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The author’s real name is Carolyn Heilbrun, the detective Kate Fansler


Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) of Prime Suspect fame

Friends and readers,

An interim blog: this is me thinking out a few semi-conclusions I’ve come to after a couple of months of reading books about women detectives (history, literary criticism, culture, feminist) and reading and rereading a few such books by men and women. As I’ve written on my Sylvia I blog, I seem to be going through something of a transition after living in this world without Jim for some 9 plus years. Part of this is I am liking books I used to not be able to read, and able to accept optimism and at least sympathize with (understand in a new way from an outward transactional POV) some conventional transactional pro-social-ambition perspectives.

To get to the point here, I find that I can’t resist reading and watching new kinds of material in the detective, mystery-thriller, spy genre kind, which I’ve come back to seeing as closely allied to the gothic. Not that I altogether rejected books with women detectives at the center: my first Internet pseudonym was Sylvia Drake, a minor character in Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy night, and my gravatar for my political blog is a small picture of Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane looking thoughtful.


From Strong Poison: she is supposed the murderer and this is in prison, she is talking to Lord Peter Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge)

The reading came out of my preparing for my coming The Heroine’s Journey course this winter. As you can see, if you go over the look, there is no example among my four slender book choices of a female detective novel. That’s because I couldn’t think of one slender enough for such a short course until I came upon Amanda Cross’s (aka Carolyn Heilbrun’s) Death in a Tenured Position. Most recent and older female detective novels are average size, say 350 pages (Gaudy Night is about this size) because often many combine a “novel of manners” (or domestic romance) with the detective formula. But I found it to be a central category because since surfacing in novels in the 1860s, the type has multiplied in appearances until say today there may be several TV shows featuring a female detective available all at once.

Although I’ve found dictionary-type books with lists and essays on women writers and their detective novels (Great Women Mystery Writers, ed Kathleen Gregory Klein, truly excellent; By a Woman’s Hand by Jean Swanson and Dean James, 200 short entries which have the merit of naming the author as well as the detective and offering enough information to give the reader a gist of what type of mystery fiction this is), it has been very hard to find any essay-like books treating just the category of female detective fiction by women writers. The nature of the material (influences, who’s writing what, movies as a group-creation) has led to many male writers putting female detectives at the center of their series, and many female writers putting male detectives, and these mixed gender creations (so to speak) are often superb in all sorts of ways.

One of my felicitous reading and watching experiences this past year was Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (both book and film), which features a private detective, Atticus Pund (spelt without accents) in a 1950s novel as part of an investigation into a parallel murder today by the old trope amateur sleuth, Sue Ryland in (presumably) 2021 — for its witticism, self-reflexive uses of the core fantasies, styles and yes multi-gender empathies.


Sue Rylands (Leslie Manville) is also intended to appeal to older unmarried career women (the spinster trope transformed & modernized at last)

But as there is a real, findable, and demonstable fault-line and difference between male and female writing, and films made by mostly men or mostly women, and visual art, and music too, and one of my aims as a teacher and writer is to keep women’s literature alive and make it more respected; I’ve been after just the books by women albeit in a multi-gender context. I’ve also tried to stick to films where the central author originally (or continuously) is a woman, and evidence shows women directing, producing, doing set design. The qualification here is all of these are shaped by the kind of detection mystery genre the book/film is written in. I’ve followed Andrew Marr centrally here; Julian Symons’s Bloody Murders is also indispensable.

I’ve come to a few tentative conclusions.

I agree in part with Kathleen Klein’s brilliant analysis (The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre) of the depiction of female detectives mostly in books, but equally by men and women that often these may easily be read and are in fact intended (when conscious) as anti-feminist (meaning the movement for independence and equality) portrayals from a male (in some eras on TV lascivious) POV.

This POV is on display in right now in the incessant arguments and brutal put-downs of Miss Eliza Scarlet (the ever patient Kate Phillips has played many an wholly abject woman, from Jane Seymour in the recent Wolf Hall, to Tolstoy’s hero Andrei’s long-suffering wife, the 2016 serial by Andrew Davies) by “The Duke” Inspector Wellington (the pugnacious, overtly insulting professional police detective played by Stuart Martin, doubtless chosen for his resemblance to the matinee idol type, Richard Armitage) who reiterates constantly a woman cannot be both a real or natural or happy woman and a detective; who needs strong men around her to protect her. Injury was added to insult in the most recent episode (Season 3, Episode 2) where a story was concocted whereby a mean and bullying ex-friend, Amanda Acaster, who repeatedly humiliated and nowadays derides her, is also used to criticize adversely Eliza’s character: Eliza is supposed now to have felt for Amanda trying to have a career using the same manipulative amoral tactics she did when the two were young. She is not charged though her measures were what encouraged a gang of thieves to use her restaurant as a front.  But look she surpasses Eliza in the Victoria sponge cake line. The costuming of the program shows some knowledge of the illustrations for such stories in the 1870s/90s, the music is very good, and lines are witty (though usually at Eliza’s expense) and I’d call the presentation stylish. I have spent this much time on it as it’s contemporary and its perniciousness extends to endorsing bullying and mocking non-macho males (Andrew Gower as a homosexual man controlled by his mother).

In many of these detective stories especially the hard-boiled type, and since the 1990s, the woman simply takes on male characteristics, and when she doesn’t and displays genuine female psychology, set of values, life experiences, and is as competent as the males and not just by intuition, by the end of a given book or series, we are to see she has not lived a fulfilled life, which must include marriage and motherhood. This is how Prime Suspect finally ends. In medias res, the female detective of whatever type is often allowed genuine common women’s lives characteristics and we see themes and archetypes familiar in women’s literature, e.g., recent film instance of the mother-daughter rivalry paradigm in Annika where the older heroine is divorced and lives with her teenage older daughter. There is now a line of disguised lesbian socially-conscious fiction, e.g., Val McDermid, seen in film recently featuring Karen Pirie played by Lauren Lyle, of Outlander provenance, dressed in unemphatically non-binary ways

But I don’t agree wholly with Klein (or others who write from her vantage). At the same time, the way out is not to trivialize and pretend to treat as playful amusement “the lady investigator” and her now many daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters, all the while lightly coming to the same conclusion as Klein, with some face-saving and genuinely rescuing qualifications. This is the vein taken by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan in their The Lady Investigates: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction: a very informative as well as insightful book; it covers amateur and private detectives as well as the spy genre, which Klein does not. Nor is it to ignore this aspect of the genre altogether: Lucy Worsley in her Art of Murder manages this, at the same time as she (curiously) denies that the mass audience for this kind of thing understands it as fantasy (that most murders are not solved, and when solved not by brilliant ratiocinative nor super-scientific techniques, but rather information from people involved) but out of a thirst for violence and fascination with death (this does ally it to the gothic).

What we need to remember is the history of the genre: it first emerges in the later 19th century when women could get jobs and income on their own, go to college as woman (usually women’s colleges). The whole larger genre of detective fiction develops its characteristics when you first have men hired in visible numbers and a real police force. So there were male models for male detectives but no female models for female detectives. This changes (Miss Scarlet and the Duke is quite a startling throw-back) post-World War II when women held on to their array of male jobs and began to be hired, however slowly, and to be promoted to managerial positions in institutions, including the police (Lynda LaPlante modelled Jane Tennison on an actual woman detective).

I suggest that the woman detective was an popular substitute for the “new woman” so distinguished by feminist literary scholars of the 1890s (which never achieved much popularity or was not lasting); she becomes liberated and a real woman as women in our western societies begin at any rate to achieve the right and education for financial and some real sexual independence. We see this in Horowitz’s Sue Rylands and I hope to show other women detectives from the post World War II era.

So as a follow-on from this framework, I hope from time to time to write blogs here when the writer is a male and the portrait less than really feminocentric; on detective fiction found in both books and films; and on Reveries under the Sign of Austen (when the writer is female and the work genuinely l’ecriture-femme, which includes for me a genuinely anti-violence, anti-war and pro-woman political POV, which by the way I do think Prime Suspect was and is: Gray Cavender and Nancy C Jurik’s Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. The victims in these shows are often women tortured by male violence, young children, including boys destroyed and warped by male pedasty, immigrants, mostly women working menial jobs desperately, and yes prostitutes too, and women who murder (including one semi-accidental infanticide) too.

First up for Austen Reveries will be Amanda Cross’s Death in a Tenured Position and, for this blog, the older masterpiece, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant investigates the character of Richard III)


Of course Josephine Tey was a pseudonym; the author’s real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh, and the photo is of Jennifer Morag Henderson who wrote an excellent biography

Ellen

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Jo (Maya Hawke) in the 2017 British TV serial version of Little Women: opening Christmas scene anticipating the war to come

Gentle friends and interested readers,

For this Christmas I researched into two of Trollope’s little or lesser-known Christmas stories, especially his two American civil war Christmas “The Widow’s Mite” and “The Two Generals.” I had been taking a course in the politics of the 30 year period leading up to the Civil War, and had realized I had misunderstood some of the finer points of Trollope’s two Christmas stories whose context and settings were that of the US Civil War. So when I became aware that no one in our online every-other-week Trollope reading group (sustained by the Trollope Society) had volunteered to discuss “Christmas at Kirby Cottage,” I volunteered to talk of these two powerful and in our era newly relevant Christmas war stories.

My interest in Trollope’s Christmas stories is nothing new for me (scroll down to “Christmas stories”). I’ve been very interested in Victorian and Edwardian Christmas stories, and had over several years led groups of people on my listserv to read not only Trollope’s but other 19th century writers’ Christmas stories. I was fascinated by their connection to the gothic, for many of them are ghost stories. Dickens’s toweringly famous A Christmas Carol is a ghost story (at least 4 of them) whose difference and deep appeal derives from the ghosts acting in redemptive ways — in most ghost stories, including those written for Christmas, the ghost is a revenant coming back seemingly to retaliate on some unpunished crime or evil act, but where the ghost hits out hard on some innocent person who just happens to be around when this ghost arrives.

The effect is often Kafkaesque, with reactions of the characters in the story to the readers listening from uncanny-terrifying to unnerving irretrievable loss to mind-pausing endlessly disquieting unforgettable enigma. I recommend my reader try the ghost stories of Sheridan LeFanu (collected as In a Glass Darkly), Margaret Oliphant’s Stories of the Seen and the Unseen, and the variously published ghost stories of Elizabeth Gaskell, and M. R. James. Our own modern rewrites of these that have become popular are similarly seriously intended traumatic ghost tales, e.g., It’s a Wonderful Life.

This kind of thing is not in Trollope’s repertoire. I cannot remember one re-telling of a dream or nightmare in all of Trollope’s 47 novels and 42 short stories. At the close of “Aaron Trow,” about an English worker who is turned into a raging terrorist after having been put for untold years in a convict prison; he is brutally murdered after he wreaked a violent disfigurement on a lone woman living on the Bermudas. We are told the dead man’s revenant (it is said) may be seen haunting the recesses of this remote place, but it’s not clear this isn’t rumor brought about by guilt of those who destroyed this man.

He found himself driven to write at least eight (eight are found in the Trollope Society edition), or ten — if you include two more which he denominated an Antipodes Christmas story and had published in a number of Good Words called Good Cheer for the Christmas market: Harry Heathcote of Gangoil and “The Telegraph Girl.” It’s my view Trollope did succeed in writing powerful memorable true Christmas stories a number of times — although none that I know of are cozy, magical or readily comforting. The best of them challenge us to think about what a Christmas story should be, what Christmas itself stands for in our imagination and experience, and push us into being better people.

His view of what a Christmas story should contain is found within a longer complaint he made about having to write stories to order for a Christmas market in these words fits these stories:

A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instill others with a desire for Christmas religious thought, or Christmas festivities, – or, better still, with Christmas charity

As Christmas stories in Trollope’s mode, “The Widow’s Mite” questions the nature of charity. What is it? Why do we do it? How does it relate to sacrifice? “The Two Generals” is about a serious communal tragedy, a savage break-up of a society where we see the cost of sustaining and routing out a deeply unnatural evil which hurts too many people centrally, and against which when enough numbers of people objected deeply, has become unbearable. Both are very Trollopian tales with Trollopian political and social complications and tropes — though the core matters, desperate poverty and chattel slavery, are unusual.

For example, Trollope in both stories has a pro-union or abolitionist heroine marry a pro-confederacy pro-slavery male. This is very like what he does in The Warden: there he exposes the exploitation and greed of the church by showing how an income meant to support elderly impoverished workers has become a large income for a wealthy cleric in a caste patronage system; but since Mr Harding is such good and well-meaning man, and we are told (somewhat improbably) unaware of the evil he was perpetrating, we are thwarted from truly acting out the implied criticism of the church’s norms and structures themselves. Trollope is drawn to these perverse collocations. He thwarts us, in these two stores he presents two couples whose choices make it difficult for us to take a side.

I have wondered if these knots Trollope invents are ways his conservative POV amid a radical examination of issues prevents us from having a clear way to talk about it and supposedly act.

The two stories I researched are filled with a particular historical content — the US Civil War — which is today still wreaking racial class and regional repercussions in the US, and closely relevant to food insecurity, heat and electricity deprivation in the UK (class and income inequality). I hope I have given information enough to make clear the nuances in the depictions of the characters and their arguments in the two stories.

You may find the transcript and video on the Trollope Society website here

You can also reach the video of my talk on YouTube.

and the transcript by itself on academia.edu

https://www.academia.edu/93447840/Trollopes_American_Civil_War_Christmas_Stories_The_Widows_Mite_and_The_Two_Generals_

I wish all who read this a satisfying contented — peaceful, happy, joyous (if possible) Winter Solstice holiday and good year to come. The way I observe and participate is to watch Christmas movies. I began with John Huston’s The Dead last night and intend tomorrow night to re-see for an umpteenth time the 1951 British movie of A Christmas Carol (apparently originally titled Scrooge), featuring famously Alistair Sim.


