Archive for February, 2011

Placido Domingo as Oreste

Dear friends and readers,

I assume no one needs me to say the Met has produced and made an HD choice of Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride, so we now have an 18th century play adaptation (French, Nicolas-François Guillard) to enjoy. Basic information is here. The world shrinks apace the BBC account. Izzy’s review is succinct.

The great difficulty with Gluck operas is that very little action happens in them; as an undergrad, I was shown as a sample his Orpheus opera, which was the only one the library had video of, because there at least there was them walking out of the underworld and Orpheus turning around. Iphigenie en Tauride mostly has in its libretto the three main characters sitting around in chains and wandering around an altar, though at least there’s a brief battle and Diana’s dramatic entrance at the end.

There are various ways this difficulty can be dealt with. In the Met’s production, imported from Seattle, there’s a bit of dancing and dance-like blocking, which is appropriate enough for a French opera, and explanatory dumbshow featuring Agamemnon and Clytemnestra wandering around and wielding knives, which works less well, especially since it left me unsure if it would have been comprehendable if I hadn’t already known the story. At least the set was good, with the temple and the adjoining dungeon cell well set and creatively used.

But once again it falls to the singers to carry it, which they should be able to, since Gluck deliberately writes to demand that they do. Luckily we had Susan Graham and Placido Domingo on hand. It was announced just before the show began that they both had bad colds, but nobody at their level was going to let that stop them; they both sang and acted their hearts out, and you even stopped caring that Orestes is being portrayed by a guy who’s in his 70s! He then flirted with her during the interview, and he and Paul Groves allowed us to watch them being made up during intermission(Groves got bloodied) since there was no set change. He was in fact very aware of everyone watching, even telling one of the guys working at him to wave!

So Gluck’s strengths get shown to perfection, and so do his flaws.

I’ll add: The three principals performed marvelously. Graham (she never stopped singing), Domingo (his face, body, expressions were moving) and Groves (strong and eloquent).

Loving friends in death

I should also mention Gordon Hawkes who was there as the tyrant. He was powerful and moving as Alberic, the agonized outsider evil dwarf in Das Rheingold. This role did not give his inner self enough depth to bring forth.

Jim called production poor: he thought the set apt, but direction bad. He didn’t like the first dumb show good of Iphigenia being pulled aloft by Diana at the time of the sacrifice, many years before this opera begins. I thought it exhilarating and graceful, but agree the second, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon fighting, and she killing him as a dream-nightmare of either Oreste and Iphigenia or both of them overdone. They both did tell the audience something of the previous story).

I liked the set’s austerity and Greek frieze look, the theatrical Baroque goddess outfit for Diana at the close. The wall in the middle (the temple was divided into two spaces, one for sacrifice and the other I don’t know what for) did make the group to one side crowded in. It was like a painting by Jacques-Louis David:

The costumes were like some later 18th century version of Greeks/Romans. Mrs Siddons was in mind.

Reynolds’s portrait of tragedy (or virtue) in his painting of Garrick tempted on the one side by vice (comedy) and the other tragedy-virtue, who has been figured reminiscent of Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth

Susan Graham as Iphigenia

(Gluck offers marvelous moments for mezzo-sopranas. His Orpheus is written for a mezzo-soprano and an unforgettable moment of sublime grief and beauty was Janet Baker as Orpheus singing “What shall I do without my Eurydice” [mio sposp].

The camera for the audience caught the actor/singers from the side often, and scenes seem to end or be held so that we would get this kind of still picture.

(As the set was not changed, the filming in-between acts was of the (good-natured) Domingo being dressed by his dresser and Groves allowing his make-up man to create scary-looking wounds all over him.)

Alas, 18th century restrained style (repetition) of music just doesn’t reach me the way I long to be reached (I just weep continually over Strauss’s Der Rosencavalier) cry.

From a friend on facebook:

“Wasn’t it beautiful? I loved the costumes (which evoked Georges de la Tour to me) and set–except that the wall in the middle would, I thought, make it hard for people on one side of the audience to get a good view of what was going on on the other side of the wall. Al and I swapped stories about buying cheap opera seats behind pillars or in boxes next to stage when we were young. But I assume they were careful at the Met not to block anyone’s view. Al wept–I didn’t but rather felt joyful, it was so beautiful.

Good point about David, though the red-and-candlelight feel still suggests Georges de la Tour to me. But David is the right period, and you are right about the heroic tableaux. I liked the way the three Greeks’ clothing and hair differentiated them from the rest and suggested some archaic world.
Ah–I meant that the wall might interfere with the live audience’s view of the whole stage. We at the HD performance always got to see the singers.

I agree on the de La Tour.

Georges de la Tour

The goddess was in baroque outfits I’ve seen in Handel operas.

We did find that Goethe wrote a version of Iphigenia in Tauris and we have a copy of this in a good modern translation in our house. So the theme was popular in the later 18th century and play still respected today.

Drawing by Angelica Kauffman from an 1802 performance of Goethe’s play in Weimar

Why should people of this era like to see a woman surviving immolation? Perhaps because women got such a rough deal, they wanted to offer up the heroine as consolation and to flatter so-called virtue (self-sacrifice, allowing oneself to be beaten, impregnated, without resources). The manifestation of this in novels can be seen in the themes of endurance and fortitude. Well, Kleist wrote a rebuttal. And we ought to have one too.

Side issue: What I was surprised by was letting us (audience at movie-houses) into the dressing rooms. There was no set change so I guess they felt they had to provide something. It was good-natured of Domingo — who is a past master at fund raising I know.

The trailer of in-between parts was telling. It was good. So many trailers in movie-theaters are obnoxious. My theory is they are made deliberately as stupid as can be to lure fools. In a commentary over-voice of the 1995 S&S the intelligent producer, Schamus said they wanted to use the ball as the trailer and the studio got hysterical. No one will come! Instead one got idiocy.

That this trailer took some fine moments and made the thing comic in a genuinely tasteful way showed the usual trailers are deliberate stupidities.

As the movie-audience I know we miss out from the live performance, but pace all repeated telling of us to go to the theater, the people at the Met miss some things we get 🙂 beyond close-ups.


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Francis Power Cobbe, her own illustration for a travel piece, “A Lady’s Ride through Palestine”

Dear friends and readers,

This is another in my series of foremother poet blogs — whence the label “poet” when it should really be writer and splendid human being, for if the world were filled with people like Cobbe what a better place it’d have been and be. It’s also a follow-up to my blog on the killing of Marie Trintignant by her boyfriend and thus Mary Trouille’s Wife Abuse.

This week I’ve been reading a long splendid (overdue) biography of a woman all other women around the earth ought to celebrate and commemorate, Francis Power Cobbe — take flowers to her grave if you are inclined to Virginia Woolf gestures. If Cobbe didn’t achieve in her legislation all she went for (she was told why should Parliamentarians bother, after all women didn’t affect their position in the Commons and their cause would take away male power), certainly she went further than anyone before her. Tirelessly active for rights to control property, custody of one’s children, access to decently paid self-respecting employment. But her peculiar achievement is in line with her adherence to an ideal of humanity, kindness — don’t knock it.

