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Posts Tagged ‘Disabilty studies’

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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Patsy asking Plat to help her kill herself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Half-mad man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And he wouldn’t know, he was tempted

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

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

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

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

Learning to watch TV, a little
Ellen

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winstongrahamblog
Winston Graham — from his middle years

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

An annotated bibliography

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

WalkingStickSeashore2blog
Still from the fine 19560s semi-art film, The Walking Stick

POldark77Pt9.blog
Richard Armitage and Demelza Carne Poldark falling in love over their shared reading (Poldark 1977-78, Part 9)

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

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

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

RossPoldark1stedition
First 1945 edition of Ross Poldark

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

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

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Recent British set (21st century)

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

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1st edition of Little Walls

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

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

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

Ellen

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PaulCriticalofRogerblog
TWWLN (Pt 2, Ep 12): fierce quarrel between Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) and Roger Carbury (Douglas Hodge)

Dear friends and readers,

I am happy to be able to say the paper on “Masculinity and Epistolarity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope films” is finished, and accepted as excellent and fitting in very well with a projected volume on British costume and popular serial drama as a whole. (There are four essays on Downton Abbey, two on the Poldark series, one on The Forsyte Saga in it.) In order to keep the paper to 6700 words, I had to omit a bibliography and cut some parts of my argument; the parts chosen were about how Davies alludes to, critiques and even seeks to replace previous films adapted from the same book or another book by the same author. Davies extends his influence beyond how to read a particular book or author by alluding to and replacing earlier ones by a given author; he likes to comment on earlier films and mini-series too.

Davies has often described his approach to an author’s text he has adapted into a screenplay for a film or mini-series as “having a little quarrel” with “mine author.” He means playfully to refer to the way he will reverse, qualify and critique some of his author’s points of view and the characters’ acts and personalities. Most of the time Davies seeks to present a far more humane, and sometimes socialistic vision than his verbal sources.

His way of extending his readings’ influence in many of his films is to allude to and replace precursor films; for Trollope these include Alan Plater’s 1982 BBC six-hour Barchester Chronicles and Simon Raven’s 1974-75 BBC 26 hour Pallisers. In He Knew He Was Right Davies replaces Trollope’s Exeter and East End London with the décor, church ambiance and costume designs of Plater’s Barchester Chronicles to provide a note of needed cheer. The sets also bring home to us this idyllic matter of the 1980s was not shot through, as this film adaptation is, with gender and class betrayals, and exploitations of women. Something that never comes up in Trollope and Plater’s Barchester Chronicles and is made much of here is the need of a clergyman to be seen to be respectable, maintain a standard of life style and please his parishioners to survive.

DorothyBrookeblog
HKHWR (Pt 3, Ep 4); Dorothy Stanbury (Caroline Martin) reasoning with Brooke Burgess (Matthew Goode)

In Davies’s and Trollope’s HKHWR, the intelligent and candid Dorothy Stanbury (Caroline Walker dressed in a costume whose cut and design harks back to the previous film) tells her suitor who prefers to ignore this motive for her acceptance of him: “The world is filled with people whom nobody cares for, people that nobody thinks about, nobody talks about as if they’re not there … If a man is a nobody, he can make himself into somebody or at any rate, he can try, but a woman has no means of trying. She does not earn anything or do any good in the world.”

An analogous bleak awareness about why women marry, and the consequent “tyranny of husbands” is uttered by the Signori Neroni in Trollope’s Barchester Towers, although given a wistful turn by Plater and Susan Hampshire (the actress). Susan Hampshire playing the crippled Signora Neroni has been listening to her sister, Charlotte Stanhope, urge their penniless brother, Bertie, to court the widowed Eleanor Bold, to marry her for her money if he can. Obstacles include the heavy mourning Eleanor wears. Madeleine speaks a series of utterances which have undergone no change from Barsetshire Chronicles: “I hate such shallow pretenses. I’d let the world say what it pleased and show no grief [for a dead husband] if I felt none – perhaps not show it if I did,” and (when they in effect say nothing) “you both know in what way husbands and wive generally live together. You know what freedom a man claims for himself and what slavery he would exact from a wife and you know how wives generally obey. Marriage means tyranny on one side, and deceit on the other, and a man is a fool to sacrifice his interests to such a bargain. The tragedy is a woman generally has no other way of living” (Cf 1:4, Episode 5; BT 125-26).

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Barchester Chronicles (Pt 5, Ep 4): Signora Neroni (Susan Hampshire), disillusioned

This disillusioned awareness about marriage, as found in Trollope’s Barchester Towers and uttered by Susan Hampshire is central to Emily Trevelyan’s dilemma and the two other heroines who have no way of supporting themselves in the book, Nora Rowley and Dorothea Stanbury. Through these heroines Trollope utters and Davies repeats bleak versions of Madeleine’s comment. But Trollope shies away, offers no words which shed light on the novel’s sexual and emotional anxiety, distress, on jealousy, both the male and female’s desire to have unshared physical possession (the latter enshrined in marriage), their need for reassurance and respect, and urge to dominate. All that Trollope’s text contains (repeated many times) are Louis’s religious castigations (which Emily rejects as ugly name-calling) and demands for instant obedience. Davies makes us see that in fact Emily did flirt with Osborne, they talked disingenuously when they justified their implicitly erotic correspondence with one another, and Davies does what he can to reinforce and bring out versions of feminist self-assertion in his films.

One example: Lady Rowley (Geraldine James) trying to persuade Emily to own a fault and submit to her husband at least part way.

Emily: and offer him my humble penitence for sins I’d never committed
Lady R: but to have your home again dear and your little boy
Emily: by telling lies and living a lie
Lady R: you wouldn’t be the first women to do so

Emily stares, her father, Sir Marmaduke rustles his newspaper in discomfort resentful as if about to protest. Then Davies gives Emily a soliloquy by curtained window & flower arrangement to us:

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HKHWR (Pt 3, Ep 7): Emily (Laura Fraser) reasoning with us

if I simply said the words to him might they work like a spell would he change back to the Louie I first knew I could pretend pretend to be the humble penitent wife he wants (intense resentment understandable) and wait and take my chance and escape with little Louie … but where could we go that he couldn’t find us … then still looking at us

In The Way We Live Now Davies includes scenes which allude to the kind of behavior we find among males in both Barchester Chronicles and The Pallisers: Davies’s younger contemporary males attuned to the contemporary worlds of business and more liberated women expose the older men’s supposed sheerly chivalrous motives in wanting to marry a much younger woman as a mask for carnal appetites and control over everyone within the reach of their patronage; this achieved by treating women as children and presenting themselves as exemplary in all behaviors.

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TWWLN (Pt 2, Ep 7): again Paul Montague and Roger Carbury confront one another

Four scenes invented by Davies between Sir Roger Carbury (Douglas Hodge) and his cousin-nephew, Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) are intended as commentary on the supposed chivalrous but actually possessive and repressive behavior of Plantagenet Palliser (Philip Latham) over Lady Glencora McClusky Palliser (Susan Hampshire). Davies’s TWWLN: Part 2, Episode 7: Paul: “For God’s sake, man, she’s not a piece of property for one man to take or another to keep. She has a will of her own and a heart of her own. In the end she will decide. She may not choose either of us”; Part 2, Episode 12: Paul: “You think and you speak of her as a child, Roger, all your intercourse with her has been as a grown man with a child and you offer yourself to her as a lover. How can you regard your advances to her with anything but embarrassment and disgust.”

Palliser’s father-like concern in participating in the forcing of a frustrated thwarted Lady Glencora to marry him forms another common typology in Trollope’s work, one shown to be justified by Trollope and Raven. In a striking scene which set alongside Trollope’s clearly is intended to critique this paradigm, Davies has his less than scrupulous young male hero, Paul Montague turn on Roger Carbury, Paul’s older guardian-uncle when (as in Trollope) Roger disdains Montague for spending a weekend with the married Winifred Hurtle, and accuse Roger of far worse behavior, of distasteful appetites and seeking exploitative control when Roger pursues the much younger and dowry-less Hetta. Roger’s response to this demonstrates how central Davies understands Paul’s direct thrust against Victorian male paternalism (and Trollope’s alter-egos) to be: “I don’t see how our relationship can survive this” (Cf. HKHWR (film), 2:2, Episodes 7, 12 and HKHWR 374-77)

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HKHWR (Pt 1, Ep 3): Emily with Osborne (Bill Nighy), a vision or daily happening?

In interviews Davies has said both The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right are about “strong, confident ['modern'] women.” He sees Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right as “about a strong woman who is seeking to make her own decisions and lead her own life, and a rather fragile man who can’t stand up to her” (Walsh), an astonishing stance when placed in relationship to most essays about the book, which Davies clearly has read (e.g., Nardin 203-11).

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HKHWR (Pt 1,Ep 3): Emily overmastering Louis (Oliver Dimsdale)

Although Davies eliminates some of the worst explicit violence against women in Trollope’s novel, it’s Trollope’s dramatization of women’s subjection, caged delusions, sense of self, fierce materialism in conflict with their need for love, and tendency (as he sees it) to submit and sacrifice themselves to others that Davies turns to mildly subversive advantage in the stories of the partly re-characterized unchaste as well as chaste young heroines. The character Trollope meant to be one of the corrupt and deluded focuses of the book, Lady Carbury (in Trollope’s scathing view, a marketplace “female literary charlatan” if ever there was one, [Kincaid 173-74; McMaster 69, 76]), becomes an often sympathized-with vulnerable and sensual career woman.

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TWWLN (Pt 1, Ep 9), Lady Carbury (Cheryl Campbell) making up to Mr Broun (David Bradley) at her salon

Davies was attracted to The Way We Live Now by two male characters: “Sir Felix Carbury, so pathetic, yet very attractive to women. He’s utterly contemptible really, and is my favorite character”; “my character of Sir Roger [Carbury] is Trollope writing in a great fire of indignation about every aspect of English society” (PSB Website). Integrity as an element in male emotional weakness, and empathy with mean, vicious male characters have long been found in Davies’ filmic oeuvre (Cardwell, Davies 159-66, 84-94, 148-57), but the conventions and characterizations in Davies’s Trollope represents show Davies unsympathetic to Trollope’s moralisms, staid realism and specific characters in the 1974 Pallisers (which Davies sought to replace).

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TWWLN (Pt 1, Ep 6): Felix’s jaunty walk (Matthew Macfayden)

Felix Carbury is a type found throughout Trollope’s fiction: the ne’er-do-well drone attractive to women because he can be brutal to them, e.g., Burgo Fitzgerald whom Barry Justice plays (Pallisers 1:1–3:6) as a poignant tragic hero, a view consonant with Trollope’s text: Raven’s pathetic scene of Burgo as genuinely grief-stricken and abused, wounded in a justified pride (Pallisers 3:6, Episode 28) includes dramatic language taken directly from Can You Forgive Her? (690-700). Matthew MacFayden as Felix ends complacently playing cards, drinking whiskey, and is last seen chasing a flirtatious woman around a door, apparently content with life on a remittance in small European town (at least behaving no differently than he ever did). Neither Raven nor or Alan Plater (scriptwriter for the Barsetshire Chronicles) ever question the supposedly admirable motives of Trollope’s alter egos.

Davies’s particular brand of mild feminism within a masculinist perspective calls out for study since he has been so influential on how people respond to the books he’s adapted. He feels for weaker woman, e.g., in TWWLN Madame Melmotte’s nervousness is contrasted to Hetta (Paloma Baeza) and Mrs. Hurtle (Mirando Otto) as strong women: Madame Melmotte (Helen Schlesinger) clutches her hands in a characteristic gesture signaling a helpless woman listening to Melmotte’s last pragmatic advice: “You’d better pack up your jewels . . . pack ‘em up small, ready to hand . . . you might have to …”

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TWWLN (Pt 4, Ep 11): she wrings her hands

Not all is sombre; strength in woman can make gay scenes too. A mark of Davies’s real talent for play-writing (scripts for TV too) is the ability to convey a story through dialogue and make the dialogue itself of interest in different ways and at the same time create human sympathy for the characters. I was struck by this sparkling dialogue written by Davies for Caroline Spalding and Mr Glascock to speak to one another in their flirtatious phase at Florence; there is no such dialogue in Trollope, but it articulates the conflict of values between the two, and presents as sharp a critique of the US as the UK — which self-critique the American Senator Gotobed (American Senator) fudges:

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HKHWR (Pt 2 Ep 9): Miss Caroline Spalding (Anna Louise Plowman) holds her own; they begin their witty flirtatious debate with Caroline suggesting to Glascock (the name is deliberately parodically allegorical) he would not enjoy a visit or life in the US:

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Mr Glascock (Raymond Coulthard)

Caroline: You wouldn’t like it [the states]
Glascock: Why not?
Caroline: Because you’re an aristocrat
Glascock: And why should that prevent me from liking it
Caroline: One half of the people would run after you and the other half would run away from you on principle
Glascock: Revolutionary principle?
Caroline: Democratic principle
Glascock: And may I ask which half you’d be in [-- gets sly and sharp look now]
Caroline: The second half of course
Glascock: You’re not running away from me now
Caroline: No I’m not, am I? but I think I shall have to before too long
Glascock: Oh that would make me sad
Caroline: It would make me sad too but there we are I think it has to be done the old world and the new are like oil and vinegar you see we may be polite to each other in society but deep down you believe we’re an inferior race and
Glascock: mouths oh
Caroline: Deep down we’d like to smash your outdated snobbish institutions and make you like us free and equal
Glascock; Well, all Englishmen are free and we’re all equal in the eyes of god
Caroline: Oh and doesn’t that excuse a great deal of iniquity we freed our slaves Mr Glascock
Glascock: We never had slaves Miss Spalding
Caroline: No you just traded in them
Glascock: Well not me personally and my father was very active in the abolition movement (getting insulted now)
Caroline: None of this is personal, Mr Glascock
Glascock: I’m relieved to hear it.

The juxtapositon of this fresh love of Caroline and Glascock is cast odd light on by previous utterances about love and courtship by the 5 or 6 other couples of the novel (dependent on how you count them) and also Emily and Louis’s love: What will this couple be in a few years, we are led to ask. A deep scepticism about erotic love in this film is part of Davies’s presentation of male sexual anxiety too — she says this will end in tears. Then we get this witty half -challenging dialogue about old world and new aristocracy and democracy. Davies probably thinks of himself as outdoing his predecessor even in the area of naturalistic dialogue where Trollope is a past master too.

Ellen

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roosvelt catching himself with his hand

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

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

DaisysAuntblog.

and this wins me over.

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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GosfordParkUpstairsblog
Gosford Park: Upstairs

GosfordParkDownstairsblog
Gosford Park: Downstairs,

Dear friends and readers,

Notwithstanding Rumor to the contrary, Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, both scripted by Julian Fellowes, are distinctively different movies. Here am I again about Gosford Park: a fine film about costume drama, whose signature music I offered two Sundays ago and again on Downton Abbey (see archives).

Robert, Earl of Grantham, the controlling Top Male whom all ultimately reverence in Downton Abbey, is a good decent man who keeps his word; he does not have a liaison with any of the servant girls. He means well; we are endorse all his decisions for himself and others. Sir Wm MacCordle, the controlling Top Male of Gosford Park and many investments, is a ruthless lying seducer, especially of working women around him dependent on him. In DA, everyone (even Thomas the homosexual footman and Miss Obrien, the old maid lady’s maid) is presented as having a good side, explicable by a sort of pop Freudian psychology, most mean well, most believe in the value of their job, the general order of things against which they may rebel, but then blame themselves as ungrateful. Godford Park is shot through and thought with knowledge of how demanding, careless of their health and needs, indifferent, utterly selfish, obtuse the upstairs people mostly are; the staff is sceptical, notes the hypocrisies, idle lives of their masters and mistresses, lack of lives of their own. Sir William is murdered three times over and his death upsets no one but his (foolish) worshipful valet.

Every one of the 16 stories (we have 16 major characters) in Downton Abbey is elaborately worked out; we are given many clues for each story; if the story is left to end ambiguously, by the end nothing is mysterious or merely suggestive. In Gosford Park, suggestiveness without elaboration is the key to presenting an interweave of 40 characters. The characters are glimpsed mostly as an ensemble, clues are sparse, lines which explain given only once and indirectly. Gosford Park therefore feels much much realer as we experience, each scene has so much piled into it (rich texture) you feel you could watch it so many times as you might read a book at least several times.

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Downton Abbey: the upstairs group enjoys a Christmas dance

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Downton Abbey: the downstairs group enjoying a day-long fair

Downton Abbey is a justification of the older hierarchical order of the world, with some counting far more than others; Gosford Park is an exposure of the anguish this giving power to a few males wreaks on everyone else, a perversion or out natural appetites.

The difference is the presence of Robert Altman to provide a counterweight to Fellowes’ arch-conservatism, to undercut, undermine, satirize Fellowes’ vision while showing it going on as if intact, only at the end the house is almost all closed up as all people but McCordle’s wife, butler, valet, are getting out as fast as they can to something they hope will be better for them. At the same time Fellowes provides a brilliant script psychologically and knows how to make effective filmic scenes.

Two closing moments can epitomize what I’m getting at: the last part of Season 1 where Lady Mary has gone a step too far: Matthew breaks it off and speaks from the gut as he realizes Mary is offering to marry him if she doesn’t get a better offer (supposedly actuated by Lady Rosamund); he has just nearly been kicked out by the prospect of Cora, Lady Grantham having a baby (stamped out by Miss Obrien)

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The moment the American producer nods to Elsie, ex-head parlormaid, kicked out upon breaking code and in front of all at the table showing herself to be the latest in a long line of Sir William McCordle’s mistresses; Elsie, I say, crosses over to his car where await her Igor Novello (songster, failed movie-maker) and the producer’s lover-companion, Denton. She’ll do all right after all – on her back — and as Mary (Lady Constance’s lady’s maid) closes the door on her we see Sir William’s dog has a berth in her case. Much said in this series of stills:

GosfordParkElsieJoinsHollywoodsetblog

The scripts of both read like novels. And their dramatic range and for suggested complexity of character both deserve to be awarded. The scripts of Downton Abbey read like stage plays, plenty of thought into the lines; sincerely believed in and imagined, not tongue-in-cheek; a landscape country house story of clashes within characters and across the tabooed lines between them. We have scenes omitted from the final cut.

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Big moment of shock when tabooed lines crossed

The scripts of Gosford Park reminded me of the game of Clue. The first page had thumb-nail shots of each character and their role/job and one characteristic; they were lined up against a tree connecting them to one another. This was a murder-mystery in which when we realized the usual suspects had done it (the young man driven to bankruptcy by McCordle, his ex-mistress housekeeper whose life & dreams he has blighted utterly; his bastard son who loathes him, we realized it didn’t matter and no one cared as it’s all a game we agree to play in order to be in the order, play a part. It also has stories omitted from the final cut.

directingTrafficblog
Someone matter-of-factly directing traffic: Mrs Wilson, housekeeper

I’m on my third viewing of Downton Abbey, and while I become so involved with the characters over and over and do see more psychologically, socially, I’ve managed to deepen the experience by attention to filmic techniques, by reading The Chronicles of … and The World of Downton Abbey, and now the scripts for the first season. I’ve now watched Gosford Park 6 times (!). I’ve now watched Gosford Park 6 times altogether: once in the movies, once when Jim downloaded a copy from Pirate Bay, and now 4 more times since I’ve gotten myself the DVD with the feature, two of these times with over voices, first just Fellowes and then Altman with his production designer and one of the producers.

To sum up, Altman’s presence has made GP shots so much more overflowing with information, story matter, and continually undermined any of the longed-for ideals both programs dramatize so the matter of these scripts feels inexhaustible; each time you watch the Altman you see more (40 characters about 25 stories in 2 and one half-hours, many of them hollow though deeply emotional); each time you watch Fellowes alone you see more fully the same thing but no more — what you see is what you get — and there is no undercutting that is not made explicit by Maggie Smith as sour Dowager.

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contemporary illustration of Dickens’s character by Marcus Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

antiquewoodenwheelchair

This would take me back to the eighteenth century.

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FridaKahloSelfPortraitblog
Frida Kahlo, self-portrait with doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A friend wrote:

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

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

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

Ellen

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Among the very first shots

Dear friends and readers,

I began a re-watching of Downton Abbey last night; how often I’ll do this re-watching I don’t know since I have several projects which are intended to produce papers for conferences, published reviews or published papers and there will be deadlines. But I know I’d like to do this — as well as The Forsyte Saga, 1967 and 2002 and the two Poldark mini-series and 1996 film, as it turned out abortive). The Forsyte Saga has to wait until I finished reading the novels. I’ve been bitterly disappointed at the reaction to the blogs I’ve written on the Poldark series from their prime or fan audience: aggressive absymal ignorance determined to squash intelligent interest, and in re-watching that series (I’ve only started a little) I see a certain high romance conception of picturesqueness strongly influencing the films which I had not begun to think about. The equivalent for DA is the pomp.

I have to make up my mind if I can and want to blog weekly or bi-monthly on this series to start as I have the materials easy to hand. It certainly would provide matter for this blog whose purview is become centrally film studies and film adaptations — after all that’s what I do when I’m writing about HD-opera. No matter if it’s live while filmed, it’s a film.

I was newly impressed by the exquisitely well done art this first series and first number of Downton Abbey represents — rather like a Dickens first number. Paradoxically the discipline adds to its enforcement of hierarchy.

The characters are all wonderfully seen and brilliantly played. This time I felt that the author and actors really cared about their characters and made us care. I feel in love again with Anna, found Bates just so appealing, with his slight menace a s sign of dignity and self-esteem. These first episodes emphasize his lameness is emphasized; some of the staff attempt to get him fired, so this is an hour about what happens to disabled people in a community. The seething behavior of Miss Obrien and Thomas might well be real: such a repressive environment with its skewed values would produce that. And they were matched by the low-life out of a lord, Crowborough: all the high white male types in the first series are low-life amoral sleazes and it struck me if these aren’t very like many of Trollope’s, including some of his so-called heroes (in Ayala’s Angel I can think of a horror of a Frank, Harry Clavering &c&c) only seen with a modern critical eye. The hero of the piece is Robert, Lord Grantham who has the right feelings and does the right thing, backed by Edith who however hasn’t his power to enforce her feelings so it comes out as helpless sarcasm. Lady Mary is a chip of the Dowager and her mother, but all are real and they do have some decency in them too — Mary a complex character with better impulses which win out during the attic tour. But not enough not to marry a low-life lout, not to participate in the attempted firing of Bates. I see that Sybil is presented as sweet.

Poor Daisy, the stress on how she’s the lowest of the low and made to feel it. There are astonishing revelations in Fellowes’s notes: how luxurious it was to wake in the morning and have a silent nearly invisible servant make up your fire. He takes utterly seriously this world he is presenting.

There is nothing innovative in the filmic techniques but they are all done to perfection.

Since I’m off to a conference this will be my only message today unless it should be someone else posts something that wants a reply.

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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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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