Archive for June, 2009

Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, said to be his favorite role

Dear all,

Last week I managed to watch a digitally restored, almost complete (137 minutes) version of the once famous 1937 Lost Horizon, directed by Frank Capra, screenplay Robert Riskin from James Hilton’s 1933 utopian/dystopian novel of the same name, starring Ronald Colman as Robert Conway, supported by Thomas Mitchell, Gloria Stone, Jane Wyatt, Sam Jaffe, John Howard, and Edward Everett Horton, together with about an hour and one half of features on the film (history of the cuts, how it was put together, how it has been restored). This weekend I went onto the 1942 WW2 film, Random Harvest, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, screenplay Claudine West, George Froeschel and Arthur Wimperis, again from a James Hilton novel (1941) of the same name, starring (once again) Ronald Colman as Smithy/Charles Ranier, and supported basically by Greer Garson as Paula Ridgeway/Paula Hanson. I’d decided since rewatching Colman’s The Talk of the Town and recreating my blog-review of it, that I’d try to go on to watch more movies closely associated with Colman. I’m hoping to go on to re-see his The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), and watch for the first time The Light that Failed (1939), and A Double Life (1947).

Colman as John Arthur with Shelley Winter in A Double Life (for which he won an Oscar)

When I was about 13 I would tell anyone who asked me, “Who is your favorite actor?”, “Why, Ronald Colman, of course.” If the person was someone who watched old movies on Channel 9, there was a chance he or she might have heard of Colman, but since most people I talked to were not the types who watched such movies (they would be people around my age), they’d look at me as if I were mad. Once in a while I was asked politely who Ronald Colman was. Their favorite actor would be a teenage or 20+ year old rock star (Fabian?), or omeone they just saw in an action-adventure or Peyton Place kind of movie, or was famous that year on TV.

Why did I like Colman? My father said I was drawn to the dignified noble gentleman, that it was an aspect of my love of British novels, tendency to idealize; until I watched these two films with some thoughtfulness, and began reading two books I have had in the house for ever so long and only just now really gave myself a chance to read (R. Dixon Smith’s Ronald Colman, Gentleman of the Cinema: A biography and filmography; and Sam Frank’s Ronald Colman: A bio-bibliography), I thought my father was right, only that he left out my Anglophilia and love of Colman’s sort of melancholy wit, ironic stance towards life, and distinctive resonant voice.

Well I did and do like all that. Certainly that’s the central presence he enacts in the comic Talk of the Town, and (as I recall) the romantic action-adventure Prisoner of Zenda, with (in TofTT) some strong tolerant disillusion, and (PofZ), dashing debonair heroisms & chivalry in swordplay and jumping from one height to another (with Douglas Fairbanks Junior) thrown in.

Colman as Rudolf Rudolph Rassendyll in The Prisoner of Zenda

But now I know that’s not what draws me. What draws me is his repeated enactments of levels of melancholy, despair, enactment of mentally unstable personalities, who turn to alcohol and retreat, find refuge in private worlds we are given no access to. This does not provide the real explanation for why he never became a prevailing male icon in the way of James Cagney, Humphry Bogart, or Grant, Gable, Flynn (etcetera, etcetera), though certainly upbeatness, ceaseless competition to satisfy appetites, and the supposed admirable amoral cunning of the “ordinary guy” please crowds who turn from most things intellectual and psychologically subversive.

The real explanation it came to me as I watched these two films and remembered the others I have seen is that Colman himself refused to move further into the demonic, would not challenge himself yet further to reach troubling levels of angry brilliance. He limited the number of movies he’d do as well as kind: he would not play in pro-imperial films, not films which were pro-violence, nothing reinforcing injustice, and also chose roles where restraint, understatement, and a certain lightness and suavity combined with responsibility were parts of the role and enabled him to keep his guard up. He actually was offered (it’s said) the role of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind and refused (!). This means his movies are finally limited to show us a character who rises to a civilized response to others. Probably he saw he was not up to enacting the edgy-neurotic aspects of Rhett.

It does mean he determined to maintain a comforting presence, finally. Quiet. Honorable.

The stories of the two movies reveal how he was chosen for movies which could bring out of him this fuller non-social self which could critique our society by its very withdrawal. In Lost Horizon, Robert Conway is trying to save 90 white people from massacre during a wild period of mad violence by Chinese people by getting them on board planes. He is a journalist-statesman hero who manages all this until it’s time for him to get aboard. The plane he’s in is hijacked to a mysterious Utopian place in the farthest reaches of Tibet. He has been chosen as a replacement by a High Lama in a place immune to the ravages of time where all human kind’s bad impulses have been rendered unnecessary and have therefore disappeared. Shangri-La.

Robert and the High Lama

While there he falls in love with Sondra Bizet (Jane Wyatt), a young woman whose presence is never explained, but who he sees from afar bathing in the nude. She enacts a kind of utterly generous free-spirited nymph.

Jane Wyatt dressed in a boyish way

The action consists of showing us how after an initial desire to return home, the other people in the plane gradually fall in love with the place and its mood. They begin to spend their lives doing good to others: running schools, exploring truths about the physical universe, loving one another and being kind and courteous. This is not done in a preachy, but rather comic way. Only Robert’s brother, George (John Howard) continues to rage with boredom and demands to return to ordinary society in England. He insists on returning at the risk of his life, and Robert (ever self-sacrificing) agrees finally to return with him, half-agreeing that what they have been told about Shangri-La cannot be wholly true. They bring another young woman with them and in their trek with a group of hired companions, they see her age suddenly to a ancient woman. The brother becomes frantic as they climb in bewildering patterns through the treacherous snow, and falls to his death.

Robert then tries to make his way back. He fails and we are told what happened to him through newstories about him reported to upper class males in high places in the British government and clubs. At first he lost his memory, and then he told the story of Shangri-La after having agreed to return; one night though he escaped and began to try to return to this place against the will of others. We hear of his valiant treks and in the last minutes of the film watch his figure in the snow apparently lost and near death. Suddenly he looks up to see the fence to the place at its last outpost and his face lights up. There the film ends. It could be he has made his way back; it could be a mirage after which he dies.

The last close-up of the film

The film is badly dated in some ways: first, I for one cannot believe in this ideal place, and it is not made believable. We see only our friends at dinner and with one noble man. The DeSadean Lord-of-the-Flies point of view is the one that prevails nowadays, e.g, as seen in A. S. Byatt’s Babel Tower: people when they get together in such a community will end in a terrifying ugly dictatorship under powerful men who exploit and use the weak. We are shown women as secondary creatures in the place who exist to serve the men. Where the children come from, and who cares for them is a puzzle. The way Conway is depicted as a worshipped savior and hero won’t wash. The settings are just not persuasive (even if the film-makers went to great lengths to create them).

What keeps the film alive is the acting of Mitchell, Horton, Stone (a prostitute who somehow gets on the plane and has a moving speech referring to her previous life) and Colman. The ethical ideal presented which in the year leading up to WW2 was absolutely subversive. The film, admired by Roosevelt, was savagely cut so that its criticism of colonialism, and so too Conway’s disillusioned speech while drunk on the plane. We also watch on with great intensity out of our desire to see Conway stay there, so the suspense is, Will the brother get him to leave; once having left, Will he get back safely? We want him to end up safe somewhere. We care about him. Wyatt is a symbol of peace for him to return to.

Smith escaping from aslyum

Random Harvest is yet more bizarre in its break with realism. On the day WW1 ended a shell-shocked veteran (Colman) is taken to an asylum; he cannot remember who he is. He is called Smithy (John Smith). He escapes from the sanitorium with the help of a beautiful young woman, Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson whose face uncannily resembles that of Keira Knightley, showing that the ideal face for women is still centrally white Anglo).


With her help he begins to take care of himself and resume an independent non-clinging adult identity (he had been behaving like a child). They marry, have a son, as he has begun to recover his strength (if not his memory), he is to try to support them at last, he travels to Liverpool to try to get a job as a reporter. Alas, he gets into an accident, his head banged so hard, that he is jerked back into remembering his name, Charles Ranier, and forgets all his experience from the sanitarium to his marriage. He is the wealthy son of an upper class family and returns to the ancient estate to take his place with them.

Fast forward a number of years and Ranier has become a successful businessman. His younger cousin, Kitty who fell in love with him as a child has grown up and pressured him into marrying her. Nonetheless, he is apparently dependent on a secretary in the next room, who when she comes to take dictation and plan for the day turns out to be Paula. Unbeknownst to him she has followed him there, and utterly abject to him, not revealed her identity. Her heart is near breaking when she realizes he is going to marry Kitty. We see she meets regularly with a psychiatrist from the mental asylum who advises her the shock of telling Ranier the truth would be too much for him.
Apparently her son by Ranier died; this is presented as grief to her, but not so bad as what she’d feel if he married Kitty.

To make a long story short: Ranier realizes he doesn’t love Kitty, and he turns to marry Paula as his real support. However, he tells her he does not, cannot love her (he doesn’t know why) and so we are to understand they don’t have sex. As in other films of this era, everyone is overdressed luxuriously, go to upper class cultural events (theatre). As time passes, Ranier becomes alerted to his past, and returns to Liverpool and then the place where he and Paula first met and loved. She has retreated to this place too (distraught at his continuing not to love her, and implicitly at their not being lovers). He slowly retraces his way to the place they first met (a store), then a pub they went to, then an inn and finally their cottage which is still standing there. (This made me think of Maurice Sendak’s book where a child returns home at the end of a long day and the soup is still hot.)


A key he has carried all this while fits in the door, he opens it, turns round and there is Paula by the fence. He rushes over to her and they kiss at last. The camera’s last scene is not of his face, but of Paula’s joyous, upbeat. And the movie ends.

There is no explanation for the onset or return of the amnesia. As in Stella Dallas, the portrait of our hero as a businessman is not at all convincing. We cannot believe he succeeds and are given no sense of how he could sell and buy and trade; he is such a gentle upper class non-aggressive presence. I have read this is a flaw in all post-code pre-1960s movies. The men are unreal. We are never allowed to see into Smithy’s mind; there is no anger, only a surface sweetness. The use of voice-over would have helped enormously. The critique of war, and the values of the society that supports it is conveyed through occasional stills, such as this:

Smith/Ranier buffeted by an anonymous crowd

And yet this film also works. I was really moved when Colman rushed over to Garson to hug her and cling to her. I felt so relieved for him and her. Almost enough to get over my disappointment in being deprived of his face as I had been of his mind throughout the film. It is a remarkable film whose strength derives from Colman’s enactment, even ever so quietly, of a frightening state of mind.

