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Archive for the ‘gothic’ Category


The author’s real name is Carolyn Heilbrun, the detective Kate Fansler


Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) of Prime Suspect fame

Friends and readers,

An interim blog: this is me thinking out a few semi-conclusions I’ve come to after a couple of months of reading books about women detectives (history, literary criticism, culture, feminist) and reading and rereading a few such books by men and women. As I’ve written on my Sylvia I blog, I seem to be going through something of a transition after living in this world without Jim for some 9 plus years. Part of this is I am liking books I used to not be able to read, and able to accept optimism and at least sympathize with (understand in a new way from an outward transactional POV) some conventional transactional pro-social-ambition perspectives.

To get to the point here, I find that I can’t resist reading and watching new kinds of material in the detective, mystery-thriller, spy genre kind, which I’ve come back to seeing as closely allied to the gothic. Not that I altogether rejected books with women detectives at the center: my first Internet pseudonym was Sylvia Drake, a minor character in Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy night, and my gravatar for my political blog is a small picture of Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane looking thoughtful.


From Strong Poison: she is supposed the murderer and this is in prison, she is talking to Lord Peter Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge)

The reading came out of my preparing for my coming The Heroine’s Journey course this winter. As you can see, if you go over the look, there is no example among my four slender book choices of a female detective novel. That’s because I couldn’t think of one slender enough for such a short course until I came upon Amanda Cross’s (aka Carolyn Heilbrun’s) Death in a Tenured Position. Most recent and older female detective novels are average size, say 350 pages (Gaudy Night is about this size) because often many combine a “novel of manners” (or domestic romance) with the detective formula. But I found it to be a central category because since surfacing in novels in the 1860s, the type has multiplied in appearances until say today there may be several TV shows featuring a female detective available all at once.

Although I’ve found dictionary-type books with lists and essays on women writers and their detective novels (Great Women Mystery Writers, ed Kathleen Gregory Klein, truly excellent; By a Woman’s Hand by Jean Swanson and Dean James, 200 short entries which have the merit of naming the author as well as the detective and offering enough information to give the reader a gist of what type of mystery fiction this is), it has been very hard to find any essay-like books treating just the category of female detective fiction by women writers. The nature of the material (influences, who’s writing what, movies as a group-creation) has led to many male writers putting female detectives at the center of their series, and many female writers putting male detectives, and these mixed gender creations (so to speak) are often superb in all sorts of ways.

One of my felicitous reading and watching experiences this past year was Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (both book and film), which features a private detective, Atticus Pund (spelt without accents) in a 1950s novel as part of an investigation into a parallel murder today by the old trope amateur sleuth, Sue Ryland in (presumably) 2021 — for its witticism, self-reflexive uses of the core fantasies, styles and yes multi-gender empathies.


Sue Rylands (Leslie Manville) is also intended to appeal to older unmarried career women (the spinster trope transformed & modernized at last)

But as there is a real, findable, and demonstable fault-line and difference between male and female writing, and films made by mostly men or mostly women, and visual art, and music too, and one of my aims as a teacher and writer is to keep women’s literature alive and make it more respected; I’ve been after just the books by women albeit in a multi-gender context. I’ve also tried to stick to films where the central author originally (or continuously) is a woman, and evidence shows women directing, producing, doing set design. The qualification here is all of these are shaped by the kind of detection mystery genre the book/film is written in. I’ve followed Andrew Marr centrally here; Julian Symons’s Bloody Murders is also indispensable.

I’ve come to a few tentative conclusions.

I agree in part with Kathleen Klein’s brilliant analysis (The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre) of the depiction of female detectives mostly in books, but equally by men and women that often these may easily be read and are in fact intended (when conscious) as anti-feminist (meaning the movement for independence and equality) portrayals from a male (in some eras on TV lascivious) POV.

This POV is on display in right now in the incessant arguments and brutal put-downs of Miss Eliza Scarlet (the ever patient Kate Phillips has played many an wholly abject woman, from Jane Seymour in the recent Wolf Hall, to Tolstoy’s hero Andrei’s long-suffering wife, the 2016 serial by Andrew Davies) by “The Duke” Inspector Wellington (the pugnacious, overtly insulting professional police detective played by Stuart Martin, doubtless chosen for his resemblance to the matinee idol type, Richard Armitage) who reiterates constantly a woman cannot be both a real or natural or happy woman and a detective; who needs strong men around her to protect her. Injury was added to insult in the most recent episode (Season 3, Episode 2) where a story was concocted whereby a mean and bullying ex-friend, Amanda Acaster, who repeatedly humiliated and nowadays derides her, is also used to criticize adversely Eliza’s character: Eliza is supposed now to have felt for Amanda trying to have a career using the same manipulative amoral tactics she did when the two were young. She is not charged though her measures were what encouraged a gang of thieves to use her restaurant as a front.  But look she surpasses Eliza in the Victoria sponge cake line. The costuming of the program shows some knowledge of the illustrations for such stories in the 1870s/90s, the music is very good, and lines are witty (though usually at Eliza’s expense) and I’d call the presentation stylish. I have spent this much time on it as it’s contemporary and its perniciousness extends to endorsing bullying and mocking non-macho males (Andrew Gower as a homosexual man controlled by his mother).

