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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,

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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).

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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)

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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)

Ellen

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Winston Graham — from his middle years

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Robin Ellis, recently — very important in shaping and keeping memory of Poldark alive (Making Poldark appeared in a 3rd expanded edition this year)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m delighted (and honored) to be able to report that James Dring has made a significant contribution to Winston Graham studies: on his website you can find a long, thorough listing of all Graham’s fiction accompanied by remarks culled from reviews at the time of the particular book’s publication, comments by Graham on the book (in green letters), and accurate contextualization of both sets of remarks by Dring (in brown). The file includes the films, screenplays, books on these, and letters by Graham and a letter from Graham to Dring. And finally a listing of all Graham’s minor publications (essays and introductions) and the few essays that have been published on him (mostly on his mystery-crime books). One could use this information as the beginning basis of a literary biography or longer study of all Graham’s writing.

An annotated bibliography

The films make visible the kinds of reactions readers have to the novels, the way they have been read:

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Still from the fine 19560s semi-art film, The Walking Stick

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Richard Armitage and Demelza Carne Poldark falling in love over their shared reading (Poldark 1977-78, Part 9)

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1996 Stranger from the Sea: an attempt to de-politicize the Poldark novels, turn them into ethnic (wild Cornwall) domestic romance (defeated by the brevity of the film and vociferous protests of fan club for 1970s mini-series & its stars)

Mr Dring has also provided two files of the dust jackets of the books: dust jackets; more dust jackets

Here are a few telling ones I’ve gathered (from the Net):

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First 1945 edition of Ross Poldark

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Art work on back of all Bodley Head Poldark novels (1960s)

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Cover for the 5th Poldark novel reflecting the 1970s film adaptation

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Recent British set (21st century)

Dust jackets are an important form of packaging information about a book: they suggest who the book is aimed at; the imagery, if true to the book, something of its genre and nature; how much respect a particular press lends to the book. These provide the basis for a study of Graham’s readership, the initial reception of his novels and later evaluations by publishers, readers, and himself (he rewrote or at least revised his early books).

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1st edition of Little Walls

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Edition of Forgotten Story, story set in Cornwall, 1898 (perhaps 1960s? or around the time of the 1984 film adaptation, featuring Angharad Rees)

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Recent edition of novel set in India, Corfu, Wales, something of a historical novel (sexy cover fixated on woman from the back in slip influenced by memories of Hitchcock’s Marnie)

Mr Dring contacted me to suggest I link his website to mine as providing on-line information about Graham, the Poldark and his other books. I’ve now done so, linking all three files into my central section and bibliography page

Ellen

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Michelle Dockery looking lovely at this years’ Emmy awards (the 65th ceremony): Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey; Katherine, Shakespeare’s Henry V’s queen, in an upcoming Great Performances

Dear readers and friends,

I’ve been working on a paper on Andrew Davies’s two film adaptations of Trollope novels (The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right), and was able to read some of what will be published in the coming volume and came across the (to me) intriguing phrase, “a television novel” used of Downton Abbey and The House of Eliot in a paper on serialized drama. The author was quoting an analysis of types of serials by Michael Hammond (Contemporary TV series/serials).

The phrase charmed me and I thought the differentiation of types of narratives useful. There are three basic useful ways one can divide them (the paper has other divisions) and look at the serials as novels. There are the closed ones, serials which have definite closure and an ending since they are based on already extant novels (The Forsyte Saga, The Pallisers, Poldark; all the Austen movies); there are the open-ended with self-contained episodes where we meet characters who dominate a particular week and are never seen again with the continuing characters and place providing a minimum of background continuity (Duchess of Duke Street, and in the earlier seasons, Upstairs Downstairs); then there is the series which is open-ended, has some self-contained story arcs, but also story arcs which not only cross an entire season but are continuous from season to season (Downton Abbey, West Wing, apparently The Sopranos).

I extrapolate: in novels the first type is found inside a single novel (Vanity Fair by Thackeray). The kind of omnibus volumes with a couple of central characters whose stories are important to but where the emphasis is on this week’s or this story’s or this novel’s characters to be set adrift after you shut the book is found in Sherlock Holmes and typical mystery series, also Prime Suspect (which however also developed the central female detective’s story marginally and occasionally centrally too. The second type: open-ended with self-contained episodes or stories, characters who dominate a given book and then disappear for the most part describes Trollope’s narrative art in his Barsetshire and Palliser series. The third type where emphasis is placed on continuing characters and each novel is part of a continuing storyline reminds me of the Poldark novels, or Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

It fundamentally changes the experience of a written novel which is tightly structured to turn it into a serial drama — the way so many Austen books are filmed.

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Typical shot of Lucy Liu as Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes

I tried to watch the first episode of this year’s Elementary because I so liked the new Sherlocks on PBS with Bernard Cumberbatch and Martin Friedman and very much like Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram and Mr Knightley (Mansfield Park 1999, Emma 2009) as well as the intensely neurotic types he played on Prime Suspect. He did not disappoint: the character has again been partly reconceived, this time the emphasis on edginess, something coming near breakdown or cracking (coming close to Friedman’s brilliant embodiment of Watson) while the new Holmes character in his down-and-out dowdy wintry clothes, nonetheless holds up and does all the marvelous sleuthing, ratiocinative thinking and talk (Miller is superb at this talk).

Don’t be fooled: this is no more feminist than the recent Sherlocks. Lucy Liu as can be seen in the above and many other stills is Holmes’s secondary side-kick and follower. She is violent all right — this is the series’s stupid idea of making her masculine, but there to feed him lines, fill out the scene in the way of the Conan Doyle’s Watson or the Watson of the Jeremy Brett series.

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The pair on a NYC bench

But I only managed a half an hour. The program was so larded with commercials I gave up after half an hour. It might be a fun TV novel but was not being given a chance to breathe, to have any extension without interruption. It’s a shame for here is a program which does not celebrate wealth, gregariousness, conventional glamor and success. He’s troubled; his brother Mycroft turns up having taken over Sherlock’s flat and gotten rid of Sherlock’s things, replaced them with soulless fashionable furniture.

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Rhys Ifan as Mycroft

In this case it’s the look of the stills, the caught moments in front of famous statues in their scruffy clothes with their worn faces that makes the series intriguing more than anything. I shall have to wait until it’s produced as a set of DVDs and ask someone to buy me them for Xmas and then try to watch for real. I did not know that Gielgud played (read aloud on radio) Holmes, and I’d never have recognized Hugh Laurie in that make-up: favorite Sherlocks (perversely omitting Basil Rathbone).

New translations of works continually renew our understanding of them: a great or fine or merely archetypally engaging and popular work which is understood by its first audience in a specific way may not pick up much that is in the work, especially popular understandings; the author may not see all that is there. Yes what grows up around a work becomes part of it; it’s not written in a vacuum in the first place. So too film adaptations work this way, and literary criticism adds its insights.

In the specific area of Holmes films — there are a huge number, possibly more than for Dracula or Frankenstein, especially if you count each film per story as one. In the volume my paper on the Pallisers was published in (Victorian Literature, Film Adaptations, edd Bloom & Pollock) is a paper by Tamara Wagner on the Sherlock Holmes canon. She examines what I suggest can’t stand real scrutiny: she suggests that the Basil Rathbone series are no more accurate than say the Jeremy Brett ones; 1940 is not 1890 and the audience these were intended for were a preWW2 post WW1 audience. For me the imaginative realization that is closest to the text as I imagined it will probably be the Jeremy Brett: that tells something of my age. The Cumberbatch are too devoid of any feminism and there is much feminism of the Edwardian protective sort in the originals (think of the back story of “Hound of the Baskervilles, 17th century girl kidnapped, raped in an upstairs room by rakes for fun). I enjoy these new version for what they shed a new light on: the relationship of Watson to the stories (his psyche) and then Holmes secondarily, and what they show us about our era. Miller and Liu mean to react against worship of luxury, money, rank, but they substitute a new set of somewhat absurd fetishes: drugs and depression as flare.

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FemaleDetectiveAForresterblog
Trying to read James Redding Ward’s Female Detective: a very early set of detective stories (1862), with (as the title indicates): a female detective, Ward in convincing drag — these center on women’s world and their real distresses, vulnerability, blighted lives

I’ve been trying to watch TV in the evenings because I’m now alone and too tired to read all night or even watch a movie with attention. TV invites a relaxed approach. Alas, I get too relaxed and continually fall asleep so I can’t say I’m succeeding. Jim says (he still can understand what I’m doing and comment wittily) I’m bored. I don’t think so; it’s more that there are too many programs on, most of which is junk and when I do find something I think I might like, I often don’t understand what’s happening since the series moves too swiftly, relies far too much on intuitive memories of cliches and stereotypes so the program makers need only allude to a kind of incident or story rather than dramatize anything at length; the dialogue is so naturalistic, I can’t catch what the characters are saying. I do better with older series (Inspector Morse) or say watching a classic drama: Shakespeare’s Richard II last Friday was superb, and I mean to watch Henry IV Part 1 tomorrow night.

I’ve noticed these mystery type genres have taken over serial dramas on the so-called better channels. My view is this supposed masculine plot-driven active sub-genre is a mask for revealing deeply troubled private material of our society. And Ward is doing that. This is part of the gothic mode. Women have been relegated to private life; to hide our private lives under some regimes of law allows beatings, killing, horrible exploitation as women are shamed and terrified into silence. So to see a woman detective is liberating.

I can stay awake for news and some kinds of documentaries: for Amy Goodman and DemocracyNow.org on the Howard University Channel, Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff’s PBS news hour, David Attenborough and his worlds of animals. Amusingly they keep telling me they’ll see me next time, when it’s I who see them; they do not see me. With the documentaries on commercial channels there is the problem of continual intrusions of signs on the screen (visual ads), to say nothing of quick successive many commercials. I know the so-called program is supported as an excuse for ads and there is care taken lest the program have any values which run counter to the ads. The ideology of TV is in the continual advertisements intertwined with everything, one another no matter how ludicrously inappropriate the juxtapositions are; even PBS does it: corporate sponsorship it’s called there. TV is flow; you turn it on like a faucet and the water pours away and I find I have trouble entering this flood. What’s sold is a false picture of prosperity and success through entrepreneurship, desire for goods one does not need but give prestige; goods which deliver youth, health, popularity, social success. I try my best to ignore them but they are very loud and viscerally aggressive.

