Archive for the ‘historical fiction’ Category

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

To begin with the most disappointing and the most stirring:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barnaby and his one friend, Grip, the Raven

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

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


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The team (Elizabeth Moss, Topher Grace to the left) intensely anxious as they watch their TV journalism play out (2015 Truth, scripted, directed James Vanderbilt, out of Mapes’s memoir)

Dear friends and readers,

The climax of James Vanderbilt’s Truth (directed and scripted by him) is a conversation Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) have on a terrace in New York City. Very glamorous setting. Rather has decided to retire to protect himself; he is telling Mary she must knock under to pressure because she’s too young to give up the investigative journalist career ahead of her. Mapes had just delivered a documented story of the horrors at the Abu Graib prison tortures by Americans — and seemed to have such potential.

But Rather does not argue that. Instead he goes off on a tangent which relates to his own career. He tells Mary stories of early news shows, of how he was among the first to start up Sixty Minutes, and how Sixty Minutes showed a TV channel could make money on the news. The irony here is rich. The reason for the existence of new shows had been to satisfy the FCC demands that all “sides” have equal time. But now they could turn a profit. Redford as Rather looks intensely wry. His next words imply what happened was the profit motive took over other news-shows, so they all now are the product of their advertiser’s advertisements galore and exist in a universe where other news-shows have become forms of entertainment and no serious investigative reporting is done. It’s not wanted.

This movie is not getting the attention it should get nor the positive reviews for its content. It has flaws, but they are of the artistic kind (too much melodrama, too much hype), but it’s retelling of the story puts the emphasis on the right place: the rot in news shows themselves. At its center is a courageous woman.

Truth is about the rot within that we see the full results of in 2015 on not only Fox and CNN but new shows that are still respectable. We see how one reason Mary Mapes rushed her story was it was necessary to keep the ratings of Sixty Minutes high. We see how her high-powered pressuring methods were a product of this system and worked successfully within it as long as she didn’t expose the wrong group of people. It indicts the news-papers that repeated the ploy and method of the Bush administration at the time to attack the story that would have exposed Bush’s lack of any military experience just as Kerry was smeared by distorted stories of his experience of the realities of actual military life.

Thus the strongly qualified praise meted out to exploration of what investigative journalism via a TV medium has become, which is what Vanderbilt’s film, Truth, tries to dramatize unbiasedly, is disquieting. The New York Times appears to want to uphold the establishment’s judgement that these reporters at a minimum exercised bad judgement (she is “not exonerated” — from what, pray tell?), and suggests the movie is a detective story as propaganda out of political bias. In the film Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) avers that for her she was bringing out the truth, but it undermines her too: for ambition; as family bread-winner. Read also Roger Ebert’s Brian Tallerico half-dismissal; Tim Robery in the Telegraph (the actors focused on); Peter Travers strange short Rolling Stone review. David Edelstein for the Vulture at lease explains the situation, what is said to have happened, and the result : not Bush exposed, but Rather’s departure from CBS and Mary Mapes unable to work in journalism for a long time afterward — recalling Nina Tottenberg who was fired after in the 1980s she bravely exposed lies about marijuana.

I recommend seeing it though I have mixed feelings about the film. The continual hectic pace and hyped-up melodrama is at times over the top (not that TV producers don’t need to make a deadline), the message speech (true enough) shouted by Mike Smith, about to be dismissed to homelessness once again (Topher Grace as Mary’s aide), that Viacom profits are protected here is intended as deep background. But it does come across as hysteria, and the dialectic gives the man firing Mike the opportunity to call him a fool for thinking all the people in the office are evil. Mike was not saying that.

The film was also marred by its closing scenes, which included an insistent upbeat presentation of Redford as Dan Rather walking away surrounded by admiring loving compassionate faces. Those who fired Mary and were working to push Dan out, were represented as remorseful (!), and as having acted only because they had to, as nearly (the film makers did draw back) overcome with guilt because they feel for their ex-friends and associates. Right. As with a protest novel, a protest film needs at a minimum to reach the wider audience and such sentimentality is one crowd-pleaser.

I was moved at its penultimate scenes. The performances were very good: Stacey Keach as the opaque whistleblower Bill Burkett and Noni Hazlehurst as his wife.


Hazlehurst lights into Mapes for pretending to care about her husband’s health with the implication they have used and are now discarding him for no good reason. Some watching the film may come away believing her perspective, holding to it.

In the film’s scenes nuances get nowhere. Still I can be manipulated. I was touched as the film-maker intended me to be when Mary leaned on her husband (Conor Burke), and agreed to go out for walk with him now: she’ll have plenty of time to recuperate. Vanderbilt and Mapes (as it’s her book) are presenting material much less socially acceptable than the coming film (I want to see badly) Suffragette. Who is against the rights of women to fight wars? A general political witch-hunt has been dramatized too in the story of Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston, no less) “coming soon.”

Perhaps Mapes’s caustic memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power does suggest that she became an aggressive reporter after facts and documents because her father had physically abused her, and she was standing up to him. That she worshipped Rather as a father substitute in the form of a mentor.
Real Mary Mapes — as I looked at the photo I remembered this moment of distress, harassment, shock, sheer tiredness registered on her face

The film needed to provide a usable past for understanding the new shows’ behavior towards their journalists, and the scapegoating (witch-hunt) of these journalists as their framework. It did come close. It’s not a propaganda but a political film and the reason it may not fully convince is its melodramatic mode, not its content.

Redford, Vanderbilt and Keach on set — Redford has done strong political films in his life

The full context of 2004 was the Iraq war, its falseness, and we do see in the film Tony Blair saying how much he wants peace (two weeks ago we read his memorandum to Bush a year before the war that Blair would support attacking Iraq), early footage from the Iraq war. The film could have emphasized this context more as when I watched it this afternoon in November 2015 I couldn’t forget the refugee crisis in Europe, the massacres in Syria, the raw violence of Afghanistan, ISIS; the Bush presidency as another step in the direction of chaos in the colonized lands, and the impoverishment blight engineered across Europe and the western hemisphere. Its topic was spot on: the origin and develpoment of “news” shows like Fox (liars), CNN & MSNBC (compromised), which are influential.

This image is seen in the movie — it was shown by Mapes as the photo of one of the people tortured at Abu Graib, a human being suffering horribly standing as he is humiliated, de-humanized and then laughed at by that outfit


For me the worst thing about the film had nothing to do with its news and war politics or art: it is Cate Blanchett’s new rubbery mask-face, which her inner experience of intense drama managed to project through:

Also Mary at worship of Dan

Poor woman (I mean Blanchett), she’s had some kind of cosmetic surgery or face-lift or used some kind of wax on her face: her face can’t do subtlety any more the way it could. In this film’s scenes nuances get nowhere anyway, but she might want to do great stage plays again. I also felt her American accent as disconcerting because together with the new false flesh mask fitted around what used to be the old facial structure, the actress I’m familiar with him seemed hidden away. Surely she did not have to do this to keep getting good roles.

Cate Blanchett when she still had her real face: 2013, Blue Jasmine


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“Is it the poor house, yer honor?” (Rod Walters, illustration for Folio Society Castle Richmond)

Dear friends and readers,

This is my fourth and last report of the papers given at the Trollope Bicentennial Conference in Leuven, Belgium (see 1, 2, 3). I combine late Friday afternoon, early Saturday morning (Sept 18th-19th). I was not able to stay for Saturday afternoon, nor J. Hillis Miller’s videotaped talk, on the pleasures of Trollope’s obstinacy, and no one has (as far as I can tell) put a full YouTube up onto the Net, so I will end on an account of some of the questions and discussions that occur after and between sessions. The last panels I was able to hear were Mother (Frances), Irish (or Anglo-Irish) and Formal Trollope (his art and forms).

Frances Trollope as painted by Auguste Hervieu

Panel 9: Mother Trollope. Helen Blythe discussed specific and general parallels of which there are many between Frances and Anthony Trollope’s fictions. Frances began her career in her 50s, and saved the family from financial ruin, herself from a destroyed life with a half-mad destroyed man by writing a huge number of novels over the years. She began with how the story of an uncontrollably hot-tempered husband in Frances’s One Fault has striking parallels with Trollope’s novel of sexual anxiety, madness and competition for marital dominance, He Knew He Was Right, with its brief reprise, this time with an accent on a secret clandestine relationship, and who gets to control whom in Kept in the Dark. The underlying suggestion is the derivation of these stories from the near-breakup of Trollope’s parents marriage and her flight with Hervieu. (All discussed ably in Helen Heineman’s excellent biography, Mrs Trollope.) Ms Blythe’s theme though was Frances’s use of the “mother’s voice” in her fiction. Frances presents what it means to be a woman or man, and she took this opportunity to connect Helene Cixous’s urging of women to seize the occasions of sexual experience as a core launching pad for novel writing.

Lucy Sheenan also spoke of mothers in Frances’s fiction: while they fulfill their task of producing adults, in character they are alienated, estranged, seek to flee their immediate environment. Slave women are mother machines, but we see in Jefferson Whitlaw a mother who survives by hardening herself and resembles the mothers on Trollope’s factory floors. Women are seen as consummate actresses, containing their energy for revolt inside themselves. Martha Barnaby, at first a widow, and then remarried, is a comic version of mothering who supports a useless husband, saving her deepest affection for her children; we are told the Widow Barnaby will surely write a book defending slavery for money; when she cries we see she is not de-humanized. The mortality statistics of the era reveal agonies of exhausted underfed hard-word dying children; Frances’s factory town is pregnant with wasted bodies: the imagery of the books shows their origin in l’ecriture-femme too.

Contemporary illustration of Frances Trollope’s Michael Armstrong, Factory Boy.