Both films spoke to their generation and they speak to us today again, I believe mostly through Colman’s presence, even in the limited way he was willing to manifest the man within in public. Frank and Dixon agree about how he kept his private life out of the public gaze: from middle class British people where the father died before he could secure the family, he was driven to lower class occupations until he found himself as an actor and made his way slowly to Hollywood; he had one long-time close male friend with whom he travelled as a young man; he was first married to a woman whom (we are told) emotionally abused him and then to one who gave him a happy life; he famously sued Goldwyn for trying to get attention to his underlying persona by spreading rumors he was really alcoholic. Late in life he stopped acting. He had made enough money and understood the lack of value in the public world to keep on. Here is an excellent site for pictures and filmography.

Perhaps the key to his failure to become an icon influential in our society is that he didn’t aspire to. I suspect he thought it would be of no real use in changing anything. His psychological baggage was at heart, the tormented man, originally of high integrity. In fact he wasn’t tormented but accepted the world; how else could he have been so successful in his career? he took it at its real value, and that’s the key to his laugh.



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Dear Friends,

While away on a brief trip to a friend, I managed to read at night an English translation by Edna McCown of Eveline Hasler’s Flying with Wings of Wax, biographical fictional life of the first woman to achieve a law degree in Zurich, Emily Kempin-Spyri (1853-1901). Hasler’s book as translated by McCown is deeply moving and instructive: it reveals the profound and often insuperable obstacles that prevent a gifted woman from being of true service to her society and fulfilling her potential because she is a woman.

Hasler is a well-known novelist in Germany. I first came across her as the author of the book upon which a powerful film adaptation, Anna Goldin is based. Goldin was accused of infanticide and sorcery in the 18th century, the victim of a power struggle between families and virulent misogyny; Goldin’s sad ending shows the limits of the enlightenment in Switzerland. I wrote about her and the film adaptation in my report of a paper in the 18th century conference at Rchmond. Anna Goldin is only readily available in German; there is a French translation, Anna Goldin, derniere sorceresse, but it’s expensive.

In Flying with Wings of Wax (an allusion to the Icarus story), through McCown’s English prose, Hasler tells the tragic story of the life of Emily Kempin-Spyri (1853-1901), now (unfortunately and ironically) mostly only identified as the niece of Joanna Spyri, author of Heidi. It’s told in the first person, like a memoir and is described as a biographical novel. All the writing in italics (and there’s a lot) and the outline of the facts of this woman’s life are accurate; the inner life is imagined because much is unknown — and was probably destroyed. (This use of italics we came across long ago on my Women Writers through the Ages list at Yahoo when we read Nuala O’Faolin’s My Dream of You where there was an inset story of a 19th century Irish woman who was either murdered by the state or died for having killed her husband if I remember rightly; we learn of her actual life, the character of the monster she lived with, and her affairs.)

In brief, Kempin was a brilliant woman who from the time she was very young wanted to study and become someone in the world with a useful career beyond wife and mother. She had a tyrant father who ended up loathing her because he insisted all she was good for was to have babies and marry a man who would aggrandize his family. The irony here is the father was known as a liberal politician; in fact we see his liberalism was severely limited in more areas than regards women. He was one of the people who destoyed this woman: among other things, when she married a man she did love because he was a poor curate, the father refused to give any dowry. Had he given her one, she and the husband would have been far better off, but he reinforced the man’s low status and lack of connections and poverty. Kemlin enabled his wife to go to school and study law and become a lawyer with a degree. Then she discovered that she would not be permitted to practice, and no matter who she turned to, where she argued, how good or needed she was, the authorities in Zurich and Germany refused any woman the right to practice law. This after years of intense effort on her part. She was also refused the right to teach in a degree program; she could not get decent-paying pupils because her courses didn’t “count.”

The high point of her life, and her one fulfilling time occurred in NYC. She, her husband, and their three children emigrated to the US, specifically NYC, where she and he thought they might be able to build a mutually hard working and independent life together.

Why did they go to NYC? What had happened was her husband gradually lost patronage and customers in his church for his very liberal attitudes as well as his open behavior to her. They went to the US in desperation. She had had 3 children whom they took with them. Gradually she succeeded and the husband did not.

For a while things looked very good, at least for her and they hoped eventually for him: she was accepted by women philanthropists (rich men’s wives who themselves had aspiration), and by women feminists. She had a hard struggle getting permission to teach and she never practiced law openly: it was she who sat in offices and made briefs, another man and in one case her husband (they opened a business together) was the public spokesperson.

He began to become estranged from her. They were living in small apartments, and she spent most of her time writing, some of which she published, and she produced a book and delivered papers. He did nothing, and returned home to Zurich with two of their children (the older ones) who were homesick. Her life just with her daughter is shown to have been a real relief to her. She was able to get a smaller apartment whch she could afford and suited her; have a different relationship with the world and was getting somewhere.

Alas, she returned to Zurich. Her son became ill, her mother-in-law found it too much to take care of him, and she was persuaded to return on the grounds it would just be for the summer. There was a teaching job waiting for her in the fall. The boy took longer to get better and by the time she could return she had long the tenuous foothold she had gotten and her position.

So she stayed and found herself fighting the same ugly battles again. This time (it was later in the century) she did have more success. She managed to publish, to teach, and to write, and she did work in a law firm. Her husband was again her front arguing cases and doing public work while she did all the hard work and thinking, but after a while he left her and went to live elsewhere. So she worked (as she had done before) for another man who was the public front and got much of the credit and income.

Years of hard work, small pay, and endless prejudice wore her down, and she broke down mentally for a while. She came home with a man one night whom she thought liked her and she was falling in love with; an intellectual modern type, not so modern that when he saw her second daughter, he didn’t prefer the younger woman to the older one. That would have been okay but he was married and proceeded to seduce, impregnate and (of course) not marry the daughter. So there she was the ultimate bad woman: daughter disgraced and without a place; separated from her husband, and her son was not willing to work hard nor could he easily get anywhere as her son. Deep personal humiliation and unhappiness was what the world handed her.

She was institutionalized. We do not know who institutionalized her; Hasler suspects her father with the collusion of her husband and perhaps other family members, maybe her aunt, Joanna Spyri, who despite her own luck in being able to write and success with conventional stories (Heidi), was against women writing or doing anything which got in the way of serving a husband and producing and serving children. The records show that she was kept a prisoner in effect, mistreated, and made much worse by the treatment. She was mistreated as a mental incompetent; her attempts to get out and get a job (eventually any job, including that of maid) were prevented by not sending her letters out. She was put in solitary confinement and given cruel treatments. She died inside a few years.

Her ending was and is not an anomaly but characteristic of what was done to women like her and in gentler ways in some places is still done. Laws and customs were all organized against her, particularly the ability to hold property, and earn a good living. At the end of the book Hasler says how she would have loved to tell of how Emily ended in a moment like those few she knew in NYC and Zurich: surrounded by other women who were patronesses of this woman, either themselves making their way or the wives of rich husbands who gave money, having achieved her degree (which she did), publications, lectures, but the truth is more instructive.

The book is eloquently written as an interweaving of subjective memories, present-time dramas and narratives. Early on we find ourselves in the institution and realize that while one narrative begins at the opening of Emily’s life and proceeds forward, other strands move at different paces and show us different moments of her life, and always there is the present institution which she cannot get out of and her humiliation and control by others who dense, or triumph or if they want to help her cannot.

It’s revealing that long research has not enabled Hasler to find out who imprisoned Kempin in the asylum. Coincidentally I began a book by Douglas Smith, The Pearl, on the lives of a serf actress, Praskovia Kovalryova and the fabulously wealthy and powerful, Nicholas Sheremetev, who after years of exploiting her sexually and putting her on the stage (private theatricals were very popular in the era) married her; shortly thereafter she became pregnant and then died in childbirth (age 34).

Although also about a women who was victimized by a system, Smith continually buys into the surface accounts of the aristocrats, and tells the story as if the surface claims of the Sheremetev family were true. The documents left are opaque or celebrate the wealthy and powerful. What a missed opportunity. Smith is not a person with a teaching position in a university but a resident scholar and the way he gets into archives and can read documents is the last thing he would do would be to tell a story in the way Hasler does. So Smith’s book is relatively useless except reporting in modern language what the documents (very few) say and of course bringing the woman before us, reminding us she existed and what the life of serfs and this particular serf woman in Russia in the 18th century was.

In a way even this is nothing new: Praskovia is a legendary figure in Russia, and a poem by Anna Ahkmatova is dedicated to Praska: Ahkmatova lived for years in a small flat in a palace Praskovia’s fabulously rich husband’s family owned.

Not that scholars are necessarily better. I also read Maria Frawley’s Twayne book on Anne Bronte while away. I don’t find myself reading mush when it comes to the characters, but she will not permit herself to say anything offensive or outside explicit evidence. Bronte shows how how mean, ugly and vicious were her employers, but Frawley will not risk evaluating such people frankly. So the book is made up of hopeless generalizations repeated over and over again about how Bronte wanted a social identity she couldn’t have and was very unhappy. Well there needs no 200 pages to tell us this; we have Bronte’s novels which tell far more than this hollow general idea (in jargon-ridden language too).

Hasler is a rare writer. It’s such as she who throws light on our wasteland of literature (as described by Virginia Woolf). I recommend her book strongly and regret that her Anne Goldin in French is minimum $38 (it goes up from there) and that’s without postage. There is an online biography of Kempin-Spyri too.


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“I think [Lionel Trilling]’s very strange. He says that ‘nobody’ could like the heroine of Mansfield Park. I like her” (from Whit Stillman’s 1990 Metropolitan Audrey Rouget [Carolyn Farina] to Tom Townsend [Edward Clements])

Dear all,

I’m chuffed to be able to say the Jane Austen online magazine has decided to feature the series of six blog-essays I wrote where I surveyed editions of Austen over the last twenty-five years by way of evaluating and contextualizing the latest Oxfords. They have put up
the S&S one a while back, and now are putting up P&P and next month MP:




Elizabeth Bennet (Kim Heskin) improving herself by reading The Pink Bible (from Mormon free adaptation of P&P: 2003, produced by Daniel Shanthakumar & Kynan Griffin, directed by Alexander Vance, written by Anne Black, starring Kam Keskin, Orlando Seale, Lucila Sola, Ben Gourley,

I have them on my Jane Austen Miscellany page too, but there they are accompanied by reviews of the film adaptations and various specific issues I thought of interest.




In my original postings I include notes which tell what I know of French and Italian editions.

I can add to that here this: in brief, Pleiade has now produced the first of two projected volumes of Jane Austen, Oeuvres romanesques. The first volume contains clear and thoughtful (good) and accurate (as far as I’ve gone through Le Coeur et La Raison) translations of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Love and Friendship, and The History of England. Except for the thesis that she wrote the first set of novels almost at once and didn’t write in Bath it’s accurate, and persuasive. It’s refreshing to see the French perspective on the wars, English society; they are exact and full on her life (the chronology is the best I’ve come across, it’s all there and concise). Really if this were in English, it’d be the best you could have 🙂

The book itself is beautiful, beautifully bound (with two ribbons, one to help you reach notes).

