Archive for March, 2013

Among the very first shots

Dear friends and readers,

I began a re-watching of Downton Abbey last night; how often I’ll do this re-watching I don’t know since I have several projects which are intended to produce papers for conferences, published reviews or published papers and there will be deadlines. But I know I’d like to do this — as well as The Forsyte Saga, 1967 and 2002 and the two Poldark mini-series and 1996 film, as it turned out abortive). The Forsyte Saga has to wait until I finished reading the novels. I’ve been bitterly disappointed at the reaction to the blogs I’ve written on the Poldark series from their prime or fan audience: aggressive absymal ignorance determined to squash intelligent interest, and in re-watching that series (I’ve only started a little) I see a certain high romance conception of picturesqueness strongly influencing the films which I had not begun to think about. The equivalent for DA is the pomp.

I have to make up my mind if I can and want to blog weekly or bi-monthly on this series to start as I have the materials easy to hand. It certainly would provide matter for this blog whose purview is become centrally film studies and film adaptations — after all that’s what I do when I’m writing about HD-opera. No matter if it’s live while filmed, it’s a film.

I was newly impressed by the exquisitely well done art this first series and first number of Downton Abbey represents — rather like a Dickens first number. Paradoxically the discipline adds to its enforcement of hierarchy.

The characters are all wonderfully seen and brilliantly played. This time I felt that the author and actors really cared about their characters and made us care. I feel in love again with Anna, found Bates just so appealing, with his slight menace a s sign of dignity and self-esteem. These first episodes emphasize his lameness is emphasized; some of the staff attempt to get him fired, so this is an hour about what happens to disabled people in a community. The seething behavior of Miss Obrien and Thomas might well be real: such a repressive environment with its skewed values would produce that. And they were matched by the low-life out of a lord, Crowborough: all the high white male types in the first series are low-life amoral sleazes and it struck me if these aren’t very like many of Trollope’s, including some of his so-called heroes (in Ayala’s Angel I can think of a horror of a Frank, Harry Clavering &c&c) only seen with a modern critical eye. The hero of the piece is Robert, Lord Grantham who has the right feelings and does the right thing, backed by Edith who however hasn’t his power to enforce her feelings so it comes out as helpless sarcasm. Lady Mary is a chip of the Dowager and her mother, but all are real and they do have some decency in them too — Mary a complex character with better impulses which win out during the attic tour. But not enough not to marry a low-life lout, not to participate in the attempted firing of Bates. I see that Sybil is presented as sweet.

Poor Daisy, the stress on how she’s the lowest of the low and made to feel it. There are astonishing revelations in Fellowes’s notes: how luxurious it was to wake in the morning and have a silent nearly invisible servant make up your fire. He takes utterly seriously this world he is presenting.

There is nothing innovative in the filmic techniques but they are all done to perfection.

Since I’m off to a conference this will be my only message today unless it should be someone else posts something that wants a reply.


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Pablo Larrain shooting his film

Dear friends and readers,

“No.” Just say no is not all that easy. I recommend heartily as educational as well as absorbing this film about a serious revolution from the perspective of a real plebiscite able to oust Pinochet because the military and powerful let it happen: the man and his clans, flunkies, thugs were just too murderous and destructive … it’s treated from the perspective of campaign commercials. Links to the real commercials show the film is accurate enough. One drawback is the man who made the film is a close relatives of people high up in Pinochet’s gov’t so the superficiality and cynicism of it comes from his rightist take.


I write to recommend hurrying out to see Pablo Larain’s No, a film about a serious revolution from an unusual, perhaps shallow and cynical and disillusioned, or at least piquant perspective. I went to see it because it starred Gael García Bernal

René Saavedra (Bernal) with his son on his shoulders, next to him the socialist (or communist) leader, Urrutia (Luis Gnecco) who recruited him to make campaign commercials

I remembered Bernal as central to the power of a great political film, Even the Rain about a real-life attempt to by brutal cruelty privatize and charge huge prices for water in Columbia. I wrote a blog explaining why it was a must-see film.

In comparison, No has significant flaws outlined here: One Prism. The unusual perspective is that a transformative plebiscite which formed the legal engine for ousting a brutally cruel fascist military dictator, Pinochet (mass murderer, torturer) is treated from the perspective of campaign commercials. Certainly these were significant and important in explaining to the largely uneducated population of Chile why they should vote No when they were given the choice of continuing Pinochet or begin the arduous uncertain process of building a democracy. You might think it’s obvious the best choice is to get rid of such a state-leader terrorist, but it’s not. What will replace him? What are you voting for? “No” is such a negative word to push a lever on. But these were the loaded terms the Pinochet establishment offered to have an election on.

Those who wanted to overturn Pinochet had 15 minutes of TV time at night, the first TV time anyone outside the Pinochet (and US) groups had had any access to the public. When Rene is hired, things are not going well for the democrats because their commercials are too pessimistic; they show what has been, the horrors, they universalize and validate individual people’s memories, but as seen in vignettes voters vote their narrow interests and they are interested in their future. Some were afraid of retaliation; that the election would be rigged, and a win would not be allowed and torture and killing would ensue for those who voted for democracy.

Police Squads are everywhere in the film

Political argument is not easily understood. Rene concocts films which are the equivalent of selling coca-cola by images of happiness, rainbows, silly pictures of people soaring on skates, sexily dressed women dancing. But it begins to work and then we watch a battle of commercials as the other side run by Rene’s ex-boss, Guzman (Alfredo Castro) makes similar commercials mocking, riffing, refuting, imitating Rene’s.


It’s cynical because the message is you can only persuade people by vacuous nonsense. It omits months of hard registering votes, years of gradual dangerous organization, the full political and economic context. It’s no coincidence the director is Larrain descends from two prominent right wing families who supported Pinochet. But while as usual in these political films, we are given a few elite men get together to save a country, it undeniably true that the commercials used pop methods and were important. Larrain’s movie does imitate them. But the suspense of his movie results from the very real threats from the regime the movie-making team are seen to deflect avoid, luckily escape from, and equally the movie’s message could be, do what you have to to get progress going. if the average person is not attracted to listen to gravity, to careful literal argument, does not want to remember the grief of horrifying losses, then give them happy coco-cola images.

Further, it’s not true that all the images in the films made are dancing girls and jumping young men. Passing by our eyes are silent images of what was and the treat: one struck me was a film of a tank threatening to mow down a little girl in its path. We get slow motion shots of police cracking down on the heads of peaceful protestors with hard-wood batons. We see wrenching grief, abysmal poverty — fleetingly but there as reminders. We see real footage of actual political events blended in with the fictional ones, seemingly seamlessly. And the film shows that on that last day Pinochet tried to present a miscount of the vote, and declare victory when he had lost, but that he could not get away with that because important military leaders had gone over to the side of democracy.

As I watched I remembered that Even the Rain had been about the making of a movie too. The movie was to be about Columbus and the crew hired local peasants at peon wages; a parallel to the harsh and relentless exploition of Colmbia’s people is seen in the story of Columbus told. So you might say that No takes one part of the matter of Even the Rain and develops it more thoroughly. All the talk about film-making, the watching of the making of these films is intriguing: Try Freedom. Less Filling. Tastes Great!. After all campaigns are centrally important in who wins an election.

There is a sub-story, a romance where Rene’s wife is an active political operative who has a male lover and lives apart from him. She is in fact the only individualized woman in the film. Yes this is another movie of a world run by men, with token women used as weapons against one another, there as sex objects or mothers and aunts mainly. When she is clapped into jail, and Guzman as a favor to Rene, engineers her release, Rene is grateful to Guzman.

Here Rene is hurt and lonely but does not know how to win her back.

Gael García Bernal, Antonia Zegersblog

Their son lives with him, and is who he must protect from marauders for the gov’t. At the end of the film Rene is not that happy. His life has not been fundamentally changed, for individual improvement goes slow. He even goes back to his original job making commercials for a corporation to sell soda.

