Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘political novels/films’ Category

JohnAtkinsonGrimshawAutumnLeeds
John Atkinson Grimshaw (136-93), Autumn, Leeds (1880s) — a Victorian conception

Dear friends and readers,

I am embarked on reading Framley Parsonage with about 30 adults (mostly retired older people) at an OLLI at George Mason University. I am enjoying the novel immensely and hope my “students” are too (probably an inappropriate noun considering its connotations as there are no exams, no essays, no certificates). How intimate the feeling Trollope creates. How he captures the rhythms of daily life as he seeks to write down all around him what is daily and he feels and sees in order to produce this so alive novel quickly.

To begin with (the term), I found myself expatiating upon what is a sequel last week and thought as sequels are so ubiquitous in this year (2015), not just of an original work, but re-boots of adaptations and sequels forty years on, I would write about sequels and what I was surprised to discover is so about Framley Parsonage. Perhaps this will interest a few readers and viewers of film adaptations, say Barchester Chronicles.

Everybody who knows anything about Trollope’s life and career knows it was Thackeray who prompted the writing of Framley Parsonage. Trollope was just then writing Castle Richmond and he had several of his early traveler’s tales available for placement. He was startled and surprised to discover the Cornhill, preceded by a buzz and hum which made it the equivalent of the New Yorker in the 1950s, had yet to secure a central part of its offering: using Fielding’s metaphor in Tom Jones, of a meal, they were without la pièce de résistance, the central irresistible chocolate and wine of a novel. In reply to Thackeray, Trollope offered short stories he had just written; he offered Castle Richmond. In a superlatively courteous reply (“My dear Trollope”), Thackeray declined and said what they wanted was another of those clerical Barsetshire stories. So Trollope set about to produce two novels at once. (If English people didn’t want to hear about the famine and Ireland, the rest of Europe did, it was published separately around the time of FP and quickly translated into 5 languages.) FP made Trollope, and on the strength of his new income, he moved to just outside London to be part of the literary world at last. In 1859 August we find him leasing Waltham House in Hertfordshire just outside London. He lived there for several years, until his income began to fall off (well after he had quit his post office job since he did before he became eligible for a pension). Nonetheless, or more than ever (he needed money now), still working for post office, and famously getting up at 4:30 (Barney, his Irish servant woke him) and writing 4 hours or so before going off to directly remunerated work; he had a traveling writer’s desk made for him so he could write while in railway carriages. Think of it as a laptop without connectivity.

The Cornhill, a central organ of mass print media in the Victorian period, its first number in fact. The Cornhill‘s mission was in part to present an image of acceptable middle to upper class life (not the reality, an idealization of reality, omitting much that was unpleasant to them, like dealing with real servants, city life); its readership could congratulate themselves upon belonging to what produced would be in good taste and the latest politics, information. The title of the first chapter was a Latin tag; someone who could not recognize that tag was a fringe person.

The book is very much a sequel, conceived as a sequel to three books Trollope had written in the near past — as ordered: The Warden (1852-53), Barchester Towers (1856) and Dr Thorne (1857), let us remember just three out of ten novels Trollope had written and published since 1845. Barchester Towers, No 2 and Dr Thorne, No 3, the second and third of these Barsetshire book were not only commercial successes, but had become identifiable Victorian-style middle class novels, and not to have read Barchester Towers especially was like not to have heard of say Downton Abbey in the last three years – where have you been, my dear? You might not have read BT or seen DA, but you should know something about it, get the references, the jokes. I’ve never watched The Sopranos and probably never will, but I know enough about it not to look unknowing when it’s brought up. Barsetshire was nearly a form of social currency, social capital, part of the habitas of cultural references. Framley Parsonage clinched it, and partly unfortunately for Trollope defined him evermore in a wider complacent public eye.

Sequels come in so many forms nowadays I thought I should try to distinguish this one: there are prequels: what transpired before. There are appropriations: you transpose the story and character to another country or era. There are analogies or free adaptations, where the central outline of a plot and the central archetypal character patterns are recognizable, plus a few idiosyncratic scenes or complications. Modern dress: Bridget Jones’s Diary out of Pride and Prejudice through the film adaptatio of 1995 by Andrew Davies. There are commentaries as films: you produce the story with changes which critique it. The post-modern, often post-colonialist new perspective: you retell Defoe’s story of Robinson Crusoe from Friday’s point of view (Foe); you retell RLS’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde from the maid living in the house, and you have Valerie Martin and Stephen Frears’ Mary Reilly, a historical novel in its own right, not belonging just to the RLS franchise (as Jo Baker’s Longbourn does not move outside Austenland). Gone with the Wind from a girl household slave like Prissy. Those who know GWTW well or the movie may remember Prissy’s famous outcry when asked to help Melanie, a secondary heroine, give birth: “Ah, don’t know nuthin’ bout birthin’ Miss Scarlet.” A black person in that audience would not have jeered at her for that utterance. The Wind Done Gone retells GWTW from the perspective of a black female household slave. Or you retell the familiar Tudor matter from the point of view of a man hitherto made into a villain, Thomas Cromwell, only you make him a hero; voila, Hilary Mantel and Peter Staughan’s Wolf Hall.

My plan was to say that Framley Parsonage corresponded to a primary type: the continuation (the closest I can think of in recent Jane Austen sequels is P.D. James’s Death comes to Pemberley, Darcy and Elizabeth 7 years on). A continuation is a novel which continues the story of a group of characters in a book or books after that book or those books have ended. There has thus far been one for Trollope: John Wirenius’s Phineas at Bay: it has centrally recurring characters who live in a single connected imaginary space. It is in Framley Parsonage that Trollope begins to connect up all the places he had mentioned in the first three novels, The Warden, Barchester Towers and Dr Thorne, and Wirenius continues the Barsetshire-Palliser stories after The Duke’s Children closes, through the upper class conservative perspective of Simon Raven, which has become identified as Trollope country. It is just one territory of it I’d say.

The problem I discover is Framley Parsonage doesn’t really. It does not continue the stories of the first or second book or even the third: Dr Thorne. We meet only some of the characters we have met in the first three novels but it’s not their story; they swirl around the main story. The main story gives us wholly new characters and suddenly fills out a hitherto blank space (had we realized there is a map) in Barsetshire: Framley Court and Parsonage and their inhabitants. A few character recur: most important, the ironic festival, frolic charactrer, Miss Dunstable; and Dr Thorne, Archbishop and Mrs Grantly, not to omit Griselda (now the name is become ironic), and the biological son of the Duke of Omnium (returned), now named Lord Dumbello, by the Marquise of Hartletop; Mr Harding appears in order to expose the moral horror Griselda represents. The Rev Josiah Crawley was mentioned as Mr Arabin’s friend of deep integrity, high intelligence, sincere religious belief, to whose poorly paid curacy in Cornwall Mr Arabin would go when he needed uplife. But now he comes on stage and is central to the serious themes of the book:

fram1
John Everett Millais, The Crawley Family (from the original illustrations)

The best we can do is call it a traditional sequel because the basic point of view remains the same and the story of some of them carry on and they are in the same imaginary space.