Her achievement was the 1878 Matrimonial Causes Acts. The first time anywhere a woman could ask for the right to leave a man if he beat her, and to be protected against him. Alas, it was left to the judge (a male) to move to this and often the judges didn’t but sometimes and increasingly they did.

She is still ahead of her time as her biographer actually blames her for her work for animals rights as getting in the way and ruining her reputation in the wider world. Pray tell me Sally Mitchell, what reputation in any wide world? It’s a fine book except for Mitchell’s lack of sympathy for Cobbe’s work for animal rights. This lack of sympathy vitiates the last part of the book, for there we find Cobbe exposing physicians as well as scientists for their inhumanity. This in the US is the period when doctors took control of public health and schools for their own financial benefit. That Mitchell can get away with her obduracy shows the power of established medicine, science and continued indifference to non-human animals by many people.

A photograph she took of her beloved dog, Hajjin, for her Confessions of a Lost Dog

She’s credited with starting the animal rights movement

As far as belles-lettres are concerned, she wrote travel books — yes she was one of these traveling woman, and she illustrated them herself.


I rush to assure all Hajjin did not get lost but remained with Francis and died of old age in their home.

She was lucky in her birth and connections: wealthy Anglo-Irish, amid intellectuals. As a writing woman, she worked as a journalist, often in mainstream journals but anonymously mostly. Her pieces are heavily political. Perhaps her most important document is “Wife-Torture in England.” There was punishment for a man who attempted to kill another man, but if he beat the hell out of his wife, unless she could prove she was in danger of dying, she could not get a separation (much less right to her property). Violence with family life (on children as well as women) was ubiquitous and tolerated and not just in England with records growing from the time of the Enlightenment.

Here’s a selection of her work on line. Another.

I’m not surprised to find “Wife Torture” is not included in either place. The blog I wrote the other day shows how common accepted violence still is — if we needed reminding.

She was not a poet, but she did write some verse and after reading Elizabeth Bishop’s poem this morning I thought I’d share it. She was a lesbian and lived her long life with a beloved partner, Mary Lloyd, and this is to Mary. It reminds me of Cowper’s poem to Mary Unwin:

To Mary C. Lloyd

Friend of my Life, when’ er my eyes
Rest with sudden, glad surprise
On Nature’s scenes of earth and air
Sublimely grand, or sweetly fair,
I want you,- Mary.

When men and women gifted, free,
Speak their fresh thoughts un grudgingly,
And springing forth each kindling mind
Streams like a meteor in the wind,
I want you,- Mary.

When soft the summer evenings close,
And crimson in the sunset rose,
Our Cader glows, majestic, grand,
The crown of all your lovely land,
I want you,- Mary.

When the dark winter nights come round
To our “ain fireside” cheerly bound,
With our dear Rembrandt girl, so brown,
Smiling serenely on us down,
I want you,- Mary.

Now,-while the vigorous pulses leap
Still strong within my spirit’s deep;
Now, while my yet unwearied brain
Weaves its thick web of thoughts amain,
I want you,- Mary.

Hereafter, when slow ebbs the tide,
And age drains out my strength and pride,
And dim-grown eyes and palsied hand
No longer list my soul’s command,
I’ll want you,- Mary.

In joy and grief, in good and ill,
Friend of my heart: I need you still,
My Guide, Companion, Playmate, Love,
To dwell with here, to clasp above,
I want you,- Mary.

For O! if past the gates of Death
To me the Unseen openeth Immortal joys, to angels given,
Upon the holy heights of Heaven,
I’ll want you,- Mary.

A small extra revelance: 10 years after she achieved financial independence through a combination of her share of an inherited income and her publications, she wrote and campaigned strongly against volunteer work. She argued that volunteer work enabled employers to get work from people for free with no strings attached. That it took bread from the mouths of people who could not afford to work for nothing. That whatever you may claim, it disvalued the work done for nothing. In this time of mass unemployment I come across people saying how honored and wonderful it is when they get a volunteer job — say teaching third grade in a school for a full year without a dime of income. Cobbe recognized what this is about. Desperation.

If I had time I’d add portraits of a few of her friends, Fanny Kemble’s daughter, Mary Somerville and other women writers working for women’s causes at the time and some picturesque pictures from their European world. Perhaps later this week.


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Robin Ellis as a young bitter Ross Poldark (1st season); Ross still withdrawn, saturnine in the 9th novel

Dear friends and readers,

So I returned to Graham and his ninth Poldark, this time with some trepidation, but like The Stranger from the Sea, it opens very well. It drew me right in.

I’m beginning to realize how often books are written by people who are not truly vulnerable, not having a deeply hard time at all, or they wouldn’t be getting published or to me — most of the time. There are exceptions. And most of the major characters of Graham are sturdy people; where his appeal has been for me is his radicalism and the (hidden) bitterness and bleakness which come out most strongly when Ross takes the fore — as in his descriptions of life in Parliament only there it’s too public and too short and anyway given at dinner to the Enys so he can’t tell what’s in his heart. We begin to get a little closer to him when he visits Verity upon getting home, but there again it’s Verity who does the talking and Valentine’s character we are invited just to glimpse.

I don’t like stereotypical kinds of misery that are reworked — and that’s one of the reasons Ishiguro’s novels began to pale for me. It’s too much a formula in some that he’s discovered sells, but his books are certainly in the line of novels I prefer and while Graham’s can participate in this his central area to dramatize comes out of a experienced complacency and success in his life that I’m glad for him he had but do not find finally what great art for me comes out of.

The pace of Miller’s Dance is slow — and it was that for Stranger in the Sea. Graham’s earlier Poldark novels has tight structures that moved for all they had several stories going at one. It’s a different aesthetic Graham is trying. He does not want just to repeat himself. It’s also more elusive than the earlier fictions. Reminding me of Jhumpa Lahiri’s non-presentation of her tragic hero in Nameless, Graham keeps Ross and now Demelza from us.

The book is alive with interest and history too. I still yearn for my favorite characters (e.g., Francis Poldark, now long dead) and wish Graham would risk himself for real … Stephen, Valentine, Jeremy are versions of himself at a distance in the way Ross and George too were originally not. Cuby is a version of Demelza (who connects to Graham’s wife) going wrong, but there is no ravaged vulnerability as in Morwenna, no self-contained yet destroyable Elizabeth.

Chapters 1 – 2

We are in the following season from The Stranger in the Sea and with Ross and Demelza on the beach watching the landing and slow movement of a huge steam engine, part by part brought up from a bay onto a hill and by rollers and sleeps gradually brought before the now going/dying mine, Wheal Leisure. Several things are moving for me: suddenly once again Ross and Demelza there very strongly as a pair. The description of Cornwall, the seascape, and somehow realistically done yet no effort to read this depiction of an important — hugely important — form of engineering that is being brought to work into this area of Cornwall.

