Archive for May, 2009

Anthony Trollope by Samuel Laurence, 1864

Dear Friends,

It’s time I started posting once again about the 1974 BBC 26 part film adaptation of Trollope’s six Palliser or Parliamentary novels, written by Simon Raven. The last time I posted I wrote an essay on Anthony Trollope as a political novelist and how the Palliser films are only partly presented as about parliamentary politics.

Tonight to start us (or myself) off again, I thought I’d put a filmography of adaptations of Trollope’s novels. In reading general books on film adaptations this week I came across errors about how many, when and what has been adapted. It seemed to me the author guessed Trollope should have some, but didn’t go to the trouble of researching the question any.

I have, using mostly IMDB, corrected and produced a truer list than I’ve seen anywhere else. Another source has been Robert Giddings’s The Classic Serial on Televison and Radio; and I’ve kept information from stray comments here and there on essays on early BBC adaptations.

It is repeatedly said the first film adaptation on BBC (and TV) in a mini-series form of a novel was Trollope’s The Warden. This is not quite true; quite apart from adaptations of popular and other high status older novels, there were earlier ones of Austen’s novels. Starting with radio adaptations (important in themselves and as influencing the early TV adaptations), in 1938 (that early), a “serial reading of Trollope’s Barchester Towers was broadcast on the London regional programme in the summer of 1938″ (p. 9). Trollope’s novels have not dominated the mini-series terrain, but they have always been part of it, and a couple of times major productions have been mounted (with much expense and solid actors and writers).

From Pallisers, 10:20, The Duchess (Susan Hampshire) and Mrs Marie Finn (aka Madame Max Goesler, Barbara Murray) talking of the Duchess’s ambitions as the wife of the Prime Minister

In 1943, in the same year as an early landmark production of Dickens on radio, David Copperfield with Ralph Richardson as Micawber, Trollope’s Barchester Towers was again adapted for radio, this time by H. Oldfield Box, and in ten parts (p. 12). In 1945 it was Dr Thorne, which became a radio mini-series. There have been more recent radio adaptations too, and broadcasts of the older ones.

Here is a list of the TV adaptations as far as my knowledge goes. There has been no movie made for theatres as yet.

  1. 1951 BBC, The Warden. It is described as the very first BBC serial of a novel; it was done in 6 episode parts; the screenplay for this first Warden was by Cedric Willis, Kerr, 14. Other adaptations of high status novels had been done before (1938, 55 minute P&P; 1948 105 minute Emma, Kerr and Papill; 1950 one hour American Philco Theatre, live S&S)
  2. 1958 BBC The Eustace Diamonds (I know nothing more)
  3. 1959 BBC The Last Chronicle of Barset (ditto)
  4. 1960 BBC The Small House at Allington (ditto)
  5. 1969 a first BBC2 The Way We Live Now (5 episodes of 45 minutes) screenplay Simon Raven, directed James Cellan Jones, and actors include Colin Blakely, Rachel Gurney, Angharad Rees (as Marie Melmotte, made a central character as she was in the later series)
  6. 1974 a BBC The Pallisers, (26 50 minute episodes or 22 episodes) directed by Hugh David, Ronald Wilson, screenplays, Simon Raven, actors include Susan Hampshire, Philip Latham &c;
  7. 1974 Penrith, Malachi’s Cove, directed and written by Henry Herbert, starring Donald Pleasaunce, Malachi, and Veronica Quilligan, Malachi’s daughter, Mally. Single 90 minute episode from the short story of that name. This was shown in movie theaters in Britain in 1977 under the title The Seaweed Children.
  8. 1982 a BBC Barchester Chronicles (7 episodes of 55 minutes), directed by David Giles, screenplay Alan Pater, actors include Donald and Angela Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne, Geraldine McEwan, Janet Maw, Alan Rickman &c
  9. 2001 BBC The Way We Live Now (300 minutes) directed by David Yates, Andrew Davies, actors include David Suchet, Shirley Henderson, Matthew Macfayden, Mirando Otto, Paloma Baeza, Cheryl Campbell.
  10. 2004 1 hour, BBC documentary, The Two Loves of Anthony Trollope, directed by Richard Downes, no attribution for a writer, with Stephen Frye as narrator.
  11. 2004 BBC He Knew He Was Right 4 parts (240 minutes) directed Tom Vaughn, screenplay Andrew Davies, actors Oliver Dimsdale, Laura Fraser, Bill Nighy, Anna Massey &c

It might have stuck in Trollope’s craw to see ED adapted so early on, but it would not have surprized him. In his Autobiography he wrote how it beat out his finer political novel, The Prime Minister, and a brilliant moving original novel, Nina Balatka, about cultural and psychological conflicts at a deep level in two individuals, one a Jewish outsider, the other a Christian girl, who considers suicide. She almost throws herself into the Charles River:

Recent photo of Charles River, Prague

It would also not have surprised him to see the novel most often adapted thus far is Barchester Towers. He said of it that was the one book by him by the time he wrote his Autobiography which people felt called upon to read. He also said this was reinforced by his writing further Barsetshire books.

There are far fewer of these movies for Trollope than for Austen and a few other Victorian novelists (Dickens, Gaskell, Elliot, Hardy). There is no Companion for Film Adaptations of Trollope. It might be that the number of readers of his novels is not as high as John Letts used to believe (see his preface to my book, Trollope on the Net).

I have recently had an experience which may be the result of a lack of academic interest in Trollope for himself. I was just then reviewing for a respected academic periodical on Victorian Studies to review : The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope’s Novels: New Readings for the Twenty-First Century, edd. Margaret Markwick, Deborah Denenholz Morse, and Regina Gagnier (Ashgate, 2009, 978-7546-6389-8, $99.96 listed price).

I proposed to an editor also to write about what this volume hopes for: a change in Trollope studies. It was striking at the conference how different the subjects and tone taken towards Trollope from the last conference (admittedly 25 years ago) and also how different from what is often found in the Trollope society (though not always).

What I’d been noticing in the latest Victorian Studies, is how Trollope’s famous novels today (different from those favored say 25 years ago) embody attitudes or agendas that belong to the author’s book or agenda of the book as a whole, but how he is not assessed in his own right. I was bothered by that, and over the past couple of years going to the MLA I have listened to a number of papers on him, but always as embodying this or that attitude, apart from himself. He is not the focus nor Trollope studies as such. The only recent book I have and know of which does this beyond Durey’s Trollope and the Church of England (filled with information, a little encyclopedia about the church at the time but wrong about seeing Trollope as a centrally religious man) is Mark W Turner’s Trollope and the Magazines (who was invited to give a key lecture at the conference but didn’t show); there are newer books with chapters on Trollope (where he is used to prove another agenda about the age or political-sociological insight of the author)

This new collection brings him forward as a force to deal with in his own right engaging in subjects of interest today. I do know from having been at the conference that there was as much interest in him from a post-colonialist perspective as a gender one. I can see this reflected in the titles advertised in the Ashgate brochure. I would use the book as jump-off place.