In many of these detective stories especially the hard-boiled type, and since the 1990s, the woman simply takes on male characteristics, and when she doesn’t and displays genuine female psychology, set of values, life experiences, and is as competent as the males and not just by intuition, by the end of a given book or series, we are to see she has not lived a fulfilled life, which must include marriage and motherhood. This is how Prime Suspect finally ends. In medias res, the female detective of whatever type is often allowed genuine common women’s lives characteristics and we see themes and archetypes familiar in women’s literature, e.g., recent film instance of the mother-daughter rivalry paradigm in Annika where the older heroine is divorced and lives with her teenage older daughter. There is now a line of disguised lesbian socially-conscious fiction, e.g., Val McDermid, seen in film recently featuring Karen Pirie played by Lauren Lyle, of Outlander provenance, dressed in unemphatically non-binary ways

But I don’t agree wholly with Klein (or others who write from her vantage). At the same time, the way out is not to trivialize and pretend to treat as playful amusement “the lady investigator” and her now many daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters, all the while lightly coming to the same conclusion as Klein, with some face-saving and genuinely rescuing qualifications. This is the vein taken by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan in their The Lady Investigates: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction: a very informative as well as insightful book; it covers amateur and private detectives as well as the spy genre, which Klein does not. Nor is it to ignore this aspect of the genre altogether: Lucy Worsley in her Art of Murder manages this, at the same time as she (curiously) denies that the mass audience for this kind of thing understands it as fantasy (that most murders are not solved, and when solved not by brilliant ratiocinative nor super-scientific techniques, but rather information from people involved) but out of a thirst for violence and fascination with death (this does ally it to the gothic).

What we need to remember is the history of the genre: it first emerges in the later 19th century when women could get jobs and income on their own, go to college as woman (usually women’s colleges). The whole larger genre of detective fiction develops its characteristics when you first have men hired in visible numbers and a real police force. So there were male models for male detectives but no female models for female detectives. This changes (Miss Scarlet and the Duke is quite a startling throw-back) post-World War II when women held on to their array of male jobs and began to be hired, however slowly, and to be promoted to managerial positions in institutions, including the police (Lynda LaPlante modelled Jane Tennison on an actual woman detective).

I suggest that the woman detective was an popular substitute for the “new woman” so distinguished by feminist literary scholars of the 1890s (which never achieved much popularity or was not lasting); she becomes liberated and a real woman as women in our western societies begin at any rate to achieve the right and education for financial and some real sexual independence. We see this in Horowitz’s Sue Rylands and I hope to show other women detectives from the post World War II era.

So as a follow-on from this framework, I hope from time to time to write blogs here when the writer is a male and the portrait less than really feminocentric; on detective fiction found in both books and films; and on Reveries under the Sign of Austen (when the writer is female and the work genuinely l’ecriture-femme, which includes for me a genuinely anti-violence, anti-war and pro-woman political POV, which by the way I do think Prime Suspect was and is: Gray Cavender and Nancy C Jurik’s Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. The victims in these shows are often women tortured by male violence, young children, including boys destroyed and warped by male pedasty, immigrants, mostly women working menial jobs desperately, and yes prostitutes too, and women who murder (including one semi-accidental infanticide) too.

First up for Austen Reveries will be Amanda Cross’s Death in a Tenured Position and, for this blog, the older masterpiece, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant investigates the character of Richard III)


Of course Josephine Tey was a pseudonym; the author’s real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh, and the photo is of Jennifer Morag Henderson who wrote an excellent biography

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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Episode 6: Give Me Liberty

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

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

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

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


Jamie, John and black servant girl

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

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

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


Lizzie serving, Brianna and Roger at the table

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

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

So a lot going on, much of it inward.

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Episode 6: The World Turned Upside Down


Claire seeking out Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones)

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

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

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

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

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


Malva morte

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 7: Sticks and Stones

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


Brianna and Roger wished “safe travels”

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

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

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


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

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

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


Roger as minister at funeral

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

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

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

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


There are contemplative images of them — an older couple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 8: I am not alone


Jamie and Claire defending themselves early in the night

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

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

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


The Posse comes, led by Richard Brown

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

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

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

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


Their last night — an expressive image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

A Calendar for Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White

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

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

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

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

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

Subdivisions

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

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

Subdivision

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

Second Epoch, p 198

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

Subdivision

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

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

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

Several Sort of Narratives

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

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

Third Epoch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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

Sensation and Gothic Novels, Then and Now

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marian Halcombe (Jessie Buckley) — Portrait shot


Marian Fairlie (Tara Fitzgerald) — Another portrait shot


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

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

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

Jun 29: 2nd week: The Woman in White

July 6: 3rd week: The Woman in White

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

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

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


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

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

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


Goya, The Sleep of Reason, 1799

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Mally (Veronica Quilligan) and Jess, her donkey (1973 Malachi’s Cove, Penrith Film)

