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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ellen

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For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: Wednesay mid-day, 11:45 to 1:15 pm,
Mar 30 to May 18
8 sessions online (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va, Tallwood)
Dr Ellen Moody

Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, its Aftermath, and the Diaspora:

In this class we will read E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown (Raj Quartet 1), and Jumpa Lahiri’s Namesake. We’ll explore a tradition of Anglo-India literature, colonialist and native cultural interactions, migrancy itself, gender fault lines, what we mean by our identity, belonging, and castes. We’ll include in our discussions Anglo-Indian movies as a genre, and see parts of and talk specifically about David Lean’s Passage to India, the Granada British TV Jewel in the Crown, Mira Nair’s Namesake and perhaps end with Merchant-Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah. We will not omit talking of Indian novels and movies too (Bollywood and Tamil). We’ll take historical and contemporary perspectives on this rich material.

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

Forster, E.M. A Passage to India, ed. Paul B. Armstrong. Norton Critical Edition. NY: Norton, 2021. 978-0-393-65598-8. A Passage to India (first published 1924) seems to me needs notes to be fully understood; this edition offers best text & superb background. There’ve been many editions; some in print today have good introductions (e.g., an Everyman introduced by P. N. Furbank, with chronology and select bibliography).

Scott, Paul. The Jewel in the Crown. The Raj Quartet 1. 1966; Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1998. 978-0=226-743490. The book has been printed in a couple of different editions (the first, Avon, mass market paperback), none come with notes or introductions that I can find.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin (Mariner), 2003 978-0-618-48422-2. This edition has been reprinted many times, & with different covers. There is a translation into Marathi, the third widest language spoken in India after Hindu and Bengali. English is still a semi-official language.

Suggested Reading:

Forster, E.M. “The Machine stops” a short story, a pdf I’ll send to the class.
Golgol, Nicholas. “The Overcoat”, trans. Constance Garnett. A short story. Online: http://www.fountainheadpress.com/expandingthearc/assets/gogolovercoat.pdf
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “A Temporary Matter,” first story in Interpreters of Maladies, a pdf for which book I’ll send to the class.

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

A Passage to India. Dir, scripted David Lean. Independently produced. Featuring: Victor Banerjee, Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, 1984.
The Jewel in the Crown. Dir. Christopher Morahan, scripted Ken Taylor. Granada TV. Featuring: Art Malik, Geraldine Jameson, Peggy Ashcroft, Saeed Jaffrey, Tim Piggott-Smith, Eric Porter. 1984 14 episodes.
The Namesake. Dir, Mira Nair, scripted Sooni Taraporevala. Independently produced. Featuring: Irfan Khan, Tabu, Kal Penn. 2006.
Shakespeare Wallah. Dir James Ivory, scripted Ruth Jhabvala. Producer Ismail Merchant. Featuring: Sashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Geoffrey Kendal. 1965

The train scene from Passage to India
Daphne and Hari meeting in Bigighar Gardens (Jewel in the Crown)


Ashoke on the train reading Gogol’s The Overcoat

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. The syllabus is not engraved in cement; we can alter it and spend more time or have different emphases than the syllabus is written for.

Mar 30: 1st week: Introduction: Brief history of India, the Raj, of E.M. Forster. Begin A Passage to India. I will send the class a copy of his “What I Believe.”

Apr 6: 2nd week: Forster’s A Passage to India.

Apr 13: 3rd week: Lean’s film adaptation& Forster’s novel: I will talk about Damon Galbut’s Arctic Summer, a post-text or sequel to Forster’s own Arctic Summer (Galgut is now known for winning Booker Prize for The Promise). History: The partition

Apr 20: 4th week: Paul Scott. Historical background in book, 1942-47. Begin A Jewel in the Crown.

Apr 27: 5th week: Scott’s A Jewel in the Crown

May 4: 6th Week: Contextualized by the Raj Quartet (as we experience it in the Granada TV serial, The Jewel in the Crown) and Staying On (a Booker Prize winner). Tales of the Indian diaspora, and Jhumpa Lahiri and Mira Nair

May 11: 7th week: Lahiri’s The Namesake and Mira Nair’s movie

May 18: 8th week: Merchant-Ivory Jhabvala’s Shakespeare Wallah). And if time permits, Forster’s “The Machine Stops” and Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter.”


From Shakespeare Wallah: whole troupe of actors on the rainy hot road (shot in India)

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

Allen, Charles, ed. Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the 20th century. 1976; rpt. London: Deutsch, 1986. A compilation of memoirs gathered by the BBC; the source for a couple of their programs. The title a play on Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills.
Banerjee, Jaqueline. Paul Scott. UK: Northcote, 1990.
——————-. “Abinger Ironist: E.M. Forster,” Literary Surrey. Headley Down, Hampshire: Self-published 2005. 1-873855-50-8. Delightful.
Batra, Jagdish. The Namesake: A Critical Study. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2010.
Brower, Reuben. “Beyond E.M. Forster: the Unseen,” Chicago Review, 2:3 (Fall-Winter 1948):102-112.
Cavafy, C. P. Poems, ed. trans. Avi Sharon. NY: Penguin, 2008
Forster, E. M. The Hill of Devi. London: Harvest HBJ, 1953. Autobiographical accounts of Forster’s time in the court of Dewas (1922-22).
Gascoigne, Bamber, ed. The Making of the Jewel in the Crown. London: Granada Publishing, 1983. Unexpectedly this book about the film series contains an excellent essay on the film-making of the book (Bamber Gascoigne) and one on the political history of this era (James Cameron) dramatized by Scott’s novel. The photography is also evocative. Each of the 14 episodes is outlined. Highly recommended.
Golgol, Nicholas. The Overcoat, trans. Constance Garnett. Online: http://www.fountainheadpress.com/expandingthearc/assets/gogolovercoat.pdf
Gorra, Michael. After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, and Rushdie. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1997.
Galgut, Damon. Arctic Summer. NY: Europa, 2014. A fictionalized biography of E.M Forster’s times in India. It is a continuation of a fragment of a novel Forster wrote called Arctic Summer.
Gilmore, David. The British in India: Three Centuries of Ambition and Experience. London: Penguin, 2009.
Haag, Michael. Alexandria: City of Memory. New Haven: Yale, 2004. Alexandria during WW2 and just before.  Wonderfully evocative book.
Lynn, David H. Lynn, “Review-essay of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri,’ The Kenyon Review, New Series, 26: 3 (Summer, 2004):160-166
MacMillan, Margaret. Women of the Raj. NY: Random House, 2007
Metcalf, Barbara and Thomas. A Concise History of India, 3rd edition. Cambridge, UP, 2012
Moody, Ellen. My blog on early Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala films. https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2021/06/12/early-merchant-ivory-jhabvala-films-the-householder-shakespeare-wallah-to-roseland-heat-and-dust/
Moffatt, Wendy. A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster. NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010.
Moore, Robin. Paul Scott’s Raj. London: Heinemann, 1990. Also about Forster’s Indian experience and book.
Nityanandam, Indira. Jhumpa Lahiri: A Tale of the Diaspora. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2004.
Paxton, Nancy. Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947. New Brunswick: Rutgers U, 1999.
Pym, John. The Wandering Company: 21 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala Films. London: British Film Institute, 1983
Rao, K. Bhaskara. Paul Scott. Boston: Twayne, 1980.
Rubin, David. After the Raj: British Novels of India since 1947. Self-published posthumously, 2018
Scott, Paul. On Writing and the Novel, ed. intro. Shelley C. Reece. NY: William Morrow, 1987.
Schusterman, David, “The Curious Case of Professor Godbole: A Passage to India Re-examined,” PMLA 76:4 (1961):426-35
Sharpe, Jenny. Allegories of Empire: The Figure of the Woman in Colonial Texts. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993. A chapter each on A Passage to India and the Raj Quartet.
Singh, Amardeep. The Films of Mira Nair: Diaspora Vérité. Jackson: Univ of Mississippi, 2018.
Song, Min Hyoung, “The Children of 1965: Allegory, Postmodernism, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake,” Twentieth Century Literature, 53:3, After Postmodernism: Form and History in Contemporary American Fiction, (Fall, 2007):345-370
Spurling, Hilary. Paul Scott: The Life of the Author of the Raj Quartet. NY: Norton, 1990.
Summers, Claude, “A passage to India: ‘The Friend who Never comes,'” in his E.M. Forster. NY: Ungar, 1983.
Tharoor, Shashi. Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. Australia: Scribe, 2017
Tunzelmann, Alex Von. Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. NY: Picador, 2007.

Other novels and memoirs and films which belong to the subgenre Anglo-Indian or British Indian writing and films:

Anne Cherian, A Good Indian Wife; Larry Collins and Dominic Lepierre, Freedom at Midnight; Emily Eden, Up the Country:  Letters written to her sister from the Upper Provinces of India [1836-1842]; J.G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur; Eliza Fay, Original Letters from India, ed. E. M. Forster; Godden, Rumer, No Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and The River;Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust and An Experience of India; M. M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions and Share of Summer (an autobiography); most of Kipling’s fiction and verse; Kamala Markandaya, The Golden Honeycomb, The Coffer Dams; John Master’s Bhowani Junction; Bharati Mukherjee, The Middleman and Other Stories; V.S. Naipaul, Enigma of Arrival; George Orwell, Burmese Days; Fanny Parkes, Begums, Thugs & White Mughals (journals ed by William Dalrymple); Mistry Rohinton, A Fine Balance; Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Imaginary Homelands, Essays and Criticism, 1981-91; Viram Seth, A Suitable Boy; Rabindranath Tagore, The Home and the World, trans. Surendranath Tagore (a Penguin book); P.J.O Taylor’s A Star Shall Fall. Also writing by N. C. Chaudhuri, Anita Desai, Amitav Ghoshm R.K. Narayan; films of Satyajit Ray, Lagaan (translates as Taxes, a classic Bollywood film); Mani Ratman’s Guru (a Tamil hit); Richard Attenborough and John Briley, Ghandi; and 2014-25 Paul Rutman’s Indian Summers (Channel 4 and PBS)


2020 Map

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I don’t always make a blog from the books we read but I felt I ought to in the this case. It would be remiss not to — especially
since it is loaded with divisive concepts …

Friends and fellow readers,

It was in October of this past year, that a group of us on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@grous.io began to read the whole of Hugo’s massive novel as translated, introduced and massively annotated by Christine Donougher. We’ve just finished this week. During this time at least one person also read Graham Robb’s massive biography of Hugo, I returned to Bellos’s Novel of the Century, Victor Brombert’s Hugo and the Visionary Novel, and, with a couple of other people, re-watched Andrew Davie’s magnificent film adaptation, as well as the film version of the world-famous musical.

Myself I had seen Eric Schaeffer’s stage version twice (once in London), and concert presentation years before, and for good measure this time re-watched twice Simon Schama’s The Romantics and Us, whose second hour is mostly given over to Hugo as finally, or at the time of the writing of this book, radical revolutionary in his thought.


Mass protest scene from 2012 film

Given how the matter of all this material speaks so home to us today, I can’t see myself not making a blog about it, though I sincerely doubt I have anything new to add to all that has been said and written – and drawn and sung and danced too. One can say with the usual semi-pompous language, the book is an extraordinary prose narrative — a combination of history, political and philosophical thought, fantastic visions, with novel framework and larger than life presences we can call characters to carry us through. And the French is visceral poetry. Full of contradictions, not to omit much muddle.

But this does not put into language that what is so crucial is how it captures the misery, thwarted aspirations, and fleeting joy in grief of millions of desperately poor, imprisoned, ravaged people, most often seen today in the form of endlessly punished refugees. Jean Valjean is Leonard Peltier, Fantine is exploited, derided, and raped woman hidden in plain sight who when she fights back becomes an outcast Christina Casey Ford (she who accused Kavanaugh and ridiculed ended outcast) without funds or friends. Mabeuf our adjunct lecturer scholar. The vast disquisitions about Waterloo, and morphing of gov’ts rarely even addressing a country’s needs, and when it tries, quickly reversed by those who cannot bear to lose a stitch of power or authority. Each type, the good priest, the barbaric cop, the base criminal and his wife, the orphan child, selfless nun, street prostitute — they stand before us.

It seems to me important to say — and maybe another reason I write this blog — that you cannot rely on any of the movies (there have been several, and I’ve tried a couple beyond Davies’) or the musical or (worse yet) the recent popular film of the musical (2012, directed by Tom Hooper), to convey the spirit or meaning of the book to you. Everything is done that can be by way of setting and choices of scenes to turn Hugo’s book into a seeming Catholic religious parable where God’s mysteries are beautiful in his churches and good people there (a reductive travesty). The movies are apolitical, with personal love the key to people’s happiness.  Nothing could be further from the feel and mood of Hugo’s book despite so often the good people being a church functionary.

Of course in the film musical you are worked up to revolutionary-like fervor and cumulatively end crying at the deaths of these good well-meaning people. And there is tragic catharsis: I found myself beginning to cry at Marius’s song too: the words “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken/There’s a pain that goes on and on” felt directly a propos. Empty chairs: that’s a phrase found in an old Civil War song (union side). And the book’s true heroine, Fantine (according to my way of thinking but not the book where Hugo chose a shallow conventional hero and mindless version of the heroine) is taking its true hero off with her to where (like Lear) he will no longer be wracked on this world’s fiery wheel of searing loneliness, and find rest. In Hugo’s book the emphasis is not personal and its significance more like what is found in a Camus novel like La Peste.


Lily Collins as Fantine after the mountebank has done with her, gathering material for dolls


Hair also needed for wigs – and teeth?

I here single out Davies’ film for making modern secular humane sense, with attention to the pathos of several of the characters (reinventing or changing some, like Courfeyreau). Davies’ script shows how despicable are others (Fantine’s seducer, the thug Madame Thenardier, however brutalized by her husband), and terrifying (Ron Cook as the mountebank who scissirs off Fantine’s hair and yanks out her teeth to leave her looking memorably ghastly). He tightens up the story, makes some realistic turns for the story, makes far more sense of Javert as a character (homoerotic, and thus obsessed with Jean Valjean), as well as filling out and making consistent the other characters in ways that bring out the egalitarian strains in the book. The only film adaptation of a classic that comes up to the presentation of the relentless killing of ordinary people practiced by the militia of the state that we see in the Paris streets in Davies’s Les Miserables here is Davies’ own Dr Zhivago.