I have not heard back: I gave a paper Trollope’s Comfort Romances for Men in the conference which was on gender studies and much praised, and which was put on the Victorian website.

As this already long enough and has enough content for one blog, I’ll save a list of the few articles that have been written on film adaptations of Trollope for a future blog. Sarah Cardwell (who has published the excellent and indispensable Andrew Davies and Film Adaptations Revisited has given a paper which I gather is not that well known and I will summarize it (as she was kind enough to send me a copy).

If anyone knows of another radio, TV, or film adaptation, please to let me know and I’ll add it to the above. If there is any error in the above list, ditto.


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Dear Friends,

I discovered today that Jim and I neglected to include a movie review I wrote for “Ellen and Jim have a blog, too:” Columbia’s irreplaceable The Talk of the Town, 1942, directed & produced by George Stevens, screenplay Sidney Harmon; starring Ronald Colman, Cary Grant, Jean Arthur (supporting cast: Edgar Buchanan, Glenda Farrell, Rex Ingram). It has not been categorized (or tagged) into one of the groups we worked at retrieving (e.g., women’s art, Austen, Trollope). We had had no category for movies.

So tonight I recreate it.

The Talk of the Town belongs to a kind of movie that I (and all those who had access to Channel 9, NYC) once watched twice a day 5 days a week and 3 times on Saturday and then again on Sunday: just about all the films were made from the later 1920s, the 1930s and 40s and into the early 1950s; a lot are nowadays dubbed “classics.” The great still living ones (still cited & thus remembered in popular media) include Yankee Doody Dandy with James Cagney; An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr; Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant (again) and Katherine Hepburn; The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara; the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films; A Tale of Two Cities with Ronald Colman; older silent films, Orphans of the Storm with Lilian & Dorothy Gish; very English ones, Brief Encounter with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard; and the unforgettable, White Heat with James Cagney and Virginia Mayo. The list goes on and on. Oh what Saturday afternoons they were for me in front of the TV.

When I’ve tried to watch some old films from the 50s or 60s not thought so well of, but which I so admired at one time, I’ve found they seemed creaky, artificial, melodramatic, and the mise-en-scene absurdly unpersuasive; and instead of deep laughter or pain, I’ve been bored. The Servant, with Dirk Bogarde and James Fox once so astonishing, creaked, was melodramatic and obvious. Night Porter with Bogard and Charlotte Rampling has eclipsed it for me. Comedies and romances especially seem to date.

I’ve had this experience rereading beloved books from childhood. Five Little Peppers and How They Grew appalled me on the grounds of reeking pious didacticism. My father tried to read his beloved The Secret Garden aloud to me, and was ever after dismayed by its relentless snobbery. Why did I like to read of Heidi’s misery at the bullying of her Aunt Dette?

I’d loved The Talk of the Town so I didn’t want to be disillusioned.

There was Ronald Colman. When I was 13 had anyone asked me (hardly anyone did) who was my favorite actor, I’d have said Ronald Colman. I loved his nobility, yearning, sensitivity, and I admit upper class kind of gentlemanliness, hurt, disillusioned. and his swashbucklers too (he and John Barrymore Junior wittily mocked their swordplay in The Prisoner of Zenda). I have a still of him (with Greer Garson) from Random Harvest and Lost Horizon on my wall.

Ronald Colman, Lost Horizon, 1937

I enjoy Cary Grant, endlessly equivocal. I watched Bringing Up Baby countless times. Arsenic and Old Lace. And I like his more recent films too: Houseboat with Sophia Loren. Jeremy Northam is about the closest actor today to Cary (except for Clive Owen in Duplicity; the difference shows us how far we have moved today from a more conventional masculinity (intelligence with a kind blunt heart) to seething sexuality:

Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940

jeremy northamMrKnightley
Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightley, Emma, 1996

And when I first read Anne Halkett’s memoir (17th century), and tried to think of the actress with the right psychological baggage, I came up with the inimitably stubborn, tenderly human, gently doll-like yet stalwart Jean Arthur.

Jean Arthur

It cannot be denied that these three presences make The Talk of the Town come alive still. Colman projects a real person, thoughtful, changeable, hesitant; Grant is still there and not there, quiet aggression and subversion constrained, and Arthur is a comic delight, at one point emoting a la breath-y gush in the Katharine Hepburn way, curls held back in front of a mirror, self-deprecating but assertive, witty, and passionate too.

The movie as a story and art is still alive to us too. It has a cogent, persuasive, & relevant story that holds attention; it projects adult and sophisticated depth. The story is about Leopold Dilg (Grant), leftist working man (the man is meant to be funny) who is framed as an arsonist and murderer by the town big crook in order to do away with said crook’s own factory-business (it’s failing), get insurance money, and put this whistle-blower away in prison.

The movie opens with scenes of the factory on fire, and tells the tale told in the papers swiftly through headlines. The film still works partly because the pace is quick, and a lot is suggested through visual gesture and physical interaction between the characters. Into the town for a summer’s working holiday with the intention of writing a book comes a professor of law, Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman). He has rented a house from Miss Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur). He arrives early, and just before him Dilg has escaped prison and hidden in his attic.

On one level, it’s a “mistakes of the night” type film. Nora loves Dilg (though she doesn’t seem to realize it until near the end of the film) and wants to keep him hidden in an attic in the house from a possible lynch mob. Dilg cannot keep himself in said attic, and comes downstairs to be identified as Joseph, the gardener. The Professor is maneuvred into hiring Miss Shelley as his cook and stenographer (all the stereotypes of women’s work and much social behavior are held to), and she finds herself introducing Dilg, and slowly a friendship forms between the two men. The supposed dialogue between the “pragmatic” man (Dilg, emersed in the real politics of life) and the “philosopher” (Lightcap, the privileged academic living apart, making up dreams of law which do not operate in the real world) is simplistic and jejeune, but not their sitting across the way from one another, with an interplay of personalities who argue, insult one another and remain courteous, dignified:


and then grow to respect one another for real, and become friends under the aegis of Miss Shelley whose angle the camera works to make us identify with:


I misremembered or epitomized exaggeratedly a lot. On the rivalry by the men over Miss Shelley, I thought there was a scene where she promised to marry the Professor, but he gave her up to the man who is more in her social class, more her age and type. Indeed just the opposite: Dilg thinking Nora loves the Professor and what a beautiful life he can give her, continually seems to push her away from him—until the last moment when she runs out of the court after Dilg and he suddenly snatches her hand and they flee the camera. I also imagined Dilg had chained himself to a radiator (maybe Grant played a working man in another film and did this).

