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bruara
Trollope and the other “mastiffs” (the people on the ship taking a tour to Iceland’s geysers) — by Mrs H. Blackburn

It was now about ten o’clock and it was of course broad daylight — Trollope at Reykjavik

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight Trollope’s last travel book, How the Mastiffs Went to Iceland (privately printed, 1878; available good edition by Arno Press, introd. Coral Lansbury), and a terrain aka library of books for exploring the political novel, a subject dear to the heart of those who read Trollope. The Mastiffs are not dogs. I thought that there were dogs aboard. No, this is his comical name for the people in the group. There was a faux naive (half-apologetic) query on Victoria (Patrick Leary’s listserv) on, did people think there was a political novel, the problem of defining it into existence which morphed into citations of novels and lists of secondary books/essays.

It’s not often I get to read a new Trollope text, one I’ve not read before — not that I’ve read them all. Two days ago I thought to myself while working on my paper centering on colonialism in Trollope I ought to read this one. So I played hookey for three hours. And how enjoyable it is — this little book is just filled with a deep sense of enjoyment and camaraderie.

Holdinghands
Holding hands ritual

There was an amateur woman artist, Mrs H. Blackburn, aboard and her drawings are part of the pleasure: in most she is sure to include a figure readily identified as Trollope — with a beard, glasses, tall, looking intransigent. There are also two photographs in which he is included. Alas I own a xerox of the Arno Press edition — I am not sure there is a Trollope Society edition — and my xeroxes of these photos came out dark so I share but one which I attempted to brighten — and a few of the drawings. If you click on it, it enlarges and you will make out Trollope leaning over on a heavy large horse, clearly intently listening to or watching something.

What is hard to capture is conveyed in Trollope’s poised tone of his prose, the slightly arch quality of his involvement; how he is half-pretending to join in, I sense a feel of a spirit entering into “the fun,” and yet keeping itself apart, distanced to evoke what he notices. This double-sort of spirit enables him to pull off sense of a magical time, that the people because this was a time apart, out of the norm, entered into some kind of special compact of mood for a time, which comfort dissolved when they returned on shore again (lest anyone try to continue what had been vouchsafed precisely because it was contained within the moment and put no liens on the future or past).

The trip proper began in the Scottish Hebrides, took its way through islands leading up to Iceland, then how they reached the famous geysers and returned.

Mapoftrip
Map of trip

startfromCastleWeymiss
The start: Castle Wemyss

Trollope tells of individuals on the ship, especially from the angle of their social roles (a la Chaucer then) and conveys as sense of the group as a whole, and then interacting with the people in the places they stop at, how life is lived in these different places, the places themselves, their landing, stay at Iceland’s capital city and slow ride to the Geysers. Trollope invents funny role names for each of the people, so this captain was their Providence (carried food and tea for them as they rode); another person, parliamentary man off duty, their Ancient Mariner; another friend, Our Australian Authority. He is “Our Chronicler.” He seems in unusually high spirits. He finds daylight at ten o’clock a marvel and how one has no desire to go to sleep until exhaustion suddenly hits.

He opens with a practical and specific description of their ship; early politics included Trollope standing up for a man’s right to smoke apart from women with other men (and having space given over to them for this habit)

seige
Beseiged

At the same time he is ever earnest and probably if they ever saw it, would have dismayed the first set of indigenous or emigrant islanders who the Mastiffs visited. At St Kilda he says of the people ought not to live there; it’s freezing, it depends on the charity of a very rich lord, they are endlessly vulnerable and in need, cut off from most other people. It’s not wise. He is no believer in Robinson Crusoe’s comforts. He inveighs against the small salary the pastor gets.

StKilda

As he goes from place to place he is the earnest anthropologist and sociologist, to say nothing of his mapping and geographical, geological descriptions. He finds (mysteriously if you took his political theses seriously) there has been much improvement in their lifestyle. Clean houses, warmed for winter. He meets Scots middling people. The Faroe islands, Thorshavn,

Thorshavn

its dependent relationship to Denmark, the post office is looked into. Since there is no night, he, Mr Trollope, continues his investigations until his body cannot hold out against sleep. He tells of the stories the Faroe Islanders invent about how they never sleep in summer. We get a careful presentation of the people’s cattle, farms, mines, water and light, salaries, the illness of the miners, where everyone gets his or her money from. The Mastiffs interact with the people there and (he feels) gets to know more about these islands than any of the patrons wanted us to know. Everyone but has her agenda.

I’ve seen Reykjavik from an airport terminal several times now and long to see Iceland outside those glass doors and walls. We learn about farming, cattle, socializing, birds in Iceland: Trollope is quietly poignant at how man’s practicalities break the heart of the mother bird he exploits:

The proprietor … took us out to show us his birds. One we found seated on her nest, made of her own feathers. The maternal victim plucks the down from her breast and makes her intended nursery. Then the down is taken away, and she does it again. A second time the robbery is committed, and she makes a third nest. Beyond that she will not go. If pillaged she abandons her intentions in despair. The third nest is therefore left, and the young birds are reared. But when she has taken out her young ones, there is a third crop to be garnered, as good as ever

Long sermons, bowing to royalty who have come to be bowed at. The festivities in the mastiff’s honor. But also how the people do what they can to make the largest profit they can at each turn of the trip and place they go to. Trollope is sluiced now and again for small items. The city itself. Then the trek away and to the geysers begins:

RestingonWaytoGeysers
Rest period

How the backpacks are overfilled, the servants and others over-dressed, with far too much luggage than they need. Including himself who needs more than a weak pony.

faultline
The same rocks and faultline as today

There is a round funnel about eight feet broad, descending, as far as the eye can judge, into the very bowels of the earth; up this the boiling water is emitted. There is always a supply coming, for a certain amount of hot water is always running out on the two opposite sides of the pool. Here the” Mastiffs” amused themselves by dabbling with naked feet, scalding their toes when they were too near the pool, warming them comfortably at an increased distance. Excavations suitable for bathers there are none, — as there are so delightfully formed and so deliciously filled at the Geysers in New Zealand. At a little distance, in a ravine, there was a hole in which some of us endeavoured to sit and wash ourselves. Occasionally, perhaps once in every four hours, a large and violent supply of hot water is thrown up the funnel of the Great Geyser which has the effect of disturbing the basin and ejecting the hot water from it rapidly. This occurs with a noise, and is the indication given of a real eruption, when a real eruption is about to take place; but the indication too frequently comes without the eruption. This, when it does take place, consists of a fountain of boiling water thrown to the height of sixty, eighty, some have said 200 feet. During the twenty-four hours that we remained at the place there was no such eruption, — no fountain, although the noise was made and the basin was emptied four or five times.

About a furlong off from Geyser Primus, which is called the Great Geyser, is Geyser Secundus, to which has been given the name of Strokr, — or Stroker, as I may perhaps write it. Stroker is an ugly ill-conditioned, but still obedient Geyser. It has no basin of boiling water, but simply a funnel such as the other, about seven feet in diameter, at the edge of which the traveller can stand and look down into a cauldron boiling below. It is a muddy filthy cauldron, whereas the waters of the Great Geyser are pellucid and blue. This lesser Geyser will make eruptions when duly provoked by the supply of a certain amount of aliment. The custom is to drag to its edge about a cart load of turf and dirt, and then to shove it all in at one dose. Whether Stroker likes or dislikes the process of feeding is left In doubt. He bubbles about furiously with the food down. In his gullet for half an hour, and then rejects it all passionately, throwing the half-digested morsels sixty feet into the air with copious torrents of boiling muddy water.

These are the two Great Geysers. Around are an infinite number of small hot springs, so frequent, and many of them so small, that it would be easy for an incautious stranger to step into them. All the ground sounds under one’s feet, seeming to be honey-combed and hollow, so that a heavy foot might not improbably go through. Some of these little springs are as clear as crystal. In some the appearance is of thick red chocolate, where red earth has been drawn into the vortex of the water. Sometimes there is a little springing fountain, rising a few inches or a foot. Had there been no other Geysers, no other little lakes of boiling water known in the world, those in Iceland would be very wonderful. When they were first visited and described such was perhaps the case. Since that the Geysers in New Zealand have become known; and now the Icelandic Geysers, — if a “Mastiff” may be allowed to use a slang phrase, — are only second-class Geysers.

What time we went to bed I do not remember. As we intended to remain at the Geysers all the next day, waiting for eruptions if they would come, and then to start on our back journey in the evening, we were not very particular as to hours. At some early morning hour, when we were in bed, J. B. arrived, having been riding all the night, and riding all the night in the rain. In Iceland they say it generally rains when it does not snow. This night’s bad weather was all that we had. What we should have done, had it been wet, with our tents, or,
worse again, sometimes without our tents, with ladies wet through, with everything foul, draggled, and dirty, no “Mastiff” can guess. Luckily not a drop fell except during those early morning hours through which poor J.B. was on his solitary ride.