Greg Vargo and Elsie Michie discussed this maternal groundwork in Frances Trollope’s fiction from other angles. Mr Vargo discussed Frances Trollope’s politically controversial condition of England novels. In 1838 Trollope wrote Jessie Philips: A Tale of the Present Day, showing us the social roles imposed on women through individual researched stories. He suggested Anthony Trollope’s criticisms of Dickens could easily be applied to Frances’s but Dickens’s Oliver Twist ends where Michael Armstrong begins. An upper class woman saves a boy suffering degrading abuse and violence in a factory; he has to leave his brother behind. Advertised in the Northern Star (1859) it was widely read as a Chartist appeal despite her denials. Frances’s novels show survivor guilt; they are contradictory, have convoluted endings, tell tales of emigration.

Picture Shows: LAURA FRASER as Emily Trevelyan and BILL NIGHY as Colonel Osborne TX: TBA  Following the award-winning success of his adaption of Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, Andrew Davies brings a surprisingly new perspective in his reworking of Trollope's searing novel, He Knew He Was Right. "This is an unusual Trollope" says Davies. "A dark and edgy portrait of a marriage in trouble which feels startingly modern - it's Trollope's take on the Othello story".  A tale of a man who allows his jealousy to become a tragic obsession. The timeless issues of jealousy and marital breakdown provides the backdrop for this compelling story, pitching the demanding and traditional Louis (OLIVER DIMSDALE) against his strong-willed wife Emily (LAURA FRASER),  a thoroughly modern heroine.  Warning: Use of this copyright image is subject to Terms of Use of BBC Digital Picture Service.  In particular, this image may only be used during the publicity period for the purpose of publicising HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT and provided BBC is credited. Any use of this image on the internet or for any other purpose whatsoever, including advertising or other commercial uses, requires the prior written approval of the BBC.
Laura Fraser as Emily Trevelyn and Bill Nighy as Colonel Osborne: Louis’s insecurity and madness is Andrew Davies’s emphasis

Elsie Michie offered a detailed analysis of He Knew He Was Right, showing how the novel channels changes in custody law and custom; how matrimonial cruelty is redefined so it does not depend on physical cruelty. Michie went over contemporary court cases (Bulwer-Lyttons, Caroline Norton) where the husband’s cumulative cruelty over time is at least taken into consideration. Troubled relationships and agency brought into court where legal process takes over. Ms Michie did not look at the novel from a feminist standpoint nor the more recent outlook of Mark Turner, from that of the sophisticated male reader who might see in Osborne a dark portrait of himself. Hers was like the papers earlier in the day on teaching Trollope from the angle this time of Frances Trollope as pioneer for custody and marital reform generally understood.

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19th century depiction of Irish farmers stopping the aristocratic hunt

Panel 10: Irish Trollope. The speakers in this panel were in genuine disagreement. Gordon Bigelow argued Trollope’s Irish novels fail because 1) he failed to find an audience for them; and 2) he never established a set of significant tropes to present his vision through. Mr Bigelow felt many editors today do not think the Irish novel added anything different or significant to the Victorian novel; the Irish experience cannot be adapted to worlds of privilege; plots of abduction, murder, violent cutthroat action are needed. In Landleaguers we have such incidents centrally but otherwise we otherwise see purposeless activities: law gets nowhere (nullified); the hunt (which requires the preservation of the vermin, foxes, the sport was originally set up to kill) does not bring any commnity together except as protest and push-back. Trollope’s usual way is to decode tension inside a created harmony; the hunt cannot work this way because the people doing it are desperate and these is no single unified community to sustain it. There are many such riffs across these 5 novels Macdermots of Ballycloran, Kellys and OKellys, Castle Richmond, An Eye for an Eye, Landleaguers). They thus falter when it comes to speaking for the Irish. Ireland captivated Trollope; it freed him from the imprisonment of stigma, but Trollope justifies things as they are, as he did not in say The Warden where everyone is self-serving.

Ardkill Cottage in An Eye for an Eye (Elisa Trimby illustrator for Folio Society edition)

John McCourt felt that while Trollope’s Irish novels are problematic, there is much richness in them; they are successful Irish art. In the Macdermots we find an attempt to write the language according to 19th century Irish phonetics, with one of its heroes a Catholic Irish priest. It is a penetrating depiction of the destruction of an old Irish family by the Catholic Irish speculating class; Keegan is a disguised version of Trollope himself. (Mr McCourt did not mention how the house is a version of Julian Hills, the father Trollope’s father to.) When Trollope found himself “at home” in Ireland, welcomed, he set about to tell truths; intertwined the Protestant Anglo-Irish with the Catholic Irish, exposed the British colonialist police practices. The theme of hospitality and forgiveness are treated comically in his two Irish short stories, tragically in An Eye for An Eye: Neville, the English officer is the villain; though all the characters use one another. The Kellys and OKellys use the intertwining patterns and character types rich and complicated; the places described vivid with life (from kitchen to race course); we have a murderous brother, with a plangent Irish heroines who is virtuous. Mr McCourt included the two Phineas books in Trollope’s Irish oeuvre; Phineas is kept in surveillance, and thrown out when he tries to become his own man in parliament. Accused of murdering the ultimate trimmer, Bonteen, he learns how much of an outsider he remains, and cannot get himself to accept Gresham’s offer of yet another place among the English. Madame Max like Phineas is an outsider, drained of her Jewishness, can be taken in.

FredwalkerVagants1868 (Large)
Fred Walker, The Vagrants, 1868

Claire Connolly meditated the image and uses of lanes in Trollope’s Irish fiction. The new systems of carriage transport and work like Trollope’s for the post office were revolutionizing and connecting the roads; these improvements represent a means of controlling people as well as the power of the British state. Good roads benefited the landowning classes; its corollary is a national school system to replace local (forbidden Catholic) hedge schools. Yet roads are where bad encounters happen; in the Macdermots they are black, desolate, muddy. Thady flees to a band of ribbon-men in the hills. Trollope remembers Scott’s Waverley and Maria Edgeworth’s Irish novels; in Kellys and OKellys the roads are part of a public network, even if we find starved, dead, mutilated bodies (Castle Richmond) along the way. In some moments roads are where people are hanged; Father John avoids walking on them after Thady’s execution. Trollope described travel in Ireland as having people acting with warmth, geniality, but it is also harsh: Ccrpse-like women and dead babies are found alongside the road. She said “these are scenes of potential connectivity and dangerous failed infrastructure. They reflect social change, lived realities.” She even brought geological time in Ireland in.

At this point the day came to an end and people went off to have dinner.


Lady Glencora (Susan Hampshire) and Madame Max (Barbara Murray) waiting for Phineas to return from London to Matching Priory after his acquittal (Palliser 9:19, scripted Simon Raven, from Phineas Redux)

Panel 11: Formal Trollope. I heard the first two papers of the day. Claire Jarvis’s “Almost Trollope” traced Trollope’s uses of the word “almost,” which she found were in one novel “almost 285 times. She close read the typical sentence forms and content in which this word occurs. Trollope becomes a kind of Henry James novelist, with Trollope also preferring incident to event. Almost a reference to something not quite happening, to being at one remove, to not completing something, to sheering away from violence (characters are “almost angry”). “Almost” signals a narrative attention, carefulness. It signals detachment, deflation. There has to be something uncanny in creating enveloping realism; a schism at the heart of the novels. Phineas is “almost silenced;” he “almost” sets down his office; Mary Flood “almost” reads his letters. The narrator therefore can’t see the letter. He is not sure of the vividness of something; the word captures an energy just out of reach. Lady Glencora “almost hesitates” as she is fleeced or cheated or nearly run away with by Burgo (nearly). D.A. Miller says there is no need for police in Trollope or for the reader or Trollope to take sides; we don’t care about who wins, the point is to collude in the surveillance in order to embed yourself. But does Finn not fear his desire to kill Bonteen? and need to exorcise this by re-enacting the murderer’s walk. He “almost” killed Mr Bonteen. It’s an unfinished murder as Emilius is dismissed from the narrative. At the level of the sentence Trollope offers us depth through eluding us.

Daniel Wright’s paper analyzed Trollope’s formal logic in his narratives. He argued Trollope’s famous dictum that the novelist should get all his meaning into his sentences, and leave none out, and be totally transparent is a fantasy. But as a goal of his novel’s craft we begin to see he wants the sentence to be a transparent medium at any rate. He wanted certainty (not almosts). He sought ease for the reader, directness himself, clarity as a way to rivet the reader. George Eliot practiced a contrasting art with her desire to escape the vigilance of the reader, her multivalent use of language, with subtle shades of suggestive meaning.


Phineas (Donal McCann) and Lord Chiltern (John Hallam) sharing a bottle of champagne in their club as they become friends (4:7, scripted Simon Raven, from Phineas Finn)

Speaking in general, the talk afterward was mostly in praise of the papers or the person speaking (yes): no surprise as this was a conference made up even largely of people who had spent years reading and/or writing and researching Trollope. There were far fewer graduate students, Victorianists and mid-level career people as well as fewer people from the Trollope society than there had been at Exeter. Even if the organizer kept saying how Leuven was so available to the all the world, it’s not. Many people had to make three connections at least to get there, had traveled many hours and it had been expensive. If you lived in the UK in 2006, you had only to take the train (or drive); from Ireland you could ferry and then take a train.

So, on Ordinary Trollope (Panel 1) The person who argued that Melmotte could not have gotten away with what he managed, cited a good deal of legislation 1856 the Limited Liabilities Act, 1874 the Fraudulent Trustees Act, and that no one objected to the thesis. Francis O’Goorman did say that TWWLN could be regarded as a proto-thriller. Someone asked about the 1844 Bank Act which made the UK banks the only legitimate producers of bank notes, and these had to be backed by bullion. Trollope was interested in what backs up a bill, in the person who co-signed. Deborah Morse offered the idea that Trollope maintained deep feelings about his personal life and experiences across the decades and these were poured into his novels.

For Political Trollope (Panel 2) Helen Small had cited many particulars of the Beverley election, and many reform bills to stop bribery, describing a number of individuals beyond Henry Edwards; there were questions about this material. To me the more interesting ones were conceptual. Who stood for negative and for positive liberty in Trollope’s Phineas Redux? People asked Mr Aguirre about the Eyre controversy (the indiscriminate punitive slaughter of native people in Jamaica). Trollope was for uniting the world, but for what purpose? (was a question I tried to ask and didn’t get a chance). Someone asked (politely) how can you say Trollope pro-northern, and pro-abolition, and yet not bring in as contradictory how he wrote about the post-emancipation problem as wrecking the US economy, just like Carlyle (with the same insinuating inferences)? Mr Aguirre fell back (so to speak) on suggesting that (for Trollope?) “colored people” as they were then “could not help society move into progress.” Of course the reply which was not forthcoming is (as impolite, pressing too much), progress for whom?

Gopnik’s essay in the New Yorker was quoted on Monk as a mouthpiece for Trollope’s political vision (at its best?) Lauren Goodlad replied that with the whigs losing out (the liberals), Trollope feared a Disraeli take-over. Prof Skilton spoke of The Fixed Period as a satire on coercing people for “their own good,” and on utilitarianism. H.M.S Bright: the ultimate weapon is to destroy the whole country with one shot. Did Bonteen represent the new reliance on a technological world? someone said the regional and provincial worlds wanted machines too: they made for great wealth for some. Laura Goodlad asserted that we must see two Trollopes: “a different man writes the political writing, non-fiction and autobiography.”

Onto the Psychological/Epistemological Trollope (Panel 3): This was one of the panels where there was “almost” (to use a Trollopeian word) no time to say anything afterward. More than one of the papers had gone over the time limit. So I am left to voice my own objections to parts of Prof Polhemus’s paper. The thrust of the argument was Trollope was in effect in his fiction questioning and undermining marriage. I’m not sure about the latter, but the real problem in the paper (as I saw it) was he justified Trollope in salivating over women’s sexuality, especially the stories in the canon where an older man dominates a young girl (this is the thrust of his book Lot’s Daughters). Andrew Davies in his film adaptation saw this as the center of the Palliser-Lady Glencora marriage itself. How dare Sir Roger demand Henrietta marry him in HKHWR? Clara is at a severe disadvantage and doesn’t begin to know that love is conducted a series of negotiations in public. The arguments present women as gaining something in the “Editor’s Tales” and in this novel as compliant which is flat contradicted by the picture: Jael drives a nail through Sisera’s head. I wondered how Effie felt about Millais’s portrait of her sister — I would not have liked that if it had the meaning suggested. I wanted to ask if this is feminism? Feminism has become the unspeakable and dread word so a protest against sexuality presented in this light could (as it was in the 1960s) be seen as priggish, when the problem is the female powerlessness.

The Dormer residence (which they lose) in Ayala’s Angel (Folio Society illustration)

I was surprised that he had not brought up Ayala’s Angel where we again have a portrait of an artist that alludes to Millais: I asked him about it later. It’s a Proustian book, half-defending erotic enthrallment, but it also exposes the indifference of the artist to his family (especially on money matters), and approves of sexuality in art as a pleasure when it’s controlled by conventional marriage patterns.

The Technoscience Trollope session (Panel 4) had to be cut short as the president of the Irish College was coming to speak to and welcome us, and then we segued right into the Printed Trollope (Panel 5) which ended in a “launch” of the graphic novel, Dispossession. Useful questions were asked of Simon Grennan and David Skilton during their talks so (given it was so late) there was no need for further talk. I regretted there was no questioning of Prof Skilton about what he was pointing to when he suggested people are not reading the words in front of them when they read Trollope’s Autobiography.

Both the first two panels on Friday (Teaching Trollope and Australian Trollope, 6 and 7) ran over time. There was a brief moment where someone asked Mark Turner about the effect of seriality and he replied that modern younger adults “stick with it,” and that it’s a form of reassurance (against I’d say chaos and death). It’s become a crucial way people experience a cultural event. On my paper, I regret earnestly that I had no sense of what anyone thought of my paper for real: you do get hints and suggestions by the talk afterward. I was congratulated kindly by Prof Polhemus and thought that Laura Goodlad was talking about my paper when she objected shortly after I finished to these “literalist” kinds of readings. I had worked hard and hoped mine would be a contribution since I was invited to come. I worry that my range was too broad, my references too dense. But I have put the text online if anyone wants to read it slowly.

The response to Modern Trollope (Panel 8) was quiet astonishment and appreciation — or so I thought. I had heard some squawks (in protest) to Prof Kincaid’s satiric burlesque of literary scholarship and his (more earnestly delivered) radical critical reading and indirect comments on the present audience as typical of a scholar’s conference. Prof Kincaid replied to one comment that “reading is a professional set of agreements; not all agreements are bad,” but awareness of them controls our behavior. He was suggesting we should admit to this and to the ludicrousness of some of our “discourses” to those outside the world of these parameters. Maybe we should listen to those who talk very differently about reading and Trollope. Someone said that Elizabeth Bishop’s protest poem (in effect, from its 1950s political content) drew out aspects of Trollope’s personality the mainstream reader finds it difficult to discuss, much less try to understand. She and Frances Trollope both defied the hegemonic (macho) male and upbeat viewpoint. John Bowen saw Trollope as enacting insensitivity to fool us. I loved the passages Mr Caddia had quoted.

There was not enough time after Mother or Frances Trollope (Panel 9), but the talk after the “Irish Trollope” (panel 10) was long, meandering but of real interest as fundamental questions arose about how we define and de-limit Trollope. I was too tired to get down details by that time — mostly Irish politics today, some comments on Thackeray’s books of touring in Ireland. The following morning I could not stay beyond the “Formal Trollope” (Panel 11) as we had to make our cab to get to our train, to get to the first of two planes, before we were to reach another train.

So, if this reaches anyone at all with the power to make Hillis Miller’s lecture on YouTube available to all on the Internet, I hope that person or people can and will do the right thing.

In the meantime I thought I end on a poem mentioned by Claire Connolly (but not read aloud) in her “Lane-ism” Eavan Boland’s “The Famine Road.” Trollope insisted that the gov’t should not simply give food or help to the starving Irish in 1847 but that the starving people work on these useless roads (lest they get used to not working for money, lest they “disrupt the “economy” by bypassing capitalist networks), and there are scenes of this roadwork being done in Castle Richmond where Trollope portrays these people semi-hostilely:

The Famine Road

‘Idle as trout in light Colonel Jones,
these Irish, give them no coins at all; their bones
need toil, their characters no less.’ Trevelyan’s
seal blooded the deal table. The Relief
Committee deliberated: ‘Might it be safe,
Colonel, to give them roads, roads to force
from nowhere, going nowhere of course?’

    ‘one out of every ten and then
    another third of those again
    women – in a case like yours;

Sick, directionless they worked; fork, stick
were iron years away; after all could
they not blood their knuckles on rock, suck
April hailstones for water and for food?
Why for that, cunning as housewives, each eyed –
as if at a corner butcher – the other’s buttock.

    ‘anything may have caused it, spores,
    a childhood accident; one sees
    day after day these mysteries’

Dusk: they will work tomorrow without him.
They know it and walk clear; he has become
a typhoid pariah, his blood tainted, although
he shares it with some there. No more than snow
attends its own flakes where they settle
and melt, will they pray by his death rattle.

    ‘You never will, never you know
    but take it well woman, grow
    your garden, keep house, good-bye.’

‘It has gone better than we expected, Lord
Trevelyan, sedition, idleness, cured
in one; from parish to parish, field to field
the wretches work till they are quite worn.
then fester by their work; we march the corn
to the ships in peace; this Tuesday I saw –
out of my carriage window, your servant Jones.’

    ‘Barren, never to know the load
    of his child in you, what is your body
    now, if not a famine road?’

Not only the people under the gun but the animal life should bear some witness. When I came to the end of my reading for my paper, I found myself at the close of Trollope’s Australia where he goes hunting and he and the others gun down kangaroo. How horrible, how truly terrible was the behavior of Trollope and his fellow hunters. Trollope records the traumatic distress and crazed behavior of these animals under such an assault, and also their tenacious love for their young. How I wished that the kangaroos had been able to kill the men with their guns (yes I did) who were ferociously terrorizing them so as to elicit frantic savage helpless self-protection and then murder them.

We killed, I think, seven in two days, – and had other runs in which we lost our prey. The ‘old man’ kangaroo when hard pressed will turn round and fight the hounds, – or fight the man who comes up to knock him over. And he fights with great power, inflicting terrible wounds with his fore paws. In New South Wales I saw a kangaroo which we were hunting catch up a terrier in his arms, and carry the little animal in his embrace throughout the run. He was not, however, able to hurt the dog, who, when the affair was over, seemed to come quite undismayed out of his difficulty. And I saw also a female kangaroo, when the hounds were after her, throw her kid out of the pouch in which she carried it. On that occasion the kid was killed and the mother escaped. They will carry their young one as long as it is possible for them, and then throw him out almost without losing a stride (Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand, from “Sports” 741).

