Archive for the ‘medicine’ Category

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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Bodley Head edition (in the 1960s the Bodley Head press produced an edition of the first four books)

From the coast of Cornwall, ruin of a fortress

Dear friends and readers,

A third blog of appreciation, analysis, love, for Graham’s second Poldark novel, Demelza. The first, “Herstory,” came out of my own reading of the novel and watching of the 1975-76 Poldark mini-series; the second, “A young lady’s entrance into the world,” out of my teaching the book to college students aged 18-27 and having read all twelve novels by that time; this third, from teaching the book to retired and older people, aged 50-70, and having reread the novels, written “Liberty in the Poldark Novels,” and watched the first 8 episodes of the 2015 Poldark, not to omit having read (at long last) some intelligent understanding of these books in Nickianne Moody, Rachel Moseley and and Julie Taddeo’s essays on why the series is so politically compelling and relevant, why Cornwall is so central to the success of the first mini-series, and the ambivalent presentation of sexuality, and especially rape and sexual abuse in Graham’s fiction. It is a somewhat revised version of the class discussions and my brief lectures.

I treat the book as a hyrid form between history, political-social or ethnographic study, and romancing novel. The particular threads added to Ross Poldark are captured in the character of Dwight Enys, introduced in this book, and his doings: he enables the opening up of a long exploration of how medicine was practiced in the long 18th century and how this mirrors our own era begins. Demelza and Jeremy Poldark dramatize how the very definition of what was a crime and what its punishment was the result of a long class struggle and economic development over the course of 2 centuries; we are the nub of the changes. This blog will best be appreciated and is indeed meant to supplement a slow reading along of Demelza; the pages cited are keyed to the American Sourcebook editions of the first two Poldark novels. It is critical and evaluative and takes in the whole arc of the series (all 12 books) when appropriate, so it assumes you have read them all.

I began this second novel with the use of allegorical names and emotional resonances in non-allegorical names; about the characters of Ross and Demelza Poldark, Warleggan, and Jud. Graham uses semi-allegorical for his characters, which are often realistic too (but not always, as in Dr Choake). Many have personal associations or resonances for him.

Ross Poldark is named after his best friend in his twenties, a chemist (in the UK that’s a drugstore person, would know about medicine, we’d call him pharmacist), called Ridley Polgreen. He died tragically in her 20s, sense of wit and “deep appreciation of all that was good and beautiful in life. But he felt “green” was too bright, then during WW2 he came across a scarred, bony flyer in a train in WW2: had been in a crash, broken leg, broken ribs, scars on face, had in him “a high strung disquiet” towards life. Thoughtful man.

Demelza – it has become a common name in Cornwall; he saw a signpost with the name; he began with the conception of a “dark-haired waif whom Ross picked up at Redruth Fair”. 1790. These are thoroughly researched, based on a bedrock of knowledge. Dr William Pryce. Two books: Mineralogia Cornubiensis – 18th century mining. He also wrote An Essay to preserve the Ancient Cornish Language. De means thy or the. Melza – honey or sweetness so my sweetness – links back to French, miel, honey. Graham used Pryce’s dictionary for some names.

Nampara: valley of bread, name goes back centuries, he is thinking of Perranport.

Warleggan, a village on the Bodmin moors, lonely place, desolate; unaltered for centuries, he tells of how he came upon it on a cold mid-June day, south-easterly wind blowing, squat church made of granite, a ruined spire, tombstones unkempt, plain altar. Unameliorated capitalism; the first thing this man does in Warleggan when he gets hands on Trenwith is to enclose the land, kick tenants off; if mind not making a big enough profit, closes it

Elizabeth is popular name at the time; Chynoweth an old Cornish name. Enys an old Cornish name. Zacky: Zechariah. Biblical names liked.

Jud Paynter. Partly a composite but again he came across an obstinate old working class man in a pub; he sister he lived with is the prototype for Prudie. Came across him while the second mini-series was being filmed: had a doom-laden point of view, a kind of comic pessimism, thick Cornish accent, poor, in ragged clothes, a battered hat. Saw him as in a way sublime in his obliviousness. Graham has said maybe he overdid the character but felt Paul Curran’s performance was perfect for the character: he’s not quite real.

Then I suggested how the books related to one another:

Demelza takes place in that world and we begin to meet many characters who are situated in houses. In Ross Poldark, Graham was feeling his way into his historical fiction world, and inventing a group of characters he was deeply attached to personally – as surrogates and who he managed to attach readers to. Ross and Demelza, Verity and Francis, Elizabeth more shadowy. Verity will drop out as will Jud and Prudie gradually in later novels. But the four or two couples remain central to the end: tellingly, Elizabeth and Francis will vanish by Book 4 (Warleggan) and Book 6 (The Angry Tide), respectively, but their presences are never forgotten nor what they left behind. Through her son by Ross, Valentine, Elizabeth is as much part of last or 12th book (Bella) as she was of the first; that book is only resolved with a final death and Ross facing his irresponsibility about Valentine, and that he should have told the boy the truth about himself as his father. Ross Poldark was a reaction to WW2: he was looking for a usable past he could find restoration in; carving out value system for the mid-20th century.

Demelza is not a sequel but a continuation. All the novels are continuation, all 12, continuing the story. Each one has a peculiar structure and themes of its own but they do not introduce a new set of characters who are dismissed from the action beyond the one novel. In Stranger from the Sea there is a leap of 11 years (from 1799 to 1810), but otherwise In Demelza Graham widens his purview to include the 18th century world. We might say the first is an introduction and exploration of two characters in a landscape with a few close around them: Francis, Verity, Elizabeth, Jud, the Carters, with mentions of Warleggans and forays into outer world.

In Demelza Graham began to fill out the 18th century world – it’s in this that topics like mining, banking, crime and punishment, laws, prisons, and medicine emerge centrally (see Austen Reveries for these 18th century historical matters). Dwight Enys is introduced and like Caroline Pevenen (introduced in Book 3, Jeremy Poldark), Dr Enys will last until the close of 12th book, though take on a lesser role once Ross begins to be an MP in London and the characters travel to France. Dr Enys is the site for Graham’s exploration of medicine then as a mirror of today.


Eleanor Tomlinson, the new Demelza

A Cornish Mine opening

Book 1 ends on tragedy in the community: the closing of Grambler mine – that is brought about by private doings: Francis is using Grambler money to live a life of gambling, women, goes into debt. We feel the poingnance of how the men don’t want to leave; how all the people in the community experience this as a disaster; we have here the modern equivalent of globalization where a corporation moves to another country to get dirt-cheap wages, no controls on their conditions; cities in the US and UK disaster areas who try to find some other way to live. There are companies which grow rich by deliberately buying up, pulling money out of and destroying the company and then selling it – Romney did this. Look at the last line of Demelza, Book 1, the unwatering of the mine, the sound of the engines goes, the man work as long as they dare, and even then some (p. 125) – who will they turn to? The plangent close of those sea gulls.

Note that the second book starts a year and 11 months later than the first. It opens with Demelza giving birth. So it opens hard upon the close of Ross Poldark, about May 1788, the first book ended December 1787 (this would be 7 months later) – several of the books end on Christmas time. A ritual time of remembering, taking stock, high emotions can be brought forth

Novels of the 18th century especially by women are endlessly in indirect ways criticizing marriage and exposing this trap. Graham has this enclosed in his plot-design too.

What most 18th century women did regularly once they married: Gave birth. While the inescapable trap this meant for women is not central to this book, in the later ones it becomes so: women in the 18th century were faced with near-mandatory marriage – in order to participate as a fully functioning adult in the society you had to marry – if you did not, you remained a kind of upper servant, a daughter, a sister. The problem for women is they lacked the power to define marriage for themselves: we do see this in Verity. They were hindered from meeting people their families didn’t approve of, of choosing a husband within the men they met; particular men were forced on them for family aggrandizement. What man you choose makes for what life you live. It was very risky to run away and defy parents as there was no way of getting positions for a man outside the patronage systems stemming mostly from families. Ended up prostitutes.

What 18th century fiction presents less often but it’s there is that if you married, continual pregnancies for most and childbirth was dangerous. Very high death rate – numbers are hard come by, but many men went through 3 wives. Contraception was known and understood. Graham’s way of presenting women emphasizes this reality. In the case of Graham, he is bringing to bear the voices of the marginalized and the strong pro-revolutionary currents of the 1780s and 1790s into discourse – that’s why the books still matter in some ways (also the proto-feminism and some other themes). Women were part of this powerless group.

