Archive for July, 2009

The poster for The Musical Tempest

Dear Friends,

About two weeks ago now I wrote about a remarkable play we saw on July 9th, Paco Jose Madden’s The 5th Musketeer. Since then we have gone to 6 more performances here in DC. My regret is that we didn’t go to more. We picked 7, and last night we sat next to a couple who told us they had gone to 10. Jim said he didn’t know how we could have fitted so many in as on the 3 weekends we went to 3 operas and wandered about Lorin Maazel’s vast property one of the Saturdays in Rappahannock, Virginia (the Castleton Festival, Turn of the Screw, Rape of Lucretia, Beggars’ Opera), but maybe next year we’ll manage it.

This is intended a record of what we saw. A couple of nights after we saw The 5th Musketeer, we came back to the same set of condemned buildings and went into the next door, up a stairwell and found ourselves in a small theater where 3 people were playing lively Irish folksongs. They were the accompaniment to John Morogiello’s Irish Authors Held Hostage. This consisted of a series of skits, some mildly funny, others really hilarious. Morogiello mocks public hysteria over terrorists as well as make fun of the way terrorists are presented (or present themselves) and offer a review or history of Irish literature, which to some extent stands up to scrutiny. It begins with Lady Gregory and most writers’ Irishness may be disputed because they lived most of their lives elsewhere. Very clever. My favorite skit was the send-up of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: just brilliant.

Of course Oscar Wilde was included; so too Emily Bronte, why not?

We had our first disappointment at the next event. This was held three doors down in a place that is still a bar or pub (you can get food) with two stages. One is small and we have been to it before: we watched a one woman series of monologues (3), She moved through the fair by Polly McIntyre. Now a lot in these sorts of entertainments is dependent on the insight of the character’s discourse: MacIntyre may be a good actress, but her ideas about women (pre-feminist Jim called them), life (she presented one sketch where the wanted male projected was horrible and she didn’t seem to realize this), and wit left a lot to be desired. To be fair, by the end you realized how all three of her woman just wanted a real friend (like Sarah Fielding’s David Simple in search of a true friend?), and she ended poignantly, but that was not enough to make up for the acquiescence in brutality and lies and twisted repressions that went before.

By contrast over this weekend I watched via a DVD and MP2, 4 of the monologues from Alan Bennet’s famous Talking Heads, three by Patricia Routledge and one by Maggie Smith. Smith in Bed Among Lentils is so outstanding I don’t know where to begin to praise what she shows us. The ex-alchoholic (alas) wife of a dense Vicar tells us of her life’s story. The one happiness she ever knew was when she was made love to by Mr Ramesh in a room behind his grocery store. Susan is her name, a tragedy of a life. (I recommend Albert Hunt, “Bed among the Lentils” in British TV drama in the 1980s, ed. George W. Brandt.)


The three by Routledge are not as moving and don’t go quite as deeply into the psyche, but they are extraordinary studies in what happens to a woman who represses herself and lives alone. As many single women end up doing. In the first, A Woman of No Importance, she had a job and gets sick (to the death); in the second, A Lady of Letters, she writes poison pen letters out of desperate loneliness and stupidity, and ends in prison, and in third, Miss Fozzard finds her feet, she is spending her life caring for a brother who cares nothing for her and ends paid by a podiatrist who has a foot fetish 🙂 Such films of women’s lives have a great deal to say to other women. There are monologues for men, but revealingly, I have the impression only Bennett acted them, as other men would be unwilling so to expose truths about men’s lives or aspects of their own personalities.

We had hoped Polly McIntyre’s would have been something of this, but they never came even slightly near.

But then three nights later or so Carla Hubner’s In-Series Theatre had three “Cabaret Carousels” of which we managed to see one at the Source Theatre — which we’ve been to before, a comfortable place in a gentrifying area of DC.

Suggesting the mood aspired to

The music chosen was both moving and cheering — from Broadway shows mostly and also modern art songs of the popular sort, well done, from the Threepenny Opera and Sondheim, to Camelot and One Touch of Venus, to genuine cabaret songs, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Frierich Hollaender. . I met a couple of old acquaintances we sometimes used to see on Monday nights when we went to a local garage theatre to hear a devoted company read dramatically aloud (and sometimes come near to staging and acting out fully) non commercially viable but excellent plays.

Carle Hubner is impresario for the In-series is so inspiriting. An ex-concert pianist (we’ve heard her play), she quit her job in a university about 20 years ago because she would not kowtow to wasting her existence in stupidity, and she began productions and has kept them up for 20 years, on a shoestring. She can network it’s clear. She’s done 7 Mozarts: the music is realigned to modern stories and characters analogous to the originals. A Carmen from Jose’s point of view. She also does modern popular Spanish shows.

None of these people were paid very much, if anything at all. There are good and decent people here and there.

Perhaps the less said the better about the opera, The Fall of the House of Usher, written and directed by Brent Cirves, music by Mike Johnson. I’m not a musician but I thought the music repetitive and non-melodic, nothing beautiful, just loud, and the singing even to my tin ear was off-tune. And the theatre was non-airconditioned and super-crowded. It was a Friday night, the penultimate night of the Festival. However, when we left half-way through I did feel guilty. The author understood the story and brought in other Poe stories and poems (Annabel Lee) to fill out the time allotted; he had a genuinely humane interpretation, and the singers and actors (all young) were working so hard and meant so well. Jim said he found the presentation and interpretations of the characters through music of real interest.

So perhaps this is a young author and musician to watch for, and they will improve in time.

Saturday night we went to The Tempest: A Musical put on by the Rude Mechanicals, the same group who brought an effective shortened Coriolanus to the Fringe Festival last summer. They shortened Shakespeare play at the same time as they replaced Shakespeare’s songs with Irish drinking and raucous songs and lyrical ballads. The songs did not make much sense with the play, but they did have the revealing effect of bringing home to the watcher just how strange Shakespeare’s play is. What is our attitude supposed to be to this narrow, austere, bitter and punitive man? Who is Caliban? us? why is Ariel, the imaginative, a humiliated slave? How does this cohere with the beautiful isle? Is it an image of existence at the last from a profoundly disillusioned man? A play where he announces his retirement need not abjure all that went before. The songs did carry it, and the last rousing chorus was charity and love sent out to the audience itself.

The theatre was sold out, with people standing and some on make-shift chairs. It’s the other large theatre in the bar set-up where we saw She Moved Through the Fair. I was allowed to take my drink (Scotch and ginger ale) into the theatre, and it was all very comfortable.


And the last night of the festival came up to the first: a superb contemporary appropriation (I believe the new going term) of Aeschylus’s Oresteia. “Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Review” the group doing the play is a band which consists of two electric guitars (young men playing), a powerful drummer, and a young woman on the accordion, another on the guitar a couple of powerful female singers. The young women were all dressed parodically sexy and the young men like ragged bohemians, super-southerners. It was a parody on multi-levels, done wit a bravura that was so energetic: the hour and one half contained wild gyrations as part of rock-and-rock, satiric redoings of the three plays by Aeschylus turning the happenings into modern equivalents with some comic undercuts as Orestes complains why is he not just welcomed home, and Clytemnestra tells Electa “watch your mouth.” Great fun and the theatre, a church near Dupont Circle, we’ve been to before, now has comfortable seats too.

Thrice we ate out: Generous George for pizza, a bad local Irish bar, and a fine comfortable Chinese place we’d like to return to again. A couple of times we walked through an area of DC we didn’t know before or a beautiful one (parks, older buildings), and were cheered by the exhilaration of what was going on around us.

We’re not done yet: we have bought ourselves two sets of tickets for operas in HD locally (Barber of Seville and Magic Flute); we go to Wolf Trap twice (again operas, The Return of Ulysses to his Country by Monteverdi and La Boheme). We mean to have picnics both times, and for the last we hope to meet with a friend from one of my lists and his wife.

The DC area (which includes Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland) is not New York City for theater, and it certainly does not come up to London. But it has much to recommend it: small repertoire theatres who are really dedicated to doing innovative entertaining work (quite a number). There’s less of it, but it’s less pretentious and much less expensive. It’s not uncommon for me to discover that a production of the same play in DC was actually better than a similar one going on in NYC at the same time. The NYC one is often filled with people trying to impress, hiring the BIg star and spending hugely on that, staging something they think will make a splash not what is most fitting for their conception. This is not sour grapes; it’s really so.

In June we went to Art-o-matic, a vast building filled with works of art of all sorts, most of which were much superior to what Jim and I once saw at the Whitney (that was completely coterie- and career-driven0, a fun and interesting afternoon with bands playing (far too loud) here and there in the halls. I was tempted to buy one or two landscapes.

So, taken together with the wondrous worlds opened up to us through DVDs, one can really live (not just exist) here. This week I also watched 4 Ang Lee movies: all showing a director who can tell an adult tale with complex characters and serious adult themes, moving and occasionally entertainingly funny The Wedding Banquet,

The real lover stands to the side

Eat, drink, man, woman, which in Western parlance could be something more like The Three Sisters and Mrs Liang (a comic Chekhov) or A Taiwanese Lear:

The final touching scene between an Elinor Dashwood type daughter and her father — Sunday dinner is now just them

I’ve also watched and read about the remarkable The Ice Storm and Ride to the Devil.