Scrooge at first superficially unnerved by Marley’s ghost (Marley was dead, to begin with …. “)

Ellen

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Early illustration of Uncle Tom ministered to by Cassy (from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1851-52)

I assigned Uncle Tom’s Cabin 3 times in the early 1990s when I was teaching a class called American literary Masterpieces. It was part of a unit I called The Civil War, and my other two books were a set of Lincoln’s speeches and The Autobiography of Frederick Douglas. I had read Uncle Tom’s Cabin between the ages of 11 and 12; it was on the shelves of one of the bookcases in our house. I found then (1992-93) it was not uncommon to find most Black good students (readers) and a few white students had read it.

Dear friends and readers,

Though Uncle Tom’s Cabin is by a woman, and fundamentally a work of genius that is at the same time a quintessentially American middle class white woman’s novel, based on the 18th century captivity and slave narratives that emerged from the first 2 centuries (17th, 18th) of ruthless colonialism aiming to grow super-rich by extraction of the natural resources and taking over the land of gun-less cultures, I am nevertheless going to place my brief essay-talk on it here (rather than Reveries under the Sign of Austen, Two), because the still wide-ranging kinds of people it rivetingly engages transcends its author and immediate context. Its subaltern-extermination-slave or imprisoned-bondage labor story make it a universal post-colonial text too (see comments).

I am taking a course at OLLI at AU called “The Coming of the Civil War,” which I cannot praise too highly, for the teacher’s (a retired pro-labor lawyer who clerked for Thurgood Marshall) basing the course on original political documents, and the way he makes us understand quite how complicated were the laws passed, the customs protected, the reasons for the fierce polarization and violent behaviors, and hatreds, economic and political interests. I’ve learned about invasions by people who supported secession into Mexico, Latin and South America to extend slavery and renew kidnapping of African people to enslave thousands more. He knows so much and yet one book he has not been able to get himself to read is one of the central texts igniting it. I must suppose (from what I saw in the class too) that to many people Uncle Tom’s Cabin comes framed with the way many women’s books are regarded: as somehow inferior, this one as sentimental gush. So of course one needs to explain its extraordinary sale and central role. He seemed to think it was unique in some way. I learned too that quite a number of the mostly white 60+ year olds in both OLLIs have never read the book. It has not been on US high school curricula perhaps ever and especially not since the mid-20th century when it came to be reviled by leading black critics, who nonetheless had themselves read it as children.

So I wrote a short talk, and invite my readers to read it because Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a sina qua non text for understanding the literature and culture of the American 19th century and much of the twentieth until say the later 20th century period of progress for black Americans, jump started with the Civil Rights act of 1965. One might hope that if we were a post-racial society the book could be seen historically important rather than directly relevant, but we cannot — tragic: since the 1990s a massive incarceration of black men in the US began again — so UTC it can today be regarded as living witness and testimony. I will let my short essay speak for itself as about the book’s content, aesthetics, value, genres, and critical history; a second blog will contextualize it with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s life and the immediate political fights over enslavement in the early 1850s.


Eliza leaping ice floes

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a powerful literary masterpiece, about the horrors of enslavement. It was an astoundingly wide best-seller (borne out by statistics), internationally acclaimed, prompting a ceaseless production of anti-Tom works, and parodic imitations on stage. Scholars seem to think, however, that the anecdote of Lincoln saying to Harriet Beecher Stowe, So this is the little lady who started this big war, is apocryphal. It is very pat: Lincoln being this very tall man and Stowe this very short woman. In the 20th century, her novel aroused terrific ire still, especially among Black readers (most notably James Baldwin’s loathing in his famous “Everybody’s Protest Novel”) and was dropped from college curricula mid-century. Its sentimentality was called an embarrassment; nevertheless, Edmund Wilson included it in Patriotic Gore for its “eruptive force,” “the irresistible vitality of its characters,” “the critical mind which on complex situations” sustains “a firm grip,” and its structure which “clearly controls and coordinates” the subplots.

So why did it hit an emotional nerve? Harriet Beecher Stowe writes vivid powerful prose; she writes very direct dialogue we can believe in, and characters whose motivations and emotions we recognize as real, its prose and action are rhythmic and scenes and descriptions effective & immersing. Stowe doesn’t mince words. She presents the issues she want us to understand directly and urgently reasons with us as her scenes make her points dramatically. She is a sharp ironist. Her major argument is you cannot make people into property; people are not things. Not all the scenes are of horrific punishment (Simon Legree enters the novel rather late), and many seem ordinarily probable, with the cause of the slave-traders and owners behavior making money, or a profit.

Here is just the opening section of George and Eliza Harris’s story, early on, an owner hates George Harris for being intelligent and hates how he is inventing machines and gaining respect when hired out, so brings him back, grinds him down with menial work, whips, debases him. We see George inwardly “The flashing eye, the gloomy troubled brow were part of a natural language that could not be repressed – indubitable signs, which showed too plainly that the man could not become a thing.” A little later, same passage, from the enslaver (“owner”): “It’s a free country, sir, the man’s mine, and I do with him what I please, – that’s it” (Chapter 2, 24-25). George soliloquizes: “I’m a man as much as he is, I’m a better man than he is, I know more about business than he does; I’m a better manager than he is, I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand – and I’ve learned it myself, and no thanks to him, – I’ve learned it in spite of him, and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me?” (3, 27).

Our materials for this week’s class focused on the Fugitive Slave Act. Major scenes throughout the novel feature characters trying to escape and we see the immense difficulties and obstacles, the laws and actors empowered to help the determined owners to get their property back. Eliza jumping ice floes is just the most sensational but also (as Hedrick shows) Biblical in its intensity and use of allusion: “‘she’s clar ‘cross Jordan. As a body may say, in the land o’Canaan'”. Eliza crosses that river, her child in her arms. We are led to identity and ask ourselves, what if you were never safe, could never hold onto your children or parents? what if you had obtained, become a freed person and found yourself at risk of being kidnapped and re-enslaved? You cannot count on the next moment to plan anything. You may be sold anytime. And twice a set of characters are sold when “good” “owners” need money or go bankrupt.

No less important are chapters and whole sections of eloquent polemics against slavery, both out of principle and the lives such practices inflict on the enslaved and a society based on such practices.

Yes, there are cringeworthy comical scenes where Stowe condescends and shows racism in her descriptions of black people; yes the death of little Eva, and Uncle Tom and little Eva’s relationship is as drenched in sentiment as Joe the street sweeper’s death in Bleak House and Sergeant George and Esther Summerson’s sweet pity, but this is Dickensian stuff still popular today. There is condescension and romanticizing. But we do hear the voices of these people hitherto in white people’s books silenced — Stowe invents idiolects which are intended to mirror black people’s speech. Yes, in the ending the two races are separated, with one group going at first to Canada, and eventually two to Africa. But their fate is treated with respect and interest. Topsy is a black child, girl, who becomes Ophelia St Clair’s special property; Miss St Clair is a northern spinster who comes south to help her brother Augustine (sharp, humane man) because his wife is useless (not that much of a caricature). Miss Ophelia does beat Topsy trying to make her moral: the phrase used, “brought up by hand,” comes from Dickens’s Great Expectations. Miss O is anti-slavery and yet is complicit, but when household breaks up, she takes Topsy with her, and last seen, Topsy is freed, and both women living together. They have become a mother and daughter or aunt and niece pair.

What actuated Stowe? She was horrified by what she saw in the slave society of Ohio; she came from idealistic transcendental sensitive people, was surrounded all her life by Quakers, evangelicals who were abolitionists. She herself saw and understood and wrote against the economic slave system as spreading poverty and misery for most, but she was also a woman, was fired up by her lack of rights, well-educated, her situation with her husband left her supporting him, and she found herself too often pregnant. She finally got separate rooms. Crucially important too was a conversion experience in 1843, a culmination of several years of immersion in religious sect behavior all around her: we do not today sufficiently emphasize what a religious culture the US had (in different varieties) and how the understanding of desperate was filtered through religious ideas (see Joan Hedrick, pp 143-160). Her brother, George, killed himself during this time. Harriet had dreams where she identified with a bleeding enslaved person being whipped. Then around the time of the writing of the book her beloved young son, Charles had just died. The death of this son is poured into this book; and she is particularly careful to show women as effective and important influencers to get the men around them to help enslaved people escape.

Elaine Showalter in A Jury of Her Peers (a history of American women writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx), argues Stowe is a major 19th century career writer; Joan Hedrick, Stowe’s biographer, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a quintessentially women’s text (growing out of parlor literature and women’s periodical writing). Of course Stowe is also very religious, with this book following the usual providential patterns: being Stowe these are graphic. Gilbert and Gubar (The Madwoman in the Attic) share this common view among those who’ve read 19th century American women novelists (see Writing [for Vocation] and Immortality by Anne Boyd Rioux). The attic prison becomes a refuge. Stowe’s style recalls Louisa May Alcott – think of Little Women; also Sarah Orne Jewett. Early on when Stowe wrote her first book, a didactic geography adolescent school children, it sold very well. Stowe is an equivalent of Elizabeth Gaskell (Mary Barton for example) in social conscience; she corresponded with George Eliot who wrote reviews of Stowe’s work praising it highly.

In the 1990s when I taught it to undergraduates, the book was written about as combining the very popular slave or captivity narratives of the 18th and 19th century centuries. Stowe took a black form and made it white and middle class. Stowe drew especially from the slave narratives of Josiah Henson and Henry Bibb. One of the many ironic chapter headings is “Property Gets into an Improper State of Mind,” whose point is the will to be free is compelling and ceaseless and immediate active (or at any time) among enslaved people. It’s revealing to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the context of the several other slave narratives too that Henry Gates has published over the years.


A Dover edition

Also in the context of books where the attribution is difficult. With, for example, Lydia Maria Child’s books, with which the 1861 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was once placed. In The Incidents, once attributed to Lydia Maria Child, we experience a closely similar terrain to that of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Child was an American abolitionist, activist, writing stories strongly for women’s rights. In 1971 Jean Flagan Yellin, a feminist scholar discovered in the archives of Quaker life and letters at the University of Rochester documentary proof that Harriet Jacobs wrote the narrative. It’s based on Jacobs’ life, and she went to Child to help her put it together and publish it. We should call Child Jacob’s editor and mentor.

Fast forward to 2022, today. People remark on how uncannily Uncle Tom’s Cabin anticipates Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The last sequence where Cassy, Legree’s much abused concubine (who also bullies him) hides in the attic with a young Black girl, Emmeline, whom Legree had bought intending to use her sexually is gothic, ghostly, haunting. The sequence anticipates the ghost of a murdered baby in Beloved, and two of the many incidents told more briefly also repeat parts of Margaret Garner’s history. There is in UTC another enslaved woman who kills her child rather than allow her to become the sexual toy of whoever can buy her, later this woman’s son seeing he is about to be re-captured drowns himself. Garner’s story is sometimes told as if it was somehow unusual to experience such abuse. Not at all: read the last two chapters of Fanny Kemble’s memoir, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 1838-39: you will be horrified at what the women endured as matter of course (made to work from dawn to dusk in heavily pregnant stages, and immediately after birth driven back to the rice fields again was just ordinary non-sexual life)

The sticking point is Uncle Tom: what do we do about this noble man who refuses to escape, who is all goodness to the Shelbys and then St Claires who sell him. It’s not enough to say he’s a Christ figure because for some of us that doesn’t work. I’d like to emphasize that a much of his behavior and passivity is simply idealistically ethical when he is treated with respect (much of he book) and, when not, we see him holding out against snitching and against demands he be cruel to others, become complicit in abominable practices; paradoxically Uncle Tom’s not even for rent. When he’s whipped to death, he is refusing to tell where Cassy and Emmeline are hidden. He’s admirable: his story is a bondage narrative, where usually a woman is at the center, yoked to a freedom narrative, where usually a male escaping is the center. Stowe’s reversed them, putting a male in female story (captivity narratives often have females at the center) and a female and child, Eliza and Henry in the usual male escape story (this is Hedrick’s idea). I find Uncle Tom endurable and can admire him at the end. He receives a decent burial and moving honors by Eliza and George’s son, Henry.

Stowe did write another novel of enslavement in 1856, now in print, Dred, A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. The hero is a violent vengeful escaped enslaved man, a sort of Spartacus. In conception I’d liken Dred to David Walker’s 1829’s Appeal to the Colored People of the World, where Walker, a black Bostonian publisher of among the earlier periodicals by and for black people, analyzed the horrors of colonialism as at the core of this new world, and called for immediate abolition of slavery and threatened (urged) black people to rebel. Like many a black male who threatens the white hegemony David Walker died young, in his thirties as did Malcolm X, MLK, and Medgar Evers. Alas, it is said to be poor novel, rushed, the characters insufficiently imagined. It is, however, of interest equally as a “sharp response to the male or patriarchal culture of Andover” (where Stowe was at the time), and contains strong criticism of hypocritical clergymen (Hedrick 258-62).


1875 photograph of Harriet Beecher Stowe

To sum up, why did Stowe’s book become so famous and why was it distributed so widely. It’s a powerful work of literary genius. You will laugh but I liken the spread of her book to the influence of Shakespeare’s plays on his fellows — enormous. Like Shakespeare, Stowe was writing in the same genre and idiom as fellow novelists and pamphleteers.  Her book’s literary power soared because of what she was actuated by and her abilities to combine several popular genres and come up with something that for a while felt new. It helped that one thread of the novel dramatizes the human results (often ironic and so patently unjust) of the fugitive slave act, an understandably electrifying issue at the time (even though out of 4 million enslaved people it’s estimated only 30-100,000 escaped) but it is just as much a novel about the bondage and horrific conditions under which chattel slaves are coerced into surviving. Remember the old Roman saying, What father when he is a slave?, well a bit modified for Stowe, What father or mother or husband or wife or children or even friends when you are a chattel slave?