We fall back on how we define a series, or roman fleuve: it has centrally recurring characters who live in a single connected imaginary space. It is in Framley Parsonage that Trollope begins to connect up all the places he had mentioned in the first three novels, The Warden, Barchester Towers and Dr Thorne. So it’s a sequel because it clinches the series using the map, some recurring characters, and themes — the egregious injustice in the way clergyman were chosen and paid.

By contrast, the once called Parliamentary (as the Parliament is central to them all) and now Palliser books (since the books were adapted using Simon Raven’s scripts 1974-75), a second set of six novels which came out of the Barsetshire map and some of its key characters (Duke of Omnium) was meant to be a series and does have a central couple whose story is told over 6 books. Each Palliser book has separate characters and stories who are central to that book too, and most of the time like a soap opera they drift off; in the imaginary of the soap opera world, you can call them back, but they more of less vanished, merely heard about occasionally,and the on-going recurring Palliser group ages and matures, and the imaginary space, now Barsetshire on the trainline into London and its 12 novel chronology is more less consistent. So too Downton Abbey (I was struck how in Season 5 we are told Gwen a maid we met in Season 1 and left the abbey to be a secretary has now married). The later series takes us into our contemporary world.

Vasilyev_illumination
Feodor Vasilyev (1850-73), St Petersburgh Illuminated (1869) — the modern city

This blog serves to point up how the Barsetshire series was not planned as a series. Framley Parsonage (the fourth, which resembles the fourth in other recognizable roman fleuves or sagas, like Warleggan in the Poldark series) lovingly fills in and tries to make consistent and meaningful the map of Barsetshire for the first time. It is about about the ubiquity of sequels or post-texts in our era. Comments and thoughts on post-texts in our time invited – re-booting is nowadays a popular term for re-done film adaptations.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Christmas
Morris and Martha Stanley (Ray Winstone and Emily Watson) attempting to celebrate Christmas as if they were still living in England on a searing hot day in the Australian outback (2004, The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat, screenplay & music by Nick Cave)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m going to attempt to use this blog in a way I haven’t for a while: to think about a topic I hope to write a paper on by mid-summer: right now the working title is “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depictions of Settler Colonialism,” and in order to keep the paper relatively brief enough to read in twenty minutes I thought I’d try to limit it to Trollope’s texts about Australia and New Zealand. I’ve been reading for about 6 weeks now, and got myself through his immense travel book on these two countries, his 20 letters to the Liverpool Mercury, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, John Caldigate and “Catherine Carmichael, or Three Years Running” (set on 3 successive Christmases in New Zealand). I’ve read some very good criticism on these and other of Trollope’s colonialist tales and travel books (North America) as well as on his relationship with his son, Fred, who moved to Australia and Fred’s life there. I didn’t reread but have been skimming and thinking about his brilliant short stories set in Latin America, “Returning Home” and “Aaron Trowe”, his “Journey to Panama,” as well as his Anglo-Irish novels, especially the first two, Macdermots of Ballycloran and The Kellys and the O’Kellys (after all what did the English do to the Irish but inflict settler colonialism on them).

I’ve found that rather consciously in the non-fiction Trollope explores, bears witness to, and analyzes the formation of a “new countries” and new national identity or identifications. He is concerned to show how the memories and norms of people from an “old country” interact with the geographical, new economic and evolving cultural and social circumstances the settlers find themselves in also to make a new environment. He contrasts this to processes of change he observes in the “old” country or culture — England and Scotland, France, Italy. There is a relentless conservatism in his conscious attitudes and he maintains a strong optimism about the overall outcome for the settlers and justifies the harsh injustices the settlers inflict on the natives of a country and the labor they hire or force to work hard for little or no money, take land from, or impose laws upon that deprive the people of their way of life and property. Much as I’d like to say Catherine Hall is reductive and hard on Trollope in her Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867, there’s no getting away from his racism and how all his thought tends to justify or at least accept as what do you expect Eyre’s massacre and murder of black people in an infamous incident in Jamaica. It’s neither true that there is a clear progressive liberalization in his views as he grows older and travels and sees more, nor a retreat into conservatism either (in South Africa he sees that black people must take back their country and rule it for themselves). I found it painful to read the arguments he uses to distances himself from free public education at the end of his Australian travel book (he’s against it — we must ignore or pretend everyone can afford these schools). He is making fun of philanthropists from Castle Richmond (where he supports the gov’t callousness during the famine, justifies evicting people) to the the chapters on New Zealand.

In contrast, I’d say in his best fiction his emphasis falls on the tragic price, losses, and struggles and very occasional compromises and successes experienced by the characters involved.

One problem I have at the outset is some of those texts that make for my best arguments are not those set in Australia. I’ve read through a great deal of John McCourt’s Writing the Frontier: Anthony Trollope between Britain and Ireland, and find a lot of what he writes out of these Anglo-Irish texts is germane. I know at the close of Lady Anna, Trollope says Daniel Thwaite, his tailor hero and eponymous titled heroine will free themselves of the class-ridden life that might make their marriage unsuccessful in England and make a new life for themselves in Australia (as he felt or knew at some level of his mind he had done by moving from England to Ireland). He wrote the novel as he was sailing there, but I suspect once he arrived and experienced the startling demands of completely different climate (very hot), the rigors of actually trying to farm or graze animals successfully or run a business in this unruly environment he could not imagine how they would make it — as he could for example, Martin and Anty Kelly in Ireland, or Anton Trendellsohn and Nina Balatka (from Prague, a couple parallels to Daniel Thwaite and Lady Anna) in London.

Several recent essays published in the new-style Companions and the collection on the Politics of Gender, bring to bear on Trollope’s deeper ambivalences his Orwellian/Swiftian satire, The Fixed Period — set in a country which is a kind of surrogate for New Zealand; for example, Helen Lucy Blythe in a difficult (for me as it’s theoretical) book called The Victorian Colonial Romance in the Antipodes. Trollope is only one among several authors “upside down” (Nicholas Birns has an essay using that title) that she treats very suggestively. Trollope’s deeply dreaming imaginative identifications turns deeply pessimistic and offers ideas that enable us today to recognize the inevitable sources of and critique the horrors of the results of military imperialism we see all over the globe today, especially some remarkable comments on the wars of the English with the Maoris where the Maoris (he empathizes) continually win (I was rooting for them in the instances described myself too.) I read the New Zealander years ago and thought parts very insightful and implicitly grounded in an accurate bleak approach to what human beings do and feel (and think they think), but don’t remember much any more.