I’ve added more pictures on my walls to those I already had, more favorite landscapes, more stills of moving moments and characters for me from the Austen films (heroines mostly). These are my holds on happiness, I need to make my thoughts of giving over (and death) absurd in my own eyes: after all what have I surrounded myself with these pictures for? made such a room of good or renewable memories. I must keep my mind on the contradictions of my impulses or I could give way to the meaninglessness of what I’m doing beyond itself & outside my own fierce holding onto patterns and routines I enjoy when I’m absorbed in them.


P.S. And the books providing me with some sort of peace and contentment right now are Drabble’s Picture in the Carpet and Margaret Oliphant’s Phoebe Junior. The first I’ve written about at Reveries under the Sign of Austen; the second I will do so there soon.

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The cork-soled boots, now heavy with subtext

Dear Friends,

As I wrote a couple of years ago now (really): while often I wish Raven had not chosen to de-emphasize the individual sub- or primary story of a Palliser novel, and emphasized the Palliser one (the only book where he cannot manage this is The Eustace Diamonds), in this part and the one previous I am glad the Palliser story is made pre-eminent. For The Prime Minister parts of the Palliser films, the Lopez/Emily/Wharton story, now shorn of many of its characters is made subordinate, with material brought in from The Duke’s Children. These include coping with the ejection of Silverbridge (Anthony Andrews) from Oxford, as a young man, his arrival at the castle with Tregear (Jeremy Irons), his close relationship with his mother, his difference in character from his father, and the beginning of the romance of Tregear and Lady Mary (Kate Nicholls).

I’m glad because the Palliser story now about two mature aging adults in an often tense conflicts with one another as they go through life is a living story for me: their conflicts are ours and their accommodations too (although couched in the Victorian idiom of the novel).

I have three more of my favorite scenes from this part to share. We’ve already had the Duke’s two walks with Lady Rosina (Sheila Keith). Two are not invented, but rather elaborated from Trollope somewhat differently than the original text: those where the Duke (Philip Latham) first tells the Duchess (Susan Hampshire) that he will respect the recent law and newly elaborated custom of relatively free elections in an area, and asks her to do likewise; and then, having discovered she has been trying to influence the election, when he erupts in a bitter rage (partly the result of all he has endured from her politicking and his experience of office) to demand that she stop.

One is wholly invented: the scene where she visits Mr Sprout (Brian Tully) in order to influence him; now instead of this we have the narrator telling us she had a quiet word with Mr Spurgeon (we are told this more than once). The scene is done in the spirit of the book to the extent even a long-time reader of Trollope like myself looks in the book to see if there is a scene to correspond. There is not.

First to situate, a summary of 10:21 itself:

10:21: Duke and Duchess in conflict; development of Lopez story; Silverbridge and Tregear material (he kicked out of Oxford, Tregear and Mary attracted, he thrown out

Episode 16: Entertaining: scene 1) Gatherum castle, grand salon, soprano singing, fireworks outside; reworking of PM, I, Ch 11, p. 92, 97-100: Duchess makes up to Sir Orlando Drought, tempts Lopez who plays back; Erle, Dolly, Mrs Finn chorus at fireworks, justifying her, asking if she’s going too far, from PM, I, Ch 11, pp. 97-100, Planty don’t appreciate it; move to Duke in shadows, with Bungay, first clever voice-over (singing going on again), again on same debate, bringing up Slide and People’s Banner, PM, I, Ch 18, pp. 48-54 (Bungay talks to Duke, Duke shows People’s Banner letter); final phase, Duchess and Mrs Finn, includes Silverbridge expelled, all the while fireworks interspersed; scene 2) upstairs sitting blue room; Duchess and Duke at coffee, he intensely distressed over Silverbridge, the “disgrace” the “shame of it all,” she you must not let it appear so; Silverbridge enters, Duke barely civil, leaves, Duchess and Silverbridge on how he should travel, and ask Tregear to “bera him company.” Invented but consistent; scene 3) garden out-of-doors around Gatherum, transcribed scene (see previous blog), from PM, I, Ch 21, pp. 180-81, Ch27, pp. 233-35; becomes Dolly, Erle, a bit from Lopez cynical and ironical on Boffins and Duke’s first walk with Lady Rosina

Episode 17: Future Politic: scene 5) Aviary greenhouse at Gatherum, birds in large cage, Sir Orlando Drought waiting, encounter with Erle, invented scene, Drought restless and wants to be listened to by Duke, Duchess not enough; scene 6) outside vast garden, Monk and Bungay, what role is duke to play, caretaker, the trade problems, modern substitute for Trollope’s narrator; scene 7) Aviary greenhouse again, now Duchess and Lopez around bird cages, from PM, II, Ch 21, pp. 182-84, hard looks on Duchess’s be pearled faced, insinuations, he is getting money he hopes from marriage, she gives him to understand if it were understood the duke on his side, he kisses her hand; scenes 8 and 9) evening party at Gatherum, Duchess and Lopez in card room, moves to Orlando accosting Duke, PM, I, Ch 20, pp. 168-69, 173-75. A parallel to when Phineas went to Loughlinter, same feel only this time bitter; Duke rudely cuts off Orlando’s scheme for armaments; scene 10) Outside castle, vast grounds, second scene of Lady Rosina and Duke walking, this time using the one cork sole dialogue, from PM, II, Ch 27, p 235 (see previous blog). long tracking shot weaving walk, ending by water (honesty striking contrast to aviary scenes, salons)

Episode 18: Lopez Enigma: scene 11) Sexty Parker’s office, from PM, II, Chs, 43, 46, p. 372, 377-78 (narration), 395-96 (from letter) the deals they do in trading guano, tight-lipped Lopez over coming marital money, he’ll make it worth Sexty’s while, the 50,000 for brother; scene 12) Wharton London front room, Emily and father, Mr Wharton reports his enquiries turn up so little he doubts the man was born, nothing substantial; he’s not impressed by her assertion of Lopez’s connection to “high sphere” of Duchess of Omnium; foreigner so there’s an end of this; she upset and not accepting, she leaves; in comes Everett, with desire to get into house, and spendthrift ways, from PM, I, Ch 22,p. 186, not gainful, dubious use (parallel of Silverbridge and Duke) but Wharton a bigot (“I’ll choke his greasy tongue — invented but in character); scene 13) Club which now seems like Beargarten, from PM, I, Ch 22, pp. 187-90, some direct from novel, II, pp. 191-97: about parliament, father not taking to Lopez, Lopez’s hopes, Everett drunk and irritated at Lopez’s cynicism, refusal to mouth any platitudes so dares him to walk in park, Lopez in corridor glittering man in cape following Everett; scene 14) the park at night, black sky, thick green-black bushes, unpleasant nasty condescending talk from Everett (“you’re doing it from grease”) and Lopez deserts; scenes 15-16) still park, another place, Lopez walking, hears shouts, rushes over and rescues Everett from 3 set upon him, has a Dracula look; scene 17) Wharton front room, Emily feeding soup to Everett, Wharton brooding upon foolish walk, from PM, pp. 195-98, changed much and material taken from elsewhere but central point of how rescue made it impossible for Wharton to refuse is made, pp. 200-201, Ferdinand enters, the conquering hero, they kiss and father irritated

Episode 19: Open Seat: scene 18) Aviary green house, again Duke and Orlando Drought, invented or transposed from PM, II, Ch 17, pp. 236-38 where Duke explodes on Major Pountney, Orlando wanted the seat for his nephew, “the most impertinent evet addressed to me” (directly insulting); scene 19) Duchess’s office, at desk with room plan and Mrs Finn; it’s nearly killing her, Lady Rosina brought up; Tregear enjoying himself too much with Mary, and must go (“we need the room” — not very likely), Mrs Finn surprised; scene 20) Aviary greenhouse (bad things happen in this place): Silverbridge tells his friend he must go and now; we see Tregear hurt and insulted, Silverbridge not aware of how egregious this is, gently nudging that Tregear will still come to Italy, but Tregear takes it, “provided your mother makes no objections”; scene 21) upstairs blue sitting room for coffee, from PM, II, ch 27, pp. 238-40, Ch 32, p. 278: the first of two scenes in the blog below where Duchess alerted against Drought (it’s okay when she does it) tries to say a word for Lopez, and Duke cuts her off to insist on no electioneering and his determination not to interfere and her disagreement, nothing; scene 22) again Aviary greenhouse, again Lopez and Duchess (in same outfits I’m afraid) so he is directly disobeying her husband, birds heard cooing, now talk of wedding tour; she says election will be contested and may cost and she cannot be quite as active, but nonetheless … (courtesan smug smile), he asserts he’s marrying for love, smiles this time but hard

Episode 20: Money Woes: scene 23) Sexty Parker’s office, no specific scene but generally from narrator and sense of them all, but some from PM II, Ch 25, pp. 213-14: Sexty now distressed, desperate (“stop nagging”, father won’t like it, we must keep up front, must not sell, he needs to raise 2000 at once; nasty overbearing bullying shames Sexty, forces him to sign again for much larger amount; dark closed face of Lopez; scene 24) Wharton front room, the fatuous luxuries on offer from Lopez with Emily’s (naive) delight and father sitting behind offering nothing, and not impressed at all, details from narrator’s telling of how they lived after marriage; scene 25) wedding bells in front of us; scene 26) Mr Spout’s shop (below in blog). from Chapter 32 where Duchess has word with Mr Spurgeon over iron plates; here Lady Rosina’s boots make great play scene 27) upstairs blue sitting room for coffee, second scene in blog below, Prime Minister, II, Chapter 32, p 274-278: some time later as boots are now there on table; bitter scene of Duke having found out about her politicking, demanding she stop, her indignation (uncle Lear), her wanting “women’s rights,” his outcry against her separating herself. deeply vexed troubled ending.


