Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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

Dear friends and readers,

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the proposal I wrote:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Week 3 : Nina Balatka (195)

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

Week 5: Phineas Finn

Week 6: Phineas Finn

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

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

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

Week 9: Lady Anna

Week 10: Lady Anna

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

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

Donald Pleasance as Malachi and Veronica Quilligan as his granddaughter

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

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

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

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

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


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Dear friends,

In the computer disaster I had two days ago it appears that the course proposals I had made for a summer teaching course at an Oscher Institute of Learning may have been permanently lost; as I want these documents and today (as yet) have no writing program I can put them on — the new computer with Windows 8 is hellishly cutsey, tricksey. I cannot figure out how to write on Word on this Macbook Pro without the whole screen being transformed, so that I appear unable to reach my gmail with hitting F3 which minimalizes everything and let’s me see, and get back to gmail and the row of programs I have at the bottom of Macbook Pro. So I am saving two sets of documents or writing here — I used to use this blog to work out my thoughts on books, films, teaching; well read these as 5 sketches towards a summer course for retired people.

The Gothic

This course will explore the gothic mode in fiction and film. The gothic as a mode is a vast terrain with many differnt subgenres, yet images, plot-, and character types repeat like a formula. Take one huge labyrinthine ancient or partly ruined dwelling, place inside a murderous incestuous father or mother (preferably chained), heroes and heroines (various kinds), get a tempest going at night, be sure to have plenty of blood on hand, owls, and stir in a great deal of supernatural phenomena, have the action occur in the deep past or be connected to a deep past … We’ll use short stories on-line, beginning with ghosts and terror, moving onto vampire, werewolf, and wanderer paradigms and horror, and last socially critical mystery and possession. The course culminates in two recent novellas, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, and the justly famed film, Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963, featuring Julie Harris).

Texts on-line will be chosen from among these: Wharton’s “Afterward” and/or “Kerfol,” M. R. James’s “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral;” Sheridan LeFanu’s “Green Tea” and/or “Carmilla,” Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life,” R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Suzy Charnas’s “Unicorn Tapestry; Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of Abbey Grange.” This spares students buying an expensive anthology.

Memory, Desire, and Self-fashioning: Life Writing

This course will enable students to better to understand and recognize the nature of life-writing: diaries, books of letters, journals, memoirs, travel narratives, autobiogaphies, biographies. Our three texts will be Richard Holmes’s Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer, Iris Origo’s War in Val d’Orca: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 (or George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia) and Margaret Drabble’s The Figure in the Carpet: A Personal History, with Jigsaws. We will ask what is the nature of the truth autobiography produces and look at the relationship of a biographer to his subject. We’ll look at writing done to the moment when the writer does not know what the future holds (diaries, letters); how far is a biography the product of a biographer’s memories interacting with text by his (or her) subject. We’ll talk about the importance of childhood and play in this form, how aging, imagination and disappointment work are part of the mental materials that make up life-writing. If time permits and the DVD is available, the class will conclude with the 2013 film, The Invisible Woman, based on Claire Tomalin’s biography of a long love-relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan (an actress), where most of the evidence for the events was destroyed, and thus be able to discuss events that happen, and are important in people’s lives and yet have left no discernible clear record.

The Political Novel

The course aims to enable the students to recognize what is political novel and how such novels can function in our society. We’ll read Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, Walter Von Tilburg Clark’s The Ox-Bow Incident, and Valerie Martin’s Property and see William Wellman’s film, The Ox-Bow Incident (1963, featuring Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn). We’ll look at the nature of political allegory: how ideas about society penetrate the consciousness of the characters and can be observed in their behavior. Why some events enter what’s called history and why political novels often lend themselves to historical treatment; why other events are not discussed as serious history, which can limit what we perceive as political behavior. Finally, how films contribute to understanding a novel or its political meanings.

The Historical and Post-Colonial Turn in modern novels

This course will examine historical and post-colonial (or global) turn that English fiction has taken in the last quarter century. We’ll read and discuss three novels: Paul Scott’s Staying On, Graham Swift’s Waterland, and Andrea Levy’s Small Island. The first poignant novel is also about two aging people now retired, who have seen the word they were part of disappear and must cope with new arrangements hostile to them. The second will enable us to discuss how some events enter political history and others don’t, and thus our past is past is something we invent through imposing choice and order based on hierarchies in our present culture. Historical romance can therefore be liberating acts of resistance, a way of redressing injustice, and creating a more humane usable past. The third novel shows the centrality of nationalistic identities in enforcing exclusions or forming imagined communities. The course will conclude by watching an excerpt from a mini-series adaptation of Small Island (2009, BBC, featuring David Oyelowo and Ruth Wilson). I hope the class will see the connection of these novels to young adult fiction, counter-factual fictions, and romantic history as well as TV costume drama.

Jane Austen: the early phase

This course focus on Austen’s first published novels: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Love and Freindship (a short hilarious burlesque which we will read first), Austen’s Steventon years, and letter fiction provide prologue and context for reading S&S and P&P. An alternative perspective provides the last phase of the course: Austen’s Bath years, a brief mid-career epistolary novel written there, Lady Susan (with an utterly amoral heroine), and discussion of how Austen revised the novels when she settled at Chawton. Last, we’ll see Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s S&S (a 1995 Miramax product), and discuss what this film makes visible about the way film-makers think readers read these novels and how these interpretations differ from this course’s historical, autobiographical and aesthetic readings.


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Courses I taught at GMU and AU

Dear friends,

A computer disaster has hit me and I’m trying to retrieve a few documents which I fear I will lose permanently. While I wait for a plan to materialize which will set up my files and programs again on a working and workable computer, this is a list of the courses I taught at GMU and AU for the last 23 years. I have been teaching since 1972 (with 7-8 years off for children) and it omits the early years in NYC (Queens and Brooklyn College), mostly endlessly freshman composition. It also omits 2 advanced courses (300-400 level) I taught at the Northern Regional Center of the University of Virginia (1987-88): The Augustan Age (1700-44, included Pope, Gay’s Beggar’s Opera as I recall), and a Shakespeare course (included Richard II and Winter’s Tale) to History and English high school teachers seeking to improve their accreditation. Alas, I didn’t get to teach The Age of Sensibility as Fairfax county decided to be cheap and switch to “in-house” courses with no Ph.D as a teacher and so my position ended.

GMU and AU Teaching History for Ellen Moody:

I began teaching in the English Department at GMU in the Spring of 1988, and taught until May 2013 every fall and spring semester but one. I also taught many summers. I have organized this to begin with the general education introductory literature courses I taught at GMU and to end with the general education composition courses. Within these large categories, I have placed the first ones taught first, and end with the courses I taught most recently. For AU I taught from 1987 to 1992 and only in the fall and spring. Each fall I taught two sections of Freshman Composition, and then in the spring was given a required introductory themed literature course. I recall only three types, and have listed these after the GMU list.


General Education, Introductory Literature, 1988-2012:

English 203: Western Literary Masterworks, First Half. This was the first course I taught at George Mason and I taught it in Spring of 1988. I taught this one altogether for about 8 semesters.

English 251: British Literature First Half. I taught this course for the first time in the early 1990s (perhaps 1991) and taught it for a number of fall terms in a row. Sometimes I taught it in the spring too. Most of the time I had two sections each term until the course was limited to one section and then (as far as I know now) abolished.

English 252: British Literature Second Half. I taught this course much less often than 251, but did teach my first one in the early 1990s also (perhaps 1992). I hazard a guess that I taught this course more than I did the 203.