As I went on the subject became all over Trollope. There is a satire on imperial colonialism in Framley Parsonage: Mr Harold Smith gives a speech on islands in the Indian Ocean which slides over an Indian or Vietname situation (the British in India, the French and then the Americans in Vietnam) people from the developed country instead of trying to displace the original people, take positions of power, in effect hire and control proxies and persuade themselves they are there to Christianize the benighted people. As early as Framley Parsonage, Trollope disapproves of this and disbelieves in the efficacy, and usefulness (in fact he thinks it does harm) to try to force Christianity on other cultures — he brings this up and develops this at length in his later travel books. In Framley Parsonage he makes a joke out of how his hypocritical or self-deluded (Mr Smith) upper class characters know nothing and care less about these far away places, yet these influence behavior, careers, and politics of these characters (certainly Phineas’s as a Catholic Irish man in Parliament and even Frank Greystock and Lucy Morris’s fate are influenced by an obscure sultan if I remember correctly in Eustace Diamonds).

To follow the ins and outs of Trollope’s thought and movement is to see him mapping the globe where English-speaking people are found. People think that the norm for Trollope is what is today called the Hampstead novel, domestic themed fiction. Novels of manner are his forte, what he is writing primarily or consciously: Gopnik leaped on this as explanatory for Trollope in the New Yorker. But isn’t he rather anthropological, and he has a good gasp of different faces of battle, how they work, inward and intangible to be sure, but outward and using guns (whose rapidity and ease in causing death he immediately cities).

Apart from books by Australians where they moved to the UK or US and write about general issues or poetry (Germane Greer, Clive James), and a couple of important non-fictions (Robert Hughes’s very great The Fatal Shore, and Russel Ward’s indispensable The Australian Legend), what can I remember that I’ve read of Australian fiction: only one colonial novel: Henry Kinsgley’s The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn; two recent novels, Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves and Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children. Now first I’ll try First I’ll try my copy of Best Short Stories of Henry Lawson and The Portable Barbara Baynton and then choose a couple of 20th century Australian historical fiction novels (Peter Carey’s The Kelly Gang? not my usual sort of thing at all). For post-colonialism and imperialism beyond what I’ve read and skimmed, and articles on Trollope and these topics, see if I can understand books with scary titles like Border Dialogues: Journeys in Postmodernity.

It is for me perhaps going to be a question of identity and into imagined troubled journeys and hard experiences. I have a hunch I’d do better with that than imperialist politics. I’ll also remember and maybe rewatch or reread in the romance of post-colonial books and movies like Cameron and Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala’s City of Your Final Destination or the same crew filming stark disaster in The White Countess (Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson). Jumpa Lahiri’s books are also about this idea you can gouge out from yourself an identity that you feel is destroying you individually and make a new one by journeying to a new country or simply creating them out of books (The Namesake). The harder truth is found in Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, Mira Nair’s Mississippi Marsala, Paul Scott’s Staying on.

LauraLinney
Laura Linney as the necessarily hardened woman who has tried to go it alone, independently; a plangent role (City of Your Final Destination)

But now I’m rambling.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer as our force faileth …
— Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon (as translated by Michael Alexander

AidanTurner
Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark: as magnificient against defeat

EleanorTomlinson
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Carne, asked where she is going (near final shots of Episode 1)

Dear friends and readers,

As I have written altogether too much (probably) about the twelve Poldark books, the 1975 mini-series (a Cornish Che Guevara) and 1977-78, Graham’s other historical fiction, mysteries and costume drama, I asked myself what could I contribute that would be found useful, or enrichening to readers of the books and watchers of these two mini-series, made 40 years apart. Well, comparisons. I will not be recapping; I assume my reader has read the novels, at least Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan (the first quartet, written 1945-53) and refer him or her to recaps elsewhere. I find most far-reaching in the changes is how the popular vision, how we today see the 18th century is changing in films:

Let us begin with Episode 1:

Let us first admit there is a real similarity in what is covered and emphasized in two mini-series, though the presentation seems worlds apart cinematographically, and what was contained in two episodes in 1975 (the taking in of Demelza occurred in Jack Pullman’s 1975 Episode 2) and occurs in one in 2015 (the screenplay writer is a directing force in British productions, so 2015 is shaped by Debbie Horsfield). Neither film dramatized Joshua Poldark’s death, both begin with Ross coming home in the stagecoach; both have his visit to Trenwith where Verity and Francis greet him with emotional friendship, while Charles holds back; while the 1975 includes Pearce as a first visit and Pascoe as a second.

rossandpearce
Ross and Pearce (1975, where an emotional soft bonding counts, Pearce calls Ross “m’boy”)

RossandPascoe6
Ross and Pascoe (2015, where the banker is predominant in telling the bad news of no legacy that can support him)

Both emphasize how Nampara has become a wreck (though Jud and Prudie are made more appealing in 1975, more genuinely attached to Ross, and he less severe to them), Ross’s bonds with his tenant-friends and companions and decent humane behavior towards them. Centrally important, both take material from Warleggan, the fourth Poldark novel (the back story which is not told clearly or that emphatically in Ross Poldark, the 1st) in order to make clear how Ross has loved, in his mind and heart clung to, a dream of Elizabeth Chynoweth, so we have several scenes between them. Both have Francis and Ross going down in the mine and Francis nearly drowning because he tries to apologize to Ross for taking Elizabeth from him and arouses Ross’s deep rage, with Ross’s hesitation about saving him (“Why haven’t you learned to swim?”), the wedding, Ross’s desolation.

KyleKIollertryuingtoexplain
Kyle Soller as Francis trying to explain, openly vulnerable (2015)

companionable
Ross and Clive Francis as Francis Poldark, companionable, after Ross’s rescue, Ellis not as deeply angry as Turner (1975)

In literal details it may seem that the 2015 episode is closer to the book (for example, Ross meets Elizabeth first at Trenwith at the engagement party), but a second viewing will reveal some pivotal details have changed. For example, nowhere in the novel does Charles offer Ross 300£ to leave; Horsfield (however she may deny having watched or read the previous mini-series) got that from the Pullman where Charles demands 300£ in money owed him by his brother, Joshua, money Ross desperately needs and has borrowed from Pearce; Horsfield makes central to her first episode that Ross is tempted to leave and then decides not to because what is most meaningful to him in life is his relationship to the people there, the land, and what he can do for both through his ownership of possibly payable ground (mining). Horfield brings Demelza in much earlier than Pullman because Demelza is not seen as a raucous “fiesty” semi-sexual thieving rakish girl (a concept Pullman and his team modeled Angharad Rees on from Tony Richardson’s influential 1966 Tom Jones where women are coy sex kittens), nor Ross as combining the swashbuckling romance hero of Gainsborough costume drama (a kind of Stewart Grainger) with the strong leftist-liberal politics of both Graham’s 1945 book and the 1970s BBC progressive costume drama.

episode2
Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees from Episode 2 (1975)

Instead Demelza is a genuinely abject semi-cowed, beaten, subaltern young girl, understandably hostile (like a dog who has been badly treated), guarded against all comers, attached to her dog, Garrick, who alone has loved her, and standing for in Ross’s mind, Cornwall itself, what (he says in the last moments of the episode) he had almost forgotten, what he will retrieve, and the eighteenth century here is not a world of elegance seen from an upper class Austen-ish point of view, but from below, a grimy, grim, brutal, desperate place of people living mostly a subsidence life, where they are hard to one another.