Dear friends and readers,

I am delighted to be able to say I gave a third successful on-line talk about an Anthony Trollope story to a group of people who have been meeting every two weeks since March 2020 online to discuss Anthony Trollope and his writings (sponsored by the London Trollope Society); that is, since self-quarantining for the COVID pandemic began. In June as a way of transitioning from Framley Parsonage (the fourth Barsetshire novel), I introduced Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset by comparing it to Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife (the first written 1866, the second 1991). Then about five months ago (March 2021) I gave a talk on Dr Thorne as the book by Trollope I first read and one I remain especially fond of. This time, last Monday, I spoke about one of his short stories, “Malachi’s Cove.” The group is still enthusiastic — we are having fun — still going strong, with plans for a another of Trollope’s novels, The American Senator, to begin September 5th.

My paper talk on this story and a comparison of it to its film adaptation by Henry Herbert (1973, Penrith film company) is another paper that comes out of a blog I wrote. But it has a larger context as my subtitle suggests.


John Everett Millais, “Waiting at the Railway Station,” from Good Words

For a long time now I’ve known that Trollope’s short stories are not sufficiently appreciated, mostly because they remain unread even by his more devoted readership. I taught these as a group to college students way back in the early 1990s when I realized that they were a good length to assign students, were written in clear, entertaining, often comic but sometimes tragic ways, and could and did interest college-age students: among other things, they are travel stories (Trollope gathered them more than one as “Tales of All Countries”) and about colonialism. The students were more open-minded towards these old tales than I expected, at first more so than the people on a listserv I was moderating at the time, perhaps because they came to Trollope with no expectations whatsoever — most of them never having heard of Anthony Trollope before. Then a few years later (1997) to the other adults on a listserv I was moderating, I again proposed reading and discussing all the stories; after a while it went over so well that I was able to put on my website a record of what we said and thought. We liked them sufficiently that years later we went through a selection of the stories once again (“The Spotted Dog,” “Why Frau Frohman Raised her Prices,” “Journey to Panama” among these. Each Christmas we still read a couple of the Christmas tales (for example, “Christmas at Thompson Hall”).


John Everett Millais, “Christmas Story-Telling,” “Christmas Supplement,” London News, 20 December 1862

Malachi’s Cove represents one of masterpieces of the genre that Trollope wrote — which I name in my paper.

So, now Dominic Edwards, our fearless moderator and leader (and Chairman of the Trollope Society) this summer proposed for August we as a group read a few of the short stories — as a kind of break from the longer works. (We had just finished The Way We Live Now.) He chose “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids” and “A Ride Across Palestine” (sometimes called “The Banks of the Jordan”). I know I showed a lot of enthusiasm about the stories, and he asked me would I present a talk on “Malachi’s Cove” to start us off. It emerged that in fact the place on the London Trollope Society website where you can find all sorts of information about “Malachi’s Cove” (story, characters, publication date) is one of the most popular spots on the site. I was happy to do a talk.

In brief, I first showed that Trollope’s tale is a violent mood piece presented as a parable: we experience a persuasive glimpse of two people surviving together through “a hard and perilous trade” (460) in Cornwall: the girl rakes seaweed from the cliffs and rocks on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean where it washes up on the shore, to sell it for fertilizer. She makes it seems just enough to stave off destitution for herself and her grandfather who appears to have custody of her. Then I take the reader through the film adaptation, which I also think superb, and demonstrate how the Penrith film (the name of the company) develops from Trollope’s matter a haunting coming-of-age film (a familiar movie subgenre), an atmospheric Cornish story of intense loss, grief, anger and providential renewal.

So, here as before, is a link to the video on the website, which Dominic kindly accompanied by setting forth talk itself beautifully, “Malachi’s Cove: An Edge Tale: On behalf of Trollope’s Short stories.”. And as before I transfer the video from the Trollope Society site here for your convenience and to have it as part of my blog site:

You can also read the text at academia.edu


Malachi’s Cove, the opening far shot: Mally and Jess as specks by the shore

There is, as any regular reader of this blog will know, another context: I am enormously interested in films, especially adaptations of books. I love them personally and have published papers on them professionally and here on my website and blogs. So my paper values the film as much as it does the story.


Malachi’s Cove, the Vicar (John Barrett) talking with Mally in the graveyard by her dead parents’ gravestone

Ellen

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Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett, 1980s BBC) — detection genius


George Smiley (Alec Guiness, Tinker, Tailor … 1970s BBC) — spymaster extraordinaire


Melissandra (Carice Van Houten), prophetess (Games of Thrones) — Cassandra-witch

Friends and readers,

This blog is a bit of departure from my usual modes. I usually zero in on a particular work or works; here I remain in general, and just cite examples briefly. What is left out (alas) are the moral inferences that Marr makes so precisely when he cites and goes over particular books and talks to particular authors.  (I no longer have the facility or strength of fingers or speed to get down accurately what he said.)  These inferences are mostly pessimistic, dark, unsettling utterances, often half-ironic.  So, again, in general, here is what he inferred: Detective stories today reveal an abyss of personal hatred, treacherous crime, fierce anger, resentment, not always associated with deprivation, sometimes the motive is revenge; spy  stories, a fearful terrain of ruthless totalitarian and fascist states; sorcery sagas, the return of atavistic amorality as part of uncanny superstitions. I add that we see in the latest of these kinds of works that women are made to behave in ways directly as violent and treacherous as men (this is not credible as at least studies of women who commit violence show); and men in the last 30 years are shown to be as sexually vulnerable and ambiguous in their sexuality.

