Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

Angela Down at center as Sylvia Pankhurst (Episode 6 of 1974 BBC Shoulder to Shoulder)

Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter as Violet Miller, Maud Watts, Edith Ellyn (2015 BFI Suffragette)

Dear friends and readers,

You have two tremendous treats to avail yourself of this November where we are enjoying a spate of significant politic films. It’s another one of these re-creations of an excellent, original and effective mini-series of the 1970s 40 plus years on (e.g., Upstairs and Downstairs, Poldark). It’s also another riveting new woman’s film, the kind scripted, directed on some woman’s issue (e.g., Bletchley Circle to The Crimson Field, scripted Sarah Phelps).

On-line at YouTube you can watch six 75 minute episodes of Shoulder to Shoulder, (without commercials), and hear the theme song Ethel Smyth’s grand March of the Women:

Episode 1: Emmeline Pankhurst (Sian Phillips); Episode 2: Annie Kenney (Georgia Brown); Episode 3: Lady Constance Lytton (Judy Parfitt); Episode 4: Christabel Pankhurst (Patricia Quinn); Episode 5: Outrage! (it ends on Emily Davison’s suicide by throwing herself under a group of race-horses, Sheila Ballantine as Davison and Bob Hoskins as Jack Dunn); Episode 6: Sylvia Pankhurst (Angela Down).

And in cinemas, there’s Suffragette, screenplay Abi Morgan (who wrote Truth), directed by Sarah Gavron with a cameo peformance as Mrs Pankhurst by Meryl Streep. It also has the theme song, but it only comes in towards the film’s close (as uplift).

I have no reviews of Shoulder to Shoulder to offer; I knew of it by word-of-mouth from other women, especially anyone who has written or read about the suffragettes. I suspect it’s not available as a DVD for the same reason as the Bletchley Circle was cancelled after a second successful year.

Suffragette has been reviewed, not altogether favorably (see Variety). Perhaps since it is a woman’s film, and also about the woman’s movement, the critics have been very hard on it (see the New Yorker especially). A. O. Scott of The New York Times Suffragette justice.

This one has an argument to make, or rather a series of arguments about the workings of patriarchal power, the complexities of political resistance and the economic implications of the right to vote. You might come for the feminism, stay for the class consciousness and arrive at the conclusion that they’re not so distinct after all.

Probably the re-booting (as in the case of the others this year) of Shoulder to Shoulder into Suffragette will please modern audiences more than Shoulder to Shoulder, with its 1970s staged dramaturgy, slower movement, longer scenes and speeches, less closely graphic violence (though Shoulder to Shoulder is as unbearable in its force-feedings and it has several not just one), and I hope people will be drawn to Suffragette. Both movies show how vulnerable and frail are individual revolutionaries and movements against the power of a gov’t with military and legal powers to control, punish, silence, and kill people. Still over-praising something (I believe) in the end is seen through by people and distrusted so upfront I’d like to say that good as Suffragette is, Shoulder to Shoulder is finally superior art.


Police breaking up the women’s demonstration and starting to beat them up

Suffragette‘s central problem is it’s too short and it has been influenced by the use of gimmick and juiced-up plots in mystery-spy thrillers common in mainstream films. So the focus in Suffragette comes from a little climax-ridden plot-design where we are supposed to care intensely if a police officer, Steed (Brendan Gleeson) turns our heroine into a mole on behalf of a gov’t bent on surveillance headed by the heartless monster, a fictionalized side-kick of Asquith (Samuel West) and his henchmen. Scenario familiar? Here is Steed trying to secude, frighten, & bribe our heroine:


We then enter into thriller-like story arcs where our heroines outwit the police in planting bombs, breaking windows, and finally managing to reach the newspapers when unexpectedly Emily Davison (Natalie Press, the daughter in Bletchley Circle) throws herself under the horses in a race course watched by the king.

Emily Davison contemplating what to do to reach the king, or attract attention (Maud is unaware of the lengths Emily is prepared to go to)

This is not to say that Suffragette doesn’t do ample justice deeply even (partly due to superb performances) to the human feelings among the women and in delineating the break-up of the marriage of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) — though it chickened out in showing us the scenes of harsh domestic violence clearly visited on Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) off-stage. Since a punch-shock element was what the film partly relied on, this was a loss.

In fact though Suffragette also delivers a kind of history lesson. It may be said to be equally organized as moral paradigm. Maud is a factory worker doing hard labor ironing in a laundry for years, during much of it in her earliest molested by her employer continually as a condition of remaining employed.

Given an extra job to deliver a package at the end if the day, Maud rushes for a bus

Maud is therefore naturally attracted to a hope of some better life she intuits the women’s movement offers; when she agrees to go along to listen to Mrs Miller’s speech, she finds herself persuaded by one of the MP’s wives (Romola Garai) to read a prepared speech. Instead she ends up answering questions put to her by the prime minister, Asquith (Adrian Schiller). He asks her what does she think the vote can do for her. She can come up with nothing; she does not know how it could improve her life. The film’s story then proceeds to teach Maud and us why the vote influences women’s lives. Why votes matter.

Maud is slowly radicalized for the same reasons the women in Shoulder to Shoulder are (see just below), and becomes a suffragette. She demonstrates and is beaten and punished. At this her husband, Sonny (Ben Whislaw) becomes humiliated, shamed, and his manhood so threatened, that he throws her out of their apartment. He has the undoubted right by custom. He clearly also despised her when he married her because he knew she had been molested for years and so he regarded himself as “saving her,” putting her on the “right path.” His attitudes are all screwed up by his society’s norms. They lead him to destroy her and the marriage. Worse, he has the legal right to refuse her any access to her child and the right to give the boy up for adoption, which he proceeds to do when he finds he cannot care for the child himself.

Had women had the vote, laws would not give him such a complete right over her and his child. Could she get the vote now, she could vote against such laws and customs. At the film’s close a series of intertitles tell us that five years after a portion of women were given the vote, the custody laws were changed and women had a right to keep their children. Sonny could no longer punish her, himself and their child like this.

Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) works as a doctor, and apothecary in her husband’s druggist shop: we learn she was not allowed to go on to professional school as women were not allowed; the story at the close implies that with the vote, such schools would have to open their doors to women.


Mrs Miller has nowhere to turn from an abusive husband; she will if she can change parliament. There is no help against the employer-molester; there are not enough jobs and those available to women are mostly dreadful hard work. We see a motif in other women’s films, like Water where an older woman saves a young widow who is being coerced into prostitution: Maud rescues a girl from sex harassment and degradation: she knows Mrs Miller’s daughter is submitting to sexual aggression by the boss, so daring arrest, she shows up at the laundry, takes the girl to the house of the MP wife (Garai) and the wife hires her. She is now protected insofar as the system allows: based on a decent kind individual. The movie-viewer can think to her or himself the equivalent of what legislation can provide today: women’s shelters from domestic violence and abuse.

These stories of the fictionalized characters are said to be partly based on real women, but they are enunciated in such a way as to show the viewer why the vote matters.

The only historical women we see are (briefly) Emily Davison and Meryl Streep as Mrs Pankhurst, posed to recall Sian Phillips in the same role:



There are no explicit paradigms or lessons taught in Shoulder to Shoulder, the cast for Shoulder to Shoulder are not working class women (the “foot soldiers” of the movement, as the policeman tells Maud who her “masters” will dump when they don’t need them, after their lives have been ruined), but the elite types who ran the movement. Except — and it’s a big except — the lesson in the grinding nature of the experience of proselytizing, punishment, political in-fighting and finally prison which we are given a full brunt of, and our heroines (except Mrs Pankhurst the highest ranking) are force-feed repeatedly, humiliated by the clothing they must wear, put into solitary confinement.

Christabel starting out (her first speech)

In comparison to Suffragette our heroines’ sufferings are intangible. Respectability, loss of society (but they don’t want that), companionships, acceptance of a much harder life where they do strain to support themselves by teaching, working in shops (or owning them). As in the other 1970s mini-series, our central characters are drawn from the elite, while in 2015 they are drawn from working people. So it takes a little imagination to enter into what is presented.

OTOH, just about all the characters in Shoulder to Shoulder represent real historical people, much of what is presented is accurate (if much must be left out).

The real Annie Kenney

Georgia Brown exuberant as Annie

There is therefore much less false melodrama, and because of its length, we get a long arc of the whole movement from the later 1890s to when Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel supported WW1, and the aftermath of that war.


The most moving episode in Shoulder to Shoulder focuses on the real Constance Lytton (described in my previous blog this week, Victorian into Edwardian, scroll down) who takes on a working class persona and the treatment meted out to working women in prison is inflicted on Lytton.

A photo of Lytton dressed as Jane Warton: remarkably Judy Parfitt comes close to looking just like this

This is the only still I could find on the Net of Parfitt — she is to the left, feeling utterly wretched after having been beaten and force-fed and is now forced to wait for a judicial hearing

The focus in Shoulder to Shoulder is on the human relationships among the characters, and the drama comes out of ideological, political, psychological clashes, its power on how the characters are transformed, variously destroyed, shattered, turned into ruthless political machines who show no gratitude towards those who helped them, especially in the case of Christabel Pankhurst

Christabel fiercely waving her flag

towards the Pethick-Lawrences, a couple who gave up their fortune, respectability, good and moderately useful lives to the movement only to be thrown away, and towards her sister, Sylvia who persisted in wanting equally to fight for social justice for all people, including working class men, immigrants, issues like civil liberty.

Sylvia setting up a shop in a working class neighborhood

Both movies make the point strongly that the prison experience is the second reality the women’s movement contended with that radicalized them, and I now realize this is a central theme of Lytton’s book. Lytton’s book is as much about prisons as it is about the suffragette movement. She makes the point that one way you can gauge your success as a political movement is if the establishment puts its leaders in jail.

The police have kept an eye on and take Maud away

Lytton’s book appears in both Shoulder to Shoulder and Suffragette as Dreams; the title today is Prisons and Prisoners (Broadview Press, edited by Jason Haslam). (I am now in the middle of Constance Lytton’s memoir of her life from the angle of her conversion to the womens’ movement and radicalization through her experience dressed as a working class woman, Jane Warton, in prisons.)

Lytton opens with showing the reader that the votes-for-women movement emerged as a possibly effective force when 1) the upper middle and middle class women enacting leading, and making connections for it realized after 3 decades they would never get the vote unless they severely disrupted the workings of everyday society; and 2)the women were radicalized into real empathy with working and lower class women by their experience of the harsh indifference, cruelty, even torture of the prison system with its principle mechanisms of violent punishment (including force-feeding which led to further pain in vomiting), humiliation, brutalization, and destruction of personalities through alienation. This is what Lytton shows the reader; as a person with a bad heart, she died not long after after her release from the treatment she had received.

Lytton may not appear as one of the characters in Suffragette but her words provide a voice-over as Maud Watts reads her book; and she is the central character of the crucially effective episode of the mini-series.


The group early on in Suffragette

The group towards the end of Shoulder to Shoulder

The sense of life as on-going, a cycle, so characteristic of women’s art ends both films, in this case politically appropriate. Lytton really emerges only in one episode (3), and Davison in another (5), and of the on-going characters my favorite was finally Sylvia, partly because I’ve loved other characters Angela Down played at the time (she was Jo March in a 1970 Little Women) A long talk with the inimitable Bob Hoskins (very young) precedes Sylvia’s final walk off onto the street with her latest ally, Flora Drummond (Sally Miles). When I get the book (I’ve bought it from a used bookstore site, I’ll blog again). We are made to feel we have gone through so much (6 times 75 minutes is a lot of experience time), and the photography of the two inside the crowd makes the point they are just two women inside a larger group.

In Suffragette after Emily has thrown herself under the horses, we see Maud, shaken, but walking off. She must live on; she has shown she will find her son and communicate with him; Edith’s husband locked her in the bathroom to prevent her from joining lest she be arrested again (she has a bad heart we are told); we see the police officer, Steed, his employers; Maud, Violet Miller and Edith get together again in the WSPC office.

The writers for the 1970s series are among the best of the era: Ken Taylor, Hugh Whittemore, Alan Plater, Douglas Livingstone (originally they wanted women scriptwriters but the era just didn’t have enough of these); its creators were Georgia Brown, Verity Lambert, Midge Mackenzie, directors Waris Hussein and Moira Armstrong. If their characters are too harmonious and well-bred to begin with, by the end they are strongly pressured, conflicted, angry. Suffragette has a woman script writer, Abi Morgan, woman director, Sarah Phelps, three women producers Alison Owen, Faye Ward.

The title Margaret Mitchell wanted to give her famous historical novel, Gone with the Wind, was Tomorrow is another day. It’s a saying that captures the underlying structural idea of many a woman’s art work


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Catherine Dickens (Joanna Scanlon) obeying Dickens and bringing to Ellen Ternan her jewelry (Invisible Woman, script Abi Morgan, directed, produced Ralph Fiennes)

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Again, from The Invisible Woman (adapted from Claire Tomalin’s book on Ellen Ternan) — we see (among others, Ellen Ternan (Felicity Jones), her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), her sister

Dear friends and readers,

This blog is a product of a few books on or from the Victorian into Edwardian age I’ve just read (Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge, James’s The Other House), or am reading (Martha Stoddard Holmes’s Fictions of Affliction, Constance Lytton’s suffragette memoir, Prisons and Prisoners, Trollope’s unabridged The Duke’s Children, and Gaskell’s Wives & Daughters); a movie I watched three times (Fiennes’s Invisible Woman) and one I’m in the midst of re-watching (the 1970s mini-series about the suffragettes, Shoulder to Shoulder). I’m thinking about these because of what’s to come: I’ll be teaching Gaskell’s North and South at the OLLI at Mason and Trollope’s first three Barsetshire novels at the OLLI at AU this coming spring. A Victorian Winter into Spring. What stands out or interests me, what unites these texts and films for me is the depiction of characters disabled in some fundamental way, and in three of them the registering of intense hostility to sexuality and/or social non-conformity and rebellion (the James novel, the real life the movie projects, and the literal destruction of Lytton’s life).

To begin with the most disappointing and the most stirring:

Jenny Wren (Katy Murphy) presented with real humanity in Sandy Welch’s film of Our Mutual Friend

I’ve been disappointed in Holmes’s Fictions of Affliction, not because of anything lacking in her treatment, but to discover how little sympathy, understanding, or genuine depiction of disability there is in 19th century texts. In Fictions of Affliction I’ve discovered that what’s cared about in 19th to early 20th century stories is not disabled people as such, but whether and how they can work if they are men, and if they will marry and pass on their disability to others if they are women. People who have disabilities that are not visible, borderline, not recognizable right away are most disturbing to people; where it’s visible, there is deep suspicion they are twisted and angry or over-sexed because frustrated; or faking and exploiting weak or vulnerable people. From examples, it appears the male novelists are worst (Bulwer-Lytton, Collins), with a few women showing disabled people to be simply people (Dinah Craik, Charlotte Yonge). Dickens has pity but only for those readily labelled as crippled, and he uses them to project abjection and distress. From my own knowledge I know that Gaskell has a continuum where we see disability as part of the norm; unexpectedly (or perhaps demoralizingly) Trollope’s Signora Neroni emerges as one of the less insidious portraits. I had hoped for some general increase of enlightened subtlety.

The most moving and sympathetic over these issues is Fiennes’s cinema film, the Shoulder to Shoulder mini-series, and Lytton’s memoir. In the case of the commercial film, Morgan adapted or wrote the script out of Tomalin’s book, Fiennes directed and starred as Dickens with Felicity Jones as Ellen Ternan, Kristin Scott Thomas as her mother, and Joanna Scanlon as Catherine. What was the problem is the film-makers were unwilling to show Dickens to have been the shit he was in this situation — they cannot get themselves to. On the other hand, they show how the characters achieved a sort of fulfillment they cannot erase.

Over-solemn, over worshipful of Dickens: he was presented as this tenderly affectionate kind man, ever so reluctant to put Catherine aside but of course turned off by her fat, her sullenness, and her lack of understanding of his work.  And he is this great genius who mustn’t be disturbed at his desk. The scene of him at the desk reminded me of the Dickens’ house I saw in Bloomsbury a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps they filmed there? or modeled the room on that?
    Felicity Jones as Ellen asserts several times she knows joy with Dickens but there is not much evidence of this mostly: she is suffering and strained. It’s a framed story so we see her in widow’s weeds years later, now married to Wharton Robinson. Their actual life together is not dramatized; we see it from afar, in soft focus in lovely meadows and forests, all blurry, with appropriate music. Someone told me there is some evidence that Ellen Ternan came to “loathe” her relationship with CD, having told someone that, near the end of her life. Her motives for saying so aren’t exactly clear, but it is true that her son is said to have killed himself later in life and her relationship with Dickens was a factor.
    You have to know the story and about Dickens is another problem: it’s left fuzzy that she is pretending to be much younger than she is so has just erased that part of her life while (confusingly) is going about in these sombre clothes in worship of Dickens still.  They put on a play twice: in the past history and present The Frozen Deep. I’ve never read it, but have heard two papers on it and it seems to be an highly autobiographical play at heart filled with anguish. But the ordinary audience member and even people who think they’ve read a lot of Dickens, might not get these allusions to “the buried life” that we are to feel Dickens was suffering under married to Catherine. 
    How easy Dickens gets off. The film eliminates all he did to Catherine to get rid of her; we only see the parts where he rents houses for Ellen, the last away in the country where she must live alone, out of sight.  We do see him bullying Porn while playing ball (so the film-makers are aware of what Dickens inflicted on his sons in Australia). But everyone acts in ways that are very chary of the central couple’s feelings, especially Dickens. I was hard put to figure out how he communicated he wanted her to come live with him; it was Kristin Scott Thomas who announces this to her daughter. Her one bad moment from other people is when we see her on stage where it’s implied she was a miserable actress.
    The plot climaxes in the train wreck which is realized quite well — especially the photographed moments of the two on a train, she reading and he writing. It reminded me of Victorian paintings.  We do see he pregnancy and aftermath of the childbirth which brings still born baby, but these are just incidents in a chain of what comes next. The film ends with Felicity-Ellen all mainstreamed mother, caring for her children, honored and treated with remarkable tenderness by her husband. Are we to feel she is now getting over it and need no longer wander about the beach dressed in black?
    The movie questions nothing, breaks no new ground except perhaps to tell this story however obscurely to a public who might not know it and yet how tenderly all is done; we are made to feel for all the characters. there is much use of soft focus, we see characters repeatedly trying to be kind to one another. Tomalin in her biographies is often careful not to offend but she did strongly bring out how the conventions and mores of the era must’ve stifled and twisted the relationship of Dickens and Ternan. Nayder’s deep compassion for Catherine is caught in Scanlon’s performance.

Lady Constance Lytton (F. Hollyer, 1899, note the crutch)

Shoulder to Shoulder and Constance Lytton who one can argue was (like Dickens) marching to a different drummer than those of her society: What a wonderful thing it would be to “do” this suffragette memoir with a new woman novel at one of the OLLIs. No male would register. It’d be fine.

Written by Ken Taylor (who brought us Jewel in the Crown, the 1983 Mansfield Park and other BBC masterpieces), and created a team of three women, this 1970s 6 part (75 minutes each) mini-series came into its own by the third episode. As perceptive, accurate and thoughtful as the first two episodes are (Emmeline Pankhurst), I have to admit I found it tame at first and far too upbeat for Annie Kennedy (Georgia Brown): we would not today present people so much in harmony and the servants as so deferent. All the sentiments were true and the arguments that matter are there: we are shown that unless you disrupt — and in this case as women it had to be violently — you are ignored. The fourth episode about how the two Pankhursts (Christabel with her mother) forced the Pethick-Lawrences out of the WPSU. The P-Ls gave all, their fortune, their respectability, and they were ejected. We are not told in the series what were the issues, only that a seemingly seething ruthless Chistabel insisted on it. It did leave room for thinking about issues of what should be publicized and I fear the pace and insistence on high action in the film now in theaters (Suffragette) will preclude.

It was in the third episode it came into its own. I did not know that Constance Lytton in effect died of the forced feeding she endured in prison. I had read that she dressed herself and took on a common name in order to be treated like a regular woman:without that ironically she was getting no where. But when she did her real heart condition made the treatment fatal. We are in this episode shown the force feeding to some extent: it’s horrible and terrifying and painful and clearly done with spite by the people acting. Judy Parfitt when young was much chubbier! I didn’t recognize her for a moment. She is another good, warm-hearted character (so are they all in this suffragette group) so that’s not the type she eventually did either. But she came into her own – a great actress. I can see that by losing weight off her face the strong lines and nose came out firmly but the hitherhto protected sheltered Lytton she made her role, and the whole trajectory of increasing understanding, radicalism and finally redressing herself. She is often presented a kind of crank. Not here. I know force feeding is inflicted on anorexics: it just makes them worse; the language used by the people forcing, imposing is the same condemnatory talk on women alcoholics, just as castigating in effect. Not eating is the symptom that kills, but it’s the surface symptom. I’ve begun the memoir which is also about prisons, who goes to prison and why what is done to people in prison is done.

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Michelle Dockery as the governess in Sandy Welch’s film adaptation of The Turn of the Screw

Then there’s James’s stunning novel of hatred, The Other House — I felt he hated his heroine, Rose, he was intensely hostile to his hero, Tony: her for her persistence in pressuring Tony in effect to be with her, marry her; Tony for how everyone admires and likes Tony’s brand of complacent easy heterosexuality:

I’ve read for years how James has this underlying sinister tone and how people have these dreadful insidious motives and impulses towards one another. I agreed easily or readily — as part of the underlying meaning of a book which on the surface can present pretty people (The Golden Bowl) or plausibly decent people who are monsters (Dr Slope in Washington Square, Osborne in Portrait of a Lady) or desperate bitter predators (in Wings of the Dover) or apparently virtuous people who devour and destroy others in order to maintain their own non-conformist gratifications (Maggie and her father in The Golden Bowl).

But in a way I didn’t take it seriously as it was not on the surface. David Case is the first person I’ve listened to who brings out the sinister feel of the fiction for real, and The Other House is a dreadful tale that fascinates because of the horror of a foreseen murder of a young child, Effie Bream. As I think about it strangely most of the characters are in fact over-decent, very nice: Tony the central husband male and father of Effie; Paul, a super-kindly stupid heir, probably the closet homosexual of the piece; his mother, Mrs Beever who means very well, Jean Martle whom Mrs Beever wants to marry her son Paul as (truly) sweetness and gentleness and all loving kindness. But Julia, Tony’s wife, Rose Armiger’s best friend, who we never meet, but dies upstairs from illness after the birth of Effie demands her husband never marry again as long as her baby is alive lest she have as dreadfully awful a stepmother as she this woman endured.

Her best friend, Rose Amiger is the book’s monster. On the surface utterly plausible well meaning guest, she wants to marry Tony herself, is apparently intensely enamoured of him. She acts hatefully Dennis Vidal, her suitor who keeps coming back to ask her to marry him after years in India growing rich (presumably on exploiting the natives ruthlessly). She loathes Jean Martle and Jean Martle knows this and is afraid of her. It’s obvious to this read Amriger is about to murder the baby so that Tony can marry Martle. She’s like some snake. She refused Vidal when Julia, her friend died because she hoped Tony would marry her — was she planning to kill the child then but that she saw Tony did not want to remarry or love her.

I don’t know that I’ve begun to convey the feel of ugly seething emotions that the surface talk which is the usual so-and-so is just beautiful or magnificent as well as the story of manipulation: Mrs Beever trying to pressure her son to marry Jean. Paul is the closet homosexual of the piece and Jean knows he is relieved when Jean refuses to marry him.

My sense of revulsion reminds me of how I have felt listening to Austen’s Lady Susan read aloud. It’s as if for once a raw hatred is allowed to show. James himself somewhere in him hates these people. He hates their manipulating marriage arrangements. He hates the way the doctor behaves to order others about. He shows them all as dependent upon keeping up surface lies and repressing themselves and one another. Each time he describes the little girl about to be murdered it somehow turns her into this repugnant over-dressed little human animal.

I can see why some readers might dislike James very much — beyond the difficulties of the language in the later books. Well those who see how he indites humanity at its core.

I finished this novel where dreadful things openly occur sometime on Saturday night driving back from Pennsylvania. I had bought myself a reading copy, having discovered that the New York Review of Books published it, with an introduction by Louis Begley. He defends it, and to be sure, what is openly put before us, is one interpretation of what we suspect goes on in other of the novels. Having seen this single woman dependent on others, in love with this Top Male from afar, murder a child and be permitted to get away with it, I began to think to myself, well maybe the governess in Turn of the Screw did murder the boy, or meant to, out of desire for the employer or frustrated sexual desire. I’d always seen the possibility the governess is to blame as misogynistic as James said the ghosts were really there and they persecute everyone. They too driven by sexual desire, frustations. In other of James’s novels, children are destroyed and no one notices. The saving thing is we don’t know for sure — if you want to keep up your respect for humanity’s morality. The child’s name is Effie and I wondered if this is an allusion to the famous French novel.

What leaves me shuddering is the intensity of the monstrous emotions driving Rose – they are presented as all really distorted — did she love her friend, Julia, after all? did she hang around to marry Julia’s husband if Julia should die? She agreed to marry Dennis Vidal who went away to make a fortune as one of these (presumably) ruthless colonialists in India — as a front. Her punishment is to have to go back with him; on condition she does, she is let off by the doctor and everyone else. Begley likens Rose to Charlotte Stant who I’m inclined to see as a victim, a sacrifice to cover up a father-daughter incest love. Also Kate Croy who reminds me of Lady Mabel Grex. I feel sympathetic.

Begley suggests that the fact the novel was written just after Woolson’s suicide is important. It’s about twisted sexual desire. Is Rose in some sense a stand-in for the devouring (as James might have seen this) Constance? That’s the implication of Begley’s introduction. This was also originally a play. I’d thought the reason James’s plays failed was they were too romantic, not stage-worthy, or too melodramatic; maybe they were just too unpleasant, too horrifying in their open content as you do have to let most audiences have concrete senses of what happened. The novel has thrown a whole new light on James’s work for me. Since on Trollope19thcstudies we are planning to read one of Woolson’s novels this coming spring and did talk a lot of Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel using The Portrait of a Lady to explore James’s traveling abroad.

I’ll be carrying on this Victorian trajectory. As yet I’ve found nothing to un-dismay me about the depiction of disabled people in the 19th century. I will read on in Holmes’s book for a while and dip into a vast Disability Studies, ed. Lennard Davis volume I bought at the last MLA Jim and I went to (which will now be the last I’ll ever go to) to see if I can find better individuals and when attitudes towards disabled people improved in the 20th. This sure makes Winston Graham’s depiction of disabled and autistic characters in his fiction look good. It is disappointing though and when I’ve written the review I’ve promised I’ll be relieved.

When I finish Shoulder to Shoulder and see the new film Suffragette and have gone on with Lytton, I’ll report back on that. So there’s something to be going on with.

And of course more teaching, which I have to begin to prepare for. Making Barsetshire at the OLLI at AU this coming spring will be a repeat of what I did at Mason last spring, but I’ve a new subject and central figure in Gaskell’s North and South. This is the outgrowth of a year and one half of reading Gaskell on WWTTA.

Gaskell wrote introspective domestic fiction, strange melodramatic gothics, political historical fiction,an influential passionate and great biography of Charlotte Bronte, and novels of social protest, including disability, emigration and prostitution, set across the landscape of Victorian industrial cities. Born to Unitarians, she became a clergyman’s wife, wrote fiction from her earliest years, published in magazines, and lived for many years in Manchester. Her tale of his city, North and South, centers on a strike that occurred (also written about by Dickens in Hard Times and Marx in the newspapers), on religious controversies, military injustice, the psychic pain of displacement, regional and class conflicts in romance. We will read her book against this wide context and see how it also fits into other contemporary Victorian women’s writing (e.g., Bronte’s Shirley, George Eliot and Harriet Martineau’s writing). She is an intriguing exciting novelist; and this novel will give us a chance also to discuss Sandy Welch’s 2004 film adaptation for the BBC, North and South.

Margaret Hale (Daniel Denby-Ashe) and Mr Thornton (Richard Armitage) meeting in Manchester in Sandy Welch’s film adaptation of North and South

I look forward to immersing myself in Gaskell once more. I hope my retired students will love it too. I see that three of the texts I’ve been riveted by were filmed by Sandy Welch (!). An affinity.

I am glad to be undeceived yet more about Dickens — though wonder why he continually has disabled characters in his books since he has such little patience with weak or vulnerable people (like his sons, how he bullied his wife); Holmes fails to explain this.

Barnaby and his one friend, Grip, the Raven

Dickens is also very cruel to Barnaby’s mother who is endlessly punished and has to endure absurd advice and suspicion from the “hero” of the novel, Gabriel: forsooth, he is willing to turn on her lest she have had some kind of man outside marriage.

I am now not eager to read any more of James’s novellas — I feel about the The Other House the way I have about Wharton’s Ethan Frome. I never went near Wharton’s bitter raw book again, though I am glad to glimpse what might be the hidden reason Henry James instinctively kept from his readers behind a wall of opaque sentences.


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Anthony Trollope as painted by Samuel Lawrence

Dear Friends and readers,

As I’ve written about too often on this blog, a conference on the occasion of Trollope’s 200th birthday was held in Leuven, Belgium from 17-19 September 2015. There was no keynote speech, and only one panel at a time presented papers. It was all held in one place: a large chapel auditorium in the Irish college. If you had the stamina you could hear every paper and get to know the people there, many of whom were among the most knowledgeable people on Trollope anywhere. One result was you could get a sense of overall trends and what was dominant in these people’s thinking. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered one trend or prevailing attitude of mind towards Trollope’s art was not about his politics, nor was it that he was ironic, satiric (comic); rather those speaking emphasized how artful his texts are, how much autobiographical or life-writing is in them, and that his art is plangent, deeply felt, emotionally earnest, serious. Izzy (my daughter came with me) and I were not able to stay a fourth night so I could not make a record for the panels and papers occurring after 10 in the morning on Saturday, but I have a record of the gist of each paper that was delivered until that time. I offer brief summaries (these omit many details) and begin with Thursday morning.

Robert Macbeth Walker, A Rainy Day

Panel 1: Ordinary Trollope. Kate Flint chaired and gave the first paper: “Shoddy Trollope.” She suggested that Trollope in his most ordinary moments cared deeply about the workmanship of his stories, of his art, and he wanted to offer the best novel “product” he could, e.g., the clearest style (containing all the meaning he could project). Thus his work contrasted to what was seen as “shoddy” (her paper dwelt on this) by which Victorians meant cheap ill-made goods, raw poor materials, especially about cloth; Carlyle wrote an article condemning all selling of inferior, filthy, dust-laden junk-cloth; Trollope uses the word more neutrally (as do Gaskell and Eliot). Francis O’Gorman took as her topic how critics continue to praise Trollope’s depiction of capitalism in The Way We Live Now when Trollope’s portrayal of the banking business is superficial and misleading. The critics of the Times and Examiner liked the novel but said that Trollope did not know the way the financial world worked from within. By the the time of the novel there were enforced laws demanding minimum disclosure as Parliament tried to control and stamp out fraud. Melmotte in reality could not begin to cheat everyone the way he does. Claire Pettit’s “Inbetween Times” was about Trollope’s interest in psychological chronology; in TWWLN social public time is carefully plotted; a lot of things happen at the same time so Trollope develops a kind of holding pattern where he drops one story and then picks up another, leaving the first to wait. She used terms like fast forward and switch-back (rewind, anyone?) but this kind of thing is found in other older fiction too.

Walter Greaves, Chelsea Regatta (1871)

Panel 2: Political Trollope. Robert Aguirre suggested that The West Indies and the Spanish Main is a racist atavistic book whose route and business enabled Trollope to do some good: he worked to increase the speed with which letters reached people, their reach, to create long communication networks (these are crucial for empire building). Railway stations made non-places become places. Tax per letter would be replaced by tax per annum; an adhesive postage stamp would be used. In 1858 Trollope went to Suez similarly to forge agreements for mail delivery (to Australia). He was overcoming the “forces” of immobility; answering a genuine hunger in people living at great distances for intimacy. At the same time it’s just such self-communings (He had “realized”) that makes the characters come alive .Helen Small’s “Trollope at the Hustings” was about Trollope’s campaign at Beverley and its results. While Beverley was not far from his home, he knew nothing about the place as a community, which reacted with indignation as he was an outsider coming in. She contrasted politicking to hunting (which she called socially inclusive). Trollope knew he was being used, that he would not win, that Henry Edwards, the wealthy Tory, an entrepreneur was a local favorite, says his political views remained the same over his life, and yet he was bitter at the loss. Ms Small suggested that Mr Bonteen is Trollope’s portrait of a modern politician.

Lauren Goodlad chaired; her paper, “Trollopian Politics” was intended to show that the more we abandon “traditional liberalism,” the more coherent and less reactionary Trollope’s political stances become. There is a bleak political pessimism in TWWLN, Phineas Redux, Prime Minister. Commercial activities make for progress, comfort, and time (historical) alertness. Trollope kept his views on specific issues (e.g., Governor Eyre) to himself and affirms political dialectic. She covered various real politicians in the books (Turnbull, John Stuart Mill, Disraeli) with Monk representing an ideal. In 1874 the radicals were stunned by this loss. Money is altering everything. As to gender, in Barchester Towers, the Stanhopes are exceptional figures, but in this and CYFH? the men are impecunious and weak, and the women strong and rich and sought out by the men for support.

We all adjourned for lunch.

John Everett Millais, An Excluded Woman (from Irish Melodies)

Panel 3: Psychological/epistemological Trollope. Jenny Bourne Taylor chaired and she introduced the papers by quoting Amanda Anderson’s essay on depth psychology in Trollope, and talked of his interest in how we know what we know. He was one of the founding group of The Fortnightly Review where he worked with G. H. Lewes. Patrick Fassenbecker’s talk was about how Trollope characters slowly learn to shape their fates by teaching themselves to do or think this or that; we witness them overcoming earlier instincts and exerting self-control. Sometimes the characters refuse to accept beliefs that are not supported by evidence (or that are). Bad consequences ensue. The characters have a duty to be honest with themselves, and are aware others can deceive them. So we watch a form of character management. You have to learn not to let your preference for something shape your over-all view. Sophie Gilmartin’s “Trollope on the Face of It” was a discussion of Trollope’s use of language, the surface style which flows, is filled with direct and free indirect speech, narration, description; how he builds subjective sensory images which subjectivities and character’s body actions and feelings and thoughts inhabit and swirl around. The reader pauses when the data of the utterance exceeds what the scene needs, and visualization and poetic apprehension envelop the reader. She felt Trollope hardly considers how painful his scenes can become, though he is aware how he suggests what is beyond the edge of consciousness for his characters. Her examples included Alice Vavasour’s green room, her trip with Kate and George down the Rhine, Marie Melmotte’s painful subterfuges and sudden direct demands.

It was then time for coffee and in the later afternoon so I’ll stop here. Next blog report will include Robert Polhemus’s paper which took Panel 3’s general topic in a different direction and the rest of the day’s panels.

VictorianCats (Small)

Susan Herbert, Victorian Cats


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Ross (Robin Ellis) and Demelza (Angharad Rees) (Poldark 1975)

Demelza to Ross at he leans down towards her: ‘I live only for you, Ross’ (Graham, Ross Poldark, Bk 2, Ch 6); ‘Oh, I love you so!’ (Pullman, 1975 Poldark, Episode 3); Horsfield 2015, no equivalent …

Ross (Aidan Turner) making his appeal to Dr Choake (Robert Daws) seen from the back in the courtoom (Poldark 2015)

Dr Choake to Ross’s request for help: ‘My dear sir, we’d do as much for a friend, but don’t ask us to testify on behalf of a young vagrant who’s been caught poaching’ (Graham, RP, Bk 2, Chapter 4); of Jim Carter as Jim is led into the court room: ‘They’re a different breed, sir, a different breed’ (Horsfield, 2015 Poldark, Episode 3); Pullman 1975, no equivalent …

Dear friends and readers,

This week I enjoyed both versions of Episode 3 so much, I returned to and reread the parts of the novel covered. As in the first episode of both versions, in this third, much the same material is covered, with exceptions being made for a rearrangement of events and changes in detail (so that Jim and Jinny’s wedding occurred in Episode 2 in 1975 and as in the book was not precipitated by Jinny’s pregnancy, while it occurs in Episode 3 in 2015 and is so precipitated), and both were similarly in different and the same places faithful with different or similar striking departures. Yet as in the second episode, the excellencies of the two Episode 3 felt utterly disparate and left such a different effect. How is this?

Ross offering Jim (Alexander Arnold) and a pregnant Jinny (Gracee O’Brien) a rent-free place to live

Last week I tried to account for this by describing the new way of movie-making as manifested in montages, continual quick cutting back and forth, juxtapositions, and brief scenes. I showed why some watching prefer the 1975 mini-series, and in this third episode in 1975 the full developments of deeply traumatic, angering, erotic moments as well as the passing of time and ephemera of life was on display, as well as such effective dialogue and acting. But to be fair this week did have a number of long scenes (it had to, for example, the court scene, the initiating of sexual love-making between Ross and Demelza) and effective epitomizing lines, powerful outcries against the injustice of Dr Halse (Robin Ellis pitch perfect embodiment, especially in his sighs, and patience under boredom) on the part of Ross (Aidan Turner). It was done as far as a brief scene in a costume drama can be accurately — including a sense of the discretionary power of the judge.


The confrontation

The scene in 1975 was slightly comic, and personal tensions between Nicholas Warleggan (Nicolas Selby) and Ross (at the time a young Ellis), the presentation of Nick Vargus as a low-life crook (so deserving punishment) overshadowed the main issue: the laws against poaching when the average person was not far from starvation as a disguised property and class war. In 2015 that came to the fore; the 2015 scene reminded me of one in Fielding’s Tom Jones (Book 8, Chapter 11, not in either the 1966 or 1997 films of Tom Jones) where a sadistic, sardonic “hanging judge” (Sir Francis Page) maximizes the power of the establishment’s agents to refuse any clemency to a man accused of stealing a horse (he is summarily hanged).

As in 1975, in 2015 the initiating of love-making between Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Ross occurs over several sequences. It is literally closer to the book — except that Horsfield will not permit the kindness of romantic love, and only hints at the the motive for manipulation that Demelza has (because her father has come and threatened to take her back to a rightly hated home). Demelza is drawn to Ross’s mother’s rich dress, and puts it on; there are two separate scenes, one in the front room where he grows angry and the other in his bedroom, where he does not and she comes to him the second time.

He scolds her for daring to wear his mother’s dress

I am so intensely drawn to Demelza’s outbursts the following day (a proud yet distraught Angharad Rees pleading to be allowed to stay and then angered because she is in effect being rejected so denying that she has no where to go, no one to turn to, “What makes you think [that!]”)


and flat-out leaving, without his trying to make her come back; and the subsequent theatrical re-engineering of the marriage in Episode 4 when she is found to be pregnant (from a single night — not probable), I cannot regret the changes. But as Graham’s novel has it, Ross commits an act of deep rebellion (and determination to separate himself from his gentry peers) by marrying his kitchen maid fully voluntarily and within a month or so. It was not unknown: Fielding married the housemaid after his wife died; Charles James Fox married an outright prostitute, Elizabeth Armistead whom he had fallen in love with. Horsfield cannot resist having Demelza try to leave out of hurt over Elizabeth’s visit and Jud and Prudie’s continued scorn (this latter not in the book at all); it seems neither film-maker was willing to show that Demelza never thinks of leaving, that she has no where decent to go, and that Ross Poldark’s view of her has become her and what he wants, she does. That is part of why he finds her irresistible.

cannotresist (2)

cannotresist (1)
A very different walking away and calling back

So it’s not the new way of movie-making nor is it the change in the emphatic presentation of a particular kind of feminism (women as genuinely oppressed, without power to choose their own lives); after a proto-feminism, 1970s style is on display in the 1975 fourth episode (to be dealt with next week); nor the emphatic over-riding use of the mining anti-(unameliorated) capitalist story as in 1975 there are long scenes of negotiation to open Wheal Leisure once again to look for copper, as well as (more believable) scenes of ploughing, sowing, harvesting.

One of many depictions of Ross working in the fields; his servants near by

I fall back on what I suggested at the outset of Episode 1: a key aspect of this Poldark is it’s critical for the film to present this upper class hero (a member of the 1/% of the era) as sharing the work ethic and at work, shown to have the skills and qualities of the vast majority of working people (the 99%). In 1975 Ellis remained a gentleman whatever he did, he was elegant at an assembly, danced in a sprightly way; his Ross and Graham’s too, embodied a notion of gentility that makes the upper class ontologically superior to, or at least different from everyone else. Swashbuckling is what Errol Flynn or Stewart Grainger did for fun; Ellis didn’t do that, but he contained the residues of separate higher status. Angharad Rees was made to become part of that upper class by the middle of the first season. In 2015 Aidan Turner prefers not to dance and denies being any good at it; we see him sweating, working side-by-side in the mines with his men, continually at strenuous tasks. Eleanor Tomlinson is seen twice getting and giving herself “pump discipline.” She’s not presented distinctly as a child when we first meet her nor do we see her in stages growing up (as is dramatized in a couple of comic moments in 1975 as when Angharad-as-Demelza insists the world might be round); in the novel she is a child of 13 when Ross brings her home, with a child’s body when he washes her down. The scenes in the 2015 film reminded me of one I saw in an Australian classic film: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Jimmie, a man half-aborigine and half-white is subjected to cascading waters of a pump in a cold dank area twice so as to prove himself clean enough to come inside. At the time it was believed that lice brought on typhus and typhus was a killer.

Juxtaposed to the alienation and misery we see in Trenwith and the business dealing and prostitution in a tavern in Falmouth we see Jinny and Jim’s weddding with Demelza dancing there. Ross looks at her and she refreshes his soul, and he begins to dance too. This communal dancing contrasts to the high romance mythic dancing with Elizabeth in the assembly which was such a strain for him.


Demelza having a good time, drinking, then dancing, Ross watching, likes her

The archetype for this new Poldark is not after all Outlander nor Master and Commander, but the Australian versions of American western films. Old family connections, ladylike ways (which Heidi Reeds as Elizabeth carries in her every movement) are presented as useless; the new Charles Poldark (Warren Clarke) nags his son, Francis (Kyle Soller) to get to work, but Francis doesn’t know how; he is a gentleman. All this is fantasy; upper class people knew very well how to keep and make money when they wanted to; it was done mostly through the patronage system. But it is the social presentation of characters that are thought to support progressive politics to the average person today.


A few observations on 1975 Episode 3 (compared to book and 2015 Episode 3):


Her begging and pleasing to stay; him trying to explain he thinks it’s for her good; after all, he cannot marry her is implicit (see above and below)

One skein has Demelza slowly growing up some more, turning into womanhood (signalled by her hair changing and become this luxuriant long red), and at last in a weak moment Ross awakening to her beauty and then, drunk, succumbing to having sex with her. The scene of their first encounter is remarkably well done – and tasteful. In this version he shudders; they are in front of the fire; she cries out how she loves him. She sure does and we have been persuaded it’s absolutely natural. If he’s stern or difficult at times, he alone of all the characters has shown her real continual kindness. Verity lives apart in Trenwith, in another world and is upper class and older. All Demelza has she now has from him: dress, reading, daily quiet life of tasks that make sense.

In his Making Poldark, Ellis said he objected to the way this is changed from the book. He’s right. The next day in the film Ross determines to send her off: he is too honorable to have this happen again; she at first clutches him and says don’t send me away and it doesn’t matter if it happens again. He says oh it does, and begins plans to whom. They quarrel (as they have before) and she lights out for all the world like Huck Finn. Improbable. In the 18th century she’d have nowhere to go; parents would not take her back, the friend she goes to we learn (Jinny Carter) would be so near subsidence she’d be with her relatives who would not take Demelza in. Not even damaged goods given her lower class drunken miner’s daughter background.

In the book the incident is triggered by her father again coming to demand her back. People are talking and he’s married a religious woman. She is terrified of this and we are asked to believe entraps Ross — who is drunks and upset (more on this later). This is the male point of view. But it is harder. Then far from sending her away, in the book Ross and she begin to be bed partners. He does like her, and in the film the scene is triggered by how angry he feels at himself, at what happened, he wonders why he should control himself.

Norma Streader

The film has other skeins. There is the temporary ending tragically of Verity and Blamey’s courtship. We see how they have grown to know and love one another — a good scene. Ross comes in and there is talk and plans. But the two Poldark men find out how Verity has been meeting Blamey in Ross’s house and come there enraged. Francis, hot-headed, insists on a duel, and keep slapping Blamey who cannot endure this and they duel, Francis is shot (not fatally, or even dangerously) and Charles collapses. The affair betweem them they see is impossible. In 2015 the actor playing Blamey makes him likeable — emotionally appealing and Horsfield changes the story so he killed his wife by accident, it was manslaughter. That makes the story less complex, and it is troubling that in 2105 the wife is blamed.

Jinny given separate scenes where we get to know her

Warleggan personally grated upon

Ross articulating a set of values

Centrally important is Jim Carter is led to poach by starvation; he is imprisoned and Ross tries to save him. The judge Warleggan gets angry at Ross’s insubordination and declarations that such laws are deeply unjust (see above). In the film the trial scene very effective; a sense of a large active crowd. Lots of individuals brought out to show different indifferent unconcerned reactions. Ellis presented as an older. We have seen Jinny friendly with Ross, Jinny pregnant, talking with Ross, her love for Jim, and helplessness to stop him; now Jinny’s grief brought out. Ross comes home that night drunk from this incident. In the book at what has happened after a little time passes, and he determines to make the final rebellious act and marry her.

Elizabeth. In retrospect by the fourth book (Warleggan) Graham gave the earlier history of Ross’s continuing intense love for Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Francis. It’s right to bring it forward as it give the overarching tension to the series and by the end of this novel (a Christmas scene of rival piano playing between Elizabeth and Demelza) Demelza realizes she has a real rival, but by bringing it forward it changes the whole feel of this early material which is much simpler and somehow less meretricious because less complicated, less contrived .


This episode has Elizabeth coming to see Ross once — right after the trial in need of decent conversation and solace but too proud and upper class to let down the barriers. She is under considerable strain; her life is one of frustration and boredom; she finds she cannot tell Ross this.

Negotiating business deal scene in 1975 – note the elegance of the surroundings, all gentlemen

There is only the one negotiating gentleman scene about the mine but as with all the scenes, the dialogue is better, more precise, more engaging; in the first half of 1975 episode the Verity material is still playing out (it was squeezed into episode 2 in 2015) and we have Verity’s meeting with Blamey and the finding out about it by the Poldark men and the powerful duel clash. It just seems to me at every point the dialogues are better, the focus on the characters more precise, more distinctive, and more varied. They are rounder, more believable, more time given, separated out.


(Passing shots in 1975)

We do feel time passing, the sowing done slowly, farm work is more central but there no sense of a big community around as in 2015. It feels in the 1975 film as if they have more time, but it’s that Pullman and his team used time and montages more cleverly. A sense of time going by is better even if in the book we are told they married quickly, it was a month or so. The characters feel older in the 1975, dressed to look and act older.


Observations on 2015, Episode 3 (compared to 1975 film and book):


Ross seen climbing up the high hill over the mine; the people come to work

2015 begins again with the mine. Ross is ringing the bell, the miners are up and glad to be so, headed for the mine. The great rejoicing moment of opening — camera on Demelza supporting Ross. The sneers of Choake, the Warleggans. Demelza works in the field and told by Jinny of Jinny’s worries, and after one of several eating scenes with Ross together,


Eating and talking; she is now the cook

Ross makes efforts far more central and intertwined to insist Jim (who seems more immature in 2015) marry Jinny Carter with the opening of the mine.

The new mini-series shows Verity unhappy, downtrodden, talked down to by the Poldark men, embittered against Francis. Francis looks much worse in his bigotry against Blamey, for not working alongside men as our Ross does.

Horsfield’s George is not a monster — there is an attempt to make the capitalist understandable, but he is now a sneak as he was not in the book (in the book George was as far as could be seen rather open and brutal and amoral rather to anyone who can observe). Jud and Prudie have become sullen servants which is odd — instead of making the lower class servants at least someone we can be fond of identify with, they are mean themselves. In Graham’s book Jud is droll; Horsfield seems to have no feeling for drollness. Paul Curran understood it (and probably Phil Davis might if given the lines).

Ellis and Curran working in the fields: Jud to the back, Ross remains a gentleman but there is camaraderie (1975)

Mary Wimbush as a good-natured thoughtful Prudie (1975)

Jim and Jinny Carter are also kept at a distance; we don’t see enough of them close–up. In effect some might say the 2015 film is more class-ridden, far more class self-conscious.

Horsfield does not show the passing of time, the choice of landscape imagery is pointed (a blast in the mine, flowers in the field near Demelza suggesting eroticism) and we move into the poaching too quickly, with the trial and then the love-making explosion between Ross and Demelza afterward.


The morning after: in the novel Ross alludes to a Shakespeare sonnet (“Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame”) asking himself if he feels this; and Demelza does revel in the fields

Demelza’s behavior feels more passive during the love-making scene which is actually not specified in the book (it was written in 1945/6). Then as in the book we get Elizabeth’s too late visit, and Elizabeth’s intuition something has happened between Ross and Demelza. Though not in the book now I feel it is also a loss not to have Ross trying to send her away for her own good, a real loss her anguished speech about how she has someone to turn to; here she is merely seen fleeing, he once again rides after her, and after silent observation, simply marries her — she just does it. There is not enough preparation. The book does not show Demelza’s agreement and both the book and 2015 show women submissive but it leaves a hole in the psychology that is not made up for as the 18th century Demelza would never leave Nampara (she’d be beaten at home, in the streets beaten or raped, end up a prostitute) and Graham’s Elizabeth does not mouth pious beliefs.

A typical scene of Francis scolded, lacking dignity, takes it out on Verity

Made a supine fool by Margaret

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is made far more exemplary. Asked by Francis’s father, if Francis does his duty (has sex with her), if he is at work on the mines somehow or other, she says yes. She plays the harp in the book too (there are no harp scenes in the 1975 movie):


Probably the most important character change is in Francis: The episode brought out Francis’s incompetence over his mine (he hasn’t lost it as in 1975 because he gambled the money away carelessly like an aristocrat), his unfair jealousy of Ross when Elizabeth gives birth and at the christening Ross talks with Elizabeth; how he blames Ross for Elizabeth not wanting to have sex with him. In the book it’s the child; in the 1975 this is not a thread. The 1975 Francis was not mean and jealous in this way. Kyle Soller is made to look stupid, he can speak truth back to George Warleggan and he likes Ross, wants his respect and companionship at first, but is seduced by George into forgetting by George’s playing on his sexual and work insecurities; so he is not appealing It is far too easy for Margaret to flatter him that he is the only Poldark. This Charles (Warren Clarke) is himself really mean too; not likeable as Frank Middlemass was able to make him. In the 2015 Francis sits on a horse looking helplessly at Ross’s mine


so when we see him with Margaret he calls himself “the Poldark.’ he is not appealing (there are now two scenes where Elizabeth has been reluctant or refused him access to her body and bed) to a larger audience, rather helpless and writhing and angry: I can sympathize. But then he is overtly arrogant to Verity, sneers at her. He buddies with George which he would in the book (to a man of Francis’s type George remains “a blacksmith’s son,” beneath him) or in the 1970s (where he resents George’s attentions to Elizabeth and his presents to his son and detests George as a sneak he must kowtow to because he owes George money).

It’s implied but never brought out in the novels that Francis is not a good leader of men, not pro-active on behalf of business; but this is never stated. He is a self-contained aristocrat, containing his self-esteem and careless dismissal of those beneath him; in 1975 with an undercurrent of self-loathing out of a depression within his character which his father has taken advantage of. We see him enjoying himself:


The contrast is with Jim Carter who the culture subdues, makes deferent, hesitant, without assertive pride:

Ross scolding Jim for poaching (1975): there is a similar scene in 2015, but it has lost its original context

In the fiction Margaret preys on Clive Francis as Francis through demanding gifts, and she encourages his gambling; she sneers at his love-making as boring, jeers at him. In the fiction we may feel Francis is distrustful and jealous of Ross’s love for Elizabeth, but it never comes out, except when Elizabeth begins to refuse sex — then the narrator tells us it’s Geoffrey Charles she prefers.

Well in the 1970s programs Clive Francis as Francis is never jealous (the sex scenes are cut) and his lack of business acumen and leadership is never mentioned. In fact he finds and tells about the scandal pamphlets sent out against Ross. In the 1970s Clive Francis is witty, kind, well-meaning, likes Ross and I am among those who find the timbre of his voice intensely appealing. In short it’s not the actor (Kyle Soller) whom some viewers may be alienated from; the actor was chosen to fill a role of Francis from Horsfield: she doesn’t care for the ne’er-do-well sceptical Francis. Amanda Foreman who wrote the biography behind the film of Georgiana Spencer’s life, The Duchess said that Hatcher, the screenplay writer was not sympathetic to Georgiana and that’s why the movie made her less than sympathetic, and Hatcher agreed. Horsfield cannot like the type Francis Poldark is supposed to represent in Graham’s book.


To bring out a few points from the above notes and details: strong parts of the 2015 film include its historically accurate presentation of the court scene, its depiction of a deep relationship developing between an upper class male (however made more egalitarian in presentation) and a servant girl, and how her character is given resonance through class and status anger.

Demelza angry and yet helpless against father’s demand she must return

It lacks irony and there are moments where the script might have meant for Turner to project ironical distance (as when he is talked to by the preacher at Jim and Jinny’s wedding and told marriage is to prevent fornication; or when Mrs Teague and her daughter Ruth assail him), but he is either too flat or obvious in tone.

The strong parts of the 1975 film are also the court scenes done in a way that brings out 1970s values in Ross’s speech, and the final love-making scene and disruption afterwards that represents an unfortunate departure from the book’s original themed presentation of politically radical love. But it has real humor and can contain a sympathetic depiction of Francis as a flawed but understandable male character:

Clive Francis allowed dignity even when behaving in foolhardy unthinking manner


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Anne (Claire Foy) has had a miscarriage (penultimate sequence, Wolf Hall 4), POV, Thomas Cromwell aka Mark Rylance first observes the sexually spiteful Jane Boleyn (Jessica Raine) and then stands before Anne

… the historical novel has been one of the sites where women writers have had most freedom to examine masculinity as a social and cultural construct, Diana Wallace, The Woman’s Historical Novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000)

Dear friends and readers,

We left off at the close of Wolf Hall 2, whose screenplay is (let us nor forget) is by Robert Straughan since in Wolf Hall 5 &6, we will retrospectively observe and understand some significant departures by Straughan from Hilary Mantel’s conception. We watched Thomas Cromwell meditating over relics, objects to remember Cardinal Wolsey (played by Jonathan Pryce), including a blue ring he places on his finger, which he will twist now and again in the rest of the drama.



I argued the over-arching trajectory of the three-act (albeit 6 part) mini-series is that of a psychologically and politically complex Renaissance revenge tragedy. Within that larger framing, there are a number of secondary stories, with accompanying themes, some which cross all six episodes, some dominating just one episode or group of scenes. This week I will concentrate on two, one pictorially and the other allusively and thematically brought out by Anibundel in her blog, Wolf Hall 3 & 4: A Man for all Seasons.

Mantel’s Wolf Hall performs the function of recent sequels to classic fiction and revisions of consensus histories; she asks us to switch our allegiances to the victimized, conquered, castigated and stigmatized lives of traditional histories and in so doing discover the tragedy going on is one where the subaltern figures are us. In this case these figures include several of the hitherto despised and dismissed women of Henry VIII’s court and his low-born secretary, Thomas Cromwell. My feeling is Mantel came to her very project, her very choice of historical span, by way of so many women’s identification with Anne Boleyn, and added to her Mary and Jane Boleyn, Mary Tudor (Lily Lesser) re-seen (as the product of a neurotic relationship of a profoundly sexually twisted man and woman, Henry VIII & Katharine of Aragon). Thomas Cromwell she came to by way of her insight of the deep evils religion (in her case, originally Roman Catholicism) promotes and disciplines people to enact.

My favorite moments are when Rylance as Cromwell speaks truth to religious hypocrisy as when he follows Benjamin Whitlow as Bishop Warham upstairs to let him know he, Cromwell, understands, the games Waltham is playing using Elizabeth Barton:

Cromwell; “Archbishop Warham. This um, prophetess you harbour in your diocese – Eliza Barton? How is she getting on?
Warham: “What do you want, Cromwell?”
Cromwell: “Well, I hear that she’s telling people that if the King marries Lady Anne, he has only a year to reign. I just wondered who is controlling her.”
Warham: “She may be a simple country girl but she has a genuine gift.”
Cromwell: “She does, doesn’t she? I hear she can tell you where your dead relatives are. If it’s in Heaven, she speaks with a higher voice, if in Hell, with a deep voice.”


The episodes are entitled Anna Regina and Devil’s Spit, both of which refer to women, the first obviously Anne’s coronation and the second Elizabeth Barton (Aimee Ffion Edwards] a burningly spiteful self-deluded woman at the close burnt at a stake, whose spit or uttered prophecies were used by the Catholic faction at court to try to frighten Henry VIII from removing from positions of power adherents of the Italian and German circles of power and marrying Anne Boleyn. Across the two episodes we travel with Cromwell: in the first he begins with attempting to reason with the losers, Katharine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley) and her painfully awkward daughter (to whom Cromwell shows an instinctive pity):


Cromwell cannot stand there and not offer this stumbling naive woman a chair

to listening to Mary, Anne’s sister’s self-directed description of Anne’s manipulation of Henry’s insecure aroused sexual desire, her thwarting of him, Anne’s overwrought bargains:


Towards the end of the third part he is the first to notice Anne’s propensity to flirt too much with other men beyond Henry and arouse Henry’s ominous anxiety during dancing, hears their quarreling raised to a pitch that leads to an old-fashioned bethrothal. Henry had demanded sex after that flirtation with another man. Mary comes out and seeks a Bible; they pledge themselves off stage and we are to imagine consummation (this was a recognized form of marriage before 1753). We glimpse the wedding itself at first in Calais and then the crowning in Westminster.

But Anne’s fall from power doesn’t take much longer than that of her sister, both more watched and in invisible prisons than we or they are aware: by the middle of the fourth episode, a Boleyn male spy is there to stop Mary (Charity Wakefield) from kissing Cromwell; by the the close of part 4 Anne’s dog has been thrown from the window, and she has bled on the floor, miscarried a second time.

It’s easy to miss how many women’s lives are wholly epitomized in a few shots: Alice More (Monica Dolan) whose guarded face appeals to Cromwell as she cannot reach her husband, some complicit in evil thinking (deludedly) they can save themselves (e.g., Margaret Countess of Salisbury, Pole’s aunt [Janet Henfrey] later beheaded), or are exceptions because seemingly virtuously superior (Jane Seymour, played by Kate Phillips).

I am most drawn to those who recognize there is no safety and act out of this inner apprehension for others: say the interspersed touching moments between Cromwell and Johanne, through or in her his memories of Liz and his daughter with her peacock angel wings (ghosts), none of them can he reach:

Saskia Reeves as Johanne

Anibundel’s analogy for Cromwell is that of a fixer, but in the stories of these women he is helpless to fix their lives, and he appears to want to help them help themselves by the good advice he gives them (as well as the young male studs around Mary). He is himself a subject, dependent on the unlimited power of a near madman whose eyes (those of Damien Lewis) are fearfully threatening, fierce, glitter at us while the inner thoughts of the brains we think of as behind the eyes remain opaque:

Opening shot of Devil’s Spit

Mantel’s reconstruction of Cromwell in Wolf Hall, her rehabilitation of him comes from seeing him in terms of all these women at the court. If you go on to read even sympathetic historical accounts of him (e.g. Tracy Boorman’s biography) in the provinces where he successfully manipulated local powerful men by rewarding and punishing them through property arrangements, criminal charges dependent on the new Anglican church laws, customs, doctrines, you have to infer he drove these middle men to destroy and execute the local abbots or any priests who got in their way. The man Bolt and others have characterized as ruthlessly ambitious, and willing to kill, organizing from afar terrifying executions is glimpsed only fleetingly. The criminal aspect of Cromwell’s character is also more in evidence in Bring Up the Bodies where he will take a woman (innkeeper’s wife) casually, have her husband destroyed, remembers murderous acts he participated in in the past.



More pouring over the documents, Cromwell trying to reason with him to return to his home, to Lady Alice who has food waiting and will put him to bed

Part 4 is indeed a rewrite of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, to the point where speeches that Bolt plucked out of the historical records are re-plucked but uttered in contexts that reverse or at least significantly alter their significance. I was riveted by this as someone who has watched both movies of the original play several times: there was another beyond Fred Zinnemann’s with Scofield as More, Leo McKern as Cromwell, Wendy Hiller as Alice, John Hurt as Richard Rich; this other less-known A Man for All Seasons starred Charlton Hester as More, Corin Redgrave as the cynical allegorical ordinary man, and Vanessa Redgrave (memorably as a terrified Anne in way over her head). I also still admire More from having read his deeply humane analytical original Utopia, his Dialogue of Comfort during a time of Tribulation, his sardonic poetry, and his friend Erasmus’s Praise of Folly (in Latin translation it means praise of More as a holy fool dangerous to himself in his idealism). Much in More’s life resembles that of Cromwell as middling men in Parliament; both were instruments of Henry VIII.

In Bolt’s play all is done that can be done by More’s wife, daughter, son-in-law to persuade More to sign and live; Cromwell bullies and threatens, with Cranmore uttering the same rationalities. In Mantel and now Straughan, Cromwell takes over the humanity of the family. In Bolt’s trial it is Cromwell who engineers Rich’s betrayal; in Mantel it is Rich. Straughan’s 4th episode opens with More salivating over torturing someone, and again and again through dialogue and the burning and torture of other Protestants we are led to see More as the harmful fanatic. More’s utterance near the end that he has wished and done no man harm and if that cannot keep him alive, he’d rather not live (rendered famously by Scofield on the scaffolld), is answered here by Cromwell as they sit over a table by a list of people that Cromwell cites whom More has destroyed viciously. In the final scene of More’s beheading, in Mantel and Straughan there is only the pathos of a wretched narrow man.


The burning (after torture and imprisonment, interrogration of Bainham for spreading the Bible as translated by Tyndale, More’s POV)

Mantel is doing more than insisting on more accuracy about More and some justice to Cromwell. As Bolt was making a fable for the hopeful sixties where people could respond to figures who acted out ideals, so Mantel is taking the past and mirroring a deeply pessimistic disturbed era where we have seen much progress made in social and other areas of life over the course of the 20th century reversed. Popular and significant TV mini-series on commercial channels (Breaking Bad, Games of Thrones) portray utterly amoral characters in environments where there is no hope for humane solutions, with voyeuristic cruel violence an accepted sport. Henry VIII in Mantel’s Wolf Hall and this mini-series is a site representative of today’s ruthless militaristic and fascistic oligarchies, seemingly crazed armies of fanatic men determined to turn women into subject creatures. She is a deeply secular woman, for tolerance, feminist. I know her Eight Months on Gaza Street shows how fearful and helpless individuals and especially women can feel in Saudia Arabia where there is nowhere to turn for certain information about just about anything, and all action hinges on gaining the favor of powerful individuals.


I do ask myself where the power of this mini-series resides. Each time I rewatch it I think to myself it cannot be as good as I’ve remembered it, and each time it is. Is it in this vision? In the case of the famed Brideshead Revisited, one can point explicitly to a set of filmic techniques new and daring, or older and breaking with foolish taboos and conventions. If anything this is a kind of throw-back to the staged days of the 1970s. I wonder if it’s in the stillness and slowness of the filmography, how much time is left for each shot.

Cromwell coming to talk with the Boleyn family (to the back, George, the brother, to the front, Norfolk [Bernard Hill]

I come back to the use of Rylance as POV and his uncanny ability to convey complicated layers of thought in different scenes with these highly theatrical characters in situations of deep crisis strain, to seem outside the action and questioning it. The character he plays, Cromwell, is himself deeply complicit, compromised and comprising — rising, becoming wealthier, powerful, using his nephew and ward, Rafe as spies. He says at one point, now it’s his turn to get back. He participates in the neurotic fights of the Boleyns. He may tells Henry Percy (then drunk) the day of the power of the thug warrior-aristocrat as all-powerful is over: that the world also works on money, that bankers are in charge (this seems a bit anachronistic, you’d think the Italian bankers were turned into today’s European Union and World Bank).

Cromwell: “My lord, you’ve said what you have to say. Now listen to me. You’re a man whose money is almost spent. I’m a man who knows how you’ve spent it. You’re a man who has borrowed all over Europe. I’m a man who knows your creditors. One word from me, and all your debts will be called in.”
Percy: “What are they going to do? Bankers don’t have armies.”
Cromwell: “Neither will you, without any money. My lord, you hold your earldom from the King. Your task is to secure the north, to defend us against Scotland. If you cannot ensure these things, the King will take your land and your titles and give them to someone who will do the job that you cannot do.”
Percy: “No, he won’t. He respects all ancient titles.”
Cromwell [his expression conveys how dense Percy is and how laughable the idea that Henry respects any titles]: “How can I explain this to you? The world is not run from where you think it is. From border fortresses. Even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from Lisbon. From wherever the merchant ships set sail off into the west. Not from castle walls, from counting houses. From the pens that scrape out your promissory notes. So believe me when I say that my banker friends and I will rip your life apart. And then, when you are without money and title, yes, I can picture you living in a hovel, wearing homespun, bringing home a rabbit for the pot. Your lawful wife, Anne Boleyn, skinning and jointing that rabbit. Yes, I wish you all happiness”

Percy has no credit card you see.

The fascination may come from the puzzle and elusive depths of suggestion. The series can suddenly speed up. Just as the fourth episode seems to come to an end and Cromwell is in the crowd watching More being beheaded, his memory becomes a series of flashbacks, he as a boy in More’s house where More was a boy. Then we see More about to be beheaded (unflinching scene) and Cromwell the older man watching.





Then the camera moves and sees Johanne watching Cromwell deeply ill in bed, sweating, hysterical, seemingly traumatized. We enter his mind as he glimpses his second daughter (not the one with the angel wings, but the one who wanted to learn Greek and marry Rafe).


He says aloud if he’s dying there are things he needs to tell Gregory (his son), Then a patch of sunlight on his bed, Liz (Natasha Little) his wife knotting,



Cromwell: “Slow down, so I can see how you do it.”
Liz: “I can’t slow down. If I stop to think how I’m doing it, I won’t be able to do it.”

The camera again moves, we hear words about an itinerary, which ends at Wolf Hall and out from the corridor comes yet another set of people, the Seymours.


By the end of this second act (fourth episode), we are back in the era of the all frighteningly powerful tyrant, and Cromwell seems to glimpse Anne’s waning power and glimpses the wary alert presence of Jane Seymour as a possible fall-back position as Henry must be pleased and wants a son.

The last still of Part 4


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

From the coast of Cornwall, ruin of a fortress

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I suggested how the books related to one another:

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

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

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


Eleanor Tomlinson, the new Demelza

A Cornish Mine opening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Book 2: April 3, 1789,

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

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

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

Poem by Basil Bunting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demelza braves the ball with Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the 1990s covers of the PanMacMillan series


Continued in comments: Books Three and Four.

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


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The Flying Dutchman, WNO
Eric Owens as the Flying Dutchman

Dear friends and readers,

Are you someone tired of over-produced plays, movies, operas? This opera has one set, a proscenium arched rectangle which serves as backdrop for ships, the port, houses, places for dancing, and ghostly sequences. Are you tired of scenes where you are continually distracted from the characters’ personality, situation, engagement with other characters? This production leaves you to experience for lengths of time the central psychological state of each character alone and as they are in contact with others all aria long, framed by occasional eruptions of the male and female choruses. You are given a chance to savor the characters’ and the music.

Christiane Libor as Senta

OTOH, if you are tired of symbolism, of 21st century interpretations of older material, this production will not serve as a relief. For me the quiet use of costume, prop, and pictures (set designer Giles Cadle), not to omit the racial composition of the cast to suggest that the Dutchman is not just some Gothic Wanderer, male outcast wandering amid seas, but a cynosure of the black slave of last century and the exploited and destroyed and angry and brooding black man of today made the production more meaningful.

Owens’s performance a few years ago as Alberic the dwarf in a kraken rage intended to evoke black men’s rage was repeated here — only he is not in a rage so much as as profoundly melancholy and in need. The use of red (=blood) ropes to entangle him was part of this. The drawing that Christiane Libor as Senta is so taken by reminded me of so many depictions of black men in the 19th century either as slaves or sharecroppers or stage minstrels:


With Oscar Wilde (“contradiction is the bugbear of little minds” said he or something like that), I don’t mind contradiction. So somewhat startlingly to me who have endured so many outrageously masculinist (not to use a worse word) Wagnerian operas, as we neared the ending where Christian Libor as Senta dressed in fire-engine red is about to board the ghost ship, to follow her dutchman about for life, out came a row of whorish (from their make-up and centuries of stereotypical wigs, outfits, leering expressions, exposed breasts) frightening-looking women. They reminded me of the women imprisoned forever in Bluebeard’s Castle in the recent HD Met production of of Iolanthe & Bluebeard’s Castle. Instead of being asked to condemn Senta for her sudden withdrawal from the Dutchman, we were asked to identify with her justifiable fear. The words in the surtitles of her change-of-heart aria to Erik, whom she had been engaged to before her father was seduced by the Dutchman’s gold and had deserted, referred to her long knowledge of Erik and how much affection they had known:

Jay Hunter Morris as Erik dressed as white southern gentleman (might have been a slave-trader from his costume)

I heard someone remark on how Senta’s father (Daland, sung by Peter Volpe) would have seemed to someone in the later 19th century acceptable and understandable, and how we saw him today as absurd, naive, over-bearing, a fool to give his daughter away like this; as with the HD Met opera, this one production attempted to address this shift in values on behalf of a women’s autonomy, and in a similar spirit. Only this heroine was strong and would not become a hag accused endlessly of infidelity. This did not quite work as the feminist interpretation of Iothanthe and Bluebeard’s Castle did not work because neither are true to the opera’s libretto or music.

This opera is about a deep longing for death, for surcease; this is Tennyson’s poetry longing for rest from too many of the world’s demands and imprisonment. The Dutchman longs to die again and again and is death he says. At the close of the opera, dressed all in white, Senta flings herself into the waters to drown. She is so distraught at the Dutchman’s fate she wants to join him in death itself now too. I cannot find any photos of this scene so will refer to the reader to expressionist drawings of this final moment of the opera:


A couple of people around me agreed the opera was “well-sung.” There was no intermission so no let-off in build-up. A woman nearby declared it “perfect in every way.” No more detail than that. It was directed by Stephen Lawless and there are two different conductors listed. For myself I admit I thought some of phases of the male and female choruses dull (as obvious as Oklahoma in early versions): too much simpering sentiment over women cooking and sewing and admirable manly males.

A typical choral scene of men

The Flying Dutchman, WNO
Women with spinning wheel in front

It required patience somehow for me to sit through some of it.

Nonetheless I felt good I had gone when I read in my playbill that this production was modeled upon or similar to the one done at Glimmerglass in summer 2013. I went because Jim had bought tickets for he and I to see a Flying Dutchman at Glimmerglass during the later part of the second week of August 2013. He had bought for a concert as well as Camelot. He also got two lovely rooms for us in a boarding house by a lake. We never went. By that time the cancer had metatasized into his liver for over a week and he could hardly walk from one room into another. He knew by the last week of July he would not make it but did not know why. I can’t replicate what we would have known, nor bring him back to enjoy what he would have been engaged by. But I went partly on his behalf, in his place even if I am now half a person.

I suspect he might not have liked this production that much. When we went to a recital by Owens, he said Owens could not let himself go enough, not allow himself the inherent variety that was in him because of his black identity and memories. Had to remain noble. It was probably the symbolic direction because in Porgy and Bess Owens was remarkably many-sided and brilliant.


I recommend going if you live nearby or if the production moves to where you live, or if it’s aired, turning on the TV or your computer to watch.


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