Birfiresidedrinking
Ross by fireside drinking and eating with men; he often also drinks alone

walkinwithdog
Demelza walking, singing with dog alongside, but basically alone too

The analogy for 1975 is The Oneddin Line mini-series, for 2015, the recent Outlander, indebted to Peter Weir’s 2003 Master and Commander). Ellis’s ultimately descend from the Errol Flynn image of the gay swashbuckling, elegant hero, combining with the liberal outlook say of Albert Finney as Tom Jones; Aidan Turner’s looks are rough, Napoleonic era long coat and rebellious army man, strongly influenced at the same time by Johnnie Depp in The Libertine.

Other important differences which will be developed: Heidi Reed (2015) as Elizabeth Chynoweth is made much kinder, sweeter, less self-involved, and unlike Graham’s Elizabeth) partly marrying out of obedience to a mother and affection for Francis, guilty about Ross and herself rooted in Cornwall (all an invention on Horsfield’s part)

Reeddeepconcern
Reed given a penultimate speech to Ross that he must stay in Cornwall (completely outside Graham’s Elizabeth’s character

Jill Townsend is permitted to enact Graham’s concept in Warleggan of a woman genuinely frightened of the reckless Ross, seeking material comfort and prestige, in need of security. In neither series does the ambiguous woman, adult with complex motives, deeply resentful of Demelza eventually, and no friend to Verity, selfish and yet strong when and where strength is needed, not particularly enamoured of Cornwall (she’d love to go to London) whom Ross had fallen in love with:

Townsendturnsaway
Townsend turning away from Ross lest she be seduced by her erotic and affectionate attachment to him

Perspectives on the themes of Graham’s book matter: in both Verity is a kind of female Ross, both of them indifferent to worldly values of others; I found myself preferring Norma Streader because she is allowed to be more forceful and to scold affectionately:

Revenant
Streader is unafraid to project her emotional life: Ross is here the revenant come back

raremoment
Rare moment of selfhood for Verity (2015)

Horsfield’s version of feminism is to show us how women are subject to men (so Charles is made to use Verity ruthlessly, forbid her men — in 1975 Frank Middlemass as Charles wanted Verity to marry) and Verity does not get much chance to emerge until Blamey comes onto the scene. But Horsfield is much more pro-capitalist and conformist herself; she brings George Warleggan in much earlier as someone willing to negotiate work with Ross, more humanly understandable supposedly in his cool greed, more acceptable than in 1945 or 1975 (with the man of some integrity as a capitalist who will stay within the law, Nicholas, not there, instead the amoral more criminal type, Cary companions George).

triesto makefriends
Jack Farthing as George Warleggan making overtures (2015), Turner as Ross turns fiercely away

**********************

Some notes on particulars in the two series, with a (I hope) fair assessment. We should remember the 1975 mini-series had the advantage of not expecting a wider critical audience, of seeing itself as fulfilling a minority taste in historical film costume drama, and by expecting a smaller minority audience could be more daring, more original, take chances. The 2015 has the burden of being second, of having to endure comparisons (like those above), of having much more closely monitored ratings so it must satisfy conventional expectations (thus Aidan Turner had to be muscularly gorgeous).

Iconicending7
The iconic ending of the first episode (1975): Ross standing alone, swirling waters around the rocks

waters

1975: The hour ends with him on top of a cliff fiercely looking down as the music rolls. The motifs of the Cornish seacoast and rocks and surging waters are part of a subgenre of Cornish movies. There has been more money spent on music and locations that persuade us we are in Cornwall in 1975. I was stirred by Robin Ellis’s ability to convey complex thoughts and depths. He is cinematically equated with the sea surging against the rocks, hurling itself. He comes home to find he has been thought dead and people didn’t really mind: his mine property taken over; his bethrothed refuses to break her engagement; his farmhouse a mess. He fights intensely at each turn and at each turn his way is made harder. His one great and faithful friend is Pearce, the banker-father, who secures some money for him. I loved how Ellis as Ross spoke and acted truthfully at each turn: he saves his cousin, Francis from drowning: he explains his hesitation by saying he forgot Francis can’t swim, but also it would have been in his interest to let Francis drown. The opening paratexts and music are haunting.

Both films have good actors and much has been done to re-create the 18th century worlds. The difference is the earlier one allows the characters to come forward much more individually with their presences felt; they are not figures in a landscape; the way films were made were to conceive of actors on a stage; in 1975 the actors interacted directly and have more length given each encounter and are more rounded as we meet them (a good example of this is Ross’s meeting with Ginny and the Martins in 1975); thus we feel their presence and their significance much more. Pullman’s screenplay is better: the language is really more particular bringing out the issues and feelings of the people much more adequately with more insight into the nature of their responses to one another and their environment. I miss Paul Curran as Jud — he was just so utterly believable, mean and yet comic; the good nature of Mary Wimbush as Prudie.

2015: since Horsfield chose to bring Demelza in early and include in the first episode material that takes half the 1975 second episode there is much less time in the first 2015 episode to develop the scenes, even if 2015 has 8 more minutes. there is too much garden opulence around Elizabeth Chynoweth: the Chynoweths are as broke or near genteel poverty as the Poldarks; only the Warleggans are doing well. Phil Davis is an utterly believable Jud but less appealing; the new Prudie is grossly sexualized (Jud seems ever to be having sex with her off-stage). This series lacks the comedy of 1975; it is darker dramatic romance. The best scenes as scenes are those closest to the book of which there are a number, e.g., between Ross and Elizabeth where he breaks out in exasperation. There though mostly is a reliance on sheer pictorial projection; we are given the backstory of Ross’s time in Virginia and his young love for a young Elizabeth as pantomime in a prologue; the camera makes love to Demelza’s hidden wordless moods:

withdog
Playing with her dog

feelinggood1
Feeling better about being alive despite the putdowns and sordid jealous threats of the Paynters

The politics are not progressive (not pro-American revolution as in 1975), but darkly suspicious of all powerful people, Ross is seen as feeling the equal and friends of his men (Jim Carter, Zacky Martin, Mark Daniels), eating and drinking with them. Turner conceives him as forceful, self-contained as a survival technique. This series mirrors the scepticism of today in Britain.

wideseascape
The wide calm seascape is preferred (and a crossroads where a gibbet for hanging someone is placed)

2015closesonhopeinthemine
2015 ends on Ross and Demelza riding by the mine — he looks up to it as what he may hope to support himself and his servants, tenants by

