Archive for the ‘conference report’ Category

The Allington Estate, big & small house & grounds (The Small House at Allington)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m delighted to be able to announce a third essay by me on Anthony Trollope is now on the Victorian Web.

The latest is my Mapping Trollope; or Geographies of Power (see Geographies of the Book). What differentiates this text from the one on my website is the maps are much larger and clearer and you can click on them to further enlarge them. For example, here’s Trollope’s drawing of Barsetshire enlarged. The Victorian Web also has software which allows the scene I transcribed from the BBC 1974-75 Pallisers, Part 9, Episode 8, Madame Max (Barbara Murray) conferring with Mrs Meager (Sheila Fay) as a separate clear document. As in the other two essays, the footnotes are far more accessible: you can click on the raised number and go rapidly from text to footnote, and in this new set-up the notes and bibliography are to the side.

In 2006 I wrote my second conference paper, this time in accordance with the conference’s theme (Trollope and Gender), about how male sexuality and norms of manliness and/or masculinity are presented in Trollope, Trollope’s Comfort Romances for Men: Heterosexual Male Heroism in Trollope. I am finding that this aspect of his work is central to the film adaptations still available: Raven, then Plater and now Andrew Davies explore the problems of having to abide by norms of masculinity and manliness in Victorian society, presented as not all that much different from analogous problems today.



Upon finding Paul Montague [Cillian Murphy] at Lowestoffe (2001, TWWLN, Part 2, Ep 12) with Mrs Hurtle (a woman whom Paul was formerly engaged to and will be led to have sex with that night in their shared room), Roger Carbury [Douglas Hodge] (an older cousin-uncle) berates Paul scornfully for sexual faithlessness and for abusing Hetta Carbury to whom Paul has now engaged himself and Paul replies:

‘You think so little of me (near tears). Are you so proud of your own dealings with Hetta? … you think of her and speak of her as a child, Roger, all your intercourse with her has been as a grown man with a child and now you offer yourself to herself as a lover? How could you regard your advances to her as anything but an embarrassment and with disgust (anger in his voice rising) that is what I mean …

I’ve learned to understand how Mark Turner’s book, Trollope in the Magazines shows the importance of male audiences to Trollope’s narrator’s sexual stance. What I now realize is Trollope’s novels are not as comforting to men as I had thought. And modern film adapters see the contradictions, cruelties and human tragedies in the conceptions of masculinity enacted in Trollope (say the Pallisers where a young Lady Glen is married off, sold to the much older Plantagenet) and bring these out.

G. H. Thomas, “She read the beginning — Dearest Grace”, Breakfast Scene, The Last Chronicle of Barset

My first paper on the Web is of course still there: are “Partly Told in Letters: Trollope’s Story-telling Art, which I wrote some 13 years ago now. As the years progress I become more and more convinced that epistolary narrative in a genuinely conceived epistolary situation is central to Trollope’s creation of insightful interiority: the readers, reader and character, cannot know what will happen next, the letter readers’ response is as important as the letter itself, and the letter is presented with an awareness of all the surrounding conditions and internal lying (posing) it brings, how it is also potentially an incriminating document.

Both my first and most recent paper, letters and maps in Trollope, became part of Trollope’s art partly because was himself a postal employee, himself literally mapping Ireland and southwestern England, and cared intensely about everything having to do with letters. From his Autobiography:

Early in 1851 I was sent upon a job of special official work, which for two years so completely absorbed my time that I was able to write nothing. A plan was formed for extending the rural delivery of letters, and for adjusting the work, which up to that time had been done in a very irregular manner. A country letter-carrier would be sent in one direction in which there were but few letters to be delivered, the arrangement having originated probably at the request of some influential person, while in another direction there was no letter-carrier because no influential person had exerted himself…

It was intended to set this right throughout England, Ireland, and
Scotland; and I quickly did the work in the Irish district to which I was attached. I was then invited to do the same in a portion of England … the object was to create a postal network which should catch all recipients of letters. In France it was, and I suppose still is, the practice to deliver every letter. Wherever the man may live to whom a letter is addressed, it is the duty of some letter-carrier to take that letter to his house, sooner or later. But this, of course, must be done slowly. With us a delivery much delayed was thought to be worse than none at all. In some places we did establish posts three times a week, and perhaps occasionally twice a week …

It is amusing to watch how a passion will grow upon a man. During
those two years it was the ambition of my life to cover the country
with rural letter-carriers. I do not remember that in any case a rural post proposed by me was negatived by the authorities; but I fear that some of them broke down afterwards as being too poor, or because, in my anxiety to include this house and that, I had sent the men too far afield. … I would ride up to farmhouses or parsonages, or other lone residences about the country, and ask the people how they got their letters, at what hour, and especially whether they were delivered free or at a certain charge. For a damnable habit had crept into use, which came to be, in my eyes, at that time, the one sin for which there was no pardon, in accordance with which these rural letter-carriers used to charge a penny a letter, alleging that the house was out of their beat, and that they must be paid for their work. I think that I did stamp out that evil … (Chapter 5, pp 87-90)

I love book illustrations, and to immerse myself in the worlds of books, and have been fascinated by the intersection of these with Trollope’s texts since I began reading him. when the Sharp people announced their topic would be maps, I knew I had to write about these in Trollope. And my long interest in epistolary narrative (I wrote my dissertation on Richardson’s Clarissa and Grandison), just love of reading novels told in letters and 1st person subjective narrative novels and studies in the 18th century also led me to take this perspective. I’m now interested in filmic epistolarity, how historical films imitate earlier illustrations and acquire interiority through the use of letters, voice-over, flashbacks, montage, all attached to letter writing, receiving, reading.

Soft focus: Emily (Laura Fraser) writing Colonel Osborne and saying she would like to see him again, he can come any time, after we have heard his voice-over in a letter to her (2004 HKHWR, Part 1, Ep 5)

And I’ve also shorter piece on the Victorian Web: The Art of Biography, Modern Style: Thackeray, with a response by Peter Shillingsburg. I do love life-writing.

All gratifying. I am very grateful to the people on the Victorian Web who made this possible.


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Geographies of the Book

Dear friends and readers,

During the all too short time (about a day’s length) I was able to be at the Sharp conference this year, held at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, I enjoyed myself and heard some engaging informative papers — and gave one myself. Although I was able to attend the conference only briefly (as my husband was still recovering from an operation), I would still like to remember and share the gist of what I heard and experienced (as I did two years ago) and what I wish I could have been there for.

I arrived on Saturday, July 20th, around 2:00 pm, in time to attend two panels and in the evening go to a scrumptious banquet (at which there were Philadelphia mummers) and walk around the campus.

No surprise when I decided on “studies in the long 18th century” (e-7, 3-4:30 pm) and “the circulation of 19th and early 20th century genres of medical knowledge” (f-1, 5-6:00 pm). I’m originally an 18th century literary scholar, and for more than 20 years I regularly taught Advanced Composition in Natural Science and Technologies where I devoted a third of the course’s reading to texts on medical science as it’s really practiced in the US today.

Studies in the long 18th century covered shaping French and Polish georgraphical contexts. Elizabeth della Zazzera suggested how the different locations in which literary periodical production occurred Restoration Paris can teach us what were the social worlds and different political agendas of these locations — and how the periodicals in question reflected this. There were many geographic centers in Restoration Paris, some had students, others the rich, clubs here, and booksellers in commercial areas. Ms Zazzera studied and explicated imaginative geographies too. Lorraine Piroux argued Diderot’s Natural Son should be reprinted as it was in the first edition with its preface, 3 conversations, and 2 dramatic narratives as part of a contextualized text. Diderot was trying to establish a new kind of bourgeois authentic drama. A play should be played as if it were life, not art. He was writing experimentally and offering a novelistic contextualization for his play. These texts are today printed separately, divided into different genres.

Partitioned Poland — 1795-1918

Teresa Swieckowska described the difficult position of Polish authors in the 18th and 19th century — and compared the situations in Germany and England. Poland had been cut up into different terrorities dominated by other national courts and companies; and copyright (a system of privilege with a contradictory evolution) was not an effective except as it aroused interest in a work’s author(s). Most Polish writers of this era were aristocrats, for there was no money to be made. Literary books were not profitable and not respected. Commodification in Poland starts in the later 19th century.

Medical College of Virginia also a library

The papers on how medical knowledge reached physicians and patients too showed how entangled were social, gender, and racial politics in deciding who could get information, what was available, and how presented. Brenton Stewart’s paper was on 19th century southern medical an surgical journals. He described and discussed specific medical colleges and hospitals (some meant just for “negroes”) & how the dynamics of local power politics shaped knowledge. To disseminate and share medical information across the south physicians and surgeons turned to highly politicized medical journals whose findings included examinations of medicine and surgery forced on slaves. (Afterwards I asked and was told that The slaves were named as well as their “owners”).

Early health magazine published by the AMA

Catherine Arnott Smith told of the early invention, spread and codification of the Layman’s Medical Journal (a kind of consumer health magazine) by women. She began by saying libraries were places where people could find information, but medical journals were written for other physicians; the earlier policy of associations like the AMA was to withhold information from patients (in order to control and make profits from them). She described the lives & roles of Addie and Julia Riddle who became physicians; of Jessie Leonard who censored movies; hygiene was their goddess; of later titles (Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1910), of political complications, like a Race Betterment League (contraception seems to lead back to eugenics, and women (Martha [?] Stearns Fitts Jones; Lady Cook; Virginia Woodhull) whose class and political positions (especially on the question of prohibition) made it difficult for them to work together. Both scholars studied ads and diaries.

Sunday I went to the session I was giving a paper at, “imaginary geographies iii” (g-3, 8:30-10:00 am), and Ian Gregory’s plenary lecture on using GIS to map and analyze geographical information within texts (10:30-noon).

Winnie-the-Pooh world mapped

Elizabeth Frengel gave a charming paper on the ideas about, illustrations and lives of Walter Crane and Ernest Shepard. She began with the history of end-papers (where from the later 19th century maps are often found), told of Crane’s writing on the importance of harmonizing text and illustration, and how described Shephard’s maps and illustrations realized the imaginary worlds of Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and Graham’s Wind in the Willows.

I gave my own paper, Mapping Trollope: Geographies of Power where I argued Trollope’s visualized maps are central means by which he organizes and expresses the social, political and psychological relationships of his characters and themes, that they names places important to him personally; & that through his Irish maps he aimed to put Ireland into his English readers’ imagined consciousness. I show also how his use of maps changed in the later stages of his career to become minutely studied and sceptical geographies of power and take the reader well outside the corridors of power to show that what happens in ordinary places matters too.

The session concluded with Iain Stevenson on the life and “achievements” of a remarkably nervy entrepreneurial crook (soldier, husband of rich wives, Ponzi-scheme initiator), Gregor MacGregor who (among other things) was able to set up and enact crazed schemes of emigration (see my review of The Acadian Diaspora by Christopher Hodson) by exploiting the delusional dreams of independence and wealth among the ignorant abysmally poor and lower middle class. Gregor invented and produced imaginary money as well as countries and Prof Stevenson brought along some original specimens of his Poyais notes.

It was a well-attended session, and there was much stimulating talk for the half hour of time we had. As I wrote, people thanked me for the packet of maps — I gave out old-fashioned good xeroxes of maps from Trollope’s novels instead of doing a power-point presentation. During the discussion on my own paper I raised a note of doubt: Trollope’s maps are not accurate portrayals of the real worlds of Victorian England: for a start, they omit the prevalence of the abysmally poor, the huge industrial complexes (which here and there in his novels he does describe, like St Diddulph’s in He Knew He Was Right, an imagined version of London East End docklands), and thus erase and mislead modern readers and can function as propaganda. I quoted Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” People defended the escapist aspect of these imagined worlds. Many more were interested in the history and development of end-papers (which Ms Frenkel had gone over in some detail), and maps for children’s books and mysteries in general. One woman had given a paper earlier in the conference about the practice by one company of putting maps (automatically it seems) on the back covers of published mysteries.

Posy Simmons map of Cranford for the book that accompanied the TV mini-series adaptation of Gaskell’s short stories — just the sort of end-paper map people were discussing

Ian Gregory showed the conference how analytical and pictorial mapping of the frequency of specific words in paired (Wordsworth and Grey’s written tours of the lake district) or comparative texts (19th century official reports of the incidence of diseases like cholera and small pox in cities in England) can enable a researcher respectively to grasp unexpected emphases and large trends, and suggested the understanding gained this way can be added to close and/or deconstructive readings of texts. He made a lively wry talk out of philosophical, somber and abstract material.

It was then noon and as I had a 1:30 pm train to catch to return home to Washington, it was time for this Cinderella to leave imagined maps and return to her hotel and modern pumpkin coach (a cab) and head back for the 30th Street train station. What I wish I could have heard: more discussion on how maps are exercises in imposing power. I would have gone to session a-2 about maps and reading habits of soldiers and poets of WW1 (especially the paper on Edward Thomas reading Shakespeare); a-8 about why imaginary geography matters to book history; b-6, “books down under”, Australian convict memoirs, radical publishing and schoolgirl books (the Australian session probably included a paper on Ethel Handel Richardson); c-5 which had a paper on Chaucer’s portrait; d-4, the survival of WW2 concentration camp publications and letter culture; d-5, erotics of family books like Jane Eyre’s German daughters in the US (“emigrating books”). But fancy had had to be reined in.

Wind in the Willows illustration by Shepard


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Gosford Park: Upstairs

Gosford Park: Downstairs,

Dear friends and readers,

Notwithstanding Rumor to the contrary, Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, both scripted by Julian Fellowes, are distinctively different movies. Here am I again about Gosford Park: a fine film about costume drama, whose signature music I offered two Sundays ago and again on Downton Abbey (see archives).

Robert, Earl of Grantham, the controlling Top Male whom all ultimately reverence in Downton Abbey, is a good decent man who keeps his word; he does not have a liaison with any of the servant girls. He means well; we are endorse all his decisions for himself and others. Sir Wm MacCordle, the controlling Top Male of Gosford Park and many investments, is a ruthless lying seducer, especially of working women around him dependent on him. In DA, everyone (even Thomas the homosexual footman and Miss Obrien, the old maid lady’s maid) is presented as having a good side, explicable by a sort of pop Freudian psychology, most mean well, most believe in the value of their job, the general order of things against which they may rebel, but then blame themselves as ungrateful. Godford Park is shot through and thought with knowledge of how demanding, careless of their health and needs, indifferent, utterly selfish, obtuse the upstairs people mostly are; the staff is sceptical, notes the hypocrisies, idle lives of their masters and mistresses, lack of lives of their own. Sir William is murdered three times over and his death upsets no one but his (foolish) worshipful valet.

Every one of the 16 stories (we have 16 major characters) in Downton Abbey is elaborately worked out; we are given many clues for each story; if the story is left to end ambiguously, by the end nothing is mysterious or merely suggestive. In Gosford Park, suggestiveness without elaboration is the key to presenting an interweave of 40 characters. The characters are glimpsed mostly as an ensemble, clues are sparse, lines which explain given only once and indirectly. Gosford Park therefore feels much much realer as we experience, each scene has so much piled into it (rich texture) you feel you could watch it so many times as you might read a book at least several times.

Downton Abbey: the upstairs group enjoys a Christmas dance

Downton Abbey: the downstairs group enjoying a day-long fair

Downton Abbey is a justification of the older hierarchical order of the world, with some counting far more than others; Gosford Park is an exposure of the anguish this giving power to a few males wreaks on everyone else, a perversion or out natural appetites.

The difference is the presence of Robert Altman to provide a counterweight to Fellowes’ arch-conservatism, to undercut, undermine, satirize Fellowes’ vision while showing it going on as if intact, only at the end the house is almost all closed up as all people but McCordle’s wife, butler, valet, are getting out as fast as they can to something they hope will be better for them. At the same time Fellowes provides a brilliant script psychologically and knows how to make effective filmic scenes.

Two closing moments can epitomize what I’m getting at: the last part of Season 1 where Lady Mary has gone a step too far: Matthew breaks it off and speaks from the gut as he realizes Mary is offering to marry him if she doesn’t get a better offer (supposedly actuated by Lady Rosamund); he has just nearly been kicked out by the prospect of Cora, Lady Grantham having a baby (stamped out by Miss Obrien)


The moment the American producer nods to Elsie, ex-head parlormaid, kicked out upon breaking code and in front of all at the table showing herself to be the latest in a long line of Sir William McCordle’s mistresses; Elsie, I say, crosses over to his car where await her Igor Novello (songster, failed movie-maker) and the producer’s lover-companion, Denton. She’ll do all right after all – on her back — and as Mary (Lady Constance’s lady’s maid) closes the door on her we see Sir William’s dog has a berth in her case. Much said in this series of stills:


The scripts of both read like novels. And their dramatic range and for suggested complexity of character both deserve to be awarded. The scripts of Downton Abbey read like stage plays, plenty of thought into the lines; sincerely believed in and imagined, not tongue-in-cheek; a landscape country house story of clashes within characters and across the tabooed lines between them. We have scenes omitted from the final cut.

Big moment of shock when tabooed lines crossed

The scripts of Gosford Park reminded me of the game of Clue. The first page had thumb-nail shots of each character and their role/job and one characteristic; they were lined up against a tree connecting them to one another. This was a murder-mystery in which when we realized the usual suspects had done it (the young man driven to bankruptcy by McCordle, his ex-mistress housekeeper whose life & dreams he has blighted utterly; his bastard son who loathes him, we realized it didn’t matter and no one cared as it’s all a game we agree to play in order to be in the order, play a part. It also has stories omitted from the final cut.

Someone matter-of-factly directing traffic: Mrs Wilson, housekeeper

I’m on my third viewing of Downton Abbey, and while I become so involved with the characters over and over and do see more psychologically, socially, I’ve managed to deepen the experience by attention to filmic techniques, by reading The Chronicles of … and The World of Downton Abbey, and now the scripts for the first season. I’ve now watched Gosford Park 6 times (!). I’ve now watched Gosford Park 6 times altogether: once in the movies, once when Jim downloaded a copy from Pirate Bay, and now 4 more times since I’ve gotten myself the DVD with the feature, two of these times with over voices, first just Fellowes and then Altman with his production designer and one of the producers.

To sum up, Altman’s presence has made GP shots so much more overflowing with information, story matter, and continually undermined any of the longed-for ideals both programs dramatize so the matter of these scripts feels inexhaustible; each time you watch the Altman you see more (40 characters about 25 stories in 2 and one half-hours, many of them hollow though deeply emotional); each time you watch Fellowes alone you see more fully the same thing but no more — what you see is what you get — and there is no undercutting that is not made explicit by Maggie Smith as sour Dowager.


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Boomerang, a street scene from this film noir, docudrama(1947)

From Part 3, The Bomb, The Untold History of the US by Stone and Kuznick

Dear friends and readers,

More from the PCA/ACA conference.

Though I didn’t count the number or work out what percentage of the total number of panels film studies represented, I’ll hazard a guess it was at least one-half. Sometimes the film study was in service of some other agenda or exposing some conflict, but the session’s prime documents were films. You might say this was a conference of very intelligent people who had put away their books to concentrate on films.

There are themes running through the group. First, fidelity criticism is useless except insofar as a comparison enables us to bring out the film-makers’ contrasting purpose. That films can be a reflection of a single maker’s vision, but is so much more likely to be a group mirroring of a set of themes thought appropriate by the financial backers, in their interest. They are (most of the time) cultural barometers of what is socially acceptable that year. Gov’ts typically and without having to act directly exercise control or the film-makers bow to what they think the gov’t wouldnot want. The way to analyze films is to study the shots, the filmic techniques as well as the kind of source material and the psychological baggage associated with their stars.

If I were able to make the choice again, I would probably not spend so much of my day on film studies. If the PCA/ACA ever comes to town (DC) or close (Philly or NY) again, I’ll be sure to go to children’s literature and fashion sessions. There was a session on a comic book retelling Austen’s Sense and Sensibility which I missed.

There was a paper by Zara Wilkinson “Defending Jane Austen: Rozema’s Mansfield Park as a narrative of abolition” (Thursday, at 1:15 pm, No 2436, “Adaptation”, V: Race and Adaptation”), but as bad luck would have it, that was on against another one I really preferred to go to as my friend was giving her paper then.

I offer brief accounts of papers in a day-long immersion in film studies.


Wednesday at 4:45 pm, “Shakespeare on Film and TV 3 (1337) offered three papers on Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus.

Vanessa Redgrave was Coriolanus’s undoing

Noel Slobada in “Riding the Lonely Dragon” began by insisting there was something odd in Fiennes choosing to film this play. It’s rarely done, unfamiliar, and abrasive; Caius Marcus might be Shakespeare’s least sympathetic hero, he’s a dynamo of violence, cannot articulate an idea, distrusts words, despises those “beneath” him. It has no subplot; it ends on an assault and utter crash. The Shakespeare text was severely trimmed by John Logan, and what we are left with is a man who cannot re-invent himself in the way Fiennes, the actor, can. Even at the close Vanessa Redgrave as the mother says to Fiennes as Coriolanus: “you are too absolute.” Slobada felt Fiennes was attracted to this figure as someone who cannot remake himself. No redemption at the close; the politician’s life a nightmare.

Rachel Hogg saw Coriolanus as an outsider, a lonely, going it alone, risk-taking. He only commands language when inciting other men to kill. He destroys his home. He’s a man without a head, a sort of cast off which leaves him vulnerable to violent brutal treatment. The dismaying (revealing) thing about the session was how unwilling the people were to discuss the women, and leaving them out of such a paper was to leave out a core part of experience. When I brought up Volumnia and Vanessa Redgrave’s role, one of the panelists insisted she was not a woman but a commanding officer. They wanted to forget the sex scenes with his wife, to cut the film off from contemporary politics too. Again and again during this conference I saw people take on a masculine point of view as universal.

Jessica Chastain chosen for her sexiness and soft femininity

Finally, Kimberly Huhn: this play “is not reassuring,” shaped by “emotional immediacy” and action. The camera was often hand-held in 2005. The hero not reflective, not super-handsome and sensitive, but someone who can do terrifying things and attracts terror. One man came who was interested in Shakespeare and had read the play (as had I) but the speakers were not interested in talking of how this production differed from other filmed Coriolanus’s, nor the usual psychoanalytical analyses.


Carrying on the theme of war and reality in film I went to “Film and History II: the great War,” on Thursday, 9:45 am (2244), Jamie Schleser presented the new trend in films to combine commercial fiction with powerful non-fiction (then not limited by the code). As the war came on, film noir combined with crime docudrama to create films of pessimistic uncertainty. Most of these in the 1950s had themes of active persecution of supposed communists; the popular pres showed the absence of due process as a miscarriage of justice. The code in such movies is you are “guilty until you are proven innocent,” even if you don’t go to jail.

Boomerang, earnest hero and sarky heroine (Jane Wyatt)

She analysed two movies, 1947 Boomerang with Dana Andrews, Elia Kazan and Jane Wyatt and many non-professional people; Call Northside 777 (1948), with James Stewart, Lee J. Cobb, Richard Conte. (I noticed how she left women out.) A man is wrongly given a life sentence and Stewart comes to his rescue. Both films show devious politicians in a culture of pervasive corruption. They filmed an actual film Schleser argued that the use of real events helped carry the social message as you could not as easily argue to censor something that had actually happened.

Northside 777: Jimmy Stewart filmed inside a real prison

The last paper of this panel, “The best and worst of times for American cinema,” was read aloud by three people, Joe Moser in the dominant role. They had watched over 100 films and charted the presentation of war in film over the course of the early past the mid-20th century. They discovered significant trends; early on in WW1 the US presented itself as neutral, but during that time German foreign films could not get over here. Then as the US entered the war, films began to be used for propaganda and showed open sympathy for the allies. Pearl Harbor exploded into a culture of killing, with the Japanese presented as evil. Films discussed included Big Parade which was against privileges, A Very Long Engagement about mental breakdown trouble.

She seeks him no matter what … again heterosexual romance at the center — this paper made me long to read the book, and in French.

I asked if there were difference between America and European gov’t and was told the US gave people more fair warning. European gov’ts and groups treated film more respectably and it was seen as an art; European art saw the war from a social collectivist point of view, where the US consistently sees each story as individual with individual heroes winning out (or losing), epitomizing the culture. It seemed to me there was not enough on this business of cultural reflection but what the panel was interested in was the depiction of history on film. How successful does film tell history; are films history itself in the way they intervene and influence people.


I had meant to go to at least one panel on Indian film but it turned out only one person showed up for two panels (5 could not get Visas — why did they wait until the last minute). I did hear some talk about how Indian films at their close are always redemptive. The gov’t would not let anything else through and the average person would be shocked not to have some happiness at the close, some security. This is ultimately a religious censoring, in favor of a benign providential pattern.

When that was over, I hurried off to a nearby panel on Teahouse of the August Moon. Still Wednesday , 11:30, “Film Adaptation III (3340).

Marlon Brando carefully made up to look Asian

I came only in time for the last paper on the infantilization of Okinawa and Okinawness by Risa Nakayama but heard the basic thesis of the others, about the story based on the play by John Patrick and the novel by Vern Sneider. The point was made first the play was to be done by one actor and director, but when Brando showed interest in the project, he replaced the original actor, chose a different director, changed the age of the female lead, so that a sweeping transformation was undertaken. The end result was one which differed significantly from the play and the novel. In one clip we watched a man playing an American sergeant berate Brando as Sakini for not having a goal in life, nor “get up and go.” Brando was de-sexualized. The actress, a successful singer on American TV in the 1950s was presented as a child hanging laundry. A kind of fake version of Asian music was played to which some traditional dancing was done. If an attempt was intended to cross cultures and make US viewers understand and sympathize with this culture through “charm” (and Brando had been involved in serious ventures in On the Waterfront), it failed utterly. We are invited to laugh at stereotypes.


I learned a lot in this session. As with all the sessions I went to, there were few people in the room, this time perhaps 4, all from Okinawa. I did not know that the US still controls this island as a military base. I was reminded of how we bombed and destroyed much on the island during WW2 and learned of how little was done for the people when we took over. For example, no schools were built as had been promised. One woman in the audience was old enough to have been on the island in the 1950s and told us of what she experienced. In 1962 there was a cholera epidemic, and mob scenes over vaccination. The question was asked, If there is any value in any of this material. They seemed to suggest that the novel won the Pultizer prize was worthwhile. The play won the Critics Circle award.

I was startled when I saw the film. I did see it in the 1950s and after all this time (I must’ve been about 9) I half-remembered something. Now it just appalled me.


I stayed for Film Adaptation IV and went on to V that afternoon (3440, at 1:15 pm, and 3543 at 3:00 pm).

A scene from upper class British berth in Nazi Titanic

Sethuraman Srinivasan read a paper on a Nazi film about the sinking of the Titanic. Gramsci said socialism can get nowhere because an agenda of capitalism is enforced from the time of everyone’s earliest years of childhood. The ruling group asserts intellectual and cultural hegemony. We see this in the way Goebbels took over the cultural industry in order to influence people; his aim was to monopolize the media, to control the artists, shape the audience, appoint the financial group, enact a fascist state agenda. The film industry was nationalized, undesirable artists arrested. He knew he had to make a movie entertaining too. He especially liked to use history as for the average person what is said to be true will be taken as more convincing in argument so like other people he turned to the Titanic for its mythic power A large budget of 16 million to make anti-British propaganda: passengers attack heroic crew; wealthy are saved first, people in steerage left to die. The accident could have been avoided, but the crew was taken orders from a corrupt financier; mercantile alliance cared more for enriching themselves than the people aboard. There were heart-rending scenes of horror in this film, and much eroticizing of women. It does not seem to have been popular.


I found of great interest Kathleen Turner’s paper on making films from Young Adult fiction because she described the fiction too: it often shows a search for an identity; a need for connection to others and yet to be left alone; most often it’s narrated by a teenager, so a subjective self is at the center of the film. She conveyed the tone of these books; it’s often violent and there are intense zigzags in the stories. She wanted to see what was transferred from Lion, Witch and Wardrobe, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, Golden Compass to their respective film adaptations. The problem with her paper was when she looked for evidence of 1st person narrator and subjectivity in the films she became vague, had not clearly identified analogous filmic techniques except for voice over.

Pip looking up

Tien-Ai Chin gave a fine paper showing how David Lean used light and darkness (artificial candle-light and shadows), profile photography, together with gloomy splendid architecture and parallels shots and outfits to convey the moral world and themes of Dickens’s Great Expectations. Profiles (Lean felt) make us feel people are hiding from their pain She began with the opening still of Pip coming to Miss Havisham & ended on the repeat closing still of Pip and Estella escaping, going through the film at key points. Estelle is filmed to show her replicating Miss Havisham, others to show them humiliating Pip who is caught off from warmth.

Pip with Estelle in Miss Havisham’s place

By the end of the film Miss Havisham knows she has done great harm to Pip, and as she does the sunlight begins to be felt. I could see that Andrew Davies in his Little Dorrit had for the characters of Mrs and Arthur Clenham imitated Lean’s film.

A very complicated abstract paper on remediation in films was read by Darren Zufelt. If he was trying to teach what is meant by remediation, he certainly went about it using the most difficult abstract language one can find. Basically you take something found in one medium (say theater components, say a painting) and adopt it into the new one. Example: we see a book being read inside the movie and then the camera moves into the book. We have to place the film adaptation on the same level as its textual source, and interpret its web of intertextualities or re-makings (remediations). Some texts resist remediation more: for example a play whose words have become important to us. At the end he discussed new media; his example was audio books. Listening to a book read aloud dramatically by a single person changes the experience.

There was good discussion after these papers. I contributed the idea from my S&S book that when a movie is seen mostly from a single character’s point of view, when he or she is in every scene we have an equivalent of first person. I suggested the power of the 1995 S&S with Emma Thompson is she is in almost every scene and the way the camera is used suggests we are seeing everyone from her point of view.

There are normative moments in the The Piano Teacher

David Young had a hard sell. He argued that in Michael Haneke’s films, violent, cruel, out of alienated points of view, we repeatedly have instances of tender love. In Amour the elderly man loves his wife so selflessly that he kills her because she wants this. He cannot himself bear to lose her. We see humane acts in their daily routine. In the Time of the Wolf where there is such terror, savagery, nonetheless a feral Rumanian boy witnesses love and compassion between a man and wife; people attempt to survive and join other survivors. Young found love within a scene where a man axes a family fish tank and watches the fish slowly suffocate. I must say I missed the “small act of relentless love” he described. Even The Piano Teacher where love is shown as alienated sex and the ending is a brutal rape, we see that Isabelle Huppert wants to be loved; she prefers the hard relationship because she fears being hurt. Young quoted Haneke: “In general everyone has an expectation of love … most of the time I do not care about your expectation, I just care about my own.” This is what he studies, and when people do care for another.

For the last film paper I heard, Michael Rennett on Judd Apatow, a TV producer, director, screenplay writer, and Stone and Kuznick’s presentation of Part 3 of Untold History and question and answer period afterward see the comments.


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David Suchet as Melmotte facing them all (from Davies’s 2001 TWWLN adaptation — in the last phase Suchet has in mind Charles Laughton’s moving performance as Quasimodo)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve returned to Trollope with a plunge. A writer for our time. Like Dickens, a geographer of our imagination, utterly televisual (via Andrew Davies), and aptly post-colonial.

Over the past two weeks I’ve been reading his (magnificent panoramic) The Way We Live Now and his brilliant psychological-social masterpiece, He Knew He Was Right. I had begun them once again (I’ve read both at least twice) and gotten about one-third of the way through each when I wrote a proposal for a paper to be part of a collection of essays on British Historical Costume Drama on TV (from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey), and though I’ve not had an absolute acceptance, it’s as near as firm yes as one can get. The only doubt will be if the group can get enough essay proposal to go forth for a fat volume.

Donald Pleasance played the character whose presence began for Trollope his Barsetshire novels: here he plays his cello (1982 BBC Barchester Chronicles, Alan Plater)

It would not be due until next fall, but my problem now is my proposal for Mapping Trollope was accepted by Sharp, and that will be due mid-summer. To map Trollope, to delve his re-creation of London, the mythic Barsetshire, the counties of Dillborough and surrounding areas from The American Senator (Ayala’s Angel), to say nothing of Barsetshire country (which includes both series, Barsetshire and Pallisers), I shall have to read in detail, taking down specifics from several very long novels. I know from experience the whole picture of Barsetshire first emerges in Doctor Thorne, that the chronology of the Barsetshire and Palliser books is more or less consistent and the mapping say of TWWLN fits into that of the Pallisers. And I did want to include the careful mapping of Western Ireland in Trollope’s 5 Anglo-Irish novels and two stories (consistent with the Phineas books), which are no where well enough known.

One world Trollope.

On top of this from my trip to NYC to listen to a lecture at the NY Trollope Society by Prof Nicholas Birns on Trollope’s La Vendee as historical fiction, I’ve again come into contact with this generous scholar who years ago (really) encouraged me to send him a paper on Trollope’s travel books for his Antipodes: a Global Journal of Australian/NZ literature. He told me he loved my book (I never forgot that), especially the Irish sections where I argued for the central importance of Ireland in Trollope’s life and work. I found myself unable to write the paper because at the time I didn’t understand post-colonial theories and perspectives, and the only thing I could think of was descriptive and that meant (I felt) going to Australia. Jim won’t listen to that (cost, distance), and how could I begin to spend enough time anyway.

Walhalla, Victoria 19th century print

Since then I’ve learned about post-colonial theory (see my blogs on Christopher Hodson’s Acadian Diaspora and Diasporic Jane and Indian films) and have been able to come up with a perspective which would enable me to discuss say the relationship between Trollope’s travel book, Australian and New Zealand and his novels set in Australia — without going to Australia, or if I did for a relatively short time (I do long to go). On line I’ve done that for his American Senator and North America, which we read in conjunction with one another on Trollope19thCStudies when it was still Trollope-l.

Trollope’s section on New York City and American culture as fuelled by a worship of money ever relevant (see this week’s New Yorker column, George Packer reading TWWLN).

I told him my idea for “On Living in A New Country: Inventing an Australian Identity” (a play on Patrick Wright’s On Living on an Old Country), and he seemed to like it very much, and more or less told me I could be on his pane, “The Australian Trollope,” in a coming Trollope conference. Yes a group of Trollopians are not waiting another 25 years to get together again (see Exeter conference), and in fall of 2015 plan to meet in Belgium at the University of Leuven. If I did that it would mean reading another set of long Trollope books but some new (and to me) interesting Australian literature which I have grown to love. I should say I was once part of a group looking to publish on Trollope as traveler (this was 10 years ago) when I read AngloAustralian novels (e.g., Henry Kingsley’s Geoffrey Hamlin) and Australian & New Zealand famous classics (Marcus Clarke, For the Term of His Natural Life, and Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River, Ethel (Henry Handel) Richardson’s enormous trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony.

Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin as Ada and Flora McGrath (1993 The Piano, Jane Campion)

The rest of my blog summarizess my proposal to discuss the film adaptations of TWWLN and HKHWR (“Andrew Davies’s Televisual Trollope”) and throws out a few ideas for “On Living in a New Country.”

“Andrew Davies’s Televisual Trollope” will include two great artists, Andrew Davies as well as Trollope. I will show that

in Andrew Davies’s adaptations of Trollope Davies developed sophisticated televisual techniques expressively to convey Trollope’s interior monologues, epistolarity, and panoramic plot-designs and Trollope’s themes of delusional sexual paranoia and anxiety, and economic corruption. TWWLN and HKHWR rely on filmic epistolary sequences, montage, flashbacks and voice-over; Davies also breaks naturalistic conventions to allow for characters directly to address the TV audience, and for the TV screen to picture emblematic allegories. We will also see that Davies engages with Simon Raven’s famous 26 part Pallisers to replace a cynical patriarchal Tory implied author with a humane, liberal feminist one, and while so doing, critiques Trollope’s texts from a feminist and Oedipal standpoint ….

Mr Gilson overpowered by Arabella French’s chignon, and getting back when she says she will do anything he bids her including of course removing it: modelled on one of Marcus Stone’s illustrations (from Davies’s 2004 HKHWR)

The first part of the paper will examine the filmic art, themes, character types, plot-designs of TWWLN and HKHWR as a similar pair: since not enough films made from Trollope in close proximity have survived, Davies cannot (as with his Austen or Dickens films) conceive of these as part of a subgroup of author-connected films. Instead they belong to Davies’s own political satiric type films made from socially-concerned novels … In the second part how scenes and dialogues in TWWLN allude to scenes in Raven’s Pallisers to comment both on Raven’s and Trollope’s work. I will also show that Davies brightens and makes much gayer and more hopeful the perspective of HKHWR by imitating the décor and kinds of gentle caricature created in the Barchester Chronicles

For “On Living in a New Country” my idea would be to follow Trollope’s unusual (so I think) trajectory of dramatizing colonialism not from the angle of the higher echelons but from that of the desperate lower middle, working class person and family, or the angle of the younger son who is not the heir. It’s such people he tells his fiction about, and it was to them he directed his Letters from Liverpool.

In the part of Australian and New Zealand just on New Zealand where he visited the Maoris and went swimming with a group of them, we have Trollope as Bohemian (sort of), but (and now this is vague) I recall I thought he was prophetic in looking forward to how ethnic politics would work out, how these would be a core of conflict, that they would seem to replace class- and money-based politics. (It was an analogous foresight to those found in his Anglo-Irish novels about how communities react to outsiders, the use of scapegoats, and collusive officials.) Trollope saw that the person or people who live in a “new” country (so they see it) have to evolve a new identity, one connected to the old one, but different and while in his novels (John Caldigate) he warns out “gentlemen” could fall to lower ways of life, he was very enthusiastic about this new identity.

20th century illustration for Trollope’s John Caldigate (originally called Mrs John Caldigate)

I was amused to find that Robert Hughes actually ends his great book The Fatal Shore (one of the great books of the 20th century; it can stand alongside Primo Levi’s If this be man) by quoting Trollope’s graphic portraits of two men kept in prison for a very long time. I did want to produce a paper. I remember seeing a film at the time, The Proposition, which seemed to me to go into the areas I was interested in from an angle of high violence — and “Aaron Trowe” (the protagonist villain share’s Trollope’s initials, AT) is a story of high violence; so too Harry Heathcoat. Here’s a wikipedia article on the Australian film The Proposition just about this group of people, which starred Emily Watson and Ray Winstone.

The Stanleys (very much the sort of couple Trollope writes about).

TMI? If you were wondering what I’ve been reading while watching all these films and going to operas, what thinking about and why, there you have it. Next up will be a blog on Trollope’s novels HKHWR and then (separately) the TWWLN


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Death of Henri de la Rochejaquelein, painting by Alexandre Bloch

Dear friends and readers,

We’ve been to NYC with the excuse of hearing an (in the event) wonderfully suggestive lecture by Nicholas Birns on Trollope’s La Vendee. Prof Birns spoke at the Groliers’ Club, an older building with full library along 44th Street.

On the novel itself, we read this twice on Trollope19thCStudies and I’ve put the postings onto my website so the reader can find many good essay-postings on the novel there. What I have to offer here are notes I took from Professor Birns’s talk: heads of topics, sketches of themes, historical writing, and an insight into the visualization of place in La Vendee which connects it to Trollope’s novella, Cousin Henry where Professor Birns ended his talk.

One problem with the talk wwhich Prof Birns confessed upfront was Prof Birns had not read the French aristocratic woman’s memoir on which book is based: Memoirs of the Marquise de la Rochejaquelin (translated by Scott). It’s very difficult to access. Trollope did much research and other sources are Lamartine’s recent history, The Girondists and a long history of the French revolution by one Archibald Alison whom Disraeli mocked as Mr Wordy. Trollope did general research too — as he did for his travel books, one of which (abortive) was an Irish one around this time.

First Prof Birns offered a preliminary set of thoughts as a preface. This is Trollope’s third novel, and comes out of intimate relationship with Ireland and his experiences of countryside and marginalized world there. Trollope knew French culture and history. Prof Birns suggested that Trollope was looking for successful topic, and his two Irish novels didn’t sell. Representing a place became for him a way to represent hus metaphoric thinking … There is rich forest and landscape in novel. (Trollope is not known for his descriptive abilities but they are important as is his use of place, houses as symbols, landscapes too.)

Professor Birns reminded us that 1848 was a year of revolution in Europe. (There was much interest in revolution in this era of open class struggle and the first building of unions.) Carlyle has a real success with his French revolution book which is hard to read; Dickens writes or will write Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities. Trollope, though, chooses counter-revolution emerges. Why? He asks and tries to asnwer, Why did peasants not support revolution? They are guerillas. Prof Birns instanced the Spanish peninsular war as analogous complicated event. Prof Birns brought up Balzac’s Les Chouans, a violent book (it seems), but it was of course Scott who Trollope is centrally imitating in La Vendee. Prof Birns also recommended Flanigan’s 20th century historical fiction, Year of the French as a companion insightful book, showing French and Irish parallels? (I have it and could not get into it. Must try again.)

As to the kind of historical fiction, La Vendee represents: Trollope uses real historical characters. It is probably also true that place is central to historical writing. It was Prof Birns’s insight that Trollope resorted to historical fiction to write a book and used the characteristics of historical fiction to try to get into what was to him another time and place and also present an inner meaning or vision about the way human politics works:

What happened was the provinces resisted a central power. Rich lords against any revolution; military leaders had allegiance to ancien regime. This was also a conflict between modern secular groups and Catholic conservatives. Trollope take sides, clearly with rebels. The question would be, why.

The central appealing character killed off in Trollope’s novel, which comes alive around that point. There is an emotionally held-in unhappiness here (said Prof Birns). Trollope also against romanticism and revolution; Prof Birns then connected book to Cousin Henry, a self-flagellating book, where place is crucial. Wales the setting of this novella and Henry ostracized and terrorized by others in the village; Henry cannot understand brutal unsubtle culture.

Prof Birns said Trollope resorts to ekphrasis because he has trouble getting into these cultures. Ekphrasis is a word that has become fashionable nowadays; it appears frequently in academic discourses (and also talk about poetry). Myself I don’t recall Cousin Henry as visual but rather an intense psychological study of a man who is outcast and susceptible to cruel bullying, but I do recall La Vendee is striking in its visual portraiture, especially one scene where the wife of an openly loving married couple (unusual for Trollope) look out a window and the wife describes the battle seen to her husband much in the manner that Rebecca describes a battle to the wounded Ivanhoe.


Olivia Hussey as Rebecca from the famous scene, and a felicitious still of Anthony Andrews as Ivanhoe (from the 1982 mini-series)

(Trollope’s novel has never been filmed.)

At this point my notes give out. I was really cheered by the friendly greeting of the man who runs the society, Randy Williams; by meeting Stephen Amarnick and hearing how his edition of the complete Duke’s Children is coming along. Two people told me they are on Trollope19thCStudies and read my postings sometimes. One woman said she could not stand I gave away something about Downton Abbey (! see my P.S). I hope now that I’ve retired to be able to find time to come to NYC to attend the society’s meetings, e.g., go to this year’s dinner and come far more regularly to the lectures.

For the rest of our trip, a diary journal (we saw 3 operas, 1 play, a movie, went to Central Park, the Met Museum, the Strand, and walked a hellavu lot: From NYC: a diary of shopping, theatre-going, walking …


Postscript: Still on the train earlier in the day, coming into the station. We are waiting in the space between seats in a crowd of people pushing holding luggage, I see a young man with largish black laptop at the same time watching his screen. I peek. There’s Miss Obrien in her usual corner spot at the table next to her Shirley Maclaine’s maid, POV Anna, across the way Mrs Hughes … .. Later I go to lunch and open New Yorker, first joke I come to: lady visiting prison on phone reporting to husband “the bad news is Lady Sybil died but Bates is home … “


Jim now tells me the man had all 3 seasons of Downton DVDs on his table set up in his seat area …

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Woolf’s working desk at Monk House

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve four more sessions to report on from this year’s MLA (see a rejuvenating time, the 18th century, public poetry, audio books, films): two on Virginia Woolf (one with Katherine Mansfield as part of a dual subject), one on Mark Twain and Henry James, and a fourth on the Victorian marriage plot.

Duncan Grant (1885-1978), The Coffee Pot (1916)

“Everyday Woolf” (No. 31, Thurs, Jan 3rd, noon to 1:15 pm) was the first I attended and (as sometimes happens) it was one of the best. All three papers were superb. Adam Barrows talked of “Mrs Dalloway and the Rhythms of Everyday Life”. Mrs Dalloway is confined to one day is a polyrhythmic sympohy felt in the body of biological rhythms, social patterns intersecting with the irreducably local and yet it all fits into a cosmic pattern. Discordant uneasy rhythms which function as disruptions. The text covers sleeping, eating, a continual melange of noise, visual perception, silence. We hear an irregular heartbeat. Septimus is made ill by what is imposed on him from war and now work. Mr Barrow read aloud great reveries from the novel. Kayla Walker discussed To the Lighthouse; each character is at work, Mrs Ramsay cooperatively, carving out space and time; she close-read the text for its rhythms and imagery.

In his paper, “Virginia Woolf and the Modern Blessings of Electricity,” Sean Mannion suggested that modernism begin when electricity began to spread. At first it was written about as a disenchantment, and Woolf shows nostalgia over fire- and gaslight. Newspapers found the world now looked like an amusement park; moonlight would not have the same function or meaning; light is now separated from fire. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of he warmth and radiance of gaslight. There were dangerous and fatal incidents early on as people had to learn how to use electricity. Woolf’s Night and Day captures a love of firelight lost in the glare of electric light; her Jacob’s Room has a mixed assessment. Of course the power of what electricity could do more than compensated for the losses, and there is an ecstatic feel too (in The Voyage Out), among other places, the library.

Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), a friend reading in a library

A second session on Virginia Woolf, this time with the Katherine Mansfield Society, was about their personal relationship and aesthetic and professional interactions (No. 338, Fri, Jan 4th, 3:30 4:45 pm). I missed the paper on their reaction to the newly formed theories of psychoanalysis, but I did hear part of Bret Keeling’s talk on their dealings with masculinity in their work and men in their lives, and Kathryn Simpson on their differing attitudes towards gifts (also in the sense of talent) and desires. She defined a gift by its function: it can consolidate social bonds, be an assertion of power and identity and authority. What was the central focus of all I heard (including the discussion afterward) was how the two women were different in background: Woolf the daughter of the Victorian intelligensia, and then a member of the Bloomsbury intellectual art-radical group, a highly defensive writer; Mansfield a colonial who needed money more desperately than Woolf and was treated badly by men, plagiarizing sometimes, radical, adventurous in during her tragically short life. Writing was central to their identity and their styles and aims were coterminous; they were rivals.

James Whistler (1834-1903), The Giudecca (chalk & pastels on grey paper, 1879)

The joint-societies’ session of Henry James and Mark Twain (No. 377, Fri, Jan 4th, 5:15-6:30 pm) was filled with unexpected perspectives. Kaye Wierzvicki’s paper focused on James’s The Bostonians, Book 3 set in Cape Cod. We encounter a post-civil war US, a central nub in a global network as well as tourist attraction. James explores its geographic identity, what places in the world it brings together through culture and characters; it figuratively projects other places like it. Kathryn Dolan taught me that Twain was anti-imperial. Twain wrote several travel books, and one (1866?) about Hiawaii exposed how the product sugar led to cruel exploitation of imported (coerced) efficient labor patterns. In his later travel writing he reported on British islands in the South Pacific, Following the Equator, then he traveled to islands in the Indian ocean. He sees forms of slavery in the transported. I just loved Harold Hellwig’s paper which he read very fast as it was long: he covered the many images, myths and stories, and visions of Venice found in Twain and James’s writing. Both show that the allure of Venice is a cover for its ruined condition. Venice provides an inner journey of the mind; Twain presents a place false, destructive marketplaces yet its people with strong self-respect. Both have famous character sketches where they capture qualities of life (James an American Mrs Bronson, Twain an escaped black enslaved man). He recited powerful passages by both writers and had a continual montage of images of Venice from the Renaissance until today when few can live there because of the continual floods.

Christopher Eccleston as the hopeful aspiring Jude at the begining of the film (1996 Jude directed by Michael Winterbottom; see my blog on Hardy films)

The last session we attended (suitcases under our chairs) was “Rethinking the Victorian Marriage Plot” (No. 745, Sun, Jan 6th, noon to 1:15 pm). Despite an apparent contemporary emphasis on women characters looking to be useful, do real work in the world (for which they are paid in some way), a professed interest in disabilities and people in need, the underlying perspective was that of women reading for love stories that teach the female reader what she wants to hear as relevant to her. Talia Schaffer suggested that Jane Eyre scorns St John Rivers because his ideal of meaningful work represses private satisfactions. Ms Schaffer looked upon Rochester as disabled and needing Jane’s help and love. Maia McAleavey discussed how the bigamy plot in Victorian novels substitutes for an argument on behalf of divorce: in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd a female bigamist makes choices she escapes from; in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure Arabella marries bigamously and finds more opportunity while Jude and Sue by behaving ethically find themselves bound and destroyed.

Sue (Kate Winslet) in a similar hopeful moment (1996 Jude)

As I sit here tonight I find myself going through the MLA book of sessions and wondering why I didn’t go to this or that (tonight seemingly) far more interesting session than those I chose. In these four blogs I have omitted a lot I did try because the time turned out dull, or jargon-ridden and phony, people posing, or the topic actually preposterous. Some were hard to write about or take notes: like a session given by companies who have put huge dictionaries on line. I went to no sessions on translation; none on intriguing odd topics (“Denis de Rougemont and appropriations of the troubadours”); there were sessions on dubbing and subtitling in movies, on animals, on psychoanalysis in literature, prison architecture, the poetics of death, global Shakespeare. It was a matter of guessing, try what I knew and where I might meet friends and acquaintances, try to go to some with Jim, leave a little time for going out and eating (it was too cold to explore Boston much). I can’t prove this but I had a sense there were fewer sessions than there used to be, and consequently a greater proportion of sessions on job hunting, careers, teaching and scholarship politics (all of which I’ve learned to avoid, especially anything for contingent faculty which often are semi-acrimonious).

I need tonight to remind myself that when we left we were exhilarated by our time away, and said we would go again the next time the MLA came to the east coast (as long as it was not too far south). We have two planned for this year already (ASECS in April and EC/ASECS next fall) and I’m going to one on Popular Culture here in DC in March where I plan to spend a full day listening to sessions on film adaptations, films and hear a paper on Winston Graham’s historical fiction from a feminist standpoint.

Inge Morath (1923-2002), A Park Bench


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Jean Henri De Latude (1725-1805) escaping

Roger Daltrey as Macheath (Sheppard) singing a rousing Handelian drinking song (1987 Jonathan Miller’s production of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera)

Dear friends and readers,

We returned from the East Central American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference late Saturday night. I found it rejuvenating — there may be in the world a set of people as enthusiastic over 18th century studies, but surely nowhere is any group more devoted.

The topic for the conference was “What does infamy matter — when you get to keep your fortune” [Juvenal], but of course not everyone does. I had not realized what a fruitful angle this could be until I came to listen to the papers. This was not the emphasis of the papers, but it seems to me a craving for money and all it can buy of luxury, and for respect and all it can gratify of pride and self-esteem were primary motivations leading to the infamy all figures I heard about the first day of the conference endured when they failed, perhaps kept failing, and then tried and tried again. Chance and and the changes of times then wove the kind of curtain or exit each won when they grew old and/or died. This does not cover all cases: women become infamous if they lose their virginity or chastity in an socially unacceptable way. Sometimes people can courageously defy a powerful man and yet not he but they become infamous.

For the 2nd part click here.


Typical vision of a period trial: the seven bishops at trial

Three superb papers in the first session on Friday morning: “Infamous Conduct: Treason, Bigamy and Escape Artistry.” The chair was Jack Fruchtman. In these three cases (as in a couple of others) I offer more detail than I have of late or I do of the others because the papers offered in the first session had such interesting and (to me) new content, but it should not be taken that I’ve gotten the whole of these papers; these are just outlines where I omit much detail, nuance, and post-modern and other arguments.

Jane Wessel spoke on the trial of the 7 bishops. A man could be hung, drawn, and quartered for performing a seditious text in 1688. In 1687 James II suspended the penal laws against Catholics, and debates everywhere (public, private, at work) ensued whether he had the right to do so. James then asked that clergy and bishops read his proclamation;’ in May 1688 the bishops in effect declared that the king had not the right unitaterally to impose tolerance and suspend the penal laws for Catholics. The clergy did not want to read this petition because that was tantamount to saying they approved (they did not).

Well, the bishops had been foolish enough to show up at James’s request to talk to him. It seems the two sides had been alone. James then had them indited for a misdemeanor. The bishops themselves did not publish their petition, but it quickly appeared and no one could say how or who was responsible. So the prosecution focused on publication: they argued that the act of writing was itself a form of publication, writing an armed act of rebellion, a violent act. The defense rejoined that a peer of the realm could not be brought to trial for a misdemeanor.

The prosecution was unsuccessful when the justices could not come to a decision and the jury were appealed to. So the prosecution tried again; a new inditement accused the bishops of “vi et armis.” One of the peers who challenged this was Heneage Finch, later 4th early of Winchilsea (Anne Finch’s husband); a state of mind was not treason. Again the prosecution countered that the Anglican church had a doctrine of passive obedience; writing was active rebellion. Justices split and jury again ruled in bishops’ favor.

This case bring before us the interrelationship of publishing, writing, political engagement with and without arms. The trial transcript was printed, and was over 100 pages.

Barbara Villiers Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709)

Ashley Shoppe discussed the liaison and marriage of Robert (Beau) Fielding to Barbara Villiers, Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland and Castlemaine. Fielding was nearly allied to some powerful people, and he inherited a fortune from his father-in-law. He proceeded though to squander it, and from then on made a career for himself by marrying rich older women. She was 65 when they married; she demanded a divorce and got it pronta. It was on Nov 25th that they married. Meanwhile much earlier Fielding had tried to marry another woman for money and instead ended up marrying Mary Wadsworth. He was before this involved with Anne de Laure. The time together and part included brutal beating by Fielding of Cleveland, emotional humiliation, assault. He was imprisoned as a Jacobite though he had not involved himself in politics. In 1706 Fielding was found guilty of bigamy, which carried a death penalty. Nothing like it was ever inflicted. It should be noted that Fielding and Cleveland later reconciled themselves to one another. It’s important to remember that Cleveland could have had children but apparently did not.

Two popular memoirs were printed not that long after:one memoir defended her as an upper class woman and therefore allowed; Henry is someone who is used to watching his wife flirt and more with his friends and brothers. The other condemned her a worse than useless aristocrat; it has Steele in it as someone who acted out of individual desire and that the reader should emulate his actions.

The one by Richard Steele lampooned Fielding as Orlando the Fair and ridiculed both people, showing real disdain for aristocratic corruption. Steele is criticizing the Tories and that Fielding was mad. Steele was an orientalist and applied sexualized imagery to Valeria. In this tale the seraglio exercises a fascination, and the Stuart abuse of power roundly criticized. His usage of Cleveland is called barbarous; and he is presented as effeminate, ridiculous.

Latude memoirs

Michael J. Mulryn delivered the last paper. Jean Henri de Latude was a man who achieved notoriety by his many escapes from prison, the persecution (as he felt it) from the Marquise de Pompadour armed with an initial lettre de cachet. She had gained power first as the king’s mistress and then as the woman who organized his seraglio and saw to his every need. Today she has been given a positive press as a patroness of the arts. Latude has been depicted as a con artist and madman; he depicted himself as a victim of the excesses of the ancien regime. His Memoirs were popular, and part of the anti-Bastille literature. (One should remember there were people who supported the lettre de cachet system and Bastille, e.g., Sade’s mother-in-law.) The Bastille was stormed to get arms.

Who was he? A fast-talking “Houdini” who eventually had 4 aliases, and could talk himself into and out of situations; he had been the illegitimate child of a domestic servant, and so could not inherit anything. He decided to tell the Marquise of a plot to assassinate her and threaten her that if she did not pay him, the plot would go through. She did fear assassination and put him in prison. Probably this plot was a bunch of lies.

He then (like Sade) spent many years in prison; he became famous for his extraordinary escapes but would be brought back. One of the most famous occurred in the Bastille, notoriously difficult to get out of. This escape included building a ladder, climbing chimneys, getting past grates and sentries, hours spent in a frozen moat. He was helped by a friend, a famous engineer, who organized the escape and he ended up in Charenton. He said he’d rather die than write a letter of apology to the Marquise. He claimed she cast spells on him. In 1777 the Charenton monks at Charenton helped him to escape but when he got out on the streets he mugged someone. One of his re-arrests occurred in Holland in 1756 when he cashed a letter of exchange sent him by his mother. The Marquise herself kept hunting him down, using the state’s resources for this. At last he ended in one of the worst prisons, meant for ordinary people (no gentlemen), where he somehow managed to write copiously (he would use his own blood it’s said).

His Memoirs were then transferred to someone outside the prison and in 1784 published. Many people sympathized and came to his defense; Louis XVI revoked the original lettre de cachet and he was freed. Later in life he dined with celebrities like Thomas Jefferson. After the demolition of the Bastille he was paraded through the streets like a revolutionary hero. Stories of all sorts were printed and it is very hard to distinguish fact from fiction. One historian, Brentano, wrote a tract on behalf of the gov’t; another defended Latude who could present himself as a gentleman. It is possible he was simply a clever common criminal. He was probably emotionally disturbed; his father never would recognize him. Towards the end of his life he had a pension and lived in a lovely apartment.

Then we had a lively question-and-answer period. Someone asked where do the trial transcripts of the Fielding-Cleveland case come from? Ms Wessel said the state published them after the “glorious revolution” (James II ousted); the 1706-7 Memoir is a 9 page cheap publication; Lawrence Stone told the story and there was a popular biography in the 1980s. Someone else was surprised that the King met the bishops alone and had himself insisted on the interview. What went on in the bigamy trial itself? Fielding tried to insert his marriage to Mary Wadsworth and was able to use benefit of clergy to avoid execution. I asked if the brutality he displayed at all influenced the outcome and she said it’s hard to know. A final set of questions were about Latude. Mr Murphy suggested that Latude had a grandiose view of himself, that he never was a loner type. What is telling is how quickly the Marquise could enlist the state apparatus and spies to locate Latude and extradite him from Holland.

It seemed to be felt by everyone that the way the powerful king, the lawyers, and the 7 bishops behaved and the stories of Latude and Pompadour had parallels to our own era of eroding civil rights, and how cases prosecuting whistle-blowers and so-called terrorists show the same avoidance of central issues to argue small points to get the case thrown out of court, the same use of harassing hounding police forces and state apparatus. The class parallels: upper class people are allowed; or upper class people are drones. I see a parallel in the Fielding case in that he was let off and had been so treacherous and brutal to the women he preyed upon.


Sir John Hill (1716-75) where he’s called a botanist and that his “provocative and scurrilous writings involved him in many quarrels, both in the field of science and that of literature.”

Mid-morning we listened to George Rousseau’s plenary lecture on John Hill; this session and a reception later on were really book launches. As Mr Rousseau’s was a talk and included many anecdotes about himself, the Royal Society (he’s a fellow), and the people he’s known, I omit much only bringing in what seems to me might be of interest about Hill and the book. Mr Rousseau’s salient idea is that Hill sought celebrity as a way of getting money; that he was socially a borderline personality, often “badly behaved,” an outsider whose untamed genius led him to offend and outrage all sorts of people so he was continually changing professions or simply involved himself in many areas of life so that he can function as a sort of “filter” or mirror which manifests central aspects of 18th century life. To me Hill seemed a polymath.

Among the stories told were how Hill was blackballed three times by someone in the Royal Society and so Hill never was a member. He was the 2nd son of a clergyman who owned more than 100 books and taught the boy himself (including Greek, Latin, science). His employers included Stukeley (who uncovered Stonehenge); his patrons included the Earl of Richmond, a man living on a cosmopolitan estate, Goodwood, where a highly cultured informal community interacted; Emmanuel de Costa was a geologist and friend whom Hill betrayed by plagiarizing Costa’s research, but then de Costa embezzled funds from the Royal Society and went to prison for this. Hill went after Christopher Smart and was badly behaved to Garrick. Through Hill’s connection with Bute (see below) and Linneaus Hill was knighted. One he tried to fake his own death.

Hill’s writing was enormously varied and continual: like a Grub Street denizen he wrote around the clock to make money, scandal chronicles, early fiction, science, operas, farces, routs (perhaps as many as 200 works). He paid 50£ to get a certificate as a physician; he began a newspaper with Ralph Griffiths called The Daily Advertiser where Hill wrote twice-weekly columns where he made 1500£ a year. He wrote on reproductive science, a treatise on tobacco which correlates it to cancer. Angry that he never got into the Royal Society, he wrote a prose satire about it which like the Dunciad degrades people and names names. Lord Bute, George III’s tutor became a friend, both loved botany and Hill functioned as a master gardener and then published a huge work on vegetables.

Among those who drew or painted him was Allan Ramsay when Hill was 37. Hill married twice, the first time to the daughter of Earl of Burlington, she died early. He then remarried the Viscountess Ranelagh with whom he had 10 children; 6 survived

Mr Rousseau did not seem to like Hill very much, nor be sympathetic. He assumed that his audience would not care for Hill either. In the question-and-answer period someone seemed to suggest perhaps Hill was really most driven into extremes by a need for money. For my part the portrait as presented prompted some empathy nonetheless. I liked Hill for his reactive defiance and anger and non-conformity, counter-productive though some may find it.


Mary Robinson at the height of her beauty as painted by Joshua Reynolds

After lunch, I went to two sessions, and heard five papers altogether. In the first session, Caroline Breashears’s “Secret and Celebrated: Life-Writings by and About Notorious Figures” Ellen Malenas Ledoux’s on Mary Robinson’s Memoirs, was on the now familiar material of a subjective reading of the actress’s images: did Robinson invite interviews half-undressed and breast-feeding and chose the peculiar format of her memoir, 3/4s written by a pious daughter in order to frame herself as good mother to exonerate herself from the infamy of having been the prince regent’s mistress or was she titillating her reader.

Jonathan Wild (1683-1725) in his prison (1725)

Jack Sheppard (1702-24) just before he was executed as drawn by John Thornhill

Peter Staffel’s paper presented Wild in four ways: what we can know of his life, how he is presented by Defoe, John Gay, and finally Fielding. Wild was a highly successful cutthroat businessman type who as first someone in the prison and then a fence-receiver and thief-taker governed a ring of associates, cunning and cruel, he was unable to recognize the resentment and angers of others (e.g., Sheppard), and himself was terrified of execution and tried to kill himself by poison in order to avoid the abuse (physical too) of the hanging scene. His grave was in fact robbed and the body stolen 3 days later — perhaps by people fascinated by him who thought they could learn about his brain this way. As with Michael Murphy, Mr Staffel showed us the difference between what we know of the actual facts of the man’s ilfe and character, the writer’s texts, and various legends.

One question was how did he achieve such notoriety? Prison had been a step up for him, a place he could organize from, terrible though such places were and despised the people in them in this era, with incarceration not seen as a punishment, but a period of waiting either to be freed or murdered by the state apparatus. Wild became Mary Melliner’s lover, herself an effective brothel madam there; he learned a lot from Hitchen, a master in Newgate and the Old Bailey. Wild kept a ledger, had stolen goods to offer others, was a good interviewer of people, could extract high fees and recognized strong desires for given things and manipulated this into high fees.

Isla Mair as Jenny Diver (Mary Melliner? the 1987 Beggar’s Opera)

We didn’t talk very much about the three texts, all of which are read today, nor was there any time to go into the different realizations of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, out of Gay, as black farce (Bertold Brecht), as opera (Benjamin Britten). I found myself remembering how Jonathan Miller in a brilliant BBC production in 1987 aided by theatrically effective actors turned the comic material into invigorating satiric bleak tragedy by its close. More interesting perhaps how certain characters and details Mr Staffel had mentioned still turn up in this production

Patricia Routledge and Stratford Johns as Mr And Mrs Peachum (1987 Beggar’s Opera) pour over those central ledgers

For the last session of the day, Eleanor Shevlin’s “Book History, Bibliography and Textual Studies” see comments.


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Dear friends and readers,

Hitherto I’ve put all my conference reports and news about my papers on this blog. Since the beginning of this year when I created a new blog just for Austen and 18th century studies and women writers, I decided that my reports of 18th century conferences, papers and Austen should logically go onto Reveries under the Sign of Austen. However, as I know I have a small audience for such reports here, I thought I’d cross post just the URLs to the reports of the SC/ASECS conference for which I read so much for an Ann Radcliffe paper and at which Jim and I had such a good time.

So, on the good time we had socially and what touring we did, and my paper:

South Central ASECS: The Nightmare of History in Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes

The above photo is me giving the paper.

The first day and one half of sessions and papers:

South Central ASECS: Panoramas (gothic, animals in, the Biltmore), Scottish fidding, Rameau & Jane

The third day and evening, a panoply of papers, eating and drinking, ending in a dance:

South Central ASECS: Women writers, poets & actresses, and myths

Just today Jim confided in me that he took the above photo and this one of the central spa in the center of the hotel (whose three buildings formed a horseshoe surrounding the spa, which could be seen from anywhere in the building when you looked down:


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From recent movie attempt to improve the Robinson Crusoe perspective: Crusoe (Aiden Quinn) and the Warrior (Ade Sapara) in Caleb Deschanel’s Crusoe Arthurian tales often show the process of rising slowly through violence and obedience in an aristocratic society — that’s what the boys are shown.

Dear friends and readers,

Another blog which is partly intended for my students. I was asked to provide a more sophisticated understanding of texts for my students, which would (inevitably?) lead them not only to want to publish, but to go about such projects in ways that ensure publication (what is the topic of converse this year, the actual self-interested goals of participants).

I didn’t quite do that because I know that most students don’t have a discipline, much less know what is the state of place in that discipline. Instead I assigned a couple of books which analyzed the cultural values behind our children’s language; the lack of choice; and devised projects so we could hear one another’s hard-worked upon papers, projects, hopes and dreams.

The first book was Bobbie Ann Mason’s Girl Sleuth: In search of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton and Cherry Ames. I’ve written a blog summarizing, critiquing Mason’s book and setting it in the context of a short history of children’s literature.

Now I turn to Bob Dixon’s invaluable revelations — in the context of no talk at all about such things, his readings are revelations. Mason and Dixon function as two witnesses, two genuine cultural analyses of the values we find endorsed in classic and popularly distributed childrens’ books in schools and bookstores, and stories in magazines.

As Dixon says often what librarians and teachers present as their books and the reasons for choosing these are just lists or they simply describe a book through its blurb in praise or a rousing good tale …. As to popular series book, Mason says many of these books do not even turn up in schools and are not given prizes: they are just rewritten and distributed.

It needs also to be said first that many “classics” that young adults think they read — say Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels are a silently rewritten, dumbed-down, abridged and often sanitized or re-normed version of the original book.

And second, that everyone agrees much more common is to assign books with males as heroes; women writers will use their first initials to try to hide that the author is a woman. The book sells better. J. K. Rowling conforms precisely to both habits. Young male at school; she is J. K.


Bob Dixon (1931-2008), grapefruit juice in hand

Who was Bob Dixon? He is highly unusual in reaching us because he was anti-capitalism as presently practiced. I’d call him a progressive, a strong progressive. Born in country Durham in the UK, brought up by grandparents, ill from TB when young so did not go to public school, but got into university and became a writer, teacher, poet, peace activist. He did not try to take on the establishment when teaching the way J. L. Carr did.

Bob wrote much poetry but his best known books are Catching Them Young and Playing Them False in which he showed how the same elitist, sexist and racist attitudes and political ideas were being instilled through toys, games and puzzles, and he exposed the role of the commercial interests in priming the compliance of future consumers and the mass media.

His autobiography is called The Wrong Bob Dixon shows clearly how his childhood in a family broken by narrow attitudes towards his unmarried mother, his illness and the war had affected him, and how his life post war had been blighted by those same narrow attitudes and the political system that confines the ambition and natural talent and creativity of young people in the education system.

A tribute was paid to his memory in 2008 during a demonstration against war. He is not in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography nor the Literature Resource Center. The establishment erases him.

Those chapters I chose from Catching Them Young deal with issues of real concern today, sore ones: class; the imperialist-colonialist thinking and feeling which leads to devastating wars abroad; how religious allegory is used to squash an understanding of today’s world’s organizations and structures and bewilder any attempt to ameliorate the lot of most people on the earth.


From John Boorman’s Excalibur, an Athurian epic-romance:
Arthurian tales often show the process of rising slowly through violence and obedience in an aristocratic society — that’s what the stories from the point of view of a boy show us centrally

Snakes and Ladders

Dixon opens with Plato because with Plato begins the idea you can type people and also have ideal types everyone should aspire to. Dixon then asks the question why everyone we go we see a form of social apartheid and the visibilia of rank. Until the 19th century not only in the US but the UK the way the classes were explained were it’s God’s doings. Only by charity should or can you act to change this and that means only the “deserving poor.”

This is followed by a section on language and how language is used to differentiate and stigmatize people. Stigmatizing goes on all the time in all sorts of ways.

What we have is a literature that mirrors what is expected of a middle class child and norms. This is true of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake. We see this reflection in Bobbsey Twins, for example, on TV it’s been shown that the way people dress, the jobs we see that are given respect are middle and upper middle. Dixon suggests that working class norms are different, less demanding probably because less is expected. IQs and in the UK 11 plus exams where used to send some children to college and the rest to vocational schools and stop education early.

Dixon goes over fables and stories of people winning money and what they do with it: the moral here is to be happy with your lot. Know your place. It’s where you belong. We might say in the US this is not so (pp. 47-51).

Another important line of thought offered; this is the mantra of US public arenas. It’s asserted that anyone can have anything you want, you need only will it. Will it read hard, not for doctors’ wives just again.

Therefore if you don’t have everything you want, it’s your fault. It’s not the schools, lack of opportunities, connections, not knowing the right manners that stop you.

At every turn in most stories there are implications about social class, status and politics. It’s unavoidable because it’s implicit in our lives. What he is pointing out is the particular single perspective that is repeatedly imposed on children.

Dixon teaches us how to read: he makes points rarely made, e.g. “the germ of virtually every work of literature is conflict. The key is to look at the way the reader or view’s sympathies are aligned. I’ll give an example from a decent recent police procedural: Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren. It is very unusual for someone to sympathize with illegal immigrants in hiding. The story concerns the murder of two young woman who clean hotels for a living. The murderer is a male Bosnian who has raped one of them and wants to cover this up; they also know about a massacre that occurred that was covered up and he killed the other lest she tell once her sister was dead.

It’s not childlike for they are not presented as saints — no Uncle Toms — but real people interacting with real motives, of fear, desire for revenge, for jobs in hideous circumstances of wars brought about by ethnic rivalries is the way this show presents it.

Authors chosen not evil; they are middle class and this is their world, Nesbitt’s animal fables (p 58). I asked about the short answers the test about The History of Sandford and Merton so maybe I had better skip these two pages. But I”ll read them anyway (pp. 60-61). But little Tommy reminds me of little Trixie: how terrible to be rich they say; it’s our duty to accept and be glad our condition is no worse they say.

Forgotten is the idea that society is a contract and all of us are in it together and need one another and use one another.

Another problem is one we find in Dickens: the poor or working class are seen entirely from outside. Why do condescending, demeaning, implausible fictions continue to be shown? Downton Abbey showed two servants utterly abject before the master lord of the house; he is just generosity itself as he is not going to fire the aging woman but pay for her cataract operation. Won’t up her salary nor conditions of employment (pp. 67-69)

It’s an intensely class conscious world: He exposes a whole array of such books and only in the 1930 did they begin to circulate widely. takes these books and shows how the same paradigms are working out in classics movies for children are still made from: Francis Hodgson Burnett’s Little Princess, Secret Garden

Chapter ends on Tarzan of the Apes: Tarzan an aristocrat in leopard skins, heredity all.


Lagaan, a re-reading of British imperialism

Empire: Fiction follows Flag

This is an important chapter because it is so rare for people to go beyond showing racism in the US towards African-Americans and bring out the colonialist ideology that supports these terrible wars we partly fund by funding the gov’ts that pursue them.

A three page piece on Robinson Crusoe which I assigned. It’s a more peaceful book than some (p. 75) The ultimate arbiter and justification of all these is that Christianity is a better religion, the western way of life superior. At one time this was tooted unashamedly, now these ideas come in through the back door in the form of programs – in Iraq a number of laws passed to turn the essentially tribal structure of the society into a capitalist friendly one, and they passed laws against unions. They do not help women.

Killing an important part of this tradition (p. 77) as well as justification by Christianity, imperialist. Except later on as sex objects by and large women don’t turn up in these action-adventure tales and we will see very few in Ox-Bow Incidents which has some of the features of cowboy stories (p 78).

Many close imitations and (pp. 78-98) give us many variations on these foreign glamor stories, and ends on Kipling — who I think got a Nobel Prize – as to style he can write (1907). India is still a major realm in western literature; witness Jhumpa Lahiri.

The books mentioned here include authors that Mr Ellerbee’s son, Edgar in A Month in the Country, wants to win as a prize for church-going. Coral Island is the book Edgar longs for (p. 85). The aim of colonialism was to relieve unemployment at home — you could snatch land. Read the tones (p. 82). There has been change here: the Black Hole of Calcutta is now presented as part of the war of independence for India in films (p. 83) — but the presentation of the ungrateful (unnatural?) people who don’t appreciate our arms, and companies is found in the way Afghanistan is discussed today, Iraq and Iran (p 83). They don’t want us; we make things worse. The story of the Indian girl who fawns on the hero, saves him, wants to be Anglicized. That’s our Pocahontas myth (p 84). She’s really part English the way peasant girls turn out to be princesses. Part of fairy tale.

As a bye-blow these stores enforce kidnapping, child abuse and kidnapping, but I carry on. G. A. Henty, another author writing in this vein. Henty wrote hundreds of these action-adventure, sometimes science fiction, sometimes boys’ adventure-stories.

Later 19th century religion in retreat, more children are educated in schools, schools are placed where children may be indoctrinated in patriotism: the belief it’s in your interest to go to these wars and kill or be killed (p 89)

Rider Haggard (She, King Solomon’s Mines) a heady mix of sexism, imperialist wars, native Tarzan stuff. Kipling’s Jungle books: boy scouts come out of this era, Baden Powell drew heavily on the jungle books. 3. These show much cruelty to animals, don’t appear to take seriously they have feelings and an existence of their own.

These formulas remain unchanged, are only tweaked some so I didn’t assign anything on the later books except Heinlein as that allows us to see him in the context or generic background out of which his work comes and to which it belong (p. 114): Starship Troopers, a very popular glorification of war;

It ought to be a strange idea that “fighting and killing people” makes one a man only it isn’t. Ultimately all this destruction, death, maiming do come forward at the Met. I’ll come back to times where small tribes fought small tribes but the conditions have so changed that this evolved point of view functions very differently today.

I did omit Roald Dahl (pp. 111-113); his are colonialist in thrust. I find Dahl’s books so nasty where horrible things happen apart from the hero, they startle me. I have read they are liked because they fuel children’s intense resentment, give children a chance to act out revenge. Alone among popular books they are sometimes analysed and critiqued adversely. I think it’s because they do encourage hostile emotions to adults. He makes adults uncomfortable. I have read by one student a real defense of Dahl’s relatively unknown Matilda which I admit to no longer remembering but thinking the student had understood what the manipulation was.


Fangorn Forest, just outside Fairfax county

Supernatural: Religion, Magic and Mystification

The basic paradigms or story lines and suppositions are found in early religious didactic literature where after all a belief in the supernatural is central. Religion depends on a belief in a supernatural realm and beings.

Dixon begins with Winstanley because many religious groups have been rebels against the social order; most of them ruthlessly squashed – by the present establishment and its religious leaders. Doctrines are important in order to control ways of thought. Do not want people believing in too wild ideas; you want to control the fantasy.

I read Pilgrim’s Progress when a girl. Its sales were once close to the Bible; it’s written in very simple English with simple allegories a child can follow. Copies that are sold today are often rewritten in modern English (pp. 121-22 for Robinson’s mindset).

We are taught hard lessons in such schools. Where we learn what social quietism, obedience is how children experience patience; you must learn to suffer, nothing against social order ever.

He points out such books teach children self-contempt: the way the girl sleuth presents an impossible ideal is what the girl cannot not coming up to and so gives her a false body image (“I am fat”), and illegitimate norms she must and yet cannot follow, so “feelings of personal worthlessness” and self-abasement are part of children’s religious literature. Awe is one favorite mood.

Books made cheap and they are used to reinforce from another stand point what we see in action adventure. We are to despise the poor, the losers they are called in US society. I believe Romney said he had no interest in the poor. Some huge percentage of the US population nowadays.

We have the usual suspects, books proselytized for and no explanation of their values given — J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin (who I know from being on a listserv with her — as a poet), Madeleine L’Engle, Richard Adams and C. S. Lewis. He does cite some that are good and changing the mode: I’ll cite The Golden Compass by Philip Pulman (heroine). We get action adventure female-heroes in these. As we do in modern detective novels. and police procedural there are a few. Alas, often sexed up sex objects.

Basically Dixon objects to teaching them to die as a matter of course, and teaching them they can be prostitute, Five hours as beautiful. I’s how they mystify life and make you accept whatever is by making all a mystery; they also allow us to defy laws of nature: gravity, death; great escapist quests, sometimes with animals that we can identify with. The works slide into science fiction and allegories. Allegory where acts and people easily stand for concepts part of the terrain.

Evil is this disembodied force or someone is simply shown as maliciously evil (usually the result of envy — you are not to envy others what they have; if you are outcast, it’s your fault

Evil not located in the poor; anyway this often takes place where poverty is irrelevant; rather it’s class and place antagonisms that are manipulated. Great love of ceremony and ritual (p 149).

I agree with Dixon that the asserted idea children like a black and white world has yet to be proved; but if it’s a childish way of seeing the world, why do adults promote it? (p. 150)

2008 cover for Wrinkle in Time

Dixon’s comments on Madeleine L’Engle are eye-opening: enforced conformity seems to stand for communism so it’s really a political struggle that she disguises with mysticism. Her idea is matter is getting unbalanced. Her books makes no sense of the world to children.

Watership Down: a kind of smug complacency, highly authoritarian military warren. The rabbits set up a police state. In another book Adams makes no distinction between the kind of suffering that is endemic in human nature in a society (so religion becomes a kind of comfort, a hoped-for protection) and the kind that can be changed by changing human social circumstances (p 154.)

To me the sickest book I’ve read for children is G. H. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Dixon says the self-absorption it encourages makes all that happens outside the self unimportant. I remember it justifying death; a kind of medieval attitude towards miracles as what we wait around for. Devils everywhere who must be smashed. Lewis makes it explicit that the Narnia books have a Christian allegory at the center. Among other things he’s a fervent monarchist, ridicules progressive schools. He married for the first time late in life and part of his outlook is naive.

Ends on a book that shows some change. TwoPence a Tub by Susan Price. It sets up an actual debate. Death is God’s way of punishing these strikers. Does God want these people to suffer. The strike doesn’t achieve much: the men go back to longer hours and cut wages.


To conclude:

Political correctness is a phrase hurled at people who are perfectly sincere in wanting to improve the world. They don’t talk or act the way they do to obey some strange convention or impress others; they really want to see a better life for all.

What we see on TV, in the movies, read in books has a profound influence on what we do and act effectively towards gaining a good adult life for ourselves and others.


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