In addition, Archipoche has reissued the first translation of Sense and Sensibility as La Raison et Sentiment by Isabelle de Montolieu.

Cheers to all on a rainy muggy day in June (here in Alexandria, Va)

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“We must go out there” (and face the world, a young and older woman’s entrance into the world, last still from 10:20)

Dear Friends,

Though it’s been a number of months (again) since I last posted about the 1974 BBC Pallisers series, I am still working my way slowly through all the Parts. I’ve decided I can’t both try to write a book on the Austen films and keep up thorough analyses of the Palliser series in blog-essay format. What I’m doing now is carrying on reading the Palliser novels whole and then carefully taking down the screenplays of each hour episode, comparing the texts of the screenplays and actual dramas to what I find in the novels: the series continues to be a commentary type.

What I’m doing now is writing blogs Parts 18-26 (Volumes 9-12). This blog is on three parts; the part after that (10:21) will either have a blog to itself or two blogs. And so it will go after that.

I left off at 8:17. In a nutshell, 8:18 and 8:19 bring us to the end of Phineas Redux, with some striking changes: for example, a ghost scene where it is made explicit that Phineas (Donal McCann) did long to do away with Bonteen (Peter Sallis), so that the inferences from the novel are altered to something far more disillusioned at the same time as far less ethically demanding.

I would call these two episodes “Phineas’s ordeal” and they correspond in Victorian melodramatic detective terms to Meredith’s “Beauchamp’s Ordeal.”


I take our first transcript from such 9:18. First to situate or contextualize it, here is a barebones outline of 9:18:

9:18 Phineas Redux: first half of trial ordeal.

Episode 1: Finn’s Case: scene 1) PM’s chambers (?), conference room, Palliser and Erle defend Phineas, Bunay there reasoning, PM will not listen to talk of Emilius, wants the case over with, assumes Phineas guilty; scene 2) Carlton Terrace, Madame Max and Duchess, some from PR, II, Ch 54, pp. 124-31. Madame Max deep distress; evidence against Phineas, Palliser and Monk, Madame will go to Prague against their advice; Duke must believe in law; scene 3) high bench, judge remands Phineas; scene 4) Portman Square, Lady Laura’s distress, her brother, Chiltern, and father’s lack of sympathy with her; Lady Chiltern also seeks to repress Laura, who will visit Phineas in prison she declares; scene 5) Phineas in prison (depressed, despairing), with Monk at chess, from PR, II, Ch 55, pp 133-35; Beauchamp’s Career and American Senator allusion.

Episode 2: Love and Death: scene 6) Carlton Terrace, Duchess and Adelaide, Burgo’s letter from CYFH?, Ch 42, pp. 452-53. Duchess regrets loss, but asserts Planty never out of her heart since she grew to love him; Adelaide’s announcement of her and Maule’s engagement; Duchess’s supposedly comic-anxious responses; scene 8 [I skipped a number], Portman Square, Lord Brentford Laura, from PR, II, Ch 52, p. 102-4, 108-10: father acrimonious, resentful of son, says Phineas a murderer, Laura at solitaire defends, telegram to say Kennedy is dead; scene 9) Phineas’s prison room, alone, from PR, Ch 55, pp. 133-34, voice-over of prayer, even Chiltern does not believe him; scene 10) Portman Square, Laura at solitaire, men delighted at Loughlinter, money, from PR, Ch 52,pp 104-110 (narrative turned into scene): Chiltern waxes angry, tells her Phineas has Madame Goesler, she livid; scene 11) Phineas’ prison room, Laura walks in, from PR, II, Ch 55, pp. 135-141. Moving; she tells of husband’s death; he thinks of his coming death; she asserts she believes him innocent; Erle wrests her away

Episode 3: Investigation: scene 12) Park Lane beflowered room, Madame Max, the great invented scene [see transcript just below] with Mrs Meager, from PR, II, Ch 56, pp. 143-46. Learns of key, of coat; scene 13) Bonteen front Room, Mrs B and Lady Eustace in mourning, bits from PR, II, Ch 51, pp. 168-172; also Ch 72, pp.291-92. Reading news, trial delayed; Loveybond, lawyer, tells her Mr Bonteen right; they have brought back wife of Mealyus and documents, jailed for bigamy and Lizze bursts out Emilius the murderer (lawyer regards her as bloodthirsty, Mrs Bonteen as having caused her husband’s death); scene 14) Carlton Terrace, Duchess and Marie pour over map, Marie off to Prague, from PR, II, Ch 66, pp. 150-51, 154, grand moment, they kiss

Episode 4: Coin and Court: scene 15) PM’s chambers, Palliser, PM. Bungay, Monk asks for postponement of trial, new evidence, from PR, II Ch 58, pp. 158, where question of Duchess’s support of Phineas discussed between 2 dukes (Bungay, Palliser); trade problems invented as now threatening election, loss of Bonteen at Board of Trade is in another part of novel; scene 16: Carlton Terrace; Adelaide practices walking before Duchess, from PR, I, ch 18, p 157; Ch 21, pp. 189-90. Maule Abbey solution; scen e 17) Portman Square, from PR, II, 60, pp. 177-78, Monk and Chiltern persuade newly introduced Chaffanbrass to speak to Phineas; scene 18) Phineas’s prison room, from PR, II, Ch 60, pp. 180-84. Chaffanbrass and Phineas; noble aim of Phineas, narrow one of Mr Chaffanbrass (“they ain’t worth it”); ominous note at close (“if we can”); scene 19: Courtroom (25 minutes of episode left), from PR, II, Ch 61, pp. 184-86, full scene, Chiltern and Violet are us; accusation and Monk’s testimony with Chaffanbrass’s protest and Sir Gregory Grogram’s determination. Wholly original replaces Ch 61, pp. 188-93. Ambiguous evidence, e.g., Monk says Phineas “bitterly angry”, life preserver scene retold

Episode 5: Cloaked Figure: scene 19 continues: Courtroom, Superintendent Worth’s evidence (from narrator’s account of what court believed, Chaffanbrass’s angry interjections, steps down, Fawn’s evidence, PR, II, ch 62, pp. 197-203, Ch 63, pp. 206-7 (about coat itself), film much kinder to Fawn, Chaffanbrass badgers every bit of the story, first cloak brought forward; scene 20) Portman square: PR, II, Ch 71, pp. 189-90; Laura not allowed to testify, Chiltern and Violet’s pessimism, end on Laura’s face.

The thing to keep your eye on is how this melodramatic scene is changed It is derived from Phineas Redux, II, Ch 56, pp. 13-46, but with considerable changes and much original dialogue. The Original takes place in Meager household, includes Amelia the daughter, reveals the life of the lodging house directly.
Here the key is the relationship between the women which builds in the comfort of Madame Max’s house, and it through this built-trust that Mrs Meager reveals the unexpected important fact that there was another grey coat in the vicinity, one Mr Emilius could have worn. An irony is the women are more effective outside the established logical allowances of probabilty. The acting of barba Murray and Sheila Fay as the two women takes us beyond Trollope’s text where there is no such intimation and also the screenplay:

  • 1. Establishment shot: Madame Max’s table with yellow flowers. We have seen how she likes yellow flowers before (in all the scenes in her room these are there).
    2. Mastershot: two women walking in through the door, dialogue happening.
    Marie: “Now let us be quite clear about this, Mrs Meager.
    Mrs Meager looks round her suspiciously.
    Marie closes the door. “Mr Emilius lodged with you some time back. only after the murder, but you are sure he was back before the murder.
    Mrs Meager startled from her absorbed looking round at these beautiful apartments: “Hmmm? Uh oh yes ma’am that is quite true.”
    Marie: “Now we know he went to Prague and that he was back sometime before the murder happened.”
    Mrs Meager: “Uh yes ma’am back in the best room at 6 and 8 a week.”
    Marie (very earnest). “Now Mrs Meager, I want you to think very carefully about this. Was there anything at all odd in Mr Emilius’s behavior? Anything anything before he went to Prague or after he came back.”
    Mrs Meager (melodramatic expression, twisted and tight): “Odd?”
    Marie: “Anything he may have said? Something in his room. Something you may have seen (she goes over to pik up a purse and bring it back to the table) in his room?
    Mrs Meager: “Well, ma’am. there was just one thing.”
    Marie (puts down purse ostentatiously). “Mmmm?”
    Mrs Meager: “When he went away to that foreign part what you said he took his key with him.”
    Marie. “Oh” (gestures Mrs Meager to sit down)
    Mrs Meager (sitting) Ah which he hadn’t got no right ah seeing as how he wasn’t paying for his room while he were gone.”
    Marie. “Well perhaps he was just forgetful.”
    Mrs Meager: “Well that’s what he said later, ma’am, but he wasn’t usually forgetful. Anyways there was me and the front attic and any body else in the house there was just the one key between us all. That’s why I remember it so particular.”
    Marie’s face (close up): “So you only had the two keys.”
    Mrs Meager: “Yes, ma’am.”
    Marie take up the coin and puts it in front of Mrs Meager.
    Mrs Meager (then talks on): “And Mr Emilius had run off with one so there was the whole pack of us fighting over the other until Mr Emilius gets back and says eh’s ever so sorry in his best religious voice but that he forgot and left it in his drawer.”
    Marie. “But he hadn’t.”
    Mrs Meager: “No, ma’am, in ourline we is obliged to know about drawers.
    Marie: “So. He must have had it with him all the time.”
    Mrs Meager nods.
    Marie. “Hmmmn (put another coin on the table). “Poor Mrs Meager. what a very difficult life you must have (see still on groupsite page).
  • 74Pallisers917MrsMeagersHardLife

  • (More coins clinking on table. Mrs Meager’s face acknowledges the truth of this). Now can you remember anything else about Mr Emilius?”
    Mrs Meager: “Well, eh though not exactly about him, ma’am, but um there has been some talk about a coat” (suddenly eager, the sympathy extended has also had its effect).
    Marie alert: “Indeed there has.”
    Mrs Meager: “Well, ma’am, my husband, Mr Meager, he’s not ‘ere very often, but he does sor tof flit in and out from time to time. Well it just so happened that he flitted in on the day beforfe the murder and when he flitted in see he was wearing this coat.”
    Maried (sharp): “What coat?”
    Mrs Meager: “The coat there has been all the talk about, ma’am, a gray sporty sort of coat (Marie’s face is quivering).
    Marie: Have you told this to the police?”
    Mrs Meager: “No, maa’m, in our parts we is not overly keen on talking with the police.”
    Marie: “Well … (she looks down at purse, and more coins are put out). “Never mind, Mrs Meager (camera on pile of coins) “What happened to the coat?”
    Mrs Meaeger: “It spent the night in the house, ma’am, along with Mr Meager, a gallon of port and a bottle of Dutch gin.”
    Marie: “So. Mr Emlius could have borreowed the coat while Mr Meager was refreshing himself.”
    Mrs Meager: “an ‘im none the wiser, filthy sot.”
    Marie: “Where is it now?”
    Mrs Meager: “Oh well …. (stuble sounds) that’s har dto say, ma’am … I mean now the summer’s really coming I pawned it for sure.”
    Marie: “But it was definitely in the house on the night of the murder.”
    Mrs Meager: “Yes, ma’am, I saw it on the sofa before I went to bed.”
    Marie: “Mmmm. (faint music) (put more coins on table) Now. Mrs Meager send for your husband, find out where he pawedn that coat and redeem it at once and take it to that address.”
    Mrs Meager; “Not the police, ma’am, I hope.”
    Marie: “No no. A nice kind gentleman who is my solicitor and who will show himself to be (she pushes oisy coins on table towards Mrs Meager) most grateful.”
  • The women’s shared sympathy is strong. The best moments are in Fay’s face, for example the peculiarly tense look from actress’s face comes when she is telling of coat, of pawning, of her fears of police, and particularly her tones when describing Mr Meagre as a filthy sot. Much she has had to endure.

