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Archive for the ‘Film adaptations’ Category


From Number 13 (Greg Wise as Professor Ander hard at work and Tom Burke as Tom Jenkins, a cheerful sinister presence)

Gentle readers and patient friends,

A few years ago, pre-pandemic, I wrote a series of blogs asking what is a Christmasy Story, and basically came up with a moral model, often, tellingly, involved with the death of someone (or near destruction), most of the time with a redemption, or renewal of hope in the future at story’s end. As I did this year over Trollope’s two American Civil War Christmas stories, I brought up how central to these winter tale traditions was the ghost story, mentioning in passing how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol differed so in its happy ending, poetic justice. Most ghost stories are Kafkaesque, nightmarish, uncanny, unnerving.

What I’ve been leaving out is then a mystery of why these have been so much a part of Christmas, becoming explicitly so in the Victorian era. M. R. James in particular is utterly out of whack with most professed goals of festivity, joy, forgiveness and whatnot. This year seeking once again to watch and talk about Christmas stories on my now ancient Trollope & his Contemporaries listserv (@ groups.io), I proposed reading his Stalls of Barchester Cathedral and watching (it’s on YouTube), the 1971 film adaptation. I did both, but then dissatisfied with the weak film, too familiar with the story, I cast about to see what other films, if any, were available as ghost stories, and lo and behold discovered that in 2005 and again in 2017 the BBC attempted to revive the old traditions of the 1980s and make 30-40 minute films of short ghost stories, but this time in all cases, from M. J. James. The first one I watched was A View from the Hill (which held and made me very nervous), and then found short reviews of these, rightly recommending them.


Wandering in a tomb: “Imagine, if you will … ”

I found (as in the earlier ones), superb but not super-famous actors involved, intelligent subtle scripts, e.g., Number 13 (which begins in bright cheerful light). They do not seem to me as masterly as those done way back in the ’60s (Whistle and I’ll come to You, and the brought back Andrew Davies’s Signalman), but they are in color (not a small thing still), so beautifully photographed, or like illustrations, and as a group, compel me to wonder not why people want the thrill of magic, but why, as C.S. Lewis insisted, pain remorseless terror tropes of inexplicability as part of the season’s diet of renewal, remembering, human communal activities.

I’ve no good answer to that, for it’s not enough to say it’s a metaphoric experience which makes us take into account our own powerlessness against the forces of the natural and social worlds. These stories are much more effective when the ghost is genuine, not a psychological projection. I did several years ago write about Oliphant’s ghost stories and the relationship of the gothic ghost story to Christmas. What is terrifying about Whistle and I’ll Come to You is you feel you have yourself brought the ghost out without quite meaning to, and you are not sure you won’t be tempted to do or somehow do that again. This resembles how Hyde begins to be able to come out of Jekyll and take over at will.  The horror is also in this demon’s mocking breaking pf fundamental taboos against dwelling on death’s remains (e.g., playing with a corpse). Sometimes there was a crime perpetrated by the now victim (as in The Stalls) and sometimes (in Number 13), our researcher is digging up from the past real cruelties perpetrated by real people connected to present people’s interests and is warned away.

I now invite you to watch A View from the Hill (the notable actors are Pip Torrens, David Burke, Mark Letheren)

I provide four others in the comments.

So there is a typical structure and mood to all M. R. James whether in verbal story form or film. He builds mood slowly; a character goes to a remote place meaning to do research into the past. When he does, he evokes either a lingering malignant presence whom others living there are half-aware of and too unnerved to speak. Small things are felt; say a claw put out, a cat’s meow; this then grows nervily, louder, and from just an intrusion becomes overwhelming in its brutality. The demonic presence attacks him swiftly.  The ghost or revenant is not always a male in other authors, for example in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, where the ghost is a woman in black with unforgettable ferociously hating eyes, a mother whose child was taken from her and let die.

When this eruption from some other realm is effective, the attack is fatal; the person vanishes forever; but it can also be the ending is inconclusive, and you are left waiting with that victim-person who is trying to flee, like say in A View from the Hill, where our previous researcher is waiting for a train that is not coming. What’s chilling is the obtuse person (Pip Torrens) he is visiting appears not to know about this murderous presence and yet is ever leading our victim-character into danger — and then walking off. A blow by blow account — if you need it.

But this is what he sees:


From far


Then he is suddenly inside

In A View from the Hill it’s this pair of binoculars that allows the central victim-hero to see and be inside a cathedral that is no longer there literally. He is then (apparently) hanged for doing this.

The closest contemporary novels that come near this are by Kazuo Ishiguro: his Never Let Me Go has the same realistic surface as a ghost story, while the science fiction that is going on is cruel, and its apparent rational mirrors the senselessness of some modern medical technology uses — and connects us back to Shelley’s Frankenstein. But no one thinks of these as Christmas stories.


M. R. James

And now this delightful documentary by Mark Gatiss, about M.R. James as a man, his career, how these ghost stories emerged, and a brilliant analysis of them. It is 55 minutes, worth every second of it — many clips from BBC years. (I apologize if the link only takes you to a blockED video. You can type in M R James + Mark Gatis into the YouTube search engine and that may take you to this documentary. Poke around.) Gatiss suggests an important literary source of James’s visual imagination are the pictures in the medieval illuminated manuscripts James catalogued. And that James was repressed probably non-practicing homosexual. One amusing moment: Jonathan Miller (who did a brilliant adaptation) quietly insisting on how we are to see what happens in that story as nightmares (no ghost there literally), as if reassuring himself …

Any thoughts, anyone? at any rate, back again (we hope) next Winter Solstice.

Ellen

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A Whole Lot of Humbug (New York Times)

Dear friends and readers,

This NBC review of two new movies for the Christmas market is superb and ironic; at moments nearly scathing: Anibundel offers a sort of history of Dickens’s story in commercial terms (how many sold), a concise synopsis, and then these two new rewrites (?): Scrooge and Spirited, the animated one with a stellar cast (including Olivia Coleman and Jessie Buckley).

The irony of “Christmas Carol” reboots in the age of billionaires is “too bad neither “Scrooge” nor “Spirited” knows how:

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/netflix-christmas-carol-reboot-spirited-misses-elon-musk-irony-rcna59889

Egbert says the ide of Spirited is there is a spirit industry in the business of redeeming a new miser each year; Metacritic finds Spirited a “whole lot of Christmas fun”


Scrooge, the animated one, is [more than] “slightly off key (another NYTimes review)

As Anibundel says, today’s super-rich are not finding redemption by being charitable …. I add they are not seeking redemption even …

FWIW, it seems from her description these contemporary versions have not made Scrooge into a miser. To make the “trick” work the very rich old man must both be a miser, seen as socially isolated, finamentally alone and somehow embittered.  Central to the assumptions of the modern versions of Dickens’s tale is it is terrible to be alone; to keep Christmas is to be with others in a kindly spirit.


Opening scene of 1951 movie

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FWIW, my feeling is Dickens’s story would have to be so changed to speak to people today that it would really take the sort of thing a brilliant sequel or post-text once in a long while does. Some new character or perspective not in the original, or some minor character. The new character or perspective is Mary Reilly (Valerie Martin) out of RLS’s Jekyll and Hyde. The minor characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Stoppard) out of Hamlet.


Donna Reed as the unmarried Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life

A minor character ignored is the woman Scrooge loved as a young woman and who rejected him, and is seen fleetingly working in a poorhouse. Why has no one thought to re-write a post-text centering on her? Give her a memorable name? Remember her in the last scenes of memory of in the presence of Christmas present? … Probably not, and this morning I cannot locate my DVD of the 1951 movie and this moment is nowhere on the Net. Only the absurd picture of George Bailey’s wife, unmarried, an old maid librarian (a fate worse than death in It’s A Wonderful Life); Scrooge’s ex- grown old finds worthy fulfilling self-sacrificing (of course) charity to be performed.

See my review of the British 1951 movie, A Christmas Carol, with the imitable Alistair Sim, where the film-makers and audience could still respond to Dickens’s ghost tale.


Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey

I’ve written many reviews of Christmas movies meant for the Christmas market and others which have become Christmas movies over the years. But as a reboot, It’s a Wonderful Life deserved a blog of its own.


Roubaix in A Christmas Tale (a recent favorite with me)

Ellen

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Lord John Grey (David Berry, Episode 5, “Give Me Liberty)

Dear friends and readers,

I complete my account of the sixth season of Outlander (see Episodes 1-4: Processing Grief … ). I’ve been so enjoying the sixth season, I’m telling myself by mid-December I’ll try again to read or listen to The Fiery Cross and then go on to A Breath of Snow and Ashes, both of which I have as books by Galbaldon and as CD sets read aloud by Davina Porter.

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Episode 6: Give Me Liberty

Yet another basically reflective and retrospective episode. I was delighted to find that David Berry has returned. To my taste, he is the handsomest of all the male leads, and I’m “charmed” (really am) by the character. At one point he is wearing a lovely cream-colored outfit, but I could not find a still online of this scene.

This is another episode hard to disentangle and hard to replicate with the interweave so again I’ll just cover each thread. My framing will be the feature that comes with it: all about trauma and how trauma is affecting several of the central characters.

I had not picked up on how much Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is using ether – as one would a calming drug today. So at several points in the episode we her disappear after she takes a drug too. She sees and hears Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) as a haunting revenant.

Fergus (Cesar Dombey) is now traumatized because of his loss of his hand and the way other males and females too have treated him. During the episode he seems to disappear we are told after trading he began to work as a printer in one of the larger North Caroline towns, not far off from where Aunt Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) has her estate. We also hear she is funding him, and what’s more he is again printing subversive pamphlets. He is for the colonialists in the struggle in which Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) was involved. Just one line from her but strong (because Maria Doyle Kennedy is a very effective presence) that she misses Murtagh: she is helping the “side” Murtagh died defending.


Jamie, John and black servant girl

This then involves Jamie (Sam Heughan). He has given up being an agent for the crown with the Indians because he does not want to be a mole. Claire and Brianna (Sophia Skelton) have told him the British lose – this seems to figure in his thinking. Lord John Grey first seen in the episode talking to the British representative and vouching for Jamie, and at first Jamie lies to him, but then tells him the truth, and Grey then alerts a meeting of the Regulators (?) on time so all escape.

