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Archive for the ‘Winston Graham’ Category

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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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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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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The Walking Stick first shots (Samantha Eggar as Deborah)

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I watched a re-digitalized (rescued, brought back) film from the 1970s made from an early book of Winston Graham’s, The Walking Stick, very powerful book (inward) — perceptive psychological study of two troubled minds, troubled from different sources. The woman because she’s disabled (crippled, had polio) and because of how her society (family, men, the demands made upon her as polio victim) have treated her. Especially difficult has been the area of sex. She has become an expert in art objects partly because she has the time to devote herself to this and likes things of beauty. The man because he was brought up in lower middle to working class English circumstances where the injuries of class in the UK were once and still are particularly searing.

My observation comes partly from a query I saw on the Sharp-l list-serv this morning but partly something I’ve been thinking about as I study Jane Austen and other classic authors turned into films who themselves never saw a movie. It’s about how novels are written. Over on Trollope19thCStudies we read an early 20th century novel by Galsworthy, The Country House and readers said they were disappointed in it. Among other things it didn’t have enough “scenes.” Also not enough inward psychology as a POV. It’s clearly not written to be screened, to be visualized on a big screen, to be enacted by an actor. Nor were his Forsyte Saga novels. My speculation is he would have written them very differently today. Ditto Jane Austen. Even if said to, her novels do not lend themselves easily to film adaptation at all; that why so many differ or imitate one another. They are short, have simple stories and often a specific POV; these things do help but beyond that … One has to invent filmic epistolarity; they call out for female narrators, not what’s wanted in popular US film at all.

In studying Trollope’s novels which have been adapted for films, the only one which did not undergo transformations continually was his story, “Malachi’s Cove,” set in Cornwall where he did mean to describe the landscape and high dramatic visualized scenes centrally.

I’ve noticed that there is a fault-line in some author’s novels between those written before the novelist got a film contract and film made out of his or her book and those written afterward. A famous case in point for me is John LeCarre. His earlier novels do not seem to me written with movies in mind. I’ll instance the gem, A Small Town in Germany. After the tremendous successes of The Spy who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, the novels’ texture, the kinds of incidents dramatized are much more the kinds we see in movies. Read The Constant Gardener and it seems written with a screenplay in mind; it just lends itself to it, even the parts that are subjective email narrative. The switches from one set of characters to another are done with juxtapositions in mind.

It’s perhaps easier to see in less well-known novelists. Last night I could see that the director of The Walking Stick to as it were work at the book to find the cinematic pictures (like of the Thames) that in later books by Graham would have been there. There is a big different between the first four Poldark novels written before the well-known first mini-series for TV and the three written I had almost said for (and it was for) the second mini-series. The second quartet written in the 1980s had the kinds of incidents favored by mini-series, which lend themselves to serial drama. I’m thinking of simple as well as complex things. In the later novels he is sure to have large gatherings, characters walking in a landscape, a POV from a character for a scene. I don’t think his novels are worse for this at all; you can see the influence of Hitchcock in his mysteries after the first one was filmed and a success.

But the earlier ones are different. The novel The Walking Stick opens with an inward monologue of the young women giving us her class background and hinting at a devastating relationship with one Leigh Hartley to come; Graham also alludes to important books for this novel, Bettelheim’s The Informed Heart is one. The film opens with our heroine stumbling along amid a huge crowd in the Tube, enduring a long ride standing among others close-packed, no one not a soul speaking to any one else, they could each be all alone. And she gets no help understanding Leigh Hartley from anyone until near the end of the novel when she has literally to interrogate people to get them to tell her information they could have told her much earlier. The film-makers thought of visibilia which captures the underside of fierce rage, thwarted ambition and asocial behavior in the young man by giving him an old car made up of parts which he madly tears through old streets in:

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Like Lost Horizon, this is a film which was not available for a long time and though not a big commercial success, a success d’estime (it began David Hemmings’s career as he plays Hartley subtly and effectively with taste just right). I now realize the only shots one could find on the Net were of the young pair at a happy moment on the seashore (a favorite place for Graham to set his scenes) where they walk and he takes her stick from her — generously, tactfully done — but it’s not so set in the novel at all. 5 shots:

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Leigh (Hemmings) makes a bargain with Deborah, she gives him an antique and he takes her stick

The partly ruined industrial landscape, the back quiet music all added.

I can’t prove this but I suggest a later novel would have opened far more visually and such visibilia scenes been in the novel or equivalents. Ditto Marnie (which did become a famous movie).

It makes sense to me that a writer might really learn a lot about how to write a novel with a film in mind by watching his or her novel adapted. Downton Abbey is much weaker in its content and meaning because there is no great book behind it, but it is continually written with TV film in mind, serial drama and this gives it freedom and power. HD operas are making a smash hit in the movies: operas are written with the stage in mind.

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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Old photo from Making Poldark: Angharad Rees and Robin Ellis as Demelza and Ross looking out over the dangerous shores of their world.

‘Mr KilIigrew had been over once afore but the rent was not paid, so we was ordered to take all the doors off, and Mr Killigrew puts an hour-glass on a pole and says if they’re not out by the time the sand is run we’re to go on and put ‘em out.’ -
     There were two white doves cooing in a cote.
     ‘Have our servants been left here since you came last!’
     ‘Aye. The house and furniture has been seized in non-payment and will all be sold. If we’d have left it Unguarded news would have got around, and other debtors would’ve stepped in and claimed a share.’
     I walked slowly into the house. Graham, Groves of Eagles

Dear friends and readers,

Since last I wrote I’ve been delving into the historicity of Graham’s 12th Poldark novel, Bella, re-read The Forgotten Story, set in Cornwall in 1898, perhaps Graham’s first historical novel since Graham wrote FS in the same year he wrote Ross Poldark, and am reading his historical fiction The Groves of Eagle, set in Cornwall in the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign. (Graham’s third other historical novel, Cordelia, is set where he grew up, Manchester, only it’s an imitation Victorian novel, i.e., set in the mid-19th century.)

I’ve also been re-enthused to write again and in this way seriously develop thoughts about, material for a novel or literary-critical book out of Graham’s writing and movies. I’ve met a person who wants to study and write about Graham intelligently as a writer of historical fiction writer and the originator of the material for the Poldark films. Someone else came to my blog, read my posting on The Walking Stick, and told me how to procure the film adaptation of it. The DVD is now on its way to my house. And I reread The Forgotten Story, a novel set in 1898 in Cornwall, written in the same year as Ross Poldark (1945), and am more than half-way through The Grover of Eagles, again Cornwall, this time later 16th century, for the first time. I found I couldn’t put The Forgotten Story down, and while Groves of Eagles does not compel me as much I am enjoying it.

Finally, this evening a United parcel person brought to my door the 3rd edition of Robin Ellis’s Making Poldark. It contains new material; more stills and photos from the two series, more about Ellis’s life since the 1980s, a discussion of why a third series was never made, and an semi-imaginary map drawn from the Poldark places and Cornwall. I surmise we could inscribe the town and places of Forgotten Story and Groves of Eagle onto it too. Ellis is coming to DC to Kramerbooks for a “book-signing,” and I wouldn’t mind going, but alas this Saturday we’ve a conflict: we’re going to Maria Stuarda with Joyce DiDonato.

When I compared this non-pompous paperback to the two expensive lavish books that have come out about Downton Abbey I saw why this series is neglected, kept alive really by a curious intense cult that has developed around the films and the continuing sale of Graham’s books. The Abbey is the book of the 1%, Poldark for the rest of us, really for the 47% Romney lied about, sneered at.

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She [Patricia] tried to scream, but every time he [Tom, her husband, from whom she has separated herself] squeezed the breath out of her; and presently it began to dawn on her that she was fighting a losing battIe. Now she went suddenly limp and helpless. But the trick was played late. He only seemed to take her limpness for deliberate acquiescence.
     Scandalized, she began to struggle again, but more weakly, for her strength was partly gone.
     So it came to pass that Patricia, who had begun the evening flirting with Ned Pawlyn, ended it in the company of her husband. Had Tom Harris been more of a brute the encounter might have gone further than it did. Patricia, for once in her life, was really frightened, for she did not misread his intention. Love can so change that it becomes instead a fusion of hatred and desire. That was what Tom Harris found.
     But unless the change is absolute, it can injure but it cannot wilfully destroy. That and something in the fundamental relationship between civilized man and woman finally stood in his way.
     Not, however, before she had paid in good measure for her deceit and resistance.
     He turned quite suddenly and left her there on the old couch, bruised and breathless and silent. She had never been so shaken up since she was three. The Forgotten Story, a climax occurring around same place as Ross’s rape of Elizabeth in Warleggan

Not quite marital rape, is it? Graham punts.