We are also re-introduced to Clowance, the daughter, and as her lover, Stephen Carrington. The promise of Stephen is fulfilled here: another renegade but not a good one. He pressures Clowance into meeting him at Trenwith, now a decaying house, where he pressures her to have sex with him or agree to marry him. She says she will ask her parents. The scene is embedded in a thread of chapters that includes suggestive reminders/hints at the same time Carrington is going to bed with the consumptive cripple, Violet Fellows we saw him — supposedly out of pity — take with him to the mid-summer festival which was a penultimate sequence in The Stranger from the Sea. We see Carrington is also not trustworthy over money, a liar. Ross is a renegade, but a renegade from the evils of the societies human nature creates which is quite a different thing. When Clowance tells Ross, he cannot think of a reason to say no as he has brought her up to marry for love.

An inlet in Cornwall

On the beach we see that Demelza has had second thoughts and regretted that Clowance refused the wealthy Fitzmaurice (of course this offer is sheer fantasy). Caroline’s view and that of her aunt, Mrs Pelham, is this was a decision Demelza should have fought and our narrator suggests that what may be coming for Clowance will not be happiness.

Chapter Two at long last Dwight Enys comes on the stage. He has not been on the stage at all for several books. Graham cannot bear for his heroes not to do well in life so while Ross is now an MP consulted by Canning (no less), Enys is a much respected physician, living in a gracious house with Caroline and the marriage is just fine, thank you very much. We are not allowed to look into that probability but we do go with Dwight on real medical rounds, are in his thoughts and visit with him a misery old man who beats his daughters (so there we are) and domineers over a young wife whose beauty he bought. He’s killing himself by his vices and may listen to Dwight’s sensible advice only because he wants to live. This household is being brought into the Clowance story.

And George Warleggan is back, this time coldly wooing Harriet Lee who is as calculating as he and the scene where he persuades her to marry him a coolly bitter one for the ethical eye of a reader.

At the same time we are again hearing of Geoffrey Charles whose presence contains a frisson, a kind of intense carry over from Francis Poldark (by no means forgotten in the mind of the author) and his tenderly loving mother, now dead, Elizabeth. He sends a letter from the Peninsula war to his uncle Ross and aunt Demelza. Trenwith is his and he could return to it.

Goldolphin House, Cornwall: Trenwith

The Stranger from the Sea began with a long powerful sequence of the Peninsula war which is repeated through Ross’s memories here (yes there is a use of memories, a sign of weakness again but they are well done). This brings in the larger political war whose full resonance I don’t know enough about the Prince Regent and his decision to stay with the Tories rather than Whigs once again). Demelza fears Ross will light out, but he now has his ties to Jeremy — who is bringing in this engine — and it may just be London. He’s getting old to go killing or risking death. But if he does she does not want to accompany him again after the last disaster.

Geoffrey Charles is also a good decent (humane, liberal) young man — as opposed to his half-brother, Valentine whose amours with married women Geoffrey Charles mentions in passing.

The series really is one long book and if you regard it that way you can remember The Stranger from the Sea as having several powerful interludes, one of Ross returning to Demelza after a long absence, estrangement and the long night’s love-making and week’s return conversations and walks. The falling offs become lulls over the course of thousands of pages.

Probably what is making this novel is the story of Clowance has the power of potential great misery, the strong sexuality of the scene between her and Carrington (as well as a contrast between Warleggan and his older aristocratic woman he wants as a trophy as well as a connection, Harriet) — and this time deeply alluring description of the place, very intensely done.

And as an old-time novel reader I suspect the happy ending may come — after much bad decisions — in a marriage of Clowance and Geoffrey Charles.

Only mentions of Drake and Morwenna. I did peek ahead and to my disappointment could not find them on stage. But at least they are not being forgotten. We hear they are happy but no more. Not how you see. And they are not Millers, but running a shipbuilding yard.

Doubtless the title refers to the song — a beauiful version of which is on Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Oh I shall marry the Miller’s son ….

Chapters 3 – 4

Sheila White who played the murdered Keren would have been perfect for Clowance

Graham’s novel reflects real 18th century conflicts in the form we see them in 18th century novels (still with us in more attenuated form: is ideal marriage is of people of comparable age in companionate relationship with shared values, expectation — Ross and Demelza for this because they succeeded. Or it is an arrangement with property and interests to be served first — as Warleggan and Harriet mean to do, and Caroline (despite her marriage to Enys) defends.

This of direct relevant to Chapters 3-4 for what we find is Clowance is permitted to engage herself to Stephen Carrington and by indirection, narrator’s hints, what the characters say, we see Clowance is in real peril. Carrington is a liar, he is at this time having a sexual liaison with Violet Fellowes, if he could he would pressure Clowance into having sex with him at Trenwith. Demelza is alert to the danger of this: she has found out through someone telling her Clowance was seen with Stephen at Trenwith and while she cannot see her way to forbidding the match (which Ross in confidence tells her that he thinks he ought to), she can forbid these tyrsts. Carrington tells Clowance of a child and boyhood on the streets: he was the child of a woman where the father abandoned them, the mother abandoned the boy: he was for short while brought up by peasant, he has worked in chains in the mine as a youngster, lived off the streets, we’ve seen him be a pirate and smuggler (with Jeremy), but while she listens and appears to believe, we can wonder what is the full truth and how much of this is lies. Ross tells Demelza he caught Carrington out in at least one lie in his story. Yet he goes about to find his prospective son-in-law a place to live (Enys’s old house on the cliff — romantic), and set him up in a profession, that of miller — like he did Drake.

Two critiques: first Graham presents Clowance as wanting to be hurt and physically too. This is transparently not so, not even so in terms of the very character he presents. She has no broken spirit. It’s a dangerous pernicious myth This is factitious and from books. The near seduction scene is better than that I admit.

Second it really is not probable a pair of 18th century parents would not forbid a match they thought so badly of, worried so much about. The characterization here is of mid-20th century parents.

My surmise that eventually (maybe not in this book for this marriage is coming swiftly on) Geoffrey Charles will provide the real partner for Clowance was reinforced in how Graham made a parallel plot: we watch Geoffrey Charles in mortal danger in the Peninsula war at the same time as we watch the scene of Clowance’s engagement.

No sign as yet of Drake or Mowenna. Sigh. Sam emerges with his chapel but nothing more of this set of characters.


Ioan Gruffurd as Jeremy Poldark (1996)
Chapters 5 into 6: They go to a play, Jeremy’s angry ferocity

Graham likes to imitate 18th century novels (as did Donoghue in Life Mask). He does not have his character put on a play but go to an evening of plays: it is a full evening complete with a tragedy, The Gamester, a brief comedy, The Milliner, and after farce, The Village Lawyer.

Recent production of Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift

Graham uses this scene to stage an encounter between Jeremy Poldark and Cuby Trevanion: the long section on Stranger in the Sea on Jeremy’s smuggling and rescue by Cuby was of course meant to make us engage deeply with Jeremy; here he emerges as obsessed with Cuby and refuses to give her up. He insults here when she tells him she will marry only for money and for her family, will not desert them. She and they made the mistake of building their folly castle. The scene is raw with emotion and anger and also sexual attraction for she does regret not marrying him. Her brother who he clashed directly with is there.

It’s set so vividly in the theater.

Then the Poldarks do not go to the Warleggan great house, as Demelza has requested they do not — their love and loyalty to their mother reminds me of the depiction of the love and loyalty of Lady Glen’s children to her, not in Trollope but the 1970s film series. It’s the same ideal woman.