On the next day there was more dabbling among the hot springs, and the ladies essayed to wash their stockings and handkerchiefs .. (pp. 39-40)

strokur
Strokur

On the way back amid the joking (they sleep in a church one night, the ladies in the aisles, the gentleman near the alter), he returns to talking about the social burdens they see, their own bedraggled state. Also more strange and picturesque places eloquently caught in words — Trollope’s visual powers are rarely done justice to.

It was again in the evening that we stared on our last day’s ride, and I own I left Thingvalla with soft regrets, as I told myself that i should never again see that interesting spot. Thrice I had bathed in its rivers, and had roamed about it till I seemed to know all its nooks. It is a place full of nocks, because of those wonderful rifts, — and full of greenness. I had not cared much for the Geysers [!], but Thingvalla and the Bruara [see first drawing at head of blog] had been very charming to me. It was strange to me that there should be a place in Iceland so beautiful and so soft as Thingvalla with its lake.

One photo:

lastphoto
You can make Trollope out, to the right of the middle, a heavy white horse, heavy over which Trollope’s heavy body leans, as he listens to and watches something intently. There’s his top hat. (Click to enlarge.)

The return to Wemyss Bay, with some last statistics, political observations on current events caught up with, their speed. The sadness of parting, and how quickly it happened, “each hurrying away to his or her home,” and a few last ironic comical depictions of behavior of fish, men and birds. He congratulates their Photographer (George Burns, a naturalist) who would wake “at five minutes’ notice” to take a photograph of them.

a little eating of cream and strawberries at castle Wemyss, a little attempt at ordinary shorte courtesies, a returning as it wee to the dull ways of life on shore. But we all felt this was to be done painfully, each by himself in solitude …

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

Gladstone-Disraeli-Punch-Cartoons
Disraeli and Gladstone, “Rival Stars,” Punch 14 March 1868 — by Tenniel (from cover of Harvie’s book)

It feels almost inappropriate to add this dry list of books intended to shed light on this magical realm, but I was prompted to cite them on the Victoria listserv this morning when someone asked if there is a thing as a political novel (!) because he was wanting books to help him on Eliot’s Felix Holt. I have been reading about and works by Trollope for months now, beyond Barsetshire, Barsetshire and now, colonialist and travel writing. I wrote:

Yes there are novels where the focus is on overt politics in say parliament and elections as well seeing experience from a political angle — however varied your emphasis or definition may be. And there are a number of books (studies older and more recent) which gather such books together as a group and show how reading them as political novels illuminates them. Among the more famous are Irving Howe’s Politics and the Novel, an older one by Munro Speare, The Political Novel, Michael Wilding’s Political Fictions. All of these mention Trollope (Speare at length); it’s telling the same novels are studied or authors again and again.

Two recent perceptive books enjoyable to read:

Christopher Harvie’s The Centre of Things: Political Fictions in Britain from Disraeli to the Present. Despite Disraeli’s name in the subtitle, Harvie sees Trollope’s books as central and transformative in the “mid-Victorian political novel.” He doesn’t stay just with the obvious Pallisers, but discusses Macdermots of Ballycloran and lesser known books. There is a longish discussion of George Eliot and Felix Holt is the book featured. A longish section just on Meredith’s Beauchamp’s Career.

harrietMartineau
Harriet Martineau – not included in Harman’s book as she wrote political books as travel writing (though Deerbrook may be considered medical politics whose hero is a doctor)

Barbara Leah Harman’s The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England: while Eliot may be included in books which still study mostly books by men, this one illuminates women’s ways of writing political novels and what you find there. Harman includes Gaskell North and South (there is also Sylvia’s Lovers, a historical novel), Bronte’s Shirley and suffragette novels, viz. Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert. These last blend with “new woman” novels.

Some of the studies of historical novels of the Victorian period cross over to politics because the historical novel of the era was often seriously political (this goes back to Lukacs’s book on the historical novel out of Scott, an older Marxist study). So going for studies of the historical novel turns up interesting discussions on political novels; our own era, the mid- [the Poldarks and Paul Scott’s books fit here] to later 20th century shows a return to using history for political perspectives instead of the women’s romances or a boys’ adventure stories they devolved into at the beginning of the 20th century: A Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction, ed James F. English, has a good essay on this very late 20th century return to history as politics, especially post-colonial by Suzanne Keen (“The Historical Turn”). Film studies of historical costume drama take this into account too, from contemporary war (Danger UXB to medieval serials: see several essays in Leggott and Taddeo’s collection, Upstairs and Downstairs.

harry-in-black-shirt

ClaireFoyUpDown2
Stills from 2011 Upstairs Downstairs where Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson), the chauffeur and Lady Percy (Claire Foy) join the black shirts, and a refugee Jewish maid has a heart attack, leaving her daughter a homeless orphan to the care of Amanjit Singh, another displaced person, the Indian servant of Lady Maud (Art Malik)

Last night re-watching the newer Upstairs Downstairs, the second episode where the upstairs family is getting involved with Nazis in gov’t, and the lower stairs family has a Jewish refugee fled from Germany (who dies), her child, the chauffeur joining the street bands of Nazi thugs is all about politics in the way a woman presents this (Heidi Thomas) and fits into both Harman’s and Leggott and Taddeo’s studies. Stevenson’s The Real History of Tom Jones finds richness in Tom Jones by pulling in and putting in all the political doings of the day which are in the novel. All political texts.

On Trollope19thCStudies we have been reading Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian, a historical-political Italian book (cross between Hugo, Tolstoy, Scott and Italian traditions) teaching much about Italy and the rigorismento in the first half of the 19th century (continuing to today). Trollope knew a lot about this world (see “The Last Austrian who left Venice”) from visits to his brother and mother and his own incessant reading and consuming interest in politics and history.

“like all good Trollopians, we secretly believe that Trollope did not write enough. Even after 47 novels, the short stories, the journalism and travel books, there is the lurking wish that somewhere there is another novel, another instance of that sane voice speaking to a less than rational world — Cora Lansbury.

When I was young and just started on Trollope I was so glad there were so many novels, I didn’t know there was enough to last a lifetime.

Ellen

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What happens to a dream deferred? … Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun? from Harlem, Langston Hughes

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I watched a YouTube of all of American Theater production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun with Danny Glover and Estelle Rolle. It is long (2 hours and 50 minutes) and to do it I stayed up to 1:45 am, but it was well worth it, yes. I recommend to all who come to my blog to watch it sometime in the next couple of days (or soon) too and then read on:

Elaine Pigeon, a listserv friend, who I’ve also met at a JASNA conference, who alerted us on WomenWriters at Yahoo to the production, wrote concisely:

While it’s main premise is an African American’s family’s desire to realize the American Dream and own their own house, Hansberry’s play touches on many issues that resonate today: racism, gender conflict, the fragility of masculinity, money, class issues, slavery, Africa and colonialism and more.

For some excellent essays and exegeses and commentary (one by Hansberry herself), see commments. I was deeply moved. I have read it before (just once) and seen it once but no longer remember that production. Now done rightly it seemed to me the equivalent in strength of Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. At mid-century in the US there were a number of plays exploding the realities of American culture, the “American experience” as PBS glibly calls one of its (good) series. Williams’ plays shows us what sex is like, its premises; Miller shows how class and money work, and here Hansberry, race. What was omitted (and still is) are the imperialist militarist facist politics of the gov’t; at mid-century the gov’t was merely oligarchical, it’s gone well beyond that now. It may be that this level of life is hard to dramatize in a play where we are most affected by intimate human stories; at any rate, the only medium it’s been is film as in Gavras-Costos’s Z (so one can have a nation- and city-wide landscape as what the action is embedded in). I suspect too that the strong Jewish component of American arts (especially the theater for funding) prevented this even then, as Israel already existed (its gov’t has done all it can to stop any treaty with Iran these last few weeks). Why don’t we have plays like this any more beyond the patriot act declaring presentations of the realities of continual-war global politics treason?

I’m not discounting earlier plays, e.g., Lilian Hellman’s plays on lesbianism and the politics of war (Watch on the Rhine, The Children’s Hour), Sam Shephard’s True West exposing the results of the macho male hegemony, but in the 1970s the impetus turned to the new independent film industry and for a while there were remarkable films. Arthur Miller talked and wrote about the turn to psychological -fantasy angles as a strong retreat and I believe he’s right. He also said that films were killing live theater and there’s a truth to that.

I was most impressed by how many things in that play are still so. Yes black people can now some of them get decent jobs, but many have none at all. Ta Nehisi-Coats’s essay on how for over a century the way local economics are structured and allowed to be practiced prevents black people from having accumulation of money is relevant. $10,000 from the father’s insurance policy and irreplaceable. The bombing and desctruction of a black person’s home who dared to move into a white neighborhood.