When I’ve finished reading Hedrick and a few other essays, I’ll write an accompanying blog-narrative of Stowe’s life and other fiction writing. In the meantime here is Lincoln’s moving eloquent argument against ending the Missouri compromise of 1850, whose purpose was to stop the spread of slave societies; let no one think that this man did not loathe slavery:  he is continually precisely on point for every philosophic and humanitarian argument against it — and by extension, racism, human hierarchies. Stowe does not cover all this ground of objections because her stories do not go that far (stories must be ambiguous if they are at all real). Lincoln’s argument is just beautiful at the end because it is a refutation of what’s happening in the US today — his speech is still utterly relevant.

Ellen

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Hill Station still to be seen in Penang

I feel so sad I’ve finished these blogs. I want to know what happened to the characters under the pressure of WW2 and the changes inflicted on them by their friends, associates, surroundings. How they each reacted, what they became …

Dear friends and readers,

It’s overdue time to sadly finish my account of this sometimes sublime series, Indian Summers. Rhik Samadder said rightly of the first season, it was one of the most narratively satisfying dramas of British TV and of real interest in its depiction of the Raj, besides which, gorgeous; and from ordinary watchers on IMDB provided further rave reviews for the second, I’ll content myself with quoting “it’s a feast.”

One of the intriguing elements across the series which I’ve not mentioned thus far is many of the actors act against character; Julie Waters is a cruel hard woman, lonely, desperate (usually so humane); James Fleet an amoral sexual harasser (usually the one bullied), Art Malik a sybaritic amoral creep of a maharajah (usually austerely moral or the subaltern).


Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) looking sinister!

Leena (Amber Rose Reevah)now gone to jail (because she protected Adam from Hawthorne’s rage when Adam burnt him for sexually harassing her) I believe would have been brought back, having been in prison and got out early.

I also loved how it ended so ironically: the white British who had been born in India leave their home (the club), but find they have no home in Britain they can or want to return to. The series is Anglo-Indian, yes about the English centrally, but seen from a very different angle, as the ruthless dangerous often harmful but finally relatively vulnerable oppressors.


Cynthia posed in her fashion show outfit captures something of this

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Indian Summers 2:6 The gift for the king

In this episode, half-way through our season, the stories come to a (literally) explosive climax. In this case it’s the information that Ralph gets from Aafrin about the bomb about to be set off during the celebration of the king’s birthday – or a jubilee. The two have a terrific quarrel when Aafrin admits he was not coerced, not originally, but they act together towards the end.


Ralph (Henry Lloyd-Jones) confronts Aafrin (Nikesh Patel)

King-emperor is so absurd as a title. Ralph sends Rowntree and his men to the tea plantation and elsewhere. They can find nothing. Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur) is wandering about in a mad rage – tries to kill Sooni (Aysha Kala) but Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb) is there and promptly tries to save her, and then chase Banerjee who is taken to jail, but cyanide is slipped into his hands and he dies before they can question him. The journalist is also following Sooni about – worried for her.


Ralph and Madeleine now Wheelan (Olivia Grant)

We watch all the characters behaving characteristically – Cynthia (Julie Walters) won’t leave the club house; Mr Dalal (Roshan Seth) scolds Alice (Jemima West) when she comes to the house in effect to try to win friends. Madeline (Olivia Grant) is doing her best to support Ralph. Mrs Raworth (Fiona Glascott) we are told has had her baby in Delhi – with Raworth (Craig Parkinson) now ever so eager to return to England and be a wonderful family man – he is the most pathetic of the characters . His wife despises him.

Banerjee has sent a small Indian boy off with his wagon and the lit bomb to blow at 4 pm. This provides the suspense of the second half of the episode. As luck would have it, the boy is just outside the compound when Raworth spots him, runs over to him, attempts to see what’s what and the bomb blows up – killing Raworth and the boy (several small Indian boys are simply blown up in this series).

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Indian Summers 2:7: The Proposal

The proposal is that in return for his support for the India Bill Ralph wants to pass in Parliament, the Maharajah (Art Malik) demands that Ralph let him go to bed with Madeline, Ralph’s wife. The whole hour is taken up with Ralph’s state of mind – on and off. It opens with his memories of his mother going to bed with Cynthia’s husband, and then ironically he is on the other side of the door by the end of the episode with Madeline and Maharajah on the other side. The maharajah’s mistress tries to goad Ralph into fucking her, and while he begins, he gives it up in disgust.


Sirene, her “real” name, something of a joke, said to be Phyllis, she is from Australia (played by the hard looking Rachel Griffiths)

Sirene rages within at this man she is mistress of who has no respect for her. Ralph is driven or needs get this position, the Viceroy, where the princely states will give up their independence because he’s in debut but also his father (he says) wanted him to have it (Viceroy) but it’s not clear if Ralph is remembering his legal father or the biological one (Cynthia’s philandering husband by whom she had no children). He is also bitter about Cynthia’s pressuring him all these years, about her manipulations. Early in the episode the maharajah goads Ralph into a game whereby they loosen a goat, tied up as a temptation to tiger and then replace the goat with a boy. The maharajah wants Ralph to use his own son, Adam (Dillon Mitra), but he demurs and uses Bhupi’s son. Yes both he and the maharajah stand there to shoot the tiger to stop it devouring the boy, but, as Bhupi (Ash Nair) says, if the boy was safe, why not use Adam? And it’s the maharajah who shoots the tiger. Bhupi is infuriated, but still obedient. Had there been more seasons eventually Bhupi would have rebelled.


Art Malik (the maharajah) — this is not from Indian Summers, but a minor role in Doctor Who Series 11 where he embodies just the type character we see him inhabit here

At the opening of the episode we see Aafrin sent away to Delhi to help with the earthquake. This is to get him out of the way after the bombing death of Raworth which Aafrin is partly responsible for. He is to make up his mind to be loyal to Ralph; he says he has but he has to reach Alice on the side. During the episode we again hear the misery of Alice on the other side of the same door (it seems) now being buggered and sadistically used by her mean vicious husband Charlie (Blake Ritson). For them the episode ends with Alice and Aafrin kissing and going off to that room, and from high Cynthia watches – rightly she loathes Charlie who needles her.

Soon after this first opening with Aafrin leaving, Sarah Raworth is found with her recently born baby living in quarters provided by Cynthia – or she’d be in miserable 3rd rate hotel. It appears that Sarah has not been told how her husband died. No one is willing to tell her Matthew (Connor McCrory) is finally coming home (India is home here) but when he does she at first instinctively (this is what she is) lies, tries to hide his father is dead. But the Sumitra (Anitha Abdul Hamid) who he clearly loves more and loves him is dressed in white mourning and manages to convey his father is dead. He demands how and now Sarah says she has no idea. We see that Matthew like his father is a truth teller, decent to the Indians, and will not pretend to the hypocrisies of this Raj.


We can see the young lover paradigm here between Sooni and Naseem Ali Khan (Tanmay Dhanania) — they are a contrast to the Maharajah and Sirene and also Ralph and Madeleine

Sooni is being pressured by her mother to marry another Pashi (with big eyebrows). This is a third new semi-comic substory for this episode. He is shown to be decent but what he wants is an obedient wife whose life is spent having children and serving him. Aafrin is not there to help her fend off the mother (Lilette Dubey). She visits the tea plantation and Ian manages to ask her to be his wife. She demurs and says she needs time to think about it. She goes to the newspaper journalist, Naseem Ali Khan , who seems to be the only person to take her politics truly seriously. Aafrin does but he does not see politics the way she does and tries not to confide in her, and Khan and Sooni go off to a gathering where Ghandi is coming to speak. A huge crowd. During their time together Naseem tells her he loves her, and she clearly responds to him …. She is the closest we have to a traditional heroine, including the many suitors. And if the proposal to Ralph is probably the one the title refers to, she has 3 proposals in this episode.

The way the details are brought in make me feel there is a novel or memoir Rutman was using – it would help explain many details outside the story line. I so yearn to know what happened to these characters’ stories as the years go by. That is what was intended.

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Indian Summers 2:8: The Birthday Party


You can glimpse the rocking horse being brought in

In this episode I find matter put before us which I both background and s a preparation for what’s to come. It’s a bit clunky (the way in the first season the film-makers did not manage to tell us who was who quickly enough). Perhaps this shows they knew they were not going to be renewed … or the lack of direct thrust is part of why they lost audience ….

For example, around the time Sooni rejects Ian McCleod, he has noticed (because he’s paying so much attention to her) that Bhupi behaves strangely around the river where Jaya was drowned. We realize Bhupi is led to go there regularly because he feels Jaya’s ghost is luring him there and he then re-enacts how he drove her into the river and thus she drowned. He didn’t quite himself kill her but of course he was responsible. Ian knows that’s where Jaya died because he has not forgotten Ramu Sood. He tries to grab Bhupi who flees. Well after rejection from Sooni, in town now (like his Scots uncle) Ian is drinking heavily and sees Bhupi from far, chases him down and demands to know who he is and whose servant Bhupi at first tries to avoid telling but then he’s Bhupinder and works for Ralph Whelan.

I suggest in the next season Ian would have brought this information out, wanted an article written by Khan, and the injustice of the murder of Ramu Sood come home to hurt the WW2 destruction of the Raj further.


Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson) — this is very much against type (Ritson is usually sensitive and kind)

Things between Alice and Charlie come to a head – she cannot stand him, he loves to humiliate her and in front of others refuses to give her the money or permission to buy their son a wooden bike of some sort. She persuades Aafrin, home from Delhi, they must run away. Cynthia gets them secret tickets Alice couldn’t manage.

But on that night Charlie (ever following her) discovers they are gone within minutes and then breaks Sumitra’s hands (he has been paying for information and she has instead lied to him) and hurt Bhupi’s son whom Ralph was willing to use as a target to please the maharajah theirs. We see the anguished pain Charlie puts her through and after Charlie has raged into the room the pair thought they were safe in and waiting for a rickshaw (bad idea of Alice’s), and dragged Alice and his son away, We see Bhupi and Sumitra (Bhupi’s wife) commiserating. Bhupi is gradually having enough.

I suggest in the third season, maybe another 2-3 years on Bhupi and his wife would be angry revolutionary hindus. Like Aafrin has been half-heartedly. Oh they did have the birthday party, Charlie did himself buy the bike for the boy, and this was part of why the scheme to run away fails. There is a delay over getting the party started.

The plan was Aafrin would flee to Australia with Alice. Not such a crazy idea had they gotten to the boat to Bombay and then gotten onto another boat This is the one kind of thing Alice has dared – once before. But for Aafrin that means leaving his family who are economically dependent on him. Not only do they loathe the idea of an English daughter-in-law (the father tried to bully her away) but they need the income. He leaves but feels terrible. Sooni is also rebelling when she says she is going to marry the journalist, Khan: he is a Muslim and her mother hates. How can you be happy if you leave us broken-hearted asks the father. Well you shouldn’t be is not a strong enough answer.


Sooni and her and Aafrin’s father, Darius Dalal (Rosh Sethan) hugging — this is earlier and shows their affection for one another

Now Matthew Raworth’s son is home, he will not allow the hypocritical Sarah to lie and she keeps having to run away from him or shout him down. She can successfully half-lie about her relationship to her late husband, but she cannot get him to say he liked the English. He hated the school and does not want to go back. He is another figure who would have been central in season 3.


Cynthia losing out

Last there’s Cynthia insisting on pulling down a Indian flag put over the Club. Ralph cannot defend Alice because Charlie bankrolls him through influence in the bank and threatens to withhold approval. Ralph badly in debt and says he will not sell Chotipool (the house). Ralph’s bill fell on its face; no prince went for it even the man Ralph gave his wife to. Madeline says this prince hated you. And now it seems Cynthia is badly in debt too — she had hoped for Ralph to get that position so she could manipulate it into money for herself.

And then a reconciling wedding party to give hope for the future and good feeling as an ending: Sooni tells Aafrin they will be the pioneers of this new amalgam; we
see her dancing with her husband, Naseem Khan, and from Aafrin’s point of view Ian and Alice talking, moving as if to dance

They intermingle Indian (Muslim, Parsi) and English and Scottish in the closing wedding festival. I enjoyed this moment too.

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For Indian Summers Episode 9, Winner Takes All; and Episode 10: Leaving Home (ironic title) click (in the comments)


Making a little England … what the English tried to do

Ellen

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The first image we are confronted with: Aafrin (Nikesh Patel), not in a suit, but bare chested, typing a seditious pamphlet, with new Indian girlfriend, also a rebel against the British — he is somewhere in Bengal


Upon returning to Simla, now in the British suit, Aafrin is confronted by Alice (Jemima West), who has been coerced into accepting her abrasive sadistic husband, Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson)

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been far more than a week since I last wrote about Indian Summers; more than a full month has gone by since I framed the series and summarized as well as evaluated the first half of Season 1, one of the finest series ever made, and its second half, a tragic and ironic denouement. In the series itself, it’s three years later, and we are startled to see as our first image, Aafrin, ever trussed up and respectful of the British, naked to the waist, living in what looks like a worn-down bedsit, with a Indian lover, Kaira Das (Sughandha Garg); he is typing a subversive pamphlet, which is about to be printed and distributed in the streets to stir up demonstrations as the possible new viceroy is due to come to Simla at any time. Aafrin looks hard, tough; he has been away from his parents for three years. Kaira is involved with a violent revolutionary we only glimpsed in the first season, Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur).

We switch many miles and with Aafrin as our POV (he is our POV most of this episode) find Alice back with Charlie, the son she had fled with, Percy (Caleb Allen), a blonde toddler who we discover later is the reason she chose to stay with Charlie (so that she would not lose custody). We are soon immersed in the lives of the familiar characters whose circumstances appear to have changed far less.