I don’t feel that Davies quite captures the sinister and chaotic reality of a senseless unjust society and downright evil in law and deepest thought patterns (punish, isolate) of Hugo’s book: in Davies’ Dr Zhivago he has the totalitarian state as run by seething madmen whom ordinary people are terrified by. Dr Zhivago differs from most of  Davies’ work where there is a Trollopian or Dickensian (Victorian?) comic-realistic vision of the world.  Hugo’s world is tragic and exaggerated so in feel with the beautiful French fantastic.  Both project in their different mediums, Hugo with his story, Davies with the considerable apparatus of film adaptations today, the prisons, trials, hierarchical social gatherings, servitudes, what good and powerless people have to contend with. Both are short of the kind of thing we must turn to Primo Levi to find presented consistently (in If this be Man).  Nonetheless because of Davies’ skill in characterization (dialogue, instructions for gestures, collaboration with Tom Hooper, the director), when you finish Davies’ film you will have understood the underlying politics and source of some of the passions of Hugo’s work better.


Hugh Jackman’s lonely face as the dying scene begins


An unusual moment for Madame Thenardier: Helena Bonham Carter bringing out a flatness Olivia Coleman never attempts (and is not in Hugo either)

As for the musical: as presented (no matter where, stage or film), the book script and songs assume we know the story. Hardly anything is explained. It’s arguable nothing need be explicated clearly, except I appreciated what the composers and lyric writers were doing now: it was one long symphony or piece of music which had interruptions for a little dialogue but basically one long song I’ll call it; it changes mood and character voice but it seemed to me consistently a expressionist reaction to Les Miserables basic concept: here are the wretched of the earth, mixed in with cruel senseless authority figures and rules which have nothing to do with these wretched people. At any rate do not help them but seek to control and to punish. Sometimes a voice of kindness is singing, sometimes profound loneliness. The driving rhythms are a build up of rage, passion kept caged and finally reaching some height as the people climb the barricades.

The out-of-whack piece, brought back more than once, “Master of the House,” is a subversive and mindless mocking contrast, with one of the lines referring to Voltaire — as music and song it seemed to say the Voltairian Candide vision might be seethingly hilarious, a release but no use at all to suffering people.  Costumes and settings are imitative of Marat/Sade (that wild grotesque burlesque protest piece of so long ago), intermixed with Dickensian tropes so Gavroche in the film musical is an adorable Artful Dodger cut down.


Reece Yates (2012 Davies’ film) escapes both the cuteness of the Hollywoodized Artful Dodger and Hugo’s own (to me) unfortunate way of not taking the boy quite seriously

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It is so much easier to write about a movie or stage musical than one of the grand novels of the 19th century. To say I loved the long supposed digression (but the book is more digression than it is story) on language and slang won’t do.


Donald Sumpter as Mabeuf (still prosperous, in front of the church with his volumes, 2018 film)

But in order not to go on for too long, we shall have to limit ourselves tonight for exemplary detail to the ending of Hugo’s Part 4, Book 8, Chapter 7, where Mabeuf, once a lowly functionary in a church, is living in a hovel, and due to conditions out of his control, finds he can no longer pay the ridiculous rent for such a place with what he once did.  He is driven to sell his precious collection of books. He refuses to take a gift of money left for him (he would not steal a loaf of break presumably) and takes it to a bank. The last place that needs it. The cry of anguish from his heart matches the cry of Marius’s mean ancien regime grandfather when he cannot threaten Marius into loyalty, much less love in just the previous chapter. At core there is stark grief in the old man’s unwillingness to open up to his grandson or inability, and in the destitute idealist.

This does happen. Charlotte Smith in the early 19th century had to sell all her books to keep herself and family afloat. It was a terrible bitter experience for her – she didn’t quite sell them all, but those which fetched a good sum. Ever after she couldn’t write the same books. I’ve a male friend who lost his tenure, and came to DC and tried to live and get a job and couldn’t and was finally driven to sell his books in order to pay up his rent, move back home (horrible place – deep south, utter Trump country) — but then he was okay for he had a small job there and place to live with his family , a family which the high-minded Marius would have rejected and, as he does in the book (improbably) make his way (to use a very Trollopian phrase).

Looking at the book from a distance, it is very controlled. The story is minimal but it has enough twists and turns and new archetypal characters to take us through several related climaxes while moving along a trajectory of imprisonment, desperation.  I refer to JVJ’s encounter with M. Bienvenu, the priest at the opening of the book whose transformative goodness to him finds a parallel in Jean Valjean’s transformative forgiveness or lack of vengeance to Javert.   Then luck and cleverness enable JVJ to build a business and take care of a whole community, Montfermeil. He is elected Mayor despite not wanting to call attention to himself. While the slender plot-design unravels – Javert finds him after he has rescued Cosette and secured a hovel room for them both.  Like the Zorro he is, he escapes with her (using a rope pulling her up a wall he climbed up himself)  into a convent, and finding a grateful friend, stays for 18 years. And so it goes. He and Cosette leave so she can enter the world, have a chance to see it, and the spite of an old woman once again precludes their quiet retired but unconventional life. Now and again we stop for long meditations, disquisitions on war, society, language, the right type of wedding …


Dominic West as Jean Valjean reading with the little Cosette before they are forced to flee and end up in the convent

Our Jean Valjean is all heroes. Today I have been reading Christa Wolf’s Cassandra, where the one good man in the whole of Troy and among the Greeks is Aeneas, with whom Cassandra falls in love. She plays a part like Dido’s, and he must desert her out of a sense of duty (pius Aeneas), to care for his people. Well this reminds me of Jean Valjean’s behavior towards the people of Montfermeil as mayor: he thinks about them when he is about to give himself up because he can’t face allowing another person to be taken for him and put in jail. Like Foyle (in the justly respected World War II British ITV mystery series), JVJ decides that the greater general hoped-for good (that when such a good mayor leaves, all the prosperity might fall apart) does not substitute for doing a clearly concrete moral act: you must not use someone else. So he gives himself in and must escape again before he can rescue Cosette, and Fantine dies without having seen her child, in Hugo’s book believing herself forever damned.

I think that Hugo does want us to remember Aeneas carrying his father on his back during the siege of Troy and saving his life when JVJ carries Marius on his back through a sewer, almost drowns with him in filthy quicksand. But when Jean Valjean pulls himself and Marius up and comes to the locked door, who is there? Thenardier asking for money. A sardonic joke subtextually.

True heroism is caring, strength to do the truly moral thing, though the world’s consequences show how you cannot escape hurting someone. Amid all Hugo’s investment in heroic maleness, Les Miserables is as anti-war as it is anti- the capitalist spirit. Thenardier let us recall in the book ends a slave-trader in the US.

Ellen

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All Creatures Great and Small, Christmas episode, 2021 (closing scene … )

Friends and readers,

A long while ago, a new subgenre emerged — it may have occurred before TV, but certainly with TV: the Christmas special. At first the kind was a variety show, comedy and songs, with our weekly host/hostess, but didn’t take long for the filmed drama, serial style, to enter our lives directly into this holiday season everyone (seemingly) in the northern (and now even the southern — witness Australia) hemisphere seems determined to act out. In all the Christmas blogs I’ve done over the years, I have among the classic movies (1951 Scrooge, 1946 It’s a Wonderful Life), ghost, romance (Poldark), and popular Christmas movies, probably “done” a Christmas special. Indeed I remember writing about Downton Abbey in Scotland. There’s no use condescending, for some of these hours are brilliant and sustain us today still, for example, the early Sesame Street Christmas, the one where Mr Hooper and Bert and Ernie played out the O.Henry story, and Big Bird talked of Santa “stacked over Kennedy”.

Though James Herriot’s books have now provided at least one fine movie (1974, with Anthony Hopkins as Siegfried Farnon), and I’m told of eight entertaining years of British TV, beginning a few years after that (1978-90, with Robert Hardy as Farnon, and Christopher Timothy as Herriot, Peter Davison as Tristan), and last year was an unexpected hit (“Snuggling down in the Yorkshire Dales to save a few cows turned out to be just what the doctor ordered last winter.” , — I don’t know if anyone paid any special attention to Episode 7. I wasn’t inclined to until I started watching it. This evening I helped myself loosen the tightness I feel as I work at being cheerful under the prolonged strain of Covid — the isolater — by watching it twice!


Opening scene with James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) opening gate in fence to move on through the beautiful countryside to a worn old house where an aging couple, white farmer with a black English wife, have called him because she is worried over a dog having trouble producing her puppies


Matching first scene with Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley, superb in the part), far more than housekeeper, to one side, and Siegfried Farnon (now Samuel West) to the other of a perfect tree: she is urging him not to open Tristan’s veterinarian test results, for looking won’t change them, and knowing (he’s failed once again) may spoil the days to come

By this time or as of this evening, I confess to having watched this new and third iteration of a first season (2021) through twice, its second season (2022) once (minus the Christmas episode which has not been played yet on British TV), a segment on YouTube of the 1974 movie once, and about 8 episodes of the first season of the 1975 version, once each. At first I was slightly hostile, instinctively alienated by the self-conscious pastoralism of the paratexts (please no meretricious Arcadias was my thought):


In the Christmas episode underneath the refrain associated with, framing the series, could be heard lightly Christmas bells …

Then the events occurring seemed dismayingly predictable.  But as I became involved with the animal care, and then the developing relationships and personalities, especially that of Mrs Hall, I was drawn in, and then amiably addicted. I remembered the paratexts from the 2016 Durrells and how I learned to love that series, and eventually bought the books by Gerry, a group biography, then a wonderful travel meditative book on Corfu, and before you know it, I was reading another of Lawrence Durrell’s travel books with different eyes, understanding where they came from far more. I am a fan of Keeley Hawes for life now.

As the first season went on, not only did it move beyond its kind conventions, the film-makers defied, went against the way the comic-emotional tropes are usually developed. This Christmas episode outdid itself. Most Christmas stories end with the characters getting some version of their heart’s desires, having clearly become life’s winners, not quite here. We learn eventually in fact Tristan (the puzzlingly marvelous Callum Woodhouse — also an unexpected mainstay of The Durrells) has not passed his exams, but when Siegfried opens the letter and reads pass/fail, he lies and then puts the letter in the fire. He will (at least for now) treat his younger brother insofar as he can as a certified veterinarian.  During this episode we watch Tristan learning on the job, not only to care for animals (a donkey requisitioned for the Christmas pageant) but the human being who is its caretaker and is in as much need of alert attention if any good is to be done for the donkey.


Tristan (dressed in the elf outfit to please his brother, Siefgfried) congratulating a small boy dressed as a wise man on telling that he fed the donkey mistletoe – now Tristan can try to figure out how to help the creature’s obvious pain

All episode long Mrs Hall is expecting, waiting, watching, eagerly anticipating the return of her son, Edward, to her (after a jail sentence in which her evidence helped convict him), only to about 3/4s through realize he is not coming. We see her hold up in church, the singing forcing her to control her crying (Siegfried holding her hand over the song book), and while appearing to accept, still in that last still not forgetting him. Because this is the way most Christmas stories end, like her I kept expecting him, but no miraculous forgiveness and reconciliation, only a growing awareness of the hardness of what his reality might now be.


The subtitle, Repeat the sounding joy, functions ironically

Most striking of all, after all Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) does not marry Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis). Several episodes seem to have brought them together, and now a main motive of this episode is her coming wedding, complete with bachelor’s party for him, the beautiful dress, the congratulations, the ceremony to be performed tomorrow as a key community event. But she cannot face it, and has apparently herself understood she loves Herriot; she urges Herriot to take her with him as he returns late in the evening to the the aging couple and their distressed female dog. The birth takes several hours, fog comes in, they cannot return until morning. We learn of how this couple came to marry, how they loved and have been true to their love against much prejudice and ostracizing.


A Black English woman was always an outsider says the wife, Hattie Edkins (Hetty Rudd)

First Helen and then James settle down to sleep on separate couches. With real difficulty he manages to start the car (it is very cold) and return her to her waiting dress, father. Then taking the kindly meant but conventional advice of Mrs Hall and Siegfried, James starts to drive away back to Glasgow (for Christmas with his parents), but at a symbolic crossroads, reverses and drives back. He discovers that Helen did not go through with the wedding, and now sits on a bench, alone, maybe waiting for him?


James sits next to her, and we watch them from the back, gradually talk, and hold hands, walking out of the church, the right couple at last

Hugh vanishes from the stage after his brief appearance at the party, on his way to a bachelor’s party — he has lost a lot of money as well as pride and his heart’s desire.

Of course it’s not all quiet trauma and doubt. The actresses are all very pretty, Helen especially in her melancholy and strong stasis


Helen brooding at a window (same posture seen in Anna Maddeley as Mrs Hall), standing in front of the car on the cold morning, enduring the coming wedding still

There are two other romances, which while moving at glacial paces, seem to be getting somewhere. Lovely ceremoniousness between Siegfried and an older woman friend of Mrs Hall, Dorothy (Maimie McCoy); like my present hero, Christopher Foyle (who knows not Michael Kitchen?), Siegfried says he is having difficulty forgetting his deceased wife. Tristan is perhaps more than flirting with Maggie (Mollie Winnard).


James and Helen with Connie (Charlie May-Clark) who has hopes of Herriot and finds everything so festive


Preparations for the coming feast — Siegfried overlooking what Mrs Hall has set out in the kitchen

Throughout the episode there is much happy activity, Christmas party, Christmas dancing, Siefried as Santa in green and white; the farmer’s market, Mrs Hall’s food, her shopping for Brussel sprouts. The dog does give birth finally and we watch the first puppy struggle for life and survive. Christmas carrolling in church (de rigueur in such films). Scenes of people eating together, drinking, just (as at the end) being together. All well-meaning. That does seem to be a universal tendency of these Christmas stories; when we meet a genuine evil man, like Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) in It’s a Wonderful Life, he is hated by all and thwarted, to the great satisfaction of all viewers, including this one.