The three transcribed scenes:

Episode 19: Open Seat.

The Duchess has encouraged Lopez (Stuart Wilson) to go for the seat. At the same time, she has told Silverbridge to tell Tregear to leave as (like Wharton) she does not want her daughter sluiced by a man of a lower rank.

Marie Finn (Barbara Murray) exhibits more decent feeling than the Duchess; surprised at this at first

Silverbridge has just complied (told his good friend to depart immediately!) in the previous scene.

It is another night in the castle.

Scene 21: Night drawing room for the Duke and Duchess to retire to, the blue sitting room we’ve seen repeatedly

Source: PM, Vol 2, Ch 27, pp. 238-40, Ch 32, p. 278; Duke refers to a scene which in the novel occurs between him and Major Pountney, PM, Vol 2, Ch 27, pp. 236-237. The scene with Sir Orlando concerns just his suggestion for an increase in armament (iron sheaths) supposedly in order to have something to do Vol 1, Ch 20, pp 173-75.

1. Establishment shot: Plantagenet in evening jacket, standing reading papers; Duchess leaning down pouring coffee.

Evening coffee

Duchess: “I saw you playing chess with Mr Lopez this evening.”
Duke: “Mmmmm….”
Duchess: “How did you find him?”
Duke: (Unintelligible to me) ” ,,, quite intelligent to talk to. I can’t think why you invited him down here for a second time.”
Duchess: “Well, he’s a pleasant fellow and I am sure he’s a rising man.”
Duke: “Yes, well we’ll see about that.”
Duchess: “And see … there soon I hope [Parliament?] … uh … Planty ….”
Duke: “Yes.”
Duchess: “Is Mr Grey still going off to his mission to Peoria?”
Duke: “Yes, Yeah.”
Duchess: “And he’ll give up his seat at Silverbridge?”
Duke: “Yes, almost certainly.”
Duchess: “Then let Mr Lopez have it.”
Duke (surprized): “Mr Lopez?”
Duchess: “Yes, he’s a clever man and new blood and could be of use to you.”
Duke: Noise which questions this assertion.
Duchess: “Well, you ministers keep shuffling the same old cards until they’re so dirty you could hardly see the pips on them.”
Duke: “Why, I am one of the dirty old pack me’self.”
Duchess: “No (a coddling affectionate tone). Nonsense. I didn’t include you with the dirty old pack.”
Duke: “Nope. It is not for me to return a member at Silverbridge.”
Duchess: “Not, no openly these days. I know that but uh the quiet suggestion in the right place?”
Duke: “My dear Glencora, I’ve already been approached on this you know by Sir Orlando Drought.”
Camera on her, dark shadows around her, stands still.
Duke: “with a similar request for his nephew.”
Duchess: (turns around, a little worried look on her face): “You turned him down, of course.” (we see she is only worried for her candidate and didn’t believe the Duke’s assertions about not influencing the election at all)
Duke: “Yes, I did (firm).”
Duchess: “Oh, but not too roughly I hope, the man is valuable to you.”
Duke: “My dear, the man’s a wretch. Now I honor the law I hope in the letter and in the spirit. Oh, I just made it plain to him that his request was indecent and presumptuous.”
Duchess laughs lightly. Looks down.
Duchess: “Well, perhaps it was, coming from him. Coming from your wife, Planty” (an appeal in her eyes and tone).
Duke: “No, my dear, that is for nobody. Not even for my wife will I interfere in this election at Silverbridge.”
Duchess: “If the candidate be worthy?”
Duke: “Pshaw. I know very little about the worth of Mr Lopez.”
Duchess: “I will guarantee it.”
Duke: “Ah ahk. (Noises). I will not interfere in this election. Now that is not on his behalf, or any man’s.”
Close up of her guarded face, an unpleasant look on it.

The Duchess with a hard, guarded face

Duke: “Nor will you.”
She ironically bows with cup in her hand.
Duchess: “As your grace commands.”
Duke: “Well then, now, my dear, I am serious about this. I am very serious indeed.”
Duchess: “Well (huffy sound) I suppose that I may speak a word or two.”
Duke: “In Silverbridge not one word. No where else for that matter.”
He goes back to his papers; she faces the door; she goes out the door.

Intervening scene of her still encouraging Lopez in the aviary/greenhouse.

The aviary/greenhouse, a pastoral place, becomes a place of corrupt assignations for place, petty power, money. The duchess a bird in a cage flapping against her bars?

Episode 20: Lopez’s money woes as he wrests money for his honeymoon and apartment from Sextus Parker. Then a scene of his fatuous showing off in front of Emily. We are supposed to see his false values and his failure to understand that he has not impressed his father-in-law favorably by this gross spending and insouciant gestures. Then the bells signaling the wedding and Emily now married and bedded too. And so we turn back to the Duchess.

Scene 26: Just outside and then inside Mr Sprout’s shoe shop.

Leitmotif: cork-soled boots, white ones on display as Duchess comes in

Establishment shot: Outdoor window which says “Superior Footwear” and “B. Sprout.” We hear her shoes walking, in front of her a footman holds open the door.

Camera switches and we are inside the shop. We see white boots on one level and above them black ones. Sprout comes out to meet her; he is expecting her and talks in awed tones.

Sprout: “Your grace!” (He handles watch; again we see how he has been waiting for her.)
Duchess (with basket in hand): “Mr Sprout. Uh. The duke has advised me to come to you for some of you cork-soled boots. It seems that his great aunt Lady Rosina de Courcy has found them very serviceable (intent look in her eyes).”
Sprout: “Eh! Her ladyship is a most valued client (Duchess looking at display) and has always sworn by my cork shoes.”
Duchess: “Yes, she declares she owes her very survival to them. Although heaven knows she’s survived long enough.”
Sprout looks uncertain how to reply to that, dubious, not clear what this is about. He walks over to stand.
Sprout: “If I may take some measurements, your grace.”
Duchess: “Oh, yes, please do. I shall be needing half a dozen pairs against the coming winter.”
Sprout looks astonished (and pleased).
Sprout: “Your grace!” (hurries over to get measuring stuff from behind the stand on the other side of room. He takes a white cardboard looking object with some ribbons hanging from it. He moves worn stool over to where she is seated and places it beneath her foot afer she takes off her boot.
Duchess (now flirting): “Woo! Mr Sprout!” (giggles, hands down near her lower leg). “I suppose you’re very busy, Mr Sprout, considering candidates for the bi-election. I know that you and Mr Spurgeon always see to everything important in Silverbridge.”
Sprout: (as he does his task, now has a measuring tape in hand) “It is a weighty affair, your grace. This is the first time in many years that Silverbridge has had to find a new member.”
Duchess: “Mmmm. The duke of course has no views in this matter.”

Duchess and Mr Sprout

Sprout. “So we have understood.”
Duchess: “And neither of course have I (light laugh) and yet Mr Sprout …”
Sprout look up briefly and then down, listening.
Sprout: “And yet, your grace … ”
Duchess: “Although I have no views as to the election, I have been favorably impressed by a certain Mr Ferdinand Lopez who may just conceivably present himself here in some weeks time. When he returns from his wedding tour.”
Sprout: “Mr Lopez (tying her shoes back), your grace.”
Duchess giggles: “He has from time to time been a guest at the castle. You understand?” (very light voice now).
Sprout (getting up) “I entirely understand, your grace.” (Writing down something on pad). “Cork-soles just like Lady Rosina’s. Uh. When did your grace wish for delivery?”
Duchess walking out: “Oh, any time that is convenient. Oh … Mr Sprout …” (door opens, fell tingles, as man hold it for her).
Sprout: “Your grace?”
Duchess: “Since Lady Rosina speaks so well of your work, I think I’ll take a whole dozen pairs after all.”
Sprout (eyebrows raised high). He looks keen and knowing as she walks out. He shakes his head.

She is humming lightly.

Scene 27: Again the sitting room for Duke and Duchess and family at Gatherum (recognized by frilly blue skirted lamp, like a little crinoline).

Much is taken from Prime Minister, II, Chapter 32, p 274-278.

Establishment shot: to the front of the room before the fireplace, on a large well made basket, two black boots, one laid on its side, showing the rubber soles.

Mastershot: as she comes in she is humming the same tune, but she has a different dress and hat on.

A little later in scene, she removes elegant hat

Enough time has gone by for the man to make 12 pairs of cork-soled boots. A short maid taking mincing steps behind her as she comes in.

The Duke opens the door suddenly and sharply.