This gives Graham as chance to move us back into George’s realm again, Lady Harriet, and slowly to Valentine. Graham does not say explicitly whose son Valentine is — does he expect us to know, and those who don’t are left in suspense, but we see George’s suspicions never go away. Valentine seems to be a total shit, for as I turned the page he was after a new maid. Genes indeed are not all, are they?

End of Chapter 5: George Warleggan meeting with Trevanion whose daughter Cuby he would like for his son (who is we are to remember not his son), Valentine. Of interest here are the thoughts given George (perhaps out of character) about what a decent person Cuby really is: for her brother she has taken care of his children, been a replacement mother “she deserved better than an arranged marriage.” But nonetheless George is angling for this, bargaining in the way we saw him bargain with Osbert Whitworth over Morwenna. We know how hard Jeremy has been to her because she persists in this loyalty to her brother and to marrying for money.

I surmise a big punishment in store if she is married off to Valentine (off in some part of the house harrassing a maid).

Chapter 6: We see Stephen visiting with the dying Violet who knows he is soon to marry Clowance. He then begins to make a shady deal with her brother, Paul;

Demelza tells Ross she is again pregnant. The scene held me: she is happy over this and he not at all. He cannot understand quite why she is happy for he thinks about the danger to her life, how she does not want to lose her. We are to remember that each time she’s gotten pregnant, he has been most un-eager. She plays with names, “Drake”?. Ross teases along, “Why not Garrick?” the name of her now deceased beloved dog. But there is this intriguing line: “But he was not amused; there was no laughter in him at all.” We see this in his scenes with Jeremy where Jeremy has only at long last confided. I wish Graham had developed this thread openly.

Jeremy our inventor is working at trying to make a steam engine which will make a carriage go without horses. Trevithick explains to him he has got to make the engine much smaller than present technology allows.

Book 1, Chapters 7 – 9, Book 2, Chapters 1-4

I’ve been feeling I’ve not done justice to it to The Miller’s Dance at all as I was re-reading then skimming again through, dipping and being absorbed in The Miller’s Dance — nor perhaps to his Stranger from the Sea.

For example I seem to have completely overlooked the story/character of Music Thomas (begun pp. 47-53). He is someone Dwight Enys meets on the way to the Popes. Music doesn’t fit in; he doesn’t know quite why. The question we are led to ask is, Is Music homosexual and he is hiding it (or supposedly doesn’t know it); more likely he is mildly disabled. He cannot socially integrate is part of this portrait. It’s touching to see Enys treat him with appropriate respect as well as compassion. Francis was a gentleman, this man doesn’t have that.

Clive Francis as Francis Poldark trying and failing to reconcile Ross to him after his betrayal of Ross

I also noticed how throw-away lines show us women’s “rough” deal (Graham’s work). Pope regularly beats his two daughters and no one can stop or does try to stop him. Enys as a character visiting the old man for his health can see this.

We are told off-hand of another women who pushed into having sex with a careless young man, and then discovering herself pregnant and unable to give herself an abortion killed herself — from pressure of the community nagging at her, intruding into her private space. I can’t find the vignette but it’s meant as a parallel to what could happen to Clowance (were her parents not watching over her) and what did happen to Violet Fellows only she apparently didn’t get pregnant.

Little throwaway vignettes of common realities of the time — all showing the plight of women. The widowed sister of a Duke, lady Harriet’s previous career (rather like Trollope signora Neroni) an now how George regards her (another trophy) is a moving character

Touching lines too.

At the same time there is high adventure and economic stories off stage — Stephen and Paul have obviously gone pirateering and brought back booty (Book 1, Chapter 9). Meanwhile Stephen lifted 30 pounds off Clowance (her last, but he did return it. We see his friend Paul’s father borrow a hefty sum of 200 from Ross to keep their omnibus going.

We meet Valentine Warleggan for the first time — on stage — and see that he combines some aspects of Ross physically and mentally or emotionally, but turned to the most selfish petty purposes, at least as yet. Warning signs of something more deadly to come are seen in the distance we are encouraged exists between his petty talk which rides over strain and miseries in conversations as if he didn’t see them and what he really is thinking/feeling, which we are led to believe is quite different.

Norma Streader as the young Verity

A talk between Verity and Ross when Ross returns home from London and parliament — we return to this motif that Ross can talk to his cousin Verity, where she likens Valentine to Ross’s father is intended to give us a clue as well as Graham himself a thread of his original vision to work a new character out of. Valentine has some physical resemblances to Elizabeth too — something steely-frail.

Jeremy is growing ever bitterer as he sees his engine won’t work; he is offered “ins” on Stephen Carrington and Paul’s smuggling deals, but does not want this — he is too upright and not angry at the order he finds himself in. How should he be, given his father and mother’s generosity of spirit and the home they made for him and themselves. He tries to make up for his earlier wrathful aggression against Cuby whom we are told he still hungers after by pretending not to care so deeply and flirting genially with her. She is surprised and relieved. I couldn’t resist peeking ahead to the next novel to see if she does marry Jeremy, but it did seem (though not altogether clear) that in fact she will marry Valentine, a deal engendered already in part by George (the supposed father) and Cuby’s brother. This does augur something grievous and complex to come for she is a willing victim: she buys into the idea she must marry money and big prestige, that she must obey her brother and owes this to her family.

We are certainly in the next generation with Ross returning from Parliament and again we get reasoned history in the form of Ross’s news and doings in London, his desire to stay in Cornwall – and with Demelza, especiall now she’s pregnant — but his feeling that however inadequate and clumsy and reluctant he does manage to do some good in his parliamentary maneuvrings. He feels he needs to get a different patron than the one he has, though if he does he will be working to abolish the rotten borough he stands for (rather like Phineas Finn). We get a real picture of how corrupt Cornwall is — all rotten boroughs and more representatives from it than all London’s vast population. For good measure we get Caroline defending this system as putting government in the hands of the educated. Right. We do get a picture of early 19th century UK run by the aristocrats for themselves, going to war to support their interests and their inhumane indecent notions of male glory (Geoffrey Charles adheres to this latter and his latest letter from the Peninsula tells of much death and the paralysis of one of his hands.), with the bourgeois supporting them to get a small or big as the case may be (George Warleggan) percentage of the take.

The most alive thread or subplot to me for the book considered as a novel is now that of Stephen Carrington and Clowance Poldark. He is getting her to accept (he thinks) his promiscuous ways. Every Friday he visits Violet Kellow, as she lies dying, and one morning he does fuck her. The curtain goes down in the usual discreet way. Clowance would break it off if she knew of this and is led to accept the Friday trysts only on the supposition the woman is dying and it would be cruel to deprive Violet of this “friendship.” A conversation between Jeremy on his sister’s behalf with Carrington shows Jermey warning Stephen he will defend his sister, and Stephen telling him to mind his own business.

The Enys and Poldarks at dinner with Clowance and Jeremy there: Paul comes to call Enys away (we have seen this several times in these past two books and each time it’s accompanied by sudden beauty in the landscape around Enys). Clowance says quietly, should you not go, Stephen. He says why? But at the last minute of the dinner conversation suddenly bolts for the Kellow house.

