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Archive for the ‘novels of sensibility’ Category

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Elizabeth — she was not one to take risks

Dear friends and readers,

Would you believe this time I have had to cancel my second class? I was summoned by the City of Alexandria Court system, then called, and then left standing for jury duty. Two days gone.

So as I did last week, I am again putting my lecture notes on line and hoping to meet with my class on the following Monday and asking the class to read on through the second third of the novel. I preface this blog with one of my favorite shots of Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, by this time Warleggan (second season, 1977-78). Perhaps it will help my class envision her. The expression on the actress’s face is in a less-guarded moment. When I was on the Graham message board, Elizabeth’s name was my pseudonym (though I never hid behind it), this image my gravatar. Her character is a complex central presence in all 12 books even after she vanishes from its stage (The Angry Tide, Book 7).

Last week I covered Graham’s life, career, and three perspectives one could use to understand how Winston Graham came to write the Poldark novels in the way he did:  he was an outsider to the elite establishment of England when he was young, he identified with the underdog, the vulnerable, ordinary people, and he developed a deep attachment to Cornwall and interest in the past. I presented A Forgotten Story as a twin to Ross Poldark, a kind of dark mirror in which we see the same landscape, movement into the past, type characters (Patricia as a Verity-cum-Demelza), patterns of analogous events and trope (interest in rape, here boyhood), with both books still having an undertow of conventionality.

I thought before starting to discuss Ross Poldark together I’d ask if anyone else has read any of these books or others by Graham? Then say how I came to read and to love these books and ask how you found the first third of Ross Poldark.

The fantastic success of the first mini-series in the mid-1970s had made me to want to watch it by the 2000s. I had begun to publish on films, especially film adaptations of great books, and so bought a digitalized DVD and watched the first episodes – maybe 1-4. While I was charmed (especially with Robin Ellis), I felt that the series was somehow leaving out so much, particularly the background history, and had more depths to the characters (especially Francis Poldark). I felt something come through from the mini-series which I was missing.

So I bought the 1970s little volume with the picture of the coast and left-over mine shaft, all in green) as the cheapest I could get, not thinking I would really like them. I looked at a first edition and saw it was presented as see this past place through a window:

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This has become a collector’s item

The Poldark novels still don’t have a high reputation – as most historical fiction and romance today still doesn’t even if it gets prizes like the Booker (Mantel’s Wolf Hall). When they are not the target of prestigious coteries, they may be derided as swashbuckling or boys’ adventure stories or bodice rippers and “romance” (use as a term of contempt). Far from this, I found Ross Poldark to have real depths of perception for the characters, an author who wanted to delve a usable past to show us where we come from and talk to us about our present through this guise or framing. Politically and economically and socially serious books — in the Victorian-Edwardian tradition.

I kept reading them almost addictively – as I once did Trollope’s Palliser novels while I was watching the 1970s Palliser series on PBS on a black-and-white TV. I had read Trollope before, he had a high reputation, as one of the Victorian great novelists. I read through to Book 10 (The Loving Cup) and then turned back to the 1970s mini-series.

As I re-watched and went on, I saw the differences, some flaws, but also how well the film-makers had done it, that some of the decisions they made though they weakened and made stereotypical the characters were great dramatically, particularly the sequence in the film where Demelza seeks an abortion; the whole sequence in the film unlikely but appealing to people in the 1970s, and the ending of the first season, the 15th hour where the people of the district rise in rebellion against ruthless enclosure, destruction of their property – the 1790s in England mirrored the revolution in America and France, only it was savagely put down by Pitt. And that through their use of Cornwall itself, where they filmed, what they filmed, the opening and closing credits, the music, plus the scripts for nuanced scenes and actors who fit the roles as people imagined them they had reached the level of a mythic product.

This is a little different from most people who love the Poldark books recently – since the 1970s my experience is most people watch the series first and then read the novels. They thus read the novels through the series and they don’t think of the real immediate context of World War Two, nor do they look at the historical context of 1780s and 90s. They are willing to admit to a romance of Cornwall, and treat the novels almost as a invitation to a tourist and to be sure they are redolent of Cornwall – but about the particulars, the mining, the fishing, the land, the politics, and later in Demelza the smuggling and riots over abysmal poverty and exploitations, and then again in Jeremy Poldark, the politics, courts, and all sorts of things that are historically accurate and I find wonderfully well done are not much discussed. Our four essays (one by me) include one on Cornwall (point to it on the syllabus), two on the history (mine and Nickianne Moody – no relation though she also writes on popular books about medicine and medical films and I do too), and one on a novel theme connected to today: rape in the Poldark novels.

So my idea as I said in my blurb is to cover the novels of course but also go into these contexts. We’ll watch a little of the mini-series which closely mirrors parts of Demelza, and one rousing piece mirroring Jeremy Poldark – the scavenger riot, how it came about, the smuggling and why– but as ways of visualizing the books and enjoying film adaptation and its pleasures. I do long to go to Cornwall, to visit it for a couple of weeks because the series is spot on with the ways the film-makers film it.

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Historical Fiction

In Poldark’s Cornwall (I’ll bring next time to share the pictures), when he turns to his novels, Graham presents strongly the reality that a historical novel is the vision of the writer (p. 148). “If there is no personal view, there is no art.” He knows that historians downgrade the historical novel because it colors or shapes history. He does not himself go on to say historians do the same.

LauncestonGaol
Launceston Jail which figures in the novels: a 20th century photograph

Briefly, the downgrading happened at the turn of the century – early twentieth. In the Victorian period historical novels were valued more than novels set in present time. They were thought harder; they were seen as richly political books about serious issues, and were written mostly by men. That’s part of what happened. Women began to write historical novels and being women they did change the genre to have a strong element of love, subjective life and these books began to be derided. Daphne DuMaurier, another Cornish addict, is not really respected today, but she has had such a strong success that at least she is not erased from histories of historical fiction. Then when men wrote them – like Patrick O’Brien, these came to be seen as boys adventure stories; politics were omitted and all you had it was said was scenes like that where Ross Poldark beats out the Carne father and brothers in the first third of Ross Poldark. Boys’ magazines featured these kinds of stories, and to make them palatable to families buying magazines sex was presented somewhat childishly, not with real adult depth and understanding.

It is also true that the sceptical disillusioned philosophies of the early 20th century deeply distrusted the idea that we can know the past or put together a narrative which at all reflects this. Ironically Graham’s fiction shares this disillusion, but he does not work it into his story’s action and writes historical fiction in an old-fashioned coherent narrative, depth psychological-biographical memories way. The past is another country; they did things differently there, and books that are respected take this relativithy and unknowingness and subjecivity strongly into account and use it.

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A drawing from the 17th century of this Renaissance castle-fortress on the shores of Cornwall

To turn to the specific types of historical fiction, Graham described and his defense.

Graham says: “if he [the historical novelist] is good enough he creates a world of his own which the reader comes to inhabit and finds it comparable with life rather than identical with it.” He also works as hard as he can to make his fiction accurate enough without making it a wooden historical school survey in disguise. He says that in his autobiography – I quoted it in my first lecture.
Graham divides the kind into three types: those which use actual historical personages as chief characters (I Claudius); second where historical personages are substantial figures but main characters are fictional (Scott); third where the characters are “entirely, or almost entirely fictitious” (Stevenson, and of course his own; so too Margaret Mitchell I’d say). He says in the literature there is a tendency to rate the first and second types much higher than the third and this is “pretentious rubbish.” Fine novels, works of art, and truths about history occur in all three.

There is nowadays a fourth type: the historical novel which features a marquee character. The use of famous fictional characters out of copyright. Sometimes an author becomes a famous fictional character. So Sherlock Holmes might show up in a fiction set in the 1890s; Jane Austen becomes a fictional character in mystery stories.

What I really like are the final paragraphs in this section (p. 149). Human beings have not changed “but their reactions to life patterns” have and do, and the writer must understand and try to transmit these to the reader. There must be geographical truth too as setting is often essential to the art of the historical novel.

Of enormous importance is to “select” what historical fact you use. I paraphrase him here (quoting some of his words too): You must do a lot of intense homework and reading. It’s” tedious to enumerate all the sources” of the Poldark books, long hours of research to illuminate this or that event, into “old newspapers, travel books at the time, parochial history, manuals, autobiographies,” contemporary fictions. He then goes over a whole slew of events in the first few novels which are rooted in history and business and economics and politics and geology (p. 149). We’ll come back to this bit by bit as the novels call for it.

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The Bastille before it was taken down as depicted in an 18th century illustration: it looms over

He says there is “the opposite risk, that of becoming too preoccupied with history. One can so easily detect the midnight oil, the desire to instruct. But novels are about life.” So even if you are “reluctant,” once you have “discovered something at great trouble, not to make the most of it, resist that. Writing historical novels are a recurrent discipline where you use only what is relevant to the moment of the living fiction.” What is not relevant is irrelevant. (p. 150). Here is the key to difference of writing wooden stilted books and living breathing ones.

Do people here like historical novels? Anyone? Do you like films set in historical times? Can you say why?

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Ross Poldark.

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18th century gentry family playing checkers — Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845)

For today you were to read the first third; a brief outline-summary which assumes the reader has read the first third of Ross Poldark:

Elizabeth Chynoweth is important here, in this opening part and over the arc of all twelve books she is significant though she literally drops out at the end of book 7 (The Angry Tide); the taking in of Demelza, the first phase of Verity’s relationship with Captain Blarney (later renamed Blamey) so maybe Graham had ambivalent feelings about Blamey as wife beater, destroyer, and ex-alcoholic; Ross’s first attempts to secure a place and way of life once again on his land, the relationship with the Martins and Carters and his workers in general and with the gentry of which he is one. Personally he is much more comfortable with his tenants and mine workers, but he does have some deep friendships with gentry and members of his family. For my first online blog about this book I called Ross, the Revenant, and later, the abiding Renegade. Politically speaking he’s in French terms, a Girondist, a moderate reformer who wants a truly constitutional monarchy and representation in parliament in England and France.

That’s more liberal than the usual Whig: it is very much Fox’s position. Charles James Fox, famous head of the Whigs, never became prime minister but had power almost like it. Fox and Pitt are referred to: arch rivals with Pitt the Tory reactionary and Fox your liberal Whig. I’ve a review of a biography of Fox: David Powell‘s a man of the people: Fox as a man of genuine open-mindedness, real toleration and liberalism – Fox too (like Ross) was very unstereotypical in some parts of his lifestyle; Fox even married a woman who had been a prostitute, Ross is not as daring in next week’s chapters but he is doing something similar when he takes Demelza in

Prologue: Joshua and Charles Poldark and Joshua’s death.

Why is it effective to begin this way? Pp 1-10. Read the first paragraph or so.

I like the book for its tone and characters and outlook.  What kinds of things in the chapter help immerse us in the earlier time? Details of the setting which are not overdone. How about the relationship of Charles and Joshua? What is it? Who is Charles? Note how Graham slips in the history of the family, Ross’s boyhood so naturally. Of course the old man would remember back. You can work out the ages of all the major characters precisely. Ross was 10 when his mother died; he was the younger son, and he is 23 when he comes home.

Details come at opening of Chapter 4, p 66; we can begin to work out a family tree.

The level of people in the community and individuals who are interesting and believable emerge quickly. Note that Verity is the only one that has visited. Note Charles is embarrassed to talk about what has been happening.

What is troubling Joshua at this point? What does Charles hope for? What does Joshua count on?

There is a dark level to this that appeals deeply to me — as well as the kinds of ethical statements that naturally arise in the character’s thinking for he is a sound ethical man in his way. The younger man dies before the older; sense is he has lived richly and used himself up. But he has hurt others – world uttelry interdependent. When one man dies, it changes everyone, they may seem to be enacting the same roles but they are not. That’s one them of A Forgotten Story when Joe Veal dies – certainly wnen the boy, Anthony, loses his mother. (For those who have read the whole book, Ross, a revenant everyone thought dead.)

Opening chapters the carriage ride, pp 11-17 – again why is this a good device in a fiction? Note attention paid to weather, to the feel of the air, to all the objects around us. Why does Graham bring in a narrow mean character like Rev. Halse? There are people who don’t have a strong sense of self-esteem against this man.