Duke: “Cora!”
Duchess: “Yes” (looking in the mirror at herself). Mastershot shows us the configuration of the room, where they are in relation to one another, the maid. She is still humming.
He closes the door. Irritated dark look in his face.
Duke: “Why is it hard to kill an established evil?”
Duchess: “What evil have you failed to kill, Duke?”
He is standing looking at cork soled boots, picks one up, looks at soles. (We are to recall that when Lady Rosina talked about cork soled boots she meant nothing else, no subtext; the Duchess is endlesss subtext.)
Duke: “The people in Silverbridge (the maid comes over to where he is and he begins to help her pick up the basket by handing it to her), they’re still saying I want to return a candidate for ’em.”
Duchess: “Oh! (looks hesitant and smiles placatingly). So that’s the evil. It seems to me to be an admirable (maid quietly walks out the door, new mastershot of room from another angle) institution which for some reason you wish to murder.”
Duke (soft voice): “Well, I must do what I think is right. I’m sorry I don’t carry you with me in this matter, Cora.” (He turns round to face her). “But I think you’ll agree on this (piercing look at her, she looks down though not facing him, but us) that when I say a thing should be done, then it should be done.”
She sighs and with a wry expression on her face she puts on gloves.
He looks grim.
Duchess: “Any more suicidal thing than throwing away that borough was never done in all history.
Who will thank you? How will it help you? It is like King Lear throwing off his clothes in the storm because his daughters threw him out.”
Duke (deep voice) “Glencora. Cora.” (Bridling and he walks to the wide door and closes both sides of one facing us. He means to endure a scene.)
She sits, now gloveless and begins to take off her hat.
Duke turns round. “Now I have chosen that I shall know nothing about this election in Silverbridge because I think that that is right.”
Duchess. “Yes, Uncle Lear.”
Duke: “And I’ve chosen that you should know nothing about it. (Walks behind her and sits to her side, but nearby), and yet they’re saying at Silverbridge that you are canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Glencora (turns round, close up, concerned face). “Who says that?”
Duke: “I don’t think that it matters who said it so long as it is untrue. Now I trust that it is untrue.”
Duchess (look perturbed and worried). (Gulps.) “Of course I haven’t been canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Camera on his dark face listening.

Duke listening, darkened face

Duchess: “But I did just happen to mention to Mr Sprout the cork-sole man that I rather approve of Mr Lopez in a general social way.”
Duke (low voice): “Well, Mr Sprout is a very prominent citizen in Silverbridge. Well, I particularly asked you not to speak on this matter to anyone at all.”
Duchess: “But I only said that I thought .. think that he … ”
Duke (interrupts fiercely) “What business had you to say anything” (loud, emphatic, the feel of him hitting something without doing it).
She looks up at him. “Well, I suppose I may have my sympathies as well as another. You’ve become so autocratic (she gets up and walks over to the door, looks like she is about to open it) I shall have to go in for women’s rights.”
Duke (other side of the room). “Cora. Cora. Don’t separate yourself from me. Don’t disjoin yourself from me in all these troubles” (crying sound in his voice).
Duchess (high pitched and turns round) “What am I to do when you consistently scold me. ‘What right had you to say anything?’ No woman likes that sort of thing, and I do not know of any who like it less than Glencora (comes over to sofa and curtsies) Duchess of Omnium.”
He stands, shaking his head. “My dear” (soft voice) “you know how anxious I am to share everything with you in politics but at the last there must be one voice and that must be the ruling voice.”
Duchess: “and that is to be yours. Of course.”
Duke: “In matters such as this it must be.”
Duchess; “But do not you see that is why I like to do a little business on my own behind your back. It is human nature and you have got to put up with it. I wish you had a better wife, but as you haven’t you had better make the best of your bargain and not expect too much of it.”
Close up on him: “I still expect it certainly but not without trying to amend it.”
She looks down (close up on her).
Duke (Cont’d): “Now I will not have it said that the castle is trying to influence the borough (very bitter and low voice) and from this time on, I command (very loud and clearly enunciated word) your utter obedience in this.”
Camera goes back and forth between their faces.
She nods a slight assent and we hear the anamnesic music come in.

End of Part 21. The moment where he says, Cora, Cora, don’t separate yourself from me, don’t disjoin yourself very moving. It also hits at precisely where men cannot understand feminism.

A few concluding notes on this part: If you count as a scene action which occurs in the same general place, this episode has the longest scene of the whole series: a long series of encounters and conversations that occur at Gatherum at what we are to suppose is an ongoing and even nightly typical grandiose party with the Duchess as presiding genius and the Duke the reluctant observer (lurking Dolly says it in the wings, using a word that reminds me of people on lists who never speak or write). If on the other hand, you count as a scene each time a new character enters or a character who is central to a dialogue leaves, this is a extraordinary display of virtuoso patterning of scenes. I agree with the director who said each time a new character enters a scene, it’s new because the new presence alters the atmosphere.

Choral moment: Marie Finn and Barrington Erle (Moray Watson)

The context for the above three scenes are choral conversations where we see Dolly and Barrington Erle, the Duke of St Bungay (Roger Livesey) and Monk (Bryan Pringle, made very old by tiny glasses and mustaches) and other politician figures, including now once again Marie Finn (as Madame Max she functioned this way when she first appeared), speaking lines in the novel the narrator speaks, which meditate and which usually assert the Duke is wrong for not approving of his wife’s conduct, that the Duchess is performing an important function in keeping politicans happy, and even the Duke himself: when the Duke asks St Bungay if he really thinks politics works through such parties, St Bungay says why yes, for what drives most men is vanity.

The question this film asks (it is a different one from Trollope’s in his book) is how much corruption is necessary. The parallel or contrasting story of Lopez shows us a snake, a moral horror who has so corrupted himself he is become something deeply pernicious to anyone’s leading a life with meaning. The Duke will not sully his heart at all, even to the extent the world regards as trivial: when Duchess says of Silverbridge to the Duke, that it behooves the Duke not to allow others to see how much he disapproves of his son’s conduct, that it’s a peccadillo to most people, one which doesn’t matter (as nothing that counts to pragmatists rides on Silverbridge getting a degree), he replies that to him it is deeply shameful that his son does not respect learning and will not have any.

And the sub-story provides the dark notes of corruption. Again in Trollope the emphasis is on Lopez as outsider; here his outside status is what drives him and enables him paradoxically to make his way in. Not in itself the emphasis (as in Trollope)

Lopez (played with great acumen by Stuart Wilson) is pitch itself, the man who has no principles whatsoever and thus can be counted on to do anything.

Lopez as wild man; in this part two Stuart rarely makes eye contact with others

If seen in the context of our world today, Lopez would be okay hiring torturers as all part of his day on the way to some luxuriant party where he borrowed money to wear fancy clothes.

In the long scenes with Sexty Parker (David Ryall), one at the beginning of the episode where Lopez returns the bill he had gotten Sexty to sign and is very contented and pleasant because he thinks he’s about to marry money (Emily [Sheila Ruskin]) and get a seat in Parliament (through the Duchess), he is kind to Sexty and all magnanimity, but in the second to last scene of this episode he is in an intense state of high charge since even though he now has permission to marry Emily, his father-in-law, Abel Wharton (very able, Brewster Mason) has not given him a dime and has not brought the subject of money up (Lopez becomes intensely biting and fraught when Sexty says well, you bring it up) and he is now having to spend great sums to look rich (buy an expensive honeyman, rent a palatial apartment) and also possibly to be elected (as after all the Duchess has become enigmatic and insinuates that she cannot do anything explicit fo him as the Duke himself refuses to favor anyone).

In the talk of this sub-story, Abel Wharton insists that he disapproves of Lopez because 1) he can find out nothing about him, and 2) is also an alien to them all (a foreigner) is disapproved of. He is a “man dropped out of the moon” (Raven’s wording):


Lopez is Jewish, but it’s rather the people know nothing of him. We can see in the scenes between Parker and Lopez despite Lopez’s reiteration he also loves Emily, what he longs for intensely is her money.

So he’s half-hysterical in temperament, and when he cannot get money from Wharton and desperately needs it, he shouts and menaces Sexty to get him to sign a bill for 2000 pounds. He turns into a kind of slitherly sliding animal, ready to pounce. Just before he saved Wharton’s foolish son, Everett (Gareth Forwood) in the park (a scene which parallels how Phineas saved Kennedy and also despite Kennedy’s dislike and distrust of him got Kennedy to accept him) and got the father’s permission to marry Emily, Everett had wanted to get into parliament for he (naively, the whole of the Palliser series shows) thinks he can do real good and will be simply so honorable by being there, but episode suggests otherwise. The parallel in this episode is inadequate sons and naive women (no feminism here):

Comic absurd image; they are looking up at father

In this episode Susan Hampshire plays the Duchess differently than she has before. Suddenly she is hard, often taking on a tart pert and flirting tone that is more than slightly distasteful because it’s projected as cold and calculating, and for the first time the film-makers have dressed her very sexily. She wears a lot of diamonds and her outfits are over-the-top in glitter and furbelows and flounces and feathers. She has one of the kinds of bras used frequently in costume drama today which push a woman’s breasts high up and make them prominent like two squashed hills (to me looking like they are now ready for their mammogram). The talk (as I’ve said) is all in her favor by the choral characters: her flirting with the banally immoral and stupid Sir Orlando is justified by Marie too.

But if the talk of the episode justifies her, not the way she is made to act, and what happens. She is out of her depths. She has mistakenly chosen Lopez for her candidate attracted by this snake who glides up to her garments (yes Eve with the serpent comes to mind) because she does share in her mind and heart some of his characteristics.

The episode also shows that she also lacks the cunning to pick a candidate who has at least a minimum of truth-telling and social responsibility which will enable him say to support himself (Lopez is lying from the get-go as he hasn’t a dime) and the implication goes way back to 9:19 where Lopez is brought up, and as Madame Max as Barbara Murray suggests to Susan Hampshire as the Duchess to stay away.

And Lopez in over his head because he is spending madly when he should not. He does not recognize that he makes a fool of himself in front of his father-in-law when he boasts of huge apartment which he will drop in a moment and of fancy honeymoon. That’s suicidal in its way. So Duchess is absurd for supporting Lopez; he is leaping well beyond his capacity with his wedding tour, apartment, buying and selling and now wanting to be elected, foolhardy in the extreme.