    The allusions to political novels in 9:18 and 9:19 anticipates Raven’s development of Trollope’s later political novel, The Prime Minister. No longer will we look at issues but at the workings of personal politics in the upper class and how coteries function, an important theme in Trollope’s own The American Senator, also alluded to in 8:17-18. Material bringing in the growing up of the Pallisers’ children is interwoven in conversation. Also Lady Glen’s tearing a letter from Burgo (from 1:1), the Duke’s memories of how his wife did not love him and wanted to flee shortly after they married.


    Again I will situate or contextualize 9:19 and 10:20 with a barebones summary.

    9:19: Second half of trial, Phineas’s vision and depression, wedding, PM transition in Arcadian gardens once again.

    Episode 6: Defensive Proof: Scene 1) courtroom, now defense, PR, II, Ch 53, pp. 206-10: Chaffanbrass harangues on hearsay nature of Fawn’s evidence, brings forth second cloak, Phineas’s holding out life preserver called “jocular”; Monk still there, and Duke testifies to Phineas’s character; scene 2) Carlton Terrace, Duchess reading People’s Banner, Phineas’s life on a thread, from PR, II, Ch 58, pp 161-62 (some of this chapter went into 9:18, Episode 4, Scene 15); Duke reassurres, accepts, brings up problems at Board of Trade; business about him asking her to clean Gresham’s shoes; scene 3) courtroom, PR, II, Ch 53, pp. 212-13; Grogram making strong case against Phineas (Bonteen blocking his advancement); telegram, Chaffanbrass shouts to bring all to halt; judge protests, Duke of Omnium intervenes to explain who lady is,

    Episode 7: Prague evidence: scene 4) Phineas’s prison room, Phineas, Monk, Chiltern, Phineas’s great distress and anxiety, inclination to dismiss Madame Max’s efforts and man named Peter Prasker; scene 5) courtroom; now there is no such scene in PR, a hint on p. 227: Madame Max’s testimony and fun over latin by Judge triumphing over Chaffanbrass; Prasker asked to make a copy, identifies Emilius as the man; acquitted rom PR, II, Ch 67, pp 239-40; Phineas’s continued depression and even bitterness, Chaffanbrass congratulates


    but Phineas remains stunned and at long last showing how shattered and appalled he’s been; almost paralyzed he is taken out by Palliser, cf PR, II, Ch 67, pp. 233-34, 241-43 (book has Chiltern, Cantripp, Low); scene 6) the streets, Phineas re-enacts the night, from PR, II, Ch 68, pp. 245-47; even in grey coat; the major departure where ghost says Phineas wanted to do it, and Phineas doesn’t deny that, just says he didn’t; Duke of Omnium turns up and pulls Phineas away


    Episode 8: Pained Freedom: scene 7: Phineas’s lodging house room, substitute argument by Palliser where he says they all believed him innocent but doubt is inevitable for it shows people are frank with themselves, and brings up how his wife could have run away (the same as a murder?); letter which Phineas says disturbed him in I, Ch 71, pp. 280. In book it’s Monk and Low and about Phineas’s depression directly, PR, II, Ch 68, pp. 249-52; scene 8) Parliament before the door, Finn walks in and is congratulated by Erle (who interrupts another topic, all shake his hands; cf PR, II, Ch 73, pp. 295-96; scene 9) Matching Priory; Madame Max in lovely grey-blue light by those windows, to her Duchess,

    from PR, II, Ch 68, p 248; Lady Glen says Phineas recovered and Madame Max had better snatch him up; Madame Max does not snatch people up; in come Phineas, PR, II, Ch 74, pp. 302-2, 354; Duchess removes herself and at long last he tells her how he loves her, they kiss and hug tightly, sway

    Episode 9: Offers Revealed: scene 10) Prime Minister’s chambers (or conference room, not clear what it is), trade, foreign affairs, election crisis; Duke glad at offer of Board of Trade; Monk puts in word for place for Phineas, Gresham shrugs; 11) Matching Priory: Marie, Duchess, planning wedding, Phineas with letter, Duchess leaves, Phineas not sure he wants it, not sure he’s wanted by Gresham; Marie “you are quite right” (perfect mate all right): in book he meets with Marie after refusing offer; 12) Prime Minister’s chambers/conference room, from PR, II, Ch 77, pp 337-39, Phineas says no p. 350 (much later in book); just about new dialogue, PM’s annoyance, cannot forget defection over Tenant’s rights even if now the thing is a done deal; Phineas brave and sincere: he was falsely accused, he’s troubled in his mind, PM sneers in effet; resembles Crawley and Grantly (terms in which discussed); Gresham polite at end, offered it, Finn walks off silently; scene 13) Matching Priory, from PR, I, Ch 22, pp. 190-92 (one sees how Raven could skip about): Gerald tells of scene (that occurs in PR) and sneer at Lady Glen; Gerald unkind, Adelaide slaps him, he walks off, she cries desperately; scene 14) Portman Square: long beautiful walk, with words from PR, II, ch 70, and again 78, pp. 347-9 condensed into one beautifully acted but necessarily inadequate scene. Probably Raven does not feel for her and sees her as unfair, transgressive; she remembers all that has happened (when he turned to Violet) but words are taken from cliched (I worshipped you when I should have worshipped god) showing Raven is not himself reliving or feeling this for real (afresh)

    Episode 10: Hope and Peril: scene 15) Carlton Terrace, major change again, for Palliser persuades Finn to take office, it will restore confidence in him, they will work together, Phinaes is won over; scene 16) Matching front room: scene of four of them, two couples as winners, where Duchess persuades Duke to let Adelaide have the income older Duke of Omnium meant for Madame Max, from PR, II, Ch 76, pp. 321-22 (no such scene but the details are from book, and this is what happens; I feel actors getting a kick out of not caring about 20,000 pounds; sudden telegram from Gresham, government in trouble and Duke must return; ending of cheer on Phineas still looking forward first to honeymoon, and Duchess to go find and tell Adelaide 16) Arcadian gardens around Matching: the wedding, jokes about wedding albums, photos, mild satire on modern ritual”

    It’s a funny scene between Dolly (Donald Pickering) and the Duchess (Susan Hampshire) where he informs her what such picture albums left on tables for others to see are for.


    Dolly then mentions he hears Duchess’s sons both “great characters at Eton, particularly Silverbridge”; the walk in front of the building (parallel for transitions into Phineas, 3:6, and and Eustace, 6:11); political choral dialogue in great tent afterwards between Erle and Dolly on coming election, Erle serious about trade, Dolly mocks (“twade”); scene 17) Matching. Duke and Duchess, private quiet room at night, what to do, the boys are away, office is gone; moving dialogue of tender affection and respect = love, no equivalent in Trollope

    The Prime Minster itself is begun more in earnest with this political talk of Barrington Erle (Moray Watson) and Dolly at the wedding and then in the final touching nightime scene between the now Duke (Plantagenet, Philip Latham) and Duchess (Lady Glen, Susan Hampshire) who have grown to love tenderly, value, esteem one another despite great differences in attitudes. They talk of what they will do outside the political world, thus telling us they care intensely about it and will rejoin.


    In 10:20 the Lopez story is begun, denuded of many characters (as was Frank Greystock’s story in the Eustace Diamonds parts) and is to be fitted into the political and sexual vision of this part. There are strong hints (never elaborated), again through allusion (to Swinburne) that part of the mystery of Lopez is he’s homosexual. The Lopez story vies for space as at the end of the part we have the entrance of Lady Mary (Kate Nicholls), Silverbridge (Anthony Andrews) and Frank Tregear (Jeremy Irons) into the films, Silverbridge having been thrown out of Oxford (for painting a master’s house red), Lady Mary a close loving daughter with her mother, and the two young men (hinted) a strong loving friendship (they go to Venice in a later part, living there together).

    The strongest scenes in the part are those which dramatize the relationship between the Duchess and Duke, and I give a transcript of the last one in the part. First a summary of the part to situate this scene:

    10:20: Lopez introduces; the Duchess’s way of politicking

    Episode 11: Call to Office: scene 1) The Club, Dolly and Erle; 4 years have passed; liberals out for “bungling money,” a coalition forming (invented information dialogue; scene 2) Carlton Terrace, private sitting room we’ve not seen before (piano, place to sew, coffee table); from Prime Minister, I, Ch 6, pp. 50-51 (all narration with only hints of this fully dramatized scene): Palliser gravely tells; and when she first looks at him, she sees how ill he is.

    Susan Hampshire as Duchess registering strain on her husband’s face

    But when he tells her the news, she’s intensely awed, exhilarated, excited, exultant; if it were not “cowardly” he’d “avoid this task” if he could; he talks of memory of when he gave up office for her, he doesn’t have gifts for this; she vows to work for him; scene 3): hall before throne room, Duke and Bungay go in; scene 4) Carlton Terrace, return to same sitting room, Duchess and Mrs Finn, from PM, I, Ch 6, pp. 54-56. Duchess’s plans to be hostess, closely taken from book, except added is modern Tory point of view on places; Duke’s idealism an obstacle, Mrs Finn his beliefs ingrained from the workings of his own mind.