What is his attitude towards Ross. He was insubordinate. How does Halse treat the American war? As a game.

What are some of the details we are told immediately about Ross? Taciturn, withdrawn, does not give himself away. He is lame.

Ross does not go home directly, but stops off first at a notary, a lawyer, very important man in the time, Nathaniel Pearce, pp 14-17 — he kept documents, if Ross wants to assert his reality, his place in the community, he’s got to have documents that give him legitimacy as well as property. Now this relationship is pleasant, not hostile, but Pearce like many people doesn’t work hard and does not take seriously what does not directly concern him. Pearce’s loyalty as we will eventually learn is not strong to his clients, but himself first. Nothing was left but the land and house and one non-working mine – the wondrous thing about Cornwall is people found they were walking on rising (neolithic stones and cliffs and waterways) and payable ground. Mining goes back to pre-history; we find trade routs from Cornwall to the Mediterranean. We’ll come back to this. I’ll have another short lecture like the one on historical fiction for each of our topics as well as books to recommend and online sites if anyone interested.

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Chavenage House as Trenwith

He comes to Trenwith and discovers he happens upon the engagement party of Elizabeth and Francis Poldark, the heir to the best property ? Pp 18-20. A powerful realization of these people – we believe in them all – or I do. Graham is big on aphorisms which capture ideas that are pungent; “Ill usage makes the sweetest of us vicious,” p 16. We might remember that ourselves today in reading about what others do in the news.

He discovers he had been presumed dead, the young woman he loved, was engaged to, is now engaged to the family heir, Francis. The Choakes, doctor and foolish wife. The Chynoweths, Mrs is eager to link her daughter to the safe heir of the family. After all this guy has gone off. What is Francis and Ross’s relationship to start off with – it was good and meaningful – the incident of Francis falling into the water anticipates and foreshadows much that is to come. What happens? Pp 40-46.

What do we learn about Elizabeth? I suggest that she is weak, swayed by a desire for security, not liking violence, not liking risk – she was portrayed very negatively in comparison to the character in the book as developed. She is a stickler for convention herself – how dare you speak about my mother this way? p. 12 at the wedding. Elizabeth is the type who will lie because it’s her mother; the book stands up for people who prefer to tell the truth or act according to it. She would not have taken a beaten waif in; she’d care more about her own troubles; she’d not have seen Jim Carter as a person with rights like herself.

And then home again home again, p 26: at last. Ross feels deeply the satisfaction pp 27-29 and yet so sick. What has happened? His house and land have been let go horribly. Very important characters in the early novels: Jud and Prudie Paynter. Who are they?

It may seem as if Jud treated with utter contempt and his derisory view of the world not accepted; but as book progresses Jud shows deeper loyalties than caring for a house when the chips are down, and his view of the world is partly strongly validated. The world; Taint fair, taint just, taint right.

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Aidan Turner as Ross just returned home

Chapter three, the world of Elizabeth and local aristocracy contrasted to working people – Jud and Prudie one type, a woman seen, his heart leaps: it’s Verity. P 34. What kind of person is Verity? Her relationship with Ross. My college students called her a female Ross. Does that seem right in some way?

I love the scene of them walking along on the hill, pp. 35-37. “They reached the edge of the cliff … “ It would help more than anything if she were to come and be with him, befriend him – 37. What counts in life is before us beautifully.

He uses the phrase “rising ground,” each of the Martins are shown in their social and economic roles . P 39 .What is Mrs Martin worried over? Reuben Clemmov is in effect beginning to stalk Jinny, spaller – she works on the surface lighter work separately out ore from junk, washing it, shaping it to some extent

Then Francis apologetic, wants to make Ross understand — but Ross can’t, p 44 – too fierce. But also knows deep pain, p 53 – it’s the death in his heart he feels. Engagements were understood to include a certain level of sex and we are left to guess what that level was. The word “virginal” is used of Elizabeth’s looks, but it’s not clear because they both know they went farther in emotion and physical life than that. Ross is partly responsible for this foreshadowing of Francis’s fate

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Ross rescuing Clive Francis as Francis who comes near drowning

Pp. 45-54- the wedding, the types there. What do they do? A cock fight. We see how carelessly cruel people can be – Warleggan’s cock gets a claw in its head and he does not allow it to die but to suffer agonies p 52. Aunt Agatha unexpectedly shows appreciation of this.

Our first look at the Warleggans, p 53 – what a name.

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Robin Ellis as Ross dancing with Ruth Teague

Chapter 5, pp 55-68 – the importance of this assembly is that here Ross hits rock bottom for the first time, a nadir in which he looks out at the world deeply bitterly and asks himself in effect if this is where he wants to be. He comes up with no, and he’ll give life alone as a farmer at first a go, and goes out to market and there meets Demelza – phase two — she is like a stray kitten rescued.

The mini-series did try to show this but they didn’t show the woman Margaret properly – they romanticized her and Ross. She is what she is, surviving as best she can and hangs on to Ross as she knows he is in need of something

Verity has become central to his existence for now and she asks a favor, she needs someone to take her, he drifts into old ways, what else is there? We see his deep camaraderie with men of lower class origins, with physical world, pp 57-58. What’s good about this is again it gives Graham a chance to make this world vivid, fleshly, full of water, sand, fish, people – the lower orders.

Then courteous fun – or dancing – the surface. The troubles people have is just ours: Verity can’t think what to talk of, she hasn’t got small talk – so her pigs and poultry are no more available than Blarney’s sailing or talk of mines –, p 61. The details are from historical research but they have been used as if the people were here and now.

Again Ross means to be nice to a girl who appeals to him because not so full of herself, seems sweet, but what he is not thinking of is how he will be grabbed – marriage is a woman’s career. He cannot see that in fact Ruth is tenacious and has an aggressive nasty streak – that’s why she stands out in part, pp 63-65

The same goes for Margaret’s coming up to Ross. He was not going to go with her until Elizabeth arrives, and it’s with Francis and Warleggans from their fancy house. Ross can’t cope with seeing this. He deserts poor Verity but luckily she was planning to stay with a local woman friend. P 67

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Ross’s first sight of Demelza (Angharad Rees in the role) trying to rescue her dog, and being beaten

Second phase: the coming of Demelza: extraordinary: how he saves her out of decent feeling, and how she almost loses out because she won’t desert her dog. In fact she was involved in the physical mayhem because she was protecting Garrick.

Garrick was the name of a beloved dog owned by the Grahams who had part of its tail missing. Very hard to film before computer enhancement. I’m just bowled over by the truthful depction of humanity from pp 70-84 – the best, the worst, what we often see.

How they organize themselves into different levels of sale. What people do to entertain themselves – it includes cruel freak shows.

The core the meeting with the child and his behavior to her – she has never had such disinterested kindness before. Now we get a second consciousness. Up to now we have had Ross and Graham our narrator, now we begin to see the world out of Demelza’s eyes. A child but a child who is smart and has known the worst, pp 82-84

Ross needs to buy animals to work his farm and goes to a monthly large fair in Truro. Such fairs were held and we get a remarkably lively description of such a place. But there is no sense of feeding information or the kind of sentence which so often introduces this sort of thing. Instead we are wholly in his mind with his troubles and his reactions and see only those parts of the fair that are of interest to him, where he goes. Graham writes these details in a suggestive way which gives us suggestions of the larger place: there are three areas to the fair, a heavy-duty expensive one for animal purchase, feed, implements; another for smaller goods, pots and pans, household stuff, scattered everywhere stuff for fishing, mining, crafts and so on. He does his business and is tired and goes on to a third area where drink, food and entertainment is to be found. More sordid stuff goes on here, and among other things he sees cock-fighting (which we witness at his cousin Poldark’s wedding to his ex-beloved Elizabeth) and then two animals, a dog and cat tied to together with something to hurt them and tease them and all the people around enjoying this.

Well of course yuk. We are told Ross likes children and so when a young girl hurls herself against these animals to free the dog, becuase it’s her dog, and for her pains is the victim of stones and kicks and curses and mockery, he rescues her. What a mess she is — not unrealistic, half starved, filthy and has been beaten by her father and/or brothers recently. He gives her a good meal and is going to dismiss her but remembers he needs a maid of all and hard work. As yet he has but three servants to help him bring his house back to order. So he offers to take her. He likes her and she him — but they half-quarrel over her dog who she wants to bring. He almost gets rid of her at one point because he knows this will bring him trouble, but then she will come cheap and clearly wants and needs to escape an awful home. Bringing her home, he puts her in a big bed of the kind she never usually gets. It’s here the abilty of the novelist comes out. No sense of us being taught what a box bed was but rather we enter Demelza’s mind as she goes to sleep in this half-built house.

He tries to contact a lawyer over what to do about her, but is thwarted and her father and brother show up two mornings later. A fight ensues — yes swash bucklnig for our hero beats three men with the help of his servant, but it’s realistic too. Reminded me of scenes of Billy Booth duelling in Amelia. The same male stupidities are presented (Graham thought knows they are and does not enter into them quite the way Fielding does). Really the old man is willing to sell the girl for 50 guineas. They bargain in the end and Ross offers to give the old man her salary and he will himself provide food and clothes and whatever education she might want.

Elizabeth is characterized as inadequate in deep way: no you must put the child back, you don’t want trouble. Right .A wonderful aphorism later by Ross is if you allow the world’s prudence to control you you won’t live right – Elizabeth again and again will make these sort sof choices. Are they so bad?
When he fights the Carnes, he is fighting this world, the foul beating man but also getting out his anger – kraken wrath at Elizabeth having said she does not love him. Well she doesn’t. Much later – in Warleggan he tells Demelza she is incapable of much love of anyone – she will love her son by Francis. She does not have the depths to help Francis become the man he could have been – his father despised and controlled him, and she sits at a distance, accepting him on the surface qualities, appreciating his kindness and understanding but not loving it and reciprocating.

The motif which binds these segments in the film visually and archetypally is that of the revenant. Again and again Ross leaves to go to a war, to rescue someone, he is driven away, missing, believed dead, and then returns — from the time of the marriage welcomed joyfully by his (often pregnant) wife. There are a cornucopia of shots in this vein. In the books I discover he is a wanderer again and again, restless, dissatisfied. Not the same as a revenant at all.

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Full length still: Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza growing up

This last part of Book One tells of Demelza growing up, slowly educating herself in Ross’s library, becoming part of the working household; how he does begin to buy her pretty girl things (like a cape and pelisse) but as yet sees her as a child. At the same time ugly rumors fly about how he’s keeping her. That he ignores this shows his character — a real arrogance some would call it; he just won’t listen to cant or let it control his existence. He will pay for this. Demelza will of course probably too – and she does. But her nature and time and Ross’s eventual business success – -begins in Warleggan win out.
Chapters 8-10 bring us Demelza growing up, a depictions of Jim Carter whose good and true nature wins Ross over too much, and his attempt to help them. This comes out of a slow build up of a depiction of mining which I’ll give a lecture on next week or the one after.

He visits Treneglos to see if he can work the mine that is on property lines they share, p 102. His one hope is to find copper or tin in a mine:

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1814 picturesque illustrations of a mining site in St. Agnes, Cornwall

Demelza growing up, p 104-5 –- we see this not from her point of view because Graham wants us to see things she cannot as yet. She is gifted intellectually and musically; she is optimistc, she throws herself into the lives of others and makes all better for all.

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The 1970s Jinny and Jim Carter marrying upon Ross offering them a cottage rent-free

What is the story of Jim Carter’s life – father died young and because of this he could not go to school, and now he is getting a bad disease. Pp 106-7: future was fearful – he knew death could come, but now without help he cannot afford to marry. He would be a protection against Clemmow

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Norma Streader as Verity asking Ross to come and talk and then she asks him to help her meet Blamey at Nampara

Ends on the beginning of Verity’s tragic years: We will see Verity, the sister of Francis, Ross’s beloved cousin and friend (she visits him regularly) deprived of the man she loves: Captain Blarny (Blamey in the film and Blamey as of Demelza). Blamey is feared by Verity’s father and brother because he was responsible for his wife’s death; he did beat or kick her once when she was pregnant and she went into a miscarriage and died, and for this he went to prison for two years. He has paid for the crime, sworn off drink (and keeps off it), and she loves him and we see he is decent and congenial.