Silverbridge ashamed of himself as he begins to tell his friend he must leave and quickly

Here again the parallel shows the Duchess in an amoral light: towards the end of the episode she mentions to Silverbridge she has noticed Tregear and Lady Mary attracted to one another. She therefore wants Tregear out, and she suddenly says she needs the room.

The Duchess only cares what the world thinks and tells husband he must pretend not to care about Silverbridge’s ejection. I felt for the duke. And Raven’s Tregear again is not at all Trollope’s character who is enigmatically ambitious, a man on the make, harder with less ideals than Phineas Finn, the earlier type in the series. In the novel it is the Duke who throws someone out: Major Pountney and he looks bad. This episode substitutes two scenes with Sir Orlando (asking for armaments to have something to do and asking for election place for nephew) but cannot be thrown out even if Lady Rosina and Duke know he is a “wretch.”

This reminds me of General Tilney’s behavior in Austen’s Northanger Abbey. She wants him out and now. “How dare he” and “what presumption” says the Duchess. This to a young man who has left his education to keep Silverbridge company; he takes it pretty well from Silverbridge (he doesn’t care that much for Lady Mary as well will find out).


In the next episode Tregear (Jeremy Irons) is an unambitious poet-travelling type who has a soul and heart and has been rejected by Lady Mabel (in Duke’s Children we are told he wandes an climbs through Alpine mountains; and earlier in films John Grey is humanized by putting him in a climbing alps outfit); there is a gliding over the homosexual material here. Slowly material from The Duke’s Children woven in.

How much they get into 55 minutes! And I have omitted how aged a number of them suddenly are. They have been getting older, but here they seem to put on another 10 years from last time.

On to 10:22.

Thumbnail outline of The Pallisers, with links to all the summaries


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Opening scene of Jonathan Miller’s 1983 version of Gay’s 1728 Beggars Opera (Bob Hoskins as the poet-beggar, Gay, approaching his patron)

Dear Friends,

Last week I wrote on Reveries under the Sign of Jane Austen about Jim, my and Isabel’s two trips to the Castleton Music Festival held over the month of July in mid-Virginia: we were invited to walk around and explore the 600 acre beautiful estate, landscape and houses of Lorin Maazel and came twice to see two operas, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw and his Rape of Lucretia.

This week we returned to see Britten’s redoing of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera., as directed by William Kerley. I’m writing about it because it was something of a disappointment in a revealing way.

The music was not at fault. — though I admit I miss the rousing Handelian chorus when the men go out to rob:

(male chorus of present production)

and prefer the lovely alternating lyricism of the love-making songs of Macheath and Polly to the modern versions by Britten. Britten’s is a much much smaller orchestra, more percussive (all sorts of drums) and instead of a harpsichord a harp. The version I know well was directed by Jonathan Miller for TV (BBC), with Roger Daltry as Macheath, Patricia Routledge as Mrs Peachum, the inimitable Peter Bayliss as Lockit Bob Hoskins as the poet-beggar (above), see the stalwart cast of seasoned professionals at IMDB; also on line you can reach quite a number of the songs as UTubes.

And I couldn’t help but compare.

Nonetheless, I could have been won over as I wanted to be — I like Brecht’s Threepenny Opera very much, with Jenny Diver as our heroine. The problem was (as I’ve seen before) the people doing it didn’t understand it. I saw The Way of the World in DC this past fall and the director there seems to have understood the play so well that he did all he could to mute its real spirit and turn it into a benevolent romp around a kindly old lady — all dressed in green. I wrote about this here and on my old blog: “A Benign Way of the World”

The directors’ notes called Beggar’s Opera a “rollicking comedy” (I’ve heard that phrase for Austen’s MP too). 18th century satire is satire. Gay’s Beggar’s Opera is seriously meant as well as a parody and burlesque. It’s about how man preys on man, how people in high rank just steal more efficaciously than people in low and at less risk; the sex is seriously meant, and the outcry against marriage many a truth said in jest. I now know why Miller chose to put a tragic ending to his production (which has been criticized); it may be there to make the audience take what is happening more than half-seriously.

Everyone in this production was in white chalked and painted faces and perhaps the Harlequinade was meant. If so, they also showed something I used to think American but is perhaps also UK (as the director is from the UK and a number of the singers and principle stage-people): puritanism. Really they were uncomfortable with the sex and therefore overdid it. Talk about superfluous stage business with crude doings here and there. (It reminded me of my students reading this play and how they moralize so solemnly about it).

The Mrs Peachum was utterly misdirected and miscast. The actress played the part as an over-the-top grating bullying caricature, so loud she practically broke the walls. The performance as directed reminded me of Mrs Bennet as presented in Andrew Davies’s 1995 BBC/WBGH P&P.

Patricia Routledge was Mrs Peachum in Miller’s production

The players as directed in this production really couldn’t get its mind around the play’s dismissal of marriage — such a sacred cow as it is nowadays. Good thing there are no children in this Gay’s play or it’d have turned into solemn piety.

I don’t want to be too hard. By the middle of the second act things had improved because the text called for improvement. Just following it when Macheath (Dominic Armstrong) goes into prison makes it biting and also the ending was well done — including the absurdist reprieve in this one. The audience natuually (it seems) got a great kick out of Polly (Julia Elisse Hardin) and Lucy’s (Sarah Moule) rivalry:

Polly and Lucy fighting over the manacled Macheath

I regretted the cut-back of the part of Diana Trapes, the brothel madam. Britten trusted more to mockery of women’s rivalry and sex than to a woman desperate for money as the madam and much more a bully than Mrs Peachum.

It was rousing and lively and the young singers and actors worked very hard to please.

The female chorus

Michael Rice as Peachum was very good. Sarah Moule, also. Jenny Diver (Mria Surace) was thrown away as a part. But then that’s to be expected in this subpuritan faux sex presentation. Attempts were made to make it relevant: the men at the end were dressed in modern US prisoner garb for example. The theatrics at the end were effective: a real noose.

The first theater at Castleton is an intimate small house which seats around 200; this second theater at Castleton where the opera was done, is a large wooden structure inside a large well-appointed tent, and probably sleeps about 3 times as much — Jim thought the small theater in some ways more effective. Its wooden scaffolding would be a good place to do Shakesprearance plays.

There will be a second season. Next year they’ll do two new productions and bring back an older third one — in July. We’ll go again and hope this time to get into the Manor House and see it. Gawking I know but I am curious about the superrich man’s house as I’ve seen what good taste he has everywhere else (including this tent which was air-conditioned — and again the johns were just lavishly done, like something in a magazine).

Ellen (on a summer’s Sunday night in Alexandria, Va)

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Cheri or Fred (Rupert Friend) and Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer)

Dear Friends,

I write to recommend Cheri, a lavish costume drama adapted from Colette’s Cheri and La Fin du Cheri. Directed by Stephen Frears, screenplay Christopher Hampton (who now have gotten together many times for successful films, often costume dramas), with 14 producers, as my friend, Judy shows, it’s been damned with faint praise. It’s a daring attempt to elaborate a story out of a specific and (I think) important state of mind: erotic enthrallment and deep congeniality so intense it made me remember the concuding sentence of a passage from Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day, one I once tried to memorize, about the same kind of love relationship:

Everything came to be woven into the continuous narrative of love … naturally they did not tell one another everything. Every love has a poetic relevance of its own: each love brings to light only what is to it irrevelant. Outside lies the junkyard of what does not matter.

All I could remember consistently was the last line, but I did get that by heart easily, for it described Jim and my love for the first decade and more of our marriage.

Perhaps this state of mind doesn’t lend itself to conventional films — and this has been created with the hope of becoming a commercially successful one as can be seen by the expensive lavish production. I’ll bet Michelle Pfeiffer has never had so many superlative hats
in one film:

In a beautifully textured garden with Cheri’s elaborately-dressed mother, Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates)

A walk through a room (looking old)

Sinking into an exquisitely felt sandy beach (not good for hats)

They hoped to allure and distract by all this because of the second major topic of the film, one drawn from Colette: the love of a young man and aging woman. While not online, in the film, there are many moments when Pffeiffer looks old. As my good friend, Francoise wrote on WWTTA: “Love and sex between a young man and an older woman or between a young girl and older man are recurring themes in Colette’s fiction: think about Le Blé en Herbe or Gigi, where she mixes it sometimes with the discovery of love and sex with a courtesan or the “selling” by courtesans of their own young female offspring. And the story of an older strong woman half-mothering (as lovers do) a young man is highly uncommon in movies, popular or art.

Isobel pointed out that Rupert Friend played the young man a much much older woman develops a loving friendship with in Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (too older to be shown making love to him, as it might disgust though we do see it in Judi Dench’s dreams in Ladies in Lavende).

Rupert Friend as Mrs Claremont’s young male companion

So there is something about Friend’s feminine feline beauty that feels acceptable in this role. And when I looked at him I also thought of Tennessee Williams’s The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, about an older woman who becomes enthralled with an utterly amoral (mean) male prostitute, probably homosexual, and the love is intended to be taken (for her) as beautiful (a film adaptation starred Vivien Leigh).

The way Frears and Hampton got up a story was to have Cheri’s mother, Madame Peloux, suddenly take it into her head to want grandchildren and so marry her son off to the daughter, Edme (Felicity Jones, late of Northanger Abbey as Catherine Morland), of another aging courtesan, a peculiarly tough one we are told, Marie Laure (Iben Hjelje). Strangely he obeys, never thinks not to.