If you are like me, home alone, you can vicariously join in to a Christmas that is believable. I do most days need some cheering up, so often so sad that right now my movie-watching includes this year’s All Creatures Great and Small, the set of DVDs sent me by my friend Rory. They still my heart with the strong projection of love, understanding, kindness between one another. I am especially fond of the direct emphasis on the animals the Vets and everyone else too are caring so tenderly for. That the first episode of the second season (about to start on US TV on PBS) opened with an temporarily ill but still adorable cat being taken care of by James was perhaps overdoing it …


Mrs Pumphrey (Diana Rigg) and Tricky-Woo — alas they are not in the Christmas episode

A few words about the differences between this 21st century version and the 20th: The 1978 serial is realer, its pastoral qualities quieter or not so determined, for money comes up right away, people have vexed and unforgiving temperaments.  The housekeeper is not so pretty or obliging and motherly (she keeps her distance, is a paid servant). There is far less depth of emotion. The literal events are much closer to the book.  This 21st century version has added characters (Helen’s sister for example, Herriot’s mother), usually a sign of strong change. I’m glad to see the overbearing dictatorial mother of the 21st century is not in the book. The women in the first series simply go to work, and are less self-conscious about it — dare I say the 20th century version is more quietly feminist? The 1978 series makes no strong effort to be pro-family the way this new series does — everyone does not become a honorary family member somewhere. Hugh’s role is smaller; he is simply preferred by Helen’s family for his higher rank and money. Much less is made of Mrs Pumphrey (Diana Rigg in the new iteration) and Tricky-Woo, the pampered pug. It seems in the 21st century the film-makers assume we long for imagined strong communities where people live up to some social obligations they usually don’t in real life. The 1978 is quicker in pace; I don’t feel it’s more comic though it’s trying to be. We might say the 2020/21 is a more romantic familial series (following in the steps of the 21st century The Durrells?)

Both series show the characters caring for the farm animals and pets, but as far as I watched of the 1978 version (I stayed only for a trial week) the cameras don’t come up as close to them, and I feel at more intensely caring approach is felt in the 2021 episodes. The wikipedia articles tells you that Nicholas Ralph had to do quite a bit of training to enact his role. Mrs Hall (Audrey) is centrally involved in all the veterinarian business too (all personal and professional issues). The impersonal minor presence on the typewriter, in the kitchen in the old 1978 series in this 2021 version holds up the light by which Herriot performs a dangerous operation on a cow.

I would say the 2021/2 version of All Creatures Great and Small is far more theatrical than any of the previous (including the original movie)

Gentle reader, you could do far worse than spend one of these holiday evenings watching the Christmas episode of the 2021 All Creatures Great and Small.

Ellen

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Donal McCann as Phineas Finn defending the Duke of Omnium in Parliament (1974 BBC Pallisers, scripted Simon Raven, Episode 23)


Dillsborough as drawn by the Geroulds; an alternative title for The American Senator (written 1875, serialized 1876) is A Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough

Dear Friends and readers,

Tempus fugit. It was mid-November when I finished teaching The Prime Minister (written 1874, serialized 1875) to two OLLIs classes; in both the book taught later in the day had proved a hard sell as I lost half the class, but with those who stayed, it was a resounding success. I don’t recall classes as involved, quoting passages at me, coming up with interesting interpretations, so engaged. It is one of several outstanding masterpieces by Trollope. A week or so later the London Society Trollope zoom group finished its reading and discussion of The American Senator.

As in the original publication of these two books written in close temporal proximity, The American Senator held far more people (once we got over the initial complicatedly laid-out place and geneaologies), was far more popular than The Prime Minister (well over 100 people stuck it out to the end of The American Senator), but by the end it was not clear that the mix of caricature, philosophical-political analysis, and ironic domestic story in AS had been as seriously probing, and ended as having the same large philosophical and anthropological (as a study of how politics works) application as PM. AS could still command a review in the 1940s Scrutiny, as a political fable well worth the perusal, but PM withstood (so to speak) the imaginative attention to transformed detail, psychologically complex characters, and politics (from angles like newspaper humiliation) we see in Raven’s adaptation. Taken together, both give the reader a sense of a realistic depiction the life of the average middle class to fabulously wealthy people in the UK at the time.

I here compare the two books here concisely with the aim of encouraging readers to read them, about them, and watch the film adaptation (Episodes 20 to 23 of the BBC 1974 Pallisers).


The two friends, Susan Hamilton as the Duchess and Barbara Murray, as Mrs Flynn plotting the coming ministry (Pallisers Episode 20)

The Prime Minister is the fifth Palliser, the final culminating story of the couple Lady Glen and Plantangenet Palliser that began in The Small House of Allington (the fifth Barsetshire book) and comes to the end on the first page of The Duke’s Children (Palliser 6) with the death of the Duchess in the novel’s first sentence. Arguably it’s the 11th novel in a vast roman fleuve comprised of 12 books (the 6 Pallisers coming out of the 6 Barsetshires’ landscape imaginary). A new angle of scrutiny is dramatized before us: what is meant by political work? where is it done? how do people go about it? how does this activity connect to what happens in Parliament? and how does what’s decided in Parliament impinge upon, shape, the lives of the people governed.

The American Senator is a singleton, a free standing book, but some of the characters and a place near Dillsborough recur in Ayala’s Angel (1880).

I’d like to focus on what seems original in Trollope, and peculiar to him, and then what is peculiar to each of these two novels. For both: An underlying paradigm of the Self versus Society once again holds Trollope’s multiplot patterns together in both novels. Long passages of interiority, interior views of characters show characters in search of their heart desires (or pocketbook’s needs). Characters are fiercely independent, guard their inner autonomy. They obstinately hold on and hold out.

As in Phineas Redux, in PM Trollope alludes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s meditative poem, “A Musical Instrument” the high cost to individuals of succeeding in life; how it is important to resist while conforming insofar as you need to, must, or want. In both books we have some panoramic sweep combined with precise detail. Never mind whether the character feels he or she is doing good, it’s the priority of their self’s conditions or terms of existence we see the working out, while all the while they know they cannot thrive unless they are embedded in their communities.


Barsetshire, East and West, with the railway to London at Silverbridge, and Matching Priory and Gatherum in the west (by Michael Sadleir, based on Trollope’s own map)

The Prime Minister has (like many of the twelve books) a second plot-pattern which in various ways contrasts to, parallels, ironically undermines and crucially intersects with the political matter. The story of the failure of the marriage of Ferdinand Lopez to Emily Wharton, of his attempt at a political career using the Duchess as patroness, and using egregious astonishing lying, a story of a rise to high respectability from nothing at all, and near momentary triumph, in corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. It includes a segment which brings in colonialist imperialism, in Latin American (Guatemala).

Trollope comes as close as he dares to portraying how a young woman beginning life as firm in herself, of high self-esteem, and under the strains of emotional manipulation, isolation, abuse, ending a shattered hammered-at easily distressed wife, then widow: it will take her a long while to come back to self-acceptance and a fate she perhaps mistook as one she didn’t want.  Lopez is the dark Hamlet of the book, the most fascinating and least (or perhaps most) knowable character of the book, given the most powerful scene in all Trollope. He is perhaps derived from a Jacobean play.


Sheila Ruskin as Emily, rueful, realizing how mistaken she was in the nature of the man she has married (Episode 22)


Stuart Wilson as Ferdinand Lopez, pained and humiliated before lashing out furiously (Episode 22)

Arguably each of the Palliser or Parliamentary novels deals with political behavior in different ways. In Can You Forgive Her? has a man without money try to stay in Parliament in a London district – finds he cannot afford it, even begin. It’s a book against the kind of patronage and bribery that were prevalent before the 1867 and 1872 acts. In the two Phineas books Trollope dramatizes issues fought out (important ones like the franchise, group representative, secret ballot) and we see Trollope’s hero trying to keep to his conscience, so vote against the gov’t which has given him a paid job because of what he promised and how he wants to serve his constituency.

In The Prime Minister we learn that politics is socializing, partying with people, that’s the way you build coalitions and get bills passed, but if you become indifferent to what is passed, lose all sense of boundaries or have no genuine political beliefs, meaningful action is erased away. Selling yourself, being willing to bend and tolerate all sorts of POVs not your own to the point that you become indifferent to what precisely you are voting for is to be there sheerly for power, money and high rank. In all four books the way these themes are worked out is through large groups of characters over long stretches of prose, many incidents coming to climaxes I for one am often riveted by. Glencora is on the side of looking at politics as a power game, as socializing as central to an individual triumph; Plantagenet wants to do useful things for his constituencies, and finds the triumphs a burden.

Here is but one scene faithfully transposed by Raven from a typical high conflict between Lady Glen (the Duchess) and Plantagenet (the Duke): From Trollope’s Prime Minister, II, Chapter 32.


The Duchess unpinning her elegant hat as the scene begins

Duke: “Cora!”
Duchess: “Yes” (looking in the mirror at herself). Mastershot shows us the configuration of the room, where they are in relation to one another, the maid. She is still humming.
He closes the door. Irritated dark look in his face.
Duke: “Why is it hard to kill an established evil?”
Duchess: “What evil have you failed to kill, Duke?”
He is standing looking at cork soled boots, picks one up, looks at soles. (We are to recall that when Lady Rosina talked about cork soled boots she meant nothing else, no subtext; the Duchess is endlesss subtext.)
Duke: “The people in Silverbridge (the maid comes over to where he is and he begins to help her pick up the basket by handing it to her), they’re still saying I want to return a candidate for ’em.”
Duchess: “Oh! (looks hesitant and smiles placatingly). So that’s the evil. It seems to me to be an admirable (maid quietly walks out the door, new mastershot of room from another angle) institution which for some reason you wish to murder.”
Duke (soft voice): “Well, I must do what I think is right. I’m sorry I don’t carry you with me in this matter, Cora.” (He turns round to face her). “But I think you’ll agree on this (piercing look at her, she looks down though not facing him, but us) that when I say a thing should be done, then it should be done.”
She sighs and with a wry expression on her face she puts on gloves.
He looks grim.
Duchess: “Any more suicidal thing than throwing away that borough was never done in all history.
Who will thank you? How will it help you? It is like King Lear throwing off his clothes in the storm because his daughters threw him out.”
Duke (deep voice) “Glencora. Cora.” (Bridling and he walks to the wide door and closes both sides of one facing us. He means to endure a scene.)
She sits, now gloveless and begins to take off her hat.
Duke turns round. “Now I have chosen that I shall know nothing about this election in Silverbridge because I think that that is right.”
Duchess. “Yes, Uncle Lear.”
Duke: “And I’ve chosen that you should know nothing about it. (Walks behind her and sits to her side, but nearby), and yet they’re saying at Silverbridge that you are canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Glencora (turns round, close up, concerned face). “Who says that?”
Duke: “I don’t think that it matters who said it so long as it is untrue. Now I trust that it is untrue.”
Duchess (look perturbed and worried). (Gulps.) “Of course I haven’t been canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Camera on his dark face listening.
Duchess: “But I did just happen to mention to Mr Sprout the cork-sole man that I rather approve of Mr Lopez in a general social way.”
Duke (low voice): “Well, Mr Sprout is a very prominent citizen in Silverbridge. Well, I particularly asked you not to speak on this matter to anyone at all.”
Duchess: “But I only said that I thought .. think that he … ”
Duke (interrupts fiercely) “What business had you to say anything” (loud, emphatic, the feel of him hitting something without doing it).
She looks up at him. “Well, I suppose I may have my sympathies as well as another. You’ve become so autocratic (she gets up and walks over to the door, looks like she is about to open it) I shall have to go in for women’s rights.”
Duke (other side of the room). “Cora. Cora. Don’t separate yourself from me. Don’t disjoin yourself from me in all these troubles” (crying sound in his voice).
Duchess (high pitched and turns round) “What am I to do when you consistently scold me. ‘What right had you to say anything?’ No woman likes that sort of thing, and I do not know of any who like it less than Glencora (comes over to sofa and curtsies) Duchess of Omnium.”


The Duke’s listening face

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By contrast, in AS, you have a single figure, Senator Go-to-bed, who castigates with direct invective and rhetoric and subjects through sarcasm, his own acts, and continually irony all the characters of Dillsborough to an often hostile critical analysis of what they are doing. He is often literally accurate, if you take away the local culture (hunting), unfortunately offensive (even to those whose unfair circumstances he supposedly is aiming to ameliorate), and is himself the target of fleecing corruption by those he’s trying to help.

Gotobed is embedded, provides a sort of link for several intertwined stories. The mirror he holds up reflects multiple directions and perspectives within these groups of characters and stories, and on topics like the woman question (the problems of women finding a suitable partner whom she wants to marry and who wants to marry her in a world where the alternative seems destitution or humbling dependency), church incomes, the class-biased court system. The other characters are psychologically believable but are allowed to behave in (to contemporaries) bizarrely-taboo breaking ways to expose cracking systems (the aristocratic way of courtship and enforced marriage).

The concentration on “way out” behavior is meant to startle and sometimes sympathize with a character in desperation (Arabella Trefoil) even if they bring the destruction nearly down on themselves. It’s important that the highest titled person, the man the aristocratic women are panting to marry (especially Arabella Trefoil), Lord Rufford, is a weak cad, a drone, and eventually becomes the henpecked husband of a petty spiteful aristocratic woman.

To me it seems another quietly ironic attack on the British hierarchical systems; but Gotobed offers a problematic depiction of the US at the time. 1876, the year AS was published saw the bargain election of Rutherford Hayes and the abandonment of reconstruction by the US congress so that a reign of racial terror began to spread across the south; in an article Trollope himself wrote for St Paul’s Magazine, he shows himself against a universal equal franchise and especially against giving previously enslaved or any Negro the vote.  Gotobed holds the US up as an egalitarian and just world, one man one vote, and it’s not.

There is much comedy in The American Senator, so I’ll give an example of Trollope at his most tactful good-natured best in in Chapter 27, “Wonderful [or talkative] Bird!”:

An unnamed old lady and her parrot impinge on the semi-courting of one of the two heroines, Mary Masters, by my favorite among the gentlemen Mortons, Reginald (he prefers to read) as they travel by train from Dillsborough (not yet identified) to Cheltenham (a real place). It is a comic piece filled with good feeling, tactfully presented.

Reginald Morton has offered to accompany Mary Masters to his aunt, Lady Ushant’s house. It would seem it was still strongly preferable for a middle class girl to be accompanied on a long journey. He and she find themselves in a compartment for a journey of thirty miles — except for an old lady ‘who has a parrot in a cage, for which she had taken a first-class ticket’. The old lady is slightly anxious because as the couple come in, she says: ‘”I can’t offer you this seat . . . because it has been booked and paid for for my bird”‘. Our narrator assures us our young friends had no desire to separate themselves one from the other to sit near the old lady.

