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GreatHallofPenshurts
The great hall at Penshurst

Dear Friends and Readers,

The other night I embarked on listening to another of these sets of videos sent out by English universities and designated MOOCs: Mass Online Courses. My second is from Warwick University, thus far the lectures are by the somewhat mesmerizing Jonathan Bate. He begins with Shakespeare’s life (week 1) and how his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor (week 2) closely reflects aspects of Shakespeare’s community, parentage, boyhood: “Shakespeare and His World.” Bate speaks of Shakespeare’s apparent bisexuality, gives a real sense of his life’ story and career that makes sense, and dismisses the snobbish nonsense that won’t attribute the plays to this player, writer, ordinary man. He speaks eloquently himself, quotes beautifully and expatiates on his texts, and (for week 3) his discourse about the world of plays and dreams, the birth of the professional theater fills the silence of my lonely room with a vibrant mind.

The series also functions as an advertisement for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Stratford: we are invited to contemplate artifacts from the Trust as relics.

Well my first try was the Literature of the English Country House, from Sheffield presented by a husband and wife professor team, the Fitzmaurices, and as, on the whole it was a disappointment, I thought I would not write a useless screed of complaints; but now I’m seeing another, which is much better to begin with (the professor is much franker and really knows something about his particular topic), yet shares some of the traits, I thought I would suggest what was valuable, and why people argue MOOCs are not true forms of learning, e.g., most glaringly little was told about the specific houses filmed in: many were supported by corrupt violence, slavery, vicious practices in factories, and the reality of how the wealth came to be gotten which put these houses up and paid for their is said to be a sore topic in the tourist and heritage industries. I include what little was said about enclosures, provincial playing of plays, politeness literature, Rousseau and education (nonsense poetry for adults), gothics (Radcliffe, Dickens) and Oscar Wilde’s “Canterville ghost,” the soul of man under socialism. Not much to do with country houses …

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Penshurst-PlaceGardens
A corner shot of the Penshurst gardens

They began at Penshurst, doubtless because of Ben Jonson’s poem:

Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Of touch or marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told,
Or stair, or courts; but stand’st an ancient pile,
And, these grudged at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
Thou hast thy walks for health, as well as sport;
Thy mount, to which the dryads do resort …
Here no man tells my cups; nor, standing by,
A waiter doth my gluttony envy,
But gives me what I call, and lets me eat;
He knows below he shall find plenty of meat.
The tables hoard not up for the next day;
Nor, when I take my lodging, need I pray
For fire, or lights, or livery; all is there,
As if thou then wert mine, or I reigned here:
There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay.
That found King James when, hunting late this way
With his brave son, the prince, they saw thy fires
Shine bright on every hearth, as the desires
Of thy Penates had been set on flame
To entertain them; or the country came
With all their zeal to warm their welcome here.
What (great I will not say, but) sudden cheer
Didst thou then make ’em! and what praise was heaped
On thy good lady then, who therein reaped
The just reward of her high housewifery;
To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh,
When she was far; and not a room but dressed
As if it had expected such a guest!
These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all …
Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee
With other edifices, when they see
Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else,
May say their lords have built, but thy lord dwells

For the first week on Penshurst, the texts included excerpts from Jonson’s “To Penshurst,” a paean to Robert and Barbara Sidney, who were among his patrons and decent humane values; excerpts from Margaret Cavendish’s Sociable Letters, and snatches of Shakespeare’s Twelth Night. The visuals included the gardens, which I have been to. Jonson’s poem is a beautiful set of images whose values are deeply appealing. Robert Sidney is all generosity (liberal, free). This is a table where guests all eat from the same set of foods — that implies there are places where some are sat at other tables with lesser food. No one is watching him, counting, either to see him show off or to make him feel he is taking too much. Everything you could want in your room is provided — and that’s where no one would see if you were deprived. It was like this when King James and his son came — so you are treated like a king & heir. Barbara Sidney does not disdain to do the work herself — or at least supervise and get involved. She has had many children — the value of fecundity, implying that some women of this era did know how to control their reproduction. Records suggest thought that most women of this milieu endured endless pregnancies. Virtue is taught here – -and all the country arts. Others show off, but you really live in this place.

At the same time I liked how Professor Cathy Shrank exposed the delusion that masters and servants were all lovey-dovey and insisted on the continual tensions between tenants and owners — the enclosure movement was part of what gave rise to More’s Utopia (a communist tract in effect though More didn’t know the term): it’s Utopian, presents an ideal ironically; More does not expect anyone will follow it, but uses it heuristically. How central More’s profound treatise, Utopia, and Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons seem to me more than ever today in trying to understand underlying motivations and types we see in our political world today. Together with Machievalli’s The Prince (it’s said Hussein would shoot his enemies dead at a table) and Erasmus’s Praise of Folly (on madnesses).

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FHardwick-Tapestries
The central hall of Hardwick (familiar on the Net) was filmed in, but nothing said about the tapestries

Week 2 we were taken to Hardwick Hall where very little was permitted to be photographed; the presenters seemed to delight in presenting the Duchess as formidable, but she left no diary — she was not introspective enough to keep one, and too ambitiously busy in the world. I learned something new — or that an attitude and belief had changed. When I was studying the Renaissance it was thought that these companies only went into the provinces when there was plague, or a specific invitation or someone in the company lived near the great house or some specific event was happening there — like a queen’s visit. Now they assert that the companies traveled frequently and provided much entertainment. But one reason for the thinness of the lectures for Week 2 is they seem to know hardly anything about these performances. Is there no paper trail? They were not sure where they were played, which plays chosen.

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Nostell_Priory_Stables
Nostell Priory Stables

The third week was filmed in one spot at Nostell Priory and the third and fourth week in several at Chatsworth (a tourist place nowadays) and the topic was politeness — well-taken if not fully explained. A long history of the 18th century by Paul Langford uses politeness in its title to capture a new central quality or value of the era. As England comes a thoroughly commercialized society where people did business with strangers as a matter of course and had to interact learn to trust one another, shared manners was essential. The two professors don’t bring out this economic basis. It was a value in itself, performative sociability, giving you presence and status so an entertainment house, Nostell Priory would be a place where you showed your politeness for all sorts of reasons. They cited Addison’s Spectators, a good choice: when I was young, they charmed me for their tone but now I know how snobbish this one we read it. Like Emma Mr Spectator expects people to modulate their tones.

Taking us to Chatsworth enabled them to talk about the “corruption” of this ideal later in the century: where politeness is used to manipulate and screw people. Instead of allowing for socialabilty it is a disguise behind which real social dysfunctions lurk. They don’t say that: a problem with these videos is the two people are so aware they don’t know who is listening and fear offending, so their language is so banal, neutral, it’s empty of any kind of judgement. So they say next to nothing about Chesterfield’s letters, at the time a scandal, called the letters of whore master because there is no pretense at fake morality to his son.

The choice of a central text was brave; Georgiana Spencer’s Sylph. but of course they did not discuss how the text relates to her life. She was an inordinate high player and was hounded for debts as was her husband. In the novel she is pressured to go to bed with someone in lieu of paying debts. They omit that these great houses were places where high play and gambling went on until the wee hours and people lost great sums.

They naturally brought in Austen as Chatsworth was used for the 1995 P&P film’s Pemberley: Austen’s books participate in the literature of the country house — from Pemberley; Norland, Barton Delaford, to Donwell Abbey, Mansfield Park & Sotherton; Donwell and Northanger Abbeys; Kellynch-Hall are all such places. There was not a single comment on what was Austen’s stance towards these places.

They also omitted how these houses were power linch-pins of aristocratic, elite life, central to Mark Girouard’s Life in the English Country House. These houses were places from which wealthy and influential people controlled the landscape and local economic and political life of “their area.” Their size, their networking capacity, their large staffs, how the family actually lived in London most of the time — all show us how unreal Downton Abbey is. Girouard also says it’s wrong to think of them as farms with tenant farmers) as DA encounages; Yes, but the purpose was to wrest rent from everyone; it was the rent rolls that mattered. So it mattered that the farms do well but that also depended on trade and connections across the county and outside too — tied to colonies as well. Girouard describes specific houses and like so many his emphasis is on the Renaissance and 17th century when these house first went up. They were extended in the 18th century and renovated in the 19th.

