Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘18th century’ Category

FrankensteinMillercumberbatch
Jonny Lee Miller as the creature desperately trying to bring an exhausted Bernard Cumberbatch as Frankenstein back to life on the ice

Dear friends and readers,

Yes, I’ve just returned from watching the version of Nick Dear and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein where Miller is the creature and Cumberbatch Frankenstein. The moviehouse had the version where Cumberbatch is the creature and Miller Frankenstein on Monday night. I didn’t know. Next year if my local HD theater repeats this duo, I’ll be sure and see Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as Dr Frankenstein.

Not that I was at all disappointed: I have known since watching Miller in an episode of Prime Suspect (and in the difficult roles of Edmund Bertram in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 MP and Mr Knightley in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma) what a versatile, effective, deeply feeling compelling actor he is. In this intelligent adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel (and the novel is kept in mind throughout), the creature is far more central to the action and consciousness of the play than his creator. We see his birth from his point of view,

Millerborn
Jonny Lee Miller as the monster being born

how he moves bewilder through a landscape of powerful machines and cruel people, to happening on the French family escaped from injustice and the kindness of the blind old scholar, De Lacey (Karl Johnson gets some comedy out of this role) to him, in succouring him, teaching him,

blindscholar

so (except for Frankenstein’s horrified rejection of his creature and abandonment of him) it is a long time before before Cumberbatch returns to the stage. And Frankenstein is the far less astonishing presence, even if central to the emotional action-reaction at play’s center

cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein pushing away from him what he has done

I’d just like to see how different would be the feel and meaning in the reversal; according to Michael Billington of The Guardian, considerable.

What Dear and Boyle did was pare down the novel to its doppelganger, and in their characters, their talk, their relationship all the themes of Mary Shelley are drawn out. Some of the matter is lost: the depiction of larger social injustice is not there and so the instinctive fears and savagery of human beings to one another is not outweighed; much of Frankenstein’s life and relationships: the depiction of education (critiqued), how Frankenstein began to try to recreate life partly in reaction to his mother’s death; his arrogance and lack of responsible behavior to others, the intense distrust of science. Frankenstein is someone not social (of course a no no), going off on his own. The emphasis of this twist is so 21st century. The role of Elizabeth is made to enact socialableness (a new word), responsibility, an attempt at kindness towards the creature, and that natural ways trump egoistic artifice. Naomi Harris is effective in the hard role in both versions (a side note, she played the black heroine to Cumberbatch’s white anti-hero in Small Island). ElizabethCreature

I suppose what is so compelling is the dialogue between the two, what’s said, but one is exhilarated even in a movie version by the staging, the use of machinery, the pivotal stage, the symbolic way each phase of the story is presented — matching the fantasy aspects of the story (for it is fantasy). I’ve been to the National Theater in London (with Jim) and seen a number of these creative productions: Aeschylus trilogy comes to mind, Henry IV part 2 (Michael Gambon as Falstaff), and at home on Bravo, the Yorkshire Mystery Plays. The material from Shelley is gothic, but the conventions here eschew anything like film noir or horror/slash movies. it’s really an intimate one-on-one play (not so different in this from say the Fly episode of Breaking Bad where we get a similar intense interaction for an hour between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Mr White and Jesse respectively, with bodies entangled eventually too).

One of the best reviews is that of Paul Taylor of the Independent, only he is wrong to say the play ends so differently from the novel. Yes at the close of Shelley’s novel it seems the creature immolates himself on a pyre on a slab of ice, while Frankenstein expires in Walton’s ship but it seems to me this dying is not what is important: it is the the pursuit and the insight (emphasized by Shelley in her text) that the two creatures to live on are forever intertwined in their hatred and (due to Frankenstein) thwarted love.

He lives for my destruction. I live to lead him on

I haven’t any shots of Frankenstein pulling his sled after the creature (nor of Andrea Padurariu as the Female Creature Frankenstein is drawn to himself, but destroys), but I do of the creature’s desperation when he thinks Frankenstein may have died, and his loving attempt to bring Frankenstein back to life so they can up and move on again (see still at top). In this one the director had Michelangelo’s famous image of God and Adam in mind:

Michelangelgo

Ice is central to the gothic and among the additions to Shelley’s vision, is that of body snatchers: the uses of corpses, poor people’s remains is brought out in comic pragmaticism when in Scotland Dr Frankenstein pays two Scots peasants to bring him materials. I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher.

Perhaps Dear congratulated himself too much on having given the creature back his voice, for Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 production of Frankenstein (screenplay Steph Lady, and Frank Darabout, producer Francis Ford Coppola) with Robert De Niro as the monster and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and a bride-monster of Frankenstein, had an equally articulate poignant presence for the monster. Dear and Boyle learned from Branagh and De Niro.

It was a production and is now a film which shows how transcendent and variable the gothic can be. The New York Times critic made fun of it — a paradoxical measure of its transcendence (the monster is alive and peeved!) It’s very effective in this film production – – where they do intersperse some stills from the 1931 Whale Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff), but for once I will concede that I was aware how much more charged it must be to have been in the theater. I don’t often feel this in the HD operas which are directed for film; this is a play taking advantage of all the techniques and stagings possible nowadays of a theater in the round and live stage.

It’s worth while to listen to Dear’s description of a many year project and the book as providing a contemporary creation myth:

Ellen

Read Full Post »

GreatHallofPenshurts
The great hall at Penshurst

Dear Friends and Readers,

The other night I embarked on listening to another of these sets of videos sent out by English universities and designated MOOCs: Mass Online Courses. My second is from Warwick University, thus far the lectures are by the somewhat mesmerizing Jonathan Bate. He begins with Shakespeare’s life (week 1) and how his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor (week 2) closely reflects aspects of Shakespeare’s community, parentage, boyhood: “Shakespeare and His World.” Bate speaks of Shakespeare’s apparent bisexuality, gives a real sense of his life’ story and career that makes sense, and dismisses the snobbish nonsense that won’t attribute the plays to this player, writer, ordinary man. He speaks eloquently himself, quotes beautifully and expatiates on his texts, and (for week 3) his discourse about the world of plays and dreams, the birth of the professional theater fills the silence of my lonely room with a vibrant mind.

The series also functions as an advertisement for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Stratford: we are invited to contemplate artifacts from the Trust as relics.

Well my first try was the Literature of the English Country House, from Sheffield presented by a husband and wife professor team, the Fitzmaurices, and as, on the whole it was a disappointment, I thought I would not write a useless screed of complaints; but now I’m seeing another, which is much better to begin with (the professor is much franker and really knows something about his particular topic), yet shares some of the traits, I thought I would suggest what was valuable, and why people argue MOOCs are not true forms of learning, e.g., most glaringly little was told about the specific houses filmed in: many were supported by corrupt violence, slavery, vicious practices in factories, and the reality of how the wealth came to be gotten which put these houses up and paid for their is said to be a sore topic in the tourist and heritage industries. I include what little was said about enclosures, provincial playing of plays, politeness literature, Rousseau and education (nonsense poetry for adults), gothics (Radcliffe, Dickens) and Oscar Wilde’s “Canterville ghost,” the soul of man under socialism. Not much to do with country houses …

**********************
Penshurst-PlaceGardens
A corner shot of the Penshurst gardens

They began at Penshurst, doubtless because of Ben Jonson’s poem:

Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Of touch or marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told,
Or stair, or courts; but stand’st an ancient pile,
And, these grudged at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
Thou hast thy walks for health, as well as sport;
Thy mount, to which the dryads do resort …
Here no man tells my cups; nor, standing by,
A waiter doth my gluttony envy,
But gives me what I call, and lets me eat;
He knows below he shall find plenty of meat.
The tables hoard not up for the next day;
Nor, when I take my lodging, need I pray
For fire, or lights, or livery; all is there,
As if thou then wert mine, or I reigned here:
There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay.
That found King James when, hunting late this way
With his brave son, the prince, they saw thy fires
Shine bright on every hearth, as the desires
Of thy Penates had been set on flame
To entertain them; or the country came
With all their zeal to warm their welcome here.
What (great I will not say, but) sudden cheer
Didst thou then make ’em! and what praise was heaped
On thy good lady then, who therein reaped
The just reward of her high housewifery;
To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh,
When she was far; and not a room but dressed
As if it had expected such a guest!
These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all …
Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee
With other edifices, when they see
Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else,
May say their lords have built, but thy lord dwells

For the first week on Penshurst, the texts included excerpts from Jonson’s “To Penshurst,” a paean to Robert and Barbara Sidney, who were among his patrons and decent humane values; excerpts from Margaret Cavendish’s Sociable Letters, and snatches of Shakespeare’s Twelth Night. The visuals included the gardens, which I have been to. Jonson’s poem is a beautiful set of images whose values are deeply appealing. Robert Sidney is all generosity (liberal, free). This is a table where guests all eat from the same set of foods — that implies there are places where some are sat at other tables with lesser food. No one is watching him, counting, either to see him show off or to make him feel he is taking too much. Everything you could want in your room is provided — and that’s where no one would see if you were deprived. It was like this when King James and his son came — so you are treated like a king & heir. Barbara Sidney does not disdain to do the work herself — or at least supervise and get involved. She has had many children — the value of fecundity, implying that some women of this era did know how to control their reproduction. Records suggest thought that most women of this milieu endured endless pregnancies. Virtue is taught here – -and all the country arts. Others show off, but you really live in this place.

At the same time I liked how Professor Cathy Shrank exposed the delusion that masters and servants were all lovey-dovey and insisted on the continual tensions between tenants and owners — the enclosure movement was part of what gave rise to More’s Utopia (a communist tract in effect though More didn’t know the term): it’s Utopian, presents an ideal ironically; More does not expect anyone will follow it, but uses it heuristically. How central More’s profound treatise, Utopia, and Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons seem to me more than ever today in trying to understand underlying motivations and types we see in our political world today. Together with Machievalli’s The Prince (it’s said Hussein would shoot his enemies dead at a table) and Erasmus’s Praise of Folly (on madnesses).

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

FHardwick-Tapestries
The central hall of Hardwick (familiar on the Net) was filmed in, but nothing said about the tapestries

Week 2 we were taken to Hardwick Hall where very little was permitted to be photographed; the presenters seemed to delight in presenting the Duchess as formidable, but she left no diary — she was not introspective enough to keep one, and too ambitiously busy in the world. I learned something new — or that an attitude and belief had changed. When I was studying the Renaissance it was thought that these companies only went into the provinces when there was plague, or a specific invitation or someone in the company lived near the great house or some specific event was happening there — like a queen’s visit. Now they assert that the companies traveled frequently and provided much entertainment. But one reason for the thinness of the lectures for Week 2 is they seem to know hardly anything about these performances. Is there no paper trail? They were not sure where they were played, which plays chosen.

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

Nostell_Priory_Stables
Nostell Priory Stables

The third week was filmed in one spot at Nostell Priory and the third and fourth week in several at Chatsworth (a tourist place nowadays) and the topic was politeness — well-taken if not fully explained. A long history of the 18th century by Paul Langford uses politeness in its title to capture a new central quality or value of the era. As England comes a thoroughly commercialized society where people did business with strangers as a matter of course and had to interact learn to trust one another, shared manners was essential. The two professors don’t bring out this economic basis. It was a value in itself, performative sociability, giving you presence and status so an entertainment house, Nostell Priory would be a place where you showed your politeness for all sorts of reasons. They cited Addison’s Spectators, a good choice: when I was young, they charmed me for their tone but now I know how snobbish this one we read it. Like Emma Mr Spectator expects people to modulate their tones.

Taking us to Chatsworth enabled them to talk about the “corruption” of this ideal later in the century: where politeness is used to manipulate and screw people. Instead of allowing for socialabilty it is a disguise behind which real social dysfunctions lurk. They don’t say that: a problem with these videos is the two people are so aware they don’t know who is listening and fear offending, so their language is so banal, neutral, it’s empty of any kind of judgement. So they say next to nothing about Chesterfield’s letters, at the time a scandal, called the letters of whore master because there is no pretense at fake morality to his son.

The choice of a central text was brave; Georgiana Spencer’s Sylph. but of course they did not discuss how the text relates to her life. She was an inordinate high player and was hounded for debts as was her husband. In the novel she is pressured to go to bed with someone in lieu of paying debts. They omit that these great houses were places where high play and gambling went on until the wee hours and people lost great sums.