The idea is to undercut sentiment by the pragmatic presence of a wisely indifferent animal. Our parrot is, however, as indifferent to his mistress as he is to our romantic couple. Our old lady is also less obtrusive than the careless reader might think. Since Reginald and Mary regard the old lady sheerly in the light of an obstacle, her words are bathed in their sense of her; read more carefully, she emerges as somewhat more vulnerable and in need of her bird than one might think. Her bird is, however, like some force of nature. Sometimes his noise goes with her, and sometimes it goes against her. For example, she asks Mary, ‘”don’t you think you’d be less liable to cold with that window closed?” the old lady said, to Mary. ‘Cosed, — cosed, — cosed, ‘ said the bird, and Morton was of course constrained to shut the window.’ So the old lady gets her way. Towards the end of the chapter we discover that the old lady and her bird did not do so well when they went into another carriage:

Her bird had been ill-treated by some scurrilous, ill- conditioned travelers and she had therefore returned to the comparative kindness of her former companions. ‘They threatened to put him out of the window, sir’, said the old woman to Morton, as she was forcing her way in. ‘Windersir, — windersir’, said the parrot.
‘I hope he’ll behave himself here, ma’am’, said Morton.

‘Heremam, — hereman, — heremam’, said the parrot.

‘Now go to bed like a good bird’, said the old lady, putting her shawl over the cage, — whereupon the parrot made a more diabolical noise than ever under the curtain’.

In Gilbert and Sullivan songs the fun is sometimes in irrational mockery of nonsense syllables. Reginald apologizes for his behavior at Bragton, ‘”I always am a bear when I am not pleased’, “Peas, — peas, — peas”, said the parrot.’ Reginald is himself not keen on the parrot’s presence, ‘”I shall be a bear to that brute of a bird before long . . . He is a public nuisance”‘. Then he tries to speak of when he and Mary ‘were always together’, and the bird says, ‘”Gedder, — gedder, — gedder”‘. Morton gets angry and thinks to speak to the guard, and this wakes the apparently sleeping old lady. She is alive to the threat although she has paid for the first- class ticket, and says, ‘”Polly mustn’t talk”‘, to which the bird replies, ‘”Tok, — tok, — tok”‘ (p. 184). Ungrateful bird.

The scene is not wholly undercut in this manner. Reginald does manage to apologize for something he did, and Mary does manage to tell Reginald she is not engaged to Larry Twentyman. Reginald manages to tell Mary that he ‘”is glad to hear it”‘ and fill her mind once again with the sense that she is above Larry Twentyman, or ought to think herself so. In this scene Trollope conveys a deep sense of sincere loving emotions going on between this couple of which they themselves are not wholly aware. They are eager, anxious, at moments uncomfortable, but trying to reach one another somehow.

We might look upon the old lady and her bird as another pair of far more incongruous but equally unconscious potential partners for life.


Fred Walker, a novel illustrator, painter of the era: Spring: this could be Mary Masters as a younger girl or one of her sisters, say Kate who marries Larry Twentyman

I have written on both books elsewhere. Happily, on my website I gathered together a good deal that I wrote with a group of people who read The American Senator together and refer my reader there. You can also see what Trollope thought about American society in his travel book, North America. Here on the Net there is more on The Prime Minister as dramatized in Raven’s Pallisers than the book itself. See Phineas Finn into The Prime Minister and The Prime Minister into The Duke’s children here

Ellen

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Frank Fenwick faces the community and the Marquis of Trowbridge, defying them on behalf of the working class Sam Brattle whom they are about to keep in prison for crime there is no evidence he committed (Henry Woods, first illustrator of Vicar of Bullhampton)


John Caldigate glimpses and is attracted to the independent Mrs Euphemia Smith seen for the first time aboard their shared ship going to Australia (Francis Moseley, 20th century illustrator of Folio John Caldigate)

Friends and readers,

Several months ago now on Trollope and his Contemporaries at groups.io I read with a group of people Trollope’s colonialist (even if much of it does not take place in Australia) novel, John Caldigate, together with Simon Grennan’s graphic novel post-text (it changes the story in several important ways) to the book, Dispossession.


One of the houses in John Caldigate as imagined and drawn by Grennan, probably the Caldigates — the endpapers to the graphic novel

Then about two months ago now, a rather intensive reading and discussion of Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, took place on a facebook page run by a couple of people who opened a general page called The Way We Read Now I’ve read both before (see group read of John Caldigate on my website), and especially the first time was much drawn to The Vicar of Bullhampton: my father gave me a Dover copy to read during when I landed in Metropolitan Hospital on the upper East Side of NYC after a car accident, and it fully absorbed me.

These novels are alike in being lesser known novels, not overly long for Trollope, not widely read, with (as I realize now) The Vicar of Bullhampton having a distorted reputation as a sub-Barchester novel (it is very unlike these), and when it is remembered at all, John Caldigate the one novel where Trollope deals at length with bigamy: he wanted to call it Mrs John Caldigate, which would have called attention to the question, which of the two central female characters, Euphemia Smith or Hester Bolton is legally Caldigate’s wife.

But there is another angle on these books which leads me to want to write about them together and here. They both broach taboo topics and controversial issues in Trollope’s era and show him analysing and looking for revealing cracks and contradictions, cruelties, blind prejudices and injustices, at the same time as he is disappointingly deeply unfair to the central women characters of both. In The Vicar of Bullhampton (1868) Trollope was in fact way ahead of his time in his attitudes towards prostitution, working class people, and policing (the criminal justice system he did understand and was very sceptical about how it worked).

But when it comes to making inferences from his own rather different premises than the average person,Trollope goes right back to misogyny, especially sexual controlling and shaming and blaming of women. He presents an impossibly abject and self-hating young woman as Carry Brattle, a young woman no longer chaste, possibly quietly for a time living with this or that young man outside marriage, in the lingo of the time, a “castaway” as apparently the only way he could get himself to sympathize with such a young woman. He allows his central heroine, Mary Lowther, to take on the blame for acceding to an engagement all around her conspired to pressure her into (including by downright lies), and refuses to give her any solution to what to do with her existence except be sure she is in love with the man she is to make her master. The unfortunate male she engages herself to is berated by everyone in the book who encouraged him to stalk her. By contrast, the depiction of the prejudice and suspicion surrounding Sam Brattle for (in effect) simply walking about while working class is simply shown for the class bias it is. When the powerful man of the town angry that his prejudice is not going to reign supreme, encourages the dissenting minister of the town to build a church abutting the Vicar’s and spreads salacious rumors about the Vicar’s relationship with Carry — all to punish the Vicar for his courageous candor in defending both Brattles, there is a unbiased complexity about the various components of what we could call the Vicar’s authentic selfhood (similar to but not as brilliant as the one found within Josiah Crawley in The Last Chronicle of Barset.

In John Caldigate (1877) Trollope may be said to question marriage itself, and partly make a case for people being able to break a marriage if they find they are incompatible with or can do better elsewhere or are just tired of the person they chose, but when it comes to a trial and a judgement (and prison sentences) he only allows the male to be pardoned, and puts the woman in prison: this is one of the changes Grennan feels he must make — Euphemia Smith in his graphic novel goes as free as John Caldigate, and Grennan is a lot more candid than Trollope in dramatizing what happened in Australia and the probably clandestine marriage Caldigate entered into. At no time does Trollope’s hero ever show any remorse for his lies to various women he flirts with rather callously), to Hester’s family. Once he returns from Australia he is automatically his father’s darling because the father was so lonely for him even though before he left he had driven up high gambling debts, would not allow his father to see him reading or doing anything intelligent (just rat-catching, and womanizing) because it seems he was determined to be seen to exercise his own will. After an initial even-handed presentation of Euphemia, when she returns to England, she is treated with the kind of calumny Trollope intends to scold readers for treating the Carry Brattles of the world. It seems the woman is not allowed to be at all successful in an aggressively competitive life while the man who returns with wealth is ultimately rewarded.

You could call these books problem novels where Trollope is examining extremely problematic behavior in societies towards conventionally tabooed behavior as well as conventionally applauded, showing the perniciousness (especially cruelty to vulnerable impoverished single women) inadequacies, even egregious injustices of society’s behavior (and who wins in courts) — at the same time as he upholds the white male patriarchy. They therefore function in a somewhat different way than he might have intended, depending on the reader. People who have the courage to engage with the topics broached by Trollope often tell more about themselves as they approve and accept or critique and reject what Trollope has dramatized. Trollope deliberately creates situations which de-stabilize accepted codes and norms: through the stories he rips open the contradictions and also morally awful behavior or standards or ideas to make us look at these.

I’ve put off writing about them since in both cases, I wrote individual postings on both novels, sometimes at length, sometimes several on different angles, and sometimes not just in response to the chapters at hand or their context, but also to the other person or people posting too. It would be a lot of work to distill them. into a blog. I have done this for other of the Trollope novels, but so much is omitted, and in these two novels’ cases the controversies Trollope meant to bring up and be discussed would have to be flattened or lost. It’s this that drove me to make the large sections on my website for some of the Trollope novels I read with others. I just reprint all the postings under the chapters they are about, occasionally festooned with illustrations, photographs or stills from relevant movies, e.g., this one on The Small House at Allington. I have been putting my postings on The Vicar of Bullhampton on my groups.io listserv just so there will be a place on the Internet where they can be found (as long as the archives are online). I also had promised myself I would make no more overlong blogs.

My solution this time is just reprint a couple of the postings from each group read that I hope will be of interest to a reader and leave him or her to find the rest on Facebook or groups.io or read the novels (and Grennan’s Dispossession if so minded). Since the Vicar was written earlier, is a mid-career Trollope book, I’ll put the postings about this novel first.

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Carey Mulligan as Bathesheba in Far from the Madding Crowd: she is subjected to similar pressures as Mary Lowther, also supposed beautiful — one important difference is Bathesheba has property, Mary has not enough to rent lodgings and buy food …

Vicar of Bullhampton, Chapter 2: Flo’s Red Ball:

The center of the chapter is intense pressure on Mary, the heroine, to marry a man she says she does not love. Here is Trollope’s narrator: “The parson and his wife were altogether of one mind in this matter, and thought that Mary Lowther ought to be made to give herself to Harry Gilmore.” She should be coerced, give herself means go to bed with him, give her body to him. Again, Trollope as narrator: “She knew very well that she would not accept him now” after he has her thinking is “was she not wrong to keep him in suspense.” We see she does also because he is encouraged to come and nag her. All the next paragraph is about how “she did not think she could ever bring herself to say she would be this man’s wife” (think what wife meant in that era) and “because she still doubted, she was told by her friend she was behaving badly.” Of course he behaves sweetly; he wants her, and he is encouraged to carry on, and pay no attention for real to her not wanting him. It has been suggested that Mary is a readerly type and he no intellectual. I think of Fanny Price deeply irritated when Henry Crawford carries on after she has said no several times — Crawford’s appetite was whetted by the no (that’s from Mansfield Park). In his introduction Skilton remarks critics in the period saw parallels between the two heroines (Carrie Brattle who has been mentioned once), but instead of focusing on Mary’s emotional life and needs (just emerging here), I’ll call our attention to the game of consent which is what is being put before us. That’s what we are looking at: coerced consent will turned be into just or plain consent once she says yes, for they will forget they coerced her on the grounds they know better what she is or what she needs than she does. Do they? We have before us the injunction that a woman must be willing turned into forced willingness. It’s forced consent that’s the problem (and allows rape to be not-rape). Mary has to be ever so careful not to seem to promise anything or they will leap on it. And how easily a ball falls into the water. Too much attention is paid to “no” when often in reality situations actually arise over consent itself where consent is used as a weapon. All this politeness (and Janet is not very polite) is a screen. As it happens, the latest issue of NYRB has Anne Enright talking about “the burden of ‘yes'” (so the issue yesterday is still the issue today), and I’ll end on a wonderful phrase where she sums up the larger perspective here: “you cannot assert an equivalence of desire between men and women when there is no equivalence of power.” Gilmore has inherited income, power, land, respect, can serve in powerful offices; Mary must live with relatives, and is dependent on their kindness to her. Are we told if she has any income of her own? Let us recall what frees Lily Dale at the end of her story is her uncle leaves her 3000 pounds a year.

Yes, she is poor- her whole fortune is 1200 lbs, perhaps 50/annum.

I thought of another analogous Victorian text which might be of interest: the other night I watched the 2015 film adaptation of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, and it seemed to me there too the issue was this one of forcing Bathsheba to consent — also placing the story in a rural area. I can see Carey Mulligan as Mary Lowther

Chapter 17: The Marquis of Trowbridge

Thank you to Scott; as all others have said we are one-third through and have an important scene, moment, linchpin occurrence. This chapter contains one of the Vicar’s great heroic moments. He stands up against the powerful in the community to demand that a man against whom there is no evidence for any crime be freed. We are told leading up to the scene that the Marquis of Trowbridge is a bully who likes to inflict his power on others, and is insulted by the idea (with him the suspicion and class of the man, a son of a tenant, means he did it) Sam murdered someone on land near his. Gilmore and the Vicar are meanwhile called Damon and Pythias, a curiously homoerotic note here, but it does also mean constant close friendship. What Trowbridge really hates is anyone defying him. By contrast we are told how Fenwick tolerates the dissenting chapel right near the Anglican church he presides over at the same time as emotionally he resents Puddleham (given one of these allegorical reductive names); but Fenwick holds to a principle of toleration. The scene repeats one from Last Chronicle of Barset where Crawley stands up against the magistrates but cannot defy them because the “evidence” which supposedly proves he stole 20£ was found upon him. Fenwick takes his stand not on Sam’s innocence because we cannot know this, but the complete lack of evidence for any arrest or conviction. It’s a long scene with Trowbridge insisting he has an interest in arresting Sam because he owns so much property. He is backed up by that same dissenting minister, Puddleham (who it’s implied is doing this to gain power against Fenwick by enlisting himself under Trowbridge). Fenwick with Sam’s lawyer wins. But what really incenses Trowbridge is Fenwick has the “gall” (nerve, what an outrage) to mention Trowbridge’s daughters in the same breath as the Brattles because the Brattles are further bad-mouthed by the existence of a daughter, Carrie Brattle (who we know is a castaway). It seems like Sam’s walking about at night, his friendships, that she’s his sister is another insinuation to help arrest (and convict) him. It’s this mention of Trowbridge’s daughter which brings the scene to an end, thus intertwining the intense sexual plot-designs with this murder one. In both instances the Vicar is our hero and for once on the wholly right or moral side. I will remark here that one of the ironies Trollope wants us to see all along is that the Vicar has continually acted as if he were a powerful man, and gains power because of his position and his belief in himself, but Trollope wants us to see that the Vicar is relatively powerless against many forces and people in his community — not as powerless as the Brattles of course, or any “mere tenant” or any woman w/o control of property (none of them in this book thus far). The Vicar in other words has won this scene literally (Sam will be freed) but there is no indication he will win this larger battle with injustice as he seem to be losing gaining Mary for the convenience or desires of his wife and Gilmore. So the title of the book is partly ironic.