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Lady Sybil (Deborah Brown Findlay), in the fiction of the show, now gone with Matthew Crawley, William Mason (footman, Daisy’s husband and Lavinia Swire (Matthew’s bethrothed) (all in the burial grounds)

Gentle reader, what would your definition of a TV novel be? It comprises far more than a narrative form. Something within that holds us into its world.

Downton Abbey starts on British TV next week. It’s been promoted for weeks, with continual stills released, a new Behind the Scenes with book — on heavy art paper with lots of beautiful photographs. If you count these couple of weeks, and then at least 13 episodes until Christmas, and then the same 13 run on US TV, then the re-runs and release of the scripts, the show goes on all year long. Not that I mind. It’s to my aesthetic taste. I loved the way Dockery looked at the Emmys: better than any other woman there, her costume redolent of an earlier time in the 20th century, I would be surprised if the costume designer of Downton Abbey didn’t have a hand in it. I watched the speeded-up YouTube covering the season to come jokily

I’m happy to see Anna (Joanne Froggart) back with a spiffy hat, complete with brown velvet ribbon:

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To me Cora, Duchess (Elizabeth McGovern) is beautifully ethereal if far too thin (semi-anorexia allows her to take on a younger kind of older woman):

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And I hope Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) comes into her own as journalist, mistress of the proprietor, a Jane Eyre character as seen by a complacent reactionary Tory (Jerome Fellowes): here she is contemplative and not anorexic at all:

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Yes as with a novel I’ve bonded with these characters (as I did with Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison). I don’t miss Dan Stevens as I never bonded with his character: he was too much into compromise and conventionality. I hope a less centrally wholesome male will emerge (but with Fellowes I doubt he would allow a hero to be a Jonny Lee Miller type). Thomas the footman might take a lover. I hope. Ethel get her baby back as she learns to be this splendid cook. I’d say I’ll miss Miss Obrien (Siobhan Finneran) with her scepticism subverting the Dowager’s, but she was so often a target of misogyny (as Finneran said she was tired of being contemptible). And there’s Daisy (with her father-in-law and farm), Mrs Hughes (wry, sceptical but hard) and Mrs Patmore (who can make me cry) — these women have not been similarly promoted with beautiful photographs — showing the tenacious hierarchy of the creator’s mind. At any rate I have tonight cheered myself by remembering them too and their mostly lucky (rich as they are) stories. It may be that the character who will make me cry for real is Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) mourning the death of her beloved son — look at her face, it’s being held together.

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with the Dowager Violet, Lady Crawley (Maggie Smith)

How lonely life is going to be for me.

Ellen

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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.

Ellen

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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:

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

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An example of the intertextual study film adaptations can allow:

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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.

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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.

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JolyoncomingUponIrenePt5blog
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.

IndianSummerblog

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.

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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.

Ellen

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SusannahBuxtonCostumeDesignerblog
Susannah Buxton, Costume designer for Downton Abbey

CarolineMcCallAssistantCostumeDesignerblog
Caroline McCall, Assistant Costume Designer (from Feature on Season 1 DVD)

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I find myself again regretting that the older Poldark films have never been produced on DVDs with features with talk from the film-makers and actors; there has been no voiced-over commentaries with slowed-down parts, or any of the kind of commercial paraphernalia a sociological event best-seller of the Poldark type have begun to accumulate around them since the later 1990s. Here we do have some real use for the fandoms who might be said to serve as a tangible target for money-making on the Net. Beyond Graham’s Poldark’s Cornwall, only part of which was about the mini-series, the only book produced was Robin Ellis’s Making Poldark, now in a third reprinting, most of it the same text he originally produced (it has autobiographical additions and better stills).

TheHauntingfeature
From recent DVD feature on The Haunting (see review)

It may be much of the original cast is now dead (most of the principals are), but I’ve listened to and watched a DVD of the 1963 Robert Wise film of Shirley Jackson’s Haunting, where what was left of directors and writers and the cast produced intelligent insightful features and voice-over commentary — I took substantial notes on how the film was made. I suspect Poldark as a film still suffers from its original labeling as “swash-buckling soap opera,” and its not having had a widely-prestigious and single auteur type (instead many directors, writers, directors). By contrast, Downton Abbey now has had at least two books (The World of, The Chronicles of) and the first of three projected scripts produced.

flowerShowblog
Extras dressed right, intermingling make for fuller seeming reality (The World of discusses the making of such scenes)

Since I last wrote about Downton Abbey I’ve re-watched all the parts of the first season, read the playlets or scripts for all but the seventh part of the first season, and begun slowly to re-watch the parts again this time with voice-over commentary. Here is a little of what I’ve learnt about the power of these films (and by extension other costume dramas). I should say that I can stay up to all hours watching, absorbed, interested, enjoying them more; they take my mind off my recent intense anxiety. Reading the scripts reveals unexpected depths and parallels; cut scenes add much; Fellowes’s notes are ironically instructive. The voice-over commentary and especially watching the film move slowly gives you a chance to see how carefully each shot was cut, shaped, contextualized. We get the personal urges of Fellowes again and again — perhaps that’s the key to the strength of this and other films, this psychosocial projection drama.

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The scripts in general

OddPathosofOldManblog
The pathos of Molesley’s father so grateful is seen in several of the older lower class males (Matthew’s father)

encouragementblog
Gwen the parallel figure who needs encouragement

Part 1 as I said was introduction, by Part 6 I saw that hours that seemed centrally silly (it ends on the flower show) when read silently and slowly as with a novel, come out touchingly suggestive. Much of what’s omitted hurt the programs: when in Part 4 Miss Obrien brings Daisy to confide what happened in Mary’s room (how soap opera this kind of sentence is) in the program the camera cuts away. We know what Daisy has to tell. In the script Edith is very kind to Daisy; we hear here how Daisy has been suffering under the harassment and insults of Mrs Patmore and how in need of some comfort she is (quite apart from seeing the dead corpse pulled along), and Edith does provide this. It’s double edged as Edith now (understandably I think) wants to get back at Mary for needling her over Strallan and Matthew but it is real and a parallel to Sybil helping Gwen.

Matthew comes out as ambiguous throughout, far more questionable at times, in his mockery of Edith and his sidling up to Mary; he is as complicit and collusive in this penultimate part (supposedly unimportant) flower show hour as his mother with her overt pressuring of Violet to give up the prize. The Chronology of DA emphasizes origins of characters and how Fellowes sees them. As Matthew moves away from his supposed love, Lavinia, he has a peculiar expression on his face:

NotUpfrontblog
Ever harboring guilt, Mary appeals to his less noble side

In several skeins of interweave it’s not too much to see that there is a Chekhovian rhythm to this hour as written up (like some of the earlier film adaptations, say 1983 MP) which is wholly lost in the actual realization’s quick pace.

CoveringBodyblog
Staring at and covering the corpse

Conspiratorsblog
Conspirators

Part 3 is hectic: This is the one where Lady Mary goes to bed with Pamuk and he drops dead while (presumably) trying to fuck her. It is also the one where Gwen’s desire to be a secretary is outed by Miss Obrien exposing the typewriter which Mrs Hughes says Gwen has no right to keep in Gwen’s room. The room is not Gwen’s, not even the bed she sleeps in is hers in private. We also have Mr Bates trying to escape the mean teasing and attempts to fire him by wearing a contraption that is torture.

In Fellowes’s notes he shows he realizes Mary is dense (he mentions her surprise anyone could not want her), but he is more concerned he says that viewers wrote in because they thought what was implied was (wait for this) Pamuk buggered Mary (!). Lines had been left out about her losing her virginity and what to do about it and so now he was sorry these were left out. My sense that people hardly ever say what they think and what is presented as mainstream thinking is utterly shallow was confirmed. I admit I had not thought of that – that he forced anal intercourse on her would have hurt and shocked her perhaps and she would not have so regretted the loss — but did think maybe we were to see Pamuk could go with men or women and that’s really why he was with Napier.

This time I’m confirmed in the idea that Mary is a real horror, cold and mean (she could care less about what Gwen is doing with her life) and Pamuk a cad. The irony is that Mary doesn’t see that Napier was a good candidate for her, showing really she doesn’t deserve him. I felt again for Edith, though she shows no compassion or concern for anyone but herself – as Sybil does trying to help Gwen who really despairs in her heart anyone will want her as a low person originally. In his notes to this scene Fellowes confirmed he was aware that the lower class person would not dream he or she could succeed and thus probably would not. It did seem to me the throwing away of the awful contraption is the equivalent of getting rid of the corpse of Pamuk and somehow connected to the typewriter — all sources of guilt, harassment.

Gwentakingherpropertyblog
Gwen after having been berated, told she had no right to have this in her room, ostracized, takes away her offending property

In the script to the fourth part, Fellowes thinks the film-makers omitted the whole of the scene below. But watching I find they hadn’t. I begin to wonder how much he worked on his notes — fact-checking is non-existent that I’ve seen. But at any rate I scanned it in because I found it touching. Maybe it was intended to omit it and the last minute put back. t was “not needed” — as part of the action. I reprint it to show that the plays as written in this book show 1) the show was not conceived by Fellowes as tongue-in-cheek at all, and 2) they all thus far make Grantham our hero of decency, fairness, even egalitarianism of a paternalist sort. It anticipates Lord Grantham believing Bates innocent later on, and when Bates returns from prison telling him to take some time off, rest, read books, go into the library:

InvitedtoReadblog
Upon being invited to take books out and read them, Branson becomes animated and tells his favorites

3 INT. LIBRARY. DOWNTON. DAY.
Robert is working, with Pharaoh at his feet. Carson enters.
CARSON: You wanted to see the new chauffeur, m’lord.
ROBERT: Yes, indeed. Please bring him in.
Carson nods and a young man, in his thirties, appears. This
is Tom Branson. He is attractive and polite. Carson leaves.

