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Archive for the ‘Ghost stories’ 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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Jo (Maya Hawke) in the 2017 British TV serial version of Little Women: opening Christmas scene anticipating the war to come

Gentle friends and interested readers,

For this Christmas I researched into two of Trollope’s little or lesser-known Christmas stories, especially his two American civil war Christmas “The Widow’s Mite” and “The Two Generals.” I had been taking a course in the politics of the 30 year period leading up to the Civil War, and had realized I had misunderstood some of the finer points of Trollope’s two Christmas stories whose context and settings were that of the US Civil War. So when I became aware that no one in our online every-other-week Trollope reading group (sustained by the Trollope Society) had volunteered to discuss “Christmas at Kirby Cottage,” I volunteered to talk of these two powerful and in our era newly relevant Christmas war stories.

My interest in Trollope’s Christmas stories is nothing new for me (scroll down to “Christmas stories”). I’ve been very interested in Victorian and Edwardian Christmas stories, and had over several years led groups of people on my listserv to read not only Trollope’s but other 19th century writers’ Christmas stories. I was fascinated by their connection to the gothic, for many of them are ghost stories. Dickens’s toweringly famous A Christmas Carol is a ghost story (at least 4 of them) whose difference and deep appeal derives from the ghosts acting in redemptive ways — in most ghost stories, including those written for Christmas, the ghost is a revenant coming back seemingly to retaliate on some unpunished crime or evil act, but where the ghost hits out hard on some innocent person who just happens to be around when this ghost arrives.

The effect is often Kafkaesque, with reactions of the characters in the story to the readers listening from uncanny-terrifying to unnerving irretrievable loss to mind-pausing endlessly disquieting unforgettable enigma. I recommend my reader try the ghost stories of Sheridan LeFanu (collected as In a Glass Darkly), Margaret Oliphant’s Stories of the Seen and the Unseen, and the variously published ghost stories of Elizabeth Gaskell, and M. R. James. Our own modern rewrites of these that have become popular are similarly seriously intended traumatic ghost tales, e.g., It’s a Wonderful Life.

This kind of thing is not in Trollope’s repertoire. I cannot remember one re-telling of a dream or nightmare in all of Trollope’s 47 novels and 42 short stories. At the close of “Aaron Trow,” about an English worker who is turned into a raging terrorist after having been put for untold years in a convict prison; he is brutally murdered after he wreaked a violent disfigurement on a lone woman living on the Bermudas. We are told the dead man’s revenant (it is said) may be seen haunting the recesses of this remote place, but it’s not clear this isn’t rumor brought about by guilt of those who destroyed this man.

He found himself driven to write at least eight (eight are found in the Trollope Society edition), or ten — if you include two more which he denominated an Antipodes Christmas story and had published in a number of Good Words called Good Cheer for the Christmas market: Harry Heathcote of Gangoil and “The Telegraph Girl.” It’s my view Trollope did succeed in writing powerful memorable true Christmas stories a number of times — although none that I know of are cozy, magical or readily comforting. The best of them challenge us to think about what a Christmas story should be, what Christmas itself stands for in our imagination and experience, and push us into being better people.

His view of what a Christmas story should contain is found within a longer complaint he made about having to write stories to order for a Christmas market in these words fits these stories:

A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instill others with a desire for Christmas religious thought, or Christmas festivities, – or, better still, with Christmas charity

As Christmas stories in Trollope’s mode, “The Widow’s Mite” questions the nature of charity. What is it? Why do we do it? How does it relate to sacrifice? “The Two Generals” is about a serious communal tragedy, a savage break-up of a society where we see the cost of sustaining and routing out a deeply unnatural evil which hurts too many people centrally, and against which when enough numbers of people objected deeply, has become unbearable. Both are very Trollopian tales with Trollopian political and social complications and tropes — though the core matters, desperate poverty and chattel slavery, are unusual.

For example, Trollope in both stories has a pro-union or abolitionist heroine marry a pro-confederacy pro-slavery male. This is very like what he does in The Warden: there he exposes the exploitation and greed of the church by showing how an income meant to support elderly impoverished workers has become a large income for a wealthy cleric in a caste patronage system; but since Mr Harding is such good and well-meaning man, and we are told (somewhat improbably) unaware of the evil he was perpetrating, we are thwarted from truly acting out the implied criticism of the church’s norms and structures themselves. Trollope is drawn to these perverse collocations. He thwarts us, in these two stores he presents two couples whose choices make it difficult for us to take a side.

I have wondered if these knots Trollope invents are ways his conservative POV amid a radical examination of issues prevents us from having a clear way to talk about it and supposedly act.

The two stories I researched are filled with a particular historical content — the US Civil War — which is today still wreaking racial class and regional repercussions in the US, and closely relevant to food insecurity, heat and electricity deprivation in the UK (class and income inequality). I hope I have given information enough to make clear the nuances in the depictions of the characters and their arguments in the two stories.

You may find the transcript and video on the Trollope Society website here

You can also reach the video of my talk on YouTube.

and the transcript by itself on academia.edu

https://www.academia.edu/93447840/Trollopes_American_Civil_War_Christmas_Stories_The_Widows_Mite_and_The_Two_Generals_

I wish all who read this a satisfying contented — peaceful, happy, joyous (if possible) Winter Solstice holiday and good year to come. The way I observe and participate is to watch Christmas movies. I began with John Huston’s The Dead last night and intend tomorrow night to re-see for an umpteenth time the 1951 British movie of A Christmas Carol (apparently originally titled Scrooge), featuring famously Alistair Sim.


Scrooge at first superficially unnerved by Marley’s ghost (Marley was dead, to begin with …. “)

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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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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From a BBC Ghost Stories series: opening still from M.R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” (1971)

Gentle readers and friends,

I got the idea to read for Christmas a few non-traditional sequels to Anthony Trollope’s work one day at a Trollope Zoom meeting when Christopher Briscoe presented his imaginary history of Barchester (scroll down, it’s there). I had heard that Joanna Trollope’s The Choir was another early Trollopian original story (using her legal, not the pseudonym, Caroline Harvey), where the cathedral itself was central.

I had so enjoyed Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife a sympathetic modern version of the story of Mrs Crawley from The Last Chronicle of Barset, and the film adaptation with a favorite actress, Lindsay Duncan, well I didn’t quite rush out, but went to my computer to buy the book, and soon I was acquiring the DVDs to the serial (Region 2) and an audio reading of the complete book by Nadia May. I now vow to read some later books by J. Trollope, not sequels to a 19th century vision, but about 21s century social and other issues (her Other People’s Children, for example, about adoption)

I also pulled out from its shelf with Henry James books, a book Jim used to read aloud to me from: a beautifully produced (art paper) and illustrated (by Rosalind Caldecott) Ghost Stories of M.R. James, and read a few. All intended for Christmas, to evoke the time and the unknowable natural world through the uncanny. One alluded to Anthony Trollope.

And I’ve now seen two versions of The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, one done as a group of actors listening to one man playing James reading aloud to them and/or telling the whole story in a setting that looks like James’s rooms in Cambridge at Christmas, and one acted quietly well with Clive Swift as Rev Haynes (Swift was Bishop Proudie in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles).


Rev Haynes confiding his tale to his friend played by Peter Vaughn


Sally Ashworth (our heroine, Cathryn Harrison) eating companionably with her friend & father-in-law, Frank (again Peter Vaughn) from the BBC The Choir, Episode 1.

As you can see a cathedral and its atmosphere (stone gargoyles) are never far from overt consciousness in these books & films

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As with The Rectors’ Wife, The Choir is an original novel in its own right, which at the same time creates characters and events reminiscent, even closely of Anthony Trollope, especially the church politics of the Barsetshire series. What makes it inimitably Trollopian in feel and art is an intertwined cast of closely-associated characters who when they should be working together, compete against one another to achieve intensely desired private goals (of love, friendship, personal fulfillment of talents and tastes), which will create a social world they must all share (they cannot escape) and each would love to dominate or control in some way.

