in college or high school, a librarian, three physicians. People with professional certificates. Three business people.  A well-educated bunch of people (like last time). Comfortably well off but not above trying to save $200 say in the fare. A number had been on quite a number of Road Scholar tours.

I learned as much from being with these people as from being on the trip. I found myself remembering back to when I was 5 and asking myself where I was or how I related to all the different houses we visited, museums exhibits I saw, amid all these different eras and varying cultural groups (Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, French Normans, Reivers, modern English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish) who left their rubbish and precious things and writings and inventions, and made the world we are now living in a palimpsest (if we will only look) through whose relics, remains, and texts we see them. I am become versions of my central self after these 6 plus decades, first in New York City, then in England, and now in Alexandria.


Lady Mary Lowther (1738-1824), The Waterfall — from Stephon Hebron’s In the Line of Beauty: Early Views of the Lake District by Amateur Artists

Most days were sunny and very warm by noon, though I needed the fleece I bought for the trip by the later afternoon; it would rain now and again. The mini-bus going up and around in narrow twisty-lanes sometimes very close to a steep edge of a cliff made for excitement at Hardnut and other passes. I began to wear my training shoes towards the end.

So, gentle reader, now I have prepared us to tell of my latest pilgrimage on Ellen and Jim have a blog, two. It is crucial to understand that everything I saw and did was in the company of these people and the choices I made were limited and shaped by their presence. It is not true that when one visits a site de memoire what matters only is the history of place, its function as a symbol to a culture, but what is being done at the moment, how it is functioning today as what 20th and 21st century people do around it and as a result of the visit. I will now go on to describe the tour itself.

I did read away for a couple of hours a day every day while away, and (among other volumes) my remarks blog style on Gina May’s moving biography of Madame Roland, and her famous memoir, and Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home will be found on Austen reveries.

Ellen

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A photo I took of one of the small bushes in my front garden still flowering this summer

Friends,

Today has been a usual fourth of July for me for the past 20 years or so:

Memories of long and not so long ago: when Jim and I were much younger, say 50 years ago, we would as a couple go out in the heat to a concert in Central Park; for a couple of those early years we were away from home and at a beach. After we had children and I felt we were supposed to be doing something, because for a few years we belonged to a military Officers Club (by right of his job working for the Defense Department), which enabled me to take my children to a nice pool and send them to day camp cheaply, we were able to go to a barbecue held by the people running the club. I remember three picnics in the evening with them. Jim did not care for fireworks, and the one time we took the children aged 7 and 1, to the center of DC both became hysterical at the noise. Sensible he said.

So he and I and Izzy began staying home together, keeping cool, me reading and writing or watching a movie and he on the Net, Izzy watching sports on TV and reading or writing on the computer, sometimes sending what she wrote as a blog to the world. Laura usually contrived to find friends to go out with.

I think fireworks have a certain beauty against the sky, and since the world beyond the earth is so meaningless and blank, dark, there is a certain pathos in throwing up these mechanically induced showers of color. So after hJim said or let me know he was tired of trying to do something special, and wanted to stay at home at peace in he quiet cool,

I would in the evening try to take Izzy to where we could hope to see the fireworks from Alexandria Park. Both times failed. We could see nothing. We discovered up on top of a high hill in Alexandria on the 14th when the city had its celebration, we could watch them. Other than that unless there was a good film on at the local cinema, I began to ignore the day too. One year Laura took Izzy to a party and I remember how Izzy came home having enjoyed herself, and her standing at the window waving goodbye looking so wistful at the good time over. Laura said the kind of people there were good kind liberal types, talkative and so Izzy could be comfortable with them. How I wish for her she could have had this more often.

Then Jim died and I became friendly with Vivian. She said, why didn’t I and Izzy and she go to the Alexandria city birthday party on July 14th, and we did that for three years. On a huge meadow, the city sets aside an arena for picnics; it’s by the Potomac. Ringed round are vendors selling snacks and drinks from carts. At 8 o’clock a free concert starts; usually well-known movie music and at 9 fireworks. We did that together, we three, three times. Below you will find a video of the fireworks from 2013, we were there that evening

Now Vivian is gone and so Izzy and I are back to staying home together. She watched tennis mostly, wrote fiction, a blog. So hers was the usual day. Morning I read Trollope’s Ayala’s Angel, Kamilla Shamsie’s Home Fire, finished reading Voltaire’s Candide in translation, wrote to friends, posted to my three listservs, and to face-book chat and about books. But then I had a treat. At the OLLI at Mason on Tuesday after I finished teaching or talking with the people in the class of Virginia Woolf and her Orlando, my new friend, Panorea and I, were told by another friend in the class of a movie, Xavier Beauvois’sThe Guardians, a literally beautiful film, filled with Cezanne like shots of the French countryside. we had told her we enjoyed so a local exhibit of Cezanne’s portraits. See Marion Sauvebois’s review:

“I can’t find him,” cries Solange, staring at an atlas trying to locate the German town where her husband is being held prisoner. Her mother Hortense picks up a magnifying glass and points to a dot on the map. “There,” she says sullenly, turning away arms protectively clasped against her chest. At least, she consoles her daughter, they can find solace in the knowledge he is alive, unlike her two sons languishing in the trenches somewhere in northern France. This all-in-all restrained scene truly captures the essence of The Guardians.

Far from playing up the inherent pathos of their situation, Xavier Beauvois’s matter-of-fact and subdued storytelling is as unnerving as it is affecting. We’re lightyears away from Hollywood’s maudlin war-time epics: these dauntless women have neither the luxury of grief nor time.

I met Panorea at 1 as afterwards she was to go to a barbecue with relatives. The Guardians is about characters like those in a Hardy novel: farming class. It takes place during WW1 when the men have to go away to war; we watch the women perform very hard work, grieve when a male relative is killed or taken prisoner. Our heroine is a Tess figure who works very hard, and is a very decent person. She is taken in by a family and thinks she is beloved and becomes the lover of the son, but the mother then betrays her by suggesting to the son she is having sex with the American soldiers and he immediately rejects her and tells his mother to get rid of her. She finds another yet harder job with a kinder poorer woman. She is discovered pregnant but not thrown out. She has great reserves of strength and after returning to a near relative, she cuts her hair to look better, gives birth to her baby, christens it properly and keeps it to love and be loved. In the last scene she has become a singer (she sang beautifully to the people at these farms at intervals) in small nightclubs in the area. She kept her child, survived and still knows some joy from daily life. it was a French film, and I could understand much of what was said, because these were not articulate peasants. Feeling and thought was conveyed by facial and body expression and what they did. What I loved best was how the film-makers respected the characters for themselves, valued them for themselves, especially the heroine. You didn’t need to be rich or high status or supposedly admirably successful in some way. You were valued for your nature and goodness and cooperation and the meaning you made out of your life by making some order and beauty and helping others and yourself to survive

Home again by car in the searing heat: a couple of hours later Izzy and I had good meal together. I drank too much wine for myself as usual and then found I kept falling asleep so for the third night gave into myself and took a couple of hours nap so here am I writing and reading what I had longed to read earlier: friends’ letters, more on Candide. I am listening to a beautiful moving reading aloud of Graham’s 7th Poldark book, The Angry Tide, and was almost unbearably moved by the story of Drake and Morwenna. These two characters are among my favorites in the Poldark books.

The vicious corrupt vicar, Whitworth is killed and one of our heroes, Drake breaks off what could have been a good marriage with the disabled Rosina (who I like so much too) because he finds irresistible his original devotion to Morwenna, a frail sensitive good young woman: he cannot desert her in her dire need, and risks everything to reach her, to pull her out of her deep depression and despair and away from the cold cruel people she has been forced to live among, and renew his life by renewing hers. The first time I read this part of the book I could hardly bear the suspense I was so anxious for him lest he be blamed for the murder of Whitworth and in her case lest she not get to live her life by Drake’s side after all. I am Morwenna (as I am Demelza and in some phases Elizabeth in these books)


Morwenna (Jane Wymark) finally reaching


Drake (Kevin McNally) — from the 1977 iteration

I wish Graham had not dropped them (basically) after this novel but that we had been permitted to have a full story about them afterwards. It’s as if he is so tender towards them, he leaves them in privacy. I like that she never really recovers — at a party years later the very sight of her son by Whitworth is enough to shatter her again: it’s true to human nature and helps us as readers remember that such cruelty that she knew is not to be trivialized by the idea the person will heal. She never fully does. I regret other characters I like so who are dropped eventually: Verity is not important in the later novels for example.

On the novels in general: What I have noticed that WG loves non-human animals and has his favored characters love them too. Like dogs, cats are mentioned over and over where other authors wouldn’t, and kindly interesting central characters are kind to their cats. Demelza will be my example of disliking all cruelty to animals and picking up on language which shows that the human being has not thought out how he or she is not attributing to animals a real consciousness of pain or attachment, which WG repeatedly shows they have. The culmination in the Poldark novels is the orangutan Valentine adopts. This deep empathy across species is part of why I like the suspense novels too. I just finished a rare early suspense book, Strangers Meeting, it ends with one of the heroines freeing a rabbit from one of these cruel traps and trying with the help of one of the heroes to mend the poor creature

It’s at such moments, with a friend who values a movie that has beauty, peace, decent values, or reading a book that conveys such experiences, that I know some happiness.


After my coming trip to the Lake District (UK) this August I shall not leave them for more than a few days at a time again


This year upon her reaching 40 Laura posted a photo of herself with one of her beloved cats

I called this for July 4th since I wanted to register some kind of decent values today — and I hope I have now done that — against what I realize the USA has again become under the gerrymandered corrupt regime of Republicans upholding a harsh corporate state: a society whose people are limited by deeply unjust unfair cruel laws, customs, who are perpetually overworked, underpaid, cheated of their labor’s value, hurt by shame, and except the lucky (by birth to people who can help them, in a place where there is some opportunity for all for a modicum of comfort) kept impoverished. It is as I type being turned back to a racist disguised dictatorship of a few powerful groups of whites, and gains that everyone had benefited from between the 1930s and 60s eviscerated utterly. Frederick Douglass’s famous speech applies to far more than black people now. Here is the whole speech introduced by David Zirkin:

It speaks to our every frustration spurred by the gap between the ideals of the United States and the reality we witness every day; between the Bill of Rights and our decaying civil liberties; between the USA’s international declarations of human rights and the ordered drone attacks backed by presidential “kill lists”; between the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and a nation that leads the world in jailing its own citizens

“What to the slave is the fourth of July?”. Here is part of it read aloud by James Earl Jones:

Izzy and I were not able to go to the demonstrations all over the US this past Saturday, because we had already bought tickets for an opera at the Barns Theater at Wolf Trap. We go but twice this summer to this place because my eyes are grown too poor to drive that far at night. We saw Mozart’s Idomeneo: Kim Pensinger readily turned this opera with its beautiful music into a play about a tyrant doing all he could to destroy refugees, whose cruel state he was partly responsible for. The staging was minimal, she allowed the figures of the fleeing, the victims, the war scenes their full plain predominance.


From Mozart’s Idomeneo, sung and staged at Wolf Trap this past Saturday, June 30th

Ellen

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