Rereading: The Forgotten Story has two deeply-felt characters who I care a lot about, a marital rape and a familial paradigm of sexual longings and murderous antagonisms. Anthony Veal, the young boy narrator abandoned by his father, through whose eyes the story is seen is deeply appealing with his honest and trusting nature, and his heroine-older cousin, Patricia, fighting to create an independent adult life for herself in type a Demelza. The character in the now lost or wiped-out mini-series, Forgotten Story was played by Angharad Rees. Anyone reading this who knows anyway I could possibly get hold of anything about it, let me know. I’ve been told writing the BBC gets silence in response.

The story of the abandoned boy left to the not-so-tender mercies of near relatives is found in the Poldark series: Ross, estranged from his father, but much more strikingly, Valentine, over-fathered and fatherless. Real rape and repeated sadistic rape in marriage is also in the Poldarks, murder of one’s wife for which the man is forgiven by author and text too.

Patricia becomes an outcast woman for defending her husband in a trial scene where the prosecutor brings out how she probably has another lover. She is shamed, called “whore,” and now vulnerable to all men’s advances. This moves towards Demelza’s adultery with Armitage, though Demelza never leaves Ross’s side so is not endangered.

The novel’s is derived from Graham’s experience as a beach warden in WW2: the news story which opens the novel turns out to be a much obscured prettied up version of the nightmare happenings in the novel. For everyone’s sake the hero and heroine bury the truth of what happened, but without this we can have no understanding of the events nor hope to prevent analogous ones in future. The underlying subversion is much that passes for history is distortion and what actually occurred deliberately forgotten.

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Pendennis Castle, a drawing evoking how it looked in he 16th century

Reading for the first time: Groves of Eagles shows what a conscious artist Graham was. He’s changes his style to fit the later Elizabethan age: he does not write in pastiche, but rather modern English in more elaborate sentences, with a strong use of imagery. The historical background thick; this is the type of fiction where real historical important characters play a role, here Walter Ralegh who was a powerful Cornish man; in fact almost everyone in the novel has a historical counterpart, from Killigrews to Arundells. Even the central hero, Maughn Killigrew is based on someone, the bastard son of John Killigew, the tough squire in charge of Pendennis castle guarding a shore line of the Channel and the Atlantic. He is ruthless; himself he lives extravagantly, but he is merciless towards tenants.

Killigrew is also stern to his bastard son. Has him chained to a dog kennel at one point, with all the house hold forbidden to give him any food. For a full day and night. Keeps his distance from this son, apprentices him out to an impoverished life. Maughn by luck (and the author’s largess) manages to escape this. Graham enjoys making him amanuensis to Walter Ralegh, who I fear Graham admires too much — while knowing the man was a warrior pest type too. So again we have the estranged semi-fatherless hero.

Sex is again central and as is so common in Graham’s novels we have a married couple where the woman will not permit the husband to have sex with her (and he gently allows concurs), and the hero (like Drake Carne) finds Sue, a servant girl much beloved by him, in danger of rape by her master, and then married off to a much older man. Sue is without status, and in that a reincarnation of Demelza once again.

But now much older customs: the John Killigrew keeps his wife continually pregnant and is an open adulterer. It’s a very violent world filled with rough customs, humiliations and wild parties too; the lies and delusions of newspapers, Ralegh’s persistent fatal trips to find El Dorado, a final Spanish Armada are all part of the multi-year story. A woman treated as witch, Katherine Footmarker is a layman doctor (and like Enys, humble and good at it). She might be Maughn’s mother; if not, she knows who was (the boy’s mother is dead as was Valentine’s by the time he turned 6).

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Drake (Kevin McNally) and Morwenna (Jane Wymark); Maugh and Sue in Groves of Eagle are just such another pair

As with all Graham’s historical fictions, when I pick either of these up and start to read them, I fall into them and can’t put them down.

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An orangutan from Barbary — Valentine is said to have bought his Bhutto from a laser

In the Poldark and these novels however gingerly and sometimes punting, Graham is exploring our rape culture, the pathologies of sexuality in our culture. Ross and Demelza are almost unusual for having a “healthy” sexual relationship from start to finish. From Ross’s rape of Elizabeth to the sadistic nightly marital rapes of Morwenna by the Rev Whitworth (Graham is unusual for exposing clergymen this way), we see how people abuse one another and come to allow themselves to be abused. The Groves of Eagles more than the later novels has customs which encourage enslaving people in more ways than chattel slavery. It does not go into the kinky sex patterns of the Poldark books (Carrington, a bigamist preying on Clowance’s strength) because the heterosexual patterns are devastating enough.

The research I did into what was known of great apes and how people acquired them (all faithfully portrayed) for Bella persuaded me that Graham was combining his real empathy with isolated alienated people, no matter how twisted the culture had made them (Valentine, product of a rape, a father who would not own him, a dead mother, a violently jealous non-father) and disabled people. Butto, the orangutan was like a disabled person, who again like women in Graham’s novels are so vulnerable to destruction. Graham appears to have read some of the books of the era as well as modern studies of apes.

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Poldark Country: a semi-imaginary map of Poldark places and Cornwall

Two very different kinds of things are desperately needed as sina qua non before anyone can begin to give these novels the kind of respect they deserve. To do this would help gain interest in a new film adaptation. But that’s by-the-bye.

The second is a handbook! Yes, a handbook. Ellis’s new Poldark book is pleasant, and it shows (the map above), he’s read the novels at least a few times. But it’s completely inadequate to what’s needed except as a symbolic reminder of the rich material before us. The first sign a writer has arrived, is respected on some level is the handbook. There is none for Graham. Among other things like literary history it puts things on a visible map. So who knows that a number of Hitchcock movies are adaptations (often misogynistic reversals included) of Graham stories. Another is he’s talked about in literary histories. Graham is ignored in high culture ones and does not make the cut for low culture ones either. Too “tame” (not sufficiently a macho-boy book), too realistic, and too leftist.

I find that I cannot remember many of the characters’ names beyond the really central males and females once I’ve put the novels away for a while. Many readers of Graham would probably like it, might even buy one that was packaged attractively. We need entries on mining, banking in Cornwall, smuggling, the courts, animals, poverty, landowning. Many areas need explanation.

I say second for this kind of thing comes out of the first. There is no space for discussing Graham in his complexity. Lots of great authors punt, are ambiguous, ambivalent, but Graham is in some intensely important areas of our society today. Actually one area he does not punt in is his presentation of disability and medicine.

For example, in the Poldark books Graham suggests that Ross spends the whole night with Elizabeth which would seem to suggest that if the sex was at first rape after a while she did join in, and then he wavers in the books. On the whole and especially towards the later books (when the child Valentine has grown up), he presents the act as rape, partly (I fear) to exonerate Elizabeth from having adulterous longings, but partly we are to take Elizabeth as complicit. It’s said in that he thinks had he showed up in the next week she would have openly gone away with him and he is shocked to see her rage the first time he sees her after her marriage to Warleggan.

A false myth used in books where the “chaste’ or central heroine has sex outside marriage or is rape is that she gets pregnant immediately. This is improbable but is a real stereotype intended to exonerate the woman. It works another way though: if she gets pregnant, the popular idea is that she enjoyed it because to get pregnant you have to have orgasm.

The nightly rapes of Morwenna are another matter. These are clearly profoundly abusive of her. She never walks right after; she has this shuffle. He has crippled her. This is not presented at all in the series; but she and Drake become wholly marginalized characters in the later books. That was a real disappointment to me. When he presents her finally yes he does not fake “healing” but he keeps them away from us. The TV show did not show Rowella properly at all: she is presented by as someone who enjoys sadism and masochism in the parson himself. They were probably very brave to show Demelza committing adultery.

Graham himself does this kind of punting in other areas. In Demelza Ross incites the riot; that’s clear. It’s clear in the talk before the trial, but by the time we are into the later novels this is denied. He colluded but did not incite or he was against it, never imagined a riot would ensure. In Demelza he needs the violence. He’s a real revolutionary a Jacobin who understand violence is what one sometimes has to resort to to overturn an established order. I didn’t go into that in my paper on Liberty but in the discussion afterwards among academics (who are themselves conservative) one women had presented a paper two historical novels which she liked because they showed the rebel hero compromising, not being violent ever, at all.

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Trerice, a 17th century Cornish mansion, model for Trenwith

I really do long to know someone else who can with me begin to create a space in the “republic of letters” wherever, start a different kind of conversation on Graham as well as mini-series than I’ve encountered thus far. All I could think of for myself was 1) try another panel at an 18th century conference on historical fiction; or 2) write something for History Today.