If it were that Graham is urging us not to keep punishing people, I’d sympathize but in each case where this is the moral we shall see it is often a case of a man raping, beating, somehow badly abusing a woman. And it’s always justified by her bad behavior which never seems to emerge in violence on her side. We are told Mrs Blamey did not keep a good home for the Captain, nagged him &c

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For anyone interested here is my first blog essay on the whole book: Ross Poldark, Revenant

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

If you are into historical films, costume dramas, mini-series, TV films, 19th to early 20th century classic and serious novels as adapted by British TV, this book should be just your thing.

Cover

I, for one, find Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Lady Grantham’s outfit irresistible: that soft blue color, the light velvety texture of the dress, the pearls, the long white gloves, not to omit the pearls peeking out of her bun matching her long strand and her tiara and that worried consulting look on her face as she talks to Jim Carter as the eternal butler-steward, solver of all problems, Mr Carson — perfectly poised as epitomizing costume drama.

Here is The Table of Contents:

Yes mine is among the essays — on Andrew Davies’s adaptations of Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now — but note this is a collection that begins in the 1960s, covers costume drama, British TV and thematic British issues generally across the second half of the 20th century; and the Edwardian and post World War I novel. It’s not just Poldark to Downton Abbey:

Foreword
Jerome de Groot
Acknowledgments
Introduction
James Leggott and Julie Anne Taddeo

Part I: Approaches to the Costume Drama

1 Pageantry and Populism, Democratization and Dissent: The Forgotten 1970s — Claire Monk
2 History’s Drama: Narrative Space in “Golden Age” British Television Drama — Tom Bragg
3 “It’s not clever, it’s not funny, and it’s not period!”: Costume Comedy and British Television — James Leggott
4 “It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion”: British Costume Drama, Dickens, and Serialization — Marc Napolitano
5 Never-Ending Stories?: The Paradise and the Period Drama Series — Benjamin Poore
6 Epistolarity and Masculinity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope Adaptations — Ellen Moody
7 “What Are We Going to Do with Uncle Arthur?”: Music in the British Serialized Period Drama — Karen Beth Strovas and Scott M Strovas

Part II: The Costume Drama, History, and Heritage

8 British Historical Drama and the Middle Ages — Andrew B. R. Elliott
9 Desacralizing the Icon: Elizabeth I on Television — Sabrina Alcorn Baron
10 “It’s not the navy-we don’t stand back to stand upwards”: The
Onedin Line and the Changing Waters of British Maritime Identity —
Mark Fryers
11 Good-Bye to All That: Piece of Cake, Danger UXB, and the Second World War — A. Bowdoin Van Riper
12 Upstairs, Downstairs (2010-2012) and Narratives of Domestic and Foreign Appeasement — Giselle Bastin
13 New Developments in Heritage: The Recent Dark Side of Downton “Downer” Abbey — Katherine Byrne
14 Experimentation and Postheritage in Contemporary TV Drama:
Parade’s End — Stella Hockenhull

Part III: The Costume Drama, Sexual Politics, and Fandom

15 “Why don’t you take her?”: Rape in the Poldark Narrative — Julie Anne Taddeo
16 The Imaginative Power of Downton Abbey Fan Fiction — Andrea Schmidt
17 This Wonderful Commercial Machine: Gender, Class, and the Pleasures and Spectacle of Shopping in The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge — Andrea Wright
18 Taking a Pregnant Pause: Interrogating the Feminist Potential of
Call the Midwife — Louise FitzGerald
19 Homosexual Lives: Representation and Reinterpretation in Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey — Lucy Brown
20 Troubled by Violence: Transnational Complexity and the Critique of Masculinity in Ripper Street –Elke Weissmann

Index
About the Editors and Contributors

I could wish there were more here, more on the intermediary stages, the important film adaptations of the 1980s (Brideshead was typical of that decade), and the movement into TV at the time of serious cinema film-makers (e.g., My Beautiful Laundrette), but the way to read more books on this area, is by buying and or reviewing this one. I can’t as an interested party. But as I did for my essay on “Intertexuality in Simon Raven’s The Pallisers and other Trollope films” in Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, edd. Abigail Burnham Bloom and Mary Sanders Pollock, I’ll keep an eye out for reviews and link them in as well as myself read this collection and report back anything which seems to call out for special attention.

Ellen

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Jonny Lee Miller as the creature desperately trying to bring an exhausted Bernard Cumberbatch as Frankenstein back to life on the ice

Dear friends and readers,

Yes, I’ve just returned from watching the version of Nick Dear and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein where Miller is the creature and Cumberbatch Frankenstein. The moviehouse had the version where Cumberbatch is the creature and Miller Frankenstein on Monday night. I didn’t know. Next year if my local HD theater repeats this duo, I’ll be sure and see Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as Dr Frankenstein.

Not that I was at all disappointed: I have known since watching Miller in an episode of Prime Suspect (and in the difficult roles of Edmund Bertram in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 MP and Mr Knightley in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma) what a versatile, effective, deeply feeling compelling actor he is. In this intelligent adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel (and the novel is kept in mind throughout), the creature is far more central to the action and consciousness of the play than his creator. We see his birth from his point of view,

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Jonny Lee Miller as the monster being born

how he moves bewilder through a landscape of powerful machines and cruel people, to happening on the French family escaped from injustice and the kindness of the blind old scholar, De Lacey (Karl Johnson gets some comedy out of this role) to him, in succouring him, teaching him,

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so (except for Frankenstein’s horrified rejection of his creature and abandonment of him) it is a long time before before Cumberbatch returns to the stage. And Frankenstein is the far less astonishing presence, even if central to the emotional action-reaction at play’s center

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein pushing away from him what he has done

I’d just like to see how different would be the feel and meaning in the reversal; according to Michael Billington of The Guardian, considerable.

What Dear and Boyle did was pare down the novel to its doppelganger, and in their characters, their talk, their relationship all the themes of Mary Shelley are drawn out. Some of the matter is lost: the depiction of larger social injustice is not there and so the instinctive fears and savagery of human beings to one another is not outweighed; much of Frankenstein’s life and relationships: the depiction of education (critiqued), how Frankenstein began to try to recreate life partly in reaction to his mother’s death; his arrogance and lack of responsible behavior to others, the intense distrust of science. Frankenstein is someone not social (of course a no no), going off on his own. The emphasis of this twist is so 21st century. The role of Elizabeth is made to enact socialableness (a new word), responsibility, an attempt at kindness towards the creature, and that natural ways trump egoistic artifice. Naomi Harris is effective in the hard role in both versions (a side note, she played the black heroine to Cumberbatch’s white anti-hero in Small Island). ElizabethCreature

I suppose what is so compelling is the dialogue between the two, what’s said, but one is exhilarated even in a movie version by the staging, the use of machinery, the pivotal stage, the symbolic way each phase of the story is presented — matching the fantasy aspects of the story (for it is fantasy). I’ve been to the National Theater in London (with Jim) and seen a number of these creative productions: Aeschylus trilogy comes to mind, Henry IV part 2 (Michael Gambon as Falstaff), and at home on Bravo, the Yorkshire Mystery Plays. The material from Shelley is gothic, but the conventions here eschew anything like film noir or horror/slash movies. it’s really an intimate one-on-one play (not so different in this from say the Fly episode of Breaking Bad where we get a similar intense interaction for an hour between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Mr White and Jesse respectively, with bodies entangled eventually too).

One of the best reviews is that of Paul Taylor of the Independent, only he is wrong to say the play ends so differently from the novel. Yes at the close of Shelley’s novel it seems the creature immolates himself on a pyre on a slab of ice, while Frankenstein expires in Walton’s ship but it seems to me this dying is not what is important: it is the the pursuit and the insight (emphasized by Shelley in her text) that the two creatures to live on are forever intertwined in their hatred and (due to Frankenstein) thwarted love.

He lives for my destruction. I live to lead him on

I haven’t any shots of Frankenstein pulling his sled after the creature (nor of Andrea Padurariu as the Female Creature Frankenstein is drawn to himself, but destroys), but I do of the creature’s desperation when he thinks Frankenstein may have died, and his loving attempt to bring Frankenstein back to life so they can up and move on again (see still at top). In this one the director had Michelangelo’s famous image of God and Adam in mind:

Michelangelgo

Ice is central to the gothic and among the additions to Shelley’s vision, is that of body snatchers: the uses of corpses, poor people’s remains is brought out in comic pragmaticism when in Scotland Dr Frankenstein pays two Scots peasants to bring him materials. I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher.

Perhaps Dear congratulated himself too much on having given the creature back his voice, for Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 production of Frankenstein (screenplay Steph Lady, and Frank Darabout, producer Francis Ford Coppola) with Robert De Niro as the monster and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and a bride-monster of Frankenstein, had an equally articulate poignant presence for the monster. Dear and Boyle learned from Branagh and De Niro.

It was a production and is now a film which shows how transcendent and variable the gothic can be. The New York Times critic made fun of it — a paradoxical measure of its transcendence (the monster is alive and peeved!) It’s very effective in this film production – – where they do intersperse some stills from the 1931 Whale Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff), but for once I will concede that I was aware how much more charged it must be to have been in the theater. I don’t often feel this in the HD operas which are directed for film; this is a play taking advantage of all the techniques and stagings possible nowadays of a theater in the round and live stage.

It’s worth while to listen to Dear’s description of a many year project and the book as providing a contemporary creation myth:

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been in the habit of treating the presentations I’ve heard over the last months at the Washington Area Print Group (a subdivision of the Sharp society) in rooms in the Library of Congress on my Sylvia blog (e.g., a talk on Writing with Scissors) as part of a diary, but thought the topic of this talk sufficiently germane to the terrain of this blog as it’s developed (see The Way We Watch TV Now) to warrant summary and commentary here.

Prof Metcalf developed an aspect of his book, the relationship of technology and economics with the kind of narrative that appears on TV. so the burden of his song was: Changes in technology and economics within TV have changed the way TV is made and how we experience it. He delivered his talk entertainingly — accompanied by many many stills.

He began with what TV was and had shots of older TVs in their wooden furniture. In the 1950s TV represented a central threat to the film industry, whose first ploys were teen films, big spectacles and 3-D movies. TV sold its product as one safe for a family in its private living room; the language was that the program was invited into this sanctuary. TV was radio with pictures and sought to reinforce culutral values of the family. In the US its purpose was to provide eyes and ears to watch and to see commercials.

A central writer for US TV at the time was Paul S. Newman who understood the particular format of TV programs meant characters couldn’t undergo transformation over a season as this would be disruptive and defeat the repeated expectation of sameness. He was superb at writing a structure not easy to do: you must produce a segment which moves to a peak at its end, yet at the same time be self-enclosed; you must avoid lulls because at any time the person can switch using the remote. Admittedly this structure does not necessarily make for great art (an understatement).

The BBC developed differently. It was paid for by millions of individuals who had licenses to watch TV, so it was commercial free. Its aims were education, elevation and entertainment. Traditional theater could appear on British TV much more easily; its purse was to question. There developed a tradition of challenging the audience. Programs were not meant to be re-used, re-run. In the US each program was developed with the idea of endless re-use. Total contrast.

The first long-form TV came from PBS and Masterpiece theater, which Metcalf thought unfortunate. He called British costume drama boring for most people, staid. He never mentioned any specifically after that. It was a commercial channel which offered a model others could follow: Hill Street Blues. Male soap operas. (
For myself I love the PBS costume drama format and disagree fundamentally with Metcalf: these have been influential for good art. What is the problem is Metcalf speaks for the male viewer without awareness of this.)