English 207: Literature and Society. I taught this once. It was summer 1993. I enjoyed it very much. We covered Renaissance drama and the Romantic period. We read a few Renaissance plays, including Middleton’s Women Beware Women, and poetry by Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams.

English 202: Texts and Contexts. I taught this for the first time in the summer of 1999; again in fall 1999, summer 2000 and summer 2001. Each time I had just one section. I enjoyed teaching this class very much and put together a syllabus where we studied gothic and romance literature. My proposal for gothic literature develops out of this teaching as well as my publications.

English 201: Reading and Writing about Texts. I have taught this a number of times since it was established in the curriculum. I have a gift for explanation and what was needed was very basic kinds of practice in discerning and writing about literary conventions as well as helping students to read more sophisticatedly. I sometimes used an anthology and sometimes ordered separate texts (e.g., J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and other short good modern fiction).

General Education, Advanced Composition in Humanities, Natural Sciences and Technology and Social Sciences, 1988-present:

English 302, Advanced Composition on Natural Science and Technology. I have no record of how often I taught this course, but I have done it for something like 40 times. My earliest record of teaching it goes back to fall 1992. I know for a few years in a row I taught 2 sections of it each spring and fall. I have also taught it for a few summers too. I made a speciality of this and was proud of my syllabus which was directed towards the needs of the students, and seemed to satisfy them very much.

English 302, Advanced Composition on the Humanities: I have no record of how often I have taught this course, nor when I first taught one. I hazard a guess the first time was in 1993. I seem to have been given a section or two every couple of years, though sometimes the stretch between assignments has been as long as five years. I enjoy teaching this one very much. I had the students write on art, music, drama, and have a research assignment where I ask students to reread a favorite book from middle childhood, research the background for the book, the author’s life (if relevant), the genre of children’s literature, and write a literary analysis.

English 302, Advanced Composition on Social Sciences. This is the Advanced Writing section I taught least often. I did not avoid it; I was just not given sections. I think I taught it three times. I enjoy it because it leads centrally into cultural studies.


Freshman/Sophomore level course: American Literary Masterpieces. I chose short stories, novels and plays by American writers and tried to unite them through themes; I also followed a chronology so the students might get some sense of development. Texts I recall include Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Wm Dean Howell’s A Modern Instance, Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, Richard Wright’s Native Son, three novellas by Wm Styron. I used an anthology of “great” American short stories and another of American poetry.

Freshman/Sophomore level course: Memory and Self. I taught this course in life writing at least twice. I enjoyed delving different kinds of life-writing with the students. Texts I recall include: John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley; George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia; Mary McCarthy’s Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood; Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

Freshman/Sophomore level course: Evil, guilt and justice. Texts included excerpts from Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of Dante’s Inferno; Bronte’s Jane Eyre; an anthology of gothic tales one semester and ghost stories another; an anthology of Eugene O’Neill’s plays; Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.

This is a record of the courses I taught at GMU and AU to the best of my recollection.


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From Andrew Davies’s mini-series Mr Selfridge (based on Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction, and Mr Selfridge

I do not believe in recovery. The past, with its pleasures, its rewards, its foolishness, its punishments, is there for each of us forever, and it should be — Lillian Hellman

It is not true that in time you get used to it — Simone de Beauvoir

“The secondary impulse is to go out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness — C. S. Lewis

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not blogged in over a week because I’ve been busy with various projects, most of which I am not ready to write on as yet, or I have to wait to write on because something else will be due earlier. My good past gone, I move to a new framing.

I finished reading Musiol’s important book on Vittoria Colonna but feel I must work on it carefully and during the day, that it will take much thought to review usefully (or why bother?): the description on line leads one to think it’s mainly on Michelangelo’s drawings possibly of Vittoria Colonna, when it is rather a detailed biography in the context of the religious and military politics and other literary works of her age.

Other projects nearing conclusion (coming out of list-serv life): LeFanu’s short stories and Wyvern Mystery (plot-designs and characters emerging from interior pathways through melancholy); Lillian Hellman’s 4 memoirs (Unfinished Woman, Pentemento, Scoundrel Time, Maybe).

But before doing that I have to make one or two syllabi for a possible position teaching in the Humanities part of a BA program. Since I’ve never taught courses which match the requirements of their core curriculum, this will take some doing. And a not so small obstacle here is I just ordered the books, so even with expedited shipping for a couple of them, have to wait. Paradoxically though I’m closer to being able to teach a course in the Enlightenment (one of the two offered), as 1) the 18th century is my primary area; 2) I used to teach a survey on the first half of British literature, one third of which I devoted to the long 18th century, I actually have more recent anthologies for the Victorian Age (my other choice).

Pre-Raphaelite image, Millais (on the cover of the Longman Victorian Age)

Right now I’m thinking I should have for each syllabus a single readable (entertaining too) volume of general history (G. H. Young’s Portrait of an Age [Victorian]), an anthology which will give selections from many topics and a variety of texts and authors, and perhaps one or two whole single texts. Some of these anthologies I see have extended texts on-line which may form the equivalent of single texts. I don’t want to make the students pay extravagant amounts of money. For the Victorian Age one, I’m hoping the Broadview anthology comes quickly because it has a lot of Anthony Trollope in it, but I very much like the Longman (rich in traditional texts) and am drawn to the documents in Politics and Empire in Victorian Britain, ed. Antoinette Burden (with pieces by slaves and all sorts of extraordinary exposures of the condition of people at the time all over the globe which would (I hope) set students thinking.

Reynolds’s portrait of Abingdon as Miss Prue (on the cover of the Longman 18th century anthology)

For the eighteenth century, Enlightenment one, I find I can think of a set of individual books, one of which might be a poetry anthology, but the outline of the course suggested asks that the instructor to have a core corpus of philosophical texts, some of which must debate attitudes towards religion (certainly central to the Enlightenment is the spread of secularism) so I’ve ordered Kramnick’s anthology of continental and English Enlightenment philosophical texts, and am thinking about single volume anthologies called Enlightenment (Roy Porter, or Dorinda Outram), to which I could add a good novel or travel memoir; or the Longman or Norton anthologies.

I hope all the ordered stuff arrives as I’m supposed to have these syllabi by New Year’s Day (January 1st). Meanwhile along with my etext edition of Ethelinde (slowly typing it still) and my return to Emma, Austen’s novel, for calendar study, and the Emma movies, which I suppose I must put aside for now, or go slower, late into the night I’m enjoying myself watching Andrew Davies’s Mr Selfridge and endlessly re-watching the 3 seasons of Downton Abbey, which I never seem to tire of: partly it’s that so much money and care and the intense art that results from that, & the many characters gone into with all their parallels and ironic contrasts inside evolving stories — makes slow re-watching rich in ever new insights. Partly the depth of feeling the characters show towards one another satisfies an endless need in me:

Mr (Brendan Coyle) and Mrs (Joanne Froggart): on the beach (4th season)

If Jim were still alive, I’d not be returning to teaching; I’d probably stay with Emma, the Austen movies and Ethelinde, and maybe for fun turn to Winston Graham and historical fiction. Be going out to plays, operas, concerts, walking with him, talking. Travel, say to the Lake District, Venice — but I do know he was beginning to not want to do these things — himself aging, weakening (perhaps that horrible disease cancer that ate him up showing itself). I would have done that paper on Anne Finch and retirement. Lillian Hellman says in her memoirs (which I’m almost ready to write about, just have to finish the fourth and a couple of essays on it) that when you are driven to give up an old way of life, when it’s destroyed, you are spared stagnation, staying in one frame or sameness of place, growing even older than your years.