Chapter 36 – Sam Brattle Goes Off Again

I just loved how Sam was allowed to speak, and how his argument is cogent and persuasive. Also some of his motives & behavior. Says he, Is he not to be allowed an independent life because the police have not found out who killed Trumbull? can that be (just is his point) law? “a chap can’t move to better hisself, because them fellers can’t catch the men as murdered old Trumbull? That can’t be law — or justice.” The Vicar does begin by telling Sam that having been with this group of men trespassing a garden, he “has no just cause of complaint at finding his own liberty crippled (what a strong word), but then he agrees (narrator’s voice intermingled here too): “no policeman could have the right to confine him to one parish;” no shred of evidence he could give information. We’re told Sam argued the matter so well (“sharp and intelligent”) that Fenwick was convinced (it’s implied as long as Sam is available because bail was paid). Beyond wanting to escape very hard work at little pay in a hostile atmosphere, Sam has wanted to help Carry. He has infuriated the old man by trying to get the father to let Carry come back: “I just said a word to him, as a word was right to be said,” to the Vicar: “she ought to be let come home again, and that if I was to stay at the mill,I’d fetch her. The father said get out. Then the problem of where she went, how to find her, in talk brings out this kind of abject self-hatred from Sam paralleling Carry when the Vicar says he’ll take her in: “The likes of you won’t likely have a sister the likes of her.” We already know Janet won’t allow this: her excuse: the servants will object (worried about their reputations?) Sam says “she is not a bad ‘un,” to which the Vicar replies: “And as for bad, which of us isn’t bad? The world is very hard on her offense” (he separates the person from the act). Sam again gets the truly eloquent statement: “Down on her, like a dog on a rat” (I am sorry for the metaphor as it maligns dogs – but Trollope is not alive to animals as fully sentient beings and uses them as symbols). Then, as Melody says, back to the Vicar’s fight. I agree with John, all religious groups are entitled to worship, but that kind of hidden prejudice in the Vicar and his wife, is lost among what really makes it openly unbearable to the Fenwicks: the chapel is an eyesore, “a hideously ugly building, roofless, doorless, windowless.” Of course, the Anglican church has a lot more money and time to build pretty buildings. The bishop repeats his early performance by refusing to go into details (reminding me of the US supreme court with its “shadow” allowing laws to pass into being without having the courage to tell their unacceptable opinions). Then Gilmore tells the friend seeking support, well, he doesn’t see why the Vicar is so annoyed. Comically Janet is growing thin with this aggravation: it’s more than snobbery, it’s being made manifest that she is not as invulnerable and powerful in her own right (as Vicar’s wife) as she likes to think. What’s interesting to me here is how the Vicar finds his friends will not support him if it’s inconvenient to them. Now, Sam has acted in ways that show he does not always consult his own convenience.

“It went forth through the village that Mr. Puddleham had described Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel, and the torch of discord had been thrown down, and war was raging through the parish.” Sad though all the discord is, imagining Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel has to be worth a chuckle. “It went forth through the village that Mr. Puddleham had described Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel, and the torch of discord had been thrown down, and war was raging through the parish.” Sad though all the discord is, imagining Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel has to be worth a chuckle. Ginny

How absurd is Puddleham. Janet a Jezebel … but then this fits into low church imagery and he has no ability to think at all so he uses what he has read.

Trollope had input into what scenes would be illustrated (as well as which illustrator would be chosen). What is telling here is the way in which George Thomas pictured Crawley anticipates the way Henry Woods pictures Fenwick. First Crawley facing the magistrates

Then parallel to Crawley Fenwick facing Trowbridge. In both cases we see our hero from the back in what seems the subject position, the vulnerable person. Fenwick as drawn by Henry Woods for Vicar of Bullhampton facing the powerful of the community.


Carry Brattle at the window of her parents’ house, climbing in — one of the way the society inflicted punishment on young woman was if she was in the street, alone, she could be picked up as vagrant and put to hard labor and little food for three months (a character in Gaskell’s North and South dies from this treatment)

Chapter 69 (almost the end of the book): The Trial

I find many of Trollope’s court trial scenes fascinating: The Macdermots of Ballycloran, The Three Clerks, Orley Farm — to the non-lawyer they reveal the venality and pretenses that courts go through: in two of the above cases, the verdit is deeply unjust or just literally wrong, but it’s what the lawyer has maneuvered the community into agreeing to (Orley Farm) or is a product of the community’s desire to scapegoat a vulnerable person to assuage their fears (Macdermots). In Three Clerks, there is no punishment for the truly bad man, Undy Scott. It’s not my turn and I’ve not got the time it would take to go through all the turns of the scene which bring to an ironic or fitting climax what happened to the characters over the course of the book. I disagree and find this the fitting conclusion for what has gone on before. I’ll pinpoint one piece. I happen to be beginning Les Miserables just now and the exemplary priest who opens the book sees an analogous scene where the agent of the state (here the defense lawyer) behaves as manipulatively, and ultimately amorally as this man: Monseigneur Bienvenu’s one remark is: “And where will the crown prosecutor face judgement?” The prosecutor had caught the man who counterfeited money by tricking the woman who loved him (after torturing her to no avail) into thinking he had another lover. So she told all. The person who ought to be punished is the defense attorney for his viciousness; he did not succeed in destroying Carry altogether (if there is a character in the books whose suicide would be understandable it’s hers — indeed she ought to be admired for not killing herself) because the immediate emotions of those in the court were on her side; they would not last of course and do her no good. His way of defending his client has nothing to do with what the client did. This is one of Trollope’s brilliant analyses and exposes of what happens in courts. I The scene also justifies and exemplifies what Margaret Oliphant wrote in her brilliant “The Grievances of Women,” where she says the core one is that whatever their pretended worship of women (she has no use for chivalry), men treat women with contempt, as of no value beyond what they use them for, with their main technique being ridicule just as this attorney throws at Carry. As for Acorn earlier in the book we are told that he had some decent qualities but that after he went to prison he came out a much worse and desperate man. His life is one of those thrown away by the Bullhampton community.

Yes (in response to someone who said the trial turned into a trial of Carry, as sister to one of the witnesses). A woman accuses a man of rape; he did it, and she is the one the public punishes; it is common for him to get off. And how to do it? well, ridicule her as in the case of Christine Casey Ford.

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Iconic 19th century Austalian watercolor: Ashton, A Solitary Ramble — a respectable white colonialist woman of the era

At the Leuven Trollope conference, Grennan told me he dressed Mrs Smith so she would have been recognizable in the era as a “Dolly Varden:” she is a character in Barnaby Rudge whose coy highly-sexualized self-presentation (Dickens just salivates over her) was taken up by music hall performers — after all Mrs Smith has been and returns to the stage (though the reader never see her do this). I admit I prefer to imagine Mrs Smith in her more somber outfits as a mature woman who confronts life and men frankly as their equal.

Pages from a graphic novel ‘Dispossession’ by Simon Grennan.
Mrs Smith dressed in a Dolly Varden outfit: cf the typical white colonialist woman of the era, and Francis Moseley’s portrait

John Caldigate, the first three chapters

We open with Daniel Caldigate who we are told is a stern man and made his daughter’s lives a trial, and wasn’t nice to his wife. They all died around the same time and then he regretted his behavior but it was too late and anyway had he had it to do all over again, Trollope tells us, he would have behaved the same. This is a realistic depiction of a Sir Thomas Bertram type.

So his son is a disappointment. John Caldigate. I am assuming others have read the text or will be by early this week — I see already in the description of John’s misdemeanours and bad behavior signs offered he has it in him to be better. But he isn’t — the idea I feel thrown out is John Caldigate is one of these people who resents control, resents anyone trying to enforce on him behavior that does not come easy or natural. Like studying, like reading, like behaving virtuously. Not only does he spend his time in rat contests and killing animals (here Trollope is not pro-hunt) but he gets into debt with a man called Davies and while we are told it’s gambling and over-spending, I see plenty of hints he is sexually promiscuous — spends his money on prostitutes. We are told how tall he is, how handsome. He spends his time at the Babington relatives’ house where they are similarly frivolous people. What he does not realize is they are tolerating him the way they do because he is a rich heir and they want him for one of their daughters, Polly. Polly is all right but he is not attracted but he finds himself just about engaged to her because of his aunt’s maneuvers. At the Shandy house he overtly teases Maria over a book later on, manipulating her into confessing how much she’ll miss him.

Trouble is he is in debt — who will pay his debts. He owes to the college and if he doesn’t pay will not get his degree. His father does pay this but he will not pay anything else. Young John will show no remorse and keeps his bad behavior up. Father is so hurt — he’s lonely — that he thinks to leave the property elsewhere! He hates primogeniture because, like his son, he hates to be controlled. Things going from bad to worse and now John is attracted to the idea of going to Australia to get rich quick mining gold. One needs money to go, he has these debts. Well the father will pay if he gives up his right to the property.

So what the hell, he agrees. Steps in the Boltons. Mr Bolton a lawyer who advises the father against this but he agrees to do what his employer wants and John comes to visit and there is Mrs Bolton, another one of these harridan puritan women whom Trollope hates and she is this beautiful daughter — ever so pure, ever so represssed, ever so innocent – -and of course John decides he will go to Australia, get rich, come back and in effect buy her

Wonderful descriptions of houses — the Boltons a real “puritan” group with 4 brothers who have followed the straight and narrow and prospered. The two chapters are named after the houses, Folking (this is an imagined specific place but you can find the area of Cambridge on the map) and Puritan Grange. Symbolic and effectively believable towns and cultures.

John Caldigate is a stud who thus far turns me off. I couldn’t care less what happens to him, and think he deserves whatever is coming to him (Trollope wants us to think this I suggest) and yet I know I am supposed to care – John Caldigate is supposed to matter to me. Trollope wants me to care about John Caldigate as a significant person.


When after Caldigate returns from Australia, marries Hester, she has a baby (all very rapidly) in the book, he tries to hold onto her as his property, but when she visits her parents and they are determined to keep her prisoner, she lays on the floor near the front door with her baby (from Dispossession)

It is getting to be an overlong blog so I must put the other two postings I’ve chosen and coda in the comments. Here are Chapters 33-36; 49-54; Diana Archibald’s wise commentary in her Domestic Imperialism and Emigration in Victorian Literature.

Ellen

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The two friends, Susan Hamilton as the Duchess and Barbara Murray, as Mrs Flynn (The Pallisers 1974, BBC, scripted Simon Raven, Episode 20)


Philip Latham as the Duke wandering about on the grounds of Gatherum Castle, being told it is not for him to question what the Duchess is doing (Episode 20)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: Wednesday, later afternoon, 2:15 to 3:40 pm,
Sept 22 to Nov 10
8 sessions online (location of building: Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va 22032)
Dr Ellen Moody


Stuart Wilson as Ferdinand Lopez visiting his friend, and business associate


David Riall as Sexty Parker (The Pallisers, Episode 20)

Description of Course:

The 5th Palliser refocuses us on Plantagenet & Lady Glen, now Duke & Duchess of Omnium, Phineas & Marie (Madame Max) Finn are characters in the story of the Duke & Duchess’s political education as he takes office and she becomes a political hostess. We delve practical politics & philosophies asking what is political power, patronage, elections, how can you use these realities/events. A new group of characters provide a story of corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. And what power have women? Trollope eschews the realities of most women’s lives and their political, economic and social activities during this period so we will also read as true contexts, selections from Susan Hamilton’s collection of Victorian Women’s Non-fiction writings, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: these writers are Anna Jameson,, Harriet Martineau, Francis Power Cobb, Eliza Lynn Linton, Margaret Oliphant, Helen Taylor, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Mona Caird.

Required Texts:

Trollope, Anthony. The Prime Minister, ed., introd, notes. Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: OxfordUP, 20011. Or
—————————————–——————————–, ed., introd, notes David Skilton. NY: Penguin Classics, 1994.
There is a readily available relatively inexpensive audio-recording of the novel read by Timothy West; an earlier one by Simon Vance. West’s more genial ironic voice is the one many people say they prefer.

Strongly recommended:

Hamilton, Susan, ed. Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. 2nd Edition Broadview Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1-55111-608-2. Available new from Amazon and used from various used bookstore sites.

Suggested supplementary reading or the best life-story and best handbook:

Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography and Other Writings, ed, introd., notes Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: Oxford Classics, 2014; see Trollope’s “A Walk in a Wood,” on my website online: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.WalkWood.html
Gerould, Winifred Gregory and James Thayer Gerould. A Guide to Trollope: An Index to the Characters and Places, and Digests of the Plots, in All of Trollope’s Works. 1948: rpt Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987 (a paperback)

I will discuss briefly at the opening of our session the 1974 BBC Palliser series, which covers all 6 Palliser novels in 26 episodes, and in general is more or less faithful. They may be found in older and recent digitalized form on Amazon; they also available to rent as DVDs from Netflix; each disk contains 3 or 4 episodes. There is a considerably abridged version on YouTube (4 hours) and one can find on YouTube single episodes here and there. The Prime Minister in the full version (26 episodes) begins at Episode 20 and ends at 23. It is only four episodes of all 26 as one of two majors stories, Wharton and Lopez is cut, and ends quite differently. I think this abridgement and new ending a sort of contemporary take and will discuss it at in our last session. You do not need to have seen any of these, but if you can manage to see some, these are splendid experiences and can add considerably to your enjoyment and understanding of Trollope’s Parliamentary novels as a story about the Pallisers and Phineas Finn primarily.


