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Batesemerging
Bates emerging from the cottage where he now lives alone: second shot

Bateswalkingoff
Bates walking the walk, last shot, having just said ‘Nothing is over and done with, Mrs Hughes … Be aware nothing is over. Nothing is done with.”

Mrs Hughes: ‘Why must you be so hard on Mr Bates? … Don’t you want to be honest?’
Anna: But I know him. I know what he’d do. I can’t risk his future … ‘

Hamlet: ‘What would he do/Had he the motive and the cue for passion/That I have? …’

Dear friends and readers,

In Part 5 of this season, there is a remarkable departure from just about all the parts we’ve had in four seasons: the multi-plot structure where at least 3 stories and 3 sets of characters (sometimes more) seen throughout Downton Abbey gives way to an almost Hamlet-like structure: the story of the Bates’s (Brendon Coyle and Joanne Froggart) dominates in way we’ve not seen before: I counted 11 separate scenes where he is either on-screen, or the center of a strained discussion, several of them long, cut up (segmented or interwoven with others), with Bates himself opening and closing the hour.

We have the usual parallel themes, here of of suspicion: Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) convinced young Pegg (not credited on IMBD) is a thief and acting on it:

Itdoesmatter
Lady Grantham asserts it does matter that something was stolen;

pride: Molesley (Bernard Gallagher) painfully holding firm to his sense of himself no matter how self-destructive this is

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Molesley cannot forget this sense of himself, of what’s due him from him;

the farmer’s son, Tim Drew (Andrew Scarborough) holding on to his place in the order of things

Drew
Does not the past mean something?;

stories which spins further away: the new lady’s maid, Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) with her sewing machine has a past she must hide and can be blackmailed on

Baxter
No problem sewing Mrs Patmore’s (Lesley Nichol) apron;

or belong to another order of feeling: Alfred’s (Matt Milne’s) competing to become a chef at world-city French restaurant; part of attenuated conventional love stories: Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) again half-courted by someone from her past, Evelyn, Lord Napier(Brendon Patricks) and Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) emerging pregnancy; with Michael Gregson (Charles Edward), the father vanished, she bravely prosaically takes a cab to a gynecologist

gymecologist0.

(Again for a recap see I should have been a blogger.)

But what grips and holds the attention is Mr Bates’s increasing seething wrath and his perception (Bates is no fool) that the man who violently raped Anna was Lord Gillingham’s valet, Mr Green (Nigel Harman), and Anna’s way of silencing, countering, repressing him. They have five extraordinary scenes, from which I pick just this still of Anna:

Anna

She refuses to be touched by him, to allow him to have sex with her. As played by Froggart, she feels more than shamed, dirtied, to blamed, the very act of sex has become distasteful to her, bringing back memories; and we do get this sense that she has become aware that marriage is a kind of forced sex too.

The slightest gesture electrified with wild feeling:

hishand
he covers her hand with his when he begins to compel her to admit to the assault

I say he is no Hamlet because do not think for a moment he doubts who did it: to Mrs Hughes: ‘Was it the last night of the house party? … Then I know who it really was … I don’t believe you, I do not believe you, I think it was Lord Gillingham’s valet … The way his teeth are seen reminded me of a fox’s teeth, pointed, jagged:

Teeth
Talking to Mrs Hughes

Yes implicitly we are let into Anna’s changed understanding of her husband since he was let out of jail: she now knows what he’d do. Mrs Hughes tells him no use pulling his knife on her; she will not tell. More interestingly is A moment later though, Bates is seen crying, and then seeks Anna out. While he knows the way to win Anna back is to assert she is not ‘found out’ or ‘spoiled’ or less loved by him: “I have never been prouder nor loved you more than I love you at this moment now. She: ‘Truly?’ He: ‘Truly’

comingtogether;

Like Molseley, he knows ‘it’s too late’ to turn away, pretend to ignore or forget the crashing awakening trauma that has changed things. The man must not get away with it; some retaliation is from him a burning need: ‘if it was the valet, he is a dead man.’

Beyond the importance of structure, this part reveals how central is the script of a film. It provides not just what is uttered (and words matter, movies have words in them) but the tool of how everything is put together, what elides, what blends, what shifts from one angle and shot (a movie’s unit of meaning) to another.

Formulas and manuals of screenplay writing insist they must propel forward somehow or other at all times, stay within a tight pattern ever on the move; Fellowes’s scripts are not like this: they meander, they spend time filling in from memory, the past, filling characters out; this one is makes for a poetry of gouged feeling all round — even Jimmy cannot resist the spiteful suggestion that Alfred did not just miss winning a place. The characters are not given the variety nor verbal subtlety or density they’d have in a novel, but as ensemble art, this one’s sudden compression of all the others stories into slots interrupting Anna and John Bates’s agon is worth observing for anyone seeking to understand and defend soap opera and costume drama aesthetics and ways of commenting on its viewers’ worlds.

AnnaSecondShot
The first shot of Anna shows her in her room, a book on her table, nearing a window and mirror; this is the second

It strikes me I should have asked why is Bates made the center of the agon and not Anna, after all he was not raped. This is strong evidence of the masculinist discourse and emphasis everywhere we go; there is justice done Anna, and the actress, Froggart manages to convey an enormous amount of what she endures, suffers, is silent over. Since she has refused to tell, refused to act, will not confide in anyone, however, probable this may seem, she cannot be the center of a popularly appealing drama — we see here why it’s necessary to leave realism to put the woman’s point of view across.

MrsHugesConduit
Mrs Hughes as conduit

Ellen

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TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup re-named Plat when a slave (Twelve Years a Slave, directed Steven McQueen, screenplay John Ridley)

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Jay Morris Hunter as Ahab (Moby Dick, San Francisco opera production, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer)

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday and in the wee hours of the night I watched two movies I’d like to recommend not missing if you can help it. Both much worth immersing yourself in — thinking about in the case of Twelve Years a Slave and allowing the alluring beauty of the mood and music to bring you in with Moby Dick.

From what I hear other people say to one another, Twelve Years a Slave is misrepresented in ordinary talk somewhat. Since “word-of-mouth” retains its importance in making for a popular movie hit, I’m hurrying a little to write about Twelve Years. If seen by enough people, it could function (mildly) as Uncle Tom’s Cabin once did — this time to help against racial discrimination and racist thinking so prevalent in the US still. People have told me in some areas the film has not opened so maybe I’m precipitantly worrying the film will not be a commercial success. In my area it did open in our local art cinema; the owner rejoiced at getting two prints but it’s already in Theater 4 (smaller and not for continuing hits) and not many people were in the audience yesterday after only a week; and among these were a number of black people, so not many whites in the audience. This theater is not one black people go to much; it’s in an area that’s mostly white, upper middle and attracts art-film audiences. For The Butler I did have to go to Theater 4 but it had been playing for weeks and weeks, all summer in fact, and still the theater (4) was filled and it had a preponderance of white people. The Butler crossed the racial divide. In a nearby theater to me which has large black audiences The Butler was sold out on and off for weeks, long lines of black people waiting to go, early on and then the whites joined them.

Scuttlebutt (or what I’m told or read by friends) is how violent and hard to watch it is. It’s not non-violent and not easy to watch but not because you are shown excruciating torture or close-up shocking violence, nor is this perpetual or at all gratuitous. The violence wreaked on slaves that we see is precisely what will subdue and cow them (not nothing because it’s harsh and includes implicit threats of death), the beatings shown at a distance as (horrifyingly to decent emotions) par for the course, the ordinary routine of treatment for slaves. The coerced sex scenes (on the slaves Patsy played so effectively by Lupita Nyong’o) by the master Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbinder who does steal the movie) are not all that much different from what I’ve seen of half-rape type scenes in (soft-corn implicitly hard sex) movies which don’t name it that. The woman just lies there and lets him.

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Patsy asking Plat to help her kill herself

What’s memorable about the scene so many reviewers have mentioned of our hero, Solomon Northrup renamed Plat (Chiwetel Ejiofor) where he’s hung and will die if he does not manage to keep his toes on the ground is how everyday it is, how slaves walk by him unable to help him, how the whites watch and do nothing, and how the supposed “good” master (Bernard Cumberbatch as Master Ford) only comes to cut him down late at night lest he irritate his central over-seer. Ford gives him a violin but will not behave towards him as if he were a human being whose life matters.

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Plat rented out to a man who allows him to keep the money he’s paid for his violin playing

Twelve Years a Slave (based remember on a 19th slave narrative, a type or sub-genre) increased my respect for Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (essentially several slave narratives interwoven into a middle class type white novel) and watching it helped increase my respect for that nowadays somewhat under-rated book. It has the same attributed flaws — in the sense that there is a reductive quality, a melodramatic exaggeration going on continually so really the charge hurled at Simon Legree that he’s a monster and no one could be that bad and if he were he’d be an exception can be hurled at Epps.

James Baldwin would not like the way Plat is presented as sheerly noble and insofar as he can be good (see “Everybody’s Protest Novel”); he is not an Uncle Tom; he does not justify a(the character who does this who is popular now is Mr Carson in Downton Abbey) or suck up in his case in the face of horrible mistreatment, but he is an innocent as the film opens. When Solomon is lured to the south, it’s obvious that the two men luring him are crooks; they are over-praising him; he is a simpleton in the scenes. Master Ford as a character is better with his well-meaningness, and his inability to keep Plat, whose opinion Ford consults, thus whose abilities arouse the resentment-hatred of his over-seers slave-servant safe is believable, but numbers of the scenes are too obvious, he won’t help Plat for real, regards Plat as property he must sell to keep his debts down so our moral lesson is clear.

cumberbatchblog
Cumberbatch as the religious ethical man Ford nonetheless showing intense cowardice and lack of real understanding as he briefly explains to Plat why he sells him to Epps

But would such a man sell this man to Epps whom he knows is cruel, sadistic. Epps played as nearly psychotic and seemingly driven by guilt to be even crueller. The central parallel of the two works (Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the film Twelve Years) is this half-crazed white master. Epps is a Simon Legree and his wife a female version. But you do (Stowe and now McQueen) want to make sure the audience gets it.

MrsEppsblog
Sarah Paulson as Mrs Epps riping off Patsy’s ear and taking a chunk out of her cheek with a knife (in Dickens’s Travels in America he easily exposes slavery quoting the ads for finding escaped or “lost” slaves by the scars they are said to have)

Gets what? the key to the film’s power and importance is we see what happens to people who lose all status all caste worth – and in the case of chattel slavery this is reinforced by law which defines them as property. If they should be owned by a mad-man he is allowed to do as he wishes. The point is what law and custom allows. Sure in the Islamic world most men are not ogres, but the Koran and custom allow horrific treatment and power corrupts. People will use power if they are given it even when not as obvious as Legree or Epps.

The film is relevant to us today because today people lose a great deal of status and caste worth depending on how much money they make, the schools they go to, where they live, if they are broke — and worse, if they are immigrants or of a different racial color than the powerful. I was reminded of a book I recently reviewed on global emigration in the 18th century, enforced diasporas, and mass murder, Hodson’s Acadian Diaspora, where the point was made that safety for the average non-powerful non-connected person depends on staying where you are, among relatives or friends and people whose truth or falsehood you can gauge so not be cheated utterly to your destruction with no recourse in courts not made for you. See also David Denby on Twelve Years (from the New Yorker) as best movie on slavery made in the US thus far.

