Archive for the ‘novels of sensibility’ Category



Dear friends and readers,

As felicitously translated by Frederick Randall, Confessions of an Italian, edited, introduced and annotated by Lucy Riall, Confessioni di un italiano (or Confessioni d’un Ottuagenario or Confessions of an Octogenarian), a profound and extraordinarily instructive 19th century novel about the risorgimento became our summer project on Trollope19thCStudies. We didn’t mean it to become that, but the book is very long, not susceptible to skimming, and so complicated, meandering in its storyline, and going through so many revolutions in so many different areas of Europe from the 1790s to nearly 1859 that it took time. It began as a suggestion by me after I read and sent to the listserv group an essay by Tim Parks, “Revolutionary Italy: The Masterwork,” NYRB (April 2, 2015) which praised the book so highly and did not honestly tell some of its flaws and problems.

It does live up to Parks’s promise in this way: it is a sort of alternative to Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, which those who read 19th century novels will have heard of, and perhaps read, an equally long novel set in the 17th century, a sort of cross between Walter Scott and Victor Hugo. Unlike Nievo’s novel, it is set in the past, and does not begin to touch on revolutionary issues openly. Nievo’s book was published posthumously, and because it was radical in its approach (even to call yourself an Italian was problematic), it never achieved the circulation, much less the translations Manzoni’s work did. Randall’s translation may be the first to make the book readable to an English reader. See Angela Scordo-Polidori, “Beyond good and evil: Pisana and the birth of the Italian nation.” Italica 91.3 (2014): 343+, an essay on why, how the book was repressed, retitled, marginalized.

19th century Italian history painting – probably a depiction of Garibaldi

Here are a group of reviews which do justice to its finest qualities as well as suggesting that you do need to have an interest and some knowledge of Italy, the 19th century world of revolution, and willingness to meander, a love of meditative reading to enjoy it. One offers a summary which I’m going to attempt (briefly I promise) too. Dacia Maraini, a good 20th century novelist, lists and describes it as among the great novels of 19th century Italy, in the way that Trollope used to be discussed for 19th century English novels. And a Thackerayan blogger (who must have patience if he reads Thackeray’s lesser known historical fiction, to say nothing of Pendennis which I never finished) found it something of a chore: Wuthering Expectations.

I admit that each time I put it down, having finished the very long chapter or (as we got towards the end) couple of chapters for the week before, was not enthusiastic to start up again, as I didn’t feel compelled by a forward thrusting story nor did I become intensely involved with individual characters who lasted sufficiently — I kept preferring characters who would be killed off, or twisted into repressed people (like Clara, turned into a nun), or who’d disappear into flight or exile. It was too masculinist: women, our narrator asserts, exist to give birth to men, love to be nurses to men, all self-sacrifice, and their surprisingly free sexual lives must be kept hidden by him (for fear not just of the contemporary reader at the time, but as part of a code of not telling truths about women’s lives today). But I was startled to learn the heroine, who I didn’t like much, was a TV character in a program on Italian TV, is today the source of feminist controversy about the book: La Pisano is seen as standing for Italy itself. See Stephanie Hom Cary, “‘Patria’-otic Incarnations and Italian Character: discourses of nationalism in Ippolito Nievo’s Confessioni d’un Italiano.” Italica 84.2-3 (2007):214+.


Then each time I’d pick it up, I’d become involved again, interested, wanting to read Carlino’s thoughts, learn more of this ancien regime world (to which we kept returning) as the Castle of Fratto in Venice. A world recreated and evoked ironically and so vividly in Lampedusa’s The Leopard, which I read in the Italian as Il Gattopardo. Lampedusa’s novella might be read as an ironic coda to this book of revolution: here’s what the people turned to afterward. And then the revolutionary struggles, and then Napoleonic (a sort of Stendhal Julien Sorel world is evoked in some of Italy), and then the rigorismento and then reactionary regimed world of failed wars (Byron turns up, we spend time in Greece and Turkey). At each turn each group which ended up in charge (and it felt like musical chairs) turned out to be utterly self-centered, corrupt. The few idealists (like Garibaldi) were wished away, not helped deliberately. I’d soar with his meditations: thoughts on shadows of the mind, imagination, time and memory — to the point I bought myself the edition in a Pleiade-like Italian text (with much fuller and better notes, and an introduction by Marcella Goria which made the book pertinent today).

Arguably there are twelve different novels at least trying to get out, sometimes for a stretch a story which should have taken far more pages to come to life, or deep anguish is there and passed over. The first volume sets the scene at length: the world of the castle the boy grows up in, the destructive legacy. The second volume, the large perspective of the cities and movements across Italy, with the new arrangements of the 1830s, all collapsing ending in many deaths, exiles, women married off, gambling, in nunneries. Volume 3, the reaction and concluding wars and resolutions of the 1850s, including a long section taking place in America (south) where we see colonialism from the standpoint of settler colonialists. The author returned to war and died before he could revise. He is writing out of fear he would soon be killed. He saw all these people around him being ferociously slaughtered – and he records this fictionally. He wishes he could live to 80 but does not think he can and the book is his wish-fulfillment to live.

Castello di Tricano

A few notes:

The narrator is an old man of 80 looking back to where he grew up as a child. He was a menial servant, a bastard nephew (his mother’s marriage a kind of Jane Eyre story where she dies in the streets after rebelling against an arranged marriage) in a great castle-house in the land just outside Venice. All the facets and types of the great house and its liens. There is a sophisticated in his understanding of the underbelly of political groups in charge, of the under-groups for position n household, in larger offices, in the countryside, and we are shown how in the end it’s the individual’s personal interests that makes him decide to do this or that.

I cannot begin to survey the characters. One of my favorite characters was Lucilio Vianello, a well read sensitive type, a reader, whose father makes him a doctor, and who eventually has to flee to England to remain alive (perhaps modeled on Mazzini) — his story early on has a biting satire on medicine at the time. Gradually a three sets of lovers emerge, and they (like Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, change with an era, play different but not unexpected roles, have children and their children children. The book’s undertow is deeply melancholy. We see how the Venetian curia and other Italian regional leaders retained power through their use of violence, prisons, egregious taxes; how the church kept its stranglehold on thought, families their place by ruthless use of arranged marriages. The matriarch spends her life gambling. A story of a smuggler, someone who began by trying to evade the horrendous taxes, harassed and hounded by the judiciary, the thugs who are looking for a Scott-like mysterious person on a horse, he dwindles into a hanger-on at the castle, who understands the tightening nooses around others and is protected not because he’s personally liked, but again for what he stands for. The way of life in the cities and great houses, in the peasant countryside, and why people cling to it, of Italian catholicism and its hypocrisies, a sharp sceptical light playing over everything (from gambling casinos to inward passionate natures. How men with groups of thugs backing them up is finally the basis for much local power, given legitimacy by laws, prisons. Some of the analogies with what happens are with today’s military oligarchy, its use of torture, with Austria-Hungary as the colonialist power.

Again and again Nievo has in mind an Italian great book, or poem, and is writing a story or producing a character which is a modern revitalization of the older type — Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, Foscolo, then minor types too, like Melusine. In the 19th century — and today too — poor people’s children led hard lives. We have this deeply romantic sequence of the boy escaping to the landscape and his dreams of himself as a hero with an utterly transgressive and endlessly deceitful) La Pisano as his beloved, a twist on the Daphnis and Chloe, Paul et Virginie scenario. We hear of the English romantic poets in their lairs too. This is the romantic period.

