Archive for the ‘literary scholarly work’ Category

NPG P214; Anthony Trollope by Julia Margaret Cameron
Anthony Trollope, traveler — photo by Julia Cameron

Dear friends and readers,

This blog contains some enjoyable ironies for the Trollopian who knows that three years ago Simon Heffer wrote a sweepingly dismissive assessment of Anthony Trollope’s novels for the Telegraph. I’m delighted to announce I’m going at long last to teach a course in Anthony Trollope’s writing; it’ll occur this coming fall at the OLLI (Oscher Lifelong Learning Institute) at American University; and at the same time chuffed to be able to see a review I wrote of Heffer’s doorstop of a book on the Victorian Age,


appear on the Victorian Web, beautifully composited with effective appropriate illustrations. You see there are no novels Heffer better elucidates than Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire and Palliser novels.

Not that the course I’m planning is going to contextualize Trollope as The Chronicler of Barsetshire (the title of a biography by R.H. Super), and, say, begin with The Warden or Dr Thorne (the first novel by Trollope I ever read, one assigned in an undergraduate course at Queens College, CUNY), with due transitions from The Small House at Allingham to the Pallisers who also dwell in Barset (the train station is there).

One of John Everett Millais’s vignette for The Small House.

Nothing wrong in that except it’s a distortion. Trollope began as an Anglo-Irish novelist, and far from an aberation, his travel stories and novellas, e.g., Nina Balatka (the story of fierce conflicts between Jews and Christians in Prague)

Modern photo of Charles River, Prague — plays an important role in Nina Balatka

were written before his seminal political novel, Phineas Finn. He was a contemporary political novelist, travel-writer and editor as much as a dreamer-escapist, romancer, brillant psychologist and careful artist. Anyway that’s how I’m going to present him.

Here’s the proposal I wrote:

Anthony Trollope is one of the greatest nineteenth-century novelists whom many readers still come into contact for the first time on their own — that is, without having been assigned to read first in school. His books have survived almost on their own, but their variety is not widely known and consequently the familiar ones “imperfectly understood” (one of his phrases). He is central in the history of the political novel; he wrote novellas in the Henry James mode, passionate romances, & medium-length radical realism set in many places outside as well as in England. He edited central Victorian journals. The goal of this course will be to enjoy and see Trollope from the lens of a more adequate perspective than the man from Barsetshire. This will be a two semester course.

As those who teach Victorian novels know, the great obstacle to success is the typical length of the powerful good books (we are talking 700-900 pages) so I did a sleight of hand. I did not begin with The Macdermots of Ballycloran because powerful political tragic romance that it is, it is also long: I chose for a starter instead Trollope’s startling landscape Irish novella, An Eye for an Eye. I allowed but one l-o-n-g book: Phineas Finn.


From The Pallisers: 3:6 (Phineas [Donal McCann] as Madame Max [Barbara Murray] first sees him, and Madame Max as he first sees her)

All others are novellas and short stories (James Thompson’s Complete Trollope is available in many copies for $4) with one medium-length realistic radical book, Lady Anna.

The syllabus is not written in cement (I’ll eliminate texts if students feel we need to), but here’s the plan:

Week 1: An Eye for an Eye (201 pages)

Week 2: “La Mere Bauche” (21 pages), “A Ride Across Palestine” (26), Returning Home” (16), and “Aaron Trowe.” (20)

Week 3 : Nina Balatka (195)

Week 4: “Parsons Daughter at Oxney Colne” (22), discussion of Barsetshire mythic place, and begin Phineas Finn (altogether 714 pages over 4 weeks or 178 pages a week)

Week 5: Phineas Finn

Week 6: Phineas Finn

Week 7: Phineas Finn and excerpt from those parts of Pallisers films drawn from Phineas I

Week 6: “Spotted Dog” (34), “Why Frau Frohman Raised her Prices” (50)

Week 7: Lady Anna (513 pages over 4 weeks, so 128 a week)

Week 9: Lady Anna

Week 10: Lady Anna

Week 11: Lady Anna and “Malachi’s Cove,” (16 pages) (with 30 minutes of TV film).

For afficionados, I do have a VHS copy of the fine 75 minute film adaptation of Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove” which we’ll also read (about people in Cornwall who make a precarious living gathering seaweed off of cliffs).

Donald Pleasance as Malachi and Veronica Quilligan as his granddaughter

Some rationales: “La Mere Bauche” and “A Ride Across Palestine” puts paid to the idea Trollope is not openly erotic; “Returning Home” and “Aaron Trowe” are about colonialism from the point of view of desperate settlers; “Parsons Daughter” besides its poignant psychological ironies can stand in for Barsetshire impulses (its landscape in Devon). I have two editors’ tales which Trollope said were the best fictions he ever wrote (“Spotted Dog” and “Frau Frohman”). Trollope once said he meant Lady Anna to begin an Australian series (our hero and heroine set out for Australia since society they feel will be more open to their union than in England). I regret not having a Christmas story at the last (the course ends in December) but then Trollope disliked having to write them for the market even if he wrote a a genuinely traumatic comedy out of his reluctance (“Christmas at Thompson Hall”).

What will the second semester be like? one long book again, either a political Palliser or one of the novels which have become “signatures” for him (Last Chronicle of Barset, or He Knew He Was Right, or The Way We Live Now), with a different choice of novellas, short fiction and realism, to bring out other aspects of his career or themes, his artistry. I’d love a travel book but they are huge, and the one abridgement, of North America, is long out of print. Hardly any copies anywhere. If I should live so long.

The great fun of teaching at OLLI is not only are the students enthusiastic, intelligent older people, you don’t have to choose a traditional topic or author — Trollope is that. Someone suggested to me that a semester of Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, planned to coincide with the airing of the new coming mini-series would be very well received so Trollope II would have to wait. I’m not going anywhere.

Aidan Turner to be the new Ross Poldark — do not hold The Hobbit against him (he also played Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

Eleanor Tomlinson the new Demelza (she was Georgiana Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley) — this photo as illustration recalls one of the frontispieces of the Poldark novels (1960s)


Read Full Post »

We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art — Henry James

An English Home, Albert Coburn (1907 illustration)

Dear friends and readers,

I began Gorra’s marvelous book as an alternative read to Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, a kind of companion-match antidote: I felt it was the same sort of book, one which took the reader through a deeply-felt reading experience of a book, in this case James’s The Portrait of a Lady. I discovered that Gorra’s does not pretend to be a semi-confessional autobiography as semi-literary criticism; indeed I learned very little about Gorra’s life, though I did learn how he reacted not only to James’s The Portrait of Lady but many of James’s other books — without any particular references to Gorra’s life, except that Gorra is also American and regards himself as having an American identity (whatever that is). Gorra’s book rather elaborated in how James’s other books and The Portrait fit into James’s private and writing life, into James’s career, and into how James’s readers and critics have seen him since he began publishing and up to the time of his death.

In other words, this is an unconventionally-written biography. Gorra’s can offer insights into James’s life not allowed by most methodologies: his method is to bring together how he feels (impersonally put) about James’s writing, what he Gorra sees, and how James wrote James felt about it with what we know of James’s life from all sorts of angles, some of them drawn from phases of writing The Portrait of a Lady. Gorra weaves a sort of biography where the writer does not have to follow the life history of the subject but can weave in what he or she wants and when, with the justification that well I’m going through associations from this novel. So we skip dull parts of the person’s life and also get new sorts of insight as the material is reconfigured.

We out James in a new way: this is a new sort of biography, one which moves out from one central great book, rather like someone deciding to write Trollope’s biography by intensely going through every detail of say The Way We Live Now or The Claverings — or both together. Mead’s book was not a biography of Eliot in disguise it was “her life” in Eliot

For example, Gorra can’t prove it yet he makes a persuasive case for seeing Isabel Archer and Ralph Touchett as a doppelganger out of the dying Minnie Temple, James’s cousin. Sometimes the method is inadequate: I was much entertained by his reaction to Henrietta Stackpole – only he seems not to know that Stackpole is also an unkind caricature of Kate Fields, beloved of Anthony Trollope, an entertaining travel writer, journalist in her own right.

Martin Donovan as Ralph Touchett (Portrait)

Another example: Gorra re-sees Isabel’s early refusal to marry in terms of James’s — for James was under pressure to marry; her going to Europe, her choice of waiting to see (Ralph Touchett’s) of being a witness not a doer — all these three are brought together with James’s gayness and made sense of — he is masking himself in Isabel is the point and it’s an interesting one, for else we just do really have another story of the chaste heroine making a bad or good marriage.

He dwells on Madame Merle who emerges upon Isabel getting the money (women has a good nose) and how she stands for a social animal. She and Isabel have a debate with Isabel coming out on the side of that she is not expressed solely or nearly solely by her outward behavior, dress, occupation — as Madame Merle implies. I’ll add that From Daniel Deronda the mother shows one has a self apart which will break away, but Isabel’s tragedy will be she cannot

Barbara Hershey as Madame Merle (Portrait)

In a section early in the book called the Envelope of Circumstances where Gorra talks almost of himself — at least of an American identity (which often makes me uncomfortable) — he elaborates on the idea that Portrait is unusual in its lack of religion and Gorra says this is true of all James’s work but the ghost stories. I know I like James and feel he is equally European/English (not British)

I much enjoyed the chapter in Gorra after the one detailing all James’s homosexual friends, contacts, strains (“An Unmarried Man”): in “A London Life” he tells of how James came to live in London, that it was no foregone conclusion: he tried Paris first; about an expensive apartment he lived in for quite a while that was well located for theater, plays, making a life of going out to dinners and socializing with the upper class, near enough to publishers and parks. I quite envy James — we also get a strong sense of him supporting himself through writing for magazines and the kinds of texts he was writing to do that. I knew all this but not in this way and Gorra quotes from James’s wonderful thick diary commonplace book so well. He intuitively holds onto and writing about the most astute utterances of James: after G.H. Lewes died, James visited her and described her as “shivering like a person who had had a wall of her house blown off.”

It may be these names of James’s possible lovers and his relationships with them are known, but I’ve never seen the series of men set out so clearly, the stories told so intelligently, and rightly the doubts sowed over the idea James was physically celibate without overdoing it. People are still today writing books which obscure this aspect of James’s life and when they do write about James’s complex feelings, they write turgidly, with embarrassment, hedging. Gorra tells of James’s important life long relationship with his woman amaneunsis-secretary, Theodora Bosanquet whose biography of the boss she spent 2 decades with and lived in close intimacy gives us a lot of the leads and details that help us see this aspect of James’s life. Her book: Henry James at Work and published by Hogarth Press (the Woolfs).

Thus I found finding Gorra’s book more satisfying than Mead’s because I was made to realize more about James and his writing. Most of what Mead wrote I knew about Eliot — and while she is applying our information about Eliot is more subtle autobiographical ways, it does not change what I have seen. Since James’s homosexuality has only recently been openly admitted to and discussed as central to his life — as it was the way what gender you are is — there are new insights to be gotten

He begins with the richness of the letters and how much we can learn about James from them (most have not yet been published, a many year project by many people). The question is how far can we be ourselves apart from social life and within ourselves how much there is a real separate I from construction. I agree with him (and James) it’s there but vulneragble and fragile — as we see in Isabel Archer. Touchett is in retreaet and sinks his life in Isabel’s – I believe that outside his job Jim sunk his life in mind and job in the last years was also endured to support the two of us. That it was not him is seen in how he didn’t mind retiring and only thought of going back in order to move to England.

Still the great source for all people wanting to know James is a book edited by Mattiessen, a continuous diary: it’s vignettes of going out, little bits of stories he later worked up into his great novels, thoughts on aesthetics, whatever popped into his head: The Notebooks of Henry James. I read it while doing my dissertation and trying to understand the creative mood of reverie underlying novels. Gorra emphatically uses this book.


Rome, outdoor Market, Piazza Navona by Guiseppe Ninci (1870)

Gorra first shows us James’s situating himself in London and ambivalent; how he tried Paris, and we go on to his trips to Italy – where much of the later action of The Portrait of a Lady takes place and we get a chapter on Madame Merle and Osmond – not moralizing but how they represent some real aspects of the expatriots. It was not all high (or today unacceptable) art. Then Gorra moves into a portrait of the community in Florence and Rome at the time. Several interesting pages on his relationship with Constance Fennimore Woolson’s. As sympathetic to the people caught up there as Mead on Main – I’ve been at least to the Spanish Steps and some of the places Gorra describes – which he takes you through with him as your walking guide – and connects them to the atmosphere of the novel which is un-Victorian … bringing all this to bear on Isabel’s wrong choice gives it a whole new kind of aspect – and connects it to the modern reader too.

Gorra follows James from place to place as James writes The Portrait of a Lady. James was escaping his American identity as he traveled from place to place in Italy, and tried to find a quiet place to write a lot and yet have some company and enrichening landscape. From expatriats he moves onto strangers, and how James was surrounding himself with strangers, was himself an exile, a stranger, and saw that the American communities were themselves disconnected from Italian society, didn’t understand it, in search of what they couldn’t find at home. Then he says they were – -and James is – drawing on the heritage of different countries and cultures to make a new amalgam for themselves.