ROBERT: Come in, come in. Good to see you again …
Branson, isn’t it?
BRANSON: That’s right, your lordship.
ROBERT: I hope they’ve shown you where everything is?
And we’ve delivered whatever we promised at the
interview?
BRANSON: Certainly, m’lord.
ROBERT: Good.
Robert nnds him rather an interesting character.
ROBERT: How did you first come to be a chauffeur?
BRANSON: My father was a tenant of Mrs Delderfield’s and
I was apprenticed to the chauffeur there. But he’d been
a coachman and he didn’t have much feeling for cars. In
the end, the mistress asked me to take over.
ROBERT: Won’t you miss Ireland?
BRANSON: Ireland, yes, but not the job. She was a nice
lady, but she only had one car and she wouldn’t let me
drive it over twenty miles an hour. So it was a bit …
well, boring, so to speak.
Which makes Robert laugh. Branson looks around.
BRANSON: You’ve got a wonderful library.
The remark does not offend Robert but it does surprise him.
ROBERT: Are you interested in books?
BRANSON: Not in books, as such, so much as what’s in
them.
A reading chauffeur? Unusual. Robert thinks for a moment.
ROBERT: You’re very welcome to borrow books, if you wish.
BRANSON: Really, m’lord?
He is astonished and delighted. Robert nods.
ROBERT: There’s a ledger
use, even my daughters.
room’s empty.
BRANSON: Do all the servants enjoy the same privilege?
ROBERT: I suppose they could, although I doubt they’d
avail themselves of it. Carson and Mrs Hughes sometimes
take a novel or two. What are your interests?
BRANSON: History and politics, mainlyROBERT: Heavens.* Well, when you come
back, you should
start looking in that section, there.t
Carson has reappeared at the door.
ROBERT: Branson’s going to borrow some books. He has my
permission.
CARSON: very good, m’lord.
Does Carson approve? Probably not. He looks at Branson.

*********
Typical notes by Fellowes:

The Irish troubles were a hot topic throughout this period, much more even than in the 1970s. We remember the Suffragettes and the emergence of the unions, but in fact if we’d been alive at that time the front page would have been dominated by Ireland, so here Branson is bringing those troubles to Downton. Because, by this stage, the show had developed its own method of dealing with these things. We don’t usually introduce famous characters like Lloyd George or Curzon or De Valera, but we allow our characters to refer to political events and scandals and things that were happening. To achieve this, to make the Crawleys and their servants aware of what was going on, I had the idea of bringing in an Irish chauffeur who was political and a republican. He is not active, in the sense of being a freedom fighter, but he is energetically pro-independence for Ireland. It seemed to me that such a chap would allow us to talk about the topic without its seeming contrived. I also thought – although only vaguely when I was writing this episode – that we might have a cross-class romance at some point and so it seemed a good idea that he should be young and handsome, whether or not we actually did anything with it. The actor who plays Branson (Allen Leech) had worked with me and our producer, Liz Trubridge, on a film I wrote and directed, called From Time to Time. He impressed us both and he had a kind of gritty, very real sort of good looks, as opposed to the face of a film star, which is more useful in this kind of drama.

I was sorry they cut this section, when Robert invites Branson to borrow books. It was taken from Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, whose memoirs of a life in service have just been reissued, for which I wrote the preface. She takes a fairly jaundiced view of the world but she was operating in smaller
households than Downton, where she was only one of two or three servants and they worked like dogs. But, once, she does go to a grander house on a temporary basis to replace a cook, and there all the servants were encouraged to borrow books from the library. When I read it, I thought it was rather a
nice touch and quite Robert’ish. Since I knew it was based on truth I was looking forward to being attacked but in the event it was cut. Naturally, Carson can’t bear the idea.

Carsonblog
Carson as seen in the scene below

BRANSON: Is that all, m’lord?
ROBERT: It is. Off you go and good luck.
Branson goes, leaving master and butler alone.
ROBERT: Well. An Irishman with an interest in politics …
Are we mad?
CARSON: I could always bring in fire drill for the staff.
ROBERT: Thank you, Carson.
They share the moment.
ROBERT (CONT’D): He seems quite a bright spark after poor
old Taylor.
Carson is not prepared to volunteer an opinion. Yet.
ROBERT: I always thought he was happy. Why did he want
to leave?
CARSON: I believe it was Mrs Taylor, m’lord. She felt
cut off. She wanted to live in a town.
ROBERT: But running a tea shop? I cannot feel that’ll
make for a very restful retirement, can you?
CARSON: I would rather be put to death, m’lord.
ROBERT: Quite so. Thank you, Carson.
with a glance at the dog, he returns to his letter.

Amusedblog
Lord Grantham amused

I liked the joke too, now this tea-shop part was omitted

One of the many things I like about serial storytelling is how a later part harks back to the earlier. In Part 4 we also get the slowly developing love of Anna for Bates; we saw her pity for him, her respect, her bringing him a tray when she and he thought he was fired, and she watched him cry; now in this episode he brings her a tray during her bad cold and in the script we can read the scene slowly.

It’s through this syntagmatic (is the word) development that these series gets their depth. Of course it contrasts to Mrs Hughes giving up her love, Daisy making an error in falling for the lesser man, Thomas. All brought together in the moment of ferocity when Bates threatens Thomas for needling and mocking William, that foreshadowing the reality of his pent-up violence … he is the one real justfiably angry man of the series.

The script to Part 6 is a deepening of the seriousness and suggestivity of the Scripts 1-5. You really feel for example how the relationship between Branson and Sybil has a genuine basis in their natures, their predilections, his reading (John Stuart Mill you now see), her ideals. Talking seriously:

IntheCarblog

The show does not have enough time and is in a way — however paradoxical this is — too effectively presented dramatically. You lose the hidden novel in the quick-paced creamy-pop appeal that all the filmic techniques project.

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Downton Abbey 1:1: from the voice-over commentary

LadyMarywatchesblog
Crowborough frantically rifling Thomas’s drawers in search of their love-letters; POV the naive Lady Mary

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Bates coming upon them, ironically offers to let them investigate his room, upon which Lady Mary apologizes out of her habit for doing so when she’s in the wrong

As I wrote, it was not until I watched very slowly, this time having read the script, clicking and snapping on the stills and then studying them (the way the film is put together) that I realized the real motive for the Duke of Crowborough’s visit was to go up to that attic and snatch back his love letters to Thomas Barrow.

In the case of this series, part of my absorption is a kind of fascinated horror at what the whole thing reveals about what audiences like, what they think when they are watching — for in the scripts Fellowes includes many notes telling of what viewers have written to the film-makers. The commentary has
Fellowes and his partners (the producer for season 1 and director of this part) continually upholding this fantasy world as good and wonderful and real (so from the point of view of understanding the film dead wood), a kind of bland hypocrisy, their “job” whatever hype is expected they’ll utter.

Fellowes is the best of the three because he really believes in what he is presenting and is unashamed. Amid or sometimes after his fatuous kinds of naive statements he will suddenly say what he intended to do in a scene, comment on how he sees the actors, what they are doing, why this one is dressed this or that way (costume so important in costume drama). Two examples, when near the close Anna visits Bates with the
tray of food all three suddenly say these are their ‘favorite pair’ and there is suddenly a discussion of the lighting, the words (which insist he’s going to be fired), the depth of feeling in the scene, the lighting. As important in these
over-voice commentaries, the scene moves much slower.

The paired scenes sandwiching this are of Crowborough getting the naive Mary to take him to the servants’ quarters so he can find and get back his letters to Thomas and Thomas’s visit as a footman to Crowborough’s room. The latter is the first place in the whole hour all formality is dropped and we get two human
beings confronting one anther for real.

Informalityblog
Plain talking, natural gestures (Crowborough)

I don’t believe it was the two males’ ideas to kiss so lovingly, but at any rare they do it so touchingly and yet we know how no humane feeling lies beneath it (so a contrast to the Bates/Anna scene in the attic which just precedes it — see first two stills) and again light, words, gestures and it’s the real climax of all the scenes in the part — and it undermines all the fatuity about how the show supports the order in front of us.

Fellowes also confirmed for me that Miss Obrien is really meant to be the person who had no belief in this system and hates it. He does not like her for this at all, and thinks it condemns her. But we may think differently even if we don’t
like her personally. He described Maggie Smith as a kind of crow in this part: also exposing the humbug but from her self-interested perspective. He kept pointing out how often she is in black with black hats.

Dowagerblackhatblog
Fellowes saw in this hat an allusion to a hawk

He personally finds Elizabeth McGovern very pretty as an older woman and remarked on this as they watched the last bedroom scene.

Bedroomblog

While she is often in black (they are all supposed partly in mourning), not always, and I could see he liked her as a simulacrum of an older wife he could quite imagine himslf “having” …

Ellen

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Adam and Beth go looking for racoons
Adam (Hugh Dancy in key role): a movie about an autistic young man

Dear friends and readers,

There’s a major area completely undiscovered – as it were — in Victorian literature. A way of making genuinely humane sense out of all sorts of works. We need to stop (first of all, a minimum first) stop using terms like “cripples” or “monstrous” as these feed into misunderstanding of what the experience of disability is to the person and those immediately around him or her, who live with and next to them.

To answer a request to cite a few such characters and comment on Victorian characters already cited:

MadameNeroniblog
The first shot of la Signora Neroni (Susan Hampshire): Mrs Proudie asks, “what’s so special about this lady beyond her preposterous name?” Rickman as Slope replies: “She can’t walk.”

