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Lindisfarne priory

Dear friends and readers,

I am slowly becoming startled at all the material I have to write about, all the pictures! The Road Scholar guides took us to see and experience a remarkable variety and number of places over the two weeks. I had intended at most 5 blogs and now it seems to me I have matter (could this be?) for 7! I also intended to rearrange my travelogue so as to group thematically similar places together (Roman Britain, the violent Reivers at the borders) but the experience I want to convey would be lost. It’s the intertwining of the disparate in the same landscape that makes for variety and therefore fun. I had come to see the Lake District and if I could have chosen would have gone home after the first week, but I admit that this second week was more riveting, the buildings more moving and the whole ambiance of the place redolent with deep past history


Cumbria lake

We have reached the remarkable 8th day, the Monday during the day when we traveled to Otterburn Castle, and went through a scenic Troutbeck around Ullswater lake, visited Carlisle, saw the castle, cathedral, spent a couple of hours in its Tullie Museum (just stuffed with treasures and art) and we will move through to the 10th day when we drove across the Northumberland coast and crossed into what’s left of Lindisfarne priory, its castle, lighthouse and church (not just a ruin but an active place).


This middle twentieth century statue of four monks carrying St Cuthbert in his tomb around Northumberland and Cumbria is also found in Durham Cathedral — one must be a replica or facsimile

We might make a central theme out of the stories told of St Cuthbert, first a reclusive monk, then a hermit, then a corpse fought over by warring factions of ethnic tribes (Romans versus celts, Romans versus saxons), whose relics were scattered as sacred sites around Cumbria. In many of the churches or museums we visited were monuments to him, his history re-told, a relic on display. Or Mary Queen of Scots, whose name came up now and again as this fleeing romantic figure (forgetting she meant to be a politician, was a writer, a poet of considerable ability, a failed intriguer and queen), someone who a particular site is “sacred” to (or built around to lure tourists). The Percys were mentioned again and again — a powerful family.

But I’d like to mention two writers: Walter Scott who was mentioned unobtrusively now and again as saying writing border ballads about the Reivers, visiting and writing poems or novels situated in this or that place or around this or that event. He unites lowlands with highlands, Hanover Protestant capitalism with nostalgic Scots customs. He collects folk verse as the “minstrelsy of the Scottish borders.” Marmion is “a tale of Flodden Fields.” And Basil Bunting, one of Jim’s favorite poets (I have a volume of his work and a slender literary study of him), from Northumberland. A poem he would recite:

A thrush in the syringa sings.

Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things

Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.

Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.

O gay thrush!

Winding all about the coast (Toutbeck, Lowther Castle, the ruins of one of Anne Clifford’s fortresses), we began to find ourselves in the 20th century as the large city of Carlisle came into view. We stayed in the center where one of the castles used to protect the place during the seige still looms over the highway


Carlisle Castle — it reminded of the Sforza castle in Milan without the relics and museum art

Walk in a circle away from the castle and you come upon the vast large cathedral, still going strong as a center of that part of the city’s community: a huge place very proud of its stained glass windows which survived many a war, some directed at them too. It goes back to the 12th century and probably took several centuries to reach its present form:

Walked through streets, small shops, bookstores, empty places too (parts of Carlisle are suffering economically), and we saw very ordinary kinds of attached houses that I remember in Leeds — and lived in myself. With bow windows, green sills, all red brick. Then the fabulous museum. It has several floors and different corridors. The exhibits ranged from burial grounds and relics from neolithic times, to the vikings, to several rooms of Roman life (one rebuilt piece of wall with a tape of life on Hadrian’s wall); one moved through the 15th to 17th century, with pictures of battles, people captured, time capsules of villages, and paintings from the wars between England and Scotland (stolen church bells). Skip past the 18th century to the 19th, with insides of trains replicated where one could sit. Sculpture and pictures of 19th century industrial areas, fishermen areas.

The 20th century was treated as history too, with costume and furniture areas. High art like the Pre-Raphaelites, romantic painters, and pictures going up into the 21st century of the local landscape. Everything chosen with care, taste; there was too much to see before it was time to have the best lecture of the tour: by a young lecturer-curate of the museum on the Reiver culture of the area.


A Peel tower we visited where one of our group got stuck up on top —

Brief summary: from the 14th to the 17th century the area south and north of the borders was dominated by local violent family groups who stole and murdered from one another for a living — the farming land was very poor. It’s a history of successive gov’ts attempting to repress these people by arrest, execution, and finally negotiations and treaties and extradiction, forced emigration, clearances. He told of famous battles whose names I had heard of. I had not realized that the Percys in Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays were part of these Reiver clans, and Hotspur one of them. Cattle raids are not romantic as a way of life. He claimed there was a code whereby the women were not raped but I don’t believe that for a moment. Imagine giving birth in such a culture? Women led a hard life. Few people could be long lived: kidnapping, ransom, with fierce uses of symbolic weaponry. I suddenly understood better those parts of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall where Cromwell threatens nobility who are not doing their “job” of pacifying the local population. The specifics of these local wars are found in Alistair Moffat’s The Reivers, and John Sadler and Rosie Serdiville’s The Battle of Flodden (1513), which place we later visited.


A memorial on Piper’s Hill overlooking Flodden field, near Branxton church — the day we walked it was very windy and cold even if sunny

The lecturer used phrases like “semi-idiocy” of the way many of these encounters were conducted, in several cases just like Culloden, a huge slaughter which could easily have been avoided (1542 Battle of Solway Marsh hundreds faced one another and proceeded to kill). Flodden was an absurdity brought on by Henry VIII having gone to fight in France (at great expense to no real purpose), so the Scottish king thought he could just take over without planning, care, or sustaining his army. He named names and told of historical figures and legends. The ascension of Mary Queen of Scot’s son, James VI who became James I of England began the end of the era as he proceeded methodically and consistently to abolish flexible border “laws,” execute, arrest, transport people, also take down the Peel towers (thick narrow castles for protection and from which people attacked one another, and where there were dungeons photographed above). The landscape and ancient buildings we were about to see were the remnants of these peoples.

I remember eating in a lovely cafeteria (with that comical statue of someone riding a bike high up) after which we drove to Lannercost Priory, without doubt the loveliest of all the churches I saw during the trip: it is high Anglican done in quiet good taste, late Romanesque. The windows were paid for by a patron of the Tullie Museum and were done by various Pre-Raphaelite painters:


This might be Edward Burne-Jones

The church is still in use, and inside is recorded recent history, but behind it are ruins where we saw a touching burial monument for a young child

All around outside a garden with flowering trees leading to a graveyard and back to the church. It was a quiet place, hardly any tourists (but us), and one could hear Gregorian chanting in the central nave.

We then drove onto Otterburn, the renovated 10th century castle we spent the next five nights in. In the common areas was a fire in the reception area, a small library like bar, a large common room, and the dining room. All around back, meadows and a small lake or pond. In the first blog I included a photo of my magnificently sized room with the tapestry over my bed


Kieder Forest —

On Tuesday we drove through Kieder Forest (huge old forest, with moors, meadows of flowers, also burnt woods, and sheep), saw the Keider castle once used as a Percy hunting lodge, now a place to have lunch and walk by the water,

and then onto the 13th century Hermitage castle, an astonishing building in Liddesdale, a guardhouse whose form was actuated by the felt terror of those inside against those outside and those in their dungeons. The most famous story is of Mary Queen of Scots visiting a wounded Bothwell here; there is a painting of Walter Scott sitting on some stone stairs and contemplating the place.


The hermitage looking up from one of the dirt floors

I surmize the picture of Scott at the Hermitage is an image of him superimposed onto one of the building stairs, so it seems to me just as appropriate to put here one of the 19th century illustrations to his novel The Black Dwarf where the Hermitage plays a role:

The building dates from the 1200s and was in active use until the late 16th century. It could never have been very comfortable, though an official guide fills the Douglas tower with imagined rooms of people going about daily ordinary activities of eating, sleeping, reading, entertaining themselves.

We drove on into Scotland the abbey town of Jedburgh where we visited a Norman abbey (ruined), a Victorian house said to be in which Mary Queen of Scots had stayed for an afternoon (numinous person), a grim jail (no longer in use) set up so you can see some of the desperate nature of the condition people were kept in, with their pathetic crimes life histories, and egregious punishments put down in different cells. The town seemed in good economic shape


We walked all around the abbey

We had quite a way to drive back from Scotland into Cumbria and Otterburn and broke the journey by stopping at a church which the guides took us inside. This below is not that church but another we spontaneously explored another day, similar in age and surprisingly also still in use


A twelfth century church — inside it is unheated, very plain

Dinner, rest, read, and now it was Day 10. Lindisfarne had been built up as truly special place and it took some trouble to get into — you had to plan to go through when the causeway was not flooded and to return before the waters rose again. Nonetheless we meandered through the landscape, driving by Bamburgh castle and looking at people bathing on the shore of the north sea it might have been.


Lots of tourists all around

Lunch in a small town and then onto Lindisfarne, which one of our guides persisted in calling “the holy island,” in honor of St Cuthbert, a central nowadays mythical figure


Lindisfarne estuary or causeway — crossing over into the island

The central story of Lindisfarne is of St Cuthbert told in a museum:

Lindisfarne became the base for Christian evangelism in the North of England and also sent a successful mission to Mercia. Monks from the Irish community of Iona settled on the island. Northumbria’s patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later abbot of the monastery, and his miracles and life are recorded by the Venerable Bede. Cuthbert later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. An anonymous life of Cuthbert written at Lindisfarne is the oldest extant piece of English historical writing. From its reference to “Aldfrith, who now reigns peacefully” it must date to between 685 and 704.[30] Cuthbert was buried here, his remains later translated[c] to Durham Cathedral (along with the relics of Saint Eadfrith of Lindisfarne). Eadberht of Lindisfarne, the next bishop (and saint) was buried in the place from which Cuthbert’s body was exhumed earlier the same year when the priory was abandoned in the late 9th century. Cuthbert’s body was carried with the monks, eventually settling in Chester-le-Street before a final move to Durham Cathedral

It was very crowded, worse than an amusement park, with children everywhere. At first I was put off, but after a while wandering about the shore I could try to imagine what the place might have been like with only a very few quiet people living here under rules of silent and ordered activity. The island has been inhabited for centuries


You walk up to the castle and then wander inside


The church windows from within

Our day was not ended. Late afternoon still around the borders of Scotland, we visited Etal castle (placed in a once strategic position), another heavily built this time 14th century dungeon like structure — though it had more of a feel of a place one could imagine people living in because of the wider floors — Flodden field is however nearby. In all these places there was a museum and a corridor of objects, history, maps and art objects one could look at. We learned of a rich woman who was responsible for single-handedly (with her money) lifting the impoverished abysmal lives of the people in the area to modest prosperity in the middle of the 19th century


The afternoon had turned sunny

I end with Bunting:

Weeping oaks grieve, chestnuts raise
mournful candles. Sad is spring
to perpetuate, sad to trace
immortalities never changing

Weary on the sea
for sight of land
gazing at the coming wave we
see the same wave;

drift on merciless reiteration of years;
descry no death; but spring
is everlasting
resurrection.
— Basil Bunting


One of several bookstores we passed by, one I did walk into …. Very good, lots of well-chosen books, a room for reading them ….

Ellen

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‘How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?’ [Thoreau, Walden Pond] — And how many more a woman?


This is the edition I’ve read this book in so many times ….

To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. — R. L. Stevenson

Friends and readers,

Day 9/10: of books that influenced me, had a discernible impact. For my second to last I have to go with Samuel Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands, unfailingly published with James Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. They are sometimes (in a new excellent edition by Canongate edition) referred to as one book called the Journey to the Hebrides and an audio Recorded Books (only available in a download version) of them very well-read combines the two in alternative sections:

I spent three hours today reading half of Johnson’s part of the journal yet again and yet again it exercised its pull

I sat down on a bank, such as a writer of romance might have delighted to feign. I had indeed no trees to whisper over my head, but a clear rivulet streamed at my feet. The day was calm, the air soft, and all was rudeness, silence, and solitude. Before me, and on either side, were high hills, which by hindering the eye from ranging, forced the mind to find entertainment for itself. Whether I spent the hour well I know not; for here I first conceived the thought of this narration.

We were in this place at ease and by choice, and had no evils to suffer or to fear; yet the imaginations excited by the view of an unknown and untravelled wilderness are not such as arise in the artificial solitude of parks and gardens, a flattering notion of self-sufficiency, a placid indulgence of voluntary delusions, a secure expansion of the fancy, or a cool concentration of the mental powers. The phantoms which haunt a desert are want, and misery, and danger; the evils of dereliction rush upon the thoughts; man is made unwillingly acquainted with his own weakness, and meditation shews him only how little he can sustain, and how little he can perform. There were no traces of inhabitants, except perhaps a rude pile of clods called a summer hut, in which a herdsman had rested in the favourable seasons. Whoever had been in the place where I then sat, unprovided with provisions and ignorant of the country, might, at least before the roads were made, have wandered among the rocks, till he had perished with hardship, before he could have found either food or shelter. Yet what are these hillocks to the ridges of Taurus, or these spots of wildness to the desarts of America? — Anoch

In my first term in graduate school, in a course called “Intellectual Currents in the 18th century,” the professor, Frank Brady, nonetheless, spent half the term on the writings of Johnson and Boswell. I was 24, and deeply impressed by all that Johnson wrote; and when we got to the twin travel books by Johnson and Boswell, I conceived a desire to follow in their footsteps and go to the Hebrides too. The reason I’m reluctant is I dislike Boswell so (personally, as a gang-rapist, for many of his ultra-conservative attitudes, for having framed Johnson in his image of him) though the Life of Johnson ended up entrancing me (in an abridged Signet at the time). A few years later I read Johnson’s Ramblers, Idlers, Adventurers one a night before I went to bed– to steady myself. Jim and I had gone to Edinburgh for our first weekend together two or three years before this class, and I had been so disappointed we could not get further north since we had no money for a car (not much for a train either). In 2001 I led a group reading and discussion of the the twined tours here on the Net and my description was published in the Johnson Newsletter, and letters, poems, meant us to reach out. This fall one of my set texts for a course in the Enlightenment will be Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands (alone or with Boswell, depending on the student’s preference).


Iconic still from Outlander, one of whose sources is DuMaurier’s The House on the Strand (narrator moves from Cornwall 20th century to Cornwall 14th)

I don’t know why Scotland has exercised this fascination on me. Among the books of my teenagehood was a torrid historical romance called The Border Lord; the author attribution is a pseudonym; I couldn’t get enough of Stephan Zweig’s Mary Queen of Scots

Just as the historian pays little heed to slow and stagnant epochs, and his interest is focused upon a few and scattered but dramatic and decisive moments — so, for the biographer, who is concerned with the inmost story of a life, only the pulses of passion count. A human being is not fully alive except when his best energies are at work; and when feeling is active, time moves swiftly though the clock-hands circle at the customary pace … as in dreams, one under stress of powerful affects lives through measureless epochs between two ticks of the pendulum; and with each of us it is as with the enchanted man in the folk-tale who fancied that he had spent a thousand years in the interval between two heart-beats.” –Stephan Zweig, Mary Queen of Scots

and went on to read other biographies of her, her poetry, and the attributed casket letters to Bothwell. Much Scott (Walter). I always liked R. L. Stevenson. About 10 years ago I came to love Margaret Oliphant’s works after reading her Scots ghost stories and The Ladies of Lindores. I read and love Scottish women’s poetry and books. A dream came true last summer when with Road Scholar I went to Inverness, Aigas House. That year my favorite book was John Prebble’s Culloden and I spent much time watching Outlander, and listened to the first two of Gabaldon’s (pernicious) historical romances, partly riveted by its Scottish highlander setting, partly by the central love story and my bonding with Claire. This summer my Road Scholar trip to the Lake District includes two days at the border lowlands of Scotland.

The trails are for me many. I am drawn to the Poldark books because set in an analogously Celtic fringe area: Cornwall — which I finally visited two summers ago. Marginalized places, places on the edge … Such books include even include Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, nominally set in the Hebrides, actually in Cornwall:

And Jim enjoyed Johnson, wrote a paper as an undergraduate defending Johnson’s poetry from the standpoint of the (much maligned at one time) prosody. Jim could quote the line by Johnson about the superlatively gay time he and Boswell enjoyed at Skye:

In Raasay if I could have found an Ulysses, I had fancied a Phaeacia (where Odysseus is entertained perhaps Corfu)

The alert reader may notice that I have skipped Day 8/10: that is another I thought more appropriate for my Austen Reveries: Mlle Julie de Lespinasse’s letters (to M. Guibert most of the time) and Mme Marie-Anne Du Deffand’s letters (to Voltaire, Horace Walpole, Heinault among others).

Ellen

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Bossiney Cove — the central sections of Strangers Meeting takes place in Trembeth Cove, Cornwall

Since coming abroad something of the subterranean disquiet which existed everywhere had affected his imagination and he quite often awoke from dreaming … No Exit, Chapter Two, p 27)
… in the midst of a police raid, a crowd gathers and “an old woman, her head wrapped in a black shaw, drove a derelict donkey-cart across the cobbles and disappeared down an alley … Chapter Six, p 75)

Friends and readers,

This is a coda to my survey of Graham’s pre-Poldark suspense novels: I’ve read two more, and, as I suspected, one can group this man’s novels by chronology rather than genre. Here I relate a group of them to the immediate lead-up to and early phase of World War Two. Beginning in 1939, his books dramatize stories of political murdering where the senselessness, serendipity, and sadistic enjoyment of allowed non-personal (unmotivated) killing becomes the thing the books glimpse or deliberately fully uncover. The protagonist now has to work at keeping him or herself from being murdered as a bye-blow of events. The earlier atmospheric regional books, with their legacies from Agatha Christie, Anne Radcliffe, large country houses or hotels, gothic stories with their autobiographical roots give way to stories which anticipate or resemble Graham Greene or LeCarre: Keys of Chance (1939), No Exit (1940), Night Journey (1941, revised 1966), My Turn Next (1942, reworked as Cameo 1988); later books of this type include Night without Stars (1950), Greek Fire (1957).

The private stories gain in depth of feeling and open melancholy and despair: Ross Poldark (begun 1940, published 1945), The Forgotten Story and Demelza (1946), Take My Life (1947) and thereafter, especially say After the Act (1965). there’s also the kind of book I’d call morally earnest as if he is trying to conjure up some individual morality specific individuals might heroically hold to: I saw this in the first (and maybe only) book he won an award for, The Little Walls (1955). Another turn or transformation comes with Marnie (1960), where ironized alienated and psychologically pathological characters enter his stage, especially true of The Angry Tide (1978 — Mark Adderley), The Walking Stick and Angell, Pearl and Little God (1970). All of this latter group except the historically past ones lend themselves to film noir.

It’s then for me understandable that Graham might be embarrassed by the earlier books and discount them as juvenilia, child-like, perhaps effeminate, giving himself away too and his own inner world, and work to suppress or re-write them, but he was wrong. Again, seeing these as belonging to regional Cornish books rooted in marginalized places helps bring out their thematic and psychological-social themes. The two I read were one of the early type, Strangers Meeting (1939), and one of the World War II type, No Exit (1940). I quite liked both; both are all the stronger for not having been revised or reworked, so there is no distraction.


Original cover for Strangers Meeting

Strangers Meetings is one of thesse revealing or telling pre-World War Two books, just. It has a intricate story-line with lots of intimate details very like the 1930s British murder mysteries or Daphne DuMaurier novels (for the plot go to Profiles One or Discard in the online Winston Graham Reader, and falls into three distinct acts, perhaps the result of its having originally been written as play the year before (Forsaking All Others). As with The Dangerous Pawn (1937), The Giant’s Chair (1938, ruined as Woman in the Mirror, 1975) and The Merciless Ladies (1944, revised 1979), and the first seven Poldark novels, several of the central characters of Strangers Meeting and fleeting characters we get to know less well but are there and count are likable, appealing. We have three couples who come to Cornwall to get away from their ordinary environments; a kindly disabled and ill young man and a factory girl fall in love; a married couple is in effect attacked at their core when the wife’s sister turns up with a amoral corrupt and cold fiance who was the wife’s lover (perhaps even her second husband) years ago and has come to grab the sister’s legacy and blackmail the wife for sex (or money). The atmosphere, the descriptions of the places, the working out of a personally fulfilling ethical outlook by the characters is absorbing, offering a piquant comfort. Piquant because the solution for the married couple is to accidentally kill the fiance (he falls or more probably is pushed off a cliff during an altercation with the husband). The artistic arrangement of the slowly developing relationships and revelations for the reader, the uncovering of the vicious intentions of one character and the anguished past of another, and for me, and how three of the characters (disabled young man, factory girl, husband) emerge as genuinely thoughtful individuals was part of the pleasure of the text.


Jane Wymark as Morwenna escaping (1977 Poldark)


Keven McNally as Drake upon seeing her come to him, finally, suitcase in hand

The value of these books (Dangerous Pawn, Giant’s Chair are two others) is they attempt to present the inward trauma of the isolated person directly — we have mentally retreating and disabled characters; characters whose unconventional conduct their society would reject — sympathized with. One can grasp this when one reads the later revision or re-working which silences or erases these earlier characters, marginalizes them, puts them at a distance. In the Poldarks the one character where this kind of thing is put fully before us is Morwenna (especially Four Swans and Angry Tide); Drake attempts to and finally succeeds in rescuing her; unfortunately after that (their marriage and retreat) she and he are both kept from our view.


Original cover for No Exit

No Exit is a book that anticipates recent crime novels like LeCarre’s A Most Wanted Man (2008) and Our Kind of Traitor (2010). Night Journey, which I outlined in my previous blog, is more like Tinker Tailor (1974): a whole world of amoral spies, politicians and just desperate people swirl around the quiet, plain hero who has expertise, insight, some sense of ethics. No Exit is set right around the time of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and the central action takes place the day the Nazis invaded Prague. Our English bridge engineer hero, John Carr, first come to Budapest; he becomes involved when he realizes someone has been murdered in his hotel and has asked him to take a message to someone else. This is the trope of the innocent bystander who takes responsibility and becomes almost against his will a detective, and then a rescuer and finally a co-conspirator with other people become revolutionaries in flight or resistance movements. He moves to Prague where much to his immediate surprise he finds himself in the midst of an invasion, one he becomes aware is happening as he observes the reactions of people all around him to some deeply frightening development say a few streets away.


Nazi Invasion — by the Charles Bridge — Graham’s hero walks by the bridge several times

The word “terror” is appropriate, except that here it’s a matter of people doing the bidding of different Nazi gov’ts and agents of aspiring gov’ts to terrify the vast majority of people by wantonly rounding up and snatching, disappearing (the verb “to disappear” is used in this book), torturing, killing and imprisoning all sorts of people at will. It evokes a justified paranoia. The characters discuss how what is happening is suppression of all individual rights by ruthless minority setting up an aggrandizing state backed up by militarization and a “demented” world. A “dictatorship” in “the modern sense” using “concentration camps” as one tool, religious institutions another. It’s the first of Graham’s books to use the method of the Poldark books: thorough extensive research so Graham recreates for the reader effortlessly — you never feel a card index is thrown at you but what the characters are experiencing as several levels of action coming together by different people and forces in closely related places. You walk the streets of Prague with Carr as the hours go by. One man is murdered; with the unexpected help of two women (one a journalist) he is able to flee with three people and we then get this ordeal of escape by train, car, foot as they move through checkpoints and finally an “eerie snow filled silent forest” (rather like the closing scenes of Grand Illusion they come up a cottage with friendly people who harbor them).

This one is also given a detailed plot exposition at Profiles One or Discard. I disagree with the verdict of the writer: for me the unheroic nature of the protagonist makes the book more powerful (think of Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener) and love the Demelza-like heroine and ordinary mother he returns to at the novel’s close. I find the hero resembles Dwight Enys. The point is he is lucky to live where sanity still has a hold.


Richard Morant as Dwight Enys — he was pitch perfect in the part; here he is telling Clive Francis as Francis Poldark he has really come to care for his patients and not grow rich off the poor; Francis is all ironic surprise (1975 Poldark,scripted Paul Wheeler)

I can quite see my way to writing about these corpus of work against a backdrop of political as well as aesthetic developments between 1934 and 2003 (the span of Graham’s career). I’d love to know as much about him as I can and will try for a library, but if I lack private letters, there is much autobiography in all his journalism and two-life writing books. I’ve bought a copy of the 1945 original text of Ross Poldark and have a copy of the 1947 original text of Demelza. I’ll be reading them soon.

A second point I want to make about Graham here is he seems never to cease revising his work. He didn’t just rewrite and/or revise some of the early books; he may be said to have abridged the original Ross Poldark, he cut down the original Demelza, and made changes in Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan. All his writing life, he was more or less continually tinkering with already printed works, revising this or that sentences or sentences for a new publication. One can disagree on how “private” a man he was. He socialized far more probably than he needed to do to publish, promote and see his books distributed, filmed, and create opportunities and stimulation for himself to write more, but he was not pretending when he presented himself as living long stretches in the solitude of writing and research — and rewriting.

And his texts are beautifully written. The style of conversations and thought are direct, naturalistic, flowing. He loves animals and his favored characters are kind to, fond of, surround themselves with animals. At the close of Strangers Meeting, Peter Crane, our disabled young man, and Sheila, the factory girl from London who will now spend her life in Cornwall rescue a rabbit from a trap, bind its leg and set it free. Sheila is another Demelza-like heroine. This kind of depiction is a symbol or site for expression of vulnerability in the earlier novels and passages in the Poldarks.

It was a small fluffy brown rabbit with a tuft of white tail. It was caught only by one black leg. A nasty wriggling squeamishness grew up inside Sheila, and she wanted to turn and run. Instead she knelt down and looked at the gin.
It was one of those what you press down at one end to open up the other. There was a large spot of blood on the curling front of brakcn underneath it.
The rabbit now stopped screaming and concentrated on giving horrible forward jerks in an attempt to get free. She put a hand on its head, and after a momentary wriggle it lay still with its ears back. She could feel the hard skull under the soft brown fur.
She stroked it a moment, and put her other hand awkwardly round its neck. Then she brought forward her foot and trod upon the far end of the gin. A second later she was standing up with the rabbit wriggling in her arms. It was a most peculiar feeling.
She waited until it went tolerably quiet again, and then lifted to see the damage … Strangers Meeting, Part Three, Chapter Six, pp 307-8)

Graham seems particularly fond of cats, but all animals are treated with sensitivity by his good characters. It’s a mark of Demelza’s intelligence when early on in her relationship with Ross she tells him (in effect) the torturing of roosters for entertainment is deeply perverse, ignores the animals’ true body (they come without the irons) and impulses; very cruel.

Well that’s all for tonight. I’ve had several deeply satisfying days in the Library of Congress working on Winston Graham’s oeuvre and hope to continue and return if I can to this library and others. I’ve a few crime novels to read and have picked out Cornish authors and books Graham cites and clearly knew about as colleagues and aligned works. A work in progress.

Ellen

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Puck in Motte’s filmic MND — presiding over wood, beach, mountain, his fingers seen typing away on his computer throughout ….

Friends,

I saw the Zellner Brothers’ pernicious film, Damsel, about two weeks ago now in my film club, and had debated ever since if I should write about it. I hoped it would go away, not be shown anywhere or hardly at all, not make any profit so the brothers would go out of business. No such thing. Today while watching Won’t You be My Neighbor?, I saw Damsel advertised as coming to a chain of theaters in my area. It is a film filled with acts of senseless violence, most of the characters exhibit a mindless obduracy, despise any openly vulnerable, tender, sensitive, and want to kill wantonly the one character who seeks friendship and love; one might offer the idea the Zellner brothers meant to parody the norms of the Trump regime and his non-super wealthy voting base, but the incongruities are inconsistent. If a Native American sounds like a Mel Brooks character upending the nonsense (he asks, “What is wrong with you people?”), he also steals everything he can from those he encounters and sneaks off in the night. The heroine is last seen rowing away into a misty lake with a miniature pony, determined to live on herself, in scornful need of no one. Most of the bulk of humanity are presented as moronic peasants who are first seen hanging a useless chubby man in a barrel (classical allusion to preferring begging to being a corrupt lord)


Mark Pattison at the ready (does not need anyone but himself, his gun, and the helpless animal)

One of the central male characters, Samuel (Mark Pattison) is someone out of the scenarios of our mass massacres by white men. Samuel is a white actor and he insists Parson Henry (David Zellner, one of the two people who made this film) a preacher come with him to marry him to Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) a girl whom he says has been kidnapped. He is ferocious with his gun. When they finally find her, and Anton (Gabe Casdorph) a young man is seen leaving the hut they live in, this young man shoots him dead. Then we see a gun come out of the door of the house and begin to shoot. It is Penelope. She comes out and immediately it is evident she loathes Samuel, a stalker — for that is what he is. She was in love Anton, whom he has murdered. She tries to and succeeds in murdering Samuel while he is pissing in an outhouse. She then under point of gun, puts material for a bomb around Parson Henry’s neck and at gun point forces him to walk ahead of her. She blows up buildings. She is insane, the young man stalking her was insane — as the young white man who murdered those nine black people in a church was insane. The preacher is laughed at by the film since he does not want to murder anyone and is constantly being threatened with death. Everyone carries a loaded gun in this film.

Other characters: the other Rufus who seems related to Anton (David Zellner) shows off that he is ignorant, ill-dressed, and violent. The movie opens with another nameless preacher and another anonymous young white man waiting for a coach that never comes. Public transportation is non-existent in this desert. Finally the preacher walks off leaving the passive young man waiting.

But it’s not a parody of today’s America because it is immersed in and endorses the violent characters intensely. Not a moment of kindness except by Preacher Nathan and he is sneered at because he needs people: “that’s your problem, ” says Penelope. In the end Nathan returns to the village idiots and stays with them. They drink whiskey and spend their time drunk — they have none or don’t drink water they tell Samuel.


Mia Wasikowska as Penelope (at Cinema art theater)

I had thought going to Won’t You Be My Neighbor? would simply be a trip into Laura, Izzy and my shared experiences together in front of a TV, nostalgic, possibly sentimental, making tear up, but it was a serious deconstruction of the profoundly humane and socially good ideas actuating Fred Rogers to make 4 decades of children’s programs that reached out to them candidly.  Mr Roger’s Neighborhood experienced through children’s art (like puppets) children’s apprehension of the world and built their self-esteem, consoled, uplifted, solaced and taught them about the realities they find themselves in.  By tracing Rogers’ career from his leaving the religious ministry to replace the slapstick, obtuse ridiculing, and ceaseless violence in one form or other with his programming really taking kids into account, the viewer travels through how we moved from a seemingly optimistic era and pro-social behavior (enacted, put into law, supported), to the present time, represented in Rogers’ fairy tale land by the arrogance, indifference, and willfull disregard to human needs. The King puppet wants to be a dictator. I remember Daniel as a surrogate for Rogers; the grief of Henrietta Pussycat making Laura grieve too. Rogers’ neighborly world connects the mirrors in the fairyland and good words well understood. Nothing to hide, nothing ventured nothing gained.

Would you believe groups of Trump bigots rant about Rogers as a socialist, and hold up placards saying they hate him. Rogers had on his show a long-time black TV actor, Susan and her husband, our black exemplary parents, Maria the touching young Puerto Rican girl who grew old with the part. A group of these people who loathe him came to his funeral with signs saying how he was a “faggot,” and how they hate him. Trump types have long accused him of wanting children to feel they are entitled to things without working for them. They say all children should be taught they must earn respect. Love does not seem to come into this. He is called gay because to them he is unmanly. Rogers does say how he dislikes TV, especially popular children’s TV, which is frenetic, filled with clowns, and pours thick messes over children, shows cartoon characters in intensely violent acts. I remember the first time Laura saw the Road Runner; she was terrified the character had died when he fell off a roof. We didn’t have TV for the first five years of Laura’s life as out TV had died and we didn’t buy a new one for a few years. American cartoons are the first place Americans are inured to cruel violence. Rogers went into TV to replace such pernicious fodder.


Charity Wakefield a wonderful Peter Quince to Fran Kranz as Bottom (see just below also)

The two films seemed to be so worlds apart, yet covering all possibilities of landscapes, houses people, until I saw Casey Wilder Mott’s fantastical film world, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s text of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Damsel left out imagination, beauty, and Mr Rogers was so concerned to reach children that his imaginative world of puppets is not dreamy but an analogue of our real world. Shakespeare takes us to a world elsewhere. Mott rearranged scenes, cut and rearranged film sequences and the actors were taught (as the BBC ones were for Hollow Crown) to speak Shakespeare trippingly off the tongue, to transform their anguish and comedy for more accurate, elegant language that nonetheless is spoken as naturalistic in TV films of Shakespeare like the recent Lear or The Hollow Crown. The worlds of the play were replicated in a couple of high-powered movie executives (Theseus, a recognizable serious actor, and Hippolyta, long willowy black model), 25 year old white children of super-rich parents (the lovers), hard-working clueless actors, the last two falling into a magical holiday time. Oberon is an older black actor, Titania an Asian actress. Among new patterns: this turns out to be written by Puck wonderfully acted by Avon Jogia as sprite.

Go see Damsel if you enjoy cruelty, jeering at vulnerability, but if not, don’t support this travesty of toxic masculinity. Trump’s world, his impulses heroized or mocked (depending on how you see this). Alas not a museum piece but a “western.” Don’t give them any more money: the Koch Brothers and their ilk is supplying enough; the new Supreme Court is determined to give intolerance power because that’s free speech. Your right to liberty gives you the right to exclude, reject in the public sphere now.


Fred Rogers answering a little girl’s answer (the same as above)

Open up to what people truly are with Fred Rogers. Watch Rogers’ face go to stone and his eyes show pained rage when he consider the mockery of his show on Saturday Night Live where they invented a plot where an actor looking like him is put into a wrestling match with one of his characters to reveal how he is in fact a hypocrite and turns to nasty spiteful violence when he is losing. He is remembering how he was bullied as a boy. You’ll learn about the history of the show (they did make the mistake of trying to film the challenger and caught it exploding), Rogers’ attempt at a show for adults (it didn’t work, too hard-hearted by our thirties we might say).

Achieve forgetfulness of the world of Trump and 30% we are told of Americans supporting him in Wilder’s choice of eloquent passages from Shakespeare turned into text messages, the voice of Puck, the quarrels of the lovers. The wood, the beach. The play within the play finds the actress and actors dressed like the stars from Star Trek (Thisbe looks like Princess Leia, while Pyramus looks like Hans Solo).


Shakespeare’s lovers on the beach

Summer movies are implicitly jeux d’esprit. Not this year. A fat man with a remarkably stupid smile or stupid stubborn pig expression, incapable of making sense for a spoken or speech paragraph (he can only tweet) is becoming a disguised dictator, opening detention camps and prisons around the US, putting children in their squalid conditions (and is not impeached for anything he does which undermines the constitution), and who will he come for next, and do what to the detainees? Mr Rogers didn’t succeed it seems — a cartoon show of him is all that is left on PBS. Are the Zellners right about humanity in their depiction of everyman’s village in their western?


Scofield in the trumped-up trial (A Man for all Seasons, Robert Bolt)

“Our natural business lies in escaping said Bolt’s Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons in 1960; shall we all escape to the wood? One problem with that is the characters achieve comfort by making fugitive visits to the obscenely rich palladium mansion of Theseus.

Ellen

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Small still from 1977 Poldark, Episode 8: Hugh Armitage and Demelza Poldark becoming lovers in the marginalized rural landscape by the sea of Cornwall

Friends,

I noticed tonight many hits on my blogs and essays on the Poldark novels, especially those which provided the equivalent episodes of the older 1970s Poldark to the one aired tonight on BBC: from the conclusion of The Four Swans (1977 Episode 8) and the opening of The Angry Tide (1977 Episode 9). So I’ve provided a couple of stills from this material for the opening of this blog


Elizabeth telling Warleggan she will leave him if he does not stop his insane possessive spying on her, and imposing a crazed anxiety and coldness which is ruining her life (1977 Poldark Episode 8)

I regret to say I have no summary or stills from the start of the fourth season. As someone who lives outside the UK, I cannot as yet access the show nor the BBC iplayer: a friend is working on that to see if we can use VPN; another friend is recording the show for me in Ireland and will send the DVDs as he can — it will not be immediately.

But I thought I would return to Winston Graham tonight. I have over these several weeks since April (when I at long last gave over trying to write an academic style paper on Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf as “modernist” biographers) read carefully one short story and some six of Graham’s early novels, all belonging to the the popular novel formulaic kind of suspense, mystery, thriller, detective, murder type I wrote about last week, this six first written before the breakthrough (as I’ll call it) of Ross Poldark (1945). In two cases I have only a later revision, and in one both the early novel and later revision:

The House with Stained Glass Windows (Graham’s first published novel), 1934: a barely readable juvenilia: it’s as if someone took the silly Clue game and made a novel out of it, but it has recognizable elements of typical Graham amalgams, especially a sort of mentally disabled neurotic man (very over done in this first attempt)

“The Medici Earring,” 1935, a short story, reprinted 1965 and 1971: All three versions differ; I discover tonight that I have the 1935 version (which appeared in an issue of the Windsor Magazine for that year). I read the last, the 1971 version (which appears in The Japanese Girl, a collection of short stories). I dislike the tone of the 1971 version, that of a mild sarcastic male, the sort of thing popular in smart-alecky detective stories. Especially offensive is the attitude voiced towards the girl in the story: she is delectable. While it could be this is ironic (on the part of the implied author too) since surely we are not to like this man as he stole the earring and has lied to everyone. However, in other of these suspense stories and many many of them by men especially women are treated as objects available for sex. Here the implied author is quite hidden — I assume we are not to like this awful man but I’m not sure the point is moral exposure.

The Dangerous Pawn, 1937: effective in its own right, at moments in the conversations it reminded me of Norman Douglas’s South Wind, better than the 12th Poldark, Bella, evocative descriptions of Scilly Islands, with probably revealing autobiographical elements. Four opening chapters take place in India (with flashbacks to the UK) and Singapore, and Graham critiques the Raj from the point of view of a white subaltern. The hero is in class (like Paul Scott’s Merrick in his Raj Quartet) and when he takes the hit or blame for the neglect of a major dam, he is ejected; he goes to Singapore to try to obtain a similar subaltern British position, but is instead lured to become a wealthy man’s private secretary and sub-manager of a corporation in London. Eventually the novel and its hero finds a true core in Cornwall and the islands just off it — a complicated plot. Many of the elements found in the Poldark novels are in this book in a different amalgam. A secondary hero anticipates the character of Valentine Warleggan fascinatingly because of the same name and personality resemblances, and he is not a character twisted into self-hatred like the Valentine of the Poldark books. Part of the reason it is superior is it is not structured as a murder mystery.

The Giant’s Chair, 1938, unfortunately completely re-hauled into a much poorer Woman in the Mirror, 1975: streamlined modernized, it loses all the charms of the first gothic-like 1930s style, heavily descriptive and mythic haunted Wales book, also heavy with indirect autobiography. I recognize disturbing caricatures of Graham’s own mother and his self as in an older strong woman and a disabled son. I found myself involved with the characters, even liking a couple of them. The older version has as back story a poignant romantic love vignette. The later book has some remarkable lines, it’s more coherent and pointed, but much of the atmosphere of the first, all the beauty of the love story is gone and at the end we are confronted with a sordid melodramatic murder. It is remarkable to me (and significant) that Graham later in life cannot tell what is good in his writing and what is bad. I assume he was embarrassed by the earlier book and/or seduced into imitating what is the going style (so he intuits) that sells.

Night Journey, my copy printed in 1975, a somewhat revised 1966 version of an earlier 1941 book of the same title: it put me in mind of Graham Greene and LeCarre school because the book is an attempt to reveal the amorality of global spying during WW2; I’ve not read the earlier where there might be more specific autobiographical parallels in the characters. In this one the protagonist is pressured into facilitating the killing of someone without any trial, just on supposition. (So it anticipates what is openly done in the US drone killings today). The love interest is completely meretricious (phony). At the opening there is brief entry of a character who seemed to me to anticipate how Ross Poldark might appear to others. Bleak, pessimistic, self-contained.


Ross pressured by Bassett into seeking out to arrest and try (and eventually hang) someone as a scapegoat because he participated in some food riots (1977 Poldark Episode 9)

Merciless Ladies, 1979, a somewhat revised version of an earlier 1944 book: with an interesting pretense that the narrator is considering a biography of the hero, who is kept at a distance, intelligent details about schools of art in the era, court-trial scenes, like Dangerous Pawn it seems hardly a mystery type until near the end when it falls off badly into a scene where the narrator kills one of the two vicious women (the “merciless ladies” of the unfortunate coy title, not atypical of the era), presented as justifiable. It is a rare book of this kind to sympathize with those who participated in the strike of 1926, to criticize fascism, to be anti-war. There is a thrust towards solitude as a way to recover and sustain integrity and strength. Among the more apparently virtuous characters there is a a distaste for the publicity, for public self-selling. I have not read the first version and more may perhaps be learned about the author’s motives or aims or dissatisfaction with the first by comparing the two.

The Forgotten Story, 1945, like Dangerous Pawn, effective in its own right, it combines a realization of Cornwall in 1898 in an anxiety-producing story, with a young boy narrator, and an ominous dense woman who poisons people who get in her way. It contains one of Graham’s numerous semi-rape or at least some kind of sexual assault scenes between a husband and wife where the husband is presented as justified; in this one he apologizes and the depiction of the heroine is done to show us how little opportunity for self-realization, power, independence, liberty a young woman of middling status had in this early era (and perhaps in the 1940s too), which allows the novel’s sexual subplot between the husband and wife to be read against the grain. I became very anxious for two of the characters, really cared what happened to them. Atmosphere and evocation of Cornwall, the sea, the world of ships very good. I wrote a full account of this novel some years ago. I didn’t realize then the extent to which this book conforms to mystery and Cornish subgenres combined.


Drake now a blacksmith and Geoffrey Charles talking (1977 Poldark Episode 7)

These are not all Graham’s early pre-Poldark novels. The 1931 Black Beard (a title which reveals its stance, one might wish ironically but I doubt it) is lost or destroyed; 1935 Into the Fog, The Riddle of John Rowe; 1936 Without Motive; 1939 Keys of Chance; 1942 My Turn Next. None of these are available in the Library of Congress, which is the major research library available to me without traveling. There are two early or pre-Poldark plays, the first not available to me without traveling: 1936 Seven Suspected, the 1938 Forsaking All Others is lost (or destroyed). But I have managed to obtain a copy of Strangers Meeting, 1939, which is said to be a novelization of Forsaking All Others; Strangers Meeting is set in Cornwall. I have now  read it and it is a good book of the type. (I’ll write of it separately).  A last sort of pre-Poldark is No Exit (1940) begun after Graham had started Ross Poldark.  There is a copy of No  Exit in the Library of Congress near me. Graham’s works for print and private papers are located in the complicated situation of different libraries: one is in Cornwall, another Reading; research may be done in the British Library in London. The scripts for the early Poldark series and probably the new ones are in the BBC archives library.

There are three streams of popular material which make up the matter of Graham’s writing: this suspense genre; regional Cornish stories and writing; and historical novels and romance. I make a separate category for stories set in Cornwall as it does seem to me that the Cornish setting leads to a certain kind of text: I’ve seen this happen in other authors who lived or just visited Cornwall; it is true of Anthony Trollope’s remarkably good 19th century story, “Malachi’s Cove,” adapted into an effective BBC movie.

He did write screenplays, and very much interested himself, played an active role where he could in the film adaptations of his books — of which I have counted 9 (if you count all the the 1970s serial dramas as one film adaptation and all serial dramas since 2015 as another). So in 1945 he wrote a script for a film, Take My Life, with Valerie Taylor (this exists in a 1947 DVD), which he rewrote as a novel: I have both a copy of the DVD and a copy of the novel, which I have read but a while back and must reread. Take My Life as a project occurs around the time of Ross Poldark and Demelza.

I’m writing this blog in the same spirit I wrote many of my blogs on film adaptations of Austen, on Woolf and Johnson and other topics over the years — to see where I am and work out a few thoughts in brief blog-essay, which I hope is coherent enough for the reader to gain some knowledge too. Graham does convey throughout characters who involved themselves in businesses and gov’t and he writes about this kind of experience, as well as different areas in the world knowledgeably. So he traveled. There is an assumption of understanding of social life — though he presents it as dysfunctional. The earlier books show himself and his mother; he presents the Demelza type from early on. The more intriguing or less moral female characters (who are not vicious) are yet to come (Elizabeth Chynoweth say or the amoral heroine of Angell, Pearl and Little God, 1970).

I now realize how much of the suspense material is taken over into the Poldarks and how the concerns in the suspense material exist across the Poldark matter. There are to me deeply disquieting misogynisic patterns across the whole oeuvre: a woman is repeatedly killed or assaulted or raped by a man and the act is justified; his famous Marnie belongs to this (1963), and lent itself to a Hitchcock voyeuristic mean-minded nightmare; Graham’s later favorite novel (he said), After the Act (1965) is about the intense regret of a man who has murdered his older wife.  The cheap nature of this book, its thinness and cover sicken me: 1978 The Tumbled House.  I feel ill looking at the packaging of the later Cameo (1988, a thorough reworking of the 1942 My Turn Next), mercifully it’s shortTitles turn me off:  Merciless Ladies (mentioned above); 1998 The Ugly Sister.  Those who write in this genre do not have me and my woman’s taste or feminism in mind. Across all the fiction I will say that Graham’s texts come most alive  and the best of his psychological writing comes out when he is writing of Cornwall and marginalized rural places nearby.

I don’t want this blog to go on for too long so shall stop listing with notes at this point; after 1945 when the Poldark novels start, during the twenty year hiatus between the fourth of the first quartet (Warleggan, 1953) and the first of second trilogy (The Black Moon, 1973), and during the writing of the later quartet and final coda to the Poldarks (Nos 8-12, Stranger from the Sea through Bella), he composed a number of short stories, numerous suspense novels, three more historical novels other than the Poldarks, travel or descriptive regional writing, one of which is partly a memoir and an autobiography, to say nothing of scattered journalism. I have read some of this material but not with notes and care so will make my way through these slowly as well as what of the non-Poldark films once again.


Old photo of St Ives as harbor and art colony

From my reading thus far I am becoming persuaded that the approach I must take is through the genres and Cornwall. I wanted to write a biography but that will take travel to libraries so must not count on it as a central nexus and I have learned Graham’s son is far from eager. So despite a real distaste for some of this material — like Anthony Trollope I just can’t get myself to care what happened at 2:15 on Monday at the stile nor do I read to discover what happens next — I’ll have to get to know the typical characteristics of it, and pick out what I can like of it. I have made a list of such novels to go through. Previous old favorites of mine of the mystery-murder type were Umberto Eco’s Il Nome della Rosa and (believe it or not) Antonia Fraser’s Quiet as a Nun. For spy stories I’ve read a number of LeCarre, also Graham Greene. I know from teaching, film watching and novels which mix realism with the mystery genre, as well as a few masters that it lends itself to serious social criticism, and since Hammett socially aware books. I have loved Daphne DuMaurier and films set in Cornwall so hope to enjoy exploring that vein. I have no list for more romance fiction or Cornish stories as yet. Historical fiction and romance happily I’ve read a good deal of and love. I have no working title any more (it was Winston Graham, Cornwall and the Poldark matter) as I have seen I shall have to change my perspective to include this suspense material yet write sympathetically.

Ellen

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Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison (Prime Suspect series)

I, too, dislike it — Marianne Moore

Friends,

I’ve embarked on a reading journey through an area mostly unfamiliar to me, and Polonius-like, can come up with only the clumsiest of labels: the mystery, detective, suspense, gothic, spy thriller, crime, murder novel. Most of the time even with the most generally admired, about half-way through I grow tired of the formulas, and either give the story up altogether, or skim-read to the end. That’s what happened yesterday when I read for the first time Dashell Hammett’s much-bepraised The Maltese Falcon. Or I get to the end, and think what a good book this has been, until three minutes thought assails me, and I see it for the claptrap anti-feminist thing it is and become seriously annoyed. That’s what happened the other day when I finished Winston Graham’s Merciless Ladies.

I admit I can be hooked by a film serial; especially late-at-night, with a female hero, be drawn intensely in by its mix of ingredients blended into my more favored fare: that’s what happened with the film adaptation of P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley. I can like the “Golden Age-1930s mold” even with a wholesome male at the center and a sermon at close: my favorite time for watching James Norton in Grantchester was 1 in the morning.


Typical cheap paperback cover illustration for the era …, now published by the New York Review of Books as a worthy book, became a remarkable 1950s movie by Nicholas Ray

But I’m no more fooled than Raymond Chandler in his debunking “The Simple Art of Murder,” or Julian Symons in his truly brilliant and entertaining Bloody Murder: “it is an inferior thing, but a thing with its own particular and unique merits. Nobody condemns Restoration comedy outright because it lacks the profoundity of Jacobean drama” (20), as with most film noir and ghost fiction.

I’ve embarked on this because I’ve embarked on a book on Winston Graham, his Poldark novels and Cornwall (working title). I don’t intend to read every work he ever wrote, or study every film made from said work (some in each kind are dreadful). To understand the man and his genuinely creative books, one cannot ignore 30 odd volumes of suspense set in our contemporary era, a few of which have been much admired, with one famous title (even had an opera made of it last year, i.e., Marnie, and some time ago a very good play by Sean O’Connor). One chapter I’ve told myself.

I’ve been reading these desultorily, out of order for a few years now, depending on what I thought I could stand: The Forgotten Story, written the same year as Ross Poldark, historical Cornish, deeply reflective of the trauma of WW2, Angharad Rees starred in the now wiped out serial; The Walking Stick, with its fine movie with David Hemmings; The Little Walls, won prestigious prize; Angell, Pearl and Little God, despite its godawful title, said to have been considered for a movie with Brando in a leading role. Graham has a number of novels with (to me) unappetizing titles, many first published with embarrassing covers.


I like this 1960s Bodley Head cover illustration of Demelza used on all four of the Bodley Head publications of the first four Poldark books

But now it will be my project, give me some kind of goal for a biographical book of my own, one I think I can do for real, and which is called out for — there is no book on this man whose work is so well known, liked, has made a great deal of money for so many. And I’ve corresponded with his son who for now has no objection. All the reading and love I’ve put into my study of biography and continual reading of literary ones (now there is a genre or book type that when done right I don’t tire of but read on however slowly to the end) — could just emerge in one of my own.

So I’ve begun steadily working through Graham’s early ones in the order they were written, and when revised, cut down, rewritten (several were) even comparing the two texts. And I’ve found myself engaged, e.g., The Giant’s Chair, 1938, became Woman in the Mirror, 1975. Alas (for Graham’s mature judgement of his own work), the earlier version is much better. I’ve heard this said of the first 12% longer version of Ross Poldark. The Giant’s Chair set in 1920s Cornwall, with attention paid to geology, geography, local feel, has an idiosyncratic charm, a traumatized secondary hero, disabled son, unjust death (not by murder), with believable heroine who has Radcliffian adventures, lesbian sexuality, becomes a weak hard-boiled thin bloody murder read, albeit with some stronger lines and passages — and more coherent clarity.

Tomorrow if I can get through the byzantine “security” procedures of the Library of Congress (whose real effect is to curb research, lest the cowardly congress be at risk as they place their iron heels on 90% of us), I shall read the relatively rare 1937 The Dangerous Pawn. It fetches $2000+ on the open market.


Jeremy Brett — the 1980s Sherlock Holmes

For tonight I thought I’d introduce one aspect of this fantastically successful genre, which the reader may not know or not mind being reminded about. (Beyond how necessary it is to find delight and solace in its central detective figure0. How flexible it is all the while keeping its recognizable furniture. It can accommodate so many kinds of stories & materials because one can tell anything to Sherlock. Two weeks ago I watched a remarkable modern-type BBC film adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s real novel of quality, The Woman in White (1860), arguably one of the pattern forms. I remember reading it in two days when I lay sick with flu — 1973 that was, we lived at the top of Manhattan with our dog, Llyr. The Italian Fosco was the origin invention that gave rise to the book of Marion Halcombe, the spinster who I defy anyone not to like. About the subjugation of women. The lady gone mad is not in the attic but wanders from her asylum across moors.

I had thought a genre I am familiar with, have long loved in the dyptich, historical romance, historical fiction, was very far from suspense novels. I was wrong. As in Graham’s oeuvre, characteristics, motifs, character types slide across one another co-terminously. It is not that uncommon to alternate between them. Police procedures can combine with women’s subjective novels, which historical romances are a version of in disguise. The great Breaking Bad belongs to this genre.

And today LeCarre is one of those who have made of them philosophical politically engaged books. I suppose the road was opened for this first by Hammett (1931, The Glass Key is not far off his rewrite-collaboration with Lilian Hellman from stage to film, Watch on the Rhine, 1941). I remember first reading LeCarre’s early, A Small Town in Germany (1968) which I thought was a fable about integrity very like Trollope’s The Warden (a similar retiring male at the center).

Trollope by the way knows the drill. In his parodic dark The Eustace Diamonds he has the de rigueur fuss about key, locked room, weapon (depends for working on some mechanical device), not to omit the importance of the exit/entrance and mappable space. By reverse logic, it stands to reason Trollope had no feel or urge to write historical fiction. He didn’t care what happened at “exactly half-past two o’clock on Tuesday morning” fifteen yards beyond the fourth milestone.


A Nancy Drew introspective cover, as Umberto Eco says at the opening of Il nome della rosa,

Naturalmente, un manoscritto

I have almost written myself into admiring this stuff. As I write myself into wakefulness and a feeling of cheer. Now if only I could find real pleasure in reading it. It can be fun to read about it on the train and watch it obsessively at 1 in the morning.

Ellen

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Dear friends,

It’s not quite been like a UHaul, but it has taken a couple of weeks since I needed instruction and help and the actual transition was done by a remarkably generous digital expert at groups.io. I have been busy this last few days moving three lists from the continually deteriorating Yahoo groups social platform, to groups.io. In the last three years and accelerating when Verizon bought Yahoo, all the software on the social platform of yahoo groups has been debased and then increasingly ignored so that outages, glitches and endless individual problems go unfixed. Sometimes the whole group site vanishes for a time. And not even a boilerplate message explaining what has happened and if anything is being done. There is nowhere to ask a question or for a live individual to help. As the demise of net neutrality sinks in and brings changes based on commercial considerations of the largest profit, at any time Verizon could leave the yahoo groups vanished.

So rather than wait when it will be too late to retrieve archives, like others with communities at Yahoo who care about one another and their shared experiences, we’ve moved to groups.io. This is a new social platform run by Mark Fletcher, who invented the original ONElist, morphed it into egroups, sold it to Yahoo, come back to rescue this specific kind of experience. Among the astonishing attractions of groups.io is you can have its basic services for free, and they transferred the archives, all postings, all photos, all files (essays and whatever). A group’s identity is centered in its memory, which means its history. This the new site preserves.

Email groups are not obsolete. They still offer a kind of closed community interaction, which allows for longer messages, and encourages replies and relationships among the people posting much more frequent and much stronger than is found on blogs, face-book and other large anonymously-directed venues.

So very satisfied by what has happened, as I gather are many other Yahoo groups who moved there (I don’t have firm statistics for how many), this evening I thought I’d tell all the readers of this blog who are interested in Trollope and (a liberally defined) Nineteenth Century (1815-1914); Long Eighteenth Century studies, which I now expanded from just the terrain of the Enlightenment itself to historical fiction, romance and film (1660-1815); and women writers, artists of all kinds in all countries, all ages, and women’s issues; that the three lists I moderate have moved to this new version of the original site and have slightly new titles.

for Trollope and His Contemporaries, which now has the nifty abbreviation (I didn’t think of it) Trollope&Peers

https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries


New Banner: George Hicks, At the Post Office

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Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding playing his violoncello (1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

for WomenWriters:

https://groups.io/g/WomenWriters


New Banner: a collage of several paintings by Maud Lewis

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Anonymous depiction of Christine de Pizan writing

for 18thCWorlds


Antonio Canaletto, Northumberland House

https://groups.io/g/18thCWorlds

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark, singing as she brings a basket of food to the coal mine owned and run by her husband

The first two have retained the same goal as they’ve had.

Trollope and His Contemporaries — a group of people who behave as friends and read and discuss Anthony Trollope, any 19th texts by other authors and 20th century one relevant to Trollope, by authors as supremely good as he is as a writer People are invited to discuss other books they are reading at the same time, and any movies or art seen and music heard …

Women Writers — a community of women readers. We discuss issues of interest to women as well as their art, writing, music, crafts and lives. We are much more a literary than political list, but it is assumed you are a feminist and progressive in outlook … Men are welcome but we stay with art by or (in the case of film) made with women in mind. We do sometimes have group readings and discussions

I’ve changed the last to encourage people reading historical fiction, romance and watching historical films (and adaptations) to join us and hope to start group reading and discussion of contemporary favorites. The older version only went for texts written in the 18th century (Boswell & Johnson, Fanny Burney, novels, poetry, educational treatises):

18th Century Worlds — for people who are interested in all things in the long 18th century (1660-1830): politics, history, literature, arts, music, society and culture. I also welcome readers and viewers of historical fiction and romance and films set in the 18th century … Books written in the 19th through 21st centuries about or set in the 18th century, or time-traveling tales are part of our terrain.


Sylvia Plath

Ellen

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