    Episode 12: Pain of Power: scene 5) Carlton Terrace, front drawing room where we’ve seen them entertaining, Duke and Duchess, from PM, I, Ch 7, pp. 56-58. Closely from book, Duchess asks to be Mistress of the Robes, refused on grounds she’s his wife, and he doesn’t want to exercise power in this way unless he must; she is hurt, angry; then from, PM, Ch 7, p. 59, also Ch 63: Bungay enters, and they must allot the postions again versus “ideals” and “moral vision”; scene 6: The club, Dolly reading paper and Erle pouring wine, from book and dramatizing narrated material, PM, Ch 63, talking of who gets what, “not many Tories” says Dolly; oh we’ll have Sir Orlando Drought; Lopez’s first entrance, snobbish disdainful reaction of Erle, Dolly mocks “you the pillar of the liberal party;” but also moves to exploit Lopez’s insider info, PM, I, Ch 11, p 95) Lopez wangling invitation to Duchess; scene 7) another room in club, where Everett Wharton playing solitaire, from narrator, PM, I, Ch 2, pp. 17-22, pp. 22-24 (this is substitute of modern talk): Everett’s desire to wangle a seat, but his father won’t pay; Lopez’s cynical motives v Everett’s unthinking naive defense (“somebody must make the laws”), Emily Lopez’s target, father won’t like it

    Episode 13: Expansive Plan: scene 8) Carlton Terrace, again sitting room, Duchess sewing, Duke walks in from PM, I, Ch 8, p. 68: he gives Mistress of Robes to Duchess of Jersey, Finn gets Ireland, with Duchess’s regret Mrs Finn might accompany him, leads to PM, Ch 11, pp. 89-91, she gains permission to open Gatherum where they can entertain up to his new position; he reluctantly agrees; scene 9) London park, the invented picturesque stroll, Duchess and Mrs Finn encounter Lopez and he recites Swinburne which Mrs Finn gets but Duchess does not, Duchess says she will take this young man up, Mrs Finn suspicious of this unknown man, dubious plan; rich women in beautiful park and elegant man supposed to be contrast to dialogue; scene 10) Sexty Parker’s office, from PM, I, pp. 14-16. Sexty’s character, Lopez’s unknown background, bullies the man (with his “missus and three children”) into cosigning for “750 quid.” Some dialogue taken from book.

    Episode 14: A Proposal: scene 11) Mr Wharton’s chambers, Lopez proposes himself as suitor to Emily, from PM, I, Ch 3, pp. 29-31, angry resentful old man, will not countenance man with background he doesn’t know (Protestant gentleman necessary; Lopez says he’s Portuguese, English mother, where educated, his business in trading stocks; father “gambling;” by end of scene Lopez angry in face, Wharton grim; scene 12) Wharton home, front hall, PM, I, Ch 4, pp. 36-38, Everett going out to dine at club with Lopez, Wharton remarks it’s injurious to purse; sexy Emily glimpsed coming down stairs; dressed as a man’s toy; scene 13) Wharton’s study, son still there but leaves after Emily comes in, PM, I, Ch 5, pp. 43-46, Wharton tells Emily of Lopez’s visit, and Emily says she loves him, Wharton it cannot be (“no family … adventurer … doesn’t belong”); she (he’s English, educated, lives with gentleman as gentleman, Everett’s friend); no no no, she asks him to look into it, not to make her unhappy for nothing and he agrees sternly; she looks grateful and trusting; scene 13) long entry by coach of Duke, Duchess, Mrs Finn into gatherum castle; different stone building from Matching, has walls and gate around building. From PM, I, Ch 19, pp. 157-58; we see workmen, raking sand; scene 14) grounds further out around castle, Duke walks and sees workman, he on parapet

    Episode 15: scene 15) Gatherum, a sitting room, PM, I, Ch 19, pp. 158-59; a dramatization of Duchess’s housekeeping, Pritchard and Duchess go to the numbers, the problem with chef (artist, bohemian), Duchess wants to say she wishes she didn’t have to go through this, Mrs Fin “it would have broken your heart;” and we see grown Mary for first time; innocent and loving mother (she greets each child with open arms and delight in face, each reciprocates fully), they talk of Silverbridge as 18 and needs to pass exam; Duchess looks out, he hates waht we have done, wants to pass if off as “a few friends,” Marie’s concerned face; scene 17) Duke’s time walking through grounds, from PM, I, Ch 19, pp. 159-62. Powerful comic ironies as he is told it’s not for them to decide; scene 18) upstairs private sitting room in Gatherum, Duchess in purple with white apron; this is powerful clash transcribe below, heavily invented and yet close too, taken directly at high points; his distaste, apology but continued distress, her anger, hurt, not resolved at all; scene 19) back to gardens; camera catches big machine making flat lawn, the tents, and we watch people coming through gate, getting out of carriages; scene 20) upstairs sitting room, Mary dressed up, waiting Silverbridge dramatic opening of door, brings Tregear, the attraction between Mary and Tregear, story of how he’s been expelled, so Duke’s Children, Ch 1, p,. 3, Ch 18, pp. 113-14: Duchess asks if Tregear sent down too, oh no, seems more worried about father and not bothered deeply about how Silverbridge refers to himself lightly as “a fellow,” proposed they go to a tavern to stay out of the way until she tells father, Palliser arms, the tale told and Mary laughs, Duchess smies, Tregear rueful,Silverbridge makes a naughty face, but she says father will not see the joke; they are pushed away, with our hearing Tregear’s voice, “yes, Mary, and the two women link arms to confront world. The sense is of something hard but worthwhile winning.


    Now chose I chose this scene because if you compare its ultimate major source (Prime Minister, Vol 1, Chapter 19), you will discover that surprizingly little is actually taken from the original scene, key phrases and sentences, some memorable hot words (“vulgarity”), and much is invented. The scene feels as if it were Trollope and anticipates the ending of PM where indeed we find that the Duke has learned to like power and does not want to give it up. I can imagine people hunting for the full scene in the book, and finding themselves a little startled to see how much original development there is here.

  • From Prime Minister, I, Chapter 19, pp 162-63
    Scene 18: A sitting room at Gatherum Castle
    Establishment shot: Duchess laying on couch, in heavy duty white apron, tired
    He walks in quickly; she sighs and smiles upon seeing him, does not move.
    Duchess: “I’ve never geen so tired in my entire life. I’ve just planned every menu for the entire month, making sure that no guest should have the same dish twice. And I have been into every bedroom and moved most of the furniture with my own hands.:”
    Duke: “Oh, was that necessary, Cora?”
    She begins to get up.
    Duchess: “Well, if I’d gone to bed instead, the world would have gone on I suppose. Well, people must eat and some of the more important like Sir Orlando are staying a week or more, which makes it very difficult. Well, you wouldn’t want Sir Orlando to have the same dish twice. It mght choke him.”
    Duke (turns). “Hmmm. (Has looked at papers scattered and piled on the desk.) Cora, so far … now I’ve always let you have your own way in everything.”
    She is now sitting and looks up at him as he straddles himself.
    Duchess: “You’re going to scold. I know you are going to scold. I shouldn’t have said what I did about choking Sir Orlando. Don’t worry I shall sing to him like a siren for the next seven days.”
    (She does not understand what he is protesting or is wishing it were something other than it is.)
    Duke: “Cora (louder). Now I don’t like what you’ve done out there. That’s not necessary.”
    Duchess: “People do make changes in their garden without necessity.”
    Duke: “Yes. But these have been made to impress our guests. Now had you done it to gratify your own taste, I’d have said nothing at all. No, no, even though I think you might have told me what you intended.”
    Duchess (beginning to get very excited from within): “What!? When you’re so burdened with work you don’t know where to turn.”
    Duke: “I’m never so burdened that I (dark face) cannot turn to you. Now what distresses me is this. Those thing which were felt to be good enough for our friends before are not felt to be insufficient (he paces). It’s cause of this (points up) this post I hold.”
    Duchess (very close up shot): “You agreed that we should entertain at Gatherum.”
    Duke: “Hey I did not (half cough) agree you could dig up half the country round. Hey. In order to make a display. Hey I’d almost have said there’s ah well there’s a vulgarity about this which offends me.”
    Duchess (unusual close up now). (She begins to look askance and deeply offended with an expression of intensity unusual to her.) (She rises her body a little.) (Whispers the word). “Vulgarity? How dare you?”
  • 74Pallisers1020DuchesscalledVulgar

  • Duke (suddenly backtracks, backs literally a step, and gets a kind of smile on his face): “Stammers. My my dear … I … I retract the word (smiles deprecatingly, placatingly as we watch him watch her) (holds up hand). Now I never really said it. I used it in the conditional sense, the optative mood. ‘I had almost said …'” (quoting himself)
    Duchess: “Oooh … you … said it all right. Vulgarity indeed. (She swallows). (Whispers loud fiercely) Yes. Of course it’s all vulgar but you don’t think that I do it from any pleasure that I get from it. The lavishing of smiles on butchers and tinkers must always be odious and vulgar. You cannot have power and remain untainted. It is impossible to be be both public and private at the same time. You must submit to vulgarity or cease to be the first minister.”
    Duke (from within is regathering his forces together): “My dear, I would remind you of this. There is no personal ambition (very intense face)”
    Duchess: “So you have always said yet you enjoy ooh how you enjoy telling us all what is best for us” (concise kind of pointed enunciation).
    Duke (now unusual close up to his face as she has hit him with a truth we have seen — we have seen her let him bully his sons and herself)
  • 74Pallisers1020DukeHurt

  • Duchess: “Nothing now would persuade you to let it go.”
    He looks sad, remorseful, hurt, she now turns and looks like she feels bad, moves over slightly to himi with gesture that seems about to reach to him to soften what she has just said but then stands still.
    Duchess: “Oh.”
    He walks in front of her before the camera and by. He picks up his hat and cane from her desk and then walks out.
    She has tears in her face (because she is doing it partly for him), like a little girl, her face scrunches up.
    He shuts door with a snap. She tears up and looks away.
    Then with a sudden fierce gesture and deep sound from within, she pushes and throws all the papers across her desk and to the ground.

  • The acting of Latham and Hamsphire is at this point superb. He often makes wordless sounds and his body language replaces words; he has become the older Duke over the year.

    I do not think Hampshire usually that powerful an actress; the type she plays is one who is guarded and makes a point of living on the surface in front of others, but in this rare moment in the series, she drops her mask and we see her intensely grated upon as she hears the word “vulgarity” from the Duke as a description of all her hard work fixing up the grounds, turning the castle into a super-hotel, being a hostess who is all smiles. In the still I have included her lips and the right side of her face just begins to move into a hard sneer of deep offense and irritation.

    Much of scene between Duke and Duchess not in the book but it could have been and feels so right; he writes what Trollope could have and makes us think it’s there. It’s almost there 🙂 Much is invented.