Madame Neroni in Trollope’s Barchester Towers is not a monstrous figure, but her crippled state is described as grotesque. She refuses to try to walk is to do that would expose this aspect of her body. If we move away from the word “cripples” and an insistence on physical disability as the key to disability, Elizabeth Gaskell has quite a number of disabled characters across her oeuvre, especially the short stories (a number of which are gothic in feel). It’s mostly mental disability and she shows real empathy for the disabled character and her or his caretaker, mostly women. By contrast, there’s Eliot’s really cruel Lifted Veil where a “mentally retarded” young man (whom today would be labelled low-functioning autistic) is treated with horror, as an unendurable mischievously savage burden. I would count Tarchetti’s Fosca as an Italian Victorian gothic novella — in the modern translation by Lawrence Venuti it’s retitled Passion, the influence of Sondheim’s musical-opera.

It doesn’t take much to see many of the characters in gothic mysteries and crime stories as disabled people stigmatized as “other.” A reading of recent disability studies might open up a whole new area of humane investigation from this point of view, and this has been already begun. An issue of Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies — 6.2 (2012) — is dedicated to disability studies. The central point is made that disability is partly in the eye of the society who defines a series of traits as disability and then sees the person with these as “others”; then the purpose of the issue is to explore how disability is presented in literature. There are essays on “Late Victorian Gothic,” disability in romance, disability in crime and mystery novels.

The claim is persuasively made that crime and mystery novels have often centered on disabled people seen as villains, freaks, or the detective him or herself (mentally different you see). This kind of insight is fueling the new British Sherlock, arguably both Martin Freeman and Bernard Cumberbatch play high-functioning autistic or Aspergers characters who find deep friendship and a metier in helping other outside the cultural norm.

NewWatson
First shot of Dr Watson (Martin Freeman) home from war

Moving slightly away from Victorian texts, it’s argued in these essays that there are far more openly disabled characters in popular fiction than ever before, but the question is whether there has been really a development of understanding or empathy or it’s a reinforcing voyeurism in the service of enforcing normalcy. I know everyone is tired of hearing of Downton Abbey, but the presence of a character like Mr Bates is part of this new openness. What’s remarkable about Gaskell for example is by the end of her presentation the central characters have not been re-coopted into conventional patterns; they are not made “all well.”And to give Fellowes his due for once, Mr Bates is not co-opted back into “all well.” He remains outside the “norm” with his menacing dignity. The actor, Brendan Coyle, was given a central role in the film adaptation of Gaskell’s Cranford Chronicles.

I suggest a study of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights from the point of disability studies (her verse too) might open whole new points of view on Heathcliff and Emily Bronte herself, the occasional half-hysterical violence of that book, the apartness of her poetry and various stories about Emily herself. Isabella Linton Heathcliff may well be a portrait of a woman unable to cope with social demands, and reacting grotesquely.

There’s also Fictions of Affliction by Martha Stoddard Holmes: her figures in include Madame Neroni, Dickens’s Jenny Wren (Our Mutual Friend), Tiny Tim, Wilkie Collins’s Lucy Finch she also studies Henry Mayhew’s interviews with disabled street vendors; autobiographical writings of Harriet Martineau and John Kitto, both deaf; and biographies of two public figures who were blind, the postmaster general Henry Fawcett and the disabled-rights activist Elizabeth Gilbert.

jenny_wren-stoneblog
Contemporary illustration of Dickens’s character by Marcus Stone

Holmes is said to be interested in the melodramatic way most of these figures are presented; it’s an emotional and moral, not a medical and social struggle. Thinking about this, for Madame Neroni I would say it is a social struggle. For example, her decision not to be seen walking, the way she re-interprets what happened during her marriage. She’s not presented melodamatically either. Not that I am arguing Trollope’s portrait is of a 20th or 21st century enlightened sort, but he does bring in that she was physically abused by her husband.

Though not on Victorian literature, the insights in Rosemarie Garland Thomson: Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring disability in American literature may be used for Victorian literature.

Deafness is also often brought up as a central “type” of disability — partly because of the strong self-advocacy by the deaf, & I suggest Leonard Davis’s Enforcing Normalcy ought to inform any work done in this area; its subtitle Disability, Deafness, and the Body brings out its central focus on deafness. One of the chapters is on the first recording and understanding of deafness as a disability (not a monstrous irreversible condition) in the 18th century; this revolutionary change began in our enlightenment and its work has never been wholly undone. Another chapter makes Quasimodo a central figure.

Laughton, Charlesblogsmaller
From Charles Laughton’s brilliant performance in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Going back in time a century, Oliver Sacks’s Seeing Voices also has a long eye-opening chapter on individual courageous and insightful 18th century philosophes who developed and taught sign language to deaf people, miraculously it was thought at first, turning them from imbeciles into functioning members of society — by those who would let them function. Sacks goes into the first schools for the dear, unfortunately all too quickly in the early 19th century an attempt was made to enforce talking on the deaf in such schools, to take away from them their sign language, to beat them into submission even. One of the most moving accounts of seeing the change in deaf people once they are treated as human beings like ourselves with another way of communicating is found at the close of Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands writes: if he that speaks looks towards them, and modifies his organs by distinct and full utterance, they know so well what is spoken, that it is an expression scarcely figurative to say, they hear with the eye … It was pleasing to see one of the most [hitherto] desperate of human calamaties capable of so much help.

I’ve not published any conventional articles on this for Victorian studies. It would take such work for me — partly because I’d have to really dig into Gaskell. She seems to me a rare spirit in the Victorian period to show sympathy, but to be accurate, her empathy is with the care-taking women. One limitation of her gothic stories is she tends to show sympathy simply for the care-taker and we see the disabled person as violent or sullen from afar; a rare instance of one of her attempts at a disabled perspecive is Lady Ludlow’s Story where the story is told by Margaret Dawson; however, soon after the narrative begins and not until we get near to the end are we reminded our narrator is a crippled girl on a couch.

I also dream of writing a study of the Poldark novels and Daphne DuMaurier’s King’s General. Placed in the 17th century civil war, the latter’s about a heroine crippled from a fall from a horse: DuMaurier said she began it when she saw near Menabillies (her great house) a home-made wooden wheel chair from the later 17th century in a barn.

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This would take me back to the eighteenth century.

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Frida Kahlo, self-portrait with doctor

Thinking about Gaskell’s approach, disabilities affect women centrally as care-takers and as disabled. I’ve now gotten myself 3 books on disability studies in the humanities, two wholly devoted to how disabilities affect women, one of which I’ve begun: Michelle Fine and Adrienne Asche’s collection: Women with Disabilities. See Fine’s Disruptive Voices: Fine is the only person I’ve read to do justice to the class bias that ostracizes women who are raped when they come into clinics for help.A little from the introduction.

Because of the way society is structured, women experience disabilities much worse than men, and are much more ignored — the two go together, experienced much more excruciatingly in the area of sexual experience, so crucial to women’s lives. . I now have statistics and essays arguing what I’ve long felt to be so: the only reason it’s said more men are autistic is people care so much more about men not getting jobs or “doing well” socially; women need only be married off and have babies; plus people are more ashamed of reading women than reading men. A reading man might become a scientist, a professor, a lawyer, what is the use of a reading woman?

Why has there been little work done among feminists for women with disabilities? shamelessly, one female academic said: such studies would “reinforce traditional stereotypes of women in need, dependent, perhaps passive.” (Can’t have that.) I’ve just begun the essay in the volume on friendship between women one of whom has disabilities and the other not.

How few the conversations with people about disabilities and how even then when confronted with an individual there’s a turning away and intense discomfort, a desire not to have the burden, fear of contagion: you’ll catch it, you too will be ostracized. Disabled characters, open and disguised, are found among classic children’s books, more often than you might suppose.

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One of Yvette’s favorite books: E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan: a mute swan carries a trumpet and writing slate

Two further well-known texts include Elizabeth Spencer’s Light in the Piazza (made into a musical): the daughter is autistic. Lucy Greary’s Autobiography of a Face.

I’ve only begun Women with Disabilities but already the texts bring home to me aspects of a set of texts I’ve been studying for over two years now: Austen’s letters and the experience of discussing these with other people. Again and again I have to watch people continue to misread the emphases in these letters and ignore say Jane’s relationship with Martha Lloyd. Insist that she didn’t marry was a default option not a preference. Ignore the very real peculiarities in her character.

Recently I’ve added and compared Frances Burney D’Arblay’s life-writing and found some aspects of her compulsion to write come out of her disabilities as a child. But her life-writing is not as useful as Austen’s — she hides her disabilities since much is self-praising fictionalizing: she makes herself the central heroine of romances, the adulated, the envied, from George III’s madness to Hastings’ trial. It’s rather in her third novel, Camilla, where one of her two heroines, Eugenia, is lamed and her face disfigured early in the novel that we get an early rare example of empathy for a disabled woman in early literature: what happens to her: Eugenia ends up married to an abusive man.

For studying disability as such (not in literature) I’d much prefer to write about life-writings than novels

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How did I come to write the above? whom am I speaking to?

On the large academic literary listserv, Victoria, there had appeared a query where for a second time someone requested examples of “cripples” in a disquieting way. The person requested “gothic images of cripples” and used the word “monstrous” of such a character without any sense that she (or he) was treating a whole class of people as obvious freaks, taking aboard as it were what one would have hoped in such a place would be an outdated attitude.

I waited a while and when no response beyond that of listing such supposed characters emerged, which then morphed into citing “deaf” characters, I sent a posting which was at first rejected or over-looked as insufficiently Victorian. A little rewriting enabled it to go through the next day and then off-list I got a number of thank yous, remarks about how slow or small has been the progress of understanding of people with disabilities,and descriptions of experiences, that I decided to put the above posting on line to reach more people in the form of a continuation of a blog I wrote about a debate in articles in a humanities journal which covers popular literature as well as disabilities: is the increase in depiction of characters with disabilities creating real understanding or effective help for real people with disabilities? I asked how far fandoms prevent such growth in sympathy and how far authors and film-makers found themselves pressured into creating alienating depictions or enforcing normalcy.

And I discussed the dramatization of the experiences of characters with disabilities in the last 5 of the Poldark novels and Downton Abbey.