The most disquieting aspect of the continual police murders of black people at the rare of a couple of week is that they continue. The police were taken aback when the first videos of what they do began to surface. There were riots as genuine knowledge this is happening daily spread and we’ve seen a couple of inditement –a couple! just a couple and do not know what has happened since. But yesterday it surfaced a black man’s face was destroy while he was murdered. The police are now shameless and determined to continue. Sandra Bland is not a turning point, just a low that happens. Two years ago a woman terrified of the police’s response to her running her car into one of these cement barriers in DC was gunned down and murdered and the police congratulated. (Disabled people are nearly equally at risk; homeless people.) The massacre of 9 black people while in church followed by a demonstration of the Klu Klux Klan re-asserting its right to murder black people (with its swastikas, flags, in sheets, with red crosses) is a paradigm of the behavior: murder of blacks (immigrants), riots when an individual encounter manages to be publicized, and then the power reasserts itself.

There would today be guns in play as there are not in this 1959 play. I’ll tell all that in the south east Bronx preferred weapons were bats, razors and knives. But it is harder to kill with these weapons. I bring up where I grew up (from age 4 or so to age 10 1/2) to say as I watched I bonded utterly and entered into the anguished feeling of these thwarted people. The self-inflicted berating, the loss of self-esteem, the turning on one another (especially that), the wild mistakes (because you don’t know the middle class rules nor how to protect yourself or at least try) was what I saw in my home growing up, and that of relatives and people living round us.

The qualified happy ending of the play to have its full bite shows why sometimes it’s not just irrelevant but necessary to know the autobiography. Hansberry’s family moved into a white neighborhood, and the white home owners association went to court to have them thrown out on the grounds the white man in the play cited: people have a “right” to form what communities they want. WIkipedia article writes: The restrictive covenant was ruled contestable, though not inherently invalid.” Today we have gated communities everywhere and the leaders of these associations set the grounds for who”s allowed in.

I end on the reality too that Hansberry as she became more active was surveyed, harassed, probably hounded by US agencies — as today BlackLivesMatter is. This has not been reported in mainstream media. Never is. She died at 35 (!) of pancreatic cancer. I agree with James Baldwin that this hounding and the strain of being alive in the US at the time helped bring on that cancer and her very early death.

Elaine also included a worthwhile YouTube telling of Hansberry’s life: remember as you listen to the words (the play tells people “we are just as complicated” as they — meaning white people) that the popular TV show about black people in the US was Amos ‘n Andy:

Ellen

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HelloGirls
Poster Image for the show

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I went to the first of five plays I mean to attend, just a small number of the many events sponsored by the Capitol Fringe Festival this summer. It was a one-woman story-telling play: The Hello Girls: A Tribute to Women Veterans of WW1 written and performed by Ellouise Schoettler. I was attracted to it because I so enjoyed The Bletchley Girls (a BBC mini-series) about young women hired to break codes during WW2: I did not realize this show was also about women doing hard important work who are not recognized for it. Schoettler is a professional storyteller whose plays include Eloise, I presume an amalgam of the Eloise books which my older daughter when she was 11-12 just reveled in.

Eloise

In this 75 minute play Schoettler enacted three historically real women who around 1914 volunteered for military duty as switchboard operators in France in WW1. What happened is when the war was over, and the women came home, an official person phoned each and told them they were not regarded as veterans, were not therefore entitled to benefits, and the only recognition or thank they would be getting was the parade of ceremony General Pershing went through once when all the women from all the stations (over 100) were brought together and thanked. Each was chosen as representing a type: Schoettler could not know what was their personality so I assume she extrapolated from what she could find out about their previous and subsequent jobs, their education and what they did precisely when they were in this military corps.

She began as Olive Shaw, the least educated and most timid of the three, the most trained to acccept, who had been, working in some kind of shop and had taken French in high school. She was one of the ordinary switchboard operators. Then we met Grace Banker Paddock, the most upper class of them, had gone to Barnard College, and put in charge of the first group of 33 women. These first told us where they were right now: it’s 1989 and Olive is in assisted living and is just thrilled because at long last she was visited and thanked by a general; she had been told that she was recognized as a veteran as a codicil to a GI Improvement Bill of 1977, but after that heard nothing about it. Alas all her friends from the corps had died, one two weeks ago; there were now only 18 women left. It is 1938 when Grace is talking to us; she is now married and has tried to find out why the women were not recognized as vets — and presumably denied benefits, thought this was not said. An unfortunate lacuna. As part of their riveting stories (as told by the story-teller actress), we heard of the hardships, the way they were treated as in servitude (the way men in the armed forces are especially when of lower rank), the real dangers, the moving about, never told where they are going, warned everything is a secret (or they will be in trouble), and briefly about their return.

The third woman, Merle Anderson had the shortest speech. It is 1977 and she is exultant. She is clearly a pushy kind of woman, mid-western accent (from Montana she tells us) and tells much less of her experiences in the war; but rather how she led the political fight to get the women recognized and managed it in 1977. How indignant she was when she was told she would not be recognized (no talk about money again). How she lobbied and fought with this and that other group, how the bills they brought up were buried before they got to the congress floor. She told us about the group leader, Grace, who died in 1938 and so will not know. She regrets that.

When she was done, she asked if we had anything to say. There were but two minutes and I was not quick enuogh to ask a question.

The problem with the play was it was conceived as a tribute to being “feisty,” and the moral was that if you fight for something steadily (like Merle) did you can move mountains or some such idea. Its subtitle is A Tribute to the Women Veterans of WW1. That’s why I regret not asking if they got any money for pensions. But I’m not sure that this was not a ploy on the part of Schoettler because what her playlets showed was the exploitation, lack of respect, the (I presume) lack of compensation at least until 1977 for these women. Perhaps afterwards for those still alive. Her title does emphasize that the women were endlessly greeted by a “hello” and their job of sending on and receiving needed information began with a “hello.” This was a feminist play but the feminist was muted because of the way it was conceived. The only woman of the three given some words talking about the power relationships exposed and exploitation and lies was the third.

Among the incidents told about how these women were treated and the risks they were made to take (several unnecessary) was one by Grace that struck me most because I have a personal identification or similar experience. Grace shows how the women were often forgotten (she was organizer and would know), and once in a building about to burn down where they were at first hesitant to flee though everyone else did (all men), she gets a phone call just before a bomb did hit, and she was told to get these women out or she would be disciplined. This reminded me of how when my husband was dying of cancer, very weak, emaciated, and I was similarly traumatically pressured as well as treated disrespectfully and without any regard for my or my husband’s true interests.

So I admit their hardships are not just experienced by women who as a group didn’t (and most still don’t) matter, but anyone without power who others treat as if they don’t count because they don’t count. Jim counted even less than me. But there was only one man in the audience, and he was there as one woman’s husband. Most of the women in the room were past forty and somewhat older. Schoettler looked in her sixties. She said on the stage after she had finished she was pleased to see so many younger women. Maybe it was 20%? Wasn’t she pleased with women over 50? don’t we count too?

I now have a preponderance of older women in the classrooms am teaching in with me — in their 50s to 60s. At Oscher Lifelong Learning Institutes, the women outnumber the men full-stop, and in literature and art courses, there is one man for every 7-8 women. Most people avoid the world feminism; it is now a word that stigmatizes. Most are reticent to speak of oppression as this is “complaining,” and may ostracize them, or (heavens forfend) make a man in the room uncomfortable; some will deny the meaning of what they see if you make it too clear. But these women older women having had much experience of the world (unlike younger ones) at least are quick to see misogyny, recognize it and remark on it, or conversely feminist stories. They are not fooled by faux feminism (apparent strength, mainstream capitalist behavior, imitations of men), and not fooled by presentations of women as violent as necessarily positive. In a way they don’t wouldn’t need explanations for The Hello Girls. Except without explicit talk, it is not clear who understands what. Not everyone can go further than experiencing their instincts since they too are reticent to speak — as if it were complaining (a no-no), not protest, reluctant to be seen “as feminist” as that’s now a stigma, want men about and men don’t come back when feminism begins to be discussed openly too often. You can only stand up for yourself if you are “feisty,” not questioning any deeper values that give rise to the situation.

Endingoffirstseries
The Iconic Ending of the first episode of the first season of The Bletchley Circle

I don”t know how many other events were on at the Fringe at this time — there is a perpetual cabaret in a tent this year. There are raw caucus kinds of plays going on, electronic music. I doubt any young men would come to a play like this on their own; this helps explain why despite good ratings The Bletchley Circle was cancelled after the second season (they were told the ratings weren’t high enough; or the new Upstairs Downstairs similarly cancelled.