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SatisHouse
Satis House where a room is kept in imitation of Miss Haversham’s room in Great Expectations

The fifth week was called “Gothic” and included Haddon Hall which Ann Radcliffe knew. Two new presences energized the experience. Angela Wright’s two talks, one 9 and the other nearly 8 minutes on the gothic, Anne Radcliffe and Haddon Hall I thought excellent. What she showed was the suggestiveness of the prose and intertwining of narrator and main character. She talked rightly of how much study Radcliffe did of the countries she described and never went to – she also extrapolated from where she had been, Germany, and England all over the place, Scotland into the Highlands.

The opening epigraph poem written by Radcliffe herself: Her” voice seems to refer to Fate but it could also be the person who suffered the “nameless deed.” By not naming it, the suggestion is it breaks deep taboos — so how about incestuous rape? In Romance of the Forest an uncle attempts incestuous (it turns out) rape on the heroine (who is his niece we later learn). On the famous movement into Udolpho: she gazed … The adjectives connect the building to levels of darkness and light, mostly darkness; the uncertainty of what we see in this gloom reflects Emily’s deep feeling of insecurity. Words like “melancholy awe” and “gaze” are overtly connected to Emily but they spill over to “silent, lonely, sublime: Emily feels the silence, her loneliness, that she is nontheless in this special — sublime — environment. Uncertainty pictured in: “its features became more awful in obscurity,’ ” till its clustering towers were alone seen,” the carriage moves under “thick shade.”

One question we could ask since we do have very quiet free indirect discourse making for high subjectivity in the narrative all along, where is Radcliffe? how does she relate to acts like incestuous rape? by being so reticent and withdrawn (anticipating say Flaubert) she deflects such questions, but we do ask of other authors where are they in their lives and imagination in the fiction.

It made me yearn to go to the Ann Radcliffe Sheffield conference — Three days, maybe the first conference wholly on her — a 250 anniversary of the publication of Udolpho.

Again filming of the house was extremely limited, and Fitzmaurice could make anything boring (he is often interlocutor), so bland and careful are any of his comments. He did try to talk scarily – he was elephantine. They filmed themselves in the dark in one of Haddon House’s rooms. They also filmed Haddon House from the outside at an angle which suggests how it could be this building Radcliffe was thinking of when she imagined Udolpho.

Then Amber Regis spoke and she was good on Satis House: she had less time so there was much less about dickens (maybe they assumed we know something). It was amusing to see that the National Trust keeps one room of Satis House in a mess — paper coming away … What was especially good was Amber Regis’s exposition of Great Expectations and the remarks on autobiography and its relationship to Great Expectations. Of her questions about the text she chose I wrote: How does Pip know this though? Has he brooded analogously? What is this order of her Maker? Did God make her suitor desert her at the altar and implicitly demand that Miss Havisham “get over it?” Why should she be punished? what has she done? Was she at fault for the suitor not showing up? These are bad vanities: the “vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities ” But there are worse evils. the novel faults Miss Havisham for bringing Estella up to hate and hate men. It’s an odd pivotal figure to hang upon a load of the world’s grief and misery.

I am drawn to the idea that Miss Havisham is approaching annihilation — she is herself dying before our very eyes. Since I have read the novel, I’d ask how this relates to our first sight of Magwitch in a grave yard, a convict fleeing the daylight world of law and police, someone who was treated as abominably as anyone (far worse than being stood up at an altar I should think) — since Pip grows to be a gentlemen out of these two people’s influence, is being a gentleman presented symbolically dependent on the deaths of others?

The two women had such cut glass chiseled accents — I thought that had gone out. So I wondered what Sheffield is like as a place to work … It was once a textile city and beautiful shawls came from there, sheep all around – -there was also much enclosure, much misery from industrialization — and radical and reform movement arose there in the 18th century and chartism in the 19th. I’ve wondered why does no one make a film adaptation of The Mysteries of Udolpho — you could incorporate some of the best of the Romance of the Forest as well as The Italian? The country house ruined is the center of the gothic, its underbelly, its cruelties — it’s on behalf of keeping it up that primogeniture was partly set up.

Elaine Pigeon who participated too wrote: “I was surprised by the gothic aspects of Great Expectations, the creepiness of Miss Havisham. The emphasis on decay reminded me of the ruin of the Lestrange family in Rhoda Broughton’s Cometh Up as a Flower. The idea of corruption and moral decay fits quite well as new money is taking over while the nobility of the past simply evaporates. It also made me think of William Faulkner’s famous short story, ‘A Rose for Emily,’ which as you probably know is considered a good example of Southern Gothic. There is a reversal in that tale, as Emily keeps the corpse of the groom in her bedroom, laid out on the bed as a fully dressed skeleton. If I recall correctly, he had tried to jilt her, but she put a stop to that.”

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brodsworth-at-war
Brodsworth Hall: a modern play area outside the house for children

The 6th week is worth discussing for what was not discussed and what was deeply wrong about this MOOC. Perhaps others will disagree – I would like to hear if anyone liked or disliked this week – but I found this week’s series irritating – it had all the faults of the previous weeks and then some. Brodsworth Hall was presented as unusual for its children’s nurseries and an excuse to launch into educational treatises. I had not noticed in previous weeks but this time it was glaring. We were never told who owned Brodsworth nor why It has this vast wing for children.

I looked it up and found on Wikipedia a pdf dissertation which explained the family were fabulously rich and much of their money derived from slavery – -especially the worst kind where one worked people to death in the western hemisphere to make huge sums on sugar and other products. Even cursory reading of “Slavery connections of Brodsworth Hall (Final report for English heritage – you can find the pdf on Wikipedia if you type in Brodsworth) showed that Peter Thelluson could be used an antidote to Lord Grantham: we are told at one point this poor man was squeezed and forced to take a position at court in the Ottoman empire (reminding me of the pity we are to feel for the Scottish lord In Downton Abbey just “forced” to go to India and live there as a courtier). Reading about this family reminded me of all the evils of primogeniture and how it was used for the patronage system – I read yesterday of how Thomas Paine attacked primogeniture in Part 2 of his famous Rights of man.

The first inference to take is such a nursery cannot be common. Our presenters never told us 1) What was the average childhood of Victorian times, nor how common is such a wing for other country houses. But answer came there none because no one asked the question. Which generation of the family built this wing? Which woman? Who were the servants? How many governesses and nursemaids did they have? Was there a tutor? You learn far more from Tillyard’s book about the Lennoxes in this regard than anything cited here.

Then they went over two poems (Lear and Carroll), two men who never married, and not children’s literature from country houses. What were the real books given these children and what the books written about them in the era and after. I am startled by how well behaved the questioners are but maybe there are many people like me who refrain from asking obvious questions that might be uncomfortable – MOOCs are dependent on the inhibitions of people in large public cyberspace where they know very few people – but I did notice that none of the offered subjects were at all about the house, the family who owned it and came to build such a wing. We are not encouraged to learn about how children really fitted into this environment.

Cynically I’d say this angle was chosen because there was someone on the Sheffield staff whose speciality was nonsense verse and fantasy pictures and the last thing she wanted to discuss was what it was all about (the fantasy pictures are highly erotic). We got the silliest exposition of ideas about childhood in the 18th century: Rousseau was cited but not Locke’s Thoughts Concerning Education. All they could say was the bland idea that children were not longer little adults and seen as the product of sin or wild savage animals. In fact they were not seen this way from the Renaissance on. There is a history of educational literature which starts in the 16th century — how to teach children in school and this history is taught (or used to be) in better graduate school programs – like Columbia’s Teacher’s college. Much of the earliest enlightened thought was against beating — to no avail in many places but it was against it. Healthy environments, keeping children from “corruption” (sexual knowledge).

The true importance of Rousseau’s treatise is he argued you must take the child’s nature and keep his gifts in mind. Lock was willing to impose goals a family might want – insofar as one is able. Rouseau wants to find out the particular child and develop programs which address this. He also tried to break with latin learning and make it far more practically oriented. The Lennox sisters actually followed Rousseau’s regimen – they were famous for it. One of them married the tutor she hired — an enlightenment type. This is revolutionary — maybe you’d like your son to be a naval officer but if he has no inclination or ability in that direction, all the beating in the world will not make him a successful officer. They may have mentioned that this did not go for girls: Rousseau assumes the nature of all girls is to be come sexual objects and mothers and wives. It needs Mary Wollstonecraft, Madame de Genlis and others to object against this and argue for a real education for a girl too — which developed into finishing schools for the rich.

Diane Reynolds participated and here is some of what she wrote about week 6: ” … Samuel Johnson, among others, defended corporal punishment in schools as, while unpleasant, the only way to compel children to learn. He and
others defended it as long as it caused no lasting damage to the body — no maiming, no blinding, no visible scars. It was seen as transitory suffering far outweighed by the enduring quality of an education. Pain went away, but the knowledge wrought by pain — reading, writing, etc — lasted a lifetime. Though many people were highly uncomfortable with this logic, having endured horrors themselves, it took more than a century of case building to establish the enduring psychological harm caused by corporal punishment, and, also important, the fact that the mass of children could learn effectively without being beaten … This is the period of locking children into dark closets (which we should understand more as small rooms than our current closets — our clothes closet function was supplied by wardrobes) and dark basements for minor infractions. The lecturer tells us that the wing is no longer decorated as a child’s wing, but does not tell us what it would have looked like — it would have been interesting to have been shown contemporary photographs or read contemporary accounts or memories of the children as adults. But no. The house might well have simply arisen from the ether. The nonsense verses were hardly nonsense but all about power and oppression, though we are prompted to see them as “nonsense.” At the end, the lecturer mentions they are about power (well, duh) but never goes on to provide anymore context or explanation or even her own theory about them.

I am sure it would have offended some people to highlight the house being built on the profits of slave labor, but for me that raises a larger question of academic integrity and truth-telling. If it is indeed the truth that this is where the money came from, it seems to me we need to face that. I have never understood why people get so offended at truth telling. I would think sweeping unpleasant facts under the rug would be more offensive. This becomes history functioning as fantasy or fiction: dangerous.”

I replied: I now seriously doubt any of those who talked had read Rousseau. They were mouthing the safest truisms they knew of – or else they just didn’t want to discuss his text at all nor its place in education. The Renaissance began the drumbeat to stop physical beating — it occurs very early in the literature and when (for example), Sarah Fielding in her Governess reaffirms its use, it is more than horrifying because she has added another aspect Johnson meant to decry: moral blackmail. Not only do you beat the child, but you instill in it deep attachment to you, in both Rousseau and Madame de Genlis, you cut the child off from other children (that is part of the drive to educate privately) so poor Emile and Adele have no one to turn to. Rousseau is quite explicit about this; Madame de Genlis is ruthless in the way she manipulates the daughter. I say Madame de Genlis because Adele et Theodore is transparently autobiographical: she is describing how she brought up Pamela and Henriette. She didn’t dare do quite that level of bullying to the man who became the citizen king (who was devoted to her in later life) and was one of her pupils later on.

One of the major changes in the 18th century is a growth in psychological awareness and seeing things from a psychological standpoint. Richardson anticipates Freud says Diderot (in effect).

And there is something to this — at least this kind of twisting of children to make them envy this or that, long for this or that can have very bad effects on them morally — maybe you teach some ambition and those who are that way to start with (competitive) thick-skinned and maybe more shallow in feeling do okay but it can instill deep inward injury (class based then and now, race based now).

When I read Rousseau I thought his idea of following the child’s nature a form of true liberation in the earliest years and this kind of thing can create great love between tutor and student — it does link to what Austen makes fun of through Marianne Dashwood. Marianne says if she was doing wrong she would know it because she’d feel it. That’s out of Rousseau finally and the idea is its innate — this understanding of what’s right and wrong or good and bad. Rousseau said famously man is born free but everywhere in chains. He’s not all wrong: one practice of enslavers suggests they knew at some level they were committing horrific crimes — they get rid of every document they can about their slaves but those which relate to buying and selling. One part of that I think is shame — they want to erase what they have perpetrated. Not enough not to not do it. And they did advertise to get back slaves then shamelessly identifying slaves by scars showing terrible brutality. Dickens used that in his American Note

In letters Madame de Genlis’s daughter, Pamela, wrote late in life (after she married Lord Fitzgerald and he died) she said she hated her mother. She described Madame de Genlis as a hypocrite: she tells of how the woman coerced another daughter into marriage in order to get money and how when the girl tried for and got a divorce Madame de Genlis was among those who countered that Enlightenment statute (alas abrogated in 1803 or so) by refusing to acknowledge the divorce. The man was brutal and a crook — one of these embezzling types. OTOH, Pamela never did become estranged: she couldn’t imagine life without this woman who was to her toxic (so she says). Her letters are an early version of Mommie Dearest ….

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Bowood_from_Morris's_County_Seats_1880
Bowood from Morris’s County Seats, 1880

In the 7th week all pretense at discussing country houses was given up and an Oscar Wilde expert (Dr Andy Smith) trotted out — the texts included The Happy Prince, “The Canterville Ghost” (a short story), The Importance of Being Earnest, and “The Soul of Man under Socialism” (a short treatise). There was some general talk of the decline of the country house, the agricultural depression of the 1890s — in terms you can get straight from Downton Abbey. In DA we learn of (oh how sad) how rich people lost their estates — that’s about what they said; you could find it in a magazine article

Not once was there a hint that Wilde was a homosexual man. The escape from a trap using a hidden identity (Bunbury) is what a gay man has to do. The move into anarchism as freedom under socialism is an escape from commercial pressures which also force people to live hidden lives. James was mentioned and The Turn of the Screw is about how the twisted heterosexuality of the normative conventions destroys people and has twisted the mind of the governess. Other of James’s stories invite similar interpretations. “The Canterville Ghost” mocks the form of the ghost story at the same time as it uses it to tell of dire events obliquely.

I was prompted to write more than before:

I have a real connection with the Oscar Wilde material. Again it’s Jim: I have two shelves full of books by Wilde — a big fat seat of everything he ever wrote, multi- old volumes where you have to own a special cutter instrument to open the pages as you go. I’ve Wilde’s letters, a couple of books of criticism, and some selections of his plays, a biography. I’ve a similar library of George Bernard Shaw. Together Jim and I saw a number of Wilde’s and Shaw’s plays. Jim liked Shaw’s criticism and politics. Of Wilde it was all sorts of things, even Wilde’s poetry. I have read in some of the material and some of the texts quite through but especially for Shaw he read a lot of it. I once ended up in a cartoon movie watching Wilde’s “Happy Prince” with Laura as a child; it’s a deeply melancholy story and she watched with great absorption but did not like it at all

So since I’ve never read “The Canterville Ghost” or “The Soul of Man under Socialism” I found them and this morning read “The Canterville Ghost.” It was still uncut so Jim never got this far. “The Soul of Man under Socialism” is in the volume which contains “De Profundis,” the whole book cut so Jim read that one. I am interested in ghost stories.

It’s a send up of the ghost story convention. It appears to follow the outline of Wharton’s powerful “Afterward.” American family buys a property said to have a ghost and find it titillating. In Wharton’s story it ends in cataclysmic tragedy — the women is widowed at the end, devastatingly. Wilde though asks what’s to be afraid of. So you see a ghost. So what?

He makes his Americans thoroughly pragmatic and into inventions to improve the ghost’s existence and their own. They torment the poor ghost by continually washing up a blood stain. They unnerve him. They set traps and tricks. At the same time Wilde shows he can do ghost stories too. The ghost manages to kidnap the daughter at one point and the family then does become terrified. She vanished — that’s what ghosts do. In this part of the story he shows how he can whip up landscape and also labrythine corridors. It does end in death but then turns round to provide a cheer-y mocking ending.

Yes it takes place in a country house — and is part of a subgenre of mystery stories occurring in country houses. But Wilde is not interested in that – -it reminds me of a poor play Izzy and I saw a couple of weeks ago: the humor is really gay humor — you are upending heterosexual norms and showing them to be absurd. Wilde would understand _the Turjn of the Screw_ in the way it was meant but at the same time find the horrified sensibility hilarious — or write a story where he appeared to. He was highly performative.

The story did make me think about this: when my father died I had my first insight into ghost stories: they were about what couldn’t be retrieved; you could not bring the person back; at the same time it’s likely bad things occur much you are remorseful for and there is much guilt so the ghost story rehearses this endless circular re-enactment of guilt, justice, revenge.

Now I see the story itself, the frame is part of what it’s about – how this in itself clasps you round and you need it, live in it, cannot lose its meaning, at the same time like the ghost who removes the heroine for a while it devours you.

Wilde is pointing out how under socialism there can be little individual liberty. When I did my paper on “liberty in the Poldark novels” I read a lot about different kinds of liberty, and the one that only recently has concerned philosophers (since Mill) is civil liberty. It has to do with individual belief systems and how we are allowed to go about our daily lives; it’s a liberty of the private man. Recently privacy has come under attack as a concept, but while much of our privacy is now invaded (see the two Ted lectures), I believe the concept is valid.

Wilde was remarkably brave and continued to be — or he had an urge to be “found out.” There’s a complicated (thoughtful) essay by Colm Toibin on Wilde’s self-exposure which i could try to find and share if people are interested.

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To sum up: in this MOOC about country houses and their literature, the speakers never discussed the general structure of these houses, who made them, the architects, any non-fiction texts actually about them, not even one book which is about a country house culture. Penshurst was as close as they came. They assert things about what went on in the house if they have someone on their staff who knows about that thing but do not demonstrate the thesis. Their offerings of close reading were hilariously inadequate: it’s not wanted, not understood by most readers. Most of the comments in the comments in the comment section were contentless and as bland as the professors’ frequent mush.

What was valuable was when the passages chosen were themselves remarkable even if ripped out of context or when a few of us turned actually to read together and discuss some of the works broached: Georgiana Spencer’s The Sylph for example; from there a few of us went on to read A Woman in Berlin; and then two of us two more 18th century novels, one also attributed to Georgiana (Emma, or the Unfortunate Attachment) and one connected to her (Sophia Briscoe’s epistolary, Miss Melmoth, both 1770s). For myself I then read an excellent essays by Isobel Grundy on the increase of misattribution and minor Richardsonian novels.

CantervilleGhost

The crux of what’s wrong with MOOCs: the superficiaility of the relationships among the people unless they go off site and begin to form a subgroup for real. Yahoo is just now trying to destroy the self-containment of the Yahoo groups as much as it can. A recent phenomena is the appearance on some listservs of ads for others where someone is said to have joined it. As if there is no different between what group you are in … The crucial thing that has made Janeites and other listservs (3 long running ones I moderate)is a self-contained group where the people get to know one another — and are willing to contribute real genuine content. There are people trained to avoid content, but long term relationships bring us out. Blog rings may be made up of genuine groups of people who know one another. On facebook the problem with open groups is so many strangers: people are embarrassed to post content because they do not trust one another.

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been in the habit of treating the presentations I’ve heard over the last months at the Washington Area Print Group (a subdivision of the Sharp society) in rooms in the Library of Congress on my Sylvia blog (e.g., a talk on Writing with Scissors) as part of a diary, but thought the topic of this talk sufficiently germane to the terrain of this blog as it’s developed (see The Way We Watch TV Now) to warrant summary and commentary here.

Prof Metcalf developed an aspect of his book, the relationship of technology and economics with the kind of narrative that appears on TV. so the burden of his song was: Changes in technology and economics within TV have changed the way TV is made and how we experience it. He delivered his talk entertainingly — accompanied by many many stills.

He began with what TV was and had shots of older TVs in their wooden furniture. In the 1950s TV represented a central threat to the film industry, whose first ploys were teen films, big spectacles and 3-D movies. TV sold its product as one safe for a family in its private living room; the language was that the program was invited into this sanctuary. TV was radio with pictures and sought to reinforce culutral values of the family. In the US its purpose was to provide eyes and ears to watch and to see commercials.

A central writer for US TV at the time was Paul S. Newman who understand the particular format of TV programs meant characters couldn’t undergo transformation over a season as this would be disruptive and defeat the repeated expectation of sameness. He was superb at writing a structure not easy to do: you must produce a segment which moves to a peak at its end, yet at the same time be self-enclosed; you must avoid lulls because at any time the person can switch using the remote. Admittedly this structure does not necessarily make for great art (an understatement).

The BBC developed differently. It was paid for by millions of individuals who had licenses to watch TV, so it was commercial free. Its aims were education, elevation and entertainment. Traditional theater could appear on British TV much more easily; its purse was to question. There developed a tradition of challenging the audience. Programs were not meant to be re-used, re-run. In the US each program was developed with the idea of endless re-use.

The first long-form TV came from PBS and Masterpiece theater which Metcalf thought unfortunate. He called British costume drama boring for most people, staid. He never mentioned any specifically after that. It was a commercial channel which offered a model others could follow: Hill Street Blues. Male soap operas.

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The cast of Hill Street Blues, all men but two and these women dressed to look like men

People (he should have said “men”) were invited to watch the suffering of men. A typical episode would have the on-going A story (over the arc of the season), within the episode a story which concludes, and 3 other shorter on-going stories (B, C, and D, generally taking 3 episodes). He named a series of male-centered programs — like so many film critics I’ve encountered (many of them men), most of what he then cited was masculinist, not to say (not admitted) misogynist stuff. He also cited Wise Guy, The Fugitive. You need the mythos (the ongoing myth) and free standing episodes within that. Like others he then credited Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective (Michael Gambon) as quietly influential ever after. It used the situation comedy of the hospital ward as developed in British TV. He mentioned The Sopranos. These are versions of instalment publication (began in Victorian era). I suggested that Breaking Bad had departed from this in having one long story with two parallel heroes for 42 episodes. That’s part of what made it powerful and great art.

He also talked of the influence of the “concept album,” where all the music centered on coherent themes. At the same time itunes and downloading enable viewers to select a segment or episode or single song to listen to. We’ve moved back from the album concept to the single. What happened in the CD world (especially MTV) influenced what happened in the mini-series TV and DVD worlds.

What changed this situation? First, the cable companies who offered good and recent movies (“premium”), and in the 1980s in both Hollywood and the UK films were transformed by new ideals, technologies, independence. Prof Metcalf thought the advent of remote control devices next pushed writers into writing segmented TV: the point is to allow switching back and forth. (Which I dislike; once I sit down to watch a program I mean to watch that program until it’s done.) Then the VCR player ($1389) which allowed people to tape say the HBO movie. But this cannot compete with the DVD — which allows the film-makers to market their product divided up into serving sizes. You can curate your own TV. Many people now have a movie screen on their wall for their TV watching so they are imitating a movie experience.

The talk became more original when he began to talk of what the DVD has done to movies. For example, what is the authoritative version of a movie? You can buy Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad in a huge box with the hour-long episodes with commentary on, with deleted scenes, with features showing how an episode was made, what were the aims of the film-makers, and an alternative ending. I mentioned that I had bought Michael Winterbottom’s 6 part Trip to Italy to discover that the film-maker had gathered all the deleted scenes and then arranged them thematically to provide another half-hour of programming. A DVD in effect can be seen as providing manuscripts of the programs as well as later polished versions. They are packaged to look like books, to sit on shelves in a bookcase. Prof Metcalf suggested that the DVD which provides the largest amount of programming is what is seen as authoritative. We are paying more attention to screenplays as these are published and we can gather the precise lay out and emotional structure, study dialogue and description, montage. Very gradually both US and UK TV began the practice of hiring stars to shore up long-form stories.

The way we watch TV changed the TV we watch. The mini-series are now manufactured with DVDs and DVD watching in mind.

To some extent the talk degenerated at this point because he and the audience began to talk of favorite mini-series, which (again) were mostly masculinist, most of them produced for commercial TV. This reminded me of how in other places I’ve been women are unwilling to criticize the violence and misogyny of computer games, will let the men take over discussing football — for there were as many women in the audience as men. Implicitly the BBC and PBS took a beating, which brought home to me how many of these sorts of programs are aimed at women or at least have the female audience at least as much in mind. Many of the series were clearly highly violent. Three aggressive looking males on the covers of the DVDs.

But as he talked the BBC and British programming emerged as centrally providing quality to imitate and modify to an American model. He differentiated between mini-series that had a single person controlling the vision, and that still happens in British TV where a single author or at most 3 authors will write the scripts and the script writer become the organizing linchpin of what is done) and one that was the result of a fluid team of people. He also talked of how now that the soap operas has become a province for male suffering, comedy is a place for women to vent and expose issues of concern to them (Sex and the City, Nurse Betty).