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The third shot of Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle, the first two show his face in the window of a train arriving at Downton, !:1)

The first time a startlingly prejudiced posting was put on Victoria I answered it too excitedly, but if I could find that posting, I’d put here on this blog now too.

Ellen

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Society is no comfort/To one not sociable — Shakespeare, Imogen, Cymbeline, IV:2, 12-13

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The Walking Stick: Deborah (Samantha Eggar) badly lamed leaning on Leigh (David Hemmings) (1970, Eric Till, Winston Graham, George Bluestone)

Dear friends and readers,

Disabled characters have increased in numbers in popular fiction & film in the last quarter century. Has there been a genuine increase in sympathetic empathy and understanding, any real help offered such people or acceptance as a result. It would seem not. I link these two phenomena to the growth of fandoms in cyberspace and elsewhere and how they effect the development of programs and series of fictions. Why there are there. I exemplify briefly with the way disabled characters from Sondheim’s Passion to Winston Graham’s mystery and Poldark novels are treated, and more at length in Downton Abbey, from Fellowes’s himself to the indifferent to hostile commentary on him & Anna, the head housemaid who loves him.

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A spin-off from both the APA/ACA and ASECS conferences: in both there were roundtable panels on “disability studies: I feared not enough would be said in the more casual talks these roundtables offer to take up enough time and the audience would be called upon to talk, and then feared I’d reveal myself too much or get too involved. I have seen academic people present themselves as interested in isabilities and found that they were not, except as an abstract topic; worse, if I probed I discovered the people were just as strong for enforcing “normalcy” (on behalf of “success”), just as prejudiced (not taking a whole personality into account, not being willing to critique their definitions of success), fearful and/or nervous in their reactions. I worried I’d feel angry or know intense dismay.

So I didn’t go, and now regret this because what I did do was take down names of journals, books and periodicals with disability studies for today. First off I learned that in the last quarter century there’s been a huge increase in the number of disabled characters in popular fiction. It might be the disabled characters were always there in mystery-crime fiction, though not acknowledged, as villains or victims, but not being acknowledged, presented as freaks, or evil, or reprehensible in some way. But this is a big change to presenting people with disabilities in a sympathetic or seeming sympathetic way. Nowadays disability is also popular in historical fiction and romance. So that I noticed so many disabled characters in Winston Graham does not show originality on his part, but rather a following of a zeitgeist.

I won’t cite the names of the articles or journals separately unless someone asks for these (in the comments) which is most unlikely, just describe generally. Most were studies of texts or art in the close reading humanities way today (looking sociologically, how they function in society). Basically there were two schools of thought: one argues that the new wave of appearances of disabled characters is not increasing any real understanding or sympathy for people with disabilities because 1) at the end the disabled person is forcibly or seemingly willingly co-opted into the “normal” world, made to seem “normal” and the point is to defuse the person as a threat, on the way the emphasis in portrayal is the disability itself with full utterly varied richness of people ignored; it’s voyeurism; and 2) we see very little progress in the outer world for funding, real acceptance, or even understanding in wider circles of people. The other argues that the spread of such depictions does help; little by little the stories make people no longer ignore the disabled, no longer erase them altogether, and does gradually work up sympathy and we may hope for change.

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When Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) wants to visit the crippled Mrs Smith (Helen Schlesinger), her father rages at her with open disgust for her “queer” tastes (from the 1995 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell, Nick Dear)

Then there are essays on particular works or authors or sub-genres: how disabled people are presented in romance; how presented in mystery-crime stories (where they’ve long been an unacknowledged central type, either as villain or victim); in later Victorian gothic. The way they are discussed in non-fiction case histories, which sometimes turn out to be obtuse fictions which promulgate single-minded freakish stereotyped views, e.g., Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night which invites voyeurism. Once in a while a particular writer or work is found which increases understanding and sympathy. The value of these is if you want to do such studies they show you how to do and what’s said, and give you insights.

Two good books are worth noting: Women with Disabilities, ed. Michelle Fine (and others). Fine’s the one who’s done intelligent candid studies of how women who have been raped are treated, women’s studies. The kind of character includes is Fosca in Tarchetti’s book (now called Passion from Sondheim): I’ve noticed again and again women who are presented as disabled are eroticized, made beautiful but for the disability which then adds to their alluringness (and the kick of having sex with them in the imagination apparently). Another is more historical and crosses gender, class, ethnicity: Rosemarie Garland Thomson: Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring disability in American literature. The truth is many people still believe in disabilities only if they are physical.

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Fosca from Passion, made plain not crippled (yet this came from a website mocking the addictive love affair)

From what I’ve read thus far I think the those who say this increase in visibility has not led to a gain in empathy or understanding are right. Even when the novel does not enforce normalcy, readerships insist on misreading the fiction to emphasize a happy ending at the close — happy being equivalent to assimilation and erasure. From what I’ve seen in real life — the cutting off of funding, the cutting out of Aspergers from the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Physicians Manuel), and the increase in coercive techniques & drugs among psychologists again those who say more visibility has not helped are right. No one really has a mechanism for helping such people gain self-sustaining employment for or proposes helping older adults socially for real at all.

Misreading in terms of the readers’ own identity needs, to throw off a threat of anything unknown or new leads me to the other related topic I heard discussed at the conference and want to consider again. Next time (if there is one for me at either conference), and if I have a chance to go on panels about fandoms, fanzines, I will. The book here is Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins.

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Fandoms are one aspect of different ways of life in the Net that are reactions the increasing anonymity and loss of community in US life, the impoverishment of individuals and high unemployment rate so that people come onto the Net to find community, meaning when there is nothing where they live. These groups replace religious communities too, can be a religious community, and they are real. It’s another instance where the idea that what happens on the Net is not real is false. In the 1950s Richard Hoggart wrote a book called The Uses of Literacy where he argued that TV was being used to create “imagined communities” which through propaganda and loyalty to shows inculcated in people Tory reactionary values; again people at a loss, people left out, communities devastated by global capitalism; the book was re-issued during the 1980s Thatcher years.

But it’s not true that these are imagined and unreal communities. These groups of people active and aggressive; authors ignore them at their peril. They meet outside the Net when they can and influence where they can. They will punish, ostracize, exclude the person who takes a different view and attack that. I have found it very painful to deal with such people; actually I can’t, don’t know how to. They can be group bloggers. They can be seen whirling to some extent around mini-series programs, Games of Thrones say or Downton Abbey.

How do you recognize a fandom. It’ll be a message board where anonymity is enforced, and thus no one held accountable. No personal relationships can develop easily. In the case of films or TV, the re-doing of bits of films in YouTube videos to change the original meanings of scenes to fit what the fans want and posting of these. They can be embarrassing. Fierce conversations which a given aggressive individual will not give up. I’d say worse than some of what happens on Austen-l only it’s moderated so the two or three people moderating immediately shut up whoever has said what they don’t agree with (they were particularly fierce over sex), “community” activities centered on the actors and stars of the films and a whole range of sociological or psychological phenomena having to do with inventing a fictional identity. They do meet outside the Net when they can. A pre-screening of the new Sherlock in a New York movie-house brought fans from around the country to meet in the movie-house, see their movie, eat and talk together afterward.

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A deeply sexual shot: Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees about to go to bed together as Ross and Demelza Poldark (1975 Part 7)

Examples include Harry Potter, Batman, Dr Who, Star Wars, long-running TV programs. My experience has been with the Winston Graham Society webpage, really a message board dedicated to discussing two of the famous stars from the first mini-series: Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees (although she’s dead now). I had read in Graham’s autobiography this group succeeded in damning a 1996 film and making it impossible to go on; a paper I heard at ACA showed that the group influenced the second season of the films. I was told by one woman my discussion of disability, violence and sex in Graham’s fiction “deeply upset” her so how dare I? No one should write about this series what could upset her, no details allowed. I had notice how many disabled (often autistic) characters Graham has in his Poldark and mystery novels; how he studies alienation (Marni) and individual loss sympathetically and wanted to discuss this. The shattering of one of the heroines from continual marital rape; the reality the hero rapes one of the chief heroines and the son they have, neglected and over-indulged (anything but taken care of) after her death grows up disturbed and lonely enough to reach out for an orangutan as a companion. Forget it.

Facebook pages dedicated to famous stars or authors identified as conservative and classic, or with some ethnicity or doctrine. The audience for Austen’s books is leavened because it includes different types of people, academics and heritage industry and there’s a lot of money to be made on sequels and conferences and tourism so the fandom cannot invent this world of its own and control the material. Austen has prestige, her texts are not considered trivial and worthless in the way of say Star Trek and other texts around which fandoms whirl. These groups dislike any criticism of their author; they will justify or excuse or explain away the smallest unfavorable remark. Their identities have become involved, their egos, their self-image. They build whole worlds around their texts & shows.

Tellingly, for people interested to see if popular fiction that has a wide enthusiastic audience can function to increase the sympathetic imagination, the fiercest hostile responses come from any assertion that the fetishized material explores sexuality or gender in unconventional ways, has an ambiguous or sad ending, shows the hero to be less than admirable (violent for example, politically radical).

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I’ll end on the treatment of disability in Downton Abbey, the first season. Since I think I do not misread, I cannot tell what the misreading would be precisely, probably in the direction of scorn or dismissal or somehow turning the disability into what’s normal if “unwanted,” as Sir Anthony Strallon was treated in the third season, or silence, as the man with the heinously disfigured face was in the second — both given over to the program-scapegoat, Edith.

In the first part of Downton Abbey, the lamed Mr Bates is almost fired because few will accept his disability: most take it as a blemish on community, insist he will not be able to do his job, a few ridicule him, a couple (that’s enough) tell false tales; Lord Grantham almost fires him but his decency and better self seeing the cruelty and injustice of the act, keeps him on at the close of the hour.