Then pride prevents Lea from admitting openly how devastated she is after having given herself body and soul to him (and spent tons of money as she says, created a life for him by her side) for going on six years. As she hides her love (Patience on a monument), so he will not concede his vulnerable state.

The tension arises after the marriage when we see first her go to pieces, cry hysterically, and become unable to carry on without him. She flees to the south of France. And then him, bored silly with a young woman who knows nothing of love-making, or what interests him,

Cheri with Edme (Felicity Jones)

so he become frantic when he comes back from his honeymoon and finds Lea has left her house and told no one where she has gone. He is like a baby who has lost sight of his mother. He leaves said new wife and his biological mother to live in a hotel near Lea’s house, haunting the streets and spaces around it as he awaits her return in a state of frantic jealousy.

She meanwhile has taken up with the most wholesome and boring of young man. One night’s love-making and she won’t let him upstairs in her room again. Who needs this rub, rub, rub?

They do break through the taboos of our time — which demand that we hide such emotions, live by understatement, always present a hard front to the world and one another. When he demands entrance to her house when she does return, and rushes at her, himself openly in need, desperately jealous, she gradually admits she loves him as she hears his words and they spend one more nignt of love-making.

But something has happened in the interim. When the next morning she again takes over and begins to make plans for them to fly somewhere else, pack for him, think for him, he balks. He says she has not allowed him to learn how to live himself. He has learned to like his powerful position vis-a-vis Edme, to like being the one to decide, be in charge, be looked up to and obeyed (and she is for now docile — though we are told this is partly an act and eventually her inheritance from her mother’s character will show her soul of steel).

The insight of one of the stories of Anthnoy Trollope’s Duke’s Children is the root of the story here. The young hero, Silverbridge, shakes the dust off his feet from his love affair with his more sophisticated, intelligent and strong charactered cousin, Lady Mabel, because she’s too strong for him; he wants a woman he can dominate, who will look up to him, not condescend. So too did Cheri; for the first time with Edme he’s with a woman he tells what to do. And so he accuses her of having changed or becoming selfish; it doesn’t matter what the words are; she sees what has happened and her guard is again up, she again pretends insouciance, conceals her despair without him.

And the next scene shows him walking down the road away from her. For a moment he seems to turn around to turn back, and she in the room begins to melt, but then he does not. This still is from slightly earlier when she is impatiently looking out for him from the terrace:


Frears and Hampton are not afraid to use a male-voiced ironic narrator (as Woody Allen recently did for Vicki, Christina Barcelona) and we are told as the camera switches back on him putting his hat on firmly that when the war came, Cheri, went, and when he returned he realized that he had given up all that made living worth while, and shot himself through the head. La fin du Cheri does end in suicide.

I found this ending perfect. It made me think what a hypocrite is David Lean who says endings of films doesn’t matter. He says that because so often his films’ endings are ruined by studios (with their minds on mass audiences). The moral of the film then is: there are really more important experiences than being able to buy your own airplane tickets and plan your own trips, more important than having equal power.

I was moved by the desolate look in Lea’s eyes at the end. We are not told how she endured life after he didn’t turn around and come back.

This kind of story and feeling is not one found in UK and US stories usually. It is anything but pragmatic, it is life experienced as half-mad theatre. I suspect the cultures don’t want to believe in it; an older work-ethic, common sense puritan vision of things cannot accommodate it. But erotic enthrallment is at the heart of another French costume drama adapted from a French novel, which Isobel and I saw last year: _Une Vieille Maitresse And it is glimpsed if to be partly denied in many texts from all over the world. When I was young I first came across it in an English translation of the letters of Julie de Lespinasse and how I loved them.

It should be said this is a masculinist take on Colette’s fiction & memoirs. The movie fits into the trajectory and world view of Frears’ and Hampton’s Les Liaisions Dangereuses or (with Ian McEwan) Atonement. In contrast, Colette’s texts first dwell most strongly her deep abiding love for her mother, ‘Sidonie’ or ‘Sido’ (i.e., The Pure and Impure; then they stress her bisexuality, casual encounters with women as well as men (La Vagabonde). Her heroine does not rivet herself down to one man and does not pretend even to melt into him, as in this remarkable epitomizing still:


Here is an English translation of a central passage from La Vagabonde:

Must I discover and perpetually renew in myself that rich fund of energy which is essential to the life of wanderers and solitaires? Must I, in short, struggle — ah, how could I forget it? — against solitude itself? And to achieve what? What? What? (Part 2, Chapter 7)

And Colette usually has a cat, more than one cat as her companion.

I have long loved costume drama, and this is another one which uses costume as a narcotic disguise for troubling material. Here they are hatless, but making love amid satin, satin sheets, satin robes, she in a satin slip


Of men like Cheri (who is utterly idle) in La Vagabonde, Colette says:

in order to be attractive when he acts caddishly, he must have a deeply engrained evil streak, the gift of improvisation, or at least the light touch that some mediocre Satan achieve …

Her own tone to such a man is (helplessly, against her will as it were) that

of a perfidious stepmother. It was the inveterate homage, the mean acquiescence which comes
out of us when a man solicits it, man, that luxury, that choice game, the most rare male

Elizabeth Bowen (half French in her novels) writes of the lovers in The Heat of the Day “Habit, of which passion must be wary, may all the same be the sweetest part of love.” Capturing the temper of pleasure shows its addictive variety, how we make excuses for what we want.


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Traditional musketeer outfits

Dear Friends,

Tonight we went out to the first of 7 events we have bought for out of a host such things that make up the Capital Fringe Festival this years — a combination of plays, musical performances (including one opera), reviews and other entertainments. Each summer for several years now for a couple of weeks in a few central locations in DC, such events are staged by this umbrella group. We have gone for about 3 years; one year we went for a weekend to a festival of this type in NYC.

We didn’t have a lot of hope for something really superior: the theatre looked like a warehouse which was not in very good condition; the seats were old benches with cushions; there was rap playing while we sat, no air-conditioning, not much light, and the play started late.

We were very pleasantly surprized. Paco Jose Madden’s play, The 5th Musketeer was not a silly sequel to Dumas’s tale: it was a genuine small costume drama situated in France during the late middle ages (or early Renaissance if you prefer) when powerful groups in France attempted to exterminate and/or repress Huguenot groups like the Camisards. The story begins with D’Artagon grown old and living with his daughter, Cecile. They are oppressed by a rent-racking local landlord, Rochefort, who we later learn is otherwise busying murdering or forcing to convert a group of Camisards. He is not a religious fanatic, but a man seeking to please those above him and gain power for himself. His wife, Rochelle, is profoundly disturbed by his inhumanity and goes off to confess on his behalf daily to a local priest. Through Cecille’s attempts to learn to fight with a sword (like a man) and persuading Treville, a military man who lives humbly and simply, we discover this priest is Treville, and Treville is the 5th musketeer who is spending her (yes her) life trying to avenge the murder and rape of her sister, and save the powerless from the likes of the savage Rochefort.

As the play unfolds, Cecille learns to fight, and Treville’s secrets (which include the truth that it was she who ws rapped by Rochesfort many years ago), her father dies, and Rochelle falls in love with Treville (she does not realize the priest is a woman). Rochelle has no sexual intercourse with Rochefort; she loathes him; the marriage was arranged. He tries to force himself on her, and she resists, and he then sends her to a convent to have her branded and sent out to the streets as a whore. A final scene has Rochefort and Treville duelling; Cecille as backup saves Treville’s life by running Rochefort through. They are too late to save Rochelle who has committed suicide by the time they reach the convent. The play ends with Rochelle on Treville’s lap with Cecille looking on.

This was really a play about three Renaissance women: Treville who was raped and lost her family, and became a musketeer; Cecille who is about to be fleeced and thrown off her land, and must part from her father (who then died alone) to save them from the rapacity of the landlord and becomes musketeer; and Rochelle, forcibly married to a horrible man, who turns to a priest and falls in love with him, and ends a suicide rather than be forced into the streets as a whore by her husband.

In our end is our beginning. How I loved biographies of Renaissance women when I was young. My first “grown-up” book was a fat brown tome on Jeanne d’Albret, my second a book on Margaret de Navarre. That I spent a quarter century translating Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara was in the cards.

The props were simple. Mostly tables and chairs. The actors were dressed in outfits enough like musketeer outfits to signal what they were. Rochelle had a lovely looking dress (flounces of pink silk over a white satin full skirt, a sort of bodice, a scarf around her head) which seemed Renaissance-ish. And there were swords.

The play is melodramatic, and at the same time intelligently written, persuasive, and effective. The language of the speeches was naturalistic with some archaic words and older attitudes thrown in. Despite the latter, it was relevant to out times: religious and class pogroms, ruthless power plays, women badly treated and exploited, landlords rack-renting tenants, crony capitalism in courts; everything was there. Madden is an unusual male author because of his strong sympathy with women (feminism); his solution is to give women mens’ skills to protect themselves, and show us and the characters how they are equal to men on every plane.

It was also history told from a woman-centered point of view and could have satisfied Jane Austen’s criteria: imaginative used humanely and entertainingly. The characters come alive — in the costume drama way. I wished someone had had a flourishing large hat with feathers (Gainsborough-studio style or something of the sort Keira Knightley gets to wear in The Duchess),

Knightley as Duchess of Devonshire in traditional Gainsborough-studio hat,

but perhaps this was too expensive :).