Ferdinand has to apply to Brewster Mason as his father-in-law, Mr (Abel) Wharton for money (Episode 22)


The Duke with Sheila Keith as Lady Rosina DeCourcy escaping and talking of cork sole boots (Episode 22)

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. You don’t have to follow the specific chapters as I’ve laid them out; I divide the book to help you read it, and so we can in class be more or less in the same section of the book. I hope everyone will be interested in women in the era as part of the context of this book, but you do not have to read the selections from Hamilton, I will tell what is in them and discuss the issues brought up. Similarly you don’t have to read the on-line essays and columns by Trollope (but they are very good), my own, and others. I will again tell what’s in them — they will form part of our background for topics brought up by The Prime Minister. It’s entirely up to you what you’d like to do, if anything, beyond reading The Prime Minister. Please for the first week, read The Prime Minister, Chapters 1-9 and if you like, in Hamilton, Anna Jameson’s “The Milliners.”

Sept 22: 1st week: Introduction: Trollope’s life and career. The Barchester and Parliamentary or Palliser novels. “The Woman Question.” Read for coming week, Prime Minister, Chapters 10-18 and in Hamilton, Martineau, “Female Industry,” and Trollope’s “The Young Women at the Telegraph Office,” on my website at: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.TelegraphGirls.html

Sept 29: 2nd week: The two stories: their connections and subtexts. Read for next time, PM, Chs 19-27. In Hamilton, Margaret Oliphant, “The Grievances of Women” and Trollope’s “The Uncontrolled Ruffianism of London” on my website: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/Ruffianism.html

Oct 6: 3rd week: For next time, PM, Chs 28-35. Courtney C. Berger, “Partying with the Opposition: Social Partying as Politics in the Prime Minister,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 45:3 (fall 2003):315-336.

Oct 13: 4th week: For next time, PM, Chs 36-44. In Hamilton, Frances Power Cobbe, “The Education of Womem” “Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors,” “Wife Torture in England.”

Oct 20: 5th week: For next time, PR, Chs 45-53. On Trollope’s politics conventionally considered: Trollope’s Duke of Omnium and the Pain of History: A Study of the Novelist’s Politics,” Victorian Studies 24 91981):204-227.

Oct 27: 6th week: For next time, PM, Chs 54-62. In Hamilton, Mona Caird on “Marriage.” Barbara Gates, “Victorian Attitudes Towards Suicide and Mr Tennyson’s “Despair,” Tennyson Research Bulletin, 3:3 (1979):101-110; and my essay, ”On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism,” Antipodes, 31:1 (2017):89-119.

Nov 3: 7th week: For next time, finish the book, PM, Chs 63-80. Helmut Klinger, “Varieties of Failure,” The Significance of Trollope’s Prime Minister,” English Miscellany, 23 (1972):167-83. The last of the Hamilton selections: Mona Caird on “Marriage.”

Nov 10: 8th week: We will cover the fourth volume of the book, the 4 episodes in Simon Raven’s Pallisers, and the relationship of Trollope and Henry James (as in his novella, Washington Square) and Ferdinand Lopez. I will discuss with the class the last of the Palliser novels, The Duke’s Children (Palliser 6) and if they would like next fall, a return to the Barchester novels, The Last Chronicle of Barset and Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife.

For after the class is over, I will send on for those who are interested, the URL to my Ellen Moody, “Trollope on TV: Simon Raven’s Adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Parliamentary Novels,” Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, edd. Abigail Bloom and Mary Pollock (NY: Cambria Press, 2011) online at: https://www.academia.edu/6438191/Trollope_on_TV_Simon_Ravens_adaptation_of_Anthony_Trollopes_Parliamentary_novels_as_the_Pallisers


Sheila Ruskin as Emily realizing whom she has married, her mistake (Episode 22)


The Duchess at night, hard at work, nervously tired of “shaking hands and smiling” (Episode 22)

Recommended outside reading:

Godfrey, Emelyne. Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature: Duelling with Danger. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Halperin, John. Trollope and Politics: A Study of the Pallisers and Others. Macmillan Press, 1977.
Harvie, Christopher. The Centre of Things: Political Fiction in Britain from Disraeli to the Present. London: Unwin, 1991.
Kincaid, James. The Novels of Anthony Trollope. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. Old-fashioned close reading of the novels. One of the best general books on Trollope’s novels.
McMaster, Juliet. Trollope’s Palliser Novels: Theme and Pattern London: Macmillan, 1978
Mill, John Stuart, The Subjection of Women. Broadview Press, 2000. Online at: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645s/
Moody, Ellen. “Trollope on TV: Simon Raven’s Adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Parliamentary Novels,” Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, edd. Abigail Bloom and Mary Pollock (NY: Cambria Press, 2011) online at: https://www.academia.edu/6438191/Trollope_on_TV_Simon_Ravens_adaptation_of_Anthony_Trollopes_Parliamentary_novels_as_the_Pallisers
Steinbach, Susie. Understanding The Victorians: Culture and Society in 19th century Britain. London: Routledge, 2012.
Snow, C. P. Trollope: An Illustrated Biography NY: New Amsterdam Books, 1975. A fairly short well written biography, profuse with illustrations and a concise description of Trollope’s centrally appealing artistic techniques.
Vicinus, Martha. Independent women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850-1930. Virago, 1985. See my summary and analysis: https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/martha-vicinuss-independent-women-work-community-for-single-women-1850-1930/
Wilson. A.N. The Victorians. NY: Norton, 2003. The chapter on chartism provides the best explanation I’ve read for the movement, who were its leaders, the body of people, and why they failed to secure universal suffrage (who and what got in the way).


Donal McCann as Phineas Finn defending the Duke in Parliament (Episode 23)


The Duchess and Roger Livesay as the Duke of St Bungay conferring as coalition comes to an end: considerable relief (Episode 23)

Read Full Post »


The two friends, Susan Hamilton as the Duchess and Barbara Murray, as Mrs Flynn (The Pallisers 1974, BBC, scripted Simon Raven, Episode 20)


Philip Latham as the Duke wandering about on the grounds of Gatherum Castle, being told it is not for him to question what the Duchess is doing (Episode 20)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Monday, mid-day, 11:45 to 1:15 pm,
Sept 20 to Nov 22
10 sessions online (location of building: 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20016)
Dr Ellen Moody


Stuart Wilson as Ferdinand Lopez visiting his friend, and business associate


David Riall as Sexty Parker (The Pallisers, Episode 20)

Description of Course:

The 5th Palliser refocuses us on Plantagenet & Lady Glen, now Duke & Duchess of Omnium, Phineas & Marie (Madame Max) Finn are characters in the story of the Duke & Duchess’s political education as he takes office and she becomes a political hostess. We delve practical politics & philosophies asking what is political power, patronage, elections, how can you use these realities/events. A new group of characters provide a story of corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. And what power have women? Trollope eschews the realities of most women’s lives and their political, economic and social activities during this period so we will also read as true contexts, selections from Susan Hamilton’s collection of Victorian Women’s Non-fiction writings on women, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: these writers are Anna Jameson, Harriet Martineau, Francis Power Cobb, Eliza Lynn Linton, Margaret Oliphant, Helen Taylor, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Mona Caird.

Required Texts:

Trollope, Anthony. The Prime Minister, ed., introd, notes. Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: OxfordUP, 20011. Or
—————————————–——————————–, ed., introd, notes David Skilton. NY: Penguin Classics, 1994.
There is a readily available relatively inexpensive audio-recording of the novel read by Timothy West; an earlier one by Simon Vance. West’s more genial ironic voice is the one many people say they prefer.

Strongly recommended:

Hamilton, Susan, ed. Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. 2nd Edition Broadview Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1-55111-608-2. Available new from Amazon and used from various used bookstore sites.

Suggested supplementary reading or the best life-story and handbook:

Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography and Other Writings, ed, introd., notes Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: Oxford Classics, 2014; see Trollope’s “A Walk in a Wood,” on my website online: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.WalkWood.html
Gerould, Winifred Gregory and James Thayer Gerould. A Guide to Trollope: An Index to the Characters and Places, and Digests of the Plots, in All of Trollope’s Works. 1948: rpt Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987 (a paperback)

I will discuss briefly at the opening of our session the 1974 BBC Palliser series, which covers all 6 Palliser novels in 26 episodes, and in general is more or less faithful. They may be found in older and recent digitalized form on Amazon; they also available to rent as DVDs from Netflix; each disk contains 3 or 4 episodes. There is a considerably abridged version on YouTube (4 hours) and one can find on YouTube single episodes here and there. The Prime Minister in the full version (26 episodes) begins at Episode 20 and ends at 23. It is only four episodes of all 26 as one of two majors stories, Wharton and Lopez is cut, and ends quite differently. I think this abridgement and new ending a sort of contemporary take and will discuss it at in our last session. You do not need to have seen any of these, but if you can manage to see some, these are splendid experiences and can add considerably to your enjoyment and understanding of Trollope’s Parliamentary novels as a story about the Pallisers and Phineas Finn primarily.


Ferdinand has to apply to Brewster Mason as his father-in-law, Mr (Abel) Wharton for money (Episode 22)


The Duke with Sheila Keith as Lady Rosina DeCourcy escaping and talking of cork sole boots (Episode 22)

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. You don’t have to follow the specific chapters as I’ve laid them out; I divide the book to help you read it, and so we can in class be more or less in the same section of the book. I hope everyone will be interested in women in the era as part of the context of this book, but you do not have to read the selections from Hamilton, I will tell what is in them and discuss the issues brought up. Similarly you don’t have to read the on-line essays and columns by Trollope (but they are very good), my own, and others. I will again tell what’s in them — they will form part of our background for topics brought up by The Prime Minister. It’s entirely up to you what you’d like to do, if anything, beyond reading The Prime Minister.

Sept 20: 1st week: Introduction: Trollope’s life and career. The Barchester and Parliamentary or Palliser novels. “The Woman Question.” Read for coming week, Prime Minister, Chapters 1-9 and in Hamilton, Anna Jameson, “The Milliners” and Trollope’s “The Young Women at the Telegraph Office,” on my website at: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.TelegraphGirls.html

Sept 27: 2nd week: The two stories: their connections and subtexts. Read for next time, PM, Chs 10-18. In Hamilton, Harriet Martineau’s “Female Industry.”

Oct 4: 3rd week: For next time, PM, Chs 19-27. In Hamilton, Margaret Oliphant, “The Grievances of Women” and Trollope’s “The Uncontrolled Ruffianism of London” on my website: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/Ruffianism.html

Oct 11: 4th week: For next time, PM, Chs 28-35; Courtney C. Berger, “Partying with the Opposition: Social Partying as Politics in the Prime Minister,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 45:3 (fall 2003):315-336.

Oct 18: 5th week: For next time, PM, Chs 36-44. In Hamilton, Frances Power Cobbe, “The Education of Women” and “Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors,” Frances Power Cobbe, “Wife-Torture in England” (one of the most famous of women’s polemics, its topic is male violence in marriage). I also sent a copy of the Jacobean play, John Fletcher’s Women Pleased as one possible source for Lopez story.

Oct 25: 6th week: For next time, PM, Chs 45-53. On Trollope’s politics conventionally considered: Trollope’s Duke of Omnium and the Pain of History: A Study of the Novelist’s Politics,” Victorian Studies (24)1981):204-227; Ellen Moody, “”On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism,” Antipodes, 31:1 (2017):89-119.

Nov 1: 7th week: For next time, PM, Chs 54-62. on Victorian attitudes towards suicide: Barbara Gates, “Victorian Attitudes Towards Suicide and Mr Tennyson’s “Despair,” Tennyson Research Bulletin, 3:3 (1979):101-110; Lynette Felber, “”The Advanced Conservative Liberal:” Victorian Liberalism and the Aesthetics of Trollope’s Palliser’s Novels.” Modern Philology, 107:3 (February 2010): 421-446; and Mona Caird, “Marriage” (this too caused a stir) in Hamilton.

Nov 8: 8th week: For next time, PM, Chs 63-72. Helmut Klinger, “Varieties of Failure,” The Significance of Trollope’s Prime Minister,” English Miscellany, 23 (1972):167-83; Trollope’s “A Walk in the Wood,” online at:  http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.WalkWood.html.

Nov 15: 9th week: For next time, PM, Chs 73-80. If you are interested, Ellen Moody, “Trollope on TV: Simon Raven’s Adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Parliamentary Novels,” Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, edd. Abigail Bloom and Mary Pollock (NY: Cambria Press, 2011) online at: https://www.academia.edu/6438191/Trollope_on_TV_Simon_Ravens_adaptation_of_Anthony_Trollopes_Parliamentary_novels_as_the_Pallisers;

Nov 22: 10th week: The 4 episodes in The Pallisers: Trollope and Henry James (as in his novella, Washington Square) and Ferdinand Lopez. For next fall, a return to the Barchester novels, The Last Chronicle of Barset and Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife


Sheila Ruskin as Emily realizing whom she has married, her mistake (Episode 22)


The Duchess at night, hard at work, nervously tired of “shaking hands and smiling” (Episode 22)

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

Godfrey, Emelyne. Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature: Duelling with Danger. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Halperin, John. Trollope and Politics: A Study of the Pallisers and Others. Macmillan Press, 1977.
Harvie, Christopher. The Centre of Things: Political Fiction in Britain from Disraeli to the Present. London: Unwin, 1991.
Kincaid, James. The Novels of Anthony Trollope. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. Old-fashioned close reading of the novels. One of the best general books on Trollope’s novels.
McMaster, Juliet. Trollope’s Palliser Novels: Theme and Pattern London: Macmillan, 1978
Mill, John Stuart, The Subjection of Women. Broadview Press, 2000. Online at: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645s/
Steinbach, Susie. Understanding The Victorians: Culture and Society in 19th century Britain. London: Routledge, 2012.
Snow, C. P. Trollope: An Illustrated Biography NY: New Amsterdam Books, 1975. A fairly short well written biography, profuse with illustrations and a concise description of Trollope’s centrally appealing artistic techniques.
Vicinus, Martha. Independent women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850-1930. Virago, 1985. See my summary and analysis: https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/martha-vicinuss-independent-women-work-community-for-single-women-1850-1930/
Wilson. A.N. The Victorians. NY: Norton, 2003. The chapter on chartism provides the best explanation I’ve read for the movement, who were its leaders, the body of people, and why they failed to secure universal suffrage (who and what got in the way).