Miss Drake

Abram Louis Buvelot (1814-88), Australian landscape (much idealized)

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Monique Barbee, Cristina Spina, Ayeje Feamster, Juliana Francis-Kelly

Dear friends and readers,

Today Izzy and I saw another text or set of texts performed which come out of Tudor Matter: the writings and what was said Elizabeth Tudor said in the form of a monologue play acted out by form women playing the Elizabeth. It lasted only an hour but it was intently mesmerizing: the way the texts were chosen and woven together, how the actresses did the parts (intensely, iconically, prosaically, wryly, emotionally, fearfully by turns). The play is part of year long festival of plays by women going on around the DC area: the music was composed by a woman, production design, costumes: and it was l’ecriture-femme; the organization was not at all chronological; motifs kept coming back cyclically; you could say we were in Elizabeth’s mind.

It’s probably too late for most people to put everything planned for tomorrow away and hurry to the Folger Shakespeare Theater to see this four-woman dramatic monologue, conceived, put together, written and directed by Karin Coonrod, with a sixth woman, Gina Lesihman, composing the music, Oana Botez designing costumes, as a production from the Compagnia de’ Colombari (originally a festival group from Orvieto, Italy, 2004). But maybe not too late to see and hear re-incarnations of this script elsewhere. And certainly not too late to go to the Folger for this year’s season. It began with the remarkably candid and brilliant production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, via their HD screening capabilities. Now they’ve moved onto a highly original adaptation of Tudor matter to the stage.

Only recently has Elizabeth R been forgiven her ability to live more successfully than most men as leader of a country she cared about, as head of an army. As Sabrina Baron says,

with a few parts of some series as exceptions (most notably the six-part Elizabeth I in 1971), the depiction of Elizabeth, a woman who was a powerful and effective leader in her day (lived long, stayed in power, overcame a number of attempts to when she was young kill her and older overturn her throne), is as a frigid jealous or humiliated sex object. Her icon in her era was manipulated to present an transcendent female figure effectively doing what men did; in the 20th century she was at first a sexualized female stereotype who failed at love and motherhood and did little of consequence. Recently she has taken over Mary Stuart’s role as an enthralled woman (by Leicester, Essex) deeply unhappy because of this. Says Baron, quite a revenge and erasure by a male hegemonic point of view and from women compensatory victimhood for them to cling to.

Not so here. Using Elizabeth R’s own words and words about her spoken or written by people close to her, Koonrod moves back and forth across the iconic and everyday events of the reign to show how she was beset from the time her mother was beheaded (by keepers, by authority figures, by what men she did discreetly involve herself with, and yet emerges, survived and knew several triumphs (the Spanish Armada). While she did not write as much as the foolhardy passionate Mary Queen of Scots, and hid her religion as Margaret of Navarre did not, Elizabeth R wrote in all the forms these two other early modern women did: poetry, speeches, letters.

These are woven in with what others reported and what scholars have unearthed. The script assumes a good knowledge of the phases of Elizabeth’s life (who she lived with during what period and what she had to adhere to to stay alive), which are divided into four movements and four games. Iconic moments include her at the tower, when her stepmother, Elizabeth Parr and her husband, Thomas Seymour (later beheaded) are said to have cut Elizabeth’s mourning dress for Anne Boleyn to shreds while they were in a garden. This one shows how little Elizabeth was regarded until she became queen; she was a woman, not entitled to her own space; the first thing that parliament did when she became queen was to ask her to marry, which they repeated periodically no matter how often Elizabeth said she was wed to England and England was better off with a single queen (like her). there was material from the death of Leicester’s wife. The Armada. The Earl of Essex’s revolt. Parliamentary conflicts. And her frivolous moments with ordinary people.

All four Elizabeths were there at the same time. They began by sitting on uncomfortable high backed narrow lattice-like chairs (thrones as imprisoning). They catch each line up in turn, like a monody by four. Their silvery-grey dresses have features which suggest different eras (Elizabethan, the devil’s, the legacy left Elizabeth by her mother.) As the script veers round in time, first enacting how Elizabeth held off the demand she marry and have children, you grasp how each place is explicated or dramatized to see its relationship to Elizabeth or those close to her at that time (her sister, Anna, cousin, Mary, various male courtiers). Four movements within each a game. First up the nagging and pressuring her to marry and have children (the French Anjou and Leicester eras). Second there was an amoral actor-soldier and city life and court (anecdotes). The third movement was made up from Elizabeth’s prayers and laments, her few witty self-revealing poems. Last her last years as queen. I found the whole experience mesmerizing and stirring.

By pre-conceived scheme this blog should go on Austen reveries as being about and by women, one of more than 50 plays by women which will be staged in the DC area over the next year (until July say). I put it here so it will have more circulation. It belongs to the inexhaustible Turdor matter which I’ve been dealing with in my blogs on Anne and Mary Boleyn and Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and which I hope to add to on the 2003 Boleyn Girl by Philippa Lowthorpe (with a little help from Andrew Davies), Anne Boleyn and other early modern women destroyed, sustained over a life-time, hitherto taken out of history.


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Bronze Age Tomb in Cornwall

Launceston Gaol, early modern to 19th century prison …

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Seven sessions: Wednesdays, 11:50 to 1:15 pm, Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road
Dates: Sept 30th to November 11th
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two of a twelve novel series, and we’ll watch and compare episodes from the first and second Poldark TV mini-series (1974-7, 2015-present). The first two Poldarks are brilliantly realized regional romances, part of a set of four (the other two, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan) excellently researched historical novels dramatizing issues of concern to a war-torn world; the second trilogy (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide, written 1973-1977) dramatizes 1960 and 1970 feminist and political movements; and the second quartet and coda (The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword, and Bella, 1981-91, 2003), colonialism, war, parliamentary politics, and even animal rights. All though the prisms of the Cornish landscape, history, the industry of mining and business of smuggling, and medicine; and issues of law and (in)justice, poaching and gaming laws, courts and prisons, and class and marital customs, and European wars. The 1970 and the new 2015 series adapt and re-boot the books across 40 years. Graham wrote other historical fiction, one history and travel book (about Cornwall), and many mystery and psychological thrillers, for some of which he won prestigious awards; others were made into famous respected films which helped “make” the careers of the central actors (e.g., Sean Connery in Hitchcock’s Marni; Devid Hemmings in Till and Bluestone’s Walking Stick). We  will treat the novels as serious historical fiction and compare and discuss the films

Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, leaving fair, Angharad Rees as Demelza climbing up

Clive Francis as a sympathetic troubled Francis Poldark

Required texts: Graham, Winston. Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 and Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790. They are available in the US in two different editions: NY: Sourcebooks, 2009/10 (RP is 330 pages, D is 374) or NY: PanMacmillan, 2008 (RP is 472 pages, and D is 422).

Click on map to make larger: the imagined map of Poldark country is placed on top of the real Cornwall

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 23: No class as I am unable to be there, but read ahead for the first class, RP, Bk 1, Chs 1-9.
Sept 30: In class: Winston Graham, life & career; what is historical fiction and/or film? Read for next time RP, Bk 1, Chs 10-18, Bk 2, Chs 1-4.
Oct 7: Ross Poldark. For next time read RP, Bk 2, Chs 5-8, Bk 3, Chs 1-8; read also NMoody, “Poldark Country and National Culture.”
Oct 14: Ross Poldark. For next time finish RP, Bk 3, Chs 9-10; and read Demelza, Bk 1, Chs 1-13
Oct 21: Ross Poldark and Demelza. Read for next time, Demela, Bk 1, Ch 14-15; Bk 2, Chs 1-12; read also RMoseley, “‘It’s a wild country … passionate and strange.”
Oct 28: Demelza. The class watches brief clips from the 1975 Poldark; read for next time, Demelza, Bk 2, Chs 3-11, Bk 4, Ch 1, and EMoody, “I have the right to choose my own life.” Online.
Nov 4: Demelza. For next time finish Demelza, Bk 4, Chs 2-11. Read Julie Taddeo’s “‘Why don’t you take her:’ Rape in the Poldark narrative.” It appeared in a book on the BBC costume drama, as about film adaptation. Sent by attachment.
Nov 11: Demelza. The class watches brief clips from 2015 Poldarks; we finish Demelza and I anticipate Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan.

Aidan Turner as Ross sitting among, part of the working mining men

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, walking and playing with her dog, Garrick

Recommended books (articles sent by attachment):

Graham, Winston .Poldark’s Cornwall. Oxford: Bodley Head, 1983.
————— Poldark, Novels of Cornwall, 1783-1820. London: Panmacmillan, 1924-2003.
—————. Memoirs of a Private Man. London: Panmacmillan, 2003
Hay Douglas, Peter Linebaugh, E. P. Thompson, et alia. Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in 18th century England. NY: Pantheon, 1975.
Marsden, Philip. Rising Ground. London: Granta, 2014.
Moody, Nickianne. “Poldark Country and National Culture,” from Cornwall: The Cultural construction of a Place.
Moody, Ellen. “‘I have the right to choose my own life:’ Liberty in the Poldark Novels,” on-line my website.
Moseley, Rachel. “‘It’s a Wild Country. Wild … Passionate … Strange’: Poldark and the Place-Image of Cornwall,” from Visual Culture in Britain.
Poldark. Dr Christopher Barry, Paul Annett. Writers. Jack Pullman, Paul Wheeler. Perf. Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend, Ralph Bates, Paul Curran, Norma Steader, Richard Morahan. BBC/1975-76, 1977-78.
Poldark. Drs. Wm MacGregor, Edward Bazalgette, Writer Debbie Horsfield. Perf. Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Kyle Soller, Ruby Bentall, Jack Farthing. BBC/ITV, 2015-
Porter, Roy and Dorothy. Patient’s Progress: Doctors and Doctoring in 18th century England. Stanford: StanfordUPress, 1989

Further on-line materials:

Authorized updated website on Graham, his life, novels, films.
The Poldark novels, and other fiction, non-fiction and films.
Winston Graham: lists of books, essays and other websites.