Next week, Episodes 2 compared.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

CromwellWristsCrossed

Programme Name: Wolf Hall - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep6 (No. 6) - Picture Shows:  Anne Boleyn (CLAIRE FOY) - (C) Company Productions Ltd - Photographer: Giles Keyte
Cromwell (Mark Rylance) holding up crossed wrists at Henry’s seething onslaught of accusation of plotting against him with Chapuys for the Emperor Charles V; Anne (Claire Foy) shivering in the wind, trembling as she waits to be beheaded (Wolf Hall 5 & 6)

He doesn’t exactly miss the man. It’s just that sometimes, he forgets he’s dead. It’s as if they’re deep in conversation, and suddenly the conversation stops, he says something and no answer comes back. As if they’d been walking along and More had dropped into a hole in the road, a pit as deep as a man, slopping with rainwater. You do in fact, hear of such accidents … (48)

‘He sent last week for a French executioner. Not from one of our own cities, but the man who chops heads in Calais. It seems there is no Englishman whom he trusts to behead his wife. I wonder he does not take her out himself and strangle her in the street’ … (382, Mantel personating Cromwell, Bring Up the Bodies)

Dear friends and readers,

Prompted by Anibundel’s blog The Course of History, and having finished Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, plus locating the release transcripts of Straughan’s screenplays, I feel compelled to add another perspective on last two hours (Act III) of this mini-series, though I know there have been many insightful conversations and blogs online, to say nothing of the print media, about it. I want to point out that this last pair turns this famous Tudor marital-sex imbroglio into a usable past, a mirror to see ourselves in, its obsessive topics circling round its terrifyingly, almost inexplicably powerful figure, Henry Tudor, the Eighth of that name: death waiting right next to us, memory continually haunting us from our particular pasts as each day vanishes, and terror, not just state terror:

HenrywatchingAnne
Henry (Damien Lewis) watching Anne, Elizabeth on her lap, reach out to him with an embroidered handkerchief

but what makes state terror possible, the obedient collusion of all who together make themselves subject to this terror

RichardcometotellHenry
Richard Cromwell (Ross Porter) come to tell Henry that Mark Smeaton (Max Fowler) has named the names of men to be accused of adultery with Anne

Bring Up the Bodies may be regarded as a kind of culmination of a group of what’s called gothic but are political themes in Mantel’s contemporary fiction, memoir, and essays diary entries for the LRB, literary reviews and life-writing as a writer. I know as steadily and maybe more continuously nowadays as Mantel that the dead are real (see Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker, October 15, 2012).

The need to keep the film historical, and explain how these startling visible turns of events from making Anne Boleyn into a cherished legitimate queen and wife into a powerless traitor-concubine treasonably adulterous came about rightly takes precedence over the course of Part 5 and into the opening of Part 6. At the same time the central story line about our hero, requires dramatizing the inward journey of how Cromwell drove himself however part- (but only part) reluctantly to put together transparently inadequate evidence. And there must be a pivotal high drama for the hour so that the high point of Part 5 was Henry’s fit of unconsciousness during a joust, and the sudden hysteria and unmasking of many about the king, and the improbably resuscitation by Cromwell:

Noonedoinganything

The turning point for Part 6 the long interrogation of the foolishly vain Smeaton, seething with wounds over his “inferior status” and despised feminine brand of masculinity.

congratulatinghim (1)

congratulatinghim (2)
Cromwell congratulating the smirking Smeaton as Rafe watches and listens

And when Smeaton is taken away, Cromwell to Richard:

Well, there aren’t many men alive who can say they took me by surprise. Years of being despised by lords has made a boaster of him. Sometimes I think I should have taken him in here. I don’t want him hurt. If we have to torture sad creatures like that, what next? Stamping on dormice?

These plot-designs precluded the kind of quiet dramatization of passing events that count which were seen especially in Parts 1 & 2. No time for registering the increasingly criminal behaviors of Cromwell (as when he takes a tavern keeper’s wife to bed for a casual encounter, and later brings her to one of his houses, and has her husband disposed of) and the scope of his activities across England enforcing Protestantism, growing richer himself, and the many passing quick scenes, memories of such, letters to and from middle ranking eager sycophants (names familiar to anyone who has read anything of the period, as the Lisles).

Worse yet, well over half of Bring Up the Bodies is given over to Cromwell’s dramatic one-on-one encounters, from the slow gathering of envious vengeful or simply desperately self-serving witnesses (Chapuys, Jane Boleyn’s salacious malice), to the dialogues between Cromwell and his now grown instruments (Richard Cromwell, Rafe Sadler with whose family Cromwell shows his continued ability to love, to be fond, to be kindly cordial) and first Mark Smeaton, then the four accused (George Boleyn, Francis Weston, William Brereton, Harry Norris) and what we can call protected secondary characters (Henry Percy, Thomas Wyatt). In the mini-series only the last third of Part 6 covers this material. The book does give less time to Anne versus Cromwell because he keeps away from her until near the trial.

Yes I’ve found a flaw in the series: they needed seven parts. At least another hour.

****************************

The heroine’s text story-line is seen through Cromwell’s POV: he is ever coming upon and watching from the side the results, evidence, signs of Anne’s miscarriages (her own terror at the window after she bled after the king seethed at her trying to stop him jousting, with do you seek “to geld” me, Madame) and the way her gradual displacement is registered, most notably through the death of her dog: the helpless animal a cynosure for her.

bleedingdog
Purefoy thrown on the hard stones, bleeding to death

Cromwell: “The window was open.”
Anne: “He was such an innocent What kind of monster would do such a thing?”
Cromwell: “Perhaps he got up on the ledge somehow and then his paws slipped.
Anne: “– Paws slipped? Paws slipped? — “

A rare scene without Cromwell occurs when we observe her household shunted off to the side, turning on one another, but that is immediately followed with Jane Boleyn reporting it all to Cromwell. The way people become eager to tell him of the slightest breakdown of Anne (as when she says in the tower she doesn’t deserve this room and Kingston reports it unasked) reminds me of the McCarthy era when witnesses came forward to testify against other people. Doubtless my reader will remember analogies of his or her own. We see Jane Seymour’s presence and Katharine’s death through Cromwell’s observation from afar and visits, as if we must have some sign of these or the story does not make sense, with the accent of the latter falling on Anne’s (premature) exultation and (wrong) idea she is now secure (just the opposite in fact happens). But again the focus is on the terrifying: the creepy nightmare of Cromwell seeing Anne served up as a meat dish pulled by sticks through the table with her face photographed upside down, her dress this deathly creamy satin:

Upsidedown

I didn’t find the trial as philosophically memorable as the Bolt one from A Man for All Seasons; it was rather realistic, with Cromwell as the effectively trained lawyer trapping George Boleyn, asking leading questions of Anne. From historical studies (as well as her heir-daughter Elizabeth’s survival and reign) we know she was highly intelligent, but this is as nothing when everyone is agreed you must go.