That aspect of American identity as self-invention I do see in myself, though the amalgam is mostly from English sources. I turned to read James’s Roman Rides as Gorra said it’s better than just about all James’s early fictions — and it struck me that’s right. The opening is a meditative piece on the landscape of the campagna. Jim and I went there and walked alone one morning — we did not take our children who were with us on that holiday because they would have been so bored. Often the places he and I wanted to go to were to them places with nothing there. James does a gorgeous rendition of the feelings one can have just outside Rome among these ruins in this desolated place — it was still that way in 1994. How important place and history are to some authors.


John Malkovich as Osmond (Portrait)

Gorra then moves onto Isabel’s strange choice of the stifling Osmond and how Isabel came to make such a bad choice. Gorra suggests we don’t bring in the sexual angle enough and Isabel was attracted to the man who declined openly to chase her. I did not remember that time went by and Isabel traveled with her sister I Europe and then Madame Merle in the Middle East (that was dangerous). Ralph tells her she is going to be put in a cage but it’s no good. We are not shown the moment of submission, the marriage or its first experience. Why? It’s a sleight of hand that takes us to thwarted aspiration, imprisonment, narrowing but not how she got there. Are these James’s fears for himself?

The book moves onto Venice as James does – and an immersion occurs as James is drawn into this defeated place filled with poverty striken people, even then dying, dependent on tourism. James himself eat and drank expensively as Gorra finds this out by going to the same place (still there). A political fight over the vaporetto and the vaporettos won – James didn’t like the noise either. He makes two friends whose houses he can stay at, ordinary upper class American and English, not the resident famous homosexual population …. It’s the evocation of these places through quotation of James’s travel writing that makes this section so appealing …

John Singer Sergeant, An Interior in Venice (1899)

Gorra is trying to relive the experiences James had while writing the book at the same time as he re-imagines what the characters feel as the story progresses: tracing James’s steps in Venice, looking at paintings Sergeant made of the expatriot people into whose houses James was welcomed. From James’s letters Gorra picks up that the landlady was offering her daughter as a sex partner by sending her to hang around the fourth floor. Byron took up such invitations, not James. He moves onto the this kind of atmosphere in Venice, and its treacheries, the grim whiff of the closed streets (seen in Sergeant”s pictures too I know) and says this seeped into Portrait of a Lady and what Isabel’s chose of Osmond brought her


Constance Fennimore Woolson

Venice prompts by association the really poignant story of James’s long time and finally failed relationship with Constance Fenimore Woolston. Gorra characterizes her with great empathy and tells a lot I didn’t know or had forgotten. Again he brings together what is not usually brought together: how they quietly lived in one building she on the first and he the ground floor — in Florence. She apparently went to Venice to live on the assumption he would follow her but he never did. The letters to and from and her were burned. As everyone knows she killed herself by jumping out a window and he tortured himself by trying to drown her dresses — why he just didn’t throw them out or give them away as rags I can’t guess.

Woolston’s death though partly in reaction to James’s behavior is obviously not his fault. She suffered depression much of her life. When she’d finish a book she’d be in a state of nervous collapse. It’s said some people are exhilarated by it. I was neither. Eliot went into collapse mode.

As he tells the story, Gorra connects it James’s “Aspern Papers,” “he Beast in the Jungl”e (Sedgewick renamed that “closet”) and a couple of other uncanny stories (“The Romance of Old Clothes) which he retells very well — and The Wings of the Dove.

Quite what this has to do with The Portrait of a Lady? it illuminates James’s feelings towards relationships, the real life of expatriates … A central “sin” in James is when one person uses another, makes them an instrument for his or her needs. Imposing your will on them. He suggests Lyndall Gordon (who wrote a conventional biography) accuses James of doing this to Woolson. Now the second version a Portrait of a Lady occurs well after Woolson’s death and so we are left to make our own allegory here.

Paris, La Rue de Rivoli, Anonymous, undated

I love the illustrations in this book, picturesque, in the mode of Alvin Coburn, the illustrator for James’s turn of the century complete revised edition.

Following upon the chapter on James and Constance Fenimore Woolston, we move into “sex, serials, the continent and critics.” A full chapter on how near impossible it was to get into print and distributed in the UK and US too a story which told what every one know to be the case with sexual life; you could only tell supposedly what life was supposed sexually to be like, to teach lessons. The French were much freer.

This part of the book includes a chapter on the magazines James wrote for and Gorra uses is also valuable beyond telling us how James dealt with the problem of instalment publication: demands for a certain length, for cliff-hangers, who and where his work appeared (with what provided the context of respectability for the reader); it’s an intelligent portrait of a world where people are still reading magazines. James was apparently a writer who had in mind his whole book so would start a new instalment not with a reader turning the pages of a magazine who might need (as we call them today) recap. Today’s American context is alluded to: the importance of Atlantic, Harper’s then – New Yorker today

Gorra is showing us how Isabel Archer could come to say she did not want to hear anything that Pansy could not hear — this is supreme foolishness on her part; far from being dangerous for her, it will be dangerous for her not to have more knowledge of what a man can do to his wife once he marries her — Cameron’s movie makes Osmond into a sadistic man in bed too — as does Andrew Davies make Grandcourt in his film of Daniel Deronda. This is chapter comparing French fiction of the period that was admired by the English with the English. A rare novelist to break through what was allowed was George Moore (Esther Waters) but his novels were not distributed by Mudie’s.

Gorra spends a long chapter on the whole long chapter in Portrait of a Lady after Edward Rosier comes to call – he is the young man who loves and could be loved by Pansy, but Osmond won’t allow it, and he lets Isabel know that she ought to use her sexual pull on Warburton to lure Warburton into marrying Pansy — for Osmond assumes that’s a front for a love affair Warburton means to have with Isabel.

Isabel is sickened, appalled, desolated — we come upon her well after the marriage has taken place, we even missed the birth and death of a young son. Gorra says this is deliberate on James’s part: he does not want to show us directly (remember our thread on showing and telling) such dramatic moments but their affect on consciousness.

I was not surprised to see Gorra attribute some of James’s sophistication to his reading of Daniel Deronda where Gorra finds the same kinds of techniques. The difference is that James goes on for much longer (he says) and makes the narrative stop still and ruminate a past we’ve not seen.

He also says the shrewdest most aware appraisal of Portrait was by Constance Fenimore Woolson. So James is in a women of ecriture-femme — with Oliphant ranging herself on the other side in defense of what she thought of as English fiction.

He finds this so original. I don’t think so — Trollope does it, Austen does it, Eliot does it a lot but the interior monologue is important and Gorra’s way of discussing it as becoming central to the art of fiction does show one important innovation. Hitherto story was said to count a lot and more; and it’s clear that for James the actual story matter — the events that manifest the inner life — does not matter. Gorra says this changes the novel’s emphasis and is part of a switch over that finds an extreme in Woolf.

Romola Garai as Gwendoleth Harleth Grandcourt telling Daniel Deronda (Hugh Dancy) about what her life has been (2004 Daniel Deronda, scripted Andrew Davies)

No what makes the difference is the content. Trollope’s Julia (The Claverings) does not think one really unconventional thought. She never thinks to herself these people are shits, why should I want to sit with the housekeeper, look at their terrible values. Nor any of them until Daniel Deronda with the magnificent portrait of his mother (the same actress who played the role in Davies’s film played Madame Merle in Campion’s film) Isabel does not break away but she has utterly subversive thoughts about the values of those around her. Eliot invents another set of ethics using Gwendoleth Harleth’s experience (which Davies’s film brings out), implicitly anticipating Flaubert but much more sympathetic to the woman, as is James. Again and again Gorra links James to Eliot. So when Gorra exaggerated because he so goes on about it, one can learn and see …

He is tracing an important direct new line — into it was fed the travel writings that he has been going over too. Roman Rides, Venice. Also William James’s books on cognitive psychology show up the new interest. The new line was objected to intelligently by RLStevenson in his Gossip on Romance and James’s prefaces, his Art of Fiction was intended to intervene in this debate. Gorra’s discussion of James’s use of stream of consciousness in Portrait of a Lady is so rousing that I become eager for Phyllis Rose’s A Year of Reading Proust to come — I just hope I’ve read enough of Proust’s volumes to be able to appreciate it. I’ve only read one and almost to the end of the second volume.

Gorra then uses his analysis of Isabel Archer’s long meditation to launch into more than James’s Art of Fiction; he makes large claims for James as an innovator of a new kind of novel: one based wholly on inner life, nuances. Of course these were written before — in epistolary narratives of high quality in the 18th century but not self-consciously. Gorra argues that Woolson was one of the first to understand, and Howells to defend James and his Art of Fiction should be understood as part of a debate which includes RLS’s Gossip on Romance.

I like how Gorra fits this into the growth of serious literary criticism of the novel, taking it seriously. James could not get himself to write in the other “new” school of naturalism (Princess Cassamassima is the one that may be linked): too pessimistic, too bleak he felt, though Howells did it in his Modern Instance. The novel’s stature is going up

Henry James by Katherine McClellan (1905)

The last part: putting out the lights. This one takes us through James’s response to the deaths of his father and mother; he came for the funerals, just missed the dying. I think he’s right to argue against Edel’s insistence it was the mother who screwed the family up: common sense and all evidence suggests it was the father (if people can be screwed up who produced what Wm and Henry James and even Alice did and lives the lives the first two did) with the mother complicit. It seems to have been a contest which of the parents self-destructed first and in reaction to the other’s coming demise. They did cling together.

As with Mead at the close of her book, but without personal references, Gorra then makes leaps into the fiction to find analogies about death. Gorra shows how often James wrote about death after this period, and how a metaphor for loss. In this chapter he says it was at this time James began to keep his journal of all anecdotes, an important source for this book (and many others).

And he suggests it was after this or around this time several of the great Victorians died and I’m glad to say — serendipitiously — for James this includes Trollope. Trollope for James a major voice like Eliot, Flaubert and Turgenev. James’s essay on Trollope has been very influential — perhaps too much so but I didn’t know about the line calling Trollope a “difficult mind.” That’s good. What a different list from the modern canon, no?

James’s “The Altar of the Dead” is about the ghosts we live with, the ghosts in our memories of who died and Gorra speaks eloquently of it. Alice was another great loss by then and Constance Fenimore Woolson. No wonder I liked this chapter and it leads a powerful chapter centering on the last image Isabel has at the end of her mediation: Madame Merle and Osmond talking together. Gorra takes us through to Isabel’s realization that when Madame Merle said to her “let us have him” (italics added) Madame Merle has given away 1) that she and Osmond think that Isabel wants Warburton for herself, not that she is appalled by the proposition that she should use his attraction to her to win him to marry Pansy as payoff for a liaison; and 2) they assume what bothers Isabel is not the amorality of all this but that she wants Warburton for herself, and finally 3) Madame Merle is Pansy’s mother.

When Osmond’s sister comes to tell Isabel of this truth however indirectly it’s after the realization and this is followed hard on by the most quiet and devastating of needlings I’ve ever read. Madame Merle comes in to tell Isabel as Isabel is contemplating visiting Ralph as he lies dying (after Osmond has forbidden it) that it was Ralph who gave her the enormous sum of money that made her “a brilliant match,” spoken in bland feigned innocence she is nonethleless triumphing over telling Isabel that Isabel owes this hellish marriage to Ralph. And pointing our to her yes “she was perfectly free” so she did it to herself.

One problem for the modern reader who wants to read hard truths about life is these earlier novels (and many since) end ambiguously in ways that allow us to think the characters will be all right, make do by following conventional norms and thus uphold the very structures that the whole novel has been designed to expose.

Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer Osmond (Portrait, scripted Laura Jones, directed Jane Campion)

It is a startlingly even terrifying moment when Madame Merle so quietly and blandly lets Isabel know it was after Isabel who chose to marry Osmond and she was given all the clues she needed to what he was if she had only looked.

Austen has scenes of withering corrosion where the speaker does not realize what he is saying and the listener is mortified and hurt, but nothing quite so horrible in feel or mean and malicious in intent. Madame Merle’s purpose is to make Isabel angry at Ralph and prevent her going — as Lucy Ferrars in telling Elinor of the long engagement was to make Elinor give up on Edward, be very angry with him. The increase in subtlety and what has been done is a hundredfold.

For the book’s last chapters, see the comments.


Read Full Post »

The evocative set

Richard and Stanley right behind him

Dear friends and readers,

This is to add to a chorus of praise for the production of Richard III playing this month through early March of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Folger. Izzy and I saw it tonight and by the time we were into the second half, enjoyed it enormously, were thoroughly absorbed.

As might be seen by my comparative qualification, I don’t quite agree with the estatic insights some reviewers have been attributing to the play. I’ve seen it so many times, and Izzy almost as many, and we agreed we’ve seen many a superior one: to name just a few, Ian McKellen as Richard III as a Hitler type in the film (and Jim and I also saw it on stage); Laurence Oliver’s film (where Ralph Richardson as Buckingham managed to steal the show); the Washington Shakespeare’s great version (a parable about politicians) a few years ago now at the Arlington theater; one I saw years ago with Stacey Keach as Richard III. The play is popular — it is just deliciously over-the-top for an ensemble cast and rich for a great actor) and frequently done in part or as a whole. This production was disappointing during the first half. The declaiming style used throughout could not accommodate the black and nervy humor of the first half: many jokes just thrown away and lost. Richard’s “We are not safe” to Clarence as Clarence is taken off to be murdered at Richard’s instigation fell flat.