I shall take it as propitious that I’ve not had time to finish this brilliant series with my readers — for in the interim, the queen (who would have been queen-empress as her father, George VI was king-emperor, if India had not achieved its independence before George VI died) died, Elizabeth II Windsor, causing what seemed the whole world to sit up, take notice, watch the official 10-days mourning of “a nation” and then see put on a spectacular ritual aired everywhere in the world on TVs, internet, cinemas, as a kind of last gasp of the Raj in spirit. And few as they were, we read and heard the voices of protest that called all this magnificent display so much hypocrisy, a vast disguise behind which the grossly unequal arrangements of colonialism and capitalism carried on, less unchanged than you might think (see the comments to my blog The Passing of Elizabeth II).

For myself I’ve determined I will do (if the OLLIs last) The British Indian Novel Take Two, having thought up four different novels/memoirs, books of essays (J R. Farrell, The Seige of Krisnapur; Kamala Markandaya, The Nowhere Man; Salmon Rushdie (nearly assassinated): Imaginary Homelands (a book of essays, columns, life writing); and Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowlands … . I have two 18th century epistolary novels & memoirs partly set in India and hope to get to them soon: Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India, ed, introd E. M. Forster (!), and Phoebe Gibbes, Hartley House, Calcutta. Both by women. And found my copy of Emily Eden in virago about her time in India in the early 19th century, Up Country

So you see I’ve carried on reading and thinking, and am glad to return to watching, remembering, coming to terms with this more explosive season than the first. Let’s dive in. The second season’s episodes have acquired titles.

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Season 1, Episode 1: Three Years Have Passed. While it seems so much has changed, more thought makes one realize the same patterns, the same emotional relationships and conflicts are being repeated. Again Aafrin is torn. After three years he has taken up with a revolutionary woman in Bengal, and the man who has a plan to blow up the club or the Whelan house – we are shown that bunch of dynamite immediately. And again Aafrin finds himself over his head. He wrote the seditious page, typed it and brought it to the printer, but then he is identified and we are left wondering whether Ralph knows or not. He might. Ralph again this cagey ambiguous character with Cynthia Coffin, looking out for him, a very vicious yet older woman. We see her with two helpers humiliating an Indian man who is trying to get into the club. He has to have a coat of arms. He has to study something and know it. She tells Ralph to send the old Viceroy home, Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) – he has a heart attack when a toy grenade thrown at him. She is gearing up for seeing Ralph become the next Viceroy He’s not sure how to grab the position.


Cynthia (Julie Waters) watching Ralph intently

Madeleine, complete with ayah Bhupi’s wife, and a baby girl in tow, follows Ralph now. The horrible Sarah (Fiona Glascott) is as horrible. ow we see her stealing flowers from the gardens of the house she once lived in but no longer does. She had gone to England to leave her son there, and when she returned found the Dalal family installed. She is enormously pregnant, and has thus trapped Dougie (Craig Parkinson), who has separated himself from Leena and is nowhere to be seen. Instead Sarah sits teaching on a throne, “lessons” which consist of asking the children absurd questions, and laughing at them when they respond with “wrong” answers. She berates and condescends to them. Only a few have left as her pregnancy necessitates their return to England. Dougie is as pliable and useless, grieving over the loss of his school. And surprise, surprise Adam now a young adolescent has been taken into Ralph’s and now the Havistock home as another boy servant; soon he will be joined by Leena (Amber Rose Reevah), who avoids homelessness just, as governess to Alice’s child. It takes half the season for Madeleine to realize Adam is her husband’s son, but his behavior makes it obvious to those who know

The Muslim reporter, Naseem Ali Khan (Tanmay Dhanania) is still sniffing about. Ian (Alexander McCleod) now running his tea plantation, thoroughly his own man, who has not forgotten Ramu Sood. Sooni (Asha Kala) cannot be far away, still politically involved but cannot get Aafrin to tell her anything. Worst off is Alice: returned with a vicious spiteful sadistic husband who denigrates and spies on her, passive, giving in (we learn he buggers her regularly to hurt her) He works for a bank and we will soon learn that Ralph needs this man’s money. Rowntree (Guy Williams going about with his policeman intruding in Indian houses and bazaars, no need for a warrant and arresting supposed culprits.


Kaira has little sense of self-worth …

Season 2, Episode 2: Black Kite (code name for Kaira, who will not survive). Now we note subtle changes from the 1st season; new characters and new emphases. To the credit of the creator-writer Paul Rutman, there is an attempt to give nuance to the character of Cynthia Coffin so she seems more vulnerable and less powerful –- while at the same time as nasty, bullying and ruthless-racist as she had been. Ralph Whelan seems softened because he too is more vulnerable: a Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) sent from the UK and parliament is either there to himself take over the viceroyship or check out if Ralph is “fit:” Hawthorne is not “radical,” does not wanting really to share power with the Indians (Muslim or Hindu), much less hand power over. We see him respond to Alice’s coaxing that he tell Adam that he is Adam’s father . When Adam is given a copy of a child’s classic owned by her dead brother, Madeleine takes it back. At the same time Ralph is pushing Aafrin to find the terrorist who printed the pamphlets (he knows or suspects that the writer is Aafrin himself).

Aafrin is again like Alice, easily vacillates, easily blackmailed. We are shown more closely a male of pure evil for the first time (like Captain Merrick in Jewel in the Crown. Naresh Banerjee is a crazed terrorist, and when he is shot down by the British (using the excuse Rowntree believes Banerjee spread the pamphlets), Aafrin saves Banerjee’s life, but in ironic reciprocation Banerjee plucks Kaira back from the safety Aafrin had tried to send her to — as she has also been a mole for Whelan (she too has a son to protect). Aafrin had tried to placate the man, first finding a file to satisfy him (that’s an obvious thing Aafrin should not have done, it implicates him too) and when Banerjee uses the information to threaten Kaira as the Black Kite or mole Aafrin desperately says he fabricated the whole file. At this Banerjee coolly shoots Kaira through the head.

The count of those ruthlessly unfairly murdered thus far includes only Indians: Ramu Sood was the first; Jaya’s brother the second (in prison beaten and cut to death) – now Kaira Das. They will be joined by the end of the season when Leena is sent away to prison for 9 years after Hawthorne tried to molest/rape her and Adam, showing real fury, throws sets Hawthorne on fire – she takes the rap. The only white killed will be the moral minister, Raworth, white, is killed – by mistake trying to save a child from a bomb the child is wheeling about.

It’s the truly horrible Charlie who manages to needle Cynthia by calling her Mrs S, a char woman; we see how awful he is again, but this time accompanied by his giving Ralph a big check to keep that mansion up. Alice is unable to free herself, but still making gestures at Aafrin. Cynthia wants to get rid of Alice and urges her to go home (the way she did Madeleine), but Ralph, now more alert to this kind of thing, puts a stop to that. Cynthia also insults Leena when Cynthia sees that Alice has hired her (she was homeless, a beggar when deprived of the missionary job when Mrs R returned and became pregnant) and threatens her if she tells that Adam is Ralph’s son. Sooni’s role remains normative somehow: the mother wants to marry her off to a proper Hindu male and invites a woman friend/relative to bring her son to dinner; Sooni is resisting marriage, she wants to use her lawyer’s degree – it’s the most situation comedy storyline of the series.


Sooni, three years older …

Season 2, Episode 3: White Gods

One might be forgiven for thinking the series is turning into the story of Aafrin, as his trauma and behavior under terrific stress is central to the over-riding plot-design of this one. He is so deeply distressed by Nareesh Bannerjee’s murder of Kaira, and fear what he will do next, Aafrin, again on that same broken typewriter, writes a warning the man has a box of explosive bombs he intends to blow the club or someone’s mansion up with and its in a cave. He manages to persuade Ralph to take this seriously and send Rowntree and his men to search. Nothing is found, but the camera shows us it is in the bazaar. We can see that Ralph follows Aafrin’s advice because he believes Aafrin’s underlying motive is loyalty. Ralph as a character is and must be more self-contained.


Dressing the maharajah (Art Malik) for cricket (sly humor here)

A central scene is a cricket game where Aafrin is required to be umpire. Not easy for the spoiled Maharajah (Art Malik grown much older) whom Whelan is courting wanted to win. We meet this vain and amoral man and his mistress, Sirene (Rachel Griffiths), apparently actually from Western District of Australia (real name Phyllis).

A dinner at table reveals to Cynthia how ugly is Charlie’s humiliations of Alice and so she stops pressuring Alice to leave and to get back at him for calling her Mrs Sparrow provides a room for Aafrin and Alice to carry on. The stress of this cricket game, what he endures at the club (from his well-meaning benign father), and now this fulfillment makes him break out into hard sobbing. He had loved Kaira but cannot refuse Alice and the profferred English way of life she might take him into.

We see Lord Hamilton begin to chase Leena, that Raworth refuses to help her and his kowtowing to his wife again seen as coward’s way. Ralph is beginning to have his whole household treat Adam better, teach him things a Sahib should know … Madeleine watches this


Ralph Wheelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) showing Adam (Dillon Mitra) something

I have omitted my favorite male character: Ian McCleod played by Alexander Cobb: I love how he trails around in an Indian version of a kilt, the relaxed atmosphere around him, the lack of phoniness, the friendship he is building with Sooni — they go together to investigate the place where it appears Bannerjee was “confronted” (it was the other way round) by Kaira and Aafrin, and where Jaya took lost her life too.


Ian relaxed, dressing comfortably for heat and work …

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For Episode 4: Empty Chair (clicking on comments) and Episode 5: Hide and Seek (ditto).


Ralph comforting Alice

The titles of the episodes are mostly ironic. This second season is not nearly as melodramatic as the first, but the politics and human relationships go deeper, have gone on for longer, and are at the end (Episode 10) harsh for many, yet accepted … At this point we are reaching the midpoint of a second volume of a novel.

Ellen

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Ira Aldridge as Othello, by Henry Perronet (1830)

Dear friends and readers,

I saw Red Velvet yesterday and want to recommend seeing it if you live in the DC area (or near enough by) or if it comes to an area where you live. Right now it’s playing — magnificiently — at one of the two Shakespeare theaters in DC. At first I thought I was watching a 19th century American play, but a few minutes thought told me “this cannot be” (because of the humane attitudes of mind towards so many actors in the play’s story); it is a 2012 recreation of an imagined 19th century play

The most central value of your experience might be — for me this is true — is it’s about a black actor of the 19th century who had a remarkable career and life, Ira Aldridge, who, of course, I’d never heard of until I sat down to watch the play. I know there are many 19th century actors and actresses who were white and I’ve never heard (though because of my scholarly area I know about the Irish theater), but I have heard of the most famous ones — and I do know of many in the long 18th century. Aldridge was in his time a phenomenon and great actor; the Shakespeare company has a extraordinarily good actor (very Shakespearean type) to fill the role: Amari Cheatom:


Aldridge (Cheatom) greeting ever-so-chivalrously Ellen Tree (Emily DeForest) who plays Desdemona

A powerful scene over the handkerchief late at night in Othello is enacted before us:

It recalls a painting of Garrick as Othello in the 18th century.

There are flaws. The opening has a curious conventional situation comedy feel, and at times I felt like I was watching some version of Guess who’s coming to dinner?, more than a bit cringe-worthy. It also went on too long as the playwright was determined to include women’s problems in 19th century professional and theater life too. One actress, Kimberly Gilbert, played three roles in the performance I saw (Halina Wozniak, Betty Lovell, Margaret Aldridge) — all of them calibrated to bring home aspects of women’s lives in the European and American theaters at the time (at least two actresses were ill). She managed to be pitch perfect and didn’t need the books she was carrying. But, on the one hand, once the initial introduction of the situation, and some of the “worst” characters was done (the most embarrassingly racist partly because they were transparently trying to hide their attitudes), the story of the play and my deep empathy for Aldridge became gripping;


Here he is, reading the cruelly denigrating reviews

and, on the other, it was so obvious that the woman character was simply describing the realities of female existence then (and sometimes now), especially just after US women had been deprived of a constitutional right to have control over their own body’s welfare and their whole existence’s fate, I was won over. Since when do plays have to be literally probable — the truth is never as plays are by their very form of art a massive suspension of disbelief.

My curiosity was aroused since I knew nothing of the actor (I knew nothing of the way his performances as Othello were received) nor his actual childhood and family background or slow rise in the theater. It had to have been talent impressing enough audiences — in Europe it seems where enslavement of black people had made little money for anyone. One of the places where his performance was not erased from memory by insistent racist denigrations of his physical negroid characteristics was Poland where he played King Lear. This play begins in Poland where he is playing Lear in his dressing room where a woman journalist has come to interview him in the hope of forwarding her career; there is a powerful penultimate scene between Aldridge and his French (very pro-French revolutionary) producer, Pierre Laporte (Michael Glenn) simply the two in front of the stage curtain; the play ends on him back in the dressing room with the Polish journalist, only this time with his face whitened in the way I once saw in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith as a sign the despairing black man about to allow white men to murder him in the most humiliating way possible.

The realities of Aldridge’s complicated existence, the ambiguities of his character are not brought out here — these belong to thickened (by full context, by history) biography. It is meant to be a play whose attention pointing content (to American theater, to highly talented black men) contains its importance.

Two worthwhile reviews: Thomas Floyd, in the Washington Post; and Morgan Musselmann for Washington DC News.

As performed in the Old Globe Theater


Albert Jones as Ira Aldridge and Amelia Pedlow as Margaret Aldridge

I came away wanting to know more about this actor and his peopled milieus. It seems to me significant that the playwright is a Bengali woman, born in the UK, grew up in Birmingham, has been involved in producing Calvino (Italian 20th century modernism) and now seems to live between London and NYC. She also adapted The Life of Pi


She is married to a brilliant British black actor, Adrian Lester.

A quietly (it was not over-produced) towering event on behalf of black Americans and the history of American theater putting on poetic masterpieces against all odds for this Shakespeare company. Also by extension Afro-English literature and art — I note she tends to go for distancing forms, does not choose direct realistic kinds of stories. I hope I do not seem mad, therefore, to classify this text as also belonging to Anglo-Indian diasporic texts.