Donal McCann as Phineas Finn defending the Duke in Parliament (Episode 23)


The Duchess and Roger Livesay as the Duke of St Bungay conferring as coalition comes to an end: considerable relief (Episode 24)

Read Full Post »


Ada (Tara Fitzgerald, the Alice Roland of film story) and Flora (Anna Paquin, the Asia of the film story) — from Jane Campion’s 1993 The Piano, a very free appropriation of Mander’s 1920 novel)

Dear friends and readers,

I do not remember what year it was when I first came across Jane Mander’s traditional novel of the trials and ordeals of colonialism for the European colonizers, credited as one of the first true New Zealand novels (a product of this new culture), The Story of a New Zealand River. I found it in the Second Story bookstore in Alexandria, one of two such used book stores: one in DC (Georgetown); and this one in Alexandria, which took up a whole block, all sides and was two floors high. Long gone now such attics of “used” literature where I could rummage in past ages through their left-over books. I might have been attracted by the cover.

I recall being wholly absorbed by it, and recognizing it (not Emily Bronte, as was suggested by some film critics) as a central story source for a movie that made quite a splash with its teasing erotic content. Campion’s English heroine, a mute, coerced into marriage, with a white timber man in New Zealand, is persuaded to go through a slow strip-tease by his assistant, a white man gone native — she removes an item of clothing and in return gets to “own” a small part of her piano until she owns the whole thing), Jane Campion’s The Piano. My reaction to the movie this summer has been very different.

This summer when I decided to try to teach a course in colonialist writings, it leapt to mind as the one book I must do. As I told the people in the zoom space with me, this, together with her Allen Adair, are as worthy to be taught as regularly as the over-rated Heart of Darkness by Conrad and a couple of other favorites by men as classic colonialist books. Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) is on record more than once inveighing against the deep racism of Conrad’s book. Mander at least meant not to be, and you can learn a lot more about colonialism from her for real than you can from Conrad’s mystic pompous vague ominousness. I am writing this blog in the same spirit as I taught the book: I would like more people to know about it and its contexts.

Its plot-design tells two stories. On the level of primary action, it tells of an epic romantic journey through time, experience, a river and hard adventures (including giving birth many times in a cabin in the rural woods of Nothern New Zealand in the 1870s through 80s) by Alice Roland. She is a woman whose stiff-necked estrangement from others (later understandable), narrow-minded class-based puritanism, the same suspicious authoritarianism towards others that in the book she allows to spoil her life, is in the book changed to assimilation, a broader minded toleration and understanding, an acceptance of her own and others’ sexual love life. The context for this is the difficulty of living with Tom Roland, a white timber man with whom she has little sympathy, himself creating a successful timber business from the ground up (literally) in the wilderness. When we meet her, she has married him to escape her lot as a widow with three children living in Australia (with a piano in tow — she had tried to make a living as a music teacher). She had hoped comradeship. Instead she falls in love with David Bruce, his gentlemanly assistant (also a physician), who does not go native, but becomes her friend and support of her and whole white community. The three, man, wife, friend, are at the center of all that happens. The inner core of this Campion took for her stark but (contradictorily) pessimistic movie; the outer is about people coping with the situations of colonial life and winning, just.

On the level of structure and character relationships, it is the story of a mother and daughter. The first two of the four books dramatize Asia’s growing up, struggling with and loving her mother. The third and fourth books occur ten and then fourteen years later where Asia, now grown up, turns round to teach this same mother as she achieves independence and a far more free fulfilling life than her mother is capable of. It’s a bifurcated tale. Asia is a kind of Jo March modernized — I am morally convinced the novel Mander was most influenced by was Little Women. Asia falls in love with a man married but unable to divorce, and her mother has to accept Asia’s going to live with him as the source of her happiness and life’s strength. This structure and these themes mark The Story of a New Zealand River as very much a woman’s novel. Many of the inward recognitions both women go through are the kind of thing one finds in subjective novels by women which have nothing to do with where they are particularly.

To parse the bifurcation:

Book 1 sets our scene and the themes and character paradigms that will be developed. The arrival. Alice, Asia, two small children and piano ferried deep into bush on the river by David Bruce; Asia falls overboard and Bruce saves her life. Alice’s first impulse to snub Bruce (he not being dressed as the gentlemen). She finds herself very afraid, very alone, has to give birth – this marks the woman’s birth and it’s David Bruce who is there in intimate moments. Her antagonism, her aversion turns to dependency on her part and his pity for her to love, which is acknowledged at the end of Book I. Tom takes a mistress (on the side, in town). She makes friends with a Mrs Brayton, a cultivated and wise woman who helps her learn to live in a rough environment; she clashes with her daughter at each stage in which the daughter asserts a separate and questioning identity. She learns everything she needs she must make herself. One of the things our characters are doing is “clearing the bush” and making a new society mostly in imitation of what they knew in England only shaped by the different climate, flora, fauna, kinds of foods available and grown.

Book 2 includes a gale-level storm, a flood which threaten and almost destroys Tom’s hard-built business site; David Bruce’s drinking bouts (he is a depressive). Tom Roland thinking he is facing ruin, takes poison, and is saved by David and Alice’s united efforts – tremendous inward scene between Alice and Bruce as they are tempted to let him die. Bruce becomes an uncle-father to Asia. Alice’s deep self-repression, guilty, rigidity over sex, and wanting to own her children, her Victorianism, the attitude so reprehended by Bloomsbury is also reprehended by Mander but through a Victorian fiction.

The problem throughout all this is our heroine, Alice Roland, is persistently in the wrong. She needs the putative hero, David Bruce, continually to teach her better values, among these to be nicer to her husband. It seems it’s her fault the husband treats her badly; her fault he goes into these drinking bouts (as does David himself but she cannot be blamed for that). She is told she is intolerant when he visits his mistress. And she is to consider how much of the whole encampment (all the people working for him, their families) is riding on his strength of character; it’s due to his physical and moral stamina that the timber mill is succeeding and creating wealth for him and her and money for all. Ironically what makes the book unpalatable to some readers today, scandalized her New Zealand readership until the 1930s because what Alice is being taught and Asia lives out are modern attitudes towards sex, class, parent-child relationships, work.

Books 3 & 4 (more briefly): 10 years later, Asia 18 and insists on independent life for herself, a terrible wrench for Alice. At first Alice cannot accept this modern way of life for her daughter. Bruce and Mrs Brayton enable Asia to leave, to become a sort of concert pianist going round New Zealand, but Alice again pregnant and now ill (endures yet another stillbirth), Asia returns home for a few months to nurse her. Then 2 and 1/2 years later, we find Asia now living at home (not explained) and she falls in love with Allen Ross. This part of the novel contains the most extensive descriptions of the realities of colonial life, the people who come as failures elsewhere and fail again; the landscape. Here we find the only mentions of the Maoris in the book (very traditional to leave the indigenous peoples out).

The novel’s non-modern techniques: back stories emerge. Alice had Asia as illegitimate child and punished herself all her life by his marriage; Mrs Brayton had rejected daughter who married someone Mrs B didn’t approve of, w/o help daughter died. Bruce himself did not save a man whose wife he loved and blames himself as a passive murderer (this reminded me of George Eliot, and Bruce seemed to me a Daniel Deronda).

Roland finally catches Bruce and Alice in compromising position and it emerges he thought they were lovers all these years –- especially after Bruce told him to leave Alice alone, for these pregnancies were killing her. A sub-textual argument of the book is on behalf of contraception (for which it was attacked). Does she want a divorce? No! but our noble lovers are saved when Tom dies in an accident nobly trying to save others. At novel’s end Asia and Ross have gone to live in Sidney where they hope to do good in politics. Alice and Bruce leave for Auckland to marry and find contentment as older adults together.

The book brings you into its world deeply; it is rich in description of New Zealand at the time. The characters are convincing (if contrived because of the romantic lesson-learning structuring). I find it to be melancholy: life is little to be enjoyed and much to be endured (there are various utterances which are variations on Samuel Johnson, mostly when Alice is thinking of what is to come. What is most striking to me is how the daughter is presented as more reasonable, more able to function in modern society, more daring than the mother, and they get into hard conflicts over opposed values — including directly sexual (against her daughter’s deep pleasures with Ross) as well as about a daughter’s independence.

I’ve seen this in a number of women’s books. I cite 18th century books: Elizabeth Inchbald’s A Simple Story, with two volumes each about the different heroine; Charlotte Smith’s Young Philosopher — at the time I thought of so many others where the mother-daughter paradigm was presented in just this way. In the 19th century there’s Gaskell’s work, Margaret Oliphant has several — Oliphant had her most important relationship with her mother. Oliphant’s greatest grief was the loss of a 9 year old daughter. This dual view enables a dual perspective in such books: here in Mander early colonial experience and then 20 years later where so many changes as the white settlers succeed have been made. Marianne Hirsh’s insightful and important book (still) The Mother-Daughter Plot begins with the idea that for many women, they read as mothers (this is Gaskell) or daughters (say Austen and Bronte and Alcott). Mander begins with the mother as central and crosses over to the daughter (as do Inchbald and Smith).

*****************************************

Jane Mander, 1923, one of her emigration documents

She was born in 1877, so close in age to Virginia Woolf. Mander grew up in New Zealand, part of its middle class. There is a good literary biography by Dorothy Tucker. Like Asia in the novel, she had little official schooling. Mander’s father was a member of the early New Zealand parliament, a pioneer, sawmill owner, who purchased a newspaper, The Northern Advocate where Jane first wrote as a journalist. There was little audience or opportunity for a modern novelist; so first she went to Sydney and in 1912 traveled thousands of miles to New York City, to go to Columbia University. She joined the suffrage movement. She was politically active as feminist and socialist labor all her life.

It was in New York City she wrote The New Zealand River. 1923 she moves to London and gets involved with familiar names of literature today (and some less familiar) from Bloomsbury to writers of the 1920s; then she works for Harrison Press in Paris. She is fluent in French. She wrote three other novels. She had a very lively life and enjoyed it but there were bad pressures. There are parallels with Katherine Mansfield, also from the upper class of New Zealand, but much much wealthier (whom Mander still resembles in startling ways and who was one of the first reviewers of Mander’s first book). Mander might have been bisexual too — there is no record of heterosexual romance.

She seems to have missed New Zealand, and her parents in were in bad health too, so in 1932 she returned home and stayed. A long trip. She became friendly with New Zealand writer whose work is more widely known than hers: Ngaio Marsh – whose great passion was theater direction though she also wrote the detective stories for which her name is more widely known.

Having been attacked by the local community for this and subsequent books, and for not living conventionally (she never married), Mander grew depressed yet stayed on. She was part of the local higher literary culture of her country – but just could not get her act together for another novel or long work. She wrote reviews; people suggested she return to London, that she write autobiographically. She would not. She produced magazine pieces — very fresh vivid accounts you could call regional writing. Her mother had died and her father became very ill. That she lived with her father in her later years reminds me of Louisa May Alcott who lived with Bronson Alcott and died with in a few months of his death.

She lived through WW2 – and New Zealand, like Australia, was very involved. New Zealand was an independent commonwealth country by 1947. The present enlightened fine PM, Jacinda Ardern, a social democratic progressive, is no surprise; women had the vote in New Zealand in 1893; unions protected, and with an outlook like that of the British labor party after war & Australia’s progressive party, New Zealand throve.

In this first novel one can see many autobiographical connections. It’s in the 1870s when our story begins – there are a few references now and again to situate the narrative. Mander was born in 1877, so from her grand-parents and what she knew of her great-grandparents she remembers an earlier world. Jane Mander lived in the very area she brings her characters to when she was around the age of Asia -– three years before she was 12. This is period of childhood where deepest memories are etched and she continually in her imagination (according to Tucker) returns to this landscape in all her novel writing. Here Asia is she, a bridge into this novel.

Part of the reason for the book’s impact was its authenticity – it is described in books about New Zealand literature as among the first genuine culturally New Zealand books written – like Nathanial Hawthorne in the US, Emerson, Alcott – they don’t sound British any more. The places named all existed and the description of the timber industry is said to be accurate. There was never a mill at Pukekaroro or township but there was one in Puhipuhi near Kaiwaka (Maori names) a town, access in the 1970s when Dorothy Turner wrote her book on Mander was still through waterways. You can trace where the owner of the timber company (Roland) lived; there was a real wealthy Englishwoman living there, Mrs Clayton – and she had a house like Mrs Brayton’s and doubtless a fine book collection. Its specific setting is an obscure smaller arm in Kaipara Harbour, which Mander sailed into and out of herself (like Asia).

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There is an audiobook, LibriVox, so unabridged and for free

The Story of a New Zealand River is a woman’s novel as well as good and important colonialist writing — as some of the classics of colonialist writing, where the man has won a Nobel prize are arguably misogynist and racist: this is true of some of V. S. Naipaul’s novels: A Bend in the River has the hero beating up his female partner and there is no real criticism of this. Action-adventure stories characterize a good deal of Kipling (who is painfully racist and prejudice against non-white cultures). I just loved how Mander showed the way women were part of the colonialist project, central to it, and what they endured, their friendships, networks, deeper relationships with female relatives.

Mander does neglect the Maoris: they are seen only from afar when the reality is in this period a series of wars had been concluded, but feeling between the indigenous people and the interlopers was hostile, with outbreaks of violence on all sides. I discussed in the class and encouraged everyone to see The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, to be sure about an aborigine man in Australia, but a rare movie for depicting the horrifying treatment of indigenous people. Mander’s brother marred a Maori woman.

I’ll end on the use of the piano in The Story of a New Zealand River. It’s not a chance move by Campion to focus so on this symbol of middle class, settled, white upper class life, gentility. In “The Piano as Symbolic Capital in New Zealand Fiction, 1860-1940,” Journal of New Zealand Literature (JNZL) 28 (2010):34-60, Kristine Moffat shows the depiction of the piano in most novels and movies in the later 19th and most of the first half of the 20th century is as particularly a woman’s instrument, an instrument through which women can express deeper and unconventional longings, as her symbolic capital, her status, distorts the history of the piano.  It’s partly false. Evidence shows that the piano was played by men and it functioned not just in the home where there was no radio. Historical records shows that pubs, music halls, clubs, brothels, working men as part of music making groups – it is a versatile percussive instrument (a harp on its side) – means of entertainment; in the first decades of the 20th century Maori people took to having pianos, military camps, concerts.

Towards the end of Moffat’s essay, she focuses on Mander’s novels; in New Zealand River, for Alice the piano is also a symbol of “home,” which is of course England. In one of Alice’s first visits to Mrs Brayton she is drawn irresistibly to this Broadview Grand and starts playing Beethoven’s sonatas with deep feeling and is embarrassed to have let go so – how much had been repressed – the journey is so difficult. She had tried to make a living teaching music; when Asia grows up we are told that she succeeds as a concert pianist in an orchestra that travels around Australia and New Zealand, to places of entertainment. I was not that surprised to read about that Katherine Mansfield’s short stories (Mander’s first reviewer as I said) fit into this paradigm.

Ellen

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Caryl Phillips (born 1958)

There are those who are willing to pay the highest price imaginable to resist people who would police their identities. And there are those who will pay the highest price imaginable to secure an identity — Phillips, “Color Me English”

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve another author, Caryl Phillips, specific quietly stunning novel by him, Crossing the River (short-listed for the Booker the year it was published, 1993) to urge you to read. Until you do, you are missing out! and thus far (what I’ve read) the novels, Cambridge (1991, powerful double journal of white European woman and young enslaved well educated Black man, brought to a violent brutal Carribean plantation), The Lost Child (2015, a sequel to Wuthering Heights, aka Heathcliff’s story), and original biographical fiction of Jean Rhys’ life, A view of the Empire at Sunset 92018); two books of essays, The European Tribe (a sort of travel book), and Color Me English (more autobiographical, about memory), and all the occasional essays I’ve come across (e.g.”One Grim Winter Evening,” TLS 2012, on the Windrush generation, now being harassed or threatened with deportation!, upon he occasion of the Olympics in London, TLS). I am thus explicit because it’s been my experience than when I mention this man’s name, I get a blank look! Nowadays you need to have a movie made of your book to achieve more instant recognition. But he is well-known enough; here he is speaking to a group of people at a Canadian institution in Vancouver on The City and the Newcomer:

Phillips says he presents “migrant experience in its broadest context; he is draw to the intense frustration and destructive laws, customs and hurt the non-white child knows, the insuperable difficulty of truly participating. What are in a culture true signs of inclusivity and change. Why do immigrants refugees when so punished by the place they come to persist in wanting to stay –- it’s question that could be asked of the Kendalls in the movie Shakespeare Wallah. Why do they want to be loyal (and then of course appreciated, understood as belonging) when they go out and fight for this place and culture and be willing to lose their very lives because it is their country too …

For myself I think what caught my eye or attention was the information he was brought up in Leeds (so I first bought Color Me English), where I spent over 2 and one half transformative years of my life with Jim: where I went to university, married him, and stayed on to work at John Waddington (at the time a card and game company), to wander around the West Riding on buses, see York Minister one day, and just become part of the Northern Yorkshire culture for a brief fulfilling (sometimes hard) moment of my life. The above video will show you how formative Phillips’s experience of Leeds was in his life.


Jim sitting on the gate in front of Leeds Church, 1968

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Crossing the River, is, like a number of Phillips’s novels, a historical fiction, one not made up of one long stories, but several intertwined, with a framing that makes his book, though clearly out of the African diaspora, one which is deeply invested in the vulnerable powerless subaltern person of any race, all genders, from a linked group of imagined interinvolved communities. Three of the four stories are about enslavement, enslaved people, two 19th century, one mid-18th. The fourth is about a young working class woman in England during World War Two, given little opportunity to develop her gifts, find herself, thwarted by her class, then ignorant husband; she meets a young Black man in the American military and they fall in love.

“The Pagan Coast,” centers on the relationship between Nash Williams, a freed enslaved man who is sent by the American Colonization Society to Liberia, and his beloved and loving patron and former master, a father, and once lover, Edward Williams. Nash is repatriated there in the 1830s to establish a Christian mission and colony. And much to his deep sense of loss and grief, he fails. As he story opens, it is seven years since Nash was freed by his master, Edward Williams and sent to Liberia. Now a letter arrives, which Edward reads and teaches him that all the letters Nash had sent had been destroyed before he could see them by his recently deceased wife, Amelia (who just drowned herself); in these letters Nash had at first asked for help of all sorts (money, equipment, advice, support) and then increasingly desperate cried out in despair and loneliness, missing his home and all the people he knew so badly; we read them eventually and learn of the impossibility of the task set before him – the unreality given the circumstances of this country and culture of the people. The novella is about these two men, their characters, their relationship, the painful nature of what each does to try to come up to the ideals the other has of him, and in the case of Edward to himself go to Africa, and rescue Nash — too late.

They are deeply appealing characters whom we see embedded in, unable to extricate themselves from the evils and failures of several different groups of people they encounter on their journey in time and space.

“West” is the tale of the life of an enslaved Black woman, birth to death: like the first, it is told through a flashback – we begin in present time when Martha is old, sick, dying, exhausted, and has been left to freeze or starve to death but in a central street in a town where it’s hoped (supposedly by those fellow “colored pioneers” who had to abandon her they felt as too much of a burden) she will be rescued. She is taken to a bare cold room with a thin bed (the stove cannot be got to work) by a kindly woman who appears to be part of some group who rescue the homeless, and as she lays there that night she dreams of her life. I am telling the story in more straight chronological order than it is told — it weaves beautifully from experience to experience. She was snatched from her mother with her two brothers, put onto a slave ship, brought to the US and sold to a plantation owner who names her Martha — she becomes Randolph as that is his family name (we wonder if we are near the Jeffersons). Sold and the second set of scenes is of her married to a loving man, Lucas, who we first met in exhausted silent despair (suicidal, drunk) because the present owner has died, and he, Martha, and their young child, Eliza Mae are to be sold with the other property. He must tell her: “he took me in the circle of his arms and laid me down” — She also remembers the fear and bewilderment of her daughter, and her inability as mother to provide any protection for her child: “I did not suckle this child at the breast nor did I cradle her in my arms and shower her with what love I have, to see her taken away from me …. My Eliza-Mae holds on to me, but it will be of no avail. She will be a prime purchase. And on her own she stands a better chance of a fine family. I want to tell her this, to encourage her to let go, but I have not the heart. . . . ‘Moma’ Eliza-Mae whispers the word over and over again, as though this were the only word she possessed. This word. This word only.”
This is the moment her mind returns to throughout the story; what she longs for most of all is to be reunited with a dream of this daughter grown up, strong, beautiful, living in a fine house, on a broad avenue — towards the end in California.

What happens is she is sold to a couple, the Hoffmans, who themselves seem to own only a very few people, up close to her they see how traumatized she is, and try to help her by taking her to some evangelical events; these do not take her out of her abject state of mind; then they do poorly and must they plan sell her and with the money they hope to make return to the east. At the last minute, they relent and allow her to escape (with nothing but her clothes a bundle of things she gathers together before fleeing). She knows some happiness once again: next scene shows her working with a beloved Black woman friend, Lucy, both cooks in a shop and laundresses, somewhere in the west, protected by Chester, a man who is kindly, generous, the lover of Martha. The story is dated by her saying during this time she is told she is now free because of the emancipation proclamation, but says it has little influence on her life as far as she can tell. Alas, Chester gets into a card game with some white men, they cheat him, he complains and they return and shoot him to death. She and Lucy are no longer safe; Lucy has a man willing to take her with him to California, but not willing to bring Martha along. That’s how she ends up with a group of pioneers making their way west, and for quite a while worked very hard for them (washing, cooking, ordering things) but finally grew ill, and they feel they cannot keep her, whence she is sitting where we come upon her when the story opens.

The story is deep tragedy – she dies, with dreams of Eliza Mae ahead of her, and unknown to her is given a yet another name by the woman who does not know her name. She has more than once voiced how she dislikes being renamed — it is a form of not having an identity when she has one. Or had. All of Martha’s geographical journeys are also journeys in search of family, and journeys that create and perform kinship ties. She finds other daughters (Lucy) and other husbands (Chester) and they all echo her original family. She mothers the pioneers in their trail westwards, “rallying them to their feet” in order that they may realize their dreams of freedom in California. What emerges from Martha’s story is diaspora of connectedness via the pain of original loss.


Dorothy Lange photo of a elderly Black woman in the 1930s

Two more. I can be brief about the third: it is based on captain’s journal, John Newton, whom we might see or argue is the lowest of low human beings – doing just horrific things to all the people he seeks to control, from his officers, to the impressed men, to the enslaved people in chains (or instruments of torture around their necks), a man who resorts to the lash continually, a slave trader, named by Phillips James Hamilton. For some who have not imagined this or read deeply detailed historical accounts (I recommend Clifford D. Conner’s biography of Colonel Despard, who briefly turns up in Winston Graham’s Poldark novels as Anglo-Irish rebel turned revolutionary who is guillotined for his pains, as a scapegoat but also spent years as the leader of British men in the Carribean trying to steal the Native’s lands from the ferocious Spanish and build communities in the fiercely hot diseased ridden islands using enslaved people.) How hard a business his was – he has difficulties picking and buying enslaved people, they run away, they rebel, they also get sick and die; his men get drunk, humiliate the enslaved, insurrections, disease, diarrhea (he feeds everyone rice) aboard ship as well his life (letters home to a beloved woman whom he treats with dainty kindness, discretion, courtesy) is strewn with difficulties.

How can you leave out the colonialist slaver? the nightmares might not have happened had such people not been possible, not existed …. not somehow been allowed to ply their vileness almost globally. I could have gone over the injustice and cruelties step-by-step. Like reading a day in the life of a guard in a concentration camp in Europe during WW2 – maybe not as – a day in the life of police force in the famous ghetto Lodz. But I spare myself and my possible readers.


Scene from a World War Two movie focusing on a heroine ….

Then the last. I unravel a story told in the Faulkner-Graham Swift mode by voice and diary entries arranged not chronologically but thematically so we must slowly work out the outer story as we confront the inner hidden life of Joyce Kitson — whose name also only gradually is told.

The novella-length piece is presented in a journal or diary form in the voice of Joyce, a young woman during the years leading up to and through World War II. Consistent with the title, the small town and smaller village from which Joyce observes wartime England remains unnamed. Joyce has had a hard childhood continually pressured by her hostile mother who has never gotten over the death of her military husband in the First World War and has taken refuge in religious zealotry. Her mother makes her leave school when she is very bright and loves to read – her mother resent this one pleasure of hers. She goes to work in a factory, and does not fit in. One night she goes to a theater to see the Christmas pantomime and meets an actor named Herbert playing in Mother Goose. Suffice to say she gets pregnant, and when she gets no answers for her letters, has an abortion out of fear of ostracizing and pressure from others, but goes to London to find Herbert. When she does, what a disillusion! He flees her within ten minutes (July 1936 to February 1938 but her relationship with her mother is interwoven throughout the letters from the very opening to her mother’s death). When the story opens Joyce has married a working class (it turned out thuggish, violent) young man, shopkeeper named Len from a small village near the town where she lives with her mother. We eventually discover Len beats her, and Joyce knew almost immediately that the marriage is a mistake Len eventually goes to prison for dealing in the black market during the war, leaving Joyce to run the village shop. She feels for him over this as an injustice.

There is a parallel story: a friend, Sandra has a similar experience of marriage (maybe not as bad) but her husband is also gone to war and either she had married him because she was pregnant by him (or another) and has had a child, Tommy, whom she cannot breast-fed (partly anxiety partly lack of nourishing food) and whom she seems anxious to hide from her husband. She says that she has never been able to deal well with people (she thinks Joyce does) and becomes pregnant again (with a friend of Len’s). Joyce advises her to write and tell her husband. Among other things, she cannot put the baby up for adoption without the husband’s permission. Alas he returns and kills her, shoots her dead instantly. As Joyce’s one friend, Joyce never forgets her or that Tommy, the child, was taken away.

Not long after Joyce’s job has enabled her to meet a young Black (colored) man from the US. The U.S. Army stationed a detachment of black soldiers near the village where Joyce lives, and she falls in love with one of the officers named Travis. He is kind, courteous, fun to be with; they lead off a dance one night. He is beaten once by some white officers for returning late (or perhaps for going out with a white woman). She becomes pregnant by Travis just before he is shipped off to Italy. He is able to return on leave to marry Joyce – whose divorce from Len is finally settled (after scenes of his rage beating of her, demanding she give him the shop — Travis intervenes in one beating) – just days before the birth of their baby, Greer. Travis is killed in Italy, and Joyce is forced to give Greer up to the county as a war orphan. (A parallel to Martha and Eliza Mae.) The only time she sees him again is in 1963, when he comes as a young man to visit her in a new life. Joyce secretly continues to love Travis, even in her new better life, still a working class woman, now with 2 children, and she is portrayed as a good person, caught up in bigotry and circumstances beyond her control.

I have probably not conveyed how this story told another way could take 500 pages and how it wrung my heart. The story includes the bombing and destruction of part of her village – which she registers fully the horrors and ordinariness of — which bombing her mother dies in as she will not flee to a shelter.

The book has a prologue and coda spoken by a symbolic father who has foolishly sold his children into slavery, driven to it he says by starvation. He turns into a universal figure standing for those who give into society, who simply provides as children and then grown-ups the characters whose suffering we live through across the centuries. The coda connects Edward and Nash, Martha, Joyce, Travis, to specific cases and types of the hurt and victimized in the 20th and 21st century. All his children. Phillips brings back some of the most painful poetry in each of the sections.

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Poster Art on the Banks of the Gaza Strip

Orwell said “who controls the past (the way it is described, discussed, taught), controls the future.” There has been and continues to be a real drive to erase the injustices of the past and create self-glorifying – or justifying tales for the winners and powerful to tell of their power, well-meaning good acts. Phillips realizes common ground among the subalterns of the world. – subaltern is a person of low or lower status – those excluded from the hierarchy of power. They may get to row a boat but no say in how or why it’s rowed or for what or whom. I love how he often has women at the center of his books – not that common for male writers and I give him the great compliment that he does not see them from a masculinist POV at all. Why do we read colonialist, post-colonialist writing? So we may understand what we are seeing happening in our world all around us today — and we hope be able to do something to improve matters however small.

Ellen

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