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This promotional shot justifies Laura Mulvey’s famous paper about how film caters to the male gaze

American TV stopped in the 1950s but British TV continues to present live performances from the theater. The acerbic British TV sitcom may be regarded as dropped into melodrama to produce modern versions of say Sherlock Holmes. Someone mentioned how the rape story in the Downton Abbey fourth season outraged people; Metcalf was interested in how such an incident often covers but 3 episodes.

Some series especially praised and discussed: The Wire, for women and men, The Gilmore Girls (this appears to be a blend of screwball comedy and melodramatic romance, reminding me of Austen films). Clive Owens in Knick, a Steve Sodenberg product: Sodenberg did everything but write the screenplay and act in the series. Metcalf noted that again and again if you watch an individual episode it may seem funny, light, but when you watch the arc of the season, the series comes out as more serious, at times implicitly tragic (or explicitly as Breaking Bad). The good do win or if they go down to defeat we feel for them and there is sensitivity to beauty. These citations did bring out how often a Network or producer will cancel a mini-series that seems to be doing so well, getting so much praise. Why? the audience demographics are too old: they will not buy the products. The show is there for the commercials. The corporations making these are not content with modest or high profits; they want huge ones. (This is the sort of thinking that did in the rentals of books-on-tape and the choices of middle-brow excellent books not best-sellers nor high prestige old classics.) Lost leaders are programs which are made to attract people knowing they will make less money, but gather an audience who will remain loyal to the station for a while.

I enjoyed the talk though recognized the skewed nature of the presentation (of the examples). Afterward when a group of us went over to a restaurant to have dinner together the talk really did stay on the topic, on the TV people watch and how they watch. In this group many watched TV on their computers, as part of Netflix or streaming deals. When it did get down to what people really watched among this group, it was late night viewing (after all work was done and the person could do no more) of less avante garde popular shows. Metcalf said he watches all his viewing on his computer on some special channel where he can reach programs and movies made in a variety of countries across the decades.

What am I watching late at night just now? Ken Taylor’s Jewel in the Crown out of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, directed and produced by Christopher Morahan.

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Susan Woolridge as Daphne Manners the raped heroine

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Art Malik as Hari Kumar, the deeply betrayed unjustly treated hero – it made his career

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Charles Dance and Geraldine James as our traditional white couple

These brilliant 1970s series didn’t make it into Prof Metcalf’s narrative …. This would include the 74 Pallisers (a Simon Raven product) and Poldark (written by several people and it departs a lot in sexual detail and the ending from the books, but directed and produced by the same men) — both ran on US TV in the same year. The book of essays coming out on BBC costume historical drama which includes mine on Andrew Davies’s two adaptations of Trollope novels credits the 1967 Forsyte Saga and its popularity with starting the long decades of making such films, recently fallen off here in the US because of lack of money — so one gets thrillers instead. Downton Abbey has not been enough to re-start the engine for making mini-series from classic books. It is itself not an adaptation after all. The Singing Detective actually belongs to this narrative too.

But it was nonetheless instructive to listen to (Prof Metcalf knows a lot about TV) and I wish I could afford the book.

Ellen

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One of my favorite stills taken from a VHS Casette version of the 1974 Pallisers

Dear friends and readers,

Finally tomorrow I will (what’s called) teach the first of 10 sessions of a course wholly on Anthony Trollope’s life and writing. While I’ve taught individual works by Trollope, and over some 18 years now (!) have been leading groups of readers to read Trollope (among other Victorians & Edwardians) on a listserv dedicated to Trollope and his contemporaries (its original name as formulated by Mike Powe and me), I’ve never taught a single course on him. But by some perverse blind misunderstanding of my own (I have no memory of this whatsoever — a Freudian mistake?) I agreed to begin a week later than the official OLLI at AU term began this fall. Not too much harm done as I’m not so badly out of step with others; several people seem to have elected to start a week later, and as the staff decided to not offer any classes on Rosh Hashanah, the Thursday and whatever Friday people there are (not many) are starting this week too.

Worse for me: as in the spring term as bad luck would have it I’ve agreed to go to a conference that interferes with the second week, so we really won’t start in full force for 2 week after tomorrow. I regret this. Then, though, we will have 9 sessions (with time out for Thanksgiving), and I tell myself that I emailed the class last week (which I did) to suggest they read ahead with more an An Eye for An Eye, the passionate Anglo-Irish novella I asked them to read before the course started, and begin the short stories. I sent them the syllabus and told about the places on my website containing much on Trollope, the illustrations to his writing and some of his relatively unavailable essays too. I also remind myself salutarily no one cares about any of this as much me. A couple of students are away on vacation just now I was told …

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A favorite image: from the Samuel Laurence painting of him

Thus over the past couple of weeks I’ve been insofar as I can been immersing myself in Trollope once again. I reread (yet again) An Eye for an Eye, and several powerful short stories, and with the group, Nina Balatka;, and we are now about to embark on Phineas Finn, some 7 chapters (or more) per week (about 2 installments a week). I had recommended to the students for Trollope’s life story, his own Autobiography, but for myself I’m using the extra week to reread a book I’ve not read in quite a while: N. John Hall’s Trollope. I began with Glendinning’s biography, but after all I find her glib; there is something too promotional in her opening on “lips,” and however pleasant her fantasies about Ur-Texts underlying Trollope’s novels, telling us a hidden story about Trollope’s not altogether comfortable relationship with his wife, and (as it were) outside love life, there’s no proof at all; it’s non-serious. I’m about a third into Hall’s book; yes some of his discussions are slanted to the cheerful he’s determined to make prevail: he has a way of preferring the versions of Trollope’s brother, Tom’s about their child- and young man-hood to Trollope’s own; he will downplay Trollope’s present burning memories of earlier anguish, despair, hurt, mortification by substituting another contemporary’s far more cheerful assessment even if years later. Nonetheless, all that he writes of objective realities is rooted in verifiable documents. He quotes a lot of non-fiction for subjective ones, and his readings of Trollope’s life and opinions inside the fiction is persuasive. And he says what he sees, presents what does not fit into his own patterns. So he admits the tragic greatness of The Macdermots of Ballycloran even as he asserts it is atypical. (It’s not.)

(As to the other better known more recent biographies: Mullen’s book however wonderful on Trollope’s milieu and contexts shows him more Victorian than Trollope ever was, and Super’s book is, well, insufferably arrogant in his dismissal of Trollope’s version of his life and disdain for biographers like Helen Heinemann, the best and most candid on Frances, Trollope’s mother. To be more complete, quite a number of studies of his fiction also function as perceptive biographies, e.g., Skilton on the criticism of Trollope in periodicals, P. J. Edwards on his “art and scope.”)

Rereading Hall is not just a matter of renewing acquaintance with the ideas of the “old male school” on Trollope and seeing value in much of it, but I find I agree with some of what I rejected or didn’t notice before. Hall does far more justice to Anthony’s mother, Frances (Fanny anyone?) Trollope than Anthony could get himself to. Fanny was political, and despite the use of her texts by Tories, radical in her social fiction on slavery, factory workers, young women who had children outside a marriage.

We’ve been talking on Trollope19thCStudies on a disturbing pattern one finds across Trollope’s novels and is very strong in Nina: no other Victorian novelist, man or woman, shows the same continual obsessive dramatization of males demanding obedience from their wives. It bothered me when I read Nina and experienced how Anton Trendellsohn (see the AT, and double “l’s”) is ravaging this girl’s consciousness, tormenting her, making her kowtow to him — why take out his pressures on her. People prey on one another but it’s not pretty. And does not augur well. I note in the Pallisers film Raven tries to make Kennedy far more sympathetic than Trollope does, Raven’s man is really loving Laura and she won’t go to bed with him.

The normalizing reply, sweeping away, is to assert this is what all or most Victorian husbands expected from their wives, but I am not referring to what was said to be the norm, but what is written by Trollope’s peers: not one of them has this emphatic pattern, and reshaped to fit case after case, and while Trollope’s criticizes these characters he also empathizes. No other 19th century novelist makes this demand for obedience so central or presents in quite in the emphatic light of a man demanding obedience as a test of love, his manliness, her very gender as a woman, whatever the topic be. Now and again a conflict is seen in this light: as when in Eliot’s Middlemarch Lydgate tries to get Rosamund to agree to sell their house and allow him to carry on a course of life which is not shaped by the God material success and she thwarts him by going round him in secret. Then he fires up about his right of a husband to demand she obey because he gets to decide. But it’s only one part of a complex pattern, not put at the center.

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J. E. Millais, “Orley Farm”,” frontispiece, Orley Farm

One source we on Trollope19thCStudies all agreed on: the pattern is partly a response to his mother: Fanny took over the household when his father couldn’t and Anthony in particular suffered shame, loneliness, went into a depression, was ignored, neglected. She fled Harrow Wealde, the dump they had to leave Julian Hills (aka Orley Farm) for: isolated, to her shameful, a come-down, just awful to survive in, probably unhealthy. There was some kind of romance with Hervieu (it didn’t survive long in the US context, made fun of as she was as an old lady, and ostracized as a woman living with a younger man); her second son, Henry, was no scholar, and maybe she would find something somewhere for him in Frances Wright’s idealistic schemes of communitarian living. She did send him to a college briefly: Henry lasted one day. She had nothing to offer him; indeed she dressed him up in a ridiculous mountebank outfit in an absurd bazaar she set up, but she was desperate for money by then. Fanny had thought to make a new life in the new country. But as one sees from her book, when she first laid eyes on the Mississippi she was astonished; she had no idea what this new world was like. Eventually they were driven to ask Trollope’s father to send money from whatever was left of his estate. She wrote a book as “burning” as any of her sons, about her experiences, Domestic Manners of the Americans, and with her earnings from this and further novels, she eventually returned the family to Julians until debt had them on the run again.

But there’s more here than Trollope’s relationship to his mother: Trollope wrote his Autobiography to stop or control, forestall other biographies. He says so: he had read the biographies of Dickens and was horrified. What he did was tell as much of the truth as he dared and hoped to share what would be told hereafter in the way he wanted it to be seen.  That he told so much inclines us to think this a whole life, but even there he forestalls us by in the first pages calling his book a so-called autobiography and denying any can be written for real. A theme in A. S. Byatt’s work on biography is how much that is crucial in a life never gets written down, or if written is destroyed, or the person deliberately misleads. Trollope was a man who drove himself to success. Thomas his brother said he worked himself to death. That driving force is part of his intense compensation for deep burning shames. Years later he will remember a remark someone said and say see I won that election. This driving force is part of this obsessive pattern.

What does Hall’s book bring to this? Hall reminds us of how Trollope’s father as he sunk into total failure in his career, as a father, a husband, became more or more rigid and tyrannical. Gratingly he would insist on his way, and grow violent when he didn’t get it. Fanny wrote a book about this called One Fault. One reason Fanny left Trollope’s father was to escape that — he was an abusive husband. When he pulled his sons’ hair hard when they didn’t recite Latin verb patterns correctly while he shaved he required them to stand close to submit to him. He was cruel. Though Trollope excuses him and says while he, Trollope, knew his father his father’s life was one long tragedy, Trollope’s obsessive disturbing pattern of fierce demands and intense anxiety on the part of many males who cannot enforce this obedience (Anton Trendellsohn is an enforcer) is also a derivation from his experience of his father, memories of that. He is re-enacting this man — as he represents him over and over again from Larry MacDermot to the sexually anxious Louis Trevelyan. Hall also seems to feel that much of the strongest material in Trollope came to him like automatic writing he released — his dream life as controlled narratives over the years.

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Josiah Crawley listening to a home truth: ‘It’s Dogged as Does It, F. A. Fraser, The Last Chronicle of Barset

The second half of Trollope’s autobiography notoriously omits the private life which dominates the first. He and Rose had but two children, so how did they stop more from coming? We can’t know how he felt about this, what mortifications he was subject to. Nor about the many casual encounters he had as a young man in London, and then again while traveling nor the one beyond his love of Kate Field where he invested a good deal of himself: while in The West Indies and Spanish Main he went riding with her; he says of the book it’s favorite: he did write two great great short stories during that time). True we have strong women characters in Trollope who get round their husbands. You can prove anything if you get to make up the evidence — and Trollope tells stories which justify this demand for utter obedience or at least say leave it in place since it does no harm. It did and where it reigns does still. And Trollope dramatizes how when you give people power they use it and often meanly.

Other undercurrents: Trollope regards all human relationships is a jockeying for power, as a pull-and-tug of domination and submission. He loathes the way religion is used by people who hate life, resent the enjoyments of others, and this is most often presented as female harridan who drives a girl to a man distasteful to her (sadism) or forbids her any connection with a young man the girl does like.

I am now a long way from how the “old male school” of writers on Trollope (which included Ruth apRoberts) wrote about Trollope: but they do provide evidence for 21st century delving readings. Why do we find what we find in his characters? The Stebbins have been the most frank to bring out a strong thread of depression in the books giving them their darker depths; A. O. Cockshutt comes at this through thematic close reading. I’ve tried here to reach into one of the living permutations in Trollope’s consciousness that is part of the groundwork of his characters and stories, bringing in Hall’s reading too.

To conclude with two more perspectives briefly: I’m told that The Way We Live Now is replaced The Last Chronicle of Barset as Trollope’s signature book, Josiah Crawley an embarrassment instead of a noble failure. Yet who doubts the centrality of Phineas Finn? I watch people ask one another on-line which book do you recommend beginning with? which is your favorite? which the richest? surely Phineas deserves this kind of accolade. It used to be treated as a central book in the development of the political novel in English; now it’s seen as about building a career, and ethnicity. Here Hall’s treatment of Trollope’s first years in the post office, in London and then Ireland, (looking ahead) the failed attempt to get into Parliament matter. Another strength of Hall’s approach is it’s not a thesis book at all so he provides matter I haven’t touch on here to understand Finny Finn more deeply too. If you’ve not read or heard of it, a new book I much admire on Trollope’s politics as history: Christopher Harvie’s The Centre of Things: Political Fiction in Britain from Disraeli to the Present.

Hall uses the Trollope’s travel books centrally too: they are enormously important for anyone who wants to understand him and his fiction. I’ll end on how I’ve now promised to go to the Belgium conference in Sept 2015, and will at long last write that paper I’ve gathered 4 folders of stuff for: “On Living in a New Country: Trollope’s Australia” (it’s a play on Patrick White’s great book, On Living in an Old Country.) There is an enormous amount in Trollope’s writing coming out of colonialism: I’m astonished to think how little it has been treated thus far. (I’m not sure Hall does justice to this. Nicolas Birns’s work is important here.) So I’ll be immersing myself for quite a while to come.

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Niagara Falls, mid-19th century print

Ellen

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With Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman standing aside, Bryan Cranston as Mr White advising Aaron Paul as Jesse to find a new identity — near closure

Dear friends and readers,

When I began watching and then writing about Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad I did not intend to write seriously about it, but gradually I came to see the it comprises an unusual set of quality TV films worth study and evaluative commentary. They mirror central deeply disquieting and central aspects of US life, the whole plot-design actuated by the cancer epidemic (from our ubiquitous “chemistry, yo Mr White!”) and the horrendous price of a pretense at effective chemical medicine:

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Anna Gunn as Skyer desperate and believing Walt could be saved, pressuring him into going for the out-of-range expensive chemotherapy and operation.

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At film’s end: she sits, chain-smokes, drinks coffee, listens to others in a corner of a trailer-home

As film art they are brilliant. The genre finally American gothic: the mini-series has the recipe except for the supernatural: the double self, death, labyrinthine haunted places, the past never goes away, even sexuality in the form of homo-eroticism unacknowledged, and at the end a house in ruin. Less known but common characteristics: exploration of science, doctors (as in Frankenstein). Kafkaesque, majorly says Jesse of his experiences.

So now, as I’ve done for the Palliser, Poldark and Downton Abbey mini-series, as well as many Jane Austen and Andrew Davies’ films, I offer a handy list in one place for people who are interested easily to reach my summaries and commentary. I’ll keep it to this blog (and not attempt to put it on a new website when I finally make it) as after all I discover I did not write as many here as for these previous series:

1) Cancer and Anatomies of Violence: Season 1:1-3

2) Cancer and Money: Season 1:4-6

3) Parallels distract common sense from seeing who is the villain here: Season 1:17

4) It’s the reverse of what’s claimed: Season 2:1-4

5) A Crime Adventure Story: Season 2:5-7 to Finale

6) A Crime Adventure Story (Cont’d): Season 2:8-10

7) American Gothic: Season 2:11-13

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Their first lab

8) Sensational Screenplay into a film: Season 3:1-4

9) Rather poorer stuff: Season 3:5-7

10) Stasis (includes Fly and Kafkaesque): Season 3:8-10

11) A Killing Way of Life: Season 3:11-13; 4:1-4

12) I change my mind about Skyler: Season 4:5-13 & Reprise 1:1-7

13) Walt and the Emmys: Season 5:1-8 & Reprise Season 2:5-13

14) The Dark Tragic End: Season 6:1-8

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From The Fly

I’ve two books to recommend, and transcripts of what was said in each episode. As I discover new essays or materials (reviews welcome) on-line that are good, I’ll add them here:

David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp’s collection of essays by themselves and others, Breaking Bad and Philosophy: Badder Living Through Chemistry

Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad by Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz

The Breaking Bad episodes scripts — simply the dialogue taken down (not the screenplay, not shooting scipts as they have no stage directions, no description of production design, no designation for shots)

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One of the many landscapes and bags of chemicals from the series

Ellen

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Anna Gunn about to fall to her knees on the ground as Skyler crying after her baby is taken from her by Walt

if you cut them [man's laws] down … d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then … Yes I’d give the Devil the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake — Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons

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But see this pinned up photo of Andrea (Emily Rios), among the world’s targets: who cares what happens to her: anyone may and does shoot her in the head

Dear friends and readers,

I finished what I’m calling a first viewing of the extraordinary 42 hour Breaking Bad to the bitter end last night. Even to try to take it in would require several viewings. Each of the last shots of the principles epitomizes some final statement about what each has become and how they related to the story’s themes and action. In the last feature as well as a parody, “Alternate Ending,” Vince Gilligan offered his view of the two men’s last moments.

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The series’ last shot of Bryan Cranston as Walter White

White, he suggests, is “spiritually broken, his hopes for revenge pipe dreams; he’s too sick,” the last episode “an elegy, a bit of a goodbye — he goes out on his own terms, the cancer does not kill him, he is killed saving Jesse, there’s almost a perverse feeling of victory to it for me, at least.” Walt’s life up to the time he began to cook meths was a long mortification, failure as most in his society saw it, mocked by the bully brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) in a video replayed briefly made during Holly’s baby shower. He tells Skyler he did it “for me. I liked it. And I was good at it. I was alive.” Look at that look of bliss on the man’s face as Walt enters the darkness from which we all come, for him the release of oblivion. His life as Walter White ended when he was told he had terminal inoperable cancer; now the love he depended upon is gone from his family, he has done for them what he could monetarily, and he now dies on his own terms, blithe to go.

I’m not as persuaded by Gilligan’s view of Jesse. He’d “like to think Jesse escapes,” that there is “some hope of a life ahead.” Look at that face whose every nerve is suffused with moral pain and despair:

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Last shot of Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman

Jesse crashes in a junk car at full throttle through an iron fence from the last lair of murderous crooks with which he and Mr White have had to deal and Walt destroyed. Realistically, he’s nowhere to hide: Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) has vanished (“it’s over”) and with him his mechanisms for creating new identities for his clients. Jesse will end up seeking out his two feeble friends, Skinny Pete and Badger, and die on the streets if not jailed: he has been called “the moral compass” of the series;” it’s more true to say he has bneen its bleak victim, the one beat up continually, targeted again and again for killing, enslaved with chains, at the close yes knowing he made a killing choice to join Walter White and Jesse is no killer. Each time he shot or killed someone it was after an intense effort to force himself: only the strangulation of Todd (well deserved after Todd coolly shoots Andrea in the head) came naturally.

baddreams

The alternate ending has Cranston as Hal, a comic emasculated character with Lois, his formidable wife (Jane Kaczmarek, from a once TV popular series, the two of them starred in, 2006 Malcolm in the Middle) waking in the night, trembling from the “scariest” dream you can imagine: told he had cancer (!), he took to cooking meths, making bombs, killing people (!), alongside a “lost waif, a man child who looked like he was always wearing his older brother’s clothes and he would always say things like “b…” [he stops embarrassed and worried his wife won't approve], the b word he would use the b word a lot he would say (shouting) “yo B word” and “yah science b word …” In “Felina” we see Jesse when young lovingly carpentering a wooden box, his drawings of himself as a boy hero were recognized by Jane (Krysten Ritter), one of his two loves, as the work of a comically self-deprecating artist. Despised and rejected, with no Mr White to save him, Jesse zooms into the darkness too.

In this dream Hal tells Lois, as his actual wife (much TV self-reflexivity here) that he, Hal, was married to this “tall beautiful blonde woman” — Lois the wife semi-jeers, incredulous of course. When Skyler is last seen she is continually smoking, chain-smoking. She sits and smokes. She is terrorized twice in this season, both through her baby. After a terrific scene after Walt has produced another set of lies to account for his absence and where Hank could be, she sees a fancy knife in a knife set on the table we have seen many times. She grabs it and lunges at him, screaming, “leave us alone, just leave us alone.” Walt defends himself and they fall to the fall, rolling, tussling; he manages to wrench the knife back but not before she has slashed his hand. Horrified, Walt junior becomes hysterical as he watches this.

Flynnhorrified (2)

Flynnhorrified (1)

To this they have descended. Well he gets back; before she can rise and adjust herself, he has taken the baby in its carrier, run to his car and is driving off. She rushes out after them frantic, asking for her baby back, and falls on her knees to the ground as he drives away. A stunning moment. She begins at long last to cry. Walt does care for Holly and leaves her with the firemen, where we presume Skyler can pick her up safe and sound.

Again another moment in this last season, late at night, she hears a sound from the baby’s room and finds herself by the crib with three men who surround it. They are masked and the dangerous Todd is one of them. They say she has been talking to the police and if she tells about who Lydia is or anything she knows they will return — implication and kill this baby. She mouths obedience.

SkylerWhite
Last shot of Anna Gunn as the show’s princess Skyler White seeing how bad Walt looks

Anna Gunn interprets her character inadequately throughout. She says Skyler is a shell, nothing in her. But for her life is not pointless as yet: she has her children, but like Jesse, they make her intensely vulnerable to those who want to get at Walt or any of his associates. Unlike Jesse, once her court case is done, if she does not go to prison (and a plea bargain seems probable), she must (like Saul) move, and if not get a new identity, keep out of harm’s way. Her beauty is of no help for what she cares about — though perhaps it attracted Walter White in the first place, made him dump Gretchen Schwartz. The characters in the series invite these kinds of speculations: we learn enough about them suggestively over the slow-moving 6 year series. I imagine she will eventually stop the heavy smoking — though she will never be the complacent woman she once was. She will remember a world of terror that she joined in on (to the extent of telling Walt to have Jesse killed when Walt balks at this), that still exists but which she now wants no part of.

Lastshotofseries
The very last shot of the series: the men with big guns in the scientific lab (as Fortinbras has the last word in Hamlet)

There is a bleak inference to be garnered at this end: at each and every turn of their career, the two men came up against people who had become inured to murder by dint of murdering other people lest they be murdered or found out, bullied into confessions, and then tortured by penal servitude for decades to come. Each set of murderers were worse than the ones before: from Krazy-8 (seemingly sane) to Tuco Salamanca (who commits acts of wild crazed violence), replaced by the frighteningly homocidal Gus Esposito and his ruthless hitman, Mike Ermantraut, replaced in this last season by the vicious Nazi crew run by Jack Welker (Michael Bowen), with perhaps the scariest pair of them all, Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) and Lydia Rodart-Quayle (Laura Fraser). Hank tells Walt he is a dead man ten minutes ago when Walt is still so foolish as to try to bargain with Jack for Hank’s life based on reasoning:

Hankslastmoent
Near last shot of Dean Norris as Hank: to Walt “you were the smartest guy I ever knew, but you are too stupid to know it was over ten minutes ago.”

The mini-series presents law as providing a modicum of safety for those who do not break it: those administering (inflicting?) and obeying it do not fear one another and however personally awful, mean, demeaning of others, have a vested interest in not breaking it. So some control is exerted over people, some order set up (however morally cruel or wrong) whose rules most of the time can be depended upon — at least by white middle class people.