In the third part, Mr Bates still driven by fear he’ll be fired, tormented by cruel jeering or physical gestures (as when Miss Obrien trips and humiliates him) buys an instrument of torture to make himself walk more straight. As the hour wears on we see Bates in pain, leaning over in agony, having a sour expression, indeed not be able to do his job. (In the context of the hour’s juxtaposition, the parallel is the ejection of Pamuk’s corpse from Lady Mary’s room after he half-rapes her; both are trash which ruin the body and probably spirit of the character.) Finally Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper insists on seeing what is wrong with Mr Bates, and he shows her his leg, now covered with blood and sores from the contraption on it.

As ever Fellowes is on the side of the mainstream: we next see the pair by the side of a river on the property. Mr Bates has agreed to throw the thing away. The lesson Mrs Hughes instructs Mr Bates to remember is: “I promise I will never again try to cure myself, I will spend my life happily as the butt of others’ jokes and I will never mind them.” Mrs Hughes: “We all carry scars Mr Bates, inside or out, you’re no different than the rest of us, remember that.” Mr Bates: “I will try to that I do promise.” And then he hurls it off, and she cries “good riddance.’

The part about not trying to cure oneself is good — autism month should be called autism acceptance month. The group of articles I have include two arguing the higher ends of autism include people who are in many ways more gifted than the average and would not have to consider themselves disabled if others didn’t ostracize and punish them. And Mr Bates is doing his job fine. But the second part half-blaming Mr Bates and saying it was he who considered himself different is the narrow cold-shouldering mind of the establishment speaking, demanding in effect (were he autistic) that he be neurotypical and leads to people purchasing such contraptions or having painful useful dangerous operations. Stiff upper lip. Never admit to anything.

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Mr Bates and Anna (Joanna Froggart) end of Part 5: he getting into cart

As far as I could tell from reading the fan’s responses to the hour, they were sympathetic to the obtuse and mean Lady Mary; in his notes to the script Fellowes exclaimed against letters to him decrying a supposed buggery — the people couldn’t endure that Lady Mary should lose her virginity (hymen) so they jumped to the conclusion buggery had occurred and this was why the man had a heart-attack (!). (How revealing of silent suppositions this is.) And on-line people quickly tired of Mr Bates — by the second season as homely and a “sob-story” (“passive-aggressive” was a favorite phrase)and felt excruciated when (they felt) asked to identify with Anna, for they would not have fallen in love with Mr Bates as she slowly does for his intelligence, integrity, good nature, refusal to kowtow or forsake his dignity, good heart (of which we see instances).

A friend wrote:

Mrs. Hughes’s comment that ‘we all carry scars’ nags me, however. Who is the “we?” On the first glance, I’d take it to be a universal statement–the series shows that everyone, upstairs or downstairs, has their problems, but I’m not convinced it is a universal “we.” (I’m sure Fellowes meant it to be.) Is the “we” the servants? However, whether or not Mrs. Hughes “we” is universal, this leads me to think that disability plays out differently between servants and masters — Matthew’s Hemingwayesque war wound, leaving him “crippled” and impotent, is a parallel to Mr. Bates’ disability — both
are physical and both call into the question each man’s ability to do his primary “job” — in Matthew’s case of course, to “make the heir,” but one has a miraculous cure and the other not …

Yes. Who is the we? In the case of the servants, they have no buffer or support to help them if they are rejected, so they must conform and if they cannot, must not complain.

I was told again and again how my blogs on Downton Abbey took “a different view,” and at times (especially around the character of Edith whose scapegoating I exposed) attacked. Twenty years from now attitudes will have frozen and it will be hard to talk freely to those still remembering (many will no longer but move on). I never did discuss disability in Downton Abbey. I should have. So have made up for that now.

Ellen

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Shoverdose: @lizzieskurnick’s word for binge-watching a TV series.

Humpty Dumpty: ‘You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word … [Lewis Carroll] For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious”. Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first … if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “‘frumious’.

‘Nowadays people curate their experience of TV and cinema films’

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Mr Bates (Brendon Coyle) quietly crying — fired because a disabled man (Downton Abbey, Season 1:1)

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Anna Smith (Joanne Froggart) come to comfort the just fired Mr Bates — saying “Tell us how you are getting on …. ” Downton Abbey 1:1) — it is true that we remember this subliminally in the 3rd season whey she & Bates are happy in Scotland

Dear friends and readers,

Among the many unusual subjects treated seriously at the recent American Popular Culture and American Culture Association country-wide conference in DC, was that of soap opera and serial story-telling. This phenomena on TV and in film was treated in sessions on it; in British Popular Culture (which includes mini-series); in Gender Studies on TV ( made up of programs with a serial arch, e.g., Girls, West Wing); and some of the many sessions on film adaptations.

This is a blog about who and how people watch soap operas and serial dramas nowadays; how people participate as fans on the Internet: very differently since we have all these new technologies which put us in control. We curate our experience of TV. Passionate fans influence and shape what they watch if it becomes popular. I offer a new word: shoverdose (show-overdose). I summarize a few papers on specific serials, including those on the CW channel, Days of Our Lives, an older Police Procedural, Downton Abbey, and Poldark and in these you will find summarized characteristics found in soap operas and serial story-telling.

I admit I don’t have any summaries on Jane Austen mini-series — that’s because I didn’t hear any papers on Austen mini-series. I admit to shoverdosing: on the 1995 Ang Lee & Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility; Andrew Davies‘s Little Dorrit and Sense and Sensibility; the 1981 Brideshead Revisited; lots of people have shoverdosed on Davies’s 1995 P&P and Fay Weldon’s 1979 P&P, Simon Raven’s The Pallisers.

So on soap opera and serial story-telling, how we watch these nowadays and a few of them: Two sessions on specific soap operas, one on the Poldark novels versus the two mini-series and Downton Abbey and a paper from a Film session on war films. First I’ll cover how people experience soap opera or serial story-telling on TV today and then specific serial dramas.

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TextualPoachers

On Saturday, 9:45, Soap Opera II (4201) featured two papers, Marion Wren’s “Short Attention Span Theater: The Cultural Status of TV serial narratives in a Post-network era” and MJ Robinson’s “Curatorial Culture and the Future of Serialized TV.”

Wren asked, How do we watch TV? Jessica Helfand has argued that the Internet media has turned people into skimmers, people who multi-task, and skim an article while doing many other things on-line. The result is “narrative deprivation:” people have ceased to deep read.

Pessimism and anxiety lies behind such formulations. For example, Helfand does not take into account the phenomenon of binge watching (sometimes referred to as shoverdose — show overdose) which the availability of DVDs and all sorts of ways of controlling and time-shifting our watching has enabled us to do. Someone sits down and watches a whole season of whatever program he or she wants over several extended hours. This is diametrically diferent frmo the way audiences once watched serials and TV.

She suggested that advertisers have only the crudest methods and points of view on the audiences for such soap operas and serial TV and films. They regard viewers as so many eyeballs and when they can try to count them. So Downton Abbey drew 7.9 million for the 1st instalment of the 3rd season. One element in its success is its framing as “legacy,” as “heritage,” as elite and upper class. Therefore that it becomes the object of obsessive viewing is legimitized. Its upper class content and status as quality drama makes it a form of aspiration. This is what the branding did in this case. In previous sociological events of this type it was Jane Austen (the 1995 P&P), elite books and quality drama (Brideshead), historical heritage and regional cults (Upstairs, Downstairs, Cornwall for Poldark whom Graham said was first likened to GWTW).

Ms Wren then turned to examine what we know of the behavior of fandoms that surround such experiences. Henry Jenkins has written about them in Textual Poachers. Jenkins wrote that these fans are not assive; they are a participating culture; they are creative and extend the universe of the show to fit their preconceptions. They work at this, once upon a time by forming clubs, traveling to sites, writing fan letters, now by blogging, tweeting, again traveling to meet one another, by illegal downloading, by using web 2.0 media (I saw that in Poldark where fake videos misrepresenting the mini-series were made). They influenced the author and later seasons by their aggressive demands and insistent views. Both the makers and the viewers may be said to conspire together to often emphasize surprise to mystify the experience, to guard outsiders and one another from showing their what is the real motivation and need served. Viewers invent legitimizing narratives. The audience are communities to be exploited.

I was reminded of Richard Hoggart’s older book on The Uses of Literacy. He argued way back in the 1950s that TV was used politically; to persuade people they were part of imagined (= unreal) communities who espoused a group of values, values which were in this way proselytized for.

The real problem is to turn this into a business model to make as much money from it as possible. Ms Wren mentioned that AMC did not like when fans came onto twitter as faux characters; they felt this was plagiarism and maybe the fans would make money themselves. Twitter was told to pull such tweets and it did. The fans got very mad and AMC let them go back online as a form of on-line advertising because they did see the unlikelihood most fans would make any money.

Ms Wren seemed to want to suggest that binge watching, tweeting creatively about such a serial is depth viewing. But is it? What do the fans write? They write narratives and stay on the surface and miss much of the nuance of what itself is not subtle. OTOH, shoverdose is such a denigrating word and I know that immersion in a script, close study of parts of a mini-series (the juxtaposed shots) and its course texts and intertextuality yields as much depth of knowledge and understanding as any George Eliot novel.

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By “Curatorial Culture” Ms MJ Robinson meant how viewers today can organize, select, arrange their own programming: “nowadays people curate their own experience of TV and cinema film.” In the past 5 years what has happened to TV watching resembles what happened in the 15 years to music listening and the last decade to journalism. TV watching used to be top down: the executives chose when you would watch, and you had to stay within the patterns of airing set forth by the channel. TV now can be consumed at any time, any where on a variety of machines. TVs come with “apps”. On YouTube viewers make their own movies. There is such a behavior as “churning:” people join briefly to watch whatever is the promotional offering and then unsubscribe.

Thus the Nielson family viewer ratings which the TV larger channels still cling to (partly they don’t want to know how few people might watch a program or who they are or even what is preferred for real) are hopelessly outdated. The “televisual has become an undifferentiated landscape.” What happens is programmers are fighting for audience shares that they do not know how to translate into direct revenue. Or they are trying to monetize the serial watching in new ways. For example, Netflix did a deal with a Norwegian company to release 8 episodes of a very popular serial, but it was set up in a way that forced the viewer to watch them sequentially.