The Fringe Festival does have here and there real feminist pieces in its at least 50 events — I don’t know how many they put on, it goes on for 3 weeks, a few starting at mid-day, most at 6 pm and ending around 11 pm, most about 1 to 2 hours at most, one after another in numerous venues. This is the only one I picked out — the other political play is about the Israeli soldiers who refused to carry on slaughtering Palestinians and spoke out against the slaughter last summer. Then I chose 2 Shakespeare and one Middleton play (transposed to the French revolution). Mine is actually a staid and conservative taste aesthetically (see Season 1; Season 2).

They seem to be in different venues this year from previous — few in the center of DC, hence harder to find the first time. The Hello Girls was done in a seemingly gentrifying neighborhood in northeast Washington — I say seemingly as it was also clearly poor, many of the shops in open air hovels below high-rise buildings, most though art stores, for and selling painting, some book stores too, two theaters in not bad shape, people sitting out on the sidewalk in front of cafes. I was almost late getting there because my pro-quest map gave me unnecessarily and puzzling instructions once I got off the Metro stop: Brookland-CUA (Catholic University of America). Luckily I had the nerve to ask people and several directed me aright. Then when I got there, the doors on the building were all locked. I almost left in despair, but went next door which was a building decorated with signs from the Fringe Festival. Yes it was next door and I was told to go back. I said the doors are locked. It transpired the doors are kept locked and someone was supposed to be sitting by that door with nothing else to do but let patrons in. A young man got a key from a chain of them and crossed over with me and let me in. Just in time.

I did not have the kind of acute anxiety and STUGS I experienced last summer. I think about what Jim would have said (making the second man); he might have remembered key incidents in his life from his time as a day boy (ages 11-17) wearing a different colored shirt so as to stigmatize him as there because he was so smart but could not pay, much less board. When I got back by Metro and car, I bought myself some penne (pasta) from a nearby Noodles and Company and settled down with wine in front of my computer to watch Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow.org. Had Jim still alive we would have gone to one of the bookstores, eaten out in one of the cafes.

Normally I would have “filed” this blog under My Reveries under the Sign of Austen blog as about women’s art, or my Sylvia one as partly autobiographical and political, but I thought I’d put all the Capitol Fringe reviews I do on this blog site so they may be found together.

Ellen

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Murray Griffin (1903-2), The Stables

Two Fires

One, the summer fire
outside: the trees melting, returning
to their first red elements
on all sides, cutting me off
from escape or the saving lake

I sat in the house, raised up
between that shapeless raging
and my sleeping children
a charm: concentrate on
form, geometry, the human
architecture of the house, square
closed doors, proved roofbeams,
the logic of windows

(the children could not be wakened:
in their calm dreaming
the trees were straight and still
had branches and were green)

The other, the winter
first inside: the protective roof
shriveling overhead, the rafters
incandescent, all those corners
and straight lines flaming, the carefully-
made structure
prisoning us in a cage of blazing
bars
    the children
were awake and crying:
I wrapped them, carried them
outside into the snow.
Then I tried to rescue
what was left of their scorched dream
about the house: blankets,
warm clothes, the singed furniture
of safety cast away withthem
in a white chaos

    Two fires in
    formed me,

    (each refuge fails
    us; each danger
    becomes a haven)

    left charred marks
    now around which I
    try to grow

from Margaret Atwood’s poetry sequence, The Journals of Susanna Moodie

Dear Friends and readers,

Since my last blog on Trollope from a post-colonialist perspective about two weeks ago, I’ve been reading more Australian authors, about Australian history and literature, and watching more Australian films, especially those having to do with Victorian and Edwardian settlers. I’m still trying to work out thoughts I’ve had and understand the criticism and controversies. In this blog I’ll focus on a novel, bringing in a couple of films and critical-historical essays more briefly.

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I’ve finished Catherine Martin’s 1890 An Australian Girl about Stella Courtland, a perceptive, ethical reading girl, who lives just outside Adelaide, South Australia. We see how family and social pressures, unscrupulous relatives and friends who use her to extract money needed to carry on an ambitious social life, the limited range of options and people the heroine can meet — all lead to her ending up with a thwarted life. Letters and the heroine’s experiences within Australia among different towns (or the city) and Bush (rural, mining, farming, desert, aborigine) communities enable Martin to elaborate a persuasive understanding of the environment and varied cultural groups in Australia, and of its books, of the influence of landscape and climate. Martin roots the manners and crises we see in the real Australian and colonial past of her characters and their families. Boredom or frustration and stress seems the cause of the alcoholism of Ted Ritchie, the unintellectual businessman Stella is tricked into marrying by Ted’s unscrupulous desperate sister, Laurette, who lives in a version of le monde in Sydney; her sexually unfaithful, spendthrift husband bankrupts them. That Anselm Langdale, a young physician Stella falls in love with has to go back to England thousands of miles away from her enables Laurette to separate the lovers and causes Stella’s tragedy — the loss of a man who could have helped her lead a fulfilled life.

Meanwhile due to what Stella reads, her education, her thoughts, how she understands life is mainly as a person living at the far periphery of an English empire where the center is London and (from her reading) ambiance European. (This reminds me of Andrea Levy’s Small Island: black Jamaicans are given English history to read so that they identify as English and are shocked when they emigrate to London to discover they are not respected, not seen as English at all.) This is not to say she doesn’t know better at some level: one of the remarkable features of the book is how Stella repeatedly comes across characters outside her milieu whose life stories are fitted into the narrative and we read of types of desperate characters enduring harsh lives, brutal experiences typical of life in Bush stories where characters are carving out an existence where there is no built society or cultivated landscape to start with. These feel powerful in the way of Henry Lawson’s famous sketches (“The Drover’s Wife”) or the grim scenarios of Barbara Baynton (I loved her one of a servant’s life of semi-slavery, servitude in a middle class home). Stella shows real respect for aborigine beliefs and the people she sees (admittedly from afar). Memory is treacherous but the only (it’s not only) group omitted seems to be convicts; at least I don’t remember any characters (maybe the realism made them ex-convicts hiding their pasts). The book has a lot of subtle satire exposing the European characters, a post-colonialist outlook where she inveigns against the devastating desolating wars the imperial powers inflict on the native people.

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Telegraph Depot, Ninety Miles up the Roper River, Northern Territory,” Illustrated Sydney News, 31 August 1872

I’ve been reading about what is Australian identity or the central hallmarks of its culture and again and again it’s said to be life for people in the “bush:” its terrific hardships, the background of forced transportation of the poorest and most miserable as convicts, or self-forced emigration because voluntary life had no future (one reason for the rise of these horrific organizations is there is nowadays no new continent to take over, to send young men and women to to get rid of them); the strong leftist communitarian ideals of early Australian politics come from this. It seems most classic Australian literature is of the Bush type.

What are some of the results for women — they are the marginal vulnerable people, victims who could be raped, or the stalwart re-creators as far as is possible of the older British homelife, with all its mores, holidays (Christmas) and repressions.

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Ray Winstone and Emily Watson as Morris and Martha Stanley (The Proposition)

Martin’s book pinpoints this Bush material (so to speak) philosophically and emotionally and as something aesthetic and spiritual. I dislike that word very much as it seems to me so ambiguous so let me define my use as something not pragmatic, not dependent on something that gives the person bodily or monetary advantage or prestige. Inward experience that is valued that comes from this odd living in an imagined perphery, in this harsh but (to Europeans let us remember) strange and beautiful landscape. This inwardness which is identified as religious feeling may be found in Patrick White, especially it’s said his Voss (which I’ve read about, not read); but also is in his Fringe of Green Leaves (which I have read). — central to it. I can see that as opposed to White, Martin wants to analyse this. And she wants to make an unconventional woman her center (as does Barbara Baynton).

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Hanging Rock

The second Australian film I chose (my first was Cave and Hillcoat’s The Proposition) was Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by Peter Weir, often identified as a “first” and primary one which began the “new” Australian film industry (post-WW2) that seemed modern contemporary and was carried outside Australia to the US, to Europe. There was an Australian film industry before this film by Weir (a 1970s film), and it told important mythic stories — the very first of the talkies was about the Kelly Gang: Peter Carey’s book which won the Booker was about the Kelley Gang; The Proposition centers on the Burns brothers.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is based on a novel by Joan Lindsay, said to be a mystery but if you expect anything like Agatha Christie you are quickly disabused. There is no Sherlock Holmes, solver of puzzles. It moves slowly and most of the time not much happens in a dramatic or theatric way. A group of girls, adolescent, going into puberty, go on a picnic they hold once a year by a scary outcrop of rocks (like a neolithic site). The heat, snakes and insects are venomous, can cause disease or death. We are not told why they go to such a place, only see the headmistress is a fierce woman not likely to give any reasons.

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Portrait-like

Once there the girls seem to fall into an entranced state, and playfully go behind or into the rocks.