They naturally brought in Austen as Chatsworth was used for the 1995 P&P film’s Pemberley: Austen’s books participate in the literature of the country house — from Pemberley; Norland, Barton Delaford, to Donwell Abbey, Mansfield Park & Sotherton; Donwell and Northanger Abbeys; Kellynch-Hall are all such places. There was not a single comment on what was Austen’s stance towards these places.

They also omitted how these houses were power linch-pins of aristocratic, elite life, central to Mark Girouard’s Life in the English Country House. These houses were places from which wealthy and influential people controlled the landscape and local economic and political life of “their area.” Their size, their networking capacity, their large staffs, how the family actually lived in London most of the time — all show us how unreal Downton Abbey is. Girouard also says it’s wrong to think of them as farms with tenant farmers) as DA encounages; Yes, but the purpose was to wrest rent from everyone; it was the rent rolls that mattered. So it mattered that the farms do well but that also depended on trade and connections across the county and outside too — tied to colonies as well. Girouard describes specific houses and like so many his emphasis is on the Renaissance and 17th century when these house first went up. They were extended in the 18th century and renovated in the 19th.

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

SatisHouse
Satis House where a room is kept in imitation of Miss Haversham’s room in Great Expectations

The fifth week was called “Gothic” and included Haddon Hall which Ann Radcliffe knew. Two new presences energized the experience. Angela Wright’s two talks, one 9 and the other nearly 8 minutes on the gothic, Anne Radcliffe and Haddon Hall I thought excellent. What she showed was the suggestiveness of the prose and intertwining of narrator and main character. She talked rightly of how much study Radcliffe did of the countries she described and never went to – she also extrapolated from where she had been, Germany, and England all over the place, Scotland into the Highlands.

The opening epigraph poem written by Radcliffe herself: Her” voice seems to refer to Fate but it could also be the person who suffered the “nameless deed.” By not naming it, the suggestion is it breaks deep taboos — so how about incestuous rape? In Romance of the Forest an uncle attempts incestuous (it turns out) rape on the heroine (who is his niece we later learn). On the famous movement into Udolpho: she gazed … The adjectives connect the building to levels of darkness and light, mostly darkness; the uncertainty of what we see in this gloom reflects Emily’s deep feeling of insecurity. Words like “melancholy awe” and “gaze” are overtly connected to Emily but they spill over to “silent, lonely, sublime: Emily feels the silence, her loneliness, that she is nontheless in this special — sublime — environment. Uncertainty pictured in: “its features became more awful in obscurity,’ ” till its clustering towers were alone seen,” the carriage moves under “thick shade.”

One question we could ask since we do have very quiet free indirect discourse making for high subjectivity in the narrative all along, where is Radcliffe? how does she relate to acts like incestuous rape? by being so reticent and withdrawn (anticipating say Flaubert) she deflects such questions, but we do ask of other authors where are they in their lives and imagination in the fiction.

It made me yearn to go to the Ann Radcliffe Sheffield conference — Three days, maybe the first conference wholly on her — a 250 anniversary of the publication of Udolpho.

Again filming of the house was extremely limited, and Fitzmaurice could make anything boring (he is often interlocutor), so bland and careful are any of his comments. He did try to talk scarily – he was elephantine. They filmed themselves in the dark in one of Haddon House’s rooms. They also filmed Haddon House from the outside at an angle which suggests how it could be this building Radcliffe was thinking of when she imagined Udolpho.

Then Amber Regis spoke and she was good on Satis House: she had less time so there was much less about dickens (maybe they assumed we know something). It was amusing to see that the National Trust keeps one room of Satis House in a mess — paper coming away … What was especially good was Amber Regis’s exposition of Great Expectations and the remarks on autobiography and its relationship to Great Expectations. Of her questions about the text she chose I wrote: How does Pip know this though? Has he brooded analogously? What is this order of her Maker? Did God make her suitor desert her at the altar and implicitly demand that Miss Havisham “get over it?” Why should she be punished? what has she done? Was she at fault for the suitor not showing up? These are bad vanities: the “vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities ” But there are worse evils. the novel faults Miss Havisham for bringing Estella up to hate and hate men. It’s an odd pivotal figure to hang upon a load of the world’s grief and misery.

I am drawn to the idea that Miss Havisham is approaching annihilation — she is herself dying before our very eyes. Since I have read the novel, I’d ask how this relates to our first sight of Magwitch in a grave yard, a convict fleeing the daylight world of law and police, someone who was treated as abominably as anyone (far worse than being stood up at an altar I should think) — since Pip grows to be a gentlemen out of these two people’s influence, is being a gentleman presented symbolically dependent on the deaths of others?

The two women had such cut glass chiseled accents — I thought that had gone out. So I wondered what Sheffield is like as a place to work … It was once a textile city and beautiful shawls came from there, sheep all around – -there was also much enclosure, much misery from industrialization — and radical and reform movement arose there in the 18th century and chartism in the 19th. I’ve wondered why does no one make a film adaptation of The Mysteries of Udolpho — you could incorporate some of the best of the Romance of the Forest as well as The Italian? The country house ruined is the center of the gothic, its underbelly, its cruelties — it’s on behalf of keeping it up that primogeniture was partly set up.

Elaine Pigeon who participated too wrote: “I was surprised by the gothic aspects of Great Expectations, the creepiness of Miss Havisham. The emphasis on decay reminded me of the ruin of the Lestrange family in Rhoda Broughton’s Cometh Up as a Flower. The idea of corruption and moral decay fits quite well as new money is taking over while the nobility of the past simply evaporates. It also made me think of William Faulkner’s famous short story, ‘A Rose for Emily,’ which as you probably know is considered a good example of Southern Gothic. There is a reversal in that tale, as Emily keeps the corpse of the groom in her bedroom, laid out on the bed as a fully dressed skeleton. If I recall correctly, he had tried to jilt her, but she put a stop to that.”

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

brodsworth-at-war
Brodsworth Hall: a modern play area outside the house for children

The 6th week is worth discussing for what was not discussed and what was deeply wrong about this MOOC. Perhaps others will disagree – I would like to hear if anyone liked or disliked this week – but I found this week’s series irritating – it had all the faults of the previous weeks and then some. Brodsworth Hall was presented as unusual for its children’s nurseries and an excuse to launch into educational treatises. I had not noticed in previous weeks but this time it was glaring. We were never told who owned Brodsworth nor why It has this vast wing for children.

I looked it up and found on Wikipedia a pdf dissertation which explained the family were fabulously rich and much of their money derived from slavery – -especially the worst kind where one worked people to death in the western hemisphere to make huge sums on sugar and other products. Even cursory reading of “Slavery connections of Brodsworth Hall (Final report for English heritage – you can find the pdf on Wikipedia if you type in Brodsworth) showed that Peter Thelluson could be used an antidote to Lord Grantham: we are told at one point this poor man was squeezed and forced to take a position at court in the Ottoman empire (reminding me of the pity we are to feel for the Scottish lord In Downton Abbey just “forced” to go to India and live there as a courtier). Reading about this family reminded me of all the evils of primogeniture and how it was used for the patronage system – I read yesterday of how Thomas Paine attacked primogeniture in Part 2 of his famous Rights of man.

The first inference to take is such a nursery cannot be common. Our presenters never told us 1) What was the average childhood of Victorian times, nor how common is such a wing for other country houses. But answer came there none because no one asked the question. Which generation of the family built this wing? Which woman? Who were the servants? How many governesses and nursemaids did they have? Was there a tutor? You learn far more from Tillyard’s book about the Lennoxes in this regard than anything cited here.

Then they went over two poems (Lear and Carroll), two men who never married, and not children’s literature from country houses. What were the real books given these children and what the books written about them in the era and after. I am startled by how well behaved the questioners are but maybe there are many people like me who refrain from asking obvious questions that might be uncomfortable – MOOCs are dependent on the inhibitions of people in large public cyberspace where they know very few people – but I did notice that none of the offered subjects were at all about the house, the family who owned it and came to build such a wing. We are not encouraged to learn about how children really fitted into this environment.

Cynically I’d say this angle was chosen because there was someone on the Sheffield staff whose speciality was nonsense verse and fantasy pictures and the last thing she wanted to discuss was what it was all about (the fantasy pictures are highly erotic). We got the silliest exposition of ideas about childhood in the 18th century: Rousseau was cited but not Locke’s Thoughts Concerning Education. All they could say was the bland idea that children were not longer little adults and seen as the product of sin or wild savage animals. In fact they were not seen this way from the Renaissance on. There is a history of educational literature which starts in the 16th century — how to teach children in school and this history is taught (or used to be) in better graduate school programs – like Columbia’s Teacher’s college. Much of the earliest enlightened thought was against beating — to no avail in many places but it was against it. Healthy environments, keeping children from “corruption” (sexual knowledge).

The true importance of Rousseau’s treatise is he argued you must take the child’s nature and keep his gifts in mind. Lock was willing to impose goals a family might want – insofar as one is able. Rouseau wants to find out the particular child and develop programs which address this. He also tried to break with latin learning and make it far more practically oriented. The Lennox sisters actually followed Rousseau’s regimen – they were famous for it. One of them married the tutor she hired — an enlightenment type. This is revolutionary — maybe you’d like your son to be a naval officer but if he has no inclination or ability in that direction, all the beating in the world will not make him a successful officer. They may have mentioned that this did not go for girls: Rousseau assumes the nature of all girls is to be come sexual objects and mothers and wives. It needs Mary Wollstonecraft, Madame de Genlis and others to object against this and argue for a real education for a girl too — which developed into finishing schools for the rich.

Diane Reynolds participated and here is some of what she wrote about week 6: ” … Samuel Johnson, among others, defended corporal punishment in schools as, while unpleasant, the only way to compel children to learn. He and
others defended it as long as it caused no lasting damage to the body — no maiming, no blinding, no visible scars. It was seen as transitory suffering far outweighed by the enduring quality of an education. Pain went away, but the knowledge wrought by pain — reading, writing, etc — lasted a lifetime. Though many people were highly uncomfortable with this logic, having endured horrors themselves, it took more than a century of case building to establish the enduring psychological harm caused by corporal punishment, and, also important, the fact that the mass of children could learn effectively without being beaten … This is the period of locking children into dark closets (which we should understand more as small rooms than our current closets — our clothes closet function was supplied by wardrobes) and dark basements for minor infractions. The lecturer tells us that the wing is no longer decorated as a child’s wing, but does not tell us what it would have looked like — it would have been interesting to have been shown contemporary photographs or read contemporary accounts or memories of the children as adults. But no. The house might well have simply arisen from the ether. The nonsense verses were hardly nonsense but all about power and oppression, though we are prompted to see them as “nonsense.” At the end, the lecturer mentions they are about power (well, duh) but never goes on to provide anymore context or explanation or even her own theory about them.

I am sure it would have offended some people to highlight the house being built on the profits of slave labor, but for me that raises a larger question of academic integrity and truth-telling. If it is indeed the truth that this is where the money came from, it seems to me we need to face that. I have never understood why people get so offended at truth telling. I would think sweeping unpleasant facts under the rug would be more offensive. This becomes history functioning as fantasy or fiction: dangerous.”

I replied: I now seriously doubt any of those who talked had read Rousseau. They were mouthing the safest truisms they knew of – or else they just didn’t want to discuss his text at all nor its place in education. The Renaissance began the drumbeat to stop physical beating — it occurs very early in the literature and when (for example), Sarah Fielding in her Governess reaffirms its use, it is more than horrifying because she has added another aspect Johnson meant to decry: moral blackmail. Not only do you beat the child, but you instill in it deep attachment to you, in both Rousseau and Madame de Genlis, you cut the child off from other children (that is part of the drive to educate privately) so poor Emile and Adele have no one to turn to. Rousseau is quite explicit about this; Madame de Genlis is ruthless in the way she manipulates the daughter. I say Madame de Genlis because Adele et Theodore is transparently autobiographical: she is describing how she brought up Pamela and Henriette. She didn’t dare do quite that level of bullying to the man who became the citizen king (who was devoted to her in later life) and was one of her pupils later on.

One of the major changes in the 18th century is a growth in psychological awareness and seeing things from a psychological standpoint. Richardson anticipates Freud says Diderot (in effect).

And there is something to this — at least this kind of twisting of children to make them envy this or that, long for this or that can have very bad effects on them morally — maybe you teach some ambition and those who are that way to start with (competitive) thick-skinned and maybe more shallow in feeling do okay but it can instill deep inward injury (class based then and now, race based now).

When I read Rousseau I thought his idea of following the child’s nature a form of true liberation in the earliest years and this kind of thing can create great love between tutor and student — it does link to what Austen makes fun of through Marianne Dashwood. Marianne says if she was doing wrong she would know it because she’d feel it. That’s out of Rousseau finally and the idea is its innate — this understanding of what’s right and wrong or good and bad. Rousseau said famously man is born free but everywhere in chains. He’s not all wrong: one practice of enslavers suggests they knew at some level they were committing horrific crimes — they get rid of every document they can about their slaves but those which relate to buying and selling. One part of that I think is shame — they want to erase what they have perpetrated. Not enough not to not do it. And they did advertise to get back slaves then shamelessly identifying slaves by scars showing terrible brutality. Dickens used that in his American Note

In letters Madame de Genlis’s daughter, Pamela, wrote late in life (after she married Lord Fitzgerald and he died) she said she hated her mother. She described Madame de Genlis as a hypocrite: she tells of how the woman coerced another daughter into marriage in order to get money and how when the girl tried for and got a divorce Madame de Genlis was among those who countered that Enlightenment statute (alas abrogated in 1803 or so) by refusing to acknowledge the divorce. The man was brutal and a crook — one of these embezzling types. OTOH, Pamela never did become estranged: she couldn’t imagine life without this woman who was to her toxic (so she says). Her letters are an early version of Mommie Dearest ….

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

Bowood_from_Morris's_County_Seats_1880
Bowood from Morris’s County Seats, 1880

In the 7th week all pretense at discussing country houses was given up and an Oscar Wilde expert (Dr Andy Smith) trotted out — the texts included The Happy Prince, “The Canterville Ghost” (a short story), The Importance of Being Earnest, and “The Soul of Man under Socialism” (a short treatise). There was some general talk of the decline of the country house, the agricultural depression of the 1890s — in terms you can get straight from Downton Abbey. In DA we learn of (oh how sad) how rich people lost their estates — that’s about what they said; you could find it in a magazine article

Not once was there a hint that Wilde was a homosexual man. The escape from a trap using a hidden identity (Bunbury) is what a gay man has to do. The move into anarchism as freedom under socialism is an escape from commercial pressures which also force people to live hidden lives. James was mentioned and The Turn of the Screw is about how the twisted heterosexuality of the normative conventions destroys people and has twisted the mind of the governess. Other of James’s stories invite similar interpretations. “The Canterville Ghost” mocks the form of the ghost story at the same time as it uses it to tell of dire events obliquely.

I was prompted to write more than before:

I have a real connection with the Oscar Wilde material. Again it’s Jim: I have two shelves full of books by Wilde — a big fat seat of everything he ever wrote, multi- old volumes where you have to own a special cutter instrument to open the pages as you go. I’ve Wilde’s letters, a couple of books of criticism, and some selections of his plays, a biography. I’ve a similar library of George Bernard Shaw. Together Jim and I saw a number of Wilde’s and Shaw’s plays. Jim liked Shaw’s criticism and politics. Of Wilde it was all sorts of things, even Wilde’s poetry. I have read in some of the material and some of the texts quite through but especially for Shaw he read a lot of it. I once ended up in a cartoon movie watching Wilde’s “Happy Prince” with Laura as a child; it’s a deeply melancholy story and she watched with great absorption but did not like it at all

So since I’ve never read “The Canterville Ghost” or “The Soul of Man under Socialism” I found them and this morning read “The Canterville Ghost.” It was still uncut so Jim never got this far. “The Soul of Man under Socialism” is in the volume which contains “De Profundis,” the whole book cut so Jim read that one. I am interested in ghost stories.

It’s a send up of the ghost story convention. It appears to follow the outline of Wharton’s powerful “Afterward.” American family buys a property said to have a ghost and find it titillating. In Wharton’s story it ends in cataclysmic tragedy — the women is widowed at the end, devastatingly. Wilde though asks what’s to be afraid of. So you see a ghost. So what?

He makes his Americans thoroughly pragmatic and into inventions to improve the ghost’s existence and their own. They torment the poor ghost by continually washing up a blood stain. They unnerve him. They set traps and tricks. At the same time Wilde shows he can do ghost stories too. The ghost manages to kidnap the daughter at one point and the family then does become terrified. She vanished — that’s what ghosts do. In this part of the story he shows how he can whip up landscape and also labrythine corridors. It does end in death but then turns round to provide a cheer-y mocking ending.

Yes it takes place in a country house — and is part of a subgenre of mystery stories occurring in country houses. But Wilde is not interested in that – -it reminds me of a poor play Izzy and I saw a couple of weeks ago: the humor is really gay humor — you are upending heterosexual norms and showing them to be absurd. Wilde would understand _the Turjn of the Screw_ in the way it was meant but at the same time find the horrified sensibility hilarious — or write a story where he appeared to. He was highly performative.

The story did make me think about this: when my father died I had my first insight into ghost stories: they were about what couldn’t be retrieved; you could not bring the person back; at the same time it’s likely bad things occur much you are remorseful for and there is much guilt so the ghost story rehearses this endless circular re-enactment of guilt, justice, revenge.

Now I see the story itself, the frame is part of what it’s about – how this in itself clasps you round and you need it, live in it, cannot lose its meaning, at the same time like the ghost who removes the heroine for a while it devours you.

Wilde is pointing out how under socialism there can be little individual liberty. When I did my paper on “liberty in the Poldark novels” I read a lot about different kinds of liberty, and the one that only recently has concerned philosophers (since Mill) is civil liberty. It has to do with individual belief systems and how we are allowed to go about our daily lives; it’s a liberty of the private man. Recently privacy has come under attack as a concept, but while much of our privacy is now invaded (see the two Ted lectures), I believe the concept is valid.

Wilde was remarkably brave and continued to be — or he had an urge to be “found out.” There’s a complicated (thoughtful) essay by Colm Toibin on Wilde’s self-exposure which i could try to find and share if people are interested.

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

To sum up: in this MOOC about country houses and their literature, the speakers never discussed the general structure of these houses, who made them, the architects, any non-fiction texts actually about them, not even one book which is about a country house culture. Penshurst was as close as they came. They assert things about what went on in the house if they have someone on their staff who knows about that thing but do not demonstrate the thesis. Their offerings of close reading were hilariously inadequate: it’s not wanted, not understood by most readers. Most of the comments in the comments in the comment section were contentless and as bland as the professors’ frequent mush.

What was valuable was when the passages chosen were themselves remarkable even if ripped out of context or when a few of us turned actually to read together and discuss some of the works broached: Georgiana Spencer’s The Sylph for example; from there a few of us went on to read A Woman in Berlin; and then two of us two more 18th century novels, one also attributed to Georgiana (Emma, or the Unfortunate Attachment) and one connected to her (Sophia Briscoe’s epistolary, Miss Melmoth, both 1770s). For myself I then read an excellent essays by Isobel Grundy on the increase of misattribution and minor Richardsonian novels.

CantervilleGhost

The crux of what’s wrong with MOOCs: the superficiaility of the relationships among the people unless they go off site and begin to form a subgroup for real. Yahoo is just now trying to destroy the self-containment of the Yahoo groups as much as it can. A recent phenomena is the appearance on some listservs of ads for others where someone is said to have joined it. As if there is no different between what group you are in … The crucial thing that has made Janeites and other listservs (3 long running ones I moderate)is a self-contained group where the people get to know one another — and are willing to contribute real genuine content. There are people trained to avoid content, but long term relationships bring us out. Blog rings may be made up of genuine groups of people who know one another. On facebook the problem with open groups is so many strangers: people are embarrassed to post content because they do not trust one another.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

CoverofOriginalEdition
From the cover of the 1968 edition of Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark

98POldarkBensmall
Hans Mathesen as Ben, an often forgotten or ignored disabled character from the later Poldark novels (this still comes from the 1996 film The Stranger from the Sea)

Dear friends and readers,

While we eagerly await the new coming mini-series adaptation of the first four of Winston Graham’s Poldark novels (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warburton), all his Poldark novels, his mystery and other historical novels set in Cornwall, and his autobiography, history, and books about Cornwall continue to be published and sold. I am happy tonight to be able to announce that Jim Dring has added to this body of marvelous work by putting on the Net primary documents and essential information about and by Winston Graham over the course of his writing life. Read in chronological order they form the story of his writing career.

There are more than 500 images in these hundreds of pages; you can find out about Graham’s plays, mystery fiction, early and later publications of books, and translations too. The site includes his own comments and letters on his fiction. This is rich original material for researchers and any potential biographer or anyone who has permission to write the desperately needed handbook. A sort of “Companion to Poldark.”

Like Jim I find the covers to many of the novels appropriate and alluring, but I know people are would like more glimpses of the new actors, so here is an attractive photo of Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (he is in character):

AidanTurnincharacter

with a matching one of Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza:

Eleanortomlinson

For my part I hope to offer a course reading the first four novels at an Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute (either at GMU or AU) to coincide with the 2015 screening on PBS TV. So I’m keeping an alert eye out for any dates, and would be very grateful if anyone coming to this blog would provide any information they have as of tonight.

As I’ve not written about the books or films for some time now, I hope readers will not find superfluous my reminding those interested of my two part website on Graham’s writing, life and the film adaptations:

The Poldark Novels and the fiction and non-fiction of Winston Graham: essays on his writing and the film adaptations of his work

A Bibliography: a list of editions, secondary materials and on-line sites

On this blog you may also find a handy list of dates, editions, and links to Graham’s discussion of types of historical fiction; category links take you to blog-essays on the books and films, and on 18th century historical fiction.

Two of my favorites from the older series: our central couple holding fast to one another: in the fourth episode of the first mini-series, Ross carries Demelza home; in the second mini-series, the first episode upon one of Ross (ever the revenant)’s returns home, Delmeza is there for him:

CarryingherhomeSeason1Pt4

POldarkSeason2Pt1Ep1TheReturnc
Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees

We shall have to wait for the airing of the mini-series to add stills of the other new actors who play Graham’s other characters (and the comparative older actors) to our collection.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall … Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising … I was a stage rebel, Orwell a true one — Cyril Connolly, The Enemies of Promise

RoyalExtinguishersGulliverPUttingoutPatriotsofLilliput
Isaac Cruickshank, Royal Extinguisher or Gulliver Putting out Patriots

censorship_press_obey2

Dear Friends and Readers,

This is the second half of my summary and commentary on Johnston’s Unusual Suspects (see Parts 1-4). This part of Johnston’s book will probably be more familiar territory to those who have read novels of the romantic and regency period, as well as their milieu and development (say in Gary Kelly’s survey). As women who wrote on behalf of radical ideas, 18th century versions of feminism, or reform were given a much rawer response than men, and there were automatically suspect nations (Chapters 7 & 8 of Part 4), so the novel was a suspect genre (Chapter 9). Johnston treats the novel from a political angle to suggest that the novel was not allowed to develop in ways that contextualize what is happening with a real understanding of social forces: publishers were prosecuted; what you wrote affected your career. In Scott’s attack on Bage we see female liberation allowed no play whatsoever. Johnston then moves into the silencing at the end of the 1790s: the destruction of Gilbert Wakefield was at the time understood as an example of what happens when a writer practices liberty of speech, freedom of the press. He uses Mackintosh to show what a man did who wanted to carry on; to see Mackintosh crudely as an apostate is not to see what happened.

We then follow a trail beginning with a man spying on Coleridge and Wordsworth and see how suspicion, the manufacturing of alarm, class and ethnic disdain operated on known individuals. I found these short biographies contained surprises: these were lives reseen by looking at the evidence used in previous studies from a new angle; that of how justified paranoia (they did have enemies) and ostracism shaped these peoples’ lives and a genuine humane sympathy with their politics. Johnston makes these people’s lives and choices make sense: the people are Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey (he is especially insightful on Southey’s earlier radicalism), Lamb (on his brands of irony), Burns and Blake (how class disdain operates in both cases). The individual chapters are much longer and I include and link to some readings of the works (e.g., Wordsworth’s Borderers, Southey’s Letters from England, Lamb’s “Praise of Chimney Sweeps”) that Johnston just mentioned without going into.

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

Hermsprong

Chapter 9: Suspect Genres, the Novelist who was not: Robert Bage (1728-1801)

Johnston looks at the traditional genres, poetry, plays and the new one, novels for general effects from the political conflicts of the era. Story-lines were not allowed development, attitudes were castigated and ridiculed. Among the periodical set up to monitor the literature of the age the most important was the Anti-Jacobin (1798-99) which was very successful in achieving its aims of stopping people from writing clear protest poetry, and when they did, framing what they wrote as absurd, unacceptable, unpatriotic. Keats was hurt, Southey changed course; Coleridge and Wordsworth moderated themselves; others fled to Italy. Thomas Holcroft was a major victim. Plays were shouted off stage, censored in publications (the author not named); publishers arrested and made wary. Johnston sees this process as a destruction of what genres could have been like, one which marginalized potentially great practitioners. In the area of the novel the anti-jacobin novels won, Austen & Scott produce the respected paradigms; Bronte kind of rebellion romantic in feeling is not political or economic in ideology; Byron was silenced.

