Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2015

1960sPoldarkNovelsBodleyHeadArtworkonCovers
Bodley Head edition (in the 1960s the Bodley Head press produced an edition of the first four books)

Coastof
From the coast of Cornwall, ruin of a fortress

Dear friends and readers,

A third blog of appreciation, analysis, love, for Graham’s second Poldark novel, Demelza. The first, “Herstory,” came out of my own reading of the novel and watching of the 1975-76 Poldark mini-series; the second, “A young lady’s entrance into the world,” out of my teaching the book to college students aged 18-27 and having read all twelve novels by that time; this third, from teaching the book to retired and older people, aged 50-70, and having reread the novels, written “Liberty in the Poldark Novels,” and watched the first 8 episodes of the 2015 Poldark, not to omit having read (at long last) some intelligent understanding of these books in Nickianne Moody, Rachel Moseley and and Julie Taddeo’s essays on why the series is so politically compelling and relevant, why Cornwall is so central to the success of the first mini-series, and the ambivalent presentation of sexuality, and especially rape and sexual abuse in Graham’s fiction. It is a somewhat revised version of the class discussions and my brief lectures.

I treat the book as a hyrid form between history, political-social or ethnographic study, and romancing novel. The particular threads added to Ross Poldark are captured in the character of Dwight Enys, introduced in this book, and his doings: he enables the opening up of a long exploration of how medicine was practiced in the long 18th century and how this mirrors our own era begins. Demelza and Jeremy Poldark dramatize how the very definition of what was a crime and what its punishment was the result of a long class struggle and economic development over the course of 2 centuries; we are the nub of the changes. This blog will best be appreciated and is indeed meant to supplement a slow reading along of Demelza; the pages cited are keyed to the American Sourcebook editions of the first two Poldark novels. It is critical and evaluative and takes in the whole arc of the series (all 12 books) when appropriate, so it assumes you have read them all.

I began this second novel with the use of allegorical names and emotional resonances in non-allegorical names; about the characters of Ross and Demelza Poldark, Warleggan, and Jud. Graham uses semi-allegorical for his characters, which are often realistic too (but not always, as in Dr Choake). Many have personal associations or resonances for him.

Ross Poldark is named after his best friend in his twenties, a chemist (in the UK that’s a drugstore person, would know about medicine, we’d call him pharmacist), called Ridley Polgreen. He died tragically in her 20s, sense of wit and “deep appreciation of all that was good and beautiful in life. But he felt “green” was too bright, then during WW2 he came across a scarred, bony flyer in a train in WW2: had been in a crash, broken leg, broken ribs, scars on face, had in him “a high strung disquiet” towards life. Thoughtful man.

Demelza – it has become a common name in Cornwall; he saw a signpost with the name; he began with the conception of a “dark-haired waif whom Ross picked up at Redruth Fair”. 1790. These are thoroughly researched, based on a bedrock of knowledge. Dr William Pryce. Two books: Mineralogia Cornubiensis – 18th century mining. He also wrote An Essay to preserve the Ancient Cornish Language. De means thy or the. Melza – honey or sweetness so my sweetness – links back to French, miel, honey. Graham used Pryce’s dictionary for some names.

Nampara: valley of bread, name goes back centuries, he is thinking of Perranport.

Warleggan, a village on the Bodmin moors, lonely place, desolate; unaltered for centuries, he tells of how he came upon it on a cold mid-June day, south-easterly wind blowing, squat church made of granite, a ruined spire, tombstones unkempt, plain altar. Unameliorated capitalism; the first thing this man does in Warleggan when he gets hands on Trenwith is to enclose the land, kick tenants off; if mind not making a big enough profit, closes it

Elizabeth is popular name at the time; Chynoweth an old Cornish name. Enys an old Cornish name. Zacky: Zechariah. Biblical names liked.

Jud Paynter. Partly a composite but again he came across an obstinate old working class man in a pub; he sister he lived with is the prototype for Prudie. Came across him while the second mini-series was being filmed: had a doom-laden point of view, a kind of comic pessimism, thick Cornish accent, poor, in ragged clothes, a battered hat. Saw him as in a way sublime in his obliviousness. Graham has said maybe he overdid the character but felt Paul Curran’s performance was perfect for the character: he’s not quite real.

Then I suggested how the books related to one another:

Demelza takes place in that world and we begin to meet many characters who are situated in houses. In Ross Poldark, Graham was feeling his way into his historical fiction world, and inventing a group of characters he was deeply attached to personally – as surrogates and who he managed to attach readers to. Ross and Demelza, Verity and Francis, Elizabeth more shadowy. Verity will drop out as will Jud and Prudie gradually in later novels. But the four or two couples remain central to the end: tellingly, Elizabeth and Francis will vanish by Book 4 (Warleggan) and Book 6 (The Angry Tide), respectively, but their presences are never forgotten nor what they left behind. Through her son by Ross, Valentine, Elizabeth is as much part of last or 12th book (Bella) as she was of the first; that book is only resolved with a final death and Ross facing his irresponsibility about Valentine, and that he should have told the boy the truth about himself as his father. Ross Poldark was a reaction to WW2: he was looking for a usable past he could find restoration in; carving out value system for the mid-20th century.

Demelza is not a sequel but a continuation. All the novels are continuation, all 12, continuing the story. Each one has a peculiar structure and themes of its own but they do not introduce a new set of characters who are dismissed from the action beyond the one novel. In Stranger from the Sea there is a leap of 11 years (from 1799 to 1810), but otherwise In Demelza Graham widens his purview to include the 18th century world. We might say the first is an introduction and exploration of two characters in a landscape with a few close around them: Francis, Verity, Elizabeth, Jud, the Carters, with mentions of Warleggans and forays into outer world.

In Demelza Graham began to fill out the 18th century world – it’s in this that topics like mining, banking, crime and punishment, laws, prisons, and medicine emerge centrally (see Austen Reveries for these 18th century historical matters). Dwight Enys is introduced and like Caroline Pevenen (introduced in Book 3, Jeremy Poldark), Dr Enys will last until the close of 12th book, though take on a lesser role once Ross begins to be an MP in London and the characters travel to France. Dr Enys is the site for Graham’s exploration of medicine then as a mirror of today.

*****************

PoemwithEleanorTomlinsonasDemelza
Eleanor Tomlinson, the new Demelza

CornishMineOpening
A Cornish Mine opening

Book 1 ends on tragedy in the community: the closing of Grambler mine – that is brought about by private doings: Francis is using Grambler money to live a life of gambling, women, goes into debt. We feel the poingnance of how the men don’t want to leave; how all the people in the community experience this as a disaster; we have here the modern equivalent of globalization where a corporation moves to another country to get dirt-cheap wages, no controls on their conditions; cities in the US and UK disaster areas who try to find some other way to live. There are companies which grow rich by deliberately buying up, pulling money out of and destroying the company and then selling it – Romney did this. Look at the last line of Demelza, Book 1, the unwatering of the mine, the sound of the engines goes, the man work as long as they dare, and even then some (p. 125) – who will they turn to? The plangent close of those sea gulls.

Note that the second book starts a year and 11 months later than the first. It opens with Demelza giving birth. So it opens hard upon the close of Ross Poldark, about May 1788, the first book ended December 1787 (this would be 7 months later) – several of the books end on Christmas time. A ritual time of remembering, taking stock, high emotions can be brought forth

Novels of the 18th century especially by women are endlessly in indirect ways criticizing marriage and exposing this trap. Graham has this enclosed in his plot-design too.

What most 18th century women did regularly once they married: Gave birth. While the inescapable trap this meant for women is not central to this book, in the later ones it becomes so: women in the 18th century were faced with near-mandatory marriage – in order to participate as a fully functioning adult in the society you had to marry – if you did not, you remained a kind of upper servant, a daughter, a sister. The problem for women is they lacked the power to define marriage for themselves: we do see this in Verity. They were hindered from meeting people their families didn’t approve of, of choosing a husband within the men they met; particular men were forced on them for family aggrandizement. What man you choose makes for what life you live. It was very risky to run away and defy parents as there was no way of getting positions for a man outside the patronage systems stemming mostly from families. Ended up prostitutes.

What 18th century fiction presents less often but it’s there is that if you married, continual pregnancies for most and childbirth was dangerous. Very high death rate – numbers are hard come by, but many men went through 3 wives. Contraception was known and understood. Graham’s way of presenting women emphasizes this reality. In the case of Graham, he is bringing to bear the voices of the marginalized and the strong pro-revolutionary currents of the 1780s and 1790s into discourse – that’s why the books still matter in some ways (also the proto-feminism and some other themes). Women were part of this powerless group.

The equivalent of condoms were sheep-guts, very expensive as you used each one up. 5 pounds each for Lord Byron. Got in the way of pleasure, really used as prophylactic to prevent disease. All the moral rhetoric of the period against contraception. Yes we have evidence people used anal intercourse and various forms of fellatio and other non penetrative sex but kept quiet about it. Found in diaries and French sources, soft core porn novels of the Enlightenment – regarded as radical politically.

What was happening in the 18th century was midwifery was beginning to be somewhat scientific – John Hunter still respected and celebrated as one of the great surgeons in history described and drew a series of remarkable depictions of the embryo, the way it developed, how the baby had to turn, and yet when it came to getting it out, not so easy. Forceps invented in first half of 17th century Chamberlain brothers, Huguenots who came to England and Pierre said to be inventor; find definitive descriptions in 1634, – he became obstetrician-surgeon to Henrietta, the French Queen of Charles I (famous in history for being deposed and beheaded, but it was kept secret as a trade secret for 150 years. They would not disseminate – one of the great obstacles to science has been the profit motive and secresy – not sharing information is still a central problem and obstacle.

Ross does become indignant and insist the doctor come back, but luckily Dr Choake (allegorically named) keeps away, and Prudie, Ross’s woman servant, and the woman who partly brought Demelza up, and Verity, Ross’s cousin, who has become Demelza’s good friend, assist Mrs Zacky Martin (Jinny’s mother) who suddenly emerges as a woman with knowledge of childbirth. Notice she is not paid and Dr Choake is paid.

The birth itself is not really described only suggested. She then gets up from bed, the young baby begins to thrive. Verity has come to stay during her convalescence and help out. Demelza’s love for Verity, her bonding with her leads Demelza to ring Verity, together with Captain Blamey, the man Verity loves. She tries to open this purpose to Ross but he is not keen to see Blamey refound, is as distrustful as Francis and Charles Poldark were (pp 18-2). Then she broaches this to Verity (pp. 20-21). No one but Demelza for it it seems. Thus Jud not far wrong when he understands Demelza’s purpose in going to Falmouth and remarks: “”Ten sense, tedne natural, tedn right, tend safe.” (p 22)

Chapters 3 & 4 & 5: then two christenings, the first and then introduction of Enys and the scheme for opening an independent mine (Pascoe): a first Christening one in which the upper class characters & Ross’s family are invited, and the next day the lower class ones & Demelza. She is central figure for the novel as someone who engineers central plot-design (much flows from Verity’s flight with Blamey); here she brings these people together. So we have class clash. There is an anti-religious satire in the novel rare in American books. Francis’s dialogue captures some of this irrevent spirit, pp 31-32

It’s very neat how all the threads are plotted together (Pp. 30-33): What we see is the religion you practice is a function of your character, not the other way round. If you are a violent, intolerant man religion will give you a doctrine to rationalize your behavior; if you are filled with class resentments and an instinctive desire to control libido, pleasure, have authority and power over others, you will invent rules that enforce that. Hints throughout let us know Francis is a reader as is Ross.

Poor Demelza is just desolate. She is a lower class woman thrust into an environment where she does not fit easily and she feels (is made to feel) this daily; she is independent-minded (as so many say), acts on her own for her own existence: we do not see her as a wife much, in this book scarcely as a mother (though frequently pregnant three times thus far), but rather Ross’s mistress, sex partner (this is done discreetly), working with and for him for his causes (which I like) and his safety (which is hers), waiting for her revenant-adventurer (primarily she is at home). He reads evenings (though what we are not told, alas, as that would be fun to see which 18th century texts Graham might pick for him) and often drinks, is more solitary than one might expect; she sits by his side, sewing, talking. She walks, rides (sidesaddle), goes boating and fishes.

Well in this scene he is in control as host, as the Top Male of this gathering and the way to stop further outbreaks of social poison is to assert the norm of respect to families, respect to him, and he manages to make this stick (p. 35): Demelza sees that he “had come out the best.” Ruth Teague acts badly again, but Francis refuses to be provoked, and both Mrs Carne who shows common sense and does not have the class resentments her husband does and Treneglos is willing to overlook the insult to his wife – the sort of thing that could end in a duel except an upper class gentleman is not supposed to duel with a working class male.

He insists she must not retreat; took her to Trenwith and now they must have the second day. Powerful ticketing scene (pp 37-43). This is how it was done – Buckley’s book on Mining in Cornwall recounts this. At the same time we see Ross hire Enys to be a mine surgeon and give him a house to live in. Nice to have all these houses just lying about. Even the son of a second son in such a family has resources.

Chapter 5: During this second christening (much happier because so much more natural), Keren, the strolling actress and her company are to be there; she is introduced and Mark Daniels who came to this second christening is mesmerized, enthralled and persuades her to marry him. The disaster of their union is played out in this book: she creates a liaison between herself and Dr Dwight Enys and Mark acts in crazed hurt when he discovers that his all was not good enough. So this series of events is tied to the christening, and also Ross’s need for a surgeon for his new mine and his giving Dwight the gatehouse near the mine, just at the edge of his property and near Mark’s dwelling.

The event gives Graham a chance to present a scene of provincial players doing a typical melodrama of the era. Aaron Hill was an 18th century theater man who wrote and translated plays (Voltaire’s), Samuel Johnson a man of letter who wrote one tragedy which was bad; they would go back to old English names like Elfrida. Mark is very allured by her. Is the depiction of Keren was fair? What happens? She too is lower class, she wants to better herself, get on as Demelza puts it. Would you like the destiny she is supposed to like? in a dark dank cottage caring for endless babies? She does not find in Mark any companion for her. Keren is a parallel figure to Demelza, only Graham presents her hostilely too.

Fristmeetinghetransfixed
The first meeting of Mark and Keren: he enthralled, transfixed by an icon (like Ross with Elizabeth Chynoweth), she her impersonally gracious

Jump interweave: Chapter 7: Mark comes to Demelza for land to build his house and she helps (Pp 63-76) the opening phase of the Mark Daniels and Keren story. Chapter 8 the building of the house, Keren almost flies away, but stays reluctantly, best of bad choices, he falls asleep exhausted (pp 69-76). Her resentment at his being too tired to have sex is made a point of.

Chapter 6: Demelza goes to Falmouth, making contact with Captain Blamey and fostering and engineering Verity’s renewed love affair. At first Blamey is hostile; he too so hurt, he more isolated than she. The depiction of Falmouth (to which Demelza travels to find and see Blamey) is very fine, convincing and pleasurable, with the character of Demelza vivid with uncertainty about her plans once she sees him — and on the first visit her coming leads to nothing. She does see how lonely Blamey is but also how twisted, not really perhaps to be trusted because husbands were so powerful (Pp 53-62).

TrioWatching (2)
Corn demonstration of desperately hungry people turns into riot when soldiers arrive

TrioWatching (1)
Verity, Demelza, Blamey caught up, watch as POV

Again jump interweave: Chapter 10; Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p. 88). Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p 88)

Chapter 12: The intertwining of the riot with Verity and Demelza in town and Blamey helping them to escape. When Blamey is brought together with Verity through Demelza’s machinations — a trip to Truro where Blamey and Demelza agree to meet in a shop (in fact they meet in the street because his nerve faltered). Then she is intensely reluctant and moves away; they are caught up in a strike, half-riot so Demelza loses sight of them but by the end Verity has been brought to acknowledge she still wants to marry Blamey, to have another identity and role in the world than sister, aunt.

We have some intertwining of movements in Blamey with Keren come to ask for a promotion for Mark and Demelza taking Verity to Truro to meet Blamey; a food riot developing from starving – very good because we see intertwining of several threads

Chapter 9: Ross’s attempts to enlist Francis and the various men to open Wheal Leisure( pp 77-81) – it’s starve and let the mines die and go under control of banks and people outside Cornwall or try themselves. Chapter 11: In fact Ross goes to male hegemonic party, sees Enys there and much richer Margaret (who is sarcastic to Ross) and preying on Francis – several people are now preying on him. He is weak, gambles.

How does the style function to take you into a characters mind as he or she is dealing with the environment and allow for more general thoughts and discussion of ideas and descriptions.

It’s a flexible middle style, can rise to real eloquence and principles “I have the right to chose my own life,” and talk of principles as people plan business dealings – at the same time sharp narrative and dialogue. We are often half in Demelza’s mind (pp 57-58), From “They trekked … another noise in the street drew her notice again. In Chapter 10 we see how narrator can move from distanced description into her mind, “The joys of leisure … All the trees leaned the other way” (p 82). This is called free indirect style. Again and again important incidents of outward history brought in sometimes three paragraphs in a row by subtle moving from inside a character’s mind to the paragraphs and then back to character’s mind. So Demelza watching the rioters (p 99) – called free indirect speech. There are sentences there that are the narrator’s. Sleight of hand. Chapter 13, p 112-113 – quick intensities – Verity left alone having made her intense contact with Andrew again.

There are many inward thoughtful characters; Ross is often not one of them in the sense of giving away his darkest thoughts. His thoughts are often very narrowly aimed. He is private character – you can’t reach the back thoughts. You are allowed to reach them in Dwight Enys. Graham can translate principles into demotic working class Cornish English and he does this a lot with Jud. Jud is angry and resentful (pp 106-7). He and Prudie did not have the self-esteem to have a wedding. Prudie feels bad because her mother would have been ashamed since they aren’t.

*************************

LauncestonGaol
Launceston Gaol (1980s photograph from Poldark’s Cornwall).

DrawingofEllisAngharadasRossDemelza
A drawing of Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza Poldark (taken from a promotional photograph)

Move onto Book 2; April 1789 (p 128). So time has passed for Verity and Andrew to keep contact and for Keren and Dwight’s affair to carry on, and Mark and Keren’s relationship distance and deteriorate. In Book 3, Graham brings together the fall of the Bastille with Verity’s flight – Francis poo poohs it (Chapter 2, p 232). Of course Trencomb would have heard, he is back and forth as a businessman-smuggler from France continually.

Book 2: April 3, 1789,

Chapter 1: Whole chapter given over to ticketing for Carnmore Mining Company with Zacky Martin as agent (there was a Cornwall Copper company which attempted the same thwarting of outside and bank monopoly interests); they succeed in buying; the company is floated with Pascoe’s money; the strike for corn has repercussions and they are moving prisoners as the prisons fill up — alas Jim Carter is just then reaching end of his term; Pascoe tells Ross of rumors about Verity (Pp 127-135). Zacky may be “a fellow of an inferior class” but he’s close-mouthed, effective. Banker Pascoe tells Ross somehow word always gets to him of other people’s doing. What I find rewarding here beyond the scene is the theme: George Eliot might provide the epitaph for this book: “There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life,” – the way justice was administered – getting ahead of myself was imprisoning only a few but delivering terrifying draconian punishments. Read Blight’s ugly reactionary comments (p. 133)

Chapter 2 (pp 136-142). We are in Ross’s mind: we see how he sees Verity and Blamey, No reconciliation with Jud and Prudie. Important history – Sherborne Mercury was an important revolutionary radical newspaper in the mid-lands (p. 137). A time of revolution. Ross talks with Verity about situation at Trenwith; Elizabeth patient but no understanding for Francis (p. 137) – Hastings is Warren Hastings, in charge of India took too huge bribes, and committed some unacceptable injustice to Begums. Ross home sees Demelza playing as “a thread of silver into the spring” — an invitation to an Assembly and Ball put on by Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and she wants to go so he accedes. She is thinking about her dress: apple green and mauve – mauve a new color then. Dyes more particular. New kind of purple, new shades of green. The scene in bed between them is going to blow up in both of their faces

Chapter 3 (pp 143-150) At home with Keren and Mark; Mark’s reference to the thrush. Touching connection to natural world: the thrush has a beautiful song about singing against despair and savagery. It fits Mark’s behavior.

Poem by Basil Bunting:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!

Keren’s thoughts given in italics I don’t know why. I wouldn’t like to live the way she’s expected to.

Keren visits Enys once again; he says they must stop but does not throw her out; she must not criticize Daniels for not being other than they are; she stays to help with his work and leaves. Shows his larger humanity (p 145):. They have not have understanding or charity outside their understanding, but within that they have sterling qualities (p 147), a bit condescending. How manipulative she is (p 149-50). Encys presented as an innocent boy. Like Demelza she’s afraid he’ll react with contempt – a parallel – women are so vulnerable.

Chapter 4 (pp 151-60) The Warleggans to hold a party just before; a male party with disreputable women about.
Good use of song from Beggar’s Opera – if we’ve seen Gay’s play the gay flirtatiousness and erotic desperation come across – Keren an actress and singer (p 153). Mark would not appreciate it.

Chapter 5 (pp 161-66) Ross and Enys’s attempt to save Jim by amputation — how today doctors are similarly determined to try to save the patient. Mark visits Demelza because he now suspects Keren of sexual infidelity, she cannot give him help for real; she knows Keren is “carrying on” with someone.

Ross in Truro buys lovely objects for Demelza to wear. Again what shopping is like (Pp 154-55). how in life talk is interwoven (p 156). And here a scene we went over in terms of style and point of view (pp 157-63), references to time. Graham also moves quickly – One story carrying on, another: now it’s Mark come to talk to Ross and Demelza is there – -and sees “some new darkness at the back of his eyes.” He confesses to her – givens more sincere talk (pp. 164-65). And we move to Verity persuading Ross it is in his interest to go (pp 170-72)

Graham cleverly uses attitudes of mind about medicine just now, attitudes that might not have been prevalent in the early 20th century but emerged mid-century. It’s particular not universal. That’s the real trick. These things come together in these heightened thematic moments. When Ross and Dwight force their way into the prison. Most prisons were not that well guarded, gun was enough. Book 2, Chapter 4 (p 155): We begin in Dwight’s mind; the POV moves between Dwight and Ross. Admiring the view brings in a bit of history: this was where Wm the Conqueror brother built his castle (p 156). If you are a producer you might think, Should I photograph some of the old castles at the edge of Cornwall, guarding it from sea attacks. We are embedded in this scene. Read Ross watching (pp. 158-159).

Typhus a strange rash, and gangrene has set in. He is dying of having been put in that prison. Then sudden speech of abject subaltern being who hardly ever is heard (pp. 160ff). Jinny did beg him not to go (p 160). Should you let him die in peace, Dwight makes the usual doctor’s decision, “let me try” to save him (pp. 160-61) Dwight can’t let the guy die in peace. Works on him all night. (I daresay some of us have seen this – should the person be let alone – I’ve been there twice now.)

This is a moment which reverberates through the rest of the novel, not just the result in Ross’s behavior at the assembly ball, but is part of the rage that leads him in the book’s penultimate scenes – then it’s Julia’s death and the failure of his smelting scheme through Warleggan having found out the names of the combine’s members and put a stranglehold on them through their monopoly power, to say nothing of hs deeper angers – to instigate a riot.

Demelza’s slow moving plan-plot to bring Verity together with Blamey again will also reverberate and past this novel – as Verity is taken from Trenwith where she was needed if not herself living the life she wants and has the right (she says and the novel too) to live

Chapter 6 (pp. 167-72). Verity and Demelza and Ross at Nampara: the bitterness of Ross’s loss; now Demelza cannot enter into his feelings – p 168: opposite reactions. – one line utterance and counter utterance, a technique in drama. It is a matter of loyalty; if he won’t go, she doesn’t. I feel that. Verity tells him he is unwise not to go to ball and assembly. What a difference from Elizabeth’s well-meaning aristocratic point of view: “sorry about your farm boy”

Chapters 7-12 It’s a several chapter marvelous set piece: The high point of the novel visually and dramatically is the assembly ball they go to with again Demelza at center, this time as dancing lady. Ross does not want to go because just before he and Dwight had brought Jim Carter out of a prison he had been moved to and he had died. Ross is incensed at his class and his world. Ross exposes Sanson, a nephew of the Warleggans. At that ball Francis sees Blamey and again Blamey tries to conciliate and again Francis won’t. So there is nothing for it but Verity must run away or give up her life to Francis’s prejudices and needs. We see the two couples with Verity leaving together at the close.

Chapter 7: pp 173-78. The Warleggan ball: Ross goes, the Teagues there; Demelza dressing; George Warleggan making points with Elizabeth. Again (pp. 184-85) each time Warleggan seems stronger in Elizabeth’s mind – I hear Ralph Bates’s voice. Begin with Demelza holding her own against the women and witty (pp 175-76). Demelza drinks and it gives her courage.

Ball
Demelza braves the ball with Ross

For me one of the most striking sequences in this book to hit me personally occurs when she goes to an assembly dance with Ross, and he angered intensely over Jim’s death first does not want to go, and then does not do his part in helping her to integrate. This is to anticipate next week’s reading – unless you’ve read it already – Demelza does not know how to command male respect and ends up a kind of subrisive target, like a girl who goes to a fraternity house and does not know how to cope. Not as bad, but bad enough (Book 2, Chapters 8-10. pp 179-200). I find myself very moved by these scenes because even if I did not live in the 18th century I remember from my teenagehood and later a bit too how hard it was to cope with male abrasiveness and aggression; you were not supposed to reject them, yet their behavior was such if you didn’t respond in just the right way you’d be called a tramp; Ross behaves badly in the scene too. He does manage to see by the end that they are making one another worse and hurting their relationship and so calls a halt but abruptly.

Demelza cannot keep Ross away from his thoughts. He again captures other people’s otherness, p 178
At the ball itself, p 188 Demelza’s inability to cope with upper class abrasive males leaves her vulnerable; Ross apologizes later on for deserting her and she forgives. (A repeat of this will happen in London in Angry Tide (where a duel ensues) and Stranger from the Sea, after which whereby she does not again travel with Ross away from Cornwall or go into high class society for a long time (not until Twisted Sword, Novel 11 — trip to Paris). It’s too much for her as a non upper-class woman with no high self-esteem and background of training to cope. This is good insight. Class gives a woman a weapon against abusive males.

In a mild way it brings to my mind how a girl in a college fraternity can be set upon and used in ugly ways.
We are in her mind, experiencing everything from someone overexcited and not able to comprehend it all, p 180 – she lacks poise that Elizabeth and Verity have.

Chapters 8 – 10 (pp 179-200). The card tables and Verity has to refuse to run off with Blamey (angering him) – reminds me of how in Persuasion Captain Wentworth was angry at Anne Elliot for not running off with him, held against her the training that gave her the obedient character. You are damned if you don’t (and rebel) or do (and are obedient, pp. 193-94). Very kind and useful gesture by Demelza to fix Verity’s hair. Graham is concerned to show us; how Ross does not help Demelza with the men accosting her at first and finally comes over to take his place by her side as her husband (p. 199). He is remiss in all sorts of ways.

Chapter 11: The gambling scene with Sanson and Ross’s final dunking (pp 203-7); I’ve been told if you know
Faro, the playing of the game is accurate. Note Sanson was able to fool Francis and fleece Francis for 600. That money will set another train of evil betraying events a foot. How things are linked (as in Trollope) –this was very effectively done in the 1970s production, this sort of scene they were good at.

Chapter 12: The banker is brought in to show us that the neighborhood only heard the superficial description of what happened (p 212-13). You think everyone despises you and cringe (Lacanian psychology) but they don’t know the inner realities. Then goodbyes after the festivity. The Warleggans’ resentment on behalf of Sanson. The two male cousins (212-13). Had Francis joined, would he have stuck. Elizabeth & Demelza and Elizabeth and Francis go off separately home to Trenwith; Ross and Demelza’s conversation on the way to their home; some understanding in both of them: she how easy the bitter words, how hard the kind ones; back to Julia (Pp 208-9). This has been her debut into society – as I said The History of a young lady’s entrance into the world. They are together at the end of chapter 11 (pp 207-9); again at the end of Chapter 13, pp 215-16. It is up to her to keep him home, but the task as she does not reach his innermost thoughts seems to her beyond her.

Chapter 13: Powerful two opposing presences: Mark and Keren not seeing the same world (pp 217-219). Keren blamed for not being a good manager. Did she think .. . did he think: they accuse one another it the silence of working minds (p 218). Keren comes to Enys and he can no longer resist: “then take” she says. Actually liaison starts late in the book and it is found out quickly (Pp 220-221)

Chapter 14: May 2, 1789: the Warleggans, Cary, Nicholas and George: vowing revenge but also showing the means through squeezing interlopes out once they know who they are. Warleggan could then put the screws on Ross and his Carnmore Copper Company — loans will be called in, property reclaimed — and destroy Ross’s company WE know that Sanson’s mills are a front; they are doing manipulative banking.

Ross’s perpetual kicking against the laws and customs of his world directly while Demelza works against them indirectly — both are pro-friend, pro-decency, and if family members will let them by not insisting on amoral behavior on their part, pro-family.

2DemelzaCover2
From the 1990s covers of the PanMacMillan series

***************************

Continued in comments: Books Three and Four.

When I come to write blogs on the new series (2015, starting in June, I’ll follow the PBS schedule though by that time hope to have the BBC DVDs and use the BBC arrangement of the mini-series). Then my perspective will follow that of Tom Bragg (in Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama, historical films) on how the series fits into the development of historical film in the 1970s: its use of landscape, interior settings, roving immersion camera work, its genuine humane progressivism. Just about all my stills for this blog come from 1970s mini-series as this is the only one I have a DVD for.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Ep3
Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn at her wedding to Henry VIII — of course Wolf Hall is not covered in this volume, but it fits into the insights into historical film and fiction (it is Winston’s Graham’s first type, where all major character once existed for real) (2015, from Hilary Mantel, scripted Peter Straughan)

Dear Friends and readers,

After an unavoidable 2-week hiatus I continue my review of this rich volume. The first section was devoted to different approaches to costume drama; this one places the films and mini-series into their place in a history of historical films and fiction, in the heritage industry, among national identifications, and finally recent developments in historical films. I have treated and referred to Katherine Byrne’s “New Developments in Heritage: The Recent Dark Side of Downton Abbey” (Chapter 32); I’ve devoted a separate blog to Giselle Basin’s high praise for “Upstairs, Downstairs (2010-2012) and Narratives of Domestic and Foreign Appeasement” (Chapter 12) as I’ve watched the first season and am into the second of this mini-series.

*********************
RobinofSherwoodForest

RobinofSherwoodForest2
From Robin of Sherwood Forest (HTV/Goldcrest)

Chapter 8, Andrew B. R. Elliot’s “British Historical Drama and the Middles Ages” packs an enormous amount of information and insight plus good bibliography (they all have that) in remarkably few pages. He begins with the common perception that there are few costume dramas set in the middle ages (most are later 19th century, Edwardian, early 20th century), with the occasional leap into another era other than the middle ages (I, Claudius; Poldark). It’s thought the era is not one easily to recreate from these artefacts, literal epitomizing and also itself not “a usable past,” its chaos does not lend itself to mirroring. His essay is an attempt to demonstrate there have been many many historical dramas and loose adaptations set in an imagined European middle ages (from Scott, from 1930s Erol Flynn style movies, from various modern Arthurian and crusade stories).  Some are minimally historical and connect more readily in the way of other costume dramas and mini-series to fantasy and action-adventure or romance or parody today. So his essay is filled with brief descriptions of many series in which he really manages to say a lot about the very occasional (rare) superb one and describe much fantasy, stories of male hegemonic power and sheer dreck or smooth unexamined costume-y stuff (Men in Tights as the Mel Brooks parody has it).

First there are 3 typologies (why does everyone divide their subject into threes?): one Robin Hood-centered, one Crusades, and one Arthur matter. These intermix but they have different emphases. Elliot attempts to show which mini-series and films made a serious effort to make a statement about the period in which the films were made (the 1970s again comes out as a time of better films and mini-series) and those films which are (he would not use this word) drivel. A celebration of male power is seen across them all — the few good men saving the world. The early 1950s on TV (where there was an endless Robin series on popular and commercial TV) had a naive image of heroism and chivalry with lots of nostalgia, but also an image of unchecked male hegemony linked to physical and political power. Then Elliot goes through each subset from 1960 on. I single out a few he thinks worth re-seeing and study.

Robin Hood: Again the 1970s in general has better ones. He names as fine and interesting: Goldcrest’s Robin of Sherwood Forest and Richard Lester’s Robin and Marion (I resaw it this summer and loved it all over again). An inward melancholy piece about a deep sense of hopelessness for good goals. He says the 2006-9 Robin Hood series is about Robin as “an enlightened post-colonal leader suffering from PTSD; the sheriff now lends himself to a Bush-Blair analogy.

The Crusades: the third is the favorite as richest in anomalies and he singles out a 1961 Danziger Richard the Lionhearted with “gritty social realism” and “shabby style locations”. He goes at length into Derek Jarman’s Edward II 1991 movie) where identity issues, race (Ciarhan Hinds as Bois-de-Gilbert from Scott is particularly effective). The film has Ivanhoe choosing Rowena over Rebecca so reinforces English identity. There was a 1997 mini-series where the the heroes fought over an empowered Rebecca. He likes Cadfael: it was a mystery thriller detective with everyone in tights, but Elliot finds in it real examinations of modern ideologies plus good writing, good scripts, tension, well done.

King Arthur: Elliot says there is much less of Arthur nowadays in films than one would expect (given books where there is a lot, given Victorian background, given the Net and fan groups). He says of one 1956-57 Arthur hardly appears; it’s called The Adventures of Sir Lancelot. Again of what there is the finest is a 1970s Arthur of the Britons (ITV< 192-73, 24 episodes). Arthur redresses many modern nationalist misdeeds. I add that perhaps we don’t like an ideal hero as much as the Victorians did. Merlin is favored as a fantasy figure according to Elliott.

Recently the demand for high production values leads to a reliance on co-production and with the US in there you cannot have the same exploration of nationalisms, international casts become bland and cannot critique the present the way Arthur of the Britons and Robin of Sherwood once did. So there is a prioritizing of multiculturalism with some criticism of imperial power as such.

Elliot suggests that historical drama a process of selection and reassembly from traditional materials. W should not give up on historical drama set in the middle ages: it may be the reality of the Middle Ages was so dreadful in so many ways a long tradition of fantasy from the 1930s picturesque popular costume dramas got it off to a bad start (I left out Stewart Grainger kind of films in Gainsborough films), but we should not give up on it at all — consider for example, Games of Thrones.

******************************

glendajackson-elizabeth
Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I (1971)

Chapter 9: Sabrina Baron: “Desacralizing the icon: Elizabeth I on Television.” This was a grim account. There have indeed been a large number of films featuring the character or figure of Elizabeth I, but after a thorough review of these from 1938 on, Baron concludes, with a few parts of some series as exceptions (most notably the six-part Elizabeth I in 1971), the depiction of Elizabeth, a woman who was a powerful and effective leader in her day (lived long, stayed in power, overcame a number of attempts to when she was young kill her and older overturn her throne), she is repeatedly shown as a frigid jealous or humiliated sex object. Her icon in her era was manipulated to present an transcendant female figure effectively doing what men did; in the 20th century she was at first a sexualized female stereotype who failed at love and motherhood and did little of consequence. Recently she has taken over Mary Stuart’s role as an enthralled woman (by Leicester, Essex) deeply unhappy because of this. Says Baron, quite a revenge and erasure by a male hegemonic point of view and from women compensatory victimhood for them to cling to.

The essay is so chock-a-block with films and details I just offer a few: If you look at contemporary records, you see to many Elizabeth was a mystery, a curiosity, an anomaly, but not an abomination. What she proceeded to do gradually was showcase her virginity, insist on it as what wedded her to England. In 1596 an order was issued that all unflattering portraits of the queen should be destroyed. As a consequence a very few depictions of Elizabeth for real in her later years have survived. What was one to do with this unmarrying, unreproducting, later undesirable woman? Her relationships with Leicester and Essex (and others) so romanticized were about their desire for financial favor and political preferment (I add though evidence suggests that Leicester was responsible for the death of his wife). Baron briefly covers US films (e.g., especially the influential Bette Davis and Errol Flynn), particularly how they influenced or were the same as the UK. The Cate Blanchett movie is one of those transforming Elizabeth into the vulnerable yearning woman (I remember her dancing most of all) and Mary Stuart (Barbara Flynn) into the thwarted politician.

Cate-Blanchett-as-Elizabeth-I-tudor

I was startled to discover the second BBC film about this queen was an adaptation of Scott’s Kenilworth and starred a very young Jeremy Irons as Leicester and Gemma Jones as Elizabeth. first done in 1956 and then 1967. This is one of those costume dramas wiped out. Irons returned in the same role on HBO in 2005 in a wildly popular version with Helen Mirren (Hugh Dancy, the Essex). (A sad fall away from Jane Tennison.) Alessandra Stanley (who wrote a sequel to GWTW) was a rare critic to dare to write of how this film wallowed in painful pity for this aging woman — none of her public successes made much of, hardly mentioned.

*******************************

HeroHeroine
James Onedin (Peter Gilmore) and his first wife, companion, partner, Anne

Chapter 10: Mark Fryer’s “‘It’s not the navy — we don’t stand back to stand upwards’: The Onedin Line adn the Changing Waters of British Maritime Identity.” To me as reader it was telling to have an essay on Elizabeth I where all her real achievements were erased juxtaposed to two essays on depictions of men who are seen as heroes at sea (whether businessmen or at war) where the figures are celebrated: Baron’s essay is grim because the public image is one of intense resentment and dislike of a worthy historical woman; Fryer’s essays is slightly uplifting because the series allowed (as it went on) for a real exploration of at least these characters’ experience of an empire built by the harshness and vagaries of mercantile endeavor. At first it was simply a dramatization of symbols of national identity, as it went on it questioned these.

It’s still okay males to be at the center of an outward story where we see a lot of courage, stoicism, discipline, dignity (remember the brilliant expensive Master and Commander from Patrick O’Brian’s books, by Peter Weir). Fryer goes over a couple of the several seasons and in detail a couple of episodes. We are apparently allowed to see “the harshness of Victorian life” Fryer thinks the departure from conventional unexamined stories might come from its being merchant mariners rather then characters in the Royal Navy. He suggests how the series “did not shy away from depicting the atrocities of establishing capitalist spaces abroad.” He hardly discusses the women but they seem to be in totally conventional roles inflected by making them assertive (within bounds doubtless). So where the gender aspect of reality remains conventional and undisturbed we can have a pleasant history of a film … Since I’m just now reading Poldark and the new mini-series (scripted by Debbie Horsfield) is now airing I thought about the parallels here: Graham does go into the women characters at length and shows us marriage as coerced rape, and as marginalized people and what that does to them.

OnedinLine
Promotional shot for Onedin Line

Fryer’s essay is also about the image of the sea in British films and books — central to Poldark because the sea is central to the area of Cornwall it takes place in; Fryer points out how the film adaptations of Austen’s Persuasion bring the sea in continually; how even Downton Abbey does not neglect it in opening on the Titanic. The sea is central to British mythology even now when it seems to be superceded by other technologies. The sea has and continues to provide sites of collective identity including all sorts of hard labor and experience.

******************************

danger-uxb-anthony-andrews-itv
Anthony Andrews takes on realistic role (he was an Ivanhoe) in Danger UXB

Chapter 11: Bowdoin Van Riper, “Goodbye to All That: Piece of Cake, Danger UXB, and the second world war.” The title alludes to Graves’s famous book of course. Van Riper talks of how British costume dramas have embraced the interwar years (“the long weekend”) between WW! and 2, with settings that isolate them from modernity – Gosford Park, by Altman was such a film. Two extraordinary series: Danger USX (ITV, 1979: what a decade that was) and Piece of Cake (ITV, 1988). Characters heavily male focusing on work, centering on public life: tales of men defined by their knowledge and skills rather than wealth and social position. Inattentive, incompetent and inflexible characters fall and die. Individuals are framed as heroes or villains in accordance with whether they can get a job done, so characters marginalized or banished usually in costume dramas move to the center. Forget innocence, wit, virtue, charm, social graces.

These differ from previous films in their focus on combat and precise historical accuracy. Danger UXB focuses on the blitz, 9 out of 13 episodes. Piece of Cake is about the RAF Hornet Squadron transferred to France in 1939; the “phony war” comes to an end in 1939 and the Battle of Britain is the focus; few of the characters are left by the end and they do not see themselves as heroes. These mini-series then challenge aspects of the mythologies of the era. These groups of mend did not save the Old Britain but symbolize a new cultural order. Danger UBX shows characters continually pulled away from leisure time. One man goes AWOL in one episode to persuade his family to leave their bombed out house in Manchester and go live I the countryside; minutes after his arrival this house and his wife are destroyed, indistinguishable in the rubble.

Chris Hart and “Fanny” Barton treat war as a serious business (the others persist in apparent joking), something to be studied, worked at, practiced with clinical efficiency Hart is a wealthy American who flew for the loyalists in Spain; Barton mistakenly shot down a British aircraft; Hart teaches Barton how not to miss; he sneers at the self-congratulations of one kill and wreck which he claims was so easy. Hart instructs a mechanic in defiance of RAF practice to install a steel plate behind the seat of his aircraft to protect himself; someone without it comes out with shrapnel wounds in his back. Hart, Barton, “Flash” Gordon and Moggy are deeply dissatisfied with their leader’s adherence to RAF rules; it’s not important to have tight formations and the rest of the heroic claptrap as it is to look out for one another. Change comes from attrition rather than enlightenment. What matters is adapting; we see this in an Australian character; the language used is ruthless; “hammer the buggers hard;” after one inciden they are called “real killers” approvingly.

Enlisted soldiers in UXB are outsiders because they are the manual laborers and manual labor is deemed menial and despised. But they have to uncover the bombs (very dangerous) and their weapons/tools are spades, pickaxes, wheelbarrows; they have to shift hundreds of pounds of earth. Most of the time they are in working class and ordinary settings; when they do have to go to the stately country house where one of the few females in the series lives, Susan Mount (Judy Geeson yes she was the restoration lady wit who married Enys in Poldark), and her father, Gillespie, they are uncomfortable. Gillespie a man who earned his money, explosives expert, background in engineering and applied science. We see a vast network of people behind the heroes who are engaged with complexes of machines. So Susan assists her father; her husband is a cryptomanalyst and elsewhere (thus enabling her affair with Ash)

Anthony Andrews had a major role in Danger UXB; as Brian Ash, he is there to learn; it’s a story of his education. There is a guilt of comprehension between pre and post war worlds, junior from senior officers, English soldiers from people who have gone further abroad. People are lost and befuddle emotionally: Captain Francais, an executive officer incites a near mutiny by insisting his men follow a time-consuming polishing and social rituals.

007SRB_Neil_Dudgeon\
Neil Dudgeon in Piece of Cake

In Piece of Cake after a while Hart is no longer so formidable. ”Skull” Skelton uses gun camera footage to see what has happened in each case (numbers of enemy destroyed, what damaged). Here it’s the senior officers who are out of touch with realities of modern warfare. Want to preserve gentility; Rex offers fine food and wine and must pay for it;he requisitions a country estate as barracks in France. Skelton the intelligence officer describes his leadership style as “feudal” – he dispenses largesse but demands absolute loyalty. Another older man, Kellaway insists using gun camera footage is an insult: people ought to be taken at their word as gentlemen. Bletchley too (so there’s that name) wants to deny war realities, describe the war as a football match. When the men go to the country house, they say this is one kind of war for one class of people and another for another. Moggy Cattermole the most effective as he casts aside rules (sho down unarmed German rescue planes, berates a squeamish man for not doing the same), Bletchley commends him for initiation but says never mention how he did what he did. Moggy bailed out of his Spitfire regardless of civilians and says he does not intend to get himself killed. Women and children cannot fly spitfires, can they? He says – he is seen as a callous self-centered bully but (says Van Riper) he is the character who speaks” the most unvarnished truth”. But there is a deeply poignant scene where Barton murders a dog who stands waiting for its dead master because there is no room on the plane.

Britain, emerged, says Van Riper, determined to hold power by developing high technologies and using them.Early warning radar, jet engines, digital computers. Pursuit of that dream seen in “Boffin” films (Sound Barrier,1947, Dambusters`1954) and novels like Shute’s No Highway (1948) and Clarke’s Prelude to space (1951). Reality far more complicated and Britain emerges in the shadow of the US, and global influence (ironically?) rests on its culture, new and old. Leading cultural figures who made Britain’s influence felt outside Britain were these technologically expert outsiders (is this so?)

Van Riper sees these films as products of Thatcher’s era, she grocer’s daughter and university trained scientist who became a politician. The men of these series embody Thatcherite virtues, Iron people because uncompromising. I remember Jim mocking a speech of Prime Minister Wilson’s which was famous at one time; it was in praise of technology as the great savior for everyone.

******************************

Cumberbatch
Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens’s towards the end of the last novel (by Ford Madox Ford, adapted by Tom Stoppard)

Chapter 14: Stella Hockenhull’s “Experimentation and Postheritage in Contemporary TV Drama: Parade’s End.” This mini-series (scripted by Tom Stoppard) failed with the public, which Hockenhull attributes to its departures from traditional heritage aesthetic techniques. I watched and read some of the screenplay (like his Anna Karenina screenplay published by Stoppard), and would counter that despite the increase in sexual scenes, the filmic techniques of this series are not unconventional; fancy camera work does not make this a post-heritage drama. The problem with the mini-series is Stoppard is (unlike Ford) not interested in the politics of the war and destruction of old England except as fodder for ironies; the characters are not enough developed believably (as in Fellowes’s thematically inferior Downton Abbey); the departures from Heritage drama that matter are found much earlier in mini-series e.g, The Jewel in the Crown (for politics, ethnicity, exposure of the realities of heterosexual romance) or Tipping the Velvet (focusing on lesbian sexuality). What the mini-series seemed to me was an exposure of the falseness in characters’ miseries, motives, lives, of the world of Downton Abbey — the real ugly behavior of the people upstairs and their variously desperate existences under the pressure of the break-up of the old aristocratic order (or so it seemed in WW1; it has returned in a new form since 1970). It was (as opposed to DA), often deeply hostile to its women characters — as was Ford as far as I can tell — the central heroine is utterly treacherous, disloyal, other women characters are weak, go mad, turn inward and walk away — and this is not sympathized with.

RebeccaHall
Rebecca Hall as the frivolous adn treacherous Sylvia

This hostility could account for the mini-series’ failure.  As with Stoppard’s Anna Karenina, you have to have read the book to enjoy the film adaptation, itself a response to other film adaptations of this kind of novel. But Hockenhull’s perspective teaches the reader much about film and mini-series on TV today.

*******************

Viewers, critics and scholars of historical film and historical fiction have a feast before them in this part of the book, as each essay itself has a rich bibliography in the form of footnotes.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Paratexts
From the paratexts of Plater’s Barchester Chronicles (1983)

BTPt2Ep6CathedralWandering
Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding wandering in Westminster (from Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater, the first two episodes being a dramatization of The Warden)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve decided to share my lecture and class discussion notes on Barchester Towers at the OLLI at Mason because we had such a good time over the book. I have already put onto the Net the postings a group of us on Trollope-l [Trollope and His Contemporaries] in 1999 posted to wherever our group was at that point (it’s been on four different sites), and am aware of how much has been said about this famous series of novels.

I am not sure I am adding anything new: my lectures are centrally indebted to William Cadbury (“Character and the Mock Heroic in Barchester Towers, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 5:4 [1964]509-519), James Kincaid’s blessedly old-fashioned close reading of Trollope in his Novels of AT, to say little of Tony Bareham’s Casebook on the Barsetshire novels. I did fast forward to the often unreadable D. A. Miller’s work (it was he who asked the question, “Why are there no police in Barsetshire?”), in this case readable repetitive few amusing points, some of which my 50 to 70+ year old students brought out without having worked their way through his prose (see way below). I came up with a few ideas — and screened some of Alan Plater’s Barchester Chronicles where Geralding McEwan, Alan Rickham and Donald Pleasence appeared to mesmerize them all.

*************

TheInterview
The interview: of Mr Harding (Donald Pleasence) by Mr. Slope (Alan Rickman)

Cadbury (among others) tells us that Barchester Towers is both supremely like most of Trollope and supremely unlike. Many people who have read many of his novels plump for the unlike, but there’s no denying any particular passage, the themes, attitudes, use of narrators, characters could have been done by no one else. You read it and if you’d read Trollope before, you know it’s him.

First the like, obviously the book comes out of The Warden; the central ethical dilemma is repeated in the sense that we have a caste group who protect their positions; they are fighting over the spoils, th funds for charity are not being given to them in the way intended; and there runs through Barchester Towers a similar vein of feeling and thought dramatizing what is integrity. This clash can be seen as captured by one of the various oppositions; Mr Arabin (opening of Volume II) v Mr Slope (Chapter 4, “The Bishop’s Chaplain”). Arabin justifies his fight in the world as for understanding accurately what is the nature of our lives, what choices should we make of how to decide something, even what to decide,all to be rooted in a depth of true feeling (bonds, loyalty, what is due other people), not to be manipulated or twisted; Mr Slope is all manipulation, all performance; it’s suggested somewhere in him there once was some evangelical or low church fervor where the believer and his relationship with God is the center of religious belief, but all we see once he comes to Barchester is his manipulation of the outward manifestations of power relationships.

Skilton’s introduction in Penguin says how the novel fits into a Trollopian mode: the predicament of the church at this point in history: the book shows a deep reverence for the past (in the Thornes of Ullathorne), all the while an intense awareness of the present as ceaseless change – and the necessity of removing the obsolete and that includes people – us – -by rubbish cart. Someone’s conscience versus worldliness. As the book opens, what is happening?, an old man is dying? The bishop. Is this how it’s presented? Look at the heading: it’s presented as who will replace him. What is tearing Dr Grantly up in this chapter? The old man keeps lingering on. The doctors say he’s about to pop off any minute now, but he doesn’t. Why is it important that he pop off? A change of ministry and then Dr Grantly will not get the position. Those in are Tories (Gods) and those out are Whigs (Giants): he dared to ask himself whether he really longed for his father’s death? (p. 3) Obvious why that rivets us – or can. Whether we have been in Grantly’s situation or have seen someone looking at us wondering when we are going to die and hoping for it. Or have seen someone else. It’s sort of surprising when you contemplate this line and the passages about Grantly by the bedside of his father that this is the core opener of a comic book — only that’s what meant by supremely Trollopian (or so I think).

What is unlike many of the novels: several consistently-used distancing techniques. Trollope continually distances us; he approaches his material externally first: set pieces, portraits, epic similes, talking to us about the characters as characters, and only then does he go inward, sometimes for a moment deeply, but more often to show us the character thinking socially, about social life and situations. They can reveal a lot in their conversations: for Trollope social life is not an enigmatic closed mask: through the mask the person is exposing his or her private vulnerable self and motives if only you know how to read them.Trollope’s novels by and large ask us to view the action and themes in terms of the aims and goals of the characters (The Warden). Characters deeply seen and felt inwardly. We will have this in Dr Thorne. Trollope begins with two chapters from an impinging past from the point of view of a person, consciousness, character. He also there has a single narrator who forms a personality, often characterized as congenial and accepting of what he presents even if it’s when thought about a great evil. We are no allowed deep sustaining entry into the consciousness of the characters or narrator. This novel is often called Fieldingesque, after Fielding. What Trolliope wants us to see is this larger modern world, expose it for our delectation. Finally the bishop dies (apparently with little overt pain), and first thing for the son to do is send a telegram (Penguin, pp 5-6). But not by him but his father-in-law (Mr Harding), telling him, don’t put my name on it. The book is panoramic in the way of Fielding, but the narator is more modelled after the Thackerayan sceptical disillustioned narrator in Vanity Fair and Henry Esmond. We are not given a personality in this novel so much as a comic epic bard with a group of techniques which he uses to distance us from his characters. He does provide enough of the characters to make us feel and at times think a little deeply about them.

For example, the Signora Neroni. On the surface she’s a thoroughly shady woman with a very disreputable past who enjoys needling people. Hungry for male attention as there she can experience some power, however limited. A scene between her and Slope in Volume II shows her playing mercilessly with his libidinal helplessness before her. Mother of the last emperor. But as the portrait goes on, what do we feel about her more deeply?  Her pathos (Volume 1, Ch 9, p 65-69): when she talks of her father’s demise with her brother and sister, Charlotte and Bertie, she acquieses in the idea they don’t want him to die, because then they lose all his income and are burdened with debt. Very bad news for Bertie. She expresses more than real apprehension. From later in the book where they bring up this all important topic again (who will inherit and what when the man dies or will we be broke?),the three are talking of Eleanor Bold and should Bertie court and marry her, and her thick mourning comes up: Madeline speaks:

HampshireGenuineHurt

BTPt5CharlotteBertie
Susan Hampshire, Susan Edmonston and Peter Blythe as Madeline Neroni, and Bertie and Charlotte Stanhope

‘I hate such shallow pretenses. I’d let the world say what it pleased and show no grief [for a dead husband] if I felt none – perhaps not show it if I did,’ and (when they in effect say nothing) ‘you both know in what way husbands and wive generally live together.  You know what freedom a man claims for himself and what slavery he would exact from a wife and you know how wives generally obey. Marriage means tyranny on one side, and deceit on the other, and a man is a fool to sacrifice his interests to such a bargain.  The tragedy is a woman generally has no other way of living.’  This reminds me she is crippled, a cripple. Bertie and Charlotte laughingly anticipate their father’s death as a way of “getting something.” In this opening chapter Trollope says the one central characteristic of the family is heartlessness (Penguin, p 62); they’d give you the shirt off their backs today, so courteous, disarming, sympathetic, and yet heartless he says. Madeline replies sharply to the idea they’ll get something when Rev Stanhope dies: “I think we’ll inherit his debts as well.”  Bertie then chuckles and Neroni says she “I likes him … should be sorry to lose him.’

She’s not just intelligent but is in front of herself candid. She will do some noble things at the end of the novel – noble for human beings. Yet look at the chapter. We have these still portraits. Set-pieces. They remind me of Scott’s way of presenting characters in Ivanhoe. One after the other, put in front of us, rather like a stage presence and puppet who has not been set in movement. Each except Charlotte and the mother anathema morally to Victorians supposedly. Before you reject, Bertie Stanhope, you must recall that the Rev Stanhope is not big on the work ethic himself.  He collects large sums (from the church and thus the tax-payer) and does nothing

What keeps the text high-spirited and amusing is how Trollope presenst them as characters as well as people and not let us forget they are characters in a novel, and he’s not emphasizing internal realities here, nor that of his narrator. It’s a dance – with all the complexity suggested by the details and each encounter where we can understand a problem as a problem, we do not approach them from the inside but rather the outside. Chapter 2: particulars of what happened to the hospital (Penguin, pp 10-11). Old men certainly did not get anything. They have no vote, no representation in Parliament. Then chapters called subjects like “War.”  Balanced, symmetries everywhere. The detachment, the urbanity achieved is said by some to be him typically comes from not reading much more of Trollope than the Barsetshire and Palliser series, where the narrator opts for balance (leading to complacency), and this is liked. The achievement of this novel is the mastery in all the comic techniques repeatedly brought in to make us look at the world of Barsetshire as a world. In Dr Thorne Trollope demands a different level of sympathy, one where we bond intimately. We are not left alone to form a conception of the characters that could be painful – that darker level is by the way only glimpsed in the mini-series. It is there; myself I think that’s why people keep reading it. What do we care about church personages and church politics literally and a lot of people are literal readers.

All the characters except even Arabin (when he is confronted by the Signora) are made to feel or are ridiculous. Take baby worship. Eleanor is overreacting. We are told she grieved at her husband’s death, we are told the pregnancy was compensation, she keeps her mourning on, but there is a gap between the reality and the perfect ordinariness of the child. “The baby was really delightful; he took his food with a will, stuck out his toes merrily whenever his legs were uncovered, and did not have fits These are supposed to be the strongest points of baby perfection and in all these our baby excelled.” Our baby.

The two characters seen most inwardly consistently are Harding and Mr Arabin – only with them does Trollope move into the close analysis of interior views. So let’s look at Chapter 12: Slope versus Harding: the quintessential modern hazing moment: the interview. The scene before us is performative and the point is to make us see an interview scene in this new world – this novel has been called the first academic satire, about jobs in the marketplace. In this interview scene he goes back and forth at length. He does go back and forth more in the later chapters: the Quiverfuls especially but their agon is treated comically. Trollope keeps ringing changes on the number 14. The name is allegorical.

Chapter 12: The ringing insult: It is “new men carrying out new measures:” “carting away the useless rubbish of centuries.” How did they feel reading that? This is a highly unusual comedy also in that most comedies side with the young. We rejoice when the young escape the clutches of the old and mean. We are with the younger generation fighting the older one; it might be said to be deeply conservative as it builds up immense sympathy for older vulnerable people. We are with the older people, or those who have withdrawn for a while – Mr Arabin, Bertie Stanhope who is treated with a kindly irony (he copes with each day as it comes – and makes wonderful mockery of the church’s pretensions about its offices and work. If you look at Bertie and Mr Harding, I think not – because of the subversive ironies which are continually urging us to vote against those who seek power at any cost, against competition, on behalf of retreat. To win in Trollope’s first two novel is to lose – it’s done indirectly of course. In this scene it is Mr Harding who keeps his dignity – the only positive moral act in this situation with drawal. The novel sees people as decent individually but once they get into social organizations they are dangerous, often silly and contemptible. Social groups are not as bad because as in Mrs Thorne’s fete champetre (a central normative place) the groups form and reform like clouds on a windy day

This is an upside down comedy which hides a bleak view of power

And it includes us – – we do this and we know we do it. Or some of us do. What Trollope does is blame a character for having too much of one quality or too little of it, and then turn around and imply we too lack that quality. Say charity. Mr Harding has too much; we have too little. Look at how Mr Harding reacts to the proposals of Eleanor marrying Slope (pp 15-51: charitable, egalitarian.

Distancing techniques. The allegorical names. Trollope uses semi-allegorical for his characters throughout his career. Campaign manages in Dr Thorne: NeartheWind, Closer Still. Lawyers in He Knew He Was Right: Slow and Bideawhile. He likes salacious ones. If you see a dity joke (so to speak) in a name, you’re right. In Miss Mackenzie: three men, Ball and Rub. Mr Glasscock. Doctors: Rerechild and Fillgrave. Trollope loved these and there’s a long tradition of them in literature going back to medieval times. The name stands for the central quality of the figure. They are semi- because they also realistic and sometimes ordinary English names: Proudies, very proud, Grantley, been granted great luck through life. Real places are in the map.

But it does distance us. What Trollope does is contrast the characters we have met with their places in the novels. He stops to discuss how he has presented them. Mrs Proudie presented as dislikable, a devil, but says he when she feels for Mrs Quiverufl: “there was a heart inside that stiff-ribbed bodice.” She sits down, commiserates with Mrs Quiverful and her pity as well as desire to dominate and be the Bishop leads her to fight on against Slope’s wanting to put Harding in again. There’s a problem when you want to create real empathy for the Quiverfuls.  Stating the name gets in the way.

So it’s a novel on two planes. One highly conventional and subversive in that conventionality, the other not so. Chapter 10, p 73 brings together another kind of language we have seen in The Warden. The epic simile. What happens in the reception? How does Madeline arrive?

MadameNeroni
Susan Hampshire as the Signora Neroni carried into Mrs Proudie’s Converzatione, POV Bertie Stanhope

She makes herself a spectacle and at first is not recognized as Stanhope’s daughter. Bertie utterly irreverent – -this is a novel which satirizes religion too – which is disillusioned and sceptical about people’s self-delusions. It’s telling that Bertie who is never permitted to talk to Arabin. Mrs Proudie is Juno in the scene, her wrath beyond describing when her dress torn away. As Juno looked on Paris; she is Medea over her children left by Jason, she is Achilles thinking about her husband’s pillow (p 85) … Mock-heroic romance or epic. The tone of the apostrophes is not that of narrator as character but an implied impersonal presence from literature.

Dr and Mrs Proudie? Is the book misogynous? You can prove anything if you get to make up the evidence? In reality women never could have such power, the laws gave the men property, all decent paying jobs, all education, right to beat your wife within limits, divorce was only if you could prove your life in danger if you were a woman. A man need only prove adultery. She uses sex and will make his life a misery continually if he doesn’t accede; there are people like this in marriages. Dr Proudie is a trimmer; he shows himself flexible – he will be on the group’s side to which he belongs. Such people are promoted and get ahead (p 18), even if mortifyingly hen-pecked. Proudie may be flattered into things, and is an ambitious man.

The Bishop’s Chaplain? Very class bound – Trollope is as egregiously anti-lower class people as the chapters about the old men in The Warden. Loves power, loves to exercise power above all, p 25 – not very wise of bishop to let him preach the first Sunday – we are to dislike him, mutual bond of hatred. Of those who watched the film what did you think of Rickman’s performance. He’s a handsome man, not red haired, greasy, sweaty. I thought he conveyed a tragic feel to the character coming out of his presence – he gives it gravitas – it was deliberate casting against the grain. People even in 1983 would not want an exoriation of an lower class manifestation.

The morning visit brilliantly. Of course it’s war after that — and the sermon against all Mr Harding stands for – which is outward beauty, even ritual for its own sake, but he is egalitarian – “all porters and stokers and guards and brakesman ought to be able to go to church” (p 33, i.e., have the day off.) The stopping of fun and travel on the one day a week Victorians had off a bete noire of most novelists.

At the party all of these characters are looked upon as presenting wonderful opportunities for revelling in laughter at them. Take the bishop feeling sorry for Madame Neroni, p 87: “he put on a look of ineffable distress and said he was aware of how God had afflicted her ….” Other writers of novels who are much respected have complained about this and it’s part of what makes Trollope’s reputation so dicey. He is not serious – -how can we take his vision of life seriously. Is he meaning to show us what life is like? I think so: the phony hypocrisies and cant – pretending to feel moral norms and spouting moral talk we don’t really believe or think at all. People at funerals.

Romance not ignored. There is no novel without love. Who are the widow’s suitors? (Chapter 15, Pp 117-118).  Does Eleanor survive this treatment? How? Each time we see her she does act with a certain integrity and sense of her identity, and pride. She will not bend the wrong way – she does not want to hate Mr Slope. Partly the novels cohere – they build on one another. You begin to see this especially in Framley Parsonage. She carries on being loyal to Mr Harding (Chapter 16, pp 137-38). So Mr Slope wants to give the hospital back to Mr Harding to please the widow — in the hope of money. But he will not lose one influential friend before he gains another (p 119). Human politics a tricky business. But of course we know Eleanor is not a pendulum and has no intention of marrying Mr Slope. The widow’s persecution: Eleanor gets caught up in a web of conflicting people as is her father. So we have all sorts of plot threads: who is beat out who? Mrs Proudie or Slope? Grantly or the Proudies? A far gone conclusion. Will Harding get the hospital job back? Who will if anyone Eleanor marry with a champion (Mr Arabin) waiting in the wings.

In usual Trollope novels central character vacillate from within, and it is Mr Slope who does (p 120). Mr Slope trying to figure out what to do. Here is where Alan Rickman was able to make something human (not reptile) from character (bottom of p. 120: remember Mr Slope not a bad man.)

What kind of person is our fourth or fifth male, Bertie Stanhope, her other suitor? No ambition, no desire for place, frivolous. He is not respected in the novel (pp. 123-4): Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. That’s him. He is liked for his unworldliness and kindness of disposition. Charlotte wants to know if he will go through with this project? Marry Eleanor for money. It’s here the moving speeches of Madeline occur (pp 126-12)7 Bertie summed up as a “tame cat” – he would have been an amiable but useless husband.

Cock of walk is Mrs Proudie or Slope. Like an animal fable Trollope reduces and mocks. Aesop’s fables are quintessential satire: they turn us into animals and then reduce the animal to a few less than admirable human characteristics (Ch 17, p 139). There are all the allusions to contemporary history, familiar classics, the ancient classics.

Close to end of Volume, a dialogue between Grantly and Mr Harding. The two talking, a quiet invitation to come to Plumstead. Sudden realistic feel. Last chapter one of great beauty, “Barchester by Moonlight.” First a debt must be hidden in the Stanhope residence – never far away from realities.  700 pounds owed — it will be brought back at the close of the novel.  Charlotte the manageress keeping the Stanhopes afloat manipulates so she is with Slope and places Bertie with Eleanor outside.

***********************

MrsQuiverfulcomingaway

The pathos of Mrs Quiverful Maggie Jones) coming away from reassurance by Mrs Prouide the position is her husband’s

Volumes 2 into 3:

So to return, we were at a crux of the novel. Unerringly Alan Plater the screenplay writers of the BBC Barchester Chronicles dramatizes the central scenes of the novel which engage deeply and complexly with its central themes. One such is the interview in Book One between Mr Arabin and Mr Harding we’ve looked at. Central figures who Trollope does delve inwardly and allows their thoughts to spread over pages.

The chapters following our most exemplary figure (Bk 2 , Chs 1) Mr Arabin and Ch 2, St Ewold’s Parsonage (where they talk of how to fix it), we get a longest pictorial chapter in the book: the Thornes of Ullathorne. It is an Elizabethan mansion, unspoiled. Trollope’s celebration of it makes it difficult to call this a subversive fiction. What is Trollope’s attitude towards them? Symbolic heart of the book. At first they are presented as hilarious, absurd, introduced with usual detachment, even contempt: but we find they stand for old hospitality, bonds, loyalty, and they do open their party to the whole countryside despite Mr Plomacy; they do allow Mrs Lookaloft and her daughters to sit where they want.

Had this been a book written during the height of Trollope’s career, I’ve no doubt we’d have at least one full illustration. The Folio Society has a comic one of the quintaine but many of them are picturesque and touching. I had mentioned I spent a couple of months studying the illustrations through looking at magazine copies of installments at Library of congress and counted 445. The illustrations which accompanied the early publications of Trollope’s novels add to, interpret, and point to meanings in Trollope’s texts that he was unable to bring out forthrightly, or which can only be conveyed pictorially.

So compare what seems like a more minor character, Book 2, when Slope makes his second visit to Mr Quiverful and tells him after all he is not to have the position of warden and salary for the hospital. What is Mr Slope’s motive for wanting after all to see Mr Harding in the hospital? Book 2, Chapter 5 (“Mr Slope at Puddingdale”), pp 214 in my edition. “But Mr Harding had another friend fighting his battle for him … .”  Mr Quiverful is waiting for Mr Slope to come in the house (pp 215-16. Trollope asks us to be ourselves as we enter into  Mr Quiverful’s self-jusification? A little later: is not everyone in this world “so griping” of whatever they have? (Pp. 218-219). A powerful word there: gripin.

Plater simply transposes a lot of the words from Trollope’s text to make his dramatic scene here. We get a full empathetic view of Mr Quiverful. Why does Mr Quiverful give in? He thinks he can’t hold on to it, and he’ll end up worse if he fights – should take a note from the old men who at least fought but then ended up worse off. My husband used to say if you were powerless stand not too close to the powerful. You will become a substitute target.

Book 2 ends with Slope beginning to lose out – that’s important. At the end of book 2 Trollope has built up a lot of tension. Eleanor left the Grantley; her father upset.   Mrs Proudie has asserted her in that bedroom, Slope, knowing this, does not give up by a long shot – he is also contrasted to Mr Harding; he is like Dr Grantley only maybe cleverer, two political letters (pp 303-6), each masterly, but rhetoric will not do unless you have something to exchange – he asks for support without insisting on it – but he has nothing to offer in return is his problem  A new man conveniently dies: the dean – everyone waiting about. Poor Dr Trefoil (p 291)  Only the unmarried botanist daughter will suffer. Trollope is aware of this – but he mentions her botany as a joke. (The science allowed respectable women at the time was botany.)

Slope has the nerve to put himself forward; the establishment, Gwynne and company want Arabin. We get Tom Staple. Trollope uses Staple in a couple of ways. One is to introduce yet another attack on what Trollope regards as the unfair power of newspapers over people’s minds, people being sheep and apt to believe that what they are told is everyone’s opinion or way of life actually is. Trollope here stands for a value I have seen him stand for before: he suggests it is good for students to be allowed to get into debt. The struggles, agonies and hard lessons learned that way are part of education. This reminds me of many modern Americans’ way of talking about school: they seem to regard it primarily as a social training ground where the strong and tough get ahead, and others are somehow coerced into being stronger and tougher. Academics come secondarily — this is really Deweyism (educating the citizen not the mind). I want to come out on the side of the Jupiter. Not everyone grows stronger and tougher from troubles, and for some the troubles can become so bad they can take a long time to retrieve. (To put this in modern terms, I would not encourage my 21 year old daughter to get herself a credit card and start buying as this might teach her a lesson). In this scene we see Arabin holds firm to principles — that it’s implied however someone might not agree with them shows a deep level of scepticism in Trollope towards any particular religious doctrine too.

************************

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-21h52m13s53
Mr Plomacy (Roger Booth) who has organized the party

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-21h53m12s131
The Ullathornes (Richard Leech and Ursula Howells) congratulating him and themselves

Book 3:

So we move on to Act III: book has three acts, the fete champetre has three acts, and at the end we have parallel chapters of “At home.” Act I occurs as everyone arrived, our hostess in some consternation, between Eleanor and Mr Harding (III:2 or Ch 36). While we find a meeting of the minds between our loving father and daughter (at long last), there is also much discomfort and at the close still some misunderstanding as well as a residual disappointment in Eleanor that her father should have misunderstood her. What’s interesting about the scene is how Eleanor overstates the case against Mr Slope and not Mr Harding. To Eleanor’s sudden insistence it would have been disgraceful for her to have even considered Mr Slope for a husband, and that somehow having been suspected of erotic feelings towards him somehow soils her and her relationship with her father, her father replies:

‘”I don’t know what you mean by suspicion, Eleanor. There would be nothing disgraceful, you know; nothing wrong in such a marriage … (Penguin BT, ed RGilmour, p. 348).

But before Mr Harding (generous, can see other points of view), can offer a common sense view of the case, she interrupts him with a fit of crying, an insistence it would have been ‘horrid’ (which sexually speaking to her it would have been), and intense relief for which Trollope uses the word grief. She cannot show these emotions, nor does he give expression to the ‘load off his heart’ all that has happened has occasioned him, but there is quiet ‘melodrama’ (p. 349) here. There is crass class-bias here:  throughout the depiction of Slope it’s there; the same techniques used to whip up anti-semitic feeling over Fagin in Dickens, Trollope’s Mr Emilius and Ferdinand Lopez in the Palliser books.  He identifies with Slope’s doctrines and even the outcast but only minimally in this book.

Entr’acte: three of our leading females converge, someone has breakfast while someone dies, and Lookalofts, Greenacres and De Courcys play musical chairs, with a little help from Mr Plomacy.

Act II: again, Trollope works to keep us at a distance by interjecting himself at intervals as narrator, e.g, ‘And now it is to be feared that every well-bred reader of these pages will lay down the book with disgust…’ (p. 384). I thought his summary of his own fiction very funny: ‘At one moment she is romping with young Stanhope; then she is making eyes at Mr Arabin; anon she comes to fisty-cuffs with a third lover; and all before she is yet a widow of two years’ standing’ (Bk 3, ch 6, pp. 384-85). Yet Eleanor’s response inwardly is not funny: she is dismayed, for she has been ‘entirely wrong’. The man has been after her after all. Her pride is hurt: she thought she was so above him. I like this lesson Trollope gives her.

The absurd behavior of guests who come super-late, of Madeline Neroni inside with the men around her. The social stratification seems to be built into human communities, and certainly it’s visible at Ullathorne, with its four different places for feasting. There’s the indoor dining room and tent for the uppers, and the paddock and park for the lowers. It’s telling t the most generous act among the guests, and the man who voices the richest large sentiment is Farmer Greenacres. I have a feeling Trollope has done this deliberately. Farmer Greenacres is in fact the hero of this chapter, and we are told through the description of Mr Plomacy’s happiest hours that Farmer Greenacres is a lucky, happy man:

‘[Mr Plomacy’s] moments of truest happiness were spent in a huge armchair in the warmest corner of Mrs Greenacre’s beautifully clean front kitchen. ‘Twas there that the inner man dissolved itself, and poured out in streams of pleasant chat; ’twas there that he was respected and yet at his ease; ’twas there, and perhaps there only, that he could unburden himself from those ceremonies of life witout offending the dignity of those above him, or incurring the familiarity of those below’ (Bk 3, Ch 5 RGilmour, p. 378).

The paragraph is so lovely in tone because it testifies warmly to the idea that what counts is the inner soul expanding out to others (very wise words too). It’s also wise: points out why people cannot have this kind of contentment.

Time out for the quintain — it’s illustrated in the recent Folio Society edition, and Plater does it full justice, appropriately bringing in the empathetic Bertie.

MissUllathornesfavoriteBertieStanhope
Bertie and Miss Ullathorne’s favorite, brought down by the quintaine

Now we move out to the festivities: Slope unwisely attempted to put his arm around her waist and give her a kiss. Eleanor unthinkingly ” … sprang from him as she would have jumped from an adder, but she did not spring far; not indeed, beyond arm’s length; and then, quick as thought, she raised her little hand and dealt him such a box on the ear with such right good will, that it sounded among the trees like a miniature thunder-clap.” (p. 144) That reaction, at any rate, was conclusive. There was no way Mr. Slope could put a positive slant on Eleanor’s reaction. Eleanor ran away, and Mr. Slope furiously nursed his anger. He much wished he had her in a pew, and he was in the pulpit, “fulminat[ing] such denunciations as his spirit delighted in”. His spleen then directed itself at

… such a vanity fair as this now going on at Ullathorne … he began to feel a righteous disgust at the wickedness of the doings around him. He had been justly chastised for lending, by his presence, a sanction to such worldly lures. The gaiety of society, the mirth of banquets, the laughter of the young, and the eating and drinking of the elders were … without excuse in his sight. He had consorted with idolaters around the altars of Baal; and therefore a sore punishment had come upon him.”

He does not like to be hit by a woman Trollope says, feels shame.

No sooner does Eleanor flee Slope than she falls to Charlotte who takes her to Bertie who could teach us some lessons in humility – he is ejected at the close – Anyone feel for him? “They hey were troubled waters which Charlotte had to throw oil upon. The angry father was ready to find fault with his entire family; first Bertie’s incapacity to make his own way, then Madeline’s expensive taste in accoutrements. But Dr. Stanhope had Austen’s Mr. Bennet’s awareness that “if they were all bad, who had made them so? If they were unprincipled, selfish, and disreputable, who was to be blamed for the education which had had so injurious an effect?”

It’s very Trollopian to have this party end in vexation for our principle characters.

**********************

Post-fete champetre.

Unerringly, Madeline Neroni early on had “read the secrets of his heart, and re-uttered to him the unwelcome bodings of his own soul”. She tried to inspirit him: ‘ Is not the blood in your veins as warm as his? does not your heart beat as fast? Has not God made you a man, and intended you to do a man’s work here, ay, and to take a man’s wages also? … The greatest mistake any man ever made is to suppose that the good things of the world are not worth the winning. And it is a mistake so opposed to the religion which you preach! Why does God permit his bishops one after another to have their five thousands and ten thousands a year if such wealth be bad and not worth having? Why are beautiful things given to us, and luxuries and pleasant enjoyments, if they be not intended to be used? … You try to despise these good things, but you only try; you don’t succeed.” (pp. 364-67)

Madeline found Mr. Arabin to be just as captivating as he did her. He did not gush flattery as most men did, and the signora was pleased by this. To show her pleasure, she inserted the needle even deeper:  ‘ Let us see. There is the widow Bold looking round at you from her chair this minute. What would you say to her as a companion for life? … Come, Mr. Arabin, confide in me, and if it is so, I’ll do all in my power to make up the match.’ ” Eleanor Bold, outside, more really the object of three men, two supposed for her money.

At length Dr. Stanhope was brought around by his skillful daughter to agree that Bertie must have the two hundred pounds, but he must leave the next day. But the entrance of this hopeless Romeo almost upset Charlotte’s careful plans.
Bertie is not unlike current youths who exasperate their long suffering parents with monosyllabic responses to their queries, and placid replies to their threats. “Where have you been this evening?” “Nowhere.” “Who was there?” “I dunno.” “You are really making me angry!” “So?” Dr. Stanhope’s anger too apparently left his son unmoved, and this only made his father more furious. Wouldn’t you be tiffed if, while you are attempting to give a richly deserved lecture to your wayward offspring, he would doodle on a handy memo pad? I could not help smiling at Bertie’s response to his father’s rant:

‘You have disgraced me, sir; you have disgraced yourself, and me, and your sisters.’
‘I am at least glad, sir, that I have not disgraced my mother,’ said Bertie. (pp. 201 – 202)

Dr. Stanhope’s fury escalated with the lack of response from his son, until Bertie narrowly avoided being completely cut off by the quick thinking intervention of his sister. ” ‘ Is he only to blame? Think of that. We have made our own bed, and, such as it is, we must lie on it.’ ” (p. 202) Stopping her brother from drawing also helped.Patient as she usually was with her inept brother, Charlotte was annoyed when she found out that not only had Eleanor refused him, but he had allowed the whole scheme for achieving monetary solvency, slip. It would have been for them all.

BishopandMrsProudie

Slopelastseen

As last seen — Slope ejected from his position by Bishop and Mrs Proudie (Clive Swift, Geraldine McEwan); Trollope says he did not do badly in London.  Some darker notes here.

Miss Ullathorne helps Arabin and Mrs Bold find some private space; and we have now gone over nearly the fate of everyone.

ArabinandElenor
Barchester Towers a Victorianization of The Warden so it’s fitting near the end we have stills of Arabin and Eleanor looking like illustrations we might see in a Victorian novel

Mr Harding rejects the offer of dean and gives it to Mr Arabin.  The hilarious dialogue over Mr Harding having no duties is given depth and feeling by Plater when Donald Pleasence tries to express why he doesn’t want the position: he is old, he has no idea what the (political) duties of a Dean need to be.  We end where we begun, Mr Harding and the misuse of charitable funds put aside, with a moving close on Mr Harding

BTPart2Ep8DebateScene

Archdeacon Grantley (Nigel Hawthorne) and Mr Harding facing off — a contrasting pair — this from an earlier part of the book.

**************************************

Movingnearendblog
Resolved at last: the hospital to go to Mr and Mrs Quiverful, their 14 children (not to omit new old men, 12 old women and a woman to “supervise” them) (From a closing montage in Episode 7, Barchester Chronicles)

So, what are we to make of the novel? We have watched a man whose business it is to make novels and he has done this in front of us. He has taken us into his confidence, expressed the obstacles to his endeavour, preferred some of the characters to others, excuses many (as which of us would not).

It is a place that does not seem to need a police. One of my students said they are all kept busy closely monitoring each other. Miller thinks there are no police because the system all encompassing; if you do not get you want from one department, you apply to another. Women appear to submit more or less contentedly to the patriarchy – as long as they have their own space or patronage.

Dr Thorne we will see is very different in mood and stance: the first two chapters give us the first full description we have of Barsetshire and it’s filled out as we go until Framley Parsonage when it is set inside the larger England and we get a map. Deeply felt presences in complexities of life then and now.

Onhiscello

Mr Harding as we first see him: playing his cello in The Warden

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MarkRylanceasCromwell
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall 3)

LittleElizabethCromwell
Natasha Little as Elizabeth Wykys Cromwell, Thomas’s wife, who dies of sleeping sickness early in the series

EleanorTomlinsonasDemelza
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza rescued from an abject life by Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (2015 Poldark 1): she is facing down Heidi Reed Elizabeth while Ross turns away

Dear friends and readers,

I acknowledge the unfairness of comparing these two mini-series airing at the same time on the UK BBC and US PBS, about which much fuss is being made. Wolf Hall as written by Peter Straughan (with the acknowledged presence of Hilary Mantel) is a throwback to true quality drama of the 1970s through say 2009 on PBS. It may carry on on BBC TV in Britain as many of their serial dramas do not make it over to the US. Wolf Hall has (relatively) long scenes between characters, longer utterances and dialogue weighty with meaning and wit, its model is ironic drama on the stage and great care has been taken with mise-en-scene, culled juxtaposition, flashbacks, and literal accuracies. The new Poldark as written by Debbie Horsfield follows the recent trend in mini-series to reach a wider audience (apparently 7.0 million no longer makes the cut) with short scenes, only rare excursions into longer developed scenes (but they are there, as in the long sequence at the close of Episode 4 from the time of Ross and Demelza’s love-making, marriage, and first time together through to the end of the Christmas visit); its model is action-adventure TV dramas (Master and Commander and Outlanders as the 1970s kept in mind The Oneddin Line and costume drama from the 1940s Gainsborough swashbuckling school),and cost-saving measures which make for crude and abrupt movements between shots, confused chronology and (without Graham there) irritating anachronisms.

I’ve been reading Jerome de Groot’s Consuming History: Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture — spurred on by some panels at the recent ASECS  and what interests me here is how these two mini-series are presented as historical fiction films, based on history as well as particular novels De Groot writing about the resurgence of history in popular culture. At the same time as academics get ever more sceptical (post-modern) about what we can know of the past, and insist on disillusion and almost disbelief in documentary source, at least “interrogating” them, and self-reflexivity before they will give prizes to anyone; popular culture is devouring historical fiction and it is now respectable, making and going to historical dramas, costume dramas trying to make a comeback (if not based on older great books, based on recent very good ones).

cover

Is there a difference among historical fiction, historic novels (older written in the 18th century, say Tom Jones by Henry Fielding), and films and “real” narrative history. Yes – especially thoroughly researched history which is often thematic as well as narrative and well-documented. But for readers: do you read an older or historic novel differently from the way you read a historical fiction? More is it not so that historical fiction influences the average person’s conception the past and forces into reactionary historical narratives modern concerns.

Do these historical fictions then become part of the fabric of historical knowledge. Yes. In the case of Graham, he is bringing to bear also the strong pro-revolutionary currents of the 1780s and 1790s into discourse – that’s why the books still matter in some ways (also the proto-feminism and some other themes), Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a revision of common understanding of the Tudor era skewed by Bolt’s and the 1960s desire to worship Thomas More. Morrison’s Beloved is now part of our understanding of the effects of slavery – and the horrific reconstruction period for black people down south. I reviewed Heffer’s High Minds – historian writing popular narrative and it is Tory paternalism that is brought before us despite all his research.

Historical fictions, these 20th and 21st century books, the first four Poldarks and Wolf Hall —  on face of it differ considerably from one another and from fictions actually written in the era they are set; yet both are created from imitating these earlier fictions, what is familiar about the earlier literature of the era, and recent other historical fictions and films. There are long traditions in the representation of the Renaissance and the 18th century. Just to begin with the 1960s on (who has not seen Robert Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons, with Orson Wells, Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Wendy Hiller) they imitate Jacobean drama and what is felt is true of the 16th century classics (Machiavelli, Montaigne, More) we get these Elizabethan/Tudor political types as seething with subtexts, as all of them ever so intelligent, witty, ironic, guarded, making killing remarks that are funny. Similarly not to go back to Kitty (Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland) but just the two Tom Joneses (1960s and 1998), the 18th century is a time of sexual transgression, rebellions and riots, country life, manliness as building a world. The source here are also the 18th century novels, from Clarissa to Austen, and the French soft-corn porn too (who has not seen Stephen Frears’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses with the smoldering eyes of John Malkovich), and recently movies centering on traditionally heroic masculine males. (When a person writes a novel set in the 19th century today he imitates novels set in the 19th century and conventions about the 19th century that are found in historical fictions set in the 19th century; so Byatt’s Possession imitates George Eliot as seen through the Brontes.)

Now common sense tells us there were as many witty seething ironic and subtextual people about in say the 18th century as the 16th and just as many dullards, obtuse dense people at the court of Henry VIII as at the philistine court of George III who never made an interesting remark in their lives. Documents easily bear me out that Charles James Fox and Sheridan were far more into wit than Thomas Cromwell or Wolsey. In fact that is part of the power of say Thomas Middleton’s plays (a contemporary of Shakespeare): in Middleton’s famous The Changeling the man who is the evil cente of the play, Deflores (played brilliantly in the 1980s by Bob Hoskins in a BBC production) is not articulate and not very bright; worse yet is the silly heroine (played by a young Elizabeth McGovern in the same production) while the smart people (one played by Hugh Grant before he gave up on serious acting) are done in by Deflores. Deflores can’t and doesn’t want to make smart remarks. They are dangerous.

The great delight for those who delight in this sort of thing of Wolf Hall is the myth that everyone was supersubtle in talk and thought. It gave Hilary Mantel a terrific remit. Her novel (which I acknowledge I did not finish nor even start her Bring Up the Bodies, but which like some watchers I am now intent on rereading to where I left off and now finishing so as to enjoy the film adaptation the more). Her book imitates James Joyce in its self-conscious use of stream of consciousness, fills in with the expected rich furniture and strange doings of the Renaissance as seen in films, other historical fictions, “real” historical narrative, not to omit Shakespearean plays. She has also re-seen the paradigm given us by Bolt and the 1960s so now the ruthless thug politician (Leo McKern) is now true ordinary man, no better (though smarter and with more kindness and braver before the king) than the rest of us. It must be a winner.

The Poldark people have to make do with 1940s novels that mirror the dark times just after World War Two, and to give them credit, they are doing this far more authentically with the central characters than the progressive 1970s mini-series. And as Graham did, they are given voice to the marginalized and powerless, the abject, the lowest of the low, in a wide ranging perspective which includes underlying economic realities. The crime of poaching which leads to the death of one of the characters from epidemic typhus in prison was a disguised war of the propertied against the 99% of the era. Everyone knew it was a victimless crime, punished highly unevenly, the equivalent of Jean Valjean put away in prison for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread in Les Miserables. We see the stranglehold of monopolies as Ross fails to make a go of it smelting and selling copper himself at prices that will keep the mine going and becomes a free trader (smuggler). So we need vast scenes of peoples not tight encounters of individuals.

I’ve written a more detailed comparison of one episode from each (the fourth Poldark, the first Wolf Hall) on my Sylvia blog (scroll down to the concluding three paragraphs) and so won’t go on at length — until that is, I’ve read Mantel’s books and seen all 8 Poldark episodes, but here would like to turn the depiction of the women in the new Poldark and Wolf Hall. For now I want to talk just about heroines of each. According to De Groot and Miriam Burstein the archetypes across historical fiction repeat themselves – whether the character is called Demelza, Anne Boleyn, or some version of Elizabeth. In short the heroine who is anti-ambition beyond marrying up, who does not act out agency, whose greatest happiness is with a partner, male (or female), being a mother, and virtues are loyalty is rewarded. Books side with constancy, prudence, obedience, domesticity (Katherine of Aragon, Mary Boleyn). Graham departs in giving us Demelza fighting for Verity’s liberty and then punishes her hard. Elizabeth seeking a life outside her family and ending up dead; Verity escaping to a kind of solitude of two in Falmouth.

Heroheroine

Scene from Wolf Hall
Hero and heroine scenes from both

For the supposed heroine of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the great and important book on Anne Boleyn is Retha Warnike’s The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn,– she shows the false constructions, where they came from, tries to disentangle this woman from myths, but go look at the popular historical fiction (The Other Boleyn Girl or Mantel’s Wolf Hall – I’ve not yet read Bring up the bodies). In Mantel’s presentation of Anne it’s as if Warnicke never wrote her accurate and moving portrayal of this woman,  caught up in a world of totally male hegemonic world where her family was out to sell first her sister and then herself corrupt coteries, a totally male and we are back with Boleyn as sly, amoral, wrongly ambitious, untrustworthy, deserving almost to be beheaded. I should bring up how in the 18th century Elizabeth Tollett wrote one of these Ovidian narratives deeply sympathetic to Anne, and full of the terror of beheading, but she sentimentalizes her.

We are hearing about the terrific performances of Rylance, Damien Lewis, watching Anton Lesser as More. But what of the women of Wolf Hall? Since she left off Amy Dorrit (Bleak House, scripted by Andrew Davies), Claire Foy has taken on ‘evil’ shallow ‘spoilt’ women — she did this kind of role for the 2010 Upstairs Downstairs, the pro-Nazi, Lady Percy, sexually exploiting the chauffeur. Angel face. But Foy is overdoing it, standing there stiffly; and Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn is mawkish (apart from the historical reality Mary was not acceptable at court once she had had a son by Henry who remained illegitimate — has no one read the recent history on these women?). The presentation of these women is not feminist — it’s typical historical fiction across the board. The heroine who is anti-ambition beyond marrying up, who does not act out agency, whose greatest happiness is with a partner, male (or female), being a mother, and virtues are loyalty is rewarded. Books side with constancy, prudence, obedience, domesticity. Graham departs in giving us Demelza fighting for Verity’s liberty but then the structure of the novel and everyone around her punishes her hard for trespass. She was not supposed to rescue Verity to choose her own life. And the actresses can’t do as well. Liz, More’s wife, has depth — but she’s all caution and prudence, won’t even read the Bible, sticks the prayer book as safer but she’s killed off by a dread disease of the era (sleeping or sweating sickness) — so Natasha Little (the great actress of the 1998 Vanity Fair) goes to waste — unless she’s brought back in flashbacks later in the series. By contrast, Eleanor Tomlinson has a complex role to play as did Jill Townsend for Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan in the 1970s. Elizabeth has a real ambition, for society, to rise in life; Caroline Penvenon has agency. The real sin among these women is the same as Anne Boleyn’s: when they are not loyal first and foremost. I admit my bonding thus far from the films is Demelza as played by Tomlinson and Liz Cromwell as play by Natasha Little. The books are different: I deeply enter into Verity’s case, bond with the intelligent Elizabeth but have not gone far enough for a second time into Wolf Hall or its sequel to grasp where I can find some purchase.

What is the definition of manliness in such films or their books? the heroes are Thomas Cromwell who takes More’s old place as the tolerant man of integrity; Ross Poldark who builds a home and world.  It’s curious to see how physicians, Dwight Enys (Poldark), Stephen Maturin (O’Brien’s sea-stories — to me Paul Bettany is perfect) are held in high repute in historical fiction and merchants (Stephen Vaughn of Antwerp, Antonio Bonvisi from Lucca, friends to Cromwell) in Wolf Hall.

For myself I still haven’t enjoyed a costume drama mini-series in the way I am thus far Wolf Hall and also only intermittently the new Poldark since some of Andrew Davies’ film adaptations in the first decade of the 21st century. Bar none (perhaps exceptimg Breaking Bad, better in its depiction of women, probably much more thematically important and relevant), Wolf Hall is absorbing, entertaining most of the time, usually intelligent (though not Anne or Mary Boleyn). Certainly Downton Abbey was problematic even in the first two years. The new Poldark’s closer reading of Graham’s depiction of the sources of Demelza and Ross’s relationship is teaching me why I so bond with these recurring two characters, Wolf Hall is pulling me into strange violent terrors of the 16th century, religious — you can’t mock the way Clive Francis as Francis Poldark or Paul Curran as Jud dared — a world without any individual rights. The savagery reflects our own era.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

cover

Dear friends and readers,

Way back in December 2014 I announced the publication of this volume, edited by James Leggott and Julie Ann Taddeo, in which my own essay on “Epistolarity and Masculinity in Davies’s Trollope Adaptations” appeared. I’ve now read the whole of the volume and had a chance to view some of the films I knew nothing about before reading it. In the Foreword, Jerome De Groot makes a strong argument for regarding costume drama as a central export of British TV, and when done as film adaptations of great books, truly fine movies; at the same time he brings up why and how they are dissed continually. I thought a review of its sections and individual essays would be of interest to those who love these mini-series as I do. Since the volume is quite rich (see the Table of Contents), I’ve divided this blog in three parts following the divisions of the collection. This review is of the essays in Part One: Approaches to Costume Drama.

shouldertoshoulder
From Shoulder to Shoulder, a young Sian Phillips played Emmeline Pankhurst

Clare Monk’s “Pageantry and Populism: Democratization and Dissent: The Forgotten 190s,” is on the power, the liberal outlook, and variety of themes and art of the mini-series and costume dramas of the 1970s. She opens with an excellent demonstration (convincing) that the costume drama of the 1970s has been ignored, partly because it had a number of centrally influential highly liberal mini-series, only one of which has appeared on DVD, Days of Hope (it’s upbeat at last). Shoulder to Shoulder a significant contribution to the history of suffragettes and how they were treated is not wiped out but obstacles are still put in the way of re-digitalizing. Monk demonstrates the richness of the 1990s and a type of structure, pattern, cinematography, historiography is a development of the 1970s and lasted until 2003-4 when (alas) Mobil Exxon withdrew its support. She does not say but Eaton tells you that was when the bottom fell out of PBS. She also shows (I’ve know this for years as does anyone with some access to British TV) that only a small number of British mini-series came over to the US, the type that Downton Abbey comes out of.

The second essay by Thomas Bragg, “History’s Drama: Narrative Space in ‘Golden Age’ British TV Drama, also examines the 1970s, as a seminal period of costume drama: the sixties began it, and it was serious because of the simultaneous presence of the play of the week (Wednesday nights) and the reality that the people on the London stage were the same people on the TV in these plays. They began to cross over to the mini-series in the 1980s when British film having collapsed in the movie-houses (due to Hollywood’s popularity) moves into TV (e.g., My Beautiful Laundrette), writers and all.) Bragg’s thesis is not so admiring of the 70s, is a corrective. The 1970s have been credited with going-out-of-doors and several of the famous mini-series are repeatedly said to be photographed on location, out of doors, most famously Poldark. Bragg demonstrates that while the film-makers did indeed go on location and film some sequences there, these are few and far between. The central space remained the studio and built versions of rooms. At the same time though the uses of camera work changed: in the 1967 Forsyte Saga, a filmed stage play, the camera becomes a narrator, moving in and out of spaces; the rooms themselves are highly appointed visual versions of the era (made to seem accurate by specifically elaborate props). A strong use of mirrors, windows, and angles made the viewer aware there was an outside which was redolent of wide open spaces. Bragg argues this is the equivalent of how historical fiction works or had worked since Scott; the important scene within a confined area, carefully described objects and houses from the era, with occasional forays out to descriptive landscapes. This is interesting: how does one give the effect of a past time in a written fiction.

Fristfamilygroup
A scene of the family group in the 1967 Forsyte Sage (early on, Episode 1)

Bragg suggests this way of filming changed again in the 1990s when TV film-makers no longer had to rely on older film techniques to film out of doors but could take their computer equipment, moving cameras, one tied to the waist of the cinematographers. Then he makes the point that in Downton Abbey, the one standing heir to all these older dramas, focuses on the outside. The way the characters are filmed, walking, talking, interacting the effect is that of a group of people say in a courtyard (as in Poldark when Ross when to market they filmed in a courtyard in Ealing Studios) — but the great emphasis is the house, the lands, the dominating wealth. Where in the 1970s Upstairs Downstairs do we see the grand houses, the outsides, the gardens? we don’t. Some film-makers wanted to give the impression of landscape more than others; I’ve been thinking about the 1972 BBC Emma: this would be one much less concerned to make it seems as if the story is filmed in a landscape but I can see how the disposition, way of filming, where arrangement of scenes is that of the 1970s Poldark, and Upstairs Downstairs.

James Leggott’s “‘It’s not clever, it’s not funny, and it’s not period!’: Costume Comedy and British TV” makes this an unusual volume. Leggott is a BBC person; he teaches film and TV at Northumbria University and is chief editor (he started it) of the Journal of Popular TV. It’s on a topic I’m not qualified to evaluate: a kind of BBC and (in a way) elite costume drama that rarely comes over to the US: Blackadder was a rare cross-over and it appeared later at night on PBS; I watched maybe one or two. Jim used to like them when he was watching TV. He’d laugh and laugh.

Blackadder
A remembered moment from Blackadder

Blackadder belongs to a sub-genre of hour-long and mini-series which make fun of serious costume drama; He mentions Upstairs Downstairs Abbey and Lark Pies to Cranchesterford (a mocking title). These types include Monty Python’s Holy Grail, on the one side, and Benny Hill on the other: low humor pretending not to recognize its own salaciousness, boy’s stuff. The Carry On movies come out of this: Carry on Cleo for example (mocking the Cleopatra movie). Leggott covers sitcoms: Brass, Dad’s Army, and others which are anti-war, anti-hierarchy. For those of us who didn’t see the full panoply of the 1970s costume drama we won’t recognize what’s rejected and made fun of. Leggott shows these deconstruct and expose the fallacies and harm; they are often attacked — as “not clever, not funny and anachronistic.” So what? Well, as he proceeds he shows that some viewers begin to believe the history they see in these programs; they really do and instead of getting the parody or critique the original shows ideas are reinforced. And some come out of a reactionary point of view very strongly. Apparently you can find British people who believe in the medieval period they see in these or the 18th century mock-ups. Not so much the Victorian.

Marc Napolitano’s “It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion: British Costume Drama, Dickens and Serialization,” attempts to show that the costume serial drama embraces many of the attributes of soap opera by looking at the techniques of serialization. Napolitano says the incessant reiteration of Dickens’s name as what early films were like because Dickens is so cinematic was an attempt to gain respectability; yes Dickens published in installments but his installments were words. What was influential was not so much the vaunted pictorialism of his texts but their open segmented narratives. Napolitano says Dickens’s novels are open-ended; and what we have in costume dramas from Upstairs Downstairs on is an open-ended story that can keep going. In fact, the continuity and themes are grounded in character and setting not story. They use a limited number of sets while an overarching story narrative which ties the season together. By contrast there are older film adaptations of specific books that no longer how long do have an ending because the books have an ending: Forsyte Saga and Pallisers. By chosing this open-ended structure, the writers and film-makers can respond to audiences and experiment. He’s really describing and defineing a television novel: that we have television novels nowadays. He writes in detail about The Foryste Saga, and Duchess of Duke Street. He mentions in a note Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan had a general idea where he was going but at any point at the end of a season he could have pulled the curtain down; and he did pay attention to audience response and grew far more daring as he goes along. It’s the daring experiment that makes for the innovation. They dare not do that anywhere near as much on PBS, and we in the US get only a limited range of what goes on on British TV.

BleakHouse2004SergeantGeorgeSirLeicester
A lesser known moving moment towards the end of Davies’s Bleak House: Sergeant George (Hugo Speers) caring for Sir Leicester (Timothy West)

Benjamin Poore develops Napolitano’s essay further — “Never-ending Stories: the paradise and the Period Drama series.” Beyond an analysis of structure he pointed to features we see after 2005 or so. The lead writer who becomes an executive producer and is the linchpin was in place by the mid-1980s. An emphasis on the workplace which makes the workplace a substitute for family (and not said in the essay remains pro-establishment utterly); source texts which are relatively unknown (like Zola’s novel, Gaskell’s short stories — My Lady Ludlow is narrated by a crippled servant in the book); production practices: the fully built complicated set and precinct (the house or department store and land or streets around it); a “warm bath” atmosphere — everyone kindly, communitarian — the new reassurance factor is strikingly different from the 1970s. He discusses Davies’s Bleak House as a half-way between the older forms and this newer one — alas it did not get enough audience and so now the BBC and ITV people want a “springboard’ rather than a classic book. Poore discusses pragmatic practicalities and how decisions are made based on commercial considerations and audience numbers.

Quieter
One of the quieter and feminine of the many epistolary scenes in The Way We Live Now, Georgiana Longestaffe (Anne-Marie Duff) writing to her Jewish lover while she is in the London house of the Melmottes

Mine comes next — “Epistolarity and masculinity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope films. Here rather than summarize or evaluate my own essay, and in order not to interfere with copyright (so I won’t put my essay on the Net), I offer Taddeo and Leggott’s summary of my paper in the volume’s introduction:

Perhaps the most subversive writer to examine, Ellen Moody argues, is Andrew Davies whose two BBC adaptations of Anthony Trollope’s novels, He Knew He Was Right (2004) and The Way We Live Now (2001), offer a liberal feminist interpretation of Victorian domesticity and masculinity. Moody closely analyzes Davies’s televisual techniques of filmic epistolary sequences, montage, flashbacks, and voice-over, critiquing and shedding light on the relationship between the original source texts and their adaptations. Davies not only undercuts the conservatism of these novels while exploiting conservative tendencies in heritage films, but also freely adapts Trollope’s male characters’ psychological experience as they cope with the demands the characters make upon themselves while they attempt to enact sexual ideals of manliness and achieve financial and social success.

UncleArthur
In Small Island, the mentally distressed Uncle Arthur (Karl Johnson) coming upon the Jamaican British solider, Gilbert (David Oyelowo)

The section concludes with Karen Beth Strovas and Scott M. Strovas on “music in the British Serialized Drama,” the first half of whose title is “What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur?” It’s more than an allusion to a music hall song and dance Sarah the servant does in the 1970s Upstairs/downstairs,” but is a trope: in Small Island, there is an aging working class man called Arthur, and the joke his while others around him regard him as a simpleton or treat him like one (as in the older programs; Mr Weston in the 1972 Emma is made into a sort of semi-salacious genial simpleton), Arthur is rather cunning, and more sophisticated in his tolerance and observation than any one gives him credit for. There are few essays on music in film of any usefulness — so few have the technical knowledge and those who do can’t write to make themselves understood and anyway write on classical music and history (musicologists). This pair of people manage to describe pieces of music with concrete words that yet eschew technical language. New terms have evolved: source music for music that the characters in the film are making, and underscore music for the music we hear but the characters do not. The thesis is that music is so important to all film, and even in the 1970s ones where it seems it was not used to provoke emotional response the way it is today. The mini-series used the 1970s Upstairs/Downstairs, the 2003 Forsyte Saga and again Downton Abbey. (Before people cry out against this obsession with DA, the people doing it make their materials available for study. The composers for DA have published material that is usable — the way Fellowes’ scripts and 2 of his companion books are scenarios and of real use.) These three mini-series can be used to analyse others — so here again we have a rare instance of the editors and write managing to produce an essay that those outside costume drama might find useful and general.

The Strovas show that what developed is a use of music beyond the opening and close themes. All three have theme music that begins and ends the show each hour, and is brought back in particular different ways to make emotional and thematic points. In the 1970s music was a tool to define and intensity the class conflicts of upstairs and downstairs — and conflicts were much much stronger, it was a polarization. Eventually upstairs took over when the hero became the son and heir, James as a tragic figure, but not so before that. What happened was a development whereby source material states explicitly some of the themes or underscore but in key scenes the two interact so as to musically enact emotions and thoughts and what’s happened. It is much more developed in Downton Abbey because they are more conscious of what they are doing and have more money than U/D did. DA uses music more psychologically and very effective it is — much more lush, but not drooling because of pace. Those who have watched the 2003 Forsyte Saga will know that operatic music is used a lot; the book and film take advantage of Irene being a piano teacher, musical and the wealth of the family leads to soirees and going to opera. The Strovas analyses the first encounter, sex and rapes scene to show our source and underscore music is used as a counterpoint. Sarah in U/D loves music hall and we see contrasts of her singing and dancing downstairs as the upstairs ones sit composedly. A scene at the close of the 2nd season of DA has Mary and Matthew playing the gramophone with a haunting love song at the time and an underscore that stops and starts as well as allusions to a show that flopped. The 4th season of DA used music a lot: Dame Nellie Melba came and sang Puccini; the black Jazz singer of course sang his songs and there was dancing. In both Forsyte Saga and Downton Abbey when a woman is raped, all music ceases where she is.

Paratexts
Poldark 1975-76: one of four sets of paratexts that opened and closed the mini-series, each having images epitomizing the actions of the four episoces and accompanied by the same memorable alluring music

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Loves-Labours-Lost
Love’s Labor’s Lost — Peter McGovern (who sings with a voice worthy the first actor who played this role — and Feste too) — just of one of the many strange images in this production

Ritualmoments
Love’s Labor’s Won — the key ritual moment made torturous

Dear friends and readers,

I might not have noticed that the Folger Shakespeare Library offered an HD screening of a paired production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost and Love’s Labor’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing re-named as an act of faith by Christopher Luscombe, the director of both), had I not over four weeks spent well over an hour (I wish it had been longer) watching, listening and reading a Future Learn course, Much Ado About Nothing, sponsored by the Shakespeare Trust Birthplace, the Royal Shakespeare Company also in Stratford, England, and the University of Birmingham on Much Ado About Nothing in Performance. (See my blog outlining this course, scroll down.) The same cast, the same set based on Charlecote Park, the same time, just before (LLL) and just after (LLW) World War One.

The underlying thesis of the course was that a “dark” interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing, one which gives as full weight to the Claudio-Hero story, the malevolent action of the depressive betrayer, Don John, as to the Beatrice and Benedict witty courtship, makes much more sense of the whole play. I noticed as with Josh Whedon’s production of MAAN in his own home on film, the Dogberry and Verges story took on resonances which were not snarkily condescending towards lower class people, and instead brought out how these ordinary townsmen found out the sinister plot, reported it, and their nervous (perhaps depressive) leader, Dogberry, lived in his own agon of continually corrosively self-flagellated pride. Nick Haverson played Costard and Dogberry. Michelle Terry was both Rosaline and Beatrice; Edward Bennet, a fully-felt enactment of Berowne and Benedict.

LoveLaboursLost
The drive around the park (Love’s Labor’s Lost)

Loves-Labours-WonOpening
Opening match-set between them in Much Ado About Nothing (aka Love’s Labor’s Won)

I’ve also watched the Shakespeare Re-Told production-film of MAAN where I missed Shakespeare’s lines very much (despite great acting by Damien Lewis especially as Benedict and Billie Piper as a believable angry Hero) and felt view that a “dark” interpretation makes the play “right” or come alive is inadequate.

**********************

Love’s Labor’s Lost. The two times I’ve seen LLL every effort was made to make it hilarious, and in one case they succeeded brilliantly with the play within a play (rather like the Pyramus and Thisbe play inside Midsummer Night’s Dream). This production did not go for this kind of comedy at all, and indeed not much humor except the occasional exposure of absurdities, people spying on one another, found out and the like. Rather it was a dance of figures in a leisured landscape.

Loves-Labours-Lostgentlemen

Loves-Labours-Lostsecondaryladies
The secondary gentlemen vowing their abstinence, the secondary ladies sauntering through the grounds

Yet there was no strain in bringing out the darker threads in the talk of the play. They seriously presented the poetry as arising from illuminated enthralled visions of love. Given the talent of Peter McGovern, songs were added — all highly longing and erotic, and meditative. I began to wonder how the other productions had managed to be funny.

The play’s wordiness came out a lot: its puns, its mockery of language. In the present US atmosphere and mass media (epitomized by the many PBS costume dramas where characters hardly have a long utterance lest the audience grow restless) this does not please. (Hilary Mantel and Peter Straugh’s Wolf Hall is a recent exception.) I saw empty seats after the break, even though the break itself had had a 10 minute fascinating film by the theatrical designer who showed us how he used the choice of Charlecote Park to make his stage settings. He seemed to want to bring the proscenium stage back.

triumphantvision

For me the result was a revelation: the acting and the four young men opening themselves up to charges of softness, open vulnerability, in short the “feminine” projected an undercurrent of eroticism towards their unknown targets (after all they have hardly seen the French princess and her ladies) not contained by the heterosexual relationships. The men were so (if you will) unashamed of their depths of feeling and softnesses — they were not afraid lest they not be perceived as manly. Jane Smiley suggests this fear limits the kind of male characters we can have on screen.

The play made me want to reread early criticism of this play which argued it was made for a group of young male aristocrats, which included Southampton, who was perhaps an erotic target or lover (?) of Shakespeare. Not working to make it hilarious (you have to work at such effects) brought out its “queerness” in the original sense of the term. Why have four young men vow not to have sex, not to be with any women for three years (not to eat much or sleep much either); why this symmetry which is so artificial. Why the emphasis after false performative erotic behaviors? I wondered what modern “theoretical” and queer studies or the new historicism makes of this play. Surely that sexuality is constructed as well as really impelled by appetite and vision.

Unwantedwomen

Huntingoutfits
Unwanted women — whether goddesses or huntresses

I felt exhilarated by something that had been revealed by the turns from patterned behavior to visions to deep sadness. The sets and costumes with their strangeness, fairy tale elements, references to war fit well too.

**********************

Love’s Labor’s Won: After all I was a wee bit disappointed perhaps because I was expecting too much. The talk of the actors, the designer, the director, script writer had all been so intriguing about the dark currents and unappreciated veins of comedy, I forgot that they couldn’t get beyond the text of the play. Individual actors could pull out of lines new sources of emotion; but there is a limit as they have to reach to its darknesses beyond what the language lets us.

Normativescenes
A normative scene as the nurses and returning soldier scenes fade from memory

You cannot cut the wry satiric highjinks which seem somehow are out of kilter with the driving force of Don John and the way the Hero-Claudio story was pulled out as well as some currents in Beatrice and Benedict. I began to think of all the many melancholics in Shakespeare’s plays. Usually Shakespeare empathizes. Not here. But what is Don John given to do? Very little. He is lame in this production — from the war?   The actor played an excellent game of billards. It may be Luscombe has overinterpreted a somewhat confused “problem” play

LovesLaboursWoncomic
Wonderfully timed comedy as the chief of the watchman takes it upon himsef to tell Leonato that Hero was wrongly shamed

Several of the actors brought something new to the play, especially Michelle Terry. She lent depth and a sense of the past she had had with Benedick to her part. She would sound sudden notes of self-controlled desperation. She is not conventionally pretty, not quite a “jolie laide” in the way of say Jodhi May and I fear that will limit her career, the parts she is permitted to play.

Weddingterror
The wedding terror

Nick Haversham playing Dogberry turned the part into one of an anguished man hurt over how everyone despises him — and yet it was his (or his silent partner, making me think the same actor must’ve played Sir Andrew Aguecheek to this characters Toby Belch in TN) persistence that brought the criminals to light.

Dogberry
Love’s Labor’s Won — Nick Haverson as the sensitive Dogberry

Luscombe’s directing brought out how the deceit practiced by Don John to shatter his enemies is a mirror of the other deceits to manipulate Benedict and Beatrice and to punish Claudio too. Don John has no trouble persuading Borachio to masquerade with Margaret as Hero (rather improbable). How different is this from the deceit swiftly practiced on Benedict and Beatrice by their respective friends to break down their pride. The manufactured ending is based on more masks and more deceits. But since everything is swept under the rug at the close when Claudio is forgiven by Hero and Beatrice forgets whatever her past experience with Benedict was, this parallelism loses its significance. I wish I could have compared the other dark versions of this play discussed in Future Learn and look forward to seeing the Shakespeare Re-done version of MAAN with Damien Lewis as Benedict and a non-passive Billie Piper as Hero.

I loved the new seeming 1920s kind of music, and the settings from World War One as the play opened and then ended were very effective. There were many references to death in both plays, in Love’s Labor’s Lost the death of the French king, the funeral like structures in the play,

LLLpurple

In Much Ado, men are not to be trusted; at the drop of the slightest excuse, they humiliate and (Leonato too) threaten to kill women. They are more loathe to kill one another:

Menarenottobetrusted

Again death: the supposed death of Hero, Beatrice’s wanting Claudio dead, the funeral service all led to group mourning. Then the grieving over World War one and all those deaths, all those gone? But then the getting together of the couples and especially Beatrice and Benedict.

NearEnd

What was it we were to feel? The play does call for dancing at its close and the actors dance away.

DANCE

It seemed to me the paired plays enriched my understanding of Love’s Labor’s Lost more they did Much Ado About Nothing. Bringing them together suggested that this “problem” aspect of Shakespeare’s plays, deep melancholy and visionary undercurrents are not something that starts after Romeo and Juliet (Twelth Night can be played as deeply bitter), or around the time of the great tragedies (as who could laugh at All’s Well’s that Ends Well, and the intertwined rage, desperation, hypocrisy, sexual crises of Measure for Measure), but are there from the very beginning.

Outside
The set ourside Charlecote Park: Love’s Labor’s Lost

Setbeautiful
The set inside Charlecote Park: Love’s Labor’s Won

I should say how I hope more of these RSC productions come to the Folger on the HD screen.  If I lived closer I would go to their poetry readings and lectures regularly. The trip is an hour and fifteen minutes for me (car, walk, train, walk again and then reverse it).

***********************

I had arrived early and saw an unusually good exhibit about the discovery of the Longitude: Ships, Clocks and Stars.

TimeKeeper

Much to my surprise the Folger had on loan all four of Harrison’s time pieces: the cumbersome first three with their pendulums and complicated works. Beautifully shiny gold. How could he have thought such a machine could withstand an ocean storm. And how super-careful the two institutions had to have been to send the clocks across the ocean. And then Harrison final transformative insight into a stop watch was shown by having in the exhibit the exquisitely beautiful one made by Harrison himself. There were other pictures of people I’d read about but never seen an image of, interesting maps, educational explanations about the problem of finding the longitude, the attitudes of the learned astronomers. I barely had time to get in as the play began.

Intermission: There is a public relations young woman who greets people at the door and tries to make everyone feel “at home.”  Another new idea is to set up a separate wine bar downstairs; this makes for shorter lines and I was able to drink my whole glass of wine each time before half way through the intermission and get back in in time for the interviews with the director and set designer. The second time I met and talked to a friendly French woman and she was taking the Metro too so my trip home so I did not feel bleak and lonely the way my trip home usually does.

Ellen

Read Full Post »