Ellen

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Mandy Deans (Charlotte Riley) and Gabe Kelly (Obi Abili) dancing as the sole interracial couple


Fred Dawson (Joseph Mawle) comes home to find his wife, Rose (Natasha Little) and son, Danny, have developed close, and loving relationship with a German POW, Joseph Schultz (lent to them as a farm worker)

Dear friends and readers,

I spent this afternoon watching two episodes of Foyle’s War with a friend: “Broken Souls” (S5, Ep 2), about the excruciating emotional pain and damage done to people by the war as they come home from that war and attempt to adjust to what has happened during the years gone and as they learn to have to live with the memories of beloved people killed, often in horrific ways; and “Killing Time” (S6, Ep 2), the fierce unrelenting and open racism of US white people in the army towards their fellow black people fighting equally in the war but discriminated against by humiliating and ostracizing practices towards them, threats, beating, excluding them, as well as how in Britain done more discreetly, equal refusals to accept black people as equal human beings. These are just two of six extraordinary exposures and intelligent dramatizations of social problems in society then and now as exacerbated by the violence and cruelty of often senseless and hate-filled war behavior all around everyone.

This is a different slant than the previous four seasons where the emphasis was more criminal behavior occasioned or allowed by war behavior, often on the British side (see my blog on Seasons 1 & 2, May to Oct 1940; and on Seasons 3 & 4, February 1941 to March 1943). The comedy is different too — more class-based, as in (in “Broken Souls”) two elderly once aristocrats, having to do the housework for themselves, but keeping up humane values: Phyllida Law and Graham Crowdon, Sir John and Lady Muriel Sackville, as the kindly couple who take in a traumatized young evacuee who flees his father in London, returns to them. When the boy’s father accuses them of (in effect) not feeling the war, Sir John remarks that their only son was killed (and the camera shows us his photo in the room).


Ironing

The series is often remembered for its brilliance, the seriousness with which the film-makers studied and present real history, the main character of Foyle (Michael Kitchen’s impeccable performances as a morally just and good man), and the emotional power and still extant interest in social problems the separate stories dramatized with clarity and forceful humane inferences. It is also remembered for the puzzling several attempts to cancel it, just after the ending of Season 4, where we are given a story that seems to provide closure for the series; and again the third concluding episodes of 5 (see below) and 6 (ditto). This is not the first time a reasonably popular series has been cancelled, usually on the insistence (falsifying grounds), the ratings were just not high enough (examples include the 1975-1978 Poldark, The Bletchey Circle (2012, 2014), and 2015-16 Indian Summers).

But in some of these there is evidence to show the people in charge wanted to exert their power to change the way the station was operating, were embarrassed by the shows’ content (women-centered, women’s romance); in the case of Foyle’s War I think various people directly and indirectly involved did not like the critical attitude Horowitz in his scripts took towards what was done in the name of the war, and his decidedly anti-fascist and nationalistic stances, his revealing how capitalistic practices (gains for individuals involved in war businesses) caused unnecessary death and suffering. As opposed to other shows, Foyle’s War is incessantly against the idea the ends justify the means; Foyle, let us recall, is a non-compromiser. I can’t prove that beyond retelling the stories, bringing out their uniqueness in these regards.


Sam (Honeysuckle Weekes) from Season 6 (2010)

Today I became aware in conversation with my friend that the second four seasons (5 & 6, so cancelled that 3 years went by before 7 & 8 appeared) have often not been re-aired or screened, with their explosive material thus forgotten or never seen, so decided I would go on to summarize and present them here. In these episodes since the lives of Foyle’s two assistants, Sam Stewart (Honesuckle Weekes) and Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) moved on with time and changed more than the solitary older Foyle’s and war circumstances changed too, Milner’s role was diminished and then dropped, and Sam was seen even more involved in the community of Hastings where her good heart and emotionally moral nature again supported Foyle’s judgements from a spontaneous involved POV, now mostly dressed in civilian clothes.

As in the two previous times, in order to keep the blog a little shorter, I will put the second of set (here three of six episodes) in the comments, separating them out there so the reader can read what he or she is interested in. But this time I am myself going to rearrange or re-order the episodes so three whose content today remain as relevant to us as ever come on the blog itself, with the others (not less searing and poignant or comic than the others) requiring clicking to reach. As Horowitz was forced into moving more quickly in time (or simple did, because he destroyed episodes, possibly over anger at the reactions to them) so the closer relationship of what literally happens inside an episode to what was happening just then in the war is somewhat lost and less time-bound.

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Tommy Duggan (Sam Spruell), the conscientious objector who at the end accepts responsibility for Mandy and Gabe’s baby rather than let the child go to an orphanage

Season 6, Episode 2: Killing Time, June 1945:

The story concerns Mandy Davis (Charlotte Riley) who unwed has given birth to a mulatto child whose father we learn is Gabe Kelley, a black American (Obi Abili). She lives in the boarding house owned by Adam Wainright (Max Brown) who has hired Sam (Honeysuckle Weekes) to be cook, housekeeper and whatever else is needed. Many is desperately unhappy, and hasn’t enough money to buy milk for the child, much less pay rent regularly. We see how cruel her mother Mrs Dean (Gillian Bedford) is to her. She had been going out with Tommy Duggan, a boxer (Sam Spruell), who a conscientious objector, had been sent to farm in Scotland, and who when he returns find himself spurned by everyone but one friend-boss, a manager of boxers who gives him a place to stay for free for now, and who had dreamed of marrying Mandy. Tommy is deeply hurt in several ways all at once.

Sam befriends Mandy, loves the baby great-heartedly, and offers to go with Mandy to a local dance, Ludy will come. To the dance Gabe comes with three black friends, and at first they are badly ostracized but slowly as he asks Mandy to dance and she agrees, the British at least return to the dance floor. We see how the two love one another and long to be a family with their baby.

Meanwhile the murder & violence mystery story is proceeding. Twice we see a rich businessman stopped, fooled by a woman and then robbed by her and an accomplice male – in the wood One of them is on the town council which has been pressured by the local American army captain, Wesker (Adam Jones) to practice segregation in the town. Foyle votes against this: isn’t protection and better lives what we fought for? But he is over-ruled. We see the harsh ways the white American army men treat the black, but there is a especially mean bully, Sergeant Calhoun (John Sharion) who incites others against Gabe hating him for going out with a white girl, who he also terrifies with horrifying stories of lynching and torture black men who so much as look at a white girl are subject to in the states. Many talks with Sam asking why should the color of Gabe’s skin matter. She is fearful for him.

Well, Foyle finds Gabe lying on the ground that night having been beaten by the whites, they form a congenial acquaintance. Then Gabe goes to Captain or Colonel Wesker to request permission to marry Mandy, and at first refusing, Wesker seems to agree.

Foyle still goes fishing (he had shown some of his tackle to Gabe who appeared to understand what he was seeing). Foyle brings fish to Sam, who says he must come to dinner. He arrives, meets Lucy, and a Mr Hains, a man with one arm who is bitter about the war; also sees Many and Gabe openly a pair. This partly happens as Adam had tried to tell Many she must leave since she’s not paying, she had begged him to stay, and Sam protested this, so to make up for bad behavior, Adam is hosting the dinner beyond the fish.

Then one night Calhoun offers to pay Tommy for boxing. The episode had begun with a violent scene of boxing where a white and black man are in the ring; at first the white is winning, but then the black begins to win and beats the white; but as he is about to be given the prize, Calhoun jumped into the ring and gave the win to the white Well, the black men come in (oddly allowed by Calhoun) and soon they white guys are beating the blacks, and Gabe flees to the wood, and when he returns is told Many has been murdered. This is the story he tells Foyle, for Foyle has been called in earlier to view the body, and hear Wesker say obviously Kelly did it, and behave as if Foyle has no jurisdiction; Foyle insisted he has and begins to investigate. At one point Calhoun gets into Gabe’s cell and threatens to kill Gabe’s baby daughter; next thing Foyle is told Gabe confessed, and Gabe will not retract. There’s a scene where Wesker shows how bitter he is – he wishes the war would have gone on for at home he is nobody and here he was respected.

Sam has taken the baby to Mrs Dean who will not take her granddaughter I – her name is Catherine. She goes to Tommy who insists the baby has nothing to do with him either. Meanwhile the social services have come to demand the baby – this happens in Caryl Philips’s novel, Crossing the River: a child of a black man and white woman is taken from her after he is forced back to the US without her.

Tommy has been feeling very bad: he was a genuine conscientious objector because of the fate of his parents after WW1; he was willing to marry Mandy if she’d give up the baby. Foyle watches him very angry at Calhoun for refusing to pay the fee he agreed to.


Sam as housekeeper for Adam Wainright (Max Brown)

There’s a scene where Adam and Sam think if they were a couple, they could take Catherine in – but they are not (yet).

So the key here is that there is payroll robbery the night Mandy was killed – the same night of the boxing match. Foyle has figured out Mr Hains is a Mr Cole, and Lucy his wife, and they are doing the robberies. The new DC not very useful but he does see the prosthetic arm being used as a bat and takes it to Foyle and the serial number reveals it’s owned by a Mr Cole – who is Hains, as Foyle surmises, because he gave wrong answers when Foyle asked him about D-day. Cole was not there he was at Alamein. Through Cole, Foyle learns that it was Calhoun who threatened them into robbing the payroll, then through Calhoun (once he is accused of the murder) that the plot to have a payroll robbery as a distraction was thought up by Wesley who was having Mandy over that night to get her to bed with him in return for really allowing her a Visa to the states. Wesley gets angry at Mandy for refusing to go back to bed, she says she overheard the plot, and he strangled her.

The last scene of the murder-violent robbery mysteries is Foyle walking up to Wesker playing basketball and accusing him of the murder from all the evidence and affadavits he now has. Wesker admits it – as do just about all the criminals in the Foyle series. Wesker is your ambitious American, is brought up in these final moments. It was his ambition that drove him.


Sam as joyous and cherishing baby

We switch to a scene where Gabe is being urged by his black friends to get into the truck to be shipped home. He stands there and drives up Foyle and Sam with the baby. Sam gives the baby Catherine into his arms and says he will return to bring her back to the US. The orphanage people are there to take Catherine back, but Tommy turns up and says he will take care of Catherine – with the older man who has given him space and the man’s wife – until such time as Gabe returns. He is actually a good-hearted man, and the Coles not bad people.

I came near tears in several of the scenes with Gabe, and I worried intensely for Many and him.

I feel I was that moved because of all the horrible racism I’ve seen in the US since Trump became POTUS, last week the Buffalo slaughter was just so painful to read about Apparently there was segregation forced on some towns during WW2 by the American white army men; there were outbreaks of racial violence in the UK after the US army arrived; conscientious objectors were vilified by ordinary people. The terrible stories of lynching and what happened to black people in the 1940s and still today wouldn’t have pleased a US audience, nor the nailing of ambition and greed as central problems in life beyond racism. US and UK soldiers said to be killing time while they waited either to be disbanded when the war truly over – or sent back to the US It’s also a possibly killing time – time when characters are killed.

Horowitz didn’t write this one; David Kane did. Horowitz also didn’t direct; David Richards did. But this is a Horowitz story in content, feel, mood.

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Foyle playing chess with Dr Novak (Nicholas Woodeson)

Season 5, Episode 2: Broken Souls, October 1944:

This was the saddest of all the stories thus far; its central themes are the criss-cross of people coming home from the war and finding that those living w/o them for45 years say have found new friends, new associates. The example is a working class or agricultural farmer , Fred Dawson (Joseph Mawle) come home from having been a POW, crippled in his legs (frost bite from having been badly treated), to find Rose, his wife Natasha Little) has developed a tender friendship with a German POW, Johann, (Jonathan Forbes) and his son Danny is very fond of this German man. Fred is nasty to Johann, refusing to give him a meal, a place, cannot accept the man’s apology that we are the same, and the man returns to the German POW place. Johann so lonely flees, perhaps back to the farm.

Alas, another man deeply troubled, the head Doctor Josef Novak, in the nearby mental clinic happens by and hears Johann speak German. Novak has tried to kill himself, tried to take on the blame of the murder of a Dr Worth (Jessie Birdsall) who was about to go to Edinburgh for a promotion; he plays chess with Foyle regularly; it emerges the murderer was another lower level doctor, Iain Campbell (Nicholas Woodson) having an affair with a Peter Phelps (Alexander Gilmore) patient’s wife, Joy (Sally Leonard); Worth found out, blackmailed Campbell and was about to expose him anyway. Novak thought it was the pathetic patient, Peter because he was seen with blood all over his hands crying over the body. That was a scene cruelly set up by Campbell who sent the man to a kind of prison. Novak goes into a rage because all the war he has been carrying the burden his family was sent to a ghetto (Lubin, terrible place) and then a concentration slave-death camp and he happened not to be there, and that night at the movie-house he hears of the camp’s discovery and the probable deaths of his whole family so horribly.

Novak feels terrible; he is seen by Tommy Crooks (Danny Worters). Everyone suspected the murderer was Fred Dawson, but it wasn’t. And the penultimate scene is of them coming together: she has accepted him all along, and now he must accept how she survived with the help of Johann for 4 years. Who’s Tommy Crooks?

There are people who’ve lost beloved relatives, an elderly man and women, a Sir John and Lady Muriel Sackville, now w/o servants (Graham Crowden and Phillipa Lawe) and their one son, who took in 3 evacuees find one of them returns, a troubled working class boy, Tommy, from London, trying to escape a rough crude father and loving the countryside, which father comes looking for him, very angry: when at the end the father finally gets access, the boy asks, why do you want me, and the reply is, because you’re mind Not good enough, the father breaks down and says he is desperately lonely since his wife, the boy’s mother was killed in a bombing raid, and needs Tommy. Then the boy agrees.