Can I tell myself (like Hellman) that what was then, is there still now, and the years between, and the then and now are one? No it’s not one, now and the long (now feeling all too short) time with Jim. And what happened to make this raw rip was unspeakable. Here we were, innocent in a landmark house, Amos Brown’s, Vermont, what turned out to be our last summer:



Before I read with him, now in order not to read all alone, and be utterly desolate in my heart and inner being, I have to turn the reading into socially useful, acceptable patterns and paths.

“Aussi triste qe soit un livre, it n’est jamais aussi triste que la vie” — Chantal Thomas [as sad as a book is, it's never as sad as life], Souffrir


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Dear friends and readers,

Not only is “Intertextuality in Simon Raven’s The Pallisers and Other Trollope Films” published, but the volume in which it occurs, Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, edd. Abigail Burnham Bloom and Mary Sanders Pollock, introd. Thomas Leitch has been reviewed by Kamilla Elliot in the online academic review journal, Review 19. While Elliot’s review justifiably critiques aspects of the volume, she signals out mine and one other, Gene M. Moore’s “Making Private Scenes Public: Conrad’s “Return” and Chereau’s Gabrielle (see my analysis in another blog), as superior, the best in the volume:

Welcoming theoretical and methodological variety, I find value in older approaches, especially when–as in the essays by Gene M. Moore and Ellen Moody–they rest on a substantial body of scholarship and research

Some of Elliot’s criticism of the volume derive from her strongly theoretical, post-modern point of view (see her Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate). I liked her suggestion that I should or could “step back from [my] meticulous microanalyses of screenplays to present a broader perspective of how screenplays mediate between literature and film?” I shall keep this kind of comment in mind when I return to my book, A Place of Refuge: A study of the Sense and Sensibility films (working title).

But I should say (and I think this an important point, fundamental even) that I disagree with her main perspective: insofar as the essays in Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation use a high amount of theoretical (packed) language and jump from general statement to general statement they lack content, and are insufficiently descriptive of their subject matter and convey less information and insight about their chosen films and books.

William Powell Firth (1891-1909), (monumental) The Railway Station (1862)

So, speaking plainly, for those interested in Victorian/Edwardian films, the volume contains 2 essays whose subject matter is Jane Austen films (arguably Victorian in the way the novels are treated); one on the generation of Jekyll and Hyde films (Leitch); one on Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (partly out of Wilde’s play); Dickens’s Christmas Carol; one on Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, an adaptation of Russell Banks’s novel, using, as does Egoyan, Browning “The Pied Piper” as an intermediary text (a superbly insightful essay by Mary Sanders Pollock); one on Kubrick’s adaptation of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon (another genuinely enlightening informative one by Louise McDonald); one on several versions of Dracula, one on the 1939 Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films compared to recent analogous and free adaptations, and mine on Trollope whose original more accurate and grammatically sound title was “Trollope on Television: Intertextuality in the Pallisers and other Trollope films:” it focuses on Raven’s Pallisers (and two other of Raven’s mini-series as intermediary texts), but also covers Plater’s Barchester Chronicles, and uses aspects of Herbert Herbert’s Malachi’s Cove, and Andrew Davies’s The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right, to suggest how centrally Raven’s perspective on Trollope has influenced those films made after his (recently in reaction against).

Elliot said she didn’t understand the three major divisions of the volume. The third follows its subtitle: “Teaching Books by Reading Movies.” The three essays tell of how the writers as teachers use film and they make concrete useful suggestions for those embarking on such teaching. Read the screenplay with the students (emphasize intermediary texts), concentrate on the beginnings and endings of films (often different from the originating book), multiple versions or films of the same story unmoors students front their tenacious adherence to the originating text as a primary standard. The second part (in which my essay appears) had essays which focus on the alteration of values in the content of book and films, but it is true that the third essay on the first part (on Dickens’s Christmas Carol) locates the persistence of the story in its content of the retrievable, rejuvenation, generosity, charitableness. The first part is supposed to be about filmic-techniques, tropes, typical procedures, the exploitation of at least generally favored paradigms and myth. Jean-Marie Lecomte’s on Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan is about technique, and Thomas Leitch’s on the many Jekyll, Hydes on the necessity to develop some understood relationship between source or eponymous text, film, and intervening film and verbal texts.

John Malkovich as Hyde (1996 Mary Reilly, an adaptation of RLStevenson’s novel & Valerie Martin’s novels of the same name)

Julia Roberts as Mary Reilly (the film includes as intertexts Victorian painting, Orson Welles’s Moby Dick, Dracula films et alia

It’s hard to differentiate theme from form. My essay covers both aspects of film adaptation of texts found to be centrally meaningful since their first reception as books. I argue that the Pallisers was an important noticed sociological event (year-long) which fixed Trollope in the TV public mind as a paternalistic Tory (like his hero, the liberal whig politician Duke of Omnium), and that in these “Raven’s scripts shape Trollope’s novels into a filmic, disillusioned political vision, which justifies patriarchy in an ameriorated inegalitarian society, itself dependent on the self-erasure of women whose emotional and social support is needed to sustain it.” I also argue that Herbert’s and Davies’s films turn Trollope’s texts into critical exposures of Victorian systems of privilege, and replace Raven’s cynical Tory Trollope with a humane, liberal Trollope, partly in reaction to Raven’s characters (who differ considerably from Trollope’s). But to show this I compare texts from Trollope’s Phineas Redux with Pallisers 8:15 and 8:16:

Lady Glencora Palliser (Susan Hampshire, 8:15, see also Mid-point)

From the Duchess’s dinner-party (8:16)

and bring in Raven’s previous film adaptations (Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, The Blackheath Poisonings). In moving onto the recent films have to take into considerable that recent film adaptations do not conceive the material as filmed stage plays, but sequences of juxtaposed stills, and I compare the wistful feminism of Susan Hampshire as Signora Neroni in Plater’s Barsetshire with Trollope’s desperate unscrupulous Signora.

Signora Neroni (Susan Hampshire), melancholy, disillusioned (1982 BBC Barchester Chronicles)

Intertexual texts for Davies are films as much as books. Davies’ hero, Paul Montague in The Way we Live Now, refuses to treat the heroines as of right the natural property of the older males; Davies’ depiction of the Jewish themes of Trollope’s book exposes the bigotry of the hypocritical upper class English in their anti-semitism by taking one of Trollope’s inset epistolary correspondences and turning it into dramatic scenes of great power.

Davies’s 2001 The Way We Live Now: Georgiana (Anne-Marie Duff) treats the noble if Jewish Breghert (Jim Carter) in the most insulting inhumane terms

My view is a close comparative analysis which does not privilege the eponymous book or previous incarnations of it in films but includes these and the screenplay, and whatever other source and intermediate texts a film-maker necessarily must form the basis of any understanding of a film and its sources. I suggest that theoretical language is more than a blight linguistically; it can be a substitute for the hard work of close reading and a thorough grounding in the history of the era the eponymous book was written in, the era the movie is made in, its genre and all the work the film-makers (including production design and actors) did in other films. Elliot complains in her review of several “thin” and under-researched essays. The person spent all his or her time (maybe not a lot) on reading and writing these sentences of sometimes impossible to decipher packed theory.

Donald Pleasaunce as Malachi and Veronica Quilligan as his grand-daughter, Mally (Herbert has in mind previous Cornish films’ motifs, 1974 Malachi’s Cove)

Well enough. I won’t summarize my colleagues work nor go more into the details of mine. Much is on the Net in even more “meticulous microanalysis” than is permitted in a published book.