A subplot involves Roger still helping a widow and her child finish a house and settle in. Everyone is talking, Brianna is jealous or worried Roger is being dragged in. We see in part he is — he is also a man who hasn’t got a role in the world that fits him anymore. But by end of episode Brianna pregnant again and Roger has supplied another young man as a substitute for himself.

An as yet nameless young man (later we find out his name is Henderson) appears to be having an affair with Malva – very dangerous because of her fanatic and tyrannical father. She seems to court punishment by prostituting herself. A scene I did not understand at all – we see Malva is visiting what looks like a half-alive and half-dead rotting corpse. She slices off one of his fingers. This is creepy gothic. I know she is not to be trusted.


Lizzie serving, Brianna and Roger at the table

Lauren Lyle as Marsali in this season comes into her own, in the various roles we watch her play – soon she will be joining Fergus we are told.
Ian not much there if at all in this episode. Lizzie (Caitlin O’Ryan) grows ill with malaria (malarial attacks repeat themselves) and we see the two twin male servants care a lot for her.

At end of episode suddenly Claire hears a tune that comes from a later period. I could not place it, but then we see (it seems) perhaps in prison but at any rate from the back, someone with a jewel he stole from Jocasta’s necklace in his hand. Long black hair from the back? Who could he be? I have not guessed it.

So a lot going on, much of it inward.

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Episode 6: The World Turned Upside Down


Claire seeking out Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones)

Well at long last we are not quietly reflective and retrospective: this is a powerful deeply distressing and disquieting episode. Everything is turned upside down when Malva becomes pregnant and accuses Jamie of having sex with her repeatedly, liking it, and being the father of this coming baby! Before very long everyone in the settlement or on Fraser’s Ridge has been told about this. This happens about half-way through the episode.
It gets worse.

The first half of the episode is about a disease running through the settlement. Is it cholera? Bacteria carried in the water. Different people appear to have different diseases. Claire becomes very ill, and while Brianna is out, Malva and Lizzie meaning for the best (I’m not sure about Malva) chop off Claire’s hair until it’s very short. She recovers, but many die. Of course the 21st century watcher worries about the gossip about Claire as a witch.

Caitriona Balfe is more interestingly dressed than she has been in a few seasons. She has after all been in story about American pioneers. We see her in long skirts most of the time but now she dons a Napoleonic like long coat and a fine hat to cover her head. She visits Tom Christie to discover if he has the same disease she does, but the conversation goes badly. He walks her back though.

And now the shocking accusation. Christie with his daughter and son, Allan. It should be noted they are hardly ever apart and when I first saw them I thought they were courting. Claire had had a bad dream in which she thought she saw Jamie responding to one of Malva’s advances. She flees to a barn and Jamie follows after denying everything and throwing the Christies out. A confrontation ensues: Claire cannot disbelieve him but she is shaken: she does not belong here, neither do Brianna or Roger, all for love of Jamie. This does bring home to us how much they are giving up. But we see other moments where she and Jamie are missing Marsali and Fergus now. How Brianna is attached to her. Even Brianna is shaken because of her parents’ own unconventional relationship. He confesses the one night of love-making with Mary MacNab before he gave himself up to Ardsmuir prison.

Always generous, Claire visits (!) Malva and tries to talk with her but it is soon obvious it’s useless – Malva lies, calls Claire a witch, the brother backs her up. Claire gets angry and threatens Malva. Malva impervious


Malva morte

At the very end Malva is found with her throat cut, just dying or dead, and much to my horror, as Claire is the one to find her, Claire seeing how advanced the baby is (how big the bulge) performs a C-Section on her! (with a knife), of course now she cannot live; Claire pulls a tiny baby, but complete and it is just breathing and she works to resuscitate it, but it dies in her arms. I was terrified by this as I know she cam be blamed for a double murder! I gather it will take a long time in the book ( A Breathe of Snow and Ashes) before it is finally discovered who fathered this baby, and who did the murder.

This is violence enough. Very real. Very relevant to our world today (I’m thinking of women’s reproductive rights, what pregnancy is, the attempt to stop all abortions maybe even contraception &c&c in places in the US).

This is worrying for Jamie is gone off to the Philadelphia Continental Congress where he Is not chosen for a representative because his reputation now ruined. Back, we the whole settlement ostracize the Frasers and Mackenzies – Roger had been a central minister at the opening of this episode. Iain gets into fights on Jamie’s behalf; he goes to Claire and says he is the father for he did once have sex with Malva. Claire suddenly says that Roger came upon her having sex with Henderson (I wonder that was not brought out before or made public). Malva seems to be promiscuous – who knows who the father is?

Then Claire still suffering traumatic memories (Lionel Brown’s ghost and voice haunts her), takes some ether rather than answer the door. It’s Malva. She has a bad dream of Malva accusing Jamie and her. Wakening, she goes out to the garden and find there the dying Malva, and what I described above ensues. Claire is left crying with horror.

I finished reading the redaction of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in the second companion and find that Bonnet died in this book. What’s more there is a lot more military action going in. The film-makers have deliberately excised that stuff from both the 5th and now this season. The girl’s accusations and its results up to her death are there in the book more or less as told in the film. The title of the book refers to the season of winter, and I see at the end of the book the explanation for the brief obituary Brianna read, which brought her back in time is also revealed.

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Episode 7: Sticks and Stones

This one feels like a cumulation of all the episodes of this season dealing with trauma; Claire is now utterly caught up with murder of Malva.
Then paratext of song this season is “the Laird that is gone …”


Brianna and Roger wished “safe travels”

Begins with Mrs Bug suggesting Malva was never to be distrusted, but Claire insists she never thought that way about her. Mr Crombie first appearance.

They are all standing around the corpse: brother (I cannot find any stills of him) curses Claire and Jamie; how did you go out there with a knife; did they see anything at all; father does not want to give her a burial in consecrated ground; Jamie says they will bury the bodies at the Ridge. Claire insists she thinks of Malva as life and light not darkness

Claire’s bad dreams woven throughout: it’s the voice of Lionel which is the voice of guilt; the most traumatic of all her experiences beaten and gang raped. Knocking at door. She is using ether – trying to medicate herself but making herself worse; haunted Ian out searching, asking questions. It was a Sin Eater who was missing finger parts and we now realize that’s who we saw Malva cutting.


Henderson — a likely candidate for Malva’s baby’s father

Anecdote episode with Henderson come to complain about questioning; it emerges that Roger saw him having sex with Malva and he gets indignant
Voice goes over all Claire’s history and “betrayals” and lies from first season on, with angry protesting voices at her at the time; she left when she should have stayed; stayed when she should have left (Frank’s voice, Black Jack’s)

Brianna and Roger now talking about it, he says he will do the service; as this episode develops Roger becomes more and more explicit that he wants to be a minister – finally this can be his occupation in this era


Roger as minister at funeral

All finally take note that something wrong or different about Lizzie’s behavior, she is caught in lies; Josiah and Kezzie have vanished

Perry Mason thought of by Claire (she wishes they had him there): who could have, who had the motive, who has opportunity and Claire says me: she is beginning to think she may have done it, rather that she wanted to do it.

Nightmare with Malva banging at door, shock she awakens, lost her temper and threatened Malvina: I’ll fucking kill you; Jamies there to contradict, sooth; over voice: funny we saw we are just human when we do bad things, not good ones.

Who is she now after all the roles she’s played? (Claire thinking)


There are contemplative images of them — an older couple

Story of Lizzie and Beardsley boys emerges; Lizzie feels she has done nothing wrong; eventually handfast with them both.

Talk about killing; eating animals (vegetarian explained); Jamie says big difference when Roger Mac killed a man in self-defense and this murder of Malva
Claire: because I came here I changed things: whole history of all; it was because she desperately wanted to be with Jamie – she loved him

Funeral scene: Allan (the brother of Malva) accuses them both – terrible scenes in the church. Quieter by the grave Jamie not to carry coffin; Ian can.

Claire going crazy she feels; losing it; Jamie says she must not lock him out the way she did not allow Jamie to lock the world out after Wentworth. She says she’d do it all again.

Brianna and Roger now decided on this career for him, a minister (it’s what his adopted father was); it seems to demand they go to Edenton as a family; Roger upset at how child is being taught to believe people become ghosts.

All now quiet, they are making dinner, and the posse of the Brown gang arrive and demand to take Claire away as under arrest

Episode does center a lot on Jamie and Claire — we keep returning to them

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Episode 8: I am not alone


Jamie and Claire defending themselves early in the night

I put off watching this because somehow I found it so painful and anxiety-producing the first time round, but that was late at night and I watched it directly after S6, E7, Sticks and Stones. This time I could see reassurance set up by the end

The previously takes us way back: Brianna tells Roger she cannot tell if Jemmy is his. News of deaths of Claire & Jamie in a fire. Jamie gives Cherokees guns. Roger preaching sermon, he & Briana to Edenton so he may be ordained Presbyterian: this could be his fitting occupation. Your wife covered up to elbows in blood. The accusation. Brown: we have come for our wife to arrest her for the murder of Malva Christie.

A scene of 2 in a café modern eating fries … one a woman, cannot catch the other – slipped in …


The Posse comes, led by Richard Brown

They demand Claire, are Committee of Public Safety. Beardsley & Lizzie flee. A battle ensues. Men surround the house; Claire kills with rifle man who got in. Frees Jamie from crowd; they barricade themselves. Boarded up windows. House being destroyed by all out shooting. Brown found out Marsali killed his brother (Claire to Jamie). This is revenge, an excuse. Brown with a white handkerchief; they’ll go to Salisbury for fair trial; that’s the law …. Jamie shoots at them, they look like thugs.

Switch to Roger & Brianna and Jemmy. Talking of revolution; what’s happening in Boston; once Roger would dream to go, but now he’s here. I must think all be safe. They talk of how truths kept from them as children; she now accepts what happened … Back to house, Jamie and Claire fear firing of their house; by the hearth, with water, find food, Obituary says 21 January; this is May so they must survive. No plan. Outside men bivouac.

Roger and Brianna inside tent with child; beautiful love-making scene of comfortably married couple, laughter, she pregnant. This contrasts and compares to Jamie and Claire: condemned eat hearty meal; she’d choose cheeseburger &c (it sound like the meal we saw a opening still). Where is everyone? Ian? Lizzie? They remember the times he came near death, when she did. Fortune teller read his palm and it connected death with number 9. Jamie cites Prayer of Contrition.