Graham’s books have been cut off from real attention because of his original reception and the scorn still heaped on historical fiction (=women’s romance) and BBC “teatime serials” (a way of bad-mouthing the mini-series). He is also defined as regional, a regional novel and of course he followed his audience. Are you aware that Hitchcock paid him a big sum to leave off Graham’s name on the credits of a number of films that Hitchcock did? That’s in Moral, Tony Lee. Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2005. Filmmakers Series No. 95 which also contains a letter Graham wrote where he reveals his attitudes towards how his books were altered when they became films.

I have wanted to open another listserv on Yahoo — this one on Graham and his fiction, all of it. I would ask that everyone use their real names and make it clear we are not there to worship the first two mini-series — though my hunch is it’s the first that is most beloved. I know all the troubles and am not sure even how to open a list as I inherited all three I have. It can be time-consuming and I don’t have the time right now even to start. But as a future possibility I keep it in mind. I would be trying to see if we can find other people — they are there on that literary board and pop up now and again (rare) on the facebook page too. An odd sign of them is they read the mysteries too. If anyone reading this is someone equally interestd in discussing the books and willing to try for a list-serv of the type I’ve just outlined, please to contact me.

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Jill Townsend as Elizabeth beginning to realize something of the horror her sister, Morwenna has known as a married woman

Ellen

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‘He was quite capable of living a normal life, if other people would allow him (Dwight of the disabled Music Thomas, The Loving Cup, Bk 1, Ch 2)

‘Public wars, I call ‘em. Reckon you was lucky ever to come safe ‘home from that one in ‘Merica. Public wars is no good to no one. Small wars, private wars, they’re different, can profit you upon times.’ — Tholly Tregirls, dying words, The Twisted Sword (Bk 3, Ch 4)

The little room became a little corner of comfort in a black world — Graham’s narrator, The Twisted Sword (Bk 3, Ch 6)


Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Warleggan, she turns away having told Robin Ellis as Ross that her husband suspects that Ross is Valentine’s father (1977-78 Poldark, Pt 7, Ep 5, from Four Swans)

Dear friends and readers,

To continue: Perhaps it’s a good place to mention that these second quartet differs from the first 7 novels where most of the characters are fictional, wholly imagined. Wee may hear of some historically real characters and authors and books as part of re-creation of historical time in passing, but they do not appear (Poldark 1-7). In these we do meet historical characters who matter but while they create history, they do not give rise to the novels’ plot-design. That’s still the result of acts of the imagined characters.

I have two copies: one a hardcover American edition, 1991, Carroll and Graff; the other a 1991 Pan reprint with the photographs of the seacoast that became prevalent covers just before and during the time of the two mini-series (they are seen on the Fontana reprints). Both lacked this subtitle and date; that’s why I began to think that the epigraph was supposed to be emphasized (with its tragic and bitter Biblical implications, anti-war especially) rather than the place and year. And much of the novel takes place in Paris and the Belgian killing fields. I would agree that it ends back in Cornwall. It may just be an oversight but I’d like to know when the imprints other cited were published. Was it at first nuded of the usual regional framing and then that was put back as a selling point?

More important, they re-define Regency romance. Accurate Regency romances, historical fiction, need not be pseudo-silver fork novels about silly people romancing in Bath: this is a time of depression, riot and revolt, war, powerful people who have no consistent ideologies and thus ever-fluid parties. It’s also a time when such movement changes and endangers the choices available to people sexually.

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John Bowes as the older Ross talking to Ioan Gruffudd as Jeremy (1996 The Stranger from the Sea); The Loving Cup has never been filmed, but scenes like this occur in it

The second time round I loved this book. Looking at what I wrote I do think I was spot on, but this second time see the book more fully — in the context of this second quartet.

The Loving Cup is a kind of “push back” against the larger or war-torn conflicts and depression across the UK, Europe, Northern American and the high seas — whence its title. We’ve been where we experience or glimpse Regency England as war-ridden time, of depression, dislocation, It’s as if Graham is deliberately resurrecting the Cornwall community now against his first the first two books (Stranger from the Sea, Miller’s Dance). While we are made aware how bad things are elsewhere, our focus is really solely back in Cornwall. One reason for this is Geoffrey Charles has returned so there is no one to write letters from the front.

I find myself identifying with the parents, Ross and Demelza, who find themselves unable to rescue Clowance, their daughter from her bad decision to nurse and then marry the renegade (scoundrel) but plausible and ever so human Stephen Carrington or their son from enlisting and going off to the dangerous wars. In this sense this novel turns back into centrally a story of Ross and Demelza.

Last time I wrote at length about how Demelza risks her life to get at the left-over booty from the robbery that Jeremy and his two friends stole at the close of Miller’s Dance, and hid deep in an old mine (a cave) only available by climbing a rickety ladder down to the sea; all she takes away is the small silver loving cup. I did not know what this was at the time: a symbol of love where people intertwine arms as they exchange the cup. It was Harriet’s aunt Darcy’s (an allusion to Pride and Prejudice). Jeremy knowing that that could implicate him (because of its specificity) asks her not to keep it on the mantelpiece but in a drawer. He’s not sure whether it will bring bad or good luck. What I didn’t realize was their conversation is laden with ominous notes anticipating this death. He says he will tell her someday all “about it.” How he came to participate in the robbery. She ways don’t wait too long – there have been other ominous notes suggesting that Jeremy will die — as he does at Waterloo, the great shock of Book 11.

A thread on a Women’s Studies list-serv alerted me to something else I had not noticed the first time round: that the story of Clowance’s marriage to Stephen Carrington is the story of a bigamist from a woman’s point of view. This, like rape, especially presented sympathetically, is highly unusual in a novel, even more seriously in a historical fiction. Most of the time the “other” woman, the second wife is presented as vile, stealing the husband, to blame for not knowing. Here it’s convincing that Clowance would not know, and that while she suspects there are things in Stephen’s past, she partly (from what she does know), doesn’t want to know, and partly has no way of finding out.

The novels are not sequels to one another and I must jump ahead to explain. It’s upon rereading one feels the cutting edge of Ben’s comment that the engagement and marriage of Clowance and Carrington “gates like a knife on a bone every waking hour” (to Jeremy, Loving Cup, Bk 1, Ch 4).

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Hans Mathiessen as Ben Carter, one of three decent men Clowance turns down over the course of this quartet (1996 Stranger)

When Stephen lays dying in The The Twisted Sword (Bk 3, Ch 9), Jason sits by Clowance’s side, grieving over his father. Jason had aroused her suspicions when earlier he revealed that he had grandparents an Uncle Zed, an Aunt Looe (Bk 1, Ch 9); a whole family existed where his mother and father were married and lived (which Stephen had denied, presenting himself as an orphan dependent on the tolerance of strangers). Stephen had told her that his first wife, Marion (whom she had not heard of before The Twisted Sword) and he were 17 when married: he did married Marion because she was pregnant, hardly ever lived with her, and she died of small pox when Jason was 10; he now admits to 37 rather than 34 (Bk 1, Ch 3).

When Jason now nervously fingers his scarf, something left him from his mother, and says his mother knitted this for him more than 2 years ago, Clowance askes when did Marion die? this past winter? He becomes embarrassed and finally is driven to admit it could be his mother died January 1814.

Looking back, Clowance and Stephen were married May 28th, 1814 (The Loving Cup). But he arrived Nampara fall 1810 (Clowance refers to this when she says he came here 5 years ago (Stranger from the Sea); he began to court her immediately. @e know he was having an affair with Violet in midsummer’s Eve 1811 (Stranger from the Sea) had sex with her just as she lay dying, July 1812 and she died August 2, 1812 (all Miller’s Dance). He has a kinky taste of the captain in Tarchetti’s Fosca (turned into an opera called Passion by Sondheim). There are strong hints he has been having Lottie Kempthorne (Miller’s Dance) and was one of Selina Pope’s lovers (Loving Cup, along with Jeremy and Valentine who marries her). They were engaged for first time April 1812 (Miller’s Dance) to be married in November. This was broken off after time at fair, Clowance sees Stephen lie to Andrew, Ben finds old medieval warren in mine and confrontation (October 1812). So it’s apparent Stephen was ready to commit bigamy.

Clowance also has by now learned of Stephen’s unnecessary (gleeful) murder of a man who was part of a team trying to press him and Paul Kellowes into the UK navy; has to live with him and listen, and knows how he leaps to justify, and moves from lie to lie. And yet she stays. Pride? Not wanting to show others what she has chosen? Partly.

An important difference is how this situation unusually. Demezla early on knows the great danger of marrying a man because something “in your blood” responds instinctively to his feral presence — this is how Clowance accounts for her love for a man she knows before she marries him is at least a liar, careless of others, an unworthy man. In most the woman is punished by overt abuse and becomes abject. For women such erotic awakening brings erotic renunciation — in too many novels to cite, but they include Lfayette’s La Princesse de Cleves, Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichfield, Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, Mary Brunton’s Self-Control, Bonte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Trollope’s Small House of Allington (Lily Dale – yes men write these too), E. h. Young’s Jenny Wren, Forster’s Howards’ End. James’s Portrait of a Lady is turned into a punitive experience, harsh, by Jane Campion.