The equivalent of condoms were sheep-guts, very expensive as you used each one up. 5 pounds each for Lord Byron. Got in the way of pleasure, really used as prophylactic to prevent disease. All the moral rhetoric of the period against contraception. Yes we have evidence people used anal intercourse and various forms of fellatio and other non penetrative sex but kept quiet about it. Found in diaries and French sources, soft core porn novels of the Enlightenment – regarded as radical politically.

What was happening in the 18th century was midwifery was beginning to be somewhat scientific – John Hunter still respected and celebrated as one of the great surgeons in history described and drew a series of remarkable depictions of the embryo, the way it developed, how the baby had to turn, and yet when it came to getting it out, not so easy. Forceps invented in first half of 17th century Chamberlain brothers, Huguenots who came to England and Pierre said to be inventor; find definitive descriptions in 1634, – he became obstetrician-surgeon to Henrietta, the French Queen of Charles I (famous in history for being deposed and beheaded, but it was kept secret as a trade secret for 150 years. They would not disseminate – one of the great obstacles to science has been the profit motive and secresy – not sharing information is still a central problem and obstacle.

Ross does become indignant and insist the doctor come back, but luckily Dr Choake (allegorically named) keeps away, and Prudie, Ross’s woman servant, and the woman who partly brought Demelza up, and Verity, Ross’s cousin, who has become Demelza’s good friend, assist Mrs Zacky Martin (Jinny’s mother) who suddenly emerges as a woman with knowledge of childbirth. Notice she is not paid and Dr Choake is paid.

The birth itself is not really described only suggested. She then gets up from bed, the young baby begins to thrive. Verity has come to stay during her convalescence and help out. Demelza’s love for Verity, her bonding with her leads Demelza to ring Verity, together with Captain Blamey, the man Verity loves. She tries to open this purpose to Ross but he is not keen to see Blamey refound, is as distrustful as Francis and Charles Poldark were (pp 18-2). Then she broaches this to Verity (pp. 20-21). No one but Demelza for it it seems. Thus Jud not far wrong when he understands Demelza’s purpose in going to Falmouth and remarks: “”Ten sense, tedne natural, tedn right, tend safe.” (p 22)

Chapters 3 & 4 & 5: then two christenings, the first and then introduction of Enys and the scheme for opening an independent mine (Pascoe): a first Christening one in which the upper class characters & Ross’s family are invited, and the next day the lower class ones & Demelza. She is central figure for the novel as someone who engineers central plot-design (much flows from Verity’s flight with Blamey); here she brings these people together. So we have class clash. There is an anti-religious satire in the novel rare in American books. Francis’s dialogue captures some of this irrevent spirit, pp 31-32

It’s very neat how all the threads are plotted together (Pp. 30-33): What we see is the religion you practice is a function of your character, not the other way round. If you are a violent, intolerant man religion will give you a doctrine to rationalize your behavior; if you are filled with class resentments and an instinctive desire to control libido, pleasure, have authority and power over others, you will invent rules that enforce that. Hints throughout let us know Francis is a reader as is Ross.

Poor Demelza is just desolate. She is a lower class woman thrust into an environment where she does not fit easily and she feels (is made to feel) this daily; she is independent-minded (as so many say), acts on her own for her own existence: we do not see her as a wife much, in this book scarcely as a mother (though frequently pregnant three times thus far), but rather Ross’s mistress, sex partner (this is done discreetly), working with and for him for his causes (which I like) and his safety (which is hers), waiting for her revenant-adventurer (primarily she is at home). He reads evenings (though what we are not told, alas, as that would be fun to see which 18th century texts Graham might pick for him) and often drinks, is more solitary than one might expect; she sits by his side, sewing, talking. She walks, rides (sidesaddle), goes boating and fishes.

Well in this scene he is in control as host, as the Top Male of this gathering and the way to stop further outbreaks of social poison is to assert the norm of respect to families, respect to him, and he manages to make this stick (p. 35): Demelza sees that he “had come out the best.” Ruth Teague acts badly again, but Francis refuses to be provoked, and both Mrs Carne who shows common sense and does not have the class resentments her husband does and Treneglos is willing to overlook the insult to his wife – the sort of thing that could end in a duel except an upper class gentleman is not supposed to duel with a working class male.

He insists she must not retreat; took her to Trenwith and now they must have the second day. Powerful ticketing scene (pp 37-43). This is how it was done – Buckley’s book on Mining in Cornwall recounts this. At the same time we see Ross hire Enys to be a mine surgeon and give him a house to live in. Nice to have all these houses just lying about. Even the son of a second son in such a family has resources.

Chapter 5: During this second christening (much happier because so much more natural), Keren, the strolling actress and her company are to be there; she is introduced and Mark Daniels who came to this second christening is mesmerized, enthralled and persuades her to marry him. The disaster of their union is played out in this book: she creates a liaison between herself and Dr Dwight Enys and Mark acts in crazed hurt when he discovers that his all was not good enough. So this series of events is tied to the christening, and also Ross’s need for a surgeon for his new mine and his giving Dwight the gatehouse near the mine, just at the edge of his property and near Mark’s dwelling.

The event gives Graham a chance to present a scene of provincial players doing a typical melodrama of the era. Aaron Hill was an 18th century theater man who wrote and translated plays (Voltaire’s), Samuel Johnson a man of letter who wrote one tragedy which was bad; they would go back to old English names like Elfrida. Mark is very allured by her. Is the depiction of Keren was fair? What happens? She too is lower class, she wants to better herself, get on as Demelza puts it. Would you like the destiny she is supposed to like? in a dark dank cottage caring for endless babies? She does not find in Mark any companion for her. Keren is a parallel figure to Demelza, only Graham presents her hostilely too.

The first meeting of Mark and Keren: he enthralled, transfixed by an icon (like Ross with Elizabeth Chynoweth), she her impersonally gracious

Jump interweave: Chapter 7: Mark comes to Demelza for land to build his house and she helps (Pp 63-76) the opening phase of the Mark Daniels and Keren story. Chapter 8 the building of the house, Keren almost flies away, but stays reluctantly, best of bad choices, he falls asleep exhausted (pp 69-76). Her resentment at his being too tired to have sex is made a point of.

Chapter 6: Demelza goes to Falmouth, making contact with Captain Blamey and fostering and engineering Verity’s renewed love affair. At first Blamey is hostile; he too so hurt, he more isolated than she. The depiction of Falmouth (to which Demelza travels to find and see Blamey) is very fine, convincing and pleasurable, with the character of Demelza vivid with uncertainty about her plans once she sees him — and on the first visit her coming leads to nothing. She does see how lonely Blamey is but also how twisted, not really perhaps to be trusted because husbands were so powerful (Pp 53-62).

TrioWatching (2)
Corn demonstration of desperately hungry people turns into riot when soldiers arrive

TrioWatching (1)
Verity, Demelza, Blamey caught up, watch as POV

Again jump interweave: Chapter 10; Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p. 88). Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p 88)

Chapter 12: The intertwining of the riot with Verity and Demelza in town and Blamey helping them to escape. When Blamey is brought together with Verity through Demelza’s machinations — a trip to Truro where Blamey and Demelza agree to meet in a shop (in fact they meet in the street because his nerve faltered). Then she is intensely reluctant and moves away; they are caught up in a strike, half-riot so Demelza loses sight of them but by the end Verity has been brought to acknowledge she still wants to marry Blamey, to have another identity and role in the world than sister, aunt.

We have some intertwining of movements in Blamey with Keren come to ask for a promotion for Mark and Demelza taking Verity to Truro to meet Blamey; a food riot developing from starving – very good because we see intertwining of several threads

Chapter 9: Ross’s attempts to enlist Francis and the various men to open Wheal Leisure( pp 77-81) – it’s starve and let the mines die and go under control of banks and people outside Cornwall or try themselves. Chapter 11: In fact Ross goes to male hegemonic party, sees Enys there and much richer Margaret (who is sarcastic to Ross) and preying on Francis – several people are now preying on him. He is weak, gambles.

How does the style function to take you into a characters mind as he or she is dealing with the environment and allow for more general thoughts and discussion of ideas and descriptions.

It’s a flexible middle style, can rise to real eloquence and principles “I have the right to chose my own life,” and talk of principles as people plan business dealings – at the same time sharp narrative and dialogue. We are often half in Demelza’s mind (pp 57-58), From “They trekked … another noise in the street drew her notice again. In Chapter 10 we see how narrator can move from distanced description into her mind, “The joys of leisure … All the trees leaned the other way” (p 82). This is called free indirect style. Again and again important incidents of outward history brought in sometimes three paragraphs in a row by subtle moving from inside a character’s mind to the paragraphs and then back to character’s mind. So Demelza watching the rioters (p 99) – called free indirect speech. There are sentences there that are the narrator’s. Sleight of hand. Chapter 13, p 112-113 – quick intensities – Verity left alone having made her intense contact with Andrew again.

There are many inward thoughtful characters; Ross is often not one of them in the sense of giving away his darkest thoughts. His thoughts are often very narrowly aimed. He is private character – you can’t reach the back thoughts. You are allowed to reach them in Dwight Enys. Graham can translate principles into demotic working class Cornish English and he does this a lot with Jud. Jud is angry and resentful (pp 106-7). He and Prudie did not have the self-esteem to have a wedding. Prudie feels bad because her mother would have been ashamed since they aren’t.


Launceston Gaol (1980s photograph from Poldark’s Cornwall).

A drawing of Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza Poldark (taken from a promotional photograph)

Move onto Book 2; April 1789 (p 128). So time has passed for Verity and Andrew to keep contact and for Keren and Dwight’s affair to carry on, and Mark and Keren’s relationship distance and deteriorate. In Book 3, Graham brings together the fall of the Bastille with Verity’s flight – Francis poo poohs it (Chapter 2, p 232). Of course Trencomb would have heard, he is back and forth as a businessman-smuggler from France continually.

Book 2: April 3, 1789,

Chapter 1: Whole chapter given over to ticketing for Carnmore Mining Company with Zacky Martin as agent (there was a Cornwall Copper company which attempted the same thwarting of outside and bank monopoly interests); they succeed in buying; the company is floated with Pascoe’s money; the strike for corn has repercussions and they are moving prisoners as the prisons fill up — alas Jim Carter is just then reaching end of his term; Pascoe tells Ross of rumors about Verity (Pp 127-135). Zacky may be “a fellow of an inferior class” but he’s close-mouthed, effective. Banker Pascoe tells Ross somehow word always gets to him of other people’s doing. What I find rewarding here beyond the scene is the theme: George Eliot might provide the epitaph for this book: “There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life,” – the way justice was administered – getting ahead of myself was imprisoning only a few but delivering terrifying draconian punishments. Read Blight’s ugly reactionary comments (p. 133)

Chapter 2 (pp 136-142). We are in Ross’s mind: we see how he sees Verity and Blamey, No reconciliation with Jud and Prudie. Important history – Sherborne Mercury was an important revolutionary radical newspaper in the mid-lands (p. 137). A time of revolution. Ross talks with Verity about situation at Trenwith; Elizabeth patient but no understanding for Francis (p. 137) – Hastings is Warren Hastings, in charge of India took too huge bribes, and committed some unacceptable injustice to Begums. Ross home sees Demelza playing as “a thread of silver into the spring” — an invitation to an Assembly and Ball put on by Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and she wants to go so he accedes. She is thinking about her dress: apple green and mauve – mauve a new color then. Dyes more particular. New kind of purple, new shades of green. The scene in bed between them is going to blow up in both of their faces

Chapter 3 (pp 143-150) At home with Keren and Mark; Mark’s reference to the thrush. Touching connection to natural world: the thrush has a beautiful song about singing against despair and savagery. It fits Mark’s behavior.

Poem by Basil Bunting:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!

Keren’s thoughts given in italics I don’t know why. I wouldn’t like to live the way she’s expected to.

Keren visits Enys once again; he says they must stop but does not throw her out; she must not criticize Daniels for not being other than they are; she stays to help with his work and leaves. Shows his larger humanity (p 145):. They have not have understanding or charity outside their understanding, but within that they have sterling qualities (p 147), a bit condescending. How manipulative she is (p 149-50). Encys presented as an innocent boy. Like Demelza she’s afraid he’ll react with contempt – a parallel – women are so vulnerable.

Chapter 4 (pp 151-60) The Warleggans to hold a party just before; a male party with disreputable women about.
Good use of song from Beggar’s Opera – if we’ve seen Gay’s play the gay flirtatiousness and erotic desperation come across – Keren an actress and singer (p 153). Mark would not appreciate it.

Chapter 5 (pp 161-66) Ross and Enys’s attempt to save Jim by amputation — how today doctors are similarly determined to try to save the patient. Mark visits Demelza because he now suspects Keren of sexual infidelity, she cannot give him help for real; she knows Keren is “carrying on” with someone.

Ross in Truro buys lovely objects for Demelza to wear. Again what shopping is like (Pp 154-55). how in life talk is interwoven (p 156). And here a scene we went over in terms of style and point of view (pp 157-63), references to time. Graham also moves quickly – One story carrying on, another: now it’s Mark come to talk to Ross and Demelza is there – -and sees “some new darkness at the back of his eyes.” He confesses to her – givens more sincere talk (pp. 164-65). And we move to Verity persuading Ross it is in his interest to go (pp 170-72)

Graham cleverly uses attitudes of mind about medicine just now, attitudes that might not have been prevalent in the early 20th century but emerged mid-century. It’s particular not universal. That’s the real trick. These things come together in these heightened thematic moments. When Ross and Dwight force their way into the prison. Most prisons were not that well guarded, gun was enough. Book 2, Chapter 4 (p 155): We begin in Dwight’s mind; the POV moves between Dwight and Ross. Admiring the view brings in a bit of history: this was where Wm the Conqueror brother built his castle (p 156). If you are a producer you might think, Should I photograph some of the old castles at the edge of Cornwall, guarding it from sea attacks. We are embedded in this scene. Read Ross watching (pp. 158-159).

Typhus a strange rash, and gangrene has set in. He is dying of having been put in that prison. Then sudden speech of abject subaltern being who hardly ever is heard (pp. 160ff). Jinny did beg him not to go (p 160). Should you let him die in peace, Dwight makes the usual doctor’s decision, “let me try” to save him (pp. 160-61) Dwight can’t let the guy die in peace. Works on him all night. (I daresay some of us have seen this – should the person be let alone – I’ve been there twice now.)

This is a moment which reverberates through the rest of the novel, not just the result in Ross’s behavior at the assembly ball, but is part of the rage that leads him in the book’s penultimate scenes – then it’s Julia’s death and the failure of his smelting scheme through Warleggan having found out the names of the combine’s members and put a stranglehold on them through their monopoly power, to say nothing of hs deeper angers – to instigate a riot.

Demelza’s slow moving plan-plot to bring Verity together with Blamey again will also reverberate and past this novel – as Verity is taken from Trenwith where she was needed if not herself living the life she wants and has the right (she says and the novel too) to live

Chapter 6 (pp. 167-72). Verity and Demelza and Ross at Nampara: the bitterness of Ross’s loss; now Demelza cannot enter into his feelings – p 168: opposite reactions. – one line utterance and counter utterance, a technique in drama. It is a matter of loyalty; if he won’t go, she doesn’t. I feel that. Verity tells him he is unwise not to go to ball and assembly. What a difference from Elizabeth’s well-meaning aristocratic point of view: “sorry about your farm boy”

Chapters 7-12 It’s a several chapter marvelous set piece: The high point of the novel visually and dramatically is the assembly ball they go to with again Demelza at center, this time as dancing lady. Ross does not want to go because just before he and Dwight had brought Jim Carter out of a prison he had been moved to and he had died. Ross is incensed at his class and his world. Ross exposes Sanson, a nephew of the Warleggans. At that ball Francis sees Blamey and again Blamey tries to conciliate and again Francis won’t. So there is nothing for it but Verity must run away or give up her life to Francis’s prejudices and needs. We see the two couples with Verity leaving together at the close.

Chapter 7: pp 173-78. The Warleggan ball: Ross goes, the Teagues there; Demelza dressing; George Warleggan making points with Elizabeth. Again (pp. 184-85) each time Warleggan seems stronger in Elizabeth’s mind – I hear Ralph Bates’s voice. Begin with Demelza holding her own against the women and witty (pp 175-76). Demelza drinks and it gives her courage.

Demelza braves the ball with Ross

For me one of the most striking sequences in this book to hit me personally occurs when she goes to an assembly dance with Ross, and he angered intensely over Jim’s death first does not want to go, and then does not do his part in helping her to integrate. This is to anticipate next week’s reading – unless you’ve read it already – Demelza does not know how to command male respect and ends up a kind of subrisive target, like a girl who goes to a fraternity house and does not know how to cope. Not as bad, but bad enough (Book 2, Chapters 8-10. pp 179-200). I find myself very moved by these scenes because even if I did not live in the 18th century I remember from my teenagehood and later a bit too how hard it was to cope with male abrasiveness and aggression; you were not supposed to reject them, yet their behavior was such if you didn’t respond in just the right way you’d be called a tramp; Ross behaves badly in the scene too. He does manage to see by the end that they are making one another worse and hurting their relationship and so calls a halt but abruptly.

Demelza cannot keep Ross away from his thoughts. He again captures other people’s otherness, p 178
At the ball itself, p 188 Demelza’s inability to cope with upper class abrasive males leaves her vulnerable; Ross apologizes later on for deserting her and she forgives. (A repeat of this will happen in London in Angry Tide (where a duel ensues) and Stranger from the Sea, after which whereby she does not again travel with Ross away from Cornwall or go into high class society for a long time (not until Twisted Sword, Novel 11 — trip to Paris). It’s too much for her as a non upper-class woman with no high self-esteem and background of training to cope. This is good insight. Class gives a woman a weapon against abusive males.

In a mild way it brings to my mind how a girl in a college fraternity can be set upon and used in ugly ways.
We are in her mind, experiencing everything from someone overexcited and not able to comprehend it all, p 180 – she lacks poise that Elizabeth and Verity have.

Chapters 8 – 10 (pp 179-200). The card tables and Verity has to refuse to run off with Blamey (angering him) – reminds me of how in Persuasion Captain Wentworth was angry at Anne Elliot for not running off with him, held against her the training that gave her the obedient character. You are damned if you don’t (and rebel) or do (and are obedient, pp. 193-94). Very kind and useful gesture by Demelza to fix Verity’s hair. Graham is concerned to show us; how Ross does not help Demelza with the men accosting her at first and finally comes over to take his place by her side as her husband (p. 199). He is remiss in all sorts of ways.

Chapter 11: The gambling scene with Sanson and Ross’s final dunking (pp 203-7); I’ve been told if you know
Faro, the playing of the game is accurate. Note Sanson was able to fool Francis and fleece Francis for 600. That money will set another train of evil betraying events a foot. How things are linked (as in Trollope) –this was very effectively done in the 1970s production, this sort of scene they were good at.

Chapter 12: The banker is brought in to show us that the neighborhood only heard the superficial description of what happened (p 212-13). You think everyone despises you and cringe (Lacanian psychology) but they don’t know the inner realities. Then goodbyes after the festivity. The Warleggans’ resentment on behalf of Sanson. The two male cousins (212-13). Had Francis joined, would he have stuck. Elizabeth & Demelza and Elizabeth and Francis go off separately home to Trenwith; Ross and Demelza’s conversation on the way to their home; some understanding in both of them: she how easy the bitter words, how hard the kind ones; back to Julia (Pp 208-9). This has been her debut into society – as I said The History of a young lady’s entrance into the world. They are together at the end of chapter 11 (pp 207-9); again at the end of Chapter 13, pp 215-16. It is up to her to keep him home, but the task as she does not reach his innermost thoughts seems to her beyond her.

Chapter 13: Powerful two opposing presences: Mark and Keren not seeing the same world (pp 217-219). Keren blamed for not being a good manager. Did she think .. . did he think: they accuse one another it the silence of working minds (p 218). Keren comes to Enys and he can no longer resist: “then take” she says. Actually liaison starts late in the book and it is found out quickly (Pp 220-221)

Chapter 14: May 2, 1789: the Warleggans, Cary, Nicholas and George: vowing revenge but also showing the means through squeezing interlopes out once they know who they are. Warleggan could then put the screws on Ross and his Carnmore Copper Company — loans will be called in, property reclaimed — and destroy Ross’s company WE know that Sanson’s mills are a front; they are doing manipulative banking.

Ross’s perpetual kicking against the laws and customs of his world directly while Demelza works against them indirectly — both are pro-friend, pro-decency, and if family members will let them by not insisting on amoral behavior on their part, pro-family.

From the 1990s covers of the PanMacMillan series


Continued in comments: Books Three and Four.

When I come to write blogs on the new series (2015, starting in June, I’ll follow the PBS schedule though by that time hope to have the BBC DVDs and use the BBC arrangement of the mini-series). Then my perspective will follow that of Tom Bragg (in Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama, historical films) on how the series fits into the development of historical film in the 1970s: its use of landscape, interior settings, roving immersion camera work, its genuine humane progressivism. Just about all my stills for this blog come from 1970s mini-series as this is the only one I have a DVD for.


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A rare comfortable happy moment: Andrea, Brock, Jesse at a diner

‘Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who’ — Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The question is what we really want out of life, for ourselves, what we think is real… [has] to do with our social panic, with our fear of losing status. One cannot afford to lose status on this peculiar ladder, for the prevailing notion of American life seems to involve a kind of rung-by-rung ascension to some hideously desirable state — James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

Dear friends and readers,

I finally bought the whole of the series on DVD so I could move back and forth between episodes while watching (as one turns pages back and forth when reading a book) and can cover more than 3-4 episodes or a disk at a time. After Jesse and Walter’s long night in their lab (Fly), two emotional explosions lead to horrifying killing sprees, sadistic and remorseful murders.

Hospital – emergency entrance

3:11-13: An outline of just the mad violence with cross-fire guns and cars: Jesse (Aaron Paul) carries on going to his rehabilitation group and still showing a moral nature capable of love, becomes lover-companion to Andrea Cantillo (Emily Rios), a young Spanish recovering addict whom he meets there, an important element of which is Jesse’s love for yet another potentially lost little boy, Brock. Through also involving himself with her ten-year old brother who Jesse sees on a bike on the corner where Jesse’s friend, Combo (Rodney Rush), was murdered Jesse works out that Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) ordered that killing done by the boy hired by two thugs; driven by guilt and remorse Jesse enlists his (frightened) prostitute lover-friend to help him poison the two thugs who hired the boy, is thwarted, coerced into promising Gus he will forgive and forget. Then double-crossed and driven half-mad when the ten-year old boy is murdered, Jesse attempts simply to shoot the two men face-to-face even if it means they kill him (he is asking for this); Walter White (Bryan Cranston) intercepts Jesse, kills the men himself and tells Jesse “run.”

Gus ordering death like so much pizza

4:1-4: An outline of just the slow grind of distressed and sadistic murder and justified paranoia: White realizes that Gus regards both him and Jesse as grating liabilities and means to replace White after he finishes training Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) who colludes with this plan, and then murder White and Jesse. When Mike (Jonathan Banks) shows up to murder White, White succeeds in persuading Mike to believe he, White, will turn Jesse over to him, in return for life; instead on the phone, White shouts Gale’s address to Jesse, which is understood as an order to kill Gale. Under duress and half-hysterical with reluctance, Jesse does just that — shoots the terrified, suddenly fawning Gale in the face. Mike is too powerful a man for Jesse and White and manages to catch them in the lab, to which Gus arrives, now seething and to show his power and punish a bodyguard for getting above his station (starting to cook meths), Gus slits the bodyguard’s throat, allowing the blood to spurt out all over himself, and slowly run down this man’s body. As Gus knows, no one cares for this nobody (perhaps an illegal immigrant, so no papers), and his corpse is the second to be put into a vat and corroded into non-existence. The terror and senselessness of this is reinforced by a camera set up in their lab to watch and tape them 24/7 (or when they are in the lab).

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) writhing from 24/7 surveillance

Bob Dixon argues that the continual killing seen in boys’ action-adventure stories in the US and UK seriously teaches children to accept killing as a way of sustaining an imperialist, capitalist, militaristic order. There it is glorified, made Christian, wrapped in a flag. In Breaking Bad it’s a nervous distraught horror. The power of the DEA. The killing way of life seen in cancer cancer everywhere.

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) mourning from despair

Jesse is breaking down; after giving Andrea a packet of money, he closes himself off from her and Brock (won’t see them) lest he bring death upon them and because he cannot stand to give himself any warmth, any reward, and turns his apartment into a night-and-day drug-infested high decibel noise party. A nadir of despair. Even his two friend, Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) shy away from him at least to go home and feed a cat, water a flower. Jesse is careless, throwing his money at people (one man attempts to steal it), and as it would take very little to discover his connection to a drug trade in meths, he is last seen driven away by Mike. He puts up no fight. All of his conduct since the triple death of his beloved Jane (who would have destroyed him and herself with heroin), Andrea’s son (whom he identified with as a brother-father figure too), and the seeming innocent Gale is suicidal.

Skylar surveying her accounts and books which she uses to decide how much to offer for a car wash

Walter’s parallel story is not told in the same melancholic vein. Skylar’s (Anna Gunn)’s persistent and finally fraudulent take-over of a car wash (which she seems to hate because her husband was once an insulted underling there) is an ironic comedy framed by both Walter’s indifference to the money-laundering procedures and Saul Goodman’s (Bob Odenkirk) exasperated anti-feminism: Yoko Ono over here, why can’t we do a nail salon, why must it be this car-wash.

Goodman not letting the phone too near

She is the laundress controller (laundering money through a car wash) and Goodman squirms as she exposes his feebleness and transparent hypocrisies. She is so efficient she writes out the lies (a script to memorize whose words embarrass Walter) that Walter is to tell Hank about his gambling; they go to gambling anonymous; she teaches him to play cards. Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is persuaded to come home through a bet Marie (Betsy Brandt) forces on him: if she can masturbate him into an orgasm and coming under the hospital covers, he is ready to leave. Hank hates leaving because he hates his crippled state, and once home he is insulting, callous and overtly scornful of Marie in turns. Marie resorts to a kind of comedy of house-hunt, pretending to be different upper class women with their story-book ideal husbands and families looking to buy and of course renovate already magazine-like obscenely appointed houses — all the while she steals small items and (alas) is caught, to be released through Hank’s influence with a police man on the scene.

MarieCaught (2)
Marie looking the role of the middle class youth-fully dressed woman

MarieCaught (1)
Marie Caught

Jesse’s world seems more lower middle to working class, having links to street people, Hispanics, addicts, the permanently under- and despicably employed. The White and Schrader worlds are a quietly grimacing exposure of American getting and spending for its own sake. Hank watches junk TV, eats junk food while Marie sleeps with a soft mask over her eyes for beauty and rest.

Hank at rest — he is given Gale’s Lab Notes by the policeman who rescued Marie from jail

Here it’s a question of money — huge dollops of money for cancer, for Hank’s physical therapy (which we see him painfully painfully enduring). The games over house-fixing, house-buying, the occasional parties (given up just now), the business deals (which Skylar now comically does her proud book-keeping and hard-nosed negotations for), police bullies who can do you a favor — and yes status. Skylar and Walter are not bored.

I have come to realize that the series’ realistic up-close violence, nihilism in the streets, twisted family lives (the Pinkman family; Jane and her father; Mike’s daughter and granddaughter from whom he keeps away except to provide money; the unmarried Andrea), rehabilitation centers where people learn to blame themselves by rote; impoverished culture in the malls, streets; living on the edge middle-class protagonists — are us, serious funhouse and grave mirrors.

In one dream-like prologue we see Mike murdering people inside a truck; he has lost a piece of his outer ear

It is daring and exhilarating in its use of film techniques, tropes, colors, juxtapositions; scripts are not neglected (witty and epitomizing). Through the third and fourth season I noticed the prologues especially. They are not summaries of what happened earlier; nor are they forecasts; nor reinforcements of character traits. Sometimes we are thrown back in time to see Jesse and Jane when they spent a day at a museum looking at Georgia O’Keefe paintings; or Walt and Skylar when young and looking at the house they now own (or pay mortgage payments on); they can be bizarrely expressive: a fly is studied, the two brutal cousins are seen crawling in the sand to some burning destiny, Mike’s face is electrically outlined (he is a brutal yet seeming sane man); the products produced to cover up the meths are played games with; a clowning moment or a poignant one that is fitted into what we saw previously as if we had skipped a chapter and are invited now to come back and read it after all. Inventive, clever.

I’ve bought myself cheap studies of the series: an unofficial companion (where it is written emphatically on the cover that the film-makers do not endorse anything said about the series, suggesting to me they know that the simplistic moralising they do in their features misleads) and close-reading about its philosophical (no less) implications. If anyone doubts the US order is a killing way of life, read about the slaughters in Gaza (where we supply the money and weapons) and in any state you want the latest mall massacre (where we have forbidden gun control).

I admit I don’t love the Breaking Bad characters the way I love the Downton Abbey ones (or the Poldark ones or some of Jane Austen’s). Jesse and Marie have become my favorites: the best continuing element in the series is the characterization of Jesse: his story, a young man rejected by his parents, seeking some meaning in a better job, his ability to love, to form relationships with others who value him, his conscience, his slow descent into despair, all wonderfully acted by Paul. Little details: like after Jane’s death and his first bout of rehabilitation, he sits all he livelong day listening to her voice message, only after the death of the 10 year old does he start drugs up again and these filthy orgies in his house. Marie’s human feeling and vulnerability would be a match if she were given more screen time, more background history; we need to know more about her, but the series is relentlessly masculinist in its focus. But there is a hardness about the stance towards them that ought to be alienating if the viewer who watches had a heart. It’s comic and appropriate how Syklar’s character is consistent when she operates outside the law as when she operates within it; her coldness may stand for the attitude of mind of the culture she likes to think she is a success in (she’s been lucky), with Hank as the series’s unexamined “good” guy (thus with all his cleverness a dupe). Gus might stand in for world and US leadership if we were to allegorize this show, with Mike as Hank’s opposing parallel (Gus placates and Mike thus far does not kill cops).

When tonight I began watching the first season of DA again and tears came to my eyes as the characters appeared once again and I noticed yet more details I hadn’t before, I know Vince Gilligan and his crew are wanting what I require: a continuing humanity. Compare this program with another coming out of the cancer epidemic with Calendar Girls; and you can see what is is to have a heart and not have one.

Skylar teaching Walter a gambling game


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walter-white-and-jesse-pinkman-breaking-bad-movie (Small)
A glamorized photo image of a drawing of our two heroes — becoming a father-and-son pair in the second season

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve now begun the second season of Breaking Bad and will carry on as the series grips and fascinates me. I was able to view only the first four of the second season because I rent the DVDs from Netflix one disk at a time. Aesthetically it remarkably is still one continuous story with no sub-plot: this is not a multi-plot mini-series. We move back and forth between Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) but their story is one and intertwines.

The story line: Walter thinks he realizes he will need to make a great deal of money before he dies to provide for his wife, Skylar (Anna Gunn) and Walt Junior (RJMitte), the son disabled from cerebral palsy for the rest of their lives. Something like $737,000. He and Jesse must therefore carry on dealing with the homicidal sociopathic Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz). They witness Tudo brutally beat to death a man who works for him on a whim, and scare and offend one of his sidekicks.

Waltjessecornered (Custom)

Tuco murders the sidekick and then kidnaps Walter and Jesse and takes them out to a desert where he threatens to murder them — not before Jesse realizes their danger, tries to persuade Walter to arm themselves, but Walter with his usual over-cleverness says they will make up a poison which will kill Tuco. In the desert place they cannot use this poison, and only by luck and momentary insult, manage to unnerve Tuco, grab a gun out of Tuco’s hand and shoot him sufficiently that he falls and they run off. Threaded in we see Hank (Dean Norris) has been pressuring his wife Marie (Betsy Brandt), Skylar’s sister to see a psychologist for her kleptomania which she will not acknowledge and we watch Skylar refuse to pick up the phone or see her sister. She has though snitched on Marie to Hank. She is utterly self-righteous in her moral stance.

Meanwhile Hank (Dean Norris), Walter’s brother-in-law, investigating Tuco manages to find Tuco’s lair in the desert, and comes upon Tuco just as Walter and Jesse are fleeing (it does not seem improbable as one watches as time moves slowly); Hank shoots to kill Tuco and succeeds.

Here he is shooting; afterward telling of the incident he appears shaken: he is intensely sympathized with

To account for his absence, Walter strips himself naked and appears in a supermarket and is taken to a hospital where he pretends to have had many hours of amnesia. Jesse is to claim he spent the whole time with a local addict and building manager, Jane Margolis (Kristin Ritter): Hank somehow discovers the relationship between Jesse and Tuco and has both Jesse and Jane in for questioning. He grills them mercilessly; he is especially insulting to Jane who he treats as a despicable prostitute. She holds out against him. But Hank has contacted Jesse’s parents who go into Jesse’s house and find his meth laboratory and resolve to throw him out of the house; they will have nothing more to do with him. They present frozen faces to this son, telling him to put his life together; he is now homeless. He had given his huge van and much of his equipment to someone to sell, and his bike is stolen; he manages after filthying himself with vile fluids from an outside John, to wrest the van back and drive to Walter’s house as the only refuge he knows.

Walter has been having troubles of his own. He discovers that the doctors in the hospital have the authority to keep him there — like a prisoner — because they deem him “unsafe” (to whom it’s not clear). He thus has to tell in confidentiality a doctor something of the truth to get the man to release him. Perhaps this will be part of what makes Hank start to suspect him. The suspense is that Hank is coming closer to Walt as involved in the new meth people in the area all the time.

Winning an abilty to come home Walt finds Skylar will have nothing to do with him; will not talk to him unless he reveals to her what he has been doing during the many absences from home. She was set off by being told that he has a second cell phone she does not know about. He cannot tell her about how he has been making money as he suspects (knows very well) she will be shocked and may well turn him in. We have seen how judgmental and treacherous to Marie she is over Marie’s shoplifting. She behaves utterly obnoxiously to Walt now — a cold hard mean face, out for hours; he begs her to be humane to him, she will not. The son has changed his name to Flynn (a gesture), but she has throughout behaved in a semi-alienated askew way.

During the time Skylar is out, Walter becomes aware of Jesse’s presence and after insulting and berating Jesse, demanding Jesse leave with no more money, Walter relents, gives Jesse his share of the money, and then offers him breakfast. Unlike Skylar and Walt Junior, Jesse gratefully accepts the meal.


Jane Margolis, browbeaten and exhausted by Hank — who is ultra-respectful of Skylar

What I think is of genuine interest here is the story’s meaning is the reverse of what the “creator” (Vince Gilligan) and some of the other film-makers (directors, actors themselves, cinematographers) claim it is. In the feature they stick to the idea this is a story about a man becoming a criminal, an antagonist, a bad guy.

Anna Gunn as the self-satisfied rigid wife (harridan is the feel of this still)

Especially startling is the way they and Anna Gunn talk about the wife: they all talk of how she has “boundaries” and begin by saying she doesn’t “leave him” because she’s pregnant and has a disabled son. why should she leave him and so quickly at all? No one in this series has read E.M. Forster’s “Two Cheers to Democracy” where he declared if his loyalties were torn he hoped he would have the courage to chose his real friend over what he is told is his country’s interest or norms. I was appalled at how when early in the second season, he was suffering, her first reaction was he had no right to take his illness out on her. No one in this show seems to have heard the word “love” or understand what it might mean. She has no loyalty to Walter whatsoever; her intrusions would be bearable were they done in his interest but they are not; they are done because she asserts she has the right to direct his destiny and choices — as in the first season she pretended to take his wishes into account but really successfully demanded he do the chemotherapy for huge sums. Without a care who would pay or how. As if it didn’t matter. She refuses to admit she expects him to come up with the money. How angry she’d get if she were thrown out of her house for non-payment.

Jesse homeless, broke, his bike is stolen from him

Jesse’s parents are a parallel. Not once throughout 11 episodes have they tried to see what their son is, backed him when he tried to get a real job (at a desk, wearing a suit, with respect), did not a thing to help him; and now they throw him out because they found a lab and walk away. They think only of their fear of the law and what others may think of them. Throughout the first and second season Jesse is the only person to undercut the values of the system his life story thus far shows us he is marginalized out of, forced to be a person doing absurd things for money if he remains legal. He is witty and actually talks to Walter, occasionally giving him good advice or comments which thus far Walter fails to take.

We have seen Walter charged outrageous sums for what he is told to his face are probably useless treatments for a fatal disease; these same doctors have the power to imprison him in a hospital if they decide his illness is a threat in some way to the way they want people to behave. He is driven to tell one person a truth to avoid immurement. In the US ordinary people are deprived of liberty for crimeless behavior.

It is troubling the way the disabled son is continually treated as semi-alienated, sarcastic, suddenly asserting power when he can. It’s a combination of stigmatizing and making him behave as badly by intuition as anyone around him.

Hank is the only person thus far to show any compassion for someone close to him: to Marie. She calls him indestructible. Is he (we are therefore to ask)? At the same time he is a ferocious bully who behaves to those he perceives as low in status as despicable animals, especially Jane (she is to bought off with a root beer).

I’ve been told and read that Breaking Bad is worth watching for its indictment of US values and life and it’s been asserted that the film-makers know this. If they do, they don’t understand what it is they are indicting.


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Breaking Bad: Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Skylar (Anna Gunn) and their “dream” Dr Delcavoli (David House)

Dear friends and readers,

I finished the first season (Episode 7, “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal”) and then watched the features where Vince Gilligan talks seriously about what he thinks this first season is about, and a good deal of what he said seemed to me accurate. Gillgan suggested the one character who is emerging as having a grasp on reality is Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul): he does not lose sight for a moment that Walt early on turned two men into “raspberry sauce,” that he and Walt are dealing with monstrous “scumbags”, that it takes huge sums of money and time and effort to get equipment to make meths, and if he had some alternative remunerative occupation he’d be better off: “count me out; I’m leaving town; I’m going to Oregon.” To this and other sudden abrasively funny retorts Walt either says nothing, or it’s not an obstacle, or (supposedly a key moment in the episode) that if Jesse agrees to go into a full-scale business, “this [will be] the first day” of Jesse’s life, exhorting him “Will it be a life of fear, of no no, of never believing in yourself?”

Walt pouring while Jesse cries out “Chemistry yah Mr White yes science …” but is dubious about the moral benefit to himself


Walt is of course (according to Gilligan) going bad; we watch him turn from a sympathetic into an “antagonistic” character. Just look at how sinister he begins to appear — with his bald head, his thinning body, the sunglasses, the increasingly rough man’s clothes. I noticed (Gilligan doesn’t say this) that a motif idea is attributed to Walt more often than his brother-in-law: that things feel good, are deeply pleasurable because they are illegal. Thrilling. Now while Walt listens to the principle talk of how the janitor will be fired and never get another job because looking for who stole the lab equipment exposed the janitor’s marijuana habit, Walt has surreptitious sex with Syklay under the school table by using his hands.


He gets a real high from taking her out to the car and having sex on the backseat. Hank Schrader, the macho-cop brother-in-law (Dean Norris) repeats this idea when Hank shares illegal Cuban cigars (“Sometimes forbidden fruit tastes sweetest”), but he demurs when Walt wants him to say that there is a thin line between the illegal and legal: at one time meths Walt reminds Hank that meths were part of what was ordinarily prescribed to people. Hank immediately swings round to say some things are foul; “they came to their senses on that one” (when meths was declared illegal).


We are to see the hypocrisy here as we were in the earlier episodes to see the parallel between the brutal violence of the drug dealers and Hank’s to those he arrests. Hank does not murder people or beat them to insensibility, but he enjoys roughing them up bad and frightening and yes putting them in jail for a long time to come. What he does not know (not mentioned by Gilligan) is his own wife, Marie (Betsy Brandt) is a shop-lifter and gets great thrills herself by stealing super-expensive tiaras for not-as-yet born babies. Marie gives one to Skylar during a baby shower for Skylar’s coming child where Skylar is surrounded by as many extravagant and silly gifts as Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz (the super-successful couple who had access to health insurance which would have paid for Dr Delacavoli and his chemo treatments (($95,000 on the open market) had tossed at them at their house-warming party; all of which is filmed by an expensive video camera with an eye to ten years from now when said baby (called Esmeralda by Marie, but corrected to Holly by Skylar) will be an adolescent watching these people cavorting about.


Skylar discovers it’s a theft because she goes to the jewelry store to return the object (she can think of many more practical things she might need for the sum she’ll get) and is herself accused of shoplifting and escapes only by pretending to go into labor — the great sancrosanct act of childbirth.

The critique of American bourgeois life is of course unmistakable; and lest we think the series is soft on the illegal drugs the actors are trotted out to confirm it’s not. And the scenes are as redolent of middle American life as any in the previous six episodes. We see the bright cheerful real estate agent bringing the (naive) couples to see Jesse’s house and coo over the “possibilities” of his basement; the kitchen needs only to be extended. Aaron Paul again gets the funny lines as he tells Walt he sees people “only by appointment” (as his realtor does) and mocks her pretensions.

Also well done — and comical — are the scenes of Walt and Jesse stealing needed barrels of compounds from a plant with barbed wire about it and armed guards. They wear knitted clown hats and like some verison of Laurel and Hardy stumble across the screen with their ill-gotten chemical materials:


Scary and powerful are the scenes where Walt and Jesse meet the psychopathic drug-distributor in the most appropriate of places: a junkyard, filled with junked cars. Jesse mocks this as a child’s idea of where to negotiate crimes. Why not a mall? But of course we are there for the symbolism.


Does Gilligan not know his mini-series is about a man developing an inoperable cancer? does he not know the real villain of the piece is the super-expensive doctor who stands in for a medical establishment which can do nothing and has the nerve (because the whole society conspires to allow them to) to sit before clients complacently and correct them if they so much as suggest his “treatments” will for sure help or cure Walt; or deliver horrible treatments that as just likely can make them worse, and collect huge checks which the victim has politely to say must not be cashed “before next Monday please.” Among the extraordinary moments of this last episode occurs when Walt and Skylar visit the doctor (see stills at the opening of this blog) and the (idiot) wife (I have to say it) kittenishly tells the doctor how Walt is ever so “frisky” since getting “chemo.” I cringed. She wants this man’s approval. I wondered if the scene was unconsciously meant to rouse racism: the doctor is black, American black and that is not common because the viewer is put in the position of the helpless patients having to obey, not to question. Skylar tells of Walt’s supposed use of alternative medicine (it’s an alibi for him to go off and cook meths with Jesse) and the doctor says, well as long as it doesn’t interfere with the scientific treatments.

Does he not know he is sending up science? not just how it’s misused in the society (for prescribed drugs too) but useless for creating anything humanely good. All Jesse’s comical remarks about science are part of this thread.

Watching desperate extractions from unlikely objects:


As I watched the scenes with the doctors, technicians, receptionists taking the checks, trips to the bank, rolls of money clutched to the chest, I knew why the show doesn’t attack who it should. The AMA would get after them. The thorough anthology Quality TV, ed McCabe and Akass, includes essays explaining how most film makers for TV don’t even think of attacking anyone who is a big funder of the programming — those who do don’t get their films made or distributed. The film exists to present the commercial (ironically often pedaling psychological drugs which make huge sums). The whole corrupt system is normalized, as if the “way it is” is natural, not evil.

Why do I carry on watching it and blogging about it. While it displaces Walt’s real nightmare of cancer, useless scientific medicine, killing costs, with masculine clown antics of violence and shows the wife to be complicit (thus far helpless because without a real grasp of what her life has depended on — the luck of her birth position, and of his health and job), nevertheless its origin is the cancer epidemic about which nothing is being done (nothing fundamental, nothing preventative) — the hook of the show is when Walt is told he has inoperable cancer; each plot point is some happening that is screwed back into the cancer, whether his bald head, his thinness, his explosions of violence, as he grows more and more supposedly amoral. He is not accurate on the thin line between legality and illegality: what he is missing and the series never says is what is legal, self-righteous, complacently collecting checks, money from credit cards, extorted from drugged misery, is what’s seriously causatively criminal.


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The writer and cast of Breaking Bad (HBO, 2008-13)

Dear friends and readers,

As I’m six years late for this Breaking Bad (a regional southern Virginia phrase meaning “raising hell” — male macho reveling?), having just watched the first three episodes of the first season a year after the fifth and final season of 16 episodes in 2014 brought this mini-series to an end; I see nothing wrong in photos of writer, cast, director, whoever is connected to the film as a frame for an opening blog on the first 3 of 7 episodes of the first season. Belated as this will be, as I proceed through the series my remarks may perhaps some interest as I am not going to go for awed wild screams of praise (such as I find everywhere on various sites).

I was absorbed by the opening three episodes; I recognize, appreciate, respond to quality TV when I see it: high production values, intelligently naturalistic script, verisimilitude and local accuracy in the small things (just like in costume drama), subtle intelligent acting, cinema like camera work, the latest things in film are there. As important, this series has become a sociological event: enormous numbers of people have watched and talked of it and praised it too. So it’s worth it to watch and try to think about the first and second season, and at least begin the third, which I may stop at, as (from the descriptions) the episodes become wildly physically as well as deeply emotionally violent. No need for recaps (see thorough retelling on wikipedia).

The motivating cause is quietly intensely significant as the cancer epidemic (and all the horrors in pain and humiliation that cancer brings) is known everywhere even if the news media stalwartly will not bring it out in the discussably open. Equally misery-producing are the extravagantly exploitative charges people are pressured to pay for medicine; and while in the last year it seems there will be a respite through the Affordable Care Act, the medical establishment, drug industry, corporate industrialism (protecting its right to pollute the environment if their huge profits call for it) are going to keep costs as high as they can. So Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in his forties is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and has not sufficient insurance to pay for treatments, much less leave his family, which includes Walter Jr (R.J. Mitte)a son with cerebral palsy, Walter Jr, and Scyler (Anna Gunn) a pregnant wife with any assets to getting on in a hard world with.

A many year under-appreciated chemistry high school teacher, White decides to make money by making and selling drugs (meth is the going abbreviation).


As can be seen in this early shot of him after an initial disaster has landed him in the desert, he is a Casper Milquetoast type who quickly finds himself in over his head in trying to cope with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), an ignorant, coarse, ruthless self-destructive, stupid ex-student of his become drug addict and seller himself and the drug dealers to whom they mean to sell their product. Jesse fails to understand that chemistry knowledge tells truths about products and a plastic container of the type White wanted Jesse to buy could have been used to dissolve a corpse while his home bathtub dissolves along with said corpse, its flesh, blood, waters.


Scyler has refused to (paraphrasing Walter) “get off his ass,” and her talk has led her nosy sister, Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) to think Scyler’s son is smoking marijuana; when Scyler sees her hitherto mild-mannered husband whose idea of a joy happiness seems to be a surprise birthday party given him by his family, has not come home for several nights in a row, she jumps to the conclusion he is smoking marijuana. She enlists her brutal brother-in-law, cop, DEA, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris). She immediately (no shriving time allowed) threatens to leave Walter.

As the worrying wife

Meanwhile out of fear and casting aside his better impulses to save an articulate sympathetic sensible sounding drug-seller, White strangles a second drug dealer. After he disposes of the body far more efficiently than Jesse did, he returns home to tell his now suspicious wife that he has lung cancer and what he is going to do about it.

End of half of season 1.

Why is the reader not asking, is this not perverse? The last thing the action swings around is Walt’s cancer; the only person he tells is the man he strangles whose calm sensible mind immediately sees the connection between this dread disease, money and meths. We have but the briefest scene of diagnosis — an in ambulance which takes Walt form his part-time second job in a garage where he fell suddenly to the hospital, from which Walt goes home as quickly (spending as little) as he possibly can.

This film is enacting (as its title suggests) the inward and outward violence of US life as continually acted out by aggressive and desperate males. It’s not (as yet) Quentin Tarintino stuff, but the violence of real life. The violence is of the implicit bullying sort, and also close to the surface, it’s easy to bring it to the fore and make people act on it; a kind of continual abrasive atmosphere exists. Just that menace from men of a certain kind all the time and not far from the surface. Women in the US too. Yes it is obviously an implicit inditement of US society: we see how little teachers are valued, how little they are paid. Mr White is devoting his life to a subject he loves and knows a lot about, and the irony is for the first time he is turning it to account — cooking meths ever so expertly.

The violence is sexual — our Casper Milquetoast is not just a virile male from the get-go (pregnant wife) the first episode ended with him buggering his pregnant wife and her enjoying it. Take it from me, it hurts backwards, a lot. Her birthday present to him is to lay beside him in bed, he at rest, doing nothing, while she jerks him off under the covers (while browsing the internet). The voice-over commentary on the DVD of the first season is mostly frivolous, but here and there are some revealing features: the men all laugh at the actresses’s acquiescence in the sexy enacted on the screen. As I remarked, the wife’s snitching and pressure tactics makes the point that wives are a pain in the butt; her wrong guesses show her naive ideas about what drugs people take.

The series is racist — perhaps consciously so. Walter White is Mr White, the white man. Jesse Pinkman, he’s pink, the flesh-colored crayon in a child’s crayon box in the 1950s. The drug dealers are of course dark-skinned, eyed, Spanish speaking. The racism never goes away. The series takes place in New Mexico; across the border are these Mexicans who are animal-like. All are struggling for power and the whites have the big advantage.

It’s continually funny at times too. House of Cards has humor too, but it’s witty, sardonic lines, ironical speeches. Breaking Bad is more in the mode of the action coming near to be clown like — a weird black optimistic even sort of humor — as the two men work hard to haul a dissolving body through a broken ceiling, or they stumble and fall over the filth they create. Aaron Paul is especially hilarious – the character is so unself-consciously ludicrous with his gestures of pride, his self-esteem, his complacency as he smokes pipes of meth. The humor built up and Episode 3, the most murderous, was the funniest.

It’s important to see how Breaking Bad relates to British quality TV products too. It’s politics are as reactionary in that it has no acknowledgement there is such a thing as political thought or ideas in life. House of Cards and Downton Abbey both realize the stories are taking place in a larger political context. The difference is Breaking Bad simply has no outer political world, no perspective. The Brits give us reactionary Toryism (Fellowes) or desperation and pessimism from a humane standpoint but just as paralyzing (Andrew Davies in this case); the Americans give us nothing, a vaccuum. In Downton Abbey we are in a fantasy land of benign aristocracy (how they never were), in House of Cards we sidle along the corridors of high power.

Dean Norris as Hank Schrader, White’s brother-in-law, cop (from a later season)

Breaking Bad — there are only the brutal police, more violent and with more impunity than anyone else. We are with the lower middle class and desperate working people who are policed. No NAFTA, no congress, no political or civic or human rights. We have to remember that the reason for the show is the advertisement; the program is filler in whose ideology is not allowed to be different from the ideology of the advertisement. No one is allowed any ideals to help them out of their mess at all; yes the family should hang together — literally as well a figuratively.