It fits Elaine Showalter’s study of academic politics, Faculty Towers, which she claims got their start in Barchester Towers, just as Mr Slope interviews Mr Harding for a job he already has. In the case of The Choir, it is the cathedral which is discovered to be crumbling (from damp and neglect) when, out of vanity, Dean Hugh Cavendish (played by Edward Fox), decides to install modern aesthetic lighting arrangements for atmosphere. A great deal of money is needed.


Choir practice

Just then, Frank Ashworth (Peter Vaughn), a long-time labor activist, a socialist, decides the gardens of the cathedral close are going to waste because they intimidate the average citizen, and proposed to buy a beautiful 18th century house the head master, and a canon of the cathedral, Alexander Troy (David Walker) has lived with his wife, Felicity (Jane Asher), just now run away. Frank also wants to reorganize the boys’ choir his own grandson, Henry (Anthony Way) sings in, as he says it is as presently recruited for elitist. And as part of his personal life, he has a good friendship with his daughter-in-law; his wife long ago left him, and his son, Alan, Sally Ashworth (Cathryn Harrison)’s husband is unable to establish or keep up genuine relationships with other people. Alan works in Saudi Arabia. He has been in flight since his mother left his father; the book suggests some empathy is needed, but not the film. In the serial, he is your philandering hypocrite.

From the BBC film serial adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s The Choir: opening still where through the tops of the Cathedral (it’s Gloucester) we glimpse Nicholas Elliot returning to the sanctuary of his choir years (1995)

I will not be party to a scheme that wears an altruistic mask to cover a heart of envy (JTrollope’s The Choir p 69; repeated in Episode 2 of Ian Curteis’ film script) — remember John Bold in ATrollope’s The Warden, gentle reader

The kindly bishop, Robert Young (John Standing) accuses Frank of concocting these reformist schemes because Frank envies the people who get to dwell in such beautiful places and make such rarefied beauty; his scheme will end up destroying what he says he wants others to share. In the event, when city council takes over the headmaster’s house, it does not become the beautiful community center Frank said he was envisioning. As with Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, where the break-up of the church’s unjust use of a 14th century will does not lead to the old men getting a just allowance, so the Dean’s house becomes a hollow shell of offices for people doing supposedly socially-good jobs they have no belief in for real. The beauty of the house now obscured.

Out of obscure envies and resentments of his own, and an absolute determination to be in charge, Dean Cavendish (the Archbishop Grantley character) decides the church can do without its much admired choir of boys singing sublimely, something which means a great deal to Troy. So too another group of characters, beyond Henry:  the organist, Leo Beckford (played particularly well by Nicholas Farrell), Sally (Cathryn Harrison), Henry’s mother whose husband (Alan, see above) lives thousands of miles away from her so he can be free and unfaithful. Sally seeks solace in her son’s achievements and a bookstore she works in. A central storyline dramatizes how Sally and Leo fall in love.

Alexander Troy, the headmaster and canon’s wife, Felicity, has “gone off again” as the novel opens: like Anna Bouverie (yes Flaubert’s heroine alluded to), the rector’s wife, Felicity had much to bear, and finds herself thwarted of usefulness she can value.


Felicity Troy (Jane Asher) spreading posters about (later in the novel, see below)

Reader, there are other complications. Nicholas Farrell (Oliver Milburn), an old boy grown up and now homeless, has returned to the cathedral world, and is given employment by Ianthe Cavendish (Claire Cox), lusting after Leo (who is cold to her).  Ianthe has invested in a record company, run by Mike (Peter de Jersey, the only black person in the cast) who is capable of making money out of music.

It’s worth saying (and important to this depiction of modern British middle class people) that for a number of the characters their love of music, and working at their roles in it is sincere: Leo Beckford, the most striking; Alexander Troy (who defends the choir at the cost of losing his house), Nicholas Farrell (once upon a time and still), Henry, the young boy, and Mike too.

The Cavendish family (parents and children) are the most directly Trollopian elements in the book: Joanna has in mind Archbishop Grantley as the archetype under Dean Cavendish: the same strong materialism, ability to dominate, strong self-esteem, ruthlessness; his wife, Bridget (Richenda Carey) is a Mrs Proudie softened; their children as obnoxious as most of the Grantley children. Joanna has a less than favorable take on the male Grantley figure whom many Trollope fans profess to like (they identify!).

Our sweet Bishop Young harks back to the Bishop in The Warden, only here we see the cowardliness, or reluctance to fight where he should. As in The Rector’s Wife, to me surprisingly, The Choir is seriously examining the place of Christian (meaning unselfish, charitable, pro-community and mystic) beliefs and acts among the characters.


Henry with a cardboard cat, after Sally has left him temporarily, taking with her Mozart, their cat (Joanna Trollope is delightful the way she describes pets’ behavior in her books)

I found myself following intensely how everything played out, with favorite characters experiencing hard blows, really felt and on-going losses, and yet or also support, kindness and courtesy, and help so that they gradually carve or find out a niche in which they can make some happiness for themselves. This sentiment: we have to make our happiness is stated explicitly.  It represents a way of viewing what the characters are doing at the close of The Rector’s Wife.   The idea enables Joanna Trollope to dramatize a modern version of a typically qualified Anthony Trollope ending.

Joanna Trollope is a deft writer who can include so much action and thought in her tightly interwoven threads. She gets a lot in for 261 page book. This one has many allusions to quite a number of my favorite and less well known or not particularly popular or super-respected books that I just like, e.g., Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Merchant-Ivory films from E.M. Forster, and much beautiful music cited and then in the film heard (Bach, Britten, Vaughn Williams)

The film is faithful in its realization of Trollope’s characters, and it makes superb use of Gloucester and Worcester Cathedral (the two churches filmed), and Cheltenham (for the town).  Curteis dialogue is superb (often taken straight from the book).  The serial is particularly strong in the final episode where we experience a temporary resolution and movement for a hopeful time to come, carrying forward love and burdens.

Those who present themselves as hurting worse are the Dean and his wife, though he got his way in everything he said he wanted (including firing those who bucked him); she is only momentarily crushed as we see a bitterness underneath her part of her nature. This is not a feminist tale in the way The Rector’s Wife is, and Bridget’s thwarted ambition with no high rank is part of what makes her so eager to vex others.

The reunion and touching coming together of Alexander and Felicity and then their shared fight the Dean for their house appealed deeply to me. I value my house. He was lost without her:

A traditional sequel you see fills out a story that Trollope told (like John Wirenius’s Phineas at Bay, which picks up the Palliser novels from the end of The Duke’s Children; M. R. James did not do this for Barchester Towers, but tells dark tale of a man whose ambition took him into realm where he was out of his depth. I linked in the story-line and an interpretation, this too of church politics, spinster sisters and servants (above) so here let me just provide you with the movie itself — no longer available to buy or to see on Netflix or Amazon prime.

M.R. James is a much darker writer than A or J Trollope, and at his best disquieting (that link takes you to “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook,” after reading which I had to find Jim and sit near him for a while).

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I meant to have written this for “Twelfth Night,” but did not meet my goal by a day. No matter, January 6th will for some time to come not be connected by most in the US to the solstice holidays, but to a criminally-led attempt to take over the US through violence as country via some fragile pretense of legality in order to set in place a White supremacist and fascist dictator state, with all the horrors we’ve seen attached to that in its wake.  Remember 1943 ought to be a rallying cry.


Dean Cavendish (Edward Fox) making a deal with an unscrupulous politician in order to get his way

Ellen

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Cherry Blossoms (Elmar Wepper as Rudi Angermeier, and Aya Irizuki [de] as Yu)

“What I love most about this book, as about all of Downie’s nonfiction works about France, is the way the reader is brought intimately into the adventure of his discoveries as he performs his intrepid research. We are spared, of course, the many hours of reading in dusty libraries he has done for us. But when he sets out into the Paris of today in search of its ghosts of yesteryear, he takes us along with him. We are there with him as he interviews the archivist at the Victor Hugo Museum, and the director of the Arsenal Library–a gathering place for such Romantic age luminaries as Dumas, Liszt, de Musset, Delacroix, Balzac, and Gautier—a place which, Downie tells us, “hasn’t changed much since the 1820s.” We are there with him as he sneaks up back stairways and into private courtyards in his furtive attempts to connect with Romantic heroes of the past, to look out the same windows they looked out of, gaze upon the same courtyards they would have seen. We are there with him in those rare moments when he is able to commune with those spirits of the past” (Janet Hulstrand)

The impermanence of life is at the core of Cherry Blossoms, an exquisite German film directed by Doris Dorrie (How to Cook Your Life). A wonderful sequence in the story takes place during the cherry blossom season at the beginning of spring in Japan. Hanami is celebrated for about ten days as families, friends, and visitors gather under trees while their pink and white flowers are in full bloom. The cherry blossom is seen as a symbol of beauty, awakening, and the transience of life … (Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat)

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is slowly turning into autumn, and I’ve written only once of this year’s summer reading and movies: David Nicholls’s Us, book & film, probably because I’ve only read and seen one I’d so characterize, and now as the days begin to shorten more quickly, I feel I’ve been remiss, partly because my spirits have been again rejuvenated by a movie and a book.


The audio book

First, the book, which will require my speaking first of David Downie as I encountered him in his earlier Paris to the Pyrenees last spring, and providing contexts with other books, and French movies. I took a course at Politics and Prose (the DC bookstore) called A Literary Tour of France, it was somewhat disappointing as the teacher refused to discuss any serious topics (!), and seemed to live in dread of offending people in the classroom, but she did offer two books, with real merit, the equivalent of Steve Coogan and Bill Brydon’s first and second Trip movies, the one where they drive around Derbyshire, into the Lake District ending at Bolton Abbey before returning to London, and the second a journey through Italy, from Rome past Pompeii to Naples.


Somewhere in the West Riding — an idyllic dream vision of what I remember of the rare walks Jim and I took out into the Yorkshire moors

Travel books encompass books about people making a home usually in what is to me a “foreign” country; they can be the encyclopedia type Trollope favored in Australia and New Zealand, the let’s analyze this country, his North America, or his jolly When the Mastiffs Went to Iceland (the nearest he got to popular travel books). I think the genre is invented in the 18th century where the idea of truly telling the truth of what you are seeing, of cultures being different, of trying to discover history this way began with Johnson and Bowell’s twin tours; a second variant is Susannah Moodie’s 30 Years in the Bush, a classic first Canadian book, about how she settled into the countryside to become Canadian.

Jeffrey Greene’s French Spirits: A House, A Village, and A Love Affair in Burgundy, was assigned first, and begins well, but David Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees sustains the type. Greene’s French Spirits is similarly replete with intelligent insight into places, objects, people. He and his partner are marrying and decide to buy and renovate as a place to live an ancient church: they have plenty of money, live upper class educated lives (whose values Greene never questions, the source of the money never told): Greene is trying to capture his sense of what life against history is, French culture in history, and uses these “odd people” in the countryside to bring this out. Greene’s book is light and half-way through falls off when he goes into these chapters (to me tasteless) on his wedding but it is picturesque and evocative of middle France. He and his wife renovated a presbytery to make it into a home: the history of the building and the real problems of trying to renovate such a structure are absorbing, teach one about buildings.

Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees is a sort of sceptic’s pilgrimage across that part France and down to the Pyrenees. He’s more somber in spirit, and the character he comes across made less eccentric at the same time more locally embodied. He has rejected much that Greene is content to accept: the materialism, hierarchies, fashion-laden admiration for what reeks of rank, monetary success. Downie is exploring his own mind (quietly, not that openly), his past, and the past of the countryside he and his wife are walking through. One needs courage and a partner to do what they are doing — — just walking following an old route and not sure whether they will find an inn in a given place, or the kind of food and drink they might require. They are doing their journey in an entirely non-commercial way.

Gradually his book turns into a more political polemic attached to French history (eons back) and the recent political events (1871 and the French occupation in WW2, Algeria, modern emergence of fascism). An emerging theme is how much is left across the French countryside of WW2. We saw that in Calais and Brittany. Downie describes so much left of the Resistance (and Nazis’ atrocities) and so criss–crosses for me A French Village (and Come What May). It’s a pilgrimage, in which the French landscape seems to contain almost no one, they have to find taverns and even once stay in someone’s home, take chances, depend on themselves and other people. It put me in mind of Anne Radcliffe’s gothics at their spiritual landscape best. Colleen’s Paris (a blog reviewer) captures the book very well, telling you the details of the story too. Downie’s book is more genuinely worked out than Greene’s.

Both are a long distance from VS Naipaul’s masterpiece, The Enigma of Arrival (Salmon Rushdie finds it too sad), but they move in this direction of deep meditation in a landscape about the history of the place through what’s physically left there and what we can know (and in Naipaul’s case) dream deeply and re-create to make of himself (to the person) embedded in this foreign landscape — through his memories too. For Naipaul it’s the landscape around Stonehenge, as a strong antidote to the culture he was born in and has rejected. Karen Langley in her Kaggsy’s Ramblings writes of a lighter gay variant, Hugo Charteris’s Marching with April (introduced beautifully by Frederic Raphael), the writer and his family determine to leave London and takes root in an ancient place, the Highlands (out of his background) and attempt to build a new life: this time the Highlands. It will come after Downie’s Paris Paris, is lower on onw my night-table’a pile.

To be honest, I’m only half-way through Paris, Paris but I’m just loving it. One problem with many travel books is they fail to convey a deep sense of what it feels like to be in the place — Downie has this ability. Each area of Paris the reader is taken to, is fitted into a larger coherent picture of the city, and then itself explored visually, physically, and mentally. The photographs are beautifully done (black-and-white) and epitomize a mood, the kinds of history that occurred in the place and/or what is there now, the people he sees. I’ve been to Paris three times now, once long ago for 6 weeks on my own in a cold winter, and twice with Jim and Izzy, 2 weeks around Christmas time and the New Year (2000), and the following summer. I am learning more, getting a better feel of the place than I’ve ever done and think if I could go back how much more I’d benefit. Each chapter is a little Eleanor Clarke, Rome and a Villa. Each one forms a walking tour; you are exploring with him. A shorter review by Kirkus. Janet Hulstrand says rightly there is so much here of history, literature, art, that it’s almost impossible to capture in a couple of paragraphs, but I believe she comes near and regales us with the details evocatively.

Downie himself, talking in France, about the book. He begins slowly, and has trouble getting into contact with the audience but as he goes on he’s extraordinary: the romanticism of Paris is the result of its negativity, that it make each visitor invisible, and conveys amid its austere life suffering, time past, darker passions contained.

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Hannelore Elsner as Nadja Uhi, with either one of the film’s younger actresses or perhaps the director? or costume maker?

I had confided in a friend how much I was again missing Jim this summer, and my friend recommended to me a 2008 German film, Cherry Blossoms, about an older man whose wife dies suddenly. I looked up the reviews and found most reviews to be vitriolically hostile or indifferent. For the record, I watched The Toyko Story and found it to be frozen, creepy, too long, too still, absurdly over-rated. The only parallels are the angry children and the deaths.

Cherry Blossoms opens with Nadja, the wife (a wonderful German actress, Hannelore Elsner) listening to doctor’s tell her that Rudi, her husband has not got long to live. She cries silently; they tell her to take him on a trip and she says he hates adventures. He follows the same narrow routine everyday of his life, including the sandwich she makes him for lunch. It would seem despite her staying home, being there for him all the time as he forges forth in the world, he stays within her sphere.

So no surprise when he follows her advice as she proposes a trip to visit their grown children in Berlin or some other German city (they live in a country town or suburb) and to the beach by a hotel. We see how much they do love one another, are dependent on one another, also glimpse the hostility to them of their grown children who slowly it’s revealed find their presence even so briefly an encumbrance, annoyance. Her favorite son lives far away in Tokyo — later we learn he moved there, that far to escape the domination of her quiet presence.

Quiet mood on a boardwalk; they move to the beach, by the shore, and suddenly she dies.

The film is half an hour in. The rest is Rudi’s very hard adjustment, then a chosen trip to Tokyo to see the son who fled them. At first he is bewildered and this son also hostile; they adjust to one another; he gets lost early on, but soon he is finding his way. Tokyo seemed to me as inhumane as I’ve thought it. The son says everyone works weekends, long days, all the time. They live in small boxes in high look-alike buildings, where everything looks the same. Their talk reveals that indeed the wife had always had this inexplicable desire to visit Japan, had wanted to be a Japanese stylized dancer. We have seen photos of her when young so dancing.

He has brought with him his wife’s clothes, at first he puts them on the bed beside him to sleep (what he started at home) but then he puts them on under his coat. He sees and then introduces himself to a street performer, Yu, an 18 year old girl who turns out to be homeless. She does a dance where she appears to get into contact with the dead; she says she is with her mother this way. She wears white make-up on her face — as the aborigine did in Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith as a sign he was willing to die, to let the whites murder him rather than flee them some more. He and she bond, form a friendship, she says she is an orphan and he suddenly cuts loose from this son (who has said he moved to Tokyo to get away from his mother who he loved so much but was overwhelming).

He takes the girl to Mount Fuji which his wife dreamed of going to. She dreamed of being a dancer, of going to Japan. He feels very badly that he stood in her way. We do see how middle class people in Japan take holidays: in a vast hotel-like structure where they live semi-communally — all eat in the same vast room. He and Yu are failing to see the Mount as each day it is so cloudy; and one morning he gets up very early and sees the mount: a vision. He hurries back, dresses in a Japanese dancing costume for a man that he has brought, and returns to the shore. As he dances, we see a hand reach his, and his wife is there, visible, similarly dressed. They dance intensely together. The camera moves away to Yu, just waking up. She discovers Rudi is gone, a couple of hours go by and he does not return. Now she too goes to the shore and finds him dead, laying by the shore. There follows a Japanese style funeral with his son and Yu presiding over his ashes in an urn, and then another funeral in Germany. The film ends quietly with the camera returning to the girl who has returned to the park to dance for money and to reach her mother. There is a dedication at the movie’s close, apparently by Dorrie remembering someone who perhaps died.

I use the phrase very moving so often, so let me say very very touching. Here is a review by Frederick and MaryAnn Brussat which begins to do the film justice. It’s beautifully tastefully filmed, written, the music just perfect, everything, tactful, controlled. I found it uplifting.

I do have one (many) regrets from my marriage: I never went to the shore or the beach with Jim enough. I knew how he burnt, and I’d get bored. Now I wish I had gone every summer with him — we’d go when we went to England to the Chitterings beach, once we went to Brighton. This summer I didn’t get to the shore at all. It is a three hour drive from my house to reach a public beach.

So these are the summer books and movies I have experienced this season of 2021; Nicolls at mid-summer and these at journey’s end.

Ellen

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Claire Randall looking longingly at a vase in a shop window (Outlander 1:1)

Strange, the things you remember.
Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years.
Like the moment I realized I’d never owned a vase.
That I’d never lived any place long enough to justify having such a simple thing.
And how at that moment, I wanted nothing so much in all the world as to have a vase of my very own …

But I can still recall every detail of the day when I saw the life I wanted sitting in a window.
Sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if I’d bought that vase and made a home for it.
Would that have changed things? Would I have been happy? Who can say? I do know this:
Even now, after all the pain and death and heartbreak that followed, I still would make the same choice.

Friends and readers,

So, after all, I am going to the 50th anniversary conference of ASECS (American Society for 18th century studies) in St Louis, Missouri (! — where?). About a week ago the male scholar-professor for whose panel I gave my paper on Winston Graham’s uses of documentary facts and silences in the last ASECS emailed me to ask me if I wanted to submit a proposal for his panel, which request pleased me (it means he respected my paper) and whose new proposal had puzzled me:

“I Refute It Thus”: Encounters with Eighteenth-Century Objects (Roundtable) [Northwest Society for Eighteenth Century Studies] …. Proposals invited on any aspect of encounters with eighteenth-century objects, then and now, whether personal, professional, or philosophical; whether in texts, or with texts, or without texts.

Like many — almost all — of the Calls For Papers this year I just couldn’t get it — most of them were filled with jargon beyond me; this (thought I) must came from “materiality” theory, which (to me) is a hodgepodge of gobbledygok most of the time. So I asked him (as he had emailed me) could he explain in commonly used (natural easy) — English — for I would like to join in another panel with him. After a couple of days he did.

What I was thinking for this round-table was a set of 10 minute presentations on personal encounters with 18th-century objects, in mini essay form, that captured what essays can do, and connects with specific research you might be doing. It could be as simple as encountering an 18th century text, or an object associated with an author (Jane Austen’s turquoise ring?), or even encounters with objects in fictional texts. The main linking element really would be the essay/roundtable form, which allows for having fun with a topic. Some round-tables invite discussion because of the ideational content. This one would invite more “show and tell” responses from the audience with other encounters, I’m thinking

Well, all right. Not only did I get it, I found myself enthusiastic. I am it’s not too much to say profoundly engaged by historical fiction and romance. A couple of summers ago I taught Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover. The impetus or impulse for this book (so Sontag has said) was the collection of extraordinary objects and painting Sir Wm Hamilton gathered together, especially his vases.


An ancient vase found in Naples area

To teach the book and put this idea across I had bought a marvelous (expensive) art book on this collection published by the Sloane Museum, which owns a goodly part of Hamilton’s estate: Jane and Kim Sloan, edd. Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection. I passed it around to the class and we looked at a variety of real historical objects found in the catalogue and in Sontag’s book. With The Volcano Lover, I taught Daphne DuMaurier’s The King’s General. The class’s subject matter was historical fiction set in the long 18th century: this book is set during and in the years just after the 17th century English civil war in Cornwall. It’s an unusual book for her because closer to historical fiction than most of hers; it is far more thoroughly researched than most of her books, based on papers and documents about a siege at Menabilly, which ended in attempting to burn the place down, a real general (a cruel ruthless man), indeed many of the Rashleigh and other Cornish family and military characters really existed. Its impetus too (I can’t remember where I came across this — probably Margaret Forster’s biography or one of DuMaurier’s memoirs) was an old wheelchair (ancient type) that she claims she once saw (I am not sure this is true) in an old building on the grounds of Menabilly. She also tells a ghostly tale about half-ruined objects found in a closed tower, suggesting someone hiding away or imprisoned for years on end — haunted things left over from the 17th century civil war.


Said to have been Sir Thomas Fairfax’s wheelchair — DuMaurier says the one she saw was pathetically feeble and looked uncomfortable


The famed (since DuMaurier’s Rebecca) Menabilly with DuMaurier and her children during her long time there as tenant

I said nothing of how the central propelling image in Ahdaf Soueif’s tale of Anna Winterbourne’s journey into Cairo, Map of Love, is from John Frederick Lewis’s oriental paintings, still in a Kensington museum, which I had just reread, attended a class on, and blogged and written about too.


John Frederick Lewis’s Cairo: Indoor Gossip

But I did talk of Paula Byrne’s brilliant biography of Jane Austen, a series of essays meditating and ferreting aspects Austen’s life through the small things she owned and we can look at still: A Life in Small Things. How successful (so suggestive) is Deborah Lutz’s The Bronte Cabinet: she too writes lives of Brontes, using relics, this time objects connected to them through death — some might find this morbid. I didn’t and don’t. And how I remembered Martha Bowden’s perceptive study of historical romance and fiction, Descendants of Waverley, romancing the 18th century, dedicated a whole part to how real historical objects put into fiction makes them come alive, validates them, are vivid focuses.

Bowden traces fascinatedly how these novelists mix true realities then and now (say time) with fictionalizing techniques (e.g., richly subjective world historical characters), especially those using allusion and intertextuality (to music, plays, once or still extant historical paintings and relics, memoirs) … Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge and Crossing the River (not covered by Bowden) include[s] a precious historical document, the scrap remnants of a past that have survived, and Phillips’s novels produce a take on this material that is sustaining and comforting today to those who today still suffer … where there is an intense desire on the part of a specific readership to go back and retrieve the past, to experience it intimately … there is a section on ekphrasis and the importance and uses of archeaology …

And so my proposal was accepted and then the panel also. So I’ve some delightful reading, re-reading, interesting thinking and dreaming and I hope effective writing ahead.

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Kenneth Branagh as Thomas Mendip, the discharged soldier who says he longs to die


Cherie Lunghi whom the town longs to burn as a witch — she escapes by fleeing …

I would say most of the time Winston Graham does not turn to material objects for inspiration or begin (say) with manuscripts. He is a sceptic and when he does have a written document will point out how problematic it is (Forgotten Story, Groves of Eagles, “Vive le Roi”). He does have pictures and the collecting of art objects as central to a number of his suspense books (his characters are artists, connoisseurs, insurance agents, thieves) and every once in a while (no where often enough for my taste) a real book, author, piece of music painting, but he rarely names any, most are fictional (cited plays in the Poldarks). He will use an alluring allusion to enrichen his meaning (again mostly in the suspense books): in one of his best I’ve discovered, The Tumbled House where a now deceased writer, John Marlowe’s reputation is defamed when John Shorn, a supposed younger friend, driven by envy and perhaps a betrayal, accuses him of plagiarism, and Don, the son and Berenice, the daughter experience much trauma suing the man for libel (a kind of nightmare haunting Graham himself — who had a son and daughter): the writer’s son’s wife, Joanna, is a TV actress playing the part of the witch in Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning. This complex and Christianizing play preaches charity, tolerance, forgiveness — not that the wife whose adultery the novel suddenly swerves to focus on (to the detriment of the book) is at all to blame for what happens. Don and Joanna get back together at the end of the book in the same way as Ross and Demelza do at the close of Angry Tide,

When he was young, he had thought love had something to do with understanding, but with age he knew that no human being understood another. Love was the wish to understand, and presently with constant failure the wish died, and love too perhaps or changed into this painful affection, loyalty, pity … Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

and the final moral that here is all we have, all we can have, so we must cherish, make do is the burning center of all Graham’s disillusioned texts.

All we know is this moment, and this moment, Ross, we are alive. We are. We are. The past is gone, over. What is to come doesn’t exist yet. That’s tomorrow. It’s only now that can ever be at one moment. And at this moment, now, we are alive — and together. We can’t ask more. There isn’t any more to ask … Graham, The Angry Tide, last utterance


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza and Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark repeat in turn parts of the above passage with bits of sentimentalized love language thrown inm — done far too passionately, Debbie Horsfield, 5th season of her Poldark


The older series (script Jack Russell) had Angharad Rees say the lines softly, unchanged to Ross as what comfort could be found for death, and thus got closer to the book (1978 BBC Poldark 13:6)

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Still all historical texts romancing objects begin with a kind of enchantment with the past, haunted by imagined passionate caring for what the objects stand for in the past: these prompt the minds of the historical novelist.

Today is the 7th anniversary of Jim’s death and his spirit is everywhere in this house in all the objects with me from our lives together. Here is Samuel Johnson on Sorrow: Rambler No. 47 

” The safe and general antidote against sorrow is employment …  Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away.”

Ellen

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The whole cast, gathered Agatha-Christie, locked into the green room while eerie versions of themselves get on with the play ….

Dear friends and readers,

Upfront and plain. let’s all who live in DC and come to the Folger library say aloud together, “It’s been a remarkable year at the Folger!” They began with a marvelous rendition of Davenant’s Macbeth, went onto a dramatic and thoughtfully presented political parable (and understandable) King John;  moved to a buoyant, intelligent Nell Gwyn, then about a month ago an entertaining Love’s Labor’s Lost (so essentially two very difficult to produce Shakespeare plays), not to omit brilliant HD screenings, last summer about this time, another film appropriation, a fantasy modernization of Midsummer’s Night Dream by Casey Wilder Mott (scroll down), available at Amazon Prime:

https://www.amazon.com/Midsummer-Nights-Dream-Rachael-Leigh/dp/B07GXSDZJ2/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=midsummer+night%27s+dream&qid=1561351268&s=instant-video&sr=1-3

Last July too a movie by Ian McKellen (“acting, writing, living from the heart”) about his career, worth-it-to-get-to concerts, especially the one at Cherry Blossom time .

And now this: Ghost Light, dark comic appropriation of Macbeth as an unnerving but oddly kindly-natured ghost story. The two directors and scriptwriters thanked the Folger representative on stage for having them.

A dual story: a group of actors come to the Berkshires to perform Macbeth, and their disregard of “the curse” (several use the name Macbeth outside the play) brings down on them the wrath of the ghosts in the play — real witches and real ghosts begin to emerge, the first as woman come to be hired help, a girl hitchhikers, the second as unnerving visions coming out of the real lives of the actors, who are presented as sort of 2nd or 3rd rate, or at the end of not so great a career, the beginning of another.

It’s in the cross currents of magic and anguish that the power of the film lies, plus (like so many of these parodies of Shakespeare) a subset of actors play the play in the last half hour and it is done very well too, directed by John Stimpson who also wrote the script with Geoffrey Taylor. Thomas Riley Macbeth, Shannon Sossamon, Macbeth and his lady, but also a actor desperate about his career, and an alcoholic older actress married to a once matinee idol (no longer).


Macbeth and his Lady

There’s an ambivalent gay couple, an incessantly kissing couple — there are many nervous jokes about sex — a despairing director and cavalier producer

Of interest: like Roma and other movies much admired, even getting awards, e.g., A Very English Scandal, and last year’s HD Screening by Casey Wilder Motte, the fantasy adaptation of MDN (see above), Ghost Light is opening as a streaming experience from Amazon Prime and other venues on-line. I asked them about this and the two directors were frank about how much it costs to have a movie run, and how rare the movie makes such a hit as to reap profits. A more delicate intelligent taste usually doesn’t help wide distribution; Ladybird was a rare case where the gradual opening did that. And here it is:

https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Light-Cary-Elwes/dp/B07RMCB5H5/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3PP9FO5FU3V72&keywords=ghost+light&qid=1561310115&s=instant-video&sprefix=ghost+light%2Caps%2C118&sr=1-1

via a tiny URL:

https://tinyurl.com/y5z5qz98

It has gone round the country in venues like the Folger, and has been apparently much liked. The audience I was in at the Folger was delighted, and asked intelligent questions, pointed out parallels in other ghost-like occurrences in Shakespeare. These two reviews, perhaps bit snobbish as the reviews were for Nell Gwynn, are less enthusiastic: Movie Nation; the City Paper is brief


One of the real life actress witches; she is replaced by another being something far more “awesomeness” in her looks, lit up uncannily.

Very contemporary exhibits in the great hall too — and I know research and the equivalent of post-graduate courses for scholars if you want to do the work and can produce the exacting credentials.

Ellen

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Sophie Rundle as Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey (from Walsh’s 2015 An Inspector Calls)


Ruth Wilson as Alison Wilson, a fictionalization of the deceit of a male “patriot” of four women and the families he biologically fathered

Dear friends,

Over the past week I’ve been lucky enough to watch the kind of “thriller & suspense or crime and/or detective novel,” which turns on its head the older hero-centered often misogynistic genre into a satisfying dramatization and examination of disquieting destructive values and norms in many societies. One example, I just loved two weeks ago now, was In a Better World.

Billed as a “thriller,” this Danish film, written and directed by Suzanne Bier, tells the story of a sensitive dedicated Swedish physician, Anton, whose wife has left him after he had an affair with another woman, and whose son is the type of boy who is susceptible to cruel bullying in schools. Elias is rescued not by the school authorities (who like those in real life I’ve encountered) refuse to recognize and stop the cruelty but another boy, Christian, angry at his father because his father was unable to save his mother from dying of cancer and was even relieved when she did die after a long period of mutual suffering. It’s an exploration of sadism in adult political life in Africa. It is when such stories are discussed in this way that we realize the formula for carrying along a mass audience is there merely as a vehicle.


Mikael Persbrandt trying to explain to his son why not to respond to bigoted violence with more violence is an act of desperately needed courage

The film struck me because I am just now reading and studying a group of these formulaic books by Winston Graham, which keep to the misogynistic outward plot-design so that the vulnerable woman is seen as the evil person whom the other characters have to root out (Take My Life) or the self-destructive bewildered victim of a crook who used the resistance movement in France for his own profitable exploitation and sexual predatory habits, and whom an essentially good hero (in this version, crippled himself by war) is right to stalk and pressure until she sees that giving herself over to him will bring her protection (Night Without Stars). Both were made into film noir movies. I am looking for a way to discuss them that brings out this hidden backstory. And sometimes I despair when I see how the generic surface is still presented as valid and tedious as the puzzle-unraveling is when speeded up, made terrifyingly violent sells widely.

So I am gratified when I see “all is not lost,” and the books and films which win worthy prizes, a better and/or female audience (not the same thing) are becoming as common. I am not saying anything many people have not observed before me.

In 1997 Marion Frank wrote a good essay called “The Transformation of a Genre — the Feminist Mystery Novel (printed in Feminist Contributions to the Literary Canon, Setting Standards of Taste, ed. Susan Faulkner [NY: Edwin Meller Press, 1997]) where she traces not just the feminization of the central hero but a transformation of the values and the kinds of stories such material uses: Frank moves from Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night, woman-centered and mildly feminist while upholding the hierarchical and patriarchal establishment to Joan Smith’s genuine feminist, then radical (not just liberal) humanist detective novels (A Masculine Ending to What Men Say).


Joan Smith

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For tonight I want to compare Aisling’s Walsh’s 2015 adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s “classic” everyone-did-it play, An Inspector Calls to the 1954 adaptation, famously starring Alistair Sim, so pitch perfect as the sinister and menacing Inspector Goole (in Priestley’s the name resonates as ghoul) that the 1954 film still has a following, and can be bought as a blu-ray:

and a re-boot has been successful


Pray forgive the conventional frozen promotional shot from the 2015 re-boot

I was reminded of J. B. Priestley early last week when someone on one of my listservs asked if anyone had seen the Walsh TV movie (now streaming on Amazon Prime)? A wonderful humanistic man of letters, novelist, radio host and commentator, playwright, erased by the media after World War Two because he would not give up his membership in the communist party and remained overtly a committed socialist. He was probably actually much better liked than Churchill during the war (Orwell just about says):

But he has been disappeared (like Mike Leigh’s recent movie, Peterloo) lest we have any encouragement for social decency in our media. A few years ago I went to a book history conference where a man gave a paper demonstrating that no communist after the mid-1930s was ever given a prestigious European prize. If you were not a communist openly, but were a socialist and known to be so, your book was suspect from the start. You’d be lucky to be in the short list and don’t expect a movie.

As an 18 year old girl I cherished two novels by him, The Good Companions and Angel Pavement. I sill have the old-fashioned hardbacks in my library which I read nearly half a century ago. At the time I was contemplating returning to college full-time and remember reading a history of English literature by Priestley, which I took out of the library. It stirred and spurred me on; his novels gave me courage and cheer – now I realize how the picaro novel is not one where compassion is the key note, but irony (Sarah Fielding’s David Simple never does find a friend). In later years (when I got to college) I realized Priestley was sneered at, called middle brow, and if I persisted in citing this allegiance of mine I’d be seen as showing I was not part of the knowing cultural world. A little far more candid and non-snobbish talk that day led me to watch Walsh’s rendition on my laptop that night and a kind friend sent me a copy of Helen Edmundson’s adaptation in 1954 and I watched that. I also remembered Walsh was centrally the creator of Maudie, a film about a disabled uneducated man and equally vulnerable woman artist.

So what is made central in the Walsh re-boot:

The conventional barely glimpsed back-story of a dubious unchaste working class girl becomes the central meat of the dish — the reason for having so many identities is she is trying to protect herself again and again, as each time she tries to conform and yet ask for decent usage (wages, respect, courtesy, kindness, a place to stay, companionship) she is used, dropped and sinks lower.

You can find a bit of the storyline in the wikipedia article on the 1954 version. Basically each member of the Birling family was responsible for ostracizing, firing, using and erasing Eva Smith; the worst moment is her humiliation before the smug mother supposedly running a charitable organization.

And in the 1954 film, much closer to Priestley (by Guy Hamilton as director and Edmundson as writer), we do see our heroine Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey but only in swift short takes and the focus of the scenes is not on her. Indeed in some of them she emerges as stereotypically a “tramp” or loose woman. But there is little going outside the room so we rely mostly on words to learn of the outside world. The kinds of arguments made are in cliches about responsibility. I feel that it is less believable these people would be guilty — their interactions are far less lethal, the family structure presented as far more conventionally okay.

Watch the 2015 immediately afterwards, and you see there were many more scenes with Sophie Rundle as central presence, scenes of her alone, scenes of her interacting with others, many giving her real gravitas, intelligence, and depth of feeling. What’s more the family is now made bitterly internecine and due to the inspector’s prompting presence are led to truly enter intimately into and expose their corrosive relationships. I’d call Walsh’s film feminist, Marxist, egalitarian, coming down to a human level in its demands, and really turning the “crime” genre inside out, while the 1954 one is Marxist and sentimental, still respecting the hierarchy and pious family “healing” at the end.


Grim

In 1954 Sims as the inspector vanishes and it really does seem as if he’s a ghost of Christmas whatever come to be therapeutic for this family. In 2015 David Thewlis as the inspector is not a ghost; as in Priestley’s he is lead in by the maid, and then let out. In the film we then see him watch (from afar Sophie) walking by the sea, then writing in her diary, and finally drinking the detergent; she is then seen whisked along a hospital corridor to an emergency room with a tube is put down her mouth and stomach (painful) as they try to save her. At the last he is sitting by her dead body at the end. IN both the family is then phoned and then told a girl has died and an inspector is coming.

The question in the 2015 is who is Goole? he is not ghoul as in 1954. Are we to take him as possibly some relative? some spirit conjured up against the capitalist male hegemonic order — almost magical realism rather than the female gothic.


Promotional shot of Soller and Pirrie as the Birlings still cheerful

I was much moved by the second film and not at all for real by the first. I do find Kyle Soller as great actor, and am drawn to Chloe Pirrie in all the roles I’ve ever seen her in.

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I encourage my readers also to watch, not to miss, Mrs Wilson on PBS, one of the more recent of these modern feminist humane “thrillers” — two hours last night (Sunday, 3/31/19) and another hour next week. There are of course the exegeses which try to stay on the surface, but the content so clearly calls out for the “backstory” to be told since the “thriller’s structure is now the emotional exposure by the women or the man’s grown children step-by-step of the male liar at the center. As Mike Hale of the NYTimes writes:

Alexander Wilson lived an improbable, deceitful, destructive but undeniably intriguing life. An author of popular spy novels and a British secret agent himself in World War II, he married four women from the 1920s through the 50s without bothering to divorce any of them. He managed to keep his four families mostly secret from each other during his lifetime, and his children (and many grandchildren) only got to know one another more than 40 years after he died …

Ruth Wilson of “Luther” and “The Affair” is the granddaughter of Alec’s third wife, Alison, and she plays her victimized, mystified grandmother in “Mrs. Wilson,” of which she’s also an executive producer.

So rather than the historical adventure or romance it might have been in an earlier era, “Mrs. Wilson” is an interrogation of history, a feminist critique of mid-20th-century British society, a mystery and, least satisfyingly, a character study. The strangeness of the story, and Ruth Wilson’s characteristic intensity, pull us along. But Alison and Alec, and their motivations, never seem to come completely into focus. The series feels caught between fiction and real life, as if the writers (Anna Symon and Tim Crook) and the director (Richard Laxton) were unwilling to fully dramatize a history that’s still murky, partly hidden in the files of the British Foreign Office.


Iain Glen

It could be said that perhaps the new feminist turn as gone too far in making the male an utter shit — I’m only 2/3s through though. One of the intriguing aspects is how the program makes mince meat of all this talk of patriotism and how keeping secrets for the gov’t is a noble patriotic occupation. Iain Glen the male lead often plays this sort of on the surface enigmatic male in female gothics — he was this kind of character in a recent re-do of a LeFanu novel, Wyvern Mysteries, which partly imitate the plot-design of Jane Eyre, except now there is real empathy for the mad wife chained in the attic. Keeley Hawes is getting old, alas, and Fiona Shaw even older … but are very good in their parts.


Keeley Hawes as Mary, drawn to be Wilson’s second wife


Fiona Shaw as Coleman (a sort of M)

Ruth Wilson ever since I saw her in Small Island, and then Jane Eyre, and now recently in an HD screening of an Ibsen play (Hedda Gabler, with Kyle Soller as the husband) remains one of my favorite actresses. I have never seen her in a film or a role where I didn’t bond with her.

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How to conclude? Don’t give up. Hang in there. Ripeness is all. Despite the horrors being perpetrated in the US by the heads of the federal gov’t, and sustained by its reactionary minority senate and judges in the public realm, there are still a large percentage of people from whom good can come, and who can make effective socially critical art from what Julian Symons (in Bloody Murder) rightly calls an inferior genre-game, which is still frequently obtuse to its own potentials.


A photo taken yesterday (3/31/19), the height of the flowering tree April bloom by my daughter, Izzy, as she walked along the tidal basin — we had the day before (3/30/19) endured more than 3 hours of driving on highways and DC streets to see and hear the Folger spring concert, an oasis of lovely, moving, fun, intelligently and passionately lovingly performed Elizabethan music and song

Ellen

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Brianna (Sophie Skelton), just after she’s been raped (Season 4, Episode 10)

Friends,

Since writing about the first half of Season 4: from Drums of Autumn: the American colonialist past, a book of fathers & ghosts, I’ve watched the whole of Season 3 (from Voyager) night after night, and found it was much better than I thought, and that paying attention to larger repeating patterns revealed the preoccupations of the serial drama (as opposed to the book), and brought out when the film-makers seemed to be treating challenging themes as a serious debate, and when they were providing action-adventure entertainment with a princess-bride and another violated hero at the center.


Roger Wakefield MacKenzie (Richard Rankin), like Jamie in the first and third season, singled out for harsh punishment

There were a number of online essays treating the season with real respect: one writer argued that our central mature couple, Jamie and Claire Fraser, were rare lovers on TV to talk and to listen to one another, and evolve as they interact; another thought Claire’s relationship with and treatment of Brianna, especially after Brianna has been raped, beautiful, a morally exemplary mother-and-daughter; while questioning some aspects of the treatment of rape over the second half of the season, much was done right. On the other hand, one “serious reflection” earnestly argued that this fourth season was a real disappointment because much that viewers had loved about the previous three was gone, especially the centrality of Jamie and Claire’s relationship; and a last said what had been radically exhilarating about Outlander (as a love story) was the full and frank treatment of love-making without presumably becoming porn, the presentation of female sexuality fulfilled, and now that the decision had been made to stop that, the serial drama had just about lost what made it a joy to watch. Maybe I missed them, but it seemed to me the recaps were much less snarky, with complaints mostly centering on the characterization of Brianna (I felt grated upon by the way all the characters but Mr Bonnet seemed to treat her child-like self-centeredness with a reverent worship, even her biological father Jamie when he questioned her behavior as prompting the rape), the picture-postcard landscape and use of sets.

The over-all patterns were fitted into a framework which made Jamie’s behavior and attitude the framework for all that was happening: the season began with him failing to rescue an old comrade from hanging, and it ended with him being required to find and arrest Murtagh, his beloved godfather, brother-in-arms. Claire was marginalized into a devoted wife, career-doctor when home-making (quite literal) gave her time. She never actively defied or openly challenged Jamie, even when he behaved with senseless violence to someone (Roger) he was not sure was the rapist. To be fair, he and she have come to understand one another and they share a set of humane and family-centered attitudes, and have come to support one another trustfully. That’s why they can talk and hear one another. I love this as well as what love-making we did have.


Jamie (Sam Heughan) giving Claire (Caitriona Balfe) a bath

But patriarchy won out again and again. The Indian woman at the end who is ejected from the tribal group for trying to negotiate over the hostage Roger; Ian’s exultation at becoming a “man” through taking violence near the end of the last episode are two examples that come to mind

The basic conservatism of the books emerged strongly – and sometimes appealingly — in the parallel relationship of Fergus (Cesar Domboy) and Marsali (Lauren Lyle); they cooperate and work together when she helped Fergus rescue Murtagh from prison (right there with her cart at the ready, pat). My very favorite sub-plot was the story of the older couple, Murtagh (Ducan Lacroix) and Jocasta Cameron’s (Maria Doyle Kennedy) coming together as lovers. It is so rare for older people to presented as having erotic needs and joys, as courting and going to be with another, and it was done with great delicacy. Unfortunately there were no promotional shots of Kennedy in her long flowing nightgown and loose hair but she was photographed as gorgeous and thoughtfully intelligent repeatedly, as well as passionate and witty and teasing with Murtagh

I thought also that the scene where Brianna is shown giving birth, and learning in the process how dependent she is on others emotionally effective:

More downside to this conservative romance masquerading as subtextual liberal ideas and behavior: the Native Americans did emerge as half-crazy savages, especially in the way they treated Roger and a preacher who had come to live with them and broke their taboos; the enslaved people were treated by the other characters as if they were equals to the principals and looked in wonderful health, beautifully costumed, and were all devoted service. The idea of sublime noble self-sacrifice came out in one pair of people opting to burn at the stake; Brianna as precious white girl was encouraged in her arrogance; Roger’s nearly complete abjection once he goes through the stones, coming back to the Indians to (in effect) die after he has escaped them was matched by Lord John’s improbable obedient behavior (a grown older man) to Brianna. Mr Bonnet’s mockery (Ed Speleers with his usual pizzazz) comes as a relief. The very worst or pits was the recourse to scenes where violence between men, beating one another up, or harrowing someone’s body or pride is seen as affording a solution to a conflict. And some of wha’s depicted is so unreal or improbable. I wished some fugitive from a Mel Brooks parody might mistake his or her way onto one of these sets.

The books are really far more complicated. For me the original frame for Outlander books (seen in the italicized soliloquies, which do carry on and are by Claire even into the fourth book but are hardly there in the films) is that of a woman seeking a personally fulfilling identity and escaping the one her 20th century society had on offer (Claire) and a really truly compelling tragic historical series of events (colonialism in Scotland, Culloden and the clearances). I hoped the Roger and Brianna in the 20th century would be interesting, but after a couple of sequences in the book, which are interesting, even touching, in the film the characters are turned into types which shows no interest or even understanding for real of what might actuate a later 20th century young woman or man: Roger is made into a throw back to mid-century in his attitudes and this becomes a victim-hero of male nightmare. But it still must be an adventure story it seems to me that what happens is Roger becomes part of the heroic individualism in US culture, twisted into a kind of culture of sublime death, with Brianna flailing out senselessly.


Jamie with Ian (John Bell) in the shadows nearby told about the rape of his daughter

It is true that a younger couple often displaces the original pair in popular saga romances, and sudden great jumps in time are common. The killing off of an original set of major characters the reader may have really engaged with. This is seen in the Poldark books: 11 instead of 20 years. One does not have to do this; cycles of books with recurring characters who don’t do this jump in time keep to the same central characters: Trollope’s Pallliser novels is an example here. by staying with the same characters and keeping them central you are driven to delve deep into the human condition over time and subject to chance. Gabaldon does prefer the idyllic: in Drums of Autumn the book a beautiful paradisal moment occurs when Jamie and Claire look for the land they mean to settle in and come across a feast of wild strawberries. I am drawn to this myself.

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Claire comes upon a young George Washington

Some total “jumping the shark” began in the eleventh episode (“If not for hope”) when Roger becomes pure victim, Brianna goes to scold Bonnet (and whacks poor Ian who has offered to marry her), and the “perils of Pauline” action-adventure crowded action took over (though I admit the shots of our friends canoeing down river with the Indians were breath-taking). So for this second and final blog on the fourth season, I’ll detail just episodes 8 (“Wilmington”) 9 (“Birds and Bees”) and 10 (“The Deep Heart’s Core”). In the first Claire meets a young George Washington; and in the second and third Brianna is raped and we experience with her the aftermath of rape is maybe worse.

Season 4, Episode 9: Wilmington

We are now well into parallel stories. For our older couple, they have arrived in Wilmington where a theater is playing a miserable 18th century play (people in oriental outfits and the lines do sound accurate) and all the glittering powerful Brits have come. Jamie and Claire seen with baby (whose name I cannot catch) born to Fergus and Marsali who have also arrived.


Roger and Brianna’s reunion

Cut to Roger on-shore steadily faithfully seeking Briana and lo and behold he hears her voice asking after Cross Creek where she thinks her parents are. Joyous reunion, and into a room where they show they can make love on screen almost as well as Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. Richard Rankin is shyer than Heughan (not as stiffly acting it as Aidan Turner ….). Now she says she loves him and they go through a Handfast ceremony first.
The secondary story — and I think it is actually secondary although it begins first in the episode — is also now filled with suspense. All has at last been set up. We see a play is about to be performed. Cut to Marsali making food. Fergus to her. How is the bairn?

I was moved by Marsali and Claire’s conversation about motherhood. That is very like a woman’s novel; it took contains part of the theme of this episode and the whole season: Claire says you may want to but you cannot protect your child from life beyond a certain point …

Jamie and Claire go to the theater — naturally they are invited by the governor and cannot say no. Who do they meet but young George and Martha Washington. Claire is just so excited and cannot resisting asking him if he has been ‘chopping down cherry trees?” he looks at her puzzled enough she has to make an excuse.

More important another high ranking man, Ferrante has some terrible wound – an untreated hernia — that Claire notices because he’s in pain. She offers to help but who is she? a woman? a healer? what’s that? Jamie learns that these upper class people have placed a mole with our Murtagh who is planning to rob a coach to take back the taxes he and his man consider stolen from them. Jamie dare not go and help but he somehow — we discover — has sent a message via Fergus. Good ‘ole Fergus at the ready, for on the road just as they are about to rob these people Fergus intervenes, Murtagh calls it off. Fergus tells Murtagh there is a mole among his rebels …..

Meanwhile at the theater Jamie prods the wounded man and suddenly Ferrante can’t take the pain any longer; he would have died but that Claire spoke up and suddenly it’s all hospital theater and she performs a minor procedure with thread, hot water and other stuff she somehow gets and gains the govenor’s admiration. He now knows why Jamie so respect her.

Message arrives: the robbery did not happen, Murtagh and his men not taken. Someone had warned them. Who could it be?

The episode uses juxtaposition so much I just can’t repeat it; suffice to say, Jamie and Claire’s story is back-and-forth with Briana and Roger’s.

Almost immediately after the handfast ceremony and love-making Brianna and Roger get into another quarrel. She becomes all riled up. Basically their rooted disagreements come to the surface — and startlingly they part. I admit I didn’t believe this could happen: it seemed improbable, slightly contrived: a deliberate separation to make for more suspense and anxiety. After going to such trouble to find her, he would not leave her. After she knew him and had said they were man and wife and the love-making that happened, would she just go off? By herself and in this dangerous place? It didn’t make emotional or practical sense. Remember they don’t have cell phones to keep in contact.

Still the dialogue is important: he accuses her of being childlike and I begin to think this is the theme and what makes us nervous about her. So what if he hesitated at telling her about the obituary; nothing he has said shows him to be authoritarian; she is twisting his words when he talks of consulting. Apparently she behaved similarly with her biological father, Frank, refusing to listen to reason. She wants what she wants regardless of anything around her and reality. It is true that common sensically in 1967 her parents are both long dead.

Then think about her behavior for this whole venture: She did not take any clothes with her, barely a map and one peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. Baby comfort food. When she is walking through the highlands and nearly freezing, without food or water soon and is found by Laoghaire we are supposed to have realized why didn’t she prepare? When Claire crossed the first time, she didn’t prepare either but luckily she encountered Jamie …. ‘Nuff said.The second time she came she had a box of clothes, her surgical tools, other stuff.

What emerged quickly in Season episode 1 is Claire is at risk of rape immediately. From not only Black Jack Randall but the troupe around Jamie. Throughout her experience in the 18th century everywhere she is at risk of violence — but she knows this after the first hour, and after she is shown how to use a knife she is wary.

Brianna seems singularly unaware she is in danger – she has been sheltered all her life. She is startled to be taken for a whore and has nothing to counter this — she does not realize she should have her maid with her. A respectable young girl in the 18th century did not go about alone in the streets or into a tavern like this one. The maid did see her go off with Roger and I thought the maid would come to find her and interrupt. But I suppose why should she? she has no idea what her mistress wants and she is supposed to be subject to the mistress.And then when Brianna goes off like that it could be seen as suspiciously wanton by an 18th century person

Mr Bonnet begins to emerge as the season’s villain. He glimpses her when she comes into the tavern; he is gambling and sees him toying with her mother’s ring and pulls out money – which she thinks is a guarantee of respectability. Not so in the 18th century. Respectability is family, and knowledge of your past, all of which give status. Bonnet draws her into another room to make the bargain. Again she seems singularly unaware it is not a good thing to go where no eyes are upon her. But in this case that others know what is happening doesn’t help. It’s like someone in trouble in the streets or on a bus today and no one makes a move. I like to think they would act to prevent rape because it’s high violence, violation and the next step to murder.

Someone even closes the door on them. She is not raped in front of us but in another room. We are in the room just outside and we see no one soul lift a finger to help her. She screams in cries that call for help and we see she realizes no one is coming. That can have the effect of making people take it less seriously.

Then the camera switches to them and in his inimitable witty sardonic charismatic way Ed Speleers gives her ring. To him that she was not a virgin confirms the idea she could be a prostitute. He tells her he is a honest man who keeps his bargains. No he doesn’t– we have seen that before. The hour ends with Briana unsteadily walking away, stunned, hurt, now looking for her maid and room ….

During the whole of last episode and this for the first time I felt Sophie Skelton was up to the part. Hitherto it seemed to me Richard Rankin was so much better than she – he was far more nuanced, more depth. If you look at the stills of her, there is often something stiff or artificial, something self-conscious or self-regarding and it’s still there at moments, but on the whole she came up to the role last time with Menzies as her father and now this.

For 9 and 10, the episode commentary and evaluation continues in the comments.

Ellen

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