Marieleftalone
Marie (Betsy Brandt) left alone, widowed in her impeccable kitchen — having learned nothing, her lips tight as she spews out unfocused anger

At least you know where you are with the DEA, the medical establishment, the schools, family rituals. There are levels of barbarity such people most of the time do not stoop to. Not everyone is inside this net — those on drugs, alcoholics, non-whites, the poor, women who are driven to prostitution, for whom there is no pity, no understanding. The show does not include GLBT people who presumably are not inside the Net if they reveal themselves.

Disabled
Walt’s last view of Walter Junior (RJMitte) who he has tried to provide money for funneled through the Schwartzes

I would not want to be a disabled person, a child, someone who does not conform in the surface way the well-rewarded Schwartzes have.

A bad dream? Says Mr White to Hank (who soon after ends up buried in sand), if you do not know what this has been about (“who I am”), tread lightly:

Treadlightly (2)

Treadlightly (1)

The remark is not to limited to Heisenberg as Hyde but the whole complex of life we’ve experienced.

Have I mentioned how effective are the inconsequential shots of the series: as Walter White is taken away to hide in the granite state, a stray dog crosses the road

Straydog
Final shot of Oxymandias (13:6)

Ellen

The Gothic

A Syllabus for a Class at the Oscher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University

Exploring the Gothic

Day: 8 Tuesday afternoons, 2:15-3:40 pm, Sept 24th to Nov 11th
Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road. Fairfax
Instructor: Ellen Moody

Description of Course:

This course explore varieties of gothic and its terrain which conform to recipe format. Take one labyrinthine or partly ruined dwelling, place inside murderous incestuous father or chained mother (preferably in a dungeon), heroes and heroines (as wanderers, nuns), stir in a tempest; have on hand blood, night-birds, and supernatural phenomena, with fore-, and back-stories set in the past. We’ll read short stories, three novellas and sample films. We’ll begin with ghosts and witches, move to vampires, werewolves, and end on socially critical mysteries and stories of the paranormal (e.g., possession). We cover terror, horror, male and female gothic. We’ll also view clips from two films considered the most powerful film gothics ever made and an Oscar winning short.

Schedule:

September 23:   Origin, definition, history of genre, characteristics. I’ll show parts of DVD for The Haunting and The Woman in Black (if possible, otherwise substitute clip from “Afterward” from Shades of Darkness).
September 30:   Stevenson, “Markheim, ” Wharton’s “Afterward” and Mary Reilly
October 7:  Mary Reilly (possible clip) and F. Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life”
October 14:   Stoker, “The Judge’s House,” Conan Doyle, “Adventure of Abbey Grange;” Wharton’s “Kerfol”
October 21:   Vampire Tapestry (first 3 tales), LeFanu’s “Carmilla” and Oliphant’s “The Open Door”
October 28:   Vampire Tapestry (last 2 tales), Stevenson, “The Body Snatchers,” Wharton, “Mr Jones”
November 4 :  Dickens, “Signalman”’; M. R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedrale”; Bierce, “Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge”; A. M. Burrage’s “Smee.”
November 11:  The Haunting of Hill House

Texts:

Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly. New York: Vintage, 1990. ISBN 978-0-375-72599-9. It’s available as a kindle, and there have been many editions: Doubleday 1990, Washington Square Press, 1994.
Charnas, Suzy McKee. The Vampire Tapestry. Albuquerque: Living Batch Press, 1980. It’s available as a Kindle and two newer edition: Orb Books, 2008; The Women’s Press, 1992.
Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. NY: Penguin 2006. ISBN978-0-14-303998-3

Online short stories:

R.L. Stevenson, “Markheim”  

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Mark.shtml

Edith Wharton, “Afterward”

http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/ewharton/bl-ewhar-afterward.htm

F. Marion Crawford, “For the Blood is the Life” (scroll down)

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0605421.txt

Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House”

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10150/10150-h/10150-h.htm

Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of Abbey Grange”

http://sherlock-holmes.classic-literature.co.uk/the-adventure-of-the-abbey-grange/

Edith Wharton, “Kerfol”

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24350/24350-h/24350-h.htm

R.L. Stevenson, “The Body Snatchers”

http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/body.htm

Edith Wharton, “Mr Jones”

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200121.txt

Sheridan LeFanu, “Carmilla”

http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/carmilla.htm

Margaret Oliphant, “The Open Door”

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10052/pg10052.html

Charles Dickens, “The Signalman”

http://anilbalan.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/the-signalman.pdf

M. R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedrale”

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/mr/more/chapter5.html

A.M. Burrage, “Smee”

http://anilbalan.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/smee-by-am-burrage-_-scary-for-kids.pdf

Ambrose Bierce, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/

YouTube for Oscar Winning Short: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuP5kUQro40

For further materials on the gothic, see my website under Ghosts and gothics, vampires and witches and l’ecriture-femme; under Austen Reveries, the category “Gothic.”

Ellen

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Ten Wednesday afternoons over 11 weeks, 1 to 2:50 am, Temple Baptist Church
Dates: Classes start Oct 1st; last day Dec 16th.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

This study group will read will four of Trollope’s novels: An Eye for an Eye (written 1870), Nina Balatka (written 1865), Phineas Finn, (written 1866) and Lady Anna (written 1871), a group of short stories spanning Trollope’s career, one of which is the Barsetshire type. We will see that Barsetshire is but one phase of Trollope’s career: he began as an Anglo-Irish novelist, saw himself as exploring the political and social life of Great Britain as well as those countries across the globe connected to or affected by British customs and people. We will see him as a man making a career of writing among men and women making careers out of other professions and marriage. We’ll be reading passionate romances centered on ethnic and class conflict, colonialism, his foreign travel and ironic comedies about the way the world works, parliamentary life and interactions between law and reality. His characters encompass the fabulously rich and the abysmally impoverished. The class will also watch select excerpts from Simon Raven’s 1974 Pallisers, a mini-series which mirrors the ways Trollope is often read, and if possible Henry Herbert’s 1973 Malachi’s Cove, a cinematic adaptation of one of Trollope’s finest short stories, set in Cornwall.

Texts. Students are asked to bring a copy of the novel or stories we are discussing for the week to class.

Trollope, Anthony. The Complete Shorter Fiction, ed. Julian Thompson. NY: Carroll and Graf, 1992. ISBN: 0786700211. ———————–. An Eye for an Eye, ed. John Sutherland. NY: Oxford UP, 1992. ISBN 0192829106 It’s available in a Penguin and on-line http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16804/16804-h/16804-h.htm ———————. Nina Balatka, ed. Robert Tracy NY: Oxford UP, 1991. ISBN 0192827235. It is available as Classic Reprint, and Folio Society. Any of the 3. ———————-. Phineas Finn, ed. Jacques Berthoud. NY: Oxford, 1982. ISBN 0192815873 There are many editions and it’s on-line. http://web.archive.org/web/20080829221818/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/TroFinn.html .Any edition will do. ———————-. Lady Anna, ed. Stephen Orgel NY: Oxford, 1990. ISBN 0192821342. It is available in a Dover edition and on line: http://web.archive.org/web/20081201213913/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/TroAnna.html Any of the 3.

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

October 1st: Introduction: Trollope, life, career, attitudes towards; An Eye for an Eye
October 8th: Class cancelled (for a conference I must go to)
October 15th. Nina Balatka and “La Mere Bauche,” “Ride Across Palestine.”
October 22nd. “Returning Home,” “Aaron Trowe,” “Parsons Daughter at Oxney Colne”
October 29th Phineas Finn
November 5th Phineas Finn
November 12th Phineas Finn and 5 clips from Phineas Finn portions of 1974-75 The Pallisers mini-series
November 19th Phineas Finn, “The Spotted Dog” and “Why Frau Frohman Raised her Prices”
November 26th: Day before Thanksgiving, no class held
December 3rd: Lady Anna (first half) and “Malachi’s Cove”
December 10th: Lady Anna (concluding half) and “Christmas at Thompson Hall”
December 18th. ?

Further on-line materials: Ellen’s website Anthony Trollope: British Novelist: Essays on Trollope’s fiction and travel books; bibliographies; group readings Trollope in the Magazines: the original and recent illustrations to his novels; his non-fiction articles Commentaries and summaries on the Pallisers and other films adapted from Trollope: mostly blogs Ellen and Jim have a blog, two, under category Trollope, blogs on Trollope and his writing

AT40
Anthony Trollope at age 40

Ellen

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