I am chuffed and proud to see my work in the same volume as that of Thomas Leitch whose Film Adaptation and Its Discontents has long been one of the books I keep on my library table near my desk and who I corresponded with by email during the time of the book’s making, shared work with and was very generous to me.

Rev Gibson (David Tennant) trying to evade Arabella French (Fenella Woolgar) (from one of Marcus Stone’s original illustrations to Trollope’s HKHWR)


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Dear friends and readers,

What do you mean summer’s here? It’s the beginning of May. Well, arguably from the point of view of weather, here in Northern Virginia we have two seasons: the cold (or maybe it would be more accurate nowadays to say the mostly cool and chilly) where days are short, and the light is ruthlessly husbanded to make it last as long as possible in the later parts of the 24 hour cycle; and the hot (sometimes fiercely) with long enough light, so those of us who find demands we awaken in the darkness so hard to take, have the relief of a lit sky by 6 am. And we are in the latter season now.

But that’s not how I’m defining summer. I’m defining summer as the day when teaching ceases, and my schedule turns into a summer one for the next 3 or so months. As I teach in a college where the semester’s classes ended for me yesterday, that’s what happened today. Some people don’t feel the term is ended until the literal work is & I understand that. In a way I’ve a third of the reading of students’ papers to go. They hand in their last (3rd) paper and do a final (which has 3 short essays in class as part of it and outside class answer about 20 questions) but for me once my summer routs begin the summer begins. And while I like it, indeed find it exhilarating, sane or larger perspective-giving, what I find hard is the teaching itself. That’s the ordeal, that’s the strain.

And today I began to develop my summer’s reading and started to develop the trajectory into my summer’s writing. I sent off a final copy of my review of the Later Manuscripts of Jane Austen, a Cambridge book edited by Janet Todd and Linda Bree, and am finishing the last of the reading for my on-going project of reading and writing about a letter by Jane Austen each week: Mary Brunton’s 1810 novel, Self-Control and Brian Southam’s Jane Austen and the Navy. I began my return to Sophie Cottin to see if I can make a proposal on infamous novels for the coming EC/ASECS, using Cottin’s Amelie Mansfield and Charlotte Smith’s Manon Lescaut. I’ll write more about this as time develops — I have no deadline as I’ve also decided to go down to one section a term starting this fall so this new group of ever-revolving routs is not going to end come late August, only diminish somewhat. Over on my Sylvia blog I’ll try to work out my plan every so often. I do need order so I feel I have meaning and if only to know what to read and what to write next.

For tonight I thought I’d say here what I’ve been listening to over this past year in my car — using MP3s as CDs which I have to buy. I’ve tried the librivox recordings: Mil Nicholson reading Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend is probably among the better as she really reads dramatically, but I found I couldn’t enjoy it. She just tried too hard, went excruciatingly slowly in order to pull the voices and imagined scenes off, seemed after all to miss the larger implications or meanings and it strained my patience how at the end of each chapter I had to listen to a full announcement once again that this was librivox, in the “public domaine”, by whom, who reading and where we were. I was told this was to try to stop those who are unscrupulous from selling these readings by informing anyone who bought it they need not have. To my mind all this did was allow the private property and personal profit system to invade the world of the imagined books naggingly.

Audible.com and other venues where one can supposedly buy (or perhaps rent) many kinds of recordings are set up to cheat the customer, to trap him or her into spending huge amounts of money (see “Stay Away! it’s filled with traps!”). So my plan to use my new ipod this way didn’t work. And there’s nothing for it but buy what one can find at Amazon.

I checked out how much it would cost to turn my audiocassettes into tapes. I might do this eventually — a little at a time though. It costs $9 a cassette. That doesn’t sound overmuch, but what happened when you have 18 tapes for one of the book so Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet. That’s $180 for the book. You see the problem, especially as I’m not sure the book’s tapes are not dried out and will transfer well.

For me that means mostly older books and what’s called classics and better fiction when it’s on sale. A sad decrease in what I can choose from. The old books-on-tape used to include read books that sold only to relative minority of people — good non-fiction, history, biography, science, e.g., David Case reading abridgements of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle or Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which were not savaged but long enough to include a lot; Donada Peters reading Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Anthony Trollope. When the demand for big profit and wide sales as the criteria for what would be read aloud took over, mostly trash or this year’s fashionable book for an elite is all one can obtain — and by buying, not renting.

Still I made do. Why? I still spent a lot of hours in my car, often driving Izzy somewhere. These hours were cut down as of December when she got her good full-time job as an Information Technologist. Yes she did. I still though have many as there is no good public transportation in Virginia. And, as I’ve mourned as Sylvia, I can no longer read much or even at all at night. My brain gives out and at best I can watch movies — or write blogs. Summer being here I will be much less in the car (twice a week for 90 minutes to and from GMU was a central time), so I thought I’d record what I read this year — or listened to which comes down to the same thing sometimes better as books brilliantly read aloud are true to many authors’ purposes.

Unless I’m misremembering (which I don’t think I am) I began with Donada Peters and David Case alternating the two narrators of Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall. This was so good, especially the soft brogue Case used for Gilbert Markhan, I sometimes could hardly wait to get into my car. This was late spring just after my tape deck broke and I never finished David Case reading Fielding’s Tom Jones.

Come June I was into Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset read aloud by Simon Vance. While he is good, his interpretation was grating: he read Josiah Crawley as not tragic but veering on the comic-ridiculous (or contemptible). Hot or true high summer (August) I began and through the early fall (much of this with Izzy) listened to Donada Peters reading Daniel Deronda (we loved it, especially the Jewish half of the novel or intertwined stories), Middlemarch (I don’t think it could have been better read) and Romola (a book that fails but nonetheless has some great, riveting sequences — Izzy found it so as well as I). One might call it a George Eliot year.

I tried to post regularly in the morning on some of this in order to keep notes and remember. Only for Romola did I have anyone reading with me (on Trollope19thCStudies).

Then we turned to Dickens. I regret to say I succumbed to an abridged version of Dickens’s Little Dorrit. I thought I’d try it as the complete was so expensive — so many CDs. Anton Lesser was superb and, with a little help from Davies’s film adaptation and interpretation of Amy Dorrit (and memories of Christine Edzard’s), I felt we were in the presence of preposterous genius. The book is prophetic of today. Still we missed much I know. Then the ill-fated Mil Nicholson of Our Mutual Friend. Sometimes the book felt stillborn and if it had not been for Sandy Welch’s brilliant film, I would have gotten nothing out of it; with Welch I did feel I reached the pith and electrifying core of the book. I do think Dickens was tired or made a wrong decision to recuse himself as narrator for his characters in this novel are not sufficiently rich in imaginative thoughtful subjectivity, to carry the book.

Just now I’m into David Case reading Bleak House; if I’ve heard or read this one before, I forgot a lot of it and again the problems in it (and there are a number as in all Dickens’s books) are counteracted by Davies’ film. Next up will be Juliet Stevenson (what a treat) reading Gaskell’s Mary Barton.

So I’m not doing too badly, you see. Probably though since from here on in I’ll be relatively rarely in my car, I won’t be posting all that much on my reading since much this coming summer will be in the 18th century and surrounding Austen (I mean at long last to do a full paper on Bad Tuesday).

I do try to read at night and have managed over the past couple of months to return to Winston Graham’s Poldark novels and have read at a leisurely pace (when I could) his Ross Poldark, Demelza, and now Jeremy Poldark. I’m finding these books reward re-reading and I’m seeing new rich elements in them I had not realized before. I know there are older tapes of these read aloud, but nowadays a reading must occur on MP3s as CDs to be listenable to for me in my car and affordable.