You may recall I wrote about Andrew Marr a few weeks, calling attention to his wonderfully insightful literary documentaries (for lack of a better term — they are highly entertaining, witty, amusing). One series was on popular “thrillers,” the action-adventure type, at one time usually male-centered (Miss Marple and Harriet Vane were the exceptions who proved the rule), which he divided into “detective, mysteries;” “spy, surveillance;” and “sorcerer, fantasies.” On first impression as I listened to him offer the “rules” (formulas) for each, play clips, talks to authors, the types seemed to blend, but when I conquered my recent laziness, and at least tried to force my hands to write stenography once again, and read over what he had said, I realized he had made distinct and explanatory distinctions. I was surprised to think about how his formula linked on the surface such different seeming detective stories, showed how different they are from spy and surveillance action, and finally picked up on the fantasy elements of historical romance, so this usually woman-centered genre shares terrain with say (and this makes sense) the stories of Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin. I’m especially intrigued with the element of time-traveling in this last.

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Lord Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge) facing Harriet Vane (Harriet Walter) — the amateurs?


Sam Spade (Humphry Boghard, Hammett’s Maltese Falcon) – hired private detective


Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren, Prime Suspect): DCI

So here are the the characteristics of detective mysteries (they cross into police procedurals as you’ll see): 1: there must be a mystery, a pattern to find, a puzzle element, ingenious; 2) the writer must play fair, and not deliberately lead astray, no supernatural agencies; 3) the detective must not have committed the crime, corpses about, not an idyllic place at all; 4) there must be locked rooms, impossible terms, keys are clues, multi-layer to unravel; 5) the detective is a kind of super-hero, we must watch him so as not to be fooled by a sleight-of-hand, do hard work, find what actuates motivates people; 6) crime must be believable, painful, almost doing it in front of us, with a pervasive sense of evil all around it; 7) the detective must get his (or) her hands dirty and must set the world to rights, then retreat, escape back to his lair; 8) he must follow recognized procedures; incremental tedious work, under social pressure, moving into rotten hearts; 9) we have the comfort of knowing the truth at the end; we adapt, recent ones are complex; 10) the detective must be flawed, must be difficult to get along with, withdrawn, not likable (Inspector Morse).

I am struck by how the murder mystery in the second half of Phineas Redux corresponds to the above

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Alec Leamas (Richard Burton, The Spy who Came in from the Cold) — set-up betrayed spy


Gunther (Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man — today’s fascist totalitarian states) — another set-up betrayed spy


The Americans, Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) — without identities

Then we have the espionage story (and movie): 1) they reflect the particular social conditions of their time, people with insider knowledge, about betrayal; the question of who is the real enemy comes up early, foreign people, a creeping paranoia; 2) you must create a climate of fear, ominous atmosphere; 2) spies’ loyalties are always up for question (The 39 Steps, The Americans, Greene’s Human Factor), a popular version of an existential nightmare; 3: the spy contacts his nemesis; 3) they can end up cast out of humanity (as in The Spy who came in from the Cold); 4: they are ever trying to adapt to changing times. I add the vast perspective and explicit political propaganda, often anti-communist still. They feed into fascism as they are nationalistic.

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Claire (Caitriona Balfe) amid the ancient neolithic stones, Craig Na Dun, Mrs Graham her sorceress (Outlander, 1:1) — healer & white witch


Gandolf (Ian McKellen (Fellowship of the Ring) — wizard

The fantasy, science fiction, allegorical: 1) you must build a whole world, consistent in itself as to details too; the depth of detail compels us; weave real with fantastical, keep it coherent with a map; 2) there is a portal to this other world; 3)these are anti-enlightenment stories, matter from the atavistic, where the “easy” laws of science do not necessarily apply; it’s a spectrum of extremes; 4) fantasy nowadays uses the method of distilled wonder (a metaphor); a parallel to the feeling we let ourselves be comforted by, making a parallel to faery; uses folklore that does not in itself seriously frighten — think of The Hobbit; 5) there is a hero’s story, sometimes told by the heroine, a dropped down trunk, papers telling the story; 6) someone to help us cross the threshold; you move into unknown, there are ordeals, supreme tests, sometimes an elixir helps you return through to “reality” or today’s world; 6) we come upon counter culture (not necessarily a good world); Le Guin shows us a fascist take-over, with a wizard; barbarism, bitchery; 7) there are rites of passage or rites tht bridge generations and new Gods created; 8) winter is always coming, deep poignant melancholy for what’s just over the horizon, a kind of existential threat; and 9) some explore the deepest world of author (so an inward form), and/or are philosophic.