Winston Graham and Garrick, still a puppy, at Perranporth Beach

Godolphin House, Cornwall (used as Trenwith, Poldark family home, 1975-76)

Wheal Owles Mine, Penwith, St Just, Cornwall (fallen into desuetude, for far shots of Ross’s Wheal Leisure, 2015)


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“There is much in the world which is monstrous” — Graham’s Ross on the beach, Demelza

“I am finding it very hard to live with myself” — Francis to Elizabeth, Christmas, Wheeler’s script, invented scene …

“Have a care for the law. Tis a cranky and twisty old thing. And you may flout it half a dozen times. But let it once come to grips with you, and you find it harder to be loose from than a great black squid.” — Captain MacNeil to Ross, Horsfield’s script, a darker variant on Graham’s utterance

Onthebeach1 (2)

Onthebeach1 (1)

On the beach carrying the burdens of life’s necessities, leading those who will come with him back (Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, 2015)

Dear friends and readers,

So we are come to the end of this year’s first season: Poldark re-booted, 40 years on. Though I’ve not titled this blog to include Graham’s Demelza nor the 8th episode of the 1975 Poldark, as in all previous this is another comparative blog which assumes previous knowledge. Once again we have the old familiar pictures from the 1970s for those who loved them as I did. And once again, the distance as well as similarities between Ross Poldark and Demelza and the two disparate kinds of film art.

Our theme though is a bit different. I have been able to profit from watching one of Debbie Horsfield’s previous mini-series, the astonishing, riveting All the Small Things (directed by Metin Huysein, whose corpus includes the 1997 Tom Jones) and read about a couple of others. All the Small Things differs strongly in its dramaturgy from this new Poldark: Like Sex, Chips & Rock-n-roll, its scenes are not short, the characters use precise interesting complicated language, and its strength derives from what the characters say to one another. In neither is there this continual back-and-forth switching of montage and repetition of archetypes and simple ideas. This dramaturgy was therefore deliberate, and British ratings say it’s been widely watched. Thanks to Anibundel I’ve also been comparing costumes, hats, hairdos, wigs. If these be not costume drama, costume drama is nowhere to be found.

My suggestion tonight: while the 1970s film-makers were content to produce a sufficiently historically accurate and novelistic series reproducing the spirit of the original books (4 of them, post WW2 milieu), Horsfield’s cinematic archetypal approach is an attempt to make a new mythic matter. The 1975 films are Cornish regional romance, an adaptation of 4 historical fictions set carefully in the later 18th century, low-keyed enough for comedy. The 2015 films are not localized in the same way at all; they reach out to function the way recent films do, aware of themselves as in an intertexual film universe. This is not as hubristic as it may seem, as Graham says in the early 1970s when filming the first four books was broached to him, the idea was to make a British kind of Gone with the Wind, I half-regret to admit US mythic matter because so pro-Southern, so racist.

This is not to say that both don’t differ from the original book and try to appeal to the mainstream politics of the era. So in Demelza where it is acceptable and understood from centuries of custom, that the flotsam and jetsam of wreckage on a beach is fair game for the people living around both films takes into account this seems to our capitalist private-property obsessions crime of the first order. There was also a deep resentment against the excise tax, the imposed soldiers of the British army who were there to stop any reform movements lest they turn into a 1790s English style French revolution. In Graham’s Demelza Ross arouses Jud to waken the community, he is half-mad with grief and rage and needs to strike out against an implacable universe which has taken his child, his business, still threatens his wife, and he is gladdened to see the local people gain food and furniture for the coming year, and he participates, but he does not lead; he encourages, represses, orders where needed; only when a riot ensues when other groups of people come does he intervene to save the captain and his men and look to see if anyone needs saving on the ship.


Takingaction (2)

Takingaction (1)
Looking from on high over the beach, distraught (many close-ups), taking action, first a line to go into the ship and then stumbling on soldiers urging them back to Nampara (Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, 1975)

Paul Wheeler departs from this by having Robin Ellis go to Jud to find help for the men on the ship, and only realize that scavenging will result when he looks into Jud’s eyes, and then exult; Ellis spends his night trying to stop the riot, and save people. We see the British soldiers as in an earlier corn riot killing the people. By contrast, Debbie Horsfield has Ross not only rouse Jud deliberately, but himself organize the scavenging so as to be deeply useful to all, alert throughout, a figure of controlled stern anger, taking on managerial functions; like Ellis and Graham’s Ross himself violent to stop others’ violence, as a last thought inviting the Captain and his men back to the house but if they do not trust him they need not come. We see the lead British soldier taking a bribe from Warleggan to lie about what Ross did on the beach.

The changes are telling. In 1975 we have a deeply psychological take on a man in distress and acting half-insanely, innocent of scavenging himself; in 2015 we have a hero caring for his people by scavenging with them. Wheeler’s is closer to the book where Ross means to allow others to scavenge, but then tries to stop the riot, but in neither film is there a willingness to dramatize one of Graham’s paradoxical themes: the self fighting society’s deep corruptions, refusing to be coopted except on its own definition of what is virtue.


Graham’s Demelza, the last quarter

Chapter 1: Verity’s letter to Demelza: her happiness and gratitude, Verity now has the life to live she wanted to and could. Family and business, politics and gender are utterly intertwined in the world (seen in Graham’s Forgotten Story and Cordelia. Demelza did it. Chapter 2: a bleak Christmas — at Nampara and Trenwith. Francis despairing, alcoholic, Elizabeth turning away. Demelza and Ross and Enys carrying on with carols; he going over books, ending company; the two struggling through to be decent to one another and restore relationship; she visits Sir Hugh Bodrugan, Ross’s angery: he will not ask for loan; he will see Pascoe.

Chapter 3: The desperate illness at Trenwith brings Choake and then Enys; Ross’s meeting with Tonkin and then George’s offer to buy him out at inn; narrator insists on spite as strong motive in George. So Demelza’s (to Ross and the Poldark family) loyalty to her gender and sister-friend has destroyed Ross’s company. As in Ross Poldark where Ross’s humane rescue of the child Demelza brought down the community on him, so her humane rescue allows others’s exploitation. Chapter 4: News of illness at Trenwith: another decision of hers, to be a nurse to Francis, Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles, partly because she feels she took from them Verity — this will lead to her sickness, the death of Julia. This is interwoven with Ross and Sir John, Ross and Pascoe where Ross will not sell his mine.

Chapter 5 Ross to Pearce. Pearce lives with his sister; he will arrange 1000 pound loan if he can; Ross home to Demelza who tells Ross where she’s been and what done: at Trenwith with the dying helping to save them. His intense business for a year is useless and he is thrown back on farming. He refuses still to sell his shares to Warleggan and takes out a new loan to pay through Pearce — refusing to bend to the monopoly. It is his choice to do this (which will lead to smuggling in the next book), but it was Demelza’s interference interacting with the family that inadvertently led to the failure.

Chapter 6: New Year’s Day, 1790, a gale, snow flurries, Demelza takes to her bed; Enys: both wife and daughter have it. Chapter 7: Northerly gale for another 3 days: Demelza’s nightmares; her father’s crazed religion about being saved: she dreams of Ross saying “let him die in the mud;” memories of Keren and Mark, she calls to her dog, “He takes things so much to heart, Verity had said” (of Ross); choaking someone’s hand there (Enys). The cold, the thaw, the weather, Demelza wakes and Ross lies to her that she can see Julia in morning; Julia has died

Chapter 8: The burial of the child; Ross’s rage; Julia will be lonely in the cold, she hated wind. Now deep in Ross’s mind (as we went back and forth between them just before and after marriage in first book); the wreck reported, how he rouses the people, Grambler miners to come, Jud says she never saw Ross looking so much like his father

Chapter 9: A scene Ross remembered for years afterwards: the men on the beach, women taking needed food; he gets inside ship and sees hopelessness (Sanson’s body) the fires, the wreck happening, and more men streaming on. Rose’s mind half-crazed but he does join in, advising, encouraging, repressing, ordering. There is a second ship and the wreckage is more ambiguous; it seems with help the wreck might have been avoided. But Ross’s despair and then identifying with the working classes utterly does lead to the high conflagration food riot: unintended consequences (rather like Demelza’s act for Verity). Chapter 10: Drunken fights and mayhem on the beach; men of ship come and Ross there invites them back to his house although his wife has been sick. Ross: “much in the world is monstrous”.

(A sub plot-design is Ross’s perpetual kicking against the laws and customs of his world directly while Demelza works against them indirectly — both are pro-family, pro-friend. This is by the end seen to be attached to his male friendships and companions whom he is loyal to: lower class, Jim and Mark, then upper for bank loans, and then at the end Captain MacNeil who warns him he must not get caught disobeying the law nor push it too far. MacNeil chases down smugglers on the beach and at the same time, Mark Daniels so knows Ross has been instrumental in freeing Mark. MacNeil and Ross identify as ex-solder who fought in North America, but their allegiance is to in McNeil’scase the state and law (MacNeil on the twisty nature of the law which will swallow Ross); in the Ross’s to friends, love, family, principles.)

Chapter 11: Morning after; tranquil now: he had planned so much for Julia; normative life returning to him; she so thin and weak; he takes her to window to look out, she asks that he let her stay in the sun. Book ends quietly, wrap my shoulders, let me have the light a little longer please.

For a more detailed exposition with themes worked out see Demelza, A Cornish world mirroring our own.


1975, Episode 8: it’s been rearranged but just about all the original events and characters are there. The only loss is it ends more melodramatically than the book: the soldiers come to arrest Ross. A cliff-hanger and final anguish for Demelza (which is the way 2015 ends). As throughout the film opts for theatric while the mood is naturalistic, melodramatic romance, sudden action, or wry comedy. I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.