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The cast of Hill Street Blues, all men but two and these women dressed to look like men

People (he should have said “men”) were invited to watch the suffering of men. A typical episode would have the on-going A story (over the arc of the season), within the episode a story which concludes, and 3 other shorter on-going stories (B, C, and D, generally taking 3 episodes). He named a series of male-centered programs — like so many film critics I’ve encountered (many of them men), most of what he then cited was masculinist, not to say (not admitted) misogynist stuff. He also cited Wise Guy, The Fugitive. You need the mythos (the ongoing myth) and free standing episodes within that. Like others he then credited Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective (Michael Gambon) as quietly influential ever after. It used the situation comedy of the hospital ward as developed in British TV. He mentioned The Sopranos. These are versions of instalment publication (began in Victorian era). I suggested that Breaking Bad had departed from this in having one long story with two parallel heroes for 42 episodes. That’s part of what made it powerful and great art.

He also talked of the influence of the “concept album,” where all the music centered on coherent themes. At the same time itunes and downloading enable viewers to select a segment or episode or single song to listen to. We’ve moved back from the album concept to the single. What happened in the CD world (especially MTV) influenced what happened in the mini-series TV and DVD worlds.

What changed this situation? First, the cable companies who offered good and recent movies (“premium”), and in the 1980s in both Hollywood and the UK films were transformed by new ideals, technologies, independence. Prof Metcalf thought the advent of remote control devices next pushed writers into writing segmented TV: the point is to allow switching back and forth. (Which I dislike; once I sit down to watch a program I mean to watch that program until it’s done.) Then the VCR player ($1389) which allowed people to tape say the HBO movie. But this cannot compete with the DVD — which allows the film-makers to market their product divided up into serving sizes. You can curate your own TV. Many people now have a movie screen on their wall for their TV watching so they are imitating a movie experience.

The talk became more original when he began to talk of what the DVD has done to movies. For example, what is the authoritative version of a movie? You can buy Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad in a huge box with the hour-long episodes with commentary on, with deleted scenes, with features showing how an episode was made, what were the aims of the film-makers, and an alternative ending. I mentioned that I had bought Michael Winterbottom’s 6 part Trip to Italy to discover that the film-maker had gathered all the deleted scenes and then arranged them thematically to provide another half-hour of programming. A DVD in effect can be seen as providing manuscripts of the programs as well as later polished versions. They are packaged to look like books, to sit on shelves in a bookcase. Prof Metcalf suggested that the DVD which provides the largest amount of programming is what is seen as authoritative. We are paying more attention to screenplays as these are published and we can gather the precise lay out and emotional structure, study dialogue and description, montage. Very gradually both US and UK TV began the practice of hiring stars to shore up long-form stories.

The way we watch TV changed the TV we watch. The mini-series are now manufactured with DVDs and DVD watching in mind.

To some extent the talk degenerated at this point because he and the audience began to talk of favorite mini-series, which (again) were mostly masculinist, most of them produced for commercial TV. This reminded me of how in other places I’ve been women are unwilling to criticize the violence and misogyny of computer games, will let the men take over discussing football — for there were as many women in the audience as men. Implicitly the BBC and PBS took a beating, which brought home to me how many of these sorts of programs are aimed at women or at least have the female audience at least as much in mind. Many of the series were clearly highly violent. Three aggressive looking males on the covers of the DVDs.

But as he talked the BBC and British programming emerged as centrally providing quality to imitate and modify to an American model. He differentiated between mini-series that had a single person controlling the vision, and that still happens in British TV where a single author or at most 3 authors will write the scripts and the script writer become the organizing linchpin of what is done) and one that was the result of a fluid team of people. He also talked of how now that the soap operas has become a province for male suffering, comedy is a place for women to vent and expose issues of concern to them (Sex and the City, Nurse Betty).

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This promotional shot justifies Laura Mulvey’s famous paper about how film caters to the male gaze

American TV stopped in the 1950s but British TV continues to present live performances from the theater. The acerbic British TV sitcom may be regarded as dropped into melodrama to produce modern versions of say Sherlock Holmes. Someone mentioned how the rape story in the Downton Abbey fourth season outraged people; Metcalf was interested in how such an incident often covers but 3 episodes.

Some series especially praised and discussed: The Wire, for women and men, The Gilmore Girls (this appears to be a blend of screwball comedy and melodramatic romance, reminding me of Austen films). Clive Owens in Knick, a Steve Sodenberg product: Sodenberg did everything but write the screenplay and act in the series. Metcalf noted that again and again if you watch an individual episode it may seem funny, light, but when you watch the arc of the season, the series comes out as more serious, at times implicitly tragic (or explicitly as Breaking Bad). The good do win or if they go down to defeat we feel for them and there is sensitivity to beauty. These citations did bring out how often a Network or producer will cancel a mini-series that seems to be doing so well, getting so much praise. Why? the audience demographics are too old: they will not buy the products. The show is there for the commercials. The corporations making these are not content with modest or high profits; they want huge ones. (This is the sort of thinking that did in the rentals of books-on-tape and the choices of middle-brow excellent books not best-sellers nor high prestige old classics.) Lost leaders are programs which are made to attract people knowing they will make less money, but gather an audience who will remain loyal to the station for a while.

I enjoyed the talk though recognized the skewed nature of the presentation (of the examples). Afterward when a group of us went over to a restaurant to have dinner together the talk really did stay on the topic, on the TV people watch and how they watch. In this group many watched TV on their computers, as part of Netflix or streaming deals. When it did get down to what people really watched among this group, it was late night viewing (after all work was done and the person could do no more) of less avante garde popular shows. Metcalf said he watches all his viewing on his computer on some special channel where he can reach programs and movies made in a variety of countries across the decades.

What am I watching late at night just now? Ken Taylor’s Jewel in the Crown out of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, directed and produced by Christopher Morahan.

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Susan Woolridge as Daphne Manners the raped heroine

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Art Malik as Hari Kumar, the deeply betrayed unjustly treated hero – it made his career

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Charles Dance and Geraldine James as our traditional white couple

These brilliant 1970s series didn’t make it into Prof Metcalf’s narrative …. This would include the 74 Pallisers (a Simon Raven product) and Poldark (written by several people and it departs a lot in sexual detail and the ending from the books, but directed and produced by the same men) — both ran on US TV in the same year. The book of essays coming out on BBC costume historical drama which includes mine on Andrew Davies’s two adaptations of Trollope novels credits the 1967 Forsyte Saga and its popularity with starting the long decades of making such films, recently fallen off here in the US because of lack of money — so one gets thrillers instead. Downton Abbey has not been enough to re-start the engine for making mini-series from classic books. It is itself not an adaptation after all. The Singing Detective actually belongs to this narrative too.

But it was nonetheless instructive to listen to (Prof Metcalf knows a lot about TV) and I wish I could afford the book.

Ellen

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There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall … Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising … I was a stage rebel, Orwell a true one — Cyril Connolly, The Enemies of Promise

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Isaac Cruickshank, Royal Extinguisher or Gulliver Putting out Patriots

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Dear Friends and Readers,

This is the second half of my summary and commentary on Johnston’s Unusual Suspects (see Parts 1-4). This part of Johnston’s book will probably be more familiar territory to those who have read novels of the romantic and regency period, as well as their milieu and development (say in Gary Kelly’s survey). As women who wrote on behalf of radical ideas, 18th century versions of feminism, or reform were given a much rawer response than men, and there were automatically suspect nations (Chapters 7 & 8 of Part 4), so the novel was a suspect genre (Chapter 9). Johnston treats the novel from a political angle to suggest that the novel was not allowed to develop in ways that contextualize what is happening with a real understanding of social forces: publishers were prosecuted; what you wrote affected your career. In Scott’s attack on Bage we see female liberation allowed no play whatsoever. Johnston then moves into the silencing at the end of the 1790s: the destruction of Gilbert Wakefield was at the time understood as an example of what happens when a writer practices liberty of speech, freedom of the press. He uses Mackintosh to show what a man did who wanted to carry on; to see Mackintosh crudely as an apostate is not to see what happened.

We then follow a trail beginning with a man spying on Coleridge and Wordsworth and see how suspicion, the manufacturing of alarm, class and ethnic disdain operated on known individuals. I found these short biographies contained surprises: these were lives reseen by looking at the evidence used in previous studies from a new angle; that of how justified paranoia (they did have enemies) and ostracism shaped these peoples’ lives and a genuine humane sympathy with their politics. Johnston makes these people’s lives and choices make sense: the people are Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey (he is especially insightful on Southey’s earlier radicalism), Lamb (on his brands of irony), Burns and Blake (how class disdain operates in both cases). The individual chapters are much longer and I include and link to some readings of the works (e.g., Wordsworth’s Borderers, Southey’s Letters from England, Lamb’s “Praise of Chimney Sweeps”) that Johnston just mentioned without going into.

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Chapter 9: Suspect Genres, the Novelist who was not: Robert Bage (1728-1801)

Johnston looks at the traditional genres, poetry, plays and the new one, novels for general effects from the political conflicts of the era. Story-lines were not allowed development, attitudes were castigated and ridiculed. Among the periodical set up to monitor the literature of the age the most important was the Anti-Jacobin (1798-99) which was very successful in achieving its aims of stopping people from writing clear protest poetry, and when they did, framing what they wrote as absurd, unacceptable, unpatriotic. Keats was hurt, Southey changed course; Coleridge and Wordsworth moderated themselves; others fled to Italy. Thomas Holcroft was a major victim. Plays were shouted off stage, censored in publications (the author not named); publishers arrested and made wary. Johnston sees this process as a destruction of what genres could have been like, one which marginalized potentially great practitioners. In the area of the novel the anti-jacobin novels won, Austen & Scott produce the respected paradigms; Bronte kind of rebellion romantic in feeling is not political or economic in ideology; Byron was silenced.

Robert Bage was a man rare for providing any ideological content, and one of those attacked by the Anti-Jacobin.

Godwin visits in June 1797; Bage was self-educated, admires Holbach, has friendships with Priestley and dissenting people; author of Man As He Is (a jaded aristocrat), and Hermsprong, Man As He Is Not (an American republican). Bage was a businessman running paper and flour mills who found war got in his way, he did have a long term contract but raw materials hard to get; long term contract supplying Hutton, in Birminghan, a friend and dissenter with paper. Long time association with Birmingham, Priestley crowd.

Johnston makes it clear Bage a reformer not a revolutionary in his first four novels. But what he did present was harangued against by Scott. Bage had departed from middle class novel norms by in one novel allowing a young woman who has made a romantic/sexual mistake to be rehabilitated into society. Scott explicitly wrote that ruined women must be stigmatized; in another a heroine prefers the harem to death; one heroine defends herself with a pair of scissors. Man as He Is expands out particular criticisms to suggest wider changes by gov’t policy. Johnston quotes Bage’s books to great effect and we get the dry witty quality of Bage’s strong critiques of corruption, war. Bage published anonymously; he was not interested in a writing career. Johnson argues that Bage’s revealing his last hero a aristocrat shows reader that such a title and money allows tiny minority of people to escape punishment, grow rich.

The gov’t of the day harassed him by excise taxes (directed to war); overcharged he gets his materials back only to have them seized again; he feels the effects of this constant harassment and interruption of his business; at one point he wrote he would like hanging himself. In reprints of his works Barbauld takes him to task for going against received notions and norms; Scott reprints worst Bage’s novels. We know that Austen had a copy of Hermsprong in 1796, in time for some influence. Johnston remarks how critics, and film makers today try to bring to bear in her novels positions only mentioned minimally by her and centrally by Bage. Conservative paradigms, Austen’s and Scott’s predominate by the end of the era; the effect of Barbauld’s collection.

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A University of Victoria theater production of Endgame

Part 5: End-games. Endgame as a title is an allusion to Beckett’s play; its literal meaning refers to when the game is called to a half, the last of the chess pieces so this is exemplified by the prosecution of Wakefield for daring to argue with the Bishop of Llandaff; his incarceration utterly unjust. Mackintosh stands in as the representative of radical disillusionment.

Chapter 10: The End of Controversy: Gilbert Wakefield (1756-1801). Wakefield exemplifies the book’s thesis: he died as a result of absolutely unjust incarceration after acareer as a controversialist who made the mistake of rising to broad principles in his attack on complacent bishop of Llandaff, Richard Watson, a bland, condescending sycophant (the David Brook of his day?). Before this, Wakefield had done battle with several people and used religious language. Wakefield did things like attack the war, Pitt and Grenville, and show how false is the idea that sedition in the UK is everywhere.

Wakefield had had a career among the dissenters, as a controversialist; would attack notion it was sinful not to go to church (thus exposing worship is social worship); he went further than his 6 central theses (includes idea that alliance of church and state is a fraud). He argued that the prosecution of the reform movement was meant to silence opposition to foreign and domestic policies. His defense was his peaceable scholarly character, his friends in high places, that the trial itself is wrong – irony he was visited by known and famous people and yet they could do nothing for him.

He was forced to be in jail for a long time before trial; put in Dorchester way outside where he came from and notorious for bad conditions; then put into solitary confinement for 16 hours day. All sorts of famous friends visited him. His great Juvenilian poem in appendix; most imitations are conservative in thrust, not his.

Wordsworth has him partly in mind in his planned Recluse, the “Solitary” figure: that outline of Wordsworth’s early career resembles that of Wakefield only Wordsworth didn’t publish (only is too weak a word).

Chapter 11: The Great Apostate: Judas, Brutus, or Thomas? James Mackintosh (1765-1832). I did not find this chapter as convincing: Mackintosh did not hurt as much and was following his own character and tendencies throughout. He did not change all that much. Mackintosh was always currying favor, trying to to build a career; e.g., when he left Scotland as a doctor; first he tries to make connections with all the main liberal editors, reformers, he failed. His original fame came from a polemic against Burke defending French revolution, Vindiciae Gallicae, strong but not as available linguistically as Paine’s. Hazlitt is quoted, but Hazlitt’s sketch shows Mackintosh to have been an academic intellectual at heart (eg. Discourse on Study of Law and Nations). He had attacked Pitt for abandoning reform in A letter to R.Hon. Wm Pitt, on his Apostacy. Pitt turned this around to be against reform itself. Pitt’s target and legislation a “free form vigilantism against anyone who wrote, or sol, liberal material of any stripe.” Mackintosh wrote that Pitt’s aim was to subsidize European monarcihes to overthrow the French, evoking from French our country is in danger (a levee en masse).

But after the execution of Louis XVI, Mackintosh found his name was used as a bad associate to have. Johnston himself resorts to a kind of coy arch talk about careerism as explanation for why Mackintosh’s Discourses offended; Hazlitt said Mackintosh was too much an academic at heart. He retired to study. Discourses was a moderate book, gov’ts are there to protect us with “security against wrong.” His prose appealing because of its personal and religious quality. He was attacked by his friends as a trimmer, but he had been that way all along. It was hard for people to see he was consistent. When he was awarded a judgeship in India, his record in India unimpeachably progressive: reform penal law, the police, against death penalty. He came home and has an honorable liberal record in his voting habit (p 222) plans an unwritten History of England from the time of the Glorious revolution (one was written in the 1790s and had been suppressed).

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In Letters to England, Southey has two long sections exposing and inveighing against the treatment of horses, especially the new techniques in breeding and training racing horses

Mackintosh was at the last active in founding The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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Part VI: The Romantic Poets, the Police and the State of Alarm: Johnston uses a cartoon by Gillray, “New morality,” or “The promised Installment of the High Priest of the Theophilanthropes, with the Homage of Leviathan and his suite” (August 1798) and calls it “The Last Line-up,” to identify the individuals he’s now proceeds to draw portraits of.

Chapter 12: “A Gang of disaffected Englishmen: Spy Nozy and the Somerset Gang.” Johnston retells Coleridge’s famous half-mocking account of a spy sent to listen in on his, the Wordsworths’, and various dissenting and potential and real unusual suspects. The spies report is retold by Coleridge in a way that makes him sound like an innocent and the whole thing hilarious, but the spying was serious. What saved them was they were recognized (according to Johnston) as “disaffected Englishmen.” I admit this does not make much sense to me – the other people the gov’t went after were disaffected Englishmen. If they were discussing some serious issues, the man could have reported it by word of mouth. My guess is the gov’t saw they were poets and not organizers and would not attract followers or organize themselves. Spy nozy was the man’s interpretation of Spinoza: the incident shows class disdain – Johnston does not mention this. It does show the group were spied upon, monitored.

Chapter 13: “Whispering Tongues can poison truth: Coleridge and Thelwall, 1796-1798. This chapter is about a thwarted friendship and stunted growth of a group of people. Coleridge corresponds with and seems to be eager to have Thelwall and his family come and live there – it’s so cheap and they will spend their lives in this retreat. Thelwall so harassed and destroyed seemed eager to reciprocate but when he left Coleridge wrote letters discouraging him to come after all. What happened? Was Coleridge somehow pressured lest he involve the Wordsworths, himself chickened out?

We see that he thought the better of it – rightly feared the results for all concerned, that in fact that spy system was operating to disseminate any grouping, silence them all – but he comes out very badly in these letters as he writhes and turns. Thelwall and Wordsworth truer to themselves than Coleridge. Johnston produces a letter by Coleridge to a magistrate Chubb where instead of really persuading Chubb to help Thelwall live there, Coleridge insinuates Thelwall will be a risk. Johnston seems to me to misread a bit of Coleridge’s letter to Chubb: Johnston says Coleridge is promising to tame Thelwall by having Thelwall live near them; Coleridge’s words suggestthey will teach Thelwall to submit. There is a difference even if the outcome is the same.

This chapter has new material: Johnston directs the reader to Wordsworth’s dramatic poem or play (done in the 1950s), The Borderers, which Johnston characterizes as “one of the most searching examinations of post-revolutionary disillusionment and despair ever written, with insights worthy of Stendhal, and Tolstoy, many of them distilled from Wordsworth’s main source, Schiller’s Robbers.” It was read aloud by the group. Johnston goes over Coleridge’s ode “Fire, Famine, Slaughter” and shows it to be a startlingly brave revolutionary poem.

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Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, by Thomas Girtin, circa 1797-9 “I think I see a second range of towers”: The Borderers (1797-99) (Mortimer to Rivers as they approach the ruined castle, Act II, scene iii)

My reading of this play: I first read some articles on The Borderers because it is more than a little incoherent and unreadable and exists in two slightly different versions with the characters renamed. To be played (at an American university) it had to be revised once again. I see in the play (which is called gothic by some) a number of the motifs that powerfully resonate today. The play’s villain wants to fool or drive this hero into killing someone — so as to make him share in some blood guilt and join this band of revolutionaries. The villain does believe the old man guilty of being part of the ancien regime and holding it up. In Wordsworth’s play the old man starves and freezes to death because the hero lives him on a heath to die since the hero hasn’t got the stomach or whatever it takes to kill him outright. So the play shows us an example of someone being murdered for his ideology. The 18th century parallels might be guillotined people, but the way Wordsworth writes has no specific reference. The characters do feel there is evidence against the old man, but there is no trial so the modern parallel is killing people using drones with nothing more than the evidence of surveillance, or captured people tortured or driven to “confess” The archetype is the blind Oedipus led by his daughter, Antigone. In Schiller’s play a villain drives the hero to stab his beloved (the heroine) through the heart.

In one of the Northanger novels, Horrid Mysteries, there’s a Rosicrucian scene of ritual introduction of a member to the sect, and one of the things the new member must promise is to kill whomever the group requires — whether the person is a relative or friend doesn’t matter. Unlike Wordsworth’s play, Horrid Mysteries does not bother to justify the demand at all — it’s not a serious book. Wordsworth’s play is. The use of the pathetic daughter makes the murder more abhorrent, but its justifications are spelled out too. Wordsworth has some characteristic gothic motifs, and understands why the outlaw might operate or feel this way, but he stands outside and condemns the outlaw who demands such an act and the act too. One problem with The Borderers than as political discourse is by using the fantasy elements of gothic, Wordsworth does not bring in the real French case — the allied armies massing in Europe to attack the new revolutionary group, the fomenting of counter-revolution in the countryside, some of the causes of the terror – which killed less people than the French 2nd republic did in 1870-71.

Johnson does persuade us of Thelwall’s tragic loss, how hurt he must have been, and how this sort of thing is done to people unanswerably. Excellent chapter hard to summarize to do it justice

Chapter 14: Wordsworth (1770-1850), The Prelude and Posterity. This chapter brings out the problem with the book: it depends upon assuming a counter-factual “what if:” Johnstone assumes Wordsworth’s Prelude would have made a big positive impact if it had been published at the time; he says at one point that all masterpieces do, and works exist in this ideal realm modifying one another – we are back in Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot’s probably dream world of a tiny intellectual elite which even they would disagree on.

He does show that the incident of the spy leading to the non-renewal of Wordsworths’s lease, despite all uncomfortable denials, made a great change in the Wordsworths lives: some good, they went to Germany, some probably bad, they lost a companion. He insists that Byron and Shelley would have been changed, their poetry different – for the better. And he brings out three different versions of a long passage in The Prelude showing Wordsworth was bitter and recognized justice and liberty killed insofar as powers could. The chapter also has excellent definition of hegemonic versus legal: the dangers to all these romantics come from the losses hegemonic pervasive control inflicts on them in all sorts of incalculable ways.

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PacoRibeira, 18th century Portugal

Chapter 15: More Radical than Thou, Robert Southey (1774-1843). This was an eye-opener for me. For the first time I felt I understood why Southey changed his outlook. It made sense of his satiric Letters from England: it fits into the trajectory. The chapter begins with how how originally Southey came to be radical beyond that it was in him to be “psychologically rebellious.” Johnston brings out how Southey was subject to adults and authority figures around him (more than such a person would be today); orphaned, lived with aunt and then uncle; buffeted by suspicion and discouragement. He was gotten into by his uncle, Herbert Hill, and then expelled from Westminster Schools for a a column in The Flagellant, a student periodical, where he exposed the viciousness of flogging. Headmaster sabotaged his admission to Christ Church, Oxford; uncle gets him into Balliol. Not keen on career choices. 1795 aunt kicks him out, uncle sends him to Lisbon. How from an American perspective the scheme for a Pantisocracy in eastern Penn is not outrageous unreal wild idea. Southey works hard to make it happen and in the process forges career as money-making writer; early work is readable and radical, Fall of Robespierre, Wat Tyler. Anti-Jacobin attacks him, but he did not organize and his poems also simply express unhappy emotional states. Others: “After Blenheim,” “Devil’s Thoughts,” and “History:”Southey wants to escape; Clio says the worse history gets, the more we should write about it; but Southey tired, Gilbert Wakefield case spells end of freedom of press (with Flower, on trial for sedition). Visits Wakefield & Flower, also attacked income tax. Now great relief when sent to Lisbon; departure for Lake District in 1803 a surrender.

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Chapter 16: Radical in Lamb’s Cloak: Charles Lamb (1775-1834). This chapter is enormously enjoyable because of the quotations and works referred to. Johnston opens with young Charles Lamb’s enthusiasm over Thelwall (accused of treason, acquitted and thereafter harassed and his career and livelihood and reputation destroyed) to Coleridge; identified viscerally, admired Thelwall’s bravery. Lamb’s reputation has suffered because of the spread of the adjective “gentle” and “gentle-hearted” beginning with Coleriage; Lamb asked him to blot the expression out of his “Lime Tree Bower my Prison;” sentimental obfuscation is a good disguise. Lamb was one of those attacked by Anti-Jacobin. His sonnets express emotion, are on friendship, which he needed. Johnston retells story of Mary’s murder of the mother and how Lamb taking on life-long responsibility for her limited his possibilities; 33 years as clerk for long hours in East India Company, endless moving. His early writing is virulently pro-French revolution found in extended runs of Albion, edited by John Fenwick (1801-2) – all anonymous. His signed self-presentation was highly self-protective; he shows how Jacobinism is used as a bad-mouthing word for people with humane decent agendas; Lamb in effect describes political profiling.

Lamb’s finest work though found in his later years in his essays. Thomas McFarland described these as in a style that manifests the politics of survival (p. 282), others called his ways “acquiescent protest” and “serious levity.”