Outside fisherfolk, Hiram Comb – come out, thou shalt not suffer a witch to live; they accuse him of killing Malva; Claire shouts hoarsely she was trying to save the unborn child and Jamie innocent. Accusation of revenge. Malva’s brother: you debauched and killed my sister. Scots people ride up with Lizzie but no go. Tom Christie arrives and manages a negotiation Witness and mediator. No reason you should not rest in your own bed. Frasers go back in. Guard set. Love-making that night. Knitted bodies. Jamie promises her this will not be the last time they see the house and environs.


Their last night — an expressive image

Daylight. They are in wagon. Shall I tend to their wounds? Christie brings her breakfast. No court at Salisbury; off to Wilmington; Tom Christie looking remorseful. Lizzie I am back, but she cannot help; Ian back but vanishes. People roused to throw stones. Calm reasserted

Brianna: are we there yet? They read New Bern Onion, Fergus printer. Poet’s corner – Marsali. Child has lice; they cut his hair and discover hereditary nevus like the one Roger has. So they are father & son.

Back to Jamie and Claire in wagon; Christie hanging round. Ian there, but not time yet. Don’t go away, lad I am with you Uncle.

Someone comes up; a man dies; Jamie brought out for drinking water: a trap, the rest ride off with Claire, shouting. Brown tells Claire his brother a lout but she is a murderer and he was his brother Mr Fraser sent to Scotland; Christie will not leave her, insists Jamie alive, he is there to protect her. Trip of fearful discontent.

Snap shot of Brianna and Roger still off with child to Edenton

Claire now over-voice: Tom Christie troubled; will not admit Jamie dead. Town (Wilmington) in bad shape. Corpse hanging. She is put in jail. Christie there: I would not have your deaths on my conscience. She is to trust him.

Switch to Jamie tied to post; just as someone is about to crush Jamie’s head, Ian’s arrow hits; we see him and Indians. All there, reassurance, and group now riding post-haste to rescue Claire (with Tom Christie protecting her). She (I) is not alone.

Finis for season — until next year when (we are told) there may be 16 episodes and then the series will come to an end. I have not included the more frantic and debilitating and humiliating seasons (Claire led by a rope, for example) because the over-all feel is stoical

Ellen

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Brianna (Sophia Skelton) helping Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to bathe — after she is brought back to Fraser’s Ridge from gang-rape (Season 5, Episode 12: Never My Love)

How many times have I put my hopes, my fears, my secret longings into the hands of a Being that can’t see, can’t hear, can’t even feel. How many times have my prayers been answered? Time is a lot of the things that people say God is. There is pre-existing and having no end. There is the notion of a Being all powerful because nothing can stand against Time, not mountains, not armies. Give anything enough time, and everything is taken care of, all pain encompassed, all hardship erased, all loss subsumed. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And if Time is akin to God, I suppose that memories must be the devil …. (from script, the overvoice for Season 5, Episode 5, “Perpetual Adoration”)

Friends and readers,

I loved this 6th season, which, while it basically adapts freely A Breathe of Snow and Ashes, like Season 5, also brings together material from a later and earlier book and re-arranges everything to the point the overall feel is very different (a handy list for viewing all recaps and commentary on Season 5). It is also, crucially and astonishingly to me, strongly dependent on the viewer having become immersed before and being totally involved before you begin. I’d say almost all the episodes had long sequences that were reflective and meditative, remembering and re-processing as it were — so how does this rivet new watchers? There is but one feature and it is all about trauma. We hear from all the major actors/characters, the central scriptwriters (those here since the first season), where they talk of each major character in terms of how processing grief is difficult; everyone processes grief differently; it’s real, violent, volatile. They are searching for their identity, what is the way forward; their past holds them. Some terrible things have happened; is Claire Teflon? No. Jamie is giving her space and time to heal; she has nightmares .. the feature goes over each character but dwells on Claire, Ian (“The Hour of the Wolf”), and Fergus. I am telling myself I must go back and finish reading/listening to The Fiery Cross and then go on to A Breathe of Snow and Ashes.

I admit since I found the fifth and sixth Outlander books so muddled, so without forward thrust, that for much of the previous season and all of this one too I relied on The Outlandish Companion: Volume II by Diana Gabaldon

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Episode 1: Echoes (a straight recap with video clip)


Ardsmuir (New Craigmiller Castle)

Just a first impression, and w/o benefit of reading the source book at all. As I said a while back I got through only half of book 5 (The Fiery Cross); I’ve never opened book 6 (A Breath of Snow and Ashes). You are at a considerable disadvantage when you’ve not read the book in these sorts of film adaptations meant in part to be faithful and using the book for deepening. A brief read of some comments on Season 6 show Roger Moore back in central place (I imagine his movements away to other shows became fewer when the pandemic hit and much new programming delayed or cancelled but I could be wrong) and Gabaldon interesting herself to the point she says that much that she cared about made the transfer but not all; we are told the opening is not in the book but taken from elsewhere.

Certainly the opening was a surprise and to me a somewhat demoralizing one. We are back at Ardsmuir, way before Lord John Grey took over, not just after Culloden, but just after Jamie gives himself up (1753) – I did recognize the actor who played the first general. It is such misery and what we see is slowly Jamie asserting himself and the men gaining minimal rights. An ambivalent relationship emerges between Jamie and a man who is at the head of Protestant faction: Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones). I felt the loss of Murtagh and found that Duncan Lacroix is no longer in the cast at all.


Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire, 1773 (after flashback) dressed with attitudes which signify they’re older

Then we fast forward 20 years to 1773 and North America. I began more to enjoy it. I have to say that this episode reminded me of the opener in Episode 5: it moves slowly and is a gradual development of our favorite characters, showing us what they are at this point. I loved it but my feeling is if you are not already deeply immersed this may not grab you at all. Seasons 1-3 openers did, and Seasons 1-2 were especially exciting and melodramatic almost throughout. I grew to love 5, but I acknowledge others might not unless they were wrapped up in the characters already.

So basically Claire is slowly overcoming the trauma of the rape-beating; Jamie keeps close to her lest anyone attack her again; she is now inventing anesthetics but Brianna worries lest they be misunderstood and attacked again – part of the animus against Claire in Season 5 was her portraying herself as Dr Rawlings dispensing contraceptive information. And lo and behold there is Christie’s daughter, Malva (Jessica Reynolds), who seems at first simply a fanatic evangelical type sniffing around the “phosporus,” saying this is the stuff of the devil.

Yes Tom Christie turns up with his family; he saw the ad and wants to be part of the settlement. Jamie, a bit reluctant, nonetheless accepts them in. Tom is a tyrant to his family, and his son is going bad, partly a result of this repression and bullying. Marsali (Lauren Lyle) is pregnant again, but this time she has a bruise on her arm, and soon it emerges Fergus (Cesar Dombey) has become an alcoholic. She is deeply ashamed and he’s in denial: we are given clues some of this is the result of his having one hand and not being of service like the others. Problem here is this was not a problem before: he was always as active as ever (partly from Jamie’s influence but that’s not gone). Brianna and Roger (Richard Rankin) just there, in support (not given much to do beyond that). Young Ian (John Bell) active in hunting animals with bows and arrows; there is a conversation where he brings up the idea that perhaps Claire could help him change his destiny as he sees it with respect to his wife. This is the first we’ve heard of her explicitly.

Central scene is love-making, gentle and tender between Claire and Jamie – as befits this grandparent couple. Both of them have bad dreams or memories: Jamie’s shorter (of Ardsmuir) and Claire’s of the rape and beating. We see them as kind grandparents to Brianna/Roger’s children and one of Fergus/Marsali’s.

Plot-design of episode; governor’s aide arrives early to ask Jamie to become a chief crown agent dealing with Indians; he does not want to involve himself (as he refused in episode 5 – reminding me of Ross Poldark’s reluctance). The governor is going to tax the Frasers heavily for not agreeing to take on Indian tasks. But what happens is the threatening presence our enemy group (one must have a true villains) are what is left over the Brown gang, headed by Richard Brown (Chris Larkin), the brother of man who instigated the rape of Claire (hated her for helping his wife, his daughter) and whom Jamie murdered and returned in a body bag. The Browns demand that Jamie punish Tom Christie for stealing an object and Jamie is forced to whip him (we see a flogging of Jamie at the opening in Ardsmuir). Jamie hates this. Jamie now told Lionel (Ned Dennehy) will become the Indian agent. So at the end of the episode Jamie relents and takes the position as it would be dangerous for them, for the Indians, for everyone for such a gang to have power.

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Episode 2: Allegiances (another recap, this time with still, more evaluative)


Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones)

I’ve watched Episode 2 now and find that it’s making me very curious about A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I have the feeling the film team has done the same thing they did for Season 5, from (more or less) The Fiery Cross. They have picked a few of the episodes, and rewritten and rewoven them to fit a theme (or themes) across this season. Despite the re-appearance of Roger Moore’s name in key places (writing too), it has the quietude of the fifth season, with this difference, I am continually worried or feeling anxious about our six principals: Jamie and Claire; Roger and Brianna; Marsali and Fergus.

The threat is from the people Jamie has allowed to build and live in their compound (the religious ideas of Tom Christie are paranoid and aggressive, including an obviously misogynistic inspired distrust of Claire as a witch), and now the Indians that Jamie has (paradox this) become an agent to the crown (George III) to. Every doctoring deed Claire does is worrying, and now Brianna, matching Claire’s invention of ether, invented matches.


Still brings out the quietly comic feel of the operation

Story: it opens with Claire trying to mend Tom Christie’s more crippled hand, which she says she will have to operate using ether on. As in later conversations when Christie brings up the idea God doesn’t want him to have a good hand, Claire refutes this with secular and ironic understanding. Marsali’s pregnancy is quite advanced and Claire now with Malva (dangerous because Christie’s daughter-in-law) goes to take care of Marsali. The baby is near birth, but something is wrong, and Claire dare not do a C-section, for that would kill Marsali. Claire also gets out of Marsali, the bruises are from Fergus; they fight intensely over his drinking. Jamie deputies Roger to go get Fergus who is very drunk when Roger arrives, and Roger becomes disgusted and angry with Fergus, who finally agrees to come.


Fergus with Claire

A second thread moving through this is Jamie and Ian’s overnight visit to the Indians who are asking Jamie to ask the governor to give them guns, ammunition. Jamie consults Claire as to the future allegiance of the Cherokee and she says she doesn’t know as she did not read that far into American history: this Is part of a scene where they make love.

Back to visit to Indians overnight: a supposedly comic scene of two Indian women trying to have sex that night with Jamie, stopped finally by Ian speaking to them. Jamie will only promise to consider asking the governor.

Fergus comes and he is transformed (one hopes more than momentarily) to the Fergus we knew: sweet, loving, he begins to make love to Marsali, as enormous as she is, sucking her breasts. He says in the brothel they did that to help women give birth. All leave the couple alone, but and eventually hear the baby coming. We see Marsali giving birth with Claire and Malva on either side, also Brianna there, but when Fergus takes the child after a few minutes he is horrified (“nain” he cries and runs off): the child is perhaps a Downs Syndrome baby; Marsali loves it immediately.

The thread of the Christie group appears again with Christie building a church; and an old woman in the group dying. Roger is to be minister at the funeral and lo and behold she awakens momentarily. Claire explains this – a semi-comic, semi-deeply felt scene ensues with the old woman alive but dying still is what happens. Again the modern ideas that Claire brings to this endanger her in the eyes of these people. A little later Jamie comes up to their compound and queries this building of a church before houses; Tom Christie stands up for this idea, and Jamie appears to allow it as long as the new church is neither Catholic nor Protestant specifically but rather a meeting house for all – he refers Tom to the opening at Ardsmuir where he, Jamie, resolved constant fighting by joining the Freemasons and telling the others too and thus defusing religious conflicts.


Bree and Roger, playful

Brianna and Roger are seen having private time together with her hurt because over the meal they had just before Marsali went into labor, everyone thought good news was a new baby, when it was her invention of matches. Only Claire seemed to understand how important and convenient these are. It’s frustrating to Brianna that her abilities have nowhere to flourish. They talk of how they have decided to stay permanently and how they have been trying to have another child with no result as yet. We see Brianna a little later walking to stables where she meets Ian. She overhears him praying for a child he apparently had with his Mohawk wife. Ian is bothered by Jamie’s refusal to ask the Governor – a refusal that the Indians learned of and came to be angry over. Claire says if Jamie gives them arms, they could end up the Fraser’s enemy as the Frasers right now are on the British (not rebels) side. Ian says that nonetheless the Indians deserve weapons if they are to be endlessly displaced by these white colonialists.

In another scene (I’m not sure exactly where these all occur in the sequence) Brianna and Jamie sit on the porch together talking and cleaning their two guns. Brianna tells Jamie that Ian had a child who is probably still with the Mohawk.

A small later episode shows Jamie talking to Mr Bug about some supplies he is taking with Kessie to trade; up to them comes Mrs Bug and Lizzie (Caitlin O’Ryan) and we see that Kessie and Lizzie have a flirtation going on.

The episode concludes with Jamie writing a long letter to the governor (at first from some dialogue we assume it is to his Aunt Jocasta); late at night Claire comes out of the bedroom to ask about the letter. He confides to her he is going to give it to the Major (then with them) to give to the governor to ask for the Indians to have guns. She says I thought you were against this. He replies that he now realizes that Ian’s allegiance is to the Mohawk, to these Indians, and that he, Jamie’s, allegiance is to Ian so he will do as Ian asked him to.

Just about all these scenes are quiet thoughtful ones, filled with mood and complex feelings – even quieter and less overt aggressive action than Season 5. I find I have no trouble staying up and watching intensely, ever worried for everyone and caring about them. Snow on the ground showing it’s winter. The whole episode is beautifully photographed throughout.

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Episode 3: Temperance (detailed straight recap, emotional, with still)


Jamie offering Malva Christie friendship

I am now not puzzled altogether about the curious tone in which people who wrote about Season 6 when it was airing on Starz: the third episode is as oddly quiet, non-violent, non-active as the first two. Season 5 did have violence and action by the third episode – the fight with the Browns, then regulators versus the royal governor. The first sign we will have any is a newsletter that appears at the end of the episode telling of the Boston Tea Party. It’s not called that in the paper, but Claire refers to it that way. This is again a series of mostly non-violent incidents which are exemplary in different ways.

I looked at the summary of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in the 2nd Outlandish Companion and find it as unreadable as I found the last 2/3s of The Fiery Cross – there is no thrust forward but rather stories about our characters as they live an isolated life on Fraser’s Ridge. They are interwoven but again I’ll tell each incident or thread together as I cannot remember the order they are in as there is no weaving forward to some conclusion; they are self-contained. Another problem with these episodes is Jamie and Claire are too perfect, as are Roger and Brianna. The only un-exemplary character is Fergus – for Ian is also without any real flaw. I love them myself but recognize the incidents lack inner conflict. Yes, Claire carries on being haunted by images of Lionel Brown who insulted and raped her and uses ether sometimes to sleep. But that is not enough

By contrast, The Crown (Netflix series about British monarchy, 20th century) has shows Philip to be very flawed while we feel for him; and Elizabeth to be conflicted over how to behave towards him, angry and also torn in her role as queen.

So we have Tom Christie giving in and coming to have his hand healed – cut and re-formed and sewn the way Claire did Jamie’s hand – the man refuses ether (horrified by the idea) and won’t even bite on a piece of wood but reads aloud passages from the Bible with Jamie chiming in and holding him down slightly – he does scream from the pain. By the end of the hour (this time it is just an hour) he is healed, grateful, and takes away a copy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, saying he thought novels were evil until he heard Jamie telling aloud tales at Ardsmuir. Now he agrees they are forms of escape and distraction. However, when he reads the book, we look over his shoulder and see him reading one of Fielding’s many ironic passages about love, and he closes the book, and returns it with a note to the effect “this is filth” and he had thought better of Claire.

Another incident occurs when Roger sees a baby in a basket floating on the river towards a water fall and its death. He jumps in, barely saving it, all the while realizing a group of boys had done this. They include Germaine, Marsali and Fergus’s son. He is incensed at their idea this child is a demon – because it’s a dwarf. The boys are scolded fiercely and then required to turn up to Jamie who gives them the choice of touching a red-hot iron or the baby. They had also thought they’d be burned if they touched the child. Of course, they choose the child and find they are not burned, and the baby behaves sweetly.


Marsali (Lauren Lyle) spinning

Roger has become the minister of the place and we see him deliver a sermon against superstitions about dwarves using the Biblical story of Moses. Brianna seems to have built a spinning wheel, and we watch Marsali learning to spin fibre into yarn or thread. Brianna needs to be doing something too.

Marsali is not having much success stopping Fergus from drinking to excess all the time; now he blames himself for having such a child. He tells Claire how he saw dwarves treated in Paris – it sounds like the dwarves here are Downs Syndrome children. Claire says none of that will happen now for they will take care of Henri-Christian. Fergus wants to know what happens to the child after they all age and die. At one point the Frasers are collecting rent (in just the way of the Highlanders) and one couple find Fergus “stinks” and say he is responsible for his freak child. He physically attacks them. Later Marsali says to Claire, Fergus has promised to stop drinking; but when he comes home, he is drunk as ever. She throws him out and says she’d rather have no man than a drunk one. And later in the episode Jamie is out in the wood and from afar sees Fergus slash his wrist badly; Jamie saves Fergus, and there is a scene of traumatic talk, with Jamie the father hugging his son and when they return it does seem as if Fergus will reform and accept himself again and his new son.

Ian and Malva are striking up a friendship. I had mistaken and the young man I thought her husband is her brother — but there is an important hint here: they are behaving as if husband and wife. We are of course to see love blooming in Malva, but Ian seems attracted. Touching dialogues about what they believe, her father’s cruelty (in one scene we see the father whipping her now that his hand is fine), but she mentions that her father would be upset if she had a “lover” and it’s implied even more were he like Ian – Indian like, not Christian. Ian says he does not know what he believes.

Somewhat improbably Brianna builds a glorious spinning wheel. She needs to do something but it is Marsali who sits turning fibres into thread or yarn.
Lizzie makes an appearance at one point and again we see she is courted by Kezzie. She appears very happy in her position as working beloved servant-companion.

Christie tells Jamie and Claire his group of people have accepted the offer of the Browns to protect them – Claire tells Christie this is a bad move.
The end of the episode has Major Macdonald returning with the guns for the Cherokee, and bringing the newsletter about the Boston Tea Party. Claire says “the storm” (or war ) has started.

For my part I love watching it because I’m fond of the central six characters and worry about them.

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Episode 4: Hour of the Wolf (recap from an amusingly anachronistic POV, with 2 clips!)


Ian (John Bell) and his central rival, Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa (Morgan Holmstrom?)

Another quiet mostly retrospective and reflective hour — it’s curious that is the atmosphere because it includes a challenge and duel where one of two people could have been murdered. But no one is.

Ian’s Mohawk name was Wolf’s brother, and so the meaning of the title is episode devoted to Ian’s history, inner life, and watching him try to come to terms with what happened.

It opens with him remembering how he was initiated by rituals into the Mohawks, fell in love with girl whose name was so hard to pronounce, he called her Emily. They were happy but after the second bloody miscarriage, Ian was told the gods were against him being part of the tribe; Emily was given to the man called his brother, and he coerced into leaving.

Also early in the episode before they get to the camp, Jamie is giving Fergus the task of going with goods from the farm to trade for things needed, make money. Fergus is not drunk and says he knows what Milord is doing. Keeping him occupied. Jamie says he needs these things done, and as Fergus had said remembering their time in Edinburgh as printers, Fergus is a good businessman trader. Some of this was too didactic, but it’s beautifully acted and the film landscape and music and feeling is good.

These memories are prompted by a trip Jamie takes with Ian to the Cherokee to give them the guns. (Again as I’ve done before I am not trying to recap the episode because I’m not following the interlace. Some of the above is in a flashback Ian has when Jamie and he arrive at the Cherokee camp and discover Mohawks there, and (what a coincidence), just this brother who took Emily from Ian.

Before we get there Major (I’m not sure of this name) MacDonald has been at Fraser’s Ridge handed over these arms, and Brianna told Jamie that 60 years from now these Indians will be forced off the land — well after the revolution. So they will need these armaments. When they get to the camp, Jamie, now reflectively ethical, tells this to the chief. He explains his knowledge by his wife’s extra powers (so too his daughter). This is of course the cruel (infamous) Trail of Tears inflicted on these people during Andrew Jackson’s administration.

Another trader, a Scot, Alexander Cameron is there, and a fight erupts between him and Wolf’s Brother, and that’s the duel. Cameron cheats and turns to shoot before Wolf’s brother but Ian on the alert, shoots the gun (or hits it with a strong arrow), knocking it out of his hand. Wolf’s brother’s turn, but he does not kill the begging man, rather shoots in the sky. Ian acknowledges to Wolf’s Brother he can bear him having Emily (there appears to have been a daughter and be a son).

Back at Fraser’s Ridge, Claire is practicing her invented ether on Lizzie and Kezzie and Jo (I suspect the same actor plays these twins). It is worrying since Malva is watching, as her apprentice and she swears she will not tell the father, and looking at Claire’s notebooks, Malva appears not to take these as spells of a witch. Or so she says, but there is something insinuating about her.

At the close of the episode when Jamie comes home, Claire rushes to where he is, and in a barn they make love. The last still shows Malva watching them through a key hole.

Ian still has Rollo; in the previous episodes we’ve seen Adso drinking milk, sitting on the bed with Marsali …

What they must have done here is taken a group of incidents and meditations about Ian and drawn them together with knowledge of the coming wars against the Indians (the previous episode referred to the Boston Tea Party and heating up rebellion). Jamie again says she cannot be a rebel and Indian agent for the crown so he must give up this agency.

Upcoming: Episodes 5-8

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From one of the many moments of consolation, grieving, holding together …

Gentle and I hope forgiving and flexible reader, I realize two years have gone by since I blogged on Season 5, and going further back, all these blogs began in 2017 (3 years after the first season aired). What’s more at first I was putting them on my Reveries under the Sign of Austen (where many remain, except those here on JimandEllen). At first I deemed them based on a woman’s quintessentially woman’s historical romance, with a woman at the center, but then realized how many of the film team were men and how often every effort was made to create a male focus, so I also blogged here. Nowadays I’m here because the series is so popular, it seems to me to have a non-gender specific audience, i.e., both men and women (even if women are the greater number of viewers).

I confess to blogging less often and using the images I find on the Internet available openly instead of snapping my own as I watch. It’s easier, less time-consuming, and these are most of them images the film-makers have made readily available to the public.

I am doing my best and my dream is now that when I stop the teaching to write about the Outlander books and films, together with the Poldark books and films.

Ellen

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The first image we are confronted with: Aafrin (Nikesh Patel), not in a suit, but bare chested, typing a seditious pamphlet, with new Indian girlfriend, also a rebel against the British — he is somewhere in Bengal


Upon returning to Simla, now in the British suit, Aafrin is confronted by Alice (Jemima West), who has been coerced into accepting her abrasive sadistic husband, Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson)

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been far more than a week since I last wrote about Indian Summers; more than a full month has gone by since I framed the series and summarized as well as evaluated the first half of Season 1, one of the finest series ever made, and its second half, a tragic and ironic denouement. In the series itself, it’s three years later, and we are startled to see as our first image, Aafrin, ever trussed up and respectful of the British, naked to the waist, living in what looks like a worn-down bedsit, with a Indian lover, Kaira Das (Sughandha Garg); he is typing a subversive pamphlet, which is about to be printed and distributed in the streets to stir up demonstrations as the possible new viceroy is due to come to Simla at any time. Aafrin looks hard, tough; he has been away from his parents for three years. Kaira is involved with a violent revolutionary we only glimpsed in the first season, Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur).

We switch many miles and with Aafrin as our POV (he is our POV most of this episode) find Alice back with Charlie, the son she had fled with, Percy (Caleb Allen), a blonde toddler who we discover later is the reason she chose to stay with Charlie (so that she would not lose custody). We are soon immersed in the lives of the familiar characters whose circumstances appear to have changed far less.

I shall take it as propitious that I’ve not had time to finish this brilliant series with my readers — for in the interim, the queen (who would have been queen-empress as her father, George VI was king-emperor, if India had not achieved its independence before George VI died) died, Elizabeth II Windsor, causing what seemed the whole world to sit up, take notice, watch the official 10-days mourning of “a nation” and then see put on a spectacular ritual aired everywhere in the world on TVs, internet, cinemas, as a kind of last gasp of the Raj in spirit. And few as they were, we read and heard the voices of protest that called all this magnificent display so much hypocrisy, a vast disguise behind which the grossly unequal arrangements of colonialism and capitalism carried on, less unchanged than you might think (see the comments to my blog The Passing of Elizabeth II).

For myself I’ve determined I will do (if the OLLIs last) The British Indian Novel Take Two, having thought up four different novels/memoirs, books of essays (J R. Farrell, The Seige of Krisnapur; Kamala Markandaya, The Nowhere Man; Salmon Rushdie (nearly assassinated): Imaginary Homelands (a book of essays, columns, life writing); and Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowlands … . I have two 18th century epistolary novels & memoirs partly set in India and hope to get to them soon: Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India, ed, introd E. M. Forster (!), and Phoebe Gibbes, Hartley House, Calcutta. Both by women. And found my copy of Emily Eden in virago about her time in India in the early 19th century, Up Country

So you see I’ve carried on reading and thinking, and am glad to return to watching, remembering, coming to terms with this more explosive season than the first. Let’s dive in. The second season’s episodes have acquired titles.

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Season 1, Episode 1: Three Years Have Passed. While it seems so much has changed, more thought makes one realize the same patterns, the same emotional relationships and conflicts are being repeated. Again Aafrin is torn. After three years he has taken up with a revolutionary woman in Bengal, and the man who has a plan to blow up the club or the Whelan house – we are shown that bunch of dynamite immediately. And again Aafrin finds himself over his head. He wrote the seditious page, typed it and brought it to the printer, but then he is identified and we are left wondering whether Ralph knows or not. He might. Ralph again this cagey ambiguous character with Cynthia Coffin, looking out for him, a very vicious yet older woman. We see her with two helpers humiliating an Indian man who is trying to get into the club. He has to have a coat of arms. He has to study something and know it. She tells Ralph to send the old Viceroy home, Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) – he has a heart attack when a toy grenade thrown at him. She is gearing up for seeing Ralph become the next Viceroy He’s not sure how to grab the position.


Cynthia (Julie Waters) watching Ralph intently

Madeleine, complete with ayah Bhupi’s wife, and a baby girl in tow, follows Ralph now. The horrible Sarah (Fiona Glascott) is as horrible. ow we see her stealing flowers from the gardens of the house she once lived in but no longer does. She had gone to England to leave her son there, and when she returned found the Dalal family installed. She is enormously pregnant, and has thus trapped Dougie (Craig Parkinson), who has separated himself from Leena and is nowhere to be seen. Instead Sarah sits teaching on a throne, “lessons” which consist of asking the children absurd questions, and laughing at them when they respond with “wrong” answers. She berates and condescends to them. Only a few have left as her pregnancy necessitates their return to England. Dougie is as pliable and useless, grieving over the loss of his school. And surprise, surprise Adam now a young adolescent has been taken into Ralph’s and now the Havistock home as another boy servant; soon he will be joined by Leena (Amber Rose Reevah), who avoids homelessness just, as governess to Alice’s child. It takes half the season for Madeleine to realize Adam is her husband’s son, but his behavior makes it obvious to those who know

The Muslim reporter, Naseem Ali Khan (Tanmay Dhanania) is still sniffing about. Ian (Alexander McCleod) now running his tea plantation, thoroughly his own man, who has not forgotten Ramu Sood. Sooni (Asha Kala) cannot be far away, still politically involved but cannot get Aafrin to tell her anything. Worst off is Alice: returned with a vicious spiteful sadistic husband who denigrates and spies on her, passive, giving in (we learn he buggers her regularly to hurt her) He works for a bank and we will soon learn that Ralph needs this man’s money. Rowntree (Guy Williams going about with his policeman intruding in Indian houses and bazaars, no need for a warrant and arresting supposed culprits.


Kaira has little sense of self-worth …

Season 2, Episode 2: Black Kite (code name for Kaira, who will not survive). Now we note subtle changes from the 1st season; new characters and new emphases. To the credit of the creator-writer Paul Rutman, there is an attempt to give nuance to the character of Cynthia Coffin so she seems more vulnerable and less powerful –- while at the same time as nasty, bullying and ruthless-racist as she had been. Ralph Whelan seems softened because he too is more vulnerable: a Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) sent from the UK and parliament is either there to himself take over the viceroyship or check out if Ralph is “fit:” Hawthorne is not “radical,” does not wanting really to share power with the Indians (Muslim or Hindu), much less hand power over. We see him respond to Alice’s coaxing that he tell Adam that he is Adam’s father . When Adam is given a copy of a child’s classic owned by her dead brother, Madeleine takes it back. At the same time Ralph is pushing Aafrin to find the terrorist who printed the pamphlets (he knows or suspects that the writer is Aafrin himself).

Aafrin is again like Alice, easily vacillates, easily blackmailed. We are shown more closely a male of pure evil for the first time (like Captain Merrick in Jewel in the Crown. Naresh Banerjee is a crazed terrorist, and when he is shot down by the British (using the excuse Rowntree believes Banerjee spread the pamphlets), Aafrin saves Banerjee’s life, but in ironic reciprocation Banerjee plucks Kaira back from the safety Aafrin had tried to send her to — as she has also been a mole for Whelan (she too has a son to protect). Aafrin had tried to placate the man, first finding a file to satisfy him (that’s an obvious thing Aafrin should not have done, it implicates him too) and when Banerjee uses the information to threaten Kaira as the Black Kite or mole Aafrin desperately says he fabricated the whole file. At this Banerjee coolly shoots Kaira through the head.

The count of those ruthlessly unfairly murdered thus far includes only Indians: Ramu Sood was the first; Jaya’s brother the second (in prison beaten and cut to death) – now Kaira Das. They will be joined by the end of the season when Leena is sent away to prison for 9 years after Hawthorne tried to molest/rape her and Adam, showing real fury, throws sets Hawthorne on fire – she takes the rap. The only white killed will be the moral minister, Raworth, white, is killed – by mistake trying to save a child from a bomb the child is wheeling about.

It’s the truly horrible Charlie who manages to needle Cynthia by calling her Mrs S, a char woman; we see how awful he is again, but this time accompanied by his giving Ralph a big check to keep that mansion up. Alice is unable to free herself, but still making gestures at Aafrin. Cynthia wants to get rid of Alice and urges her to go home (the way she did Madeleine), but Ralph, now more alert to this kind of thing, puts a stop to that. Cynthia also insults Leena when Cynthia sees that Alice has hired her (she was homeless, a beggar when deprived of the missionary job when Mrs R returned and became pregnant) and threatens her if she tells that Adam is Ralph’s son. Sooni’s role remains normative somehow: the mother wants to marry her off to a proper Hindu male and invites a woman friend/relative to bring her son to dinner; Sooni is resisting marriage, she wants to use her lawyer’s degree – it’s the most situation comedy storyline of the series.


Sooni, three years older …

Season 2, Episode 3: White Gods

One might be forgiven for thinking the series is turning into the story of Aafrin, as his trauma and behavior under terrific stress is central to the over-riding plot-design of this one. He is so deeply distressed by Nareesh Bannerjee’s murder of Kaira, and fear what he will do next, Aafrin, again on that same broken typewriter, writes a warning the man has a box of explosive bombs he intends to blow the club or someone’s mansion up with and its in a cave. He manages to persuade Ralph to take this seriously and send Rowntree and his men to search. Nothing is found, but the camera shows us it is in the bazaar. We can see that Ralph follows Aafrin’s advice because he believes Aafrin’s underlying motive is loyalty. Ralph as a character is and must be more self-contained.


Dressing the maharajah (Art Malik) for cricket (sly humor here)

A central scene is a cricket game where Aafrin is required to be umpire. Not easy for the spoiled Maharajah (Art Malik grown much older) whom Whelan is courting wanted to win. We meet this vain and amoral man and his mistress, Sirene (Rachel Griffiths), apparently actually from Western District of Australia (real name Phyllis).

A dinner at table reveals to Cynthia how ugly is Charlie’s humiliations of Alice and so she stops pressuring Alice to leave and to get back at him for calling her Mrs Sparrow provides a room for Aafrin and Alice to carry on. The stress of this cricket game, what he endures at the club (from his well-meaning benign father), and now this fulfillment makes him break out into hard sobbing. He had loved Kaira but cannot refuse Alice and the profferred English way of life she might take him into.

We see Lord Hamilton begin to chase Leena, that Raworth refuses to help her and his kowtowing to his wife again seen as coward’s way. Ralph is beginning to have his whole household treat Adam better, teach him things a Sahib should know … Madeleine watches this


Ralph Wheelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) showing Adam (Dillon Mitra) something

I have omitted my favorite male character: Ian McCleod played by Alexander Cobb: I love how he trails around in an Indian version of a kilt, the relaxed atmosphere around him, the lack of phoniness, the friendship he is building with Sooni — they go together to investigate the place where it appears Bannerjee was “confronted” (it was the other way round) by Kaira and Aafrin, and where Jaya took lost her life too.


Ian relaxed, dressing comfortably for heat and work …

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For Episode 4: Empty Chair (clicking on comments) and Episode 5: Hide and Seek (ditto).


Ralph comforting Alice

The titles of the episodes are mostly ironic. This second season is not nearly as melodramatic as the first, but the politics and human relationships go deeper, have gone on for longer, and are at the end (Episode 10) harsh for many, yet accepted … At this point we are reaching the midpoint of a second volume of a novel.

Ellen

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


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

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

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

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

Dear Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lizzie suddenly telling Lord George the truth

Last, Bunfit reminds me of Cuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Lisa Niles as Penelope

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ellen

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Marion Halcombe (Jessie Buckley) and Laura Fairlie (Olivia Vinall) hugging for dear life (2018 Woman in White) — a double self

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve written a blog on the difficulty of adapting Wilkie Collins’s novel, The Woman in White, into a modern movie, and shared my syllabus for this just past summer course on Sensation and Gothic Novels, Then and Now, to wit, Collins’s The Woman in White, and Valerie Martin’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I’ve taught myself an enormous amount (compared to what I knew say when I wrote my last blog about the difficulty of filming Collins’s novels), and was exhilarated, riveted, and fascinated by Collins’s book. The people in my class seemed very interested, all who came were doing the reading (plus they all read Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde) and liked the two movies I screened (2018 Woman in White, Fiona Seres, 1996 Mary Reilly, Stephen Frears [and Roman Polanski’s script altered]), and I told them about the revealing updating in the 1997 Woman in White, Pirie and Fywell).

Now often when I finish reading and teaching a brilliant book, I write an essay-blog on it here (or Austen reveries); in this case I decided, the better contribution to an understanding of this book would be to share the calendar I constructed for the book while I was reading it I will also share the Table of Contents I made, which we used to anchor class discussions.

One of the books I read in for the course is Jenny Bourne Taylor’s In the Secret Theater of the Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth Century Psychology where Taylor argued that the striking sense of many-layered personalities impinging on one another that the novel conveys derives from its subjective narrative devices, of which they are many. Woman in White is very like Richardson’s Clarissa, an epistolary narrative: what Taylor implies is the deeply subjective, violent, nightmarish, and whatever other dreams erupt from our reading these juxtaposed journals. Taylor is anxious to show us how psychologically and socially insightful are these patterns of human behavior.

At the same time I became aware that Anthony Trollope’s famous mockery of Collins’s method in Trollope’s Autobiography was not an exaggeration. Trollope had been correct to say that Collins “constructed” everything in his novel “down to the minutest detail” so that different parts of the story adhere consistently to a calendar and can be plotted or dovetailed consistently across the book. And it does really matter if something “happened at exactly half-past two o’clock on Tuesday morning; or that a woman disappeared from the road just fifteen miles before the fourth milestone.” If Laura Fairlie was seen alive in London after she was declared dead, then there’s proof she still exists, and the tombstone lies.

But while both recent editors and an editor from the 1970s discuss the dating of the characters’ journals in the novel, none of them actually sketched the calendar out itself. That’s what I’ve done. It is, alas, too long for a single or even double blog, and since Jim’s death, I can no longer add documents to my website, so I put the calendar itself on academia.edu, and am writing this blog to alert the fan-lover-reader of Wilkie Collins’s book (and any scholar who may find it of use) that it’s up there. My hope is people wanting to understand the book will find uses for this calendar the way many readers have my calendars for Jane Austen’s novels.

A Calendar for Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White

Although I was forced to label this analysis of the underlying patterns of the novel a “draft,” it is not. Nor is it a published paper, nor a paper for an academic conference, but a working document, a document to work with as you read and study and write about Wilkie Collins

Curiouser and curiouser, I noticed that all three of my editions of The Woman in White, the 1999 Oxford, ed John Sutherland, the 1999 Penguin, ed Matthew Sweet, and an older 1974 Penguin, ed Julian Symons lacked a table of contents! Well I can supply that in this blog too:

An outline of The Woman in White, using the Oxford World Classics, ed Sutherland 1998/9; and then Penguin, ed Matthew Sweet 1999 (in parentheses)

Preface to present edition p 3-4 (p 6) (Sweet edition has 1860 preface, pp 3-5 too)

1 Walter Hartright, pp 5-127 (pp 9-126)

Subdivisions

Anne Catherick’s warning letter, pp 78-79 (pp 79-80)
Mr Fairlie’s letter of dismissal, pp 110-11 (pp 110-11)

2 Vincent Gilmore, lawyer, pp 127-62 (pp 127-62)
3 Marion Halcombe, pp 163-97 (pp 163-95)

Subdivision

Hartright’s farewell letter, on way to Central America, burnt by Marion pp 185-86 (p 183)

Second Epoch, p 198

1 Marion Halcombe (Cont’d), June 11,1850, pp 198-343 (pp 196-335)

Subdivision

William Kylie’s letter, which Marion destroys, Oxford pp 273-74 (Penguin pp 268-69)
Visions of Walter Hartright – 4, ruined temple, forest, stranded ship, a tomb & veiled woman Oxford Sutherland pp 278-79 (Penguin pp 273-74)
AC’s letter: she has been seen AC’s letter: she has been seen Oxford Sutherland 303 Penguin p 297

2 Count Fosco, pp 343-44 (pp 336-38) – Postscript to Marion
3 Frederick Fairlie, pp 345-64 (pp 338-56)
4 Eliza Michelson, Housekeeper at Blackwater Park, pp 364-407 (pp 357-98)

Subdivision: Fairlie’s note now produced Sutherland p 392 (Penguin 383)

Several Sort of Narratives

5 Hester Pinhorn, Fosco’s cook, pp 407-13 (Ann Catherick’s death as Lady Glyde’s) (pp 399-404)
6 Doctor’s certificate, p 413 (p 404)
7 Jane Gould (prepared corpse), p 414 (p 405)
8 The Tombstone, p 414 (p 405)

9 Walter Hartright (Cont’d), pp 414-19 (406-11)

Third Epoch

1 Walter Hartright (Cont’d), pp 420-540 (pp 412-528)

Subdivisions
Marion Halcombe’s story, pp 422-39 (pp 417-30)
From Count Fosco’s letter telling of how Anne Catherick in asylum claims to be Lady Glyde p 425 (416-17)
Mrs Vesey’s letter p 445 ( p 436)
Fosco’s threatening letter, pp 457-58 (447-48)

2 Mrs Catherick’s letter, pp 540-53 (pp 528-40)
3 Walter Hartright (Cont’d), pp 553-614 (pp 540-597)

Subdivision
Note to Pesca, from Walter, open by 9 am tomorrow, then act p 594 (p 580)

4 Count Fosco’s narrative, pp 614-29 (pp 598-616)
5 Hartright concludes, pp 629-43 (pp 613-626)

On my TrollopeandHisContemporaries listserv at groups.io, we are planning to read Collins’s No Name this coming winter; I am now listening to The Moonstone read aloud by Peter Jeffreys (brilliant) and have added Collins to my list of authors to be read, and reread and studied, and read about. I did love his Rambles Beyond Railways the first time I read it: he goes round about and meditating what he sees and hears in Cornwall. I recommend Catherine Peter’s biography of Collins (see review by Jim Kincaid) and Taylor’s Cambridge Companion

Ellen

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For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: Wednesay mid-day, 11:45 to 1:15 pm,
June 22 – July 27
6 sessions In Person (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va, Tallwood)
Dr Ellen Moody

Sensation and Gothic Novels, Then and Now

In this course we will read Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White (4 1/2 sessions) and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a post-text to RLStevenson’s Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, the novella retells story from a POV of the housemaid (1 and 1/2 sessions). We will discuss what is a sensation, what a gothic novel — what are their characteristics? how do they overlap? — and how both evolved out of the later 18th century, into the Victorian and now in our contemporary era. Many movies and plays have been adapted from Collins’s and Stevenson’s novels; we’ll discuss some of these, and I’ll ask the class to see the latest BBC 2018 Woman in White 5 part serial, featuring Jessie Buckley, scriptwriter Fiona Seres; and Stephen Frear’s 1996 film, featuring John Malkovich, Julia Roberts, scriptwriter Christopher Hampton

Required Texts (in the order we’ll read them):

Collins, Wilkie. The Woman in White, intro, ed, notes John Sutherland 1999; rpt. Oxford, 2008, ISBN 9780199535637. This Oxford is the one I’ll be using, but just as good is the recent Collins, Wilkie, The Woman in White, intro, ed, notes Matthew Sweet. Penguin, 1999. ISBN 978014143961

Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly. NY: Vintage, 1990. Reprinted many times.

Movies we’ll discuss (all available on Prime Amazon, as DVDs from Netflix):

The Woman in White. Dir. Carl Tibbetts, script Fiona Seres. Perf. Jessie Buckley, Ben Hardy, Olivia Vinall, Charles Dance. Art Malik. BBC One, 2018. 5 episodes.
The Woman in White. Dir Tim Fywell, script David Pirie. Perf. Tara Fitzgerald, Justine Waddell, James Wilby, Simon Callow, Ian Richardson. BBC One, 1997 2 hours.
Mary Reilly. Dir Stephen Frears, script Christopher Hampton. Perf John Malvovich, Julia Roberts, Michael Gambon, Glenn Close. Sony, 1996. 108 minutes


Marian Halcombe (Jessie Buckley) — Portrait shot


Marian Fairlie (Tara Fitzgerald) — Another portrait shot


Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts) and Hyde (John Malkovich) — from the movie

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Jun 22: 1st week: Introduction: Sensational and Victorian Gothic Novels; Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Jun 29: 2nd week: The Woman in White

July 6: 3rd week: The Woman in White

July 13: 4th week: Two movie versions of The Woman in White: 1997 story itself changed; 2018 structure altered.

July 20: 5th week: Gothic subgenres (vampire, ghost; horror v terror; female gothic), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde; Valerie Martin; Mary Reilly

July 27: 6th Week: Mary Reilly, the book, ending on the an excerpt from Frears’s film. Last thoughts on genre.


19th century book illustration for story of a haunted house …

Recommended outside reading (if you want to read further):

Collins, Wilkie. Three other of his novels: No Name, Armadale, and The Moonstone. All in print and available in good editions.
—————. Rambles Beyond Railways. Dodo Press, ISBN 978-1409-965749 An illustrated edition of this enjoyable journey around Cornwall
Davenport-Hines, Richard. Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin. NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998.
Makowsky, Veronica. The Fiction of Valerie Martin: An Introduction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ, 2016.
Martin, Valerie. Four more of her novels: The Great Divorce, Italian Fever, Property, and The Ghost of the Mary Celeste
Peters, Catherine. The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. Princeton UP, 1991.
Showalter, Elaine. “Victorian Women and Insanity,” Victorian Studies 23:2 (Winter, 1980):157-181. Everyone will get a copy of this by attachment.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, ed, intro, notes Martin Danahay. Broadview Literary, 1985. The best text of them all.
———————–. The Amateur Emigrant. Introd. Fanny Stevenson. NY: Carroll and Graf, 2002.
———————–. “A Lodging for the Night,” and “Markheim:” https://archive.org/details/lodgingfornight00stev/page/n9/mode/2up http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Mark.shtml
Taylor, Jenny Bourne. In the Secret Theater of Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth Century Psychology. Victorian Secrets, 2018.
Tichelaar, Tyler. The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. Modern History Press, 2012.
Williams, Anne. Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. University of Chicago, 1995


Goya, The Sleep of Reason, 1799

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My theme is how the original illustractions intersected with the text of Trollope’s novels to produce unexpected and expected angles, and interpretations; that the pictures in the books have influenced the film adaptation scenes; and, how all, taken together and apart (mood and place, parallel and contrasting characters and events), reveal and display the unity of the Barsetshire series.


One of 17 vignettes/letters which Millais drew for the 1st edition of The Small House at Allington: Mr Crosbie Meets an old Clergyman on his way to Courcy Castle


“Evading the Grantlys” — Donald Pleasance as Mr Harding wandering in Westminster Abbey in an uncannily similar shot in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles (script Alan Plater, director David Giles)

Dear friends and readers,

I hope you are not tired of these. It was my honor and delight to give yet another talk to the London Trollope Society online reading group. This time my subject was the pictures found in The Small House at Allington.  I thought that after the two and half-years we’ve been going, and have read all but one (The Warden) of the Barsetshire books in this order: Framley Parsonage, The Last Chronicle of Barset, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, and now The Small House — an appropriate talk would be to try and see if I could show unity in Barsetshire through their original illustrations. The question if the books are unified even if they were not originally conceived of as a series, and what unified them had come up during the reading of The Small House, and if they were not unified, which ones would you eliminate?

Obviously I could not go over all the pictures, especially when I began to realize and remembered how the two more or less film adaptations of three of the Barsetshire books, for The Warden and Barchester Towers, the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles, had scenes which mirrored the original illustrations, and themselves projected this same inner quality or specific kinds of parallels their eponymous books did. So I chose to examine and describe as a group and example epitomizing Millais’ illustrations for The Small House, George Housman Thomas’s for The Last Chronicle of Barset , and the typical and typifying kinds of mise-en-scène created for the 1983 Barchester Chronicles. I also instanced a couple of examples from Millais’s six for Framley Parsonage, and a couple of scenes from the 2016 ITV Doctor Thorne (script Jerome Fellowes, director Niall MacCormick) to help demonstrate my idea that what unifies the Barsetshire books is they are a English-inflected fractured pastoral idyll (how’s that for a mouthful).


This is a letter from the 1857 Last Chronicle, for Chapter 9, “Grace Crawley goes to Allington” — it helps trace the friendship of Lily and Grace, here sewing together by candlelight

I used a delightful book, Hugh Hennedy’s Unity in Barsetshire to help me describe central repeating or parallel kinds of events and characters across all six books. And I adhered to Trollope’s claims that to him this was a real single multiple dwelling and landscape place filled with people he invented, knew and loved, and that his originating first and main aim had been to tell stories of how in England a clerical vocation, career, and particular individual’s sets of values works out.

One not unimportant aim of my talk is to demonstrate that for the 19th century reader the experience of these books was an interaction between text and pictures: the pictures played off one and reinforced another (vignette and letter matched with full page). These offered other perspectives and added unexpected elements to the experience. They anticipate the way a film adaptation nowadays can add to our pleasure in re-reading a book (if the adaptation is intelligent).

The talk is now online at the London Trollope Society website where you can find the video of me giving the talk, transcript of the talk and best of all, all the pictures in a row to be looked at at your leisure:

Barsetshire in Pictures

I admit that this time my delight came from being able to share for the first time since I first saw them a representative number of the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels. It was in 1999 that I spent many days at the Library of Congress in its rare book room pouring over these illustrations as they appeared for the first time in the British periodicals (inside magazines) or as separate numbers (sort of little pamphlets) as instalment publications.

The Library of Congress is a deposit library and at the time got copies of the major British publications, which were those Trollope’s books appeared in. I saw in total about 450 images altogether. I am very fond of many of them and I think at this point equally so of all the extant film adaptations (alas five were wiped out early on), though I have favorite stills from the movies, which you may observe me repeatedly put on this blog.


Tom Hollander as Doctor Thorne working at his desk is one of these favorites (2016 ITV movie)


Not because I’m fond of this still, but for the sake of Mary Thorne (Stephanie Martini), a favorite character with me because of her belief system as felt here:

I’m with the 1970s Robert Polhemus who says the “moral core” of the book can be found in a conversation between Mary and Dr Thorne, where Thorne says “money is a fine thing” and he would be a “happier man” if he could “insure her against all wants.” Mary interprets this as “that would be selling me, wouldn’t it, uncle? … No, uncle; you must bear the misery of having to provide for me — bonnets and all. We are in the same boat, and you shan’t turn me overboard.”

He: “But if I were to die, what would you do then?”
She: “And if I were to die, what would you do? People must be bound together.
They must depend on each other” (Doctor Thorne, Chapter 11)

Now 23 images (which is what you’ll see in the video and on the Society website is nowhere near 450, but I describe for the first time the series for themselves, and make an argument for the idea that the original readers of Trollope’s novels expected as part of their imaginative experience an interaction between the texts and the pictures. We can see this as an anticipation of the way some readers delight in faithful film adaptations of beloved books.

The pictures enrichen, complicate and add to the pleasure and meaning of the text (even when they undermine, ironize, or sometimes go very far from the author’s apparent intent). I did show 17 images for my “Trollope, Millais and Orley Farm” so if you add that onto the 24 illustrations in my book, Trollope on the Net (there I deal with other books, including Golden Lion of Granpere and The Way We Live Now), plus what I’ve managed for my website (the Pictorial Trollope) and occasionally for this blog, I believe I’ve shared a representative corpus.

As I’ve done for my other three talks, I put the text of the paper itself on academia.edu, and I transfer the video here onto the blog so you can watch it here for your convenience (if you don’t want to click to another website).

But you are missing out not to go to the London page as everything is made so lovely there and you can see the pictures and read the text separately (without having to listen to my high voice, New York City accent, and at moments awkward reading style)

Ellen

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Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and Mrs Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) arriving at the Indian station

When Aziz reads a poem at dinner to assembled friends, who most of them don’t understand it very well, we are told “it voiced our loneliness nevertheless, our isolation, our need for the Friend who never comes but is not entirely disproved … (A Passage to India, Ch 9, p 77, Norton edition)

Dear friends and readers,

As my wonderful course (if I do say so myself) draws to a close, I feel I must give tribute to Forster’s stirring masterpiece, A Passage to India: talking of Forster by the end of the first day, and reading and discussing his book (and other writing by him) together for nearly the next three sessions began our 10 week journey wonderfully well. There seemed to be so much to say that was meaningful to us, so many beautiful and intriguing and witty and poignant passages to read aloud and decipher, with Forster himself as a humane prophetic voice outside his novel too. We kept coming back to him and his book too, as having laid new bases of developing thought against colonialism, in the context of a genuinely realized (if narrowly glimpsed) Raj context. David Lean’s film brought the book visually before us, helped us to see what Forster was describing:


Crossing the bare rock mountains using an elephant on the way to the Marabar Caves …

I’ve been surprised to discover I’ve never written on A Passage to India: I’ve blogged on A Room with a View, Howards End, and Maurice, books and film adaptations (sometimes there are two) together, on his anti-fascist politics, aesthetic theory, and connections to Bloomsbury. My guess is I’ve been intimidated by the book’s reputation, and now that I’ve recognized the flaws, strengths, the characteristics A Passage to India has, along with other Anglo-Indian novels, I grow braver. It belongs to a kind (discussed ably by David Rubin in his After the Raj:  British Novels of India after 1947 — also before).

First how it relates to the other well-known fictional work — the realistic novels.  All but one was published in a short period, that is, 5 novels (the two I’ve not mentioned are Where Angels Fear to Tread, and The Longest Journey) between 1905 and 1924.   The 6th and in some ways least flawed (least inconsistent) is Maurice, published posthumously in 1971 (a year after Forster’s death) because it tells the tale of a homosexual young man growing up, falling in love, and like other novels of manners has a very hard time choosing the life he truly wants to live, with the partner he truly loves. Its central dilemma or preoccupation resembles that of the other 5:  can his characters resist society’s perversion of their heart’s desires, think and feel clearly for themselves. Even A Passage to India manifests this dilemma — in Adela Quested’s case.

But A Passage to India also goes beyond this:  it dramatizes how we are as individuals products of encompassing group cultures we cannot escape, no matter how contradictory that culture is.  So it’s not enough that Fielding defies those around him.  Deeper attachments limit the ways and the whole society as a presence prevent him and Aziz from forming a long-lasting close-by relationship.

1029505.
Dinner at Fielding’s gov’t college gardens: Aziz (Victor Bannerjee), the book’s central consciousness, Muslim, a trained physician, Adela, who has come out to India to discover it so she can decide whether she cope with the role of memsahib and become the identity asked of her by her bethrothed, Ronny More (Nigel Rivers) and Prof Godbole (Alec Guiness), not to be trusted, evasive, undermining, a Hindu, two feeling congenial

Then how does it relate to the author’s life: A Passage to India directly mirrors Forster’s own experiences twice in India: 1912-13, with friends touring and visiting; and 1921-22 , living as a private secretary in a princely state. Aziz is a portrait of two men Forster loved and the maharajah he worked for, and the uneasy time he experienced there, plus of course probably much reading. He poured himself into it; he struggled to present his own experience of sexuality transposed to a publishable fiction. Here you must read his Hills of Devi, and Wendy Moffatt’s biography of Forster, A Great Unrecorded History (see the bibliography).

The novel is divided into three parts: Mosque, Caves, and Temple – with the longest section the middle; all three begin with a deep dive immersing us into landscapes, the first immediate realistic; the second geological, geographical moving wide and far; the third turning inward to show ceremonies and rituals’ affect on those participating and watching.

The first section is a varied and graphic comedy of manners, where we experience the prejudices of the English, the way they inflict humiliation (as a minimum) in the way the English interact with Indians. An intuitive and unusual rapport emerges between Mrs Moore (Adela’s fiancé’s, Ronny Heaslop’s mother) and Aziz, between Aziz and Fielding. We see Aziz’s profession of doctor, his friends; the crass officials; Ronny and Adela are groping their way into becoming a pair (they are deeply alike in some ways).

The second section is the trip to the caves, the misapprehension of Adela which results in an accusation of assault and rape by Aziz, the tremendous explosion of the British into such distrust, and near hysteria. We experience the trial, Aziz’s acquittal when Adela is courageous enough to defy everyone and say nothing happened that mattered, the ostracizing of Fielding when he responsibly, humanely, sides with Aziz, Fielding’s having to leave, Mrs Moore choosing leaving (in her case death), the intense anger of Aziz and his distrust of Fielding.


Fielding, worried, looking out to see what is happening to his friend …

Third section, two years later, Fielding returns with Mrs Moore’s daughter, Stella, as his wife, and her son, Ralph, who seems weakly autistic, but gentle, meaning kindness and homoerotic in his behavior. So many lies told Aziz which he wanted to believe (he has gone to a princely Hindu state), are barriers Fielding must break down. Their friendship seems to be returning, but as ever then end in a quarrel with Aziz demanding the British get out and leave the Indians free to be fully dignified, in charge of themselves

Major Characters: Aziz — filled with good feeling, meaning well, wanting to trust people, to love them. He doesn’t think. He is prejudiced – and distrusts profoundly English people and their values. Sees them as very mercenary. Has he bought into the idea he might be inferior? He over-reacts his eagerness to please. You find that Masood, a beloved Indian friend who came to study at Cambridge, to whom the novel was originally dedicated, lies behind parts of Aziz’s character, was the muse of the book.

Fielding — our enlightened man, basically an atheist – he says quietly at one point he goes along with things but believes little.

Adela is searching to make for herself a livable identity.  Does she want to be a memsahib? As Ronny’s wife? there was a rapport, but could she have endured the social life? What was there for her in England.  It’s arguable Ronny Heaslop is a major character; he is left reactive, but I’d like to note that he is made more understandable and sympathetic in Lean’s movie.  A letter forgiving everyone at the end of the novel from him justifies Lean’s treatment.

Mrs Moore. It’s hard not to be fond of Peggy Ashcroft in the film (especially as Barbie Batchelor in Jewel in the Crown film) and there is a carry-over . How does she appear at first? Very enlightened? Yes, she is fundamentally a kind reasonable woman, but aging and now under pressure easily irritated. She has been married twice and has two grown children, Stella and Ralph. It seems she has more affection for the other pair, is hostile to her older son, Ronny. She speaks against marriage more than once – one theme across Forster’s work is the absurdity of heterosexual courting patterns and reasons for marriage.  Forster very good at inhabiting women characters here and in previous books (Lucy Honeycomb, Margaret and Helen Schlegel) and we like her and believe in her, but she is no goddess.

Godbole — fundamentally untrustworthy (a caricature possibly of a Brahman type personality?) He lies a lot, and lets other down. He is given more presence than any of the other non-British characters but Fielding.

The characters and narrator engage in conversations of some depth: about metaphysical issues (death, ghosts, memories) and everyday ones as how to cope with this other person; with a job requirement, with the food, heat. They shout at one another, they cry. There is also a wider and deeper dimension to this fiction – It’s been called an existential meditation. Most of the time they are woven into a character’s thoughts or a scene. Claustrophobic codes for western women, purdah for eastern. How each of the characters responds to Adela after the accusation and also after she tells the truth a measuring stick, men dizzy with outrage. How very hard it is for people to socialize for extended periods of time. But sometimes it’s the narrator there frequently and importantly commenting, switching our POV, ironic, passionately there, with striking original thoughts as we move through the experience.

More on its themes: it’s arguable that while the novel dramatizes the failure of the liberal humanistic POV literally and often in life, it also dramatizes its source in the kindest, sensitive, intelligent and loving-loyal hearts and that without this producing friendship and sustaining order life is not worth living even if your surroundings are beautiful.

There is also an important vein of mysticism or transcendence in Forster’s ideas about art and life and his art here and elsewhere. Something ineffable and beyond what words can explicitly reach or explain that makes for beauty and the finest moments of experience. I capture it best in a small vignette from Howards End that Reuben Brower points to:

The heroine Margaret Schlegel goes Christmas shopping with the book’s Mrs Moore (her name is Ruth Wilcox) and is depressed because the inadequacy of buying and selling (profanation) and worse yet sometimes gift giving as an expression of some sublime event that gives meaning to lives: “in public who shall express the unseen inadequately? It is private life that holds out the mirror to infinity, personal intercourse and that lone hints at something beyond … “ The inner life the two women have lived in this house together … At several turns Fielding and Aziz have conversations where they too try to reach for some deeper insight or companionablenss


Fielding and Aziz in the film’s closing adieu: they have no social space allotted them in which to form a relationship

Problems in the book: Forster is a homosexual man masquerading as heterosexual and the drive in the book is to dramatize his experience of sex, so that the deepest friendships are male; each part ends with talk frustrated and longing between Fielding and Aziz. Caricatures and condescension towards Indians as well as the Anglo-English characters.  The depictions of sexual interaction are veiled because this is territory Forster is not allowed to speak for real in. He adumbrates the political dimensions of the ongoing crisis between powerless and many abysmally impoverished Indians (as yet) and British blindness, insularity, prejudice, wealth, but he fails to explore any level of gov’t seriously, name or describe any realities on the ground then (heaps of blackmail, injustice, gouging of people), not even the 1919 Amritsar Massacre.

Here is what Forster said of his book to a contemporary Indian critic:

this book is not really about politics, though it is the political aspect of it that caught the general public and made it sell. It’s about something wider than politics, about the search of the human race for a more lasting home, about the universe as embodied in the Indian earth and the Indian sky, about the horror lurking in the Marabar caves [of nothingness, no meaning, and despair at what is] … It is — or rather desires to be — philosophic and poetic.


The scenes of the excursion itself, the train across the landscape are among the most striking of the book — and the film captures these

I’ve enjoyed all the movies made thus far enormously — perhaps David Lean’s A Passage to India less so (I don’t care for the way Adela is turned into a neurotic sexually twisted woman, maybe I’m not much for the epic approach) than the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s (A Room with a View, Howards End, Maurice), Andrew Davies’ (A Room with a View), and Kenneth Lonergan’s (Howards End).

I admit in the end I just loved Forster’s A Passage to India, the way I’ve learned to love all his books, and long to go on to read more. Jim loved Forster’s biography of Lowes Dickenson; I find I love his criticism, his short biographies, his essays (Abinger Harvest, Two Cheers for Democracy) and talks for the BBC from 1939 (“What I Believe”) to the end of WW2. I love reading the best critics about him and his books. And I love Forster’s taste in poetry, reading his favorites (Cavafy), about what his friends wrote of him, about the places he traveled through and what he felt (Alexandria, Italy, Greece, India).

The sky settles everything … (A Passage to India, Ch 1, p 2, Norton edition)

Ellen

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