But I felt this refusal to offer meretricious joy was part of the film’s strength. As Obamacare kicks in provision by provision, it helps this or that person this or that way. If Medicare is whittled away, it will take a few years for large porportions of the people to feel the new pain, new costs, renewed exclusion, and it’s hard to connect someone’s early death directly to a loss of coverage since much that occurs in human life has several causes.

Yes it can be read as susceptible to a right-wing frivolous superficiality, but here history is defeating this. Gradually some Latin and Central American countries are throwing off these military dictators put in power by the US, neo-liberal regimes, and opting for social democracy and in countries like Venezuela the improvement in people’s lives as a result of elections speaks for itself.

So while not a unqualifiedly great film, go see this attempt to commemorate and dramatize an aspect of the political experience of reforms (and set-backs to reforms) today. By seeing it you register a vote for making more adult political films.


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David Suchet as Melmotte facing them all (from Davies’s 2001 TWWLN adaptation — in the last phase Suchet has in mind Charles Laughton’s moving performance as Quasimodo)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve returned to Trollope with a plunge. A writer for our time. Like Dickens, a geographer of our imagination, utterly televisual (via Andrew Davies), and aptly post-colonial.

Over the past two weeks I’ve been reading his (magnificent panoramic) The Way We Live Now and his brilliant psychological-social masterpiece, He Knew He Was Right. I had begun them once again (I’ve read both at least twice) and gotten about one-third of the way through each when I wrote a proposal for a paper to be part of a collection of essays on British Historical Costume Drama on TV (from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey), and though I’ve not had an absolute acceptance, it’s as near as firm yes as one can get. The only doubt will be if the group can get enough essay proposal to go forth for a fat volume.

Donald Pleasance played the character whose presence began for Trollope his Barsetshire novels: here he plays his cello (1982 BBC Barchester Chronicles, Alan Plater)

It would not be due until next fall, but my problem now is my proposal for Mapping Trollope was accepted by Sharp, and that will be due mid-summer. To map Trollope, to delve his re-creation of London, the mythic Barsetshire, the counties of Dillborough and surrounding areas from The American Senator (Ayala’s Angel), to say nothing of Barsetshire country (which includes both series, Barsetshire and Pallisers), I shall have to read in detail, taking down specifics from several very long novels. I know from experience the whole picture of Barsetshire first emerges in Doctor Thorne, that the chronology of the Barsetshire and Palliser books is more or less consistent and the mapping say of TWWLN fits into that of the Pallisers. And I did want to include the careful mapping of Western Ireland in Trollope’s 5 Anglo-Irish novels and two stories (consistent with the Phineas books), which are no where well enough known.

One world Trollope.

On top of this from my trip to NYC to listen to a lecture at the NY Trollope Society by Prof Nicholas Birns on Trollope’s La Vendee as historical fiction, I’ve again come into contact with this generous scholar who years ago (really) encouraged me to send him a paper on Trollope’s travel books for his Antipodes: a Global Journal of Australian/NZ literature. He told me he loved my book (I never forgot that), especially the Irish sections where I argued for the central importance of Ireland in Trollope’s life and work. I found myself unable to write the paper because at the time I didn’t understand post-colonial theories and perspectives, and the only thing I could think of was descriptive and that meant (I felt) going to Australia. Jim won’t listen to that (cost, distance), and how could I begin to spend enough time anyway.

Walhalla, Victoria 19th century print

Since then I’ve learned about post-colonial theory (see my blogs on Christopher Hodson’s Acadian Diaspora and Diasporic Jane and Indian films) and have been able to come up with a perspective which would enable me to discuss say the relationship between Trollope’s travel book, Australian and New Zealand and his novels set in Australia — without going to Australia, or if I did for a relatively short time (I do long to go). On line I’ve done that for his American Senator and North America, which we read in conjunction with one another on Trollope19thCStudies when it was still Trollope-l.

Trollope’s section on New York City and American culture as fuelled by a worship of money ever relevant (see this week’s New Yorker column, George Packer reading TWWLN).

I told him my idea for “On Living in A New Country: Inventing an Australian Identity” (a play on Patrick Wright’s On Living on an Old Country), and he seemed to like it very much, and more or less told me I could be on his pane, “The Australian Trollope,” in a coming Trollope conference. Yes a group of Trollopians are not waiting another 25 years to get together again (see Exeter conference), and in fall of 2015 plan to meet in Belgium at the University of Leuven. If I did that it would mean reading another set of long Trollope books but some new (and to me) interesting Australian literature which I have grown to love. I should say I was once part of a group looking to publish on Trollope as traveler (this was 10 years ago) when I read AngloAustralian novels (e.g., Henry Kingsley’s Geoffrey Hamlin) and Australian & New Zealand famous classics (Marcus Clarke, For the Term of His Natural Life, and Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River, Ethel (Henry Handel) Richardson’s enormous trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony.

Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin as Ada and Flora McGrath (1993 The Piano, Jane Campion)

The rest of my blog summarizess my proposal to discuss the film adaptations of TWWLN and HKHWR (“Andrew Davies’s Televisual Trollope”) and throws out a few ideas for “On Living in a New Country.”

“Andrew Davies’s Televisual Trollope” will include two great artists, Andrew Davies as well as Trollope. I will show that

in Andrew Davies’s adaptations of Trollope Davies developed sophisticated televisual techniques expressively to convey Trollope’s interior monologues, epistolarity, and panoramic plot-designs and Trollope’s themes of delusional sexual paranoia and anxiety, and economic corruption. TWWLN and HKHWR rely on filmic epistolary sequences, montage, flashbacks and voice-over; Davies also breaks naturalistic conventions to allow for characters directly to address the TV audience, and for the TV screen to picture emblematic allegories. We will also see that Davies engages with Simon Raven’s famous 26 part Pallisers to replace a cynical patriarchal Tory implied author with a humane, liberal feminist one, and while so doing, critiques Trollope’s texts from a feminist and Oedipal standpoint ….

Mr Gilson overpowered by Arabella French’s chignon, and getting back when she says she will do anything he bids her including of course removing it: modelled on one of Marcus Stone’s illustrations (from Davies’s 2004 HKHWR)

The first part of the paper will examine the filmic art, themes, character types, plot-designs of TWWLN and HKHWR as a similar pair: since not enough films made from Trollope in close proximity have survived, Davies cannot (as with his Austen or Dickens films) conceive of these as part of a subgroup of author-connected films. Instead they belong to Davies’s own political satiric type films made from socially-concerned novels … In the second part how scenes and dialogues in TWWLN allude to scenes in Raven’s Pallisers to comment both on Raven’s and Trollope’s work. I will also show that Davies brightens and makes much gayer and more hopeful the perspective of HKHWR by imitating the décor and kinds of gentle caricature created in the Barchester Chronicles

For “On Living in a New Country” my idea would be to follow Trollope’s unusual (so I think) trajectory of dramatizing colonialism not from the angle of the higher echelons but from that of the desperate lower middle, working class person and family, or the angle of the younger son who is not the heir. It’s such people he tells his fiction about, and it was to them he directed his Letters from Liverpool.

In the part of Australian and New Zealand just on New Zealand where he visited the Maoris and went swimming with a group of them, we have Trollope as Bohemian (sort of), but (and now this is vague) I recall I thought he was prophetic in looking forward to how ethnic politics would work out, how these would be a core of conflict, that they would seem to replace class- and money-based politics. (It was an analogous foresight to those found in his Anglo-Irish novels about how communities react to outsiders, the use of scapegoats, and collusive officials.) Trollope saw that the person or people who live in a “new” country (so they see it) have to evolve a new identity, one connected to the old one, but different and while in his novels (John Caldigate) he warns out “gentlemen” could fall to lower ways of life, he was very enthusiastic about this new identity.