Disappearing
Disappearing in an kind of trance

Cut to the end of the day when they are late back (worrying this woman), and we learn that four of the girls and a key teacher there never returned from the rock: were they abducted and raped? did they decide to join the aborigines, a bushranger gang? did the landscape gods take them? One is found near death, without her corset; she is gradually nursed back to health but either never tells, cannot tell or is not asked to tell what happened to her and the others. The pace, the continual return to the rock, filming it from this and now that angle, the girls’ interactions, the music, the juxtapositions of incidents that happened and are happening at the school make the film mesmerizing.

In the features to Picnic at Hanging Rock it is suggested by one of the different members of the team (Weir himself, screenwriter, producer, production and costume design, also actors grown older are among these) that the girls eventually themselves joined some violent group of men. These bushrangers, people living outside the control of state apparatus (with their control of legitimate violence), people gone into a permanent rage from what has been done to them by such state terror and punitive militarism, torture (convicts say, with Israel as the equivalent terror state). There are parallels with American outlaws, not to omit modern Middle Eastern marauding groups under a central command (like ISIS). The movie is a meditation on intersections between Australian kinds of lives (class is important in the interactions of a couple of young males who become part of the search team), manners and cultures and its landscape and geology akin to An Australian girl.

It’s a woman’s movie as the central characters are all women — though the sexual perspective on the students is that of a man who thinks most of their problems come from sexual repression (the girls play voyeuristically and are shown to be prurient) The fable was a woman’s of the more genteel type. We see do see their rigid obedient routines, their trussed up bodies in clothes that grew out of a northern European climate.

mistress

The strict headmistress who cares intensely about money: she threatens to eject a girl whose parent has not been paying her bills; the girl dies, seemingly trying to get back to Hanging Rock, perhaps murdered by the headmistress, who seems also to end up destroyed by what has happened.

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Weir credits Lindsay with giving him the basic matter for what can only be called an inexplicable visonary film; I’ve just gotten the book. On first blush it appears to be a gothic — more Shirley Jackson and DuMaurier than the 1930s gentlelady mysteries. Maybe it will help me understand what the fable is intended to convey; I feel it’s a flaw that the film remains inexplicable.

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

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Jimmie (Tommy Lewis)

On the night of July 4th as I heard the noise of (as my husband, Jim would have said) senseless firecrackers outside, I watched an intensely compelling Fred Shepisi’s Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, based on a novel by Thomas Kenneally (nominated for Booker). I cannot speak highly enough of this film — again it’s the “weird melancholy” of the landscape that does stand out as the suffusing ambiance of the work — Marcus Clarke, author of For the Term of his Natural life, used the phrase This is neither the usual bush frontier story nor that of the struggles of genteel or convict or working class or unfortunate women. It’s the story of an aborigine young man — this is so rare because it’s hard to tell their stories as their way of life does not lend itself to the conventional European narrative story of individual social rise, and they are not individualist in their worlds overtly nor do they seek success in this manner. Shepisi and Kenneally manage to make a film that somewhat fits by dramatizing the story of an aborigine young man said to be half white.

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We see him taken from his tribe by a well-meaning but strict, repressive white clergyman: the clergyman has a switch with which he hits the boy when young after he has done something deemed wrong. Jimmie is educated to be Christian, taught to read, and live in the modern world with real skills, but when it’s time to leave this Reverence and find work, he not only cannot find work commensurate with his education, but at every turn as he does very hard menial tasks (like putting up fences) he is cheated, insulted, mocked, threatened, kicked, debased and given impossibly high standards before he can get his fully-earned salary. We see he is decent, not violent, and when given the opportunity gentle and courteous. The setting and time are the turn of the 19th century, just when a referendum for federation (what Trollope is so intent on as needed) is about to be voted upon. Also talk about the colony separating from the UK. We hear the talk of all this as background.

Jimmie becomes an officer briefly in order to better himself — to have less arduous work, dress better, be treated according to some rules. But he soon learns he is still treated derisorily, and put in a filthy stable to sleep. He becomes complicit in policing and repressing the aborigine groups in the area (breaking up their encampments, whipping them, wrecking their campsites), and finds he gets some real money (less than the others but still a percentage that is visible) for the first time. He experiences gestures of respect. But when the boss gets drunk and one night and tortures and kills an aborigine who has begged Jimmie to let him go (out of terror of this policeman), Jimmie cannot endure to cut the man down from where he is hanging and destroy his body before burying it. He runs off, and has made some enemies at that station.

aboriginelife

We see too how aborigine culture has changed a lot — how they do dress in a sort of modern style and how they are prevented from developing a reasonable way of life with parts of their culture intact because what’s wanted is their disappearance.

The crisis occurs when while working on a farm he has an affair with a white girl servant, and marries her because he think she has gotten pregnant by him. He takes her to live with him in a cabin (very poor but comfortable enough) that he lives in on the bare land nearby. It turns out the child is wholly white, not his. She cries when she sees how hovel like is their home, but she has experienced his kindness, how well he means, how gentle and tender he is with the baby and her.

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Jimmie’s wife (Liddy Clark)

Almost immediately though he is again not getting the pay he is owed and the farmer’s wife refuses to bring groceries back from town for them. Soon they are near starving — no milk for the baby. The boss’s daughter wants that girl servant as cheap servant for herself as she is about to marry; all the whites think they have the right to part this couple. He tries to reason with them; they reject him, citing how he has his brother and family members in his house on their land, showing how they regard his people (and him by extension) hideous.

In a mad rage he returns to the house with an axe and begins to kill, the women there, the children; he picks up a gun, and begins a killing spree of all the people who have treated him so deeply abusively. Schepisi says in his feature we are seeing Jimmie tipped over the edge finally; he is having a mental breakdown, he feels horrible about what he is doing (and Tommy Lewis had a look of appalled horror as he axed the women who had tried to erase him, take his wife, starve him) and yet has no control over himself any more. He conveys the horror of the people who are being killed. Who Jimmie is doing this to.

horror

backoff

longshot

Well this mad spree of self-inflicted horrors brings down on him a vengeful posse and on his brother too the brutal vengeance of these people — who are themselves deeply grieved at their losses. Jimmie did hurt them back. A couple of the whites – the original pastor, and a schoolmaster he takes as a hostage — could be and are decent to him even in the exigent circumstances of the flight into the bush. The pastor blames himself for taking Jimmie out of his culture. Jimmie tries to save his brother by going off alone; it only enables the posse to find and murder his brother quicker.

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His brother’s traditional face-mask out of make-up takes on a poignancy (Freddy Reynolds)

Exhausted, hungry, he is cornered in a stream, his mouth shot off and he creeps into a nunnery. He is picked up by the police, beaten savagely by butts of rifles, rakes, hit by stones, anything people can lay their hands on, on the way to the temporary prison, and last seen, he is shivering, shaking uncontrollably, miserable wrapped in a blanket leaning on a wall. One of the images from The Proposition I remember is the youngest brother of the Burns gang put in prison by Ray Winstone as police officer (to protect him from the mob), looking like that.

Tommy Lewis has said Jimmie is the underdog in all situations, all of us; the film enables the underdog to gain strength, to sit up and buck: “the medicine is to keep singing, the chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is the song of all men.” The film projects all that has happened to aborigine people in Australia.

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Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984), An Image of Bonfire in the Bush

Tamara Wagner’s Victorian Settler Narratives, a collection of essays, includes three centering on Trollope’s fictions, one about bushfire (a terrifying event for anyone new to it) connects to Trollope’s Harry Heathcoat. Wagner’s book is informative and judicious and looks to see what was the cultural work done by most of the ficitions, not which were the best artistically or as statements about imperialism or colonialism. I made notes only on those pertaining to my project, omitting for example an essay on Susannah Moodie whose great Roughing it in the Bush I loved, as well as Atwood’s Booker Prize, Alias Grace, and Charlotte Gray’s biography of Susannah and her sister, Cartheine Parr Traill: Sisters in the Wilderness. In the book somewhere it’s mentioned that Moodie’s masterpiece may be read as about futility (yes, she exposes false ideas about independence and what the experience is like). It seem to me Atwood’s poetry sequence, The Journals of Susanna Moodie (quoted above) tell all that the popularizing narratives below elide, erase, and try to impose colonialist-imperialist agendas on.

The introduction by Wagner: that the representations of the settler world transformed the idea of home itself (p 1), that while the narratives were “meant to realize the Utopian plans that promised a better world … successful or disrupted … they “exploded as often as reaffirmed the metropolitan home’s presumed inviolability as a cultural center or home.” The porosity of the imagined borders … Some stories were presented as “masculine adventure,” genre experiments emerged (3). The “portable home’ was part of the conception (3), propaganda for emigration, cautionary tales. Disappointments included the nature of the land, the real hardships (not mentioned explicitly by Wagner), and that emigrants were easily made dupes (Susanna Moodie mentions this). Wagner sees this phase of literature as ending in attempt at re-mapping of what is greater Britain (7). On Morusi’s essay Wagner adds state welfare for orphaned children in Australian (and elsewhere?) consolidated the imperial family.