It seems to reflect a book too: there are intriguing sequences which are not part of the plot-driven movement: a group of Native Americans come to dance before the black slaves as if their culture is what slaves will understood. Other curious moments.

The one real flaw in the film is the ending as has been suggested in reviews and conversations I’ve heard. Not so much that Brad Pitt as Bass (a major contributor of money as a first-named producer) gives himself the role of our one abolitionist talker, and the only man to keep his faith with Plat.

BradPitt
Brad Pitt as Bass actually listening to Plat (with exaggerated courtesy)

Plat before this trusts a white overseer who seems to be his friend with money in return for taking a letter to the post office to send to the north to reach friends to help him in court; the man tells Epps so immediately that the man does not have the letter as evidence and Plat manages to persuade Epps (not too bright) that he man is lying:

12-Years-A-Slaveconfidingblog
Half-mad man

The story is improbable Plat persuades Epps, and then we watch Plat burn the hard won paper and writing he did so laboriously with home-made ink and quill.

Bass is a hired architect, an outsider and he does get in touch with authorities up north and friends of Northup — at considerable risk to himself if he’s found out he says.

The flaw begins with how easy it is for the friends to show up & take Northup away. Why did they never look for Northup before? Well, it is true that people were terrified and a reign of terror worked down south (Harriet Martineau’s travels in America books record this) but then it should not have been as easy as we see it for the men to take Northup away Epps should have shot him, would have. We are then not shown the court scenes that would have been another 2 hours but that would have been original and interesting — so let’s hope for a sequel? I doubt it.

The least real moment is the return of Northup to his family. He looks just as innocent and sweet as when he set out. Not haggard, not worn, not much changed at all. His black family is improbably prosperous throughout yet seem to have no connections to anyone black or white outside themselves. All subside into joy in a circle. Plat-Northup keeps apologizing and that makes psychological sense.

I compared the final scene to some photos I’ve seen of Primo Levi when he first returned from concentration camp,haggard, exhausted, not the same ever again. I wondered if a man dragged from freedom to slavery wouldn’t have the same hostage symptoms, the same urges to self-murder and sense of deep humiliation not to be gotten over. We get intertitles to tell us how Northup wrote and published his book in 1853 (Twelve Years in Slavery, and how he worked hard for the underground railway. So he stayed in the US I thought.

But then this quietly ominous final intertitle: no one knows how or when he died or where he is buried. Maybe murdered?

The central performances of male roles as everyone has said are stunningly good. I’ve already named the principles.

As a woman watching I had though to endure the annoyance of women being presented one-dimensionally throughout — except for Patsy the girl who becomes Epps’ concubine; who he beats, who picks heroic amounts of cotton each day — so she is never whipped for under-picking as others are. The two white mistresses are basically either phlegmatic and do nothing (that’s their role) or spiteful: Sarah Paulson Mrs Epps loathes Epps and tries not to have him in her bed, to leave him but he threatens her too – she is a form of his property too (this reminded me of Valerie Martin’s book that won the Orange Prize, Property); Mrs Epps is as sadistic, as sick as her husband, hates Patsy and hurls hard objects at her, knocking her down, cuts her face and ear cruelly, will not let her wash herself so she flees for soap and is gone for a few hours which leads to a horrific scene of Epps beating her and then forcing Plat to do it.

twelve-years-a-slave-michael-fassbenderblog
The scene’s reality for the era (keeping clean was difficult) makes one feel it comes from the book — as one of Indians humiliating themselves by dancing as white people expect

We see one black woman who has become a white man’s open mistress: she is fatuous, self-centered, looks down at other blacks. I don’t say these are not human impulses but that’s all we get of these women. A black woman weeps incessantly because parted from her children; another forces herself sexually one night on Plat.

So it’s masculinist movie — Fanny Kemble’s Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 1838-39 depicts the terrifying work load and sexual exploitation and cruelty wreaked on women — and their complicated humanity too. And Kemble as mistress identifies with them and within 4 years leaves her husband — she must leave behind her children to do it, only regaining the friendship of one of them in much later years. Such a thinking upright brave type woman is not in the film.

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

Which brings me to the opera of Moby Dick where (like Master and Commander out of the Patrick O’Brien books) where no women are in the film — just remembered as embodying civilization itself.

The one women in the cast was playing the boy, Pip, who is almost drowned. Suffice to say it outlined the major hinge-points of the novel (as seen in a play originally with Orson Welles from the 1940s I once saw), and it brought out the meaningful themes: does life have any meaning? who is this haunted creature-fish and Ahab or Ishmael? they are lonely? Is there a God; if so, is he evil incarnate? The music was alluring, the lines resonant to larger meanings we can identify with through generalizations. Like all films it was made for today, with today in mind. The artwork beautifully picturesque:

The production did not emphasize the primal animal-fish (as did Winston Graham in his last Poldark novel, Bella) but human displacement, alienation. The production did seem to suggest that all would have been well but that the captain was mad. (That’s not the note of the Graham novels.) As I recall the book the thrust is all is not going to be well, never has. We see a dream life or men cut off from where they could know happiness as they are driven to make money in this dangerous occupation.

So I loved the deep melancholy of the men, their desperation to bring home some whale oil for money I see as part of human life. I bonded with the man who survives and calls himself Ishmael. He had wanted to go to an island with Queegqueg and live out our lives as best we can; I felt for Mr Starbuck who is nearly shot point-blank by Ahab, and almost shoots Epps on the way. There are the comic undercutting characters too.

Costello-Ishmaelblog
And he wouldn’t know, he was tempted

This novel centrally attacks tenets of Christian belief, from justice as always or often done, to stories of an afterlife. These are deliberately not love or dynastic stories. He wanted to be spared.

I bring them together because I watched them within 12 hours of one another, and was struck by the shared masculinity identification. For myself the plangent nature of the music, Ishmael as a person alone in this world resonated enough. I think Jim would have enjoyed the great range of the masculine voices they hired. The lines on the screen and wild waters as the ships turning out from lines, the wild waters — all pulled me paradoxically soothed me. The ending of the tale is tragic as is a good deal of life.

Friday nights on TV contain a revival of the old Great Performances which I remember from my childhood, watching with my father on the old Channel 13: Judith Anderson in Medea, a Chekhov play with a male character who lived in an attic with birds, a sad poet, a bitter absolutely perfect Twelth Night (so that’s what is meant), Peggy Ashcroft, Duchess of Malfi. Now a few weeks ago the four Henry plays, from Richard II to Henry V (and the actors and actresses were great from the extraordinary Ben Wishlaw as Richard (this was Shakespeare I thought — ever autobiographical in my reading), Lindsay Duncan as Duchess of York, David Morrisey as Northumberland, Tom Hiddleston as Henry, Roy Kinnear as Bolingbroke become Jeremy Irons as king, Michelle Dockery (Yay!) as Kate, Hotspur’s wife, Simon Beale as Falstaff, (I saw David Bradley too), magnificently done.

I did not realize the new version allows you to watch a re-run (as it were) as a podcast.

Learning to watch TV, a little
Ellen

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SharpSteyneblog
Marquis of Steyne (Gerard Murphy) the one strong man in the film who sees through Becky (Natasha Little) as a liar, thief but wants her intensely (1998 BBC/A&E Vanity Fair, scripted Andrew Davies, directed Marc Munden)

BeckySteyneVanityFair2004blog
The Marquis of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) propositions Becky (Reese Witherspoon), played for comedy (2004 Focus Vanity Fair, directed Mira Nair, scripted Julian Fellowes)

the Dobbin figure, though apparently clumsy, yet dances in a very amusing and natural manner: the Little Boys’ Dance has been liked by some and please to remark the richly-dressed figure of the Wicked Nobleman, on which no expense has been spared — the Manager

Dear friends and readers,

I recently re-watched Andrew Davies’s magnificent film adaptation of Wm Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and felt I had walked into a terrain shared by Anthony Trollope & Thackeray too. In Davies’s depiction of the male characters in Vanity Fair he makes visible what drew Trollope to Thackeray and where Trollope’s texts resemble Thackeray’s. So much criticism and ordinary reader commentary concentrates on Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley This criticism marginalizes a large group of characters by Thackeray given equal importance: Dobbin, George Osborne and his father; Joseph Sedley and his and Amelia’s father; Rawdon and Rawdon’s son (made more important in all the movies), the Marquis of Steyne; the older and younger Pitt Crawleys, not to omit Becky’s memories of her drawing master alcoholic father (and how no one else forgets such a man was her father).

I began to realize how in his Thackeray, Trollope’s perspective on Thackeray derived from how Trollope was consciously looking at Thackeray from the point of view of his success as a novelist and more generally as a man: Trollope had in mind criteria of masculinity and what makes a man admired. Trollope measured Thackeray from the point of view of the man’s career and unlucky marriage. In the sections in Thackeray on Thackeray’s novels Trollope shows a fascination with Thackeray’s strong women (Rachel and Beatrice as well) and ethical men. Thackeray’s is a strongly gendered fiction as is Trollope’s and Davies strongly gendered films.

Strong women, weak men — a development of this kind of contrast is central to Davies’s films, Thackeray’s VF and Henry Esmond, and some of Trollope’s novels, but especially He Knew He Was Right, one of the two Trollope novels that Davies has chosen to do, and the choice is highly unusual because of the explicitness of the theme of the partly despised because anguished male. I’d been reading Trollope steadily once again for months now, criticism, writing papers & proposals, and watching Davies’s movies. A couple of months ago I returned to Thackeray through Trollope’s literary life of him, and feel that it was Trollope’s life of Thackeray enables me to see a shared territory between the three of them in a nervous exploration of real men’s lives and psyches against what is expected of them.

The blog is about how one can see the convergence of Thackeray and Trollope’s points of view in the way Davies adapts them. As I’ve gone over these themes in other blogs on Trollope, I’ll concentrate on Vanity Fair here, one where the exploration of masculinity’s ordeals and losses is insufficiently emphasized, especially given how prevalent it is in the book & films.

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

BeckyandherfatherVanityFairblog
First shots & male: POV child Becky looking at her sick, impoverished dying drawing master father (1998 BBC/A&E Vanity Fair, scripted Davies)

So, memory too a bitter desire for revenge may be part of Becky’s motives in Davies’s film, brought out as partial explanation for her coldness; but its source for Davies is her relationship with her father which Davies’s film begins with. This father is referred to many times in the film adaptation as that which in her background makes her unacceptable: Thackeray did make her a daughter of a drawing master and everyone refers to it at some poit. Who was her grandfather? In the film Becky’s memory is this picture. She’s getting back.

The young men are tied to and dependent on the women in this book and film:

GeorgeOsborneblog
George Osborne (Tom Ward) about to collapse into Amelia (Emmy’s) arms the night before Waterloo (Davies’s VF)

LadyJaneblog
Lady Jane (Sylvestre le Touzel tells young Pitt she’ll leave him if he allows Rebecca to be part of their lives again (Davies’ VF)

Older men are part of the continuum. An unexpectedly powerful thread in the story-line of Davies’s film is a contrast between the anguished failure of Amelia’s father and the seething loneliness and self-hatred of George Osborne’s father in his scenes first with his son, then bullying his daughter, and then trying to reach his grandson (hopelessly) through drink:

GriefStrikenMrOsborneVanityFairPt5blog
Grief striken Mr Osborne (Tim Woodward) with his grandson (Davies’ VF)

The depiction of Mr Osborne is extensive: his grief for his son George and his mis-bringing up his grandson — he is but a child and cannot drink with his grandfather the way the son did.