I read “The Praise of Chimney Sweeps” and found it to be quietly savagely ironic; he seems to be celebrating what is horrific cruelty to these boys; a nightmare world which produces such creatures; “Modern Gallantry” explicit about how courtesy from males is only to limited group of upper class females; the rest are prey. You have to read the texts to get this.

Johnston argues that the idiosyncracy of Lamb’s style and perspective is another result of these decades of repression of all dissent, active republican politics. Lamb expresses outrage at social injustice rather than a considered political opinion. Thomas de Quincey writes of the tabooing of Holcroft, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Hazlitt, there to offer up to hated and scorn, so Lamb’s way was to appear to care nothing for politics.

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Death of Robert Burns, engraving, Dumfries July 1796

Chapter 17: ‘A man for a’ that': Robert Burns (1759-96)

A moving chapter which presents Burns as having been far more politically and preciselyi radical and pro-French revolution than his works let on: Johnstone argues that the muddled feel of the texts is the result of a deliberate obfuscation Burns had to practice lest he lose his place or job, and a remarkable line by Burns: “for who can write and speak as thou and I – /My periods that deciphering defy (p. 303). Johnston says his views accord with Crawford’s but Crawford’s ODNB Life of Burns presents a far more complicated picture of a nationalistic poet as devoted to poetry as art and gathering texts and a human man with lots of failings. Here one can see that Johnston is skewing evidence by concentrating on a few years in the 1790s, and ignores Burns’s behavior towards women which was highly irresponsible (and surely callous and/or indifferent): Burns had sex sufficiently so often with so many women that he impregnated so many that it’s hard to keep count.

Burns is presented as someone writing sedition which he kept up even after authorities set upon him; he was far more vulnerable than English counterparts (more upper class): he would just have been fired, no need to stage a trial. The period covered is 1791-196: he quotes a contemporary explaining why Burns was isolated to some extent in his last years – after Edinburgh trip; “exiled from polite society on account of his radical opinions, he became sourer in temper & plunged more deeply into dissipations of the lower ranks…. “but this reads like bad-mouthing: Burn always drank & was promiscuous; he suffered depressions, he was ill; much of the argument depends on an analysis of select poems and how his enemies did what they could to ruin him: they could have been after him for his sexual misconduct, hatred of religious hypocrisy; that he gave some spoils due him as exciseman to the revolution is too much pressed; he followed what was happening abroad. Johnston tells of an incident where Burns tricked into exposure when he thinks all the men are going to aggressively assail a favorite woman – a dirty trick which reminds me of other accounts of upper class people humiliating lower class or vulnerable and sensitive people among them: Tom Branson tricked (Downton Abbey) or an incident in Dance to the Music of Time (where a bucket of urine is timed to spill over a door as the victim emerges), in Burney’s diaries at Streatham. Burns openly praised a theatrical epilogue praising Wollstonecraft and then worried because he knew he was monitored and at risk of losing job. The struggles “not quite ancient” which correspond to earlier are not French but local, Thomas Muir, later indicted, convicted, transported. A glued over piece of paper. The most effective parts of the argument come from the poems analysed, not well known – he identifying with someone imprisoned for debt, Esopus to Maria

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Frontispiece to America, A Prophecy (Blake was indeed prophetic — think of what is happening around the world today as a result of the present US’s oligarchy and military’s uses of power

Chapter 18: Blake’s America, the Prophecy that failed, William Blake (1757-1827). In this chapter again Johnston dwells on important personal kinds of experience others often overlook or don’t tell clearly.

Blake’s Jerusalem reminds me of Austen’s Plan of a Novel – actually the same use of private references, same pathetic lack of range, and same absolute rejection of mainstream cliches, tropes, values.

An incident in 1803 where Blake hustled a private out of his garden at Felpham for having insulted him (as Blake thought); for this Blake was arraigned and tried, with quotations that make him sound as ripe for hanging or transportation. Luckily, Hayley, Blake’s patron, was powerful in this area and got character witnesses, himself was a character witness, helped see Blake was arraigned as a “public nuisance” (though this reminds me of police moving into private people’s apartments and shooting them). Johnston says Blake was shocked into silence. Chicester assizes at time of Despard’s execution. Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond hostile to Blake, thought to make an example of Blake as a seditionist would be to shore himself up as unimpeachably patriotic after being part of groups advocating parliamentary reform. In later years Blake claimed someone had been sent to entrap him.

In London Blake completed 1st version of masterwork, Jerusalem: the people who were involved in this incident are immortalized in the poem – along with great names from European history, cultural history; reviewers didn’t like (or understand) poem or visionary art. Contrast to America, written 10 years earlier (1793), revolution anticipates French, weeping illustrations suggest Blake pessimistic about his prophecies; preface to Milton has clear version of poems prefacing chapters of Jerusalem. Johnston shows how America is a very odd sort of poem – not understood by most, combining revenge, private feelings, vast public allegory.

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An 18th century engraving of a debtor in the Marshalsea

Coda: Johnson answers the people who say, so what? and there is nothing unusual here, what did they expect, they deserved it. He begins with how Pitt was responsible for bad policy (Barrell in his review of Johnston’s book asks why Pitt is so respected and argues he was an awful prime minister; his early speeches on behalf of reform were political grandstanding). Johnston goes on to show how Pitt poked mean fun at writers he persecuted and stigmatized. He then reprints Liu’s heart-felt preface to a book on this period that these people matter: again he is discussing writing we could have had, are struggling to recover. Liu’s and other books include the writing we have that bears witness to the struggle and how it happened and so does Johnston’s. He urges us, let us recover what we can. It will show us how the people and their movements fail. Johnston calls this discouraging, but he is himself still a believer with Wordsworth and has faith in social man. We are to feel humanely for these people – multiply it out – recognize that such things do matter. He records and honor the ruined lives – we can see more deeply into what is half-there and into our own lives. He makes us see their works freshly in terms that connect to us.

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The US Occupy Movement in its early stages — still plus ça change, moins ça change; see my “No pretense of regard for life or humanity.”

Ellen

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Maggie Smith between scenes

Dear friends and readers,

I somehow suspect my phrase of praise for Rebecca Eaton and Patricia Mulcahy’s Making Masterpiece that it fulfills the once famous goals of Lord Reith or the BBC to “educate, inform, entertain” might make her uncomfortable: its connotations have become stuffy, elite, even dull; but in fact her book covering a history of PBS’s most famous and long-running Sunday night prime quality (the term now used) serial dramas from the era of the powerful and fine film adaptations, original dramatizations, and multi-episode serial dramas from just before the 1967 The Forsyte Saga up to the 2010-14 Downton Abbey does just that. We learn a lot about the commercial, financial, filming, roles different people play, the TV channels who air the shows, Eaton is unashamedly working for quality in her purchases and commissions and is surprisingly candid.

Along the way she gives satisfyingly step-by-step believable accounts of some well-known to lost forever cult and individual favorites (some never got beyond the arduous planning and early deals) and she lets drops phrases that characterize swiftly how this or that aspect of this complicated art is viewed by its practitioners: such as the eponymous book or novelist-memoirist’s vision is “the underlying material” for the films. While Eaton’s explanations for why the program has held on for so long (they are “family stories, sagas, about love, betrayal, money, infatuation, illness, family deception &c&c) are wholly unsubtle and could be said of poor programming, and she shows that she reflects the commonalty of viewers; nonetheless, now and again for this or that specific series, she also shows she understood very well a political vision, how it fit into a contemporary sociological moment. She lets us know how some of the corporate funding after the mid-1980s when it seemed all but Mobil and the oil companies acted on a new realization that corporations did not need to appear civic-minded or anything but ruthless, and that when their agents discoveed that Eaton would not re-shape a program to fit an ideology (standing firm, sometimes almost alone — she tells instances and names names) she was in continual danger of being fired.

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Rebecca Eaton with Russell Baker, the host for the show after Alistair Cooke retired — they are on the set for the introductions in the 1990s — note the fire in the hearth, comfortable easy-chair …. library look)

It is also an autobiography, a seeming Horatio Alger paradigm, écriture-femme style. It’s cyclical. She opens with a photo of her mother, Katherine Emery Eaton, who she presents as a successful serious actress and “glamorous movie star” who gave up her career to stay at home as a mother and wife: its in an old (built in 1800) house, her home for many years in Kennebunkport (labryinthine, spooky), which she cherishes, whose image and memories were part of her core impulse to work for and support Masterpiece Theater, but which she tells us on the first page no longer contain her parents, daughter or husband. She closes on her present apartment in Cambridge, Mass, a divorced woman whose daughter she reminds us was named after her grandmother and is now in theater and close to her. This private story of a husband who adjusted his career to bring up, be more at home with the one daughter (someone had to), and her distant relationship with that daughter until the girl grew up is woven in for about 2/3s of the way.

I say seeming because the story is also a justification, an explanation for why nowadays there are so fewer multi-episode (3 is become common) expensively produced carefully meditated productions from literary masterpieces. She is telling us how she did the best she could, how the recent spread of violent thrillers, cynical reactionary adaptations of contemporary novels (something in the vein of Breaking Bad, British style), seems at times to take over the time slot; her lot is fighting a continually uphill struggle where she lurches from acquiring, purchasing BBC and British productions, to producing them with the BBC and from the 1980s alonside or in competition with increasingly tough competition, in the UK, the ITV (Granada) channels, London Weekend, and in the US, cable, A&E, HBO, new technologies which allow viewers to curate and watch programs according to their own schedule (using DVDs, streaming, Netflix). It’s told in a peculiar way. A single person (named and the boss who wanted to get rid of our heroine) theatens a wasteland. Each curve ball or crisis is averted by the sudden unexpectedly widely popular good quality, subtle, intelligent adaptation. So the book reads like a series of rescues. She is not so much the rescuer as the person on the spot when circumstances come together so that a product (most often only a mini-series can provide the amount of ballast needed) is on offer which rescues them.

According to Eaton, Masterpiece theater as “the home for classy drama” (Alistair Cookie’s phrase)

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began when the first The Forsyte Saga developed a visible passionate following (fanbases made themselves felt before the Internet too), and attracted a man from Mobil, Herbert Schmertz (who loved dramas set before the 20th century); at the time Mobil was competing with other oil corporations in the 1970s who thought that they need to be seen as civic-minded (no more). The result: a stream of progressive superb mini-series from the 70s,enough of which were as avidly watched (Poldark, The Pallisers) until well into the later 1980s (The Jewel in the Crown). Eaton does not say this explicitly, but the re-creation of Poldark in terms similar to the 1970s is a bid to create a new and bring along the old fanbase for the Winston Graham historical novels (due Spring 2015); so too the filmically innovative Death Comes to Pemberley just before it (fall 2014) is a carefully calibrated appeal to the changed expanded Jane Austen audience

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A new Demelza who looks like some of the 1960s illustrations from the Bodley Head Poldark edition — Eleanor Tomlinson is also the new Georgiana, sister of

A genuinely tried Darcy and Elizabeth:

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The film does interesting things with Darcy, makes his character more understandable, Elizabeth’s more mature, and as to film: voice-over entangling with shot-reverse shot, scene juxtaposition

The later 1980s, the Thatcher years were the first set back with destructive re-organizations and competitive contracts of packaged dramas at British TV; an occasional return to the old model using new film techniques taken from commercial theater (the 1991 Clarissa) did not seem to help, until the new “savior” appeared: Middlemarch and the art of Andrew Davies.

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I still find it painful to watch the failure of Lydgate (Douglas Hodge) unaware how another’s supposed weak view of the world, Rosamund’s (Treveyn McDowell) can wreck dreams no one else can appreciate

I am aware that there are sheaf of essays on the filmic Middlemarch, that it was admired and is still loved — its exquisite historical feel, a breathe of wide humanity, great acting, relevance (the failed career of Lydgate). Eaton recounts losses: how could she have been so stupid as to let go of Davies’s Pride and Prejudice to A&E. It was then she did bow to corporate pressure: a one-time quickie Poldark denuded of all politics will stand for one resulting flop.