The drive to show women acting out traditional men’s roles in life, especially fencing murderously, did make me a little uncomfortable. I’m not sure the way women can be fully integrated into society wholly equal to men is by imitating their violence, competition, & aggression.

Tara Garwood (Cecille in this play) in the same kind of part in another play

But it was so well meant and hemmed about with qualfication: Cecille and Treville never want to kill anything; Treville is against revenge; they merely seek t protect themselves from harm physically and socially.

Plays in the Fringe festivals are usually done inexpensively. This was no exception. They had the right suggestive faux medieval garments, swords, sticks, and the rest just a bare space in the middle of the enormous room. The success of the production (and they pleased the audience who stood applauding for a bit) shows the metonymy was the right way to go about staging. The play’s effectiveness was much more due though to the effective subtle and nuanced acting: I single out Kelly Slagle as Treville, Rachel Holt as Rochelle, Tara Garwood as Cecile, Matthew Wilson as Rochefort and fencing coach and choreographer.

Kelly Slagle (will appear in satiric movie, Women’s Studies)

Rachel Holt (played Mrs Coaxer in Beggars’ Opera)

The night was cool for a July night, soft dry winds, and we walked to a Chinese restaurant Isobel had gone to one summer Jim and I were at Exeter for a Trollope conference. A big underground place, pleasantly decorated, not too expensive good Chinese food, crowded for a while.

We go again tomorrow a little earlier for another play, something about Irish people held hostage. Saturday is our second of two operas by Britten, The Rape of Lucrecia; last week we saw at Castleton festival (mid-Virginia) a powerful production of Britten’s Turn of the Screw, screenplay by Myfanwy Piper (a Welshwoman). We will see a third there, The Beggar’s Opera (from John Gay’s play), the following week. We see an opera at the Fringe festival too, an Edgar Allen Poe story made the basis of a raw, cruel experience of terror. Two weeks ago now we went to Art-o-matic for a long day: it’s an organization with hires a great building, and includes everyone and anyone who wants to exhibit their art. Each year it’s been really interesting; this is the third time we’ve spent a long afternoon walking through nine floors of art. Some of it very good, and often not that of the overly commercialized sort. I am sometimes tempted to buy even (most of the pictures are set at reasonable sums, like $100).

I’m reading a couple of good books at once jnow, which I mean to report on here when I’ve done: one which gives a new form of history is Mary Trouille’s Wife Abuse in 18th century France, another for my Reveries blog (under the Sign of Austen), a new form of autobiography, Margaret Drabble’s The Pattern in the Carpet. Soon I’ll start Trollope’s short stories, and autumn Sutherland’s life of Walter Scott.

I write this blog to call attention to a remarkable play, and a good playwright’s work, to show how feminism is far from dead, and record a little of how I’m manging to live a fulfilled enough life with my beloved daughter and husband this summer.


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Duke (Philip Latham) and Lady Rosina (Sheila Keith) walk into the wood around Gatherum

Dear Readers,

On Trollope-l this weekend we got into quite a conversation about the merits of film adaptation versus the eponymous books they are based upon. There was a strong tendency to value books over films (as you might expect), but this was countered by arguments films may be as artful and meaningful as verbal texts. An evaluative criteria of faithfulness was countered by someone who said he much preferred the invention and use of the past these films bring to bear on modern situations. I tried to adjudicate between the several positions staked out.

I took the still iconoclastic view that while one might say there is a loss from book to film, there is also much gain. The kind of insight and information offered is simply different. That many people don’t pay attention to what they are seeing, and movies remain a disrespected commodity (it’s to the studios’ advantage that they do, for that keeps a mass audience coming) is part of why many still do not study a movie. I’ve found some apparently faithful adaptations to be masterpieces and some free adaptations to be poor. It just depends on who did what. No adaptation is really faithful is where we have to start; in fact the desire to be faithful is only part of the motivation and mostly in cases where the novel is a cult object. Just as often the adapter wants to revel in and change the material, pull out what’s relevant and make a new statement out of the favored material.

I suggested that each era (like literature) also has its schemata, and as when you sit down to read a 19th century novel you automatically historicize, so this must be done with films. Films of the 1970s have different aesthetics than films today. The 70s films seem more boring or dull, but then they have long brilliantly acted scenes which have mostly gone from films today. Films today have 8 second scenes and favor montages and epitomizing moments over long developed scenes.

Well, a propos of this conversation, I found myself getting the greatest kick and much comfort, amusement and even strength from Raven’s depiction of Lady Rosina de Courcy (as played by Sheila Keith) in his Pallisers 10:21 (see previous blog on Pallisers).

This character does come from Trollope’s The Prime Minister: as in Trollope’s PM, Lady Rosina is an intense relief to the Duke (Philip Latham): unlike just about all the new people and most of the old in his govenment that the Duchess (Susan Hampshire) is filling Gatherum Castle with, Lady Rosina is not a sycophant; she is not ever trying to use whatever conversation she has with someone to forward her interests (money, jobs, prestige, whatever can be gotten). When Trollope’s Lady Rosina discusses the value, strength, and reasonable price of cork sole shoes from Mr Spouts (a shoe dealer in Silverbridge, a town in Barchester where Gatherum is to be found), she discusses them for their own sake. The Duke loathes what the Duchess is making out of Gatherum, and we are supposed half to agree with him: the Duchess knows this is the way to keep politics going, and Trollope wants us to see how corrupt human ways are and expose personal politicking as central to an ongoing review of how politics works in the corridors of power. This another phase of Trollope’s examination of politics: in Phineas Finn, Trollope went into issues and what happens when someone votes their conscience, in Phineas Redux, the issues more generally of how parties work and if they are an evil or a good. Can You Forgive Her? shows us the problems of a career for a man with no money; in The Prime Minister we have Ferdinand Lopez, a man without connections and (partly as a consequence) without any conscience.

The thing is although many readers remember Lady Rosina, if you really look carefully in Trollope’s novel, you find there is but one, only one scene of the Duke walking with Lady Rosina, and only one dialogue about cork sole shoes: PM, Vol I, Ch 27, in the 1994 Penguin edition by David Skilton, pp. 233-35. Trollope uses this brilliant flared moment for amusement and contrast, and we remember it, and he then makes her the subject of debates and passing remarks in quarrels and discussions between the Duke and Duchess in which the Duchess’s point of view is shown to be that of an admired politician in the book, the Duke’s Nestor, the Duke of St Bungay. Not all these are dramatized; our narrator tells us of them, using occasional bits of dialogue and free indirect speech. Lady Rosina character also provides a link to Mr Sprout who the Duchess (disobeying the Duke’s orders) goes to politick on behalf of “her” candidate, Ferdinand Lopez.

In other words, Trollope is not interested in any real way in Lady Rosina for herself nor in the feel of the scenes between her and the Duke. It’s only what she stands for generally. We are not to admire her especially as she is as narrow as the others and she is there to show us aspects of the Duke’s turning away. She is narrow, an egoist, not a woman of any kind of wide or thorough knowledge, but she is for real.

Raven has altered the character enough to use her differently and he has presented her at length in the part where she appears. In Raven we have two full scenes, one lengthy, pulled out of the one dramatized scene in Trollope and from the different dialogues between the Duke and Duchess and the narrator’s comments on Lady Rosina and the Duke and Duchess’s attitudes towards her. The Duchess is exasperated by the Duke’s presence and herself bored silly by the woman. This way of changing a text is common in adaptations. The adaptor is interested in a particular character or theme in ways the original writer was not and again and again goes to the same scene or set of scenes and develops them, usually further and in a slightly different direction. Andrew Davies does this all the time (he does it in the 2008 Sense and Sensibility).

Now I find these scenes just delightful. Raven’s Lady Rosina is the Duke’s aunt and the Duke remembers how much he enjoyed Christmas when she was there, and how she liked walking with her when he was an adolescent boy. In Trollope she remains a distant relation/friend, some sort of cousin and he didn’t know her when he was young; in fact she’s a “remnant” and character he makes recur from his Dr Thorne (the third of the Barsetshire novels), where she was presented more as a snob and narrow than anything else. Raven’s Lady Rosina is aware of what’s happening in the castle and not just as a snob or upper class woman “in the old grand manner” as Raven’s Dolly Longstaffe has it (he is imported from Trollope’s late dark satire, The Way we Live Now, as a satirical Addison-like observer — modelled on the character in the American Hollywood film, All About Eve), but as a genuinely humane woman who knows the politicians around her are a desperately ambitious lot and is aware the Duke ought to be spending time with them; as a lonely woman she is grateful to him and heartened by his attention. Unlike Trollope’s Lady Rosina, Raven’s character talks about this.

(If first the reader would like to have the full context; that is to say, summaries of the episodes in the part) so as to situate these scenes, click for a further blog on 10:21.)

Here is their first scene together. I enjoy her and these scenes so, I’ve transcribed them.


10:21; Episode 16: Entertaining

Two scenes. The first one invented and based based on what we have as to content and feel: Raven uses some of the narrator’s descriptions. It’s there to introduce Lady Rosina. The second scene he adapts The Prime Minister, II, Chapters 21, pp. 180-81 (Lady Glen complains to Duke about Lady Rosina as his choice and he defends himself); Chapter 27, pp. 233-35 (the cork sole dialogue).