Thackeray gave Davies’s the trajectory of the abject Dobbin finally at the close realizing he’d wasted his life in worship of a small foolish woman too late:

dobbinRealizinghesgivenlifeforfoolPt6blog
Philip Glenister brilliant in the part (Davies’ VF)

Where Thackeray neglected a potentially tragic male, Davies built the character up: Davies gives us Rawdon and Becky’s courtship, Rawdon’s becoming subject to Becky, sharing, giving his all, trusting her naively (while not naive in any other area of his life), then gradually awakening to her coldness (to his boy) and unconcern for him. Rawdon cries. His becomes the moving story of the movie:
NathanielParkerasRawdon1998VanityFairsmaller
Rawdon (Nathaniel Parker) looking at her, saying I gave you all (Davies’ VF)

In a sense he dies of the loss (escape is his solution, but Coventry is a death sentence) giving the boy to Lady Jane who not having a child of her own, ironically the boy Rawdon becomes the owner of the estate

The accent is on heterosexual males except perhaps Joseph Sedley who modern critics tend to turn into the book’s closet (or unaware) homosexual, his debonair plumpness and lack of military prowess and woman companion inviting this.

AwkwardJosblog
The awkward Joseph (Jeremy Swift), the films first shot (Davies’ VF)

Some critics go so far as to suggest it’s not Dobbin or George Osborne Thackeray has put part of himself in, but Joseph Sedley with his love of gourmet eating too. At any rate, the sexual angle in Davies’s Vanity Fair brings home the vulnerability of males to female sexuality; the males whatever their orientation are presented as enthralled and subject to women again and again, even where it’s not admitted or maybe especially.

Characters degraded, debased, become, however sordid and ugly, poignant in their vulnerability to loneliness: thus the aging Pitt (David Bradley) whose children by his 2nd wife Becky first becomes governess to and is a harsh semi-grotesque character is pitiable when we last see him and he’s lost Becky:

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Old man (David Bradley) lonely at desk (Davies’s VF)

Nair and Fellowes pick up the depiction of comic lechers in Thackeray as shattered pitiable. Davies gives Steyne insight into Becky’s lies, thievery, ridiculous veneration of ribbons and the highest-ranking people.

In my paper Trollope’s “Comfort Romances for Men” I argued Trollope was developing an unconventional portrait of manliness out of identification and concern; last week I came across similar approaches to a continuum of males in Trollope: from Gordon Ray and Peter Shillingsburg to Joseph Litvak (Strange Gourmets); I’ve been aware for a long time how Davies’s key identifications are with the non-macho transgressive males, the inept and inadequate, the Oedipal struggle, gay men. This is not the first time Davies has made me aware of an underlying stratem in work no one ever wrote about before.

I know that Davies changes the story. For his exploration of masculinity I’d call it (the term would be manliness in Victorian times), the story of Rawdon and Becky’s relationship is much extended and show more centrally — to the point that when Rawdon is rowed away to Coventry (and we know death), the series seemed to suddenly collapse for a moment or so; we had reached its natural ending. Davies though picks up strong with the reappearance of Dobbin and bringing Emmy centrally onto the stage, and again he has changed the story as it’s not until very late in the book that Emmy realizes the piano was from Dobbin. The way Davies at first shows them as clearly a pair after Dobbin returns from India, with Emmy appearing to fall in love with Dobbin is not in Thackeray

AtWagnerOperablog
Dobbin (Glenister) given more dignity by having Emmy (Frances Grey) in love with him and her boy look up to him in Pumpernickel (Davies’ VF)

so that in the film adaptation Dobbin gets two powerful scenes of her betrayal while (if I’m remembering right) there is but one in the book, and Dobbin’s disillusion is omitted except that the words used in his second betrayal are about how she is not worth his devotion much more emphatically. The men’s bullying their wives is given full play — the way men treated women in the 1820s. Admittedly this is not in Trollope except late in his career (it’s in The Way We Live Now but early books has women liable to bully men) — that’s a real part of Thackeray’s and Davies’s feminism.

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Steyne terrorizing his otherwise snobbish aristocratic wife by implicitly threatening to tear her ear with her earring (Davies’ VF)

Gambling and cheating (in all its aspects) are elements in the build up of perverted men, destroyed men (by the system they live in). Gentlemen must not work and when disinherited are simply without funds to carry on because they must inherit money as gentlemen or are businessmen, but they must not fail as Mr Sedley (David Ross) did:

DestroyedSedleyblog
His mind shattered, he clings to rolls of paper

This would have been George Osborne’s case had he lived. The woman are oddly not destroyed and remain strong psychologically — that is very much Davies, I am not sure about Thackeray not having read him enough but do remember how strong Beatrice was in Henry Esmond and something I read by Sutherland suggests the strong woman who is amoral and yet a heroine is what struck Thackeray’s contemporaries.

Gambling is bisexual in the sense that Rawdon acts with Becky until she goes too far and betrays him — and that life’s a gamble in the book.

Countinguphiswinningsblog
First shot of Becky and Rawdon married — she’s counting up his winnings (Davies’ VF)

Davies shows how Rawdon allows himself to be corrupted and is cheating for Becky for years; but Becky has been stealing since she first left Miss Pinkerton’s and the stash of jewels found by Rawdon are many years in the making. This is re-emphasized in the coach when Lady Jane recognizes Becky’s super expensive shawl as a shawl that was in Queen’s Crawley years ago and has (she now realizes) gone missing. Becky does gamble to live by the end.

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I have meant this blog to be about a convergence of themes in Trollope, Thackeray and Davies, so some areas I’ve not looked into as yet: for example Thackeray’s distaste for snobbery that Davies shares but Trollope defends. Seen in the light of depiction of problems of masculinities, its false materialistic values, “snobbery” destroys people — ethically too. Thackeray shows us how sentimental folk turn away from financially ruined snobs especially.

Melmottegentlemanblog
Davies’s Melmotte’s (David Suchet) downfall: he wanted to be an English gentleman: part 2 of film opens with dumb show of him having himself painted with a gun, dog, and backdrop of country house and curtain (2001 TWWLN, scripted Davies, directed Diarmuid Lawrence

Another is the characters’ urge to find a high status as a gentleman and the demands this elite image makes. Robin Gilmour’s 1981 book, *The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel*, contains a long chapter on Thackeray’s gentlemen, focusing on the shift from dandyism and military glory to domesticity. It’s the kind of book summaries don’t help with as the insights are intricate to the argument and come fast and many over each page. The best review I could find was by Alexander Welsh, half of whose review is on Mark Girouard’s Idea of Chivalry.

VanityFairMeyersasOsbornesmaller
The nervous edgy violence of Jonathan Rhys Meyers captures this aspect of Osborne best (Nair’s VF)

Simon Raven’s book about the death of the ideal and type of gentlemen in the UK is relevant because Raven wrote the first The Way We Live Now script (1969), which I suspect Davies’s based his adaptation on — but I cannot get to see as I cannot travel to London this summer.

Interveningblog
Emily (Laura Fraser) and Louis (Oliver Dimsdale) fail to cope with the arch rake, Colonel Osborne (Bill Nighy) who knows just how to insinuate himself (2004 HKHWR, scripted Davies, directed Tom Vaughn)

I’ll close on parallel concerns with masculinity between Thackeray’s and Trollope’s books: He Knew He Was Right dwells on internal psychological intangible states as brought out in psycho-social dynamics, all shaped by sexuality, social norms and fears (especially male anxieties, ego needs), and money and power; The Way We Live Now an analysis of the larger forces of society as we see them enacted by individuals, not just prophetic of today, but enacting the same patterns we see today albeit different costumes.

Trollope’s attitudes emerge as closely similar through his paradigms and voice-presence. Davies of course saw this in his choice of the two and the ways he handled them, though his TWWLN reminds me of modern mini-series like the 1991-5 House of Cards, the modernity of his and Hooper’s Daniel Deronda and subversion of costume drama’s pieties in Davies’ Moll Flanders; HKHWR takes on some cheer and strong women from Plater’s Barchester Chronicles. Davies though specifically has his younger males, like Paul Montague, repudiates the model of the “mature” man marrying the girl (she forced into it) as tyrannical, egotistic, appetitive disgusting (so much for Plantagenet Palliser ….)

Davies in his one original novel, Getting Hurt, gives us a man as uncertain, anxious and shattered as Louis Trevelyan. And as lonely as Dobbin. Our aloneness another theme angled similarly in Trollope, Thackeray and Davies.

Ah! Vanitas Vanitatem! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? — Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets for our play is played out — the Manager

Ellen

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KingwheelsRooseveltInblog
George V (Samuel West) pushing Roosevelt’s (Bill Murray) wheelchair into the library where they can talk freely

DaisySmokingblog
Same night, Daisy (Laura Linney) smoking freely by small cottage on the grounds of Hyde Park

Dear friends and readers,

Until I read the reviews which came out around the time this film was released, this past Christmas (yes I’m 7 months late, but then this is better than my usual 10-20 years), I was going to tell of how much I enjoyed the movie the first time I watched it around 1 in the morning so perhaps in the mood for a sort of odd “midsummer night’s dream” about real people escaping the world of day. Then how I grew to dislike it as I considered all it had left out about the importance, greatness, nobility of the finest, best president the US has ever had bar none, his decent associates, and listened to the tasteless and hypocritical voice-over commentary of the film-makers. And then how I reversed again upon third viewing, again at 1 in the morning (gentle reader it’s been so hot here), realizing its appeal lies is that it’s traditional costume drama of the BBC type done for film adaptations with a quirky difference. It is a genuine defense of unconventionality; of people with what’s called and in the case of Roosevelt certainly was after polio disabilities. Its center is a spinster with little ambition.

Inthefieldblog
Love-making in a flowered field — Daisy also begins to smoke in this scene

So, quirky, but not so much because of the female narrator whose marginalized kindly, apolitical, private point of view permeates the film: that’s par for the course in these sort of films. They often have such women only they are usually made beautiful and married by the end. The usual nostalgia there is (including the use of film taken from a historical picnic at the time which provides the film’s penultimate scene), alluring landscapes, wistful light music, the leisurely pace, the complex psychology of some of the characters, multi- and parallel stories. Rather it’s quirky because of its self-deprecating non-solemn or off-hand presentation of the unconventional, the disabled, women no one wants (but Roosevelt it seems), the usual slice of life angle from the upper class (Hyde Park house is a sort of Downton Abbey, with several extensive staffs, steward, butler, man to carry the president when needed), one presented so wryly and combined with an important political reconciliation (this was the first visit of an English king to an American president).

Fringehangeronsblog
Daisy and Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) as friends playing cards, fringe hangers-on — the happy ending

The quirkiness is also in presenting disabilities (a stutterer, cripple), spinsters (Missy LeLand is as much a spinster as Daisy Suckley), and an unconventional marriage (FDR and Eleanor’s) as not needing to be normalized. There is none of this heroic overcoming we had in King’s Speech, no great win as in Lincoln, the stuttering and bigotry (the butler is simply let go for not being willing to allow black men on his staff in the kitchen) and unromantic sexual habits go on.

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OpeningStillblog
As in a novel the opening sentence is telling so in a movie the opening still: we begin and end with Daisy’s voice and here she is from the back answering a phone call to come help cheer the president

It was the second thought, the doubts I was going to emphasize. This is one of the cases where the over-voice commentary on the DVD is worse than a waste of time: Roger Michell and his buddies talked false hype: continual
self-regarding stories about “the stars,” silly stories about Roosevelt; if the film-makers understood anything of the film techniques they were using (which they surely did) it was the last thing they were going to discuss. What do they think people listen to commentaries for? To be given a commercial in disguise. And the feature was not a feature but a trailer, which like most trailers distorted and dumb-downed the movie to make it appeal to a larger audience many of whom would not like this movie. I was particularly offended with their salacious references to the “hand-job” Daisy is said to give FDR in the film, and thought they had handed the public a deliberately degrading and debased way of viewing the man responsible for the few social ameliorations US people enjoy today and whose laws until they were repealed controlled the rapacious banks.

I thought one typical remark in the commentary revealing. The film-maker apologized for cutting the scenes of Blake Ritson as Johnson (luxury casting here), the butler who refuses to work with black men whom Eleanor has hired.

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Scene filmed from odd angle, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), president’s mother (Elizabeth Wilson) faced by Johnson (Blake Ritson) and other staff, two black men from the back

He says it’s them or me. Eleanor says it’s you and Ritson as butler is fired. All cut — you can view it in the DVD’s deleted scenes. No explanation from Michell beyond how sorry he was to lose Ritson’s performance. This is a part of the lavish flattery of these features for all the people participating in the film and pretense of happy times for all doing the film seen together with no rivalry (it seems). I think they cut it because it lacked the semi-humor with which everything else was dramatized.

I know FDR was the greatest (best, most decent, unbeatable as to programs) president the US ever had (bar none), though I’ve never sat down and read a full-length book about FDR or Eleanor — only what essays have come my way in periodicals we get in the house. I’ve the highest respect for Eleanor — and feminist avante la lettre as to her expressed points of view — I’ve never even read her memoir which I’ve had in my house for donkey’s years. I don’t know which is the best and don’t know where to ask, and know what is written about him is so skewed — during his 4 terms (my father used to say) from the newspapers you’d think he was the most hated man in the US and each election it was presented as astounding that he’d won again and big. His one mistake (driven to it, partly by illness) was to give up Wallace as his vice-president in that last term. History might have been different. I’m telling myself I’ll find out the best book and get to that memoir. I’m no “Americanist” — just don’t read much American literature though most of the books as a child and young woman without trying were US authors and types. I do like American gothic.

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But then I read the reviews and realized the film was dissed as “imbecilic” and idiotic because it told the story from Daisy Suckley’s, an obscure woman’s point of view: Daisy has “a termite’s view of history” said one reviewer. Who could care about her? I love that it was as much a heroine’s movie as say Frances Ha or an Austen film.

LinneyMurrayblog
Daisy (Laura Linney) appealing to and FDR (Bill Murray) reciprocating affection

A film without great stirring events and resolutions offended reviewers: it wasn’t going anywhere, had no point (like Lincoln). (None of the adulterers is punished like Anna Karenina [another Xmas movie], except if you think being told that while FDR shared his estate with Missy he did not visit her in the hospital when she felt fatally ill.) Eleanor (who did keep a second house) looked dowdy! (but she did in life). Those who recognized the film’s genre complained about what was the point: its discomfort, the unease. I agree a sceptical harder view of who these individuals were and why they hooked up (more characters should have been individualized) would have improved it (see Peter Bradshaw) — there were more serpents in this garden than the disabilities never discussed.

There is something odd in this film, but no one asks what it is: why did Nelson choose the incident of the king and queen’s visits (he adds it onto Daisy’s diaries) to show Roosevelt’s astuteness and humanity? it’s not only singularly devoid of hard mean politicking, war enter only through the king’s pity for the children in Spain bombed out of existence, and it does focus on the most privileged pair in the UK, partly trivializing them too, though Elizabeth’s (Olivia Coleman) needling George (Samuel West) with pointed references to his more suave brother, Edward VIII (who vacated the throne) seemed not improbable. The film is explicitly, consciously a defense of keeping secret the private lives of these politicians – that can be used by conservatives to cover up the their personal uses of their offices, I see that, but ti also allowed a crippled man to be president greatly. Should people’s sex lives and vulnerabilities be exposed when its their economic and social ideologies that count? In this film the characters have freedom in private.

Rooseveltcatchinghimselfblog
Roosvelt catching himself with his hand

Its central scene is where the president comforts the king for his stuttering by showing himself lurching along a desk as a crippled man to reach his cigarettes. And its climax occurs when Daisy discovers the president is having an affair with Missy as well — in that cottage she thought he had set up for her. And how the two women then became close friends, buddies in a car together.

Thefriendsblog

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So instead I will emphasize how the film does not enforce normalcy. How it shows people behave irrationally: that the British King should eat an American hot dog as a great symbolic act is silly, and yet that is what happens in life. How Daisy remained the spinster around the place, the president’s friend except to those in the know. Daisy’s point of view is good-natured, open, tolerant, caring about others (her aunt played by Eleanor Bron who also lurches) as she hopes to be cared for,

DaisysAuntblog.

and this wins me over.

As with The King’s Speech, I felt sorry for the king while his character played so adeptly and slightly comically by Samuel West is not paid enough attention to. He makes the film fun. I liked his jokes (lame as they were) when the poor servants dropped those trays heavy with dishes and food.

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And the performances were very good. My view of Laura Linney has changed: I’d hitherto only seen her enacting that godawful introduction to Masterpiece theater where she is dressed in a ludicrous trussed-up sexual way. Here she is a Fanny Price who gets to stay on, everyone’s confidante.

As one commenter said, it’s a fine summer romp that I recommend. A beautiful movie.

LauraLinneyasDaisySuckleyblog
The president asks Daisy how does she like the landscape; she says very well.

And then sit down and read a good book on FDR, Eleanor, Henry Wallace, the political, economic and social worlds of the later 1930s. Yes we would have learned more to have Frances Perkins in the film (and political associates of FDR), but that and Eleanor’s politics require a separate documentary or biopic. Due to some good talk on Trollope19thCStudies I’ve ordered Kirsten Downey’s book on Frances Perkins. Also Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley, ed Geoffrey Ward — Daisy’s diaries and private papers (nowadays very cheap), and Hazel Rowley’s Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage (ditto).

Ellen

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Emilyflritingblog
Emily flirting with Colonel Osborne (rare visualization of Ch 20, Oxford classic, ed. John Sutherland, 191-92); 2004 HKHWR (scripted Andrew Davies)

Gentle readers,

The reason is simple. It goes beyond the pragmatic ordinary reality position that Trollope frankly said women should not be allowed to compete with men for good-paying jobs as competitors, and their work outside the home for money should cease upon marriage. He is candid about his refusal to consider that women should have a right to vote too, e.g., “After all it is question of money; and a contest for that power and influence which money gives” (see “The Rights of Women”, North America).

It’s that he does not see the direct causal relationship between sexual control through violence and the raw deal women get from men and their experience of life. I saw this so clearly in my recent reading (just finished) of He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now in tandem. Or maybe I read them alternatively: so many chapters of one one night and so many chapters of the other the next. I’ve written at length about HKHWR in the third chapter of my book, and the illustrators to TWWLN in the sixth chapter in Trollope on the ‘Net (and may put the chapters on line eventually.)

The lack of connection is seen most strikingly in HKHWR which treats so directly of a story about a man’s (Louis Trevelyan) sexual jealousy and anxiety and his desire to control his wife, and her (Emily vis-a-vis Colonel Osborne) sexual boredom and desire to socialize including teasing flirting with whom she pleases. When Trollope takes aboard a discussion of women’s rights he presents Wallachia Petrie whose ideas about women’s right are presented as abstractions on equality about power and money and jobs. Her apparent asexuality or sexlessness is not attached to her position beyond the idea she is jealous of her friend, Caroline who is attractive to men and prefers to marry than stay close friends with Wally. The right of a man to have custody over his children is questioned, but only for the sake of the child’s emotional health.

In the important chapter in HKHWR at Casalunga (so praised by Henry James) where Louis and Emily talk there is no sense that the sexuality that has so troubled Louis is the issue, is its core, it’s rather this particular man is weak and felt he lacked power over her.

Attemptedrapeblog
Felix attempts to rape Ruby (2001 TWWLN, scripted Andrew Davies)

The same lack of connection is found in TWWLN. There is no sense in the book that Felix Carbury tries to rape Ruby. We are led to feel that some violence (but not specified what) is what she herself incurred on herself by breaking conventions; that’s all. John Crumb then protected her. These conventions are seen as meant to protect her and seriously believed in as sufficient protection. If anyone is presented as violent in the book it’s Mrs Hurtle whose wrath at Paul Montague’s desertion of her is the result of their having had a liaison in the US.

In North America Trollope says these women’s rights people are “undoing what chivalry has done” (NY, Knopf, 1961, 260). In this travel book and in HKHWR the narrator refers to “male chivalry” as what protects Petrie and other women as if it were a right males had to attack her somehow which with great gallantry they are giving up — as long as they what? don’t talk like Petrie? are grateful. Obey conventions.

The heart of the issue (as Ellen Willis among others in the 1970s) argued for the first time is male control not just of jobs but of women themselves sexually in the way the heart of capitalism Marx said rightly was the ownership and control of property and law to back it up. Trollope sees Melmotte’s violence but never sexually. The one sexually violent person we are shown is Mrs Hurtle who wants to whip Paul for not staying faithful and Trollope believes she is violent because she is sexually free; the two go together as animal women in his mind. This is mistaking what one has to do to protect oneself in Trollope’s society for the cause of the real pervasive violence and threat of it (contained in Trollope’s own reference to male “chivalry”).

All the elements that come together in feminist insight are found in both HKHWR and TWWLN, but they are not put together, the paradigm is not seen, including Trevelyan’s right to take possession of his child (not hers). We see possession of the child is the male’s weapon but not how this comes about (pp. 737-38 in Oxford edition by Sutherland).

It’s been a while since I read John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women. As I recall Mill’s concern is to show how the subjection of women in our society transforms womens’ character so we cannot as yet say anything about them for sure since they are forced to live dishonestly. He sees how men control women but his emphasis is not on how private sexual experience is at the heart of what’s abjected. Mill does insist that men subjugate women by violence and its threat and when they pretend otherwise, this is a convenient hypocrisy to delude women into thinking they want this arrangement.

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2002 Forsyte Saga: Soames asserting his right over Irene

Now we do see this connection in Galsworthy’s Man of Property. The insight is not centrally dramatized in scenes; it’s kept at a distance (as are the liaisons as experience by the principals), but Galsworthy makes the connection sex=property and the control of powerful men over the desirable women the heart of the perversion.

Why I think Trollope cannot see this is he is forbidden to go into sex openly. Trollope cannot rely on his imagination to teach him. HKHWR and TWWLN take hundreds of page to uncover realistically what society conspires to hide but Trollope never shows us a sex scene. Sometimes I wonder what he would’ve shown.

Louis fears for the power of men by which he means but is too mortified to say sexual domination, the power to control Emily’s body in every single one of its phases including flirting. All that is made explicit is his power to tell her where to live. He insists she say she was literally and fully sexually unfaithful so he will see he has full power over her even in the area of flirting is as far as Trollope brings sex and control together. And HKHWR does not concentrate on Emily’s lack of money so property is lost from the equation. We see he can control her because he has control of the money but that she is part of his property is not brought clearly out — even when the child is taken from her as his.

Melmotte has no money, no way to make large sums honestly either. His beating his wife and daughter are seen as urges to wrest money from them or simply release his frustrations. Paul Montague does accuse Roger of being an old man wanting to marry a younger woman, but he does not go further than that nor I think does Davies in the movie bring out that this paradigm of older powerful man takes young rich bride is the heart of the property-system.

Clearly in Trollope, 1st phase feminism is unacceptable. Women must not be allowed to vote, control property, have a job that makes them monetarily independent of men. His admired Telegraph girls are closely supervised during all their waking and sleeping hours. 2nd phrase feminism would have horrified him as he does not see or refuses to think general the violence of men wreaked on women, the marriage ceremony, to control them sexually. As to the 3rd phase, if you want to baby-worship, ladies, say how motherhood is power, he is willing for you to do that to your heart’s content.

Ellen

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FitzgeraldasLintonblog
In 1939 Wuthering Heights: Geraldine Fitzgerald played Isabella Linton, but the film-makers did not have the interest, insight, or nerve to present the range of abuse we see in the book

Dear Friends and readers,

My third and final blog report from the PCA/ACA conference held here in DC. For the first, on serial storying and soap opera, see The Way We Watch TV Now).

Here are panels and papers on women’s issues (abortion, motherhood, careers), recent feminists (Vera Brittain), Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Ann Wrighten, an 18th century memoir of an actress who moved from London to the US, Angelina Weld Gimke’s radical novel, Mara Lena Dunham’s Girls and Aaron Sorkin’s TV show, West Wing. These discussions include the best and worst papers I heard.

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I begin with the women’s issues sessions.

abortion_rightsblog

The best and worst were seen as the conference began, Wednesday, 1:15 pm, in session called Motherhood/Fatherhood (1127). Vicki Toscano, a working lawyer, gave a superb paper on the current legal particulars of abortion law and controversy today. Popular anti-abortion propaganda are being transformed into (or regarded) as science and accepted as parts of laws. Anti-abortion laws increasingly exploit the post-modern idea that what is scientific fact is nothing more than culturally driven beliefs. At the core is the idea that a woman upon becoming pregnant, conceiving is a mother. Women are told lies that there is a risk of infertility and must be psychological damage is they have an abortion. The claim of a risk of breast cancer is untrue (and though she didn’t say it the same pattern of turning myth into science is seen in attempts to coerce women into breast-feeding). Explicit moral language is increasingly made part of laws.

Toscano began with Roe v Wade, 1973. The court found a fundamental right to privacy was violated when all abortion was illegal, but that in the case of pregnancy that right was not absolute. the 1st trimester there need be no regulations; during the 2nd trimester to protect women’s health you can regulate the procedure. Once the fetus can survive, is a baby in potentia (there is disagreement when precisely this is) then the state’s interest in saving the child can trump the mother’s desires. Increasingly then a woman has the right to an abortion only if her life is jeopardized: it seems the fetus feels pain at 30 weeks but machines can detect a heart-beat after a few weeks and if you multiply the fetus a thousand-fold you can make a woman feel there’s a baby there.

In Planned Parenthood versus Casey (1992), the court turned away from the fundamental right to privacy, and instead said a woman’s right to an abortion is part of he right to liberty; it becomes a 14th amendment issue. The decision did away with the three trimester turning points; now the state has the right to protect the unborn from the moment of conception as long as it’s not am undue burden on the mother. The court has never found any obstacle to be that substantial that it gets in the way. States began to express a preference for childbirth over abortion. The state can insist on teaching women about abortion; the limitation is the information must be truthful, not misleading, and relevant. For no other medical procedure is there this demand for a 24 hour waiting period while the woman is told information about their abortion.

Then in 2007 in Gonzales versus Carhart legislation outlawing partial birth abortion (intact D & E) was upheld. The law now had a constitutional obligation to intervene, with a concern for the fetus or baby’s life and no exception made for the woman’s health. Congress decided that if there is any serious health risk cited by anyone, that must be taken into account. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent said the court deprives women of information and the right to make an autonomous choice. The pro-act reasonings included the idea a woman’s place is in her home.

Most importantly what’s happened lately shows a disregard for the mother’s life and well-being, a preference to save or force a baby on a woman no matter if she risks in the process. Women are increasingly being put into jail as pregnancy is in effect criminalized (especially when a woman is unmarried). We are returning to attitudes that undergirded accusations of maternal infanticide.

Sign

Ellyn Lem and Timothy Dunn discussed Anne Marie Slaughter’s “why Women can’t have it all” as if for most women in the US having it all means high professional success and fulfilling family life (husband, children). They went over the Internet controversies, saw Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In as a reply. They really defended both books as serious discussions of women’s lives and conflicts, typical enough lives with admirable values that may be held up as examples.

No one can fault their ultimate general comment that the workplace must have central institutional change to allow women who want to to be part-time at home mothers or wives. But the relevant perspective was that of the tenured college teacher who is dissatisfied because she is not making a huge sum, or on a crucially powerful committee, or is guilty because she leaves her children with a nanny for long hours at a time. Most women make small salaries and must struggle to make ends meet together with their husbands; they have no hired help. Or they are the hired help. They get part-time wages for full-time work. No benefits. The sad value of this session was to see that in these books taken at face value, feminism has become a movement for the few women who can afford to hire other women to take care of their homes and children. Feminism also takes on board neoliberalism, and in Sandberg women urged to imitate the anti-social anti-caring characteristics of men in the workplace.

I offered the idea both texts are irrelevant to most women’s lives; that supposed re-structures of work-days leads to people becoming part-time employees and a plunge in salaries with no benefits. I did not say (as I do here) the whole discussion was in unacknowledged bad taste.

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Vera Brittain later in life — she did in her memoirs also chronicle women’s lives in her fiction-memoirs

Liz Podniecks’ paper on Vera Brittain showed that Brittain challenged an attitude that said women must marry and have children to be fulfilled. Brittain was an outspoken pacificist and feminist who argued that women must be employed for money outside the home to be fully adult fulfilled women. In her Testament of Youth she exposed and denounced the barbarity and uselessness of patristic wars. She herself did marry, but kept her name (unusual for the time); Winifred Holtby lived with Brittain and Brittain’s husband and helped a series of hired nannies to take care of Vera’s children. In her writing Brittain continually attacked the “useless” woman, the woman who has nothing serious to do when her children go to school; they vicariously live through their children, are dependent. Once a woman has a good job and home she can stop over-emphasizing the importance of emotional relationships which are not central to the real business of life. They are (in truth) secondary to the way society is structured.

It may be true that some middle class women live pampered lives once their children grow older; and certainly sentiment is not the driving force behind how we order our lives. But this paper, as put, was also elitist at core. It is not a matter of choice for most women. They do not want to be dependent; many cannot get near a good paying job, and thus do find their highest satisfactions in their family’s shared lives. What worried me about this paper was the next inference would be to get rid of women’s right to live on their husband’s social security if he should predecease her when she spent her life as his wife, working at home for him and his and her children and herself mostly without pay. This would force women to work outside the home, many in menial work which given men’s present reluctance to help with housework and take inward responsibility for children would give many women an endless burden. (Pass ERA and the supreme court with its identification with employers would be only too glad to do this; Republicans would be overjoyed to get rid of social security for a good chunk of the population.) For many women it’s asking too much when they are not born to the kind of people that lead to good colleges, degrees, jobs.

To be fair to Brittain, I’ve read her Testament of Youth and know it’s a deeply humane text.

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Girlsblog
Cast of Girls: Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet

Well, after the above, the only other women’s issues session I went to was an early Saturday afternoon “Gender and Media Studies” (4427, 1:15 pm) which I attended to hear a paper on “Girls” as well as “West Wing,” the first of which I’ve seen and the second never watched but was curious about.

I found Nikita Hamilton’s paper touching. An African-American young woman, she loves Girls and was determined to justify its lack of black and working class people, it upper middle class stance (the girls are supported by parents, don’t worry about losing jobs) to downplay what she admitted was its neo-liberal stances (“they do regret materialism”). she basically argued that this was a slice of life sufficiently realistic and reflective of young women’s problems today. Her valiant try reminded me of how I sometimes justify Downton Abbey as being for community, showing compassion for its characters (“intelligent dialogue”); so many of us find that we love programs in the popular media which are arch-conservative and exclude us. It’s hard to admit to enjoying racist texts which are rightly attacked as suc (e.g., Gone With the Wind is) on the grounds that this is what is on offer, where fine talents are allowed play. To say the more liberal, inclusive, socialist story is just not told. Ms Hamilton discussed the third season where Lena has a black boyfriend who is (natch) a Republican and it doesn’t last past two episodes. She said the use of a “float” magically powerful female black character (as is found in Sex and the City in recent formulations) is not much better.

Martin_SheenAllisonJanneyblog
Martin Sheen as the bully president, Allison Janney as his right-hand Hillary

I would have liked to believe Olivia Kerrigan’s thesis that West Wing is liberal economically and seriously alert to class privileges as well as mildly feminist but from her anaslysis of the three central women characters (all in elite positions, from a Hillary Clinton first lady, to her secretary, to a press agent), it seemed to me this program supported the point of view I heard expressed in session 1127. The program’s male hegemony (comically exposed) irritates & limits the women characters only in small symbolically grating ways. I’ve seen a video which does show the central male (president) as a bully mocking an educated women (naturally with that horrifying thing, the equivalent of a bluestocking sign, the English Ph.D.) but as explained to me we were to admire that man so I came away thinking the program reinforces our elitist hierarchical corporate society with its endorsement of competition as central to social life. Older feminist movies with actively strong career women types like Rosalind Russell (or Jean Arthur) had neither the bullying males nor the anti-intellectualism I’ve glimpsed in this series,and they evinced a genuinely social conscience towards people outside the elite world.

Two other papers briefly: Angelita Faller analyzed a group of commercials for home alarms and showed that they assume women want to be raped, black men are very dangerous, white men good protective heroes, and women living alone are not safe. Jose Feliciano brought out underlying challenges to mainstream conventional heterosexuality in MTV videos, discussing the bisexuality of stars like Lady Gaga. See my super-numinosity.

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If nothing else, the papers on imaginative works from a feminist point of view vindicated literary studies. Asked to study finer imaginative works, the presenters did bring out sustainable critiques of the way society is organized, gives women a raw hard deal, victimizes them, complete with examples of a few women who did manage fulfilled lives despite this.

I’ve three sessions, but only four papers to cover, as (shocking) in one of them only one person out of a planned three or four showed; in another the other two papers were written in an abstract jargon impossible to understand, read at top speed and appeared to be about embarrassingly poor texts; and in the third only two papers were about women issues.

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Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland at the Abbey (yes one of the four includes on Northanger Abbey)

I’ll begin with the best (or maybe only) literary paper in the conference I heard: Andrea Brittany Brannon’s paper on domestic violence in Wuthering Heights (Friday, 3305, 11:30 am).