But amid these “dark days” she did not forget her job — she attempted to bring into Masterpiece adaptations of good American books. Maybe that was what was needed. If American producers and funders could not begin to understand a British Cornish regional novel, this they might get. She had successes but there are more sad stories, of fine projects that never got off the ground amid a protracted process: The Glass Menagerie with Meryl Streep didn’t happen. She wanted to call her dream The American Collection. Those who helped included Paul Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, and they did Our Town for which Paul Newman earned an Emmy. About the size of what she could achieve was Mark and Livy, the story of Mark Twain and his wife. It seems that Anglophilia is the fuel of Masterpiece and Americans don’t value their own great books. At one point she was told “not to be ridiculous.”

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Catherine (Felicity Jones) and Henry Tilner (J.J.Feilds) approach Northanger Abbey

Then another fortuitious rescue occurred. Most people seem unaware that the evolving Jane Austen canon came to the rescue again. Since they were done on the cheap, each only 108 minutes at most (depending on where you watched them, it could be as little as 83 minutes) the 2007-8 Mansfield Park (not noticed for Wadey’s take in which the men are ritually humiliated instead of the women), Persuasion (daringly shown to be the trauma of loss it is), and Northanger Abbey (a delightful Davies product) have not been paid serious attention to by film studies people. But these one-shot Austen films were, according to Eaton, central in reviving film adaptations of classic books subtly and originally done again. The three were great draws. By that time she had gotten the rights to Davies’ 1995 P&P so they were accompanied by this P&P and Davies 1996 Emma. She is a great friend of Davies. The next year ahe was able to execute produce Davies’s Sense and Sensibility (with Anne Pivcevic, a long time associate of his), and Gwyneth Hughes’s Miss Austen Regrets. And she used her technique of purchase and cooperative funding to make a 4 part mini-series once again: the Australian Lost in Austen, better liked than people have been willing to admit.

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Michael Grambon, Judi Dench and Lisa Dillon as Mr Holbrook, Matty Jenkyns, and Mary Smith

I was surprised by her then singling out Cranford Chronicles, to which she also attributes the resurgence of whatever is left of the older Masterpiece theater film adaptation and serious domestic drama impulse. The chapter on Cranford Chronicles is the richest of the book. We go from first idea and objections: whoever heard of Elizabeth Gaskell, much less Lady Ludlow? (Cranford was dropped as a school text in the US at the beginning of the 20th century.) Constant trips, lunches, deals sealed with a famous actress on board (Judi Dench), then unsealed, then lost from view, then picked up again, the whole process of acquiring screenplay writer, of writing with her, the sets, how dissatisfied people are with the first rushes, and how they try again and finally have a winner.

When at the close of the book she talks of Downton Abbey trying to explain its draw she identifies what I’ll call a communitarian ideal (she’d never use that phrase) — it’s this sense of loving socially conscientious community where most of the characters in Downton are well-meaning or basically good, with the exception of over-the-top monsters (Vera Bates) or one violent rapist who we know would do it again, no one is ejected, everyone treated with dignity and concern. Well this is the great appeal of Cranford Chronicles too — and Heidi Thomas does one better by allying the stories with progressive ideals. Eaton though singles Cranford out because not just its wide audience (after all Davies had trumped with a new Little Dorrit, Bleak House, a deeply moving Dr Zhivago rivaling and rewriting Pasternak’s novel against David Lean’s reading) but because she does see how it speaks to our times, fairy tale fashion. It must be admitted in this book she spends little time worrying whether a given mini-series reflects its era or particular author — perhaps she leaves that to screenplay writer, producer and director. I note the same film-makers recur for movies made from the same author (e.g. Louis Marks for Dickens). For her warm-hearted Cranford led to warm-hearted Downton.

Her book is meant to function today, 2014 and that too is why two chapters on Downton Abbey are devoted heavily to Downton Abbey, its lead-in, production, aftermath. She talks about why she thinks the program became a sociological event, and now an adjective: it appeared at the right time that year (before the new Upstairs/Downstairs which she says was found to be too dark, too pessimimistic, to much a mirror of our era); the house matters (as did Castle Howard for Brideshead). I’ve just written a paper on Andrew Davies’s Trollope adaptations as part of an anthology on British serial drama and found it distorting to see its purview (it too begins with The Forstye Saga and ends on DA) skewed by too many references to this program. The book is typical; I’ve seen this over-emphasis repeatedly. After all filmically it’s utterly conventional; if it is liberal in its attitudes towards sexuality and the human topics it will broach, it keeps the old decorum up. Its political outlook is one which looks upon the French Revolution as unfortunate, providing only an amelioration; now if only the Granthams had lived in France during the famine. They’d have provided jobs and meals. Nowhere does Fellowes show us that such a house was a power-house, a linch-pin in repressive controlling economic and political arrangements from the which local magistrates and MPs emerged to conscript soldiers and sailors. Everyone who knows anything about country houses knows this.

She does explain why the fuss. The outrageous ratings — it easily beat out Breaking Bad and Madman the first year in the Emmy prize race. It’s a selling card when you want to pitch a new fine series. And to give credit where credit it is, it is high quality; the characters are (as Eaton would no doubt tell us) compelling, psychologically complex; no expense is spared, the actors superb. It is great soap opera and as a woman defending women’s art, I too cry it up (with all the reservations above) as using brilliantly what this individual form in structure can do. She describes the series as a community — that’s soap opera. Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) rescues Mr Carson’s Jim Carter) old time colleague form the music hall from the local workhouse is a single anecdote, but it gathers all its strength by how its embedded in four seasons of memories about these characters. She does not mention that one of its strengths is it is not limited by a nineteenth-century text censored by Mudie’s Library. We can see how a rape plays out.

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Did Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond) have a baby out of wedlock and give it up before she married Painswick — soap opera communities license us to look beyond what we can see and hear, to a past to be unearthed

How does an executive producer spend her days. Ceaseless socializing, phone calls, pitches, deciding. She does tell much of this throughout the book and in the chapter on Cranford, but she characterizes her job in another chapter again. She’s in on the film editing, how long the film can be, how its final scene plays. Along the way we learn of how she finally found some stable funding. She garnered as a well-heeled contributor Viking Cruises because a survey she did showed a surprising percentage of people who take cruises to Europe also watch Masterpiece Theater loyally. So she pitched this customer favorite to the running the cruises. She created Masterpiece Trust where wealthy people contribute and get to be named and also introduce the program. Perhaps the unashamed commercials for Ralph Lauren clothes (all expensive artifice) might jar more than the old more discreet pitches for oil and gas companies (but we should remember when we shudder at the anorexic women that they are not encouraging others to drop bombs to ensure Lauren’s profit). One of my books on women’s films has a whole section on how even costume dramas — those set say in the 18th century at any rate and after influence women’s wear. In the 1970s many of the costumes were Laura Ashley like creations — somewhere half between the 18th century and elegant clothes in the 1970s. I note that a certain kind of shawl is now popular since it became omnipresent in the costume dramas of the 2000s Obviously the Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and other stars influenced people — remember Annie Hall, the Annie Hall style … This has long been known and at the close of films nowadays you will see little icons for fashion designers and makers of clothes who the costume designer worked with. So Eaton asked herself who has their product been an advertiser for …

A smaller strand of the book is her relationship with the people who do Mystery! and how and when decisions were made to bring Mystery! material over to Masterpiece. Sometimes it seems as if Masterpiece gets the best of Mystery! they took Prime Suspect (Helen Mirren), and now the new Sherlock (Bernard Cumberbatch). Sometimes a book that one might expect to be on Masterpiece turns up on Mystery!. We are not told why all the time.

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With Diana Rigg on the set of The Heat of the Day (Elizabeth Bowen’s masterpiece on a Mystery! set — but then she was hostess for Mystery! for a while)

The book ends on what she called “the Downton effect” and returns to her personal motivation, satisfactions, and present. It does sound a bit lonely in that apartment. She likes to think of this program she’s served for so many years as she does her life, intertwined memories. The book has flaws; it does not begin to tell all. A full history would be a couple of thick volumes. What has made her the success she is, her rough-and-ready way of seeing things broadly, as some common denominator of intelligent person might, her upbeatness still don’t get too much in the way of sufficient candor. She describes behavior on the sets as no love-fest, and in the various stories of programs that never made it it’s often someone’s ego or a demand for a higher salary that got in the way. She says spontaneous group scenes for photographs are rare. The book never drips; it moves on and has a hardness. It’s apparent she’s not retiring yet. She won me over at any rate. The originating impulse was to do all her mother had not been able to do — she sets up the black-and-white photo near her bed on its last page.

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She gives credit to where it’s due: Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins’s conception of having downstairs get more than equal time to upstairs after watching The Forsyte Saga.

Ellen

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John (John Alderton) and Annie (Julie Walters) — looking out over Yorkshire

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Chris (Helen Mirren) as January

Dear friends and readers,

I decided to re-watch the 2003 film, Calendar Girls because I discovered the screenplay by Juliette Towhidi (and Tim Firth, apparently secondarily), scriptwriter of Death Comes to Pemberley (out of P.D. James’s mystery-novel-sequel of the same name, to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) was adapted by Tim Firth to become a stage-play, Calendar Girls, and remembered I had liked the movie so much I had been prompted to buy the DVD well before the time when I became intensely interested in movies as an art. It was only much later that I began to buy many DVDs of films adapted from favorite authors of great and older books for British TV stations. I’d just been studying several Jane Austen movies, and have been very impressed by the film adaptation by Towhidi and her whole team (director, producers, actors, cinematographers), and convinced of the centrality of the screenplay to its gothic romance success. So I wanted to watch a movie where she had written the screenplay.

Try to imagine my surprise and emotions when I realized the emotional center, and instigating cause oF Calendar Girls is another cancer story. I was ashamed to think I had been, as the movie intended me to be, led to marginalize, even forget the story’s origin and powerful source, for all it stared at me in the face. Chris (Helen Mirren) justifies her plan to raise a large sum of money by posing naked with 11 other middle-aged women friends to provide 12 photos (one of the group) for a Womens’ Institute Calendar thus:

FRANKLY if it meant we’d get — (she gestures a ‘tiny amount’) — THAT-T much closer to killing off this shitty, cheating, sly, conniving, silent bloody disease that cancer is then God, I tell y’, I would run round Skipton market smeared in plum jam with a knitted tea cosy on my head singing Jerusalem (Firth’s stageplay, Act 2, sc 1, p 46)

Their aim is to purchase a new and large and genuinely comfortable sofa for “the relatives’ room” in Knapeley General Hospital, the room where she and her best friend, Annie (Julie Walters) had spent (in Julie’s sudden concise words) “some of the most terrible moments of her life” while Julie’s beloved husband, John (John Alderton, a character based on a real man who died of leukemia, John Baker) was enduring the misery and pain of the shows of force the medical establishment inflicts on cancer victims. Julie’s husband of 28 years in the film story is a man who loves and makes gardens flourish; his favorite is the sunflower, and as he and Julie sat in their car overlooking Yorkshire shortly before his agony and death, he explained why:

I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower. For me, that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because — Not because it ‘looks like’ the sun. Because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky [Helen Mirren’s arm and hand curve an arc across the space she is standing in as she retells this]. A satellite dish for sunshine. Sow these seeds on the hill and you’ll see … that wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. Which is such an admirable thing (Beat) And such a lesson in life (firth, Act 1, sc 4, pp 24-25)

Chris takes this as directive to make the calendar from John’s spoken analogy of his sense of Julie’s beauty with that of this flower:

Flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Every stage of their growth has its own beauty. (PAUSE FOR BREATH) but the last phase is always the most glorious … [then gently undercutting the emotion] Then very quickly they all go to seed (Howtidi’s script, Act 1, 29A)

Ruth Wilson (Penelope Wilton as ever the comedienne), one of the women who consents to be so photographed quips

With respect, I didn’t hear him say the phrase, ‘whip y’r bras off’ (Howtidi, Act 1, 47)

In fairness to myself, I was able to ignore the death of John, his pain and his and his wife’s quiet despair, Annie’s loss and continuing grief– which is expressed more directly and plagently near the end of the film than anywhere else — she would rather have one more hour of life for John than all the money and publicity they have gathered for this “cause” — because this film like most stories of cancer persist in keeping the actual cancer experience to the margins. John’s cancer gets very little play in the movie, on screen now and again briefly, it’s presented as part of another ennobling, enrichening experience which has resulted from this cancer (Breaking Bad breaks from this pattern by making Walter White’s heroic actions criminal and murderous): the making of the calendar and the money it accrues and interest it stirs. The structure of this film, is life-affirming, with the calendar also as meaningful publicity stunt: it appeals to the lower impulses of people yet produces money for a center for studying leukemia as well as the needed sopha. Its mood idealizes Yorkshire by presenting it as green meadows in the sun, which was puzzling even in 2003 as I’ve lived in the West Riding and know it has many impoverished cities and its characteristics landscape is brown, dark moors. The presentation of the characters when it comes to the experience of cancer itself is all silent strength and tact — a ploy which has the effect of assigning responsibility to the patient and the “relatives”.