    “He hates it,” the Duchess observing the Duke wandering about the gardens of Gatherum Castle

    In the audio-commentary by Emma Thompson to the 1995 Miramax Sense and Sensibility film (directed by Ang Lee), she remarks that the Atlas scene between Elinor (Emma Thompson), Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) and Margaret (Emilie Francois) has seemed to some viewers who know the novel to be so like Austen that they ask where in the novel does it occur. For my part I find it too sweet for Austen, but there are other scenes (between Elinor and Marianne, Kate Winslett, for Lucy Steele and Mrs Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs) where you think the scene is close to Austen’s own and when you go back find much has been changed or invented. Thompson says she is most delighted when people ask her to tell them where in Austen’s book this dialogue or scene occurred when there is no such line or quite this scene. She feels she has performed the ultimate function of recreating Austen for us.

    So perhaps Raven, only he has changed the inferences of the whole hour by new additions, scenes which are quite different, important eliminations and allusions. But I must save the discussion of this for when I come to the end of writing out all the screenplays and after I have written two chapters of my much longed-for (meaning me, meaning I do long to do it) “The Austen Movies.”

    Comic moment of what Duchess might be seeing: Duke told it’s not for him and the workman to ask questions about what’s being done to the grounds


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  • . . . and quite enough friends to be going on with; bookshops; galleries; gardens — Fleur Adcock, “Instead of an Interview”
  • Dear Friends,

    The header for these many postings about books I’m reading for pleasure, insight, comfort are a play on Fleur Adcock’s lines in a sonnet.

    Since I last wrote of books I’m going on with, I’ve read many more than those I’m going to describe today, particularly by and about Jane Austen, and the Austen films. For these, you have to go to “Reveries under the Sign of Austen”. Here I’ll just link in the two filmographies of Austen films I’ve put on my website:

  • The Austen movies organized by type

    The Austen movies organized by source

  • The two I want to talk of to others outside WWTTA (where I have written about them) are Forster’s Howards’ End (and the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film adaptation) and Nicola Beauman’s The Other Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist). Forster and Jhabvala’s work and Taylor’s novels belong to a tradition brought to an early brilliant incarnation by Austen, one not well-understood because not respected for real.

    Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham-Carter as the sisters of Howards’ End

    You may find a good general account of Forster’s book for a preface (I won’t go into a story summary or general thematic analysis) at Frisbee: a book journal (Kathy and I discuss it further in the comments) as well as on Jhabvala’s novels. I’ve dedicated part of my website to Jhabvala’s heavily-Austen centered work and a blog to Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala films too.

    In this blog I want simply to bring out a significant aspect of Forster’s Howards’ End: he had Austen’s Sense and Sensibility closely in mind as he wrote it, at times following its trajectories, even parodying it. It seems to me an instance of the type of adaptation Kamilla Elliot calls “de(re)composing”. As somewhat mystically (you can’t prove this sort of description) by Thomas Leitch, this is a text or film which decomposes, merge, and form new composition at underground levels of reading. Film a composite of textual and filmic signs merging audience consciousness. Howards End is a transformation of Sense and Sensibility into Forster’s wonderfully nuanced widely-suggestive art. It’s an extended intertextual engagement with Austen’s novel.

    I list the more obvious examples: the chapter where Margaret, Helen, and Tibby are described: it’s is a redo of the description of Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret in modern terms. The likeness is down to Tibby getting but one sentence, and he is marginalized in something of the way Margaret is: it is left to him to make the wry ironic pragmatic remarks shorn of cant (which usually accompanies faux pragmaticism). Aunt Juley is an ironic replay of Mrs Jennings. There are little allusive clues: for example, Charles Wilcox’s young wife is called “Miss Dolly Fussell that was …” We are to add the poor. A funny scene where the news is brought to the Wilcoxes that Mrs Wilcox left her house to Miss Schlegel (Margaret) has allusions and imitations in parody of the famous Chapter 2 of S&S: Dolly fears she and her family will be thrown out; any minute now Margaret will arrive to do it.

    Helen has a predilection for rain, and meets our victim-hero, Leonard Bast by taking his umbrella; here she looks back through a window or gate

    More transformed yet: there’s Helen’s night (if that’s what it was, meaning a fuck) with Paul Wilcox who (like Willoughby) will of course marry money and rank — she is a modern variant on Marianne and Eliza Williams, where pregnancy does not emerge from one night stands (as it rarely does). Jackie is such another as the two Elizas (including Eliza Brandon who was passed from man to man we are told by Austen’s Mrs Jennings). Mr Wilcox and the Wilcoxes a realistic set of Fanny, John, and Robert Dashwood, and Mrs Ferrars.

    The inheriting of the cottage is central to the sister’s safety. It was the one act on her own Mrs Wilcox made, and she was almost thwarted because she didn’t do it legally: no lawyer, no witness that counted, in pencil, yet. Like so many legacies of women until the 20th century. Now they may live in it and leave it to their nephew, Leonard Bast’s son. But still Jackie (poor Eliza) is excluded.


    The cottage used for the filmic Howard’s End could easily be the Dashwood Barton Cottage, and is more run-down at the moment of photographing early in the story than most of the cottages used for S&S except in the last 2008 film. M-I-J were ahead of the time in using decayed and older and poorer images. They are by no means all luxury; the story is in fact about the contrast of the deprived, outsiders, disconnected people and those with padded wealth and privilege which is what S&S is about.

    It really is there, I am not fantasizing — the process has been far more closely interlined than Ian McEwan’s Atonement out of Richardson’s Clarissa.; and unlike McEwan who substitutes a misogynistic cruel set of norms for Richardson’s proto-feminist one, Forster takes Austen’s point of view and makes it more compassionate, deeper, wider, more sophisticated intertwined with larger social, sexual, and economic arrangements.

    I am no hagiographer and have not lost sight of those areas of life where Austen is naive, inflexible or limited. She is naive about sex; the idea that Elinor and Edward would hold out to obey such a promise is silly romance found in earlier novels; the self-sacrifice & punishing of heroines (like Elinor is to be the one to tell Edward of Colonel Brandon’s offer) is a motif still in Howell’s novels. Austen does not see the poor, nor connect subtly to larger economic and cultural forces. Forster does.

    Howards’ End is not the only sister book genuinely taking Sense and Sensibility in further or sympathetic (but sometiems not as deep) directions that I have found, and his erases the the woman-centered basis. There’s the one she imitated: Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfieldwhere the older man is crippled (uncannily picked up by the 2000 Tamil free film adaptation I Have Found It which itself anticipates motifs and expansions in Davies’a dn Pivcevic’s 2008 BBC/WBGH S&S); Edith Wharton’s Summer where the unromantic marriage to the older man after the young man has seduced, impregnated and abandoned our heroine is dreaded because of the sex, and E. H. Young’s Jenny Wren.

    Now as Joe Wright seems to have been aware that Atonement is a rewrite of Clarissa, so Jhabvala and then Merchant-Ivory are aware Howards’ End rewrites the first book. Their film is a deeper comment on the relationship of the two sisters and what their natures stand for and how such natures (when lucky) can survive in a harsh had world.

    I’ve written about Nicola Beauman’s book on women’s novels of the early to mid-20th century in my old blog, A very great profession: the woman’s novel, 1914-39

    Still from filmed ghost story, The Maze, typical of the kind of fiction Beauman treats of, very Brief Encounter-ish

    and her literary biography of Taylor’s life and writing at “Reveries” (just scroll down to the last quarter of the posting).

    Here I want to record about Taylor the kind of insights into her behavior, attitudes and writing that place her in the tradition of novels to which Austen’s and Forster’s belong. I recorded at Reveries that for Taylor letters provided the finest truest friendships as they allowed people to learn about one another, share things, support one another in a kind of intimacy of the private self not readily possible face-to-face. She stayed home to write, to delve into her mind and imagination and live with other fine spirits through books and art.

    I forgot to say that most piquantly for me is that she found reading good mysteries anything but an escape: they distressed and unsettled her. So too me. Susan Hill’s The Various Haunts of Man left me genuinely disquieted. I felt anxious about going to dark lonely places, about being alone at night in a house.

    Peter Parker writes well on this book and Taylor’s work on The Telegraph He mentions how important an influence was Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. But less famous are closer influences: Ivy Compton-Burnett’s depictions of private and family life were very important to her (and she was friends with C-B) as were Elizabeth Bowen’s books (another friend and supporter), especially The Death of the Heart (which I’ve read and know is one of the great women’s novels of the 20th century.

    Nicola Beauman was founder and continual supporter of Persephone books and the subtheme of this book is that of Alison Light’s Forever England: great women’s books are not recognized as great books, called conservative as they love landscape and quiet, and don’t follow the artistic aims of men’s books; they are hardly given space to be in print unless they may be converted into romance by talk and movies. It’s true that Beauman doesn’t report the many painful reviews of Taylor’s books, e.g., Joyce Carol Oates is among those who ridicule Taylor. She also overpraises, but this is what happens in compensation.

    Taylor herself includes a defense of women’s novels and art in her A Wreath of Roses. I’ve read Taylor’s The Soul of Kindness, (bitingly bitter book), In a Summer Season, Palladian and Mrs Palfrey at the Clarement (moving book about an old woman going into a retirement house for the more wealthy, recently adapted into a film, about which I also wrote on my old blog). They use the same coded conventions of Howards’ End (which Taylor loved particularly) and Sense and Sensibility.

    Wretchedmoment, like the morning after the dance in S&S
    The disposition of the two sisters here is repeat of precisely the way they are presented in all the S&S films, looking out a window, after Willoughby’s snub, discussing some risk or worry. It is well before Margaret marries the older rich man and they inherit Mrs Wilcox’s cottage.

    Opening scene from 1979 P&P: Charlotte (Irene Richards) and Elizabeth (Elizabeth Garvey) holding on to one another


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    Dear Friends,

    This blog is occasioned by my having discovered that the review I wrote for “Ellen and Jim have a blog, too” of Peter Birchall’s poetry collection, Nature, Nonsense, & Foreign Parts, escaped Jim and my vigilance. Rather than just reprint what I said then, I’d prefer tonight to print less of his lines and instead place Birchall’s poetry with that of some of my other favorite male poets who also write (or wrote) formalist poetry.

    On Wompo it’s sometimes suggested that women often prefer strong formalism: it’s a barrier, a control, and they concentrate on nuanced aesthetics. If this be true, there are men who equally go in for formalism. One of my favorites is Anthony Hecht. I just love this one:

              Proust on Skates

    He stayed in bed, and at the beginning of October still wasn’t getting up till two in the afternoon. But he made a seventy-mile journey to Chamonix to join Albu [Louis Albufera] and Louisa [de Mornand, Albufera’s beautiful mistress] on a mule-back excursion to Montanvert, where they went skating.

    Ronald Hayman, Proust: A Biography

    The alpine forest, like huddled throngs of mourners,
    Black, hooded, silent, resign themselves to wait
              As long as may be required;
    A low pneumonia mist covers the glaciers,
    Spruces are bathed in a cold sweat, the lat
              Sun has long since expired.

    Though barely risen, and the gray cast of the day
    Is stark, unsentimental, and metallic.
              Earth-stained and chimney-soiled
    Snow upon path and post is here to stay,
    Foundered in endless twilight, a poor relic
              Of a once gladder world.

    Spare café patrons can observe a few
    Skaters skimming the polished soapstone lake,
              A platform for their skill
    At crosscut, grapevine, loops and curlicue,
    Engelmann’s Star, embroideries that partake
              Of talent, coaching, drill,

    While a few tandem lovers, hand in hand,
    Perform their pas de deux along the edges,
              Oblivious, unconcerned.
    This is a stony, vapor-haunted land
    Of granite dusk, of wind sieved by the hedges,
              Their brances braced and thorned.

    Escaped from the city’s politics and fribble,
    Hither has come an odd party of three,
              Braided by silken ties:
    With holiday abandon, the young couple
    Have retreated into the deep privacy
              Of one another’s eyes,

    While the third, who in different ways yet loves them both,
    Finds himself now, as usual, all alone,
              And lacing on his skates,
    Steadies himself, cautiously issues forth
    Into the midst of strangers and his own
              Interior debates.

    Sweatered and mufflered to protect the weak
    And lacey branches of his bronchial tree
              From the fine-particled threat
    Of the moist air, he curves in an oblique
    And gentle gradient, floating swift and free —
              No danseur noble, and yet

    He glides with a gaining confidence, inscribes
    Tentative passages, thinks again, backtracks,
              Comes to the minute point,
    Then wheels about in widening sweeps and lobes,
    Larger Palmer cursives and smooth entrelacs,
              Preoccupied, intent

    On a subtle, long-drawn style and pliant script
    Incised with twin steel blades and qualified
              Perfectly to express,
    With arms flung wide or gloved hands firmly gripped
    Behind his back, attentively, clear-eyed,
              A glancing happiness.

    It will not last, that happiness; nothing lasts;
    But will reduce in time to the clear brew
              Of simmering memory
    Nourished by shadowy gardens, music, guests,
    Childhood affections, and, of Delft, a view
              Steeped in a sip of tea.

    Rev Robert Walker Skating on Duddin attributed to Henry Raeburn (1756 – 1823)

    Birchall’s poetry is not gay but it is also highly allusive, learned, and seemed to me 18th century in its bookishness, the imitations, the continual self-reflexity and satire. Like 18th century poets, he uses subtle color words & poetic diction. Here are two from the first third of the volume:

    So in Soft Twilight By Majestic Trees

    Sixteen long miles, as sinuous as steep,
    From russet summer to a pale-green spring:
    Climbing past wild flowers, patches of snow,
    Sun-dappled meadows, mountains purple-grey,
    And many a gurgling stream and overview,
    Through fragrant forest, beautiful and still,
    Into the very heart of High Sierra:
    Cinnamon sentinels bid welcome to
    Sequoia Park and its sylvan delights;
    Which greeting goes for naught with gloomy souls
    Weighed down—opprest, by carking cares and woes:
    So in soft twilight by majestic trees,
    Fretting the trivial while Nature sings
    Deep serenades to which I’m deaf, who hear
    My own sad song like to a symphony
    Of apprehensions; waiting with mute dread
    As shadows fill with spectres,—as the moon
    Hides her blanched face behind dark, scudding clouds.

    Below the Snow, Above the Water: Camping in Fugitive Moonlight

    Pale green’s last gasp before slate grey: treeline:
    An azure cirque set in a stand of aspen
              Deepens and deepens till half nine;
    A sickle moon highlights the ackers on the blue-black lake:
    Glimmering light on moving water;
              Shimmering water and a dancing silver snake.

    The above is in the same stanza form as Hecht’s on ice-skating and Proust.

    His rhythms or prosody are unusual: it’s not free verse and he seems to me consistently to get away from iambic verse which is still the common music and as such seems rational. Iambic pentameter is no more rational than any other verse, but because it’s the norm we take it as heralding or embodying rationality, sense. Peter uses unusual meters and rhyme or assonant schemes, including ones he identifies as celtic but which I know from anglo-saxon poetry; there is a heavy use of anapests and dactylls, also trochees. The vocabulary is learned and the words are multisyllabic, but basically the content is rich color, very rich color; they are highly descriptive landscapes either of the mind or riffing off a place outside social life.

    The middle part of the volume is playful and filled with a wonderful bitterness. Its astringent and willing to face the cruelties, absurdities, irrationalities, and brutalities of human nature and the situations it creates for itself. He may offend because he remains above it all, rather like Pope as Juvenialian satirist. He says he likes strong invective and uses it.

    The last third of the volume has the highest concentration of allusive poetry: to Celtic, Chinese, imitations of. He makes a strong use of archaisms. In this case I include the note at the bottom of the poem; in many cases the poem is followed by a note of explanation. It shows how the volume has a sense of an ending, and includes paeans to the rest, oblivion, death, sleep, sheer escape (as in our ‘natural business lies in escaping’—Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons)

    And So, Homeward, We Flow

    Late-sleeping in an open grave, I heard
    The piping of a black-beaked, yellow bird.

    A bird of passage is a soul in flight;
    The pearly dawn is calved by starry night.
    Serna and soma-many ways and one:

    The journey-almost over, just begun.
    Melting by moonlight, so the virgin snow

    Forms rivers to the sea: And so, homeward, we flow.

    Note: Yellow bird: made famous in a brilliant, early Irish Gaelic lyric. Sema: ecstatic dancing and turning (as exemplified by the whirling Dervishes). Soma: the magical drug of the ancient Aryans.

    The poem made me think of Thomas Gray’s elegies.

    The last part of the volume is full of odd charm, autobiographical in the distanced way of the whole volume: a poem called “The Last Druid” is effortlessly graceful in the way of the bird and movement of the druid’s mind as it listens to music. (As will be seen, I cannot different spaces on a page and lines so do not attempt to reproduce this one.) There is a unrhymed sonnet to Keats, a poem on a leprechaun, an imitation of Ovid, “Bardmail,” a joke on early 17th century history (“James the First Arrives in London”). A set of verses from the Greek anthology. His “The Cumaean Sybil” which made me think of a Joseph Wright picture of a sybil sitting near the mouth of a cave, an illustration for Ann Radcliffe’s Sicilian Romance.

    I like Birchall’s comments on creative translation (and poem about it): one must reach the heart of a poem, wrench it out, and sometimes that takes being utterly different literally. Some of the poems comment sharply on art. See “The Peach Blossom Fan” which has many beautiful lines (imitating Chinese directly, medieval art allusively). The close put me in mind of Empson: Barren the wastes, and desolate the heart:/We are defined—dissected, by our art. This one is meant as an oblique castigation of popular art today.

    This is unfashionable poetry. The cover reminds me of many modern books in its use of archaic imagery from ancient gods. I’ve been to Scotland, but the highlands and Western Islands only through reading Johnson and Boswell and Scott and others. I’ve read Johnson’s poetry written during his trip, harsh landscape, austere morality, but congenial memories; by contrast, Birchall has nightmares. Here is his epigraph in the back cover of the book:

    As my life has been uneventful, I am supplying my epigraph to be in lieu of a biographical squib:

    This is my tomb. These words my epitaph:
    Life was a bitter joke. Come, stranger, laugh.

    Peter Birchall at a vacation lodge

    In his use of formalism, Birchall can also be grouped with John Hollander. I wrote a blog dedicated to Hollander’s poetry and have retrieved but one, luckily just the one which is an 18th century Georgic transformed, the sort of advice poem descended from Virgil. In the US during the first decades of movie-going, movies were palaces of fantasy quite literally; it was only in the 60s they turned into dull black boxes; recently there’s been some improvement in the outward accoutrements but not much.

    Diane Arbus’s poster for the 33rd NYC film festival


    Drive-ins are out, to start with. One must always be
    Able to see the over-painted Moorish ceiling
    Whiose pinchbeck jazz gleams even in the darkness, calling
    The straying eye to feast on it, and glut, then fall
    Back to the sterling screen again. One needs to feel
    That the two empty, huddled, dark stage-boxes keep
    Empty for kings. And having frequently to cope
    With the abominable goodies, overflow
    Bulk and (finally) exploring hands of flushed
    Close neighbors gazing beadily out across glum
    Distances is, after all, to keep the gleam
    Alive of something rather serious, to keep
    Faith, perhaps, with the City. When as children our cup
    Of joys ran over the special section, and we clutched
    Our ticket stubs and followed the bouncing ball, no clash
    Of cymbals at the start of the stage-show could abash
    Our third untiring time around. When we came back,
    Older, to cop an endless series of feels, we sat
    Unashamed beneath the bare art-nouveau bodies, set
    High on the golden, after-glowing proscenium when
    The break had come. And still, now as always, once
    The show is over and we creep into the dull
    Blaze of mid-afternoon sunshine, the hollow dole
    Of the real descends on everything and we can know
    That we have been in some place wholly elsewhere, a night
    At noonday, not without dreams, whose portals shine
    (Not ivory, not horn in ever-changing shapes)
    But made of some weird, clear substance not often used           for gates.
    Stay for the second feature on a double bill
    Always: it will teach you how to love, how not to live,
    And how to leave the theater for that unlit, aloof
    And empty world again. “B” pictures showed us: shooting
    More real than singing or making love; the shifting
    Ashtray upon the mantel, moved by some idiot
    Between takes, helping us learn beyond a trace of doubt
    How fragile are imagined scenes; the dimming-out
    Of all the brightness of the clear and highly lit
    Interior of the hero’s cockpit, when the stock shot
    Of ancient dive-bombers peeling off cuts in, reshapes
    Our sense of what is, finally, plausible; the grays
    Of living rooms, the blacks of cars whose window glass
    At night allows the strips of fake Times Square to pass
    Jerkily by on the last ride; even the patch
    Of sudden white, and inverted letters dashing
    Up during the projectionist’s daydream, dying
    Quickly—these are the colors of our inner life.

    Never ignore the stars, of course. But above all,
    Follow the asteroids as well: though dark, they’re more
    Intense for never glittering; anyone can admire
    Sparklings against a night sky, but against a bright
    Background of prominence, to feel the Presences burnt
    Into no fiery fame should be a more common virtue.
    For, just as Vesta has no atmosphere, no verdure
    Burgeons on barren Ceres, bit-players never surge
    Into the rhythms of expansion and collapse, such
    As all the flaming bodies live and move among.
    But there, more steadfast than stars are, loved for their           being
    Not for their burning, move the great Characters: see
    Thin Donald Meek, that shuffling essence ever so
    Affronting to Eros and to Pride; the pair of bloated
    Capitalists, Walter Connolly and Eugene Pallette, seated
    High in their offices above New York; the evil,
    Blackening eyes of Sheldon Leonard, and the awful
    Stare of Eduardo Cianelli. Remember those who have gone
    (Where’s bat-squeaking Butterfly McQueen ? Will we see           again
    That ever-anonymous drunk, waxed-moustached, rubber-          legged
    Caught in revolving doors ?) and think of the light-years           logged
    Up in those humbly noble orbits, where no hot
    Spotlight of solar grace consumes some blazing hearts,
    Bestowing the flimsy immortality of stars
    For some great distant instant. Out of the darkness stares
    Venus, who seems to be what once we were, the fair
    Form of emerging love, her nitrous atmosphere
    Hiding her prizes. Into the black expanse peers
    Mars, whom we in time will come to resemble: parched,
    Xanthine desolations, dead Cimmerian seas, the far
    Distant past preserved in the blood-colored crusts; fire
    And water both remembered only. Having shined
    Means having died. But having been real only, and shunned
    Stardom, the planetoids are what we now are, humming
    With us, above us, ever into the future, seeming
    Ever to take the shapes of the world we wake to from           dreams.

    Always go in the morning if you can; it will
    Be something more than habit if you do. Keep well
    Away from most French farces. Try to see a set
    Of old blue movies every so often, that the sight
    Of animal doings out of the clothes of ‘thirty-five
    May remind you that even the natural act is phrased
    In the terms and shapes of particular times and places.
    Finally, remember always to honor the martyred dead.
    The forces of darkness spread everywhere now, and the           best
    And brightest screens fade out, while many-antennaed           beasts
    Perch on the housetops, and along the grandest streets
    Palaces crumble, one by one. The dimming starts
    Slowly at first; the signs are few, as “Movies are
    Better than Ever,” “Get More out of Life. See a Movie” Or
    Else there’s no warning at all and, Whoosh! the theater           falls,
    Alas, transmogrified: no double-feature fills
    A gleaming marquee with promises, now only lit
    With “Pike and Whitefish Fresh Today” “Drano” and “Light
    Or Dark Brown Sugar, Special.” Try never to patronize
    Such places (or pass them by one day a year). The noise
    Of movie mansions changing form, caught in the toils
    Of our lives’ withering, rumbles, resounds and tolls
    The knell of neighborhoods. Do not forget the old
    Places, for everyone’s home has been a battlefield.

    I remember: the RKO colonial; the cheap
    ARDEN and ALDEN both; LOEW’S LINCOLN SQUARE’S bright           shape;
    The NEWSREEL; the mandarin BEACON, resplendently           arrays
    The tiny SEVENTY-SEVENTH STREET, whose demise I rued
    So long ago; the eighty-first street, sunrise-hued,
    RKO; and then LOWE’S at eighty-third, which had
    The colder pinks of sunset on it; and then, back
    Across Broadway again, and up, you disembarked
    At the YORKTOWN and then the STODDARD, with their dark
    Marquees; the SYMPHONY had a decorative disk
    With elongated ‘twenties nudes whirling in it;
    (Around the corner the THALIA, daughter of memory! owed
    Her life to Foreign Hits, in days when you piled your coat
    High on your lap and sat, sweating and cramped, to catch
    “La Kermesse Heroique” every third week, and watched
    Fritz Lang from among an audience of refugees, bewitched
    By the sense of Crisis on and off that tiny bit
    Of screen) Then north again: the RIVERSIDE, the bright
    RIVIERA rubbing elbows with it; and right
    Smack on a hundredth street, the MIDTOWN; and the rest
    Of them: the CARLTON, EDISON, LOWE’S OLYMPIA, and           best
    Because, of course, the last of all, its final burst
    Anonymous, the NEMO! These were once the pearls
    Of two-and-a-half miles of Broadway! How many have           paled
    Into a supermarket’s failure of the imagination?

    Honor them all. Remember how once their splendor blazed
    In sparkling necklaces across America’s blasted
    Distances and deserts: think how, at night, the fastest
    Train might stop for water somewhere, waiting, faced
    Westward, in deepening dusk, till ruby illuminations
    Of something different from Everything Here, Now, shine
    Out from the local Bijou, truest gem, the most bright
    Because the most believed in, staving off the night
    Perhaps, for a while longer with its flickering light.

    These fade. All fade, Let us honor them with our own           fading sight.

    John Hollander (1962) on the Valencia

    To this I add his playful

    Adam’s Task

    And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field … GEN 2:20

    Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
              Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
    The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
              Impex; thou, awagabu.

    Every burrower, each flier
              Came for the name he had to give;
    Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
              Not yet sunk to primitive.

    Thou, verdle; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
              Thou; thou; thou — three types of grawl;
    Thou, flisket; thou, kabash; thou, comma-
              Eared mashawk; thou, all; thou, all.

    Were, in a fire of becoming,
              Labouring to be burned away,
    Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
              Would be as serious as play.

    Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou greater
              Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
    Thou, sproal; thou zant; thou, lily-eater
              Naming’s over. Day is done.

    Naming is a kind of magical power. Women have it — or ought to. Someone ought to write a poem in response to
    Hollander’s called Eve’s Task.

    Of course you can name to reduce, to wither. Trollope does this a lot: Nearthewind; Closerstill; Fillgrave; to gently mock, Slow, Bideawhile and their clerk, Slyfox; or to be suggestive: Dr Thorne is a stubborn thorn, won’t fit in; or the bawdy Glasscock. I always refer to Austen’s Mr Knightley as Mr Knightley. Someone has probably somewhere written down that poetry is naming.

    The next poet I will write about will be Dorothy Parker; I’ll put one of my foremother poet postings that I send regularly to Wompo (a women’s poetry listserv I belong to) here.


    P.S. Pray excuse the spaces between the last words or phrases of “Movie-going:” I couldn’t get the words to be part of the line without a space. I don’t know which of the little codes to hit to space poetry properly.

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    Il Giuramento

    So on Sunday we went to hear the Washington Concert Opera’s version of Saverio Mercadante’s Il Giuramento: Elizabeth Futral as Elaisa, Krisztina Szabó as Bianca, James Valenti as Viscardo and Donny Ray Albert as Manfredo. At dinner afterwards (at Tonic at Quigley’s Pharmacy) we wondered why this opera had disappeared from the repertoire when many clearly inferior more or less contemporary works (L’Italiana in Algeri was instanced) were near staples. We came to no conclusion that night, but I have continued to worry the question.

    Il Giuramento is based on Victor Hugo’s play, Angelo, Tyran de Padoue (as was Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, about which more later). Rossi, Mercadante’s librettist, softened Hugo’s play: Elaisa is a much more respectable lady than Hugo’s La Tisbe, Bianca more innocent than Hugo’s Catarina; their duet voices their sisterhood in sweet suffering where Hugo’s parallel scene has an undercurrent of bitter cynicism — they are sisters in having been equally exploited by their men. And, of course, Hugo’s politics have been effaced. But Hugo’s fundamental thrust has been kept.

    Angelo, Tyran de Padoue is gothic. There is a drawing of a set design (for Act I scene 2) in the library of the Comédie Française:


    Classic gothic architecture. I.2 is set in Catarina/Bianca’s room in Angelo/Menfredo’s castle. Rodolfo/Viscardo makes his way into her room via a secret passage. Already gothic machinery. We might ask, if Manfredo is this suspicious jealous husband, why did he not install his wife in a suite that didn’t have a secret passage through which lovers could come and go? Perhaps there is no such suite in his castle.

    And I.2 contains the recognition scene. Bianca shows Elaisa the token.

    II.2 is set at Bianca’s tomb. More gothic machinery: Bianca is in the tomb. They have literally put her living into the tomb. But she will be released in order that she be forced to take poison.

    Act III is set in Elaisa’s house. Bianca’s apparently lifeless body (yet more gothic machinery) is within view (Elaisa refers to it) but the gloom (still more gothic machinery) is such that Viscardo does not see it when he arrives. Bianca wakes just as Viscardo murders Elaisa for (supposedly) poisoning her.

    I joke about the gothic machinery. But we don’t take gothic seriously. Eve Sedgwick, in the Introduction to her (justly) famous The Coherence of Gothic Conventions, remarks “most gothic novels are not worth reading.” Il Giuramento, premiered in 1837 at La Scala, played in Vienna 1838, in London 1840, in New York and St. Petersburg in 1848, in Paris in 1858 and then died. An attempted revival in Florence in 1883, and a performance in Mercadante’s home town in 1911. Then nothing. Gothic had gone out of fashion.

    Hugo’s play did better. It was revived for Sarah Bernhardt in 1872 and ran for 300 performances; she took it to North America in 1905. It had something more than the gothic machinery to support it, something which Rossi had dropped in adapting it.

    I said above that La Gioconda is also based on Angelo. But it has been much more drastically reworked. Enzo and Barnaba have little resemblance to Rodolfo and Angelo. La Cieca has no real parallel in Angelo. There is the recognition scene, but otherwise the gothic machinery (apart from the fake poisoning) has largely been dropped. It is very hard to envisage the Dance of the Hours being inserted into a performance of Angelo.

    So I conclude that it was its gothicism that sank Il Giuramento. By the 1850s it must have seemed creaky and old-fashioned: tombs and gloom and secret passages.

    This is a shame. There is some beautiful music. Romantic conventions abound: Bianca’s first act cavatina gets a flute obbligato; Elaisa’s third act cavatina an oboe obbligato (and again for her death scene). The entr’acte between II.1 and II.2 is a funeral dirge with a marked ‘cello part — almost a mini-concerto — the first desk ‘cellist was loudly cheered at the curtain call. The duet between Elaisa and Bianca is really glorious.

    I don’t want to overpraise the piece. The program talked about Mercadante as the bridge between Donizetti and middle-period Verdi. I don’t see that. Il Giuramento seemed to me very Donizettiesque. And where it differs from Donizetti, notably in orchestration, Verdi didn’t follow. But if it’s Donizettiesque, it’s high quality Donizetti, a quality Donizetti often didn’t reach. George Templeton Strong heard it in February 1848:

    Il giuramento turns out, much to my surprise, to be worth all the opera they have produced in Astor Place knocked into one. […] after hearing it I wondered how I could have tolerated, or listened to, the empty, flippant, vapid imbecile trash that makes up two-third parts of Lucia or Lucrezia.

    A little overstated, but not altogether wrong.


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