The aim is to find out when content is used and attach an advertisement to the use. There was always a problem predicting popularity which often increases slowly. So Seinfeld had ratings in the basement in the first season and in the second, soared. The Poldark mini-series was at first ridiculed. Now the difficulty is much greater. On the Internet you find an increasing number of “apps” where to watch a program you have to click on “facebook” first (or twitter or some other social media place) and that way you are counted.

Companies keep their data to themselves. Netflix does not release its the ratings it has from its rentals publicly. There are laws against cable companies mining their data; your privacy is protected unless you are thought to be part of Al Quaeda. They’ve never been able to predict with any ease what the public will make a cult about next.

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HelenMirrenasConcernedCopblog
Helen Mirren as Concerned Cop (Prime Suspect, Season 6)

Soap Opera II at 9:45 also had a paper on a channel dedicated to soap operas for teenage girls, and Soap Opera III at 11:30 (4301) papers on what made a commercial success, a specific mainstream program breaking taboos and types of programs not seen as soaps but have the same characteristics.

A brief survey of the serials discussed. Kayti Lausch discussed the CW channel and its teen serials, i.e., Gossip Girls, Vampire Diaries (any title with the word “diary” in it is aimed at girls), Secret Circle, Melrose Place, The Beautiful Life. Voice-over also identifies a show as for women. In type they are very like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The characters are often mean to one another and there is a lot of conventionalized sex. The characters are rarely at work or school, and when they are there, their interest is not in their work; there is little for the young women to do, and every week there’s some sort of party.

Melissa Ames suggested that when the content really reflects the mood and of a given era the serial is a success. The problem with this is you end up offering a tautology as an explanation, e.g., since this show demonized the rich was a success its era was one where the rich were propagandized against. She described repeating typical stories: revenge is popular, melodramatic deaths, mistaken identities, the fragility of loyal love, tawdry trials, and of course the family is central. She suggested the programs she studied shows any sense of shared sacrifice has faded, people blame victims, escapist content preferred. She had in mind programs like Dallas, the Sopranos, Games of Thrones, Mad Men and Downton Abbey.

Kimberly Smith discussed the introduction of gay characters into The Days of Our Lives. Gay characters had been seen in soap operas from 1991 on, but Days of Our Lives made Sonny Kiriakis, a character central to the series, a member of one of the primary families, and Will Horton, a son of another family fall in love. Ms Smith screened a powerful scene where Horton’s father comes in to object and is clearly intensely hostile, and another where the two lovers behave sentimentally and emotionally the way heterosexual couples are often filmed. Some of the fans protested hysterically but enough accepted to make this pair of characters a staple of the show.

Roberta Brody described a specific serial called Law and Order, which has since had a number of imitations: it did not tell the personal lives of the police; the story was tightly organized, a new case or set of characters brought in for each episode; little back story even for the central case; it’s an ensemble cast (so costs less as there is no star salary); heavily event-driven, with abrupt closings. These share elements with soap operas: melodrama (provocation, pangs, and penalties); themes include heinous rimes, victims who are victims but if they have committed a crime are punished; a conflict of duty and personal feeling; hidden babies, rejected children, rebellious teenagers at risk; poor choice of partners (husbands, wives); substance abuse, mental illness, and loneliness for central characters. She went over a typical story. Her thesis was that the soap opera elements are rarely acknowledged and part of the reason for the series’ success.

I asked if these had evolved in Police Procedural like Prime Suspect and Five Full Days where we do learn about the detectives’ lives, and have feminist themes. She insisted that these “new” kinds of Police Procedurals did not belong to “proper” Law and Order programs; had been influenced by PBS or BBD mystery series. I asked if the Law and Order programs had been aimed at men, and instead of answering this, she said that when it was discovered men watched more than women, women were added to the permanent cast.

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Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, officer, saving one of his men, another man waiting to help (Downton Abbey 2:1)

I heard three papers on Downton Abbey. The first, by Joanna Abtahi, was one of three on depictions of WW1 in Film and History (Thursday 9:45 am, 2244). She said DA was the first season presented as frivolous escapist fare which climaxed suddenly in the Earl of Grantham declaring the nation is at war. The second season saw a dramatic transformation. This character-driven drama now presented itself as accurate. She presented the view of the great war as a useless waste of millions of life, futile, with the ordinary man seen as indispensable as simply the “conventional usual view;” and argued that DA was countering this with the idea that the war created meaningful experiences, showed that the patriarchy was concerned for the social order, with the community pulling together in the face of “great peril.” Matthew’s behavior shows he deserves his authority; The snobbish selfish Mary becomes care-worn, Sybil a nurse who runs off with Branson, Thomas hitherto a villain, an understandable man, who destroys his hand to escape death on the battlefield, and cries over a suicidal patient. She suggested that the program suggested today the UK is more trustful of its government (! — ignoring the huge strikes against the destructive Tory elite gov’t).

John Greenfield and Janice Blandford gave papers on Downton Abbey in “British Popular Culture 4 (Thurs, 1:15 pm, 2420) which startled me: they took the program at its surface value and did not critique its values; Ms Blandford seemed to think the portrait of Robert Grantham (she called him Robert) was realistic. Ms Blandford bought into Edith as vicious, Daisy as dutiful and therefore gaining an obliged new father who helps her “assert herself.” Robert feels the “way elite people then felt about their estates” (high idealism); upholding the social order right and good. Mr Greenfield claimed in the 3rd season Robert (he also did not call the character Lord Grantham) is humiliated and defeated in the 3rd season (victim of new technology and world); Mrs Hughes is strong in the way she befriends Ethel and defies Mr Carson; Edith has become a feminist; a gay plot came to the forefront (! — it has been there all along); Tom transcends his old role; it all ends on “the exhilarating [?] birth of the child.” The death of Matthew he thought must’ve prompted shouts of “swerve” “swerve” across “the nation.” He conceded the woman servants were oppressed.

The reality is Lord Grantham remains in charge throughout and only he has the power to make the police go away and not arrest Matthew. He says he values Matthew for his cricket-playing.

Mr Greenfield discussed serial story-telling in a Freudian way. He suggested its serial production allowed for twists and turns and multiple plots and death, and that Fellowes has mastered the form and uses it captivatingly. He quoted Linda Hughes and Michael Lund on the serial novel in Victorian magazines: pleasure may be discharged again and again as female sexuality is supposed enjoyed (as opposed to male which does not practice sustained arousal).

I raised my hand and said, “lets imagine Anthony Trollope seeing this series. He’d laugh raucously. Great houses are political linch-pins where wheeling and dealing and patronage goes on. As to all these abstractions, he’d see through it as unreal.” I described Trollope’s fiction which Fellowes has been influenced by but where Fellowes’ mind is fuzzy and narrowly aimed; Trollope is precise with wide and thorough knowledge of his era.

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Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark returning from the rape of Elizabeth (Poldark, 1975-76, Part 15)

Julie Taddeo’s paper (in the same Thursday session on British Popular Culture) was on the treatment of women in the Poldark worlds’ she compared the way Ross’s rape of Elizabeth was treated in TV mini-series as opposed to the Poldark novels. For a summary, see continuation in comments section.

Ellen

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John Norris, soldier who with Francis Drake commanded expedition to the coast of Spain, 1589

The longer memory, of there being no peace in the world, of fear and danger outside and a limited safety within — Bk 1, Ch 1, p 10

Greatness is a condition of brain and marrow: it is in no way connected with virtue, which is a condition of the soul (invented flavor-Elizabethan English given Ralegh, Bk 4, Ch 4, p 185

A man at the centre of great events can often at the time see only the small ones which surround him and oppress him with their personal demands. Even an awareness that events have have moved past him and left him behind … Bk 5, Ch 1, p 389

Dear friends and readers,

The crux or impulse for writing this novel was an obscured historical record & betrayal. In his (unusual) note to readers at the close of his book, Graham shows that he was compelled by the very obscurity and enigmatic nature of the records which did nonetheless reveal their story to the thinking or candid mind; and that aim is what was lost. What he got was protests over his reporting the sordid, unheroic and treacherous desperate nature of what happened disguised as objections to his literal departures from history.

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I finished Groves of Eagles. I knew my blog written (see Graham’s other historical fiction &c) when I was more than half-way through lacked the necessary knowledge to be able to give a sense of the full shape of the book. Now I realize the ending (to be expected) throws a perspective on the whole book. In this instance it also gives the key to why the author wrote it, why (as Graham clearly planned), he didn’t go on with another. The ending also crystalized some central themes, linking it up with The Forgotten Story on the one hand (Cornwall, 1898, based on a newsprint shipwreck story) and the Poldark novels on the other (1783-1820, Cornwall but also by the time he’s done Paris, Belgium, and Portugal). And finally we learn who the hero’s mother was and that the true heroine of the book is the hero’s long-suffering step-mother, the effectively abject endlessly pregnant and sexually betrayed Dorothy Killigrew.

The book closes with the result of Graham’s character John Killigrew’s betrayal of his trust as the keeper of Pendennis castle: in desperate straits financially, Killigrew in the book accepted bribes from the Spanish to allow them to land; as in the previous Armada, the ships were far too unwieldly to make it through the Channel in storms, and fail to land and invade; they are further hindered by English ships coming back from the West Indies and the Atlantic where they had gone to plunder and invade others. He is taken before the Queen’s Council, and while not found guilty for sure, is imprisoned (more discreetly) as a debtor When the father has his “trial,” Elizabeth I (who appears) and her counselors appear to believe the man was not treacherous, but the next day he is hauled off to jail for debt and there does not seem any way of freeing him. The jail is a place where people sicken and die.