The only pair we feel little for are Campbell and the truly faithless wife, Sally who abdicates responsibility for her husband allowing impersonal people to remove him from the scene to where he’s the least trouble. They as types could be found in any sleuthing story.

I’ve unraveled the relationships but this is not the order in which we see the people nor the order in which Foyle slowly uncovers who did what, what are the deepest feelings of those involved. We begin Dawson come home and painful scenes; move to with Novak, in the clinic (where we meet some of the clinic characters) and then come to the restaurant to play chess with anyone who is usually Foyle. We then see Tommy racing around the countryside, seeking the kind people and lovely place he had been in for a few months.

Foyle is quietly central all throughout with Milner (Anthony Howell) guessing things and doing the bidding of finding information. Again Sam (Honeysuckle Weekes) carries the comedy – as at the end when she and sergeant win some football bet and are at first dismayed that Foyle wants to give the whole of the 100 pounds to a Jewish refugee fund. He relents with a smile, to say let’s keep and with rations see what we can eat. She helps find Tommy for thought that uncle Vicar (who we don’t see in this episode) she knows the Sackvilles. And so it goes on for 90 minutes with beautiful scenery to boot.

Michael Kitchen, Foyle seems to take on him, within him the world of profound loss and at the end some gentle hope that he comes across in most, many of the characters. A class bias is going on – – for as presented Foyle as boss seems a more serious person, or higher rank and the others somehow not quite his status, but we should remember that he is not high status, a policeman is middle class – early on we met a genteel upper middle woman who loved him (Amanda Root) and rejected him because her father could not approve of her lowering herself and so married a man of her own class, not a bad sort, but she never loved him as she once did Foyle.

I don’t have a Companion for this episode and there is “making of” or information notes, but Wikipedia does say the concentration camp Novak’s family (all but his daughter who it turns out in the last chess game did survive), Mjdanek was notorious; so too Lubin a horrifying place. German POWs were billeted near Hastings. The movie the doctor meant to see on the night he killed Johann, Going My Way, was playing in 1944; he saw instead an Abbot and Costello and news report,which can be located as by BBC correspondent Alexander Werth. Finally the fictional article Dr Worth used where he told the case of Peter Phelps about trauma in war existed (Oct 1944, Journal of Medical Science). Foyle can be seen reading real newspapers.

One of many peculiarly fine programs. The people attempting to cancel this program should have been shamed.

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Foyle and Hilda Pierce, “Special Operations, a ruthless spy type (Ellie Haddington) who becomes a regular in the 7th & 8th seasons as “cold war” politics and post-colonial themes take over

Season 5, Episode 3: All Clear, May 1945:

I found myself moved to tears by the end of this one. Again the theme was the people coming home, and instead of a naïve celebratory stance, we see how hard the war has been on everyone, and how difficult it is to re-integrate. The calendar is used: we mark the days in May to the announcement by Churchill that Germany has surrendered, with which announcement the series and season ends. This is where we have the biggest jump in time until now: 5:2 was April 1944 (D Day June 1944), so it was in this actual year that Horowitz discarded a number of scripts intended slowly to bring us to the end of the war.

One story repeats a motif from 5:2: a soldier, Edward Hylton, comes home to intuit that his wife, Janice, has changed; we learn over the course of 100 minutes she has had a baby by the hotel manager, Martin Longmate, now looking to run for public office. It’s living with her mother; Longmate wanted her to abort it, but she has not, and this story of alienation, an obdurate husband, ends with him overhearing the truth and (apparently) forgiving her and taking in the baby – but we do not stay for how he manages to re-integrate as a carpenter.

As the episode opens a celebration is being planned, and the American officer we met in Invasion is back, Keiffer, unable to renew the fishing friendship he had with Foyle. What we gradually learn is he is hounding Mark Griffiths, a member of the committee who made a mistake in calculations which resulted I the drowning deaths of many soldiers (an event both Griffiths and Keiffer have nightmares about), it’s been hushed up. Through several different contacts, most notably (once again) Hilda Pierce, this spy intelligence agent Foyle learns of this hushed up incident. Foyle can do nothing as Griffiths killed himself so no one can be tried in court.

Still the reason Foyle chases this one down (with help from Milner) is that Griffiths was seeing a psychiatrist who is murdered during the episode. The murder victim is Dr Henry Zeigler, an Austrian, who was doctor for Janice as well as Milner’s now wife, Edith, expecting a baby. It’s Edith’s recognition of Janice that alerts Edward, her husband, to something significant that Janice is hiding.

The depth of feeling in all these is created by the script and the actors so we do not feel this is a circus of improbable distress at all.

Meanwhile while on the one hand, Milner is waiting for a letter to transfer him to a promotion elsewhere (which come at episode’s end) and Foyle has put in for retirement, Sam is looking for another job – and finds herself up against interviews demanding hypocrisies of all sorts. She finds a volunteer position (so unpaid) by a charity organization where we see how hopeless such impersonal attempt to help people find jobs, or places; among those turning up is Andrew, Foyle’s son.

One of the deepest moments in the episode is when Julian Overden turns up as Foyle’s is fishing alone. I cannot account for how Michael Kitchen’s face conveys so much relief after pain. Andrew re-starts his relationship with Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) who is no easy turn over; Foyle reminds his son, Andrew, how he has hurt her. Their scenes, Sam and Andrew, are done in that third person with the pair of them referring to themselves in the third person the way we’ve seen Foyle do on several occasions with women attracted to him.

Glad to say the shit Martin Longmate, clearly from conversations against the labor transformative goals including Bevin’s heath care is nailed – though the references by Foyle to Longmate being hanged should be bothering – – this viewer is glad Longmate who hurt Janice, was going to take on Sam In the same spirit will be stopped. Foyle says what a shame, you are prefer for a politician.

Again class-based comedy comes out of the sergeant and other police officers going off for mild celebrations. Very moving Churchill’s speech heard over the radio. Quiet diurnal: people can’t sleep because they don’t hear bombs coming over. Milner’s wife wants to name a boy Winston as in Winston Milner; he’s relieved it’s a girl but now she’s Clementine Winston. Sam is for voting for Churchill – he’s pulled us through, hasn’t he?

Quiet diurnal: people can’t sleep because they don’t hear bombs coming over. Milner’s wife wants to name a boy Winston as in Winston Milner; he’s relieved it’s a girl but now she’s Clementine Winston. Sam is for voting for Churchill – he’s pulled us through, hasn’t he? E.M.

The episode ends with the furniture of the old office taken away and Foyle left alone to turn around and leave


Horowitz’s success was partly due to his wife, Jill Green, as also producer, a central part of the film-making team

The disk does return us to better times. A 12 minute making of Foyle abut the secret map making activities behind 5:1, and some real people testifying to how it was done. The Imperial war Museum head now talking for the first time. And reasonable commentary in words from Weeks and Milner about how much the series has meant to them and what they did otherwise (Weeks participated in marathon runs). Another thing to mention about the disk for 5:3 — intrusive trailer at the beginning and no trailer at the end ruining your feeling about the ending you’ve just experienced. As Horowitz thought he was going out, he at least got respect and silence for the program he had just made and the viewer just watched.

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To read about Season 5, Episode 1, Plan of Attack, April 1944, in comments; Season 6, Episode 1, The Russian House, June 1945, in comments; Season 6, Episode 3, The Hide, February, 1945, in comments.


Kitchener as Foyle and Weekes as Sam, 2013 — 7th and 8th season (this will be my last blog on Foyle’s War)

Ellen

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Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and Mrs Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) arriving at the Indian station

When Aziz reads a poem at dinner to assembled friends, who most of them don’t understand it very well, we are told “it voiced our loneliness nevertheless, our isolation, our need for the Friend who never comes but is not entirely disproved … (A Passage to India, Ch 9, p 77, Norton edition)

Dear friends and readers,

As my wonderful course (if I do say so myself) draws to a close, I feel I must give tribute to Forster’s stirring masterpiece, A Passage to India: talking of Forster by the end of the first day, and reading and discussing his book (and other writing by him) together for nearly the next three sessions began our 10 week journey wonderfully well. There seemed to be so much to say that was meaningful to us, so many beautiful and intriguing and witty and poignant passages to read aloud and decipher, with Forster himself as a humane prophetic voice outside his novel too. We kept coming back to him and his book too, as having laid new bases of developing thought against colonialism, in the context of a genuinely realized (if narrowly glimpsed) Raj context. David Lean’s film brought the book visually before us, helped us to see what Forster was describing:


Crossing the bare rock mountains using an elephant on the way to the Marabar Caves …

I’ve been surprised to discover I’ve never written on A Passage to India: I’ve blogged on A Room with a View, Howards End, and Maurice, books and film adaptations (sometimes there are two) together, on his anti-fascist politics, aesthetic theory, and connections to Bloomsbury. My guess is I’ve been intimidated by the book’s reputation, and now that I’ve recognized the flaws, strengths, the characteristics A Passage to India has, along with other Anglo-Indian novels, I grow braver. It belongs to a kind (discussed ably by David Rubin in his After the Raj:  British Novels of India after 1947 — also before).

First how it relates to the other well-known fictional work — the realistic novels.  All but one was published in a short period, that is, 5 novels (the two I’ve not mentioned are Where Angels Fear to Tread, and The Longest Journey) between 1905 and 1924.   The 6th and in some ways least flawed (least inconsistent) is Maurice, published posthumously in 1971 (a year after Forster’s death) because it tells the tale of a homosexual young man growing up, falling in love, and like other novels of manners has a very hard time choosing the life he truly wants to live, with the partner he truly loves. Its central dilemma or preoccupation resembles that of the other 5:  can his characters resist society’s perversion of their heart’s desires, think and feel clearly for themselves. Even A Passage to India manifests this dilemma — in Adela Quested’s case.

But A Passage to India also goes beyond this:  it dramatizes how we are as individuals products of encompassing group cultures we cannot escape, no matter how contradictory that culture is.  So it’s not enough that Fielding defies those around him.  Deeper attachments limit the ways and the whole society as a presence prevent him and Aziz from forming a long-lasting close-by relationship.

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Dinner at Fielding’s gov’t college gardens: Aziz (Victor Bannerjee), the book’s central consciousness, Muslim, a trained physician, Adela, who has come out to India to discover it so she can decide whether she cope with the role of memsahib and become the identity asked of her by her bethrothed, Ronny More (Nigel Rivers) and Prof Godbole (Alec Guiness), not to be trusted, evasive, undermining, a Hindu, two feeling congenial

Then how does it relate to the author’s life: A Passage to India directly mirrors Forster’s own experiences twice in India: 1912-13, with friends touring and visiting; and 1921-22 , living as a private secretary in a princely state. Aziz is a portrait of two men Forster loved and the maharajah he worked for, and the uneasy time he experienced there, plus of course probably much reading. He poured himself into it; he struggled to present his own experience of sexuality transposed to a publishable fiction. Here you must read his Hills of Devi, and Wendy Moffatt’s biography of Forster, A Great Unrecorded History (see the bibliography).

The novel is divided into three parts: Mosque, Caves, and Temple – with the longest section the middle; all three begin with a deep dive immersing us into landscapes, the first immediate realistic; the second geological, geographical moving wide and far; the third turning inward to show ceremonies and rituals’ affect on those participating and watching.

The first section is a varied and graphic comedy of manners, where we experience the prejudices of the English, the way they inflict humiliation (as a minimum) in the way the English interact with Indians. An intuitive and unusual rapport emerges between Mrs Moore (Adela’s fiancé’s, Ronny Heaslop’s mother) and Aziz, between Aziz and Fielding. We see Aziz’s profession of doctor, his friends; the crass officials; Ronny and Adela are groping their way into becoming a pair (they are deeply alike in some ways).

The second section is the trip to the caves, the misapprehension of Adela which results in an accusation of assault and rape by Aziz, the tremendous explosion of the British into such distrust, and near hysteria. We experience the trial, Aziz’s acquittal when Adela is courageous enough to defy everyone and say nothing happened that mattered, the ostracizing of Fielding when he responsibly, humanely, sides with Aziz, Fielding’s having to leave, Mrs Moore choosing leaving (in her case death), the intense anger of Aziz and his distrust of Fielding.


Fielding, worried, looking out to see what is happening to his friend …

Third section, two years later, Fielding returns with Mrs Moore’s daughter, Stella, as his wife, and her son, Ralph, who seems weakly autistic, but gentle, meaning kindness and homoerotic in his behavior. So many lies told Aziz which he wanted to believe (he has gone to a princely Hindu state), are barriers Fielding must break down. Their friendship seems to be returning, but as ever then end in a quarrel with Aziz demanding the British get out and leave the Indians free to be fully dignified, in charge of themselves

Major Characters: Aziz — filled with good feeling, meaning well, wanting to trust people, to love them. He doesn’t think. He is prejudiced – and distrusts profoundly English people and their values. Sees them as very mercenary. Has he bought into the idea he might be inferior? He over-reacts his eagerness to please. You find that Masood, a beloved Indian friend who came to study at Cambridge, to whom the novel was originally dedicated, lies behind parts of Aziz’s character, was the muse of the book.

Fielding — our enlightened man, basically an atheist – he says quietly at one point he goes along with things but believes little.

Adela is searching to make for herself a livable identity.  Does she want to be a memsahib? As Ronny’s wife? there was a rapport, but could she have endured the social life? What was there for her in England.  It’s arguable Ronny Heaslop is a major character; he is left reactive, but I’d like to note that he is made more understandable and sympathetic in Lean’s movie.  A letter forgiving everyone at the end of the novel from him justifies Lean’s treatment.

Mrs Moore. It’s hard not to be fond of Peggy Ashcroft in the film (especially as Barbie Batchelor in Jewel in the Crown film) and there is a carry-over . How does she appear at first? Very enlightened? Yes, she is fundamentally a kind reasonable woman, but aging and now under pressure easily irritated. She has been married twice and has two grown children, Stella and Ralph. It seems she has more affection for the other pair, is hostile to her older son, Ronny. She speaks against marriage more than once – one theme across Forster’s work is the absurdity of heterosexual courting patterns and reasons for marriage.  Forster very good at inhabiting women characters here and in previous books (Lucy Honeycomb, Margaret and Helen Schlegel) and we like her and believe in her, but she is no goddess.

Godbole — fundamentally untrustworthy (a caricature possibly of a Brahman type personality?) He lies a lot, and lets other down. He is given more presence than any of the other non-British characters but Fielding.

The characters and narrator engage in conversations of some depth: about metaphysical issues (death, ghosts, memories) and everyday ones as how to cope with this other person; with a job requirement, with the food, heat. They shout at one another, they cry. There is also a wider and deeper dimension to this fiction – It’s been called an existential meditation. Most of the time they are woven into a character’s thoughts or a scene. Claustrophobic codes for western women, purdah for eastern. How each of the characters responds to Adela after the accusation and also after she tells the truth a measuring stick, men dizzy with outrage. How very hard it is for people to socialize for extended periods of time. But sometimes it’s the narrator there frequently and importantly commenting, switching our POV, ironic, passionately there, with striking original thoughts as we move through the experience.

More on its themes: it’s arguable that while the novel dramatizes the failure of the liberal humanistic POV literally and often in life, it also dramatizes its source in the kindest, sensitive, intelligent and loving-loyal hearts and that without this producing friendship and sustaining order life is not worth living even if your surroundings are beautiful.

There is also an important vein of mysticism or transcendence in Forster’s ideas about art and life and his art here and elsewhere. Something ineffable and beyond what words can explicitly reach or explain that makes for beauty and the finest moments of experience. I capture it best in a small vignette from Howards End that Reuben Brower points to:

The heroine Margaret Schlegel goes Christmas shopping with the book’s Mrs Moore (her name is Ruth Wilcox) and is depressed because the inadequacy of buying and selling (profanation) and worse yet sometimes gift giving as an expression of some sublime event that gives meaning to lives: “in public who shall express the unseen inadequately? It is private life that holds out the mirror to infinity, personal intercourse and that lone hints at something beyond … “ The inner life the two women have lived in this house together … At several turns Fielding and Aziz have conversations where they too try to reach for some deeper insight or companionablenss


Fielding and Aziz in the film’s closing adieu: they have no social space allotted them in which to form a relationship

Problems in the book: Forster is a homosexual man masquerading as heterosexual and the drive in the book is to dramatize his experience of sex, so that the deepest friendships are male; each part ends with talk frustrated and longing between Fielding and Aziz. Caricatures and condescension towards Indians as well as the Anglo-English characters.  The depictions of sexual interaction are veiled because this is territory Forster is not allowed to speak for real in. He adumbrates the political dimensions of the ongoing crisis between powerless and many abysmally impoverished Indians (as yet) and British blindness, insularity, prejudice, wealth, but he fails to explore any level of gov’t seriously, name or describe any realities on the ground then (heaps of blackmail, injustice, gouging of people), not even the 1919 Amritsar Massacre.

Here is what Forster said of his book to a contemporary Indian critic:

this book is not really about politics, though it is the political aspect of it that caught the general public and made it sell. It’s about something wider than politics, about the search of the human race for a more lasting home, about the universe as embodied in the Indian earth and the Indian sky, about the horror lurking in the Marabar caves [of nothingness, no meaning, and despair at what is] … It is — or rather desires to be — philosophic and poetic.


The scenes of the excursion itself, the train across the landscape are among the most striking of the book — and the film captures these

I’ve enjoyed all the movies made thus far enormously — perhaps David Lean’s A Passage to India less so (I don’t care for the way Adela is turned into a neurotic sexually twisted woman, maybe I’m not much for the epic approach) than the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s (A Room with a View, Howards End, Maurice), Andrew Davies’ (A Room with a View), and Kenneth Lonergan’s (Howards End).

I admit in the end I just loved Forster’s A Passage to India, the way I’ve learned to love all his books, and long to go on to read more. Jim loved Forster’s biography of Lowes Dickenson; I find I love his criticism, his short biographies, his essays (Abinger Harvest, Two Cheers for Democracy) and talks for the BBC from 1939 (“What I Believe”) to the end of WW2. I love reading the best critics about him and his books. And I love Forster’s taste in poetry, reading his favorites (Cavafy), about what his friends wrote of him, about the places he traveled through and what he felt (Alexandria, Italy, Greece, India).

The sky settles everything … (A Passage to India, Ch 1, p 2, Norton edition)

Ellen

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Rosa Parks, with Martin Luther King in the background


James Baldwin (see I am not your Negro)

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” — George Orwell

“Why of all the multitudinous groups of people in this country do you have to single out Negroes and give them this separate treatment?” — Thurgood Marshall, arguing in Brown vs the Board of Education.

Dear friends and readers,

For the past couple of years, beginning around the time the pandemic quarantine began (March 2020) I’ve been taking courses in Black history at the two colleges for retired people where I also teach: OLLI at AU and OLLI at Mason.  These included: “The History of Reconstruction;” “Racism in America Civil to Post World Wars,” “Teaching Black history in Virginia;” “Black History;” “The Life and Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks,” August Wilson’s American Century Cycle. I’ve made an effort to watch Black films, .g. Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing); King Richard (very recently), on Richard Williams and his two tennis-champion daughters, Venus and Serena).

I’ve gone to museum exhibits, The Warmth of Other Suns (adapted from Isabel Wilkerson’s book), made a real effort to teach Black authors (Caryl Philips and Toni Morrison) and Black History myself.

I discovered a history of cruel devastation inflicted on people of color whose ancestry was in Africa, not only during enslavement, but for over a hundred years thereafter, with 1965 an important gain but not enough to offset hundreds of years of money and labor exploitation, imprisonment, humiliation, periodic massacres as part of a reign of terror (lynching just one aspect of this), to say nothing of their renewal in the 1990s with the movement to mass incarcerate Black men and the continued casual killing of Black people by police in the streets.

I had when a teacher of undergraduates regularly taught James Baldwin, once tried Richard Wright’s Native Son and once Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (very painful experiences), as well as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

Lincoln’s birthday. In NYC when I was growing up, we got the day off in school and other places and lots of ceremonies remembered him. Heather Cox Richardson (2/12) shows the logic that Lincoln used to show how dangerous and pernicious the right to and legal practice of enslaving others is. I know from my own reading one term where I taught a course for American University called American Literary Masterpieces that Lincoln’s speeches all show a man repeatedly arguing for the equality of man (alas he does not mention women) and against enslavement of people. It’s unmistakable – whatever historians say about the delay of the Emancipation Proclamation. I felt I could not teach a course in American literature of the 19th century without some real grasp of who Lincoln was. It was that class where I read with students Frederick Douglas’s autobiography, told of slave narratives and we read Uncle Tom’s Cabin (as one of the units).

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So from this long complicated history of egregious injustice, from all these heart-rending and uplifting stories (because Black nonetheless have made astonishing advances in the few years of liberal outlook (say 1960 to 1980s in custom, in law 1965 until the present Supreme court began to gut all the civil rights legislation that had been passed since the 1960s), what can I offer to add to public memory.

One sobering pattern: repeatedly throughout Black history in the US when a great and good Black man rises to prominence and begins to do wide-spread good he is murdered in his later 30s (true of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, David Walker; see also demonstrations/protests; my blogs on LiveJournal under racism in America). John Lewis almost was.

One heartening one:


Henry Ossawa Tanner — The Banjo Lesson

The history of the initiation and growth of Black education in the US, the slow creation of colleges so that what one saw briefly in reconstruction for a very few people slowly slowly grows to have a network and buildings and libraries and places of order and safety of which today Howard University is a kind of crown jewel. – though recently they too have wiped out, gotten rid of their classic department – no more Latin and Greek study. It is through hard study, her education, going to Howard University (itself infected by class and racism), as teacher at a historically black college, and then editor in a publishing company.

Students who are freshman are sometimes so puzzled as to why learning this text is going to lead somewhere – why memorizing this or that formula matters – experience teaches them if they have not had parents who were able to. Also Civil Rights (1866 Gates mentions) acts which while ignored or undermined were put on the books and when we come to obey the law matter.

Focus on Oberlin College, founded in 1833 as a communitarian settlement, admitted more Black students than all other American colleges combined before 1865. It was coeducational and early in its history had financial troubles under pressure white males only but they held out. One private preparatory school for Black children supplied 1/3rd of the Black student body. They had some extraordinary individuals even in the early years; a weakening between 1880 and 1948 when Black and white students made to eat separately and segregated housing. Again and again in the history by Gates you see Oberlin active for good for enabling Black people to become professional, to be trained, to later seek places for some power. Oberlin is now the base for the Toni Morrison society

In the perspective I’m outlining the importance of Affirmative action can be seen.

After emancipation, 1865 Freedman’s Bureau, Freedman’s Aid societies, Northern missionary groups establish schools. The most enduring ones have been Fisk University, 1865, Morehouse College and Howard University 1867, Hampton University 1868. Since I have to go fast I fast forward to the important conflict between those I’ll call appeasers, Booker T Washington and not just aspirationalists but aware that being taught to be more than skilled people in trade jobs was crucial for Black people to build a society– among these an important voice. W.E.Dubois, famous for Souls of Black Folks. Which I have read. He sounds like a hard Emerson. What shall be in the curriculum intensely important. One needs Black physicians for a start. Black people conflicted themselves over their goals and how to go about it early on. As Malcolm X and MLK did. By 1890s should you include Black people and achievements in international expositions. Black journalism promoted by liberal whites (previously abolitionists)

In popular history a great deal is made of the star – star athlete, singers, musicians, fighting in these wars too. There are so many in different walks of life I’ll confine myself to one: Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander, 1898-1989; she earned a Ph.D in economy at the University of Pa, dissertation was Standard of Living Among one Hundred Negro Migrant families in Philadelphia. She went to law school, serves in National Urban League, ACLU, hired by Truman for committees, for Kennedy and for Carter. History of wonderful paintings – early Henry Osssawa Tanner The Banjo Lesson.

The central importance of the church for African-American people – and its leaders. Rev William Barber comes to mind

Two individuals lost from memory, whom you may not have heard of.


1875-1950

Carter G. Woodson, 1926, a historian, determined to write The Negro in History. He was one of the moving people behind the successful creation of the NAACP. From his achievements:

In January 1916, Woodson began publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History. It has never missed an issue, despite the Great Depression, loss of support from foundations, and two World Wars. In 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African American History and continues to be published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. His other books followed: A Century of Negro Migration (1918) and The History of the Negro Church (1927). His work The Negro in Our History has been reprinted in numerous editions and was revised by Charles H. Wesley after Woodson’s death in 1950. Woodson described the purpose of the ASNLH as the “scientific study” of the “neglected aspects of Negro life and history” by training a new generation of Black people in historical research and methodology. Believing that history belonged to everybody, not just the historians, Woodson sought to engage Black civic leaders, high school teachers, clergymen, women’s groups and fraternal associations in his project to improve the understanding of African-American history.

He served as Academic Dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University, from 1920 to 1922.[26] By 1922, Woodson’s experience of academic politics and intrigue had left him so disenchanted with university life that he vowed never to work in academia again. He continued to write publish and lecture nationwide. He studied many aspects of African-American history. For instance, in 1924, he published the first survey of free Black slaveowners in the United States in 1830.

And David Walker (1796-1830) — one of those murdered in his later 30s. His centrally important was was An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. Read his life and work in wikipedia; here is a central section of An Appeal:


Freedom’s Journal, first newspaper owned and operated by Black people in the US

In his Appeal Walker implored the black community to take action against slavery and discrimination. “What gives unity to Walker’s polemic,” historian Paul Goodman has argued, “is the argument for racial equality and the active part to be taken by black people in achieving it.” Literary scholar Chris Apap has echoed these sentiments. The Appeal, Apap has asserted, rejected the notion that the black community should do nothing more than pray for its liberation. Apap has drawn particular attention to a passage of the Appeal in which Walker encourages blacks to “[n]ever make an attempt to gain freedom or natural right, from under our cruel oppressors and murderers, until you see your ways clear; when that hour arrives and you move, be not afraid or dismayed.” Apap has interpreted Walker’s words as a play on the Biblical injunction to “be not afraid or dismayed.” As he points out, “‘be not afraid or dismayed’ is a direct quote from 2 Chronicles 20.15, where the Israelites are told to ‘be not afraid or dismayed’ because God would fight the battle for them and save them from their enemies without their having to lift a finger.”[33] In the Bible, all the Israelites are expected to do is pray, but Walker asserts that the black community must “move.” Apap insists that in prompting his readers to “move”, Walker rejected the notion that the blacks should “sit idly by and wait for God to fight their battles — they must (and implicit in Walker’s language is the assumption that they will) take action and move to claim what is rightfully and morally theirs.”

[W]e colored people of these United States are the most degraded, wretched, and abject set of beings that ever lived since the world began, and I pray God, that none like us ever may live until time shall be no more. They tell us of the Israelites in Egypt, the Helots in Sparta, and of the Roman slaves …whose sufferings under those ancient and heathen nations, were, in comparison with ours, under this enlightened and Christian nation, no more than a cypher. Or in other words, those heathen nations of antiquity had but little more among them than the name and form of slavery; while wretchedness and endless miseries were reserved, apparently in a phial, to be poured out upon our fathers, ourselves, and our children by Christian Americans.


The Frontispiece

— Walker’s Appeal, page 1 (lightly edited)
Walker’s Appeal argued that blacks had to assume responsibility for themselves if they wanted to overcome oppression. According to historian Peter Hinks, Walker believed that the “key to the uplift of the race was a zealous commitment to the tenets of individual moral improvement: education, temperance, protestant religious practice, regular work habits, and self-regulation.”

Of course I hope you don’t need to be taught about A Philip Randolph (he succeeded in unionizing the Pullman Porters, organized the March on Washington) and Ida Wells (What didn’t this courageous woman do — she openly exposed and fought against lynching).


A Philip Randolph — one of my father’s heroes


A strong book — so too Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, about a group of Black people who migrated from the south to the north and the hardships and fierce discrimination that ceaselessly they encountered

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Just now around the US there is going on an apparently successful attempt to stop people of color, poor people, aging people from voting, with gerrymandering especially aimed “with surgical precision” as one judge wrote, to prevent Black people from achieving Black representation in all forms of government, especially when the representative is a person of color (non-white, of any type). Numerous states, among them Virginia (where I live) the teaching of Black history is outlawed; a hotline is set up for any parent anywhere to report on any teacher said to teach anything divisive; any thing that can be labelled “Critical Race Theory.” The teaching of Black history as part of US history has only begun in the last few years (I certainly learned almost nothing) is to be stopped. Why? Not because what has been taught is false, or because it might make some white child uncomfortable. The point is, as Orwell suggested, to control the future by erasing the past, and in this case perpetuate a male white Protestant supremacy.

All should know that a law was passed in 1672 in Virginia that “any person [who was] a slave who resisted a white person could be [casually] killed. Absolutely legal in the colony of Virginia. The only qualification was that the colony could compensate the owner for the loss of his property (when this would seem appropriate it’s not clear from the wording of the law). Why? to see the continuity with today.

So I want to write in opposition and thought I’d write this one time for specifically for Black History Month.  My problem is I know so little and have over the course of my life done so little politically — except vote and write blogs and teach. It is only in the last 20 years I’ve begun to learn and to teach Black history and think, read and write about colonialism.

Gwendolyn Brooks’s was the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. So where better to end for now.  I don’t know if “To Prisoners,” is her best poem (see my foremother poet blog) but you can (if you know how to do this) download an exquisitely moving video where you hear four wrongfully convicted Black ex-convicts who are now poets or ordinary citizens reading this poem aloud so beautifully and movingly. They tell you how they interpret its words. The interviewer is Anna Deavere Smith, playwright and activist. Here she also interviews John McCain who recites a poem aloud that he wrote and memorized and shared with a prison mate next door to him. The doing of this helped him stay alive:


Opening image: a prison hall

https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/pia18.ela.brooksprisoners/brooks-to-prisoners/

To Prisoners

I call for you cultivation of strength in the dark.
Dark gardening
in the vertigo cold.
in the hot paralysis.
Under the wolves and coyotes of particular silences.
Where it is dry.
Where it is dry.
I call for you
cultivation of victory Over
long blows that you want to give and blows you are going to get.
Over
what wants to crumble you down, to sicken
you. I call for you
cultivation of strength to heal and enhance
in the non-cheering dark,
in the many many mornings-after;
in the chalk and choke.

Ray Charles is very old in this video (imagine what he went through) and to my mind there is something ironic and heart-breaking to watch and hear him sing his own lyrics to this poignant tune:

Ellen

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I don’t always make a blog from the books we read but I felt I ought to in the this case. It would be remiss not to — especially
since it is loaded with divisive concepts …

Friends and fellow readers,

It was in October of this past year, that a group of us on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@grous.io began to read the whole of Hugo’s massive novel as translated, introduced and massively annotated by Christine Donougher. We’ve just finished this week. During this time at least one person also read Graham Robb’s massive biography of Hugo, I returned to Bellos’s Novel of the Century, Victor Brombert’s Hugo and the Visionary Novel, and, with a couple of other people, re-watched Andrew Davie’s magnificent film adaptation, as well as the film version of the world-famous musical.

Myself I had seen Eric Schaeffer’s stage version twice (once in London), and concert presentation years before, and for good measure this time re-watched twice Simon Schama’s The Romantics and Us, whose second hour is mostly given over to Hugo as finally, or at the time of the writing of this book, radical revolutionary in his thought.


Mass protest scene from 2012 film

Given how the matter of all this material speaks so home to us today, I can’t see myself not making a blog about it, though I sincerely doubt I have anything new to add to all that has been said and written – and drawn and sung and danced too. One can say with the usual semi-pompous language, the book is an extraordinary prose narrative — a combination of history, political and philosophical thought, fantastic visions, with novel framework and larger than life presences we can call characters to carry us through. And the French is visceral poetry. Full of contradictions, not to omit much muddle.

But this does not put into language that what is so crucial is how it captures the misery, thwarted aspirations, and fleeting joy in grief of millions of desperately poor, imprisoned, ravaged people, most often seen today in the form of endlessly punished refugees. Jean Valjean is Leonard Peltier, Fantine is exploited, derided, and raped woman hidden in plain sight who when she fights back becomes an outcast Christina Casey Ford (she who accused Kavanaugh and ridiculed ended outcast) without funds or friends. Mabeuf our adjunct lecturer scholar. The vast disquisitions about Waterloo, and morphing of gov’ts rarely even addressing a country’s needs, and when it tries, quickly reversed by those who cannot bear to lose a stitch of power or authority. Each type, the good priest, the barbaric cop, the base criminal and his wife, the orphan child, selfless nun, street prostitute — they stand before us.

It seems to me important to say — and maybe another reason I write this blog — that you cannot rely on any of the movies (there have been several, and I’ve tried a couple beyond Davies’) or the musical or (worse yet) the recent popular film of the musical (2012, directed by Tom Hooper), to convey the spirit or meaning of the book to you. Everything is done that can be by way of setting and choices of scenes to turn Hugo’s book into a seeming Catholic religious parable where God’s mysteries are beautiful in his churches and good people there (a reductive travesty). The movies are apolitical, with personal love the key to people’s happiness.  Nothing could be further from the feel and mood of Hugo’s book despite so often the good people being a church functionary.

Of course in the film musical you are worked up to revolutionary-like fervor and cumulatively end crying at the deaths of these good well-meaning people. And there is tragic catharsis: I found myself beginning to cry at Marius’s song too: the words “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken/There’s a pain that goes on and on” felt directly a propos. Empty chairs: that’s a phrase found in an old Civil War song (union side). And the book’s true heroine, Fantine (according to my way of thinking but not the book where Hugo chose a shallow conventional hero and mindless version of the heroine) is taking its true hero off with her to where (like Lear) he will no longer be wracked on this world’s fiery wheel of searing loneliness, and find rest. In Hugo’s book the emphasis is not personal and its significance more like what is found in a Camus novel like La Peste.


Lily Collins as Fantine after the mountebank has done with her, gathering material for dolls


Hair also needed for wigs – and teeth?

I here single out Davies’ film for making modern secular humane sense, with attention to the pathos of several of the characters (reinventing or changing some, like Courfeyreau). Davies’ script shows how despicable are others (Fantine’s seducer, the thug Madame Thenardier, however brutalized by her husband), and terrifying (Ron Cook as the mountebank who scissirs off Fantine’s hair and yanks out her teeth to leave her looking memorably ghastly). He tightens up the story, makes some realistic turns for the story, makes far more sense of Javert as a character (homoerotic, and thus obsessed with Jean Valjean), as well as filling out and making consistent the other characters in ways that bring out the egalitarian strains in the book. The only film adaptation of a classic that comes up to the presentation of the relentless killing of ordinary people practiced by the militia of the state that we see in the Paris streets in Davies’s Les Miserables here is Davies’ own Dr Zhivago.

I don’t feel that Davies quite captures the sinister and chaotic reality of a senseless unjust society and downright evil in law and deepest thought patterns (punish, isolate) of Hugo’s book: in Davies’ Dr Zhivago he has the totalitarian state as run by seething madmen whom ordinary people are terrified by. Dr Zhivago differs from most of  Davies’ work where there is a Trollopian or Dickensian (Victorian?) comic-realistic vision of the world.  Hugo’s world is tragic and exaggerated so in feel with the beautiful French fantastic.  Both project in their different mediums, Hugo with his story, Davies with the considerable apparatus of film adaptations today, the prisons, trials, hierarchical social gatherings, servitudes, what good and powerless people have to contend with. Both are short of the kind of thing we must turn to Primo Levi to find presented consistently (in If this be Man).  Nonetheless because of Davies’ skill in characterization (dialogue, instructions for gestures, collaboration with Tom Hooper, the director), when you finish Davies’ film you will have understood the underlying politics and source of some of the passions of Hugo’s work better.


Hugh Jackman’s lonely face as the dying scene begins


An unusual moment for Madame Thenardier: Helena Bonham Carter bringing out a flatness Olivia Coleman never attempts (and is not in Hugo either)

As for the musical: as presented (no matter where, stage or film), the book script and songs assume we know the story. Hardly anything is explained. It’s arguable nothing need be explicated clearly, except I appreciated what the composers and lyric writers were doing now: it was one long symphony or piece of music which had interruptions for a little dialogue but basically one long song I’ll call it; it changes mood and character voice but it seemed to me consistently a expressionist reaction to Les Miserables basic concept: here are the wretched of the earth, mixed in with cruel senseless authority figures and rules which have nothing to do with these wretched people. At any rate do not help them but seek to control and to punish. Sometimes a voice of kindness is singing, sometimes profound loneliness. The driving rhythms are a build up of rage, passion kept caged and finally reaching some height as the people climb the barricades.

The out-of-whack piece, brought back more than once, “Master of the House,” is a subversive and mindless mocking contrast, with one of the lines referring to Voltaire — as music and song it seemed to say the Voltairian Candide vision might be seethingly hilarious, a release but no use at all to suffering people.  Costumes and settings are imitative of Marat/Sade (that wild grotesque burlesque protest piece of so long ago), intermixed with Dickensian tropes so Gavroche in the film musical is an adorable Artful Dodger cut down.


Reece Yates (2012 Davies’ film) escapes both the cuteness of the Hollywoodized Artful Dodger and Hugo’s own (to me) unfortunate way of not taking the boy quite seriously

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It is so much easier to write about a movie or stage musical than one of the grand novels of the 19th century. To say I loved the long supposed digression (but the book is more digression than it is story) on language and slang won’t do.


Donald Sumpter as Mabeuf (still prosperous, in front of the church with his volumes, 2018 film)

But in order not to go on for too long, we shall have to limit ourselves tonight for exemplary detail to the ending of Hugo’s Part 4, Book 8, Chapter 7, where Mabeuf, once a lowly functionary in a church, is living in a hovel, and due to conditions out of his control, finds he can no longer pay the ridiculous rent for such a place with what he once did.  He is driven to sell his precious collection of books. He refuses to take a gift of money left for him (he would not steal a loaf of break presumably) and takes it to a bank. The last place that needs it. The cry of anguish from his heart matches the cry of Marius’s mean ancien regime grandfather when he cannot threaten Marius into loyalty, much less love in just the previous chapter. At core there is stark grief in the old man’s unwillingness to open up to his grandson or inability, and in the destitute idealist.

This does happen. Charlotte Smith in the early 19th century had to sell all her books to keep herself and family afloat. It was a terrible bitter experience for her – she didn’t quite sell them all, but those which fetched a good sum. Ever after she couldn’t write the same books. I’ve a male friend who lost his tenure, and came to DC and tried to live and get a job and couldn’t and was finally driven to sell his books in order to pay up his rent, move back home (horrible place – deep south, utter Trump country) — but then he was okay for he had a small job there and place to live with his family , a family which the high-minded Marius would have rejected and, as he does in the book (improbably) make his way (to use a very Trollopian phrase).

Looking at the book from a distance, it is very controlled. The story is minimal but it has enough twists and turns and new archetypal characters to take us through several related climaxes while moving along a trajectory of imprisonment, desperation.  I refer to JVJ’s encounter with M. Bienvenu, the priest at the opening of the book whose transformative goodness to him finds a parallel in Jean Valjean’s transformative forgiveness or lack of vengeance to Javert.   Then luck and cleverness enable JVJ to build a business and take care of a whole community, Montfermeil. He is elected Mayor despite not wanting to call attention to himself. While the slender plot-design unravels – Javert finds him after he has rescued Cosette and secured a hovel room for them both.  Like the Zorro he is, he escapes with her (using a rope pulling her up a wall he climbed up himself)  into a convent, and finding a grateful friend, stays for 18 years. And so it goes. He and Cosette leave so she can enter the world, have a chance to see it, and the spite of an old woman once again precludes their quiet retired but unconventional life. Now and again we stop for long meditations, disquisitions on war, society, language, the right type of wedding …


Dominic West as Jean Valjean reading with the little Cosette before they are forced to flee and end up in the convent

Our Jean Valjean is all heroes. Today I have been reading Christa Wolf’s Cassandra, where the one good man in the whole of Troy and among the Greeks is Aeneas, with whom Cassandra falls in love. She plays a part like Dido’s, and he must desert her out of a sense of duty (pius Aeneas), to care for his people. Well this reminds me of Jean Valjean’s behavior towards the people of Montfermeil as mayor: he thinks about them when he is about to give himself up because he can’t face allowing another person to be taken for him and put in jail. Like Foyle (in the justly respected World War II British ITV mystery series), JVJ decides that the greater general hoped-for good (that when such a good mayor leaves, all the prosperity might fall apart) does not substitute for doing a clearly concrete moral act: you must not use someone else. So he gives himself in and must escape again before he can rescue Cosette, and Fantine dies without having seen her child, in Hugo’s book believing herself forever damned.

I think that Hugo does want us to remember Aeneas carrying his father on his back during the siege of Troy and saving his life when JVJ carries Marius on his back through a sewer, almost drowns with him in filthy quicksand. But when Jean Valjean pulls himself and Marius up and comes to the locked door, who is there? Thenardier asking for money. A sardonic joke subtextually.

True heroism is caring, strength to do the truly moral thing, though the world’s consequences show how you cannot escape hurting someone. Amid all Hugo’s investment in heroic maleness, Les Miserables is as anti-war as it is anti- the capitalist spirit. Thenardier let us recall in the book ends a slave-trader in the US.

Ellen

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