Graham’s Clowance grows thin, silenter, starker, gradually withdraws from this man emotionally as she comes closer to another of Demelza’s feared prediction: dislike, intense distaste. We see that Stephen is moving in that direction towards her too. But his accidental death cuts this trajectory off when he is insulted by Harriet Warleggan who sneers at his idea that she maneuvered George Warleggan into not turning Stephen into a bankrupt because she was sexually attracted to him. He tries to outdo her in racing horses and literally leaps to his death.

Clowance withdraws and at the end of The Twisted Sword says only that if she ever marries again, it will be for money and position — as Harriet Warleggan who also married early and for love, in her case a gambler, has done. The point I want to make is Clowance makes no renunciation, is not punished and therefore not blamed.

The revelation happens in now Aug/Sept; Stephen dies October 13, 1815 (The Twisted Sword, Bk 3, Ch 12). The last novel of the quartet is structured so this relevatory scene is preceded by the one where Valentine ferrets out of Ross that Ross may be (is?) his father (Bk 3, Ch 8). In Loving Cup a paralleled are set up between Clowance and Jeremy and Valentine. (Valentine was omitted from the 1996 movie, along with Geoffrey Charles so I have no stills to help us along), and the first is fulfilled at the end of Twisted Sword; not until Bella is Valentine’s need of Ross and tragedy of a lost soul seeking another vulnerable creature in need made clear. Valentine is not blamed either. but this does not emerge until the very end of Bella.

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Battlefield of Waterlook photographed 21st century), The Twisted Sword has never been filmed

My first essay-blog on this novel was adequate but I find I have more to say, much to add, but will confine myself to a few points.

Something interesting in its first editions — even if dropped later. All of the Poldark novels but one are subtitled: “Cornwall,” with some group of years next to that. The only one which hasn’t got this is The Twisted Sword. It doesn’t even say 1815. As I begin it the characters move to London and then to Paris. Much of the book does take place in Europe — or more than usual, and this opening is an attempt to dramatize and picture France just after Napoleon was first defeated and sent to Elba. A quiet place as yet, even if with so many wounded. He gets it right that what was hated about the replacement of the old order was that order and especially the Bourbon king who went right back to the old behavior of utter indifference to everything but his appetites and desires and that of his narrow court. What ever may be said of Napoleon, he was deeply concerned with the people and structure of France, its laws, its codes, its commerce.

In later editions the subtitle is attached and the year — to make the book conform. Editor and publishers like “their” product to be branded clearly.

In London we are told of the results of this regency, the devastation of the marketplaces and continual depression, dislocation underlying the assassination of Perceval and one of Liverpool’s concerns.

The Twisted Sword was also originally presented as the last of the Poldark novels and there was a 13 year period between the time of publication of TS and Bella (which returns to the formula Cornwall plus dates.) Bella of course ties all the knots and its tragic climax (well penultimate chapter with qualified contented ones for some to follow) brings us right back to the consequences of the rape (Warleggan) and that to the opening when Ross returns and Elizabeth is about to marry Francis, but if I was reading this book in 1993, TS does feel like an ending — a tragic one I know as I’ve read it already. On the field of Waterloo.

Its epigraph: Deliver my soul from the sword;/my darling from the power of the dog. Psalm 22, Verse 20. None of the other of the Poldark books has an epigraph either.

Twisted Sword in its last phases is a depiction of the experience of devastating murdering in mud and rain, relentlessly, on the field of Waterloo. As I wrote last time, Graham got all his details of where Jeremy died and where the various positions were from Keegan’s Face of Battle:

Very moved once again though I knew a chief beloved hero was to die. I noticed a passages I had overlooked before. Tholly himself dying comments on Jeremy’s death: these public wars are useless and counterproductive to all but the elite (the book was written in
1991so a slightly broader view of the elite is meant than would be today); it’s only private wars that are in the interest of the a age person, those he or she engages in directly. Not always even then. He smuggles as well as works on the Packet Service. private war is defined in such a way as to capture far more than illegal activity.

A couple of the political insights I’ve gained from these books I used at the Burney meeting, and people liked them. I of course did not tell them these came to me from reading the Poldark novels. I would not want embarrass anyone or be disbelieved so I said I found them in John Stuart Mill. I used one for my argument in my paper on liberty in the first seven Poldark novels. Understandable riots include the one instigated by Ross in Demelza, and again in this community to keep hecklers and mortifiers away from Music and Katie’s wedding.

Perhaps most beautiful in these four novels is the not just compassion but respect for the disabled that Graham evidences. If other people would just allow them to flourish, they would. But some single difference, and the smell of vulnerability is too much for the average person and the prevalence of bullies, encouraged cruelties (teasing) and for others to leave alone. Rosina who marries Sam (lame), Ben (a loner, unable to socialize easily), Music Thomas (sensitive and a little slow in reaction) are made outcasts and we watch all of them become good people even — recognized only by those who are themselves outsiders (Sam, Katie Carter, Ross and Dwight). Dwight is most responsible for this and the character almost re-arouses a respect for doctors in me mostly destroyed by what I’ve seen of the profession in the US today my attitude is more like Francis Poldark when he first meets Dwight — disbelief — Francis later turns to him when he becomes suicidal.

I made myself read the last part of this novel (Book 4, the coda after Jeremy and Carrington’s deaths) slowly so as to savor the poignant semi-tragic, semi-bitter close, another of Graham’s barely-endured Christmases, with its quiet compensations as life moves on.

I agree with those who say of Graham’s novels that this too does not come to a close — but then life never does and many of the books have this continuation aspect. My students the two times I set Ross Poldark said it felt like much more to come. In Twisted Sword though Clowance has learned a bitter disillusioning lesson and there is Fitzmaurice on the horizon to marry for money and position and Jeremy is dead. There’s Valentine but he has at least been told if indirectly and by Ross he’s Ross’s son and we know Harriet will carry on holding her own against George and protect her twin daughters adequately. Probably Graham meant to end it — again my paperback edition has a cover which says this is the conclusion of the series. But in 2003 he decided he would indeed develop Valentine much more — and he does, beautifully I think.


Among the last stills of Ross and Demelza at the close of Warleggan and the 1977-78 film series

To me particularly effective and personally inspiriting was Dwight and Ross’s outwitting and maneuvering using another scavenging of a wreck by impoverished ignorant brutal people in order to allow one marriage, Music Thomas with Katie Martin, to go forth. I so admire Graham for his depiction of disabilities deeply empathetically. Where do you find that even today? This marriage though repeats a pattern we’ve seen elsewhere, the woman who will not at first at least have sex with a man once married — for example Morwenna (so wounded) when first married to Drake. An irony as in life often a relationship does begin with sexual encounter and after all that’s how Ross and Demelza clinched theirs (says she smiling)

And the ending here really put me in mind of some Leopardi poems (I’m an 18th century literary scholar and have an interest in Italian poetry) as we watch the disillusioned characters with the various losses preserve something positive amid the wreckage. We cannot live our lives out without the relief illusions and companionship offers, and the ending with Ross and Demelza, her tossing that bitter loving cup deep into a well repeats other similar endings only this time (“life is all there is” is at one, and Demelza says it’s enough), but this time the reflective sadness goes on for longer as if to take into account the winding up of the different stories.

I’m actually dreaming — thinking of — writing a novel using these character. I’d like to try Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan. I’ve used a still of her (at the head of the first part of this blog) on the Literary Society’s message board. In this novel when I’d done I found myself hunting for the passages where characters come across her spinning wheel, hear her firm but quiet steps, listen for her gentle presence and hear her ex-husband and two sons ferociously argue over the things they assert they cherish. She had a fine spirit, meant to have as much integrity as she could, tolerant, well-meaning, egalitarian at heart, thoughtful, she out of inability to cope with finances married a bully (George Warleggan) whose behavior led her to risk death to persuade him to leave her and her son by Francis Poldark (Geoffrey Charles) and her son by Ross (Valentine Warleggan) alone in peace.

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth she lies there dying from her effort to make her husband like her boy by Ross; she realizes she is dying and says how she’s afraid of the dark. Her life’s decisions were based on wariness, and yet all decisions are leaps, and the harsh relentless George was too much for her.

Ellen

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‘People who brag of their ancestors are like root vegetables (Ross, The Stranger from the Sea, Bk 1, Ch 3)

‘Brighten up, Cuby, for the Farce. I believe you have taken the tragedy too much to heart (Valentine, Miller’s Dance, Bk 1, ch 2)

‘We all know, unhappily, what a hand, a man’s hand, whosoever’s it may be, can do to a virgin’s body, how it can enslave … Intellect… the mind, the spirit — they’re forgot. It is as strong as any spell, and between good and evil there is little difference of choice.’ That’s what she said. I — have thought of it many times since (Demelza quoting a Mrs Dawson’s words, Miller’s Dance, Bk I, Ch 3)


Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Warleggan, taken aback to learn of her cousin Morwenna’s suffering (1977-88 Poldark, Part 7, Episode 2, from Four Swans)

Dear friends and readers,

Since I last wrote here on this blog of Winston Graham’s Poldark and other writing (Angharad Rees has died) and set up my Poldark region on my website, I’ve joined a Poldark society in Cornwall; a face-group called “A Passion for Poldark and Cornwall”); and an on-line Winston Graham and Poldark literary society. My “avatar” is the above still of Jill Townsend as Elizabeth truly distressed to be made to recognize the suffering caused her cousin, Morwenna, by the coerced marriage to Osborne Whitworth inflicted on Morwenna by George Warleggan, Elizabeth’s second husband — and of course Elizabeth herself who allowed this to occur.

I’ve also re-read for a second time, the second quartet of Poldark novels. For those unfamiliar with these marvelous historical novels, the first seven, a quartet written between 1945 (at the close of WW2) and 1952 (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, and Warleggan), and a trilogy written 20 years later, 1973-78 (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide) comprise the on-going story filmed by the BBC in their extraordinarily commercially successful mini-series, Poldark (1975-76, 1977-78).

Unfortunately, only the first of the second quartet, written a few years later over the decade of the 1980s, 1981-90) (The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, and The Twisted Sword) was filmed. This 1995 film offended an organized group of people passionately in love with the first two mini-series by not re-hiring Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees for the lead roles; having watched it, I know the film-makers made the serious mistake of omitting the epic perspective of the books, this time through the Peninsular War and its liberal-left (really radical politics). While admitting that its two-hour American style presentation further obscured the pace and slow psychological subtleties of his fiction (in his Memoirs of a Private Man), Graham thought that given a fair watching, it was effectively (powerfully) acted and a modest success could have lead to another mini-series of the later books. In the event, it was vociferously condemned.

I’ve been wanting to write again about the 2nd quartet, but having written separately about each book and not wanting to repeat what I had written, I found myself at a loss even though each time I reread one of the books I found so much that I had not seen and altered my views on two. First, The Stranger from the Sea does not represent a falling off or failure at all. Rather it corresponds in feel and type to the first book of the first quartet, Ross Poldark: both slow-moving, not much happens on-stage in comparison to how much inward life of the new characters.

The second books of both (Demelza & Miller’s Dance) give us much action (in Demelza, a scavanger riot instigated by Ross; in Miller’s Dance, a piracy rather than smuggling or free-trading and then an outrageous robbery) which will in the course of the third and fourth books lead to ironic tragedy. The third books differ: the tragedy as developed in Jeremy Poldark is a trial, bankruptcy, smuggling (it’s a hectic active book); the tragedy as developed in The Loving Cup is inward as the young men are not caught but what happens corrodes Jeremy Poldark’s young manhood and results in Clowance’s betrayal in marriage.

The fourth of both return us to the same pattern: what seems inexorable ironic tragedy: in Warleggan, the rape of Elizabeth by Ross and the apparent decimation of Ross and Demalza’s marriage, her near betrayal of him; in The Twisted Sword the senseless death of Jeremy on the field of Waterloo, Clowance’s discovery that Stephen Carrington is a near bigamist, a ruthless “common murderer” (young Andrew Blamey’s apt description of one brawl Carrington is involved in), an untrustworthy liar, scoundrel willing to trade even in slaves.

When I wrote my paper, “I have a right to choose my own life” (says Verity), I found the last three books were more realistic, the mining and historical events more complex and modern (including unscrupulous banking practices, bankruptcies averted by sophisticated schemes of loans and merges), and the presentation of the lives of the women genuinely from a feminist point of view (with marital rape as one of the continuing events, the result of Morwenna’s coerced marriage).

Now I’ve found the second quartet to be post-colonial in its wider scope: it takes into account world-wide war in Europe and America. It also, as the previous 7 novels did not, introduces real historical people including some quite famous ones (George Canning, the Prince Regent, even Napoleon is glimpsed on his way back from Elba to Paris). And it uses allusions to real plays performed at the time.

Bigamy is rarely presented from the point of view of the 2nd wife who may half-suspect something is wrong and comes to realize her husband is profoundly amoral; she is usually vilified; Clowance is loved all the more for her strength to endure, her loyalty where she can act it out, her compassion and her quiet suffering and overcoming of what could have been a breakdown to say if she ever marries again, it will be for money and position. (Which I know she proceeds to do in Bella, the twelfth book.)

This blog will add a few thoughts and make some qualifications of the earlier ones. I’ve been making outlines of these four books and will post them on my website soon. In the meantime …

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Mel Martin as Demelza and Kelly Reilly as Clowance at home in Nampara (1996 Stranger from the Sea); see A Falling Off

First, I liked this book so much much better the second time round because I’ve gone on to read the later ones and instead of lamenting that Ross and Demelza have strong competition for their place as central characters, have learned to love their son, Jeremy, and daughter, Clowance.

I’ve learned that in these two characters we have two more instances of “cruel disempowerment’ and “unrecognized potential.” As in the lead and secondary stories of the first 7 novels, we again see our protagonists fight hard, and make serious mistakes (as real peopel will), and sometimes seem to by chance succeed, but ultimately either fail (not punitively for these books do not punish people as if life were a moral lesson in the 3rd grade) or accept some displaced version of what was really wanted. Jeremy heart-breakingly fails; Clowance learns what compromise feels like — hard. Clowance is by Book 12 (Bella) paradoxically dis-empowered when she chooses a rich lifestyle — she is very like Georgiana Spencer in the movie, The Duchess (a strong protest film, where cut off from idealisms, Georgiana chooses a safe upper class male.

In the first seven books, Morwenna who had an apparently fairy tale escape through the murder of her sadistic husband, but we see in Loving Cup, that one does not heal completely after such experiences; Elizabeth may be said to correspond to Jeremy, she dies in an effort to make some compensation to the man she married probably knowing she was pregnant by another. Ross and Demelza are the compromisers — as is Dwight, Caroline, just about all the characters.


Nicholas Greaves as Stephen Cravenson (name changed from the book).

Carrington, the stranger from the sea, is not at the center of the novel as I supposed because he is (I learned from the later novels) a scoundrel — and no excuse from his background is responsible for an innate nature. Had he been born wealthy and well-connected he would have been a upper class scoundrel able to inflict wider harm. (Like Trollope Graham distrusts strangers.) Graham’s radical rebellious types in Books 1-7 are not scoundrels, they have more brains, a thoughtfulness Stephen lacks (part of his strengths).

I was too hard on Elizabeth’s illegitimate son by Ross, Valentine (by way of the central rape in Warleggan): the young man is not presented as negatively as I thought: he’s an ambiguous character who uses a facade of gay superciliousness and (because of his putative father, George Warleggan) helplessness (“my dear fellow, but what can I do?”). He is at least more mixed and intriguing — I react with dislike towards men who take advantage of vulnerable women (poor, a servant, disabled) and that’s what he does. This is what Carrington does regularly, and one of our heroines marries him.

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John Bowes as Ross, father, and Ioan Gruffudd as Jeremy, son (1996 Stranger from Sea); see blog on Miller’s Dance: Alive with History

As I wrote the first time round, it’s a densely historically accurate account of the regency period, 1811-12, just the time frame for both Austen’s S&S and P&P in their current forms. In this era the burning topic of controversy was the French revolution for its aftermath in Napoleon’s wars as well as social, psychological and economic change. In the US the war of 1812 had begun. In all of these Austen’s brothers and family were intensely involved.

Where I was off was to miss quite how bloody this book is. As in Austen (why I mentioned er) just about all battles — except the ones reported (and that’s at a distance) in Geoffrey Charles Poldark’s politic letters — are offstage and I found I underestimated one and missed another. Unlike Austen from whom we hear not a peep of all this, those battles not reported however briefly are mentioned and alluded to. The novel has at its edges not just the Peninsula war (Geoffrey Charles in Portugal there so the most reported on), but the American war of 1812 and action on “the high seas” as it’s put and the Russian front.

True, everything is offstage so that the reader who wants not to see what is here could ignore it, but after a while it does pile up. Battle after battle, slaughter after slaughter. I’m keeping a list: all the battles from Portugal and Spain reported by Geoffrey Charles (great irony as he’s the son of the delicate withdrawn gentle Elizabeth by the ironist Francis): El Bodon (p 26). The Battle of El Boden was a small but important battle of the Peninsular War on 25 September 1811 which enabled the French temporarily to relieve Ciudad Rodrigo. Badajoz (p 97, 139). Salamanca (p 236). The first time I read the book I was not aware of how blood streams through it: all but one are off-stage, but they are there. The book indites Napoleon as this tyrant seeking power and spilling blood across Europe. The siege of Burgos near Madrid (p 305), French win.

Across the ocean: the US invades Canada and people kill each other at sea (p 256). One up north, around Lakes Huron and Erie, where Major General Isaac Brock, manages to slam the invasion by General Hull and his HMS Macdeonian, the Captain Carder, 356 killed, 70 wounded, by American frigate, the US — a “solitary marauder.” The point is signing treaties does not stop people once they start war

Russia: bitter disasters: Borodino, French forced out General Kutusov and his army (p 305). Moscow — abandon and then deliberately set ablaze by the defeated general Kutusov – what does he care if he destroys all the civilians and their property. Ordered by Rostopchin. Who claims anyone ever watched out for civilian,see Badagoz above (p 347, 357, 350-51)
Napoleon defeated and terrific loss of life between Moscow and Smmolensk.

I had not realized that of HMS Macedonian v United States (real incident, October 25 1812) was a real and significant incident (book 3, Chapter 3). It figures in talk at Flushing, a naval port in Cornwall

As the novel closes off stage we are told of the terrible scene of the crossing of Beresina (Book 3, chapter 5), led by Napoleon himself they broke through but lost 12,000 drowned, 20,000 imprisoned of half a million army, 10,000 left (26-29 Nov). Many pictures emerged from this one, a very few by those who were there or lived at the time, many more afterward. The war front of Russia and all its reports form the part of the central sequences of Tolstoi’s book and I had not noticed before that War and Peace is alluded to (anachronistically though by the narrator).

At the same time local history: Trevorgie Mine inside Wheal Leisure shows evidence of life way back when Cornish tin was first mined (p 346) old skeletons found.

As in Bella, we have Graham’s interest in what was known of apes and keeping apes as pegs: Harriet, the woman Warleggan so mistakenly married keeps a “galago”, which appears to be a small fierce and badly “frightened, inquisitive, nervous” monkey. (This culminates in Valentine and his ape in Bella).

Demelza ever nervous that her son, Jeremy, will sign up. She does what she can to keep him by encouraging Ross to return to London and Canning (his basic patron it seems).

Another facet of the historical backdrop of this book: I returned to Graham for a couple of days and am outlining and research The Miller’s Dance. It’s startling how the backdrop of this novel are the ferocious wars going on and the poverty and distress across the UK at the time, and how this is made concrete (so that it cannot be dismissed) by having historical characters in the book for the first time – and so many real battles.

I’ve begun to look up the plays the characters go to, and as in good fictions, these create parallels with the characters. Graham will make blunders on novels — where he’ll have a character reading a new Henry Fielding novel in 1780s, but not on the political books which characters argue about, and he certainly knows the drama.

The characters go to see Edward Young’s The Revenge while they are in London (Book 3,Chapter 4) – where they get involved in murderous erotic jealousy and competition and Ross ends up murdering the near homicidal maniac Adderly (an adder). _The Revenge is perfect for a parallel. It’s the Othello story made more intense, briefer, concise and brings out the competition between the two men. Garrick called it a perfect play and it held the boards as very popular throughout 18th century, omitting all but central paradigm. Zanga the moor hates Alonzo his master (now it’s black underling though); Leonora promised to Don Carlos, Alonzo’s best friend who Alonzo has saved. Carlos sent Alonzo wooing for him, and Leonora fell in love with Alonzo. Isabella Moor’s mistress and lady to Leonora — she’s used somehow. Father pressuring her to marry Carlos but easily switched and then Zanga works Alonzo into rage of sexual jealousy over Leonora. Alonso kills her. At close Zanga expresses tremendous remorse over Alonzo’s body.

In Book 1, Chapter 5, the Warleggans give a party — Valentine does and invite Clowance and Jeremy. Carrington doesnt’ come — as he often does not. He’s afraid who he will meet. They enjoy a full night’s theater. So the characters see Edward Moore’s The tragedy of The Gamester. Graham gives it a subtitle it doesn’t have: “Or the False Friend.” That’s because the play has a parallel with Stephen Carrington who is a false friend to Paul and Jeremy and a cruel lover (or will be) to Clowance. Its theme is a false friend, Stukely who betrays others treacherously; people attempt to expose him. Stukeley is after money and he is “a common murderer” as Andrew Blamey (the younger) recognizes Carrington is. On the same bill (as was common at the time)are two farces: Robert Drury The Rival Milliners — about problem of picking a husband — Graham includes a scene of Clowance sewing her wedding dress just before Ben comes to he to come with him to Wheal Leisure where he finds the old rooms where tin was mined in Elizabethan times. That leads to Stephen’s attacking him and her breaking up with Stephen.

They also see George Colman, The Village Lawyer – about a man trying to set up a legal practice in a country village because he has no connections. The difficulties. We see how his wife is against the place. In the place how the others see him as threat. This too parallels the feel of the world of village life.

And our hero-villain, Stephen Carrington, it’s implied clearly, murdered someone during a melee where the gov’t men tried to press him. One would not blame him for that necessarily but the context is his warning to her heroine’s brother that once he marries Clowance what he does to her is none of the brother’s business.

His unfaithfulness with the dying crippled Violet Fellowes reminds me of Sondheim’s Passion based on a 19th century epistolary novel, Fosca, where the heroine is crippled. the second time through watching Clowance apparently agreeing to carry on with her marriage to Stephen Carrington after she learns he is a murderer (though of a man who sought to press him) and watched him lie about it to someone, and then repeat a series of ever descending admissions that he did it though each time with a lie and excuse to her; after she just about knows he had sex with a crippled young woman just before this woman’s death (and may have bought it on), I find myself more anxious than the first time. The book ends with her breaking it off, but suddenly at the opening of the next book she does marry him.

I know that people do do such self-destructive acts, and here she is (Clarissa-like) going to be in his control, away from her family.

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Kevin McNally as Drake beat up to the point of murder: for fun, Warleggan’s men throw him in a lake (1977-78, Poldark Part 8, Episode 4, from Four Swans)

As you read him, keep your eye on how Graham skirts the inward and hidden outward real transgressions and disquieting things of life continually at the edges of his fictions.

As this is way long enough, I’ll make a second blog for The Loving Cup and The Twisted Sword tomorrow evening.

Ellen

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Ross (Robin Ellis) and Demelza, the night before his trial for inciting a scavenger riot


Thomas (Rob James-C0llier, now his Lordship’s valet, dances with Violet, Lady Crawley (Maggie Smith)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a metablog and my hopes for what’s to come for this blog.

Starting sometime this past winter, I’ve been taking slow journeys through (to me) deeply gratifying mini-series, my favorite kind those based on good books set in the past (sometimes written then) which are made up of multiple hour-long parts. The two I’ve stayed with longest provided the basis for a blog I wrote about the art of story-telling in this subgenre on TV, the 2 year Poldark (1975-76 and again 1978) and Downton Abbey (2010-11, 2011-12). I long to share some of this with my readers and friends in blogs that are readable and coherent (and not too long)

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Thomas and Miss Sarah Obrien (Siobhan Finneran) with Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) and Daisy (Sophia McShera) looking on: Mrs Hughes the sceptic: “I just don’t think the spirits play boardgames.”

In the case of Downton Abbey I want to explore the nature of the art of these mini-series as seen in this one late flowering examples. (Such lingerly graceful mini-series are under attack on all fronts, including making costume drama today using paradigms that come out of popular cinema (stunt man films, action-adventure). That’s my real interest in Downton Abbey, as a brilliant soap opera, rich from its uses of all the conventions of costume drama, historical style. I took about 12 to 13 weeks watching Downton Abbey the second season, capturing lots of stills and taking careful notes on the content of the stories and characters, and how they are juxtaposed, and relate to one another within an hour and across the hours. The state of my notes is inward, not directed towards someone who does not the film as well as I’ve begun to do nor about film as such.

And I feel I should take the time to read Jessica Fellowes’s The World of Downton Abbey, nor couple of other books I want to on the actual history of the family in this place (e.g., Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon by Wm Cross), and two relevant memoirs, Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs (the book which gave rise to the 5 season-long original Upstairs Downstaira in the 1970s and Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, a biography of women of two of the upper class super-rich women of this era (in the US).