There is something effeminate (a fine thing to be by the way) in Richard III (as there is Richard II) and this was erased utterly — can’t have that in this macho male world of long leather coats, and heavy armor and weapons. In fact the costumes recalled the way we see police dressed in the US when they attack crowds (say Occupy groups) or shut down and swarm all over a city (say Boston). Cortese was superb

Drew Cortese as Richard III,

but he also seemed unwilling to unbend and the worst scene of the play (though it was effective as Shakespeare’s scene is striking) was the one where Richard wooes Lady Anne (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan) in front of her husband’s bleeding corpse.


Cortese kept his distance and his dignity; what he should have done is sidled up to her, and engaged physically with her, alluring and luring. They didn’t even obey the stage directions which include a comment about how she had thrown the sword he gave her to push through his heart on the ground: they kept the line, but she didn’t throw the sword until well after he uttered the line.

The nervousness of the usual scenes in the first half often leads to cutting the second half where the mood become direct and hard-hitting and this is where this production came into its own. What it had to add to the all the productions I’ve seen before was it was utterly traditional — as we might imagine it. In fact they risked slight parody (a la Beyond the Fringe) as they marched on and off the stage, declaiming at one another at the top of their voices with their bodies just writhing and just standing in place. No lines were left out, no scenes cut.


The reviews I’ve read have strangely left out two important themes of the production: the way characters were killed was in imitation of Sweeney Todd, that modern neurotic nightmare of slaughter. There were squares and triangles in the floor which would open up and the assassin would come along and slit the person’s throat, or pull them down and we’d hear some sort of thump, clang; the repetition of this was effective. These holes in the ground allowed for continual allusions to the finding of the much decayed corpse of Richard III in 2012 in a parking lot in Leicester, England. The program notes were all about this, and this corpse & parking lot were continually evoked on stage. The lights underground were parking lot lights. The corpse of Anne’s husband was wrapped like a mummy one finds in a excavation of a site where savage rituals were performed.

UK - King Richard III Discovery

A contemporary gothic all right.

This evocation may have been meant (the program notes suggest this) to remind the audience that although this version of Richard III as malign and deformed may be a Tudor myth, based on More’s biography intended to please Henry VIII; nonetheless, a terrible reality gave rise to this fascinating dramatization of the criminal and desperate behavior of the aristocrats of the UK in the 15th century. The women were the desperate mourners (Nanna Ingvarsson came through as a great actress once again as the Duchess of York in her set-tos with her vile son, Richard) or worked upon to give in in order to salvage something or appear too. Richard’s seducing of Queen Elizabeth (Jula Motyka) paralleled his seducing of Anne:


He is offering her a replacement of a possible future and safety if she will allow him to marry her daughter, Princess Elizabeth (Jenna Berk). I liked especially that the production conveyed by costumes and gestures that when Henry VII took over and the Princess is brought by her mother to stand by his side, that we not having any improvement. This man is such another perhaps as Richard was — whose death has a certain desperate pathos – throat slit just as he goes down the hole and cries “a horse, my horse … my kingdom for a horse … “. A parable for our time, and depiction of how the real corpse that was found got there.

I could see the audience was not gone on the production until the second half either. The actors brought the audience in as if they were London citizens and the audience at one point obliged by clapping. People like to be amused and there was laughter at the some obvious stage business like jokes during Richard’s hypocritical refusal of the crown. Some of the best secondary male performances came out here. Richard Sheridan Willis as Stanley in dark-colored glasses with his sheaf of papers and fear for his son but determined betrayal of Richard III evoked a modern day powerful minister backing up whoever is in power by whatever means necessary.


So don’t miss it; it’s another winner for this new Shakespeare all the time group at the Folger. As to our personal experience, see Under the Sign of Sylvia.


Read Full Post »

Susan Hampshire as Fleur, Marvin Jarvis as Jon (1967 Forsyte Saga, a scene of intensely idyllic love from To Let) — one of my favorite stills

The closest equivalent in the 2002 film: Holly (Amanda Ryan) and Val (Julian Overden) falling in love

Dear friends and readers,

I know I’ve gone a much longer time than usual between blogs; worse yet, I’ve not written about any books I’ve read for over a month, and then it was one which answered to my needs (Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking) during this time of scarcely endurable personal tragedy, which is far from over. All I was able to do during August was write about a particularly good film I had just seen, in the spirit of recommendation (e.g., Blue Jasmine). I have, though, continued to read and to listen to good books different sorts read aloud, even if the spirit has not been strong within me to blog about them.

One series that has sustained me — and itself — has been Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, first trilogy. On Trollope19thCStudies at least two (and now more) of us have gone on from The Man of Property, to In Chancery (2nd novel) and To Let (3rd), with their intervening interludes, Indian Summer of a Forsyte and Awakening. So tonight I will attempt to write about these and the parts of the two film adaptations which dramatize them.

In Chancery

Soames (Eric Porter) come to ask Irene (Dawn Nyall Porter) to return to him, a moment sympathetic to Soames (1967 Forsyte Saga, Part 9)

Soames (Damien Lewis) come to ask Irene (Gina McKay), to return to him, a depiction sympathetic to Irene (2002 Forsyte Saga, Part 8)

While the death of old Jolyon and his idyl with Irene was effective (Indian Summer, which I wrote about in my previous blog on The Man of Property), I found in In Chancery a strong falling off after the initial push of Soames on Irene to marry him. Until near the end when Galsworthy turned back from the younger generation of Forsytes to Soames, Irene, Annette and Young Jolyon, he meant to be the subject of the book to be the “third generation” (as he calls the youngest adult characters) as belonging to or making up a “new” world. To me they seemed weaker, not as fully believable or realized characters than the middle or 2nd generation Forsytes — Val (Winifred’s son by Montague Dartie), Jolly and Holly (children of Young Jolyon by the governess, Helene, the boy dying in the Boer war), even their names makes them into simpler dolls, including the young Jon (son to Irene and Young Jolyon), not complex embodiments of humanity — until that is, Fleur (daughter to Soames by Annette, the French woman he marries so as to have a child) arrives, a fully-grown young woman in To Let.

The 2002 film uses Holly (Amanda Ryan) to show the loneliness of her father (Young Jolyon) before marriage to Irene, and his kindness to his daughter who wants to follow Val to the Boer War

1967 film shows the innocent couple, Holly (Jackie Smith) and Val with no irony

That this group of characters are weak was seen by the film-makers of both the 1967 and 2002 mini-series: they are sidelined, kept in the margins. Annette who scarcely appears in either book, emerges as a major character. In both the book and films, June, Young Jolyon’s older daughter, by his first wife, Francis, remains an active character to be reckoned with. In Chancery ends in Soames seeking a divorce because he cannot persuade Irene to return to him so as to father a child upon her (and he is honest this is his motive, which he finds reasonable), the birth of Fleur (about whose gender Soames lies to his dying father) and marriage of Irene and Young Jolyon.


The birth of Fleur (1967)

The Awakening I found impossibly cloying: it affects to tell of how the world feels to the young Jon, a boy of 6: it does show how a mother’s presence can dominate a small boy utterly, and this foreshadows what Jon’s later life will be. This may be regarded as reverse Freudianism: instead of a girl with penis envy (longing for her father), we have a boy with warm womb satisfactions.

The birth of Fleur (2002)

The 2002 film picks up this sense of the boy dependent on his mother in Soames’s relationship with his: Barbara Flynn is here comforting Annette

To Let

By contrast, I felt almost upon opening To Let, a resumption of the power of the first book, with Soames to the forefront once again, now filled out (as it were) and altered to, by the presence of the beloved daughter, Fleur whose heritage emerges as a blend of her pragmatic sufficiently amoral French mother and iron-willed yet sensitive father. We get a strong stand-off, a re-delineation of the original clash between Irene (now with Jolyon by her side) and Soames, only now it’s embodied in the persons of their children who turn into Romeo and Juliet figures who fall in love and want to marry and are forbidden even to think of one another. They demand to know why and both sets of parents are (understandably) reluctant to go near Soames’s rape of Irene, her two adulteries.

Fleur listening to the history of her parents

Winifred (Margaret Tyzack) telling it plainly (1967)

In the film and book Fleur is told by Annette’s lover to spite Soames, to separate her off from her father, to somehow take advantage of the situation; and by Winifred who believes Fleur should be told and is doing it on behalf of Soames. Winifred is the person who adjusts to society, who in a sense stands for it in her easy changes and complacencies – she does support her brother and Fleur this way. As in the book, Fleur first finds Irene’s picture deep in Soames’s drawer — so we realize that Soames brooded over Irene while married to Annette. She asks if Soames wanted to marry Irene but Winifred will not answer her at first.

The result is unexpected: Fleur comes to June again and says she wants to talk to Jon and implies strongly she might break off the relationship. I take this to mean she has chosen her father. In the event she tries to trick Jon into marrying her but fails to persuade him.

Jon learns by a long letter written to him by his father, and makes the decision not to marry Fleur. It is he who decides this finally, not she; she would have passionately gone on to marry and presented this as a fait accompli to their parents. Does this mean she loved him more than he loved her? Probably not — we use that word love so superficially and for so many kinds of experiences. What we see in the scenes is her determination to assert her desire and her vision of her future, and his real tie with his mother and gratitude towards parents who have given him (as we are shown) the happiest childhood and continue to be all that’s kind and good when it comes to his choice of career. Fleur’s mother was not tenderly loving and her father is made of sterner stuff (Shakespeare in there) than Jolyon.

Both young adults choose to remain loyal to their respective parents. In 2002 the idea of a grown adult child remaining loyal to family is still a norm.

2002: when Jon (Lee Williams) introduces Fleur (Emma Malin) to his parents, he first realizes they will not accept her

Later that night Jolyon telling his son, anguishedly

Michael Mont, the young politician and publishers, son of a landowner, is enthralled by Fleur, and as begun to hang around seriously and told her he wants to be with her, implied to marry her, but she refuses to take this seriously. Michael is also making friends with Soames and has told Soames he, Michael, could therefore go into Parliament and runs or works in a publishing company and Soames is suitably impressed. Michael (Nicholas Pennell) emerges as a major male character in the second trilogy. Mont is something of a rebel, progressive politically, at the same time very very conventional in his social and psychological life, so he able to have a successful career. He has an aristocratic father, they are landowners — a real “catch” as Soames sees it and Fleur will realize.

It’s worth emphasizing right away that Fleur then does not marry for love — neither did her father. Young Jolyon treats Irene as someone to be soothed, reverenced, sheltered, protected. Not his equal. A marriage without love can be very unhappy — Irene to Soames and then Annette who has been embittered by her years with Soames, but I wonder if it’s his treatment of her that grated more than the supposed non-love — his colder nature. June Forsyte lives alone — after what she saw in her father and mother and her own nature she choose that. I did feel the first time watching the mini-series that Fleur’s much later decision to have a baby (she is child-free as she sees it for a couple of years) is to please Soames, for him.


The books and films compared and intertextually

1967: the idyllic pastoral time out together: Fleur and Jon in the meadow

2002: Jon and Fleur more like farmers, scene closer to Hardy’s Tess

I was moved to re-watch the corresponding parts of the 1967 Forstye Saga (13 & 14 of 26 hours) and the 2002 Forsyte Saga (No 9 of 13 hours), and I had more pleasure for 2 hours than I’ve had for weeks. Last time I could respond only to the beautiful evocative sequence of the first waves of Fleur and Jon’s love — which follows closely the book’s sequence — but this time I saw it embedded in the resumption of the other characters: the film does present Soames much much more positively: we see how uncomfortable and miserable Irene’s presence makes him as much as his presence makes Irene. Instead of (as in the book), our being plunged into his thoughts as this reactionary and he remembering a talk with George, the first novel’s cynic, the 1967 film dramatizes Soames’s encounter with George and gives George all the overt reactionary ideas (taxing the super-wealthy so they have a 1000 less is akin to destroying what’s valuable, working classes are animal like) which while Soames agrees with he doesn’t voice. We quickly see the close relationship of Soames and Fleur paralleled with the close relationship of Irene and Jon. These are subtly done, nuanced — dialogue straight from the book. Annette seems hard and Soames the exploited here – we see the Frenchman as Annette’s adulterous lover, in 1967 Soames seems hurt, in 2002 an acquiescing husband over sex.

2002: Soames can refuse Fleur nothing

In the 2002 Forsyte Saga, Damian Lewis as Soames emerges as someone to be pitied. He bottles his emotions up and by so doing twists himself emotionally so his feelings come out stern, angry, hurtful. His fierceness hides a real vulnerability, softer in feel than that Eric Porter projects (or Galsworthy); this is brought out by the continuing relationship with his mother (Barbara Flynn a fine performance) where he turns to her. Jolyon (Rupert Graves) remains spokesperson. 2002 is operatic, with opera music. I do love the actress who plays Irene (Gina McKay) and find her relationship with Jolyon (Rupert Graves) so sympathetic, I can enter into it as I cannot into Dawn Nyall Porter who to me is stiff, lugubrious, smooth, with Kenneth More as a “there,there, now now” father figure. Gina McKay plays Irene as someone who dreads Soames, who shudders at years of sex, shattered still, nervous, fearful he will try to take her again, a very different set of emotions, one I can enter into.

I felt I could watch the 1967 13th hour over and over for its ironies – the dialogues over the pictures. Winifred remains strong character here, not (as in 2002) someone who, disappointed in life by a lowlife husband herself turns to trivia.

2002: unsurprizingly Amanda Root plays the actually unhappy Winifred very well

I do like Kenneth More — he is over-voice and mediator, still a spokesman for Galsworthy. Fleur is an original compound from Soames (she’s going to be harder, less sentimental and resilient); Jon is too idealized; he seems less naive or vapid in the film than the book as the actor is a strong presence (Martin Jarvis). I like that Jolyon’s children from his first two marriages are glimpsed: June with her “lame ducks” of artists and gallery of art that Soames (anti-modern) can’t stand; Holly, the horsewoman on the farm and Val Dartie’s son.

Part 15 of the 1967 Forsyte Saga. It’s very moving and stays more or less close to the book in the middle of Volume 2. The characters go to a cricket match between Eton and Harrow, giving the writer a chance to make an over-voice of Kenneth More satirically describing the upper classes on such a day. Then we zoom into our characters and fine Annette who knows nothing of the game and does not pretend to being half-escorted by Profound. Eric Porter as Soames plays the part of a man humiliated by the openness of this relationship; he is unable to manipulate the situation at all, and leaves early. We feel for him; he had in Part 14 gotten the anonymous letter and shown it to Annette, who basically admitted the truth of it, and it’s in that episode Soames comes to her bed: yes he’s reasserting his “rights,” but in context and given Annette’s total frankness, it’s more that he’s submitting himself to her. No one rapes Annette it seems. She shows real love or interest in her daughter who she recognizes has no loyalty to her and speaks to Michael Mont, encouraging him to keep his courting up in the face of Fleur’s open indifference and even hostility.

The second part of the hour brings us an intense scene between Jolyon, Irene and Jon. The last two have come home from Spain in the previous episode; now Jolyon has written in a letter the truth of Irene’s past, and when Jon comes home from Fleur’s adament pressure that Jon marry her to secure their relationship permanently, Jon insists he needs to know the full truth and also that he wants the right and intends to marry Fleur but not behind their backs or without their permission. He is asking for their permission. Jolyon had written out the past in a letter as the easier way to do it and shown it to Irene who reluctantly acquiesced in this telling (of her adultery too), but now in a dramatic scene Jolyon tells all and grows more and more at risk of heart-attack (unnknown to Jon) and ends in a desperate plea to Jon not to marry Fleur as it will make his mother unhappy for life; Jon flees from this, goes to his mother to talk, and then crash, Jolyon falls and dies of heart-failure in the other room.

1967: Irene reading Jolyon’s letter

In the book Jolyon’s letter is given in full and remarkable. There is a undercurrent of Lawrentian points of view in these novels: not said in sexual language but what is it but this when men are enthralled by women’s beauty. I agree it shows Victorian/Edwardian beliefs were not monolithic but I’d like to say that the narrator keeps talking about it as if it’s “poisonous”, administer “poison” into who ever reads it. Why? it exposes Soames’s rape of Irene: that’s said very discreetly and he does tell of her adultery and affair with himself.

There is also something slightly unsettling to me in Soames’s persistent idea in the book that Fleur and Jon should have been, almost are brother and sister. It’s like he still owns Irene, and her eggs have been stolen from his sperm. The idea of divorce is something he clearly does not believe in.

1967: Fleur demanding her father visit Irene, Jolyon and Jon and ask them to accept him

Meanwhile (the interwoven nature of the series cannot be imitated in prose) in the book and both films Fleur has pressured her father to come to Jolyon, Irene to ask them to allow Jon to marry Fleur. The scene of where Fleur easily pressures her father to go to Robin Hill to plead for the marriage is painful for Soames; how he loves her, how she is all he cares for in this life — how this can happen, people who seem to have such full plates, nonetheless do value one person above all. He’s against this as an act, and thinks his going will do no good, but he goes. Fleur knows he’s willing to go because he still hankers after Irene — after all this time. Again Porter makes the character deeply sympathetic. By the time Soames comes, Jolyon is dead, there is only Irene and there is a moving quiet scene between the two. Soames comes off much the better; he tries to shake hands (she refuses); we see he did and on some level still does desire, even love her. She loathes him. She refuses and Jon comes in, says he will not marry Fleur and to tell her. Soames leaves, Jon thinks he has not acted right, follows the man, but cannot catch him and returns, now (in effect) his mother’s:


Much better than either movie is a later scene (not in either) where Soames comes to Robin Hill and meets again with Irene. We get this sudden charged scene of the two, Irene and Soames once again confronting one another. It’s like the two have not changed at all — essentially. Neither Irene or Jon is respectful of Soames who quietly leaves. A moving filming of him walking alone away. Jon has better thoughts and follows him out to say goodbye but is too late.

I like especially the lines by Galsworthy: “the old perfect poise and line, the old startled dark-eyed gravity, the old calm defensive voice.” That Nyall Dawn Porter did achieve in the movie. This is the same room he confronted her in with Jolyon and tried to get her back by threatening to go to court. It had the opposite effect, drove the two people together.

2002: Irene listens to Jolyon’s reasons why they must tell Jon

I’m not sure what we are to feel about Irene in the end. Surely Galsworthy wants us to find her refusal even to shake hands, make some acknowledgement about mutual forbearance as a concluding gesture. Jon knows they ought to have said goodbye to him and runs off, but it’s too late. This is where at least Gina McKay’s performance helped me. She played the character in a way that made understandable to me how Irene could never forget, always be in a state on the edge of the old fears and hatred many years later. She conveyed nervous distress when Soames came into the room, some re-arousal of old fears and memories. Now I could understand that, and have read other stories about rape, where the woman felt the same (Morwenna raped continually in effect in the Poldark novels 8-9). Nyree Dawn Porter may have played Irene closer to the way intended in the book, cool, seemingly distanced, all steely-control but to me she came off as stilted and yes unlikeable; she seemed self-satisfied and willing to ignore all the realities around her but what shelter the man could provide (I can understand that but not the self-congratulatory looks on her face); the 1967 Irene is still angry and maybe indignant.

Galsworthy can bring in Soames’s real thoughts now: this is so against his interest. Fleur would be taken over by these people; she would come to see him as an enemy perhaps, a rapist. And yet he asks. The coldness of Irene in refusing repeats her inexplicable to him coldness in the first year of their marriage.

1967: Fleur’s first meeting with Michael Mont (she brushes him off)

2002: Fleur a lot more receptive to Michael Mont (Oliver Milburn)

Back home, Fleur will not believe her father did not wreck her chances. She will not believe at first that Jon said no. This is so painful to see her reject Soames. she flees the room and finds Mont waiting in the garden … The novel almost ends on their marriage. Fleur is tenacious and aggressive and she will take. Michael Mont will not be in the driver’s seat in their marriage, in bed either (I feel). And when we first see them she has made the decision it seems not to have a child; it’s her father who persuades — this reminds me of Irene in 2002 doing douches to prevent pregnancy as that would be a nail in the coffin to her.

Jon is turned off — left to be with his mother. Irene here seems a kind of monster in a way and he too boyish. His father, Jolyon, wanted this. Maybe there’s some underlying misogyny here we are missing picked up in the films.

2002: Irene seems to win as Jon agrees to travel with her

But Jon not a happy packer

In the 1967 series in the very last episodes Jon returns with a new wife and his mother and there’s an arousal of the old love between Jon and Fleur, but they do not consummate. Irene is with this couple and there’s an attempt to again deal with the past of these two, but I did think these very last episodes of the 1967 and the first from The White Monkey (the next novel) weaker — more melodramatic and at the same time more superficial. In the books, Irene and Jon don’t come back. So much of the last episodes of the 1967 are invented. The writers of the 1967 series wanted to end where the first trilogy ended and it doesn’t work: Galsworthy’s books are not so neat as life is not neat …

2002 June (Gillian Kearney), an accomplished woman with career in the arts

I did note in Part 15, the ironic irritated quarreling of June with one of her hangers-on — why “lame duck” is the phrase Galsworthy uses I don’t know. Maybe we need to know more about 1920s slang. I did not take their dialogue to be part of the critique of the private property system or capitalism in the book. Galsworthy does not see capitalism as the result of individual initiative, it’s inherited money and property and banking and business abilities. The idea of the importance of your individual initiative is an American idea fostered by school curricula of reading and reinforced by commercials all day long on TV — it’s part of what makes for survival but most success comes from background, connections, original stake of money, and a strong sense of self as worthy, and effective coming again from this kind of background when in it. The “lame duck” is actually complaining about English culture and English cultural attitudes which June defends — as what is giving him the chance on an art market, the art market itself is the result of English culture (which values such things as they would not be in another culture). June has the best of the quarrel, after all she is supporting him. This is skipped in the 1967 movie (and comes nowhere near the 2002 which has just about nothing about capitalism or economics so central to the book); instead we have Gradman in the office working for Soames.

To sum up (as they say), as in The Man of Property, in In Chancery and To Let, the theme is as much property relations as it is sexual and they are utterly intertwined.

Fleur turning to Michael

Soames and Fleur off to her marriage to Michael (not an reconciling, there are 9 episodes, at least 2 books to go)

Again Galsworthy is looking at why people marry and why they stay together after the first couple of hours. Johnson (Samuel) has a Rambler about how unnatural a long-term love relationship is especially as experienced as marriage (children, having to support them, bring them up, have a house, socialize at least enough to send them to school and you to have a job) that every law and custom is reinforced absolutely to keep a couple together and yet they part and are often miserable when together.

Romantic love is the western myth, enough felt or dreamed about (we so want someone to care about us, some meaning in the world) and supporting a family network of marriages is the traditional myth.

To me it’s a sign of a great novelist if after writing a cycle of novels even over years, they somehow climax the series on a scene which they seemed to have been planning for all along, with seems to gather up all the threads and make some final statement. You have that in Last chronicle of Barset, the conclusion to A Dance to the Music Of Time — maybe it’ll be in the new longer full Duke’s Children for the ending of the Pallisers (we’ve not yet read). Maybe for another cycle I’m in the third novel of six of Balkan Trilogy. I noticed it in Etheel Richardson’s Australian epic, Richard Mahoney.

The ending of To Let in a graveyard, mausoleum with Soames looking back and forwards is very satisfying: it reminds me of The Duke’s Children as we now know it. Trollope ends his series less sombrely, but as quietly: we get the huge society wedding of Silverbridge and Isabel Boncassen, all conventions observed, and then the quiet morning breakfast wedding of Lady Mary and Frank Tregear with the Duke walking with them and standing on some kind of threshold at the book’s end remembering back to his years of marriage, both pained and accepting, looking forward to returning to political work.

Fleur’s marriage to Jon, a happy ending for Soames (2002 final moments)

So, this book ends with a society wedding, Fleur’s to Michael Mont, in which all are playing parts, especially it seems Fleur, everyone who’s anyone in the book comes, and more than that; in her room, June’s showing up enables Fleur to burst into wild tears.

1967: the ever truthful June (June Barry) comforting Fleur

The scene Soames keeps thinking of is her curled up desperately sobbing on the couch — presumably after her second visit to Robin Hill. Then Soames goes to old Timothy’s funeral; he’s dead at 100. The funeral unexpectedly turns out to be not attended except for Soames, Gradman (the many years clerk), cook and the long time maid, Smithers: old Timothy’s funeral. It’s not that he doesn’t have bequests to his family, but they just have no feeling they should show up. Gradman is given 5000 pounds which makes the rest of his life easy for him and his family. And it’s a looking back for Soames: he does encounter (a bit contrived this) Irene on her way to British Columnia to join Jon; at least she comes down from her frozen state now that she assumes (Soames view) she’s free at last and all this does is somehow embitter him. Robin Hill is to let; Timothy’s house is to let – the world is changing, leaving him behind.

1967 series: ends with Soames’s death, near him Winifred, Fleur and Michael (reconciled)

We have books which consistently end with a marriages of two people one of whom (Fleur, Soames) is not in love with the other (Michael Mont, Annette), and whose hero (Soames) found himself in a loveless marriage which tore at his inner self to the point he violently raped his wife (Irene) — I’m not justifying it, only showing the full context as we are to see it in To Let. And now she’s (Irene) is still hating him when after all she did marry him and he meant to keep up his end as he saw it.

Galsworthy has inveighed against the idea that a woman is property that a man owns. Maybe in this novel where he shows the younger generation do find themselves constrained by their parents’ past and Jon at least seems partly “owned” by Irene: he feels obliged to be with her after all she has given as his mother and he wants to also, maybe Galsworthy is asking if this idea of ownership/belonging between children and parents is a good thing – when carried far.

2002 film: ends with break-up and renting of Robin House now that young Jolyon dead

Robin House will be to let so that could be the literal meaning — as Jon flees to America and a pastoral existence: note like his father outside capitalism, not one for wheeling, dealing, manipulaing coping with pressure Jon. But I saw that Soames used the phrase to refer to Micheal Mont’s idea that in business the owner should take into account the workers’ needs and feelings and make the work more fulfilling for all. Mont is an idealist, a decent man — and I assume we are to like that he is willing to work in the capitalist environment — though as a publisher.

We are to enter into Soames’s personality in To let far more than say the opening, The Man of Property, where (as I remember) it would be fair to call the narrator-author’s attitude towards Soames as hostile. After all Soames’s moving last meditation which concludes this first trilogy is supposed to come out of his mind. In Man of Property we are kept at an ironic distance from Soames’s mind until the last third of the book when we might say he goes half-mad from frustration, jealousy, lack of understanding, rage — at Irene. Now he looks round him, very melancholy indeed, but forgiving, hoping to join and find meaning in his daughter’s life.


Read Full Post »

Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) carries Demelza Carne (Angharad Rees) home to Nampara (1975-76 Poldark, Season 1)

Dear friends and readers,

This may be regarded as a postscript to my previous blog. I suddenly realized how ubiquitous and often part of an aftermath scene to a troubling crisis is the carrying motif. Loving, protective, strong and loyal male after male is seen emotionally moved and carrying a vulnerable hurt heroine, or child or animal, sometimes an older man, sometimes a close male friend. If the scene’s not in the original book (the above is not in Ross Poldark), then it is added on, invented — thus in the 2008 S&S Brandon carries Marianne home from Cleveland in the pouring rain (pouring rain another motif). “Young” Jollyon carries “Old” Jollyon’s dog, Balthazar who grieved and then died (presumably from old age as well as missing the old man) through the park both loved and walked together in.

This is a masculinity trope — it’s a test of a man’s masculinity whether he rises to the challenge and takes responsibility. It’s the subject of a study comparing the kind of sensitive strong man Gerard Depardieu once played (European ideal) and the abrasive strong man Robert DeNiro (American) once did.

I once did “the pouring rain” motif from such filmic art, but that blog is gone (attacked by a virus).

Another motif was pointed out to me this morning on my Historical Fiction & Film adaptations listserv: one woman dressing up in the clothes of another, preferably the first woman from a previous era.


Read Full Post »

1984 BBC Jewel in the Crown (written by Ken Taylor, directed and produced by Christopher Morahan (Hattie Morahan’d father) –Art Malik as Hari Kumar, & Susan Woolridge as Daphne Manners

Dear friends and readers,

A potentially instructive question was asked on my new Historical Fiction and Film Adaptation listserv (18th – 21st century, Austen to Poldark in type): which series got people interested in period dramas? to parse this, what film adaptation and/or mini-series that you watched first made the form so rivetingly irresistible to you? Answered it could mean, why do we like these film adaptations. My point is which film adaptation led you to like film adaptations as such and want to watch more of them? That’s the issue and question I’m asking.

I know I have tried to answer this one before — I talked of the elegiac mode, their slow pace, some of idealistic themes (friendship), but knew the problem here is this does not fit all of them at all: what are we to do with Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect? modern, quick moving, bitter themes; or those that have no originating book (Downton Abbey?)

In the answer I came up with and that of a friend on the list-serv I saw a parallel: both of us had been hooked by a film adaptation that turned out to have (or we know had) a powerful long book, or a series of books, as its source. For me it was the 1984 BBC Jewel in the Crown, scripted by Ken Taylor out of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet.. She, my long time friend, Judy Geater, a journalist, said for her it was:

the BBC War and Peace starring Anthony Hopkins as Pierre, which I saw in 1972 when I was 12 – I remember being gripped by it and going on to read the novel in two enormous Penguin volumes, though I’m sure I skipped or skimmed the philosophical passages. At that age I loved Natasha and identified with her wildly. More recently I reread the novel and re-watched the series (it was a two or three years ago now, so not quite 40 years on) and admired both as much as ever, though I did feel that Morag Hood was too old to play Natasha and rather miscast – something that hadn’t struck me when I saw it in black and white in the 1970s.

After I saw Jewel in the Crown I read all four of Scott’s Raj novels and just loved them. A few years ago I listened to them read aloud and while doing that re-saw Jewel in the Crown in a DVD with features and bought the book that was then sold as part of the paraphernila, Making the Jewel in the Crown, which I enjoyed immensely — beyond contextualizing essays (autobiograpies, histories), and of course the making of the film (its parts, its artists of all stripes, parts of the screenplay). I wrote a blog using stills.

Another friend, Linda F, wrote: “It was the 1980s adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (David Rintoul) that got me interested in seeing novels turned into mini-series.

People express disappointment when the mini-series is not based on a supposed book, but rather has no book. Fellowes is a remarkably clever man who knows this: thus the publication of his scripts for Downon Abbey set up novelistically enough

I think this intertextuality and enrichening from book to screen and back again is crucial to the deepest enjoyments.

Another for women is an ideal heroine the particular viewer likes: I like Sarah Layton:

Geraldine James as Sarah Layton (a narrator of one of the volumes the Raj Quartet


An example of the intertextual study film adaptations can allow:

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan, realizing what she has been complicit with — I’m interested by her and feel for her

Taking one of the focuses (contrasts of type) of the list-serv, the Winston Graham’s Poldark novels and the 1970s two mini-series, I told of how I became hooked onto these.

I was first introduced to them — or became aware they exist when in my research on film adaptations of historical novels I got myself very inexpensively a set of cassettes for the first season. I also bought a cheap copy of the first novel, Ross Poldark. I didn’t expect to read it necessarily; but had it there on the off-chance I might like to try it.

I started to watch the first series and liked the first three or four episodes enormously but felt that the programs were somehow omitting something, leaving out even essential elements in the story which didn’t quite make sense.

So I began to read the novel and was startled at how much I genuinely liked it. I had not liked a novel or author so much in a long time. It reminded me of falling in love with books when I was in my teens where I had more spontaneous enthusiasms. I read less then and not professionally. Well I went on to read the first four novels and then re-began and then finished the series; while I saw where it departed, and felt the depiction of Ross and Demelza’s earliest sexual encounter and early married days in the book so much better than the mini-series, and felt the way Elizabeth was written up, was wooden and false (no fault of the actors, they have to act what scripts they are given), the rest of it while changed seemed to me a good filmic equivalent. I loved the ending of the first season, that climactic catastrophe and the two walking on the beach.

So I went on to read the next three novels and then after that watched the second mini-series. Again the novels were much better; this time in the films the flaws were in the area of sex but also in politics. The politics of the original books were omitted or changed. I didn’t blame the actors again, not their fault, it was the BBC’s cowardice and conservatism.

I then read on and finished the last 5 novels, so sorry there was no third mini-series, but got myself the 1996 singleton film, The Stranger from the Sea. I did like the new actors, but this time the whole feel of the books were changed so that politics and history were omitted altogether. The story could have occurred at any time. It was a domestic romance. Characters who were important were omitted. It was also a matter of money. The US partner was refusing to spend money on a mini-series or on location filming — like something that looked like if it was not Portugal. Still I wished it had not so flopped because after that nothing more was filmed.

From Season 1, Part 1, 1st episode: Clive Francis as Francis Poldark looking at his father, Charles (Frank Middlemass), who pointedly turns his back to exclude his son from mining work

What can be seen with intertexuality: in the above still, we first see Charles Poldark turning his back on his son, Francis, who broods at this — Charles is clearly in charge of the business, not trusting his son, and the son drinking — as someone excluded, not respected.

The outright quick conflict that occurs between them in the first scene brings out what we see later as part of the core reason for Francis’s destruction. The father and son’ insults and sudden opening of their hearts to one another in the film is not in the novel — that is an enrichening addition which again influences us if we read the book afterwards.I thought both actors did these roles very well. Clive Francis played in Joe Orton’s Angry Young man plays around this time, and that typology (anguished) is brought in here too. He is made to feel he cannot live up to our hero, Ross, by the woman he does love and in good faith (thinking Ross dead) chose to engage himself to and marry.

The full reasons for the failure of the marriage itself are *not brought out properly in the film though* — as Vicki knows — she refuses him sex, preferring she feels her son by him, not a woman who does place her ego identity in the men she marries, for there are women who prefer their children, but of course he sees this differently given his full background. We need to read the novels to feel all this (especially Jeremy Poldark — novel 3).

I’ll also suggest that we get fooled in our memories because the films interfere with our memories of the books. For example, you suggest that we have in this book the core of all that follows. Not really. The back story material of Ross and Elizabeth’s engagement while mentioned and important is kept to minimum; we have only their strong love asserted (especially in that Christmas sequence where it’s suggested he loves two women), all the other material we remember from this time is really put into the first four episodes from Warleggan. It’s also in Warleggan (book 4 mind) that the villain protagonist Warleggan is first fully characterized. Again when we meet Warleggan in Episode 1, the material is taken from Warleggan.

Less subtle but also important for why we like _Demelza_ is there is no Dwight Enys in Ross Poldark nor is he thought of. He is central to the 12 books, but not a peep because he was not thought of until Demelza. Then suddenly we are in his consciousness by something like the third or fourth chapter. Now in the series he is brought forth in Part 5 as Part 5 begins, which is earlier, as earlier as Pullman dared.

I’ll also suggest that we get fooled in our memories because the films interfere with our memories of the books. For example, you suggest that we have in this book the core of all that follows. Not really. The back story material of Ross and Elizabeth’s engagement while mentioned and important is kept to minimum; we have only their strong love asserted (especially in that Christmas sequence where it’s suggested he loves two women), all the other material we remember from this time is really put into the first four episodes from Warleggan. It’s also in Warleggan (book 4 mind) that the villain protagonist Warleggan is first fully characterized. Again when we meet Warleggan in Episode 1, the material is taken from Warleggan (his book).

Less subtle but also important for why we like Demelza is there is no Dwight Enys in Ross Poldark nor is he thought of. He is central to the 12 books, but not a peep because he was not thought of until Demelza. Then suddenly we are in his consciousness by something like the third or fourth chapter. Now in the series he is brought forth in Part 5 as Part 5 begins, which is earlier, as earlier as Pullman dared.

The situation of the houses is first mapped in Jeremy Poldark (3rd novel in series) — why? he had not developed Poldark country as yet or fully until he had finished two. But the film makers know where everything is upon starting :)

I’d love to see a new film adaptation more frank and adequate to the sexuality of the novels, but (given our era and corporate sponsorship of such series on PBS) fear that it would further change the politics. I hope the first six hours are meant as a kind of first season for say 4 novels and if it does well they’ll film more. I can’t tell as this kind of information is not available.


Gina McKay as Irene Heron (the central heroine) in the grass of Robin Hill, come upon by the aged old Jollyon (2002 Forsyte Saga) — I liked her much better after I watched the way McKay played her

That Downton Abbey is not of this type to my mind shows it’s a kind of fluke: it went way outside the usual audience for costume drama. And Fellowes has provided books: the first year, The World; the third, The Chronicle; Powell’s Upstairs Downstairs memoir, and scripts for each part.

I have been over the past year or so been watching the whole of the 1967 and 2002 Forsyte Sagas, and on Trollope19thCStudies we are beginning to make our way through the novels (see The Man of Property). What I’d like to do is transpose my many postings (see Trollope19thCStudies archives) comparing these two series to the books into blogs the better to gain what there is in the books, and the two mini-series interweave.


I end on the two mini-series commentary on the books and one another.

The story, “Indian Summer of a Forsyte” by Galsworthy:

It must be hard to get back into the world of your creation. I remember the first three chapters of Winston Graham’s 5t Poldkar novel (as they’ve come to be called), Black Moon, written 20 years after the 4th Poldark, had three chapters where he was reweaving his spell for himself through the
landscape and came in indirectly, actually through an old man and the secondary villain-hero who is waiting for his wife to give birth, unknown to him to the child engendered not by him but the hero-protagonist of the book, Ross Poldark, through a rape.

So Galsworthy comes in indirectly, nearly 2 decades after Man of Property, the aging Old Jolyon who is dying, and comes across Irene in the meadows around Robin Hill and is entranced by her beauty. We will later learn she had recently returned to England. In both film adaptations the film-makers give this sudden meeting, his entrancement, and the couple of months he spends squiring her to opera and she giving music lessons to Holly, the child Young Jolyon had by Helene full treatment. Old Jolyon was the Forstye who while appreciating commerce saw the hypocrisy and lies and ruthlessness of his clan. We are still not going to be allowed to get into Irene’s mind it seems — but much comes out. She prefers poverty to being bought and kept as rich; she has identified with women of the streets — though she manages to keep up a style. She has remained authentic since Bossiney’s death.

Slowly the old story is brought back. It’s not as ironic, rather emotional.

Then the two adaptations within the larger mini-series:

2002: The long sequence of old Jolyon discovering Irene at the opera. Gina McKay dressed alluring as a poor genteel lady offering piano lessons and doing good to prostitutes who we are told did her good when she was down and out. Again we are not told how she made it. The second half is this idyllic romance between old man and young beautiful woman. He takes her in. She is hired to teach Holly to play — well paid too. Alter his will again to include her.

WInifred sees Irene and Jolyon at opera. Tells Soames. He says he knows. Kind people don’t miss an apportunity to tell him.
Irene loses her nerve and almost disappears — real hurt for old man — before Young Joe and June due back. But she comes back to be with him when he dies. Heart attack as young Jolyon eventually succumbs to.

And his faithful fat dog too. Another poignant dog. There must be one in the book.

Done with operatic music so important for the whole effect. The production design in which they exist is central to the meaning of this adaptation. Retreat, move away from the sordid squalid world of money deals — but if old Jolyon had not made all that money just that way he could not have bought what we are led to see as Robin Hill house.

Young Jolyon carrying Balthasar, Old Jolyon’s aging dog, now dead, back from the meadow around Robin Hill, a coda to “Indian Summer of a Forsyte”

1967: a long sequence of the old man finding Irene in the grounds, their friendship, how he lures her to teach his granddaughter the piano, tells of his family, a touching respect for her decision to be alone, mystic apprehensions of her beauty, he dies and his dog the first to perceive, the dog’s grief and death. Unexpectedly this text quite different from book, but brings out Galsworthy continual attention to pets, animals, love of them and Balthasar is the first to recognize his master’s death in the last page of the story. the 1967 version had time to dramatize such a walk …

I end this blog on film adaptations on a parallel: someone carrying someone else. It’s easy to find parallels across books and film adaptations.


Read Full Post »

Thackeray’s drawing of the jester-narrator of Vanity Fair

Dear friends and readers,

Over the last several weeks a few of us on Trollope19thCStudies read Trollope’s An Autobiography and, as a coda, his Thackeray. Trollope had spent the time of writing An Autobiography thinking about the relationship of his life to his fiction, and he carries on with a similar perspective in Thackeray. As his Thackeray is not much discussed, I thought an account of its parts might be welcome. It is much much better than those who have read it have acknowledged.

In The Cambridge Companion to Trollope, ed CDever and LNiles, Victoria Glendinning has an essay on Trollope as autobiographer & biographer and, unusually, deals with Trollope’s Thackeray and Life of Cicero. As she does in parts of her biography of Trollope, she says while Trollope clearly revered Thackeray Trollope’s tone is of a friend watching a good friend play tennis and “agonizing as he sees him knocking the ball into the tent.” It is true as she says though that Trollope is exasperated by Thackeray’s lack of work ethic, view of society, destestation of “snobbishness” (I’d call this in Thackeray hatred of what Thackeray sees as worship of rank and hierarchy), Thackeray’s “abnormally bad” characters (that’s Trollope’s view).

For those unfamiliar with Thackeray’s writing who are daunted by too many pages, you cannot do better than A Shabby Genteel Story and Other Tales, as edited and beautifully introduced by D. J. Taylor in the Everyman edition. A Shabby Genteel Story is a sort of Vanity Fair in little; Thackeray’s “Going to a Hanging” is included; as Hugo’s Last Day in the life of a Condemned Man presents the cruelties of the rituals & realities of state murder from the condemned person’s point of view so Thackeray exposes the crowd enjoying it. There’s “On Being Found Out,” good notes.

Wm Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63)

The Introduction: Trollope begins by telling us he is hampered by a lack of papers and knowledge of Thackeray’s intimate life, so has determined to write a literary study, consisting of a brief general sketch of Thackeray’s life and character, and individual discussions of Thackeray’s writing. He makes use of whatever he has, including Thackeray’s friends’ memories. What Trollope creates is the picture of a successful literary career. Trollope was unusual for his time in presenting his own life as an author as a life of a career professional, and now repeats this perspective for Thackeray. This is how he puts his aim:

it certainly is not my purpose now to write what may be called a life of Thackeray. In this preliminary chapter I will give such incidents and anecdotes of his life as will tell the reader perhaps all about him that a reader is entitled to ask: how he became an author, and will say how first he struggled, and then how he worked and prospered, and became a household word in English literature; — in this way, he passed through that course of mingled failure and success which, though the literary aspirant may suffer, is probably better both for the writer and for the writings than unclouded early glory. The suffering no doubt is acute, and a touch of melancholy, perhaps of indignation, may be given to words which have been written while the heart has been too full of its own wrongs; but this is better than the continued note of triumph which is still heard in the final voices of the spoilt child of literature, even when they are losing their music. Then I will tell hew Thackeray died, early indeed, but still having done a good life’s work. Something of his manner, something of his appearance I can say, something perhaps of his condition of mind because for some few years he was known to me. But of the continual intercourse of himself with the world, and of himself with his own works, I can tell little, because no record of his life has been made public.

So we learn of Thackeray’s birth in India, his father’s early death and his schooling in England. Thackeray did not lose his fortune sheerly by gambling, dissolute life or incompetence; he invested in a magazine, a very difficult way to make money. We see Thackeray slowly through journalism achieve reputation and financial success. He does not write hagiography, but his evaluation of Thackeray is conditioned by memories of his own arduous struggle. So although Trollope speaks of Thackeray with the highest respect, he harps on Thackeray’s lack of diligence and procrastination=someone who will do it badly. At one point he says had Thackeray gotten a gov’t job he tried for (using influence and for the money) he’d not have had what it takes to get up early in the morning — the portrait is of himself. Trollope does bring in Thackeray’s suffering helped cause the procrastination. Trollope does not specify that Thackeray found urination very painful, probably the result of venereal disease, for which there was no cure and no painkiller but opium. Nor that this disease probably caused Thackeray’s early death.

Trollope’s way of describing Thackeray’s early career rings with truth: how hard it was to break in, how a connection led him to Fraser’s, how his style and genius was recognized. He says again how easy it is to begin being a writer, but to make a career how one must go step-by-step. Thackeray’s way was through journalism. I was impressed by the candour which states that Thackeray fulflled his potential utterly three times really: Vanity Fair, Henry Esmond, Barry Lyndon and in some of the character portraits beyond these books (Colonel Newcombe and literary life in Pendennis). There is a striking comparison of Thackeray with Dickens: Thackeray distrusted his talents and Dickens thought well of his; Trollope feels that the public liked Dickens immediately was not a sign his work was greater at all, and that Trollope’s sympathies are with Thackeray.

Trollope says that Thackeray’s great flaw is a kind of holding back, a refusal to say fully what’s on his mind, a failure to present his vision fully. I suggest some of Thackeray’s holding back is that he was afraid to offend by telling the truth so wrote gentle satire when it was in him to write satire more in Swift and Johnson’s veins. That is the implication of Barry Lyndon which is more like Fielding’s Jonathan Wild in outlook than Tom Jones.

Trollope also critiques Thackeray as an artist: his drawings highlight and visualize the spirit and tone of his books superbly well, but Thackeray can’t draw (with verisimilitude is what Trollope means).

So there is much here on Thackeray as such, irrespective of Trollope. All biographies are after all a picture of the subject through the writer’s mind. Trollope is much troubled by Thackeray’s cynicism and tries to argue he was not a cynic based on his kind heart and generosity to friends and family. To assert that the latter precludes the former is to misunderstand cynicism. Because you generally see the world in bleak hard and realistic terms does not mean you don’t love people; indeed a cynic might be more inclined to help his family (as we see Thackeray desperate to do for his daughters – that’s why he did the lectures which were distasteful to him, very) because the word is such a hard (mean too) place. The false formula comes from a negative view of cynicism. It reminds me of how people — often of religious turns — think atheists are not moral. They are. I’ve found that if a person is religious is not guarantee he or she will be decent or moral; their religion is function of their character not the other way round so many religious people use their religion to justify cruel and inhumane behavior.

Thackeray in Punchblog
A Punch cartoon by Thackeray

Chapter 2: Fraser’s Magazine and Punch. Trollope’s as good as G. H. Lewes in pinpointing what is the central urge of his author’s texts as well as central techniques and use of just the right passage to convey these things. As Trollope says of Lewes’s limited audience, since few people themselves can see these things, this kind of writing often is not appreciated. Again Trollope is also judging Thackeray by his own conscious morality.

Since Trollope clearly enjoys Thackeray enormously and certainly understands his meaning, it may be suspected that without being able to admit it, Trollope sees the validity of Thackeray’s vision. Only Trollope won’t write it. He simply will not write a Catherine as the subject matter is so “deeply unpleasant.” He simply will not present the full amorality of society’s structuring, whether in the ancien regime with an aristocratic pattern the one lauded or after it with the bourgeous one. Trollope doesn’t approve of telling partly because he sees by telling you make what is — this cruel amorality — appealing, even if at end the hero ends up in a bad way (punished). Trollope sees the meanness of human kind as the real target of Thackeray’s snobs, but he says isn’t Thackeray “hard on people?” and they are having sparks of good nature and enjoyment while they behave in these phony ways. Trollope’s right that snobbery is hypocrisy and if you are genuinely wanting to show your luxuries, that’s not wanting to show them as a evidence of your status so as to definition yes the word snob won’t do, but it’s something else Thackeray is fueled by, and Trollope may be right that to make money Thackeray over-worked this vein, but the key here is Trollope doesn’t mind “the humbug” of people as much as Thackeray; he is not against snobbery, finds hierarchy and a climb up and satisfaction in that valid.

For myself everytime Trollope quoted Thackeray and I heard Thackeray’s words I agreed with Thackeray, e.g. “The Broker of the exchanges who bull[ies] … ” (p. 73) When Thackeray says ironically “it does my ‘art good” (p. 78) it is a kind Swiftian vision presented as utter good nature and makes me think of Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield. In each case Trollope analyses Thackeray’s texts to bring out their qualities. The opening with the satire on other novelists Trollope has picked passages which send up the very pith of what novelists had begun to claim was their genius: I’ve “fathomed the mysterious depths of the human mind’ (Trollope society edition, p 64). I love how Trollope marveled at how Thackeray was able to keep up the ironic stance of Barry Lyndon throughout (see paragraph beginning, “The marvel of the book … “, (pp. 72-73)

I rather enjoyed Trollope’s quotations. In the era presenting misspellings was seen as hilarious. There is a class-bias here, but I felt that Thackeray’s misspellings created satires of their own, on the concepts hypocritically supported, some were salacious puns. Stil this kind of thing is easily overdone — most modern readers seem not to have much tolerance for it.

There was only one place where I thought Trollope didn’t get it. The poem he quotes at length about a girl leaving home who almost kills herself. Trollope presents this as simply a ludicrous form of joking about a foolish girl (pp. 68-69). And perhaps consciously Thackeray presented it in this light — it’s quoted without its contextualizing story. But reading it myself straight it seems to me to have real feeling for this girl who wanted to escape and really wanted to kill herself but after all didn’t have he nerve and so went home to unsympathetic and dense people whose response was to “punish” her by depriving her of tea for a fortnight.

Thackeray’s character sketch of Becky Sharp — with dolls

Chapter 3: Vanity Fair. The chapter is much less wide-ranging and has fewer surprises than the previous. There is also not as much about Thackeray’s style in this chapter, but then he’d talked about that in the others. While it seems at first that Trollope has his doubts about Vanity Fair’s moral tendency and thus its value, by the end of the chapter, he has come round to say that the novel gives us a rich journey through the world where we learn something on each page; we see much of its evils and follies but are not allured (says Mr Trollope). First he follows Becky and is ironic himself over her continual successes: Trollope does not believe a Becky would have these successes and thus aims a quiet shaft at the book. He will have it that Becky did love at least a little her very stupid captain. Trollope cannot stand her at some level: over and over again we hear how false Becky is. His own Lizzy Eustace is a loser and not presented at all with any tenderness or identification. (He comes much closer to Thackeray’s Becky with Arabella Trefoil in The American Senator.

Trollope thus also half-disbelieves any man could be so besotted with Becky so Rawdon has got to be stupid. Trollope stands up for Amelia — even then most readers were frank enough to complain about the exemplary heroine – here Trollope does not seem to see that Thackeray is very ambivalent about
Amelia’s kind of goodness and he only quotes how Amelia gets her strong tree to twine herself about; he does not quote Dobbin’s disillusion with Amelia by book’s end and the sense that she’s a parasite on him. (That disillusion may be part of what fuels the ending of Gone with the Wind when Rhett finally gets Scarlett and looks at her and is not keen: “Frankly, my dear … “) But the world around them he cannot deny.

Dobbin (Philip Glenister) home from Waterloo, having left George Osborne dead on the field (1998 Vanity Fair, scripted Davies)

Trollope made me remember Andrew Davies very great 6 hour VF and want to re-see it. I feel that Trollope’s way of seeing Thackeray’s book is closely like that of Davies only Davies is not bothered by Becky’s amorality the way Trollope is. Davies’s idea of Pitt is just such another as Trollope’s Pitt and the actor who played it — David Bradley — perfect. Here Davies’ comic vein succeeds masterfully.

Illustration for Pendennis by Thackeray
Thackeray: a sketch in Pendennis (colorized)

Chapter 4: Pendennis and The Newcombes. I really liked Chapter 4 better than Chapter 3 because I felt Trollope went into the heart of Thackeray more. There are a number of striking insights into the “condition” of Thackeray’s mind that arise from each of his accounts of the books he examines. Trollope does not go in chronological order in order to show us how The Newcomes comes out of Penndennis: like Trollope Thackeray has recurring characters in recurring partly imagined partly real landscapes across books, e.g., Pen is editor of Newcomes; Costigan a mean man (in every sense of the word) recurs. Trollope’s comment is Thackeray’s novels are all like “a slice from the biographical memoirs of a family” (p. 115)

A particularly good general insight: “A sardonic melancholy was the characteristic most common to him, — which, however, was relieved by an always present capacity for instant frolic” (p. 119) The passages Trollope chose to quote were to me like Arnold’s choice of touchstones. For example, on p 118 of the Trollope Society edition, beginning, “What’s the use of it all …” Where Trollope goes off: he’s displeased that Thackeray doesn’t follow conventions (!) and provide happy endings for admirable heroes and heroines. He, Trollope, often does not do this; I wish Trollope did it even less than he does. We have to remember it’s Trollope who thinks a character like Miss Quigley is an ass; Thackeray may not. (p. 117)

For my part I didn’t like Pendennis because I felt despite the satire Thackeray thought altogether too well of Pendennis as s an important type of male. Trollope is right that he’s selfish, worldly, false, padded, caring altogether for things mean and poor in himself. Nor did I like Dickens’s Pip nor Austen’s Emma. To me these characters are dream selves of authors who forgive them because of their social status.

Thackeray’s first illustration for Esmond: the boy: ‘Le pauvre enfant, il n’a que nous’
Chapter 5: Henry Esmond and The Virginians. Henry Esmond appears to be Trollope’s favorite novel, and he thinks it Thackeray’s finest masterpiece. Why? The psychological complexity, the genuine historical content (serious) and the distinctive true (not falsely sentimental) depiction of Esmond’s mother and Beatrice appeal. Trollope admires how Thackeray managed to invent a language that seemed later 17th century and was not pastiche, not false — though on the other hand, Trollope adds that Thackeray never “dropped” this tone and kind of style altogether later. He does use it in the sequel, The Virginians. (In another place Trollope said it was the problem of inventing a language redolent of 1790s French that defeated him in part in La Vendee.)

Trollope prefers HE to VF because of what he takes to be the lack of cynicism in Esmond: its gravity of tone. Trollope keeps emphasizing also that this is a planned book and that is most unlike most of Thackeray’s. (He, Trollope, planned his books and it’s rare — Framley Parsonage is one place — he began to publish a book before he finished it even if after FP he wrote his books as if they were all going to be published in instalment chunks – that was a way of shaping his narrative. Trollope does — as he does most of the time everywhere – avoid discussing the deep sexuality of Thackeray’s Esmond which has the central male loving his mother and marrying her.

I should mention how much I liked Henry Esmond. We’ve read and discussed it twice (!) on Trollope19thCStudies and if anyone cares to you can find weekly postings on it there. Judy Geater put many of the original illustrations into an album. While it’s heavily indebted to Scott (17th century Scotland is part of it), it’s not about politics but private experience, inward. Andrew Sanders has a good chapter on this novel in his Victorian Historical Novel, 1840-1880.

Thackeray’s image of Beatrice come to womanhood

For the concluding three chapters (6 & 7, 8, and the conclusion), see comments.


Read Full Post »

The key to the whole is power. This can be seen by reconstructing the necessary context the novel creates for itself, which is the political map of Barsetshire — Bill Overton, of Framley Parsonage, The Unofficial Trollope

a book which might better have been called ‘The Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough’ — Trollope’s narrator, The American Senator


Dear friends and readers,

This week on Trollope19thCStudies, I was asked some good questions:

When you have time, will you explain to us just what you mean by “mapping.” I admit I thought you meant you were making maps of the fictional places in the Barset novels … Is it just noting the places these authors mention in their novels? Is it like the scholars who make maps of the journeys through the streets of Dublin that the characters in Ulysses make? Could you give us a definition and what you believe the purpose or benefit of mapping is.

I’ve used the occasion to get down some of my thoughts towards my paper. One of the purposes of this blog is to work out thoughts towards scholarship projects. I write to know what I think. (E.M. Forster — “How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?”; Edward Albee — “I write to find out what I’m talking about.”) I’ve now read the four books I’m focusing on, each chosen because of its creation or use of a map: Castle Richmond, Framley Parsonage, Phineas Redux, and The American Senator, and I’ve found what are going to be my foundational texts. The above header is going to be its title.

So, to answer the question, the first thing I did was go back and look over 3 of these foundational texts, all by Franco Moretti: — Atlas of the European Novel, Signs Taken for Wonder, and a chapter called “Maps” in his Graphs, Maps and Trees. I didn’t find a definition of mapping. According to the Concise Oxford: a map is 1) a diagrammatic representation of an area or land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads; or 2) a dialogue or collection of data showing spatial arrangement or distribution of something. One critic (Jerome Thrale on The Last Chronicle of Barset) argues that Trollope structures his books not by his stories and plots but by juxtaposing areas and groups of characters; it is a spatial order we have in Last Chronicle of Barset and I think that’s so for The American Senator, and I can think of other novels by Trollope which lend themselves to this kind of movement — he goes from place to place to introduce us to each set of characters. The third definition has to do with genes and biology so I skip it, just ending on the common place truth that we talk metaphorically about mapping all sorts of things.

In Atlas Moretti “mapped” the European novel several ways. He demonstrated to his satisfaction at any rate that England and France were dominating places for the development and dissemination of the realistic novel of the 19th century: it was in these societies they were written because the society lent itself to the typical themes of such novels, such as following an individual career in society, marrying for love which may be regarded as a career choice for women. Also these societies had over the 18th century developed small cottage industries of printing, selling, disseminating such books — the printing and distributed and making of money for writers and publishers grew by leaps and bounds because of advances in technology. Between the two language bases and land masses (French and English) there was also a constant flow back and forth of novels in the original and translation — as well as non-fiction books (travel books for a start).

As part of this Atlas Moretti wrote a chapter where he mapped the stories and characters of the books of several writers. One small section for Jane Austen began it — her map is small, self-contained; she chooses only a small part of even southern England and within that is further selective. Now what has happened is her presence through films and a cult has spread to the point that many readers like to assume the worlds she presents are coterminous with the world of the England in the 18th century. They go so far as to write books where they basically franchise — or do research — within Austen and create a 20th or 21st century Austenland.

Much larger were the worlds of city-dwellers and Moretti’s authors of choice are emphatically Balzac and Dickens. Prelude to these were writers like Bulwer-Lytton (the silver-fork novels of the 1820s, which Trollope read as a young man). What Moretti shows is that when characters in Balzac and Dickens novels move from one place to another they are moving within fields of power. As with Austen, though it’s less noticeable, they are selective; you think you are in a map of London or Paris, but you are not. You are in choice spots. The story of the novel – its narrative — is a story of movement from one place to another and back again.

In Signs taken for Wonders Moretti shows the plot-structure of Balzac’s novels follows his characters’ movement from one site to another where there is a gain or loss of power. Enthralling plots can come from such ordinary experiences. Streets are not where social experiences that matter take place; important experiences are in offices or houses; the characters are ignorant of the larger place they live in except as a route from one site to another. Finally characters can be ruined by other characters they’ve never met (might not have heard off), and they are treated as transformed by the place they live in.

In his chapter “Maps” Moretti compared imagined maps of Mary Mitford (Our Village) and Elizabeth Gaskell (Cranford), which he drew after reading these books, with the Parisian maps by Balzac and and rural Scottish maps by Galt (Annals of the Parish), and real rural maps (in John Barrell’s book on landscapes). As opposed to real maps and maps by Balzac, Mitford and Gaskell did not try to map routes out of their district to cities or towns outside these where things might be gotten that are not in the village; instead in Mitford’s village and Gaskell’s Cranford, most roads lead round and round the village or Cranford; we see one of two go outside but they are drawn only so far as the place. We do not want to go out to the city unless it has something we need for real and can’t get in their village or Cranford, and this is apparently rare.


Photograph of Victoria Embankment, 1875 (a place and project used in political campaigns in the Palliser novels)

My thesis is Trollope was doing what Moretti says Balzac and Dickens (and Austen and Hardy too) did. The story of Phineas is just such a narrative as Lucien de Rubempre. Trollope is as selective as Balzac and Dickens only he selects up — as does Balzac. From what I’ve been reading Balzac is more all encompassing than either Dickens or Trollope say, but it may be those I’ve read (Graham Robb) write, like Moretti, out of strong admiration for Balzac and love of his books. Balzac encompasses much in Paris, really maps a lot of it. And yet some is imaginary; some are imaginary places. Trollope though has parallels with Austen — a prediction for the gentry in the country — and anticipates Hardy in that his characters do move out of their county life and into towns and cities and far away.

So first Castle Richmond and Trollope’s Ireland. Trollope lived for 18 years in Ireland and all over the place or at least several quite disparate places in Ireland: he first came to the midlands (Banagher) but he moved south and south west (mostly Kellys and OKellys occurs here, but also Dublin); he then moved to the North (Landleaguers); also he lived in Belfast; and he summer vacationed (so to speak) in the far west (where An Eye for an Eye takes place).

Not only did he live in disparate places, he literally mapped the place by setting up mail routes and riding over these again and again. He sat and made postal routes — maps. During the time he was writing the The Warden he was in south west England mapping postal routes and part of the impulse was his seeing Salisbury Cathedral now as a part-outsider who had to return to Ireland when this period of his “real” mapping of England ended and he and Rose moved to Dublin.

Roughly speaking his 5 novels which explicitly take place mostly in Ireland (An Eye for an Eye has scenes in England), Phineas Finn and Redux and the two Anglo-Irish stories take place all over Ireland. The question is, should I concentrate on this. What I have read (by Mary Hamer) is what I suspected may be true of his London maps (Pallisers territory): Trollope creates worlds for his novels which seem coterminus with real worlds we experience, but are filled in with imagined places to the point that you cannot quite map Trollope’s worlds with say southeast England, or London, or, for that matter, southwest Ireland of the other cities in the world he imagined so concretely. The problem here is I’m obsessive and once I started on mapping Ireland in Trollope’s books it would take me months to do it right. And that kind of detail is not wanted — even most of the time by most people. It’d be like my Austen calendars.

My guess is if the Anglo-Irish novels were filmed we’d have travelogues of Ireland. Thady flees to the mountains in Macdermots, the desolate countryside is an actor in that novel; the hero in An Eye for an Eye is murdered by a cliff; the lovers have their trysts out of doors by the seacoast of western Clare; a mass meeting in Dublin opens Kellys and OKellys; murder and clashes occur outside courthouses in Landleaguers. Castle Richmond is southwest but it’s more a matter of contrasting houses (so an Anglo-Irish Ascendency landscape), and London where Herbert Fitzgerald realizes how low his status now is by his experience of the city and where he lives.


Nichols’ reconstruction of Barsetshire (found in Sadleir)

Trollope also invents or maps places onto places already there. He invented Barsetshire which he tells us is a combination of Dorsetshire, Somersetshire, and Sadleir (p. 164) adds Gloucestershire, Wiltshire. He invented it unclearly at first, but by Dr Thorne it begins to be a place called East Barsetshire and by Framley Parsonage he makes a map. The Small House of Allington he once excluded from the Barsetshire books apart from its lack of a clerical theme, it takes place in Guestwick, an invented county next to Barsetshire.

Allingham: Trollope is careful to delineate the relationships between the small and large house and their grounds

What should be emphasized is insofar as Trollope is read and his maps believed, his books skew our understanding of place. There are people alive today reading these Barsetshire novels who will call them accurate — when for example, such abysmal poverty is omitted. At the time they had a striking actually partly because Trollope set them in contemporary UK (Scotland as well as England), refers to real events going on at the time. I suspect Angela Thirkell’s books reinforce this and erase the real poverty, real middle class lives today.

Bragdon Estates (drawn by Geroulds), next to Dillsborough in An American Senator

Turning to The American Senator, it’s a newly developed countryside but I have not come across any criticism or scholarship which names a specific place as the one Trollope had in mind. What I have discovered here is a minute geography of power. As in the Palliser novels across the board of London within the small district of Dillsborough, its outlying area and Bragton estate, as well as the estate of Mistletoe which Arabella Trefoil visits, depending on where you are, and what you are doing you are constrained to do to feel this, you are situated, you have status or not. The very dinner tables are geographies of power. Small House of Allington opens up with same sort of intricate detail of space and place (see above) and it all may be interpreted as to status, but there is also an idyllic romancing going on, nostalgia for past where gentry embedded with its church, tenants, nearby village.


Pallisers 8:17: What Lord Fawn saw (from Phineas Redux)

In my proposal I did tell of how when I went to an Trollope Society AGM in London in 1999, we went on 1 of 6 circuitous detailed maps drawn from the Pallisers books, but which had locations for characters across Trollope’s whole oeuvre as well as from Trollope’s own life as far as we know it. We walked round Trollope. The route chosen was the one that the Rev Emilius followed in order to murder Fawn and the one Phineas followed to get home that night. What I’ve got to do here is access the accuracy of the routes obsessively gone over and over of say Bonteen’s murder and see how accurate or inaccurate they are, and I’ve been asked to review a book that may do just that: Emelyne Godfrey’s Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature has a chapter on the street life of the Phineas books.

My hunch is while in the main Trollope is accurate, as in his Irish maps, he also departs imaginatively so as to make points about status, the characters, thematic sites. It’s telling that these scenes and streets have been filmed — in the Palliser parts covering the murder and trial. The Phineas Redux material in Pallisers contrasts a pastoral interlude of Gerard Maule and Adelaide Palliser riding in a city park (a kind of generalized convention and not taken from the book which contrasts London with the warmth and congeniality of Harringon Hall and its hunting in Trumpeton wood).

A bucolic park where Fawn and Adelaide walk, and Maule and she ride together (Pallisers 8:17)

There was some shooting on location for the time in the 1974-75 series, but it was a time when little of this sort of thing was done (the Poldark series was a singular exception and the use of Cornwall and shooting on location was no small part of its success); if you do look at Davies’ recent films of TWWLN especially you see an attempt to get the streets in, but they are not differentiated, situated with respect to one another, nor imitative of what’s in the novel.

(There are also illustrations by Millais showing Phineas leaving the Bunces and taking up residence in a gentleman’s part of London overlooking a park; that is filmed in the earlier parts of the Pallisers from Phineas Finn.)

So that’s where I am.


Posy Simmons’s Cranford, from end papers of Cranford Chronicles (modelled on Thomas Moule’s 19th century The County Maps of England, see Southern England)

I’ll conclude so many books sell popularly when publishers include maps I’m ever startled by how parsimonious they often are about these. The books of the filmed Cranford Chronicles had as papers Posy Simmonds exquisitely picturesque maps and if I could remember I know I’ve read about how Gaskell slowly invented that countryside and where it relates to.

Writing this blog has helped me be less afraid I’m not getting anywhere. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew and so think a separate paper to be published just on the Irish novels is something I could do in future but would take too long here and not be appropriate. But I could as an exhibit myself try generally to draw one just to show — to have something to show as I won’t be doing a power point presentation. Jim is not up to it and I can’t do such things myself.


Read Full Post »

Here he was wont to sit and read his Horace, and think of the affairs of the world as Horace depicted them. Many a morsel of wisdom he ahd here made his own, and had then endeavoured to think whether the wisdom had in truth been taken home by the poet to his own bosom, or had only been a glitter of the intellect — Mr Whittlestaff, Trollope’s An Old Man’s Love

The words of Mercury are harsh, after the songs of Apollo, Shakespeare, Love’s Labor’s Lost, Act 5, scene 2

Grace Crawley proves who or what she is by her reading: G. H. Thomas, “They pronounced her to be very much like a lady”, The Last Chronicle of Barset

Dear friends and readers,

A thread emerged on the Trollope facebook page this morning as important for understanding Trollope as his years in the post office; lack of understanding of the sources of feminism, many widows, interest in debt and suicide, not to omit maps and televisuality: his knowledge of classical stories, people, history, and late love of Latin.

A man on the facebook Trollope page, someone I’m friends with on facebook proper, so to speak (there are different facebook places nowadays), a fellow Renaissance person (loves the poetr too), Graham Christian, told everyone about the Trollope Apollo project: a college teacher had her students read Trollope’s Barsetshire novels looking for classical references and allusions with an eye to writing about how they were used on a website they would create. They found many many. The Barsetshire books are laden with these references, often used comically — if rather externally, e.g., the political satire in Framley Parsonage where the Whigs are the gods, and the Tories the giants. The students had to read these superb books; they had to understand how these allusions were used; they had to work on a website. An incidental effect of all this activity might be they would discover how the materials of Latin classic texts can be relevant to us today.

I’ve known about Trollope’s Apollo since 2006 when she contacted me to ask if I could link the project into my website; I was delighted to do so in several places, and when the thread morphed to ask (among other things) if learning Latin is relevant to useful, I found myself contributing again and again. I found myself agreeing that arguing that we must study X [Latin] because it helps us better understand Y [French] — other such arguments won’t encourage more respect. You have to show students that studying Latin for itself and reading what’s written in Latin is good to do for its own sake — meaningful, fun, absorbing. Like Virgil’s Aeneid is splendid, moving and an anti-war
war poem. Probably the college students are not advanced enough to read the equivalent Latin text to a Trollope novel.

Nonetheless, the teacher seemed to me just the sort of teacher we should have more of. I admired her. And her students’ efforts are touching. At a minimum, now if you want to find a classical allusion in Trollope’s Barsetshire books, now you can. And Apollo is the god of reason, a quality we see too little of in our public media or the public world.


Then someone remembered that Trollope had said the 12 years of his time in school included astonishing wastes of time — as Latin and Greek were so poorly taught as not to have been taught at least to him at all. She said these schools were generally really bad. Trollope’s statement about himself has been shown to be an exaggeration (by who else but R. H. Super? — he loves to rewrite Trollope’s sense of his life), but it is true that Trollope’s knowledge of the language, understanding of classical history and mature use of this material came much later in life. There’s an excellent article on this, which Glenn Shipway cited: Robert Tracy’s “Lana Medicata Fuco: Trollope’s Classicism” (in Trollope: Centenary Essays, ed. John Halperin). I reread it this evening, and hence am putting what I wrote this morning on facebook somewhat altered in the light of what Tracy reminded me of.

It’s so easy to come across horror stories about public school life for boys in the 19th and early 20th century, it’s probably true it was a bad place for many kinds of boys — especially in the areas of the inculcation of bullying, the lack of decent food and accommodations, the wretched way many of the tutors (underpaid, despised) taught. Trollope says his brother literally whipped him and Tom did not deny that. Thackeray is rare truthful person who as an adult conceded the vicious sexual goings-on — I’m not referring to homosexual patterns per se, but the way these were done in an environment which defined them as sinful and ugly. A great novel revealing this is Simon Raven’s Fielding Grey (Raven wrote the scripts for The Pallisers and the first, now wiped out, The Way We Live Now [1969]). As a boy Trollope was accused of some kind of homosexual behavior (or perhaps masterbation) in one school (Sunbury) and the boys who had done it knew he had not, and let him take the rap. He says as of the time of writing he remembers their names.

In one of his books Thackeray writes of wanting to expose all these realities and the indifference to all this of the parents who send boys to such schools — as they knew about it: what they care about is the boy comes into contact with boys of wealthy, well-connected people and makes friendships that could lead to good jobs in later life. (Today people will go into heavy debt to go to schools with such people in them.)

Laurence Alma Tadema, Reading Homer

All that said, studies show some boys survived these schools without too much apparent damage and many even did learn to love and read the classics, if not in Latin, in English translation, though sometimes it includes Greek, e.g., Richard Jenkyns’s The Victorians and Ancient Greece. Some went home almost immediately. It depends on the child or young adult. There are many Victorian studies of the influence of the classics on writers and art in that age. Many of the great English poets show this background from Johnson and Thomas Grey to the Edwardians and there’s a whole Latin literature which at least some people read. You can reach it through English translation.

As a genuinely intelligent imaginative young man when Trollope overcame his depression (in Ireland) and slowly worked his way into a social and professional success, he could and did find it in himself in his late years, to turn back, re-teach or teach himself for the first time how to read Latin well and make such texts a source of happiness to himself. While he partly laughs gently at Mr Whittlestaff, he is Mr Whittlestaff. Early on in his writing career, he wrote and published a learned review critiquing his friend Merivale’s History of the Romans under the Empire. After he improved his proficiency (or in improving it) he became fascinated by Caesar, admired the Commentaries and wrote a book on it which he defends in his Autobiography as “a good little book,” readable, one which could inform all people, “old and young,” about Caesar. An early admiration gave way to a sense of the terrible harm such a “great man” can inflict on his society, and he preferred Cicero, the thoughtful friend, and his letters and wrote a portrait of Cicero as a political study (rather like his Palmerston). He was very hurt at the condescending sneers his book attracted from classical scholars. From the references of his early books to classical characters and stories, to having his characters read and enjoy classics, Trollope points out analogies between the ancient world and his own. Tracy says Trollope projected his own character traits onto Cicero and imagines Cicero intensely enjoying London social life in the 19th century.

From the 1974 BBC Pallisers: Alice (Caroline Mortimer) reading

For myself I like the more thoughtful worked out allusions to classical themes and people of his later books, and it often charms me to read of characters in books loving this or that author. I like to remember John Grey sitting down to read of the French revolution and Alice Vavasour calming herself with Carlyle (!). The ironies of the way Josiah Crawley uses his knowledge of English & Latin classics to buoy up his shattered pride and the witty dialogues between say Plantagenet Palliser and his sons are amusing and touching. Tracy says when Palliser tells his sons “Money ought to have no power of conferring happiness, and certainly cannot drive away sorrow,” he then misquotes a Horatian text in a way that undermines what he said, that Melmotte is Trollope’s late idea of a Caesar type.

One of the Trollope Society yearly lectures (printed in a Trollopiana) is about a less pleasant or admirable side to Trollope’s use of Latin and the classics. To quote a Latin tag or line is to demonstrate you are upper class, went to a public school or had a tutor in Latin. By using Latin, Trollope identifies himself as a gentlemen with other gentlemen. This by implication excludes those who haven’t Latin or haven’t read these books even in translation. It excludes women for the most part too. We can see this use of Latin in the George Housman illustration at the beginning of this blog. Grace Crawley proves her status as gentlewoman by the way she reads and what she reads. That which is used to signify belonging is also used to stigmatize, make coteries. I can’t remember the name of the author of the Trollopiana article, only that it was a London Society lecture and written in deconstructionist jargon; I cannot think it went over very well …


Mandelbaum’s translation of Aeneid with original cover

Fast forward to today where the evils of institutionalized bullying and ugly attitudes towards sex are mostly gone (not all), and you can find people who learned to love Latin or profited from it. My personal interest in this area comes in here. My husband loathed his public school; he went there as a day boy and wore a different colored uniform to show he was poor; he was caned 5 times, once for making his “f’s” perversely. A searing memory is how as an 11 year old he and others were made to stand in the pouring rain holding up a salute as some politicians whizzed by in their limousine. But until today he really enjoys and knows about the classical world, reads about it, gets a kick out of jokes and works which burlesque it. He has a lovely polished prose style from his years in public school.

Last night I read aloud a long funny passage from Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy where the central characters put on a play, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, itself a savage bitter satire on the Trojan characters. The characters each take such pride in playing a particular famous character, and the ones chosen highlight their absurdities as well as the way they are experiencing WW2. Jim laughed and laughed.

My younger daughter, Isobel, loves Latin itself, minored in it in college, could be a Latin teacher if there were positions and she were trained. A friend who has a blog (mirabile dictu she calls it) loves Latin – she majored in college and has written about the Aeneid. Izzy loves Horace and Catullus in the original; she much enjoyed studying Latin history in post-graduate courses at GMU for a couple of years.

My favorite story is of my older daughter, Laura, who took Latin for two years in high school and again preferred it in college to satisfy the then language requirement in college. She was very popular during lunch because she clung to an priceless irreplaceable book we have in our house: a copy of the Aeneid in Latin with an English translation placed in-between the lines in such a way as to unravel (so to speak) the order of the Latin so that it resembles the ordering of English words in sentences. It’s an interlinear Vergil by Hart and Osborne. Laura never let this book out of her sight while others used it.

An example of an interlinear translation text

I’m one of those people who after a couple of years of college Latin could stumble through an advanced exam in medieval Latin (the “that” clauses are all set up in the English manner) like one does a puzzle. I like some Latin very much in translation. I love the Aeneid as translated by Allen Mandelbaum and the Georgics by C. Day Lewis. I really enjoy Pope’s Horatian poems — though I’m told that they are far more Juvenalian than Horatian.

From yon old walnut-tree, a show’r shall fall;
And grapes, long-lingring on my only wall,
And figs, from standard and espalier join:
The dev’l is in you if you cannot dine.
Then chearful healths (your Mistress shall have place)
And, what’s more rare, a Poet shall say Grace.
Fortune not much of humbling me can boast;
Tho’ double tax’d, how little have I lost?
My life’s amusements have been just the same,
Before, and after Standing Armies came.
– 2nd Satire of 2nd Book, Horace “paraphrased by Pope


Read Full Post »

Ford Madox Brown (1821-95), Hampstead from my Window (1857)

Dear friends and readers,

A brief note for Americans like myself who are not aware of the birthdays or birthplaces of British politicians who have become symbolic figures after they exercised power in an ostentatiously as well as felt way politically.

I did not know that Grantham was the name of the place Margaret Thatcher came from (as it’s put). Her father was “a local worthy” who ran a small business. That it’s a compliment to Mrs Thatcher and at the same time an allusion meant explicitly to alert us to the political allegiance of its author.

Jim not only said, oh yes, but immediately went on to suggest that the mood and atmosphere of the mini-series as described to him (he does not watch TV) brought to mind some lines from Rupert Brooke‘s 1912 poem “The Old Vicarage, Granchester,” which ends with these lines:

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies and truth and pain? …. oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The whole poem is online.

If the whole poem were like that, it’d indeed capture a central motif of Fellowes’s Downton Abbey, only Brooke’s poem is a kind of pastoral as satire on male muscular Christianity with some misogynistic lines thrown in here and there (“And Ditton girls are mean and dirty”) with scorn for lower class people so egregious (“folks in Shelford and those parts/Have twisted lips and twisted hearts”), that I’m tempted to say it’s ironic with the poet keeping his distance from his narrator, but I think the escape into a deep meadow and landscape world before industrialization, pre-Capitalist is at times serious, and then again mocking: “And when they get to feeling old,/They up and and shoot themselves I’m told) …

John Betjeman, Brooke is not (to be explained on my Sylvia blog this Sunday).

I don’t know if I’ve emphasized how surprising it is that there is so little filmic intertextuality in Downton Abbey. It does not imitate, borrow, allude to other mini-series; this is unusual nowadays as well as it’s rare use of montage and almost complete lack of flashbacks, voice-overs, filmic epistolarity (letters ready by characters using voice-over). What intertextuality there is (confirmed in the second volume on the series, The Chronicles of DA) is textual: Bates’s story was suggested to Fellowes by a news article and an Agatha Christie story.

So I suggest he may also have remembered or had in Brooke’s Grantchester in mind when he chose the name Grantham. I’ve chosen a couple of mid-Victorian idealizing watercolors for this blog whose typology is behind what we see of landscape (not a lot, again surprisingly for a mini-series of this type) in DA.

Perhaps the reader will recall the shot of Lady Sybil plotting Gwen Dawson, the maid who escaped to an office job in the first season, where they are in an old-fashioned wagon riding together and pass under a half-ruined arch in a vast green landscape:

Alfred Wm Hunt (1830-96), Finchale Priory (exhibited 1862)


P.S. I’m not really surprised by the lack of filmic intertextuality, filmic sophistication and/or dream landscapes. These are part of the ways in which Fellowes has carefully kept this mini-series broad and popular in its approach & therefore appeal.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers