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Archive for August, 2009

LucieCousturierSelfPortrait
Lucie Cousturier, Self Portrait (1919)

“It is very early in the morning … The address provided by a young Ouolof who had been my pupil in France, led me to the extremity of the craftsmen’s precinct … The yard of sizable dimension that I entered contained only one tree, slightly bigger than our orange tree, a small kitchen-shelter and the dwelling, also made of timber and covered with tiles. The master of the house, resting on a white goat-skin, was finishing the salam … I mentioned his cousin. He introduced me to his wife, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law and offered me hospitality, as I had no place to stay. And what about my official engagements in the white quarter? They disappeared into the background due to the circumstances. Everything was too easy, too miraculous.” (At Dakar, p.11)

Dear Friends,

I came across the above image while I was reading about the life of Felix Feneon (1861-1944), fin-de-siecle art critic, anarchist, journalist, translator by Joan Ungersma Halperin. I’ve written a blog about Feneon and his translation into French of Austen’s Northanber Abbey and a brief essay on “Jane Austen in French” has been accepted by an online women-centered progressive group blog in French.

But I cannot write an essay on Lucie Cousturier. Why not? Not enough of even her story has been allowed to come through lest it disturb anyone by telling a truth about a not atypical woman’s life.

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Cousturier, Summer Afternoon, probably reflect Lucie’s flat in her last year of life

In an article on Cousturier (“Rene Maran on Lucie Cousturier, Champion of Racial Understanding,” Research in African Literatures, 34:1 (2003):126-36), Roger Little explains how he was unable to find out fundamental information about her: he couldn’t find out what was her maiden name, when she married, if she had any children, what happened to her paintings. No archive of her papers was ever formed. He had only learned about her from his research on Rene Maran, who wrote an important novel on Africa when young, met her when she was not far from death, living alone, reclusively in a flat in Paris, and then honored and attempted to memorialize her as “Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe” of France.

An article by Richard R Bretell (“The Bartletts and the Grand Jatte: Collecting Modern Painting in the 1920s,” Art Institute of New York Museum Studies, 12:2 (1986):102-113) informs us that we owe to Lucie our possession and knowledge of George Seurat’s painting made famous as Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim:

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Georges Seurat (1859-91), Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte (1884)

Lucie owned it in her old age, a gift from Seurat whose mistress she had been (or friends and more fleetingly lover), and we watch her desperately sell it to two collectors for $20,000 to gain some support in her old age. It’s just two paragraphs in an article otherwise on a rich collector — though it is central to the piece.

Why is so little know about Lucie since it’s conceded her art is superb? For a start it seems that as a matter of course women artists are still repeatedly excluded from exhibits of impressionists and post-impressionists. I went to an exhibit of impressionists at the Phillips and not one woman artist was exhibited although there were several great ones. Recently on WWTTA two friends went to exhibits of post-impressionist and surreal art and not one woman was shown.

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Cousturier, Nature Morte

I love the long green beans. The way they are arranged, the dark green colors, and the orangy-gold fish in the bowl. The wine seems so sober standing there too. The cup in Cousturier’s still life really closely recalls a cup and saucer in a still life by Modersohn. I’ll lay a bet Cousturier was quoting this cup and saucer from another woman’s still life.

Fran on WWTTA thought it particularly “reflected perhaps Cézanne’s influence more than Seurat’s this time?”

But in old age Lucie travelled to Africa and lived among the people there and wrote a memoir,
Mes Inconnus chez eux and developed real friends who wanted to make her remembered. Her memoir was published in 2001 and this does tell us a great deal about her radical and humane politics.

La VérandoLucie Cousturier
The Veranda (she treats African people with the same respect she does Europeans here)

Why no archive, then? Well, it appears from Hagermas’s book that Lucie supported herself partly by sex, not through marriage, the conventionally acceptable way but as a mistress and free lover; although common in life then and now still (and as Germaine Greer says one of the reasons we know little for real about Aphra Behn is it was probable she was mistress to this man and then that), while for men okay and then not spoken of unless it’s glamorous for some reason, for women it’s enough to silence everything about them — by their families and friends too. It was common for women who didn’t marry and had no cache of relatives to support them to find men to support them or live catch-as-catch can through offering sex to men. This is recorded quietly everywhere in literature and records (from Chaucer through Trollope, Miss Mackenzie, from police archives to private letters).

It riles me to think how Sondheim must’ve known about her and ignored her — lest she upstage Seurat who is of course him. Think of it: we’d not have Seurat’s painting but for her. She kept it; he gave it to her. Instead he makes up an ignoramus personality for a model we are to laugh at in part, condescend to.

And much can be found out in the memoir published in 2001 as <a href="http://aflit.arts.uwa.edu.au/revieweng_cousturier09.html&gt;Mes Innocus chez eux. Says one site of this:

Lucie Cousturier gave an enlightening account of her relationship with the Tirailleurs sénégalais during World War I in a book titled Des Inconnus chez moi [Some strangers in my place]1. Mes Inconnus chez eux [My strangers back home] proposes an equally fascinating account of the author’s subsequent travel to West Africa between October 1921 and June 1922. Cousturier’s travelogue is irreverent, witty and devastatingly critical of French colonial ventures in Africa2.

She found herself beset upon, her insistence she was not official (which she wasn’t) ignored and then listened to these women empathetically. In Halperin’s book there is a small drawing of African women but it’s so small and doesn’t come out well when I scanned it. Since I recently read a short story by Anthony Trollope showing such absolute disdain of native peoples he travels through (disgust) and unashamedly inveighing against not forcing natives to be hungry since then they won’t work, a text commonplace in his day. Against such as these, Cousturier just stands out in my mind for her instinctive humane reactions. She identified with these people.

On WWTA a member who works in the field of art was able to discover that Cousturier wrote a biography of Seurat & also one of Paul Signac. In the Harvard libraries however that there are a few of her books recently re-published by an academic press with the name Roger Little appearing as editor. Rachel told us

It’s remarkable that we are still making these sorts of discoveries about women artists (in all genres). When I was an undergraduate at Calif. Inst of the Arts in 1972, I was a student of Arlene Raven, one of the first feminist art historians (and I believe the class was the first, or among the first certainly) explicitly feminist art history courses. What a shock it was then to learn that Diego Rivera had a wife who painted! And what pictures–content no one had ever dared to broach. Now Frida Kahlo is a household name, but she functions as a token woman in the wider context of art history. Most women artists remain marginalized, as Ellen mentioned. Last year, for example, I saw an exhibit in San Francisco, “Women Impressionists.” At this stage in history, why isn’t integration normal? A show such as this one would have been deeply unsettling to the status quo back in 1972. It struck an odd note after all these years.

CousturierWomanCrocheting
Cousturier, A woman crocheting (in the manner, or using Mary Cassat’s typical upper class white women’s flattering content)

I remember this from my 1980 days in the Library of Congress when the only 18th century novels by women I could find were copies in rare book rooms. When I discovered for the first time there were women Renaissance sonneteers. Things have improved there, but only some. So our intrepid author can’t find out anything about Cousturier’s maiden name, when she married, her chidlhood, and there is no Archive. Very important. Huge cache of Anna Barbauld’s papers were destroyed in WW2 because the British Library refused to keep her papers and they were destroyed by a bomb fire.

I did learn about her from Hagermas on Feneon. As I wrote about him, once he was imprisoned for bombing a restaurant and then released, even more than earlier he lived in quiet deliberate obscurity, often not signing his name to what he wrote. The book took Hagermas over 25 years to glean and gather what she could.

I’m sort of glad to tell myself — it makes a part of the pleasure — that in readingg Feneon’s French translation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey I came closer to Cousturier for after all she was Feneon’s mistress sometimes in the 1790s and who knows? maybe she read the ms before it was published. Why not speculate and imagine reading along too :) My paper on Austen’s Northanger Abbey for JASNA, Portland 2010 (if I get to do and then give it) will have a footnote about this — though my topic will be the serious one of wife abuse reflected in the gothics.

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Cousturier’s Flowers and Fruits, in a distinct application of the pointillist style

Ellen

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Puppetshow
The Puppet show (“all the way from Venice”) of “Nuovo Mondo”, the film’s original title)

Dear Friends,

Last night I finally managed to see once again while I was wide awake the brilliant and feelingly alive La Nuit de Varennes, directed by Ettore Scola, written by him and Sergio Armidei (to whom the film is also dedicated), with many other names credited for various functions, the credit omitting only the fertile half-fantasy historical novel on which it is based, Catherine Rihoit’s La Nuit de Varennes.

It’s been more than 25 years since I saw it last. It made an impression I didn’t forget and, with all the DVDs and online movies available, and my watching of other 18th century films, I’ve been longing to get my hands on it. It seems to be one of these really fine films no one with the power to redigitalize finds it worth his while or unrisky enough to remake and distribute (these include Huston’s The Dead from Joyce’s short story and Rivette’s La Religieuse from Diderot’s novella). A kind friend sent me a homemade tape videocassette probably from the same Broadcast on Bravo I originally saw it on, and Jim succeeded in downloading a beautiful copy in French with English subtitles.

What makes it so special? That it’s alive with feeling; the photography, direction, use of actors, scenes seem so unformal, scattered, unhierarchical and free. There’s a genuine feeling of capturing all the serendipity, casualness and indifference of life carrying on (even in its most anguished moments to a few on any given scene), as in the opening scene (see above) still where from an odd angle we watch a mountebank puppeteer play before a crowd the story of the capture and then guillotining of the king and queen. It probably took a great deal of self-control and careful director and mise-en-scene to pull this off:

StreetScene

This feel and point of view of the sheer serenidipity of life is the film’s “the deep compositional structure,” the motivating ideology which affects all its other levels.

It mixes intense seriousness with comedy, tragedy with irony, the numinous with the everyday. The story is a flashback told by the opening puppeteer to whom we return at end: of the night Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their entourage with Fersen tried to escape France in an absurdly rich carriage dressed to the nines, showing how unable they were to imagine what the life of the average person at all was, or how they would stand out. Famously, they were caught at Varennes and hauled back to Paris. Conventional history would present this act as making visible the king and queen’s allegiance to those outside France willing to destroy the revolution, their planned treachery to all they had been professing to the new assembly (a “nuovo mondo”).

Not this film. Scola presents the event as a series of stumbling events going (as most things do in life) awry, events we don’t even see, but are glimpsed by and told to those travelling to the same place. It’s the cast of characters in the the other coaches that the film focuses on, each of them presenting a type person and perspective on life at the time, the ancien regime, the revolution, and life’s experiences all at once. Now this Scola takes from Rihoit: she chose cunningly.

A thorough 18th century Italian scholar on C18-l, offered his analysis (in the form of lecture notes he uses when teaching the film). I reprint part of these here: He argues that each of the people represents a point of view:

“Casanova in fuga dal suo ospite-carceriere boemo, lo scrittore e giornalista Rétif de la Bretonne, Tom Paine, una dama di corte, una cantante italiana accompagnata a un magistrato, una ricca borghese proprietaria di vigneti nella Champagne, l’industriale François de Wendel. Personaggi storici e personaggi di fantasia in qualche misura rappresentativi …”

[It's very clear Italian and if you read French, or can recognize the cognates in English, you should be able to make it out :), so we have:]

marcello
Marcella Mastroianni as a melancholy aging and wise Casanova, comically inept and impotent, but still full of pride and appetites

NuitVarennesRetif
Jean-Louis Barrault as the remarkable radical novelist, and streetwalker, the film’s central protagonist (storyteller almost) Retif de la Bretonne, perfect to stand for the movie’s erasures of hierarchies (there’s even a scene with his daughter as his comfortable mistress, idealizing here)

Tompaine
Hervey Keitel as Tom Paine, unfortunately not given enough to do, a kind brave and common sensical presence

Scola, somewhat unexpectedly for a person with strong socialist sympathies, is not triumphant about the “new world” (the name of the film in Italian) that is emerging, and shows us the quiet types (not extreme in any philosophy) will win out, in other words the bourgeoisie.

“Nonostante il titolo, il film è privo di trionfalismo. Il mondo nuovo arriverà, ma il personaggio più simpatico, che ruba la scena agli altri, è Casanova, rappresentante dell’ancien régime, mentre Rétif è un filorivoluzionario poco interessato alla politica e lo studente arrabbiato, che immaginiamo pronto ad alzare ghigliottine, è piuttosto antipatico e viene rimproverato per la sua intolleranza da Tom Paine. Il paradosso del film è dunque che il nuovo che avanza sembra ineluttabile ma in definitiva non del tutto attraente. Ed è un paradosso tanto più singolare in quanto Scola proviene da una cultura politica, quella vicina al partito comunista italiano, che nel giacobinismo ha tradizionalmente identificato un antenato e nella Rivoluzione francese un evento comunque da apprezzare …”

Very important here are the monologues (or sometimes dialogues with a companion character) the central presences utter. For example, the Countess, NuitVarennesCountess
Hanna Schygulla as one of Antoinette’s ladies, riding in this separate carriage with one of the king’s gentlemen of the bedchamber; next to her is an opera singer, Laura Betti as Laura Capacelli.

The Countess’s speech is one which expresses why a woman would want to be a court hanger-on: it’s a job, it’s a small income, a place in a respected hierarchy, but something more is needed to understand for the etiquette was severely repressive and the dangers (from sexual entanglements) bad: networking you might say, that’s pressure from families. No this Countess goes on about how she feel secure, how she finds comfort in the routine, in the quiet things she is asked to do and she is one of those who mourn the passing of the ancien regime in the carriage.

This must’ve come from Rihoit’s novel; it’s the kind of insight one finds in women’s memoirs of the era, which I presume Rihoit read; you can find this sort of thing in Chantal Thomas’s Adieux a la Reine or FrancoisChandernagor’s L’Allee du ro, both beautifully meditative accounts of the life at court by a contingent woman (in the second case, Madame de Maintenon).

We also have disillusioned bourgeoise who speaks a religious line and thanks God she never reads any radical books (especially by Retif), but as she talks on we see how cynically and amorally she lives her life. Her voice is so resonant:

disillusioned
Andréa Ferréol as Madame Adélaïde Gagnon

Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI we never see wholly. The closest we ever get is to watch through a framed door from a low angle so we only see their feet up to the knees, hear them walking anxiously, talking of their troubles that night — about things like the problem of sleeping children. All the while a mob is outside demanding to take them to Paris. We do see one scene where our friends are mobbed and shaken up.

But mostly we are kept in a mood of detachment.

I liked that, the sense of irony and acceptance of humanity. In this the film did have to me an Italian feel, the sort of thing I remember from the Camille stories a fabliau sweetened. This is caught in all sorts of small incidents made theatrical, for example, the love-making of an interracial couple on the top of the coach:

MarieMadeleine
Pierre Malet as Emile Delage, student revolutionary, and Aline Mess, as Marie-Madeleine, a servant

This is not a historical film in the Merchant-Ivory luxury stile, nor in the Kubrick great painting held frozen mode, but it too has its comforting deep focus landscapes

NuitVarennesLandscape
This is one that we see our coach trundling along with Casanova hurrying on a broken-down curicle and Retif on horse chasing afterwards

And like many, it uses art conventions of the period to evoke the time, among them, the use of a coach as a kind of “ship of life” where all get together on “pelerinage.” This made me think of both Henry and Sarah Fielding’s novels (Tom Jones, David Simple in Search of a Friend).

Best of all are the conversations out of which the monologues spring. The talk is intelligent and incisive, epitomizing though made to feel casual. It reminded me of the talk in Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco.

The film has its flaws. Naturally there is a sex scene where an absolutely naked girl offers herself to Retif while a complacent madame looks on. The joke is Retif is supposed to be attracted to her socks and is more intent on the news he half-hears outside the bed. But on the whole it is less masculinist wet-dream this way than most films of this type (for example, the over-praised Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones).

Scola and his team neither endorse or reject the revolution; rather they nostalgically mourn the passing of the hedonistic pleasures of the old world, what is seen as its secular tolerances, but we are also made to see the irrelevance and arrogance of those on top, their uselessness, not that those who might replace them nor the large groups of people we see incensed (rightly) by poverty, humiliations, exclusion look like they are going to be any more intelligent or fair or useful (whatever that is). We have flashbacks within flashbacks: of Retif writing, of Casanova’s earlier life. We return to the puppet show at the film’s end.

Grandepisode
One more grand episode. The Puppeteer tells us this is true history! Grand episodes you have seen.

So the next time you meet someone who inveighs against costume drama’s conventions and the genre, send them to see La Nuit de Varennes. For my part I now must read Rihoit’s novel.

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Ellen

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The Duchess, Silverbridge, Tregear and Lady Mary in a gondola, seen from a distance

Dear Friends,

I’ve written about Pallisers 9:1810:21 (including the Lady Rosina de Courcy) of the 1974 BBC Pallisers on this blog thus far. (For 1:1 – 8:17 see previous blog.) I’ve another one to add tonight: 11:22.

The power of 11:22 come from the dramatization of the inward destruction of the marriage of Ferdinand Lopez and Emily Wharton. The overarching theme is drawn from Trollope’s The Prime Minister so as to embed the Lopez/Wharton story in the personal party politics of the book and previous Palliser matter. It’s the power of money (which power the Pallisers have) and the need Ferdinand Lopez has of money (which he lacks).

Part 22, has six scenes of Emily and Lopez! All piled together suddenly. It moves from 21, the honeymoon, a scene of an apparently loving couple which ends on a a sudden troubled note when Ferdinand admits he’s strapped for cash; then after another brief scene where we watch father send check, we have a second scene from this honeymoon, Emily still in nightgown and she more troubled yet not overt beyond saying Ferdinand misreading letter. Then there are two I have here transcribed.

The scene interwoven here of the Duke and duchess is not a contrast but a parallel.

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

In this part Raven has done justice to how a marriage can be founded on delusions and smash very quickly. This is but one part of Trollope’s novel but it is a centrally riveting one and one that would speak home to people today just as much as in the 1870s. For women then there was no divorce, and it was very hard to support yourself, for a woman of the gentry not trained to do so, a trauma she probably couldn’t cope with.

This theme is threaded through the Duke and Duchess’s scenes both alone, in contrast to Phineas and Marie, and with their son and heir, Silverbridge.

******************
First then a summary of the episode and then transcripts and commentaries on individual scenes and separate threads:

11:22: The difficulties of marriage, 3 transcripts with a little of Venice

Episode 21: Honeymoon: Scene 1) Emily and Lopez’s bedroom in Italy (Rome?), balcony, bedroom, from PM, II, Ch 25, pp. 216-219. Transfer of dialogue in coach in novel becomes an elaboration in bedroom tryst, needs 3000 pounds; scene 2) Wharton reading letter, voice-over carries over from scene 1, Emily, letter not in PM, only father’s reply, PM, II, Ch 26, pp. 222-23; we hear only Emily’s voice, back to scene 3) we see corridor of Emily and Lopez’s bedroom in Rome, then same area, he delighted, she troubled, and waking up a bit to what he is; scene 4) blue upstairs sitting room in Gatherum, the transcribed scene in blog, from PM, III, Ch 42, pp. 356-58.

Episode 22: Travelers: scene 5) Gatherum park and landscape, Phineas and Marie Finn’s talk and love, Raven transposed narrator’s talk of troubles of Pallisers to voices of these characters, acting here as chorus and tonic coda of the companionate marriage working by not straining on relationship too strongly; scene 6) Mr Sprout’s shoe shop, Mr Sprout and Lopez reading paper, matter from letter in PM, Vol 2, Ch 34, pp. 286-87, that Duke will not interfere and Lopez on his own, that the electors will prefer a conservative candidate now, Sprout says cut your losses and go; Lopez insists Duchess will make some sign; scene 7) Venice, the balcony, Lady Mabel Grex, Miss Cassewary and Silverbridge doing tea, matter from Duke’s Children, I, Ch 9, pp. 57-59, and Ch 20, pp. 127-30: Lady Mabel’s desperate situation, her awful father, the idea that Silverbridge’s father could not survive with his mother, Silverbridge there because of prank, then Tregear’s entrance and the tense encounter not observed by Silverbridge who is getting to like this corner of Venice; two young men looking at map of Tregear’s coming tour; we see Silverbridge lonely and wants to return home; he’s very young; move to scene 8) with sign Silverbridge (makes for carry-over and anticipation as Silverbridge, the young man, will eventually run and easily succeed to a parliamentary seat there), street voices heard, and in shop, Sprout and Lopez again, from PM, II, ch 34-35 turned into concise summarizing scene, Lopez bitter, angry; scene 9) Lopez and Emily’s flat in London, first time we’ve seen it, and it’s dark, from PM, II, ch 35, pp. 301-2. Transcribed on blog.

Episode 23: Financial Bind: scene 10) Wharton’s chambers, Wharton and Lopez, from PM, II, Ch 35 and Ch 44, letter sent by Lopez,. pp. 384-85, 395. Lopez blames Emily for wanting seat, and says he is out of pocket 1000 pounds, Wharton pays, Lopez says he’d like to explain “the scope of his business,” but Wharton says he does not want to hear any more, then does not object but does not see he can serve Lopez; scene 11) again Lopez and Emily apartment, again PM, II, Ch 35, pp. 301-2 (milking same scene repeatedly as Raven has done before), short powerful scene registering his whining and her awakened sense of him as false through and through; scene 12) Blue upstairs sitting room in Gatherum, Lopez’s over-voice as Duchess reads letter he sent demanding payment, from PM, III, Ch 42, pp. 364-70; powerful scene over letter, the fourth such set to in two episodes (the other two in 10:21), some of all of them taken directly from book, Adam and Eve trope (he will not be Adam putting blame on his wife even if blame hers — it was not Emily’s) what will happen in the house looked forward to; scene 13) aviary greenhouse at Gatherum, Bungay and Duke of Omnium, from PM, III, Ch 50, pp. 430-34, Bungay coddling him.

Episode 24: Hidden Plans: scene 14) Gatherum upstairs blue sitting room, now Duchess rejoices at Gerald’s appearance, she studying pictures of Italy, wants to persuade father to holiday, ultimately (much transformed) from Duke’s Children, ch 1, pp. 1-2; scene 15) Lopez’s flat, Sexty comes to Lopez, what’s left of PM, III, Chs 45-46 (subplot of Parker’s insistence on social friendship), here Parker worried about money, where is 300 from father-in-law, another 1000 from Duke, creditors pressing, the PM, III, Ch 39 much changed in precise wording, Emily opens door (contrast to Gerald’s), and he now sickens her though she does not quite let on, the screaming on the word “money” echoes from book, but we are deprived of the quelling of this woman and how she become abject (the deeper levels of the book, Chs 47, pp. 408-411, Ch 48, p. 416), sceen 25) Venice, Silverbridge’s apart again, parents’ visit, wholly invented, including who flat belonged to and homosexual references about one man’s “oriental habits” and the pictures, jokes about Duke worrying where Mary and Gerald have got too, distasteful insinuating Duchess about Tregear and Mary on balcony; scene 26) in gondola on lagoon, Duchess and Tregear, Silverbridge and Mary, Treager has won Duchess over, talk of his background, they are returning to Matching, Mary’s cheerful smile

Episode 25: Scandal: scene 27) Lopez apartment in London, Emily announces her pregnancy, and Lopez moves to take advantage of this (this happens before ch 49, p. 421, probably before Ch 44, but I cannot find it), he at first joyous, natural but then she sickened; scene 28) Whartons’ chambers, Wharton expecting and Lopez comes in, from scattered moments in book, two letters mostly, PM III, Chs 45, pp. 384-385, Ch 46, p. 395, Ch 49, p 419 (it’s Emily’s distress which teaches Wharton he had better not give Lopez anything directly), sees he has had all his money from himself and Parker, the stockbroker, throws him out, scene 29) Duchess and Mrs Finn encounter Lopez in the park and snub him; scene 30) Mr Slide’s office at People’s Banner Banner, taken from PM, III, Ch 51, pp. 441-446, the bit about Judas and the 30 pieces is added; also at first Lopez is reluctant and gradually persuaded, he does not come as initiator but after Slide has published.

******************
The following scene comes early in the part, right after the opening three of Ferdinand and Emily on their honeymoon with the sandwiched in one of her father writing out the 3000 pound check. it is the culmination of the high conflict we saw in the previous episode and the Duke’s having lost the strength.

Here we see finally the Duke cannot stand the networking and entertaining any longer and demands it be put an end to. The Duchess does not feel about her work the way the Duke does, but she is tired, weary, and has had a couple of bad moments with the Duke over Ferdinand Lopez, or her own politicking with her limited power.

Episode 21: Honeymoon

Scene 4: Sitting room at Gatherum castle; where Duchess works, they have coffee, intimates meet.

Basis: Prime Minister, Vol 3, Ch 42, pp. 356-58 (very different, not dramatized and Duchess half sarcastic, and playing for time to invite people, and then sticking precisely to those allowed to irritate him. Here we have a human drama of wide dimensions suggested in Trollope’s telling, not scenes themselves)

1. Establishment shot: Duke in dressing jacket looking out window, Duchess hard at work in nightgown, hat, and robe; we hear laughter from below, perhaps outside.

She carries on writing. She labors some more, as we watch her write on. He picks up and throws down letters. She’s writing invitations probably and correspondence having to do with guests gone and guests to come.

Duke: “Cora?”
Duchess: “Hmmm?”
Duke: “I’ve got something to say.”
Duchess: “Mmmmm. Please say it, Plantagenet.”
Duke: “Very well. It’s time to put an end to all this.”
Duchess turns round; “All what?”
Duke: “All this (reaches out for letters) entertainment (he throws down letters and puts sarcasm into word, irony).
Duchess takes off glasses. “Plantagenet! you approved the idea at the start.”
Duke: “Yes, the idea perhaps but the reality’s gone far enough (he stand up, looks grim). While I’m burdened with this present office I can’t continue to receive guests in the house.”
Duchess: “These are all people whom you need.”
Duke: “I don’t need them here. With most of them I get along much better in their absence. Well, do you remember that sickening affair, Sir Orlando Drought, all that could have been avoided if he had not been allowed to approach too near to become too familiar …”
Duchess: “Important men, little men for that matter, like to be able to approach their prime minister.”
Duke (gritted teeth, intense tones and face): “They’re making my life impossible.”
She looks appalled at realizing his psychological state.
Duke sits. “It’s got to cease.”
Duchess: “I see. So it’s a case of repel borders. (She puts out candle flame with a wet finger.) Darkness all round.
Duke: “Well (noise). Well, I know (really a noise) you cannot possibly turn out those people who are staying in here now, but I beg you no further invitations.”
She looks hurt, her hands folded.
Duchess gets up and walks over. “Phineas Finn, Plantagenet. He is due over from Ireland in a day or two and I was just about to invite him. His wife is here.”
Duke: “Finn may come and go as he leases. He’s an old friend, but don’t encourage any of these others to linger except um Lady Rosina. She stays for as long as we do.”
Duchess: “Do now it shall be Darcy and Joan and Aunt Rosina. What a galaxy of fashion and wit.”
Duke: “Well, that is the way I shall like it.”
She sits down wry.
Duke: “and as for these others, I’ll have no more of it.”
Duchess: “The Duke of St Bungay, Plantagenet, says that these assemblies are of great assistance to your ministry.”
Duke: “And so they were at the beginning, but now it’s degrading me.”
Close up of her face as it hardens in hurt and then anger. “Degrading (teeth show) you.”
Duke (close up) There are those, who say I’m bribing men with hospitality.”
Duchess: “Oh, Planty, you’re so thin-skinned that any counsel offered you take as a form of criticism. You must ignore them.”
Duke. “I try to, Cora. It is very hard you know to ignore journalists who write about you daily. Quintus Slide in the People’s Banner, well, he has a poisonous pen.”
Duchess: “Huh. One day he’ll prick himself too death with it.”
Duke: “He must prick me to death first. Well, Cora will ya do as I’m asking (clenches fist, in real need) about ceasing all this here at Gatherum.”

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She looks at him with genuine puzzled pity. “Yes if you order it. (she laughs a little), but it is hard to be told after all my work that it has degraded you.”
Duke: “So it has and you too. All these false smiles and false words.”
Duchess: “I have told you that if you wish to remain as Prime Minister, someone must smile at your supporters, if not you then me.”
He looks pained.
She rises a little and turns face away, real aching strain etched on bones of her face.
Ducjess: “It has been for you that I’ve done it. That people mght know how really gracious you are and good.”
Duke looks down sad and grave.
Duchess gets up: “Is that unbecoming a wife?”
Walks over to desk with letters, puts them down.
Duchess: “Still I own, Plantagenet, I shall be glad to doff my mask. It was beginning to feel … (she covers her face with her hand as she gathers papers) (whispers) degrading ..shaking hands with all those cads and caddesses has nearly worn my poor hands away” (rubs it — a reverse of lady Macbeth as a gesture).

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He gets up, puts paper in his hands down, goes over to her. He touches her lightly and she turns round and is in his arms (just like a Trollope novel!), being hugged tight. They rock slightly. [This is an ending of a number of the parts in this series, including those which climax a sub-story in a book.]
Duchess pulls away and looks up to her (near close-up again): “You .. you must not think Plantagenet that I am not clever enough to realize how ridiculous I am.”

This is a very different portrait of the Duchess than the chapter I invite you to compare it with. By contrast, Trollope is not in deep sympathy with her, or inclined to show her as continuing very hard. The question is, which is humanly more likely? I like Raven’s duchess much better but I fear Trollope’s is closer to typical human nature.

As I say, it follows hard upon the “honeymoon” of the Lopezes where we see Emily also in a nightgown and Lopez similarly hugging her (itself arched around the father sending the 3000 pounds), but how hollow is the difference.

And it is followed by a deeply congenial conversation between Phineas and Marie in the park at Gatherum where Marie says it is not bad they are often apart, for love is so easily staled.

We see Phineas and Marie Finn walking in the meadow, possibly at Gatherum. It looks like the landscape around the castle. The scene between the Duke and Duchess included the Duchess’s assertion they must have Phineas as he is coming home from Ireland, and the Duke’s response, yes, of course, we will have friends.

It’s a lingering interlude where the two discuss their happy marriage (in effect). He says how much he has missed her, and she counters she has missed him, but sometimes or a certain amount of apartness is good for a marriage. There is a beautiful scene caught by the camera of the two of them looking into one another’s faces with softened love; they kiss in the meadow too.

Then they discuss what has been happening between the Duke and Duchess, the Duchess’s bad judgment in taking up Lopez, and how the Duke seems not to be able to shake it off.

It’s a choral scene. Unlike Trollope this couple is made to stand for an ideal. Trollope (I think) has no ideal loving married couple; he is himself too disillusioned for this; he will present marriage as a satisfactory arrangement for life (networking, children) such as we see in the Grants, tender love say here or there (between the Quiverfuls say or the couple in La Vendee where the man thinks he is dying), but a couple who stands for a full group of norms (anti-ambition in Marie, moderated in Phineas and to do good), no.

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So these two couples are a scrim against which we see Ferndinand and Emily.

The basis for both Lopez and Emily scenes is literally tiny dialogue (The Prime Minister, Vol 2, Chapter 35, pp. 301-2 in Oxford Classics paperback) when Lopez comes home from Silverbridge, but more generally it comes the narrator’s commentary on them and implication of awakening to living with hollow and increasingly desperate and unrealistic man, particularly on Emily’s part turned into high drama.

Episode 22: Travellers

Scene 8 between Lopez and Sprout where Lopez very strained and cannot accept that he will be treated like everyone else who is nobody in this world

Scene 9: Lopez and Emily’s apartment in London

1. Establishment shot: Lopez glimpsed in the corridor, framed tightly, overcoat and hat, quickly moves to room and we see Emily looking at him, her face now flat and weary, not happy

Lopez: “You had my telegram?”
Emily: “Oh, Ferdinand, it did make me so wretched.”
Lopez: “And a wretched business it was too. yet I could hardly believe it. Everybody suddenly seemed to turn from me. Everybody there deserted me.”
Emily: “You did not give up.”
Lopez comes up to kiss her lightly. “No, the more fool I. The duchess originally intimated that I [Emily now taking his coat off] I would be returned unopposed, in which case the cost would have been almost nothing. Now the expense of a contested election win or lose is at least 1000. pounds.
Emily: “Oh, Ferdinand, have you paid it?”
Lopez: “Not yet. No doubt the bill will come in before long. That at least I can depend upon.”
He sits there in a fever of intensities. She stands there with a somber troubled look; somehow holding his coat while she stares at him captures her own desperate case too.

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Emily (Sheila Ruskin) standing there, somber

Lopez: “I mean the duchess must have known what would happen. [He sighs.] By Jove, Emily she left the castle the day I reached Silverbridge. A short visit to London, they said. You know men and women have become so dishonest that nobody is safe anywhere.”
Emily: “It is hard.”
Lopez smiles: “It is cruelly hard, Emily. [Voice now slithering.] I don’t suppose there was ever a time in my life when the loss of 1000 pounds would have been as much as this now.”

She looks at him and is seeing him for the first time as a man without money or resources, a liar. A hard look in her eyes.

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Lopez: “The question is what will your father do for us” (his eyes shift away).

Episode 23: Financial Bind, Scene 10: The next scene is where he goes to Mr Wharton and complains and says it was Emily who wanted this Parliamentary place and her father gives him the money rather than listen to this. Adam and Eve metaphor comes up later when Duke and Duchess discuss Ferdinand’s letter asking for money (see below) and the Duke says he will not be like Adam and blame Eve. Duchess says but it was my fault; in Emily’s case it isn’t except for having married him. Wharton says he does not object to Lopez telling him of Lopez’s business, but does not see how he can serve Lopez. Lopez feels unable to continue.

Scene 11: Back in Lopez and Emily’s flat, another day for she is in another outfit, also austere

1 Establishment shot: Lopez with angry face turns as if from his father-in-law to wife (scene moves swiftly from previous)

Lopez (angry face, demanding, the sense is where is some to serve him, and who is there but Emily the wife?): “I had wished to tell him everything there and then, but his manner was too discouraging. I may yet have to ask you to do it.”
Emily (looks puzzled now, for a second, then appalled): “It would come better from you. I think” (she sits down and he looks sullen.)
Lopez: “But as he has come up to the mark (? — in) this, it would be sensible I think to let the reins lie loose on his neck for a while.”
Now her face set (dismay controlled). She looks round at him:

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Emily: “Is that how you think of him?”
Lopez (angry face): “Upon my soul, I do not know what to think. I’ve been so abused and cheated over this election, that I can hardly see straight. There is one thing I have begun to see … the duchess encouraged me to go in for Silverbridge under false pretenses. Now if anyone owes me compensation, it is she.
Emily” “But paper has just paid the costs.”
Lopez: “I’ve no doubt the bill will be more in the end. They always are [close up to angry resentful face] besides it’s not only the money. There has been treachery here, Emily. [Ugly look in his eyes, really creepy face] and for me there has been humiliation.”

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Pained humiliated expression (Stuart Wilson)

Scene 12: Duke and Duchess over letter and again it feels continuous for Lopez’s letter done as voice-over by Stuart Wilson. This one a brilliant rendition of PM, Volume 3, Chapter 42, pp. 364-70.

This one between the Duke and Duchess is among the many strong scenes so far in the series between the Duke and Duchess. He just lights into her: her disobedience, interference, stupidity (a good natured woman who is foolish), all of it, and look what has resulted.

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Duchess (Susan Hampshire) as startled at Duke’s shame as Emily is at Lopez’s lack of shame

He must pay Ferdinand he says because he owes it to him. In other words the Duchess was just nothing really and it was his responsibility. (Women are not responsible.) He admits he cannot stop reading the newspapers; the public life has gotten under his skin and into his veins. He talks of how much she means to him and how it hurts him to see her discussed in the way she will be and that he cannot get himself to present the truth of what happened (that she picked up, encouraged, and promised Lopez).

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He (Philip Latham as Duke) cannot make it public

The two come close to one another, sit close, bow, hug, look into one another’s eyes, and we see a distance between them as people where they cannot understand one another. The Duchess says she is stupid or dumb (some such words) but operates as best as she can see it in the world and at least she has a thick skin. So the Duke says he will himself pay the money and have a letter printed admitting mistakes were made. He hopes that not too much will be made of this to make him look corrupt, as if he was doing what he said he abhorred: picking a candidate and then paying him off.

It is true we have seen as bad people in the series as Lopez, but Lopez is the first male to behave so vilely and meanly in front of us with not an iota of redemption in the way of generosity of spirit anywhere at all.

The real modern insight in both situations here is how in marriage one can end up with someone with whom there is a complete lack of understanding. When you are young, you may be startled to see this: at the other person’s so very different inner self and how they impinge and pressure you with these thoughts, feelings, demands that jar intensely.

And then later in the part there is another, this one a deeply troubled bitter scene between Emily and Lopez (the fifth between them in the episode) following hard upon Parker’s visit demanding payment for the guana and asking Lopez to get the money from his father-in-law. And finally after the idyllic gondola scene (see below) of the Duchess, Silverbridge, Frank Tregear and a now happy Mary (for her mother has been won over and is attracted by and likes Tregear and invites him to Matching), talking of the peace of home, we come ironically to a home where there is no peace.

We see Emily in nearly black, dark brown telling of pregnancy to be confronted with demands she get money. Emily’s face is very hard as she looks in the mirror. She will not go to her father now. Ferdinand does and finally tells the old man what is his business. The old man listens and we see this is rotten stock market gambling and by the end he throws Ferdinand out literally, saying only he will not let his daughter and grandchild starve and will give Ferdinand bread. Marvelous bitterness of the man playing Wharton as he talks about the expensive honeymoon and flats Ferdinand has bought.

This too I think is meant to reach the 20th century audience, how those who resent those who have and supposedly don’t pay for it. Ferdinand’s worst social sin is he can’t hide his deprivation.

The part end on the terrible scene with father-in-law where Lopez behaves is a cur, and at last shows up at Mr Slide’s to betray the Duke for a measley 130 pounds, and is told that is 100 more than the traditional price.

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

One of the characteristics of the soap opera form, which shows its feminine nexus, is the happy interlude. It’s often found in women’s films and occurs periodically in the Pallisers films, e.g., all the returns the Arcadian garden signaling transition from one major story to another. In 11:22 we get a different sort of interlude.

It occurs in the part’s third thread (which is woven in early, Episode 22, Travelers, right after Marie and Phineas and scene of Lopez and Sprout in shoe store), a further adumbration of matter from The Duke’s Childre: Silverbridge is in Venice, meets with Lady Mabel Grex and Miss Cassewary.

In 10:21, it has already been established that Silverbridge is feckless and naive (his painting the Dean’s house red), and it has been made deeply clear from the time of Silverbridge’s baby hood until now how bonded are he and his mother. In this part 11:22 we also meet Gerald (first scene of Episode 24) come to Gatherum and see him too greeted lovingly by the Duchess, and her plans to visit Silverbridge (to get away from Gatherum too) with him, Lady Mary and the Duke. So (at the end of Episode 24) the parents come to visit Silverbridge, and so too Frank Tregear, and the duchess (off-stage) learns to like Tregear by the gondola ride.

The sense of the first Venice sceneis he is courting Lady Mabel who is much more mature or knowing than he (as in Trollope’s DC). Pleasantly for once (and this does happen in Trollope too) the “old maid” in the scene, Miss Cassewary, is presented as a congenial pleasant woman. h

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Duchess speaks to Silverbridge (Anthony Andrews) on the terrace; both collude to hide whatever they’ve got to say of intimate life from the Duke; lighting is used to make us feel they stand near sparkling waters

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Duchess and Tregear (Jeremy Irons)

The gay subtextual use of Venice is brought in during the visit of the Duke and Duchess to Venice in Episode 24. The story of the family who had to give up their flat and went bankrupt because they chose “oriental” ways uses language Trollope and other 19th century writers used as euphemisms for homosexuality. (Margaret Markwick’s book uses this phrase to detect homosexual themes in Trollope.) We see paintings of nude figures in the apartment and their gender is not clear.

Ferdinand Lopez is the contrast this TV film makes to Tregear. Tregear in Trollope is ambitious, can be ruthless, and an upstart, not all that unlike George Vavasour in some ways, only he is controlled and prudent and can and does love Lady Mary Palliser once he is thrown off by Lady Mabel Grex. Tregear in Raven is a much more pastoral figure: he is contemplative, he is adult and mature and sees much more clearly than Silverbridge (as Charles Rider does Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited): really Irons and Andrews are playing the same typed pair in both films, just with different names.

During Episode 22 (an inbetween imagined journey) Tregear goes for a long tour in middle Europe; he makes no attempt to secure Lady Mary; he may be a nobody and outsider, but he has in him the feel of a poet and certainly is serious and ethical (parallel to the Duke).

Now the Duchess is attracted to Tregear (she is ambivalent about power and status finally) and we see has fostered his relationship with Lady Mary Palliser but again it seems her understanding or attraction to Tregear is his handsomeness, that her daughter is physically attracted. He is unambitious and what he loves best is home, Cornwall. Lady Mary loves him for that (in a gondola scene).

Another contrast to the rest of this Part and the one previous is the implicit indifference to ambition and showing of power over others in Marie, and the idea you must allow yourself to be soiled, and become rotten, if you go in for it too much, if you have to fight for it when you are not born to it. Maybe this is as subversive as one can get today (I mean 2009) — and more so today than ever as we now live in an era where ruthless breaking of bonds is just fine (whether at work or at home). This is of course brought home in the scene where the Duke and Duchess agonized together over Lopez’s letter (see above) in Episode 24.

The series also marks (as I remarked yesterday on my query on greying hair in women in the Victorian perido) that are characters are reaching middle aged, the new generation making its appearance. It’s autumn says Donal McCann so beautifully (he has a wonderful speaking voice).

There was yet another couple in Trollope’s book (more really, minor characters in the Wharton family comprise yet more): Mr and Mrs Sexty Parker. Sexty (David Ryall) is in the series, but not Mrs Parker. She is a real loss: with her we return to a character like Mrs Bunce, a working class woman and we see how her domestic common sense marriage works, and how the loss of money devastates it

Next up: 11:23

Ellen

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JulieBlogging
Amy Adams as Julie blogging about cooking

Dear Friends,

Isobel and I took such pleasure in seeing Nora Ephron’s latest movie, Julie & Julia, that I thought I would blog about it, even if recommending it is quite unnecessary as I’ve gathered ours is such a common reaction, that this movie is something of a hit. I want to make visible somewhere on the Net that its popularity (or the reasons for this) compared to other womens’ movies, especially those which are thoroughly dissed by the popular media, is disquieting.

First, let me stress how much I enjoyed it. The double plot was inspired and bold: for like other women’s work it was not realistically coherent since the story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep really looking the part, and photographed to look much taller than everyone) and her husband, Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) takes place 40 years before that of Julie Powell (Amy Adams, she of Sunshine Cleaning) and hers, Eric (Chris Messina), and yet they are run in tandem and alternatively. So we could see how closely similar in basic events and needs is the life of an upper middle class woman, Julia, in the 1940s to that of a lower to middling class one, Julie, in 2003.

The two premises: what happens in 2003 is Julie makes the mistake of going to lunch with 3 “close” friends (a la say The Women, Sex and the City, The Edge of Reason (Bridget Jones), Friends with Money and any number of women’s films), and is made to feel she’s a failure in life because her job is a minor one in a city corporation set up to help people whose lives were destroyed in the catastrophe of the World Trade Center. With her husband’s help and encouragement, she opens a blog and decides to spend the next year cooking each and everyone of Child’s recipes, and then writing a blog about it. This on top of her needed “day” job.

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Julie, off to work in Manhattan

They eat at 10 at night, as her job is far away from their decidedly unglamorous 900 square foot apartment on the top floor of a building with a store in it in eastern or at least unfashionable Queens. Child’s recipes include desert:

Julie&HusbandChocolate
Julie and Eric eating whipped chocolate

Meanwhile (or 40 to 50 years ago), Julia Child came to live in Paris with her husband who works in embassies, and with nothing to do with herself (no job, no child), she decides to go back to school to give herself an interest in life. After a couple of false starts (making hats for example), she lights on cooking.

JuliaCookingClass
Julia at professional cooking school

She loves to eat she tells her husband (and drink sociably too as the shot shows):

Julia&HusbandSTanding
Julia and Paul drinking wine together

We experience with both couples the ups and downs of their lives. Julia and Paul are forced to move from Paris to much much less desirable places as the 1950s anti-communist hysteria affects them because Paul is accused of communist sympathies (on no grounds whatsoever). She sticks by him no matter what — needless to say there is no question of her going out to work. (The movie ends before her career on TV.) Early on she struggles to find a serious class in cooking, slowly moves into writing a book of recipes with two French friends, and then with one of them, has to fight hard to get published and it takes decades and the pay is very tiny. A pen pal from far away (a parallel to email) helps her find a decent publisher who is willing to believe American women would buy a hard cook book.

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On Julie’s left side, the blond woman is her French friend, and partner in writing; the woman standing up facing them is Julia’s pen pal who found her a publisher

Julie and Paul live in a cramped small apartment by a noisy train. They erupt in quarrels when her cooking becomes a great strain for her and gets in the way of her saying yes to sex with him and spending time with him on other things beyond cooking, eating, and blogging. After she is stood up by a famous cook after she spent all night and day cooking, and didn’t go to her job, she has a natural emotional explosion to which he responds egoistically too, and they break up for a full night and day, and was distressed until the next night when he returns on the street they profess their real love for one another immediately, go upstairs and eat again.

At times I responded with helpless emotion and identification. I was brought close to tears of relief when (as described just above) Eric left Julie because she was becoming so involved with her blog and cooking it seemed she didn’t have time for him (even to have sex), and was so relieved when reading her blog from his office, he softened and came home.

It did show women’s friendships as important without idealizing. The gang of four Julie has lunch with where she is made to feel very bad about herself is a kind of response to Sex and the City and other girl group movies. It doesn’t work easily and individuals are outdoing one another. Rather one-on-one for both Julie and Julia (who meets a French pair of women cooks and becomes close to one, and has a woman pen pal who helps her publish) is the way real support seems to come and it’s serendipitous, the result of people who are alike in temperament and values.

It’s startling in its contemporary frank setting in a world of the Internet. <em>You’ve Got Mail is about a love affair which began with emails on the Net.

I loved the way the movie validated doing something hard and demanding real sacrifice for its own sake (like blogging, cooking) and was frank enough to show that for the most part blogging will be its own reward. Not only was our heroine stood up by the famous cook, at the end of the movie, Julia Child send a message to Julie which shows she doesn’t like the blog, doesn’t understand it, and wishes Julie wouldn’t. Julie does have a visit from an editor of the Food section of a big newspaper, and the story appears in the paper the next day, but there is nothing coming from that beyond a moments self-gratification. The editor condescends to Julie.

It is true apparently that Julie Powell did write this book, Julie & Julia, the basis for this movie, and has now made a bunch of money, presumably lives in a better apartment in a nicer part of NYC, and has left her day job to be a full-time writer. But the film ends before that when Julie’s reward is to have completed her appointed task of making all the recipes in Child’s book within a year and has a feast for her friends on her roof and is told by Eric, “I love ya, babe:”

finalparty

I left feeling good.

It had characteristics of woman’s films: the centrality of food recalled Ang Lee who says in another of his audio=commentaries (for Eat Drink Man Woman, all about food), that he is drawn to make women’s films and thinks food ought to be central to domestic stories on film as they are in life. (A. S. Byatt loves to describe food in her novels.)

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Julie learning to kill and boil a lobster

Julie has a cat. It appeared to be trained (cats can be trained) as it meowed at funny right points. It’s rare to see cats in movies because it’s hard and expensive to train them. Izzy and I saw a pair of cats in a delightful low budget Thanksgiving movie a couple of years ago and they were not trained and added a delightful note of spontaneity (to me who didn’t even have two cats of my own at that time.)

It had many producers of which Nora Ephron was one and Amy Robinson (her name kept coming up in the credits) another. So thoroughly made by women with women at the center. I’d call it a woman’s idyll, a woman’s dream, including groups of friends who come to celebrate your birthday and husbands who give you presents on Valentine’s day.

Nevertheless, it also troubled me in the context of how other women’s movies are treated by the media, especially as I compared a couple of central aspects of this film as compared to those which are dissed. Unlike so many, this was praised by the media — as have been other of Ephron’s movies. Thus it has been able to become a commercial success — as was her You’ve Got Mail. Jane Austen Book Club was so ridiculed women were ashamed to go, and it was screened in Cinemart’s tiniest theater so it was supercrowded while Julie and Julia were in their biggest. Jane Campion often can’t keep her movies in the theatres; they are occasionally a success d’estime among women and small groups of film people, but no further (except for The Piano which had nudity and an ambiguous attitude towards the heroine — not that sympathetic).

What’s the difference. It’s idealizing romance in a particular direction. Like the heroes in Jane Austen’s novels, these men are so supportive, all kindness. Both women just love sex with the husbands just when and how the husbands like it. The sex in the film reminded me of Tom Jones (book and 1966 film) in its complacency in the way this is presented. Not a whiff of trouble for real from male-female relationships anywhere to be seen. These are emasculated men. This was even true of the hero in You’ve Got Mail where the hero only seemed to be difficult. Our two heroines feel powerful but are at the same time dependent on men. Julie’s husband encouraged her to blog first, and opened her blog for her; when he leaves her, she begins to give up. Julia’s husband encourages her all the way on everything and he supports her royally monetarily and every other way.

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A typical restaurant for Paul and Julia

She never kicks back against him at all the way Julie does on occasion.

In other words, it not only escapes the realities of life, but it on just the areas which are so troubling: male violence towards women; male exploitation of their larger income and power. Neither woman has any children, so they are free (Julia cries a bit over this, but these are easy tears you see, cost nothing). Other sops: both sets of couples appear to have troops of friends every time they want to hold a party. I have gone to movies which uplifted me and didn’t erase so much reality for superficial presentation of life. I feel the film was praised by critics (most of whom are male) because neither woman ever denies her man anything, never tries to question his power or her position, because feminism is simply totally irrelevant, and would be seen as a wild unreal set of demands. Julia took up her profession of cooking and then writing to have something to do since she couldn’t get pregnant. Julie did it to feel good about herself and write. Not out of larger ambitions. These came later and are limited in scope: finishing a year-long blog; getting the book published somehow somewhere mostly for its own sake.

Now I need my husband’s support and approval; he opened this blog, helps me go to conferences. He helped me to get onto lists; from posting onto a listserv I too published a book. He negotiated the money for that book and came with me to meet the publisher. In a way it’s true I did a Ph.D. to fill my time worthily (like Julia cooking, but I pay a price for this I won’t go into here, and it’s not comfortable on the surface all the time either. I recognized myself but not the hard and unemotional world I and other women live in.

It reminds me of the elisions of Frears’ and Hampton’s Cherie, 2009 where the hard truths about prostitutes are erased and the male is again presented as complacent and all kindness. Also Shelley’s Waitress where the woman is married to an abusive husband, and never once considers having an abortion when she discovers he is pregnant. Magically he becomes non-violent for 9 months, and then when the baby is born, she manages (magically) to get rid of him and when last seen is prancing down a road with her adorable healthy 2 year old, going off into a sunset. This one was all about how she made big sums baking delicious pies (food again).

I once tried to read one of Ephron’s books of popular essays, and was very irritated by its shallowness and what seemed to me easy pandering and jokes.

I wondered what Powells’ memoir is like. Julia Child’s autobiography, probably like Agatha Christie’s, does not tell her inward life for real. She appears in the film a woman who does not look within, but maintains a cheerful stance by not looking too deeply. When her sister visits and quickly marries someone (much shorter than she too), Julia never questions anything about the immediate relationship, but just accepts what is on the surface as the depths:

sistervisits
Having lunch with her sister.

I’d like to see other women’s films make it too. Films which may provide uplift and happiness, but also delve into the sources of women’s vulnerability and relative powerlessness, and being with so little money.

I recommend the film. Don’t miss it. We have a heroine who does read and write as an important part of her life

JuliereadsJulia.

She goes off to work where she can easily be fired and her job as someone hired to help the victims of 9/11 seems to be a front for insurance companies not to pay up.

But I recommend it as revealing something in the context of other women’s films and their non-successes and reputations. Its erasures and characteristics are troubling in a world where now frankly the way war is carried on is to rape women of the “other side.” While it’s apparently okay for Streep to be a real size, woman, for all she’s supposedly cooking away, Amy Adams must be as frailly anorexic as any other young movie star (notice her angular shoulders):

04_Features - JUNE

Ellen, one blogger about another

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Catherine gets to walk on Beechen Cliff with her friends, Henry and Eleanor Tilney (’07 Northanger Abbey)

Dear Friends,

As I’ve told the people at Reveries under the Sign of Austen, I’ve been asked to write a short piece for an online magazine about Austen in translation and I’ve been reading Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, then Pride and Prejudice in a couple of different translations, and finally turned my attention to a true poetic one from Northanger Abbey, sometimes called the best translation of Austen not just into French, but altogether (probably though by people who have not read enough to pronounce): Felix Feneon’s 1890s Catherine Morland.

I want tonight to try to make some sense of the thoughts I’ve had and information garnered.

So first, on Feneon: I find it amusing and ironic to consider that we owe the existence of what is arguably the best translation of Austen into French because at one time she was considered so utterly oblivious to anything political that it was safe to allow someone who people inclined to terminology would call a terrorist to read and translate her. Felix Feneon translated Northanger Abbey into delightful witty and deeply felt French while he was in prison for the crime of blowing a Paris restaurant up wth a bomb where a number of people were either killed or seriously maimed. A friend bought him a good dictionary and he was allowed to work undisturbed though. During this time he also read George Sand. The reason: women writers like this were considered innocuous; the fact that Austen was seen as knowing nothing about politics and less about sex, and Sand’s political career was repressed in favor of presenting her as all about sex and her books as grandmotherly or not readable, favored this enterprize.

He was otherwise not treated very well — as people were not in prison in the 1890s (think Oscar Wilde), especially the crime of anarchism. He was acquitted because a number of respected friends declared that they were sure he had not done and provided alibis. However, he did do it. From a biography that took 25 years to write so difficult is it today to find hard information about Feneon, Joan Ungersma Halperin’s Felix Feneon, Aesthete and Anarchist in Fin-de-siecle Paris, I learnt that he grew up in the provinces of France and witnessed the severe repression and massacres of people in the 1870s (more people were summarily executed than in that and the following year than from 1792-95). He was sent to board at a Catholic school as a boy and hated it, and like many in the (for most people) abysmally poor 1880s and 90s became a political radical, really fighting and writing for revolutionary causes.

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J. Maximilien Luce (1858-1941), Une rue de Paris, 1871 the corpses left to rot until someone picks them up

Now that he was drawn to Austen — and translating a book such as hers adequately is no small task — is fodder for those who would consider her book political. There is evidence he was attracted to writing as a woman, as it were in drag — men do, as when they write books like Clarissa or Diderot’s La Religieuse (or any one of a number of 18th century and more recent texts. He was also a superb stylist like RLStevenson and that would be part of the challenge.

He was also a continual writer who founded a couple of reviews that became centrally important at the time and he wrote in many others. Except for his art criticism (of which he was proud and which he wanted to gain respect for artists with), most of the time he wrote anonymously. Interestingly, many of his pseudonyms were women’s names; he liked to write as a woman even though he shared the anti-feminist (Ungerman calls them misogynistic) attitudes of his fellow male radicals (I deliberately use that noun). Women were for sex, baby-making, being a wife, mistress, ministering to men. He himself married a woman out of pity for her, an arranged marriage of an old-fashioned type and apparently was good to her and lived his life out with her — at the same time as he had a life-long mistress who was in effect his second wife; she was the literary partner. He also got the one job he had all his life through a merit exam in the civil service, ironically as a clerk in the war office; he was never promoted, but he didn’t want to be.

It’s not clear why he used women’s names for pseudonyms. It could be a recurrent wish to be female; it could equally be a way of belittling himself. He was a very private man and although had many friendships with the most gifted, never give his intimate lifeaway. I suppose it makes sense then that he tried to write novels but couldn’t, didn’t have the gift or urge (novels are highly autobiographical most of the time) for it. However, given his penchant for self-erasure, writing in drag as a woman, and inability to write novels on his hand, it fits he should turn to a woman’s gem, Austen’s NA.

What he had a gift for was criticism, and art criticism (like Diderot a predecessor) was a strong suit.

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Luce again, Paris Streets (again, but this time) 1905, an artist Feneon supported

He was also (reminding me of RLStevenson) a supreme stylist, and did much translation work. I thought this statement by him about the critic’s art important in understanding the success of Catherine Morland:

The critic must be a discriminating and inclusive intellect, penetrating the soul of the artist, seizing his aesthetic personality, considering the work fo art both from the point of view of the author and the point of view of the public, a channel for one and for the other.

The art critic (and translator) must be naive as well as sophisticated in front of his author:

Anyone can err, especially a critic. But to express without frivolity or insincerity what one feels — I admire that!

Translators and film-makers are both artists in their own right and critics. As Poggioli says in an important article on translation, they look into a pool of art to make their statements while the original first text maker looked to the natural world around him to her (he did not think about intertexualities). He also did a lot of editions.

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1926 edition by Chapman, reprinted (from 1990 Metropolitan)

Feneon showed strong admiration for Diderot, who if not an atheist was anti-clerical and a strong materialist. He particularly admired Diderot’s salons (brief brilliant meditations on paintings). He studied Diderot’s philosophical and dramatic texts intensely and also the novels. On the centenary of Diderot’s death, he quoted Goncourt brothers:

Voltaire is immortal. Diderot is only famous. Why? Voltaire buried the epic poem the short story incidental verse and tragedy. diderot inaugurated the modern novel, modern drama and art criticism. One is the last thinker of old France, the other the first genius of new France.

Feneon said: “when we say that Diderot is our contemporary, we are giving undue praise to the 19th century.” Diderot’s La Religieuse, of central importance to women and all who are held hostage and driven to trauma by powerful pressures that are cruel; and Rameau’s Nephew, a meditation on the artist’s responsibility, the price of his or her gifts to others and the necessity of somehow fulfilling them indespite of all that surrounds you. I’ve not read the more scientific ones. They are hard and not available in English all of them.

Tellingly, in his later years Feneon published nothing or very little. He lived long and died in 1944 — a most dismaying year for someone with idealisms like his. When young he wrote against nationalism especially.

So, it makes sense to me that he should turn to Austen on many counts, and seems both amusing (to me at any rate) he was allowed to because she was seen as non-political. That Sand was too shows the dullness of this. A more overtly political novelist (she was also active in politics) you cannot find. Just couldn’t be! People ignore what is inconvenient to them to see.

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I turn to add to the essay I read on the paucity and bad quality (abridgements) of Austen in Italian until very recently, a bunch of essays in Jane Austen in Context and Re-Drawing Austen about Austen in translation in different countries and into different languages.

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From an essay by Gabriella Imposti in Re-drawing Austen, Austen came to Russia in Russian very late. The first translation was in 1967! While the choice of texts resembles Italy in that again Pride and Prejudice is the overwhelming favorite and was the first book translated, there are striking differences. The Russians (the author says) preferred Scott, and the communist-socialist period looked upon this very genteel bourgeois author as if not dangerous at any rate irrelevant and not good for the moral health of young readers. The book after P&P most liked in Russian has been S&S. Now there is a tradition (as in Italy) for more learned readers and upper class people to read French, but then we are back with Madame de Montolieu and French translations so there is nothing directly coming in.

From Re-Drawing Austen, an essay by Sebnem Toplu, on Austen in Turkish. She was translated earlier (1940s), but she remains someone people who study English literature read; the Anglo-, subjective virtuous heroine is not admired again P&P leads the pack, but the others are liked equally. As with Italy, in Turkey the titles are changed a lot. Perhaps a stronger popular influence on Turkey has been the Austen movies.

Then from Valerie Cossy and Diego Saglia in Jane Austen in Context, Sweden had translations of Austen very early (1836); so too Denmark (1855-56). Swedish and Danish readers had Persuasion and Emma. Europe in general had the advantage of the Tauchnitz English language editions. Cossy and Saglia go over the Montolieu translations and the recent French ones for Pleiade and Christian Bourgeois (which Valerie Cossy also covers in Re-Drawing Austen, though not as well if less misogynistically than Noel J. King (“Jane Austen in France,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, 8:1 [1953]:1-12), the French writer of the 1950s) and then over the German translations. Austen appeared in Germany early: 1822; the translator was W. A. Landau; we are told he simplified, flattened and refashioned; the texts are less qualified, made more domestic.

What interests me again in general is that the kinds of changes the translators made are like Isabelle de Montolieu’s: just the sort of thing one finds in the movies. The movies return us to Montolieu’s intense romance, made Beauty and Beast story out of Brandon; turn Willoughby into a romantic hero. In Montolieu’s Persuasion, Montolieu had Wentworth buy a house for Anne Elliot in the neighborhood of Kellynch. In the 2007 ITV Persuasion he buys Kellynch itself. In Austen she has to live with him at sea in perpetual alarm all the while she is happy in his love and with his family and friends.

It’s a sign that Austen is not appreciated or understood when what’s emphasized is Pride and Prejudice to the near exclusion of her other books. When we see that even that text (and the scarce versions of the others) is published in an abridgement (which is more than shortening a text, it’s hollowing it out), we can see that what’s wanted is the archetype beneath the text. Now that’s what some of the popular money-making sociological event movies have done: they take the archetype and misshape it in accordance with a cultural moment that reaches the lowest and so widest popular denominator.

The irony is the archetype is what Austen began by radically brashly mocking. The raucous laughter of those juvenilia. To say she left this once she started the serious novels is to forget the letters. Did you hear so-and-so or her baby died? Probably looked at her husband … Or in Persuasion, they had had the good fortune to lose him at sea …. Or the Plan of a novel …. or …

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In the film by Andrew Davies some of the finest moments come from invented scenes which are in the spirit of the book, viz.

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Eleanor and Catherine gather apples thrown down from a tree by Henry

The last essay from Re-Drawing Austen that I read was for me the most interesting even if the most jargon ridden and theoretical: Marinella Rocca Longo, “Notes on Literary Translation: An Example based on a short analysis of the language of Jane Austen.” Longo shows that the best translations, those that actually get closest to Austen in spirit are those who do not stick close to the language details of the original, do not in other words (to use Dryden’s formulations) do metaphrase or paraphrase, but rather those where the translator was willing to go a little farther off and find in their own language, even if in words with somewhat different terrains and a different grammatical structure for the sentence, a genuine equivalent of the complex ideas and tones of Austen.

Longo knows Italian best and concentrates on one difficult passage from S&S, the one where Elinor thinks about how Edward came to fall in love with Lucy, it begins: “The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally …” and it has complex thoughts delivered abstractly and indirectly. She takes the famous apostrophe about novels from NA: “Yes, novels; — for I will not adopt that ungenerous .. &c&c And then puts different Italian translations next to them.

What emerges is the one which is slightly more free is the best because the author is reliving the thought and feeling, really imagining it in his or her own mind and feelings and writing out of that.

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Arriving at the Abbey

Well, I sat down and compared two different chapters of Austen’s NA with Feneon’s Catherine and found him doing this. In fact he is often not that close — he is closest when it comes to dialogue and description (say the passage where Catherine enters the Abbey and then again when she is afraid that first night). What he does do is relive, re-feel, re-imagine and follow Austen’s thought and find words which come naturally to him as a fluent eloquent and simple French stylist and speaker (it seems but it can’t be I know that, it has to be more studied).

As I wrote the other day, this is the period of RLStevenson and I find in Feneon’s Catherine the same kind of flair in French in Feneon if less theatrically flamboyant, cooler, wittier as is appropriate for the different culture.

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Paul Signac (1863-1935), The Gas Tanks at Clichy (1886), another of Feneon’s protegees.

Ellen

P.S. I’ve been rightly reminded (see comments) by Bill Everdell that Feneon was very important in furthering the career of Georges Seurat (1859-91) when no one else was paying any attention to Seuerat and that the method of painting Seurat uses has an analogy in Feneon’s style. Bill suggested I should have an image of Seurat’s work on this blog and so I’ve added one from Halperin’s book which is of a painting not that well-known as Seurat’s others:

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La Rade de Grandcamp, Bateaux (1885)

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Margaret Oliphant (1828-97)

Dear Friends,

For a few weeks now I’ve been sustained by two books, sometimes reading them at night, sometimes in the car as I sit next to Jim while he drives. One, Margaret Drabble’s The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws, I’ve written about on Reveries under the Sign of Austen as having to do with the 18th century (she even quotes Austen on jigsaw puzzles centrally).
The other, Margaret Oliphant’s Phoebe, Junior, a final Chronicle of Carlingford (1876) I’ll write about here as the first of a (I hope) few postings on Oliphant as a great Victorian author.

Tonight I mean to recommend Phoebe Junior, the last of her Carlingford novels, a series of cyclical books written partly in imitatio of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels, and then set the novels against the background of her other remarkable books.

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Cover illustration for Virago edition of Phoebe Junior: Victor Corcos (1859-1933), In a Garden

The novel swirls around the lives of several groups of characters connected through their religion, family, and place. They may be grouped by age, class status, and whether they are dissenters or church of England (establishment). The major figure is the young woman Phoebe Beecham (junior); her mother was Phoebe Tozer. Phoebe “junior” is a young woman brought up to be genteel since her mother got out of Carlingford and married a rising clergyman, rising in dissenter circles. Phoebe Junior is highly intelligent, discreet, and ambitious, at once kind and worldly, strong, capable of highly unconventional behavior. She is the alter ago for Oliphant herself.

The story begins when Phoebe’s grandmother Tozer falls very ill in Carlingford. Despite Phobe Senior’s strong reluctance to return her daughter to her lower class origins as the grandchild of storekeepers, rather than allow a sister-in-law and brother to get close to this grandmother and thus inherit needed money, Phoebe senior sends her Phoebe Junior back to Carlingford. Phoebe Junior is to nurse said Grandmother and live with said Grandfather — and keep other grasping relatives at a distance. By living with these shopkeepers (gasp!), Phoebe is coming down in the world and may not be visited by upper class people; she may end up isolated, and have no where to wear all the lovely clothes her mother can now provide for her.

We discover Phoebe Junior is a strong-minded young woman and can withstand having to go live with older people totally out of sympathy with her. She has strong self-esteem, but the theme here is one that appeals much to me: Oliphant makes it explicit: Says Mrs Sam Hurst (one of the older women characters in Carlingford itself): “That is all you know girls” [to the Mays], you don’t know the plague of relations, and how people have got to humble themselves to keep money in the family, or keep up appearances, espeically people that have risen in the world” (Virago ed, p 98).

Oliphant shows the elder Tozers to be irritating, continually nagging or bothering Phoebe to dress in ways she knows are inferior, never once convinced or moved out of their narrow thoughts. How she endures this I don’t know except that the social life elsewhere supposedly higher is not much fun either.

I would not call this satire, but rather hard depiction of realities and I’m not sure that one does have to humble oneself. Phoebe need not have gone. Her mother said so. They might have lost the money and could have done without it. Phoebe goes as a challenge; after all, like Lucilla (Miss Majoribanks, another of the Carlingford novels which I read half-way through) Phoebe hasn’t got much to do.

A second set of young women are the Mays: Ursula and Janey, and the interest (fascination) there is while they are members of the Church of England, by culture they are not very genteel, or no more genteel than the dissenters. In fact (though Ursula and Janey are unaware of it), they are on the edge of economic disaster. Ursula is very ordinary in understanding, even a bit dull, but most of the time well-meaning enough. She is not idealized either, not a bad sort, but imperceptive and egoistic. Ursula is decent to her younger sister, Janey, not out and thus cut off from any pleasure. Austen’s Elizabeth’s comment on the practice of not allowing young women who are the second in age to be “out” is germane here. It does not encourage sisterly feeling, but we see Janey and Ursula rise above jealousy. Oliphant is still making the same point about the unfairness of this.

In an opening sequence, at an assembly Ursula (all in white) and Phoebe (in black) to to a party set up and paid for by the wealthy dissenting older couple, the Copperheads. Phoebe and Ursula end up vying for the attention of Clarence Copperhead who is tall, heavy, and much duller than the other central young heroines and heroes of the novel, but, as is true in the world, sensitive enough about his own ego and pride, out to get what advantages, power, money, enjoyment he can out of life. Clarence perceives that Phoebe would make him the best wife. He is being sent by his father, Mr Copperhead for improvements in education to Ursula and Janey’s father, a Church of England Minister, Mr May.

Oliphant’s characterization of May and development of his character is the most powerful in the book. Cultivated, intelligent when it comes to books, an establishment gentleman, May doesn’t make enough money to support his genteel upper class lifestyle, and continually overspends. So he has been getting on for years by maneuvring someone beneath him, dependent on him, to sign his bills, and who is it but the wealthy grocer Tozer and another tradesman who needs his business and contacts, Cotsdean. May is actually nasty, narrow, and sordid in his human appetites, and only plausible in company (he pretends to respect and like Phoebe and fools her about this). Mrs Sam Hurst would be willing to marry this horror of a man. So would many another woman in the novel.

What Mr May has done is forge Tozer’s signature to a bill Cotsdead took for him to the bank. Like in Austen’s fiction, he is no ogre, and someone utterly in tune with the rest of social life (Phoebe doesn’t suspect anything of what his real mind and characters are). His crime recalls what Trollope’s Josiah Crawley is accused of but did not do.

Mr May has driven his son, Reginald, to take a position which is very like that of Trollope’s Mr Harding. Reginald will be a warden of six old man with a (smaller) sinecure. Reginald, handsome, perceptive, cultivated like his father, is the first of our young heroes. We see how difficult it is for a young gentleman to place in a way Trollope doesn’t quite bring home because Trollope usually doesn’t take us into this level of desperation and jockeying for position most of the time. (We do see it in The Three Clerks.) Reginald falls in love with Phoebe — a man of the church, in love with a female dissenter. But their educational level is the same, though Reginald is not as bright as

Horace Northcote, our second hero. Northcote is a brilliant honest dissenting young man, working for radical causes (the Liberation society) and has attacked Reginald for taking one of these sinecures, but his real target is the established church itself. He is better off financially than Reginald, but when we go for a walk with them to a beautiful church on the warden’s grounds we are made to see or feel the advantage Reginald has in sense of security and meaning to be placed in a world of centuries old art and tradition. Even if Reginald’s way of spending his days is among the ignorant individual poor, while Northcote seems to do higher political things, Northcote’s life is diminished by his not having connection to this tradition.

Now Northcote feels for Ursula; he sees her father, Mr May, bullying and harassing and embarrassing her by complaining about the meals he insists she concoct up for his resident pupil, Clarence Copperhead. Northcote feels such sympathy for Ursula. He is so attracted to her sweetness, he thinks he is in love with her, and begins to court her to her surprize, fear, and delight. Ursula does not love him equally in return because she is not capable of this, but she is alive to the power of the man’s mind and handsomeness, and possibility of a happy life with him.

Class issues are very painful in this novel, and they intersect with gender ones.

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Cover illustration for Penguin edition of Miss Marjoribanks: James Tissot (1836-1902), The Rivals

The Copperheads are where we begin the story, with the assembly party they throw for other dissenters and which establishment people will come. Mr Copperhead, a bully of a man who has made huge sums, coarse, show-offy, vulgar, and determined to make everyone admire him for his money which in fact most do. He buys art to show the price he paid for it. He sends his son Clarence to be educated by May, and the son is taken in because May is desperate for the fee and possibilities of further money through the connection.

Mrs Copperhead’s wife is miserable with him: she is sensitive, perceptive and lives an isolated life with no outlet for a real friend. Her best moments are with her son, Clarence who dull as he is, does love her. She is kind and buys things for the May girls, but it’s shown that she gets a good deal out of buying said stuff. No one does anything just like this out of the goodness of their hearts even if they have more than another. Mr Copperhead was very irritated by Clarence dancing with Ursula and Phoebe all evening as neither have the high rank or big money he wants for his son.

A final set of characters fills out the triangulations Oliphant works with. The Dorsets, upper class establishment people who don’t have quite enough money to live wealthily but just manage. Mr Dorset does not forge or embezzle; he prefers to live within his straitened means and we see how this hurts his pride and yet how his pride makes him look down on the Copperheads, Mays (who are lower in rank) and certainly all the dissenters.

There are two young women in the Dorset family: Anne and Sophy Dorset. They live in London, are well educated and perceptive, sophisticated in outlook. With their parents, they are willing to be patronized by the Copperheads (go to their parties, accept their invitations); Mr Copperhead of course despises them, and they dismiss him in their hearts. Anne, who is not going to marry, is the best or nicest person in the story thus far, 30 years old. We see her devoting her hours to a niece and nephew sent from India and her brother’s children, partly because she needs to be needed. She has the best values of anyone in the story and is probably the most exploited in a daily hourly way. Sophy her younger sister (say around 28) was jilted when a young man she loved discovered her father, Mr Dorset had not cultivated his connections and has minimal means. She has not gotten over this. Anne is very kind to Ursula when Ursula comes to visit, and Ursula is aware of this, grateful and sticks up for Anne when anyone denigrates her. It’s at such moments we see Ursula at her best.

Oliphant is strongly anti-romantic (she made fun of Jane Eyre) and her heroine, Phoebe, chooses to marry for money and ambition rather than love. In so doing she helps save Mr May to whom she is grateful for having her in his house where she meets and is courted by both Clarence Copperhead and Reginald May. There too she makes friends with Ursula, Janey and Northcote.

Oliphant puts a hard truthful view of social life before us. It’s what I am loving this novel for this time round. What I objected to in Miss Majoribanks (and it made me unable to finish it) was the value put on it by Lucilla who we are to find dislikable — even if satirized Oliphant wouldn’t write a book about it if she didn’t value it at some level and sympathize with Lucilla’s aspirations to petty tyrannnies and power. (It’s an Emma novel.)

What I like in Phoebe Junior is there is a much larger perspective, with at at the same time I think actually more alienation as Oliphant really shows us how some people have better things in them that make them suffer so and also the larger social monsters responsible (Mr May, Mr Copperhead).

In this Carlingford series Oliphant had the idea of doing for the level below the gentry and church of England what Trollope did for them in Barsetshire. We rarely have shopkeepers’ as major characters, much less their daughters. We do not see dissenters in this way at all — there is no harsh satire on their religion, and they seem to like pleasure as much as the next person (something Trollope will not allow). But like say Anna Barbauld and Elizabeth Gaskell, she shows how social circumstances and a lack of respect drives the dissenters to change their attitude to their religion and emulate upper class ways of worship and attitudes.

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Cover illustration for Virago edition of Salem Chapel: John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903), Madame se chauffe

So three young women: Phoebe Beecham, Ursula May and (probably) Sophy Dorset, all delineated psychologically so as to suggest how they cope and how they have gotten to the point where they have probably fates. I at first thought Clarence Copperhead would go for Sophy though he seems to care more for his mother and food than anything else; and predicted the bully vulgar Mr Copperhead may stop it if Sophy doesn’t refuse, or the father may be charmed by the high status, hard to say as money is what he values. If Sophy does marry him, it will not be for love but to have a husband with money and means for her and her sister In fact Copperhead goes for and wins Phoebe, rather easily due to his money and status). Three young men: Reginald May, Horace Northcote, Clarence Copperhread, carefully delineated so as to project psychological, social, economic, humane themes. As men they are plugged or can be directly in to the society; the women must plug into the men. Fascinating older people: Mr May, Mr Copperhead, Mrs Beecham (Phoebe’s mother), Mrs Copperhead (poor woman), the elderly dull lower class vulgar Tozers (grandparents). And the single woman, Anne Dorset reminding me of Trollope’s Priscilla Stanbury (the wonderfully intelligent spinster of strong integrity in He Knew He Was Right) only much sweeter and not going to end up in a miserable cottage since her father has status and enough to keep her.

I love Oliphant’s truthfulness. No one in the novel is imagined as altruistic really beyond what is in their interests; momentarily they can be kind, and they can be sexually attracted or admire someone for something they want, but not beyond that.

And the psychological portraiture is candid: Copperhead is the son of a fantastically rich man, and not a total fool, but no sensitive insightful gentleman; his looks are commonplace, even dull from the outside (this is very Trollopian — I remember John Ball in Miss Mackenzie).

There are some strongly feminist passages in the book too. Take Phoebe’s sarcasm to the young man’s complacent assumption of their superiority:

‘To be sure,’ said Phoebe, ‘we are not so clever as you are, and can’t do so many things. We know no Latin or Greek to keep our minds instructed; we acknowledge our infirmity; and we couldn’t play football to save our lives. Football is what you do in this season, when you don’t hunt, and before the ice is bearing? We are poor creatures; we can’t parcel out our lives, according as it is time for football or cricket. You must not be so severe upon girls for being so inferior to you.’

But as stronger impulse is showing the coldness, selfishness, pragmaticism, value of status, money, and prestige in all human nature. Here’s what Phoebe thinks when she decides to marry Copperhead:

Phoebe had nothing to appeal to Heaven about, or to seek counsel from Nature upon, as sentimental people might do. She took counsel with herself, the person most interested. What was the thing she ought to do? Clarence Copperhead was going to propose to her. She did not even take the trouble of saying to herself that he loved her; it was Reginald who did that, a totally different person, but yet the other was more urgent. What was Phoebe to do? She did not dislike Clarence Copperhead, and it was no horror to her to think of marrying him. She had felt for years that this might be on the cards, and there were a great many things in it which demanded consideration. He was not very wise, nor a man to be enthusiastic about, but he would be a career to Phoebe. She did not think of it humbly like this, but with a big capital Career. Yes; she could put him into parliament, and keep him there. She could thrust him forward (she believed) to the front of affairs. He would be as good as a profession, a position, a great work to Phoebe. He meant wealth (which she dismissed in its superficial aspect as something meaningless and vulgar, but accepted in its higher aspect as an almost necessary condition of influence), and he meant all the possibilities of future power. Who can say that she was not as romantic as any girl of twenty could be? only her romance took an unusual form. It was her head that was full of throbbings and pulses, not her heart.

Instead of dreaming of prince charming (no matter how poor you see), Phoebe dreams of marrying a man who will give her a place, prestige, and work in the world as a society and politicizing wife — in the way Lady Glencora Palliser tries to be in The Prime Minister. Oliphant knows this kind of aspiration is not one conventionally acceptable. The above tone is not sardonic, but rather earnest. Merryn Williams, one of Oliphant’s biographers, says many readers would find Phoebe’s lack of idealism and romance unpleasant — and choice of husband.

And Oliphant does not slide over the boredom of choosing to live with a stupid man:

He was stupid – but he was a man, and Phoebe felt proud of him, for the moment at least” and “He was a blockhead, but he was a man…

It’s even suggested that, although Clarence is a fool, Phoebe finds him quite physically attractive – he is said to be large and “not without good looks”, and there are descriptions of him putting his arms around her waist and lifting her up in the air.

I hope I have conveyed what is the peculiar strength and value of Oliphant’s Phoebe Junior.

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Albert Goodwin (1845-1932), The Old Mill, near Winchester

I have written about Oliphant on the World Wide Web before: she wrote one of the best critical essays on Austen in the 19th century: her review of Austen’s nephew’s memoir, while unkindly mocking him, presented Austen for the first time as the satirical acid feminine presence D. W. Harding recognized her to be. She is also a writer of masterpieces in the ghost story kind, e.g., The Beleaguered Cityy= and “The Library Window”.

On Women Writers through the Ages, we read her great novel set in England, Hester (1883) where I wrote weekly about it. The heroine here is an older business woman and the hero her nephew. On my own I went onto her remarkable Scots novels, The Ladies Lindores (1883) and Kirsteen (1890). Her Autobiography as published by her niece (Mrs Harry Coghill), together with her letters to the Blackwell’s is one of the most powerful life-writings of the 19th century. She does not wear her heart on her sleeve, but as you read her candid account of her hard-working literary-art life you see how original a being she was. I wrote essays on these works too, so compelled did I feel to work out their meaning and urge others to read them too.

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Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Lydia on the Terrace Crocheting

In general, there is a distinction between the presence Oliphant puts before us in her English, Scots and the ghost story-gothic novellas and short fiction. The irony in the English books (and that means the Carlingford) is distinctly pragmatic and concerned intensely with class and money — only Hester makes gender and romance as central and it’s the most powerful I think of all I’ve read thus far in Oliphant’s English mode.

In her Scots novels, she’s ironic and realistic or anti-romantic about different things. She places the books in Scots tradition (and herself is writing to critique and replace what she conceives of as Scott’s romancing and sentimentality about the lower classes in Scotland). She presents more landscape, more delving into culture and, more about women trying to achieve independence. There is dramatization of dangerous sexualities and murderous or atavistic violent impulses because she conceives they have more play in the less populated areas of the UK.

The ghost and gothics are not ironic in these ways at all. She lets loose and we are in a realm of the uncanny and she soars into poetry that is frightening and metaphysical. You might say they have dramatic irony as a structure.

Finally, her Autobiography is pure open poignancy, candour about her inner life, creative faculty, difficult career as a woman, and tragic loss of her husband, sons, nephew. Her literary criticism about her era and the 18th century is as insightful as you will find; she is an independent thinking deep feeling woman who survived by working long and hard (she wrote 126 novels). The end of her life was tragic in that those she loved all predeceased her, and the last line of her autobiography shows her breaking off, writing “I can no more.”

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Illustration for Oliphant’s haunted and haunting “The Library Window”

Ellen

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