His son, our narrator-hero, Maughan, goes home to find his father’s house being emptied out by debtors, his stepmother giving birth again, helped once again by the physician-witch Katherine Footmarker; soldiers with an new Captain in charge of Pendennis Castle; debt collectors taking charge of everything else in sight. Maughan proceeds to eject everyone he can. Maughan has to make a much compromised way out for himself and do what he can to salvage his stepmother’s fate by accepting what he regards as bleak choices, which includes marriage to the female protagonist I had thought (but no longer do) was to be the main and idealized heroine, Sue, at the price (what she demands) of accepting a place from Henry Howard whom Maughan dislikes, and distrusts. Sue is no Demelza.

That this betrayal and the way it was treated in court and the historical record was central to the impulse to write his book (and perhaps a series of books set in Cornwall during the Renaissance) is revealed in Graham’s final note “to Purists” whose irritation I now understand. The purpose of the Note is to tell the readers that the story of the actual historical John Killigrew is close to that told of the fictional one in the book and was found by Graham in local Cornish and London records. So too that of his historically real “base” son, Maughan, who was also captured, kidnapped, imprisoned in Spain and then attached to the Spanish court. It may be that Graham took liberties (as all historical fiction writers must do), but the main thrust and most of the details of the lives of these Killigrews and Ralegh (including the climactic court case) remains close to the historical truth.

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Portuguese carracks off fortified coast

It seems that Graham was attacked by his readership on the grounds that he had not stayed true to literal history and pickayune fusses were made of places where he departed. From the way Graham writes it seems that he does not realize these attacks are stalking horses for the real objection: the readers did not like his exposure of the realities of betrayal by these English heroes; they didn’t like his unheroic treatment of war at sea (the senseless raid on Cadiz if what was wanted was any wealth or control) as a mess, awful, pointless much of it. And ironically (showing his distance from this pop readership) what attracted Graham was that the central core of Killigrew’s story remained implicit, the reality that what goes down onto the historical record is half-lies, delusions (as Ralegh’s tales of what he founds in Guiana which in the book are suggestively rightly undercut).

Thus Graham in his note to “purists:”

This has been a novel primarily about the Killigrews, a not unimportant Cornish family whose history appears and disappears tantalisingly among the records of time. Sometimes the bare facts of their existence are recorded, sometimes the facts are richly and revealingly clothed, sometimes there are frustratiosn and impenetrable silence …
     There are a number of eye-witness reports of the raid on Cadiz, most famous, no doubt, Ralegh’s own. But in the main I have relied on an unpublished manuscript in the Lambeth Palace Library, probably written by someone on Ralegh’s flagship; and it is on this manuscript that I have depended for the account of Ralegh’s adventure the night before the battle — an adventure which, at least in detail, seems to have escaped his numerous biographers-and also for the story of the loss of the Peter of Anchusen. The treasure fleet at Cadiz was in fact not burned until twenty-four hours later than stated in this book.
     The extent to which John Killigrew became committed to the Spanish cause is perhaps arguable, but the evidence which exists does seem to me conclusive. Not only Facy’s report on William Love’s statement, mentioned in the novel, but many other reports of a like nature which filtered in at the end of 1597 and continued to do so through much of the following year. William Astell’s testimony, February 22, 1598, was that it was rumoured at the Groyne (Coruna) that John Killigrew had been executed for treason. Peter ScobIe reported May 5, 1598, that while a prisoner of the Spaniards he was constantly questioned as to whether John Killigrew had been put to death or was in prison. But the conclusive testimony comes from the Spanish side-hints and references in various letters-and perhaps most of all in the order issued by the Adelantado that those at Falmouth were to be well used during the landing, all others put to the sword.
     I have no evidence that Ralegh spoke up for John Killigrew when he was brought to London to answer for his behaviour, but it is not out of keeping with his character that he should have done so

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Christmas ritual parade by tavern

We actually have a pair of heroines at the close. Dorothy Killigrew who has been such a faithful sexual partner, submissive to John Killigrew (endlessly pregnant) leaves a letter to her husband, offering him her last 10 pounds (Bk 5, ch 10, p 465):

Old letters always have a pathos, seeing these after so many years brings back that time with a poignancy. Perhaps not so much for my father … but for poor Dorothy Killigrew and for all that time of youth and striving and and the stress of a life gone forever

This is one of many passages which suggest the book actually is supposed to be a story retold from a mid-17th century perspective that Graham meant to write his Elizabeth chronicles up to.

Maughan remembers how this stepmother did all she could for him, was of “noble soul,” ever kind (if quietly so), and tells us he saved this letter ever after.

And it’s revealed Katherine Footmarker was indeed Maughan’s mother. Of genteel but lower origins than suited John’s father and without money, the marriage was forbid and it was though she died. But she turned up in Cornwall. Again with no explanation we see that though once John Killigrew loved her and treated her son well, he had learned to hate her for standing for what he had lacked (the courage to marry her) and in the end did him in (his desire for pomp, luxury, the world’s admiration, power). Katherine Footmarker saved her son a number of times, taught him medicine — Maughan has a Dwight Enys side.

While these shattered and half-ghost heroines were probably not meant to function as sympathetic heroines for us to bond with in the later books, in this one re-read that is how they emerge — along with Meg who solaced and saved Maughan when young. We might think of Sue as the equivalent of Arabella in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (or maybe Sue herself). Why do I say this? I surmise another heroine would have emerged in a second volume of “the Killigrews.”

I began to see too that the deeply enjoyed ritualistic Christmas festival that occurred in the opening of the book and repeated as ever sadder lost moments as the book proceeds was to be brought back again at the opening of the next. In the Poldark books these seasonal moments of gathering characteristically occur at the books’ close

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Irish coast where 1st Armada ships crashed

The book also does come most alive when set in Cornwall. Then we get these evocative descriptions of land, weather, the passing of time

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Walter Ralegh and his son, painted 1602

The book has a sort of surprise final conclusion in its very last pages, one which we don’t foresee but when it comes seems what was to be expected. What else could Maughan do now?. Maughan marries Sue but in an atmosphere of intense disillusion, bleakness, dissrust. As with Clowance finding out that Stephen Carrington had been such an egregious liar, their marriage was even bigamous ((Poldark Twisted Sword), so Maughan discovers that Sue knowing he was alive went ahead with her marriage to the older man who now dead has provided them with far more money than she admits — we see this in the house they move into. She insists he break with Ralegh and his old Cornish familial connections as the price of her body (in effect). He could hold on, but he sees how tenuous is Ralegh’s hold, if not the place as a servant to Ralegh’s wife that he was offered. Does he want to stay in Cornwall? how ambitious is he? Enough. He also decides to leave apparently to escape the tragedy of his father and step-mother’s home. It’s taken over by a new daughter-in-law, calculating hard.

I had thought Sue in type like Graham’s Elizabeth Chynoweth, but I’m wrong there; she’s a character in her own right, keenly ambitious and amoral and not likely to tell Maughan the truth when it doesn’t suit her. At first Sue seemed merely prudent or cautious in the manner of say Graham’s Clowance, but her determination to make Maughn work for a man he distrusts and despises (Howard, and we have seen with cause — Howard threatens Maughan with his reversion to Catholicism to avoid torture, starvation, execution by burning); Sue’s willingness to use a threat of marriage to another man rather than Maughn rather reminds me of Elizabeth (see especially Part 5, Ch 8, pp 452-54). Sue thinks she is going to get more power, money, prestige, and forgets the full bargain is Arundell will end up owning her and she becomes subject to him as happened in the Warleggan-Elizabeth marriage. But she is also Rowella (Four Swans) ruthless sexually too.

There are moments at the close where Maughan reminded me of John Ridd in Lorna Doone.

This bleakness of the wedding ceremony for Maughan is replicated in his having taken the position with the Howards that Sue demanded Paradoxically it does seem she is right: he must sever himself from Ralegh if advancement is his aim. The Howards are going up and in history (Graham points this out in his historical note) the Howard who hires Maughan was part of the party of Britishers who rode to Scotland to invite James VI of Scotland to become James I. Ralegh is in the Queen’s favor as the book ends, but we have seen enough to know it won’t last; he can’t resist participating in deluded slaughters (another has just occurred over near the West Indies with nothing gained again). But Maughan is uncomfortable with these treacherous types around Howard, and alas, I do see this Howard is presented as homosexual and Graham makes this a real count against him. This bigotry of Graham’s would hurt him much today among an intelligent readership.

This kind of ambiguous ending is typical of the Poldark books only then we usually have an uplift of a final scene of acceptance between Ross and Demelza so it’s not so bleak except in Black Moon. There is no such scene here. The father is dying probably (he did in history). From the last sentence of the book it does seem as if Graham wanted to carry on with this book as another in a cycle, but perhaps its reception deterred him. As I say, he seems unaware the complaints couched as objections to his historicity are really aimed at his undermining the ‘glorious’ view of history perhaps common to historical novels. The one battle we do experience is mess of death, chance, destruction, misery (the attack on Spain which succeeds only like many war attacks gets nothing). They do it because it’s there said Philip Sidney then.

Not that Maughan is blamed for turning himself to participate in the conspiracy or his Catholicism — though he feels intense remorse upon remembering how he turned his mother out in the last pages of the book and was insufficiently active on Dorothy’s behalf. He abjured as soon as he could, but we see he is going down the road to compromise and corruption once again, led partly by his sexual appetite and desire to have a woman, a home, someone to cling to.

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Godolphin House, Cornwall, a building from the later 16th century (photo from Graham’s Spanish Armada, a book as much about Cornwall as the Armada)

The book is more like the first type of fiction he defined as the types he defined in his Poldark’s Cornwall: where historically real people are central. Books 1-7 of the Poldarks are all fictional people within a real setting; Books 8-12 have real people appear but not central.

Graham’s historical fiction is as relevant today as it was at the close of WW2 when he first turned to the genre. When Maughan is imprisoned, he is for a long time put in solitary confinement. We see him go more than mad, deteriorate, nearly die. It has now for the first time reached public consciousness how cruel these ordinary (yes) procedures in US prisons are. Like his dramatization of disability in the Poldarks, Graham presentation of imprisonment, captivity afterwards and why people betray others is ahead of his time.

Ellen

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