Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitrionia Balfe) drinking, eating, confiding on their wedding night (Outlander 7)

Friends and readers,

I carry on my comparison of Outlander with Poldark (see Outlander as a descendant of Waverley): as film art, as mini-series, made using the same kinds of cinematography (rich, mesmerizing, computer enhancement continual), dramaturgy (figures in a landscape not on a stage, montage, juxaposition), briefer dialogue, both seen as “women’s material,” albeit with plenty of male heroes and villains about, this dyptych again shows where the new Poldark is lacking (see scripts): the pair are symmetrically structured with the underlying paradigm for both a repetition of the same alluring exploration. As Emily Nussbaum puts it,

Outlander is, finally, as thoughtful about male vulnerability as it is about female desire, a rarity for television. It’s a quality that makes the show appealingly romantic in multiple senses (Emily Nussbaum, “Out of Time,” New Yorker, April 8, 2016)

When Dougal proposes that Claire marry Jamie, he says to Jamie and Claire separately that his purpose is both to secure Claire from the depredations of Black Jack Randall (yes played with fierce intensity by Tobias Menzies), and (as Murtargh [Duncan Lacroix] also suggested was needed, wanted) and to secure for Jamie an older mature woman.



It might startle some viewer that Jamie responds to Claire asking him if he will mind that she is not a virgin, no, as long as she doesn’t mind that he is (not that he’s never kissed a woman, “I said I was a virgin, not a monk”). But it fits the frequent reversals of roles in this series.

Garrison Commander when viewed as a whole is the second of two linked phases: in the first (from Jane’s memories in Rent or Outlander 5) we see Tobias capture, at first seem to negotiate with but then longingly flay Jamie, flog him until his back is permanently seared, scarred, somehow made shameful (like a slave’s); in the second, Garrison Commander, Claire lands in his hands for a few hours, and just as she thinks she has succeeded in winning him over to take her into an English situation where she can make her way back to Craig Na Dunn or where she wants to go, he kicks her hard in the stomach, threatens her humiliatingly and seems about to knife her mortally (as it is mortally dangerous for Jamie to come into the English lair).

The Wedding has three phases of love-making: the first just after the episode begins and the two, just married, come into their apartment together, almost as a duty:


the second after a long period of conversation about themselves, only Jamie tells far more of his family, background, memories than Claire, this a deep coming together lovingly, tenderly:


and then the third after Jamie tells her of his preparations for the wedding, where he takes over the woman’s role it seems — securing the priest and ring, getting the proper beautiful clothes which will endow them with great dignity, and finally the ceremony itself; and then third, hungrily, far more aggressively, letting go,


after which they are hungry and morning has come. We are allowed to dwell on each phase feeling it with no interference as it were.

It is framed by another wedding: as the episode opens we see Claire walking a city, perhaps London streets, in modern outfit with Robin Hood hat, and Frank suddenly eagerly begging her to marry him now, at city hall, with no preparations. She protests she has not yet met his parents, to which he responds, well now you’ll meet them as Mrs Frank Randall.



He is (like Jamie) while in the male position, yet abject and in need of her permission. This scene makes a striking contrast to the elaborate decorative ritual Jamie and Claire go through,



and lest we forget this, at end when morning comes and Jamie has left the room, Claire picks up the wedding dress, and out tumbles her wedding ring from Frank. In order to marry Jamie she had taken the ring off, and put it down the front of her corset, and now it falls to the floor almost going down a crack. But not quite. She kneels and picks it up and puts it on the ring finger of her right hand. This knits The Wedding back to the Garrison Commander for of course we know the same actor plays Black Jack as plays Frank.



There is nothing like this kind of consistent loving development in Horsfield’s Poldark. it’s partly the result again of taking a small and self-enclosed portion of a single novel (Chapters 12-15, “The Garrison Commander,” “A Marriage is Announced,” “A Marriage Takes Place,” “Revelations of the Bridal Chamber”); but it’s also this trusting to the material, not feeling that you have to supply something else, or qualify it.

Nussbaum suggests that what we watch in the first season is a “continual crumbling” of a bridge they build between them. I think that’s so, from when she “disobeys” him and he beats her, to when after the witch trial, she at long last tells him of who and what she is, where she comes from (the future), her other husband, and he generously takes her to the stone and leaves her to make up her mind. She does — for him, and again it’s his vulnerability risked, and her desire knitting them as one, her strength too as she says to him, “Get up, soldier” (making us recall her as as a battlefield nurse).

I just reveled in these two episodes. Yes because I loved the love-making (the first time watching I was embarrassed by the candour and directness of the scenes), but also because the way the development was placed against a background of serious disruption of any morality among the English and hedonistic vicarious joy among the Scots (though sometimes the episode again made me feel Claire had landed among a group of disciplined frat boys). In Garrison Commander there is an earnest British soldier who first sees Claire while she is with the Scotsman seeking rent, and thinks she may be their prisoner; he takes her for safety to the English fort, only to find she is now open prey and he can do nothing about it because of his lower rank. This holdover of emotion of a subaltern is matched by Dougal (Graham McTavish) in The Wedding, who clearly would cuckold Jamie, were Claire to be open to this; Jamie’s is as subject to Dougal and Colum as other of the British officers who would try to stop Randall, protect Claire but they can’t. Dougal is the linchpin of both episodes: following Claire into the English stronghold, pulling her out, engineering this wedding, to hold onto her. He has decided she is not a spy and wants her identity as useful to him and has a fierce authority over Jamie, his nephew it seems.


These patterns are not found in the chapters, rather they are filled with nuanced dialogue and thought between Claire and Jamie. In the novel for these chapters there are no memories of Frank. There is loss here: effective as the outward dialogue in the scenes of clash in Garrison, of argument at table, and of gentle and raucous comedy (the priest who must be dragged out of bed and then bribed to perform the ceremony, the trading of Biblical passages, Ned Gowan (Bill Patterson) among teasing prostitutes who are presences out of The Beggar’s Opera), I found the long give-and-take conversations in Gabaldon’s novel much more moving. The movie can risk only suggestive fragments of Jamie’s childhood, boyhood, who was this relative and who that. This is a building up of a picture of him as having pride as Laird.

The next episode, Both Sides Now (Outlander 8) will be a continual movement back and forth from 1943 and the desperate Frank at the police office, with the Reverend Wakefield, told by Mrs Graham that some supernatural neolithic charm has taken Claire off to another time, with Claire and Jamie traveling or wandering themselves as semi-outcasts through the highland’s landscape. They encounter a beggar, Hugh Munro in the novel, now called Willie (Finn Den Hertog) whom Jamie welcomes warmly, and has himself been made permanently mute (his tongue cut out), his feet ruined, during a captivity among the Turks, in Algiers, as a galley slave. Now he wanders through the world.


He is a parallel to Frank.


And this new trio comes near danger.


Again this is a lingering juxtaposition not in the book. But this is for another blog.


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This image is not the image on the cover of Poldark: The complete Scripts, series 1 (which is awful), but the cover does feature Aidan Turner in just this sort of mood and in need of a shave

Dear Friends and readers,

While I was away in Cornwall, I had a number of wonderful finds in bookshops, especially Fowey where I found Poldark: The Complete Scripts, Series 1 by Debbie Horsfield; in the parlance of film studies, these are screenplays, not just actual records of what was said and acted, but scenes intended to be acted that were cut or never made it into filming, many stage directions, brief commentaries in brackets on the characters as they speak the proposed dialogue, and descriptions of the scenery to be filmed, the mise-en-scene of a set, and larger action as envisaged by Horsfield. I also found Claude Berry’s excellent county book, A Portrait of Cornwall, updated in 191 (a Robert Hale book) and a superb book of essays on Daphne DuMaurier: The DuMaurier Companion, ed Sarah Waters. I’ll be (I hope) writing about the last two in the near future; for now. Here I will comparing the screenplays with the original historical fictions by Graham and (briefly) the older 1970s mini-series.

Horsfield’s scripts for the first season of Poldark (that is all eight hour-long episodes) have been a revelation. The script called for better shows than we got. Really. Horsfield has lots of commentary and description that is psychologically suggestive. I had accused the scripts of being crude, and been puzzled why the lines were so short, or blunt when her other work has sophisticated dialogue. Well the lines are not short; what happened was that when the dialogue was filmed, the speed at which it was done, gives the effect of abruptness, and the way the scenes are enacted often precludes resonance. This was a choice by the two male directors, Edward Balzagette and William McGregor.

What’s more: there are numerous small and larger cut scenes, and some of them contain subtlety and slow development for Heidi Reed as Elizabeth. As I read the scripts, from the outset, Horsfield had in mind to change the interpretation of Elizabeth as found in Graham’s books and as found in the 1970s series: lines and descriptions suggest she is yearning to “be with” Ross as it’s called; for talk, for a coming together of their spirits, for sex. What’s left are silent short takes of the actress at the window, looking out, none leaving enough time to understand what the meaning of the shot is. Without wanting to attack an actor, it seems to me in the love scenes of the first series, Turner lacks the subtlety he needs; it’s as if others of them were directed to be more blunt and simplistic than the script called for. I want to re-watch the first season against the scripts before quoting any specific scenes (and I would prefer not to allow these blogs to become as overlong as they did last year).

I’m particularly impressed with how each episode has its own arch and emphatic themes. I’ve seen this in other BBC drama books, but this one is remarkably tightly-knit. It is clear that she wants the character of Ross to be central to each episode, even if he does not have a linchpin or dominating POV; this is not true of Graham’s second book (Demelza) and his perspective is the wider one of the world of Cornwall so he has rich complicated characters in main and subplots. The major presence after Ross is Demelza, with Francis (like Elizabeth) being given suggestive lines. Kyle Soller was up to the role and he alone (it seems to me) was allowed the time and space to realize the lines of the four principals. I was confirmed in the side-lining of Keren who is given marginal space. OTOH, there is lyrical beauty to her introduction while she is playing Helen (“that bright particular star” of All’s Well that Ends Well).

Having read the scripts, it seems to me that the flaws and problems I outlined as did others in this new Poldark, the first series, were not due to the script but the realization. Extrapolating from this, I’ll give the new season the benefit of the doubt and assume the same might hold true. There will soon be published a book of the second series (just now available only in kindle editions), with Demelza’s face on the cover. I’ve pre-ordered it. The cover still is not as aggressively “in your face” as the cover for the first series: Eleanor Tomlinson looks weary and grief-striken, near tears


We know that she will be having to deal with a full-blown love affair between Ross and Elizabeth, enough to make any wife as deeply invested in her husband as this ex-kitchen and working class girl is.

The volume is introduced by Karen Thrussell who says she is a lover of Graham’s novels and tells us that Horsfield did not know the novels at all before she was hired. This is her first time for costume drama. That was deliberate: they wanted someone whose expertise was proved in popular mini-series that get high ratings. An online article by “the historical advisor,” Hannah Grieg, to Horsfield and the film-makeers (crew, costumer, production, actors) released by the BBC tells you these are well researched novels, embedded in history; they are. Grieg says she “stripped the books down” for Horsfield. Greig claims she became deeply immersed and marvels at the accuracy of the presentation of mining and banking business at the time (and central to the stories, as well as the prison system, the injustice of the laws against poaching). I suspect that most of the time the historian’s roles are exaggerated in these series, and they are rather consulted when the writer fears she is making some egregious error. Perhaps in this case Horsfield needed help? At any rate it would be superficial and the scripts don’t feel superficial; the scenes about mining seem to me to have taken what could be taken from Graham’s books.


I’ve said that this year I don’t want perpetually to be comparing the older series with the newer one as I’ve done that before, and after a while the finding that the older one is the subtler, with far more novelistic scripts, and closer to the original Post World War Two and 1970s subversive and feminist conceptions of the books is simply repetitive. I’ve written, delivered at a conference and published an essay on this now: Poldark Rebooted: 40 Years On. Instead my idea is to compare this historical fiction series with one very like it, Outlander from Diana Gabaldon’s historical romance time-traveling tales (as the older 1970s Poldarks were remarkably parallel and like to The Onedin Line).

Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall in Starz’s Outlander
Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall (1943)

Claire Randall beginning her relationship with Sam Heughan as her protector-chivalric Jamie (1743)

I’ve said how much I am drawn to both series, and argued that both are if not fully feminist, proto-feminist, that Graham’s fiction has been said by others to be “instinctively feminist” and he is on record saying that he was concerned to show the “raw deal” women have been handed across history. The films from Gabaldon’s first book made the POV of the series Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser just as surely as the new films from Graham’s books made Aidan Turner as Ross. I’ve called the Outlander series film-feminism because of the use of Claire’s perspective and memories as over-voice; she is the linch-pin mind of the series, her memories take us back and forth in time.

This is Robin Ellis’s face as Ross Poldark as he begins to mount the roof to where Elizabeth is lying in a rage that ends in a rape (1975-76 Poldark, from Warleggan)

But there is a real problem with this pleasant outlook and I don’t want to ignore this and misrepresent the books and films. The new series has wiped out Ross’s rape of Elizabeth in Warleggan. Among the arguments for insisting it is a rape (which I’ve made in my analyses of the books) is that marital rape and rape itself outside marriage is common across Graham’s oeuvre. In Graham’s The Forgotten Story (set in Cornwall in 1898), the young husband rapes his wife after he thinks she has been having an affair with a sailor and she becomes unconscious after a traumatically violent incident in her uncle’s tavern. In Marni, the “cure” for the mentally troubled young heroine in Hitchcock’s movie is aggressive rape; this comes from the book where the husband rapes his wife in a passionate moment of despair. In the plot-summaries I’ve read of other of his mysteries, and spy thriller, I found rape repeatedly. As those who know The Four Swans remember, we have a sadistic Vicar Whitworth forced on Mowenna Chynoweth as her husband; she finds him distasteful morally and aesthetically and to get back at her and because he enjoys it, he inflicts sadistic sex on her; among other things, twisting her feet and ankles so repeatedly that when she finally escapes him and years go by, she is still hobbling.

I would like to interpret all this as Graham exposing the reality that coerced marriage is a form of rape: the parents and family insist this female give her body to a specific male in order for the family to aggrandize itself with money or rank. I’d like to see all these incidents as him exposing how men think they are the solution when they have been the problem (Marni – the heroine’s mother is a deeply distraught women as a result of having sold herself as a prostitute to make ends meet), but it is clear they can also be read as voyeurism. Indeed that’s the way Hitchcock films them. The men are not always punished; the rape is slid over. In the case of Ross, there is finally a deep punishment but it takes years and wreaks damage on Elizabeth (death) and destroys the character and life of their son, Valentine. The Vicar is simply murdered by the husband of Morwenna’s salacious and promiscuous sister, Rowella. Which brings in the question of how Graham offers only limited sympathy to women who he has invented as promiscuous (Keren who marries and destroys Mark is damned by suggestions she was after more men than Dwight Enys)

The Walking Stick (one of the great films made from a non-Poldark novel, where the hero is a crook and the heroine disabled)

In the case of Winston Graham, a woman friend,journalist and film critic whose views I respect, Judy Geater, could not bear the marital rapes in the Poldark series: she agreed that the thrust was actually feminist, but felt Graham was offering this up as enjoyment; that he was (as other male writers are) obsessed with the fear that a woman will be false (one finds this in LeCarre’s Smiley books); she also did not enter into Demelza’s attitudes towards Ross which for me were a paradigm of something of what I knew with Jim, and what Claire Beauchamp gradually begins to evince towards Jamie Fraser. So both this popular historical fiction series is problematic for serious women readers. Horsfield change from a raped and angry woman, to a woman who chooses to have sex with a longed-for man may be seen as getting rid of the problematic nature of the books. Not altogether as she deepens the hostility to aggressive, sexualized women (Keren and now I think Caroline Penvennen from what I’ve seen the second episode of the first season).

There is something equally troubling in Outlander which far from moderating (as the 1970s writers did) or erasing (as Horsfield has done), Gabaldon’s group of writers make emphatic. In Chapter 22, called The Reckoning, and in the parallel episode, Jamie beats Claire to teach her a lesson in obedience. The idea is she was captured by Black Jack Randall because she didn’t take seriously enough that her own danger also endangered her husband and all the men who were loyal to him. Diane Reynolds, a friend of mine, also once a journalist, and now author (see my review of her The Doubled life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer), put it this way:

“Black Jack’s sadistic (what I remember) beating of Jamie with a cat o’ nine tails was horrified and it did shock me, but it also fit a familiar paradigm: it is what we expect the evil character to do to the hero. But Jamie IS the hero, and it being acceptable that he beat his wife (and that her humiliation was key to her acceptance) did bother me. He is also sexually aroused by the experience, and that seemed realistic to me (I had read about concentration guards who would beat prisoners until they (the guards) ejaculated) but I wondered: couldn’t Jamie, if such a good guy, have pretended to beat Claire and had her scream (to satisfy his friends’ need for her abjection) while he hit a table or whatever? Well, any way, a minor point. I don’t mean it to be a huge thing, just an example of a reactionary strain in Gabaldon–and it is what it is. It does make a difference if one comes to a book first or a filmed version– easier to engage the filmed version if it doesn’t irritate preconceived ideas. I probably like the second Poldark better than you for not seeing the first, and the Davies WP for not having seen another version.

Claire shocked and frightened when told by Jamie he is going to beat her in the hearing of his “mates”

This turns the time-traveling tale into a metaphor for a fraternity where the female dreamer is helpless against an all-male universe and must submit lest she end up gang-raped ….

Diane’s comments acknowledge that Horsfield’s version in fact is feminist because like Claire in most of the scenes of Outlander freely gives of herself to Jamie and we are invited to revel with them in their wedded sexual compatibility (so to speak). I had pointed out that the concluding two episodes of the film series and chapters in the book where we witness Jamie raped and then his character broken, him humiliated with nothing sparred us of the buggery were far more transgressive and could be seen as voyeuristic. I think the series is on a high-tier to permit the film-makers to do this (it wouldn’t do for BBC Sunday prime time). But as I read the chapters I have to admit the next (omitted in the film) is one of Jamie justifying corporal punishment. He tells stories of how his father beat him and how this was good for him, and by the end of the conversation Claire seems almost grateful for having been made aware she was reckless. This is somewhat countered by her pulling a knife on him just as they are about to have sex once again, and him kneeling before her to swear he will never beat her again, but i fact that he beat her is insisted on. It was not just mild hitting. She cannot sit comfortably, cannot ride a horse for more than say 20 minutes at a time. The book is not written in 1743 but 1991.

Beyond that the doubling of the Claire’s mild, gentle Frank, her 20th century husband, with the cruelly sadistic homosexual Black Jack Randall is deeply anti-homosexual (it takes us back to the characterizations of homosexuality in The Jewel in the Crown and the 1970s Upstairs Downstairs), this blending of the two suggests beneath Frank lurks Black Jack, and the subtext is titillating. There are also the many rape attempts on Claire, on Jamie’s sister, Jenny, and way Geillis Duncan, near the end of the series revealed as another woman from the future (1968), manipulates and kills her husband, Arthur, to enable her to marry the brutal and treacherous Douglas Mackenzie (brother to the Laird, so next in line to rule the clan). Some of the women of Outlander do not conform to the older paradigm of submissive romance heroine as outlined by Miriam Burstein in her essay on Anne Boleyn as a character type (The fictional afterlife of Anne Boleyn: how to do things with the Queen, 1901-2006.” Clio 37.1 [2007] and Jerome de Groot (Consuming History) in his chapter on Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (on the 2003 film too). We see her in Andrew Davies’s alignment of Lise, Prince Andrey’s doomed pregnant-child wife with Jane Seymour in Wolf Hall through having them played by the same actress, Kate Phillips. But Claire learns to and Demelza and Verity never stop.

Yet Poldark and Outlander are perceived as contemporary women’s fare, are widely popular, make a lot of money and will thus be repeated and sold as long as there is audience for them.

The new Poldark’s Cornwall — which is quite different from Graham’s 1983 books (for a start all but one picture has been changed)

Why argue over this? why bring out matters of taste and outlook? It matters because there is things in work of art, be it book or film, that makes it worthy of praise as well as criticism. We pay these works a compliment by taking them seriously and in our emotional life they function seriously. When I go on to write about the first and second episodes of the second season of the new Poldark and carry on with the first season of Outlander I am discussing real properties in these works of art however intangible. Realism at whatever level the work allows is important: how do people really behave towards one another and how do we relate to this? Nowadays the canon (however unacknowledged are Outlander and Poldark) patently does not just express the preferences of an elite class. We argue about these things because we assume judgements are true and matter. There’s value here and there’s danger.


I’ve been working out some thoughts about the relationship of the new Poldark scripts to the actual programs, and then thinking about the problematic nature of how rape and violence towards women is presented in Poldark and Outlander, taken to be woman’s fare.


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Claire (Catrionia Balfe) medicates Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) back (near opening of Episode 2, directed Ronald Dahl, scripted Ronald D Moore)

Claire remembering Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeeck) saying: “As I told you, there’s many things in this world we can’t explain …” (near end of Episode 3, directed Brian Kelley, scripted Anne Kenney)

We get no good
By being ungenerous, even to a [film],
And calculating profits — so much help
By so much reading. It is rather when
We gloriously forget ourselves, and plunge
Soul-forward, headlong, into a [film]’s profound,
Impassioned for its beauty and salt of truth-
Tis then we get the right good from a book.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
(1857), i, 702-9

Dear friends and readers,

The general plot-design of these two episodes is quickly told (see Episode 1):

As the group comes up to Leogh, it looms in the way of Udolpho:

2) exploring Castle Leogh and its grounds, Claire settles in, is re-dressed, meets Laird Colum Mackenzie (Gary Lewis), dines with the clan, is led to believe she will be allowed to return to Craig Na Dunn (the stones), but finds herself appropriated as a “healer” and forbidden to leave, as no one important believes her story of herself. Slowly her relationship with Jamie builds, meeting to help his wounds, bringing food to him outside the gate; he tells of of Black Jack Randall, an English enemy (Tobias Menzies), and the doubling figure of Claire’s gentle Frank with this violent Black Jack makes Jamie an intermediary link

As the episode opens, we are back in time, five years before 1945, where Claire is bidding adieu to Frank her husband as she refuses to accept an offer of escaping front-line nursing

3) Claire becomes involved with a woman like herself, expert in the use of medicinal compounds, foods, healing, Geillis Duncan, and witnesses a culture of harsh punishments and mortifications, defies the fanatically punitively religious priest, to save the life of a boy said to be in need of exorcism. Again her relationship with Jamie builds, now she sees him rescue Leoghaire (Nell Hudson) from punishment, free a boy nailed to a pillory by his ear, take her to the Black Kirk to reveal the poisoned herb afflicting the boy.

The second episode feels more complicated than the first, building on it: we see Claire is in danger of being seen as a witch (by her apprehension of Mrs Fitz’s (Annette Badland) probable response to her story; the blending of time frame-times, from what Frank is doing now to to try find Claire, by himself by the rocks, with the Reverend Wakefield (James Fleet), to deeper past memory and again Claire at end of episode 3 with a vision of the stones, but the more she does deeds to gain gratitude, the more she is held fast.



I’ve been trying to account for the deep appeal of this mini-series (at least to me and the legions of readers and viewers, mostly women) beyond the sex: I am intensely drawn to the sexual relationship between the heroine, Claire, and the central beloved hero, Jamie; its configuration is the same as Suzanne Juhasz says is central to women’s romance (Reading from the Heart) and is found in the relationship of Demelza and Ross in the Poldark books. (I gather for some modern young women brought up recently or women of the later 20th century this no longer appeals.) In the films, protective, gentle, tenderly loving, a helper-brother, in Demelza’s case a father substitute, in Claire’s an oddly feminized hero. But what else?

I am trying to see how it differs from Poldark beyond the genre (women’s historical romance v men’s historical fiction). Why does it seem so coherent, the story move forward with ease, with less strained staccato switches from scene to scene, and all the scenes allowed more dialogue and development.

Cinematography at Black Kirk provides continual mirroring effect, as if the two were reflections of themselves in one another’s mirrors

Claire amid the stones in a memory sequence (from Episode 3)

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye
Billow and breeze, islands and seas, mountains of rain and sun
All that was good, all that was fair
All that was me is gone

It’s the time-traveling. a what if nature of the fiction set up in the past, a playing with time so different times blend and part, doubling of characters from the past and the future. The real material is the relationship between Frank (yielding, gentle, heterosexual) and Black Jack Randall (sadistic, bisexual), Claire and Jamie (he attracts dominant gay males) to both of these. Claire moves away from a stressful life-passage in 1945 where the marriage is not working, a double narrative echoed or repeated in Claire’s relationship to Geillis, who we will learn is also from the future. Christianity versus paganism is an important strand across DuMaurier’s works. There is no magic but the one break from realism in time transportation

Jamie remembering his sister, Jenny Fraser (Laura Donnelly) raped by Black Randall (will occur in narrative in Episode 12, Lallybroch) (from Episode 2)

Swirling about these are the strong female types, with Claire as voice-over narrator, her memory controlling all. We’ve met Mrs Fitz, Colum’s silent wife, Letitia (Aislin McGuckin), Geillis; we’ve seen Jenny Fraser thus far. There is a succession of scapegoats (made to suffer) who Claire works to free from suffering at the risk of her life and identity: Jamie is continually offering himself up, and she continually rescuing him (as he will her in the traditional swashbuckling mode). It is a question of a transcendent identity: a drive to abandon the daily material world (so you cross the stones) to lose yourself in a Bronte love. Jamie’s alter-ego, semi-servant, brother, Murtagh Fraser (Duncan Lacroix) advises Claire that Jamie needs an experienced woman, not a girl-virgin; like a Walter Scott male companion-servant he finds his meaning is serving Jamie.

At the same time the mater is rooted in Scottish culture, literature, and myth:

Murtagh, ever there (opening Episode 2), a companion first seen in Scott’s fiction

In both episodes there are these vast hall scenes, in the second a man sings ancient songs to pipes:

Claire’s first entrance (within the first phase of episode 2)

The harp-player and bard (towards the end of episode 3)

Now this one is about a man out late on a fairy hill on the eve of Samhain who hears the sound of a woman singing sad and plaintive from the very rocks of the hill.
[eerie music] [Gaelic singing continues] “I am a woman of Balnain.
“The folk have stolen me over again, ‘ “the stones seemed to say.
“I stood upon the hill, and wind did rise, and the sound of thunder rolled across the land.
” [singing in Gaelic] “I placed my hands upon the tallest stone “and traveled to a far, distant land “where I lived for a time among strangers who became lovers and friends.
” [singing in Gaelic] “But one day, I saw the moon came out “and the wind rose once more.
“so I touched the stones “and traveled back to my own land “and took up again with the man I had left behind.
” [applause] She came back through the stones? Aye, she did.
They always do.
It was a folktale, madness to take as fact, and yet half of what Gwyllyn had described had actually happened to me.

They have substituted Scotland for Cornwall: there is a loss DuMaurier is much darker ultimately and deeper, while Gabaldon more consistently self-conscious post-pastiche, playing though with similar strong female imagery

DuMaurier poem:

‘What can I cling to in life, what can I hold?’
With a cynical twist to the mind and a husk for the heart
The scapegoats of this generation go drifting past.
The children for whom the war was apparently won,
And nothing is certain, and nothing likely to last
For the child not bombed in Kensington (from DuMaurier Companion, edd Sarah Walters, p 131)

Gabaldon picturesque layering, the imagery is that of a woman’s body as as redemptive:

We struggled upward, out of the womb of the world, damp and steaming, rubber-limbed with wine and heat. I fell to my knees at the first landing, and Jamie, trying to help me, fell down next to me in an untidy heap of robes and bare legs. Giggling helplessly, drunk more with love than with wine, we made our way side by side, on hands and knees up the second flight of steps, hindering each other more than helping, jostling and caroming softly off each other in the narrow space, until we collapsed at last in each other’s arms on the second landing.
    Here an ancient oriel window opened glassless to the sky, and the light of the hunter’s moon washed us in silver. We lay clasped together, damp skins cooling in the winter air, waiting for our racing hearts to slow and breath to return to our heaving bodies.
    The moon above was a Christmas moon, so large as almost to fill the empty window. It seemed no wonder that the tides of sea and woman should be subject to the pull of that stately orb, so close and so commanding …. Outlander, the book p p 627

In technique the pace is slow, lingering, not much happens in the sense of moving the story forward. Instead we move back and forth in time as the film-makers develop the relationship between Claire and Jamie (the arc over-all) and unfold the other characters as Claire settles in and begins to practice her assumed profession and role. This too makes it differ from the new Poldark, which is too jumpy, with all too brief juxtapositions.


British in Scotland (Black Jack Randall from the back) as imagined in this film series

It’s common knowledge that literary criticism is not a popular form — nor is real film criticism; only a small percentage of readers read it. One of the pleasures of Margaret Edson’s play, Wit (known for its presentation of a woman dying of cancer, whose excruciation of pain is not so much from dying from cancer but from the techniques, chemo, radiation and operation, used to “fight” cancer, one of the pleasures is its meditations on reading and especially making editions and essays; at one point Vivian Bearing claims the greatness of her work is that she offers ‘a thorugh examination of each [John Donne] sonnet, discussing every word in extensive detail.”

Jamie as Scots farmer-landlord at Lallybroch (memories from Episode 2)

Where does this detail come from? Let’s admit it: out of the mind of the reader elaborating thematically (it can be political, or moral, or psychological, or sociological, lots of options since the mid-20th century) on the text? and essentially it’s made up, it’s an extension. Take a much praised older book on Austen: Stuart Tave’s Some Words of Jane Austen. It’s no longer read much or liked because the words he tells his tales of are disciplinary of women: exertion (Elinor has to practice this] in S&S, expectations (Catherine’s false ones] in Northanger Abbey. mortification (Elizabeth’s) in P&P; the properness (Fanny) of the heroine in MP. We prefer the tales of say Claudia Johnson. One difference is these tales are not structured as narrative, but as arguments, within which the writer tells of the story of how her or his mind read the book.

Claire discovering what year it is by opening a book (Episode 2)

Criticism is not popular because most readers it seems do not tell themselves these tales. Most stay with the literal fiction and do not recognize the truth of that exegesis. They don’t see it, can’t see it, can’t go that far away from the story and characters, and can carry or elaborate a theme very briefly. Or are bored. Don’t see the point. They can read fan fiction, though and fan fiction is a form of fiction that elaborates from the text by telling a story not producing an argument. Film adaptations are further fictionalizations of a text. Further specific visualizations, aural, sensory.


Castle and thistle (Episode 3)

The point is then which fictions about fictions seem to us to hold important truths — which seem to explicate the original fiction and which seem to us not connected enough to what we find there. What I am putting together is an attempt at adequate fictions about these films. All this from an intuition that the books and films descend from Sophia Lee’s Recess (1783, first gothic romance) at a distance, but immediately are an update of DuMaurier — so historical and regional romance inflected by time-traveling, what if fictions, playing with time so different times blend and part, doubling of characters from the past and the future.

Same street used for 1945 and 1743 (Episodes 1 and 3)

Next time: the nature of the story-telling and Scottish post-colonialism in a film


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The Studio, Vanessa Bell’s Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex

Dear friends and readers,

I know I told of how on one of my listservs, we are reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a group with each of us reading different other related works or watching films; on the other, WWta (Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo) we’ve started a similar project (far few people alas) around Virginia Woolf. Our central focus is a slow read through another massive volume: Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and have talked at length about the art of biography, Woolf’s own life writings and writing about biography (her Memoirs of a Novelist, her “Sketch of the Past” in Moments of Being). One of us read To the Lighthouse; we’ve discussed Gaston Bachelard’s perhaps now-dated Poetics of Space; I’ve watched the remarkably complex )(novel-like? biography-like) Carrington and am now determined to make Dora Carrington my next woman artist in that blog series.

First impression:

From Christopher Hampton’s Carrington: this is based on an actual photo of the house (Emma Thompson who is made to look like Carrington as Jonathan Pryce looks like Strachey in the photos of him)

Strachey asked Woolf to marry him at one point; they were close. Strachey was much older than Carrington and I was thinking about the extraordinary convoluted tortured sexual and marital relationships in this wider group. Leonard and Virginia look conventional from the outside, but look in and you see her several deep lesbian relationships.

Jonathan Pryce who was such a wonderful Wolsey, is perfect for Strachey, and Emma Thompson takes on her stout boyish persona to play Carrington. I’ve only got half-way through: it’s a very long movie. What I wanted to say is that in a way it’s lacking:  Hampton wrote and directed it, and he is following Holroyd’s book and therein is the problem. Carrington is such a painful spectacle. The whole menagerie at her and Lytton’s home are wholly outside the mainstream. She loved Strachey because his homosexuality took the form of no sexual intercourse with a woman, so he was not aggressive at all. For someone who wants safety I am now puzzled (not rereading Holroyd) why she ever went to Mark Gertler (played by the then spectacularly handsome Rufus Sewell) who demanded rough sex as central to the relationship (not painful but agressive) and Sewell plays him as a man driven wild by her. The audience is allowed to see this clearly and Gertler’s attack on Lytton when it becomes obvious Carrington loves Lytton. But to keep Lytton she had to allow this reactionary hulk, Reginald Patridge (renamed Rafe by Strachey) to live with them and to keep him she had to have sex with him; in turn he’d have sex with Strachey.  This is not shown clearly in the film. Gerald Brennan (the young excellent actor Samuel West) who left for Spain and wrote two wonderful travel-memoirs of his life in Spain is brought in; but as I’ve not read Holroyd in a while I forget the bargain, but think Carrington was also required to have sex with Brennan to please someone.

Thompson says over and over this is an abject love. Hampton together with these remarkable actors conveyed something different than I’ve read before. Hitherto it was see how abject this woman was, what a mystery but it was Lytton’s kindness, gentleness and their shared love of art that made her invest her very life in his life.

This film shows him a cool egoist who uses her; he may not admit it to himself but he does. All the sex scenes after Mark are her degenerating, allowing her body to be used by man after man to get them for Strachey. That is what the film shows. She goes so far even to marry Partridge who in the film she sees as a macho male reactionary horror though fun as a man to dance with, handsome to draw. She endures his ugly jealousy and infidelities. She leads Gerald Brennan to lie in ways that violate his character — all for this Lytton. It gets to the point she wants to validate her body and gets involved with a man (Jeremy Northam turns up to do it) who just takes her cruelly for sex, getting pregnant by him she gets an abortion. Thee’s a dialogue where Lytton says why not have the baby.I think the film suggests had she, she might have had something else to live for. But she only wants his baby and he never fucks her it seems.

Pryce plays Strachey as realizing how he is using her, but being unable to resist it and enjoying her company, now and again guilty — as when he will advise her to leave off a man, or have a baby, or makes his will to leave her a pension. A very young Alex Kingston as Patridge’s partner after he tires of Carrington plus Strachey. A younger Penelope Wilton does Ottoline so well. The men in the film do seem attached to Carrington and enduring Strachey for the sake of Carrington except the stud last played by Northam. Thompson and Pryce impeccably involving. I grieved over Carrington’s death yet understood. It ends with a series of images of those of her paintings she did not destroy.

It’s a deeply searing portrait of a on the surface beautiful love but just below deeply destructive of her. We are told nothing of her family or childhood. She turns up sui generis and all film long she is without any group but this Bloomsbury one attached to Strachey and her art school. She goes off to London where she finds characters like Patridge and brings him back as a trophy or fodder for Lytton. Was she promiscuous in London somewhere. Patridge’s questioning of her in fact is understandable.

I want to read the screenplay, watch again and have now bought a book (natch) recent, Gerzina’s Carrington (who wrote on FrancesHodgson Burnett if I’m not mistaken).

As a result of the debate on the art of biography and novels (peel them off and you have an autobiography), we debated (a bit) Tim Parks’s iconoclastic theses about novel writing and reading in yet another thinking book from him, The Novel: A Survival Skill on both listservs.

Bondarchuk’s War and Peace: Kutusov after defying everyone and ordering a retreat so as to save as many men and as much of Moscow as he can (1966)

Let me say upfront there is no woman author in Parks’s universe in this book who counts, who he discusses at length. He might mention a woman now and again. He focuses on five males and when he has any examples they are all males. He has a history of Italian literature organized by great authors. Apparently in Italy since the Renaissance there has been but one woman writer of note. Something like 25 authors, one is a woman.

I wonder what women do with themselves when I read Parks. It’s important to the man’s outlook, tells us what he reads, how he reads. So by no means is he a guru when he leaves out half the human race; women do write differently, they make art differently — from social life and from innate elements.

Parks’s idea that novels threaten us has some powerful explanatory force; this is why people talk (and perhaps) think consciously about novels so moralistically. They inveigh against characters who do not obey social norms because they don’t want to articulate why those who don’t don’t, nor admit to identification. He follows this up with the iconoclastic idea we love books which are substitutes for the presence and sense of real person they contain, stand for. This a complete refutation of the “biographical fallacy.” Kraggsby says she becomes so emotional when she has to write or feel about Woolf after a bout with a book. This helps explain that. I so agree with it.

With Parks I really feel a mind thinking, not just putting together the platitudes and nouns referring to theoretical positions which the author then aligns him or herself with. He offers this possible description of what’s meant by creativity: “the ability to produce …. The emotional tone and the play of forces in whch the narrator lives, the particular mental world in which he moves …. “ Parks doesn’t need to have Coetzee in front of him, in fact the Coetzee we meet (as Proust would say) is the partial social man, not the man who counts. The greatness of such works, the triumph “we find their work drenched with their personalities, supreme expressionof theirmanner and character and behavior, each absolutely recognizable, triumphantly unmistakable … He does cite Woolf a little way down; her understanding is just so to the point, and what she does. Paradoxically l’ecriture-femme (women’s texts) exemplify much more centrally than men’s what he begins with.

When you say that a novel threatens the reader, and that therefore we need to learn actually how to survive them (really taken into consciousness what they can show) and that the author’s identity (I’ll call it) is everywhere there in different ways, you are set on a very different road than most books on the novel. I just love how he does not repeat cant and situate himself next to it or with it — not that a great books don’t do this: Jerome de Troot’s two books on historical fiction do it, but he examines these theories often to show their fallacies, not always.

Tim Parks is consistent with his view that the great writer conveys an authentic specific self across his or her work, asks about the writer’s tension when he or she thinks of who is reading this text. Parks says the novel is “officially addressed to everyone,but in reality they are not thinking of today’s Ph D student in say Korea addressing scholarly conversations in 2016; the actual circumstances the writer writes in frames his or her perception of what is being written; relatives do often complain and are hurt, as well as friends; t often he or she is thinking of some subgroup of readers alive at the time, “the implicit reader”. He proposes we think of ourselves as overhearing the author’s address to his or her audience at the time. Park then goes over specific details in a Becket text and they come so much more alive when you nail who specific savage ironies are aimed at. Lee quotes Woolf’s life-writing a lot and Woolf assumes her readership knows what the life of the upper class at the time was; her tales of childhood assume familiarity.

Parks says it is not a retreat from the text to be interested in the author’s patterns of behavior, relationships at the time of a text writtten, but rather it can increase our engagement. He then goes on to Gregory Bateson who argues that personality differentation ,how we establish our identities to ourselves are in relation to others aroud us which often are binaries and are reactions against. he is not talking about one-on-one equivalencies but a general presence surrounded by particulars then transposed but often more transparently than we like to allow.

helen mirren the last station
Helen Mirren as Sonya in Jay Parini’s The Last Station (which is part of our Tolstoy matter)

Now to apply Parks’s thesis to The Last Station, for example, you have to know about Hoffman and his life and relationship to the film (which he does bring in in the feature to the film, also Parini, not to forget Tolstoy, Cherthov, the various actors who inhabit the roles.

It is a complex film and now I’ve got to find time to read the book. A good performance can make a character come alive: In the screenplay Hoffman worked to condense, make a coherent POV (Valentine, the most invented of the characters) and in general sort of gave more meaning to what’s in the book and made me wonder if a movie because of its form often does simplify. It’s hard to fight it as successful as Bergman did. He didn’t care if his films made money when he started out. I thought I’d mention that the train was to be much much more important: it was to open with Valentine on the train; the deleted scenes are of Tolstoy fleeing on the train, Sofya following. It now only ends with the train. Hoffman says he wanted it to be a symbol but as he proceeded he decided the characters and their relationships were what he should spend time on. More practically I have watched enough honest features to have heard directors say you have to cut and you have to choose, and many he saw this skein or thread one he could eliminate neatly — to make the movie marketable. This was to be an allusion to Anna Karenina, with Sofya as our Anna who survives. I suspect so.

Also from our Tolstoy group: I am finding A. N. Wilson’s biography on Tolstoy without bothering to argue this in effect bases his biography and assessment of Tolstoy’s novels on a perspective like Parks; Lee is more reticent but then we’ve hardly gotten Virginia born. Wilson thinks Tolstoy is addressing other Russian writers, how he conceives of the cultural and political situation in Russia, but deeply by the time of Anna Karenina moved inward and dealing with his own many layered psyche through her.

Lastly (since I’m going away for a week — to Cornwall, where Woolf spent summer holidays for years on end — and have little time) I thought I’d just briefly call attention to an excellent review essay in TLS by Francesca Wade on the rebuilding of all sorts of house space the various Bloomsbury people had in different sites and museusm: “Interior Designs, Interior Desires: examing the inside of Bloomsbury homes as a guide to their owners’ artistry and personality.”

Wade begins with Bachelard and then goes on to show how the Bloomsbury group utterly defied conventions not just in painting happy pictures of what they were doing on their walls, and but in scattering all the things they used over a day freely around the house, making rooms serve real and different functions peculiar to the people living there all at once. In the movie Carrington we see the house Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) and Carrington (Emma Thompson) live in have her paintings on the wall, and a couple of the rooms are clearly shown to be reflective of how they live. Outsiders thought the decorations were lascivious or salacious because of the unconventional sexual relationships people who came and lived there had, but not at all. Nudes were not sexy nudes — as in the film. They were gay (old use of word), defying the colors, atmosphere of the homes these people had been brought up in.

Most houses today and apartments too are set up in conventional ways with several rooms sometimes given over “to making a show.” More time and energy making the room a symbol of the expected social life and status than the comfort of people living in it. The purpose of the US family room is to have a place where people can do their own thing but even there I’ve seen status and money the criteria for decorations — how many Xs you did of this or that.

Jim and my house was and today mine alone with his presence as memory and filling the objects is not like that. There is no room for show, the rooms have — or had (he’s gone now) several functions. I have been told if I wanted to sell it and/or sell it for a high priceI would have to empty it out and make it a soulless display. So that’s what the average person wants: plus and a soulless display. No thank you I said. Either it’s sold the way it looks or not sold. So Bloomsbury space is still iconoclastic.

Ellen off for a week on holiday in Cornwall

Charles Camoin, Cat before the Open Window — from Sixtine, one of the lights of my existence

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Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) looking into Farrell’s shop window in a highland village


(Outlander 1, scripted Ronald Moore)

People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money, and a taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually. Strange, the things you remember. Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years. Like the moment I realized I’d never owned a vase. That I’d never lived any place long enough to justify having such a simple thing. And how at that moment, I wanted nothing so much in all the world as to have a vase of my very own. It was a Tuesday afternoon. Six months after the end of the war (taken direct from Gabaldon’s Outlander, opening.


It’s time. Overdue. It may be my readers think I am above Outlander. I am not. I love it. I have now watched all sixteen episodes of the first season three times. I’ve read Gabaldon’s novel, I’ve read her Outlandish Companion. It connects to so much I’m deeply engaged by: it’s Daphne DuMaurier in the high romance mode, elegant, controlled wildness. Outlander is a cross between DuMaurier’s The House on the Strand where the hero travels back and forth between the mid-20th and 14th century:


This older cover for and BBC Radio 7 image for a reading aloud of The House on the Strand capture the strangeness of a book moving back and forth from mid-20th to 14th century Cornwall

Also her historical romances, say King’s General (set in the 17th century civil war), Frenchman’s Creek, or Jamaica Inn (smugglers as misunderstood free-trader outlaws set in the very early 19th). Claire is the many times great-grandaughter of Sophia Lee’s Elinor and Matilda, the twin daughters of Mary Queen of Scots in her The Recess. I’ve been reading about Scotland and its civil wars, diaspora (to among other places, Canada), poetry and fiction by its writers (from Anne Murray Halkett to RLS Stevenson and Margaret Oliphant and onto Margaret Atwood) for years and years.

The immediate inspiration though is the new Poldark. Outlander reflects mores of the last few years far more frankly explored, and unlike the new Poldark thus far is a woman’s mini-series, a proto-feminist series of films. I’ve learned the second season of Poldark is going to depart so radically from Graham’s books as to change a crucial thread across all twelve novels and one of my favorite characters (though like Jane Austen over Emma it seems no one but me will much like), Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan. So I thought I might sustain a comparison of the two similar mini-series: Poldark drawn from historical novels, Outlander from historical romance, both obeying naturalism and verisimilitude once the terms of the fiction are set up). I don’t say I won’t compare the 1970s Poldark nor the two books, Jeremy Poldark (1950) and Warleggan (1953), but I will keep in mind and bring in this contemporary comparable series. Run them on this blog in tandem.

The Outlander resembles the new (2015) Poldark in its grimness, brutal violence, grimyness, the POV from below, the peasants and outlaws, not the elegant and fringe people of the older (1975) Poldark, Oneddin Line. But this is Claire’s story, make no mistake about that. The central consciousness, the voice-over in this season in all but one episode (when it is Jamie’s [Sam Heughan] and that very unusual, as “real” men don’t do over-voice). By keeping the central consciousness a woman’s, the narrator a heroine, Gabaldon kept all the intense ambiguity about a woman’s helplessness in pre-19th century eras against males, who then in reaction to the heroine manifest unashamed or shall I say unhidden attitudes towards her sexuality (the film is written, directed and produced mostly by men): upon meeting Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) the film’s 18th century men, British soldiers and aristocrats, Irish thugs and clansmen alike promptly think her or ask if she is a whore because she is alone. Jonathan Wolverton Randall aka Black Jack (Tobias Menzies, also Frank, Claire’s gentle husband in the mid-20th century, a descendant of Black Jack, whom he has been researching) proceeds to try to rape her. But she is a 20th century woman, pro-active on her own and others’ behalf, not inclined to regard herself as secondary person or take punishment, self-confident, with a sense of what she is entitled to.



As our story begins, Claire Randall has been a nurse in WW2 and presided over and helped in horrifying operations, and the war now over, she and her her academic archaeologist husband, Frank (set for a professorship in Oxford), meet again after a near 5 year absence. They visit Scotland for its ruins, look at neolithic sites. They are trying hard to recreate what they once had, but it’s not quite working. The whole section, the way the bed-sit room looked, reminded me of women’s films of the 1940s, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard stuff. The two actors convey the strain the couple is trying to overcome:



I thought of V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival

All photographed with soft brown lights too, stark dark and bleak blacks for the houses, yet in gentle light grey light. He explores genealogy, ruins of ancient fortresses, clans, primitive neolithic stone sites; she half ironically goes along.



Frank has made friends with a local scholarly vicar, genealogist a Reverend Wakefield, as in Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, played exquisitely fine, with subtle humor and gravity by James Fleet. Our honeymooning (in effect) couple take to visiting this gentle vicar and Mrs Graham (Tracy Wilkinson), his wry housekeeper. Again I was so reminded of say Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers material before the murder occurs. The men discuss Scots and English aristocracy, Scots clans, the injustices of the 18th century, the patronage system, speculate that perhaps Jonathon Wolverton Randall could act with inpunity because his patron was the Earl of Sandringham. Claire goes off for women’s gossip and tea; Mrs Graham asks to read her palm and finds odd marks on Claire’s hand, and tells of rituals she participates in by Crag na Dunn, a circle of standing stones.


They are allured by these woman’s midnight rituals.


Here I was not only reminded of Dorothy in Oz, but the language in the book and series alludes to Frank L. Baum, especially later when Claire-Dorothy wants to get back to the stones as gateway to Kansas, but there is something new here: this is a tale of national identity, of seeking who one is by asking what group one belongs to, and it’s done from a post-colonial perspective, highly critical of the British. Whence the title: Claire is an outsider, a Brit, from elsewhere we know. A Scottish film company is a major producer, Scots actors, venerable (Bill Paterson as the lawyer, Ned Gowan) and new (Duncan Lacroix as the faithful Murtagh, so we are not far from Scott after all) are everywhere. Geography, landscape, blended time frames, intense interiority, mix with lessons in clans, Jacobitism, and the medicine and witchcraft of the era.

What I hope to do is apply to Outlander, several studies of DuMaurier, the gothic, women’s films and Scottish studies, and then by transference see how what is said today about films and books like Outlander relates to the new Poldark mini-series and what is being done to Graham’s Poldark books in them. So this is film, historical fiction, historical romance and delvings into time-traveling fantasies research in progress. It fits into post-colonial patterns too.

We begin for real and earnest when we move into the time-traveling sequence. Gabaldon knows that women in the 18th century went in for botany, studying herbs and so does our Claire so while Frank is buried in papers, she goes back to the stones and touching one she melts into another realm, coming out somehow into the year 1743.

She leaves her car

She has to come close to the stones of Crag Na Dunn to reach the flowers and herbs she wants

She hears something, music, looks up, and moves to touch the wondrous tall neolithic stone

The transported moment


An empty world, different older trees, no city in the distance (this is straight from Hungry Hill)

At first Claire thinks she has stumbled onto the set of costume drama (wonderful self-reflexity here) but no the bullets are real and she finds herself having to account for herself. So a re-naming, using her birth name, Beauchamp, she has to deal with everyone looking at her as stray whore: who else wanders in the wood in just her shift. This is an extraordinary moment that can only be done by a film: having the same actor, Tobias Menzies, play the hard mean ancester, Black Jack. Claire does a double take: he is but he is not Frank

So it’s a re-encounter

He now the 18th century educated man

she still the mid-20th century educated woman

The drums of sudden movement, excitement, she flees, he after and so her adventure begins. A snarling redcoat, upholder of a vicious colonialist order, and she finds herself shot at, nearly raped (this will repeat and repeat) by Randall, is taken up by one of the Scotsmen (Murtagh we later realize), rescued (or herself takes up, saved) by the Scots clansmen, and is paired with the wounded Jamie Fraser, whose arm she correctly sets (and thus saves), and soon she is riding in front of him (anticipating Turner and Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza), warning the clan from her memories of what Frank told her of ambushes, becomes one of them. She resists at first and we get the most old-fashioned of gentle abductions:

Claire: [having fled during the ambush, Jamie having gone back to retrieve her] I hope you haven’t been misusing that shoulder. You’re hurt.
Jamie: This lot isna my blood.
She: Not much of it, anyway.
He: Dougal and the others will be waiting further up the stream. We should go.
She: – I’m not going with you.
He: – Yes, you are.
She: What, are you going to cut my throat if I don’t?
He: Why not? But You don’t look that heavy. Now if you won’t walk, I shall pick you up and throw you over my shoulder. Do you want me to do that?
She: No.
He: Well, then I suppose that means your coming with me.
She – [Climbing, he Grunting] – Serves you right. Probably torn your muscles as well as bruising.
He: Well, wasna much of a choice. If I dinna move my shoulder, I’d never have moved anything else ever again. I can handle a single redcoat with one hand. Maybe even two. Not three. Besides, you can fix it for me again when we get to where we’re going.
She: That’s what you think.
He: Here’s to you, lass. For tipping us to the villains in the rocks and giving us a wee bit o’ fun! [All speak Gaelic] [Speaks Gaelic] Have a wee nip.It willna fill your belly, but will make you forget you’re hungry.


One blanket, one whiskey pouch

The band comes to a stone castle that she and her 20th century husband explored now become fully inhabited. I thought I was back with Frank Yerby’s The Border Lord, Book-of-the-Month club special (from the early 1950s like the Poldark series. I though of Radcliffe’s Emily coming up to Udolpho:

they lookuphesitant


Only the voice again is wry, prosaic, slightly comical:

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, if you consider it uneventful to ride fifteen miles on horseback through country at night, frequently without benefit of roads, in company with kilted men armed to the teeth, and sharing a horse with a wounded man. At least we were not set upon by highwaymen, we encountered no wild beasts, and it didn’t rain.

When they get inside we are not in a gloomy, grand place, but a busy courtyard where everyone is going about her or his daily business. From the next episode:

Mrs Fitzgibbon [Annette Badland]: Mwah! Ye’ll all be needing breakfast, I reckon. Plenty in the kitchen. Away in, and feed yerselves. [chuckles] Murtagh, you look and smell like a rat that’s been dragged through sheep dung.
Murtagh: Gi’ us a kiss, then.
Mrs Fitzgibbon: Oh, no! A kiss, then! [laughing] And what do we have here?
Jamie: Claire Beauchamp, Mistress Fitzgibbons. Murtagh found her, and Dougal said we must bring her along with us, so So.

Mrs Fitzgibbon looks at Claire in ways the men do not, sees what the men do not see

Mrs F: Well Claire. Come with me. We shall find you something to eat, something to wear that’s a bit more Well, a bit more

It’s the voice-over that held me especially in this first episode, compellingly, Catrionia Balfe’s voice perfect for a DuMaurier Rebecca too. A sophisticated use of old-fashioned realism smashed together with fantasy gothic and superb cinematography, a richly colored Scotland complete, with the themed music part minor key bagpipes, make for an undercurrent of thrill. I will be concentrating on the women in the series.

As for the book, the source, this first episode is lifted directly from the novel. Many of the lines are taken from Gabaldon; it’s as if she wrote the book with a film in mind. She began in earnestness from an online experience, a Literary Forum in the Net’s earliest days. In her Outlandish Companion her language gives away hat when she started, Gabaldon had Now Voyageur, the old Bette Davis trope in mind but was also thinking of “the Age of Enlightenment,” i.e., the realities of the 18th century.

I love her illustration are soft-focus photographs or line-drawing illustrations, evoking imagination on the part of the reader: emblems, herbs, older symbolic pictures (the zodaic for example). Much richness for us to explore for quite a number of weeks to come.

From the site of Castle Leogh in Scotland today


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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (the first season)

Aidan Turner as Ross

As all those who have been waiting for the second season of Poldark to air know, there has been an unexpected delay in the airing of the second season of Poldark. Usually when a series is a real hit, the producers, channel, film-maker strike while the iron is still hot. The second season of Outlander came before the end of another year, and a third and possibly fourth season have already been announced.

I am among those eager to see the new second season. So late last spring I noticed a column by Debbie Horsfield containing a carefully worded statement (around the time a second season might have ended) that they had decided to present the sexual events of the coming season discreetly. They were going to be suggestive, not graphic. All who have read the books knew a rape was coming and I took this to mean that as in the 1975 Poldark, we would only see the prologue to rape, and then the screen would go dark. She was saying that modern film-making customs would not be followed, and explicit sex scenes would not be developed.

Not that Ross’s rape of Elizabeth would be obliterated altogether.

Robin Ellis as Ross in the scenes prologue to the rape

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth in the same scenes (1975-76 Poldark)

That is what has been done. A suddenly timid BBC has perhaps pressured the film-makers of the new Poldark series to destroy a central event that makes for a meaningful plot design with a first climax at the end of the 7th book (The Angry Tide) and the final denouement of the whole cycle, at the close of the 12th book (Bella):

The BBC and film-makers say they feel that the modern audience could not accept a rape from a hero. It’s too shocking, rape. Have they not been watching other TV series of late? read any recent contemporary novels?

I wonder how much or if they fought over this. Robin Ellis tells us that in Making Poldark the script-writers and director were in conflict with some of the actors over the way in the 1970s mini-series Ross’s marriage to Demelza was presented as a shot-gun wedding, the result of a pregnancy which she first tried to abort, none of which is in Graham’s books.

Anghared Rees as Demelza protesting the morning after sex, declaring she wants to leave

With Ellis as Ross, she struggles to free herself so as to go for her abortion (again 1975 Poldark, wholly invented and unlike the book)

In Graham’s books Ross rebels against hierarchy, rank, status norms to marry a servant in his house because he and she have started to go to bed together, and he feels he is destroying her future unless he stops this before she gets pregnant or marries her. He finds himself comfortable with her, does not want to give her up as a servant, companion, and bed-mate, and is deeply angry against the social order. So defies it. Was this an important change? thereafter the script-makers and director kept faithfully to the books until near the end of Warleggan (Episodoes 14 to 15 in the first season, 1975-76) when they again departed radically, causing problems for the second season two years later (1977-78).

How important is the rape? I’d argue it’s far more important than the initial precipitating cause for Ross and Demelza’s marriage, as nothing else hinged on it. Not so the rape. To put it abstractly, in what ways can a film adaptation depart from a novel in order to erase or betray it? well, it can expunge a crucial plot-event that gives rise to a succession of climactic and centrally thematic fraught consequences in this or later novels, in other words further crucial plot-events. A series of consequences that make for the very ending of novels that are turning points in the novel series. You might say, this would not be easy to do. If A (so we’ll call the final moment in a novel) is the result of B, C, D, and E, and they came as a direct result of F, and F is missing (the rape), what happens to B, C, D, and E? Especially if they are particularly moving and tragic and give the characters acting these events depth and intense interest?

True. events A, B, C, and D will not come until the 3rd season. The results of Ross’s rape of Elizabeth about 2/3s the way through Warleggan (Poldark Novel 4) do not emerge until the birth of Valentine, Ross and Elizabeth’s son in The Black Moon (Poldark Novel 5), i.e, Season 3. The intense jealousy of Warleggan, and his abuse of Elizabeth, and her misery and wretchedness begin only when Warleggan has reason to suspect Valentine is Ross’s much later in The Four Swans (Poldark Novel 6). Indeed the script writer, Debbie Horsfield will not have to trouble herself over the final tragedy in say Episode 8 or 10 since it is only at the close of The Angry Tide (Poldark Novel 7) that desperate to make Warleggan think her present pregnancy is by him and accept Valentine’s his, Elizabeth decides she will make Warleggan believe she tends to give birth early and goes to a doctor for a dangerous concoction of herbs to precipitate early parturition and her own death. Never can tell, there might not be a Season 3.

But if there is (and I hope there will be), how will all this be handled? In Graham’s books Elizabeth was left to deal with it on her own. In the older Poldark mini-series ditto.

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth, this time pregnant by Warleggan, ashamed as she visits a doctor

The unsympathetic suspicious doctor who supplies the needed abortifacient

If there is a third season, and say, we actually reach a last season, and the 12th and final book of the series, Bella, what will they do with the plangent meaningful tragic close (our hypothetical E)? What guilt could Ross have over how Valentine became twisted and isolated if he did not for all these books and all these years evade his responsibility, refuse to admit to anyone that the boy was his, he was the father who left the boy fatherless? The gut-wrenching nightmares, Valentine’s turn to a pet orangutan (don’t laugh, the last books do justice to characters with disability, and develop an animal rights point of view implicit in the early books), Valentine’s own choice of death or self-destruction?

A very young David Hemmings and Samantha Egg in the 1970 Walking Stick

Graham has been credited with being an instinctive feminist, and with presenting women in transgressive and iconoclastic roles. Not just in his historical novels, but also his spy thrillers and modern mysteries and a few remarkable novels centering on mental disorder and disability (i.e., Marni (1964, Hitchcock film), The Walking Stick, both of which were filmed, the second brilliantly). I knew much of this was erased in the new first season, including any undermining of male gender stereotypes, but the protest level of feminism had been at least embodied to some extent in Verity’s story as well as Demelza’s. The first season saw the character of Elizabeth, in the original books and series, an insecure and ambitious woman, who found more joy in motherhood than she did understanding or support in her husband Francis; who didn’t care for sex particularly, turned into a pious moral exemplar, whose every thought was to make her husband a good entrepreneur and imitator of his father, Charles and every waking act to nurture her baby.

Heida Reed as Elizabeth near tears because Francis is not coming up to masculine norms (2015 Poldark)

Kyle Soller as a moving Francis Poldark in considerable distress because he’s come down in the world as he can’t manage the work ethic (wholly unlike the aristocratic Francis of the books and 1970s series)

Henry James said what a character does is central to how we know a character’s psychology and ethical character. I am wondering now how they will change this character so that she falls into adultery with Ross? If they have an affair, that means sex with some frequency, no? If we are to see a succession of days and nights of sex between Ross and Elizabeth, what does that do to his character? his relationship with Demelza? In the original books and mini-series, the Scots Captain McNeill almost succeeds in seducing Demelza; she backs away at the last moment. Will she “have an affair in turn.” I hope not because she does have a real love romance in The Four Swans that is meaningful: as a young girl she never had a romantic courtship nor a man near her age, respect and courtesy and poetry she yearned for comes her way. No one is expecting Graham’s hero to be as believable as Tolstoy’s Pierre (from War and Peace) I suppose, but the books do contain a real man as protagonist, a complex enough character to interest us. Real men who are not utter villains rape women — this even happens the statistics tell us often. This is an issue that should not be swept under a rug.

In the first season Horsfield boasted that she was closer to the original books than the 1970s mini-series. She’s given that up — or was forced to. Could it be that the BBC read fan sites where people have argued fiercely that Ross could not have raped Elizabeth; or, that Elizabeth is to blame for the night of sex; or anything rather than Graham’s disquieting novel for mature adults. No longer do fans have nowhere to voice their displeasure. They were worried lest sticking to the original books mar their ratings. Recent film studies have shown that further seasons of a series will alter intentions and characters to please on-line fan groups or at least exert considerable pressure (Andrea Schmidt, “The Imaginative Power of Downton Abbey Fan Fiction” in Julie Taddeo and James Leggott’s collection, Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume TV Drama: The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey). So perhaps the BBC was willing to mar their matter and pressured Horsfield to change her stance towards faithfulness. Whether the result will deprive the central heros and heroines of a complexly develping consistent personalities over a long series of books or (if it should come to pass) series of films remains to be seen.

I had been planning to write about the second season without referring to the 1970s mini-series. Now I will compare the two series with the books as I did last year (see my blog and an essay, Poldark Rebooted, 40 Years On). I may even teach the second trilogy of Graham’s books (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide, 1973-77) as last and two years ago I taught the first quartet (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, Warleggan, 1945-53)

From the cover illustration of the first paperback edition of Graham’s Black Moon


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To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive — Robert Louis Stevenson.

Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) arriving at Inverness (Outlander 2015, 1st episode, opening)

Rhyme of a Journey from London to Edinburgh (1914)

Farewell to one city
a dawning of light
and hail to another
at fall of the night

On in the North steams
triumphant the train
ceaselessly grinding
a rhythmic refrain

Meadows fly past and
a luminous sheet
of wind-rippled water,
a grimy back street.

Stark rows of houses
break up the pale sky,
a jangle of coal-trucks,
a station passed by.

Cast the old thoughts that
troubled your mind
to drown in that river
left gleaming behind,

new ones come stirring
with live young wings
from rhythmical power
and swift-running things.

There’s a cathedral
in mist: as a dream
it has vanished, and slowly
we slacken and steam
into that station
whose girders of might
curve upwards, transfigured
in columns of light.

No stopping! No staying!
mad demons of speed
have boarded the engine
are hissing their greed.

Sudden lurch forward
and once more away
and see, we are racing
the dying of day!

A bridge we are crossing
with thunderous swerve;
left and right flashes
a river’s gold curve;

Glittering windows
rise tier upon tier
held steeped in the sunset
what city is here?

To twilight, to darkness
and night has begun
The miles of our journey
ae nearly outrun

Waken, wan travellers,
Look! very high
there stands the great castle
along the dark sky …
— Dorothy Seward Walton (When Evening Comes in the City, 1934)

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of nights ago I went to an enjoyable, informative and perceptive (what more could you want?) lecture at the Smithsonian museum on Robert Louis Stevenson’s life and writing by Stephen Arata, the professor editing the complete works of RLS (39 volumes and still going): towards the end telling us of Stevenson in the South Sea Islands and how gradually he began to write deeply sympathetically to the native cultures, in effect from a post-colonial critical standpoint, Prof Arata said Stevenson wrote that the Scots people were peculiarly well-situated to write from a global perspective. That might seem contradictory, given their half an island is mostly rock, not arable for farming, their intellectual “world” city small (half of it very old), but if you think about their relationship to England as a nearby colony, the massacre at Culloden and the enforced diaspora, and how they set forth to become colonialists themselves as well as subaltern people, it makes sense. More to the point: they write this way.

John Singer Sergeant (1856-1925), Robert Louis Stevenson (1887)

There is no coming back … on the impetuous stream of life. And we must all set our pocket-watches by the clock of fate. There is a headlong, forthright tide, that bears away man with his fancies like a straw, and runs fast in time and space — Robert Louis Stevenson.

Last summer I was working on a paper on Trollope from a post-colonialist standpoint; that meant reading about and works written in, and films from Australia as context; for Charlotte Smith this summer I am on the same wave length of a perspective, but the focus texts are two of her novels partly in Scotland, Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake (early novel, global in reach) and The Young Philosopher (last long fiction, ends in America), and whose affinities with Scottish women poets and novelists I wrote about this past fall, I’ve turned to Scotland. This a perfect excuse for immersion (wallowing is the more apt term) in the first season of Outlander (I’m one of those cut off from the present second season until it comes out on DVD), whose motifs and characters are uncannily like those of the second volume of Smith’s Young Philosopher (Englishwoman elopes to Highlands with Scottish laird, abducted, threatened with rape, saved in the nick of time &c&c), but that’s late at night.


Daylight hours, I’ve read Margaret Oliphant’s the Ladies Lindores and her Autobiography, Scottish women’s poetry, and Margaret Atwood’s poetical sequence, the Journals of Susannah Moodie, Elizabeth Bohls’s Romantic Literature and Post-colonial studies (no less than two chapters on Scotland), some wonderful essays on Scottish women novelists in Lyndsay Luncan, Carla Sassi (&c&c&)’s Re-visioning Scotland, on Nan Shepherd, Christian Isobel Johnstone (nearly contemporary with Jane Austen, would you believe, on war and nationalism), all of which I heartily recommend. I moved into male Scottish writers’ texts too: I’ve just finished what might be the first English novel set partly in India, Scott’s The Surgeon’s Daughter (one of 3 novellas called Canongate Chronicles), and am now thinking of adding to my love of Stevenson’s essays, short stories, and travel books (Travels on a Donkey, The Amateur Emigrant), some of his South Sea Islands writing. I am most interested in the intersection of feminist insights with a post-colonial perspective on structuring of the characters’ experience otherwise. I’ll write about Stevenson and Atwood in a separate blogs dedicated to them alone.

From Atwood’s Journals of Susannah Moodie (an book which is itself literally a work of art)

Free fall
is falling but at least it’s
free. I don’t even know
whether I jumped or was pushed,
but it hardly matters now
I’m up here. No wings
or net but for an instant
anyway there’s a great
view: the sea,
a line of surf, brown cliffs
tufted with scrub, your upturned
face a white zero.
I wish I knew
whether you’ll catch or watch.
— From Atwood, “Small Poems for the Winter Solstice,” True Stories (1981)

Tonight I thought I’d confine myself to sharing a little bit of Oliphant, Scott, a third poem (from An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets, ed Catherine Kerrigan) and a few remarks from the essays I’ve read, not to omit suggestive stills and words from Outlander.


Edward Lear, Civita Castellan (1844) — in her extraordinarily genuine account of her life as a writer, supporting her own and brother’s children, with her three boys and beloved Margaret (at age 9) dying before her, she tells of her travels to Italy and around Europe, a classical cosmopolitan landscape emerges

I loved Oliphant’s The Ladies Lindores and am anxious to read the sequel, The (later) life of Lady Carr. It’s a mix of a sensible and saturnine meditative insightful text (recalling Trollope repeatedly) within a deeply Scottish world from a quietly feminist standpoint. The story-line is complicated, with (like Scott’s) several divagating turns, a back-story set of characters who emerge to become the central figures, and then cannot forget back stories we never see dramatized. We begin with a great Scottish house, Dalrulzian whom John Erskine, a young Scotsman who has been brought up to be English, has come to live. For years Robert Lindores, a younger son living on a limited income in a cheap French spa, suddenly inherits a title and another grand house in the neighborhood, and proceeds to try to make his two daughters and son’s lives the means for him now to become well-connected, in power. The most memorable story dramatizes how he bullies his sensitive daughter Lady Caroline Lindores into marrying Pat Torrance, a man who ferociously bullies, mocks, and terrifies her. His wife’s values remain humane, decent, and she is appalled by the changes in him, but years of passivity, her real dependence, and not having values to oppose his with, has not the strength of character to oppose him. The third Lindores lady is the wry, sceptical Lady Edith, who escapes his Net, just and marries Erksine. A son, Lord Rintoul, by accident causes Pat Torrance to topple over a cliff, and Rolls, Erskine’s servant ends up confessing, thinking he is protecting his master, Erskine. Lady Car is enabled to marry Beaufort, the man she met at the spa, and has dreamed of ever since, seemingly congenial, sensitive, but like Erskine, Rintoul, he turns out to be less than admirable, and Lady Car’s marriage filled quieter tense dissatisfactions. An English young woman, living in Scotland, Nora, with a wise spinster Aunt Barbara, accepts Rintoul knowing what he has done. There is a disabled character (in effect), Millefleurs, an awkward wealthy cousin the father wanted Edith to marry grotesquely short; the irony of the novel is he is the best husband material of them all. The Scottish servants are the loyal and constant characters, keep the whole order steady, and together with the bourgeois characters (lawyers, doctors) and rescue the upper class ones from calamity.

Horatio McCullough, 19th century Scottish landscape painter

Margaret Rubrik has written deeply engagingly about Olipant’s sceptical and unromantic attitudes, especially toward marriage, and about the Caroline story in The Ladies Lindores:

“Only wishful thinkers refuse to accept the unpleasant insight that even the beloved is a simple person with warts. Wherever idealists are not willing to cut their dreams down to size and accommodate themselves to all too human flaws, marriages end tragically, as in the case of Lady Car, whose career Oliphant pursues through two novels -— The Ladies Lindores and Lady Car -— and two unhappy marriages.

Unlike the docile things whom time teaches to cherish the “proper” feelings for their husbands, Lady Car continues to view her brutal first husband with unabated repugnance. Her feelings of nausea and sexual violation, as she had to comply with her repulsive husband’s desires at his bidding, are illustrated by her overt jubilation at his death and symbolised in the image of his trespassing into her room.

“To think I shall never be subject to all that any more—that he can never come in here again— that I am free—that I can be alone. Oh mother, how can you tell what it is? Never to be alone: never to have a corner in the world where— some one else has not a right to come, a better right than yourself. I don’t know how I have borne it. I don’t know how I can have lived, disgusted, loathing myself.” (The Ladies Lindores, II,14, 232f.)

In her second marriage to her childhood sweetheart Car does not find the hoped-for happiness either. She secretly blames Beaufort for letting her marry someone else first; for allowing her to be forced to perform sexual acts with a man she hated and for allowing her children to be fathered by a brute. All of these humiliations are so completely beyond a man’s scope of perception that he cannot understand them.

“Why expose me to all the degradations which nobody could impose on you?” (Lady Car, 7,123)

Beaufort cannot grasp the horror she feels at any association with her prior life, and thoughtlessly relishes his deceased rival’s luxury.

However, it is bitterest for Car to share the insight typical of Oliphant’s heroines that Beaufort is not the epitome of the crusader and social reformer she first fell in love with. She, who, like Dorothea Brooke, wanted to act as a muse for her husband’s magnum opus, attempts desperately, but in vain, to reawaken his enthusiasm for the visions he has lost all interest in.

Don Quixote disenchanted, ready to burn all his chevalier books, and see the fun of his misadventures, but urged to take the field by some delicate Dulcinea, could not have been more embarrassed and disturbed. (Lady Car, 4,74)

Car is one of those dreamers who seek perfection and do not content themselves with less than the absolute. In her analysis of the novel, Showalter reproaches Oliphant for identifying with Car’s disappointment at her indolent husband and her dull children, and for wanting to solicit pity for a passive, indeed even parasitic form of life.

Mrs. Oliphant never fully faces the dangers of a social myth that places the whole weight of feminine fulfilment on husband and children … [and] The tone of the book is certainly pathetic at times. However, it would be erroneous to believe that Oliphant sees her heroine uncritically or fails to recognise the fallacy of the domestic myth. On the contrary, she realises the problematic nature of Car’s immature idealism, and in many other novels she draws women who are not dependent on marriage and the family for their self-esteem. Car, on the other hand, must fail in her attempt to achieve the Victorian ideal that expects a woman to find complete fulfilment in marriage and her children.

The question as to how a relationship can work without admiration or even respect for one’s partner is posed time and again in Oliphant’ s novels because of her unconventional view of gender roles.

It must be admitted this is not a novel where a post-colonial perspective is of much help; it is rather deeply rooted Scottish landscape from which its visual poetry comes. In the novel I am especially drawn to her disillusioned axioms about life: such a we all live alone no matter how surrounded by others. Quiet convincing. Her tone so immediate and strong, with a real voice coming through.

Persephone books cover


Walter Scott (of course): The Surgeon’s Daughter has a pattern I see repeated over and over: a woman is swallowed up by the traditional culture: she either elects to marry or become a mistress of the non-western male, or she is threatened with or actually raped, traumatized, never the same again. The result is the same: retirement, retreat from the outward world. Who thought Scott would link to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust and Ahdaf Soueif’s Map of Love. But so it is, with Smith’s two texts (Ethelinde, Young Philosopher), a first or early formulation. In the case of the poets, the women poets become sympathetic ethnographers and mythologers. In Scott’s novella, What I enjoyed best are the two ironic prefaces: these stumbling made up older male characters Scott writes as — it’s funny and melancholy about publishing and writing issues. Also a brief retelling in swift effective tones of the story as found in some newspaper or chronicle. Rob Rob has a similarly chilling retelling of a bloody set of murders — these are by Scott himself people forget. I also liked the opening where we meet the Scots country doctor, his son, who also becomes a doctor, the villain-protagonists, and our prosaic heroine. Our moral compass is found here, in the home-y early rural scenes. Maybe one way of accounting for the richness of Scott, how much can be taken from him is that his “filler” counts so enormously too and is so varied.

John Frederick Lewis (1804-76), The Reception (1873) — Scott’s vision is orientalist

The interesting thing about the text is that the threat of being a sex slave hovering over our heroine begins at the outset as in the older editions of the 19th century, the chronicle tale where the kernel story is told in less than 2 pages was put first. I have an old Everyman of rob Rob where a bloody chronicle tale is put first. It is important to remember that Scott wrote these too, supposedly paraphrasing with great concision. Yet we get back to that so circuitously. Another one is Kenilworth: I have an old Everyman where the poem Scott cites as his inspiration is put first. Then suddenly at the end of the novel we have this gorgeous barbaric scene. The inference to be drawn (as is common in Scott’s novels) is how irrational and ruthless are men, how prone to horrific violence, which they constrain by their ceremonies. After all as with Ivanhoe and other of Scott’s novels, the surgeon’s daughter though at the end the crux of the issue (will she become a sex slave of a son of a powerful Indian prince), is a minor character in the book. She is rarely on stage, and when she is we do not get much individual insight into her: she remains archetypal.

I know that those film adaptations of Scott I’ve seen often zero as quickly as they can on just those immediate active evens which lead to one of his denouements, stripping away introductions, prefaces, and especially those (often long) parts of the story which dramatize prosaic “ordinary” scenes which are nonetheless essential to understand what is going on, what to infer and what is the inference. From a post-colonial standpoint Scott shows us how as a group the Europeans are viciously exploitative so that individuals can come away super-rich, but also that the native people in power are just as bad to their people. We have the usual very few virtuous characters, many ambivalent ones and a presentation of what power does. We also how people’s characters can change as they cross borders of different cultural groups.


I don’t want to be overlong so end on a few thoughts gleaned from Bohls and Sassia, and a poem by Margaret Gillies Brown, “Emigrant Journey.”

Women dancing around the stones (paratexts of Outlander 2015-16)

How can we present and read landscape so that it is not equated with nature and thus women’s bodies? Women dominate the landscape, and women’s medical magic is drawn from botany and particulars of Scottish landscape, but they are punished for this as witches, so their rituals at the stones, their dance may be turned against them. Their individual identities dissolve away as stories of women from the 19th century and before are read by 20th and 21st century female relatives, or just readers; they cross borders and belong nowhere (connected only by connection to a man within a family structure). Thus (like Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust, Soueif’s Map of Love) Atwood’s Alias Grace blends the several women, not from different times, but classes and places: Susannah Moodie who wrote of Grace accused of murder: aliases.

Emigrant Journey

There was the comfort and the all mod-con of home
With its recognisable dangers;
There was the journey,
1he endless coming on of the same wave,
The no-land time of ocean and high hopes
Until the icebergs rose
Like crystal palaces …

There was the moving days
And weary nights of train-hours overland,
The trees, the lakes, the straight and rolling plains
Until time stopped in sheer fantasy
Of a pre-dawn winter morning –
Gloved hand swinging the iron-hard handle

Of a frozen water pump
At the edge of a bark-rough cabin;
Above, the sky, moving strange magnificence,
Voile curtains of colour
Changing, shifting imperceptibly;
Below, the star sparkled snow –
A virgin’s looking glass
Where spruce trees shot the only shadows
That made no movement –
Silence, immensity of silence,
Oil fires were burning brands
Reaching for chiffon robes
Of an aurora of dancers
Repeating dream sequences …
I tried to wake from unreality,
Felt my spine freeze,
heard coyotes howling down the night.

—Margaret Gillies-Brown (poetry published 1970s-80s)

Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Clare (Caitronia Balfe) crossing the highlands to Lallybroch (Outlander)


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