I stopped reading at a Truro fair chapter where we zero in on this pair — I did want to read on but could not. It’s a good sign when I want to read on to see what’s going to happen next. I do read for a love of characters or themes & alluring description (this book has a good deal of this latter) that rivet me.

The problem for me is I predict that Clowance will not marry Stephen after all. I peeked ahead there and couldn’t tell but saw in the family trees that preface each new book (and each time new characters are added and the new alliances laid out) no sign of a marriage of Stephen and Clowance. Well I like to read of people vulnerable and having a hard time, especially women and so in this book the one character I’ve really been interested in has been Violet, hardly here at all.
So surmize that Clowance’s story will not be one I can bond with (to use Caroline’s word for it).

Also we are having another of these happy events all characters gathered together (with only one or two having clashes outside the main stream of feeling) that first started in The Stranger from the Sea: visit to great house and mid-summer festival, and this one the night at the theater early on.

Still, Cuby will marry Valentine, a deal engendered already in part by George (the supposed father) and Cuby’s brother. This does augur something grievous and complex to come for she is a willing victim: she buys into the idea she must marry money and big prestige, that she must obey her brother and owes this to her family.

Also the scene of The Enys and Poldarks at dinner with Clowance and Jeremy there when all the politics and history is talked by Ross: Paul, Violet’s complicit brother, comes to call Enys away (we have seen this several times in these past two books and each time it’s accompanied by sudden beauty in the landscape around Enys). Clowance says quietly, should you not go, Stephen. He says why? But at the last minute of the dinner conversation suddenly bolts for the Kellow house.

It’s these moments in this book I like best.

Book 2, Chapters 4-5

I find myself experiencing the kind of intense absorption and pleasure in this book during this chapter, which was (to me) everywhere in Graham’s first 7 Poldark novels.

Where Truro races held today

The characters are at the Truro races and at last there is emerging real life out of the new generation.

In Chapter 5 We witness a troubling conversation between Clowance and Stephen where it’s clear he wants her to elope with him right now and fuck her — without marriage. It’s also clear that she’s tempted — to me very strangely as within a month she’ll have him or he her (more like it) anyway. They come upon a filthy poor urchin selling junk jewelry and Stephen disdains her; Clowance realizes this was what her mother once was and that Stephen since he says he lived this way once too ought to be feel for the street woman. He does not. She buys the jewelry and he says watch out you don’t get a disease. In the next chapter they come upon Andrew Blamey (junior), son of Verity and it emerges quickly that this naval officer Clowance had glimpsed from afar and whose life and job experience includes coping with pressing gangs (he is not subject to by virtue of his engagement with the merchant marine) and seeing smugglers has seen Stephen at a pub bar with Paul Kellow and another unnamed woman (pale — could it have been Violet?) and when Stephen denies it was him, Andrew cleverly lets Clowance know in front of Stephe that he witnessed Stephen’s careless murder of someone as the group were fleeing the press-gang. Stephen triumphs over her by saying before Andrew he won’t be having any relatives at the church, isn’t that so, my dear, and Clowance’s acknowledgement.

The urchin did predict that Stephen will not live to grow old (p. 262).

Jeremy is slowly emerging as a personality in his own right, complex, with integrity like Ross. Chapter 4 too allows us to experience him in his new distanced courting pattern, more casual, get Cuby to go on a walk with him. It’s moving for she first and then he, acknowledges that relationships cannot remain light if they are to be meaningful and not become tiresome. “Pleasantries soon begin to wear thin.” (p. 265) This is the genuine Graham note. He manages to kiss her for real and she responds, but at the close we know that she is still committed to the brother (pp. 263-70). He does tell her that since “sincerity keeps breaking in,” he will stick by her as a friend and she says “let it be so.” Since the next chapter ends (5) with George and Trevaunion planning the marriage of Valentine to Cuby this too harkens forward to what will be: Valentine marrying Cuby and Jeremy forming a friend as Ross originally intended to be for Elizabeth.

A strong sparks flying chapter (6) when Ross suddenly finds himself bidding on a horse someone else is determined to bid higher than he and it’s George Warleggan. The old rivalry ensues and again Ross comes out looking better for George having won and gaining the horse for 90 pounds suddenly doesn’t want to cough up the money and denies he won. He just wants the triumph not to pay. An old friend, Tholly Tregirls intervenes to say George did indeed get the horse – this irritates Ross as he is not glad of this support (even as he recognizes impulses in himself like Jud Paynter too). But George’s new wife, Lady Harriet, intervenes to say George did indeed win the horse, she wants it and they will pay 95 guineas. This shames George in a way as it is bucking him in front of all. The horse Tholly says a little ater is worth no more than 40.

Then a half chapter of George meditating his new marriage and its problems. Elizabeth was never the rival that Harriet is. He is allowed in Harriet’s bed sometimes; when there, it’s apparently like Rowella was with Osborne Whittington (or something like this — we never see these glamorized ideas of rocky sex Graham suggests — probably because it’s unreal in part and would be sordid). Elizabeth may have been firm, tenacious, her own person, but she was gentle and didn’t struggle against him directly. George is not so sure he didn’t make a mistake in marrying again, but when Harriet appears to demand that they also become friends with the Poldarks, especially Ross, to whom she is attracted, and describes him in terms reminiscent of Valentine, George does manage to call a halt to this, just.

Demelza not there because large in her pregnancy. I feel she’s kept away because her presence would change things to be less threatening.

Angharad Rees as the young bride, Demelza: open-faced, candid, strong sensible even there, utterly loyal

I reached the close of another Poldark novel. Happily Clowance has had the strength to break off her engagement to Stephen Carrington. I wish Graham had let us into her inner life to show us what this cost her; we only see her outwardly intensely imagining him around. A new suitor has apppeared, Tom Guildford, suitable, witty, likeable, but for this reader nowhere as interesting precisely because he fits normative ideals so well.

Repeating a pattern from the earlier novels, again George Warleggan negotiates an arranged marriage on sheer money terms: he buys for Valentine, Cuby Trevanion. She comes expensive, but he’s willing to shell out to gain the ancient family line intermingling with his. The bargaining with her brother and even Conan Whitworth knowing about this connects us directly back. With his presence we hear of his mother, Mowenna, as she once was, withdrawn, and as she is still, senstivie, but apparently we are not to see Drake and Morwenna any more though we do see Sam and Rosina.

Jeremy is incensed and despairs at the news of this clinched marriage. His engine has also gone nowhere. All his dreams have come to nothing. So we have — what did surprise me — a concluding series of chapters where he, Stephen, and Paul Kellow plan and (apparently) execute successfully a heist, a robbery, of the moneys, property deeds, jewels and whatever else is contained in two strong boxes travelling in a coach from one area of Cornwall and London to the Warleggan home. It’s done using disguise and very clever carpentry inside a coach, whereby the three undo the seat and pull out the boxes and pulls out the “spoils” over the long haul of a journey and then put the boxes back (empty) and clear out of the coach.

As in earlier novels, Graham plays a little game because it seems as if (as yet) we will not know if they are caught. If they are, the punishment is death. This is not quite the same thing as ending Demelza is a food riot (over starvation) led by Ross. There is no moral excuse for this. It will not prevent the marriage of Cuby to Valentine — a real shit who Harriet, George’s wife, has become an ally of.

It is a charged effective sequence: all the disguises are well done, and the interaction of the characters piquant — especially when an unsuspecting extra passanger, not expected, a lawyer, Mr Rose, is in the carriage with our three young men for some of the time. As ever Graham carries his learning lightly so our experience of this run of the carriage, the inns, and landscape is well done, with just the persuasive amount of social scenes glimpsed as we go.

Demelza’s giving birth to a new son, Henry, is handled beautifully. Another dinner and dance at the Warleggans where Clowance has been invited and also Jeremy. The night’s doings are at the end interrupted by the news which gives much relief, for Demelza is now old to have a child, and had not been doing well.

Graham manages to put us off about what happens to the young men by switching to Demelza and Ross and once again their presences carry the narrative with such strong charge. It does seem as if he will be off again and she accepts it again — now that she has another child who (like Julia did) resembles Ross closely. Their dialogue is persuasive, life-like, touching. He is not happy over the child, just relieved. The landscape they walk along made just so effective. And there is more than a hint that Geofffrey Charles is on his way — for my part I hope as a husband to Clowance.

I was not that surprised to discover that Jeremy (our secondary hero now, son of Ross and Demelza), Paul and Stephen literally get away with it. They steal the huge amounts of money, deeds, and jewels in the two strong boxes and make their flight good. I assume that Jeremy will indeed make a felt dent in the business operations of George Warleggan for at least a time. I doubt enough to put off the wedding of Cuby Trevanion to George’s apparent son, Valentine. I should say real son, for whatever were the biological genes, Valentine is now a product of his genes, the environment and norms of the era and in reaction to George.

But perhaps not for Jeremy is not looking all that well as he catches up to his mother, father and two sisters standing on the beach of Nampara and Demelza has a look at him:

“All the same she did not think Jeremy looked brave. From seeming younger than his twenty-one years – he~ had of a sudden come to look much older. His complexion was sallow, and his eyes dark, as if from worry or lack of sleep. A woman of eccentric perceptions where her own family was concerned, she had a sudden moment of unease, of panic, an awareness of crisis, as if something less tangible than the sensory was warning her of a looming danger, either shortly to come or just past. She looked again at Jeremy, assuring herself, trying to reassure herself that it was only a recurr­ence of the fever disturbing her blood…

Clowance is not altogether happy walking on that beach — Stephen is still alive and determined to have her. The money is yet to be divvied up.

Trevelgue Head, Cornwall: an Iron Age fort

Ross we can see will not stay as he meditates on the seacoast; he will be off to London, and a new presence is at last promised: This book ends with a letter from Geoffrey Charles (Francis’s son) on his way home from the Peninsula war. Another new character I “have bonded with”


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Marie Trintignant

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just spent some two months carefully reading and reviewing a somber telling history of wife abuse in France in the 18th century by Marie Trouille: her sources are court cases, memoirs, documents, novels and statistics. Trouille’s is a book whose importance goes well beyond that of the 18th century; her court cases reveal the norms that allowed men to abuse their wives horribly and made it difficult beyond the allowed wife-beating for the wife to escape with her property and build any satisfying life for herself; the roles of lawyers and law and custom; what novels can tell as they are not limited by what is to the advantage of someone in a court case to reveal; and finally what this tells us about the content of the novels then and our era now.

I thought as a kind of “control” text I would read a modern instance of wife abuse to see what would be the difference between what was revealed in Trouille’s book and what didn’t change. Nadine Trintignant’s Ma fille, Marie is a stunner of a moving book. For me it was in easy French. It’s written in a simple stark manner — a sign of its sincerity.

Its core: at age 41 Marie Trintignant was beaten to death by the man she was living with, Bertrand Cantat. The Trintignants might be likened to the Redgraves in the UK: the father, an actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, the mother, actress and film-maker-director, Nadine; other siblings and relatives in the business.

If you read the short biographies of her close family members and her own on wikipedia, you discover by age 41 Marie had had 4 children, each by a different man, none by this creep, Bertrand. You do find in her childhood a sudden language delay or retreat (she stopped speaking when she was 8), showing that she could react with sensitivity and distress to the stresses and dislocations of the acting life; her allowing herself to get pregnant signals a compliance to males, the changeovers of men she’s involved with a susceptibility to dominance in a world where relationships are held together by personal force. She was beautiful and the roles she played turned her into an erotic object.

Not that any of this in the least bit makes her to blame for the abuse she apparently took for some time before Cantat killed her. Rather it’s the underlying attitudes towards women and men that made her so susceptible to this kind of yielding.

The value of the mother’s memoir for herself is a sort of release to her, a getting back at Cantat. Nadine is taking revenge, she is showing what this creep is.

This motive reminds me Retif de la Bretonne who wroteIngenue Saxancour, to expose Auge (Retif’s daughter Agnes’s monstrous husband), his own wife who did pressure her daughter into this marriage partly out of spite (and evidence bears this out), and his sister, Agnes’s aunt who wanted to get rid of the burden of supporting Agnes. The 18th century public would not have known of what happened to Agnes since not that many people pour over separation decrees in the 1780s, and in 1793 she divorced Auge on the grounds of incompatibility.

By contrast, Cantat was tried for murder, but found guilty of manslaughter (!) — what, was he a car running Marie over? – and after 7 years released for good behavior. So it was exposed but the way the court case went apparently did not condemn this horror.

Nadine did go along to the hearings and did what she could to describe his behavior to her daughter and analyze its ugly sources, but it did little good. I read online that at the time of the publication of the memoir, there was controversy and it did sound like people defended or at least were not horrified by Cantat.

Trouille says that in France still violence towards women is tolerated, overlooked. We see this in the excuses made for Polanski’s raping — there it’s a matter of tolerating a mother offering up her daughter up for sex in return for a job for the daughter and possible career as an actress (the more fool she, the mother).

This is not the first important memoir/novel about the violation of a woman to near death or death that’s not translated into English I’ve come across. Nadine analyses this guy’s motives. She says he wanted to wipe her daughter out if he could not own her every muscle. It was possession, total complete possession he wanted so that the slightest show of affection for someone else drove him to punish her daughter. She says this is not love or passion, it’s hatred.

She has a talent for capturing psychological realities in vignettes of drama. For example, one moment Cantat apparently suddenly turned on Nadine when the mother was talking of one of Marie’s children’s fathers. He was in a cold rage at the idea she still loved one of these four men. The mother both denied this love and asserted her daughter’s love for her children. It’s at this kind of moment she now says she should have been alerted something was wrong.

What’s driving Nadine is regret: regret for what? That she saw, that she did see, that the signals were there. Her daughter wrote her two short notes, one an email in which she called herself a “beaten daughter.” The daughter began to retreat from everyone. She would rush back to the caravan. She no longer looked joyous upon completing a scene, triumphant, but fearful, somber. The mother did see bruises. Why oh why did she step back from “interfering.”

Why didn’t Nadine something, anything? Mum. She did not appear to notice. One letter she now says she took as referring to her self as “beaten daughter.” Really?

It does seem as if the bruises were light — but they were there. I’ve seen women with pinched arms and nothing done.

But Nadine did see the retreat, the withdrawal, the fear. So did others. Marie apparently carried on showing love for her children. Bertrand presented as a social excuse for trying to get Marie to stop doing movies that she needed time for her children. Now Nadine sees through that, saying Marie had plenty of time, that she took them on the set. Perhaps. What is the center here is the man was driven wild by his wife’s past.

He couldn’t stand she had a past with other men. This reminds me of yet another Trollope novel — Kept it the Dark, and again Trollope does not side with the woman but presents the story as a warning lesson to the woman and imbecile critics talk of how the man is motivated by false ideas she must obey him. These are the rationales, the handles which allow this character nearly to destroy his wife (who was engaged briefly before she married him – her great sin). Throughout Trouille’s book I kept finding analogies in some of Trollope’s novels and repeatedly we were led to be on the side of the man.

Cantat wanted Marie to have had known nothing but him. This takes us back to Freud’s essay explaining where the virginity taboo comes from.

Well, why did the mother do nothing? Why did she let it slip? She mentions that in some flat Marie lived in one night the blows could be heard and screams and nothing was done by the neighbors. The night Marie was beaten to death it happened a few blocks from where Nadine was sleeping. She is intensely frustrated at the idea she slept while this happened. She wonders why no one reported it, no one intervened.

The first she heard of it was Marie was in the hospital. We get this long vigil as the doctors try to save her and she dies. Nadine reports the husband’s first lies and how the doctors did not immediately reject them — only after the mother, Marie’s father protested. By the way the father was still alive at the time of the Wikipedia article.

But there is a mystery here. Unlike the 18th century Marie would have found no protests had she determined to leave this man. She didn’t have that much abuse because too much would have shown. She was surrounded by people who would help her if only because she was a valuable commodity. Her last part was Colette — she often did play sexualized free-living women and did love scenes with the actors. Fodder for Cantat but this should not distract us from seeing that precisely because big money was made on such scenes in movies she had people around her with a motive to help her.

So more to the point? why did Marie take it? why did she only send brief enigmatic notes to her mother? why did she let her husband present false excuses for her retreat? Nadine says at one point Marie felt guilty. About what? Nadine says Marie felt ashamed. Well, the shame one experiences for five minutes is soon gone; death goes on forever. We are going to be dead a long time. Beatings go on for shorter time, but much longer than embarrassment. Here again we touch some core sore spot where we begin to glimpse an explanation. Nadine adduces “fear of reprisal” Fear that if she’d told he’d have beaten her worse. How worse? She did not have to stay like an 18th century woman. She had her own money. Or is there some norm, ideal that a woman must and should stay, like the norm that led her to four pregnancies and assertions of herself as this pelican. Why instead did she retreat? why did she obey this man?

The answer I would suggest is that there was a mechanism in her personality that permitted this to happen given what had been inculcated by her culture. What had she been taught, was inculcated about sex and women’s position that led her to have four children by four different men in serial relationships? I don’t see restricted choices as central to this but rather (perhaps) a form of learned helplessness as the stance a woman is supposed to take to everyone else. There’s a remark quoted by Marie about one of her children, how she is to relate to this child as abject in a way, a kind of eternal pelican that contains a clue.

I repeat it should, was in the interest of all but Cantat to save Marie from Cantat. They didn’t. She didn’t turn to them. Why not? Why has there been controversy over the memoir? Why was it manslaughter the charge? That implies he made a mistake you see, took his beating too far. Are we back in the 18th century? Why is this man free with impunity?


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Judith Wright when young

Dear friends and readers,

A second foremother poet posting (the first was Anne Vavasour). I love Australian literature, art, history, the landscape, and am persuaded the angle on reality that Wright’s background gave her is part of why I love her poetry. And the tone of her mind. Her typical imagery. The rhythms of the lines.

The first is frequently reprinted in anthologies of varied and/or women poets. Women frequently write of birds (and other small or vulnerable creatures):

Extinct Birds

Charles Harpur in his journals long ago
(written in hope and love, and never printed)
recorded the birds of his time’s forest —
birds long vanished with the fallen forest —
described in copperplate on unread pages.

The scarlet satin-bird, swung like a lamp in berries,
he watched in love, and then in hope described it,
There was a bird, blue, small, spangled like dew.
All now are vanished with the fallen forest.
And he, unloved, past hope, was buried,

who helped with proud stained hands to fell the forest,
and set those birds in love on unread pages;
yet thought himself immortal, being a poet.
And is he not immortal, where I found him,
in love and hope along his careful pages? —
the poet vanished, in the vanished forest,
among his brightly tincted extinct birds?

This is another of my favorites. Trains are often used to conjure up a feel of our contemporary world:

The Trains

Tunneling through the night, the trains pass
in a splendor of power, with a sound like thunder
shaking the orchards, waking
the young from a dream, scattering like glass
the old men’s sleep; laying
a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards.
The trains go north with guns.

Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall the mind be sober,
since blood’s red thread still bind us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children’s sleep; laying
a reeking trail across our dream of orchards.

Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,
and over the white acres of our orchards
hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry …
the trains go north with guns.

In this one we see her reacting to the gradual loss of the Aborigine’s culture and way of life. She campaigned on their behalf and for the land itself to be preserved, not destroyed for profit for a few.

Bora Ring

The song is gone; the dance
is secret with the dancers in the earth,
the ritual useless, and the tribal story
lost in an alien tale.

Only the grass stands up
to mark the dancing-ring; the apple-gums
posture and mime past corroboree,
murmur a broken chant.

The hunter is gone; the spear
is splintered underground, the painted bodies
a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot.
The nomad feet are still.

Only the rider’s heart
halts at a sightless shadow, an unsaid word
that fastens in the blood of the ancient curse,
the fear as old as Cain.

My task is made easy this morning for there is a superior essay on her life and work on line by Tony Cornwell; he deals with the problem of feting a poets for her national identification. Her daughter, an article by her daughter, Meredith McKinney, by contrast takes us into the individual woman and tells about the book “Extinct birds” came from. This essay has much personal background a a picture of Judith Wright later in life. McKinney was at the time preparing an edition of Letters between Judith Wright and Jack McKinney.

It strikes me that like other Australian poets and writers, Wright is intensely self-conscious about how different the physical world she’s surrounded by seems to the mindset pictures of their physical world of writers who began and have dominated the European tradition of writing. Australia’s flora and fauna are startlingly different because of its isolated island-continent history. In an anthology of The Literature of Australia, (edited by Geoffrey Dutton), Evan Jones comments on Wright’s poetry:

“‘The Harp and the King’ is Miss Wright’s most
remarkable poem, and very remarkable it is, with a
strength and flexibility whose qualities can hardly
be exaggerated. In it, the old King Saul implores
the Harp to offer consolation for the desolation
that his own experience has taught him: but that
desolation forces him to reject the Harp’s

But the old king turned his head sullenly.
How can that comfort me,
Who see into the heart as deep as God can see?
Love’s sown in us; perhaps it flowers; it dies.
I failed my God and I betrayed my love.
Make me believe in treason; that is all I have.

A relentlessly tragic poem … it is a poem of tragic
stature … The Harp … has the final say:

Wounded we cross the desert’s emptiness,
and must be false to what would make us whole.
For only change and distance shape for us
some new tremendous symbol for the soul.


Those four lines are very great, no? Wright participated in women’s tragic faery poetry too.

Old Woman’s Song

The moon drained white by day
lifts from the hill
where the old pear-tree, fallen in storm,
puts on some blossom still.

Women believe in the moon.
This branch I hold
is not more white and still than she
whose flower is ages old;

and so I carry home
this branch of pear
that makes such obstinate tokens still
of fruit it cannot bear.

The essay by her daughter implies Wright’s work is strongly melancholy and she lived a life apart because she was unconventional:


The road beneath the giant original trees
sweeps on and cannot wait. Varnished by dew,
its darkness mimics mirrors and is bright
behind the panic eyes the driver sees
caught in headlights. Behind his wheels the night
takes over: only the road ahead is true.
It knows where it is going: we go too.

Sanctuary, the sign said. Sanctuary —
trees, not houses; flat skins pinned to the road
of possum and native cat; and here the old tree stood
for how many thousand years? — that old gnome-tree
some axe-new boy cut down. Sanctuary, it said:
but only the road has meaning here. It leads
into the world’s cities like a long fuse laid.

Fuse, nerve, strand of a net, tense
bearer of messages, snap-tight violin-string,
dangerous knife-edge laid across the dark,
what has that sign to do with you? The immense
tower of antique forest and cliff, the rock
where years accumulate like leaves, the tree
where transient bird and mindless insect sing?
The word the board holds up is Sanctuary
and the road knows that notice-boards make sense

but has no time to pray. Only, up to there,
morning sets doves upon the power-line.
Swung on that fatal voltage like a sign
and meaning love, perhaps they are a prayer.


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The Constellation Company forming itself into a carriage,

Dear friends and readers,

Another short one. Last night Jim and I went into DC to see Tom Stoppard’s witty (what that he writes is not?) farce, _On the Razzle_. It’s a re-write, re-do, adaptation, theft of an 1842 Viennese comedy by Johann Nestroy so would appear to give me a chance to write about a mid-European 19th century work as shown today, only Nestroy’s play is based on a one-act 1835 English play, A Day Well Spent by John Oxenford.

Oxenford’s play is ultimately also the basis for Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Merchant of Yonkers, and the 1964 Hello Dolly! by Jerrry Hermann.

The conceit is two fringe types — here clerks — sneak off to a gay mythic place for day.

The two clerks and their irascible boss

Here it’s Vienna. For one day they also get to pretend they are someone else.

Underlying ideas do remind me of Trollope’s short travel stories and the types are found in Strauss still. People chasing things that desperately matter because this is the normal routine of getting through the day.

The company did it wonderfully well. I admit my favorite moment was a piece of stage-business. About 7 of the players somehow formed themselves to resemble a carriage in wich 3 others were sitting that was crossing the city. The background music was comically splendid at that moment and one (I) felt a real release of great fun.

Anyone in the DC area near the Constellation Theatre group (the Source, just off U Street. corner of 14 and T. The reviewers have all liked it.

I admit the joy is a bit overdone. Tom Stoppard has been too successful in his life. But there is much good feeling of a genuine sort for humanity here.


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The powerful ballet

Dear Friends and Readers,

This past Saturday, Jim, I and Izzy saw John Adams’s Nixon in China broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera through HD technology in our local movie-house. I thought I’d send along a few electrons, a short blog, agreeing with the strong praise this opera has received in most production thus far. The Met’s won me over.

A later group scene where Pat Nixon (Janis Kelly) is emotionally over-wrought by all she’s seen; Madame Mao (Kathleen Kim) seen at the side

At first it seemed static & I’m not a lover of allegorical presentations or Philip Glass kinda music, but as it went on I was drawn in. The portrait of Mao (Robert Brubaker) in Act 1 brilliant — the singer actor was just terrific — very hard to sing and throw oneself about on a sofa, to move from solemn pronouncements to ironies.

I had many reactions as it went through. I loved the modernity — what a relief to have our language.

Act 2 dances were courageous. A girl getting raped and sodomized and then whipped. She stood for the vulnerable and powerless not only before the Communist regime but the US one: the man playing Kissinger (Richard Paul Fink) headed those whipping her; he was a monster villain figure.

What expensive plays today openly critique US policy like this? Much surreal, but ending also psychological. Pat Nixon was a typology of women where her role was basically to prop up her man (pat her husband as Helena Bonham Carter did Colin Firth in King’s Speech too). Madame Chiang in the second act — she’s a Madame Defarge, straight out of the 1930s film Tale of Two Cities. There she sits knitting …away, venomous, “scary” fierce and crazy. In the third act this was compensated for as we saw Pat in hugging Dick, Madame Mao softening with her husband and the secretaries driven to masturbate (jerk off) Chou-en-lai, but why oh why are women revolutionaries seen as crazies and hideously violent? Nixon is allowed complexity, so too Chou En-Lai. Pat Nixon was made into a sentimental heroine but I did appreciate the comic perspective on her and think she was given depth in her one long aria (opening of Act 2).

I felt the audience was responding still in a knee-jerk fashion to anti-communism in the in-between talk where in the theater I was they did laugh and respond. But during the opera there was a more adult response. I thought the ballet remarkable and moving — the singer danced very well and the girl playing the lead (the one raped and then to be whipped) was so moving. So thin (poor kid). The larger symbolic framework worked beautifully by the end too.

All 3 of us seemed to like it. However, Izzy had some reservations and has written a superb blog herself on the opera.

I found it was fun for me also (like in the Hamlet last year) not knowing how the opera was going to proceed, and I did get a kick out of the self-theatrical presentation of selves by the director (with his piled up hair) and some of the others. Jim read some blogs about it just afterward and the repeated complaint was the camera work. People wanted far and medium shots to see the stage. I remember feeling frustrated when we saw Carmen and were not allowed to see the whole dance, but our attention focused up close on Carmen. Blogs loved interview with Mark Morris. A favorite moment.

Ang Lee says somewhere how close-ups are a great downfall of directors 🙂

Jim also said Maddalena who sang Nixon was struggling. He’s sung the role huge amounts of time and it’s telling on him. He is asked to sing between two registers.

Whole group with 3 secretaries standing behind first row

The 3 secretaries (women hanging about) were important. Not named and the actress-singers not included in the cast, but one was a great Lucretia at Castleton Opera festival here 2 summers ago and Dido at Glimmerglass. I really winced at that final (excuse the expression) jerking off of Mao by one of them in the closing moment. Painful for me.

What no one mentioned was one of the results of this great entente is today the US is in huge debt to China; we owe them billions so they dare not call the loan in. And it’s become a cornerstone of present US policy to export jobs everywhere by corporations in order to get very cheap labor. Belittled at first, it’s now a classic, but its meaning has changed with time.


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