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Demelza (Angharad Rees, “What makes you think I have nowhere to go?” — because of her rank, gender, and position as his servant, she has no where to go is the answer) — a favorite moment for me

In the case of the Poldark films, I’ve been rereading the novels again, Ross Poldark with my students, and since April Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan. Yet I need more historical and cultural material: I want to add to the books on Cornwall and Graham’s life, books on the Peninsula War, the Napoleonic campaigns, local Cornish and English politics of 1800-1818. I also have to proceed from the assumption the books and films will not be familiar to many of my readers (though in general economically the mini-series and novel flourish as yet.) And my interest here is the 18th century and Cornish content, the author’s progressive humane feminist vision. My notes are much better here, maybe too detailed.

And I’ve been going through the films slowly, also capturing many many stills and taking new notes. I’ve not gone so far as to take down dialogue the way I have for Downton Abbey, but give me time

I will though try not to put days into making blogs the way I did for the Pallisers as they became far too long and detailed. I mean rather to immerse myself and anyone else in the 18th century worlds of historical fiction and film and then write creatively. Yes Elizabeth’s story or some historical fiction or creative non-fiction or essay once again of my own. Maybe another film-v-book study.

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I’ll close this entry with the rich thoughts my students wrote after we had a genuinely thorough comparative treatment of Poldark books and films, and a few remarks on the moving (much maligned) episode in Downton which included people very sick and dying from the Spanish flu.

Several students compared the treatment of the sexual encounter and marriage of Ross to Demelza in the book and film and one nice thing was they didn’t simply say the book is necessarily (or even) superior but treated one as a realistic book and the other as a high romantic film. The way to get students to do this is set papers directly on films and specify explicitly a narrow assignment. For example, discuss the scenes in the novel which are not in the film; discuss scenes in the film not in the novel; for a start they have to compare for real.


Passionate dream material (He: “You won’t be alone. I’ll give you my name. We’ll be married. Now we’ll have no more arguing … ” Season 1, Part 4)

One student wrote as follows (more or less, I’ve corrected and condensed): In the mini-series Ross Poldark the love scene between Ross and Demelza is framed with vulnerability of emotions that overshadows the importance of class distinctions to the characters. In contrast, the novel provides more of an awareness of the social context in which the illicit affair takes place.

The film and book differ in several places. First the events leading up to the night in question. In the film it happens after Ross forces a kiss on Elizabeth and fails with the trial of Jim Carter. In the book Ross is frustrated with the trial but the confrontation with Elizabeth happened differently and much earlier. The two part on bitter terms with no passionate declaration from Ross.

There is also a difference in Demelza’s motivations and how they are presented. In the film she is shown to be completely love-struck (absolutely understandably smitten) with Ross while in the book her affections are overshadowed by her need to stay with the entire household and her job; her father wants her back because of the rumors about sex between her and Ross. In the novel her flirtation is impelled by her extreme reluctance to return to the father, her fear of him. This is about her social and physical life too, her education, into a being a lady. Her future

Two last important differences are Ross’s initial refusal of the encounter in the book and the absence of a detailed wedding proposal or scene in the book.

Ross’s vulnerable emotional state is stronger in the film. In the film it is more apparent that he is frustrated in love due to Elizabeth’s refusal to elope. In the book his frustrations are more directly the result of social norms as he has just just failed in his attempt to rescue Jim from harsh punishment in the trial; and the book’s emphasizes the rumors about his relationship with Demelza. Given Ross’s reactionary defiance when faced with social prejudice, there is less of passionate love story and more social commentary in the novel.

The initial strong refusal of Ross and the matter-of-fact handling of the marriage in the book show there is more thought from the characters as to the social implications of what they are doing at each turn — on the night of the encounter too. It’s his mother’s dress she has dared put on. She is pro-active and can be despised for offering herself sexually. Instead the film treats the ordeal as a matter of romantic passion and empathetic impulse and the second phase when he learns she is pregnant and does the right thing (chases her down), bring her back to safety is dream material.

There is emotional vulnerability present in the novel and social commentary in the film but the difference in emphasis highlights the love relationships differently so we get two unique experiences of a sexual encounter leading to marriage even if the outcome is the same.

Another kind of dream material, love and death from Downton Abbey, the flu epidemic. This was a strong episode: it’s the one where the sequences about people sickening and dying from the Spanish flu are interwoven with sequences of people in love (some marrying, some defying others, one the unwed mother who insists on holding on to her child, one OBrien whose behavior is the most moving thing we’ve had since Mrs Patmore had to have an eye operation). Even Thomas gets into the act because if he doesn’t mend his conduct he’ll end up homeless and starving. Scenes in bed and kissing and dancing alternate with scenes in graveyards and wretched helplessness in sick rooms. Woody Allen said love and death were unbeatable and this was.


Miss Obrien devotedly nursing Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern)

It’s hard to snap precisely that shot which captures the full depth with which Finneran played this role. She is unbearably moving; it was the first time the series gave her a chance. It was not just her face, but her whole body. And the still does capture how a bleached-out coloring was used for the shots in the sick rooms instead of the usual rich dark draperies colors of upstairs and the natural-seeming bright shades of the out-of-doors.

Ellen

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Woman reading, artist or photographer unknown

Dear friends and readers,

The title may be off-putting, but Corrigan’s book is an inspiriting book to read in the dark near-dawn hours of a spring into summer morning, one intended to keep the reader company in her journeys with others through books. Corrigan writes of reading as intense adventure, as that which can interweave itself into the deepest fibres of our memories of things we do as we do them, what influences, directs, teaches, and comforts the reader who has that within her to be transformed. Corrigan’s tone is at moment luminous with remembered moments of strengthening and hope.

Sometimes the book feels too Pollyanna (people returning from war are presented as all good feeling about their memories), and sometimes Corrigan may grate on your nerves by apologizing to those who wouldn’t read her book in the first place (a sort of bending over backwards to her readers who do worry about what the non-readers of the world would say). These are minor blemishes, though (they do not go on for very long) and are not the core of a book where reading has meant everything to the writer. It’s a book also about Corrigan’s career writing and teaching about her reading to an imagined community of sympathetic readers and her students.


Marilyn Monroe reading Joyce (Eve Arnold photo)

Corrigan vindicates, reads in front of her reader in the way of Bobbie Ann Mason in her The Girl Sleuth, “extreme female-adventure books” and detective stories. “Extreme female-adventure” books are classic women’s books and l’ecriture-femme by another name. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Villette, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, and (for a modern example) Anna Quindlen’s One True Thing and Black and Blue make visible what the hard adventure of life is for women:

“terrible contests with solitude,” “endurance” of the marriage market and successful socializing. fortitude, “keeping one’s nerves steady, the emotional power of confidence and a thoughtful strong mind, the long nightmare of being linked to a man for life who doesn’t “get you,” who doesn’t begin to understand what means most to you (Kate Simon’s Bronx Primitive).

These are indeed the terrors, the miseries, the small mean hardships of many existences, what withers joy, the enemies of promise.

Such books “got her through” her life, taught Corrigan much — just as Woolf said such books can.

By the time Corrigan gets to the end of her third long section and has told about adopting a Chinese baby girl, her time as a working class young woman at the prestigious and snobbish University of Pennsylvania (so she didn’t have it so bad, did she?), her career as a writer of reviews for the Village Voice and now on NPR, and her long-delayed marriage all the while validating and showing how reading and books have been important in each of her transitions, I felt I was communing with a non-philistine, decently humane presence validating the life of the mind (even if clearly she had been one of the privileged of this world).

The piece de resistance of the book is a long wonderfully refreshing, fascinating and carefully qualified section on Sayers’s Gaudy Night in the context of what women’s communities can be for women, and in vindication of educated women. Corrigan worked at Byrn Mawr. (My goodness.) She dwells on Harriet’s freely entered into relationship with Peter, how he is a knight who rescues her (from death, for she is accused of poisoning her lover-partner in Strong Poison).


Harriet Walter who played Harriet Vane (my gravatar for my Under the Sign of Sylvia blog).

Then onto other women’s books of the 1920s and 30s, more detective fiction by women, memoirs (Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood).

The book’s title is somewhat misleading, for Corrigan also writes it to show the reader that detective fiction by men and women is not simply riveting or terrifying and sad entertainment (when it’s good as in Hound of the Baskervilles, or Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon, Chandler’s The Big Sleep or Susan Hill’s The Various Haunts of Men), but also an indirect means for discussing how it feels to lead a working life where the reader is liberated since the hero or heroine has autonomy, savvy, intelligence, wit. She sees detective fiction as an replacement for the Robinson Crusoe myth (work as seen also in Gaskell’s Mary Barton). The best of them invent communities of people who mirror real milieus of our world and are either therapeutic or worlds split open with all their banal harshnesses and horrors. She convinced me. But then it was 3 in the morning.

Throughout Corrigan brings up analogies with the same ones I so treasured when a girl: Nancy Drew, Little Women, nurse stories (for her it was Sue Barton) and autobiographies (by Agatha Christie including wry comments about how much is made of ten days Christie she fled wife- and motherhood). I wanted to tell her about Bobbie Ann Mason’s Clear Springs and Marge Piercy’s Sleeping with Cats.


Dorothy Lange photo: Girls at Lincoln Bench School, Malheur County Oregon, October 12, 1939

I’ve written before about how important girls books are to them: Girls’ books and women’s lives. The picture by Vanessa Bell (I love the rich reds and yellows) makes visible how good dolls are part of a young girl’s health-giving imaginative terrain. On WWTTA we noticed that although men will often use depictions of women reading to make “come hither fuck-me” pictures of these women for themselves (turning the women’s reading experience into forms of substitute masturbation), women often depict themselves reading in ways that call attention to their class status or inward emotional state, depict themselves as older women reading to children or paint young girls reading.

I’ve not gotten to the last part of Corrigan’s fiction: on what she learned from Catholic martyr stories (Mary Gordon’s Final Payments).

She does talk about the importance of parodies and funny books by women too: her candidate is Austen’s Northanger Abbey; this past Christmas on WWTTA we read Stella Gibbons’ often misrepresented Cold Comfort Farm (she made me want to read Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn), and her favorite poet seems to be Stevie Smith (me too), but enough, it’s nearly 2. It’s pouring, and I had better to bed.

A toute a l’heure, courage mes amies:

The Ballet of the Twelve Dancing Princesses

— by Stevie Smith

HAYES COURT, JUNE 1939

The schoolgirls dance on the cold grass
The ballet of the twelve dancing princesses
And the shadows pass

Over their cold feet

Above in the cold summer sky the clouds mass
The icy wind blows across the laurel bushes
The sky is hard blue and gray where a cloud rushes
The sky is icy blue it is like the night blue where a star pushes.

But it is not night
It is daytime on an English lawn.
The scholars dance. The weather is as fresh as dawn.
Dawn and night are the webs of this summer’s day
Dawn and night the tempo of the children’s play.

Who taught the scholars? Who informed the dance?
Who taught them so innocent to advance
So far in a peculiar study? They seem to be in a trance.
It is a trance in which the cold innocent feet pass
To and fro in a hinted meaning over the grass
The meaning is not more ominous and frivolous than the clouds
that mass.

There is nothing to my thought more beautiful at this moment
Than a vision of innocence that is bound to do something
equivocal
I sense something equivocal beneath the veneer of an innocent
spent
Tale and in the trumpet sound of the icy storm overhead there is
evocable
The advance of innocence against a mutation that is irrevocable
Only in the imagination of that issue joined for a split second is
the idea beautiful.

Ellen

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Poldark, Margaret (Diana Berriman) and Ross (Poldark, Season 1, Part 2, Episode 1)


Ethel (Amy Nuttal), Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Ethel’s baby (Downton Abbey, Season 2, Episode 6)

Dear friends and readers,

For a second time I’ve assigned with read with my classes Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-178, and it has again gone over very well. We again had what were undoubted two of the best talks I had all term: one was on the treatment of Demelza versus the treatment of Verity which got the whole class discussing these characters, their scenes, issues involved; this and a talk on Ross as hero were done by students with thoroughly marked up copies. The third speaker was just chuffed to find feminist talk/discourse in the 18th century — and “by a woman’ said she amazedly. She found passage by Anna Barbauld’s niece, Lucy Aiken. I did have quotations from both Paine (Rights of Man) and Wollstonecraft (Rights of Woman) ready. A student I fully expected not to show, not only turned up for the talk, but brought a thoroughly marked up book. A second had gone through the mini-series and put on scenes for us to watch and then directed our attention to the book. She didn’t have a real thesis, but her choices were such, it left us much to talk about.

Better yet, or just as important and a real improvements: I’ve integrated the book with the TV mini-series (with Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees). After analysing single books with one-shot films, we moved onto books that are part of series and a mini-series. All term long I set comparative papers, comparative talks, screening features as well as films.

One area we’ve begun to discuss is the long TV mini-series, or the experience and art of watching the serial instalments of a multi-hour story, and I invite my students (and all readers) to read and comment. The following comes from viewing many many mini-series over years (especially my study of the Pallisers), but most recently Poldark, Small Island and Downton Abbey. It’s heavily indebted to Robert C. Allen’s “A Reader-Oriented Poetics of the Soap Opera” found in Marcia Landry’s Imitation of Life, an anthology of film studies. I write this blog to help my students in the last part of our term together.

To study a season-long mini-series, one must take into account three kinds of time: 1) story duration: the days, months, years, depicted in the narrative. Say in Poldark, Episode 1-4 (Ross Poldark more or less); 2) text or film duration: how long it literally takes to watch (how many parts) — so how much of your life has gone by over the course of watching the sequel, and 3) the actual time it takes to read the text or see each film. In TV mini-series the happenings become inter-involved with our lives.

There is not an ending of one story, without the beginning of another and sometimes quite different one —though linked thematically. Further, the first doesn’t really end, but carries on, from a different angle, and the actual central tensions of the part of the story we were intensely engaged in are not resolved or got over, but only deferred into a kind of stasis. Then we have sub-stories which turn up in individual episodes, back-stories (a form of flashback) sometimes self-contained in one episode and sometimes not.

There are stories that are set adrift to be heard of no more, except maybe in passing; there are different sets of interrelated characters, and as the viewer watches for over a year, and his or her life alters, so time moves inside the series and the characters age, some aging, some disappearing altogether, some dying.


Keren (Sheila White) and Mark Daniels (Martin Fisk) in their dark hovel, both will vanish (Season 1, Part 6, Episode 2)


Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Patrick Gordon (Trevor White) as Crawley (), he as alluring poignant revenant will vanish (Downton Abbey, Season 2, Episode 6)

The community is self-perpetuating, self-preserving system; who a character is is as much a function of his or her place in this paradigmatic system as what he or she does over the course of the sequence. Both Poldark and Downton Abbey are unusual in the large number of central characters they have: around 16. Relationships between characters in soap operas are out of kinship, romantic, and social; it’s only political when war or some large public event outside our characters’ horizons. A large community of interrelated characters, yet a limited cast of characters to whom things happen.

The shots of a story move along in a sequence at a leisurely pace; it feels dignified. At the same time, there are no limits to what can happen to a character because future of soap opera is open-ended; they can be killed off and everyone else carries on. There’s also a high degree of redundancy, a reiteration of the story and ideas about the characters; the story must not be moved along too quickly lest it be used up (p. 503) and yet not go too slow. The journey forward is not only deferred, but also halting rather than continuous (p. 509). There is an attenuation of events rather than compression. This is part of the deferred structuring which brings out multi-plot structure: parallel and contrasting stories. The community has interior worlds everyone assumes, is part of, understands.

Central ritual events (often a wedding, can be a dance or ball, a concert, a prayer meeting) occur when we meet all the important characters in one place whose underlying function there is to reassert their place with the others, and the relationship of all of us to the past or present (or future – but that’s crystal ball gazing.

Each individual episode is often artful in itself, with its own climax and particular themes. String a series of these along and you have a horizon of themes, and that derives from a specific book. Say Episodes 1-4 of Poldark have as horizon the world of Ross Poldark (1st Poldark novel), and Episodes 1-5 of Pallisers have as horizon Trollope’s Can You Forgive her?; then Episodes 5-9 have as horizon the themes of Demelza (the 2nd Poldark novel), so episodes 6-11 have as their horizon, Phineas Finn (2nd Palliser book). The last of each usually brings in material from the next book as horizon changes. The action is seen against this new horizon set of themes.

A group of houses, compared and contrasted, say 3-4, against a wide sky but nonetheless single county- or city-side, a landscape.


Cornish countryside, in distance, a speck on horizon is carriage bringing home the revenant Ross, now lamed & scarred — nearly the first shot (Season 1, Part 1 Episode 1)


Northern Landscape, Downton with small figures of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) pushing the wheelchair of Matthew (Dan Stevens) — the very first shot.

There are gaps in narratives. Viewers use these gaps in instalment publication to imagine what happened, to fill in. Characters themselves may change a great deal and also have new relationships to one another: so not that character-dominated, an ensemble with a lack of overall narrative closure, complicated and slowly evolving network of character relationships. The consequences of action are therefore more important than any action itself. Some small particular matters: the kind of artistry is often theatrical not dramatic, pictorial, and paradoxically can concentrate on a small emblematic details: Ross pulling a coin from Demelza’s palm so she cannot get herself an abortion, Sarah Obrien putting a cake of soap on the floor of Cora, Lady Grantham’s bath so Cora will slip, fall, miscarry a possible new heir.

See The Pallisers, Poldark, Downton Abbey; aesthetics of soap opera defended.

Ellen

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