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Archive for September 4th, 2022


Sarah Badel as Lizzie Eustace wearing her diamonds (1974-75 Pallisers, scripted Simon Raven, directed Ronald Wilson, Episode 7:12)


Keeley Hawes as Rachel Verinder wearing the moonstone diamond (1996 Moonstone, scripted Kevin Eliot, directed Robert Bierman)

I stood there as one thunderstruck or as if I had seen an apparition (from Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, as read aloud by Gabriel Betteridge & acted out by Leo Wringer in the 1996 The Moonstone)

Robinson Crusoe recovered quite a lot from his shipwreck before it sank off his island of despair and transformative salvation … no disputing his collection kept him alive — Chantel Lavoie, Collecting Women, p 142)

This blog brings together my experience of a group reading and discussion of The Eustace Diamonds in the London Society Trollope every-other-Monday zoom group with my experience of a group reading and discussion of Collins’s No Name via zoom at Politics and Prose; my own reading, watching and teaching of Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White at OLLI at Mason (in person! yay!), and my watching the two latest movie adaptations of The Moonstone and (finally) listening to The Moonstone (unabridged) read aloud by Peter Jeffreys.

Dear Friends and readers,

I thought I’d interrupt our journey through Indian Summers, with a relatively brief foray into territory I used to regard as unreadable (and in the corresponding film adaptations, simply puzzling), Wilkie Collins’s second masterpiece in the Victorian mystery-thriller kind, The Moonstone, which Trollope’s still (apparently) popular and widely read (among those who read the long Victorian kind) Eustace Diamonds, which many regard as Trollope’s very Trollopian mirroring and parody of the sensation novel as practiced by Collins, signaled to us by making diamonds the material center of the tale.

I no longer regard Collins as unreadable (with the exception I used to make for The Woman in White and Rambling Beyond Railways), having found (due to some change in temperament in me where) I have more patience for cynical frivolity and now find myself responding to non-realistic modes of realism beyond that of the gothic, which mode Collins’s novels also partly fit into. This past summer I read with a class Collins’s Woman in White and became aware how truly meaningful and artistic it is. I had No Name with an intelligent insightful teacher at Politics and Prose (via zoom), whom I credit with opening my eyes to how this book was communicating itself; read Catherine Peter’s literary biography, and have just about finished listening to Peter Jeffrey’s effective reading aloud of The Moonstone (unabridged, 2 MP3s), and watching both the 1996 2 hour single episode rendition, and the equally attention-holding 2016 BBC Moonstone, scripted by Rachel Flowerday and Sarah Hails, directed Lisa Mulcahy —  wholly a woman shaped production (Yvonne Sellins, Tania Neumann two of the producers). I am chuffed to say I got a commendation from a couple of the people in the class, and three have told me they will take my class teaching “the two Trollopes” (Anthony and Joanna) this fall.

I’m writing about this just now because I not only am I about to “switch” to Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset (together with Joanna T’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir) for the fall, but I’ve just finished reading The Eustace Diamonds with the Trollope Society Monday zoom every-other-week group, and they (we) are about to begin Can You Forgive Her? for some two months and more. I found myself more drawn to The Eustace Diamonds than I expected, and reading it more carefully than I had planned to. I took notes as I read, took notes as others gave talks, and read Mark Green’s article on Lizzie Eustace in the recent Trollopiana (No 122, Summer 2022).

I dislike Lizzie Eustace every bit as strongly as Trollope’s narrator claims to, though I grant she shows great daring when she hunts with no previous experience, but she is an interesting character, especially when lined up against the other women in the book, including Lucy Morris, who I take it shares the spotlight – and is part of a continuum of vivid servants (this insight from Peter Fullilove’s talk) — Lucinda, Mrs Carbuncle, Patience Crabstick Miss Macnulty &c. I’m a fan of Lucy’s – within limits – I was with her when she refused mean bribes, when she refused to kowtow to Lord Fawn. She reminded me of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park when against all pressure she refuses to marry a very rich young man because “I cannot like him well enough to marry him.” She does go beyond this into perversity when she endangers herself and courts insults and leaves Fawn Court (where every effort was made to make her stay) for living with a harridan Lady Linlithgow. Then she’s asking for it — Frank has no shown himself exactly trustworthy.

I like especially how Mark’s essay takes us into Phineas Redux and Lucy’s doings there and into The Prime Minister and our last glimpses of her – so it’s a full life insofar as we see. A kind of biography. We can see why many readers are fascinated and also why Trollope abhorred her.

I want to recommend also Jane Nardin’s He Knew She was Right where she shows Lily Dale’s problem to have been that she was too conventional – the usual wise advice was the worst thing to do; it seems our real rebel is Bell Dale. Nardin discusses these various heroines. Lucy Morris behaves perversely and self-destructively when she leaves Fawn Court and she is doing that to behave according to conventional ideals. Also to consider Fintan O’Toole’s formula of DARVO – this he says describes what some unnamed politicians (as well actors in court cases) do: Deny, Attack, and then accuse the victim of doing what you have done. Lizzie is mistress of this maneuver too.

For most of the rest of this blog I offer notes on The Eustace Diamonds (see plot summary from Fortnightly Review, 1871), from the group discussions, and for myself, where the book resembles and departs radically from Collins’s methods and The Moonstone.  As a coda, I talk about how the two most recent Moonstone movies cope with the problem that so little happens on the surface of The Moonstone (see plot summary on wikipedia).

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From The Pallisers: Terence Alexander as Lord George de Bruce Caruthers who courts Lizzie thinking to marry her but decides she is too much trouble, too much a liar to connect himself to, and again Sarah Badel as Lizzie, here trying to coax him in her usual actually contemptible way (also 7:14)

The London Society on-line group had people giving talks at the opening of each session. Helen Small suggested it was “not the kind of book to talk about characters’ rights in,” a “world of surface commitments” and “public life,” a “sultry class performance;” Peter Fullilove that it was fascinating and fun to read, that he admired Lizzie and “she did not know herself to be false or bad,” a kind of functioning sociopath. The central characters given “a psychological underpinning,” with males controlled by “chivalric ideals.”  I liked so much how Peter brought out the novel showed us lower class characters, servants, many more levels of people than is usual with Trollope.  This is just as one of our heroines is a governess.

His talk led to Dominic Edwards showing photos of a trip the Society took to just the castle in Scotland that Portray represents, with real rocky landscapes, beautiful gardens.

Sati Mackenzie talked of the novel’s “concerns:” Mr Camperdown and Mr Dove on what’s an heirloom, what paraphernalia; at Fawn Court Lucy courageously battles Fawn, and her engagement to Frank causes her much “anguish;” high life around Lizzie is awful; Mrs Carbuncle “bold, audacious,” Sir Griffin “vicious”(“physically repulsive” to Lucinda). She looked at Frank’s predicament, and pressures on him; OTOH, Lord George, Lizzie’s foolish idea of a Byronic corsair in Trollope becomes a kind of radical, republican, a Fenian.


Marvin Jarvis as Frank Greystock, here taken aback by Lizzie (in the novel I think he is supposed to be having a liaison with Lizzie, one under his own control so he does not have to give up Lucy; to me he was not a sympathetic figure, just a notch above Adolphus Crosbie)

Frank Greystock makes a good contrast/comparison to Adolphus Crosbie because Greystock is just as ambitious, he just as “helplessly” finds himself asking lucy Morris to marry him, and he _does not go back on his word- — even after much pressure and he stays away. But he never betrays Lucy to Lizzie. I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere in print and I agree it would be hard to make stick: but I do think there are enough hints and sudden silences to suggest that between Frank Greystock and Lizzie Eustace much literal real sexual congress is going on. There is nothing quite as pointed as the scenes in the grass between Crosbie and Lily: I feel Trollope was pointed in SHA was he felt he needed to justify why she was so shattered when Crosbie betrayed her. There is no such necessity here, but I think the book becomes richer because Grestock more interesting (more like Crosbie only far more in control of himself) if we see him too engaged to one girl (innocent, good ,Lucy Morris) and behaving like an engaged man with the other, in this case a truly awful woman whose baseness does not bother Frank as much as it should. Lizzie does not bother hide her baseness from him so we can see the elements in her character that are so low and hard to right: lying continually, accusing others of what she does (becoming classic that), a nasty insinuating mouth, when it suits her arrogant. Lucy has no intention of marrying Fawn, only wants to triumph through humiliation; she would quite like to marry Frank and thinks she could manipulate him. It’s not clear that she would not be able to were they to marry, but as with Lucinda and Sir Griffin, Trollope does not allow what probably have happened in life to be the character’s irrevocable destiny.

Gilly Wilford talked of the book as a sensation novel, full of humor and social criticism, the troublesome necklace leads to two thefts, the cruel third-rate society into which Lizzie finds entry. She was staggered that Lizzie could fall into debt with her yearly income of 4000£!  She talked of how Lizzie fails to tell the truth that she has the diamonds when the box is first stolen. (When in doubt, Lizzie always lies.) Patience Crabstick is the inside person who could be enabling thefts


A Victorian cast iron box in which people carried valuables — myself I found Lizzie’s troubles over her heavy box intendedly funny.

In the general conversation and break-out groups covered Lord Fawn’s selfish obtuse behavior (Mrs Hittaway was not brought up as much as she should have been for comedy and domination). Lucy and Lizzie were the two ends of the continuum of femaleness. So in contrast to Lizzie’s (and almost everyone else), Lucy’s letters are short, plain, thoughtful, show suffering; that Lizzie’s lowest moment was her visit to Lucy and attempt to bully and insult Lizzie into giving up Frank; someone said Lizzie cannot even sustain any friendship, while Lucy’s real strength was the respect she compelled from others (even Lady Linlithgow), and her continual attempt at some independence. It is a very benign presentation of the governess position. Lucy Morris is in as much risk of destitution and homelessness as any of the lower order people (but for the pillow-like Lady Fawn). But she refuses Lizzie’s open bribe of money and a broach to provide inside information on the Fawns to Lucy as mean and an insult to her — it would be a singularly mean thing to do

People delighted in the Scottish servant Andrew Gowan’s mocking candor. The anti-semitism of the book and Trollope was (again) debated. We have a charlatan clergyman in this novel. A loveless world. A struggle for ascendance and domination and power includes Lady Glenn; the “characters seek security, status, prestige, elegance; show snobbery, envy, pretentiousness. The wonderful confrontations of the characters with one another.

The effective way the detective story running through everything else is carried on with pointed out, with (I add) Trollope always telling us the truth and using dramatic irony where we know what most of the characters don’t and watch them cope. I thought the depiction of Major Mackintosh very effective, very respectful of him and the other police and detectives, even when confounded. I thought the depiction of the lower class criminals did not demonize or sentimentalize them. I found the hunting scenes some of the best in Trollope: really well imagined, and each character figuring forth their inner life. One woman, though, differed and kept asking “what is the worth of this book? why are we reading it?”

Well to that I answer here: the key to this is to agree with Trollope that Lizzie epitomizes the worst kinds of lying, falseness, craft, sordid greed, manipulative attempts — and ignorance and stupidity and they are the banal everyday of the world (the tenacious milking of every cent she can ferret out in Trollope’s Mrs Carbuncle). If you do that, you are with him all the way. Also to make the connection between the continual deadpan ironies towards the Fawns, and even (or also) Frank Greystock. It does become a very different book from Collins’s because there is no secret (to us) about what Lizzie is — and to a number of the people she has to deal with.

I wish I had written down who suggested the story of Lucinda resembled that of Scott’s Lucy of Lammermoor — Trollope had read a great deal of Scott as had many other reading Victorians; he said at a dinner that Scott would not succeed “today” because he was too “boring.” I can see it. Again and again Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Becky Sharpe were brought up and compared to this novel and Lizzie. Dominic Edwardes seemed to feel we compassionate Lizzie, and the book holds us by its variety of weak thoroughly analyzed (sometimes believable) male characters.

For my part I don’t know that I like The Eustace Diamonds: towards the end I felt there was repetition and filler, with Trollope apparently having nothing compelling him on but the moral confusion at the core of the book’s depiction of ordinary life, but I do admire it, it’s strong, vigorous and deeply sceptical . I’d call it hard comedy. There is hardly a soft heart in sight, and no one left but Lucy as a person of integrity. India comes into this: a princely state and prince whom Frank Greystock defends and attacks the whigs on because it forwards his career — no other reason; Fawn is angry because he is Whig and the attack could hut him.

It is so Collins-like and so different. No secrets, no over-the-top solemnity and yet the necklace with its fabulous worth, and intrigues over it, and the connection to colonialism and India — Fawn’s phony hollow proposal, Lizzie’s willingness to hold him to it out of spite is not a Barsetshire world motif at all. Women who are bullies or complicit, or ever so conventional, the men ditto. Yet the sarcasm and world before us is utterly believable — more so than Collins it stands up to believability. Collins, though, we must remember, often did have real life situations he had read about or experienced himself in mind.

Where Collins-like: the way Trollope continually informs who is related how to the diamonds and one another, is nonetheless more Collins-like, at least as I’m seeing Collins in the Moonstone. The centrality of these jewels. How the detectives are cornering Lizzie — from Bunfit to Gager (who in his wrongness also contributes to why he is wrong) and Major Mackintosh. Mrs Carbuncle (obviously Lord George’s once mistress) begins to suspect Lizzie of hoarding the diamonds or not telling the truth. The accusations and suspicions swirling around George have become too much for him, he begins to get very angry, and needing someone (knowing to tell Frank would be to lose him), Lizzie suddenly confesses to Lord George. Again telling the truth so quickly makes for a different kind of surprise — psychological troubling but probable and in terms of the law, perjury.


Lizzie suddenly telling Lord George the truth

Last, Bunfit reminds me of Cuff.

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Antony Sher (a bit too subdued in the role) as Sargeant Cuff and Gregg Wise as Franklin Blake conferring (1996 Moonstone)

As to the film adaptations of Collins’s books, these bring out the actual structure and matter of Collins’s books because they are so difficult to translate into an audience-holding movie. This part of my blog might be considered a footnote to a blog I wrote just on the difficulties of adapting Collins’s novels, and in that case it was The Woman in White, to film.

In the case of The Moonstone, in the novel, on the surface we are to delight in the characteristics of the diary keepers, and the satire and sympathy extended them and the characters they dwell upon (not the same as the characters who stole the moonstone); after his initial entry, the hero, Franklyn Blake is kept off stage to nearly the end of the book, with the heroine, Rachel Verinder running away and refusing to explain herself, the heroine’s mother, Lady Verinder (played magnificently controlled by Patricia Hodge in 1996), dying on us 2/3s the way through, with the actual story we are kept waiting for is kept to a bare minimum of acting out towards the end, with unexplained suicides, angry crippled people, and silent stereotypical Indians (orientalism) along the way.

By contrast, the film adaptation of The Eustace Diamonds omits a lot of the story because there is too much to tell (and anyway wrongly Raven despises Lucy Morris, drops Lucinda Roanoke, the vulnerable victim daughter of Mrs Carbuncle, who is nearly married off to a brutal abusive man because at heart he is an anti-feminist).

The Moonstone mirrors Collins’s own problems with opium in the not wholly explained story of Franklin Blake as the victim of an opium (over)dose and the presentation of Ezra Jennings, who as narrator combines a type of disabled man and an ex-addict (working for a doctor). There is a great poignancy in the suicide of Rosanna Spearman — reminding me of the pathos of Anne Catherick in Woman in White: both young women never had a chance because they are of a sensitive disposition — Anne Catherick at every turn ignored, bullied, threatened and finally shut away; Roseanna Spearman put in prison, and becoming clinically depressed she is unable to throw off her despair, and when the moonstone is stolen, she feels she will be blamed and drowns herself rather than be again subjected to police interrogation. So the detectives and police are actually no joke in Collins.

The interest in India in The Moonstone is real — as is the interest in Italian politics and Risorgimento spill-over in Woman in White. I have not mentioned the superb performance by Peter Vaughn as Betteredge: he carries much of the novel.


Leo Wringer as Gabriel Betteredge (2016 Moonstone, scripted Rachel Flowerday, Sarah Hails, directed Lisa Mulcahy)

It’s arguable that the 5 part BBC film had the edge or advantage on the single episode. It makes no pretense at realism: each episode opens with a cut-out doll and puppet presentation of the theft of the diamonds by the 18th century thug-captain, John Herncastle. It is a wholly a woman-shaped production (even the producers were women, Yvonne Sellins, Tania Neumann). It has a delightful Bettheredge in a black comic English actor Leo Wringer and this time the way the people find an excuse for bringing in Mr Blake Franklin early and keeping him on stage is a sort of homoerotic comic relationship between these two players. We see them play billiards; they are seen as doing things around the estate together.


Lisa Niles as Penelope

A black actress for Penelope makes more sense out of what happens than ever Rachel Verinder (Terennia Edwards) and she is comic. The actor playing Franklin Blake, Joshua Silver, did some notable acting as a soldier come home from WW2 in a later Foyle’s War episode. The film-makers have had nerve to make Rosesanna Spearman (Jane McGrath) as suicidal neurotic, and the Cuff and Bruff are minimized (in favor of Betteredge and Blake as remembering the past), with Jeremy Swift as an effective Dr Candy. They are highly inventive with stage business and confused dialogues. Almost nothing concrete happens, it’s all conjecture, evasion, and one tragic death (Roseanna Spearman), and continual struggles to remember the past, remember details, ferret out different people.

The success of both movies is they attend to the idea the story is about hidden selves, but there is also (what I did not emphasize enough earlier) much lost. Particularly in one of the journals and characters not much mentioned in the literature (except Jenny Bourne Taylor’s In the Secret Theater of Home. Listen to just this one small quotation from Jenning’s explanations of himself — all the characters explain themselves, justify themselves; for Drusilla Clark, it’s a satire on the blindness of evangelicals. Here we are looking at how the mind works:

Under the stimulating influence [of opium], the latest and most vivid impressions left on your mind — namely, the impressions relating to the Diamond — would be likely, in your morbidly sensitive nervous condition, to become intensified in your brain, and would subordinate to themselves your judgement and your will. Little by little, any apprehension about the safety of the Diamond which you had felt during the day would be liable to develop themselves from a state of doubt to a state of certainty [and so on and so forth], Taylor, Hidden Theater of the Home, 222).

This is the true explanation of how the moonstone came to be stolen from Rachel Verinder. Collins at his best is exploring the sub or unconscious and many levels of minds in juxtaposition. His non-realistic epistolary methods can explore life in ways Trollope does not get near. Here is the difference between the two men that matters. It is also where Collins enters the realm of the gothic through non-supernatural and non-taboo-breaking means: the many juxtaposed voices are central to this layering. Both movies begin way after the book begins: the 1996 show us Blake and Rachel married, sleeping in bed together, and all is a flashback; the 2016 it is a year after the moonstone was stolen, Blake gone to and returned from Italy for the funeral of his father. They eschew the stylized performances of the 2018 Woman in White; perhaps they should have taken them on more centrally.

The 2016 movie brings out the character of Lucy Yolland (Sophie Stone), crippled, profoundly resentful on behalf of Roseanna and trying to protect her:

Both they both make a use of repeating landscape (the shivering sands) symbolically and effective music.


This is from the 2016 palette; the 1996 is grimmer, all browns and greys, but both fearful places where an impulse towards death lurks

Ellen

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