20th century illustration for Trollope’s John Caldigate (originally called Mrs John Caldigate)

I was amused to find that Robert Hughes actually ends his great book The Fatal Shore (one of the great books of the 20th century; it can stand alongside Primo Levi’s If this be man) by quoting Trollope’s graphic portraits of two men kept in prison for a very long time. I did want to produce a paper. I remember seeing a film at the time, The Proposition, which seemed to me to go into the areas I was interested in from an angle of high violence — and “Aaron Trowe” (the protagonist villain share’s Trollope’s initials, AT) is a story of high violence; so too Harry Heathcoat. Here’s a wikipedia article on the Australian film The Proposition just about this group of people, which starred Emily Watson and Ray Winstone.

The Stanleys (very much the sort of couple Trollope writes about).

TMI? If you were wondering what I’ve been reading while watching all these films and going to operas, what thinking about and why, there you have it. Next up will be a blog on Trollope’s novels HKHWR and then (separately) the TWWLN


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From the first season script: the three sisters

Dear friends and readers,

Julian Fellowes is a smart man; he knows how to keep up sustained interest in his imaginative world. What better way than produce these finely-produced generous books which enable the reader to re-imagine the series, to re-watch the DVDs with book in hand? These are forms of novels. The first script for the first season is now available for a reasonable price at Amazon; indeed the price is low considering the object and what you can pay for books say from Ashgate. The book consists of 7 plays, each of them subdivided into three acts. Whether this is a hindsight division or one Fellowes has come to see, to apprehend the parts this way elevates them into historical plays. The second season’s scripts, including the Christmas special will be out next October, just before the fourth season begins.

Fellowes shows his ability to think for himself too when he decides to bring out his scripts for Downton Abbey. It seems most script-writers obey (whether they agree or not) the private-property obsessed notion that you must not share the script lest someone use your ideas and make money off of them. As someone fascinated by film study, whenever I seriously study a film or set of films (say the Pallisers or Jane Austen films), I had usually had to go to the trouble of taking down in stenography the script as I watch a DVD, clicking pause as I go. Arduous and time-consuming. The script is the basis of the film; the shots or stills are its embodied utterances. Whenever I’ve come across a published or on-line script, I’ve rejoiced and bought it, used it. But it’s rare to find them. In the 1960s there was an attempt made to publish these in large anthologies for the newly burgeoning discipline of film studies, but apparently this went nowhere — or not enough people ordered them, so I have but two of the several then published, and more recently scripts only for those films which became part of a cult, and then not always. It maybe the real reason it’s hard to get these scripts is the average person watching movies will not buy them so there’s not enough profit to warrant producing readable ones.

Yes I know all the flaws of DA, but one is not a lack of books. Fellowes’s daughter has published two genuinely informative, helpful — and beautiful — books thus far: The World of Downton Abbey, which is a standard “The Making Of,” very interesting about the sets, costumes, ideas about the era, and genuine historical information about the lives of servants in great houses (very hard); The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, which is made up of chapter giving analyses of individual characters as Fellowes conceives or understands them, with rationales and justifications. Both are splendidly rich, the paper heavy art paper which supports color reproductions.

And others have come out with some history of the family which owned Highclere Castle in the later 19th century. Here is a small list of such books, including the original memoir for the 1970s Upstairs Downstairs.

It was taking a chance. And then arrived on my stoop today (whence this blog) not a slender script book — which is often what I’ve found, but a fat book of nearly 400 pages, good quality letterpress paper. sewn even. The scripts are beautifully set out: lots of space between lines and not just dialogue, but directions for gestures, brief descriptions of planned sets or places, and occasionally long footnotes by Fellowes telling his thinking behind a scene or some history of his impulse for writing this or that. In the center is fold of art paper with stills that go with several scenes, of which I’ve put one at the top of this blog (these show the tongue-in-cheek archetypal quality originally intended):


Fellowes is well aware of the political exposure his series has been subjected to and also how badly the decamping of Deborah Findley-Brown, Dan Stevens, and now Siobhan Finneran might hurt the coming season. It’s hard also to keep up interest and make each season filled with new suspense. Of course he could move to the 1930s and the Spanish Civil War, but how would it do for him to produce a pro-Franco series. I understand Season 4 will move ahead just 6 months.

What this has done is re-tempt me to begin to make blogs of the many postings I’ve done over the two years and not put onto the World Wide Web, but just left at Yahoo. I hesitated partly because it would take hard work as each one this season required my taking notes as well as capturing stills. The script will make it much easier, and as long as I don’t fuss too much with too many stills I could try it.

So what I’ve done in the meantime is the easier thing: simply linked my handy list into my website: I didn’t make a separate page in the manner of the Pallisers or my Austen Miscellanies as I simply haven’t done enough to warrant that, but eventually I’ll replace the links mostly from this blog, with a page in the website domaine itself. Its mascot or gravatar picture for now is Thomas (Rob James-Collier) dancing with the Dowager Duchess (Maggie Smith):


I’ve tried again and again to explain why I love costume drama enough to even take deep pleasure in this (for me) ambivalent series. Well I just do. Had I lived in the 18th century I’m sure I would have been one of those readers who bought plays bound together in books and read them slowly: in the 18th century people read plays; they were bound up in make-shift books and could be bought or found in circulating libraries. The closet dramas of Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron had an audience. The novel put paid to that by the Victorian period, especially with Mudie’s distribution services and then after Pickwick installment publication in magazines.

My goal would be to follow a schedule whereby I do one every one or two weeks. On the weekends read the scripts. The scripts would make it so much easier, indeed a pleasure; then in October when Season 2 comes out (in time for the TV airing of Season 4) I could do likewise for Season 2.


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And she to me: ‘There is no greater sorrow
than thinking back upon a happy time
in misery …
One day, to pass the time away, we read
of Lancelot — how love had overcome him …
this one, who never shall be parted from me,
while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth …’ Dante, Inferno 5, translated Allen Mandelbaum

Francesca da Riminiactoneblog
Act One: the stage scene as a whole

Act One: Francesca (Eva-Maria Westbrook) and Paolo (Marcello Giordani) meet: he pretends to be her bethrothed

Dear friends and readers,

The 1984 Pre-Raphaelite picturesque production of Riccardo Zandoni’s Francesca da Rimini (libretto Tito Ricordi) is wonderfully absorbing in its HD Met Opera format (conductor Marco Armiliato; production Pero Faggioni; set designer Ezio Frigerio; costume designer Frana Squarciapino, lighting Gil Wechsler). I had not expected to enjoy it so much. Breaking through the fussily-decorated elaborate Pre-Raphaelite picturesque and early 20th century art deco decor, its core and action are fuelled by primary passion: the coerced marriage of Francesca (Eva-Maria Westbrook) secured by trickery: Paolo (Marcello Giordnai), the youngest handsome brother of the groom allows himself to be presented as the groom); these desperate adulterous lovers driven passionate in the way of Cavalliero Rusticano or Il Pagliaccio; the violent brutish lame murderous anguished husband, Giancioot (Mark Delavan); the even more brutal vengeful one-eyed malacious younger brother, Malatsetino (Robert Brubaker).

It’s the stuff of a verismo tale except occurring among aristocrats of the 13th century, and first turned into literature by Dante who presents the lovers after death in fifth circle of hell,

… a place where every light is muted …
The hellish hurricane , which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence;
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them … (Inferno 5)

“damned because they sinned within the flesh … now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them./There is no hope that ever comforts them — no hope for rest and none for lesser pain.”

The story has a basis in actual events, and before this 1914 opera after a play by Gabriele d’Annunzio whose language came through the modern English subtitles (“The stars are drowned in the sea” Paolo says), the story had been told in many versions, staged, sung, painted mostly (it seems in Pre-Raphaelite style). Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1855) tells the spiritual after-death Dante version:


but Alexandre Cabanel (1870) prefers the theatrical murder (reminding me of Wallis’s Death of Chatterton, which is just now hanging at the National Gallery in DC, part of a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit):


What distinguishes this opera is its highly dramatic play with effective vigorous scenes, sung to music said to be a mix of Strauss, Puccini and Debussy: the love duet at the close of the second act which in the required way the lovers are reading of Lancelot, let the book fall and then “read no more” is just sweepingly swayingly lush,


It ended as swiftly as Cav and Pag; the words were simple and music felt sudden and elemental at the close: the lovers are stabbed to death and the bodies drop on the stairs, with the actors making sure they ended up flung over one another.

It was said the production was revived because Westbrook asked for this, and she sang and acted her part to perfection. She did carry the opera; she was hardly ever not there, and was endlessly singing. She got to wear the loveliest of embroidered costumes. In her interview she insisted the story was not just credible; coerced marriage happens still today. This is a big disingenuous since the motives given the lovers are hopelessly lachrymose and ethical, but the situation is given bite by ferocity of the behavior of the husband and his demented brother. Delvan was powerful, Brubaker memorable, especially when threatening Francesca and then going down below to behead a man in the midst of being tortured and screaming. Jim said Giordani sung weakly; I wished the lines about him had said she loved him for his goodness and kindness, for he’s not handsome, nothing like a Rufus Sewell.

The opera is fleshed out by Water Scott like happening: a comic minstrel opens the piece, offering to serenade Francesca’s ladies with the story of Tristan and Isolde (anticipating the story to come) — we are led to fear for his life because at the hands of these criminal males. Her ladies were characterized enough, her sister (a kind of Dido relationship):


A supposed battle takes place in Act 2 which is not convincing as the production did not take advantage of modern screen computer techniques at all. It was grotesque, with a gold-layered siege ram set on fire (like something taken from an Aida set). In act three a bloody head is flung about in a pillow case.

Francesca da Rimini
Delavan as Gianciotto in a Walter Scott-like knight-warrior outfit (aware he is a bad guy in the interview he asked our “hostess” what she had in her wallet)

And what a pleasure it was to see a new great grand opera. While I knew the story of course (the opera audience does not practice the inhibiting nonsense of no-spoilers), I had no idea how it would work out as an experience. The surprise element added to my experience.

Any flaws? well, yes. It just took too long between scenes which intervals sometimes seemed much longer than the acts. At one point the camera cut away far too quickly from a genuinely moving scene to Sondar Radvanovksy as “hostess” which her commercial blurb and hype. While we really enjoyed watching the behind-the-scenes setting up of the scenery and curtains, and painted flats, there was just too much of it, and it made the production feel as staid as some Victorian drawing-room. I’d love to see a new post-modern kind of production, with maybe a mimed scene of the woman raped by the husband, a far more effectively suggestive violence for the battles, and a mimed-coda added on where we see the lovers in hell. In Claus Guth fashion, it could critique even Dante for punishing those whom life had punished enough.

Rodin’s The Kiss (1888), said to be originally titled Francesca da Rimini

As to the play itself, there was something funny to see the principles act out the love scene over a book, and wait for the book to drop. Everyone accepted this because it was in Dante. More seriously, while here was the inevitable falsifying of sexual life so that what was the real horror of this situation, marital rape, was obscured from view; as Izzy said, the “lesson” of the play was not that adultery was evil. The lovers are not evil. It was deceit and brutality that were the evils in this opera. So it had no trouble speaking to our time. As Maria Stuarda seems to have not been revived for decades and now is utterly a propos, so Francesca da Rimini, if revived for a diva, seemed to please the audience strongly for its fable and presentation, which (to refer to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit’s comments on my blog), revealed a pseudo-medieval, literary highly sexually liberated (for the men) art fit the pre WW1 world.

Few women in the arts or as patrons have interested themselves in her story. Josephine Bonaparte bought a 19th century painting of the story; Gabriele d’Annunzio’s play was written for Eleanore Duse:

Eleanore Duse as Francesca da Rimini (1901)

and Olga Gorelli, a 20th century Italian composer wrote some music.
Renata Scotto played the part with Placido Domingo as Paolo, and Cornell MacNeil as Gianciotti in 1984, the production now available as a DVD.


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Dear friends and readers,

Theodore Rousseau (1812-67), Sunset from the Forest of Fontainbeau (the Dyke Collection).

Walter Howell Deverell (1827-54), Twelfth Night (with Elizabeth Siddal) (Pre-Raphaelites first room)

Susan Herbert, “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid after Edward Burne-Jones”

Dear friends and readers,

Though we hadn’t a good leg or knee between us, and it had rained as in a monsoon in the morning, yesterday afternoon Jim and I set forth to the National Gallery around a quarter to two because we had promised ourselves we would see the much advertised new “blockbuster” show of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. It was sunny by then and warm, and by the time we left although I was limping super-slowly, letting myself down the stairs one at a time, and Jim not much better, the experience had been well worth it, though as sometimes happened as much for the “lesser” show, Color, Light and Line, that had not been heralded, trumpeted, advertised, several rooms of quietly brilliant beautiful, unusual 19th & early 20th century French drawings and watercolors (mostly) from the Dyke Collection:

Gustave Dore (1832-83), A River Gorge in a mountain landscape,

tucked away on the first floor, just before the side entrance of the museum (well after and apart from the ever-expanding Museum shop), as for the Pre-Raphaelites, which despite the large size, unexpected Shakespeare and narrative delights, the delicacy of these, and stunning use of color of other of the paintings, where the colors still sparkled on the canvas

John Everett Millais (1829-96), Marianna

and originality of still others,

William Dyce (1806-64), Pegwell Bay

did not teach us anything new about the Pre-Raphaelites as a group.

We learned more about them or their art as a whole a couple of Christmases ago in one of these small unadvertised shows where it was contended the paintings came far more from an interaction of natural landscape, photography, science studies than literary and medieval longings. That it’s easy to make fun of this exhibit, precisely this kind of picture in a group by substituting cats for the people suggests the solemn absurdity of some of the pictures, and the lack of an adequate perspective.

There seemed nothing set before us to make sense of the pictures in the way of an exhibit a couple of years ago. The individual paintings were therefore what one could enjoy, with each of the rooms having a theme. One of the most interesting for me was the one with wallpaper, furniture, tapestries, screens, but nothing was said about Morris or the Pre-Raphaelites politics. Ford Madox Brown’s Work. I put the lack of discourse down to the way just about any decent political talk is simply erased in popular American media. But nothing on religion much either: the Middle Eastern landscapes of Hunt are not presented as landscape natural art but religious iconography (The Scapegoat). Rossetti’s Found (1854, unfinished) was presented as about modern life (!?): how so? were these 19th century Italian outfits? to me, most of all what was the attitude towards sex here.

(The colors are all blended so that it’s unfinished is part of its charm)

While the paintings often seem to worship female sexuality and reject simple macho-male images, they can equally be seen to proscribe sex altogether. But there was no feminist discourse either. There were some Julia Cameron photos scattered here and there. But no sense of women’s development of an idiom of Pre-Raphaelitism of which there was one (see Deborah Cherry’s book). No Evelyn de Morgan. Nothing to comment on how these girlfriends were used, no comment on a room filled with huge pictures of so-called “beauties” — to me these are grotesque because of the masculine nature of the faces and huge size of the women’s bodies which seem to encompass one.

This Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is less grotesque than the others, but the face is the same and the allusion to women as dangerous (the apple).

Could the room be about fear? In life certainly these men seemed to be in charge — they had the high status, the money, lived much much longer.

And what is the relationship of this Proserpine to this woman, Jane Morris said to be its model? The photo itself by Wm Morris is a perspective on her so she is endlessly constructed for us:

The exhibit says nothing

This Elizabeth Siddal, A Lady AFixing a Pennant was there, but no explanation. Gentle reader it’s very small with a modest (very inexpensive) frame:

Lady afixing a pennanblog.jpgt

So, how easy for Susan Herbert to poke fun:

Susan Herbert’s “The Awakening after Wm Holman Hunt”

Susan Herbert’s “Pysche after John William Waterhouse”

One consequence was Susan Herbert’s books — two of them in the shop — seemed appropriate without however as I said ruining any enjoyment of the pictures, and the exhibit downstairs feeling superior. Perhaps perversely, but also because I own reproductions of so many of the famous pictures included in the exhibit instead of buying the catalogue, I bought ($40 cheaper), Susan Herbert’s parody, Pre-Raphaelite Cats.

I recommend seeing the exhibit nevertheless. where and when else will you see these astonishing paintings brought together in one place again? Or ever see any of them? The Pre-Raphaelite paintings project, many of them, complex real psychological states, original, beautiful, make statements worth thinking about on sex, religion, social life, and in one room are made from unusual materials too (tapestries, painted chairs, stain glass windows). Although some painters were unaccountably missing (no John Waterhouse), see it also for the lesser known painters, pictures, sculptors, and the striking famous landscapes. e.g., Dyce’s Pegwell Bay. A favorite for me was Ford Madox Brown’s picture from his window: An English Autumn Afternoon — Hampstead — Scenery (1853).


There was this exquisite small marble scultpure by Alexander Munro, Paolo and Francesca (remember “that day they read no longer” from Dante?):


There are many photographs of the company and the women who served them and painted themselves (Siddal, Jane Morris, Jane Burden, Fanny Cornforth, about whom we were told nothing, suddenly she was just there and painted as as “Mouth to be Kissed”). The exhibit ends with some series paintings, one on Perseus: The Rock of Doom, The Doom Fulfilled, and the strangely compelling The Baleful Head, the latter (frozen dead images in a fountain looked down at by Perseus and the maiden) influenced George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda.

What seemed to unite the whole show — one sought for something — was finally it literary content, Shakespeare, Scott, a medievalism which became a rationale or cover.

John Anderson’s review of the Pre-Raphaelites (much of it came from the Tate) is not enthusiastic, but Kayleigh Bryant does the movement justice and gives you a slideshow. The exhibition book catalogue expensive but it might come down in price soon.

The shop for the Pre-Raphaelites had the most exquisitely beautiful scarves, sewn exquisitely delicately with strips of velvet. It was all I could do to stop myself from buying one: $60 each so I didn’t. Perhaps they were intended to be there as examples of Pre-Raphaelite kind of craftsmanship or an artistic ideal? If so, no explanation. One was wrapped around a dummy knight.


I write this blog, then, also to tell of the other exhibit. Color, light, and line.which does not lend itself to cat parodies.

This George Lemmen was not there, but it represents the quality of the sort of thing by him that was —

Lemmen was featured as a pointillist and someone who like Vuillard did paintings of the people he lived with doing ordinary domestic tasks — women sewing

Strange these museums and their curators. Not only was the show not advertised (showing a lack of faith in museum-goers), but the catalogue has been printed only as hard-cover and there were few of them in the museum and at high price (over $60). I did buy the catalogue when I came home, on the Net for less than half that price so can’t share many of the pictures and lack the names of the painters and illustrators, several of them relatively unknown.

Paul Huet, A Meadow at Sunset, pastel

There was a wall of Paul Signacs, Vuillards, Dores, Monets, George Lemmen, Pissaro, Morisot; watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, charcoal, pastel and mixed medium. The periods of art represented include romanticism, realism, impressionism, postimpressionism, pointillism (neo-impressionism), symbolism, the Dykes looked for quality, not coverage, and were delighted to find great work among unknown artists (so were not looking necessarily to make money). Some of my favorites where I can remember the artists’ names were Eugene Isabey, Alexandre Calame, Maxime Lalanne: here’s a selection of small reproductions.

I’ve found a large version of one where you can gather the quality of the paint: Henri-Joseph Harpingies, Autumn Landscape, Washerwoman.

blog size version

It’s the unexpected that delights us, the unassuming. Many of these were unashamedly romantic: cliffs at twilight, tiny people in forests, near streams. Old people who were nobody. I liked the highly romantic drawings of landscape where there were no people. So often landscapes will have one or two tiny people. Not here.

The Examiner goes over why these colors, light washes, lines should so absorb us, and the nature of the Dyke Collection. The exhibition book catalogue, looks chock-a-block with pictures and has contributions by six people.

There was an informative plaque in tribute to the Dykes who apparently intend to leave most of their collection to the musuem.


Both shows eshewed painting the rich, famous, the military and the powerful.

Three more pictures:

Arthur Hughes’s April (click for large size which does justice to the purple coloration) is there:

(blog size version);

this Maxime Lalanne:


As to the cats, I recommend at least looking at Herbert’s irreverent fond mockery. Apparently she’s done several such books of art with pussycats, often of Victorian pictures. Herbert’s pictures are here on line if you are so unlucky as not to have a live pussycat with you in your home. Looking at them did lead me to some good books on the history of the cat and the pictures we have of them over the centuries, Caroline Bugler’s The Cat: 3500 Years of Cats in Art.

Susan Herbert, “Ecce Ancilla Domini after Dante Gabriel Rossetti” (making the expression and stance of the women’s scared eyes in the original — rightly terrified of pregnancy?)


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One of earliest stills of Eric Porter as Soames in 1967 mini-series

Parallel early still of Damien Lewis as Soames in 2002 mini-series

Dear friends and readers,

Among the many things I do and books I read over the past 2 and 1/2 months, motivated by a group reading and discussion on Trollope19thCStudies by 3 people (all of us posting), I’ve managed to read another literary masterpiece, John Galsworthy’s Man of Property. I think I read it when we first came to Virginia in the 1980s — along with the two other novels, and interludes that make up the first volume of the Forsyte Saga. I had no job, no car, a child to care for and I found a copy of the first and third volumes of the Saga in a used book store and snatched them up because I remembered how brilliant had been the 1967 year long BBC/PBS Forsyte Sage. I have now bought the intermediary 2nd volume. Both films are based on the 1st and 2nd volumes (about 6 novels and some interludes).

We 3 decided to read just The Man of Property after trying Galsworthy’s slender, little-known and weaker novel, The Country House. I’d suggested this book because last year I watched the whole of the two Forsyte Saga mini-series (1967, 2002). Since then I’ve been longing to read something by Galsworthy because such mini-series are immeasurably deepened and enrichened for the viewer who has knows the author from its or some other of his or her the book(s). In the event I was gratified to find the two friends who read with me were willing to go on to at least The Man of Property.

The mode of The Man of Property and The Country House (written abound the same time, 1906 and 1907) is distanced irony; the general targets are the absurdity and cruelty of marital & divorce customs and laws in the first half of the 20th century, how these undergird a whackingly unfair, unjust private-property system, the misogyny structured into this reinforcing dual system. On the way the author reveals a tender love for animals and the countryside.

Galsworthy’s preface to the Saga confirms that The Country House belongs with the Forsyte books; in all of these he says he wants to expose and dramatize the “tribal” world of the Forsytes, what happens to beauty (be it in a woman or a picture) in their possessive world, and their inward conflicts resulting from “the claims of freedom.” In The Man of Property, using his indirect ironic distancing methods, he focused on a couple where “sex attraction is utterly and definitely lacking in one partner [Irene Heron] to a union [with Soames Forsyte], no amount of pity or reason, or duty, or what not, can overcome the repulsion.” For the whole Saga he was fascinated by the persistent effect of the past and memory in someone’s present.


One of the earliest stills of Kenneth More as Young Jolyon in the 1967 mini-series

One of earlier stills of Rupert Graves as Young Jolyon sparring with his wife, Sarah Winman as Francis in the 2002 mini-series (Francis never appears in the novel but is also importantly played by Sarah Harter in the 1967 film)

The Man of Property opens with on a gathering of the Forsytes, which enables the ironic narrator to characterize many of the individuals who will figure in his story. He then dramatized 3 scenes of the oldest brother of the clan, Old Jolyon’s loneliness 15 years after his son, Young Jolyon, left his wife, Francis, and daughter, June, to live with the family’s governess, Helene Hilmer because Young Jolyon found her deeply congenial (as he did not find his wife) and sexually compelling. Old Jolyon had adopted June, cut himself off from his son who we see in a the first meeting they’ve had after this break up has a genuine generosity of spirit. We then read of the engagement of JUne, now grown up, to an architect, Philip Bossiney. Bossiney has been hired (we learn) to build a country house for Soames Forsyte, only son of the second oldest brother of the clan, James and his much younger wife, Emily, who married him for his money and status but we see now is very affectionate to him, caters to him. Soames has a beautiful wife, Irene, whom we gather he aims to keep and to control by placing her outside London because (it’s hinted) she continually eludes him emotionally. We cannot tell whether this is for revenge or out of hope she will turn to him. At any rate he has not consulted her taste in this.

Thus the book sets forth the original situation.


Old Jolyon is brilliantly portrayed by Corin Redgrave (he steals the parts he’s in) in the 2002 mini-series

Emily Forsyte, Soames’s mother, effectively acted by Barbara Flynn, takes on a very different function from the book or 1967 series: she is close to the 2002 Soames, he’s hiddenly a mother’s boy

Like Trollope Galsworthy uses a narrator continually for ironic and panoramic effect, with the important different the steeled ironic voice does not (as in Trollope) feel like that of an author. In the 1967 Forsyte films, the film-makers daringly (for the time) used Young Jolyon (played by Kenneth More) as also a voice-over narrator as his character and values eventually emerge as consonant with that of Galsworthy. Like Trollope too, Galsworthy is adept at describing public social behaviors and gestures, words spoken publicly to signal what is going on in the inmost depths of the person. We like to think when we are in the public world we are not read intimately; Galsworthy and Trollope seem to suggest we are at least transparent to the perceptive.

For example, we see Soames’s cold repressed tenacious and bargain-driving business-man self, as well as his honesty, and loyalty, an ability (if somehow prompted) to be affectionate, even tender, who loves art for itself as well as a money investment. A complex portrait without any soliloquy or interior monologue — such as are given us for Old Jolyon who can admit to how as a businessman he is destroying workers, keeping truths from shareholders, and Young Jolyon who does not want to spend his life’s hours doing what sheerly makes the most money, performing those social rituals which support this money-making.

Rupert Graves again Young Jolyon, now Bohemian painter living with ex-governess, Helene (Amanda Ooms) and their baby (2002)

Lana Morris as Helene Hilmer fleeing the adult June’s dislike (1967 — it’s important to remember that the novel never shows us the governess, we are only told about her)

The angle of vision is strongly ironic at all turns, with the soft humanizing utterances and passages coming from using different characters as POVs, not just Old and Young Jolyon, but Montague Dartie, shallow promiscuous gambling irresponsible and amoral husband of Soames’s sister, Winifred:

Margaret Tyzack as Winifred and Terence Alexander as Dartie when she is deludedly in love (1967)

Amanda Root as Winifred much later, knowing Ben Miles as Montague Dartie to be spendthrift, useless, promiscuous, her and John Carlisle, Soames father, James (2002)

or George, an ironic implictly homosexual outsider with an unconventional compassion for others. The POVS are subtly chosen for multiple perspective utterances and controlled.

The whole presentation is very unusual in our modern culture where since Percy Lubbock novelists are taught to show not tell. There are in fact few dramatized scenes of the core electrifying matter, but rather scenes of people observing some crisis happening from afar or reacting to it long afterwards. What this meant is in both the 1967 and 2002 film adaptations most of the scenes we see — often emotional, physical, full of action, gesture, are invented by the writers from the distanced ironic narration of the book.

The book is literally masculinist: only at rare and infrequent moments do we experience a female POV, and we are never allowed inside Irene’s mind. It is only in the second volume of the novel (in a told flashback) that we learn how Soames first saw and was intensely attracted to the young Irene, then orphaned, moneyless, in a lodging house:

Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene as first seen in 1967 series (Part 2)

Parallel scene of Gina McKee as Irene first seen in 2002 series (end of Part 1)

The turns in phrase, the language, is beautifully elegant yet simple, not a vulgarism anywhere, and capturing beauty whether it be the park, or the house Soames and Irene are renting as the novel opens, or a quality of mind, kindness to an animal. Galsworthy in his novels is intensely alert to the presence of animals, and the cruelty with which many people indifferently or carelessly treat their pets and prey. Penetrating lines thrown away laden with meaning are his forte. To use one of Galsworthy’s phrases, his style is not “beyond the power of word-analysis,” but would take an Empson close reading for pages to do justice to one of Galsworthy’s. Finally, Galsworthy is far more aware sexually, or can articulate sexuality on levels Trollope couldn’t or wouldn’t or his era simply made unthinkable.

Interwoven with scenes of private life are those of business. Few people seem to know that Galsworthy was a socialist of the 1930s type and wrote many then popular plays. I just loved a scene in a boardroom where stockholders attempt to stop Old Jolyon from doing the right thing. Pippin, a middle level manager who supervised a group of miners has killed himself after two years of failing to write a letter to the board he felt had to. What’s implied is some terrible accident occurred, workers were hurt badly or killed, and it was hushed up by Pippin and his conscience smote him. Old Jolyon wants to give Pippin’s widow and children the money that Pippin would have earned had he lived out his 5 year contract; the shareholders don’t. Soames stays on the fence (like a cat? a favorite image in this book). A favorite exchange from this scene:

Hemmings [the hypocritical spokesperson for the firm): ‘What our shareholders don’t know about our affairs isn’t worth knowing. You may take that from me Mr Soames … ‘
Old Jolyon: ‘Don’t talk nonsense, Hemmings. You mean that what they do know is not worth knowing’ (vol 2, ch 5, p 145)

At the same time June’s relationship with Bossiney is developed gradually, not from within, not dramatized before us, but as seen by others pragmatically — that June is in great distress, left alone, and Irene and Bossiney seen out together in the park and at gatherings, talking, eating, dancing together with great intensity. Thus Irene and Bossiney’s liaison is first introduced. Sometimes the POV is Soames who at first does not realize what he’s observing.

In Galsworthy we never see the relationship of June and Bossiney when it’s flourishing, only when it’s destroyed and she is grieving. We get this long chapter from POV of Old Jolyon, her grandfather where he watches how June cannot make up her mind whether to go to a dance, finally decides against it, then at the last moment insists on going. Her kindly grandfather goes with her, they arrive and she sees Irene and Bossiney and flees and he then makes up his mind to take her traveling. Until then the primary interest is the man’s idealization of his profession and indifference to money-making, namely Bossiney’s “bohemianism” as it would be called through his uncle’s disapproval and his father’s love off him for it. (Neither mentioned in either film). Galsworthy wants us to see he cares about his creation of a beautiful original house, not a dull bourgeois building meant to show off status and use to keep status things or for show.

Galsworthy’s novel contrasts art for its sake, for beauty and for enhancement of life itself, which Soames is not dead to either.

Ioan Gruffurd as Bossiney and Gillian Kearney as June — as in the book at the family gathering she introduces her fiancee to uncle James

1967 John Bennett as Bossiney first seen cagily negotiating with Old Jolyon who we are told (not shown) in book demanded he make £400 before marrying June

Irene (we are told) visits Bossiney’s the country house. We may surmise she goes to see Bossiney (and this is dramatized in both film adaptations) but in the novel we are only she goes there. Dramatized is one long drive there with another older brother Forsyte, the supine swinish Swithin, fat, complacent, obtuse who thinks she may be attracted to him (big male ego). As narrator Galsworthy likens Irene sitting next to the complacent Swithin, as by

‘a man sitting on a rock, and by him, immersed in the still green water, a sea-nymph lying on her back, with her hand on her nake breast. She has a half-smile on her face …’ (Vol 2, ch 3, p 128).

Irene is smiling like this. Are we to take it she is on offer? I think not; it’s unconscious is what Galsworthy thinks. Myself I thin it a male view of a beautiful female (so we are incessantly told Irene is). At any rate, it’s deeply sexual; the gesture is the age-old one of the prostitute seen in the signs once used to declare a place a brothel: they’d have a picture of a woman with one naked breast offering it … You can see this archetype still on line now and again.

There are astute exchanges of letters between Soames and Bossiney arguing over the money, invitation letters, Old Jolyon’s notes to his son, ironically placed so well, where the characters give themselves away — this does remind me of Trollope. They don’t mean to put their hearts on their sleeve, far from it, but they do.


The first climax of the novel’s story is the death of the oldest Forsyte, POV our omniscient narrator. Aunt Ann who we have seen from afar now get a portrait of as an intelligent woman of the “old school,” utterly conventional but strong and compassionate, especially towards her weak sisters. The old family is slowly breaking apart.

1967 June Barry as June Forsyte first seen confessing her love for Bossiney to Fay Compton as her great Aunt Ann

The effect of The Man of Property can bring home to a reader how the ironic or satiric slant is strongly subjective. Surely this is a key to Austen’s success with the readers who like her point of view. But it comes out strongly in Galsworthy. Trollope fools us (or maybe himself) into thinking his moral outlook is a universal sort of one. It’s not.

Galsworthy is not objective in his presentation even if he’s not letting us inside the minds of his lovers. We are inside the minds of other characters and Galsworthy’s presence itself in inflected psychologically. That’s why Kenneth More’s over-over narrative is needed and works so well and so much is lost without it.


The second climax of the book is Soames’s apparently savage rape of Irene. Again it is not presented to us, we are only told about it the morning after.

It has a long lead-in. Many chapters leading into it. In these we hear and see various characters trying feebly to stop or control it, pretend it’s not happening, or use it for titillating gossip. We are given enough information to know they have sexually consummated their liaison.

Of course the 2002 film shows them in the studio (the 1967 film suggests this and the book sees it from afar, ambiguously)

Winifred, Soames’s sister, obtuse in this novel (she changes in the later ones), invites Irene and Bossiney to a drive and luncheon out with her as if by doing this she can get them to be just friends. It’s a deeply sensual chapter, electric with tension, made all the more so by having the POV be Monty who in the book is a moral horror. As the chapter opens, there’s this throw-away line about his latest high gambling: the owner “had secretly laid many thousands against his own horse, who hadn’t even started.” So what does Monty do: bets again with borrowed man; he thinks he’ll get out of it through the despised James (Soames’s and Winifred’s father). Then he substitutes for the male escort Winifred would have preferred by this time.

The language of the chapter has an equal acccent on the wealth of these people reminding me of Talleryand on the ancien regime just before it fell (or in our context how the enforced sequestration on the 99% by the representatives of the 1% is the the result of private-property worship. Galsworthy conveys how tasteless Monty gestures are and how insulting to Irene; how she is electrified with distaste and Bossiney under some kind of torture. It’s easy to see that Bossiney wants her to leave Soames and she’s not yet willing.

Central chapters are those where the POV is young Jolyon; he is (in effect) Galsworthy’s spokesperson. Old Jolyon writes Young Jolyon a letter asking Young Jolyon to do the conventional thing: demand of Bossiney ‘what he means by all this.’ Young Jolyon feels Irene as “magnetic energy” as he remembers his own intense desires for Helene, but when he goes to the club, and sees Bossiney’s haggard state, he cannot get himself to speak to the man this way.

Young Jolyon and Bossiney earnestly talking: they share values, norms (so it’s in the cards Irene could turn to Young Jolyon — in the 1967 film Jolyon comes to Bossiney’s studio)

It’s absurd and dependent on being blind to what’s in front of you which is how Winifred is living her life. There are here a couple of paragraphs in young Jolyon’s mind where he thinks about why he left his wife Francis: it was really sheerly out of boredom and driven by sexual desire.

Galsworthy has profited much from the naturalists of whom we read George Moore. Moore shows passion to be the driving force of nature and also how deeply unjustly the social structure dependent on it (especially to women) is; he’s typical of the whole naturalist school. Critics do keep attributing some “naturalism” to Galsworthy. This is central to how Galsworthy sees sexual and social relationships (Why to have Young Jolyon now as narrator in the 1967 film is right).

Young Jolyon goes on to think this is what the world of private property hinges itself upon

‘The core of it all … is property, but there are many people who would not like it put that way. to them it is ‘the sanctity of the marriage tie’; but the sanctity of the marriage tie is dependent on the sanctity of the family, and the sanctity of the family is dependent on the sanctity of property. And yet I imagine all these people are followers of One who never owned anything. It is curious’ (Vol 2, Ch 9, p 197)

(Later he says of a museum set up by the upper classes by well-meaning people, like say the old BBC, it’s a “Museum of Art that has given so much employment to officials and so little pleasure to those working classes for whom it was designed” Vol 3, Ch 3, p 243)

Again and again the metaphor of the dog is applied to those who are owned; the woman is like a dog; Bossiney feeling himself mastered by Irene’s sexuality is likened to a dog. This recalls Trollope’s women protesting they are not like dogs (from Alice Vavasour to Nora Rowley).

And then the first break of the surface.

1967: Irene asking him to let her go, and his refusal even to discuss this

Soon after the luncheon Irene (perhaps prompted by its mortifications and her awareness of how she now appears to others), tells Soames that she wants to leave him and asks him to let her go, as he had promised when she said she would marry him. He won’t even let her discuss it. She then locks him out of her bedroom. Tere is no rape (Chapter 11). We have a slow build-up of intense tension as this scene (it’s suggested) was repeated night after night by her locking the door. So (Chapter 14), he approaches her, she is ferocious (“don’t touch me” — how she “loathes” him) and again Soames is locked out. A typical passage:

‘The silence was broken by a faint creaking through the wall. . If she threw the door open wide he would not go in now! But his lips, that were twisted in a bitter smile, twitched; he covered his eyes with his hands ….’ Pt 2 Chap 14.

The lines say he can’t go in. He says if she threw the door wide open, he would not go in. We don’t believe him, but she does not. All he does is twitch and cover his eyes with his hands. The paragraph before has him thinking about Bossiney. The three dots suggest something happened, but we are given no reason to think he got into that room. She kept the door locked. There is no reason to think he has broken the door down.

Nonetheless, the 2002 film suggests he did get in: they don’t follow the book: first we see her fail to keep her room to herself, then we see her fail to lock the door in time; all the images of them in bed together suggest estrangement, so tension is built this way and sympathy for Irene increases multifold:


Then the slam. It’s the next afternoon he is at the window downstairs. Irene comes in and she ignores him, she is sleek and flushed. She laughs deeply emotionally (like a sob). We later learn (from Mrs MacAnders) she had been in the park and we are told this park is a place where couples do have sex in the bushes.

That night, the one Soames learns of this sexual intercourse in the park, he rapes Irene. For the conclusion of the novel and my commentary see the comments.


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Joanne Froggart — as Anna, my favorite heroine

Gentle readers,

Pray bear with me. Here is a handy linked-in list of my blog-reviews on Downton Abbey (and a few by others). I know the “categories” function is supposed to provide a useful archive, but in this and my other 2 blogs, instead of getting just the title to click and say 4 lines to see, the archives section reprints whole blogs, so it cannot function as a place where at a glance you can see the slew of blogs on a topic easily. You must wade through.

Hence this handy list. I wrote 4 blogs the 1st season of Downton Abbey; 4, the second season; and 9, the 3rd. I also link in anibundel’s The Hats of Downton Abbey, and Emerging Quaker’s Poltical Analysis. I did write 9 postings for each week of the second season and if I can get up the ambition and discipline I will make them into blogs before the 4th season is upon us.

For now you can find all the postings I wrote on DA at this select Trollope19thCStudies archive or this select Women Writers archive.

Phyllis Logan and Hugh Bonneville dance — and so the second season concluded

Here are the first season’s:

Pride & Prejudice as UpstairsDownstairs with plenty of Trollope mixed in

The Crowded Canvas

The luminous forest

The Making of Downton Abbey: journal blog

First Season, First Part Re-watched: the great benefits of a script and studying the shots

Christmas special: Lesley Nicol, Rob James-Cellier, Siobhan Finneran

From the second season

DA everywhere: from Yemen to Scotland to Yorkshire, with Portrait Shots

Serial Story-telling, the Art of the Mini-series from Poldark to Downton Abbey

Slow Journeys through Passionate Dream Material: Poldark to Downton Abbey

Class and Literature: the sense of entitlement that matters

Shirley Maclaine greets Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Deborah Findlay-Brown

Season 3:1 begins: an uneasy atmosphere

DA 2: the Abbey a Bourdieu Habitas?

DA 3: Cruelty so raw it took my breath away (Edith’s humiiliation)

DA 3:4: We all live in a harsh world, but at least I know I do

DA 3:5: Childbirth as risk, trauma; or how to get rid of a character

DA 3:6: the fallout; “don’t flirt with me Robert”

DA 3:7: to give way to them is to conform to the rules set down by the evil-minded

DA 3:8: The ending charity itself; or simply cricket

Cricket — Dan Steevens and Allan Leech

DA goes to Scotland: “Dreaming of a better life;” Mrs Hughes’s POV

Dame Maggie Smith

The Hats: from I Should have Been a Blogger

Season One: The Women’s Hats

Season Two: Men’s Hats

Season Three

Political Analysis

The actors who play servants sitting on Ealing stairs talking: you can see Sophia McShea, Cara Theobald, Bernard Gallagher

A Plantation View of the World

Minus the violence

Upstairs cast rehearsal at Highclere Castle: you can see Penelope Wilton, Elizabeth McGovern


The scripts, together with a brief bibliography.


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And I am blown along a wandering wind,
And hollow, hollow, hollow all delight.”
And fainter onward, like wild birds that change
Their season in the night and wail their way
From cloud to cloud, down the long wind the dream
Shrilled; but in going mingled with dim cries
Far in the moonlit haze among the hills,
As of some lonely city sacked by night,
When all is lost …. Tennyson, Death of Arthur

Rene Pape (Gunemanz), Parsifal (Jonas Kaufmann), Kundry (Katarina Dalayman)

Dear friends and readers.

I don’t want to say don’t miss Francois Girard’s production, for that would imply I fear it will disappear and be replaced by the ritualistic, militaristic Catholic-Christian over-produced (crammed set) bogus history-filled (through ceaseless stage business lest the audience be bored) versions I’ve seen. I wish they would vanish.

Nor do I want to over-praise a production the 2nd act of which presents women’s sexuality as evil, destructive, with scenery being a huge pool of women’s vaginal blood (well water, gliserin and food dye pumped in from behind a scrim), and all but one of the women standing bare-footed in the water with their wild long hair over their faces. They and Kundry were supposed holding long poles under a spell of the villain-dwarf, Klingsor (Evgeny Nikitin), which when broken, become spear-like penis weapons they seek to kill with.


Yet except for this (a big except), Girard’s production reminded me of the way Arthurian literature has been allegorized in the later 19th century and our time — say Tennyson or Sara Teasdale (wrote as Guenever) T.S Eliot. I have read Chretien, Wolfram, Malory and at moments it reminded me of these. Of movies it was closest to Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac. These stills from the 1974 film which belong to same kind of terrain:

Robert Bresson-Lancelot du Lacblog

Bresson’s Guenevere


Bresson’s Lancelot

At one level or its most basic, the Met HD Parsifal is an allegory of depression, of human kind living minimally in deep sadness over the crimes and wrongs everyone has committed, grieving over this. No endless stage business. So as so little outward action went on you had to be contemplative of the tableaux. If you make all the talk of evil and sin mean the violence, brutal exploitation and daily cruelty on earth, then it’s an opera for our time.

We were in the still point of the world, in the 1st and 3d act, the edge of planet earth which seems to be a wasteland, scorched. The costumes were meant to evoke a universal humanity: when Jonas Kaufmann came out in the 3rd act and looked up at the two other main characters on stage at that moment (Katarina Dalayman as Kundry and Rene Pape as Gurnemanz), with a soft, plain, vulnerable look in his face, his hair greyed, the worn blue jacket, ordinary black trousers or hobo-kind of clothes, and began to sing, it was the high point of the opera for me.


He and all the others were people on the earth, Everyman, Everywoman, with little money. Men on chairs. Anti-luxury — that a blessing in opera whose houses have come to be imitation ancien regime or corporate palaces and whose sets are often celebrations of status, wealth. Acts 1 and 3 had the women in dark outfits with veils; Kundry had a glittering dress but it was not a luxury ball gown, more like a heavy overcoat-bathrobe:


She matched the women at the edge of the earth:


In the middle vaginal blood scene, she was in a white nightgown, failing to seduce the virgin-like Parsifal:


Peter Mattei acted Anfortas, the man carrying the wounds of the earth, very well and did the difficult job of singing in the postures of a achingly crippled man:

Music Peter Mattei

There was no filler. No militarism. What a relief. The ritual carried out using black boxes and minimal chairs. Insofar as Francois Girard could, he eliminated familiar Christian symbols. This was not quite a pagan-earth grail. No one was clothed in “white samite, mystic wonderful” (line from Tennyson). Rather props seemed to come from a lot of used iron ware turned black with age.

I’ve read that Wagner meant this opera to be Buddhist and in Eric Owens (he was host)’s interview of Girard, Girard mentioned this:


I know little about Buddhism so did not recognize the allegory out of the set and the actor-singers’ actions. Maybe Gurnemanz was the top Buddhist? I saw a parallel with Mozart’s Masonic Magic Flute. The Queen of the Night is all evil and her women her instruments; Mozart males in the temple are good, rational, as a community must keep apart from women and women be “tamed.” So this Parsifal emerged as rooted in the same thought & feeling system.

The beautiful singing and acting helped deflect the worse aspects of the allegory and symbolic scenes:


It was frank. Again as in all these HD productions, for the first time I could understand the plot literally — even if in this one the action was enigmatic, not rational. As I wrote above, maybe using vaginal blood pools was over-doing it in the central act but now I see how the opera has sex with women as evil. It’s more than masculinist: women are shunted to the side; women face backwards; women are enslaved by their sexuality as controlled by an evil dwarf but it is their sexuality that is this great danger.

The irrationality of assuming evil in the world is mystic and irreparable (see Bob Dixon) was also offset by Kaufmann, as a man who acted so compassionately, lovingly, tenderly in very gesture by Jonas Kaufmann (the way he put his hands on Kundry’s head):


Jim says he is every kind of tenor: Helden tenor, someone who can sing Werther. And his voice-character is so touching (a singer’s voice-character trumps his action-character in an opera).

No he was an “innocent” — the production preferred to translate as “fool” what should perhaps be better named naif (naive). And he was a seeker, on a quest maybe to find his true parentage and identity.

I did wish it were shorter. I found fascinating the scene changing behind the curtain really revealing — the hard work putting the flats together, the screen for lights to be reflected on, great big square boxes to pump blood in and swosh it out through hoses. Still, Wagner’s Parsifal as done by the Met is too long. Six hours including scene changes is too long to sit through. I admit I began to get a headache towards the end.


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