I am told the mini-series pulls you in as it goes, you become involved in the characters and the story takes telling, intriguing turns. Does it do more than the crude exposure of the monetary and sexual terms of the suffering (for they do suffer) male hegemony. Well I will try the next disk from Netflix, another 4 episodes to see.


P.S. Among the good books to read on quality TV: Quality TV, edd. Janet McCabe and Kim Akass, subtitled: contemporary american television and beyond. It has an excellent essay by Sarah Cardwell in it.

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Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov: husband & wife, he died suddenly, age 28, of a heart attack during a practice workshop

Dear friends and readers,

I find irony in my reading, finding some shared thought, and now passing part of the night by writing about Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking, which like, the apparently naive My Sergei: A Love Story tells of the sudden death of the author’s beloved husband. Some of the intense distress, exasperation and justified anger I have experienced the last two weeks derives from my husband’s death not having happened with the same single night or moment suddenness as Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, and Gordeeva’s husband, Sergei. We’ve experienced 3 and 1/2 months of partial truths told us sufficiently to lead our natural desire to clutch at anything to escape malignant esophageal cancer, no matter how horrendous — like an operation to remove someone’s esophagus and re-arrange his digestive tract and other nearby organs which in itself has nothing whatever to do with what causes, spreads, contains, stops the cancer. And equally 3 and 1/2 months of many medical people’s carefully calibrated behavior controlled fundamentally by each person’s desire to protect & advantage his or her career/job while pretending some other motive paramount. From my vantage point today I almost (not quite) feel as I never thought I would before: as the blow was (as one begins to see as one reads) foreseeable, to fall, the four people (husbands & wives) were lucky to have it fall this way.

Didion, Dunne & their adopted daughter, Quintana (ca. 1970s)

Didion’s considered thesis throughout, and Gordeeva’s natural perspective (just at the outset of her book) is “life changes fast, Life changed in the instant.” This is the refrain of Didion’s book sudden instant transformation of everything upon the death of a beloved partner. As she well knows however (this is in the book) her thesis is thin. She tells of how for a year previously her husband had insights and hinted to her he felt he was at risk of death at any time — and that at least a year before he’d had a bad heart attack and was now living by using an implanted pace-maker. So (like say Causabon in Middlemarch or “young” Jolyon in To Let of the Forstye Saga) she did know he was in danger – or ought to have taken seriously a doctor’s outright warning.

Didion’s book is initially, and every time she recurs to the shock of the scene of Dunne’s sudden keeling over during dinner, powerful. Her book is recursive. She has two further traumatic sudden near deaths incidents to retell. Twice in the book her daughter comes near death: it escaped everyone that a viral infection of a few days before Xmas, because not x-rayed in the hospital the night Quintana came (as it ought to have been) was a serious flu which then (as Dunne said) morphed into an episode of pneumonia that came near killing Quintana too. Quintana later collapses on an airport tarmac as she is being triumphantly coming home; a paralyzing seizure nearly carries Quintana off. It’s one of those real shocks often talked of (“in comparison” to what we usually watch on TV), including the death before your own of your own child.

After the initial power of the husband’s death, there is this falling off as if Didion’s casting about for what to say next and repeats herself, and I feel there is too obvious a sense of this is another occasion for making a book. It picks up roaring as she moves back to her daughter’s two encounters.

Speed of transformation through illness is important, even if common. We do not go about expecting a hammer to come down on our heads. ON one level, my husband Jim seems to have been transformed from recovering slowly from a drastic operation and and then recurrence of cancer diagnosis (liver, “the worst” someone said) inside a week — to man seemingly near death, weak, frail, fatally ill; then I could say it’s been only 3 months since the initial diagnosis, but I know that before that last autumn he had stopped going to the gym gradually and I saw was somehow not himself, not physically well, suddenly looking older. We had no clue to run to the doctor to check with — though he did go for his legs and other things but the problem was not where he was feeling. Engineering term: the point of origin is often not the same as the place of manifestation; one’s bottom body is tired (manifestation) because a cancer is growing in one’s throat (origin, cause).

Her second theme is her magical thinking: once her husband dies, she plays games with her mind. After his death, she asks him for advice and pretends he’s there. She stays away from places which will evoke deep emotional reactions; or if she goes, she plays games in her mind to avoid thinking about that. She can tell us the next morning magical thinking relieved from having to be realistic. Myself I think the term is capable of wider application. Because a hospice person is in the house, you might feel your relative or beloved is safer. He or she isn’t, statistically. We think magically when we rely on rituals. My grandmother tied onions to my feet when I was 3 and came down with a high fever; she was drawing the evil spirits out of the foot. I had a hard time removing the apnea monitor off my younger daughter because I had begun to believe it was saving her. If we do X, Y will surely occur. Make a rain dance, and it will rain. Pray for X, and you may get it (prayers are magical thinking). Human beings attempting to control the natural world.

Yet we do this faced with imminent or present death. But she does not adequately explore kinds of magical thinking (nor the dangers of atavistic behavior they bring), though she shows her wisdom in she defending those people who in need use magical thinking.

Joan, John, and Quintana at home

Other superficialities: She’s not deep about anything beyond these moments. Beyond no real truth-telling about troubles in her life, she presents hers as a life of utter privilege upper class American (she can commandeer a plane and helicopter to take her daughter across the US from California to NY), all the right schools are gone to by all three people (husband, wife, daughter). In the middle of the book she does not want to talk frankly about her family and its realities so she is without matter since she has no criticism to make of attitudes or the medical establishment either.

It reminds of Carolyn Heilbrun’s autobiographical essay in not being willing really to tell and like Heilbrun Didion presents her life as simply happy; Didion tells more but not enough so there’s nothing gripping. We hear of the dinners she goes to (with famous names dropped). She never questions the values that support her privileges; apparently she lived very conventionally inside a small circle of wealthy family and semi- and famous friends. Hints of darker interpretations here and there of their privileged lives, of antagonisms within her relationship with Dunne, especially from her husband’s remembered words, are left on the surface of the narrative. This problem did not arise in the earlier masterpieces (e.g., Salvador) since she was not personally involved.

Life-writing is demanding in ways many writers won’t submit to. They’re afraid – maybe rightly – of the public.

But then her strengths: her style is as marvelous as I remembered it (in Salvador). She never forgets the literal meaning of her words and so has quiet ironic fun with the language medical personnel use. At Xmas she is told Quintana “may not leave the table.” Of course she must leave the table; what she may not do is be taken off it alive. She makes quiet fun of the stilted euphemistic jargon language, the sticking to a high enough level of generality so nothing is acknowledged. Since contained in her words are a thoughtful critique of this language one can’t fault it, but looking at it tonight from my perspective I’d say she can do this since she did not suffer directly from it beyond the “mere” having useful information withheld, nothing explained. Neither she nor her husband were dependent on the medical community as except afterwards (and then he was dead).

It’s not many people who can write of their intimate thoughts while grieving. In the later parts of the books she talks of how she tried to compensate and cope; she speaks of her memories that were good and she helped me sitting there here in my workroom last night to try to relive happy memories. I mentioned some to my husband much later at night (3 am when we were in the front room) who was sitting across from me in his now usual half-stupor and bewildered, unconscious, hallucinating (from all the drugs he’s given for this and that) and he appeared to understand what I was saying. He smiled and corrected a song I said I liked from the 1970s which came to me at that moment as about us:

Only he attributed it to the The Who.

A Year of Magical Thinking is mostly a superb book, deeply felt in many ways, but what makes it is the feeling that what she tells of the traumatic incidents (three) in the book are literally authentic, true, how it happened and her usual bag tricks of style from her interest in literal and playful words (and names), in ironies, and ability to write windingly graceful involved kinds of sentences that are yet readable.


I did not know until I finished and looked at some reviews that Didion’s Quintana whose near-death experiences (two of them, frantic emergencies coming “out of the blue”) provide some ballast for her book — she can include the girl’s childhood through memory flashbacks too – her daughter died in a third seemingly bizarre episode before The Year of Magical Thinking was published. She would not change her book, but instead wrote about the daughter’s calamitous fatal experience of pancreatitis in her next book. I can’t help wondering if there are not aspects of her daughter’s situation that led to 2 times getting to the hospital nearly too late (the 3rd, in the book) is more than the result of errors and infections/blood clots caused by hospital people not doing or doing their job, in this case too cautiously.

So Blue Nights is about her loss of the daughter, an adopted only child. I’ve bought a copy for $3.45 despite several vows to buy no more books now that I’m not going to have someone with me to shoulder the burden of so many or read and use them together in a universal of our own making. I’ll get to it after Ekaterina Gordeva’s My Sergei, co- or ghost-written by E.M. Swift.

Ekaterina was left with a small daughter by Sergei: Daria


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