I must’ve liked this pair of men for their Englishness too. Both actors were born and brought up in England. I must’ve been happy to identify with Miss Shelley. I probably would’ve preferred her to end up with Ronald Colman.

We rejoice intensely with the figure at the center as he is promoted 🙂

I remembered some other things accurately though. How the house became a pastoral asylum. The three of them eating a lovely breakfast. Comic congenial moments. Squabbling. Colman jumping up into a tree to escape the police dogs meant to find and perhaps harm Dilg. The growing relationship of the Professor and Miss Shelley: they walk together; she takes him to football; they buy borsch with an egg for Leopold. The dignified African-American valet, Tilney (Rex Ingram) who has led this “cloistered” existence with his kindly employer for many years. The way the Professor hid behind his beard and cuts it off (the movie plays to popular dislike of beards as anti-social). The rough beauty parlor young woman who knows the man thought to be murdered is alive, Regina Bush (a sexy name for Glenda Farrell). Here I half-remembered the thug as beating her, but again my memory was exaggerating what is merely half-suggested, hinted. The honest lawyer type, Sam Yates (Edgar Buchanan) and Nora conferring in the car (she sloe-eyed in the early morning in Professor Lightcap’s pajamas).


Of course some of it is sentimental hogwash. The intense emotionalism and ease with which Lightcap gets a seat on the supreme court would fool no one today. The characters don’t exist in a thickly-peopled world. Sex is kept to the margins, and we get romantic kisses only. It’s amusing but silly the way first Grant punches Colman and then Colman Grant. Each proving his manliness this way somehow.

I did like the way Miss Shelley was treated so respectfully by all—though I know it was particularly improbable when she was taken down to the police station for harboring a criminal knowingly. The roles for all its outward conventionality (she sits and knits by the fire, serves the food, takes sten, is a high school English teacher) felt better than most films made by men today. She seemed to have a strong sense of self-worth and life apart, within, of her own, a subject in her own right, albeit dressed in such a doll-like bandbox fashion.

But much reality was here too. The corrupt way towns are ruled by collusive corrupt cliques. The dense officers who are willing to enforce and endorse brutal violence to keep them in power.

Colman has been knocked out while defending Grant from the police

One of the film’s serious themes is its imitation of real lynch mobs, US violence and disregard for law as part of its culture. At the close of the film when after the Professor has been the one to unearth evidence that exculpates Dilg, he faces the mob and in a scene appeals to them to abjure the violence that destroys community and makes a mockery of their professed ideals.

A not uncommon concluding scene in older movies

And there was a strain of asserted healthy socialism implied you never see in films today.

I rewatched the film again after I realized we had omitted to rescue the posting, and again I finished it with good feeling in my heart. The well-meaning intelligent and courteous, self-controlled and generous presences at its center cheered me.

A still of the English garden inflected American: the upper class judge, Colman, dictates his thoughts on law to Jean Arthur as Ordinary Girl-Secretary while the Sceptical and Irreverent-Working Labour Union Man, Grant, stands by listening



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Dear Friends,

Dove Cottage, recent photo

Kathleen Jones’s A Passionate Sisterhood has been my comfort and rivetting book to read in the evening over the past two weeks. I was sorry when it came to an end. Its great achievement is to free representations of women’s lives from the hegemony of men’s stories. She was able to do this because both the women and men of her stories left an enormous cache of letters, diaries, autobiographical books (travel writing, memoirs, biographies) & poems rooted in their private lives.

Writing lucidly and with subtle and compassionate insights and a great deal of sociological and material (what were the physical circumstances these people had to live in, how they worked, got money, couldn’t travel far but by foot), Kathleen Jones retells the lives and characters of the Fricker and Hutchinson sisters, three of whom married Coleridge (Sarah Fricker), Southey (Edith Fricker) and Wordsworth (Mary Hutchinson), one was pursued relentlessly, remorselessly by Coleridge (Sara Hutchinson), and also the Wordsworth women (Dorothy, Wordsworth’s beloved sister) and Dora (his and Mary’s daughter), and the next generation of women (Sara Coleridge in particular) born to these couples.

It’s interesting at the outset to know all three men and all the women were orphaned early (or simply pushed out of the parental home when very very young), that all were very fringe people (with no property or income and few connections to anyone who did). They were the children of men who failed in business, and women who often had breakdowns (hidden in the way of the times). The Lambs were close to them, but they remained in London (Charles had a regular job of 5 and 1/2 days a week many hours a day and besides was not keen on the remote difficult-to-live area of the Lakes which was cheap). They too had very bad problems with parents: Mary was (I think) driven to kill her mother as many here may know.

This differentiates them strongly say from the Shelley-Byron clan, not that the parents were longlivers, but that in this other group there was money, and there was usually some person who really cared for the child (Godwin for Mary for example, Shelley’s sisters, Byron’s mother whatever you may think of her) when growing up. Austen too was a member of the pseudo- or fringe gentry with a father with a income and house and connections to those who could place the brothers to say nothing of Hastings (Philadelphia’s lover father of Eliza, he pushed for the Austen sons in the navy). So Austen and Mary Shelley were not driven to the kinds of occupations the Fricker and Hutchinson girls were. Austen not married was not inflicted by endless pregnancy once married, nor the same kind of household harsh drudgery.

Keats was yet in another group, one based in London.

It seems that at the core of William and Dorothy’s abysmal to difficult childhoods is a new unearthable story about their mother. After the birth of her fourth child (in not many more years than that), she vanished to London for some time and came back to die. Nothing is told of why she went, what she did, or why came back. Her husband gives the children to relatives and never sees them again. They are badly treated by these relatives.

This is the pattern of what is done to the children of women who are sexually transgressive.

Wordsworth himself in turn treats Annette badly. How badly Coleridge behaves towards Sarah and how I respect and like Southey so strongly for his sense of duty towards those he tied himself to, Edith (who was often depressed — see below) and partly exploited (as people do in their close relationships).

I am beginning to see why Diana Birchall said of this book “how the sublimest poets could be breathtakingly self-centered and ratty men, following grand precepts and grand follies while utterly neglecting consequences. From reading these two books I learned an infinite amount about the age.”