Scene 3 (of the part): Tents out in the vast lawn of Gatherum castle; buzzing of voices heard

Establishment shot: the master tent and people seen at a distance in clumps from it

Camera comes closer and we see Duchess emerging on someone’s arm, Marie behind her, Dolly crosses over between them and the camera

Erle’s shoulder now next to Dolly as they watch (and we with them)

Man: “Your grace … pull … bow to the extent of your arrow …”

We see the Duchess pull on the bow in her arrow

Man: “and release”

She does it.

Dolly: “I think all these bows and arrows are damned silly.”

She looks at him and shoots, and we watch and it’s a near bull’s eye!

Making a bull’s eye, triumphant

Surprised sounds of awe; applause and the cry: “Excellent!”

Duchess: “I’m out (unintelligible) again. Gatherum archery fount open to all comers.

Dolly: “Great shot, Duchess.”

Duchess: “Thank you, Dolly.”

Erle humming and laughter

Dolly: “A fluke of course. Just her luck. Otherwise she’s doing it all very well.”

Erle: “And she has had the good sense to ask some people who ain’t politicians, huh? Like you for one.”

Dolly: “Oh I’m here that I can proclaim her success around London.”

Erle: “You’re also here because she likes a mixture, hmmm.”

Dolly: “By jove, she’s got it.”

We see fat and comic characters walking along.

Dolly: “There is Boffin the grocer. He looks ill. I suppose she’s hoping he will give some of his greasy sovereigns from the till to the party funds.”

Erle: “Oh (taking a piece of a sandwich from tray servant has brought them) thank you.”

Dolly: “At the other end of the scale, there’s Lady Rosina (looking ahead … )

Erle: “Lady Rosina?”

We see them walking at a slight distance.

Dolly: “Lady Rosina de Courcy.”

Erle: “Oh yeah?”

Dolly: “She’s Planty Pall’s aunt. She’s as poor as a beanstalk but grand in the old manner. The Boffins and the rest are going to like rubbing shoulders with her.”

Erle: “Ah, but is she doing to like rubbing shoulders with them?”

Dolly: “She’s only here for the forage, poor old girl (we hear applause in the background). She wants to get her head in a bucket and hope nobody will talk to her.”

Scene 4: Further along in the lawn where it’s beginning to get woods around and less grassy and controlled, more natural

Establishment shot: back to Duke and Lady Rosina, in a medium length shot

Dialogue (the opening Raven gives as dialogue from what Trollope’s narrator reports Lady Glen thought before she accosts Plantagenet in Ch 21, free indirect speech)

Lady R: “I must say Plantagenet you are very considerate. It isn’t every Prime Minister who would spend his time squiring his old aunt.”

Most people would not walk with their old aunt

Duke: “Hmmm. There is no one whose company I’d rather have.”

Lady R: “But uh all your colleagues [camera catches Erle and Dolly passing by] all these statesmen you have here …”

Duke: “I don’t see any statesmen. They’re politicians.”

Lady R: “Even politicians must be more important to you than aunts.”

Duke: “Um, they are far less aimable. Do you remember those walks we used to go on when I was a boy? It was the best part of the holidays. When you came and took …. [I can’t catch it] careful …

[Camera sees swamp like puddle and their feet]

Duke: “The contractors must have missed this place. You don’t want to get your feet wet.”

Lady R: “Don’t you worry, Plantagenet [camera now on her picking up her dress and showing cork soles under elegant old lady’s boots] Sprout’s cork soles. [She walks through.]

Duke nods. “Sprout’s cork soles, uh?”

Lady R makes an assenting noise. “Mr Sprout, the bootmaker in Silverbridge specializes in cork sole boots. Very reasonable charges. I cannot afford fancy prices you know, and they’ll bring you high and dry through almost anything.”

Lady R: “Through any mess which contractors may make if not through the kind which is made by politicians.”

Plantagenet turns around to smile at her.


Raven’s character encourages the Duke in his behavior; thanks the Duke for his kindness and attention and seems glad however that he has chosen to walk with her. On their second walk and second scene she tells him with her strong shoes she’s game for 5 miles a day every day with him. They really smile at one another as no one has in this part but the Duchess and her son, Silverbridge, thus far.

Here is the second tracking shot scene of the Duke and Lady Rosina:


This follows hard upon one where the Duke is accosted by Sir Orlando Drought (Basil Dignam), the head of the coalition in the house, and Drought urges the Duke to “do” something, which is specifically spend money on arms.

Mastershot mise-en-scene of this first encounter. First we see the Duchess as hostess with everyone around her, all doing characteristic things (Dolly leans over piano, flattering, teasing), Orlando and Lopez (seen from the back) at a card table.

When Orlando follows the Duke out to the nearby aviary/green house and and insists on presenting his ideas, we are to see this is ridiculous and the Duke has a hard time being patient. The words come from a scene in Trollope (The Prime Minister, I, Ch 20, pp 168-69, 173-75 in the 1994 Penguin Prime Minister edited by David Skilton) which is transposed to the indoors; tellingly, the issue of wasting money on armament would have been relevant to a 1970s audience.

Then by contrast we have the Duke and Lady Rosina again walking together on the green lawn and into the wood. Again Raven milks The Prime Minister, II, Chapters 21, pp. 180-81; Chapter 27, pp. 233-35

Episode 17, Future Politic:

Scene 10/11 of the part:

Establishment shot: Lady Rosina and the duke walking together across the lawn

Lady Rosina: “You look rather worn today, Plantagenet. I fear lest you find my company tiring.”

Duke: “Far from it, Aunt Rosina. Your company is my only solace just now. (He points back to the castle.) Castle! crammed with people. Half of them strangers to me. It is as much as I can do to be polite to’em. In fact um, (he falls silent and has a full look on his face as a man having many thoughts that make him so absorbed he forgets where he is; her face looks full too, but she is alert and in control, not so troubled) no, to one at least I am afraid I was I was barely polite. The other night I deliberately snubbed (nods his head) Sir Orlando Drought.

Lady Rosina: “The odious man with the scarlet face. I can hardly blame you for that Plantagenet.”

Duke: “He happens to be important in my government.”

Lady Rosina: “and look as if he knows it.”

Duke: “ooooh yes.”

Camera tracks them off the screen and we see empty grass; then we pick them up walking in another path.

Duke: “Everywhere I go he torments me. For all I know he’s lurking near us now ready to jump out.”

We are seeing them through branches, the way we see repeatedly the Duchess and others politicking (she with Lopez, Erle with Orlando, Duke with Orlando) through the bars of the bird cage in the aviary-green house of Gatherum. When Lopez talks with Everett at the Beargarten, we see them through the smoke of Lopez’s thin cigar.

Duke: “Behind every bush. Seize on me with one of his foolish and impertinent suggestions.”

Lady Rosina: “You are paying the price of being a great man.”

Duke: “I sometimes wish I were a little one.”

Lady Rosina: “You will never be that.”

She is genuinely listening to him.

He hesitates, looks at her and then up, and then walks on. Again we see them walk off screen, and now we see empty spot and camera picks them up again in a wider meadow.

Duke: “I wish they’d all go away.”

They come upon young people in pairs first walking and then half-running towards them, they giggle; they are flirting. They pass the middle aged duke and elderly lady. Duke lends an arm to help Lady Rosina get out of their way. Now the camera picks them up in a part of the forest; steady quiet walking, and now they are by an oneiric lake.

Duke: “All of them Aunt Rosina except you. I don’t think you know what comfort these walks of ours are to me.

Lady Rosina: “How very kind of you to say so, Plantagenet. Well, so long as I have Sprouts cork soles to walk on, you may depend on me for a good five miles a day (a gleam seen in her eye). She smiles at him and he back.

He looks gratified, and the next scene is Lopez with Sexty Parker plotting to make money in an underhanded gambling way on the stock market; Lopez need Sexty’s money to gamble with, so again there is an ironic contrast. Again Raven has invented a scene out of mostly narrated material from PM, II, Chapters 43, 46, pp. 377-78 (narrated), 395-96 (Lopez’s letter to his father-in-law purporting to explain his business).

The camera takes us for long walks in a beautiful lawn garden and forest, and we have a number of twisting tracking shots, one of which ends with Lady Rosina and the Duke by an oneiric lake and (I think) can remind us of the Duke in 1:1 when young walking with Griselda Lady Grantley (also changed much from the book), another early attempt at escape. That scene was lovely and spring-like and he was young. Here, like all the other actors, Latham is made up to look aging.


This scene in its context appeals to me mightily and I suppose Raven meant it to. Raven and the film-makers of the 1974 films are addressing a person in the 1970s and still today who loathes politics from a different angle than the 19th century person. They are taking from Trollope what is meaningful to us today and developing it.

We want a different sort of refuge than Trollope envisaged, one which we can assume has a certain level of comfort and education, and this Lady Rosina is a figure from an egalitarian vision of the world. In Trollope we have rather depictions of tradespeople and working class characters in elections who are incapable of thought, are sycophants by instinct, are supposedly contented with the system as it is; this is quite a contrast to Disraeli who presents them as hiding their real angers and resentments, quite as capable of thought and understanding and knowledge too as upper and middle class characters; ditto in George Meredith.

Adaptations are meant to do just what Raven is doing, whatever kind they are (faithful, commentary or free). As Milne (he of Winnie-the-Pooh) said (who wrote an interesting play out of Austen’s P&P) the author of the new work develops what is there for the contemporary audience and makes it doubly meaningful: in terms of what was, and what is. The light shed works both ways. The adaptor uses a new media as best he can. So Raven does here.


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