MacNeil (Donald Douglas) issues his warning …

Opens as a continuation of Episode 7. There we saw Ross helping Mark Daniels to escape from Cornwall and a murder charge from his own boat into the sea across to France, and running up the high cliff be shot at by MacNeil and his men. Episode 8 begins with him running down the hill and across the fields to Nampara. A delicious scene for someone totally on their side ensues. Ross runs into the house where Demelza awaits him at the window; she frantically pulls off his boots and he says since MacNeil has no evidence, MacNeil cannot jail him and he must go upstairs to bed. Jinny is there, quick with an alibi — he’s been in bed all night with “the headache.” There is a comic feel to the scene as all three know Ross, Demelza and Jinny are lying.

MacNeil bursts in and Demelza is there to greet him, with Ross upstairs and coming down in a robe. We see them outwit MacNeil while his eyes glitter and he issues a warning to Ross that the law will entangle him if he does not watch out. One visible motif of this episode is those stairs: Ross running up at the opening, coming down, from the last one Mark Daniels running past to the library; MacNeil coming in and out of the hall.

The Christmas scenes are ironic — they remind me of Trollope’s Christmas scenes as they show Christmas to be an extra fraught time (not the complacent joy of stereotypes). After Ross and Demelza first escape the clutches of MacNeil we switch to Demelza and Ross hosting Enys, Sir Hugh and Lady Brodugan — in book they are alone first Christmas Eve night and visit Brodrugan the next day and her desire to ask for loans is not enacted, just discussed. At first all seemed high cheer, until Demelza not being able to contain herself asks the knight and lady for a loan to help them out. They speedily leave and Ross is indignant at her.

Francis filled with self-loathing, the cool Elizabeth, the puzzled child

Switch to Trenwith and we see Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles at table waiting for Francis. He comes to the table drunk, filled with self-hatred over his betrayal of the names of Ross’s contributors to George; Clive Francis again delivers a powerful performance, until he collapses. Elizabeth sends for Enys then at Nampara who returns with Demelza.

Ross’s first reaction to the news of Francis’s illness is indifference; Demelza’s determination to go over to Trenwith elicit an “I forbid it,” but when she insists this is family (the great sacred cow which is not invoked in Graham’s book) and says she will go anyway, relents.

The scene where Ross is driven from wanting to behave with high integrity, to moving again to try to outwit someone, this time it’s George he wants not to sell his property too. There is a self-destructiveness here we see.

Jill Townsend as an at first cool, regal Elizabeth

Elizabeth at first wants to turn Demelza out of the house for her low rank (and because Ross married her) but in her terrible need, allows Demelza in, and Francis in his terrible sickness sees and acknowledges. One night Elizabeth and Demelza sit and makes frends. Elizabeth confesses how she broke off her engagement with Ross, how she meant to marry for money and prestige and thought she could do without love (this reminds me closely the TV mini-series version of Trollope’s Lady Laura Kennedy by Simon Raven — made a year before this series). The scene is too inhibited in its mode of acting (as are a number of the scenes of this episode), but Graham’s material comes through enough and realization gives this film an intense edge of the books. Demelza saves Francis, wins over Francis and Elizabeth, only to return herself very sick.

Demelza sick unto death, Ross nursing

As she comes in Ross scoops her up and carries her up the stairs. She is very ill and the baby Julia catches it. Enys there throughout. As in the book, it’s the death of Julia and the destruction of Ross’s hope for a successful mining venture that intertwine behind his despair which precipitates his inciting the men to their violence. Film removes Jacobin arguments and moral preferences of book for friends, high ideals, independence, integrity.

The scene on the beach occurs. Very effective and unlike today done with no computers so literally for real in front of cameras, including ships brought in, really felt underproduced violence.


Ross brings home the crew and they return to their boat in the dawn. He hears her ill, goes up and find her hysterical over the empty cradle, down those stairs again to talk in front of the fire with captain and crew.

They are in the front room the next day or so dressed as from a funeral, her comments about the small coffin and the MacNeil’s entrance and arrest. In the book the funeral occurred first and Ross’s guilt over not providing food another motive for his wanting to see people fed.

Here they talk and in film she says now there is no Julia, he must be very bitter for he married her because she was pregnant with Julia. She stood in the way of his marrying Elizabeth. He loved Elizabeth when he married her. Of course this is not in the book as in the book he married her well before she got pregnant. He acknowledges this but says that was then and now he has learned to love her. He and she speak of their two years together since. It’s at this point the book Demelza ends with a beautiful dialogue between them (re-spoke here). Book does not emphasie rivalry between women at all; book interested in social and economic pressures


Eight, though, closes with MacNeil again rushing the house. This time Ross was not expecting to be arrested, and this time MacNeil has a warrant for his arrest. The episode ends with Demelza running out of the house crying frantically for Ross. A wild thrust.

Crying after him


Cont’d in comments: 2105 Episode 8; concluding remarks.


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Demelza (Angharad Rees) taken in by Ross (Robin Ellis)

Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) walking down the stairway by herself
A young lady’s entrance into “le monde” who has not the status of a lady (1975, Paul Wheeler scriptwriter and Paul Arnett director, 2015 Debbie Horsbield scriptwriter and William McGregor director)

Dear friends and readers,

Another comparative blog but from another angle than those previous. This blog looks differently than I have before at the distinctively different characterizations of the 2015 mini-series (especially Francis and Elizabeth Poldark, both Paynters, George Warleggan) and the marginalization and lack of individuality given secondary characters (Jim and Jinny Carter, Dwight Enys) from Ross Poldark and Demelza and the 1975 mini-series, which also evidenced strong departures from the book (again, Elizabeth, though in the earlier film version, a very hostile presentation, Ross himself made far more domestic, less an angry radical Jacobin). What lies between most books and the films based on them is a mainstream audience, few of whom (in comparison with numbers watching the movies) have read or might like the books, most of whom conform to mainstream social norms of the year in which a film is made. Experience shows the way to understand a given film is to study the other films made by the screenplay writer and/or director.

So, as far as this was possible, one should look at Horsfield’s previous films. She’s been the writer of six TV series (and stray episodes), one panned (True Dare Kiss), all contemporary, respected. One has gained real praise, All the Small Things, and is available as a DVD so I’ve bought it and hope to compare it with her Poldark. It’s much harder to find distinctive material for directors of BBC films as the linchpins are the writer and producer who often hire directors after they have decided central aims for themselves. One of the volumes one of my essays on Trollope films appeared in had as its perspective filmic intertextuality (Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation edd. Abigail B. Bloom and Mary S. Pollock): all the essays (including mine on the Palliser films) showed how intertextuality among films helps explain them (Simon Raven’s other film adaptations of Edwardian material helped explain his Palliser films). Intertextuality also brings into play the screenwriter’s politics, themes and use of genres in other films. For now I have to wait until All the Small Things arrive.

So here we study the distance between the book and its film adaptation as this 2015 episode like the first, third and fourth, basically covers the same material as the 1975 equivalent episodes, only having 8 minutes more. I am using as a jumping off point Graham’s Demelza, Book 2, Chapter 5 (when Ross becomes aware that Jim is dying in the prison) to Chapter 14 (when after the ball, George and his father, Nicholas, determine to break the Carnemore Copper Company by calling in the loans of those of its members who banks with them, Anibundel’s mainstream blog showing how people who have not read the book nor seen the first film adaptation react to the new mini-series, and my own memories as well as three essays I’ve read on the subject of the 1975 audience’s reaction (remarkably uniformly favorable including those who had read the books, far more than today).


Demelza (see also A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World)

The novel dramatizes the heroine’s difficult entrance into the upper class world for the first time. She cannot hold her own against the upper class males who show little respect for her because she lacks any status or rank even if married to Ross Poldark. This is the spine of the part. The ball is preceded by Ross’s attempt to save Jim Carter from death, with the help of Enys. The book makes it clear (as historical research does) that in this era prisons were increasingly critiqued and regarded as hellholes – they became a central bone of contention for the French revolution and in England in the 1790s. I own two facsimiles of books published in the era exposing the horrors of such places. Making Carter’s crime poaching is like Hugo choosing to make Jean Valjean’s crime stealing bread: everyone know that the Draconian poaching laws were a disguised war of the propertied against the propertyless and justice was meted out laughingly unequally. Verity’s presence at the ball is minor; Francis is rather troubled by the money he owes the Warleggan bank and lost to the cardshark, Sanson; he is troubled by Elizabeth’s obvious love for Ross. Verity and Francis have been close and he is hurt by her defection from him too. Elizabeth is there, but avoids Demelza (intensely jealous, but ever the upper class woman of integrity it’s the tactful and easiest thing to do). Demelza can hold her own against the spite of Miss Teague, now Mrs Treneglos, and the treatment of the Brodugans of her as a slut, but cannot manage the aggressive males because she does not understand the card signing system is an instrument to do that. Instead the men use her card against her. The powerfully theatrical lenghthy gambling scene is an invention of the 1975 film (by Wheeler), Ross does not risk his mine (he’s not a fool) and does not carry on to near bankrupt lengths, nor does he throw Sanson into a trough of water (Sanson is a Warleggan, not a servant like Jud). Halse is there as depicted in the 2015 film (he does not appear in the 1975 one), but the evening ends on Demelza breaking down under the pressure of harassment, finally Ross coming over to her to put with his authority as her husband to put a stop to her misery. At first he blames her (as men blame women who have been raped) but recognizing how she was at such a disadvantage, and how it was his duty as her husband to be by her side this first time, he apologizes.

In the book there are no remarks from any of the characters but Halse (who embodies the ancien regime) that Ross did wrong to pull Jim Carter out of prison. Jim Carter matters — as black people today in the US think they matter. A huge issue for the 3 revolutions in the era was the criminal justice system and how it threw individual away. The great act of 1789 were when the soldiers joined the people to open the Bastille.

As to the other additions in the films.

Verity (Ruby Bentall) made very unhappy by Blamey’s accusations and pressure on her

2015: The Verity scenes in the ball are from Austen’s Persuasion. Nowhere in the book does Blamey accuse Verity of timidity. Wentworth is angry at Anne Elliot for not rebelling. Blamey does not see Verity as timid. She is not. When I’ve taught the books girls in the class cannot stand Verity because she is obedient to family norms and does not seek power as an individual. You can see her type in Philippa Gregory’s Mary Boleyn (only Mary is easy about sex), Austen’s Fanny Price: it’s a very real character type in the era from the early modern period to the middle 19th century. In the ball Francis does see Blamey but he is all caught up in the gambling and never forbids Verity to see Blamey again nor outright insults him. Blamey is beneath Francis in Francis’s mind; he wouldn’t bother; he does want to control his sister because that’s part of his place or manliness in his house. A different issue. Horsfield rewrote the central Demelza scenes, making them marginal. Her Demelza holds her own against the man asking her to dance with no trouble. Horsfield cannot stand to have her women character not behave in superficial strong ways. She cannot stand to have the ones she wants us to identify underdogs. But Demelza is, and Verity must be as a spinster.

Clive Francis as a caged, grated upon man in retreat at the ball (1975)

1975 film. Wheeler also degrades Francis. Neither the 1975 nor 2015 audiences were expected to have any sympathy for the aristocratic types of the later 18th century. Francis does not work in the fields (he wouldn’t and how useless), nor Elizabeth go about in servants’ clothes looking self-righteous. They both carry on in their aristocratic clothes and ways, just shabbier and bleaker in expression. Wheeler has the prostitute Margaret insult his way of love-making. No where in the book does that happen. In the book not only does Verity value Francis, many of the other characters do for his gaiety, savoir-faire; he gilds experience for others. Elizabeth openly snubs Demelza at the 1975 ball; the 1975 team did all they could to make Elizabeth “awful” as they perceived their audience would find this; she remains regal yes, and in the 1975 and 2015 scenes great play is made of George dancing with her. She is succumbing to his insidious blandishments. The 1975 film also does not permit Demelza to be harassed. Apparently it was felt in both eras the female audience would not empathize with her. (And women often do not empathize with the particular women who have been raped in courtrooms.) Wheeler does more justice to the secondary parallel story of Keren & Mark and Enys. Keren’s desperation is understandable: we see Mark is illiterate, she is asked to spend hours, her life, alone in a dark hovel. Enys is far more active in the liaison as he is in the book.

The drunken prisoner-physician who has destroyed Jim (lying by his side) by his bleeding techniques (1975)

The scenes of the prison in book, 1975 and 2015 film are all effective. Unfortunately in 2015 Horsfield does not bring out the individuality of Jinny nor Jim. In 1975 he is brought home to Jinny still living and we see them together (albeit briefly) and all they have had taken from them. In 2015 Horsfield wanted to emphasize the risk taken when Jim’s arm was amputated; in the book Graham continually shows the limits of medicine in the 1780s to 90s to reflect the limits of medicine in the 1940s.


Turning to the films in their own right: This time first the 1975 episode 6. Part of the fine quality of the 1975 film series is its unstressed tone. Nothing is overdone or melodramatic, no overproduction, and thus everything feels believable. Also the slow development of each story and longer scenes.

Much happens in this episode, all well prepared for. We have a different writer (Paul Wheeler) and he is writing a transposition while Jack Pullman wrote more of a commentary type adaptation and freely reworked plot-design so as to bring Elizabeth centrally in earlier.

It opens with the alluring music, the cliffs of Cornwall, crashing waves, high winds, and we see Ellis on his horse (it helps the series that he really does ride, it’s not a stunt man), and the starving men we saw last time standing before the mine. They have just been fired. We are to remember how they then tried to take corn and bread and were beaten and sneered at by the hired soldiers.

The ticketing scene (1975): Ross cool and collected, Zacky Martin takes the lead calmly

The economic part of Graham’s novel is woven in thoroughly. We are at a ticket auction and we witness a direct hard struggle to buy up enough ore to smelt with in a meeting of the hitherto uncontested monopolists (English) who buy and sell copper when they find this new company, Carnemore Copper is outbidding them. They grow indignant when the banker at the head of the table says the company is within its rights not to tell shareholders. To tell shareholders would invite their enemies who own the other banks to call their loans in. This would be like (in Godwin’s Caleb Williams where we see this) forcing people to vote your way because as tenants you can throw them off your land. Zacky Martin takes the heat to hide that the new company is Ross’s — Warleggan and others banking with him indignant, Ross sits quietly smoking: ticket auction: Carnemore Copper Company

Jinny grieving for Jim, tells Ross what has happened

Ross on horse comes home to Ginny washing floor intensely, weeping, Jim is ill, arm wounded and arm gangrene, no one taking care, they are sneering. She tells of how they laughed at her and said now he won’t be risking getting thrown into prison again. We see how little humanity people with power often have to eon another. Demelza comes down from her nursery and wants to know what has happened in the business. Ross says he has with 5000 pounds bought enough ore to smelt for months. Graham invites us to admire the entrepreneurial spirit as well as nerve, daring, and ruthlessness.

Next scene: when Ross visits Pascoe for this 5000, the banker says they are risking a lot, and also that Ross is taking liberties in the way he does not try to negotiate more slowly. Ross promises him drafts enough to cover; Pascoe assures Ross the secret list of men will reside safely with him. The banker actually approves this bold move on behalf of copper industry in Cornwall. So anti-colonalism as well as anti-monopolies and anti-classicism and cruel prison conditions. The banker says remember though there are many Cornish too who only seek to turn a profit.

Keren living her life in the dark and cold with Mark

A second romance plot-design (separate set of stories or characters) begins to develop. We see Karen’s dissatisfaction with her dull husband who works long hours: it’s so cold in that hand-made house, no window,night after night on her own, asks him to stay, to get another job, those on top come home regular times. He has no skills, no ability to do anything else, and says soon it may coome he’ll have no job at all so they must make as much money as they can to preserve it for harder times. We wee her walking on the wind-torn landscape visiting Enys in hs house apart, Enys’s intense attraction, it’s physical, but also his guilt. He does not lie and pretend to love her, and asks, Does she know what she wants. Well, not a man who’s never there and a house like a graveyard. She wants Enys, she wants to go back to Bristol, he sometimes people have to settle for less. She replies she is doing so, for she knows Enys doesn’t love her. Ross comes in, and she flees upstairs.

Ross tells Enys of of Carter and how he, Ross, intends to get into the prison, care for Carter and perhaps “bring him out.’ Enys agrees to come with him and do whatever is necessary — like break the law. On his way out we see Ross see the scarf and cape. So Ross sees that karen, Mark Daniel’s wife is upstairs. Ross says they’ll go Friday.

Keren’s gesture to Dwight repeats Demelza’s to Ross’s on the first night Ross and Demelza made love

Another tryst: Enys tries to say they should not, but she replies, Mark will be away till morning, and they close the door on us, their audience. Here we see a masculinist point of view where the man presented as moral and the woman sly, disloyal, really worthless if her boredom understandable.

A violent scene from Demelza: the servant Prudie with Ross’s baby daughter, a drunken resentful Jud comes in. He proceeds to curse, to insinuate Ross goes to bed with every woman (including Jinny Carter), sneer at Demela (now she’s in his bed like a queen and he doesn’t see why he should obey her), Ross comes in the throws them out as Jud accuses Ginny of being slut to Ross, insults Demelza Ross also throws out Prudie who (I did not quite expect this but it’s probably) defends her husband as “just the drink.” They are now out of work.

Blamey and Verity meeting on horseback in a beautiful day, and we meet George Warleggan for first time spying, vaunting over them; he introduced as son of Nicholas, smiles too much. Bates comes across as biting, someone you should not trust. It is hard to remember he is only introduced briefly in Ross Poldark, hardly appears at all until near the ball in Demelza.

A sweet scene where George’s invitation to the Warleggan Ball comes for both of them while Demelza with baby. She brings it in to Ross, she wants to go, and he concedes. The relationship is one of girl to older man and again it’s a masculine comfort myth. For my part I like Ellis as Ross so much by this time that I find him attractive and (naive but real response) imaginatively at any rate, a wish fulfillment of a girl, envy her.

Elizabeth (Jill Townsend) taken in by George (Ralph Bates)

Over to Trenwith; we see the elegant Elizabeth fine sewing. George Warleggan comes and we watch their first courtship scene. George wins her over not by sex but interest: he’d like to help Francis. For her sake, he says. Sure. (We the viewers are supposed to see through him and see Elizabeth does not.) She says he should discourage his urge to gamble, he has no influence there he says; he gives word as a gentleman no debt collector will set foot in the house. Unknowing it’s Elizabeth who gives away that the Carnmore Copper company is Ross. Verity arrives and George does not leave after all, but sits down with them. He has something over Verity but like Ross she refuses to be ashamed.

A powerful scene of the terrible dungeon, begins with rats. Ross and Enys arrive, the jailer who scoffs and then will not let them in. He puts me in mind of people hired to interview others for jobs, petty miserable tyrants. They do get through the stench and horror, and pull Carter out. A mountebank doctor, Dr Morris (saturnine sairic moment) has made Carter much worse. We hear Jim’s voice as they are carrying him: “they won’t get me Jinny if I run they won’t catch me”;’ Then from a high hill a working man watches wagon bringing him to Enys; then the next morning we see him brought to Ginny, his arm amputated. Says Ross, “No one will take him back there.” And no one does. Ross does have the power of his position and class.

Jim dying by Jinny’s side

But Ross is grim before the fire that night. He is shamed of his own class, and finds his despises his own kind. When he blurts out, Wilberforce weeps over black slaves’ but no care for workers, this comes from Graham. He then says were he to expose this scene it would do no good, for perhaps most peopel would look and laugh.

Ross’s speech against the ancien regime as experienced in Cornwall

Now Trenwith at night as people arrive. A moment or so to watch the lovely dancing. Milton Johns has his great scene as the open sordid cheating cousin (at cards): he is a parallel, the underside of George and Nicholas Warleggan. Many scenes: Francis is now after Margaret whom Ross used to visit (he paid her for sex), but it appears now she is married or she says he is. Elizabeth sees this enconter, and Margaret needles him after he insults her (you told me your troubles “during” sex; that’s a bore).

We see the gambling begin and Francis sit down. Gorgeous waistcoat, high vanity of the man. Clive Francis continues his portrait of a man who hates himself more and more all the time, living down to his lack of self-esteem. He will try to kills himself: one reason for killing yourself is you hate yourself; he will also be reckless and do himself in because he finally he does not value himself enough — the 1975 film accounts for this by the father’s denigration of him. (Graham’s book makes Francis’s death an accident, part of the meaningless of life’s hardnesses).

George to Elizabrth dancing: it is attractive of him and she is allured.

Ross and Demelza arrive. We see the coarse squire Hugh Bodrugan who chases Demelza in the book and his nasty wife: calls Demelza a monkey who stays that way no matter what she wears. The unstressed quality makes this scene effective.

Margaret comes over to Ross and we get too much praise for the hero (a false note). Nicolas comes over and Ross open and indignant, insulting him and we get choral voices (banker, Pascoe) saying Ross should be more conciliatory, he is making enemies.

Demelza holds her own dancing again. Verity and Blamey arrive; Ross welcomes him as no one else does and Demelza asks him to dance. We see our chief couple on a wave length, compatible in values.

Far shot

Ross (2)

Ross (1)

Then the long gambling between Samson and Francis who loses, Ross takes Francis’s place and proceeds, evening wears on. We see all watching this pair and Ross’s sudden exposure of Samson as Samson has gathered too many aces by this time to hide them. Then Ross throwns Samson into trough — a parallel to Ross throwing Jud in the mud.

George assures Francis he will be reimbursed — we know that George has in his mind to undermine Francis’s relationship with Ross as he has asked Elizabeth if the cousins get along. We saw Francis (cowardly in a way) refuse to join the Carnmore venture and Francis fire his miners as a result. Francis a failure because he doesn’t have the nerve Ross has.

George then making (pretend) overture to Ross who says (sincerely partly) in reply, he wants to be friends too. The ball ends on George watching Demelza and Ross leaving, then a scene with his Father over trough (they were shamed and laughed out over Samson) telling father that the men in Connmore copper company bank with them.

The two Warleggans at dawn over the trough

The long shot comes as they move over to the horses. The music begins again. Dawn sky. This is fine art.


Although wholly unlike Graham’s character, Horsfield’s Francis as played by Kyle Soller continues to be the most interesting character in the films — here he is here in his troubled vexed household

2015: This is powerful successful episode because of the intense dramatic tension kept up throughout; Horsfield’s intention seems to be to depict a growing strain between Ross and Demelza before Verity with her help flees. In the book Demelza is not angry with Ross at the close of the ball as she is in this film. She is disappointed with herself and tells herself that she needs to learn more about Ross and his world’s ways before she can manage both more effectively.



The 2015 differs by opening on the prison, showing the horrors. We move to Jinny and Demelza hanging out clothes with their babies on their arms, talking of Jim: this is quintessential 2015; you just would not have this “earthiness” (so-called) in 1975. Demelza is not seen holding her baby all the time in 1975; in fact she seems relatively baby-free with Jinny caring for the baby much more so she can visit Karen and give Karen her discards. We then go to Trenwith to find Francis threshing the fields — this is absurd, completely unprepared for. What good would this do him? Elizabeth is wandering about looking wounded with a basket on her arm. Ross happens by on his horse; he wishes he could help. Francis responds with a sneer at Elizabeth and walks off.

Elizabeth (Heidi Reed) looking back at him — it is notable how many scenes in Horsfield have the POV the woman

The ticketing scene with Turner as Ross appearing angrier and angrier as the Carnemore Copper Company is protested against. Zacky Martin keeps his cool.

We move to Keren and Mark outside the house Mark has built. Keren is her usual sarcastic and insinuating self; Mark protests he does all he can. Why they sit out of doors is a puzzle, except maybe there is no set inside the shell of a house. Upon Mark leaving for work, Keren notices some children playing nearby (you’d think this was a public playground) and she goes over and deliberately breaks her ankle; we see her at the door of Enys’s house; he cannot refuse her entrance as she walks in. Enys is completely deprive of any pro-active character in this mini-series thus far. Switch to Demelza and Verity discussing the coming ball, with Demelza telling Verity she must tell Francis (in the book Demelza knows this is the last thing Verity should or can do). This is reinforced by the next scene of Blamey somewhere outside also pressuring Verity to tell Francis.


Ross questioning Demelza who evades his question; Graham’s Ross does ask Demelza and she falls silent

The troubled household at Trenwith juxtaposed to Ross and Demelza in bed with him asking Demelza what she knows about Verity (he had some rumors told him during the ticketing). Next scene Demelza practicing her dancing in the meadow; Ross rides by on a horse; further along Keren goes to Dwight’s house, either he is not home or refuses to bome to the door. She looks disgusted.

The long powerful sequence of going to the prison, rescuing Jim, amputating the limb, and his death. These scenes are too dark to present stills for. Jinny’s grief. Move to Nampara later that night and Ross’s fury at what was done to Jim. Ross does not want to go to the ball, and Demelza understands, but suddenly Verity is there, all social wisdom: Ross must go or he’ll be in trouble over rescuing Jim. We see Keren get into Dwight’s house and the door shut.


A shamefast Enys against an insistent Keren

Back to Verity scolding Ross; she does urge Ross to go in the book but not emphatically and Ross decides to go as much for Demelza’s sake and his pride.

Then the long ball sequence. Two of the features of this episode which make it good are the lengths of the ticketing scene, the prison rescue and death of Jim and this ball (with the gambling scene as central). Horsfield’s Episode 4 also had long connected scenes (if little original or interesting dialogue). Here (as in Graham’s Demelza) the Rev Halse sits down to play and is angered at Ross’s cavalier insouciance and defiant anger at Halse as a wholly unjust man:

Rev Halse (Robin Ellis, again inimitable in the role)

Ross openly assailing him

For the moment Sanson not paid attention to

In this ball we see Francis’s anger at himself and then Verity as a convenient surrogate, Blamey’s anger at her, Elizabeth’s graciousness towards Demelza who nonetheless is very angry at Ross for over-gambling, drinking and not paying sufficient attention to her. He seems unrepentant; we are to understand he drinks for five days straight — this is disapproved of by Horsfield strongly (the mainstream audience of 2015 is much more anti-alcohol than either the readers of 1945 or viewers of 1975 because of automobile accidents). A key moment in the ball scene is given over to Halse’s threat and warning to Ross he can try to imprison him (in reality in this era he would not find a sympathetic jury to commit Ross at all), with a scene of the women outside being put into the coach.

Ross in anguish, Demelza kneels

The episode concludes on the burial of Jim and once again Ross and Demelza standing over the landscape together, vowing once again to love one another in the face of this tragedy and whatever is to come.


In reality in this period huge numbers of people hated the authority figures as tyrants (tyranny and superstition were the outcries of the era – -what you wanted to get rid of).

In 1975 a scene of apparently the regular meeting of Verity and Blamey to ride: they glimpse George Warleggan from afar and it is our first look at him fully


The 1975 scenes are unbeatable, fully done, precise, moving. Yes they are slower and less is happening during each episode, much less switching back and forth. They do justice to the growing love of Keren and Dwight so we have three marital triangles. They also include Jud beating up Prudie, throwing at Jinny the rumors that her baby is Ross’s and Ross firing them. So again the 1975 film includes more even though it’s only 50 minutes to Horsfield’s 58.

At the ball it is telling how the camera focuses on George (looking anguished from the red around his eyes) not Elizabeth when he comes to ask her to dance

Except Halse’s all the remarks given characters saying Ross did wrong are from Horsfield. Horsfield is deeply pro-capitalist, deeply pro-work ethic: that’s one reason why she cannot develop ideas interestingly from Ross’s point of view. Her gut instincts lie against it. That’s why she brings in George Warleggan early and doesn’t make him the bully and really insidiously treacherous man to Elizabeth and Francis he is in the book. I will be interested to see Horsfield’s All the Small Things to confirm or maybe contradict this surmise. This new one grates — I’m beginning to think that the way Horsfield sees Francis resembles the way so many fans see Mr Bennet: failed in his responsibility to his family; the way Anibundel is led to praise Elizabeth for the mainstream audience today (in the book Elizabeth is not pious she) comes out of a deep adherence to the capitalist work ethic and notion of manliness.

Both mini-series substituted male confrontations for the center of the matter of Demelza at this point: the humiliation and hurt of the heroine. This is bowing to the audience’s mores. Both were over-melodramatic in comparison with Graham; both tried to do justice to the exposures of prison and throwing away of Jim Carter. Horsfield re-inforced her male hegemonic point of view by turning Keren into an aggressive heartless slut; there Wheeler showed some understanding of Graham’s proto-feminism. Horsfield modelled her gambling scene on Wheeler’s 1975 one though more accurate literally by including Halse, she emphasized him too much and shaped the scene so that Halse appeared to be right!


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