In short the movie conforms to what studies claim most people who have not had cancer want to be told. Do they want to be told this? Judy C. Segal in her “Cancer Experience and Its Narration: An Accidental Study,” Literature and Medicine, 30:2 (2012):292-318) throws some doubt on this formula; at least in her study, people who have had cancer, their friends and relatives and those who participated in the study seemed to prefer some modicum of truth, though most accepted constraints on the speakable. At the time (as i recall) it was said or I read somewhere that two real-cancer epidemic news-stories were cited as possibly motivating Firth, but as he adapted the movie into a play I am not sure if these news-stories were connected to the movie or later play. The play moved from a local Chichester Festival (2008) to London, the Noel Coward Theater, with a starry cast (including Patricia Hodge as Annie, Sian Phillips as Jessie, Lynda Bellingham as Chris): two sudden spike-ups in the number of cancers in an area of Scotland where some corporations had been polluting the environment and in an area of northern England (whence the use of Yorkshire). Unfortunately if this is so, neither of these important realities are cited anywhere in the stageplay; the screenplay is a copy intended for someone who gets to judge whether it deserves an award as a screenplay and has no annotation beyond the play.

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To take the movie on the grounds it presents itself, I still enjoyed it — at least the first half to two-thirds, because — I admit this — it was done as a fable about a group of women friends who keep each other company through life, supporting one another in crises with real warmth, kindness, tact and humor. It’s feminocentric as we used to say in the 1990s (when feminism was still part of university literary talk). Women-centered. The emphasis is on festive release: these older women usually trussed up in respectable (not sexy at all) clothes revel in their bodies’s beauty

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Ruth (during the course of the story she abjures her abject acceptance of her husband’s bullying indifference and sexual infidelity)

as they are photographed doing the usual respectable middle-aged ladies things, as sewing, baking, gardening, playing piano, and sketching, painting

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Cora (Linda Bassett who in the course of the stage play reveals she was pressured successfully by her parents to break up her marriage with her African husband and became a single mother supporting herself and her daughter by running a shop)

and as Lawrence (John Glenister when young), the hospital aid who is discovered to be yearning to be a photographer (he couldn’t manage art school, it’s implied, because it’s too phony), elicits from each smiles of of pleasure and a sense of power:

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Jessie (Annette Crosbie, who we discover taught for decades and had Lawrence as her pupil, is now married to an aging feeble husband, played comically salaciously by Graham Crowden)

The acting was done with comic bravura and panache. Each woman takes a month and the roll call corresponds to the intertitles we see punctuating the film as the seasons go by (January, February) and the photographing of the same landscape it seems in winter, spring, summer, fall, and winter again … It also had refrains and repeating scenes of the women’s togetherness so filled with good feeling, strength.

My first impulse was to think the British way of dealing with and if we must erase the realities of a cancer tragedy while trying to tell of it so much more civilized: only one person we know dies in the film, John; hundreds of letters are written to Annie, some of which read aloud appear to be by people who have lost a beloved person to cancer, so there are some more deaths. But no one is turned into raspberry sauce, no one beaten horrifically, violated, no open crime (I think of Breaking Bad) — unless you consider it a crime not to do anything for real about cancer and pretend you know what you are doing when you don’t (this film does not want to arouse any sense of irony so we never do see any doctors). Obviously the response is communal, the people work as a group (again as opposed to Breaking Bad where it seems to be a war of individuals filled with distrust most of whom get through life by lying). It does suggest the audience for this film are part of a far sounder society.

But before I went on to rest easy with Johnson’s “The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens” (and who more eligible for that than the cancer sufferer), I remembered the real Leeds and Yorkshire I had lived in — not a pastoral village set in sparkling meadows with churches grand halls, and bought myself both the stage-play and shooting script. You can buy the latter because specially typed copies were prepared for the Golden Globe ceremonies (mine is signed by Towhidi and Firth; others are said to be signed by some of the stars).

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A comparison with the screenplay showed me why the movie once the calendar is achieved and the women become ephemeral celebrities (the movie anticipated the present cult of celebrity), becomes weak and feels like it’s lost more than its cancer story-line; seems slightly aimless. Why go to Hollywood and show us them on the Jay Leno show? in the movie’s it’s so we can see them in an extravagantly luxurious hotel? so he can make tasteless jokes? that’s all that happens before a sudden return to seriousness at the film’s close.

The second half of Tim Firth’s play remains women-centered, presents a real dramatization of what ambition among such women leads to, and more thoroughly the uncomfortableness of celebrity. It’s as if Firth brought out what was merely suggested or kept in the margins of the movie to reveal some of the central women have had a hard time in life and came to live in Yorkshire because they were pushed into it and have made the best of what is sometimes a hard bargain. This comes out as under the pressure of celebrity, of each of the woman having to change her life for a time (travel, leave those dependent on them in crucial ways), and the women themselves arguing as they become jealous of one another or ashamed and irritated by the way they are treated by those exploiting them. I’ve mentioned how Cora’s parents broke up her relationship with her husband. The film does not give enough time to develop this: all we see is the single older mother, Cora, 55 now, with her light-skinned African-English daughter. She does say she fears her daughter will run away but does not elaborate why.

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Cora and her daughter in the film — looking out an inner window in their shop

Celia (Celia Imrie) whom we see trailing around a golf-course behind her husband and has only one explicit association: she has the biggest breasts of the women and so, comically, when she rearranges the cakes with cherries on the tops in front of her to hide her breasts, ends up making her nipples all the more emphatic. In the play we learn she has no children, and is neglected by her financially successful husband who is bored by her, and she can get his company only by trailing around after him. There are worse fates, but she’d have rather lived in London and gone to plays. Ruth’s husband is downright abusive; if she has children, we don’t see any in either film or play;she appears to live for the husband. So when she breaks away and asserts herself it is gratifying. It in both film and play done by her confronting the other woman and Eddie (George Costigan has the thankless role in the film) cast aside as a nothing.

The strongest clash in the stage-play is fierce and between Marie (Geraldine James) who is the head of the WI Institute of Knapeley and said to be ambitious (in the shooting script directions) and Chris. Marie is presented in the movie as an unacknowledged snob, a sucker-up to upper class women higher in the organization altogether too full of themselves, a priggish hypocrite, who visits Annie with a false expression of grief — one of the best lines in both film and play occurs when Marie says she knows what Annie is going through, and Annie echoes the cliched falsifying words — anyone who has been a widow will feel the knife Annie’s words would like to act as.

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Annie answering Marie as Marie tries to shame her out of going on with the calendar

In the movie, Chris is not seriously ambitious; she cries a lot because her schemes (presented as games) end up disasters supposedly. We are not allowed to see how she regards her life as a wife and helpmeet to a just managing flower business a failure.

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It’s a funny send-up of a contest when Chris buys a Victoria sponge from Marks & Spencers instead of making it herself

In the movie the clash is soon over; Marie gives in because she knows what she presents as fun is boring. In the stageplay Marie and Christ are both presented as drivingly ambitious, and have bitter arguments where they strip one another’s motives and bare open frustrated feelings. The center remains the women and we see under the guise of togetherness, the women undermine one another and do what they can to gain whatever power is on offer.

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Marie leading the meeting

It’s not “breaking bad” (they are not wildly fantastically destructive) but this WI is not a simple picnic and gay fair.

The movie develops a sub-story about the family life of Chris as disrupted and her desperate attempt to get away from her family for a time. Chris’s son is one obstacle in the way of her going to Hollywood to bask in her achievement. Her son is embarrrassed by the calendar which is also partly inspired by her finding a soft-core porn magazine of her son’s under his bed — this is not seriously critiqued at all; it’s the son’s friend who is obsessed by girls’ breasts and this is made a joke out of. Reading the screenplay brings out how Towhidi meant to parody western culture’s obsession with women’s breasts, and at the same time embarrassment if a woman is frankly showing them off, especially when older. Chris’s boy grows upset by teasing in school, is picked up by the police smoking what looks like pot but isn’t, and not doing his homework. More seriously, her long-time husband, Rod (Ciarhan Hinds)’s business is suffering: “flower power,” apparently left-over from the sixties; she neglects him and it, but this is dropped when he is there as the faithful boyfriend sitting by the hedge when she comes home and tells her how proud he is of her. While he did give a newsman a story about how Chris doesn’t have the time to have sex with him any more this is shuffled off, forgotten, as he asserts nothing hurt, all is well. Scenes omitted from the film and in the screenplay are were of them having satisfying sex — that might have supported the first part of the film (on sex) but they were cut.

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A touching scene of the couple where the man is dying of cancer and the couple where he’s not eating the cake bought from Marks and Spencer after the fair is done

The critique of ambition and cost of celebrity theme of the play is muted in the film, except at the very end when Annie (Julie Walters) runs out of a humiliating studio scene where the directors is expecting these women to strip for a laundry and wash-on-the-line with them behind it (har har) commercial because “that’s what you do, isn’t it?” The women leave Hollywood the next morning, and the film ends with warmth on their return to the WI in the great hall. the movie has several repeating motifs or refrains — as if it were itself a song — one if the women’s singing to Cora’s piano playing each time they meet, Blake’s partly radical and angry and uplifting lines from his “Preface to Milton” beginning “And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England’s pleasant pastures seen?” The film celebrates the survival of the group; the play shows more of more of the forces against the group and each of the women as individuals.

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Neither of these popular award-winning films (Breaking Bad or Calendar Girls) usefully dramatizes the situation of the cancer patient. A cornucopia of applied technologies and huge money are played with in both. The prism of illness now and again sheds light on the human condition, but the only film which has dared to focus on the cancer, the patient, that I’ve seen is Wit. Death in this movie Calendar Girls provides an excuse for moving speeches, communal self-help and a festive seasonal calendar; in the movie script there is a real dramatization of of Annie’s loss of John and the acute suffering widowhood entails; in the play Tim Firth shifts the emphasis onto showing us painful aspects of women’s lives, their thwarted ambition.

At the close of the play we have three single older women: Annie, now widowed, Cora and Ruth, divorced and separated (to be accurate it’s not clear what happened between Cora and the black father of her daughter); a frustrated lonely woman in Celia who trails after her husband on Yorkshire golf courses; a frustrated ambitious women in Marie, who provides a parallel for Chris who manages at the same time to carry on as a kind of pied piper: she leads them in another of the film’s repeating motifs of hope and energy: we see them as a group high on sunny hill doing Chris’s made-up t’ai chi exercises as a kind of communal dance. They move slowly to some moving ordered music and the message is acceptance of what is by being together in rhythm, life’s rhythms.

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The group

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Chris at the center

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Ruth on the side

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Annie

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The group again

How common it is for women-centered films to present a group of women who are close friends, supporting one another. Alas, another myth. In societies around the world the family comes first and women’s relationships must bend to fit these groups’ demands first. Moments on hills together do not come with regularity. What can I say about Towhidi from this movie and Death Comes to Pemberley: she prefers women-centered materials, and has a strong tendency to make the women strong and idealize their relationships as ultimately supportive (even between Elizabeth and Lydia Bennet).

Since I met Jim in Yorkshire, lived with him there over two years, and we visited, even once planned to return, of course the movie has a personal resonance for me too. I’ve been to Skipton.

Ellen

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