**************************

Straughan is concerned that Cromwell should not appear a monster (and Rylance obliges by the quietude of his tones, face, and occasional hand gestures) so the revenge aspect of Cromwell’s motives are only quietly there. The memorable lines were in what was left of Cromwell’s encounters with individuals who provide phantom evidence, whom he turning into the dead.

So to Brereton’s outrage he takes him back:

Retort (1)

Cromwell: “Let’s go back. I remember in the late Cardinal’s time, one of your household killed a man in a bowls match.
Brereton: “Well, the game can get very heated.”

Retort (2)

Cromwell: “The Cardinal thought it was time for a reckoning, but your family impeded the investigation and I ask myself, ‘Has anything changed since then?’ John ap Eyton had a quarrel with one of your household only recently.
Brereton: “So, that’s why I’m here.”
Cromwell: “Not entirely, but leave aside your adultery with the Queen, let’s concentrate on Eyton. Blows were exchanged, a man was killed. Eyton was tried and acquitted. But you, because you have no respect for the law or Brereton “– I have every respect! — ”
Cromwell: “Don’t interrupt me! You had the man abducted and hanged. You think because it’s only one man, it doesn’t matter. You think no-one will remember, but I remember

To Norris’s complacent conceit, sudden bullying and threat worthy the ferociously corrupt Norfolk:

Norris: “You’ll not torture gentlemen. The King wouldn’t permit it.
Cromwell: “Oh, well There don’t have to be formal arrangements. I can put my thumbs in your eyes and then you would sing Green Grows The Holly if I asked you to.”

My favorite one:

George Boleyn: “But Mark Smeaton? — What has he done to you? — ”
Cromwell: “I don’t know I just don’t like the way he looks at me.”

He stonewalls Anne in the film, making her sudden reaching out to him feel more believable. When he looks out for her creature comforts (“Would you like your furs brought in?”) we get another more alienated light on how he looked out for Wolsey, Princess Mary’s and even Katharine’s transient welfare when placed in front of them. Given a chance, he will mouth platitudes as a wall around himself: to Jane Boleyn he inquires politely why she as a lady-in-waiting did not seek to “comfort her mistress.”

But what I suggest that we should note (while we wait for Hilary to write the third book, and then for the Straughan screenplay and getting the actors together, film-designers and funding together again) are aspects of Cromwell’s encounters with the king. When the king resorts to fierce bullying, Cromwell’s gesture of crossed wrists shows that there were tender moments with his father: it was Walter Cromwell who showed the boy how to soothe a wound with water and clenched hands. Henry makes an appeal which contains offers of friendship, concern, memories of shared interests, as when he takes Cromwell aside in the garden and pretends to ask what they should do for useful entertainment this summer.

Garden

Henry: “Will you walk with me? I wish we would go down to the weald one day – talk to the ironmasters. I’ve had various drawings – mathematical drawings and advices concerning how our ordnance can be improved, but I … I can’t … I can’t make as much of it as you would. It’s because … Well Because you are my right hand, sir. So, shall we go down? You and I, meet the charcoal burners?”
Cromwell: “Of course. But not this summer, sir. I think you will be too busy.
Henry: “Yeah. I cannot live as I have lived, Cromwell. You must free me from this from Anne.

When the evidence has been gathered and the trial is about to commence, Straughan does give Henry some lines suggesting that Anne aroused male insecurities, but nothing like Mantel’s books’ dialogues and monologues suggesting Henry’s intense resentment at how Anne once kept him at bay and then once having given in, delighted him in bed by transgressive sex. In Mantel’s book we see Henry’s rigid pieties come out to condemn her as someone who must’ve been whorish before she met him. In the mini-series the accent is again on how frightened people colluded in believing what they in their gut felt to be false:

Cranmore: “I never had a better opinion in a woman than I had in her. I can’t believe she’s guilty … Except I know Your Highness would never go so far if she weren’t.”
Henry: “She deceived all of us. When I look back, it all falls into place. So many friends lost, alienated Worse.When I think of Wolsey [Camera is on Cromwell hearing this, face to the side.] The way she practised against him. She said she loved me. But she meant the opposite. I’ve written a play. A tragedy. My own story. [gives it to Cromwell]
Cromwell: “You should keep it sir, till we have more leisure to do it justice.”
Henry: “But I want you to see her true nature. I believe she has committed adultery with 100 men.
Cranmore: “But her brother? Is it likely?”
Henry: “Well, I doubt she could resist! Why spare? Why not drink the cup to its filthy dregs?”

According to J.J Scarisbrick (a standard biography), Henry did write a play about Anne’s adultery. It’s a nice touch how Cromwell must flatter the king’s literary aspirations. In Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Paul Scofield as More pretends not to flatter Robert Shaw as musician and composer in order to flatter him the more delicately.

But the strength of the screenplay is to (as with the book) leave it improbable that Anne was adulterous but make it understandable that she could be suspected and even thought to have had sex with her male courtiers. Again looking forward to the third book and another mini-series, we should keep the ambiguities of Cromwell’s conduct and how Henry’s mind can twist something into plausibility in mind.

******************************

I have in another blog described the unflinching close-up way the execution of Anne is performed (“How can one tell of a life lived at this aware angle” — the question referring to Mantel herself). Here I want to say how this terror is reinforced by Cromwell’s slow walk back to the king, half terrified that the king might turn on him, and then the look in his eye as he allows Henry to pull him into a bear hug and Damien Lewis personates the half-crazed lunacy of someone who knows he can do anything to anyone, almost.

Armsextended

Eyes

A parable for our time, or a new man for how we today see all seasons. I remember reading later fragments in the papers of Anne Murray Halkett who wrote an autobiography of her life in the later 17th century as an adherent of the Stuarts. She wondered how it was that a group of men could just murder Charles I when everyone asked later on who would speak about it expressed horror. How could this have occurred? How is it all these people stand there going through this barbaric scene, each behaving with utter calmness over a detached head, a bloody corpse, a wooden box to take her away.

Head

Next to Cromwell and his son, Gregory (whom in the book he brings to demonstrate the boy’s loyalty) a man snickers over one of her women who had been so hard to her in the prison saying with frantic tones “We do not want men to handle her”: “It’s a little late for that.”

Ellen

Read Full Post »

JaneBoleyn

anne-loses-baby
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.

ring

face

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):

chair

Mary1
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:

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:

Johanne
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:

openingshot
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

Cromwell
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.

vlcsnap-2015-05-04-00h09m54s187

vlcsnap-2015-05-04-00h08m58s144
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.

vlcsnap-2015-05-03-23h32m09s67
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.

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h49m31s121

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h49m38s190

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h49m44s245

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h49m53s83

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).

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h52m03s100

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,

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h53m16s59

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h53m18s84

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.

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h56m09s229

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.

vlcsnap-2015-05-05-20h56m17s81
The last still of Part 4

Ellen

Read Full Post »

WmFrederickYeames1835to1918OntheBouldvardsBrittanyDinan
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).

*******************

goodwin-arthur-clifton-1866-19-view-of-a-garden-boston
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.

PettieCountrySurgeon
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).

********************

mudieslibrary
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.

NaiveJohnBold
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.

scatcherd
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.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

listening
Wolf Hall 1, early shot, Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) listening to Norfolk (Bernard Hill) and Suffolk (Richard Dillane) threaten Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) at York palace (1529)

“A strong man acts within that which constrains him” …. to Henry, who resents being told he cannot war on France easily (Wolf Hall 1)
“I have never known anything but kindness from the Cardinal” … to Bonvisi, the Italian friend, advising to talk nicely to More and to dump the Cardinal (Wolf Hall 1, Cromwell)

Dear friends and readers,

I am just so riveted each time I watch one of the hours of this mini-series, and was at the end of the last, so shaken and roused out of myself to myself, that I must write some separate blogs on it now. If I waited until I felt fully competent to write a series of blogs on this season’s Wolf Hall, I’d not do it any time soon. I heartily recommend Anibundel’s meditation on Wolf Hall as demanding something more in the way of background (real knowledge of the era, the historical figures who appear with no introduction, a study of Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, her sources and other books, not to omit re-watching the 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by Peter Straughan), and an ability to see the genuine analogies of this early Tudor era with the politics and social life of 2015, and so I end on another must-read, Fintan O’Toole’s comparison of the RSC stage play by Mike Poulson with this mini-series (in the NYRB).

You may also have come across high-pitched diatribes by name pundits (Charles Krauthammer) and much lesser-known historians who are still engaged in a bitter debate (400 years later) over whether Thomas Cromwell was a ruthless brutal thug (Colin Burrow) or an early modern magistrate, by closely monitored persuasive manipulations effecting a revolution from a Catholic hierarchical medieval European outpost to a Protestant local monarchy, and in both cases defying his low rank and growing rich, developing a household and estate as part of his reward (G. R. Elton and Marilyn Robertson). Was More a fanatical burner of men rather than this man of conscience Robert Bolt created? Was Thomas Cromwell the first modern magistrate with some integrity but very human? How shall we understand Anne? Why was she so disliked?

And yet the deeper pleasures require nothing more than watching. After all a novel, a film, piece of music, picture must deliver in its own right, have no need of anything outside itself, and I maintain this does. Just don’t be intimidated by Straughan, Peter Koshinsky (the director) and several of the actors, most notably Mark Rylance’s, refusal to compromise. So here goes.

If they avoid unreal histrionic theatrics most of the time, and do not treat the costumes and sets as on sale in shop windows, Damien Lewis as Henry VIII and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardiner, Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn, more than make up for the quiet realistic performances of say Jonathan Pryce as Wolsey, Natasha Little as Liz Cromwell. Anton Lesser as Thomas More is more gothic than one realizes at first.

Thomasmore
Our first sight of More which prompts Cromwell to one of many sudden frank speeches where he speaks truth to power (including to Henry):

More: “I care nothing for wealth. “The world’s esteem is nothing to me.”
Cromwell: “So how is it I come back to London and find you’ve become Lord Chancellor? Lord Chancellor. What’s that? A fucking accident?”
More: “You’re no friend to the church, Thomas. You’re a friend to one priest only – and he’s the most corrupt in Christendom”

And the music by Debbie Wiseman as driving and forceful and memorable, and turns soft, Renaissance like and lilting throughout as any of the latest commercial serial dramas.

Let us look at our story as three act play, which I believe a study of the release dialogue transcripts bears out. Let us think about how these imagined characters relate to the historical figures they represent only after we grasp the actors’ realization of them (out of Mantel’s characters and Staughan’s script, Koshinsky’s direction, in the costumes by Joanna Eatwell) as they move through the story which is a brilliant Renaissance “revenge tragedy” (Straughan’s phrase for how he constructed a coherent line out of Mantel’s two books).

The first act lays out before us the development of a father-son relationship which travels deeply into the core of the central consciousness, POV of the play, Thomas Cromwell, once a savagely-abused boy, homeless outcast, whose alert intelligence (social cunning), thorough practical and book learning, quiet reciprocal kindness, and loyalty (constancy) Wolsey recognizes and takes in. Wolsey is all personally that Cromwell admires and wants to emulate — the great public man.

What we are watching over the course of the two hours where time moves back and forth is Cromwell remembering his first encounters with Wolsey, the development of his love and respect for this man and how and why Wolsey was personally destroyed. After Wolsey tries negotiation in Europe with the Pope’s legate and then negotiation in England and then a trial of Katherine of Aragon in an effort to enable Henry to divorce Katharine and marry Anne. Wolsey’s autocratic dealings, we see his slow deterioration, which allows for an emergence of his affectionate ways (the birth and gift of a kitten to Cromwell). Here they are playing cards (the game Cromwell says supported him on the docks as a male adolescent):

vlcsnap-2015-05-02-22h03m36s42

vlcsnap-2015-05-02-22h03m30s237

They talk and eat together. Then as events close in, Cromwell’s helping to move the old man to Winchester and then York,

Cromwell:  “Masters, I want kindling, dry kindling … Get the fires lit … Stephen, find the kitchen …. Actually, see him in first… I need the bedding … What? Who is that? … Michael? Down, off. The horses, later. We want the Cardinal in bed and warm. …Come on, come on, we’re not done yet! …”

To Wolsey now in bed:  “I asked if they had nutmeg or saffron – they looked at me as if I was speaking Greek. I’ll have to find a local supplier.”
Wolsey:  “I shall pray for it.”

I find it very touching the way Cromwell tries to secure creature comforts for the old man, and how the old man gently mocks his endeavours. Despite Henry’s claim that he loves and misses the Cardinal, and that he cannot bring the Cardinal back (as his courtiers, and the powerful aristocratic clans who loathe Wolsey as a butcher’s son are pressuring him), Wolsey is thrown away, humiliated, sickens and dies. Against this the horrific scene of Cromwell’s father almost kicking him to death, and the one encounter where we see how vile to Cromwell Cromwell’s father seems.

By contrast,

bedroomscene

there is the way Wolsey teases Cromwell and then blesses him. Perhaps the film-makers have Cromwell remember a nasty deriding masque four sleazy male courtiers act out against Wosley for the amusement of Henry and Anne a bit too often, but they want us not to forget what Cromwell does not forget. Colin Burrow suggests the two novels (and I this three act play) themselves make up a revenge story, deep and abiding. At the close of the second hour, Cromwell assures George Cavendish (Wolsey’s secretary, right-hand man who later in life wrote a memoir of Wolsey) who weeps for the man that he remembers all those who mocked, and used Wolsey:

Cromwell: “There’s no need to trouble, God, George, I’ll take it in hand.”