La Pisano is an Armida where we are shown the hypocrisy of the Venetian culture. Yet Carlino appears to accept the marriage of La Pisano to an old corrupt man and accept her liaison with an officer, Miniato. Then he rejoices when she leaves these people out of boredon and also disgust at their political behavior. She flees to him and they have a renewal of days of love. More troubling: he insists not only has she remained a virgin since marriage (or chaste), she has never fucked. I must use that word because there is every indication that lots of foreplay is what she repeatedly has indulged herself, all the men she has known, and Carlino too. This sick point of view that without genital intercourse sex doesn’t matter and one remains chaste is what we have seen in our own culture publicly more than once (if fucking is deniable) and is found in books from Richardson’s Pamela to the worst porn. When she visits Clara she lies endlessly. Carlino talks about honor and propriety as a surface thing so their living together is shameful only if it’s known. Elena Ferrante’s choice of anonymity has a long historical context.

19th century Italian school

The relationship between Carlino and his father is as problematic for a 20th century reader: the man deserted him, and first turns up well into Volume 2; it seems that is just what happened, no close parental nurturing is expected; the father is still this numinous figure partly because he comes across with money, partly because he enacts physical bravery. Children were expected to abase themselves; this is one of several areas Nievo never questions personally as Carlino. There are epistolary sections to carry us back and forward in time in these kinds of sudden non-explorations. The final section includes a long diary-journal. It’s a book which crosses waters and lagoons.

It’s structured as Carlino emerging from and then returning home, and then emerging again to join this and that group, a brief arduous quest, meeting world-historical people (from Napoleon to then famous generals and political leaders), and then collapse. On and off in the book he and La Pisano live together; at one point to save their lives they must flee to England, he is badly wounded, weak, so she turns into a beggar-prostitute to support them, and grows ill (TB) and dies. She has persuaded him into an arranged marriage, which at first seems equable but his wife is anything but an idealist, and their several children lead very different lives (from utopianist, to entrepreneurial careerist, to someone in retreat as a close son, a daughter, an exile who keeps slaves and dies abroad), only 2 out of 6 surviving to the end ….


One of the novel’s romantic covers

In one section close to the book’s end: Count Raimondo (this is the heir to Castle of Fratto) finally writes a book that has been long in birth: A Historical Analysis of Venetian Trade. The whole section is unusually comic, especially to someone who has written anything today, published or self-published a book, endured all the joys and trials and tribulations of the early writing, the attempts to obtain a publisher and their grating refusals, and then somehow publish it. In Raimondo’s case he finally self-publishes (does it by subscription). Then he reads reviews of it, and discovers most of the reviews hardly bothered to read it (at least with any care), that the reviewers copy one another and not to accurately so that by the ninth copied-out half-review the book’s real tone and interests is wholly lost. Few are interested in anything but what happens today so eventually people say they’d like to read it for help in modern trade. The title is a satire on Venice’s power. What struck me most was how little has changed since the mid-19th century — I could recognize so many behaviors I’ve seen today.

I am a very unusual reviewer not necessarily for reading a book, but reading it carefully and writing a genuinely descriptive and analytical review. I sometimes think in self-satire that I do this because I’ve nothing better to do with my life. I didn’t have the problems of publishing — that came from the famous person Raimondo couldn’t seem to harness (in my case John Letts) but much of the rest of the process I experienced. Tyler wrote: “I loved all the stuff about Count Rinaldo trying to get his enormous book published – I wondered whether Nievo was trying to prophesy about how his own book’s publication would go … Some experiences haven’t changed much in the book publishing world in the last 150 or so years [since the rise of a literary marketplace and all its types of people]. We have the author presenting an indirect mirror of the way he supposes his book might get into print and be treated. Alas he didn’t live to do it – and as he seems to fear his own death there is poignancy in this section too.


A statue of Nievo in Mantua

The book is more relevant to us today than Tolstoy’s War and Peace to which I’d compare it. Its strength is its candour about how power works, who has it, groups of thugs as behind it, and in the end its depiction women. The history. Tyler wrote: “It almost reads like a long dream, nearly a nightmare, from which we eventually hope to awake and find a unified Italy.” It’s a much darker and despairing book than is being structured into the plot-design. It needed revision to bring out its more nihilistic apprehensions. Nievo wants a unified Italy but no where is there any sense that any place or group of people who will support this. Its great weakness is its important characters are insufficiently realized.

This from a 1906 enthusiastic review of the book by Kennardon (Italian Romance Writers, Brentano, 159-92):

Each phase in the life of Carlo Altoviti answers to an historical period; each stage of the national evolution corresponds with a crisis in his life. His childhood is spent in the midst of the obsolete feudal Venetian world, in the Frioul … No history could present a more accurate or more vivid description of the political and social life in the Italian Venezia, during [the] early years of the nineteenth century, than this romance of Nievo’s…. But it is more than a history of a political movement, more than a vivid picture of the social life of the times. [It may be read as] a psychological study; full of reality, power, and modernity. It lives!”

Germaine de Stael was the first writer to produce a treatise arguing that a particular text (say a novel) mirrored and explored, was a piece of the national culture it came out of. Before that people didn’t think of or discuss texts in that way. Another innovative aspect of Nievo’s book is he is doing just that (for more on this Nicolaek Iliescu, The Position of Ippolito Nievo in the Nineteenth-Century Italian Novel, PMLA, 75:3 [Jun., 1960]:272-282).

The listserv we read the book on being one usually devoted to Anthony Trollope, I’ll conclude: we might think of Trollope’s short story about the “Last Austrian who left Venice” as another coda to this novel. It takes place towards the close of the Austrian occupation and during its short span, a revolution is fought, and the Austrians ejected. Our heroine who decides she loves an Austrian officer must leave with him if she is to be his wife. Her brother and mother stay in Venice, loyal to their new national and old Venetian identities. If Lampedusa ironically shows us the same upper class groups are still in charge, and everyone still loving the old castle-countryside culture, Trollope brings home to us how important it is that different peoples forced to live together in an militarily occupied country genuinely come together, and that individuals hold fiercely to a social identity even when they see how it is imposed while resisting the thwarting of individual fulfillment. Nievo’s modernity is in line with Trollope’s.

A 19th century image of the occupation of Venice


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I can’t resist putting this trailer on this blog for our coming “last” season of Downton Abbey:

Do we not all see and hear what we are in for? We’ll have the “last” premiere, and then the last second episode, the last time for this and the last time for that, with plangent music and retrospective nostalgia galore. This year we are asked to remember them with intense regret at their going before they even begin.

Oh for the original spirit and team of PBS’s Sesame Street: they’d have done a delicious parody.

It’d be hilarious were not that this absurdity brings tears to my eyes since I have loved these characters, allowed some of them when they appear to become deeply entwined inside my emotional life, pull at it acutely.

Shameless, shameless.

The extra we may look forward to are (I hope and prefer) good-natured video burlesques over this One More Time Through with Full Measure autumn. Or properly-justified and well-merited (I admit) snarky ones.

The September 20th date is for British TV. I suppose Poldark 2 will follow that. Please peruse (click on it!) a handy list of all my blogs on Poldark 1 (and Graham’s Ross Poldark, Demelza and the first eight episodes of the 1975-6 season) here — with another on wigs and hats. No need for nostalgia; the cast has signed on for 5 or 6 more years.


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Anne (Claire Foy) has had a miscarriage (penultimate sequence, Wolf Hall 4), POV, Thomas Cromwell aka Mark Rylance first observes the sexually spiteful Jane Boleyn (Jessica Raine) and then stands before Anne

… the historical novel has been one of the sites where women writers have had most freedom to examine masculinity as a social and cultural construct, Diana Wallace, The Woman’s Historical Novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000)

Dear friends and readers,

We left off at the close of Wolf Hall 2, whose screenplay is (let us nor forget) is by Robert Straughan since in Wolf Hall 5 &6, we will retrospectively observe and understand some significant departures by Straughan from Hilary Mantel’s conception. We watched Thomas Cromwell meditating over relics, objects to remember Cardinal Wolsey (played by Jonathan Pryce), including a blue ring he places on his finger, which he will twist now and again in the rest of the drama.