It was a relief and delight to hear Ms Brannon defend and sympathize with Isabella Linton as the novel’s centrally abused woman. Through this character we see how male power is privileged and unquestioned; how easy it is for the male to disvalue and put his wife in the wrong (how dare she disobey him?): Isabella begins as a woman who enacts her society’s version of impeccable behavior to becoming someone who cannot cope with the smallest difficulty. Bullying has reduced to marginalization; she is Heathcliff’s way of getting back. She wanted him for the same glamorous sexed-up reasons Helen wants the upper class Arthur in Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hal, but unlike Anne’s novel where we live the experience of abuse through Helen, here we see it through Nellie’s conventional eyes: Isabella is therefore become a slattern without self-respect, and if weak, deserving the cruel treatment of the easily irritated. Heathcliff tells Nellie how Isabella comes to him shamefully clinging. We may see her struggling to apply the only social behavior she knows and finding it useless to help her, inappropriate in her situation. We see her physically punished and banished with him playing the rightly scolding parent. She cannot leave for she has nowhere to go — in the case of Helen she turns to her brother. Isabella’s brother, Edgar, her one male relative with power to help, is angry at her for marrying Heathcliff and abandons her to Heathcliff. So the patriarchy fails her.

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Isabella Lindon Heathcliffe (Sophie Ward) from the 1992 Wuthering Heights (glimpse of Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff from the side)

Ms Brannon pointed out we do have Isabella’s letter, the only narrative in the book which comes to us unmediated by Nellie or Lockwood, but most readers don’t pay attention to this counter-move against the romance of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliffe. The 1992 movie with Ralph Fiennes is a rare Wuthering Heights to dramatize the next generation and second part of the book where Isabella appears. Most reviewers if they mention Isabella at all blame her (the victim). Ms Brannon made a good case for regarding Isabella as a relevant portrait of domestic abuse today. Isabella is a woman with no access to legal protection. Ms Brannon conceded the novel is problematic as clearly Emily Bronte does sympathize with Heathcliff as the underdog and violence in this novel seems more than accepted as a source of power.

This was the session which was supposed to have paper on Little Women and the Civil War, one on Daisy Miller as a feminist hero and no one came. So there was plenty of time for a good discussion. There were about 5 audience members. Some, like me, said, they had never liked Wuthering Heights as much as the other Bronte books. I thought that Emily Bronte truncated the Isabella story too much, did not realize she was onto some powerful material here. Those who had liked the book when they were young did fall in love with the wild romance.

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Angelina Weld Grimke (1882-1958) (African-American playwright)

For the papers on an 18th century actress who reinvented herself, Ann Wrighten, a powerful early 20th century black woman writer, Angelina Grimke, and Northanger Abbey and A Christmas Carol as gothics, see comments.

Ellen

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ellen

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Very first shot of Madame Max Goesler (Barbara Murray) (Pallisers 3:6)

Dear friends and readers,

On the list-serv, Victoria an interesting query: could people cite widows in Victorian novels and what were some attitudes towards them and/or their remarrying? Someone right away mentioned Madame Max Goesler, cited a study in the recent collection Trollope and Gender, with the idea that Trollope’s widows are strong and sympathized-with figures.

That seemed to me (even for a posting) inadequate. Trollope’s fiction (and non-fiction too) abounds in widows using the type with many permutations. the fault-line, what separates the woman off from other women is her assumed sexual experience (knowingness); beyond that she is usually older than women who have never been married and may control property. Towards the type Trollope is ambivalent as he is ambivalent towards aggressive women, which in his fiction except for aging harridans (who usually dislike sex) means sexually pro-active, and women who function as individuals with power and movement outside a husband or family’s control.

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The Widow Greenow (a pastoral name) alluring men at seashore picnic (Phiz illustration, Can You Forgive Her?
The Widow Greenow (an early comic example of a woman who knows how to make her “weeds” alluring

A brief suggestive survey (by no means complete). To begin with the most famous: When we first meet Madame Max in Trollope’s books (Can You Forgive Her?) it’s not clear she is a widow; it’s insinuated that she’s paying someone who she married to stay away (a remittance man). Later Trollope drops that when he wants to make her respectable and chaste so Phineas can marry her.

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Mrs Hurtle (Miranda Otto) and Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) at Lowestoffe (they probably go to bed together in the novel, they certainly do in the film, from The Way We Live Now; on the illustration this is based on, see proposal)

Trollope uses this motif for other women whose reputation he wants to cast a slur or hint they are unchaste: Mrs Hurtle’s husband is probably still living (The Way We Live Now). In Miss Mackenzie the women in boarding houses who present themselves as widows are not to be trusted, especially (it seems) in Bath (the hint is they are for sale). Mrs Smith in John Caldigate a very suspicious figure (Trollope’s presentation makes her this way) whom the hero may have married: we are never quite sure, and thus it may actually be that Caldigate’s marriage to the heroine, Hester, may actually be bigamous, whence the title Trollope wanted for his novel, Mrs John Caldigate (to call attention to the reality that we don’t know which of the two is really entitled to be Mrs C).

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When John Caldigate first comes upon Mrs Smith: a ship journey remance (Folio Society illustration)

It is true that if a woman is menopausal and remains physically attractive, she is usually presented as sympathetic as well as powerful (Lady Ludlow the best-known from Framley Parsonage), but if she actually exercises that power to thwart a young man of his sexual desires, she is stigmatized (Rachael Ray’s mother) or made a sort of monster (Lady Ball in Miss Mackenzie). If she openly breaks sexual taboos (married for money even though this is allowed men), like Lady Ongar (The Claverings), she is punished harshly.

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Mary Ellen Edwards drew Lady Ongar as large — here she’s trying to re-engage the hero’s sympathies (Claverings illustrations)

If she remains attractive, she has ever to be on the watch for the suspicious and distrustful: Lady Mason (Orley Farm) is under her son’s thumb and is seen as a target (and she knows it) before her son’s inheritance is questioned (partly due to his tactlessness). There’s great sympathy for Lady Mason and we are to admire her for winning a case where she was is accused of forgery — when she actually did it. Millais’s illustrations curiously make her out to be even younger than Trollope’s text suggests.

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Millais’s Lady Mason shrinks from her needed lawyer Mr Furnivall’s suspicious (jealous) wife (Orley Farm illustrations)

To me though the most interesting uses of this ambivalent type of women in Trollope is where the woman has used the title to cover up a period between one relationship (marriage) and another (a second man where she has not waited until the first one was dead to “protect” herself) and Trollope sympathizes with her: Mrs Mary Askerton (The Belton Estate) now respectably married again had a period where she wasn’t a widow; she became one when her alcoholic (and presumably abusive husband) at long last died; she seems to be a parish still, shunned; it’s not clear that she couldn’t break out in to society, but at any rate only the heroine. Clara Amedroz defies the worst minds and befriends Mrs Askerton. There’s much sympathy in Dr Wortle’s School for Mr and Mrs Peacock; he married her but it’s not clear the previous husband died, and again (as in the case of Lady Mason) personal animosity leads someone to attack them to get Dr Wortle (in whose school they teach). Madame Max can be related to these until Trollope conveniently forgets about her remittance man.

Showing either that Trollope’s particular configuration of sympathy for the transgressive woman is not share today, or his more devoted readers do not think about this aspect of his fiction enough, there were no original illustrations for these widows, nor have the novels they appear in been filmed or even adapted for radio. The Widow Greenow was cut from the filmed Pallisers. And by Phineas Finn Madame Max has been turned into a chaste type widow who refuses the Duke of Omnium’s proposition that she become his mistress.

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After a violent scene where Lopez needles Emily (Sheila Ruskin) over how she enjoys sex with him, and flings her to the door, she shudders (Pallisers 11:23, from The Prime Minister)

Erasures or forgetting aspects of Trollope’s presentations of widows today sometimes work to reinforce his views. When in The Prime Minister Emily Lopez believes herself “polluted” from having married an amoral and (it’s more than hinted) sexually lascivious (and Jewish) man, Ferdinand Lopez, in the novels she at length refuses to remarry the Gallahad-figure Arthur Fletcher (who she loved first and we see again loved during her marriage, causing sexual rage in Lopez). Trollope seems to assume all women should be married. That is the be-all of their existence. The TV programs cut all this. Raven does not make her collapse into the other hero’s arms quickly either. Anticipating the end of Andrew Davies’s The Way We Live Now, Raven’s Emily (like Trollope’s Lily Dale) has been seriously disillusioned, abused, and we are given to understand will marry no more.

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Emily prefers her father, Mr Wharton (Pallisers 11:23)

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Marie Melmotte (Shirley Henderson) closes the door on everyone (TWWLN 4:12)

While at the Exeter conference (6 years ago now) and today again the question came up why Victorians seem to have a prejudice against widows remarrying. At the conference I remember participants saying widows were a threat to the chances of unmarried women. That’s certainly in Trollope. But he also likens the black widows wear (which he disapproves of when it is too heavy or goes on for too long as hypocritical) to Indian women undergoing suttee where he makes an explicit analogy between how the family of a widow’s husband do not want her children from a second marriage interfering with the inheritance of the first husband’s children. The impulse is to erase her future, not allow her any lest it get in others’ way. And he shares the strong prejudice against women having a pro-active sexual life too (an impulse not gone from our world today).

At the Exeter conference too some of the men showed they were allured by Trollope’s widows, especially Madame Max. I’ve noticed on list-servs that male viewers often have a crush on Barbara Murray who played the part splendidly. This even though in the novels she is given masculine roles and the words used to describe her by Trollope make her into more of a gentlemen than lady, and in the films she adds to the erotic sophisticated veneer Trollope gives her much comedy (she is given funny scenes rejecting Derek Jacobi as Lord Fawn) and much poignancy and dignity at the series’ close. Early in her career the actress was a powerful Anna Karenina; and in a Wednesday night play the mistress of a broken man played by Donal Mcann.

But rather than repeat what everyone notices, I’ll end on the Widow Bold who was acted equally well (the role quite different) by Janet Maw from Alan Pater’s wonderfully scripted mini-series, Barchester Chronicles:

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Another Emily faithful to her father, Mrs Bold looks out anxiously at Mr Harding and the Rev Arabin (English, clergyman, upper class, an ethical ideal for Trollope), and is never taken in by either Mr Slope (the intensely ambitious outsider, Alan Rickman just behind her) or

Bertie Stanhope, the idle ne’er-do-well who wanted her money for his family and himself:

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She has just let Bertie (Peter Blythe) know he hasn’t got a chance

She is strongly sympathized with; she is pro-active on her own behalf, sexually passionate; she is liked because she breaks no taboos, loves her little boy and is loyal to her idealistic father

Women in black … The illustrations and stills tell us that for Trollope these are highly sexualized women. They don’t tell us what his narrator and book descriptions do: that Trollope’s taste was for thin women; he was allured by olive-skinned women, women had narrow wrists and small breasts (“narrow shoulders”). (The Victorian ideal is the fecund big blonde, the Juno type Trollope’s narrator calls her, does not attract him personally.)

Ellen

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Sir Philip Tapsell (Tim Piggot-Smith): Never fear, Duchess, I’ll get a baby out of her one way or the other

Ethel: But I think it’s going to be a lot more complicated than you allow. Mrs Crawley: Then we shall have to face those complications together, shan’t we?

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Tom (Allen Leech) trying to help Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) feel comfortable and not managing

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Then taking inopportune moment to confide he’s found a job as a mechanic (she hates the idea of him returning to laboring work)

Dear friends and readers,

People keep asking me why are so many people watching and talking about Downton Abbey? Well, by this time (the third season) it’s become what Truffaut called “a sociological event.” Many don’t want to feel left out as others passionately discuss what they wouldn’t have seen; so they watch.

Of course this just avoids the question, what hooked viewers originally? I’ve been showing precisely because DA exploits the features of the soap opera form, one peculiarly fitted to TV watching. Like the clocks Mr Barrow teaches Jim are living things: “Never wind them in the early morning before a room is warmed up nor too late when the night air cools them down.” And I’ve tried to show Fellowes uncanny intuition for dramatizing paradigms of intensely sore areas — like when in the 1st episode of this season a mean bully-trick is exposed. Many suffering from bullying and underhanded tricks today know in fact such behavior is tolerated, still treated as a joke.

This power of this week’s episode derives from the way historical novels and films present usable pasts (or create them) in order to speak to us today. It is no coincidence that another female died in childbirth in a paradigm just like Lady Sybil’s in a mini-series that has sold more copies than any other (until perhaps Downton Abbey) but the 1995 A&E/WBGH/BBC Pride and Prejudice (scripted Andrew Davies, with Colin Firth as Darcy): the 1970s 2nd mini-series of Poldark ends in the death of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan in childbirth. We see Elizabeth (Jill Townsend) during parturition suffering badly:

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Dr Enys (Michael Cadman) helping her give birth

Like Sybil, Elizabeth gives birth and everyone rejoices, and then a few hours later we hear her screams. We’ve gone on from 1977: we hear but do not see Elizabeth die in an agony. But it is the same sudden turn about. In the earlier case (by which I mean 1977-78) the woman does not die from eclampsia but from having taken a dangerous herb-drug to induce early parturition (see court cases), and whatever Dr Enys did probably would have been as useless as the doctors in this week’s Downton Abbey (2013). (More on Elizabeth’s story.) Neo-Victorian novels are said to be feminist and it would be interesting to compare how many deaths in childbirth are directly dramatized in these novels and the specific treatment, and how these are treated in mini-series on TV but this would take research and is beyond the purview of my weekly recaps).

The point is the scenes of intense anxiety with which the episode opens, the later terrors and pains, the intense fear, the sudden relief, the turn around, and then the sudden death are about what women experience today. And also the moving half-crazed reactions of several of the characters to childbirth, here to a death. Elizabeth McGovern came into her own again (she has not had such a meaty series of scenes since she almost died of flu in Season 2) when we come upon her talking to the corpse of her daughter — with no preparations that this is what we are seeing.

Convulsons
Along with Tom, the husband, Cora, her mother (Elizabeth McGovern) is the person closest to Sybil during her death convulsions

Confidinghalfcrazed
Cora’s apparent calmness and smile and quiet talk fool us for the couple of seconds it takes to grasp she is talking to the dead

For once the Dowager Duchess is not funny. Maggie Smith uses her aging body in a long walk across the hall to emphasize the feeling of gross injustice at the death of the young woman.

makingHerwayblog
Maggie Smith as the old woman with the distorted body, staggering slightly, leaning on her cane walking to the family now she’s heard of the death

We then see her earnestly talking about how it was nobody’s fault. For once Lord Grantham does take part of the blame, which concession may be seen as ironic from a distance as obviously he did not cause her eclampsia, though it is true at the opening of the episode he becomes irritated when Dr Clarkson tries to tell the family about the details of symptoms that are worrying him. But then is not Cora as much to blame when she tells Clarkson he is giving too much information and all they need to know is can they go back to bed?

TMIblog
Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) looking away as Cora tells Clarkson (David Robb) he is offering TMI

One aspect of childbirth today that seems to bother women that this week’s episode made visible is how men as physicians are often in charge. Blog after blog, comments, postings all “interpreted” the death of Sybil as the result of men in charge. In the particular instance the fatuous Tapsell was wrong, and Dr Clarkson was not able to get Lord Grantham to follow his advice and take Sybil to the hospital and try to induce labor early (a bit of anachronism there), but we could put that down to class bias. Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) blames Lord Grantham, but she is complicit, does not herself act on her impulse to ask Tom (someone calls him the “chaffeur” still), who doesn’t know what to do. And it’s by no means clear that had they gone to the hospital the outcome would have been better. It is though true that the last quarter century women have been trying to free themselves of male control, instinctively sensing the male is not sufficiently on their side as women but rather supporting the medical establishment.

For my part, while watching this week’s episode I kept remembering how during the very first time I was pregnant my husband and I had this little plan we got from the sessions on childbirth we attended together. We were going to have this book of short poems with us and he read them as we followed all our instructions on distraction. What laugh when it began to happen. Totally unreal. Or just before I went in when my grandmother suddenly turned round to me and said, oh so seriously to me, “Good Luck.” I would need was the dire feel. Looking back from another childbirth more than 6 years after the first my grandmother was the only person who produced an appropriate tone, who had not been cut off from the reality of history as well as experience. (Full disclosure: I’ve had two live births, both C-sections; before that, two miscarriages, one of which ended in an abortion to save my life.)

In Anibundel’s blog on DA this week, she links in Ta Nehisi-Coates’s great shock when he discovered childbirth is still dangerous, and a general column validating the insight that science is not magic: nature is still there and evolution has made childbirth risky for mother and baby. Atul Gawande has tried to remind women what childbirth is and was not just before the 20th century technological breakthroughs but recently.

Most after the first experience even when everything does not go badly and ends well (live healthy mother and baby) know the truth. Labor is not discomfort, it’s pain, bad pain, and the experience physically traumatic. Why is this not discussed? the same reason that the details of childbirth were not discussed in earlier times, were taboo in the Victorian novel. It seems all cultures do what they can to erase the hardship of having babies in order to pressure women into becoming mothers. I queried Victoria (a list-serv about Victorian books) two days ago for citations of scenes where we have a direct dramatization of death or agonies in childbirth. Very uncommon. We are presented with orphans, the experience of a woman is reported, but a direct scene? and when it is detailed the reviewers protested. See my list of typical childbirth deaths in Victorian to Edwardian novels.

CorasFailureofNerveblog
Cora’s failure of nerve: Clarkson is speaking firmly against Tapsell and Lord Grantham (who have objected to “public” hospitals) but we see in Cora’s face a fatal hesitation (tellingly it’s Edith who stands behind her mother in such scenes)

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

Clockwindingblog
Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) teaching Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) how to wind a clock

To some watchers it may seem remarkable that this is not the only thread in this week’s multi-plot pattern. Put it down to the ability of Fellowes to convey meaning through epitomizing dialogues and gestures and the sophistication of viewers who have seen this sort of thing before. The thread with the most scenes is that of Isobel Crawley’s attempt to hire of Ethel Parks as a servant to enable her to climb out of the pariah status she is now in even though Ethel finds she need no longer be a prostitute to make ends meet. (No boy to clothe, feed, send to school.) Ethel is deeply grateful but warns Mrs Crawley that there will be complications (the use of the word links this substory with that of Lady Sybil).

Ethelfearful
Ethel (Amy Nuttall) wants this good place but is understandably fearful; Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) listening

I for one was not surprised to see Mrs Bird refuse to work with Ethel. My favorite moment in this week’s episode was where the narrow Mrs Bird thinking that if she says she’ll leave, Mrs Crawley will not hire Ethel, tells Mrs Crawley she’s going and Mrs Crawley thanks her and wishes her well.

Realizingblog
Mrs Bird (Christine Lohr) realizing her risky ploy has failed, and she is being “sacked”

Normally I loathe scenes which show the power of the employer; not this time. This being Fellowes he gives the sarky conservative who disdains good acts ammunition by making Ethel a bad cook, awkward, stumbling. But Mrs Crawley is not ridiculed for once. (Several unusual moments this week.) My hope (looking ahead) is that when Mrs Crawley loses her son (hush hush I know) she may find her reward for her beautiful act was to find she has this loving giving person with her as a substitute.

RealizingDaisyblog
Daisy (Sophie McShera) hearing of the young mistress’s death

Daisy too is made to realize she is not as powerful as she dreamed she would be by her promotion. We see her struck by the powerful Lady Sybil’s death. Later she realizes too she is making herself disliked by Alfred by bullying the new scullery maid, Ivy, who shows competence. One might say realization is the theme of this episode. Thomas surprises himself by grieving over Lady Sybil’s death. He realizes how much she meant to him as a caring employer. We have, done with remarkable celerity, Anna and John Bates realizing how Bates’s ex-wife poisoned herself and framed him for murder, Anna’s meeting with Lord Grantham and then the lawyer (both of which are literally skipped — we are to understand what was said).

Accusatoryblog
This is not the first time Mary (Michelle Dockery) had stood accusing Matthew (Dan Stevens) and he back away

There are also realizations to come. Matthew has realized that Lord Grantham is badly mismanaging Downton Abbey but when he twice in this episode tries to do something about it, he is thwarted by Lady Mary. The first time it’s in a mild talk they have as they pass a ruined barn but the second she comes near to putting him “in his place” when he attempts to tell the lawyer (who himself knows something needs to be don). How dare Matthew try to talk to her father when he is so grieved? We are getting hints that all is not well in their sex life (that’s why no pregnancy has emerged). Miss Obrien is (alas) shown as up to her usual spite as she encourages Jimmy to turn to Thomas for help, and Jimmy begins to realize that because Thomas is homosexual (however closeted) this may cause difficulties for him (who is apparently not bisexual at all).

But all these feel like very much tertiary threads in the tapestry of this week’s central drama. There is perhaps too much idealization of Sybil now she’s dead: Mrs Patmore: “She was the kindest person in the house.” But rather than cavil I’d like to close where I opened: the soap opera nature of these programs and another way of looking at Sybil Bransom’s death.

**************
SybilMaryJobBabyReligion
Sybil and Mary discuss Tom’s desire to take a job and the baby’s religion: Mary is evasive, reluctant to agree

It was reported at the end of the 1st season that Jessica Brown Findlay and Dan Stevens had said they did not want to return for a second season. That could be interpreted as wanting more money. Then between the 2nd and 3rd the same two were said to want out. This past fall it was said Maggie Smith would not do a fourth year, but now she has agreed to. Her departure would have been such a great loss to the series as almost to deal it a death-blow.

It can kill a show to lose a favored actor or actress. They are part of the mix that attracts, part of the dream life of the viewer’s on-going time the form caters to. Let’s say were Downton Abbey a day-time program, and the producers were confronted with the problem of an actor who wants out, would they kill her off? I suggest perhaps not. The structuring of soap operas is based on the idea of an ongoing community of characters only some of whom we see in an particular episodes or series of episodes. Characters drift in and out, disappear, reappear, leave legacies. It’s the large community that we see, and someone can vanish and then at a later time return. They can be brought back. This is very much the way of cyclical series of novels: Trollope has vanishing and recurring characters; so too Oliphant, Balzac, in our own time Anthony Powell. It would be easy for Fellowes to bring Sir Richard Carlisle back if the original actor or an actor who looked sufficiently like him were willing. We have a new footman, a new scullery maid. Mrs Bird is going to vanish at least for a while after this episode.

But DA is not quite ongoing in the same way as daytime TV. It’s not daily, and it doesn’t go on all year. We have only so many parts, so we really do concentrate on about 14 or so characters, with some central stars. Of course they could have written it that Sybil went off to Ireland with Tom and that’s that. Fellowes wants a family that sticks together (part of his piety). Findlay Brown’s determination to find another role and not be typecast enabled him to see his way to strong scenes by using her departure this way.

We have been similarly told that Dan Stevens is leaving after this year. He had been acting in the US on Broadway (among other roles). The character has certainly been made to feel useless for the last two episodes or so. He alone encourages Sybil in her budding career as a journalist but except for her (and she doesn’t count for much in the family prestige) if he brings forth any of his modern or progressive ideas (like his mother’s), they are not much appreciated.

Another epitomizing scene in this episode was between Mary and Sybil (as sisters they were close). Sybil asked Mary to help her stop Tom from taking a job a a lower rank and told her that she intended to make the baby Catholic to please Tom. Mary’s reply: “you don’t have to.” Now that Sybil is dead, the way is open for the family (we know of Lord Grantham’s bigotry towards Catholics) to protest this baptism (on all sorts of grounds including future career). If a struggle ensues over the baby’s religion, and Matthew sticks up for Tom’s rights as he has before), do you think that will count for much?

TomandBabyblog
The closing still: Tom nursing his child

Again I have been discussing how soap opera works in order to defend the form.

P.S. For fun and semiotics: the Hats of Downton Abbey, Season 3

The hats a character wears tell a lot about her. This year the costume designer had a smaller costumer budget.

Ellen

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TakeAwayBreathblog
Edith (Laura Carmichael) having a hard time breathing as she realizes the humiliation in store right then

WeepingAloneblog
Letting go

Defeatedblog
Exhaustion defeat

Dear friends and readers,

So what was it? What had this character done wrong to have unleashed at her such a level of spite, of raw humiliation that I’ve never seen equaled in kind before — and I’ve been watching mini-series for some 40 years? Before the whole community, people she must live with, a fever pitch of rejection. The question to ask is, Why is this character scapegoated so?

Jane Eyre’s horror when Rochester’s brother-in-law interrupts her wedding to Rochester to say there is an impediment, Rochester had a wife now living, pales before this. Nothing to it.

I’ve long been puzzled at the way Lady Edith Grantham is sneered at, mocked, by Downton Abbey audience members. Fellowes, again knowing writer that he is (remember he wrote Gosford Park, one of the most intelligent of the great house movies I’ve seen, to expose the hypocrisies of professed motives), has been feeding this maw for three seasons. For three seasons I’ve seen it emerge again and again. In little things: Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Lady Grantham is directed to roll her eyes when Edith speaks; Maggie Smith as the dowager and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Princess grimace knowingly. In the first Edith gave away that her sister, Mary, had been in bed with one of the show’s several lout-lords who died at the abbey; in the second Edith drawn to, fooled by a man masquerading as a hideous cripple. I thought perhaps Fellows had decided he’d whip-lashed Edith enough when in 3:1 he had Robert Bathurst as Strallan courageously break the taboo which allows mean tricks and expose one played on Allen Leech as Tom Branson by another lout-lord.

I mistook. I should have realized that the intrusive domineering demand that Edith not consider this man by the Dowager was an important sign. I’ve never liked Lady Bracknell (Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest), a witty bully, upon whom (Edith Evans) Maggie Smith may intuitively have modeled herself. Amusing cynic yes, like one of the old women Anthony Trollope is ever defending. She has the crass nerve to get up and insist what is happening is right and thus disable Strallan further (he crumbled because he overheard her making fun of his prowess to the chaplain):

MaggieSmithblog

She’s one of many in the DA world who thinks she has intimate rights over other people subject to her authority (some behave as if many others have intimate rights over them). The dowager couldn’t stand Strallan so Edith is thrown away with him. So what is wrong with him? Aristocrat, monied, kind, perceptive, offering “quite enough happiness” for Edith to be going on with (Lord Grantham’s words).

This gives us our first hint: what is wrong? he’s said to be too old and he’s got a crippled arm, masks, masks for not saying for he’s not manly enough, not macho enough, weak.

He fails to perform masculinity adequately. There you have it. And Edith, why is she a butt? She fails to perform femininity adequately. Jim was telling me tonight that he reads a blog which argues that the real electric power of DA (for those who are addicted) is it’s camp, and tonight he read there the offhand comment that some ludicrous star, inexplicably wrong in her garments, was dressed in the Edith Grantham style. Not Lady Mary Grantham. Not Lady Sybil, now Mrs Bransom (Deborah Findley Brown). Though they all dress alike.

tom-and-sybilbog
Tom all awkwardness, Sybil turned dowdiness itself

So this hint is not sufficiently explanatory. This is not the first time I’ve asked myself what fuels the need to ridicule this young woman?

As I have before I hunted in three very good books on women’s films I have: Tania Modleski’s mongraph Loving with a Vengeange; and edited collections of essays by Marcia Landy (Imitations of Life) and Christine Gledhill (Home is Where the Heart Is). This time I wouldn’t give up. In previous hints I’ve found Miss Sarah Obrien (Siobhan Finneran): the villainess, spiteful domineering old maid; in 3:1 and 3:2 I tried to ignore her reversion to this role but in 3:3 she is not only wearing the ugliest of thick-cloth witch-like dresses, her face made up to look like pancake, her hair terrible. She is all menace. Daisy (Sophie McShera) tells Moseley she wouldn’t want Miss Obrien to be angry at her. In this episode Miss Obrien was outwitted by Thomas (he has also returned to smirking bad gay guy, narrow envious gay man Rob James-Cellier) who foolishly thought he could make her lose her job by telling (the now trembling) Molseley (Kevin Doyle) she meant to leave and directly Molseley to offer a relative as new lady’s maid to Lady Grantham.

I found Anna — long suffering, self-sacrificing nurse type. Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan), everyone’s well-meaning mother.

Trawl, trawl, trawl and then I saw it. Tania Modleski had it: no heroine is allowed to admit openly she longs to marry.

Is not this Edith’s flaw? in the first episode she became a Lawrentian-style farm girl to allure a man (whose wife put a stop to that). She wanted to love the crippled man. And what does she say when lying in her bed afterwards: not that she has missed a dreamed-of precious life, but that both sisters are married, one is pregnant and probably the other is. We have enough to see she does like him, but that’s not the emphasis here.

She wore her heart on her sleeve. She was open. She is indiscreet. Worse: she is inept at manipulation. She breaks code & for that and her exposure of the game she cannot be forgiven. Loneliness is a laugh among Judith Butler-style performers. Did anyone in her family, anyone downstairs feel for her? Anna Smith Bates (Joanne Froggart), in some ways an alter ego; it’s no coincidence Anna is Edith’s shadow in the last we see of Edith in this episode:

IwishIhadAnotherLifeblog
She tells Anna she wishes she had another life (something Anna ought to wish for if she had any real value for herself and her time)

Score high for Fellowes. I put it to my reader this scene will be remembered and imitated. It’ll be spoken of. You thought Downton Abbey was running out of dazzle, did you?

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

Passersbyblog
Mrs Hughes and Lesley Nichol as Mrs Patmore hestitate before going into doctor’s office

I had meant to show how each separate episode in a good mini-series will have its own structure and set of themes. I showed patterns in 3:2. Here, then we are looking at themes. As it’s a hidden dialogue (overheard) that defeats Strallan so this is an episode rife with hidden information and lies which have power to hurt, often enough known by people who do not realize their power. Thomas lies to Molseley and inconsistently Cora, Lady Grantham does not give Miss Obrien a chance to explain herself (“I am very hurt by your behavior”) while being all fairy-godmother goodness to Phyllis Logan as Mrs Hughes (“we will keep you” if you should become too ill to work). Daisy alone knows that Lavinia Swine (Zoe Boyle) sent a letter to her lawyer on the day she was dying and blurts it out, thus enabling Lady Mary to pressure Matthew to accept a legacy the family needs. Mrs Bartlett (Claire Higgins) may know the truth of Bates’s wife’s last hours. In the prison a friend warns Bates (Brendan Coyle) that a weapon has been planted in his bed and the police told; he is able to wrest it out of his bedding and hide it before the police rush in to search.

And so it goes. Lies, secrecy, silence — central themes in women’s books ever since Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Preposterous scenes of virtue — central to women’s romance since heroic 17th century romance and rife in opera. So Matthew cannot bear to accept his legacy and when persuaded to, Lord Grantham will not take the money but share the abbey with his son-in-law who admits he likes living there. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) teaching sleazy sarky prostitutes to use sewing machines while they jeer at her. Fellowes’s disdain and hostile depiction of the lowest vulnerable members of society is not compensated for by Ethel Parks’s shame when she comes in for help (naturally not for herself) and again flees rather than tell her secret.

What are men and women allowed to do is presented as a genuine question. Not reveal their appetite, as Anna tells Daisy that makes men flee:

WhatisAllowedwomenblog
The lobster is a part of the mise-en-scene — perhaps a joke version of vagina dentata?

Not take it upon yourself to criticize the arrangements of those above you Mr Carson tells Miss Obrien’s naive nephew, Alfred (Matt Milne).

Of course this is drivel as a serious investigation of how to live your life. It is really what you want that shapes your choices. Edith did want to marry Strallan and be mistress of his estate, have his children. Now she wants another life but cannot see her way to any other. Lady Mary wants to stay princess of Downton and Mr Carson her butler. Lord Grantham does not want to lose face or status. Matthew no longer seems to want the independence he once did, and Tom Bransom has begun to wear dinner jackets — they both appear to want to please their wives.

IN Downton Abbey we can measure the characters by what they want at this point. Miss Obrien wants to get back at Thomas for insulting her as someone who was never asked to be married (how does he know she ever wanted to?) and threatening her job.

As usual I warm most to Mrs Hughes who appears to want to live on, quietly, with dignity, as self-supporting as her world will let her be. I would warm to Isobel Crawley if (like Edith but for very different reasons) her work were not the subject of such ridicule.

What kind of life do you want to live is a serious debate found in Victorian novels. When Jane fled Rochester, she was forced “to build a life.” When Mrs Crawley is trying to reach Ethel, she wants also to be frank (like Edith is intuitively) and uses the word “prostitute” of how Ethel is surviving, and says “you should know this is true of every woman who has come here to rebuild their lives and I’m helping them, and is re-echoed mockingly:

Jeeringblog
(A camp picture?)

That’s right. Why not come in and help us rebuild our lives?

I understand the sarcastic laughter. People act in terms of particulars, of their own landscape, and if they don’t have access to a milieu that allows for fulfillment on middle class terms, they don’t get it. So Ethel says, “That’s not why I’m here Mrs Crawley. That is I am … what you said but I don’t want help, not for myself but … ” and unable to face whatever it is, she runs off again. It’s not so bad with Edith as say Mrs Bartlett (a laundress) or these unskilled women or Ethel. Isobel says over dinner what Edith needs is something useful to do.

But it has been a viscerally searing day for her, and my goal in this blog has been to investigate why Edith is the episode scapegoat.

Ellen

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