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There you have it. Or do you or we? there are thrillers which don’t fit these paradigms, or slide over. So Daphne DuMaurier’s Scapegoat belongs to fantasy but remains in here and now — it’s not quite gothic either, as gothic’s sine qua non is supernatural and she would have us believed in her doubles, her twin men. Marr did not work in the gothic which has lent itself to formulas (some of which make fun of its furniture), nor ghost stories, the vampire and wanderer, nor specifically the female gothic. These would take several blogs … I have written of separate gothic stories and once in a while the gothic as such. I’ve a whole section in my website devoted to the kind: Gothics and ghosts, vampires, witches, and l’écriture-femme


M. R James, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral — core evil presence


Illustration by John A. Williams for Mary Heaton Vorse, “The Second Wife” (1912) — this is the type Jane Austen made fun of and parodied in her Northanger Abbey, it is a type Nancy Drew draws some of its power from (girl as snoop into wild and weird territories)


Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) arrives (NA, scripted Andrews Davies, 2007) — female reader of gothics.


A 1970 version of a Nancy Drew — girl sleuth

Ellen

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Charles Laughton as Quasimodo at the close of the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame


A much idealized depiction of Jacques Cathelineau (1759-93), one of the peasant heroes (a general) of the Vendean revolt (he dies half-way through Trollope’s novel)

Dear friends and readers,

It was not wholly by chance that recently on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io we read in tandem two historical romances about or set in France. One a French literary masterpiece, Victor Hugo’s undoubtedly deeply poetic Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), set in the 15th century, but mirroring conditions in France in the later 1820s and July 1930 revolution and its aftermath. The other, based on French sources, among them the aristocratic memoir by Victorine de Larochejaquelin (see my review of Marilyn Yalom’s Blood Sisters) translated by Walter Scott (as well as a number of English sources), Trollope’s only historical novel, La Vendee (1850), set between the start and near the catastrophic ending of the revolt of the Vendean area (peasants, nobles), March 1973 – to spring 1794. We brought them together as like in genre, probably like (we thought) to some extent in subject matter — Trollope might have in mind the mid-19th century European revolts.

We discovered the term “historical novel” can be used as a label for very different books, even if placed in the same country, similar cultural sources (chronicles), and both about conflicts revealed as political, social, and fundamental. I hoped we would be reading historical books with political visions (or themes, messages) somewhat relevant to the political calamity unfolding in the US (now Trump’s autocracy through blight, lies & corrosion of all principles has spread into US presidential election), then it was as the pandemic (now having been allowed to kill over 200,000), and a collapsed ordinary economy (become much worse now, with — this would upset Trollope — a sabotaged postal service). It’s arguable both books have political visions, but neither of the sort to help anyone think through the results colonialism & capitalism confronts us with. Not that I think reading Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year would have helped anyone fix the lack of a public health care system in the US.

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You can follow Trollope’s characters and action using this kind of map ….

Trollope did want to make a political statement with La Vendee — and about issues of what is a legitimate government; how should governing bodies treat their citizenry, what should that citizenry be prepared to sacrifice or not, who owes what to whom; then happens during an internecine civil war. On the way he wants us to understand what battles are really like, war councils, what families experience (insofar as he has the stomach to describe this). W. J. McCormack (the editor of the Oxford paperback edition) grouped the book with Trollope’s first Anglo-Irish novels. But since Trollope is wholly on the side of counter-revolution, demonizing the revolution and its republican armies, his usual ability (still seen here) to drive down to fundamentals to lay bare before us the workings of a social group in crisis falsifies too much. Still Trollope’s is a conventional narrative history (as envisaged by Lukacs), and I read alongside La Vendee, several relevant sections in Simon Schama’s Citizens: A [vast] Chronicle of the French Revolution and found Schama filled out and explicated what was happening in Trollope’s book (complete with good maps). I regret to say Schama’s book is much livelier and more satisfying as a novel narrative than Trollope’s mostly unrealized characters and too timid, distanced or tame scenes. OTOH, (as Eric Hobsbawm pointed out) it is fair to say Schama is also politically conservative so that the two books dovetail is not that surprising.

I have written about La Vendee online twice before: once an outline of a paper by Prof Nicholas Birns, explaining why the novel is so dependent on pictorialism, what it aims at and does not achieve (his published paper is “La Vendee: Trollope’s Early Novel of Counter-revolution and Reform,” a paper presented at NY winter Trollope Society meeting, February 21, 2013, probably in the Trollopiana for that season). Before that, when in 2000 this same listserv (then on Yahoo) had a reading and discussion (with mostly different and more people) and I appear to have enjoyed the novel more, in the context of several people posting a lot about it, and I spending a lot more time doing outside reading as we journeyed through. More recently again, Patricia Cove is convinced the novel explores what is meant by identity politics (she does not put her ideas in those terms), “‘The Blood of our Poor People,’ 1848: Incipient National Identity and the French Revolution in Trollope’s La Vendee,” Victorian literature and Culture 2016, 44, 59-76).