I argued the over-arching trajectory of the three-act (albeit 6 part) mini-series is that of a psychologically and politically complex Renaissance revenge tragedy. Within that larger framing, there are a number of secondary stories, with accompanying themes, some which cross all six episodes, some dominating just one episode or group of scenes. This week I will concentrate on two, one pictorially and the other allusively and thematically brought out by Anibundel in her blog, Wolf Hall 3 & 4: A Man for all Seasons.

Mantel’s Wolf Hall performs the function of recent sequels to classic fiction and revisions of consensus histories; she asks us to switch our allegiances to the victimized, conquered, castigated and stigmatized lives of traditional histories and in so doing discover the tragedy going on is one where the subaltern figures are us. In this case these figures include several of the hitherto despised and dismissed women of Henry VIII’s court and his low-born secretary, Thomas Cromwell. My feeling is Mantel came to her very project, her very choice of historical span, by way of so many women’s identification with Anne Boleyn, and added to her Mary and Jane Boleyn, Mary Tudor (Lily Lesser) re-seen (as the product of a neurotic relationship of a profoundly sexually twisted man and woman, Henry VIII & Katharine of Aragon). Thomas Cromwell she came to by way of her insight of the deep evils religion (in her case, originally Roman Catholicism) promotes and disciplines people to enact.

My favorite moments are when Rylance as Cromwell speaks truth to religious hypocrisy as when he follows Benjamin Whitlow as Bishop Warham upstairs to let him know he, Cromwell, understands, the games Waltham is playing using Elizabeth Barton:

Cromwell; “Archbishop Warham. This um, prophetess you harbour in your diocese – Eliza Barton? How is she getting on?
Warham: “What do you want, Cromwell?”
Cromwell: “Well, I hear that she’s telling people that if the King marries Lady Anne, he has only a year to reign. I just wondered who is controlling her.”
Warham: “She may be a simple country girl but she has a genuine gift.”
Cromwell: “She does, doesn’t she? I hear she can tell you where your dead relatives are. If it’s in Heaven, she speaks with a higher voice, if in Hell, with a deep voice.”


The episodes are entitled Anna Regina and Devil’s Spit, both of which refer to women, the first obviously Anne’s coronation and the second Elizabeth Barton (Aimee Ffion Edwards] a burningly spiteful self-deluded woman at the close burnt at a stake, whose spit or uttered prophecies were used by the Catholic faction at court to try to frighten Henry VIII from removing from positions of power adherents of the Italian and German circles of power and marrying Anne Boleyn. Across the two episodes we travel with Cromwell: in the first he begins with attempting to reason with the losers, Katharine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley) and her painfully awkward daughter (to whom Cromwell shows an instinctive pity):


Cromwell cannot stand there and not offer this stumbling naive woman a chair

to listening to Mary, Anne’s sister’s self-directed description of Anne’s manipulation of Henry’s insecure aroused sexual desire, her thwarting of him, Anne’s overwrought bargains:


Towards the end of the third part he is the first to notice Anne’s propensity to flirt too much with other men beyond Henry and arouse Henry’s ominous anxiety during dancing, hears their quarreling raised to a pitch that leads to an old-fashioned bethrothal. Henry had demanded sex after that flirtation with another man. Mary comes out and seeks a Bible; they pledge themselves off stage and we are to imagine consummation (this was a recognized form of marriage before 1753). We glimpse the wedding itself at first in Calais and then the crowning in Westminster.

But Anne’s fall from power doesn’t take much longer than that of her sister, both more watched and in invisible prisons than we or they are aware: by the middle of the fourth episode, a Boleyn male spy is there to stop Mary (Charity Wakefield) from kissing Cromwell; by the the close of part 4 Anne’s dog has been thrown from the window, and she has bled on the floor, miscarried a second time.

It’s easy to miss how many women’s lives are wholly epitomized in a few shots: Alice More (Monica Dolan) whose guarded face appeals to Cromwell as she cannot reach her husband, some complicit in evil thinking (deludedly) they can save themselves (e.g., Margaret Countess of Salisbury, Pole’s aunt [Janet Henfrey] later beheaded), or are exceptions because seemingly virtuously superior (Jane Seymour, played by Kate Phillips).

I am most drawn to those who recognize there is no safety and act out of this inner apprehension for others: say the interspersed touching moments between Cromwell and Johanne, through or in her his memories of Liz and his daughter with her peacock angel wings (ghosts), none of them can he reach:

Saskia Reeves as Johanne

Anibundel’s analogy for Cromwell is that of a fixer, but in the stories of these women he is helpless to fix their lives, and he appears to want to help them help themselves by the good advice he gives them (as well as the young male studs around Mary). He is himself a subject, dependent on the unlimited power of a near madman whose eyes (those of Damien Lewis) are fearfully threatening, fierce, glitter at us while the inner thoughts of the brains we think of as behind the eyes remain opaque:

Opening shot of Devil’s Spit

Mantel’s reconstruction of Cromwell in Wolf Hall, her rehabilitation of him comes from seeing him in terms of all these women at the court. If you go on to read even sympathetic historical accounts of him (e.g. Tracy Boorman’s biography) in the provinces where he successfully manipulated local powerful men by rewarding and punishing them through property arrangements, criminal charges dependent on the new Anglican church laws, customs, doctrines, you have to infer he drove these middle men to destroy and execute the local abbots or any priests who got in their way. The man Bolt and others have characterized as ruthlessly ambitious, and willing to kill, organizing from afar terrifying executions is glimpsed only fleetingly. The criminal aspect of Cromwell’s character is also more in evidence in Bring Up the Bodies where he will take a woman (innkeeper’s wife) casually, have her husband destroyed, remembers murderous acts he participated in in the past.



More pouring over the documents, Cromwell trying to reason with him to return to his home, to Lady Alice who has food waiting and will put him to bed

Part 4 is indeed a rewrite of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, to the point where speeches that Bolt plucked out of the historical records are re-plucked but uttered in contexts that reverse or at least significantly alter their significance. I was riveted by this as someone who has watched both movies of the original play several times: there was another beyond Fred Zinnemann’s with Scofield as More, Leo McKern as Cromwell, Wendy Hiller as Alice, John Hurt as Richard Rich; this other less-known A Man for All Seasons starred Charlton Hester as More, Corin Redgrave as the cynical allegorical ordinary man, and Vanessa Redgrave (memorably as a terrified Anne in way over her head). I also still admire More from having read his deeply humane analytical original Utopia, his Dialogue of Comfort during a time of Tribulation, his sardonic poetry, and his friend Erasmus’s Praise of Folly (in Latin translation it means praise of More as a holy fool dangerous to himself in his idealism). Much in More’s life resembles that of Cromwell as middling men in Parliament; both were instruments of Henry VIII.

In Bolt’s play all is done that can be done by More’s wife, daughter, son-in-law to persuade More to sign and live; Cromwell bullies and threatens, with Cranmore uttering the same rationalities. In Mantel and now Straughan, Cromwell takes over the humanity of the family. In Bolt’s trial it is Cromwell who engineers Rich’s betrayal; in Mantel it is Rich. Straughan’s 4th episode opens with More salivating over torturing someone, and again and again through dialogue and the burning and torture of other Protestants we are led to see More as the harmful fanatic. More’s utterance near the end that he has wished and done no man harm and if that cannot keep him alive, he’d rather not live (rendered famously by Scofield on the scaffolld), is answered here by Cromwell as they sit over a table by a list of people that Cromwell cites whom More has destroyed viciously. In the final scene of More’s beheading, in Mantel and Straughan there is only the pathos of a wretched narrow man.


The burning (after torture and imprisonment, interrogration of Bainham for spreading the Bible as translated by Tyndale, More’s POV)

Mantel is doing more than insisting on more accuracy about More and some justice to Cromwell. As Bolt was making a fable for the hopeful sixties where people could respond to figures who acted out ideals, so Mantel is taking the past and mirroring a deeply pessimistic disturbed era where we have seen much progress made in social and other areas of life over the course of the 20th century reversed. Popular and significant TV mini-series on commercial channels (Breaking Bad, Games of Thrones) portray utterly amoral characters in environments where there is no hope for humane solutions, with voyeuristic cruel violence an accepted sport. Henry VIII in Mantel’s Wolf Hall and this mini-series is a site representative of today’s ruthless militaristic and fascistic oligarchies, seemingly crazed armies of fanatic men determined to turn women into subject creatures. She is a deeply secular woman, for tolerance, feminist. I know her Eight Months on Gaza Street shows how fearful and helpless individuals and especially women can feel in Saudia Arabia where there is nowhere to turn for certain information about just about anything, and all action hinges on gaining the favor of powerful individuals.


I do ask myself where the power of this mini-series resides. Each time I rewatch it I think to myself it cannot be as good as I’ve remembered it, and each time it is. Is it in this vision? In the case of the famed Brideshead Revisited, one can point explicitly to a set of filmic techniques new and daring, or older and breaking with foolish taboos and conventions. If anything this is a kind of throw-back to the staged days of the 1970s. I wonder if it’s in the stillness and slowness of the filmography, how much time is left for each shot.

Cromwell coming to talk with the Boleyn family (to the back, George, the brother, to the front, Norfolk [Bernard Hill]

I come back to the use of Rylance as POV and his uncanny ability to convey complicated layers of thought in different scenes with these highly theatrical characters in situations of deep crisis strain, to seem outside the action and questioning it. The character he plays, Cromwell, is himself deeply complicit, compromised and comprising — rising, becoming wealthier, powerful, using his nephew and ward, Rafe as spies. He says at one point, now it’s his turn to get back. He participates in the neurotic fights of the Boleyns. He may tells Henry Percy (then drunk) the day of the power of the thug warrior-aristocrat as all-powerful is over: that the world also works on money, that bankers are in charge (this seems a bit anachronistic, you’d think the Italian bankers were turned into today’s European Union and World Bank).

Cromwell: “My lord, you’ve said what you have to say. Now listen to me. You’re a man whose money is almost spent. I’m a man who knows how you’ve spent it. You’re a man who has borrowed all over Europe. I’m a man who knows your creditors. One word from me, and all your debts will be called in.”
Percy: “What are they going to do? Bankers don’t have armies.”
Cromwell: “Neither will you, without any money. My lord, you hold your earldom from the King. Your task is to secure the north, to defend us against Scotland. If you cannot ensure these things, the King will take your land and your titles and give them to someone who will do the job that you cannot do.”
Percy: “No, he won’t. He respects all ancient titles.”
Cromwell [his expression conveys how dense Percy is and how laughable the idea that Henry respects any titles]: “How can I explain this to you? The world is not run from where you think it is. From border fortresses. Even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from Lisbon. From wherever the merchant ships set sail off into the west. Not from castle walls, from counting houses. From the pens that scrape out your promissory notes. So believe me when I say that my banker friends and I will rip your life apart. And then, when you are without money and title, yes, I can picture you living in a hovel, wearing homespun, bringing home a rabbit for the pot. Your lawful wife, Anne Boleyn, skinning and jointing that rabbit. Yes, I wish you all happiness”

Percy has no credit card you see.

The fascination may come from the puzzle and elusive depths of suggestion. The series can suddenly speed up. Just as the fourth episode seems to come to an end and Cromwell is in the crowd watching More being beheaded, his memory becomes a series of flashbacks, he as a boy in More’s house where More was a boy. Then we see More about to be beheaded (unflinching scene) and Cromwell the older man watching.





Then the camera moves and sees Johanne watching Cromwell deeply ill in bed, sweating, hysterical, seemingly traumatized. We enter his mind as he glimpses his second daughter (not the one with the angel wings, but the one who wanted to learn Greek and marry Rafe).


He says aloud if he’s dying there are things he needs to tell Gregory (his son), Then a patch of sunlight on his bed, Liz (Natasha Little) his wife knotting,



Cromwell: “Slow down, so I can see how you do it.”
Liz: “I can’t slow down. If I stop to think how I’m doing it, I won’t be able to do it.”

The camera again moves, we hear words about an itinerary, which ends at Wolf Hall and out from the corridor comes yet another set of people, the Seymours.


By the end of this second act (fourth episode), we are back in the era of the all frighteningly powerful tyrant, and Cromwell seems to glimpse Anne’s waning power and glimpses the wary alert presence of Jane Seymour as a possible fall-back position as Henry must be pleased and wants a son.

The last still of Part 4


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Wm Frederick Yeames (1835-1918), On the Boulevard, Brittany

Dear friends and readers,

As with Barchester Towers, since I and my class had such a good time over Dr Thorne, even though I’ve already put on my website more than enough on a reading and discussion of Dr Thorne, my “Trollope and his Contemporaries listserv” enjoyed years ago, I’ve decided to share some of my notes from my lectures and the class discussions over four weeks. We also had special topics, on illustrations (which when well done I love), Trollope’s epistolary art (which I’m interested in and have written and published about, and the effect of The Cornhill on his books, and Mary’s illegitimacy. Here I include only these last two: as Trollope and The Cornhill; and Women and Property Rights.

Among the joys of doing this is I can share what my younger daughter, Isobel wrote at age 14 about the novel. She was asked in a middle school class to pick a book (it needed to be approved), read and answer questions about it. She said that the teacher was a bit surprised at her choice but also delighted: here she is on Dr Thorne versus Dr Fillgrave; and on that most painful of chapters, the abjection of Augusta Gresham before the cold treachery of Lady Amelia de Courcy.

As most people interested in Trollope or mini-series costume drama know, Julian Fellowes is now scheduled to do a 3 part film adaptation for ITV of Dr Thorne. Despite what I say of Lady Arabella Gresham as a character below, I hope that Fellowes does not make her the witch of the piece, like her daughter, Augusta, she is a creature of values that actually help to ruin her own life (in the brilliant epistolary chapter, “De Courcy Precepts and Practice,” which my daughter treats of just above and I and my class do further below).


Arthur Clifton Goodwin, View of a Garden in Boston (1866)

The difference between Dr Thorne and The Warden; The Warden and Barchester Towers; and Barchester Towers and Dr Thorne, reminds us of how when Trollope set out, he did not think of himself as a writing a roman fleuve or serial at all, and in this novel he eschew recurring characters (essential to romans fleuves). OTOH, the second “sign” you are in a roman fleuve or series of novels is the imaginary place and in this opening we begin to see a map emerge (see map on syllabus).

The place. Suddenly Barsetshire subdivides (like a zygote) and we have a west and east Barsetshire. Trollope says this was not very good for the county, soon they were having antagonisms between them, but in order to obey the reform bill and have more equal representation this was done. Of course it’s a joke as it’s he who has subdivided it.

West Barsetshire is Whig, great whig magnate lives there, the Duke of Omnium in Gatherum Castle. Trollope rightly identifies the great country house first by its political function. Pleasant as books about them often are – because of the beauty of the places – they were there to enforce a hierarchy, maintained considerable controls over their tenants and farmers, the people in the houses were magistrates, JPs, controlled institutions; you had to get letters to go to a house, needed a “character” if you were to get another job (overwhelmingly most people were servants still in the first half of the 19th century). Chaldicotes, Sowerby’s house is there (comes out in Framley Parsonage), an appendage of the duke’s as Sowerby is a client, and we hear a lot about Courcy. Both will emerge full and complete in Framley Parsonage. On the other side of the divide is Greshambury and Boxall Hill; they are northerly with Barchester itself, the cathedral town close to the center. In a map drawn later we find St Ewolds, Puddingdale. Plumstead Episcopi, and the other more obviously comically named places to the south (Crabtree Canicorum). Plumstead is a plum; puddings are hearty things and so on.

People love a stable place and ongoing characters. It gives us a sense of security and permanence and beliefs in survival. There’s been a terrific resurgence in this form in the last 10-15 years and not just because it fits the TV medium.

This political map is going to count in the story. Now the clerical world is encased in a larger one. There is a railway to London too – as well as an Old Coach Road. This is the first of many novels where Trollope’s visualized  amps central means by which he organizes and expresses the social, political and psychological relationships of his characters and themes. What you own expresses you; what you lose expresses you; we can plot where a character is in life and how he or she is doing by his or her relationship to a place. So when Mary is for a time exiled that is very hurtful – and Dr Thorne very mad about it. Later on Trollope will grow more explicit about these geographies of power. But we see it start here.

Deep past. We are to be immersed in the feelings and thoughts of fully realized presences. Trollope here signals his allegiance to the idea that character or personality is not just the result of an evolution of the particular person’s circumstances, class, and background (family, genes), but shows how we are the product of a long evolutionary development over time. Freud said he learned a lot from novelists, well Marx’s idea of how there is this class struggle and antagonisms and development interacting with changes in means of production and social realities came from the 19th century novel, beginning Scott. This are Marxist chapters – and throughout the book Trollope notices change and how it effects everyone and everything. He did read Marx who wrote in newspapers. But it was more from Bulwer Lytton.

In the 18th century and in Barchester Towers character emerge full blown and there is a sense in which their characteristics stand for types, like archetypes. Not here. We might ask what is the difference between a historical fiction (one written today and set in earlier times – Wolf Hall in early 16th century and Poldark in later 18th) and historic fiction, like Dr Thorne, fiction written in the 19th century. I suggest we strongly tend to read them the same way – we watch the characters as products of time and place, circumstance, slow change. George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Hardy all do this, Bronte in her Shirley, Dickens not so much because his characters are not psychological sociological studies in the same way. We enter into the characters as if they think and feel as we do inflected by the time, space, events.

So what happened in the pre-history of this book? Chapter 1 opens on Frank Gresham’s 21st birthday, supposed to be a day of great celebration for the heir. Is it? Why not? We move back to learn some recent history. It seems that Frank’s father was not the firm large able and generous spirited man his father had been, father could not fill the shoes of the grandfather. Is weak (Ch 1, pp 4-6). He has hankered after false gods: married rank, a woman, the Lady Arabella whose idea of happiness is showing off to others, vanity and pride, and he has allowed himself to be lured by the whigs and become their friend and yet he is running as a Tory (p 5). It won’t do. Elections cost – though laws against bribery increasing enormously. That’s why you need campaign managers like NeartheWind and Closerstill. No longer can you just say this is my county, only these people can vote and if they don’t vote the way I want I cancel their leases. There are too many of them. He is also not personable, does not easily know how to make himself hail fellow well met.

My theory (not published except here!) is the Greshams are very realistic versions of Austen’s Mr and Mrs Bennet, he in his library and she all about the mercenary and rank values, materialistic, and shallow, and nagging too. Trollope shows us that such incompatibility is no joke, that a woman with the values of Mrs Bennet taken seriously can wreak far more havoc than stopping a courtship. Squire Gresham is complicit (as is Mr Bennet ultimately): he wants to enact the traditional hierarchy and get its rewards, but at the same run with the new big money world. He finds he or one can’t. When he has no occupation, he takes over the hunt . But apparently not being paid for it as a Master of the Hounds (pp 14-15). This does give him a place among people like himself and those of his tenants and farmers who can afford to ride sometimes too. She resents his occupation – one of his joys. She poisons many wells over the course of the novel (like her tabooing of Mary, stopping her husband’s friendship with Dr Thorne, a mainstay of their family economically through the loans from Scatcherd). The costly expedients are borrowing money at high interest.

What is another? His son. And he has ruined his son – as he sees. By among other things these costly expedients. When Frank says he will “study like bricks” before you despise the meanness of the countess de Courcy’s response, remember she is probably right, for as to making money from his studies at Cambridge it does not at present seem probable. He is not studious and making money from law say requires going to live in London at the Inns of Court and working your way up on the job.

Do we have another deep feeling man who is deeply flawed? Roger Scatcherd. The most brilliant of characters in this novel is Scatcherd: an alcoholic because he doesn’t fit in anywhere. Turn to Chapter 10, p 139: the man “shrieks.” He has real genius and understanding, the kind that does make money. He can do construction well, and recognize others who can, organize teams, and so build a business, and then with his money he lends money out for further people to build railways. But no manners, no reading. I dislike the way he treats his wife: it’s criticized but not enough. I suggest we are to accept his behavior to Lady Scatcherd.

There is a contradiction at the heart of the book: Trollope does honor “blood” (gentility in the genes), does not eschew the violence that put the hierarchical order in place originally (as in his talk about the heraldry), at the same time as he invents a plot-design and characters designed to make us value merit and human bonds and truth to one’s heart. We see this especially in his treatment of Sir Roger’s son, Louis Scatcherd, the way he’s characterized makes Trollope’s writhing condescensions to Slope seems the height of egalitarian decency (Ch 10, p 142). To be a gentleman or lady is a high aspiration, and not everyone has it “in” him or her to do it.


Manliness, what is it? One of the themes of this book is what makes for manliness, and how the male characters react to its demands; this is a question Trollope comes back to throughout his career though in different permutations. Here Trollope contrasts a man who bullies his abject wife with an inferior son (the Scatcherds), a man who allows his wife to overrule his better judgement and whose son will emerge eventually as “the better man” (Greshams) with our exemplary Dr Thorne.

J. Pettie, “The Country Surgeon,” Good Words, 1862

We learn about the Thorne family; two brothers and a proud father. When the “lousy son” – and we are never told anything good about Henry Thorne – is rejected by the Thornes of Ullathorne, father rejects them. This hurts second son, our hero. We move to violence over sex. Henry Thorne impregnates Mary Scatcherd and when Roger is told he marches off to Henry, sees his insouciant attitude and takes a stick and hits him hard. Does he mean to kill him? (p 24). Trollope suggests we as readers will think a punishment of six months (for manslaughter) too severe! (Connect up to honor-killing). Our Dr Thorne (Thomas his name) is at first mad for vengeance but learning the provocation, “his heart changed.” How does he behave? On one level, beautifully. He takes responsibility and acts to help and support everyone. Manliness includes seeing what is a true priority and exerting self-control. He works to pay for everything. So he is strong. But his strength has its characteristics too: he is very proud. Will not accept overtures from Thornes of Ullathorne. Not wise but human. He is not given to kowtowing, to suffering stupidity easily – patients feared he was laughing at them – that’s for false complaints, for real ones he is tenderness itself (P 37) He does make a connection with Squire Gresham who invites him over and is open and humane (p 25). A respectable tradesman agrees to marry Mary if she will go away from the area where she’s been disgraced — far far away – but will not take the child. I fear this attitude towards another’s man’s child especially when young is not gone from us – and not gone from many societies at all. Older people remarrying and accepting one another’s adult children is different, p 29. The question of manliness with respect to the male’s control over the female’s body is still part of the unwritten code of what’s not admirable or admirable. Notice the language: he was very proud as to family, as to blood, as to respect – in his later years he mellows, but “now promised to take to his bosom as his own child a poor bastard whose father was already dead” (p 29).

Dr Thorne makes the book questioning.

Our heroine is a bastard and she is the person we are to care intensely about, root for. How beautifully Dr Thorne welcomes her to their home” (p. 39). It matters what you are within not what your rank is – is that the burden of Trollope’s song? Well we have the terrific hurt of Dr Thorne as a young man when the girl he loves rejects him for being concerned in such a scandal (P 31). We feel his intense grief at the girl’s dropping of him. The emphasis in the book falls on the hurt people feel when such arrangements are inflicted on them. A very moving chapter in this first quarter of the book occurs in Chapter 7, The doctor’s garden, p 95. What has happened? Of course Frank and Mary have fallen in love and now Mary for the first time thinks is she a fit partner for him? She has great self-esteem based on herself; we see that in her scene with the DeCourcys and Patience Oriel too, but what if she is illegitimate? That’s the question, pp 99-101. It’s very hard for them to talk about; they use euphemisms. Does she really have the right to call Dr Thorne uncle?

Rights of this type are central to our self-esteem, whether when we know in law someone is not supposed to treat us badly and we see them do, do we protest? Our sense of what rights we really have in daily life is not from law but from something within that develops over time and comes from how others regard us, how we are treated ( ch 7 p 99). That sense of self Dr Thorne develops in Mary Thorne.

Dr Thorne finds he must tell Scatcherd that his will as worded would leave his money in the case of his son’s death to “Mary’s eldest child.” In the chapter called The Two Uncles (Ch 13, p p 169): Roger comes off very well. Why? He wants to see her, his emotions not yet that perverted by the values and norms of his society (Richard Holt Hutton said this was a central thrust of Trollope’s fictions).


A 19th century semi-comic illustration of a lady come to Mudie’s library to take out a book

Frank goes to Courcy Castle and visits West Barsetshire: Miss Dunstable and Sir Roger Scatcherd; Mr Romer and Mr Harding.

What kind of character is she? Some characteristics? She’s smart, she’s perceptive – who else in the book is smart and perceptive who is an important character? Dr Thorne. I call her an ironic festival figure. She’s on the wrong side of 30, has ridiculous hair (never mind bad hair), big teeth, broad nose, little black eyes, high color, and she’s irremediably vulgar. What she does is what nobody does: she talks money, she does not skirt this topic which others wish she would. When she does, they say, such a card Miss Dunstable and try to change the subject. Now the countess de Courcy wants Frank, aged 21 to propose to Miss Dunstable. : An Ironic Festival Figure She is continually exposing the hypocrisies of everyone else. She deflates everyone around her, all their pretensions. Our joy in her – if you do joy in her has little to do with her spunk or aggression — because she isn’t very aggressive. She fits in. But in this first novel at least she remains untouched by the venality around her, is not angered or embittered, keeps her honest values and integrity and can recognise and become friends with those she recognizes as spirits like her — say Frank and later Dr Thorne and Mary. Is hers really a fun position? An old maid people want to marry who couldn’t give a shit about her for her money. Doe she have any rank? None what so ever. She’s like Sir Roger. They even think no one could possibly marry her for anything else. It’s really hurtful.

Why does she like Frank? He is not yet corrupted at his core. Who is corrupted at his core: the Honorable George for one. Never mind your governor might just pop off any minute now and then you’ll get to spend as you please. What did you think of his proposal letter (p. 242-43). Frank is young and as yet noble-hearted and innocent; how did he get that way? We are back with Tom Jones, that’s his nature but it could be changed. It’s Frank’s business to propose to her and is he doing this? Not quite. Probably he wants a younger beautiful girl too – anyway he’s in love with Mary (inoculated). But he does try to obey. In the Rivals (Ch 18, p 198), things are heating up between these suitors. It’s time for Frank to act and he does make the attempt, but Miss Dunstable cuts him off with how fond of him his aunt seems. Oh yes says he. Tell me, she asks, what was the countess talking to you about last night?

“What did she say?” That Miss Dunstable was beautiful. And her virtues. “How very kind” of her. (p. 239)
“Virtues and prudence! She said I was prudent and virtuous?’
‘Yes’. ‘And you talked of my beauty. That was so kind of you! You didn’t either of you say anything about other matters?’
‘What other matters?’
‘Oh! I don’t know Only some people are sometimes valued rather for what they’ve got than for any good qualities belonging to themselves intrinsically’ (p. 190).

Frank is lying. And suddenly Miss Dunstable’s tone changes, becomes quite sharp. She says sharply out it’s quite out of the question anyone at Courcy castle would value people for what they’ve got.

We are told that Frank doesn’t get it, doesn’t think what he’s doing, he is heir to embarrassed property and as a male he sees other males going after Miss Dunstable so like some lemming to the sea he does so too (p. 24)0
She seems to forgive him – because he does not ask her to marry him because he does not want her, to his aunt (p 250): the aunt says Miss Dunstable is “very fond of you.” “Nonsense Aunt he says.” By the end of his sojourn – I’m skipping the visit to Gatherum Castle – he does ask Miss Dunstable to marry him (Ch 22, p. 269): what happens is when she breaks the code, he tells the truth. She appeals to the better man in him (p 271): she had hoped he was better than all around her; she cannot laugh at the world if there is no one around to laugh with her (p. 271). Has the aunt “blackened you so foully as to make you think of such a vile folly as this?” oh for shame.

I’ve learned in life “shame on you” often doesn’t work as a formula, but it does here: Frank boldy says he never for moment meant to make Miss Dunstable his wife (p 272). He didn’t think it out, and now they can be friends as they have a basis for the friendship (p 273) – truth. How does he feel after this interview? Revolted at himself. Deep sense of disgust at himself. One of his best moments in the whole book (Ch 20, p. 274): when the countess taps him on the shoulder, he looks at her. She knows it’s all over. Her reaction is to get rid of Miss Dunstable – no longer wanted.

The very naive John Bold as we first see him in Barchester Chronicles (John Gwillim)

The Election.  Mr Romer is a barrister, greatly interested in liberal causes, he’s there to assist Roger. How does he assist Sir Roger to win. There were still few people who could vote in 1858 (first larger franchise comes ten years later); polling places were places where people were pressured and thugs hired to intimate, violence went on until the secret ballot was passed in 1872. And suddenly they vanished. Who says people’s behavior cannot be changed is not very observant. It seems that Mr Reddypalm’s whole bill had not been paid by Mr Moffat or Closerstill. And Mr Romer pays it (p 236): our narrator admonishes us to pay the whole bill, and if you feel you are overcharged, you are getting at least friendly service. “Why make a good man miserable for such a trifle” – irony is you say one thing and mean another. Problem is people don’t always get your message.

Trollope wants you to see the egregious hypocrisy of the unseating of Sir Roger – the reason Mr Reddypalm’s bill surfaces is the Duke of Omnium and DeCourcys cannot bear that their power be overlooked: “Mr Moffat had been put forwad by the De Courcy interest; and that noble family and all its dependents was not going to go to the wall because Mr Moffat had had a thrashing (Ch 22), Sir Roger is unseated (p 290). All that over-the-top talk against bribery means nothing. It’s cant. Now it must be admitted that Sir Roger buys into the code.When he is unseated, he pretends not to care (p 295), ”And the blow to him was very heavy … “ read it. In the wake of this blow little people get blown over, the employees, like Mr Romer,ends up in Hong Kong, (p 295).

Mr Romer is unfairly destroyed (pp. 296-97, Chapter 22) You may pass a law as they did in 1832 against bribery and the Courcys committed bribery as did Sir Roger – stayed just within the limits of the law. But they are not going to stand there and let someone beneath them, with less powerful connections, no rank take a seat. They go to court – if they can’t have it, no one will (p. 294). The election is null and void. The district is not disenfranchised as too corrupt by law. That did happen after 1868 – Trollope lost at Beverley in Yorkshire; went to court, and the place was disenfranchised. Read about in in Ralph the Heir, a novel which reflects his experience directly.

Mr Romer parallels Mr Harding; it may be the law is right to be against bribery in elections, p 292 – a lot of overdone sarcasm about people caring about “purity,” but who gets hurt? In The Warden did the old men get the money they should literally have – no. They were worse off. They have no power for real. Mr Bold was a foolish young man who didn’t understand how the world works – he got a lesson to some extent in The Warden. He was lucky – we are told does not have really to work as a doctor, which he doesn’t much care for.

A poor illustration from an early edition of Dr Thorne, but the moment chosen is right: Sir Roger rasping to Dr Thorne over his will

Sir Roger goes home to drink himself to death. Had he been allowed in, he might have been able to rise to the crown of a career and whether other men drank with him or not been active and proud. Now he will drink alone as he has not been allowed a place. He has been deprived of fulfilling work.

How did they do in their speeches? Well Sir Roger held his own a lot better (pp 229-30). He knows these people, indeed he represents them, can pretend to have the skin of a rhinoceros. It is Sir Roger tells the crowd Mr Moffat’s motive for engaging himself to Augusta Gresham (p 232). Mr Moffat ends up pelted with eggs. He has no motive for getting into parliament beyond getting in. Sir Roger at least has pride and is engaged directly and deeply with economic realities. And then when this crowning achievement of his life is gotten it is taken from him. Whatever chance he had to function as a genius of sorts among his peers – Mps included people from Manchester, he never made it. Trollope waxes quietly sardonic on the phony obituary, portraying Scatcherd as just the happiest, as “serene” – the word serene is used of men because he was such a business success. Sir Roger was anything but. We are told he would have seen the monument put up to him as showing no understanding of what his work was (Ch 25, p 341). Where do these obituaries come from; when someone dies not expected to make the news, one is produced too.


For the last two weeks of our class discussion, see Dr Thorne and the Cornhill and Novels of Manners; the last quarter of the novel: blood versus true merit; no multiplot and making Pride and Prejudice real; Women and Property Rights; Kincaid and Polhemus: an all-out class war & the moral center; the Barsetshire series on the periphery & re-framed.


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Anton Lesser as Thomas More (Peter Straughan defying a fear a wider swathe of viewers will declare a series boring or slow-moving returns to some of the techniques he used in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy … ) The Washington Post featured a editorial column by Charles Krauthammer inveighing against the distorted portrait of More, showing how seriously these films are taken …

Dear friends and readers,

My concluding blog review of this unusually rich volume of essays on the often neglected and casually dissed costume drama from the BBC, for several decades a leading and influential creator of fine TV drama. The first part covered different ways of dicussing these serial films ; the second the history and evolution of historical films, and this last on the power of these drama’s audiences (especially in the age of fandoms on the Internet with their instant commentary) and how they can influence how a given mini-series might develop and frame how the series is discussed in public media.


All we are permitted to see in the 1970s is the morning after (Ellis as Ross, Jill Townsend as Elizabeth)

Chapter 16: Julie Anne Taddeo’s “Why don’t you take her?”” Rape in the Poldark Narrative.” I liked this one — it coheres with my point of view on gender politics in the Poldark series (though I differ in how I see Graham’s stance). Where she differs from the approach I would take is she organizes her findings around the fan groups which protest regularly, where misreadings are a result of mainstream cultural values. It offended many viewers of the 1970s mini-series that Ross rapes Elizabeth, and they are given ammunition in this view by the relatively chaste presentation of the 1970s depiction, and by later qualified backtracking in the novels, to be noted in Ross Poldark’s memory — but not sufficient to turn away the reality that Elizabeth manifests intense bitterness towards Ross in The Black Moon and is in The Angry Tide given a very “rough deal” indeed (Graham’s terms for the realities of women’s lives in our culture): she dies of miscarriage she pays a doctor to bring in by causing early parturition, using some herbs known to lead to gangrene. why? the intolerable life she finds herself having to endure when George Warleggan, her aroused jealous husband begins to believe that her second son, he thought his, and born prematurely, is Ross Poldark’s.

Taddeo begins with the enormous popularity of the Poldark mini-series as well as the unacknowledged (by elite groups) extent of Graham’s readership for years of his Poldark and mystery-thrillers-psychologically complex books. Her point will be to show how the fan groups managed to influence how the film-makers changed Graham’s books when they filmed them. The central dilemma of the 12 books is that Ross Poldark loves two women, Elizabeth Chynoweth, aristocratic, upper class, who chooses to marry Ross’s cousin, Francis, partly because she fears marriage to Ross (as a man of renegade risky outcast behavior), and thought he was dead and promised Francis; partly because Francis is the oldest son’s older son, and thus the heir and she hopes can provide her with a high culture social life. Ross takes in a pathetic abject working class (beaten up or abused) young girl, Demelza Carne, to be a servant in his house. Demelza grows up and eventually they have sex (almost inevitably and this carries on) but he marries her quickly — as someone he really likes and feels comfortable with, as a good sex partner. As to defy his class; it is an act of rebellion.  He falls in love with her gradually and deeply. In the 1970s series this altered so that Ross and Demelza have sex for just one night (the film-makers feared the audience would think Demelza unchaste if there were many nights, and that even today would not condone breaking the taboo of marrying far beneath him); Demelza becomes pregnant, even tries to an abortion, but Ross finds out, stops her and “gives” and their child “his name.” When Francis Poldark dies, and Elizabeth finds herself impoverished, alone, insecure, lonely, she marries George Warleggan, even though Ross has made intense efforts to help her (like giving her a lump sum he and Demelza needed badly for his mining business).  Incensed, enraged, he goes to Trenwith and forces himself sexually upon her.  To take her back, to assert his right to own her.  Fans resent bitterly the idea that Ross could have raped anyone. Just the other day I debated this issue off-blog and off-facebook with a long-time ardent reader of Graham’s books and about his life.

So fans of the mini-series argue over this triangle, wanting to absolve Ross and turning to hating Elizabeth. Taddeo shows that Graham is seriously interested in the question of rape, presents women as subject to men; in the second mini-series (out of Books 6-8), we have a young woman, Eliizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna, forced into marriage and Graham dramatizes her experience of married life as continued sadistic marital rape — happily her husband dies, and she remarries a brother of Demelza, but she never recovers from her two years of such experiences.

A scene related to the one focused on above: another rape scene written by a man, and this time we are encouraged to see coerced sex as aggresive seduction (Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, forced down by a Turkish friend of one of her suitors, Downton Abbey, the first season, 2010)

Chapter 16: Andrea Schmidt dilates on “Imaginative power” of the fan fiction and postings on the Net about Downton Abbey. She demonstrates how these fans — often disdained — expose the absurdities and perversities of Fellowes. He hires a “historian” as a reinforcement of his claim that he refuses to develop his characters in more sophisticated adult ways and deal openly with complex politics because is he keeps to “historical accuracy” no anachronisms in his characters. “Historical accuracy” is his mantra (like the US uses “national security”) behind which he wants to control the depiction of the characters to suit his defense of this super-rich order of people. At the same time he can write dialogue and invent presences with the power of suggestivity. He is usually real enough, and registers the depths and amorality of people sufficiently to open up suggestions we can play with — such as my argument last year that Mr Bates murdered his first wife and Mr Green through the clever ruse of accident.

Schmidt suggests that Downton Abbey fan fiction develops his characters from hints and behaviors Fellowes refuses to make clear or explicit — he cannot sue them as they are making no money and are not acknowledged as legitimate or serious by those in charge of literature and art. These fan fictions and postings and blogs too expose the nasty undercurrents of his portrayals, his fatuity. They complicate his stories in more “interesting, self-aware and sensitive areas” that he (in effect) refuses to. One I noticed is a fan fiction that postulates a love affair between Miss Obrien and “arguably the most underdeveloped character in the series, Cora, Lady Grantham.” A pair of lesbians. In another “poor Edith” is given a sarcastic and funny voice and describes the passive-aggressive relationship of Matthew (his sycophancy and making up to her) and Lady Mary (her cold indifference and potentially needling tongue) one New Year’s Day. They allow Robert (Lord Grantham to have his affair with Jane (the widowed housemaid?).


From Mr Selfridge: the opening episode, Miss Agnes Towler gazing yearningly at the dress in the department store window

Chapter 17: Andrea Wright’s “This Wonderful Commercial Machine” defends and analyses “Gender, Class, and the Pleasures of Spectacle in The Paradise and Mr Selfridge compared to the 1970s House of Elliot. The 1970s is incomparably more genuinely feminist in outlook — for a start, the owners are women. These costume dramas have lots of “good girl messages” I’d call them — stay home, be obedient, don’t rock the values that sustain you supposedly and you’ll be safe and maybe unhappy critics who complain about the spectacle and shopping should realize that’s the point of these series; women go there for pleasure. The older program had 2 ambitious women now we have ambitious men.


Like The Bletchley Circle, The 1970s House of Elliot featured women in charge, dealing, negotating

Wright finds that conservative ideologies have taken over; we espape the present. In The Paradise something less authentic is taking over – modern retail is characterized by cavernous hypermarkets that lack all individiduality. The Paradise maintains its French origin in feel and tone. She carefully goes over the décor of the two series and what is projected – -an opportunity to revel. Respectability and reputation are central to women of all classes. Agnes the desperate girl of Mr Selfridge is matched with Denise of Paradise, a prey to men, clerks on display like the goods, women as a consumable pleasure. Wright compares the kinds and fates of the female characrers in the two series. They fail to offer progressive roles for women and reiterate rigid class structures. A French business women Clemence is a threat sexually as she seeks to win through sexual enticement; she is cast as a dangerous other. Normalcy restored. Agnes has little opportunity, she gets paternistilc support, a sexual education rather than emancipation. We have also another Miss Bunting, desperate over debt, who steals is not pardoned and kills herself.

The upbeat 1940s Cherry Ames/Sue Barton feel to the series can be seen in this kind of stylized cheerful promotional shot — connected to the above still, women going to work

Chapter 18: Louise Fitzgerald’s “Taking a pregnant pause: Interrogating the feminist potential of Call the Midwife.” It’s the story of a newly qualified midwife who arrives in Post WW2 London to take a position alongside other novice midwives and Anglican order of nuns – Jenny Lee, a middle class woman who once loved classical music. The midwife can be seen as a feminist figure because she has been cloaked in misogynies – female strength not liked, a scapegoat. Birth and reproductive rights continue to be a central feminist subject; the show breaks this aesthetic taboo. Abortion becomes a flash point in the series – a story of a backstreet abortion at a time abortion not legal; Nora Harding almost dies – we witness her screaming. Neither woman (a story of Trixie who is first seen painting her nails with blood red varnish) is judged by her community, but both women are in effect punished and abortion and sexual assault are seen as the result of sexual desire. After success of first season Heidi Thomas (the writer who is a centrally important person in costume dramas, especially British) began to try for feminist content. Midwives are a much more visible presence in the UK; US media did not like its bleak ideologies and socialist Health care system. It is feminocentric and about women – none of women defined by relationship to a man – it suggests a communitarian spirit and that domestic history is valuable history.

Another promotional still which does show the ambiance of at least the first season

The main concern of the series is the relationship of poverty and social welfare even if topics – domestic violence, abortion, rape, birth, prostitution are feminist issues – there are so very few programs with women at the center is one reason for its success. Channel 4’s reality TV show One Born Every Minute has a high prioritization of birth stories – central in popular culture today and does reinforce “fact’ of women’s biological difference from men – Call the Midwife is a ghettoizing of what it means to be feminist because midwifery childbirth and motherhood seen as female space. No new points of identification. There is a nostalgia in the way class identity and hierarchies are used (reinforced too). It is white – one nun makes an “unintentional racist” remarks does not provoke disquiet that working class women’s behavior does. A story about a black child is told without referring to the child’s race; the story about the man as a father and man. Call the Midwife does not offer new paradigms for identification nor systematically challenge sstems of oppression and inequity. The larger problem in feminist of racism is here.


As general constant across the three parts of the book and different subgenres of costume drama and mini-series is the gender fault-line: there are men’s films and women’s films from the point of view of the characters and stories and from the point of view of how the screenplay writer, director and producer treat this content. And even if they are apparently feminist, written by women, feminocentric, sympathetic to women, they do not escape the hegemonic male dominance of our culture.

Chapter 20: Elke Weissmann’s “Transnational Complexity and the Critique of Masculinity in Ripper Street.

Ripper Street
Promotional: Matthew Macfayden to the fore, the women ghostly

Elke Weissmann writes on a mini-series Ripper Street (2010-) produced by BBC and BBC America. She feels the mini-series “emphasizes the problem that is constituted by traditional patriarchal masculinities.” This drama exposes while it attempts to critique the results of these behaviors and especially a nostalgic view of them. It offers an intense emotional engagement with its characters — part of serial drama. A central character played by Matthew Macfayden is at first presented as a traumatized and admirable male; he’s a versatile actor and apparently unlike Walter White in Breaking Bad where (according to Weissmann) we see a good man gradually corrupted, Reid was corrupt to start out with. A large theme is the problem of policing: who is to police such a society when the police are part of the problem. Along the way she describes similar min-series which she aligns or contrasts with this one: none of them have I ever seen; Dixon of Dock Street (British 1955-76), Wire (HBO – -I know this one is much admired), Hill Street Blues (I know it was popular.

BBC America
It’s telling how easy it is to find stills on the Net of profoundly wounded women with supposedly protective standing over them (from Ripper Street)

She thinks Deadwood the best of these, but it too makes an exaggerated use of violence, which is shown to be “deeply troubling”. Ripper Street manifests deep unhappiness and does allow for other concepts of masculinity. Violence is shown by the storylines to be a “key element of traditional, hegemonic masculinities,” is traumatizing and central to the problems men face too.

I’ve probably seen so little of this type of thing because I avoid high raw and continuing violence that I know is typical of a lot of filsm — Breaking Bad was an unusual program for me to watch


Rob James-Cellier as Thomas Barrow, a homosexual footman who attempts to blackmail Charlie Cox, the Duke of Crowborough but finds the Duke has far more power than he (Downton Abbey, 2010, the first season)

I’ve omitted Chapter 12, Giselle Bastin’s treatment of the two Upstairs/Downstairs series and keep Chapter 19: Lucy Brown’s “Homosexual Lives: Representation and Reinterpretation in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey to a minimum. As I remarked in the second of these blogs, I watched the two seasons of the 2012 Upstairs Downstairs and want to deal with the changes from the older to the new series separately, but here I would like to record the central insight of this essay. Lucy Brown shows that paradoxically the depiction of a gay footman in the 1970s, Alfred Harris, much more hostilely than that of Thomas Barrow, which actually ends on Harris’ execution as a spy is in a way far more truthful to the suffering and reality of life of homosexual men until the mid-1970s (Stonewall anyone?) than the sentimental way that Thomas is on the one hand sympathized with when it comes to his love relationships but otherwise stigmatized as a spiteful angry desperately snobbish man (in cohoots with that witch, Miss Obrien).

A single collection of essays has to leave some topics out. I was glad to see the emphasis in two of the essays on the importance and central function and dominance of the screenplay writer in the way the BBC does its actual film-making, but wished that there had been more about the business side of things. For example, a British friend told me:

it no longer produces drama itself. It commissions it from private companies — many of them (originally at least) comprising people who used to work at the Beeb. This new system has been in place for about twenty years, and certainly applies to Wolf Hall. Commissioning seems to work both ways — the idea may come from the Beeb, or the independent companies may pitch to them.

There are reasons to dislike this way of going about things, but it has resulted in many cases in higher production values — contrasting Wolf Hall with the 1970s Wives of Henry VIII shows the difference. It has also led to dumbing down, but Wolf Hall is not guilty of that.

Some the aspects of these dramas beyond dumbing down (short scenes, much less dialogue, itself much less complicated and thoughtful) which the essayists in the last part attribute to the power of audiences could be the effect of profit-making companies who want values that uphold their company and executives to be enacted.

I am a lover of historical fiction, biography, narrative history, historic fiction (older fiction) and think all these literary forms directly connected to, give rise to serial costume drama. I will be writing soon about Peter Weir’s Master and Commander (adapted from an amalgam of several of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, directed and written by Peter Weir, featuring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany).

Bettany as Stephen Maturin on the Galapagos islands, writing up his notes)


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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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?


Ross Poldark.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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:

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.

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

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


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


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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.


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:

Jerome de Groot
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

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.


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