So let me take time out to say here that I’m relieved and delighted to be able to say that for a second time Ross Poldark, No. 1 of this historical novel series, went over superlatively well. Last year I was so nervous going in on the first of the 3-4 days set aside for this (like other) books. But I got what were undoubted two of the best talks I had all term. This time a talk was given on the treatment of Demelza versus the treatment of Verity which got the whole class discussing these characters, their scenes, issues involved. I was startled to see a student I fully expected not to show, not only turn up for the talk, but bring a thoroughly marked up book. A fourth had gone through the mini-series and put on scenes for us to watch and then directed our attention to the book. She didn’t have a real thesis, but her choices were such, it left us a lot to talk about.

Ross (Robin Ellis) talking to Pearce (John Baskcomb) at the opening of the first episode; the young man just returned … (Part 1, 1975-76 Poldark)

It’s a tribute to the 18th century too. The last speaker (in my other class) was just chuffed to find feminist talk/discourse in the 18th century — and “by a woman” said she amazedly. She found a passage by Anna Barbauld’s niece, Lucy Aiken. I did have quotations from both Paine (Rights of Man) and Wollstonecraft (The Rights of Woman) ready. Several said how they felt there was not the resolution at the end that they wanted; that they were just beginning, hardly in medias res as they closed Ross Poldark.

When Ross first sees Demelza at the fair: she is being beaten (Part 2, 1975-76 Poldark)

Graham catches the reader with his slow drawn appealing characters we believe in and identify with. There is this intensity of concern with the characters; Graham is in them and utterly involved with their fully imagined situation. This fourth time round I see that the core of the novel which dominates it is a continual intimate delineation of the two central personalities melding and not melding together in an early phase of their marriage.

I’ve read on to Demelza and finished it last night for a fourth time. Ross Poldark incites a riot over two ships coming into and wrecked on the shore and a savage mob action ensues, a Walpurgis night to match the splendor of the night catching pilchards. The last two times round I really didn’t read slowly or carefully enough to see that indeed the hero is presented as psychologically half-crazed over the failure of all his schemes, the death of this baby daughter, the abysmal poverty around him closing in, and the enfeebled wife who to free his sister, Verity, unknowingly brought this on them — she was loyal to the individual not the group, a no no for which she is harshly punished. Nor that there are striking Jacobin sentiments given him at the same time. The book rewards re-reading in the light of the other books.

Demelza (Angharad Rees) says he has become her whole life, she loves him for all he has done (Part 3, 1975-76 Poldark)

Winston Graham will be one of my continuing projects for a long time to come.


So all this is to explain why I’ve not been posting on books here of late and or when I have it’s been retrospective (as in my Praise of Colm Toibin). I’ve fallen back on operas, movie-going or watching at night, what I’ve read and watched with my students (my lecture notes turned into blogs). And Downton Abbey — beloved older mini-series too. Now I’m ever hoping to do better and if I can muster up the energy to make sense of the morning notes I took on the above books or from my morning posts this summer, or find something new or genuinely interesting to say about what I have managed at night or in Jim and my coming summer activities (we are going to go to plays, operas, the Fringe festival again, the occasional lecture, dramatic reading aloud), I will. Spin offs from my later day-time routs will come in here too. In my brief discussion of Ross Poldark and Demelza I’ve given an example of what I hope to be able to do on occasion on reading-as-life.


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Woman reading, artist or photographer unknown

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

Marilyn Monroe reading Joyce (Eve Arnold photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A toute a l’heure, courage mes amies:

The Ballet of the Twelve Dancing Princesses

— by Stevie Smith


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

Over their cold feet

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

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

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

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


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Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, pen-name Scholem Aleichem (1859-1916)

Dear friends and readers,

Izzy and I went to see Scholem Aleichem, or, Laughing in the Darkness late Sunday afternoon. Bob (on Trollope19thCStudies) had recommended it a couple of weeks ago now. So now I’ll repeat the recommendation: it’s a fine film, one of the best I’ve seen in a while (really all summer).

It’s a biographical study of the *Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich*, once a leading Yiddish playwright. Sholem Aleichem is the pen-name of his imagined narrator; apparently Aleichem presents himself as a disembodied persona. He is a part author and or owner of his sad-tragic-comic tales. His characters part respect him (especially the older/father figure): they know they like the tunes; they learn to know and love the words. They converse, and then argue. Mr Perry deplored that so now all Eliza Austen has to do is renew her relationship with William Radcliffe. He cares for real people mirrored in the book’s stories.

The film done with great finesse, candour and insight and sensitivity too. The film-maker, Joseph Dorman, has woven a life through the works in the way of recent written biographies. The viewer more or less follows the trajectory of Aleichem’s life filled out by over-voice comments and commentaries by educated people (and one relative) about these stories and their relevance to Aleichem’s character and life story. (The mode of interview reminded me of NOVA specials). We don’t get an interpretation of the stories for their own sake or a description of their aesthetics. Instead the work is made to reflect the life and used where it would come in the life and it takes up space: the writer is described as writing the work as it’s described. The result in this film is the life is illuminated and so are the stories. The quality is like that of a PBS series some years ago (maybe decades) about a group of American poets supposed to reflect also on American life.

The film done with great finesse, candour and insight and sensitivity too. The viewer more or less follows the trajectory of Aleichem’s life filled out by over-voice narrator storytelling and comments and by commentaries by educated people (and one relative) about these stories interspersed with the life chronology and representations of his works. The mode of interview, with the interviewee in his or her study, reminded me of NOVA specials.

The idea at the heart of the film is to examine the issue of individual identity as it relates to the person’s culture. The point is made the Jewish identity that Aleichem captured and spoke to in his work is now vanished sufficiently so that if you want to present any of them dramatically you have to change the values and what happens in the stories. So when his stories of Tevye, the dairy man, were transformed into Fiddler on the Roof, a successful Broadway musical and film, even the opposite meanings are projected. So when at the end of the story upon which Fiddler on the Roof is based the daughter does not leave the father; she does not go off with her husband in Aleichem’s story, that’s a happy ending (in a semi-tragic tale mind). People who have seen Fiddler on the Roof will recall the daughter does leave, leaves for the successful modern life and that’s the happy ending.

What was especially excellent was how the voice-over narrator, quotations from the stories, pictures, and commentators conveyed the quality of Aleichem’s writing. The theme they emphasized is caught up in the film’s subtitle: laughing in the darkness. Aleichem had himself been the son of a man doing somewhat better than the others in the shtetl; when he was 13, his father lost the money he had had and business. They were bankrupt. The father had sent his son to some sort of secular schooling and even after he found he had no money managed to send him to a high school equivalent where he was reasonably educated. The young man obtained a job as a tutor with a wealthy family and the daughter and he fell in love. He was ejected, but she followed him and they married. Eventually he inherited his father-in-law’s fortune. With that he and his wife moved to Kiev and he started up a periodical and lived the life of a bourgeois intelligentsia person. He lost his money (was not practical) and had to turn to his mother-in-law for help. Periods of poverty alernated with periods of relative prosperity. He saw much in life, the way much is conducted utterly irrationally. The vision of his works seems to be wild laughter in the face of underlying hysteria.

Nothing could be further from Fiddler on the Roof whose feel of the past is nostalgic, sentimental, and comfortable with life. I’ve seen the musical three times on stage and know it rejoices in being alive and suggests the future to come is good.

So I’m not sure this kind of change is from change of identity; often fine works when turned into movies have their essential meanings reversed, partly because the more intelligent thinking reader is only a small part of a mass audience, partly because reading alone to the self invites the text to become about vulnerable asocial experience while watching in a crowd must please the crowd so substitutes strongly socially-oriented perceptions of experience. But it seems to be obvious that the culture Aleichem recreated in his works is now gone from us, and the film was making the point that a new culture had arisen from the old. That people of Jewish ancestry have had to make new or different identities. I agree with that.

I know that I have created a kind of identity for myself and am moved by such stories of such attempts. Mine emerged from my reading of English novels and memoirs from the time I was an adolescent (P. L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park) to when I got my Ph.D. and went to England, and then married an Englishman. I like to read novels of hybrid-cultures, say Anglo-Indian where you find individuals struggling to find themselves, create some identity they can endure, bear with and the price of this. This is Jhumpa Lahiri’s powerful theme in Namesake.

But it is also a common theme in books today — or how we read them. In my classes last term we treated Graham’s Ross Poldark as about a couple who are individually trying to survive and build lives for themselves which are unconventional while they remain safe. We discussed Andrea Levy’s Small Island as about how one can’t escape a painful identity which is not you but used against you by the society around you. So maybe this modern take in the film tells us more about us than Aleichem. Or as much.

The tone of the talk in the film was upbeat throughout but if you listened to the content what was said was grave. The film’s least upbeat tones were reserved for the death of Yiddish. A library filled with books in Yiddish was filmed. The point was no one or few can read them now. A rich literature just “thrown away” the narrator said, without examination. It was that Yiddish was stigmatized and so it was not wanted.

I know that Yiddish was not the only dialect of Hebrew mixed with a local language across Europe. Yiddish grew up in Eastern Europe (my grandparents spoke Yiddish, my mother used to be able to understand it when it was spoken to her) and was found in German to the Eastern European countries and to Russia, but a different dialect, a compound of Hebrew and Spanish grew up in Spain called Ladino developed and spread across Spain and into Greece, Turkey, the Balkans. So Yiddish was not universal in Europe for Jewry; it could have become universal say through the publication of its newspapers (my grandfather used to read one as I recall) and books in the US and elsewhere, and Aleichem spent much of his genius, money, talents, time trying to create this literature from scratch. But it had no hegemony through power structures. Probably it needed to be taught in public schools run by state gov’ts and was not.

For me the stunning thing was the sheer amount of photos, and films of 19th and early 20th century Jewish life in Russia in the communities where Jewish people were forced to live and also some cities apparently individuals could live in (Kiev, where Aleichem during a period of strong prosperity lived for a time). One could see village life, the intense poverty of these people (often they are dressed in very heavy clothing, even in their houses, signalling how cold it is there), photos of the killings (corpses) left over from the mid-century pogroms which drove Jewish people out of Russia to the US (some stayed in the UK en route), photos of Jewish communities and Aleichem’s funeral in NYC (1913-1916). Of course many photos of Aleichem; one grand or great-granddaughter was one of those interviewed.

It was very moving. The auditorium was full, I’d say mostly of Jewish people, though the clientele of this West End Cinema movie house was there too. It’s located in Georgetown and is a genuine art theater. It’s the place where we have seen European HD operas. They had The Anchor (about a working class woman English writer who died young, she lived in the equivalent of welfare projects in the UK up north); next week they’ll have a film about the use of ballet in opera; Izzy and I saw Cave of Forgotten Dreams there two weeks ago. People applauded Scholem Aleichem at the end. However, we saw the film in the only theater in all the Maryland, Virginia and DC area it was playing in. The usual supposed art cinema (independent) Izzy and I go to was said to be having this film soon: Cinemart he calls his theater. He is about 2 blocks (NYC style) from a local Jewish Community Center (where Izzy nowadays goes for a social club she enjoys) and in May each year his theater has a festival of Jewish films half-hosted by the JCC but I can see he’s hedging because he really plays semi-popular films and if a film doesn’t get a big enough audience quickly, it vanishes from his theater.

Go see it if you can.


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Wit (directed by Mike Nichols, screenplay by Emma Thompson based on Margaret Edson’s play): Jason, the resident (Jonathan Woodward) has disregarded Miss Bearing (Emma Thompson), the patient’s request to be DNR on the grounds “she’s research!” Suzie, her nurse (Audra McDonald), is protecting the space around Miss Bearing.

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine” (Marcia Angell, “Drug Companies & Doctors: A story of corruption”, NYRB, Jan 15, 2009)

The “commercialization of science” in universities, gov’t agencies and organizations has led to “research supported by for-profit entities [that] will yield results consistent with the financial interests of those entities … “the push to commercialize the university”, “a planned coordinated effort” “had been one of the biggest Ponzi schemes this side of Bernie Madoff and Allen Standford” (Sheldon Krimsky, reviewing Philp Morowski’s Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science in The American Scientist, 99 (2011):330-32).

The Doctor (directed by Randa Haines, screenplay Robert Caswell from Ed Rosenbaum’s memoir, A Taste of My Own Medicine): Jack McKee (William Hurt) is comforted by his wife, Ann (Christine Lahti) after Jack suffered an enforced barium enema, administered by mistake (indifference and carelessness led to it, and there’s hardly any apology at all).

First, do no harm. Cure seldom, relieve often, comfort always.

Dear friends and readers,

Among Helen Epstein’s many important essays published in the New York Review of Books is “Flu Warning: Beware the Drug Companies” where she carefully shows how various drug companies, the doctors and researchers they pay, and distributors and advertisers they use so skewed research in the area of flu vaccine that it is not possible to get past the conflicts of interest, unacknowledged biased behavior and results to see that the strongly probabilities of flu epidemics and need for flu vaccine was partly manufactured by the drug companies. Epstein concludes:

Six years ago, John Ioannidis, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, found that nearly half of published articles in scientific journals contained findings that were false, in the sense that independent researchers couldn’t replicate them. The problem is particularly widespread in medical research, where peer-reviewed articles in medical journals can be crucial in influencing multimillion- and sometimes multibillion-dollar spending decisions. It would be surprising if conflicts of interest did not sometimes compromise editorial neutrality, and in the case of medical research, the sources of bias are obvious.

The pervasiveness of overt and covert corruption in the medical establishment is hard for ordinary citizens to credit. They are surrounded by such expert propaganda ceaselessly poured out on TV, in movies, and in creditable print. It is nonetheless true. It not only is destroying scientific knowledge in the US; it constitutes a present danger to consumers who may be led to take drugs whic do not help them, might and do do them harm and cost them hugely.

No where is this more common than in the area of mental health where the terrain for diagnosis is partly subjective and where social problems and distresses in our competitive brutal environments in schools, universities and the job market lead to people desperately seeking solutions for success where it is so hard to achieve. One way they relieve their mental troubles and try to help their children in the newly relentless networking environment is to medicalize the problem. Insurance companies collude by offering money if the condition identified can be found described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which has become, an Angell and others have shown,

“the product of a complex of academic politics, personal ambition, ideology, and, perhaps most important, the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.”

Two recent articles by her in the NYRB dwell just on the area of mental health. The arguments in “The Epidemic of Mental Illness” (NYRB, June 23, 2011) and “The Illusions of Psychiatry” (NYRB, July 14, 2011), are fundamentally accurate, though the second article has a significant flaw in its lack of compassion for the real increase in mental illnesses across the board in patient-consumers today, its failure to acknowledge that increase in diagnosis has led to progressive empathy and understanding of mental and social stresses and help for people, as well as its repetition of ill-informed gossip which (very like Reagan on mythical Welfare queens) exaggerate the amount of help mentally disabled people get (for adults hardly anything at all). Still, she is fundamentally correct: she shows the harm that the substitution and erasure of the talk cure in favor of handing out drugs is ill-advised, a move that makes profit for the drug companies and saves doctors and the medical establishment money and having to help people for real.

So, flawed as is part of Angell’s second article, all else she writes in both articles is frighteningly sound, and, as Sheldon Krimsky shows, the direct result of commercialization of science everywhere in the US so that universities are directly dependent on private companies for funds for basic research.

About the serious issue of what causes depression and mental illness, Angell is concerned to show the fundamental flaws in the argument that a lack of certain chemical causes depression. She tried to show (or said the books under review showed) that we cannot prove these prescription drugs sold at high prices do what they are said to do. In the first case she showed the tautology of the thinking: the drug companies are in effect saying we have discovered that aspirin gets rid of headache; there is no aspirin in people’s bodies, hence it must be a lack of aspirin in the body itself that is causing the headache. So we will go out and invent new and improved versions of aspirin for you to shoot yourself up with. The side effects of these new and improved drugs are dangerous, not well-understood. She shows that in both that the research conducted by these companies is so shot through with techniques designed to prove the drugs are needed, good for people, you can’t believe what is published. The placebo tests are flawed and when they don’t produce the results wanted phony (by suppression of evidence).

She didn’t deny that the drugs calm people, children too and relieves symptoms of depression, anxiety, rage; she is aware that these results are partly why the drugs are taken by millions of people. She said we don’t know what the result of taking these drugs for decades will one for many; one result for some is addiction; for others high weight gain (bad for you). I can understand how someone who has used these drugs and feels they have helped him to survive would be taken by the pragmatic arguments that they help control one’s symptoms. I take 2 240 milligram tablets of surfak (docusate calcium) every day, and have been doing this for 30 years. I’d be desperate if they were taken away. They are needed stool softeners for me, I trust they have no bad side effects and think they do help me for my bad constipation.

Her review is just a review nothing more. She doesn’t go into what she thinks of the “talking cure” beyond suggesting such session are useful and that the dropping of them is wrong because they are another important way of helping people. I don’t think she is interested in this issue in itself nor just the medicine invented for mental troubles and illness but as these are aspects, symptoms, instances of what the article you pointed to is true: the total corruption of the drug and medical establishment in the US. It’s that she is endlessly writing about, trying to expose. The whole enterprise is filled with rottenness. She wants sweeping and fundamental changes in the FDA, the NIH (watch dogs and research institutes), the way medicine is delivered, and strong controls on the way these companies do business.

The primitive personal or honest question is, Do I agree or think that my own depression, anxiety, troubles are chemical or physiological as well as psychological. Yes. Is this because something is wrong with me or it’s in my nature to be melancholy, my physiology. Both are different ways of saying the same thing. Some people have a tendency to be cheerful, aggressive; others the opposite, and these natures we are born with are exacerbated or countered by what happened to us as we grew up and later in school and life. So I had two parents who were very ill suited and on some level hated one another. My mother should not have had any children as she is cold, indifferent, selfish, obtuse — of course the world is filled with people like this who have children. My father was made miserable about his job, his life, a frustrated thwarted man who never developed intellectually as he could have. He turned to me and should not have. Both of them were (Larkin’s phrase) fucked up and they fucked me up too.

But if I agree that it’s partly physiological, chemical, that does not mean that these drugs these companies sell are based on a reasonably logical theory which can then be used to prove their efficacy. Far from it.

Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1965)

On Angell’s article Part 2: yes, the more I have been thinking about it the more at long last (after a number of important wholly sound articles), she does show her privileged life. The article had a glaring heartlessness. She took gossip about SSI and wrote about how Aspergers people are getting sums of money equivalent to welfare (as if that had been a loadstone). She did not take into account that while the Manual might reify diseases (make diseases exist by definition) and be a political document, that does not mean that mental trouble/illness is not widespread in the society. Atul Gawande’s Complications quoted and substantiates 33% or more of Americans have major depressive episodes over the course of their lives. In his book he shows that pain, both physical and psychological, is a social problem of real seriousness, one that needs to be addressed medically, by talk cures, and by government and social reforms of our daily lives and the norms we live by. That’s the implication of his “The Pain Perplex.”

So, that while it’s true the drug companies have faulty logic (=you get depressed because you don’t have X [say aspirin]in your system when they find giving X makes you cheerful so that means aspirin is what your system lacks); and it is true that their tests for drugs are corrupt (dismissive of evidence that shows they don’t work or do harm); nevertheless, that does not mean many many US people are not in trouble and need help. They do. This is insufficiently recognized in her part 2. Especially bad is the implication that Aspergers people are living high off gov’t money. She is so absorbed in the corruption here and now she forgets there has been progress.

On this a friend wrote me as follows:

“I was thinking of the Angell articles when I was watching The Kennedys the other night (it has only just arrived here) – I had not realised that the horrific Joe had one of his daughters lobotomized – I had to leave the room when it showed the effects; as I commented before however ineffective or indeed misdirected medicalization may be when one considers that 50 years ago this barbaric practice (mainly on women as far as I can see) was still a medical commonplace there has been progress. The historical perspective – institutionalizsation, lobotomy, ECT – must be kept in mind. Certainly things are still a long way off good but at least I have never been in danger of having a chunk of my brain cut out.”

Having acknowledged this, I want to provide a short review of Angell’s other articles so that this flaw will be seen in the larger perspective. In “Body Hunters” (NYRB, 51:12, October 6, 2005), a review of Fernando Mereilles’s film adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener, she demonstrated that although the murder of Tessa Quayle and Arnold Bluhm is improbable, much else that we find in the book is not just probable, but everyday business in testing drugs for phamaceuticals.

For example (the incident which lies behind the film), in 1996 Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical giant, opened a clinic in Kano, Nigeria, during a meningitis outbreak in order to test the drug Trovan, which had yet to be approved for use on children. There is no Tessa Quayle in this story, but there are doctors from the humanitarian group Medecins sans frontieres. There were no formal ethics-approval protocols in place for the tests, nor were the patients properly advised that they were participating in an experiment, nor was proper long-term follow-up implemented. Consequently, of 200 children treated, eleven died, while others suffered serious meningitis-related symptoms, such as deafness, lameness, blindness, seizures, and disorientation. Patients deteriorating on Trovan were not taken off it and given another antibiotic. Children given higher doses of deftriaxone to make the contrast look better yet it made for more pain. While I was at a Wagner conference, a man who used to be the Ambassador to Kenya was there, and he saw me with this novel (endlessly rereading you see), and confirmed that testing is done as a prerequisite for other care and the people don’t know what they are taking.


In 1997, Trovan was approved by the FDA to treat certain infections, but not for children and not for epidemic meningitis. The FDA found dozens of discrepancies in the documents from Nigeria. Trovan quickly became a highly profitable antibiotic widely used against a variety of infections. However, after less than two years on the market, there were over a hundred reports that the drug produced liver toxicity, causing several deaths. It is no longer sold.

The Constant Gardener (based on LeCarre’s book, directed by Fernando Mereilles, produced by Simon Channing-Williams, screenplay Jeffrey Caine): Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) tries to decipher Tessa’s computer files (see Todd Hoffman, “The Constant Writer: LeCarre Spies a New Villain”, Queen’s Quarterly, Spring 2001)

A second incident:

Thousands of HIV infected women were given a placebo while another group given a course of AZT very strong dosage for shorter time. They should have compared women being given drug as normal and at a usual rate; instead they consigned babies to HIV/AIDS and women to quicker death. The argument made was just that of LeCarre’s villain: the women in a pregnancy test would have died anyway. A Pfizer doctor contests this view, and argues that the mortality rate in his clinic was as low as, or lower than, at the MSF clinic. But this falls to respond to the ethical question of giving children an untested drug and the choices made about how to treat individuals once they are on it. The Pfizer attitude resembles that of Sandy Woodrow regarding Dypraxa, “We’re not killing people who wouldn’t otherwise die. I mean, Christ, look at the death rate in this place. Not that anybody’s counting”

Near Death (Frederick Wiseman, 1989): What Wiseman does is find the people with power in an institution and he films them for hours: here we listen to a chief of staff discussing what to do about certain patients with other medical personnel

Most of the time the trials run in these 3rd world countries are for diseases that afflict wealthy societies (arthritis, obesity, cholesterol, cancer). Research should not be done in the third world unless it concerns diseases that are virtually confined to those regions. And regulations governing research in poor countries should be every bit as stringent—and enforced just as vigilantly as in well-to-do countries. There is no justification for the present situation in which the standards are looser precisely where human subjects are most vulnerable.

Generally, there’s no question that the US and other rich countries have been conducting more and more clinical research in Africa and other parts of the third world. Although exact figures are hard to come by, it is likely that tens of thousands of studies sponsored by first-world drug companies and governments are now underway in Africa, parts of Latin America and Asia, and the former Soviet Union. Most of this research is intended to find new treatments for use in well-to-do countries. Standards are low or non existent.

These companies, called contract research organizations, or CROs, hire local doctors to find people who will take part in clinical trials, and while the payments to the doctors per patient are lower than in first-world studies, by local standards they are munificent. Doctors can multiply their income tenfold or more.

Patients, too, are readily enticed by small amounts of money and promises of free care. In fact, as in LeCarré’s story, enrolling in a trial may be the only way they can get any care at all.

Hospital (Frederick Wiseman, 1970): Wiseman also seeks out unusually candid and articulate people and films them

Finally, in “Your Dangerous Drugstore” (NYRB, 51:10, June 8, 2005), Angell makes visible the corruption found along the entire system of developing, testing and using prescription drugs. She goes over trials and shows all the problems were known and shoved under rug. Clinical trials are dropped or argued against while money spent on advertising.

The FDA has on its boards people who were or are in the pay of drug companies or affiliates. They get to decide what comes to market. At best you get a mild warning on packet.

Startlingly obviously bad is the “user fee:” the part of the FDA doing evaluating gets its funding from drug companies who they are evaluating!

Taking people’s testimonials is highly problematical. People want to believe they are different and in their case this is helping. All long for magic miracle drug.

Angell does suggest that the US public said to be growing sceptical of drug companies’ claimed disinterest: we see escalating prices; we see government bills intended to stop agencies acting for us from negotiating lower prices; we see that most research for new drugs done in university and government labs. That companies often go for “me-too” drugs.

The value of Epstein’s article is she uses a case where people are inclined to believe drug companies because flu can be a killer and vaccination can prevent illness and death. She shows how difficult it is to catch these people are their lies, pretenses, skewing of evidence.

Finally, Krimsky’s review (unfortunately, not online) shows that the very structuring of American medicine since the 1980s by neo-liberal voodoo economics has created this dire situation. How to stop it? Nothing short of universities monitoring its professors and laboratory technicians’ research for real, and firing anyone who is found to falsify results, take personal bribes, or allow his or her name to appear on research he or she did not do. In an atmosphere where all that is cared about is getting grants from companies for funding this is not about to happen tomorrow. A wholescale cleaning out of these be-shitted stables is called for.

A man in a wheelchair, left in the corridor of Metropolitan Hospital (Frederick Wiseman’s Hospital):

I can confirm the accuracy of Wiseman’s portrait. In 1989 I spent a week in Metropolitan Hospital (the place he filmed for Hospital) after I was in an automobile accident. It was like a crowded bus station everywhere. When I came in I had a fractured knee with no cast or anything on it for hours. There was that weekend one man in the whole hospital doing x-rays. Jim, my husband, promptly called him “The bottleneck.” He was not gentle doing x-rays; he was in a hurry you see.


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Frank Currituck Benson 186201951), Currituck Marshes, North Carolina (1926)

Dear friends and readers,

A brief seasonal blog: tonight in Alexandria we are experiencing the kind of cold that threatens the life of anyone who has to spend the night out in it. I did finish and sent off my paper on the film adaptations of Anthony Trollope to the editor of the coming volume, Adaptation: British Literature of the Nineteenth Century on Film: the title of mine is “Prologomena to a study of film adaptations of Anthony Trollope and Victorian films: the 1974 BBC Pallisers.” Whew!

I start teaching again on Monday, a one-day schedule again, though not as long as last term. I have but two sections this term, one in Advanced Comp in Natural Sciences and Tech, and the other Advanced Comp in Humanities. If you click on the links, you will see the times, places and my booklists as well as the plan in the syllabus for the course. I’ve added a new student model: “The Common Prejudice against Men as Nurses has got to go!”

I have no new books for the Natural Science course but I do have a new experiment: I’m going to screen film The Constant Gardener by Mereilles (from LeCarre’s novel) but instead of asking the students to read the fat book, I’ve ordered the screenplay. I think it may work better for most students and the screenplay book has good essays on the drugs company’s appalling amoral behavior and Africa. I am doing a new book for Advanced Comp in Humanities: Andrea Levy’s Small Island (together with the film); so now with Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake I need no longer feel my list of books is so white European I’ve decided to take the leap and instead of assigning books on children’s literature (Mason’s Girl Sleuth) and about reading as a significant experience (Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Teheran), I’m going to do a brilliant (wonderfully rich) children’s books, Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family, and a book I’ll present as a girl’s coming of age book (Austen’s Northanger Abbey — see my “A Refreshing approach: a fun experience”) and a book I’ll present as a popular historical romance in the male mode (Graham’s Ross Poldark). So now in the class we’ll be going in search of lost time to semi-popular literature too.

There were sufficient changes to make me have to change many links on my online library for my students, especially for Randall Jarrell, Andrea Levy and Winston Graham. All new texts linked in. Older now irrelevant texts removed.

I begin my teaching work tomorrow. Right now I’m working on my review of Mary Trouille’s Wife Abuse in 18th century France, and keeping up watching movies in the evening. I have not made up my mind whether I will try to write a paper on historical novels (Graham’s Poldark novels) for the EC/ASECS next fall or not. I do so want to return to my book, “A Place of Refuge: the Austen movies” and was not able to this Dec/Jan because I did the Trollope paper.

So readers and friends, that’s where I am tonight. My title comes from James’s Washington Square. I am working hard tonight at accepting our — the Admiral’s, Izzy’s and mine, not to omit out two cats, Clary and Ian’s — lot. I’ve framed this with a natural world picture and a city poem.

*Friday Night at the Royal Station*

Light spreads darkly downwards from the high
Clusters of lights over empty chairs
That face each other, coloured differently.
Through open doors, the dining-room declares
A larger loneliness of knives and glass
And silence laid like carpet. A porter reads
An unsold evening paper. Hours pass,
And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,
Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room.
In shoeless corridors, the lights burn.
How Isolated, like a fort, it is -
The headed paper, made for writing home
(If home existed) letters of exile:
Now Night comes on. Waves fold behind villages.
— Philip Larkin


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