A depiction of the 1973 Battle of Cholet by Boutigny

This time I found the most effective scenes to be (unusual for Trollope), the more distanced scenes (for example, early on, the Vendeans resisting enforced conscription, much later, the Vendeans as refugees fleeing back to their native terrain), and the last part of the book with the scenes after the battles of desperate devastation where the characters individually rise to an occasion, reminding me now and again of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, the sequence where the family (Scarlet, Melanie, Baby, Prissy) has arrived at Tara to find it ravaged, everyone distraught and Scarlet’s mother dead, and the long struggle to survive barely minimally as the war winds down but remains deadly between strangers. Especially Trollopian (as we usually imagine his texts) is the chapter where we met Cathelineau’s embittered mother. As for me Cathelineau’s behavior seems a weak early rendition of the Daniel Thwaite-Anton Trendellson type (Lady Anna, Nina Balatka, working class), I found in the crazed dying behavior of the book’s (fictional character) villian, Adolphe Denot, an anticipation of Louis Trevelyan. A loss not gotten over was the almost complete absence of Trollope’s narrator.

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Notre-Dame de Paris as first seen in the 1939 movie (director was William Dieterle)


All the parts of the cathedral seen in the film (inside and out) were built by the film-makers on a studio set

It’s hard not to conclude that the real subject of Hugo’s novel is either the cathedral, with its central argument, the gothic architecture should not be improved, renovated, changed at all; or Paris itself, with its individual streets, areas, regions, an organic growth over 400 years — two whole books with long topographical and historical chapters are given over to this. While we were reading the book, we’d notice news that the cathedrale, burnt badly last year, was undergoing this or that renovation. There is more energy and reality in Hugo’s depiction of these places than with any individual character, though admittedly he is fascinated by his “grotesque” creation of Quasimodo, to this reader, a poignantly estranged and understandably alienated disabled man; and Claude Frollo, the seethingly repressed ambitious and hence angry and dangerous priest. Gringoire has some complexity because he is made into a self-reflexive comic rendition of Hugo himself as useless poet thinking himself writing tragedy (when his best use seems to be to the goat he saves); he can be likened to Scott’s heroes (think of Ivanhoe). The king is made a malicious egocentric, terrifying as Scott’s Louis XI in Quentin Durward (which Hugo had read). The others are allegorically shaped, or one-dimensional (Frollo’s brother, Captain Phoebus). The story a paradigm.


Frollo (Cedrick Hardwicke) — it’s not often noticed he has a cat — in the book it is pity and loneliness which prompts him to rescue the deformed baby, Quasimodo

My friend and fellow-reader Tyler Tichelaar after the reading was over, wrote a blog arguing the book is shaped by a gothic existentialism. His account of the book’s genesis and elements is much more thorough than mine here, and I agree he identifies many of the gothic elements, as well as its disillusioned modern point of view — perhaps even nihilistic. I did see a direct connection between Quasimodo and Mary Shelley’s creature in Frankenstein. The epigraph for Frankenstein comes from Milton’s Paradise Lost, and it’s Satan who speaks this (not Adam):

Did I request thee, Maker, from my caly
to mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me? — Paradise Lost

And the desolate man with a heart filled with tender loving feelings, mocked, excluded, beaten by people in human society is just such another as the creature; he ends a skeleton enfolding the gypsy girl Esmeralda’s skeleton, all that’s left from her corpse once brought down from the gallows: during the course of the novel, she is abducted at least twice, nearly raped, her feet mangled by a torture instrument; her mother a crazed hermit, recluse twisted by her own transgressive sexual past, takes a fanatical dislike to the girl whom she only realizes is her daughter in their last minutes of life.


The King of Beggars and Gypsies (Thomas Mitchell — often in protest-benign films)

It is a radical protest book, but it seems to me as much an inditement of human nature as the deeply crazed (superstitious fanatical religion) and unjust political and social systems of the era and Hugo’s own. The world of the beggars and gypsies is as violent, inexplicably savage as the king’s: Gringoire is almost hanged for fun. The other underworlds of the era are as cold as the bourgeois women and courtship scenes we experience. Frollo’s brother is hopelessly immoral, a product of this environement.

More than with Trollope’s La Vendee, but at similar story and pictorial moments, every so often, the book would suddenly soar, sometimes for several chapters in a row: and I remember passages: Quasimodo’s love of his bells and bell ringing, perhaps the vibrations evoked deep memories.


Victor Hugo

One of our members, Judith Cheney was reading Edwards’s biography of Hugo: Judith wrote:

In the Edwards biography, the crisis he seems to think was Hugo’s realization or surmise of his wife’s affair with his best friend the literary critic Charles Saint-Beuve. He didn’t confront them but decided to keep an eye on them & still continue his daily relationship with Saint-Beuve. His wife had become cold to him, no longer wanting to comply with Hugo’s daily sexual needs (after bearing five children in whom she was also disinterested, not even seeming to like children much at all). She continued to go to mass regularly but Hugo stopped going with her as he no longer seemed interested in religion. Edwards writes that Hugo was basically a bourgeois gentleman who wanted a warm home life with a faithful wife. This he discovered he really didn’t have & the betrayal was with his best friend. He was doubly deluded & disappointed. He turned completely to his mistresses at this time & even moving & setting up his favorite nearby. He tried to go on as before with Saint- Beuve but their friendship obviously cooled as Saint Beuve did not give up Hugo’s wife. (A real Forsterian Muddle!) Edwards doesn’t describe the loss of faith as nearly as important as the crisis of the faithless wife & unsettled home-life.

Hugo loved his children & took a great part in their care & raising. He had designated times for feeding the children breakfast before he began his writing day & again time for playing with them late in the afternoon (even waking them for it if they were napping!) & again making up stories for them at their bedtimes. Everyday! I don’t know how he fitted all this in with the mistresses & regular theatre attendance & open house drop in suppers after, except by living according to this strict timetable. Reminded me a bit of Clifton Webb’s time management character in Cheaper by Dozen. Except it seems Hugo was quite a warm loving man, very humane man. I didn’t read that he ever confronted Adele or even reacted with wrath toward Saint-Beuve. All this occurred at the time he was writing Notre-Dame.


Famous exhilarating moment in the film when Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda with a rope, crying Sanctuary! Sanctuary!

I read Victor Brombert’s book on Hugo as a visionary novelist.

Brombert argues that there is no religious feeling in Notre-Dame because by the time of writing Hugo had thrown off all such belief and at the core is an emptiness rather than “metaphysical anguish” found in Hugo’s poetry. Brombert finds this utter spiritual emptiness in Frollo — for Brombert one of the two thoughful characters (the other is Gringoire). “Religion in Notre-Dame” is a “negative force,” a group of people with the power of legal violence of all sorts over everyone, with an absence of any faith or moral Christian feeling. Abandon all hope, the famous line from Dante, is appropriate here. You abandoned all hope once you entered the Comedia. Notre-Dame de Paris presents us with a world of carceral spaces. Our “monster” and the glass window of the cathedral both have a Cyclopian eye: there is an abyss in everyone, a vacuity in which some are part of the spider and his webs, and others flies (Esmeralda). Less vatically, Brombert seems to feel behind the novel is a personal crisis or crises in Hugo’s own life. He has thrown over his reactionary views and faith and looked about and now what?

A problematic sardonic laughter ends the book.

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Esmeralda about to be hunt (Maureen O’Hara) — astonishing in the haunting beauty of the still

I tried to watch the 1982 movie but found it embarrassingly bad; the 1939, a film masterpiece. My feeling is in the later 1930s-before WW2 in costume drama you were allowed to express depths of anguish and political messages, often pro-group, humane, and what we today call progressive. The 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame is against torture as horrifying, against superstition (and religious castes), for the beggars. Of course going for violence (as they do) is all wrong and shown to be, but you must also have faith in your written word — as in the film Gringoire does – and you will win out.


Gringoire (a pleasant Edmond O’Brien)

The spirit of the film is not Hugo’s, with its happy ending for our hero, Gringoire and our heroine, Esmeralda. Thomas Mitchell is a benign beggar king. There is no crazed tragic mother and it appears that Captain Phoebus did die (in the book he does not die but lives to marry the vacuous rich girl). Though the film Phoebus is not represented as the vicious male rake that we find in Hugo’s book, he is a mild rake, merely indifferent to others, careless. We have Louis XII as a sweet king, well meaning.


Anguish or cheers?

Everyone says what makes it is Charles Laughton’ acting, that he is just inimitable as the freak-deformed man, all alone — the word not applied as yet is autistic — he is on the autistic spectrum because of the way he’s been treated too. He is deaf, illiterate. But I do not underestimate the effect of the casting of Hardwicke for the seething Frollo, O’Hara for the beautiful gypsy. The cinematography is extraordinary, the use of black and white scary, of grey. The rescue, the attack on the cathedral (and it did stand for power in the catholic church). That the characters are kept distant, that the action is left enigmatic, no rationalizing away what happens is a key to its success.

I’ll end on the guillotine: it is at work in La Vendee, and if it is not in Paris in the 15th century, the human ingenuity and heartlessness that created it is. I’ve an Irish friend who — as a joke — said to me, it’s a good thing there is no guillotine stashed away in the basement of Trump’s White House.


There is also something sinister in Laughton’s depiction of Quasimodo

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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Waterfalls in Cornwall

Friends,

I sometimes use my blogs for thinking out a paper, a class, a book, and that’s what I’m doing here.

How to account for the quality and vision of the once again famous Poldark novels would be the goal of this book.

Lacking the lifeblood of most literary (and other kinds of) biographies, the cooperation of the family members and a rich cache of private letters by Graham, I propose to raise the status and make the quality of the Poldark series taken as a whole understandable by

Part One: Three chapters: a study of the author as we find him in all his published works and what I have been able to reach in libraries and online:

Chapter One: the story of his life as he tells it

Chapter Two:  genre analysis, first the bloody death kind, and then Chapter Three, of historical fiction as inflected by regional romance.

Chapter Four. A gender fault-line is responsible for the distinct distance between these kinds, as well as the region they are set in. Cornish gothic links them. Lately I find his use of the gothic one of the more interesting elements in his historical fiction; it links this group of works to historical fictions by popular and masterly writers (Gabaldon to Mantel) ….

Part Two: Four chapters: we turn to the twelve Poldark novels. Class and status; marriage and sexual politics; economic and social politics and circumstances ….

Part Three: Two chapters:  Graham’s legacy is as much in the historical film adaptations he encouraged as in any of his books. Film noir and costume drama.

A coda will return us to Graham, and how a post-modern approach to all his writing (including scattered non-fiction and short tales) can enable a different perspective, and bring out unexpected pleasures (not susceptible of genre or biographical analysis) in some of his short and repressed fictions (which embarrassed him).

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Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Ross (Aidan Turner) Poldark — from Season 1

Once again (for a second time) a BBC serial drama called simply Poldark crossing more than year and adapting the first seven books of the series has had a phenomenal success, and has placed the name of the author of the source of popular money-making film before the public: Winston Graham. I say yet another because arguably at least three times before, film adaptations of other of Graham’s books have startled the public into attention: 1947 a film noir, Take My Life; 1964, a still remembered Hitchcock psychological drama, Marnie; and 1971, an unusual crime suspense story focusing on disability, The Walking Stick. The books have rarely gone out of print (or not at all — especially the first seven); and there are readers who profess to like some of the murder suspense contemporary mysteries.

One problem is there is a seeming uncrossable disconnect between Graham’s contemporary murder fiction (there usually is a murder in these, often of an evil woman) and his sixteen or so historical fictions (all but one set in Cornwall). I found analogous patterns and paradigms across both sets of books, similar character types – like marital and justified rapes of women.

I don’t say some of these suspense are not interesting and a few are good – the question is what lies behind the compulsion for these because many are pulp or so thin that the genre takes over. There is a very genuine interest in an immediate time and place, in technologies, the arts and contemporary issues in the decade each of them are written.

Much of his historical fiction is however truly fine (not all).

If nothing else, the film and radio and TV adaptations show the appeal of his matter to better writers, readers, film-makers and the public at large, not to omit those who seek to make money.


From the Walking Stick (1971): Deborah Dainton (Samantha Eggar) and Leigh Hartley (David Hemmings).

I’ve now read most of Graham’s historical fiction; I have eleven or twelve of the non-Poldarks to go (as I consider I have read quite adequately enough Marnie, Groves of Eagles, and Angel Pearl and Little God), some of the stories in the one book of short stories, Japanese Girl (with some scattered ones sent me by attachment), one history Spanish Armada(s), which I didn’t finish. Sigh.

In the case of rewrites, I have looked at all of them and found them mostly decidedly inferior to the first version (even if here and there are some good improvements, concision, new wit).

There are 4 short tales I’ve read (“Meeting Demelza,” “Christmas at Nampara,” “Vive le Roi,” “At the Chateau Lartrec”) that I liked and remember these for their gothic spirit; “The Japanese Girl” I can remember nothing of; “The Medici Earring” I unfortunately remember (because it’s a mean nasty story worthy O Henry), so I’ve read and remember 5 with a bunch to go – not that many and they are not long

I regard Poldark’s Cornwall as a Poldark book, and a couple of Poldark short tales (above cited).

I must read very carefully and create a chronology as best I can from his private memoir and oeuvre (including the radio and stage plays, scripts

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Winston Graham in 1945

This where I’m at. I am in the middle of Sleeping Partner just now and it confounds me how Graham could turn to writing this thin mechanical fiction after having achieved Warleggan. It has to be an inner compulsion that makes him write in this male-centered narrowly formulaic misogynistic genre. He returned to this compulsion (money-making was part of his rationale) after the astounding success of the two 1970s BBC seasons of Poldark and a remarkably book like The Angry Tide.

I am carrying on because I like the Poldark books enough, am interested in historical fiction and romance, in the sub-genre of Cornish or regional romance, am interested in film adaptation and it seems to me Winston Graham is an author whose work ought to be taken into account as a whole, made some sense of. I’ve done so much and it’s hard to let go?

I admit one impulse in my first curiosity was when I discovered Winston Graham is never mentioned even in common surveys of good 20th century historical fiction nor suspense/thriller/mystery books. I have yet to come across his name or his books in any of these. He does get a chapter of analysis of the Poldark books in books on Cornwall, and on costume-drama period film serial adaptation. But in these cases it is not that he or his presence is felt to compelling, or anything in his art, but that the texts themselves or videos belong to a social phenomenon of the 20th and 21st century the editor of the volume felt worth while exploring.

Ellen

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