Dorice Williams Elliot’s “Unsettled status in Australian Settler Novels” is on emerging tropes of Australia’s popular image in 19th century; she says the wild west as a trope was worked back into early Australian novels. Mary Vidal’s Bengala (1860) and Alexander Harris’s The Emigrant Family (1849) redefine gentility and feminity in a new Australian model while solidifying class positions, which are themselves paired with metropolitan reactions. She presents a rereading of Harry Heathcote: it consists of a new amalgam of masculine gentility, not just (or not quite at all) family connections and at least manners, taste, dress, but also business skills, resourcefulness, practical skills. Harry Heathcote resembles Bengala because we get an alliance between rivals. The hero very like Harry and Giles Medlicot. The new (or expanded) style of femininity stresses the creation of home with alliance on the wife having to have practical skills. The Emigrant Family and Kingsley’s Geoffrey Hamlin shows a woman squatter and ex-convict working side-by-side: more roles for women. Critical to present squatters as sharing work ethic and work, lead and compromise, practical skills. These books tried to do the cultural work of creating a united Australian gentry.

From Amy Lloyd’s “For Fortune and Adventure: Representations of emigrations in British Popular Fiction, 1870-1914.” The US rivalled Australia as most popular destination. Canada much less popular as a place for emigration; depicted as a vast wilderness, hardworking and lucky people might achieve a better life, daring seek adventure. They were envisioning a new lot; women not shown as independent but joining relatives abroad, escaping desperate circumstances and abandonment (Diana Archibald begins with story of her grandmother where she finds the latter at the core of her story.) Positive emulation is the thrust. Paul Denham’s After Twenty Years is thus an unusual story of a man broken by his experience, returning to the US to die. Some stories of dangerous violence but mostly not. Absence of females in these stories did not encourage female emigration; an intense desire to return with enough to build better life in the UK is part of these stories. Trollope’s books could serve as an antidote to idealism and exotic portrayals.

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Mrs Smith aboard the Goldfinder: from Francis Moseley’s 20th century illustrations for John Caldigate

On Tamara Wagner’s “Setting Back in At Home:” Imposters and Imperial Panic in Victorian Narratives of Return.” She finds often in these stories the best reward is the return home to an idealized existence. She brings out how Tichbourne claimant connects to fraudulent identities made possible; adds to scams the Indian emigration story in Collins’s Moonstone. She discusses Clarke’s For the Term of his natural Life, Charles Reade’s Gold! and It’s Never Too Late; Diana Craik’s Olive. The 1886 A Rolling Stone by Clara Cheeseman (New Zealander) comes out of trials (fraudulent identities again). We have failed emgration in Great Expectations: Dickens novels have unwanted returnees (so too Lady Audley’s Secret, Collins’s No Name). These and Mansfield Park lay bare dysfunctional arrangements in England. People’s existence in English homes are ripped apart by returnees or emigration results: Jane Eyre, Craik’s Olive, Trollope’s John Caldigate. It became common for emigrating women to be represented not just as useful and vulnerable, but also as undomestic or corrupt. They must transport domesticity and the domestic virtues changed and do not. She thinks that John Caldigate complicates the sensational plot of the return home, satirizes the stereotyping of undomestic space by allowing Mrs Smith, the shabby genteel widow, to speak, although Trollope centrally uses a sexual double standard. We have a reverse portability – Shand returns to Australia; Mick Maggot becomes an alcoholic; but Caldigate discovers he does not like this new Australian life, although he has been moderately successful. She sees a reversal of the literary conventions and finds the scenes of Hester’s imprisonment comic (I disagree on both counts). Three Clerks debunks notion that emigration is magic cure for whatever has been wrong.

Grace Moor’s “Surviving Black Thursday: The Great Bushfire of 1851,” on the sheer terror of the bush fires and how people learned to avoid and then cope. Moves from stories of destruction and horror to heroism and survival. She sees how fiction became an important means of reasserting a mastery of the landscape and the permanence and stability of the home.

Kristine Morusi: “The Freedom suits me: encouraging girls to settle in the colonies” – this one is about Catherine Spencer’s Handfasted and girls’ magazines and finds an empowerment of white women as well as stories which intend to control mixed marriages.

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An 18th century picturesque style depiction of Varanasi, an area in India (Utter Pradesh, by the Ganges)

To conclude: I now see emigration anew and remember it takes in far more texts and historical individuals than I usually think of in this context. For example, in The Austen Papers the story letters of Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen, Jane Austen’s cousin, daughter of Austen’s aunt, Philadelphia, the woman who went (or was pressured into going) to India from England to sell herself in marriage, and of Warren Hastings (never openly acknowledged). The letters of her legal father, Tysoe Hancock, to her mother and hers call out for contextualization by post-colonial studies of the British in India. On wikipedia you may discover a famine was occurring as Hancock wrote one his letters so we can see the true context for this man’s complaints that he had to do some work as a surgeon for his sinecure, and his indignant irritation at the state of the streets too (which he does not explain) — just littered with these corpses and the starving and diseased? Eliza is the child of an emigration; she became an emigrant when she went to France and lived with a man who hoped by marrying her to gain money to drain his land after he threw his tenants off (instead they or their representatives guillotined him and another ruthless female owner who said aloud she had the right to salt the soil rather than let the tenants continue to grow produce on it). These Austen figures will yield far more about what happens to people under the pressure of imperialism and settler colonialism than Mansfield Park; they call out to be seen in the context of colonialism and all that was happening in India and France globally.

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Joseph Vernet, Antibes Port Hinterland (1756)

Ellen

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Ross (Robin Ellis) and Demelza (Angharad Rees) (Poldark 1975)

Demelza to Ross at he leans down towards her: ‘I live only for you, Ross’ (Graham, Ross Poldark, Bk 2, Ch 6); ‘Oh, I love you so!’ (Pullman, 1975 Poldark, Episode 3); Horsfield 2015, no equivalent …

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Ross (Aidan Turner) making his appeal to Dr Choake (Robert Daws) seen from the back in the courtoom (Poldark 2015)

Dr Choake to Ross’s request for help: ‘My dear sir, we’d do as much for a friend, but don’t ask us to testify on behalf of a young vagrant who’s been caught poaching’ (Graham, RP, Bk 2, Chapter 4); of Jim Carter as Jim is led into the court room: ‘They’re a different breed, sir, a different breed’ (Horsfield, 2015 Poldark, Episode 3); Pullman 1975, no equivalent …

Dear friends and readers,

This week I enjoyed both versions of Episode 3 so much, I returned to and reread the parts of the novel covered. As in the first episode of both versions, in this third, much the same material is covered, with exceptions being made for a rearrangement of events and changes in detail (so that Jim and Jinny’s wedding occurred in Episode 2 in 1975 and as in the book was not precipitated by Jinny’s pregnancy, while it occurs in Episode 3 in 2015 and is so precipitated), and both were similarly in different and the same places faithful with different or similar striking departures. Yet as in the second episode, the excellencies of the two Episode 3 felt utterly disparate and left such a different effect. How is this?

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Ross offering Jim (Alexander Arnold) and a pregnant Jinny (Gracee O’Brien) a rent-free place to live

Last week I tried to account for this by describing the new way of movie-making as manifested in montages, continual quick cutting back and forth, juxtapositions, and brief scenes. I showed why some watching prefer the 1975 mini-series, and in this third episode in 1975 the full developments of deeply traumatic, angering, erotic moments as well as the passing of time and ephemera of life was on display, as well as such effective dialogue and acting. But to be fair this week did have a number of long scenes (it had to, for example, the court scene, the initiating of sexual love-making between Ross and Demelza) and effective epitomizing lines, powerful outcries against the injustice of Dr Halse (Robin Ellis pitch perfect embodiment, especially in his sighs, and patience under boredom) on the part of Ross (Aidan Turner). It was done as far as a brief scene in a costume drama can be accurately — including a sense of the discretionary power of the judge.

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The confrontation

The scene in 1975 was slightly comic, and personal tensions between Nicholas Warleggan (Nicolas Selby) and Ross (at the time a young Ellis), the presentation of Nick Vargus as a low-life crook (so deserving punishment) overshadowed the main issue: the laws against poaching when the average person was not far from starvation as a disguised property and class war. In 2015 that came to the fore; the 2015 scene reminded me of one in Fielding’s Tom Jones (Book 8, Chapter 11, not in either the 1966 or 1997 films of Tom Jones) where a sadistic, sardonic “hanging judge” (Sir Francis Page) maximizes the power of the establishment’s agents to refuse any clemency to a man accused of stealing a horse (he is summarily hanged).

As in 1975, in 2015 the initiating of love-making between Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Ross occurs over several sequences. It is literally closer to the book — except that Horsfield will not permit the kindness of romantic love, and only hints at the the motive for manipulation that Demelza has (because her father has come and threatened to take her back to a rightly hated home). Demelza is drawn to Ross’s mother’s rich dress, and puts it on; there are two separate scenes, one in the front room where he grows angry and the other in his bedroom, where he does not and she comes to him the second time.

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He scolds her for daring to wear his mother’s dress

I am so intensely drawn to Demelza’s outbursts the following day (a proud yet distraught Angharad Rees pleading to be allowed to stay and then angered because she is in effect being rejected so denying that she has no where to go, no one to turn to, “What makes you think [that!]”)

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and flat-out leaving, without his trying to make her come back; and the subsequent theatrical re-engineering of the marriage in Episode 4 when she is found to be pregnant (from a single night — not probable), I cannot regret the changes. But as Graham’s novel has it, Ross commits an act of deep rebellion (and determination to separate himself from his gentry peers) by marrying his kitchen maid fully voluntarily and within a month or so. It was not unknown: Fielding married the housemaid after his wife died; Charles James Fox married an outright prostitute, Elizabeth Armistead whom he had fallen in love with. Horsfield cannot resist having Demelza try to leave out of hurt over Elizabeth’s visit and Jud and Prudie’s continued scorn (this latter not in the book at all); it seems neither film-maker was willing to show that Demelza never thinks of leaving, that she has no where decent to go, and that Ross Poldark’s view of her has become her and what he wants, she does. That is part of why he finds her irresistible.

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A very different walking away and calling back

So it’s not the new way of movie-making nor is it the change in the emphatic presentation of a particular kind of feminism (women as genuinely oppressed, without power to choose their own lives); after a proto-feminism, 1970s style is on display in the 1975 fourth episode (to be dealt with next week); nor the emphatic over-riding use of the mining anti-(unameliorated) capitalist story as in 1975 there are long scenes of negotiation to open Wheal Leisure once again to look for copper, as well as (more believable) scenes of ploughing, sowing, harvesting.

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One of many depictions of Ross working in the fields; his servants near by

I fall back on what I suggested at the outset of Episode 1: a key aspect of this Poldark is it’s critical for the film to present this upper class hero (a member of the 1/% of the era) as sharing the work ethic and at work, shown to have the skills and qualities of the vast majority of working people (the 99%). In 1975 Ellis remained a gentleman whatever he did, he was elegant at an assembly, danced in a sprightly way; his Ross and Graham’s too, embodied a notion of gentility that makes the upper class ontologically superior to, or at least different from everyone else. Swashbuckling is what Errol Flynn or Stewart Grainger did for fun; Ellis didn’t do that, but he contained the residues of separate higher status. Angharad Rees was made to become part of that upper class by the middle of the first season. In 2015 Aidan Turner prefers not to dance and denies being any good at it; we see him sweating, working side-by-side in the mines with his men, continually at strenuous tasks. Eleanor Tomlinson is seen twice getting and giving herself “pump discipline.” She’s not presented distinctly as a child when we first meet her nor do we see her in stages growing up (as is dramatized in a couple of comic moments in 1975 as when Angharad-as-Demelza insists the world might be round); in the novel she is a child of 13 when Ross brings her home, with a child’s body when he washes her down. The scenes in the 2015 film reminded me of one I saw in an Australian classic film: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Jimmie, a man half-aborigine and half-white is subjected to cascading waters of a pump in a cold dank area twice so as to prove himself clean enough to come inside. At the time it was believed that lice brought on typhus and typhus was a killer.

Juxtaposed to the alienation and misery we see in Trenwith and the business dealing and prostitution in a tavern in Falmouth we see Jinny and Jim’s weddding with Demelza dancing there. Ross looks at her and she refreshes his soul, and he begins to dance too. This communal dancing contrasts to the high romance mythic dancing with Elizabeth in the assembly which was such a strain for him.

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Demelza having a good time, drinking, then dancing, Ross watching, likes her

The archetype for this new Poldark is not after all Outlander nor Master and Commander, but the Australian versions of American western films. Old family connections, ladylike ways (which Heidi Reeds as Elizabeth carries in her every movement) are presented as useless; the new Charles Poldark (Warren Clarke) nags his son, Francis (Kyle Soller) to get to work, but Francis doesn’t know how; he is a gentleman. All this is fantasy; upper class people knew very well how to keep and make money when they wanted to; it was done mostly through the patronage system. But it is the social presentation of characters that are thought to support progressive politics to the average person today.

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A few observations on 1975 Episode 3 (compared to book and 2015 Episode 3):

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Her begging and pleasing to stay; him trying to explain he thinks it’s for her good; after all, he cannot marry her is implicit (see above and below)

One skein has Demelza slowly growing up some more, turning into womanhood (signalled by her hair changing and become this luxuriant long red), and at last in a weak moment Ross awakening to her beauty and then, drunk, succumbing to having sex with her. The scene of their first encounter is remarkably well done – and tasteful. In this version he shudders; they are in front of the fire; she cries out how she loves him. She sure does and we have been persuaded it’s absolutely natural. If he’s stern or difficult at times, he alone of all the characters has shown her real continual kindness. Verity lives apart in Trenwith, in another world and is upper class and older. All Demelza has she now has from him: dress, reading, daily quiet life of tasks that make sense.

In his Making Poldark, Ellis said he objected to the way this is changed from the book. He’s right. The next day in the film Ross determines to send her off: he is too honorable to have this happen again; she at first clutches him and says don’t send me away and it doesn’t matter if it happens again. He says oh it does, and begins plans to whom. They quarrel (as they have before) and she lights out for all the world like Huck Finn. Improbable. In the 18th century she’d have nowhere to go; parents would not take her back, the friend she goes to we learn (Jinny Carter) would be so near subsidence she’d be with her relatives who would not take Demelza in. Not even damaged goods given her lower class drunken miner’s daughter background.

In the book the incident is triggered by her father again coming to demand her back. People are talking and he’s married a religious woman. She is terrified of this and we are asked to believe entraps Ross — who is drunks and upset (more on this later). This is the male point of view. But it is harder. Then far from sending her away, in the book Ross and she begin to be bed partners. He does like her, and in the film the scene is triggered by how angry he feels at himself, at what happened, he wonders why he should control himself.

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Norma Streader

The film has other skeins. There is the temporary ending tragically of Verity and Blamey’s courtship. We see how they have grown to know and love one another — a good scene. Ross comes in and there is talk and plans. But the two Poldark men find out how Verity has been meeting Blamey in Ross’s house and come there enraged. Francis, hot-headed, insists on a duel, and keep slapping Blamey who cannot endure this and they duel, Francis is shot (not fatally, or even dangerously) and Charles collapses. The affair betweem them they see is impossible. In 2015 the actor playing Blamey makes him likeable — emotionally appealing and Horsfield changes the story so he killed his wife by accident, it was manslaughter. That makes the story less complex, and it is troubling that in 2105 the wife is blamed.

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Jinny given separate scenes where we get to know her

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Warleggan personally grated upon

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Ross articulating a set of values

Centrally important is Jim Carter is led to poach by starvation; he is imprisoned and Ross tries to save him. The judge Warleggan gets angry at Ross’s insubordination and declarations that such laws are deeply unjust (see above). In the film the trial scene very effective; a sense of a large active crowd. Lots of individuals brought out to show different indifferent unconcerned reactions. Ellis presented as an older. We have seen Jinny friendly with Ross, Jinny pregnant, talking with Ross, her love for Jim, and helplessness to stop him; now Jinny’s grief brought out. Ross comes home that night drunk from this incident. In the book at what has happened after a little time passes, and he determines to make the final rebellious act and marry her.

Elizabeth. In retrospect by the fourth book (Warleggan) Graham gave the earlier history of Ross’s continuing intense love for Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Francis. It’s right to bring it forward as it give the overarching tension to the series and by the end of this novel (a Christmas scene of rival piano playing between Elizabeth and Demelza) Demelza realizes she has a real rival, but by bringing it forward it changes the whole feel of this early material which is much simpler and somehow less meretricious because less complicated, less contrived .

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This episode has Elizabeth coming to see Ross once — right after the trial in need of decent conversation and solace but too proud and upper class to let down the barriers. She is under considerable strain; her life is one of frustration and boredom; she finds she cannot tell Ross this.

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Negotiating business deal scene in 1975 – note the elegance of the surroundings, all gentlemen

There is only the one negotiating gentleman scene about the mine but as with all the scenes, the dialogue is better, more precise, more engaging; in the first half of 1975 episode the Verity material is still playing out (it was squeezed into episode 2 in 2015) and we have Verity’s meeting with Blamey and the finding out about it by the Poldark men and the powerful duel clash. It just seems to me at every point the dialogues are better, the focus on the characters more precise, more distinctive, and more varied. They are rounder, more believable, more time given, separated out.

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(Passing shots in 1975)

We do feel time passing, the sowing done slowly, farm work is more central but there no sense of a big community around as in 2015. It feels in the 1975 film as if they have more time, but it’s that Pullman and his team used time and montages more cleverly. A sense of time going by is better even if in the book we are told they married quickly, it was a month or so. The characters feel older in the 1975, dressed to look and act older.

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Observations on 2015, Episode 3 (compared to 1975 film and book):

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Ross seen climbing up the high hill over the mine; the people come to work

2015 begins again with the mine. Ross is ringing the bell, the miners are up and glad to be so, headed for the mine. The great rejoicing moment of opening — camera on Demelza supporting Ross. The sneers of Choake, the Warleggans. Demelza works in the field and told by Jinny of Jinny’s worries, and after one of several eating scenes with Ross together,

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Eating and talking; she is now the cook

Ross makes efforts far more central and intertwined to insist Jim (who seems more immature in 2015) marry Jinny Carter with the opening of the mine.

The new mini-series shows Verity unhappy, downtrodden, talked down to by the Poldark men, embittered against Francis. Francis looks much worse in his bigotry against Blamey, for not working alongside men as our Ross does.

Horsfield’s George is not a monster — there is an attempt to make the capitalist understandable, but he is now a sneak as he was not in the book (in the book George was as far as could be seen rather open and brutal and amoral rather to anyone who can observe). Jud and Prudie have become sullen servants which is odd — instead of making the lower class servants at least someone we can be fond of identify with, they are mean themselves. In Graham’s book Jud is droll; Horsfield seems to have no feeling for drollness. Paul Curran understood it (and probably Phil Davis might if given the lines).

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Ellis and Curran working in the fields: Jud to the back, Ross remains a gentleman but there is camaraderie (1975)

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Mary Wimbush as a good-natured thoughtful Prudie (1975)

Jim and Jinny Carter are also kept at a distance; we don’t see enough of them close–up. In effect some might say the 2015 film is more class-ridden, far more class self-conscious.

Horsfield does not show the passing of time, the choice of landscape imagery is pointed (a blast in the mine, flowers in the field near Demelza suggesting eroticism) and we move into the poaching too quickly, with the trial and then the love-making explosion between Ross and Demelza afterward.

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The morning after: in the novel Ross alludes to a Shakespeare sonnet (“Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame”) asking himself if he feels this; and Demelza does revel in the fields

Demelza’s behavior feels more passive during the love-making scene which is actually not specified in the book (it was written in 1945/6). Then as in the book we get Elizabeth’s too late visit, and Elizabeth’s intuition something has happened between Ross and Demelza. Though not in the book now I feel it is also a loss not to have Ross trying to send her away for her own good, a real loss her anguished speech about how she has someone to turn to; here she is merely seen fleeing, he once again rides after her, and after silent observation, simply marries her — she just does it. There is not enough preparation. The book does not show Demelza’s agreement and both the book and 2015 show women submissive but it leaves a hole in the psychology that is not made up for as the 18th century Demelza would never leave Nampara (she’d be beaten at home, in the streets beaten or raped, end up a prostitute) and Graham’s Elizabeth does not mouth pious beliefs.

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A typical scene of Francis scolded, lacking dignity, takes it out on Verity

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Made a supine fool by Margaret

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is made far more exemplary. Asked by Francis’s father, if Francis does his duty (has sex with her), if he is at work on the mines somehow or other, she says yes. She plays the harp in the book too (there are no harp scenes in the 1975 movie):

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Probably the most important character change is in Francis: The episode brought out Francis’s incompetence over his mine (he hasn’t lost it as in 1975 because he gambled the money away carelessly like an aristocrat), his unfair jealousy of Ross when Elizabeth gives birth and at the christening Ross talks with Elizabeth; how he blames Ross for Elizabeth not wanting to have sex with him. In the book it’s the child; in the 1975 this is not a thread. The 1975 Francis was not mean and jealous in this way. Kyle Soller is made to look stupid, he can speak truth back to George Warleggan and he likes Ross, wants his respect and companionship at first, but is seduced by George into forgetting by George’s playing on his sexual and work insecurities; so he is not appealing It is far too easy for Margaret to flatter him that he is the only Poldark. This Charles (Warren Clarke) is himself really mean too; not likeable as Frank Middlemass was able to make him. In the 2015 Francis sits on a horse looking helplessly at Ross’s mine

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so when we see him with Margaret he calls himself “the Poldark.’ he is not appealing (there are now two scenes where Elizabeth has been reluctant or refused him access to her body and bed) to a larger audience, rather helpless and writhing and angry: I can sympathize. But then he is overtly arrogant to Verity, sneers at her. He buddies with George which he would in the book (to a man of Francis’s type George remains “a blacksmith’s son,” beneath him) or in the 1970s (where he resents George’s attentions to Elizabeth and his presents to his son and detests George as a sneak he must kowtow to because he owes George money).

It’s implied but never brought out in the novels that Francis is not a good leader of men, not pro-active on behalf of business; but this is never stated. He is a self-contained aristocrat, containing his self-esteem and careless dismissal of those beneath him; in 1975 with an undercurrent of self-loathing out of a depression within his character which his father has taken advantage of. We see him enjoying himself:

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The contrast is with Jim Carter who the culture subdues, makes deferent, hesitant, without assertive pride:

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Ross scolding Jim for poaching (1975): there is a similar scene in 2015, but it has lost its original context

In the fiction Margaret preys on Clive Francis as Francis through demanding gifts, and she encourages his gambling; she sneers at his love-making as boring, jeers at him. In the fiction we may feel Francis is distrustful and jealous of Ross’s love for Elizabeth, but it never comes out, except when Elizabeth begins to refuse sex — then the narrator tells us it’s Geoffrey Charles she prefers.

Well in the 1970s programs Clive Francis as Francis is never jealous (the sex scenes are cut) and his lack of business acumen and leadership is never mentioned. In fact he finds and tells about the scandal pamphlets sent out against Ross. In the 1970s Clive Francis is witty, kind, well-meaning, likes Ross and I am among those who find the timbre of his voice intensely appealing. In short it’s not the actor (Kyle Soller) whom some viewers may be alienated from; the actor was chosen to fill a role of Francis from Horsfield: she doesn’t care for the ne’er-do-well sceptical Francis. Amanda Foreman who wrote the biography behind the film of Georgiana Spencer’s life, The Duchess said that Hatcher, the screenplay writer was not sympathetic to Georgiana and that’s why the movie made her less than sympathetic, and Hatcher agreed. Horsfield cannot like the type Francis Poldark is supposed to represent in Graham’s book.

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To bring out a few points from the above notes and details: strong parts of the 2015 film include its historically accurate presentation of the court scene, its depiction of a deep relationship developing between an upper class male (however made more egalitarian in presentation) and a servant girl, and how her character is given resonance through class and status anger.

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Demelza angry and yet helpless against father’s demand she must return

It lacks irony and there are moments where the script might have meant for Turner to project ironical distance (as when he is talked to by the preacher at Jim and Jinny’s wedding and told marriage is to prevent fornication; or when Mrs Teague and her daughter Ruth assail him), but he is either too flat or obvious in tone.

The strong parts of the 1975 film are also the court scenes done in a way that brings out 1970s values in Ross’s speech, and the final love-making scene and disruption afterwards that represents an unfortunate departure from the book’s original themed presentation of politically radical love. But it has real humor and can contain a sympathetic depiction of Francis as a flawed but understandable male character:

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Clive Francis allowed dignity even when behaving in foolhardy unthinking manner

Ellen

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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 his 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<' as a reaction to Eyre's massacre and murder of black people in an infamous incident in Jamaica. It's not true that there is a clear progressive liberalization in his views as he grows older and travels and sees more, nor is there a retreat into conservatism even if 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 makes fun of philanthropists from Castle Richmond (where he supports the gov’t callousness during the famine, justifies evicting people) to 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 (often socially uncontrolled) difficult (the climate, the terrain) 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 Vietnam-like situation (the British in India, the French and then the Americans in Vietnam) where armed people from the developed country instead of trying to displace the original people (with feeble technology or in servitude from their country’s political structuring), 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) of trying 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 Trollope rather anthropological, with a real gasp of different faces of battle, how they work, outward ones including the use of guns (whose rapidity and ease in causing death he immediately cites).

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.

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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

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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.

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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):

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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)

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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:

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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.”

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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.

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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:

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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

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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:

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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,

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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):

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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:

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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:

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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

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