Robert Bage was a man rare for providing any ideological content, and one of those attacked by the Anti-Jacobin.

Godwin visits in June 1797; Bage was self-educated, admires Holbach, has friendships with Priestley and dissenting people; author of Man As He Is (a jaded aristocrat), and Hermsprong, Man As He Is Not (an American republican). Bage was a businessman running paper and flour mills who found war got in his way, he did have a long term contract but raw materials hard to get; long term contract supplying Hutton, in Birminghan, a friend and dissenter with paper. Long time association with Birmingham, Priestley crowd.

Johnston makes it clear Bage a reformer not a revolutionary in his first four novels. But what he did present was harangued against by Scott. Bage had departed from middle class novel norms by in one novel allowing a young woman who has made a romantic/sexual mistake to be rehabilitated into society. Scott explicitly wrote that ruined women must be stigmatized; in another a heroine prefers the harem to death; one heroine defends herself with a pair of scissors. Man as He Is expands out particular criticisms to suggest wider changes by gov’t policy. Johnston quotes Bage’s books to great effect and we get the dry witty quality of Bage’s strong critiques of corruption, war. Bage published anonymously; he was not interested in a writing career. Johnson argues that Bage’s revealing his last hero a aristocrat shows reader that such a title and money allows tiny minority of people to escape punishment, grow rich.

The gov’t of the day harassed him by excise taxes (directed to war); overcharged he gets his materials back only to have them seized again; he feels the effects of this constant harassment and interruption of his business; at one point he wrote he would like hanging himself. In reprints of his works Barbauld takes him to task for going against received notions and norms; Scott reprints worst Bage’s novels. We know that Austen had a copy of Hermsprong in 1796, in time for some influence. Johnston remarks how critics, and film makers today try to bring to bear in her novels positions only mentioned minimally by her and centrally by Bage. Conservative paradigms, Austen’s and Scott’s predominate by the end of the era; the effect of Barbauld’s collection.

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

endgame2
A University of Victoria theater production of Endgame

Part 5: End-games. Endgame as a title is an allusion to Beckett’s play; its literal meaning refers to when the game is called to a half, the last of the chess pieces so this is exemplified by the prosecution of Wakefield for daring to argue with the Bishop of Llandaff; his incarceration utterly unjust. Mackintosh stands in as the representative of radical disillusionment.

Chapter 10: The End of Controversy: Gilbert Wakefield (1756-1801). Wakefield exemplifies the book’s thesis: he died as a result of absolutely unjust incarceration after acareer as a controversialist who made the mistake of rising to broad principles in his attack on complacent bishop of Llandaff, Richard Watson, a bland, condescending sycophant (the David Brook of his day?). Before this, Wakefield had done battle with several people and used religious language. Wakefield did things like attack the war, Pitt and Grenville, and show how false is the idea that sedition in the UK is everywhere.

Wakefield had had a career among the dissenters, as a controversialist; would attack notion it was sinful not to go to church (thus exposing worship is social worship); he went further than his 6 central theses (includes idea that alliance of church and state is a fraud). He argued that the prosecution of the reform movement was meant to silence opposition to foreign and domestic policies. His defense was his peaceable scholarly character, his friends in high places, that the trial itself is wrong – irony he was visited by known and famous people and yet they could do nothing for him.

He was forced to be in jail for a long time before trial; put in Dorchester way outside where he came from and notorious for bad conditions; then put into solitary confinement for 16 hours day. All sorts of famous friends visited him. His great Juvenilian poem in appendix; most imitations are conservative in thrust, not his.

Wordsworth has him partly in mind in his planned Recluse, the “Solitary” figure: that outline of Wordsworth’s early career resembles that of Wakefield only Wordsworth didn’t publish (only is too weak a word).

Chapter 11: The Great Apostate: Judas, Brutus, or Thomas? James Mackintosh (1765-1832). I did not find this chapter as convincing: Mackintosh did not hurt as much and was following his own character and tendencies throughout. He did not change all that much. Mackintosh was always currying favor, trying to to build a career; e.g., when he left Scotland as a doctor; first he tries to make connections with all the main liberal editors, reformers, he failed. His original fame came from a polemic against Burke defending French revolution, Vindiciae Gallicae, strong but not as available linguistically as Paine’s. Hazlitt is quoted, but Hazlitt’s sketch shows Mackintosh to have been an academic intellectual at heart (eg. Discourse on Study of Law and Nations). He had attacked Pitt for abandoning reform in A letter to R.Hon. Wm Pitt, on his Apostacy. Pitt turned this around to be against reform itself. Pitt’s target and legislation a “free form vigilantism against anyone who wrote, or sol, liberal material of any stripe.” Mackintosh wrote that Pitt’s aim was to subsidize European monarcihes to overthrow the French, evoking from French our country is in danger (a levee en masse).

But after the execution of Louis XVI, Mackintosh found his name was used as a bad associate to have. Johnston himself resorts to a kind of coy arch talk about careerism as explanation for why Mackintosh’s Discourses offended; Hazlitt said Mackintosh was too much an academic at heart. He retired to study. Discourses was a moderate book, gov’ts are there to protect us with “security against wrong.” His prose appealing because of its personal and religious quality. He was attacked by his friends as a trimmer, but he had been that way all along. It was hard for people to see he was consistent. When he was awarded a judgeship in India, his record in India unimpeachably progressive: reform penal law, the police, against death penalty. He came home and has an honorable liberal record in his voting habit (p 222) plans an unwritten History of England from the time of the Glorious revolution (one was written in the 1790s and had been suppressed).

08229B06.jpg
In Letters to England, Southey has two long sections exposing and inveighing against the treatment of horses, especially the new techniques in breeding and training racing horses

Mackintosh was at the last active in founding The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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

the_promis'd_installment_of_the_high-priest_of_the_Theophilanthropes,_with_the_homage_of_Leviathan_and_his_suite

Part VI: The Romantic Poets, the Police and the State of Alarm: Johnston uses a cartoon by Gillray, “New morality,” or “The promised Installment of the High Priest of the Theophilanthropes, with the Homage of Leviathan and his suite” (August 1798) and calls it “The Last Line-up,” to identify the individuals he’s now proceeds to draw portraits of.

Chapter 12: “A Gang of disaffected Englishmen: Spy Nozy and the Somerset Gang.” Johnston retells Coleridge’s famous half-mocking account of a spy sent to listen in on his, the Wordsworths’, and various dissenting and potential and real unusual suspects. The spies report is retold by Coleridge in a way that makes him sound like an innocent and the whole thing hilarious, but the spying was serious. What saved them was they were recognized (according to Johnston) as “disaffected Englishmen.” I admit this does not make much sense to me – the other people the gov’t went after were disaffected Englishmen. If they were discussing some serious issues, the man could have reported it by word of mouth. My guess is the gov’t saw they were poets and not organizers and would not attract followers or organize themselves. Spy nozy was the man’s interpretation of Spinoza: the incident shows class disdain – Johnston does not mention this. It does show the group were spied upon, monitored.

Chapter 13: “Whispering Tongues can poison truth: Coleridge and Thelwall, 1796-1798. This chapter is about a thwarted friendship and stunted growth of a group of people. Coleridge corresponds with and seems to be eager to have Thelwall and his family come and live there – it’s so cheap and they will spend their lives in this retreat. Thelwall so harassed and destroyed seemed eager to reciprocate but when he left Coleridge wrote letters discouraging him to come after all. What happened? Was Coleridge somehow pressured lest he involve the Wordsworths, himself chickened out?

We see that he thought the better of it – rightly feared the results for all concerned, that in fact that spy system was operating to disseminate any grouping, silence them all – but he comes out very badly in these letters as he writhes and turns. Thelwall and Wordsworth truer to themselves than Coleridge. Johnston produces a letter by Coleridge to a magistrate Chubb where instead of really persuading Chubb to help Thelwall live there, Coleridge insinuates Thelwall will be a risk. Johnston seems to me to misread a bit of Coleridge’s letter to Chubb: Johnston says Coleridge is promising to tame Thelwall by having Thelwall live near them; Coleridge’s words suggestthey will teach Thelwall to submit. There is a difference even if the outcome is the same.

This chapter has new material: Johnston directs the reader to Wordsworth’s dramatic poem or play (done in the 1950s), The Borderers, which Johnston characterizes as “one of the most searching examinations of post-revolutionary disillusionment and despair ever written, with insights worthy of Stendhal, and Tolstoy, many of them distilled from Wordsworth’s main source, Schiller’s Robbers.” It was read aloud by the group. Johnston goes over Coleridge’s ode “Fire, Famine, Slaughter” and shows it to be a startlingly brave revolutionary poem.

BamburghCstl-GirtinBorderers
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, by Thomas Girtin, circa 1797-9 “I think I see a second range of towers”: The Borderers (1797-99) (Mortimer to Rivers as they approach the ruined castle, Act II, scene iii)

My reading of this play: I first read some articles on The Borderers because it is more than a little incoherent and unreadable and exists in two slightly different versions with the characters renamed. To be played (at an American university) it had to be revised once again. I see in the play (which is called gothic by some) a number of the motifs that powerfully resonate today. The play’s villain wants to fool or drive this hero into killing someone — so as to make him share in some blood guilt and join this band of revolutionaries. The villain does believe the old man guilty of being part of the ancien regime and holding it up. In Wordsworth’s play the old man starves and freezes to death because the hero lives him on a heath to die since the hero hasn’t got the stomach or whatever it takes to kill him outright. So the play shows us an example of someone being murdered for his ideology. The 18th century parallels might be guillotined people, but the way Wordsworth writes has no specific reference. The characters do feel there is evidence against the old man, but there is no trial so the modern parallel is killing people using drones with nothing more than the evidence of surveillance, or captured people tortured or driven to “confess” The archetype is the blind Oedipus led by his daughter, Antigone. In Schiller’s play a villain drives the hero to stab his beloved (the heroine) through the heart.

In one of the Northanger novels, Horrid Mysteries, there’s a Rosicrucian scene of ritual introduction of a member to the sect, and one of the things the new member must promise is to kill whomever the group requires — whether the person is a relative or friend doesn’t matter. Unlike Wordsworth’s play, Horrid Mysteries does not bother to justify the demand at all — it’s not a serious book. Wordsworth’s play is. The use of the pathetic daughter makes the murder more abhorrent, but its justifications are spelled out too. Wordsworth has some characteristic gothic motifs, and understands why the outlaw might operate or feel this way, but he stands outside and condemns the outlaw who demands such an act and the act too. One problem with The Borderers than as political discourse is by using the fantasy elements of gothic, Wordsworth does not bring in the real French case — the allied armies massing in Europe to attack the new revolutionary group, the fomenting of counter-revolution in the countryside, some of the causes of the terror – which killed less people than the French 2nd republic did in 1870-71.

Johnson does persuade us of Thelwall’s tragic loss, how hurt he must have been, and how this sort of thing is done to people unanswerably. Excellent chapter hard to summarize to do it justice

Chapter 14: Wordsworth (1770-1850), The Prelude and Posterity. This chapter brings out the problem with the book: it depends upon assuming a counter-factual “what if:” Johnstone assumes Wordsworth’s Prelude would have made a big positive impact if it had been published at the time; he says at one point that all masterpieces do, and works exist in this ideal realm modifying one another – we are back in Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot’s probably dream world of a tiny intellectual elite which even they would disagree on.

He does show that the incident of the spy leading to the non-renewal of Wordsworths’s lease, despite all uncomfortable denials, made a great change in the Wordsworths lives: some good, they went to Germany, some probably bad, they lost a companion. He insists that Byron and Shelley would have been changed, their poetry different – for the better. And he brings out three different versions of a long passage in The Prelude showing Wordsworth was bitter and recognized justice and liberty killed insofar as powers could. The chapter also has excellent definition of hegemonic versus legal: the dangers to all these romantics come from the losses hegemonic pervasive control inflicts on them in all sorts of incalculable ways.

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

PacoRibeira-18thCentury
PacoRibeira, 18th century Portugal

Chapter 15: More Radical than Thou, Robert Southey (1774-1843). This was an eye-opener for me. For the first time I felt I understood why Southey changed his outlook. It made sense of his satiric Letters from England: it fits into the trajectory. The chapter begins with how how originally Southey came to be radical beyond that it was in him to be “psychologically rebellious.” Johnston brings out how Southey was subject to adults and authority figures around him (more than such a person would be today); orphaned, lived with aunt and then uncle; buffeted by suspicion and discouragement. He was gotten into by his uncle, Herbert Hill, and then expelled from Westminster Schools for a a column in The Flagellant, a student periodical, where he exposed the viciousness of flogging. Headmaster sabotaged his admission to Christ Church, Oxford; uncle gets him into Balliol. Not keen on career choices. 1795 aunt kicks him out, uncle sends him to Lisbon. How from an American perspective the scheme for a Pantisocracy in eastern Penn is not outrageous unreal wild idea. Southey works hard to make it happen and in the process forges career as money-making writer; early work is readable and radical, Fall of Robespierre, Wat Tyler. Anti-Jacobin attacks him, but he did not organize and his poems also simply express unhappy emotional states. Others: “After Blenheim,” “Devil’s Thoughts,” and “History:”Southey wants to escape; Clio says the worse history gets, the more we should write about it; but Southey tired, Gilbert Wakefield case spells end of freedom of press (with Flower, on trial for sedition). Visits Wakefield & Flower, also attacked income tax. Now great relief when sent to Lisbon; departure for Lake District in 1803 a surrender.

InPraiseOfChimneySweepers

Chapter 16: Radical in Lamb’s Cloak: Charles Lamb (1775-1834). This chapter is enormously enjoyable because of the quotations and works referred to. Johnston opens with young Charles Lamb’s enthusiasm over Thelwall (accused of treason, acquitted and thereafter harassed and his career and livelihood and reputation destroyed) to Coleridge; identified viscerally, admired Thelwall’s bravery. Lamb’s reputation has suffered because of the spread of the adjective “gentle” and “gentle-hearted” beginning with Coleriage; Lamb asked him to blot the expression out of his “Lime Tree Bower my Prison;” sentimental obfuscation is a good disguise. Lamb was one of those attacked by Anti-Jacobin. His sonnets express emotion, are on friendship, which he needed. Johnston retells story of Mary’s murder of the mother and how Lamb taking on life-long responsibility for her limited his possibilities; 33 years as clerk for long hours in East India Company, endless moving. His early writing is virulently pro-French revolution found in extended runs of Albion, edited by John Fenwick (1801-2) – all anonymous. His signed self-presentation was highly self-protective; he shows how Jacobinism is used as a bad-mouthing word for people with humane decent agendas; Lamb in effect describes political profiling.

Lamb’s finest work though found in his later years in his essays. Thomas McFarland described these as in a style that manifests the politics of survival (p. 282), others called his ways “acquiescent protest” and “serious levity.”

I read “The Praise of Chimney Sweeps” and found it to be quietly savagely ironic; he seems to be celebrating what is horrific cruelty to these boys; a nightmare world which produces such creatures; “Modern Gallantry” explicit about how courtesy from males is only to limited group of upper class females; the rest are prey. You have to read the texts to get this.

Johnston argues that the idiosyncracy of Lamb’s style and perspective is another result of these decades of repression of all dissent, active republican politics. Lamb expresses outrage at social injustice rather than a considered political opinion. Thomas de Quincey writes of the tabooing of Holcroft, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Hazlitt, there to offer up to hated and scorn, so Lamb’s way was to appear to care nothing for politics.

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

burnsfuneral
Death of Robert Burns, engraving, Dumfries July 1796

Chapter 17: ‘A man for a’ that': Robert Burns (1759-96)

A moving chapter which presents Burns as having been far more politically and preciselyi radical and pro-French revolution than his works let on: Johnstone argues that the muddled feel of the texts is the result of a deliberate obfuscation Burns had to practice lest he lose his place or job, and a remarkable line by Burns: “for who can write and speak as thou and I – /My periods that deciphering defy (p. 303). Johnston says his views accord with Crawford’s but Crawford’s ODNB Life of Burns presents a far more complicated picture of a nationalistic poet as devoted to poetry as art and gathering texts and a human man with lots of failings. Here one can see that Johnston is skewing evidence by concentrating on a few years in the 1790s, and ignores Burns’s behavior towards women which was highly irresponsible (and surely callous and/or indifferent): Burns had sex sufficiently so often with so many women that he impregnated so many that it’s hard to keep count.

Burns is presented as someone writing sedition which he kept up even after authorities set upon him; he was far more vulnerable than English counterparts (more upper class): he would just have been fired, no need to stage a trial. The period covered is 1791-196: he quotes a contemporary explaining why Burns was isolated to some extent in his last years – after Edinburgh trip; “exiled from polite society on account of his radical opinions, he became sourer in temper & plunged more deeply into dissipations of the lower ranks…. “but this reads like bad-mouthing: Burn always drank & was promiscuous; he suffered depressions, he was ill; much of the argument depends on an analysis of select poems and how his enemies did what they could to ruin him: they could have been after him for his sexual misconduct, hatred of religious hypocrisy; that he gave some spoils due him as exciseman to the revolution is too much pressed; he followed what was happening abroad. Johnston tells of an incident where Burns tricked into exposure when he thinks all the men are going to aggressively assail a favorite woman – a dirty trick which reminds me of other accounts of upper class people humiliating lower class or vulnerable and sensitive people among them: Tom Branson tricked (Downton Abbey) or an incident in Dance to the Music of Time (where a bucket of urine is timed to spill over a door as the victim emerges), in Burney’s diaries at Streatham. Burns openly praised a theatrical epilogue praising Wollstonecraft and then worried because he knew he was monitored and at risk of losing job. The struggles “not quite ancient” which correspond to earlier are not French but local, Thomas Muir, later indicted, convicted, transported. A glued over piece of paper. The most effective parts of the argument come from the poems analysed, not well known – he identifying with someone imprisoned for debt, Esopus to Maria

william-blake-albion-s-angel-frontispiece-to-america-a-prophecy-c-1821
Frontispiece to America, A Prophecy (Blake was indeed prophetic — think of what is happening around the world today as a result of the present US’s oligarchy and military’s uses of power

Chapter 18: Blake’s America, the Prophecy that failed, William Blake (1757-1827). In this chapter again Johnston dwells on important personal kinds of experience others often overlook or don’t tell clearly.

Blake’s Jerusalem reminds me of Austen’s Plan of a Novel – actually the same use of private references, same pathetic lack of range, and same absolute rejection of mainstream cliches, tropes, values.

An incident in 1803 where Blake hustled a private out of his garden at Felpham for having insulted him (as Blake thought); for this Blake was arraigned and tried, with quotations that make him sound as ripe for hanging or transportation. Luckily, Hayley, Blake’s patron, was powerful in this area and got character witnesses, himself was a character witness, helped see Blake was arraigned as a “public nuisance” (though this reminds me of police moving into private people’s apartments and shooting them). Johnston says Blake was shocked into silence. Chicester assizes at time of Despard’s execution. Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond hostile to Blake, thought to make an example of Blake as a seditionist would be to shore himself up as unimpeachably patriotic after being part of groups advocating parliamentary reform. In later years Blake claimed someone had been sent to entrap him.

In London Blake completed 1st version of masterwork, Jerusalem: the people who were involved in this incident are immortalized in the poem – along with great names from European history, cultural history; reviewers didn’t like (or understand) poem or visionary art. Contrast to America, written 10 years earlier (1793), revolution anticipates French, weeping illustrations suggest Blake pessimistic about his prophecies; preface to Milton has clear version of poems prefacing chapters of Jerusalem. Johnston shows how America is a very odd sort of poem – not understood by most, combining revenge, private feelings, vast public allegory.

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

london-debtors-prison-na-debtor-in-fetters-at-the-marshalsea-prison-london-england-line-engraving-18th-century-granger
An 18th century engraving of a debtor in the Marshalsea

Coda: Johnson answers the people who say, so what? and there is nothing unusual here, what did they expect, they deserved it. He begins with how Pitt was responsible for bad policy (Barrell in his review of Johnston’s book asks why Pitt is so respected and argues he was an awful prime minister; his early speeches on behalf of reform were political grandstanding). Johnston goes on to show how Pitt poked mean fun at writers he persecuted and stigmatized. He then reprints Liu’s heart-felt preface to a book on this period that these people matter: again he is discussing writing we could have had, are struggling to recover. Liu’s and other books include the writing we have that bears witness to the struggle and how it happened and so does Johnston’s. He urges us, let us recover what we can. It will show us how the people and their movements fail. Johnston calls this discouraging, but he is himself still a believer with Wordsworth and has faith in social man. We are to feel humanely for these people – multiply it out – recognize that such things do matter. He records and honor the ruined lives – we can see more deeply into what is half-there and into our own lives. He makes us see their works freshly in terms that connect to us.

Occupy-Movement-Grows
The US Occupy Movement in its early stages — still plus ça change, moins ça change; see my “No pretense of regard for life or humanity.”

Ellen

Read Full Post »

It was a misfortune to any man to have been born in the latter end of the last century … The flame of liberty, the light of intellect, was to be extinguished with the sword — or with slander, whose edge is sharper than the sword — Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age (1825), quoted by Johnston

johnston_unusual

Dear friends and readers,

Today I finished writing a review I’ve been reading and working towards for several weeks. I didn’t mean to take such time with it, but Kenneth Johnson’s Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm & the Lost Generation of the 1970s is so good and important that I wanted to be able to place it in its scholarly as well as contemporary context — and so read other texts and reread some primary materials. This blog is not that review; rather like other blog-reviews I’ve done it’s rather a summary and commentary on details of the book intended to let readers know something of its content and to tempt them into reading it themselves. I tell the arguments and describe the lives and works covered. There’s a lot of worthwhile material here; as with other books I’ve shared on my blogs I’ll divide the blog into two parts to keep the reading from becoming too long.

Johnston tells stories of the ruined lives – ruined careers, thwarted writers, artists, politicians innumerable of the 1790s in the UK. His argument is that There was a widespread and viable reform movement shared by countless people across Great Britain, which was ruthlessly repressed, decimated — by Pitt the Younger’s establishment through violence, by manufacturing adverse opinion, by punishing people legally and socially, by trials for treason & sedition (or being a public nuisance or whatever would do) in the 1790s. He discussed people not tried for treason but penalized in common ways we are used to do (from the McCarthy era on), people in artistic and academic walks of life. Why did Charles James Fox never become Prime Minister? Was was Paine’s style not influential? Pitt’s Reign of Alarm did the job. An oligarchic and militarist foreign political world was shaped by Waterloo and treaties signed by Allies, put in place, in the UK a domestic better world put off for more than 70 years.

What Johnston’s makes book especially worthwhile are nuanced words in which he conveys the humanity, decency, genuine need for reform, the gross ruthlessness of those doing the destroying – in small things not susceptible of documentation – a new historicism indeed.

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

PRthelwallGillray
James Gillray; Caricature of John Thelwall supposed speaking at a Correspondence Society Meeting

Part I: The Red Decade

Chapter 1 is called “Before and After Lives”. Johnston opens with Hazlitt’s Spirit of the Age as about how England missed its inspiration, was prevented by official reactionary ruthless determination to stamp out reform of any kind, individual prejudice, and cowardice (hard term). Johnston suggests coupling the terms romantic period and age of revolution (1776-1832) as twin terms is odd. He singles out as a double defeat two sets of acts: Pitt’s Gagging Acts (1795) and Sidmouth and Castlereagh’s Six Acts (1819). In the 1790s people were asking for extension of franchise, equitable districts, frequent elections, rights of men; in 1732 Tories vote with Whigs to increase electorate by 200,000 property owning males. Foot’s joke was rarely has reform given so little to so few. Even with the suppression it remained more important what happened in Norwich, Bristol, Sheffield, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh (periodical publications, correspondence societies, meetings, even conventions) than in Paris; nonetheless, it was not inevitable that ideas, acts of poets & others would fail while France was having its revolution; why should lurching of France’s monarchy towards a republic be a bad time?

He divides the decade of 1790s divided into four parts.

Nov 4, 1789-May 1792, Price praising French Rev to Pitt proclamation against seditious writings: Burke’s answer to Price, Paine’s to Burke, destruction of Priestley’s home

Dec 1792-Oct/Dec 1794 – active legal repression: trial conviction of Paine in abstentia; of London 12; conviction and transportation to Botany Bay of Scottish martyrs

1795: gov’t lost treason trials of 12 so re-groups, secret services modernized; protests against Pitt’s war (ruinous domestic economic effects). Gagging acts after attack on king’s coach – no public meetings of more than 50 persons (despite mass protest), no publishing criticism. Two acts, 1795 – no one can speak in public without gov’t approval if there are more than 50 present (Grenville); no publications that bring King’s gov’t into disrepute or censure.

1796-1800: mopping up operation, of radicals left standing: Wm Stone, John Thelwall … includes 1798 trial and imprisonment of Gilbert Wakefield (died of it) for libeling Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff …; 1800 a bill of indemnity protecting Pitt and his cabinet from claims

Thus was a reform movement grindingly shut down: Johnston reviews the arguments among a group of older scholars (Veitch, Thompson, Dickinson): was it large, organized or serious enough to be considered the beginning of British socialism, a failed form of proto-revolutionary activity; new voices (Barrell, Philip, McKee, McCalman, Radical Underworld) argue they they were socialist precursors.

What happened to these people? Johnston lists names of people: Death by execution or from imprisonment, itself and transportation; abscond, flight, immigration, exile; arrest and long periods of detention; financial damage and career ruination; gov’t harassment; psychological damage, physical harm; effective silencing, stopping publishing; orchestrated ridicule and libel; anonymous publication; disappearance from publication; change in topic and style; revision and erasure as juvenilia; move to conservative positions; public recantation, informing on others; direct monetary reward for informing, changing views. All his subjects have entries in the old DNB & ODNB – repressive hegemony of state ideological apparatus plays upon thoughts, ideas, actions

He wants us to appreciating the non-development of English literature – what didn’t happen – and the small mean private ways by which hegemonic control work; the endless ripple effects. If they went on to do other things, biographers, historians ignore or apologize for “youthful errors.” The materials are ambiguous and Gillray’s cartoons a good example of the difficulty of “reading” them.

He takes Amelia Alderson Opie as opening example: she moved from radical reform politics, to careful revision, to pious Quakerism – we can see the effects of repression registering on her — a full reprint of her memory of treason trials shows how fearful she was, how she identified with those accused, the unfair accusations… dangerous punishments, and her lone and lonely life at 80.

Chapter 2 is about John Thelwall (1764-1834) and Wm Goodwin (1756-1836). Thelwall is a usual suspect – against Thelwall the state acted directly by arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, trial, conviction, punishment and later also unusual suspect; he found how difficult it was to get out of political catchment, how the distinction between personal and political is non-existent. Godwin had to turn to anonymity, become a non-person to survive in his later years. Thelwall arrested as one of the 12 and Godwin’s Cursory Strictures laid out argument defense counsel used. While Godwin supported Thelwall in treason trial, later he wrote arguments gaved ammunition to gov’t bills of gagging and no assembly.

Johnston reviews lightly the central points of some of Thelwall’s speeches – they are intended as speech in action. His occasional best. The absurdity of presenting superstitious practices, to send peasantry to be annihilated in a crusade to restore the fallen despotism of France. Treason now means telling the truth to the shame and confusion of ministers. Thelwall presented himself as a target – let him be prosecuted; but after the acquittal, the way he was kept from any success was through means like a petty illegal smashing of a hall, frightening others who welcomed him, beating him up – all he could get was laughter at his plight.

Godwin Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft for which modern scholars have castigated him was a form of “grief-work” based on the principle that you could understand her best by knowing how she came to have her views in Rights of Woman; what happened was the rest of the world wouldn’t listen; abuse then never let up – I wondered if the mockery of Radcliffe was part of this way of coping with anything unconventional and in her case at moments Girondist radical. As with Lilian Hellman, friends (Mackintosh) rehabilitated themselves by attacking Godwin; he experienced the pusillanimity and opportunism of his friends: Mackintosh refused to name Godwin and only when Parr did did Godwin have opportunity to refute – and he comes off well – why are you attacking me and why now? – he sees how they are attacking him because of pressure of events around them but he refuses to meet them on the low road of personal abuse and his sarcasms too subtle to reach readership – he still had the remarkable nerve to talk about the value of Napoleon’s life.

Mathus’s famous thesis meant as a refutation of Godwin type argument that would provide for more people – the only result could be more would end up starving. Mathus a man of the left, went to dissenting academies, his father friend of Rousseau, enthusiast for Condorcet and Godwin. Godwin realizes the advocates could not find a doctrine more pleasing to them. In preface to Caleb Williams Godwin writes about “the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism by which man becomes the destroyer of man” – hegemonic disciplining Johnston calls it. Are we condemned to despair things will never improve? – 4 pieces of controversial prose.

Thelwall had found it impossible to speak anywhere so now Godwin to publish. Now for Godwin publishing was his means of making a living. He marries Sarah Jane Clairmont, a widow with children of her own. Godwin publishes as William Scolfield Bible Stories, these sell well, but watchdog Sarah Trimmer seeing its liberal lessons of humane behavior says it has “very pernicious tendencies.” Fleetwood and Chaucer under his name don’t sell so he brings out juvenile library under pseudonyms – some sniff out – they are “creditable,” do not “pander to prejudice,” but educational and liberal presentations of stories and subject.He was destroyed as a writer; irony that he was denied a passport to join Holcroft in Germany; forced to remain in a country that couldn’t abide him.

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

Priestley_Riots_painting
A painting of the riots aimed at Priestley

Part II: Forces of Public Opinion

Chapter 3 is titled Dr Phlogiston and is the story of Joseph Priestley (1733-1844). Everyone shocked, tut-tuts at destruction of home and lab of Priestley in Birmingham 1791 July; 5 day riot of king and country mob, more than 30 houses destroyed. Planned event from the start -– in effect an assassination attempt. He was at the time a famous scientist, discovered oxygen, nitrous oxide & 5 other elemental gases; a friend of Franklin, competitor to Lavoisier; also public intellectual – wrote 30 volumes. He was a dissenter; not popular because he’d speak his mind (so too Thomas Beddoes and Gilbert Wakefield). Spoke & wrote on behalf of American revolution. Identified Phlogiston, gaseous element produced by fire.

Johnston tells the history of the slowly evolving riot and its aftermath, showing it was gov’t encouraged, led, endorsed until it changed to proto-revolutionary and then only a few scapegoats punished. Attacked were 1) people at dinner 2) dissenters; 3) intellectuals and rich men. Riot against supposed revolutionaries, then Papist dissenters (!) and then on town’s economic and punitive elite. Priestly did preach a sermon of forgiveness, condescending and ironic, and much disliked by literature classes.

Riots enabled officials to bring Birmingham by customs and actions back into conservative fold. Birmingham independents and unitarians no longer found in positions of authority or publicly acting – how an alarmed reaction can be carefully orchestrated to end in Tory and Anglican party becoming strong. 1794 Priestley sees it is over for him in the UK and emigrates to the US where he refuses public position and carries on as private citizen; his sons join him; Cobbett ridiculed Priestley’s loss, later on he too found refuge in the US. Priestley rightly did not feel safe until Jefferson was elected.

Chapter 4, The Radical Moravian: James Montgomery (1771-1854). Born of Irish parents, in Scotland, his parents went to West Indies as missionaries when he was 8; precocious, wrote poetry, hired as counting house clerk by Joseph Gales in Sheffield; on staff of reform newspaper Register.

Sheffield was a radical place, base for societies and periodicals. There were riots in 1792, Montgomery writes essays on behalf of reform, religious poetry against war. When his employer was hounded out of England to Philadelphia where he founded a press; as the new editor in chief, Montgomery twice arrested: once for reprinting poem re-interpreted as offending. Sheffield Register now called Iris; he is arrested for reporting a troop behavior during a “riot”; 6 months, fined; had a bad time in prison, wrote poetry which shows his outlook and ill health; when he was released, his health was impaired. He goes on to write a series of periodical essays; 1795 The Whisperer or Hints and Speculations: these manifest the twisted kind of prose one writes when trying to say something and hide it at the same time; The Art of Shortening Life, and a 4 volume novel he destroyed. In his later years he devoted himself to good works, religious poetry, against slavery, on behalf of chimney sweeps. He writes a poem against Napoleon’s invasion of Switzerland; Byron preferred Montgomery’s Wanderer of Switzerland to Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads; the public agreed and bought it; he is respected and liked by Southey. Montgomery’s radicalism was not accidental but cut off.

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

BrownElements1803

Part III: Keeping the University and Church Safe from Reform

Chapter 5: Friend of Jesus, friend of the devil: William Frend (1757-1841). Frend was drafted into army in American revolution; in 1775 he went to Cambridge, and began to agitate against Test Acts and exam system (these were sacrosant, they were the way egalitarianism was prevented, they kept these positions in the hands of an interlocking few coteries. Topics he debated debated included the rights of subjects to resist tyranny. Surprisingly perhaps Frend was successful in this milieu at first; he moves to teach poor children of the parish and mathematics for real. When he intensified his Hebrew studies, he no longer believed in the Trinity, and as an idealist began towork for a unitarian church to emerge.

Johnston claims thus Frend was surprised when the response to his arguments was to take away his teaching; he himself gave up two of his parishes as matter of conscience. He also wrote 3 works, each time widening his audience: Thoughts on .. Religious tests, to Rev. HHCoulthurst; then to Inhabitants of Cambridge and finally to Members of church of England. He was expelled; he could not understand why a constitutional critique and his goal of improving Christian knowledge no good.

At this point, Frend went to Germany and spends time with like-minded men, including Priestley’s son, Wm; in Belgium he is closer to events in France. Meanwhile at Cambridge Isaac Milner, Tory politican type takes over; they go after 5 faculty including Frend & 2 friends. The work prosecuted was his Peace and Union – a pamphlet arguing for compromise between republicans and anti-republicans and reform is pretending these things are acceptable. It’s the short appendices that matter: one where he imagines himself the women whose ¼ of salary suspended to pay for war that does them no good; the other remarkable argument that execution of Louis XVI none of UK’s business: they had cut a king’s head off for treason legally too. Startling. Some of the accusations were vague; he protested, his protests werer overridden; the existence of unproven alarm was grounds for prosecution; he is declared guilty and thrown out of university.

Frend then went to live in London and became member of LCS, wrote pamphlet on scarcity of bread and how to provide instead of gathering money for French aristocratic emigres. This is time of Thelwall’s speeches, exposure of exorbitant prices from war, monopoly. Frend would not disobey 1795 acts, though, and spent the rest of life teaching. His new career for money was a job working for actuarial assurance. He was befriended by Lord Byron’s wife, and continued to support good causes, against flogging, in support of reform bill 1832 and published Plan of Universal Education – tax income of Church of England to pay for it (forget that).

Chapter 6: No Laughing Matter: Thomas Beddoes, Sr (1760-1808). Beddoes was mentor to Humphry Davy, professor of chemistry, a forward-looking doctor of medicine who understood how it occurs and is shaped by its social context; he came from a politically liberal commercial family in Shropshire, was admitted to Pembroke, Oxford; studied on his own German, French, Italian; 1790s he wrote translations and reviews in the Monthly Review. 1792 A Letter to a Lady the way to reach the poor is to give them text to read that concerns them for real– private circulation. Prolonged geological researches in Wales; handbill against funding clergy escaping from French revolution – a kind spy system afoot ferrets it out – why he is not offered a salaried post. He was forced out of chemistry lectureship at Oxford; in Bristol later in decade his Pneumatic Institute suffered from conservative attacks. ODBN is misleading and sarcastic.By 1794 Beddoes needed help for this Pneumatic Institute for experiments with nitrous oxide, a therapy for TB; and did receive money from Wedgewood, help from Watt & Georgiana Spencer, Duchess. He was sufficiently well known to consider emigration of the sort envisaged by Coleridge and Southey (active with Coleridge in public meetings). Beddoes is an easy target by 1797-98; changes name of his institute, Preventative Medicine for Sick and Drooping Poor; then Hygiea addressing middle class in their style. He became a standard butt; died at 48 and his work lost to society for another 40 years

His 5 pamphlets exposed interwined issues of war, peace, political policies, economic scarcities and health of poor: A word in defense of the bills of rights; What would be the harm of a speedy peace?. He could not understand how people do nothing and wrote On means of relieving presence scarcity: this would be a system of soup kitchens. His Essay on Public merits of Mr Pitt was published by Joseph Johnson – how badly handled was the war; how much “human misery passes under medical inspection;” lastly, Alternatives Compared; or what shall the rich do to be safe?. These contained a remarkable series of questions that are utterly relevant to day: how far am I secure against false alarms, frauds, violence; do circumstances which I can control threaten deprivation of accommodation and necessities of life; unjust laws encroach on freedom. He makes it plain that real politics are quite mad if you were considering most people’s welfare; Pitt’s design to attack French revolution has made the crisis.

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

LetterswrittenfromFrance
Broadview edition

Part 4: Other Voices, Other Places: The suspect gender.

A prologue where he suggests women who worked for reform or revolution as writers had it much worse: Wollstonecraft chief target and then whip as a name; and he goes over the destruction of careers of Anna Barbauld (her 1811 poem), Mary Robinson (he emphasizes her later writing and crippled state), Charlotte Smith (her originality marginalized) and Mary Hays (mocked by men and friends).

Chapter 7: Our Paris Correspondent: Helen Maria Williams (1761-1827). Williams led a remarkable life: he praises her in career terms: see her contacts, see how her “consort” Stone was a successful businessman. How many people survive being imprisoned by Robespierre and Napoleon? She is the best example yet of an interrupted misunderstood career partly because she carried on (with Stone by her side which Johnston does not sufficiently acknowledge). Johnston shows how Williams was an “up and coming star” of the 1780s, how her Letters Written in France record the changes, first hope and principles of the French revolution, then dismay at turns it took, then horror at reaction and reactions to reactions, nevering loses sight of the root causes of the terror. This is intertwined with history of her life and her strengths as a writer.

Most effective is learning about those who first distanced and then attacked her (from Piozzi to Seward to Boswell). We see the meanness of Laetitia Hawkins; how others used Williams to forward themselves, “Twill then be infamy to seem your friend” is the motto here (Pope, Rape of Lock, 132) What is valuable here is how he quotes Williams to great effect making the reader want to read her. Her texts include an unflinching horrifying scene of massacres by mass drowning. He goes over her poetry too.

Chapter 8 takes us to Suspect Nations: Let Irish men remain sulky, grave, prudent and watchful, William Drennan (1754-1820).

Again a prologue: how the Continental congress terrified authorities: it showed people organizing and finding a voice without having official state-sanctioned offices! Without any law allowing or controlling them – this was enough to call it treason – they looked and acted like legislative body, would gain respect,so the five leaders were arrested, convicted and transported to Australia 1792-94 (these were called the Scottish Martyrs). Mass demonstrations were quelled. The gov’s went after effective writers too: Joseph Gerrard, son of Irish planter in West Indies, educated under Samuel Parr, worked in Philadelphia with Tom Paine; Welsh people intimidated (David William; Edward Williams aka Iolo Morganwg); William Orr hung in 1797 – administered oaths to members of United Irishmen, wrote in Northern Star – charges totally trumped up and shown to be by satire showing emptiness by rev James Porter also hung, June 1798

William Drennan follow the trajectory of politician-into-poet. The Drennan Letters (culled from 1400 and published Belfast 1931, ed. D.A Chart) survived and contain detailed information about daily events in Ireland, 1776-1807. As a talented literary person he took brunt of attack, wrote to sister, brother-in-law, mother. After he was tried for sedition, June 26, 1794, he withdrew from active politics, where his metier public or open letter, ended an obstetrician. He had written a series of letters on behalf of reform: Of Orellana, an Irish Helot, likening helots to native Irish population, as a fellow Helot haranguing, rolling climaxes with Paine like language. Drennan argued for volunteer rather than constitutional convention (object is constitutional), quietly sought to establish a secret society (favored at the time – think of the Masons) – goal was independence for Ireland, republicanism, united Irishmen his idea. His writing was too; the United Irishmen was declared illegal as an organization and he arrested for sedition. Johnston quotes Drennan in published papers and letters. Informer was Wm Carey but he testified on his behalf and judge told jury to return a guilty verdict for the good of the tranquillity of Ireland, they said Not Guilty. When Wolfe Tone indicted for treason, that ended much overt political activity and writing.

He lost friends when he did not come forward,plus his inheritance, his family & friends suffered humiliations. He married a rich wife, met William Roscoe of Liverpool, and founded a non-denominational academy in effort to free education, edited Belfast Monthly. His poems project a lyricism of loss. His later poetry shows him an “aristocratical Democrat:” he is for republic, not a particular religious group; looked on in 1798 horrified at Irish masses cut down by English and Protestant allies.

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

RobertHubert-GeoffrinDrawingforLunchpainting
Hubert Robert, Madame Geoffrin drawing (or perhaps writing) when she should be eating her lunch

To sum up this first half of the book, his opening section embodies the idea of book through Opie in old age, and two eloquent victims showing how one does not realize one can be destroyed by others means: Thelwall’s eloquence gives us central argumetns; Godwin exposes motivations for what was done to him by others. Thelwall destroyed in ways he could not foresee, Godwin betrayed and silenced; Johnston presents their thoughts to show their value and their works. Part 2 explains what is hegemonic control with Priestley and Montgomery as examples of what this means. We see this today through what is allowable on TV and how reporters do not tell the full story of an event, distort evidence to please the government and powerful who hire them. Part 3 is about keeping patronage in close-knit network; both Beddoes and Frend are destroyed university types: it’s a kind of ambiguous indirect destruction – and Beddoes still misrepresented, Frend not done justice to.

Part 4 allows us to see through the career Helen Maria Williams carried on with an achievement can be ignored as well as a picture of English views of revolution over its phases. Suspect nations include Scots, Welsh, Ireland – Johnston exposes real questions, real reasons these people were destroyed, imprisoned, silenced, intimidated (Porter’s anonymous articles on Orr who was executed) – in Johnston’s article he is showing how these people were not nationalists – that is somewhat lost sight of here – finding all sorts of individuals shows how wide spread these ideas – underlying is belief it’s continual repression that keeps better world from coming forth – that with power and arms and money you need only destroy leaders, frighten people, and then hegemonic control for mass – belief that change comes from individuals is central to this book.

I suddenly remembered Ann Radcliffe’s silence: was it more than her nervous nature? the liberal reform ideas underlying her book, especially open in her travel book. At any rate she becomes one of the women others.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

msmith
Maggie Smith between scenes

Dear friends and readers,

I somehow suspect my phrase of praise for Rebecca Eaton and Patricia Mulcahy’s Making Masterpiece that it fulfills the once famous goals of Lord Reith or the BBC to “educate, inform, entertain” might make her uncomfortable: its connotations have become stuffy, elite, even dull; but in fact her book covering a history of PBS’s most famous and long-running Sunday night prime quality (the term now used) serial dramas from the era of the powerful and fine film adaptations, original dramatizations, and multi-episode serial dramas from just before the 1967 The Forsyte Saga up to the 2010-14 Downton Abbey does just that. We learn a lot about the commercial, financial, filming, roles different people play, the TV channels who air the shows, Eaton is unashamedly working for quality in her purchases and commissions and is surprisingly candid.

Along the way she gives satisfyingly step-by-step believable accounts of some well-known to lost forever cult and individual favorites (some never got beyond the arduous planning and early deals) and she lets drops phrases that characterize swiftly how this or that aspect of this complicated art is viewed by its practitioners: such as the eponymous book or novelist-memoirist’s vision is “the underlying material” for the films. While Eaton’s explanations for why the program has held on for so long (they are “family stories, sagas, about love, betrayal, money, infatuation, illness, family deception &c&c) are wholly unsubtle and could be said of poor programming, and she shows that she reflects the commonalty of viewers; nonetheless, now and again for this or that specific series, she also shows she understood very well a political vision, how it fit into a contemporary sociological moment. She lets us know how some of the corporate funding after the mid-1980s when it seemed all but Mobil and the oil companies acted on a new realization that corporations did not need to appear civic-minded or anything but ruthless, and that when their agents discoveed that Eaton would not re-shape a program to fit an ideology (standing firm, sometimes almost alone — she tells instances and names names) she was in continual danger of being fired.

eatonrbaker
Rebecca Eaton with Russell Baker, the host for the show after Alistair Cooke retired — they are on the set for the introductions in the 1990s — note the fire in the hearth, comfortable easy-chair …. library look)

It is also an autobiography, a seeming Horatio Alger paradigm, écriture-femme style. It’s cyclical. She opens with a photo of her mother, Katherine Emery Eaton, who she presents as a successful serious actress and “glamorous movie star” who gave up her career to stay at home as a mother and wife: its in an old (built in 1800) house, her home for many years in Kennebunkport (labryinthine, spooky), which she cherishes, whose image and memories were part of her core impulse to work for and support Masterpiece Theater, but which she tells us on the first page no longer contain her parents, daughter or husband. She closes on her present apartment in Cambridge, Mass, a divorced woman whose daughter she reminds us was named after her grandmother and is now in theater and close to her. This private story of a husband who adjusted his career to bring up, be more at home with the one daughter (someone had to), and her distant relationship with that daughter until the girl grew up is woven in for about 2/3s of the way.

I say seeming because the story is also a justification, an explanation for why nowadays there are so fewer multi-episode (3 is become common) expensively produced carefully meditated productions from literary masterpieces. She is telling us how she did the best she could, how the recent spread of violent thrillers, cynical reactionary adaptations of contemporary novels (something in the vein of Breaking Bad, British style), seems at times to take over the time slot; her lot is fighting a continually uphill struggle where she lurches from acquiring, purchasing BBC and British productions, to producing them with the BBC and from the 1980s alonside or in competition with increasingly tough competition, in the UK, the ITV (Granada) channels, London Weekend, and in the US, cable, A&E, HBO, new technologies which allow viewers to curate and watch programs according to their own schedule (using DVDs, streaming, Netflix). It’s told in a peculiar way. A single person (named and the boss who wanted to get rid of our heroine) theatens a wasteland. Each curve ball or crisis is averted by the sudden unexpectedly widely popular good quality, subtle, intelligent adaptation. So the book reads like a series of rescues. She is not so much the rescuer as the person on the spot when circumstances come together so that a product (most often only a mini-series can provide the amount of ballast needed) is on offer which rescues them.

According to Eaton, Masterpiece theater as “the home for classy drama” (Alistair Cookie’s phrase)

cookiemonster

began when the first The Forsyte Saga developed a visible passionate following (fanbases made themselves felt before the Internet too), and attracted a man from Mobil, Herbert Schmertz (who loved dramas set before the 20th century); at the time Mobil was competing with other oil corporations in the 1970s who thought that they need to be seen as civic-minded (no more). The result: a stream of progressive superb mini-series from the 70s,enough of which were as avidly watched (Poldark, The Pallisers) until well into the later 1980s (The Jewel in the Crown). Eaton does not say this explicitly, but the re-creation of Poldark in terms similar to the 1970s is a bid to create a new and bring along the old fanbase for the Winston Graham historical novels (due Spring 2015); so too the filmically innovative Death Comes to Pemberley just before it (fall 2014) is a carefully calibrated appeal to the changed expanded Jane Austen audience

eleanortomlinsondemelza
A new Demelza who looks like some of the 1960s illustrations from the Bodley Head Poldark edition — Eleanor Tomlinson is also the new Georgiana, sister of

A genuinely tried Darcy and Elizabeth:

Maturecouple
The film does interesting things with Darcy, makes his character more understandable, Elizabeth’s more mature, and as to film: voice-over entangling with shot-reverse shot, scene juxtaposition

The later 1980s, the Thatcher years were the first set back with destructive re-organizations and competitive contracts of packaged dramas at British TV; an occasional return to the old model using new film techniques taken from commercial theater (the 1991 Clarissa) did not seem to help, until the new “savior” appeared: Middlemarch and the art of Andrew Davies.

middlemarch
I still find it painful to watch the failure of Lydgate (Douglas Hodge) unaware how another’s supposed weak view of the world, Rosamund’s (Treveyn McDowell) can wreck dreams no one else can appreciate

I am aware that there are sheaf of essays on the filmic Middlemarch, that it was admired and is still loved — its exquisite historical feel, a breathe of wide humanity, great acting, relevance (the failed career of Lydgate). Eaton recounts losses: how could she have been so stupid as to let go of Davies’s Pride and Prejudice to A&E. It was then she did bow to corporate pressure: a one-time quickie Poldark denuded of all politics will stand for one resulting flop.

But amid these “dark days” she did not forget her job — she attempted to bring into Masterpiece adaptations of good American books. Maybe that was what was needed. If American producers and funders could not begin to understand a British Cornish regional novel, this they might get. She had successes but there are more sad stories, of fine projects that never got off the ground amid a protracted process: The Glass Menagerie with Meryl Streep didn’t happen. She wanted to call her dream The American Collection. Those who helped included Paul Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, and they did Our Town for which Paul Newman earned an Emmy. About the size of what she could achieve was Mark and Livy, the story of Mark Twain and his wife. It seems that Anglophilia is the fuel of Masterpiece and Americans don’t value their own great books. At one point she was told “not to be ridiculous.”

07NATheAbbey1
Catherine (Felicity Jones) and Henry Tilner (J.J.Feilds) approach Northanger Abbey

Then another fortuitious rescue occurred. Most people seem unaware that the evolving Jane Austen canon came to the rescue again. Since they were done on the cheap, each only 108 minutes at most (depending on where you watched them, it could be as little as 83 minutes) the 2007-8 Mansfield Park (not noticed for Wadey’s take in which the men are ritually humiliated instead of the women), Persuasion (daringly shown to be the trauma of loss it is), and Northanger Abbey (a delightful Davies product) have not been paid serious attention to by film studies people. But these one-shot Austen films were, according to Eaton, central in reviving film adaptations of classic books subtly and originally done again. The three were great draws. By that time she had gotten the rights to Davies’ 1995 P&P so they were accompanied by this P&P and Davies 1996 Emma. She is a great friend of Davies. The next year ahe was able to execute produce Davies’s Sense and Sensibility (with Anne Pivcevic, a long time associate of his), and Gwyneth Hughes’s Miss Austen Regrets. And she used her technique of purchase and cooperative funding to make a 4 part mini-series once again: the Australian Lost in Austen, better liked than people have been willing to admit.

cranford
Michael Grambon, Judi Dench and Lisa Dillon as Mr Holbrook, Matty Jenkyns, and Mary Smith

I was surprised by her then singling out Cranford Chronicles, to which she also attributes the resurgence of whatever is left of the older Masterpiece theater film adaptation and serious domestic drama impulse. The chapter on Cranford Chronicles is the richest of the book. We go from first idea and objections: whoever heard of Elizabeth Gaskell, much less Lady Ludlow? (Cranford was dropped as a school text in the US at the beginning of the 20th century.) Constant trips, lunches, deals sealed with a famous actress on board (Judi Dench), then unsealed, then lost from view, then picked up again, the whole process of acquiring screenplay writer, of writing with her, the sets, how dissatisfied people are with the first rushes, and how they try again and finally have a winner.

When at the close of the book she talks of Downton Abbey trying to explain its draw she identifies what I’ll call a communitarian ideal (she’d never use that phrase) — it’s this sense of loving socially conscientious community where most of the characters in Downton are well-meaning or basically good, with the exception of over-the-top monsters (Vera Bates) or one violent rapist who we know would do it again, no one is ejected, everyone treated with dignity and concern. Well this is the great appeal of Cranford Chronicles too — and Heidi Thomas does one better by allying the stories with progressive ideals. Eaton though singles Cranford out because not just its wide audience (after all Davies had trumped with a new Little Dorrit, Bleak House, a deeply moving Dr Zhivago rivaling and rewriting Pasternak’s novel against David Lean’s reading) but because she does see how it speaks to our times, fairy tale fashion. It must be admitted in this book she spends little time worrying whether a given mini-series reflects its era or particular author — perhaps she leaves that to screenplay writer, producer and director. I note the same film-makers recur for movies made from the same author (e.g. Louis Marks for Dickens). For her warm-hearted Cranford led to warm-hearted Downton.

Her book is meant to function today, 2014 and that too is why two chapters on Downton Abbey are devoted heavily to Downton Abbey, its lead-in, production, aftermath. She talks about why she thinks the program became a sociological event, and now an adjective: it appeared at the right time that year (before the new Upstairs/Downstairs which she says was found to be too dark, too pessimimistic, to much a mirror of our era); the house matters (as did Castle Howard for Brideshead). I’ve just written a paper on Andrew Davies’s Trollope adaptations as part of an anthology on British serial drama and found it distorting to see its purview (it too begins with The Forstye Saga and ends on DA) skewed by too many references to this program. The book is typical; I’ve seen this over-emphasis repeatedly. After all filmically it’s utterly conventional; if it is liberal in its attitudes towards sexuality and the human topics it will broach, it keeps the old decorum up. Its political outlook is one which looks upon the French Revolution as unfortunate, providing only an amelioration; now if only the Granthams had lived in France during the famine. They’d have provided jobs and meals. Nowhere does Fellowes show us that such a house was a power-house, a linch-pin in repressive controlling economic and political arrangements from the which local magistrates and MPs emerged to conscript soldiers and sailors. Everyone who knows anything about country houses knows this.

She does explain why the fuss. The outrageous ratings — it easily beat out Breaking Bad and Madman the first year in the Emmy prize race. It’s a selling card when you want to pitch a new fine series. And to give credit where credit it is, it is high quality; the characters are (as Eaton would no doubt tell us) compelling, psychologically complex; no expense is spared, the actors superb. It is great soap opera and as a woman defending women’s art, I too cry it up (with all the reservations above) as using brilliantly what this individual form in structure can do. She describes the series as a community — that’s soap opera. Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) rescues Mr Carson’s Jim Carter) old time colleague form the music hall from the local workhouse is a single anecdote, but it gathers all its strength by how its embedded in four seasons of memories about these characters. She does not mention that one of its strengths is it is not limited by a nineteenth-century text censored by Mudie’s Library. We can see how a rape plays out.

LadyRosamundEdith
Did Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) have a baby out of wedlock and give it up before she married Painswick — soap opera communities license us to look beyond what we can see and hear, to a past to be unearthed

How does an executive producer spend her days. Ceaseless socializing, phone calls, pitches, deciding. She does tell much of this throughout the book and in the chapter on Cranford, but she characterizes her job in another chapter again. She’s in on the film editing, how long the film can be, how its final scene plays. Along the way we learn of how she finally found some stable funding. She garnered as a well-heeled contributor Viking Cruises because a survey she did showed a surprising percentage of people who take cruises to Europe also watch Masterpiece Theater loyally. So she pitched this customer favorite to the running the cruises. She created Masterpiece Trust where wealthy people contribute and get to be named and also introduce the program. Perhaps the unashamed commercials for Ralph Lauren clothes (all expensive artifice) might jar more than the old more discreet pitches for oil and gas companies (but we should remember when we shudder at the anorexic women that they are not encouraging others to drop bombs to ensure Lauren’s profit). One of my books on women’s films has a whole section on how even costume dramas — those set say in the 18th century at any rate and after influence women’s wear. In the 1970s many of the costumes were Laura Ashley like creations — somewhere half between the 18th century and elegant clothes in the 1970s. I note that a certain kind of shawl is now popular since it became omnipresent in the costume dramas of the 2000s Obviously the Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and other stars influenced people — remember Annie Hall, the Annie Hall style … This has long been known and at the close of films nowadays you will see little icons for fashion designers and makers of clothes who the costume designer worked with. So Eaton asked herself who has their product been an advertiser for …

A smaller strand of the book is her relationship with the people who do Mystery! and how and when decisions were made to bring Mystery! material over to Masterpiece. Sometimes it seems as if Masterpiece gets the best of Mystery! they took Prime Suspect (Helen Mirren), and now the new Sherlock (Bernard Cumberbatch). Sometimes a book that one might expect to be on Masterpiece turns up on Mystery!. We are not told why all the time.

rigg
With Diana Rigg on the set of The Heat of the Day (Elizabeth Bowen’s masterpiece on a Mystery! set — but then she was hostess for Mystery! for a while)

The book ends on what she called “the Downton effect” and returns to her personal motivation, satisfactions, and present. It does sound a bit lonely in that apartment. She likes to think of this program she’s served for so many years as she does her life, intertwined memories. The book has flaws; it does not begin to tell all. A full history would be a couple of thick volumes. What has made her the success she is, her rough-and-ready way of seeing things broadly, as some common denominator of intelligent person might, her upbeatness still don’t get too much in the way of sufficient candor. She describes behavior on the sets as no love-fest, and in the various stories of programs that never made it it’s often someone’s ego or a demand for a higher salary that got in the way. She says spontaneous group scenes for photographs are rare. The book never drips; it moves on and has a hardness. It’s apparent she’s not retiring yet. She won me over at any rate. The originating impulse was to do all her mother had not been able to do — she sets up the black-and-white photo near her bed on its last page.

upstarsdownstairs
She gives credit to where it’s due: Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins’s conception of having downstairs get more than equal time to upstairs after watching The Forsyte Saga.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

wk-bicycling
Actors Serge (Fabrice Luchini) and Gauthier (Lambert Wilson) trade lines and shout scenes from “The Misanthrope”

Dear friends and readers,

My freed-up license continues to enable me to pass the time less desperately. I missed the Cinemart theater film club’s first two films, but as the theater-owner has the custom of moving some of the films to the regular theater if enough people vote favorably for it, I was able to see one of them: its French title is more appropriate: “Alceste à bicyclette,” directed by Philippe Le Guay and written by him and Fabrice Lucini (one of the two central actors). Both our heroes are actors playing aging actors, and turn out to contain as much of Alceste in them as Philinth (the reconcilier, the temporiser, the compromiser). Both travel about the island on bicycles but not while reciting Moliere.

Oncycles

It’s another unusual film worth seeing: a re-do of Moliere’s play in modern terms. I will let other reviewers retell the story (see Stephen Holden, New York Times, this past April). It’s not great. At the end the film does (as Moliere) condemn the misanthrope and assert how one must make the most of whatever cheer this moment offers, whatever pleasure, be an optimist as an act of strength, so it’s not particularly original, even cantish. The story does not relate to this debate directly nor dramatize it adequately. It has some lapses too: slapstick over falling into the water in bicycles whose brakes don’t work; it includes two women clearly because the film-maker thought one must and one of them looks like some throw-back to Brigitte Bardot (all voluptuousness, blonde, wide blue eyes, all sweetness — she recites her lines in a rote way so the rhymes ring out), and the great joke here is she wants to be a porn star. Yes it’s utterly masculinist. The women (there are others, a publicist, a director) remain marginal, not people men confide in, but those who put pressure on the men they have to cope with.

anotherrehearsigtogether

What is absorbing about it is how the two men rehearse the play and repeat its speeches over and over using different tones and at different points in the story or revelations of their characters, so (as Stephanie Merry of the Washington Post says), we see deeper into the meaning of the words and this meaning changes over the course of the film. Serge almost has a vasectomy in the movie, and pulls back because he (rightly) does not trust the doctors. They are both involved with upper middle class renovations of ancient houses and cottages; confronted with a perfectly good place to live, the first thing they are expected to do is spend oodles renovating it. Sums are mentioned by contractors which reminded me of what contractors tell me. Gaultier almost drowns trying to use a fountain jacuzzi. Francesca’s (Maya Sansa) husband left her for a woman to have children with after he had agreed they did not want children and it was somewhat too late for her. He felt no obligation to stay. The characters remark on how unfair the inequalities we see around us are. It is a film made with a middle class US as well as French audience in mind. Unlike Moliere’s play, this piece is frivolous.

again

The themes include acting, what is real and what performance, where does a theater begin and end: Gauthier makes huge sums of money and has a fan-following because he is in this ludicrous medical fiction mini-series on TV, where he plays your usual heroical-moral doctor (reminding me of this parodic role in the superb exploration of these in brilliant comedy Nurse Betty featuring a young Renee Zellweger and Morgan Freeman); at one point the characters sit down to watch one of the episodes, and Gauthier is mortified as he knows the others are laughing at the show even as they seem to praise it. The film closes with Gaulthier playing Alceste on stage with another actor and we watch the play in traditional costume traditionally done, and this does not come off either. Houses are sets; meals are there to socialize with. The characters are allowed to reveal themselves slowly — it’s a long film (Yvette began to worry when more than 2 and 1/2 hours had gone by and I was not yet back) that they feel like real people and we get involved over the disappointments of their lives. Maybe best of all after the brilliant re-rehearsing is the photography and colors of Île de Ré the characters are in. Soft blues, ivory colors, the waters.

CyclingWithMoliere

island
One ad calls the place “the Martha’s Vineyard of France” (I’ve never been to or am likely to go to Martha’s Vineyard so maybe this is as close as I’ll get …)

So another one not to miss this summer. By this second week it was playing but once a day in the movie-house’s smallest auditorium and there was only one person there besides me and my friend, Vivian. I know 4th of July is not a big one for movies. Still it may not last as its action is verbal, intellectual, intangible emotions, thoughts that are not easily articulated.

As opposed to last year when it was fiercely hot, today was cool in the morning: we were at the edge of an umbrella of clouds from a nearby hurricane; when the sun came out in the afternoon the cool air persisted. So the trip and walk from car to theater and back again were pleasant too.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 189 other followers