We see Dorothy’s tremendous courage. The only chance at even a half-life was to join William and live with him: she was treated like a pariah, sexually transgressive in potentia, and she went anyway — and did live and fully for a time (until Mary and William married). At the supposedly kind relatives’ house she was a drudge having to sleep with a woman from 9 at night until the woman cared to get up and take care of her endless children (she being endlessly impregnated), the only entertainment continual religious harangues.

Jones hints, she suggests, and there’s enough there to show a love affair (physically consummated except making sure of no pregnancy) between the Wordsworths (beginning in their time in Germany). And what egoist they were. And mean to the children (“robust” disciplinarian pratices like put the child in solitary confinement until he “behaves”).

The trip to Germany to learn German is absurd. No one visits the Wordsworths as they are pariah, have no money to do social intercourse (one needs money today too), no letters of introduction, people like me (I think to myself). Coleridge is at university, but it seems to me he could learn as much at home. He’s a lot on drugs.

I was appalled by Coleridge’s behavior to Sarah. And horrified by what she went through when she had two babies, with small pox, living in a nasty cottage with almost no amenities whatsoever, expected (!) to breastfeed them, herself covered with the disease, and this man is not to be told (the genius cannot be disturbed) and doesn’t come home for months afterwards. Then she gets pregnant again. You wouldn’t catch me in that man’s bed.

Thomas Poole seems to me (and Jones means me to think this) a homosexual in love with Coleridge, using this nonsense about genius cannot be disturbed to keep him from Sarah. With friends like this (from Sarah’s standpoint) who needs enemies. But Coleridge didn’t need a Poole to make him utterly self-centered.

Again Southey emerges as the decent one of the lot. It seems his turn to conservatism was also engendered by his sense of real obligation to wife and children and the need to support them and himself in dignity and comfort.

There are two still important issues here, the first I have been thinking about since starting this book: a couple of years (maybe more) ago now on Eighteenth Century @ Yahoo a few of us read Diderot’s La Religieuse in translation and ditto for his Rameau’s Nephew. It may be remembered RN is a debate on the rights of genius: does a man who has special gifts in the arts (or sciences) have the right to absolve himself of responsibilities he incurred. That’s the way it’s put. You cannot escape parents and relatives the way you cannot altogether escape the state. Anna Barbauld puts it this way when she argues that within limits a citizen must not work for, tolerate without criticizing heinous crimes by the state no matter how many people in the society are for this or allow it. But once you are grown, the responsibilities you incur, can you ignore or exploit others and use them.

Diderot says no. He has Rameau’s inner self shown to us as sordid, animal like, and the behavior which tolerates it abject and false, usually brought on by not being able to do anything.

I agree. If Coleridge wanted to spend his life with poetry, he should not impregnate Sarah each time they have sex. There were ways to stop it and they were known. Look at the Wordsworths, at Byron (and say Teresa and many other of his mistresses who did not get pregnant).

Coleridge was supported by Poole who Jones implies was in love (in other words) homosexually with Coleridge. what stopped Sarah from leaving him? It was her pride in being dropped by this man and knowing she wouldn’t get another — she had lost her looks and came encumbered with babies. It is clear that when she saw she was better off without this monster, that he was so egocentric to women (like the other men in the group) well beyond the others, that she at last dropped him and walked away.

Everything has its price. You want freedom you must give up certain kinds of things (looking at Coleridge). Sometimes the price is way too high (Sarah Coleridge having erotic love and a husband so that she will be respected), and you’ve got to face that and stop paying. Then the pain goes away and you are at peace.

The later chapters about the next generation (“Lost Children”) made me remember how children pay for those of their parents’ gifts the world condemns and only exploits for money when the parents fulfill them. “Lost Children” is brimming with real vital life as Jones has made such an astute use of the diaries and letters and documents left. I felt I was really there and the sense of reality in the intimate portraits is unbeatable.

When I finally closed the book, I found myself to have been very moved by the deaths of everyone but Mary Hutchinson (Wordsworth’s wife, a library attendance later this summer if we can get it to her) — who died last, was the strongest physically and probably emotionally too. Mary too left a diary journal travel book which Jones suggests is in some ways better than Dorothy’s as it tells far more personally about their lives as they travel.

How Jones tells the story of Sara Coleridge, the depth and perception and information she brings it can epitomize the book as a whole. Brought up by her mother, Sarah (with an “h” to tell them apart) in the hardest of circumstances because of the father’s desertion and their poverty, Sara lived in what became Southey’s large comfortable mansion, Gretna Hall (originally rented by Coleridge, and was supremely well-educated when it came to intellectual and academic matters (6000 books in the house by the time Southey was made poet laureate).

Gretna Hall as it was when the Coleridges first saw it

Like Hartley, Sara was supremely gifted (Sarah, the mother was also pace all the bad-mouthing a highly intelligent woman, well-read and one of Sara’s teachers). Sara Coleridge also had the continual companionship of Edith (Southey’s daughter, not that bright intellectually at all) and Dora Wordsworth (hard to say what she was intellectually so smothered was she by father, mother, and treated so harshly by Dorothy who sent her away to school just as she, Dorothy had been sent).

She had the beautiful country around her.

Many compensations. What she didn’t have was security and real tranquillity and order until Southey moved in permanently with his (often severely depressed wife) and many children (endless pregnancies inflicted on these poor women). STColeridge would actually badger her to tell him she loved him after himself berating her casually; he was openly in love and pursuit of Sara Hutchinson, the sister of Mary, Wordsworth’s wife. Sara and her mother and Hartley and Derwent (the third child of the Coleridges) were there on suffrance and knew it.

Also there was an intense repression of sexual knowledge. This is important. Although the older generation certainly didn’t conform to the repressive sexual norms of the time, they apparently themselves carried in their minds the same repressive attitudes of those around them, and deliberately kept all the daughters and sons ignorant of sexual matters. Dora and Sara in particular we know had a hard time coping with sexual maturity, and Wordsworth and his wife, Mary were able ruthlessly to prevent Dora from marrying until she was in her later 30s partly because she was frightened of sex. And what she saw of its results I might add in her house. Dorothy must be credited with encouraging Dora to marry the beloved man, Quillian — Dora ended up tubercular early on and died only a couple of years after marrying.

Drains were bad, no heat, little conveniences, no modern medicine and the result here was opium bondage, hardly discussed but real and that takes us to Sara.

In her comments Diana quoted the lines from Jones’s book about how after two harsh childbirths, and much illness and weakness, Sara begged the husband she finally married (after his father kept them apart because he loathed this bohemian group) to leave her be. He wouldn’t and he wouldn’t use contraception – they knew techniques, anal intercourse is obvious as well as other alternatives (used by Fanny Burney and Alexandre D’Ablay – fingers &c). The way it’s put by all sounds like he is an ogre, but in fact if you read Jones’s account what emerges is Sara disliked and was frightened of sex, and before the marriage, tried to keep the bethrothed away from her, and also after.

More to the point: Sara Coleridge didn’t want to be a family or man’s cow, at their beck and call, nailed own to children 24 hours a day. During her decade in her 20s he did much literary work, not paid, of course. She did two remarkable translations the first of which she began with Derwent under Southey’s tutelage. When Derwent got a scholarship to go to university, there would be no payment and outhey told her she must do it for herself and not to bother.

Southey was himself unscrupulous about women: he supported all these women and was in his daily life respectful and kind to them, but to him, they were here to serve men, and not a sliver of any money or attempt was ever given the girls for any kind of career or place in the world. He has the best, the airiest room in the house:

The floor plan of Gretna Hall when Southey, his wife and children, Sarah Coleridge and her children and Mary Lovell (another friend) and her daughter lived there; note Southey’s study on the first floor with 3 large windows

Doubtless he was hard at work for them, and I learned to like him too from this book (and have ordered for myself W. Specks’s fine biography of him as a complete man of lettes), but he loved the work (ate, breathed and slept it), and did not fall into debilitating depression, but late in life married a young poet, Caroline Bowles who took tender care of him in his senile last years — in return for his support (I’ve written a posting on her and her poetry in my old blog — see “women’s art” on my website).

Now Sara Coleridge understandably learned to want out. She too used opium for pain and began to use it for sleep. It had this side-affect: it made for miscarriages and made getting pregnant harder. She tried to escape the husband implicitly: they’d go on a trip and she’d stay behind on an inn and try to live there. The husband came and fetched her — and impregnanted her again. Twins, died almost immediately. She was profoundly depressed during much of this marriage — to man she did love, who was her intellectual equal, a lawyer.

Anyway as it happened he died young. Many of these people died in their fifties as many people would today but for modern medicine for troubles over organs and other small (to us) breakdowns. I’d have died at 27 of a miscarriage if I had lived before the mid-20th century. Not oddly if you read Jones aright, after an initial prostration (losing him, the income, the contingent dependence), she cheered up and went back to literary work and even socialized in London a bit. She began friendships by letters, with example, Elizabeth Barrett (not yet Browning). Sara did superb editions of her father’s papers, wrote poems (now first published in 2007). Doing the Biographia Litereria was a particularly immediately thankless task. Who would read it but scholars? There have never been many. What money did it make? Zilch. Who was the drudge who permitted this? Sarah Coleridge took care of Sara’s children.

I deeply sympathize with Sara and Dora and fear others will not. Why should she give up her life to others? It was a deep need in her to read and to write Jones said. I also liked Sarah Coleridge so much and admired her strength and loving heart.

Sarah Coleridge when in her 30s

Many of these women suffered terrible bouts of depression. Dorothy (obvious reasons), Edith Southey (continually pregnant, not Southey’s intellectual equal at all and had to watch him much prefer Sarah Coleridge and live a rich full life in London she was shut out of and who knows what he said to her inprivate), Sara Coleridge, Dora, Sara Hutchinson (stalked in effect by STC), Annette Vallon (deserted by Wordsworth and never helped in the way she needed at all, and he was relatively guiltless over it).

Sons without connections and decent fathers (Trollope uses this in his novels) suffered too. Were it not for Wordsworth and Southey, Hartley would not have had a chance at university, IN the event he got a second class degree, and by the time he was in his 20s was alcoholic. He had a very bad childhood emotionally because of his father. One thing here impressed me: how these women imposed on the children their continual way of giving up their lives so the children felt utterly bonded to them and the adults could get away with a lot of punishment on the children. Well I’ll say this for STC since he never did that, you could tell him what you thought and Hartley at least did that. He stood up to STC who was (we are told) so terribly shocked. Hartley was homeless at times since it was felt (as it is today) that men don’t have to be helped when they can’t manage (the young women were taken in you see). Often ill. Died young, not having fulfilled his gifts even so much as his sister, Sara did, not having lived the life he could have. He became the sort of young adult who stays away. I understand that very well,

What the women managed to leave were poetry, diaries, and journals of travel writing. Editions of their fathers’ work. And then the next generation of children (mostly women) wrote biographies of the aunts & mothers as well as fathers. Hartley left poetry and essays.


I wrote a foremother poet posting for Sara Coleridge (1802-53) on Wompo as a result of reading Passionate Sisterhood and would like to focus for a bit on her poetry.. First, however misleading the wikipedia article gives you the gist of her life as hitherto known; then an important on-line article published in The Guardian, tells you something of Sara’s backstory: Coleridge’s daughter hid her poetic passions.

In 2007 for the first time all Sara Coleridge’s poems edited by Peter Swaab and published by Carcanet Press were published; the book contained a hitherto unknown or forgotten 120 poems found in manuscript, much of which was apparently superior to the mostly conventional children’s (didactic, meant to teach words) and pious poems that had been known and published by her family. Unfortunately I don’t yet own this book (I’m waiting for it to come from Ireland via Amazon marketplace.uk and a slow shipping rat), so I quote
a still mostly unprinted poem by Sara, untitled, but to her father, which is printed in Jones’s book:

  • Father, no amaranths e’er shall wreathe my brow. ­
    Enough that round thy grave they flourish now: ­
    But Love mid’ my young locks his roses braided,
    And what car’d I for flowr’s of deeper bloom?
    Those too seem deathless – here they never faded,
    But, drench’d and shatter’d dropp’d into the tomb.
    Ne’er was it mine t’unlock rich founts of song,
    As thine it was ere Time had done thee wrong:

    But ah! how blest I wander’d nigh the stream,
    Whilst Love, fond guardian, hover’d o’er me still!
    His downy pinions shed the tender gleam
    That shone from river wide or scantiest rill.
    Now, whether Winter ‘slumbering dreams of Spring,’
    Or, heard far off, his resonant footsteps fling
    O’er Autumn’s sunburnt cheek a wanner hue,
    While droops her heavy garland, here and there,
    Nought can for me those golden gleams renew,
    The roses of my shattered wreath repair.

    Yet Hope still lives and oft, to objects fair
    In prospect pointing, bids me still pursue
    My humble tasks: – I list – but backward cast
    Fain would mine eye discern the Future in the Past.

  • She did publish one to her daughter when the child was very young:

  • Fast, fast asleep my Edith lies
    With her snowy night-dress on;
    Closed are now her sparkling eyes;
    All her merry thoughts are gone.
    Gone! ah me! perhaps she dreams;
    Perhaps she views the crystal streams,
    Wanders in the grove and field —
    What hath sleep to her revealed?
  • And one which revealed her opium addiction and need for opium for sleep:

  • The Poppies Blooming all around
    My Herbert loves to see,
    Some pearly white, some dark as night,
    Some red as cramasie;
    He loves their colours fresh and fine
    As fair as fair may be,
    But little does my darling know
    How good they are to me.
    He views their clustering petals gay
    ­And shakes their nut-brown seeds.
    But they to him are nothing more
    Than other brilliant weeds;

    O how should’st thou with beaming brow
    With eye and cheek so bright
    Know aught of that blossom’s pow’r,
    Or sorrows of the night!
    When poor mama long restless lies
    She drinks the poppy’s juice;
    That liquor soon can close her eyes
    And slumber soft produce.
    0′ then my sweet my happy boy
    Will thank the poppy flow’r
    Which brings the sleep to dear mama
    At midnight’s darksome hour.

  • SaraColeridge


    To return to A Passionate Sisterhood as a whole, the first half of the book coincides with the lifespan of Jane Austen and what Jones shows to be so about the women’s lives of her book (genteel yet semi-impoverished) tells a good deal about Austen’s. Austen was just a cut above the Fricker and Hutchinson sisters so she didn’t have to go out and be a governess (or worse yet, milliner) and she was strong enough to refuse to marry so was not burdened with endless pregnancies though she did die young all the same.

    It is customary to find fault. Jones has one flaw: she misnames her book. It should have been subtitled: Women Southey Lived with or Helped Support. But then who would have bought it?


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  • PoussinArcadia
    Nicholas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego

    Dear friends,

    Earlier this month Jim, I, and Isobel went to see a fine performance at the Shakespeare Folger Theatre in DC of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. I was by the end so moved and absorbed intellectually, and amused too, that I took down the play from our shelves and read most of it on Thursday (while proctoring an exam). I’ve now written a review of it as a play that seriously critiques the values thought to be encouraged by the romantic movement of the early 19th century.

    Central to the play are two couples: first, Septimus Hodge, tutor and remarkable man, poet, scientist, romantic (played in the first London production by Rufus Sewell and this time by Cody Nickell), and Thomasina Coverly, his aristocratic genius-level pupil (played originally by Emma Fielding, and last night, Erin Weaver). Thomasina is Lady Crome’s daughter, and Hodge a brilliant man who needs an income. And analogously (so to speak) popular historical novelist, Hannah Jarvis (played by Felicity Kendall in the first production, here in DC by the quietly effective Holly Twyford) and the professor, Bernard Nightingale (first done by Bil Nighy, and in the DC play by the excellent Eric Hissom). Hannah’s excuse for living in the house & spending time in its landscape is she’s writing a history of gardens; Nightingale is there to ferret out more information and try out his theory on the family that Byron duelled with and murdered Ezra Chater, who was with his promiscuous wife in the house on the same weekend in 1809 that Nightingale has discovered Bryon recorded as having been there.

    It’s impossible to do justice to this play in a part of a single blog. Suffice to say it’s about two groups of people, so like a Booker Prize book (whose typical self-reflexivity and literariness it resembled), a historical past-time in embedded in and interwoven with a parallel contemporary time. As usual with costume drama, it was the 1809 group which broke central taboos of life, experienced tragedy. Here Hodge who we learn became a half-mad hermit as a result of what happens in the play, and Thomasina who is burnt to death the night after the play ends, belong. Et in Arcadia Ego.

    This group includes some famous and non-famous figures who do not appear, including Byron—who is never seen but said to be out in the house’s vast gardens, indulging in “carnal embraces” with one Mrs Chater and then Lady Crome. We have a butler (Michael Glenn as Jellaby), an absurdly vain cuckold (who actually does not care if his wife has lovers, Cooper d’Ambrose as Ezra Chater), a landscape architect & gardener (Stephen D’Ambroso as Mr Noakes).

    The contemporary group is made up of caricatures & sympathetic portrayals of modern intellectual and sensitive types: adult aristocrats, the owners of the estate, the Coverlys: Peter Stray as Valentine, an older male who would marry Hannah if she’d agree; Margo Selbert as Chloe Coverly, who dresses up as Jane Austen at one point and would become a lover of the professor if he’d agree. We have a silent suffering younger brother who flees everyone, Benjamin Schiffbauer as Gus.

    The stories are not so much parallel as run alongside one another as the contemporary modern characters try to discover what was the truth of what happened to the earlier ones. The contemporary ones mostly get everything wrong until near the end when Hannah correctly tells the tale of what happened to whom and when. So there is much dramatic irony, and as the two sets of characters alternatively appear, gradually they begin to occupy the stage at one time.

    The joy of Arcadia is in the witty and allusive dialogues, the sufficiently believable characters, a satire on modern sleuthing historical scholarship and the corruption of the academy by people who will argue anything as long as it has sex and a “marque” figure in it (reminding me of A. S. Byatt’s Possession). More deeply, the action and characters juxtaposed to one another and discussing math, geology, art, library and record research makes for a play about time, people’s relationship to love, to landscape, to writing and words, to history and “literature”. Stoppard knows how to conjure up beautiful places through simple words: shrubbery, bridge, pavillion, gazebo, lake; and we hear suggestively of countries far off. There is the usual delightful scene in a Stoppard play of some of the characters listening to, watching and interrupting by comments other characters performing: the professor gives an paper with hopelessly extravagant deductions about Byron.

    The final scene has Hodge and Thomasina dancing to a candle at night, just before she goes upstairs (as we know as we watch ) to her death, with Hannah dancing in the same space with a lost shy young Coverly Gus.

    At the heart of the Arcadia is Stoppard’s reaction to romanticism: he critiques it as an outcome of the secular enlightenment with its valuing of the individual, genius, nature over conformity to a group, religious ties and assurance of metaphysical continuity. Our modern characters are all romantics, caught up in their own obsessions, with the professor standing in for the worst kind of self-indulgence, vanity, destructiveness of other people to gain prestige and fame. A hermit is both an archetypal 18th century and romantic figure (see Isabel Colegate’s A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries, Recluses). Alas at ACESC conferences scholars who are themselves so successful and comfortable in social life usually give anti-Rousseauistic papers which more than half-mock the hermit, and the 18th century idealistic urge to sincerity, retirement. Stoppard takes the figure seriously: his main insight is courageously pessimistic, for Hodge turns away from the world he was working so hard to improve in Thomasina and she dies ironically because he was noble enough to refuse to go to bed with her the night she turned 17. But there are signs of hope: a turtle on the table exists in both eras; the later era does find the papers of the earlier one; I take it the discussions of math are to show a figuring forth of a lasting order & harmony in eternity, which we also see in the final dance and in the interweaving of the characters and their beautiful gardens.

    This is the third Stoppard play we’ve seen this spring weeks: the last week of April at the Metro stage in north Alexandia (Old Town), we saw the comic poignant one-act gem, Heroes, and a couple of weeks before that at GMU, a remarkable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, all the better for the young actors not having much money for stage distractions.

    The Folger also had an intelligently put-together exhibit in its Great Hall about dreams and sleep in the Renaissance. Informative placards accompanied the objects and there were beautiful stills from recent productions of Shakespeare where Shakespeare’s words evoked ideas and images of sleep and dream. Worth going to see.


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    Dear friends,

    The cultural forum of the Austrian embassy has come alive again these days: it’s Haydn’s hundredth birthday and there are (free) concerts, lectures and new art exhibit.

    The exhibit lines the walls of the lovely hall where the concerts are performed: the pictures are revealing and accompanied with such thorough explanations. You can learn about Haydn’s hard younger life in the modern sceptical way – including his poor background, two years of his wandering about with no income after he was thrown out of school for insubordination, the realities of patronage, a loveless marriage, and a wealthy widow mistress in London.

    Wednesday night was particularly appealing for me to go to: it was piano sonatas by Haydn and six 18th century women composers. Little is known about most of them, but what was known was given in a pamphlet. Music was so strong a force and cultural milieu in Germany in the 18th century that women were educated and flowered in it too. We see the results in the 19th century and general importance of German music from the 18th century to our own. Charles Burney went to Germany and Italy to write his great book, the first modern type of the history of music.

    Pianoforte from the era

    The pianist was Sigrid Trummer, a vigorous young woman in her thirties. She turned her own pages and kept going for two hours with just a 20 minute intermission.

    The names and a little about each of these women composers:

    Anna Bon Di Venezia, born 1740 in Russia, father wrote opera liberettos and mother a singer, times rough and they put her in an orphanage convent, but she returned in her tenes and moved with them to the Esterhazy Estate where music was thriving. She married a singer, Mongeri.

    Marianne Auenbrugger, born 1759 Vienna, daughter of a well-known doctor, studied piano with her sister under Haydn and Antonio Salieri, died 1782 of TB. Salieri paid for her piano sonatas to be published.

    Josepha Auernhammer, born 1758 Vienna, 11th child, studied piano with George Friedrich Richter, Leopold and others, and finally Mozart himself. Played a concert with Mozart in 1781.

    Marianne Martines, born 1744, father MC for Papal Nuncio in Vienna, and he was elevated to nobility, so she was tutored by Metastasio for a time, met Haydn when Haydn a struggling independent musician, performed in court, and accepted into the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna in 1773.

    Maria Theresa Paradis, born 1759 to Imperial Secretary of commerce and advisor to Maria Theresa, between 2 and 5 lost eyesight and yet managed to learn and write music (how I wonder). Her condition seems to have been partly hysterical — psychosomatic as Franz Anton Mesmer was for a while able to make her “see” (it’s said). She performed in Paris, London; with her mother went to Salzburg where they visited Mozart; she performed in London in the Prince of Wales’s house. Germany and Switzerland in 1784. In 1785 she helped Valentin Hauy open the first school for the blind. We can locate her Vienna in 1786.

    I enjoyed the piano music. I often like instrumental music better than classical type singing. One fun piece was by Josepha Auernhammer: it was comic and melancholy variations on tunes from Mozart’s Magic Flute. For Hayden, I prefer his symphonies: when I was younger and had finished teaching and came back to my car I would often put a tape of one of Haydn’s symphonies on in my car to calm myself and bring moments of beauty and harmony and order to my soul on the way home.


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    Dear Friends,

    It’s time to start writing for this space. I begin with transposing thoughts and analysis of three books I read recently which meant much to me.

    Three weeks ago now, most of this reading late at night or in the early morning hours (watching the pre-dawn blue show up in the sky), I read one of the finest memoirs I’ve read in a while: Suzy McKee Charnas’s my father’s Ghost: the return of my old man and other second chances The central story line of the book is a moving and truthful account of Charnas taking her father in when he was no long able to support himself at all and seemed to be going blind, a father who abandoned her and her sister when they were young: she is told the mother had told him to get out, but with good reason. Charnas wants to show truthfully what a parental child relationship really is; about half-way through she’s exposing the US lack of any help for aging people and what their adult children end up having to do late in life. This is sobering and for anyone in their sixties (like me) who has an aged P it gives pause. She does manage to find a decent place for the old man as these things go. I doubt I do anywhere near as well for my mother if I had to do such a thing; luckily my mother has much more money and has been able all her life to manage this sort of thing, even if awkwardly and with stress. Charnas’s father lacked the tact and will.

    As the book opens Charnas has moved with her husband, Steve Charnas, from NYC to New Mexico to find a cheap enough place & area of quiet peace to allow her to be a writer for life. She never made big sums in the years to come but did make a modest (she never had a book become a movie, but has had them made into plays) living from her books and still does. They lived in a cottage with a corrugated roof and she wrote in a shed. The husband worked as an attorney. They had and have no children together, but rather a stepchild (or two, it’s not clear) from his previous marriage. Over the course of the book we learn about her mother, that she is half-Jewish, that the wedding she had with Steve is Jewish in its ceremony, about her sister, a half-brother, and a little about her writing career (very candid here). Her own autobiography is glimpsed in the stages of telling her relationship with her father then and now.

    Charnas seems to me a good example too of a woman not quite making it the way she should and bending to the marketplace in order to survive — as Marge Piercy did not have to (or not as much). I loved Piercy’s Sleeping with Cats which I compared to Charnas for equal honesty. Piercy is bolder, less conscious of how she will come across and contradictory currents, more passionate, and also capable of more shmaltziness, less truthful. I remembered Bobbie Ann Mason’s Clear Springs too, at least up to the time Mason becomes an adult and goes into her career, then she shuts down and hides the realities. Perhaps the reason it’s often been noted chapters on the early life of someone are much more vivid is the writer is willing to tell much more, not ashamed, not worried about who will be exposed since it’s long ago the people are dead. Charnas takes the other tack: the woman in the middle, in her forties is where she begins, ending in the women in her early sixties.

    Charnas has a real sense of what’s funny too: about cats she is wry. Marge Piercy came to mind since Suzy’s father kept a cat he cannot take with him to the retirement home, and at the end of one chapter she muses what it is we feel for cats we call love.

    The memoir was for me unbearably touching at the close. I think Charnas’s unflinching honesty and the sheer plainness of the style as if only by saying what is without ornamentation could she hope to commemorate and understand this relationship adequately. Any false sentiment or gliding over would falsify and thus ruin the text by which she sought to do justice to her father’s failed (as he saw it) life. I made me feel guilty about my mother but like her in the book (worse, I’m worse) I can’t do what I can’t do, and it’s no good to sentimentalize for what you confront the person again the reality check is a wall all over again.

    She does dream of him after he dies, but the metaphor of the ghost is that he was a ghost of himself when he arrived in her life in 1972. Thinking about his solitary person-apart life she has this to say about her fiction:

      “So much of my fiction centers on unlikely bridge-building over yawning gulfs — between humans and animals, between aliens and earthlings, between natural an supernatural beings, between plain men and women, … The solitary man, the alienated intelligence gifted with insight and intelligence often shows up in my work — as victim, as predator, as baffled, struggling creature, fascinated and appalled by the frightful power of and necessity for love, the need for intimacy that expresses our deepest humanity (p. 301)

    Is not this a portrait of Weyland in Charnas’s intelligent gothic, Vampire Tapestry (one of the books I read with my students this term)? He is victim and predator. In my last choice too, a modern serious gothic, Michel Faber’s horror gothic, science ficition, allegory Under the Skin there too we have a monster at the center of a story we are asked to empathize with, baffled & struggling. Weyland is baffled in the last story and the urge is towards death, as the central character of Under the Skin.

    More broadly, the memoir is (like Obama’s Dreams from my Father), a depiction of American life. We see how disparate is the family, not a tight-knit domestic unit which keeps well apprised of one another, but living at a distance more both emotionally and spatially. I compared it to the equally moving and more intellectually probing memoirs of Margaret Forster (which I’ve talked about on “Ellen and Jim have a blog, too”): Hidden Lives & Precious Lives. Forster similarly addresses many painful realities of growing old, of family relationships, of existences deprived and thwarted by social demands and arrangements most private selves can’t cope with. She too had a father who had a mean tongue. This I cannot take myself. There were striking contrasts I saw as I went along too, mostly showing how much closer (whether for good or bad) English family life is, lived nearer the edge and (paradoxically because so controlled on the surface) sharing inner thoughts and needs more, though not explicitly. Kinder on the surface.

    I did so like Charnas’s Dorothea Dreams, about a poet, a solitary women (a Dorothea who is a lesbian turns up in Chapter 5 of The Vampire Tapestry). I wish Charnas would write more realistic fiction for adults, more memoirs.


    A second book that’s meant much to me in the hours of the night — and also on buses, trains, waiting for the Admiral to pick me up at a train station, has been Colm Toibin’s The South. I’ve learned to love this man’s fiction (as I do Kazuo Ishiguro’s) as well as eagerly look for essays by him in the LRB and NYRB. This one I read to know more about the man who wrote the remarkable The Blackwater Lightship which I read with my class. It takes us through the life of Katherine Proctor: we watch her leave her husband & son in southwest Ireland and meet in Barcelona & take up a new life with Miguel, an anarchist veteran of the Spanish civil wars. They meet, go to bed with one another, and spend long hours drinking and sitting and looking at the landscape. Then they begin to paint together in a humble hut deep in the mountains near Barcelona. Gradually they are joined by another Irish wanderer, Michael Graves, and other Spanish friends of Miguel. They have a child; they claim to be married.

    What emerges is both are walking wounded from war, she from her experience of civil war in Ireland, he from memories of torture (and he is tortured again during the novel). She cannot live with those who do not sympathize or understand her. I don’t think it’s about her desire for freedom so much as to be left alone to express herself which her husband & son would not permit. Miguel commits suicide, taking with him the child she has by him, and she has to return to Ireland for lack of funds. Her mother supports her for a while, and at the end of the book in old age, her son (whom she abandoned) has provided a cottage for her to paint in. Her son has compromised; he lives with a wife much inferior to him in understanding and dissipates his life away in socializing, which he defends as cheering.

    It’s hard to say why this is so good. It is again the honesty but also the lyricism of the prose which is addictive (rather like Faber’s hauntingly at times beautiful Under the Skin). Toibin’s connects to Blackwater Lightship where again we have candid portraits of jagged family lives. Also to his The Master about Henry James, another solitary person separated from his family, creating a new world for himself from his writing and a few friends. I found it comforting to spend time with Katherine even though she experiences such tragedy precisely because the surface of this book is based on an utter anomie. It is a book without cant.


    I keep up my comfort women’s books: my latest was Miss Webster and Cherif by Patricia Duncker. Its secret I finally decided is that the narrator, a spinster forcibly retired from her job teaching French on the grounds she persisted in really teaching the subject and then left to rot by herself, whereby she has a complete breakdown, ends up in hospital and goes to Africa to recuperate (!), and her young black male Muslim companion, Cherif, are naifs, kindly honest innocents abroad (abroad being the world), from different points of view, who look out at the mad world and go about failing in good spirits. One beautiful paragraph about how much her home means to her:

      “She looked around at her books, pictures, heavy lined green curtains, the framed photographs of landscapes in France, the new DVD player, and realised that she was speaking the truth [she has just said ‘I’d never leave the cottage. I’d rather die here’]; this was her tomb, her pyramid, the final resting place” (p. 161).

    I love how she and he walk through St James park, and “settle down with a thermos of tea before the ducks and daffodils” and later “ponder the assembled ducks and floods of daffodils, sweeping across the greening lawns” (p. 171-72).


    P.S. The interested reader can find similar postings about Sleeping with Cats, Clear Springs, Hidden and Precious Lives at Women’s Art

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    Dear Friends,

    Yesterday Jim and I managed to rescue and retrieve all those blogs from “Ellen and Jim have a blog, too,” which were about the topics I will be exploring on this blog. We have put them in several places: on my website front page, and in the Austen, Trollope, and Clarissa regions. The URLs for the first three are in two places:


    Also found at: An Austen Miscellany


    Also found at Anthony Trollope: British Novelist (1815-1882)

    Richardson’s Clarissa

    Also found at:

    Clarissa website: Reading Richardson’s novel in real time; a study of Nokes and Barron’s 1991 BBC mini-series

    The last three are may be accessed from the front page only:

    Women’s art (poetry, memoirs, novels, plays, films, pictures)

    Academic conferences

    Travel Writing

    I’ve also opened a second blog, “A Diary of Doings and Thoughts” on livejournal where I had an account and a couple of friends who like to discuss costume drama.


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