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Archive for December 4th, 2020


Mally (Veronica Quilligan) and Barty (David Bradley) — gathering seaweed competitively

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday I finished the course I taught at OLLI at AU, which I called Trollope’s Phineas Redux (Palliser 4) with an enjoyable session I called “Beyond Barsetshire,” where we read Trollope’s early short story set in Cornwall, “Malachi’s Cove,” and watched the marvelous movie of the same name, scripted & directed by Herbert Wise. I know I’ve written about book and film several times already, but we had such a good time, the discussion was filled with insights I hadn’t thought about before, and best of all, the movie has been put on YouTube, where there have been hardly any cuts (the original landscape framing, extra similar mood shorts) but is otherwise intact, with the sensitively photographed place projected so well, I want to share it here once again:

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The point I wanted to make was to show the class that there are many Trollope texts, which do not conform to the strictly upper class milieu, use of bourgeois characters, and their political outlook. As we had but time for one, I chose “Malachi’s Cove” because it seems to me a kind of alternative re-mix of elements in his mainstream stories, or hidden away powerful subtext in his more complacent genial or sardonic primary texts comes out more strikingly in this edge story (Cornwall on edge, like the Highlands, to Trollope Ireland, both mentioned by Trollope — as well as Brittany, the Basque country) about just about destitute people.   It is a brilliant or happy coincidence that Donald Pleasance played Malachi Trengloss, an old badly crippled man and grandfather, dependent on and tenderly loving his healthy bold granddaughter, Mally, that he in effect reprised in The Warden and Barchester Towers as Barchester Chronicles:  Mr Harding, elderly father to his tenderly loving Eleanor Bold: central to both sets of texts is a similarly devoted pair.


One of the several scenes in which we watch the old man and his grand-daughter eating or doing other daily acts together

Other parallels: When Barty tries to take over the piece of cliff where Mally is earning what living and her grandfather have by gathering seaweed (sold for fertilizer), and she goes to a lawyer and discovers that she has no right over the land she and her grandfather have been living on (in a hut built by the grandfather) and wresting a living out of. He uses the age-old custom Cornish people once thought they had of being free to take as their property any flotsam and jetsam that ends up on the shore to tell her that she and her grandfather have no control over the place they live in, have built a house on, made a path out of. Mally bursts out into anger, and in another dialogue in the film (with a man who comes to buy the seaweed regularly), seems to threaten Barty’s life. When at first it seems that Barty may have drowned by her hand (though she saved him), this anticipates Phineas brandishing his club at the thought of Mr Bonteen and being accused of murder of said man. In both cases they have been warned not to behave this way: Mally by the vicar.

Place, setting, economic framing, all Trollope in the mainstream, here become a beautiful mood piece in the film (filmed on location) and in the book too. Trollope has a strong tendency to make outsiders, outliers, central to his tale, and look at the worlds around them through such lens: the grandfather and Mally are just that. Trollope’s narrator implies Mally is to blame for not making friends, for refusing to dress up at all – this compromising, backtracking is like him too.


Despite his crippled state, the grandfather comes down the cliff while Mally runs for help (Barty’s father, the Gunliffe cottage is nearby too); she then has to help the old man up the cliff

People in the class saw some things I hadn’t. For example, someone suggested that this is Cornish matter is a kind of spill-over from Trollope’s time in Ireland and writing about it; indeed, Trollope makes explicit that the cliff scenery and and watery world he is immersing us in may be found or beaten “by many portions of the west coast of Ireland and perhaps also by spots in Wales and Scotland” (458).

Every now and then there came a squall of rain, and though there was sufficient light, the heavens were black with clouds. A scene more beautiful might hardly be found by those who love the glories of the coast. The light for such objects was perfect. Nothing could exceed the grandeur of the colours,–the blue of the open sea, the white of the breaking waves, the yellow sands, or the streaks of red and brown which gave such richness to the cliffs” (Sutherland p 464).

There are also many things in the stories beyond Barsetshire which you don’t or rarely see in Trollope’s more mainstream long novels. Trollope was in these drawn to “edge” countries, cultures driven back to the edge of some “central” hub or citified area, moving from the Highlands, down to the edge of Wales, down into Cornwall, which regards itself as something of a different country, bounded from England by the river Tamar. Allusions to Arthurian tales (from where they are Mally and her grandfather can see Tintagel). She herself is made to seem uncanny “.. wild- looking, almost unearthly creature, with wild-flowing, black, uncombed hair …”. “It almost seems like she sprang fully formed from the earth, totally unaware of any vestiges of civilization, but yet with a native gentility.” And she would jeer at [Barty] with a wild, weird laughter, and shriek to him through the wind that he was not half a man” (465). The story has much wind, stone, water (especially) and bird imagery and this is realized  in the film.

A brief summary comparison:

Henry Herbert turned Trollope’s mood parable about economics & social life in desperate circumstances in Cornwall into a full Cornish growing-up and atmospheric story of grief, loss, and renewal.

Trollope’s story is much shorter, and it is focused on the sharp primary conflict between Mally and Barty over the seaweed: Trollope spends hardly a page and a half before he has the two of them struggling on the cliff over this wretched stuff: his center is the economic and psychological conflict and the aftermath with the parents at first blaming her (both the father as well as the mother) in the story, with the revelation Mally saved him putting a sharp stop to that (not lingering and slower as in the film). Trollope also makes Mally and Barty both much older and so less sentimentalized, at the same time as he conjures up a marriage for her by which she will escape the dire poverty she’s in. There is hardly anything about how she and grandfather ended up in such a place, much of it just detail about the grandfather finding the place one which harvested a lot of the weeds and manure.


The Vicar come to comfort Wally as she sits by her parents’ grave in the churchyard

The movie shows Wise developing a full story, a history for Mally, and thorough ethnographic background for the piece. The film gives a full depiction of the girl’s and grandfather’s daily lives (she goes shopping with no money, but brings back liquor and tobacco). We see (though flashbacks) how her father drowned and her mother trying save him in time, pulling his corpse only from the sea. This anticipates Mally’s saving Barty. What Trollope offers for a suggestive single paragraph becomes a series of incidents of Mally’s mistreatment by the coldness and indifference of the Cornish villagers around her, how the lawyer demands relatively (for her) high payment for advice not worth it indeed, how she’s snubbed in church. We see her and the vicar looking at her parent’s graves. And sequences of landscape and meditation: Mally with her donkey; Mally with the people come to take the seaweed away. We have the priest’s visit as a friend, warning the grandfather how bad it is to be asocial — this too a recurring Trollope theme. In the film there is added misogyny: Barty’s mother is made into a kind of vixen, jealous that the girl will steal her son, with the wiser husband trying to placate her. This is not in Trollope.  By making the pair younger, Weis made their fight with one another more innocent too — at the same time as we see how hard she must work, with a scene of the man and his sons come to buy the stuff and take it away

Small things: since the film is not the product of computer enhancement, what you see is what the crew literally did: filming near a rocky coastline. Someone noticed the actress playing Mally never wears any shoes. How hard it must’ve been on a young actress – her feet cold and wet, the beach pebbly. How touching the donkey is after a while. I thought to myself maybe the actress has shoes on when we don’t see her feet.

Trollope has part of an early novel set in Cornwall. His (1857) The Three Clerks (or “the way we work now”): Trollope tells the tale of two gov’t civil servants, empowered to write reports on “Weights and Measures,” and “Internal Navigation” come to Cornwall to visit and go down below to examine a mine. He shows real knowledge of the county and the workings of a mine — how dangerous and scary it is to go down deep in the bowels of the earth. Up and down in buckets or using ladders. He also sets a number of stories in Devonshire (“The Parson’s Daughter at Oxney Colne”) and Exeter (He Knew He Was Right). There was a Trollope aunt and other connections who lived in the west country.

I wondered if Trollope got the idea from the long speech in Shakespeare’s King Lear where Edgar to fool his blind suicidal father they are on a high cliff, and he can jump to kill himself. Edgar paints with words a fearful description of a person looking so tiny down in the valley from the cliff, so vulnerable.

The end of Trollope’s story matches the beginning. We’ve seen the indifference of nature, its savagery in the landscape and men and women; the need people have of one another, some community, and of love and social reciprocation. The last words spoken in Trollope’s story are by Barty’s mother as she tells Mally that Mally will be her “child” now. She will marry Barty. We hear from the narrator of how “people said that Barty Gunliffe had married a mermaid out of the sea; but when it was said in Mally’s hearing I doubt whether she liked it; and when Barty himself would call her a mermaid she would frown at him, and throw about her black hair, and pretend to cuff him with her little hand” (pp 474-5) And then we are told how Mally’s grandfather was taken up to the top of the cliff and lived out his “remaining days” under the roof of the Gunliffe’s much better appointed, more comfortable place.

And a last joke; now the Gunliffes and Trenglos declare the cove is both of theirs with an exclusive right to the sea-weed.

In the film a wedding someday is mentioned and we see the children working and playing together over the seaweed. The film begins with a vast land- and sky and seascape and Cornish music and the film ends that way.


Mally in church: to the bed, by the side

Ellen

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