It’s easy to miss how often in the first two hours Cromwell is waiting to talk to someone, sometimes Henry himself on behalf of the Cardinal. Partly because Crowmell is an enigmatic figure, for after all although he promises to return north, he does not. He uses his mission to bring the king and cardinal back together to secure his own place in Parliament and in the king’s entourage. We are privy to his face, his remarks, his acts, his flashbacks, but not his thoughts.

The story of an old man and middle-aged one’s respect and relationship is not one must admit the sexiest of stories, and it occurs amid the criss-cross interwoven other stories, also told often through flashbacks coming out of Cromwell’s memory: the central one which also moves across the whole 6 hours is Anne Boleyn’s rise to power as a result of Henry’s sexual attraction to her strong aggressively confident character (as seen in this play)

AnneDancing
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) as first glimpsed dancing with Henry Percy (Harry Lloyd) in a flashback as her father, Thomas Boleyn (David Robb) explains to Wolsey that the young people have pledged themselves to one another

The homelife of Cromwell at Austin Friars, with his real love for his wife and affection for his daughters, seen in warm light, before they suddenly sicken with sweating sickness and die:

Grace (2)
The first shot of Liz Cromwell (Natasha Little), POV Cromwell as he comes home and up the stairs

Cromwell: “You’re sweeter to look at than the Cardinal.”
Liz: “That’s the smallest compliment a woman ever received.”

Grace (1)
With Grace on his lap as he attempts to tell Liz of the Tyndale English translation of the Bible which she should read

The stories of the boys he takes in, trains as courtiers, then spies, and finally aides in bullying, and threat-torturing of those Cromwell wants and needs to take down, take out. In the novel (and history) Cromwell filled his house with such young men.

Earlyshot
Another early shot, Richard Cromwell (Joss Porter) and Rafe, his ward (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) whom Cromwell’s young Anne loves as a young girl and asks permisssion to marry:

Anne

Anne: “Can I choose who I want to marry?”
Cromwell: “What?”
Anne: “Can I choose who I want to marry?”
Cromwell: “Within reason.”
Anne: “Then I choose Rafe.”

I warmed to Cromwell’s turning to his wife’s sister, Johanne Williamson (Saskia Reeves); he pictures her in place of Liz, but he likes her for herself. It cheered me to see them in bed together in the morning talking. I sorrowed when she brought an end to it because her mother had found out. She is often seen in the group more lit up then the others

Cromwellshousehold

If I’m supposed to get a kick out of Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn’s bitterness and ironies about her sister, and her attempt to seduce Cromwell to become her protector (as she sees how strong he is), I bond rather with Liz and then Johanne. But I am intrigued by Mary (discarded mistress and mother of children by Henry) and Jane Boleyn (one of those who provided evidence against Anne and her brother, Jane’s hated husband) and have gotten myself two history-biography books about them to read:

WolfHall2MarytalkingtoCromwell
Mary talking to Cromwell

The colorful contains the dangerous and we are intensely alerted to this at each renewed encounter of Cromwell with Henry, from their first meeting in the Hampton Court garden, to court interactions,

Crromellsgreyhead
The careful photograph captures the neurotic king, half-unsure of himself, and the bare grey head of Cromwell

to real intimacy, as when Henry asks for Cromwell to come to his palace at 2 in the morning to reinterpret a dream.

If you remember Katharine’s bitterness, her court trial where she stands up for herself as a virgin when she first went to bed with Henry (she has the most striking headdress in the series until Anna becomes queen (Margaret More’s easy to miss, the most beautiful and tastefuL):

KatharrineAragon

there is so much going on in these two hours, it’s chock-a-block. Mantel has remembered and used Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.

But it’s best to see it as slow, the scenes and shots are much longer than usual for a movie, you can take in what you see while the sense is if something hieratic. Think of it as a build-up. The sub-stories evolving depth and emotion while the longer over-arching ones are moving towards a terrifying climax as so few have power to keep themselves afloat. In Act One Cromwell thinks he can still act justly to most and get what he wants as well as secure himself. He will find otherwise.

Fintan O’Toole has the relevance and appeal of Mantel’s thematic shift to and take on Cromwell right:

He is a middle-class man trying to get by in an oligarchic world. Thirty years ago, Mantel’s Cromwell would have been of limited interest. His virtues—hard work, self-discipline, domestic respectability, a talent for office politics, the steady accumulation of money, a valuing of stability above all else—would have been dismissed as mere bourgeois orthodoxies. If they were not so boring they would have been contemptible. They were, in a damning word, safe.

But they’re not safe anymore. They don’t assure security. As the world becomes more oligarchic, middle-class virtues become more precarious. This is the drama of Mantel’s Cromwell—he is the perfect bourgeois in a world where being perfectly bourgeois doesn’t buy you freedom from the knowledge that everything you have can be whipped away from you at any moment. The terror that grips us is rooted not in Cromwell’s weakness but in his extraordinary strength. He is a perfect paragon of meritocracy for our age. He is a survivor of an abusive childhood, a teenage tearaway made good, a self-made man solely reliant on his own talents and entrepreneurial energies. He could be the hero of a sentimental American story of the follow-your-dreams genre. Except for the twist—meritocracy goes only so far. Even Cromwell cannot control his own destiny, cannot escape the power of entrenched privilege. And if he, with his almost superhuman abilities, can’t do so, what chance do the rest of us have?

Continually all these noblemen talk angrily and ferociously about both Wolsey and Cromwell’s low origins. They can’t stand that. They loathe having both around or above them.

Look at the use of the camera and color. The POV is only immersion when it’s a deeply private moment, one which must be hid from other’s eyes:

Loveinshadows
Johanne and Cromwell

and it is most of the time Cromwell’s. But it is to the side: the camera (and Cromwell) keep looking at others from the side and when the camera is on Cromwell himself we see his face from the side, framed in doorways, walking down dark narrow corridors (of power?). There is a deep sense then of cautious lurking. There is little use of montage — which nowadays is unusual (except for old fashioned costume dramas like Downton Abbey) and not much voice over (ditto). This keeps us outside the minds of the characters and keeps them enigmatic, at a distance, and leaves us with a sense of film as a stage. Light is used to bring out beautiful colors: the modern tendency to use light in ways that repeat the darknesses of eras before electricity is practiced, but large windows and “day” time makes up for this. Light colors, beautiful windows. Cromwell himself is soberly dressed, only gradually beginning to appear more rich by furs and the like. Here he is towards the end of part two, la rare unguarded frontal shot when he is alone, looking over the relics from the Cardinal:

vlcsnap-2015-05-02-23h59m15s48

I’ve written on functions of historical fiction and film in our culture, and self-reflexive acting of Rylance (scroll down to the final three paragraphs), but the joy of the experience is the story, the performances, the characters’ relationships, the film experience.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers