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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But now I’m rambling.

Ellen

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By contrast,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mary talking to Cromwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Johanne and Cromwell

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

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

Ellen

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.selmacrowd

Dear friends and readers,

(Downton Abbey will have to wait.) This is to recommend going to see Selma and why.

Selma is a powerful re-enactment of some central costs of protest against what the powerful in a society and their brutal henchman and the parts of their constituencies filled with deep resentment, hatred, mindless meannes will inflict –bodily. The sequences that are telling are the marches and the attempts to integrate public places in the south. Pain is important — as a weapon. Death, its shadow, the fog it places around your mind and acts (these are from lines spoken by David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King). We are made to see and feel close up what it is to be beaten and relentlessly hunted down and murdered. We see a white priest who came from Boston to join the protest beaten to death and we hear the blows. We see a young black man shot up close in a bar: the police chase him down, beat and then murder him in front of very one in the bar. We see older women, all sorts of people flee and hurt. Remember Voltaire: “pour encourager les autres?”

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TV footage from the 1960s

It’s not all violence. We watch Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper fill out a voting registration form, go up to the courthouse, how hard to walk through that door, stand in front of a sneering man who says her boss will like to hear about this, listen to his questions, she can answer each hard one until he wants to know the names of the 67 men who were county executives in the last number of years. I find it to be a woman’s film by this emphasis, by the choice of intimately felt scenes throughout.

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Here she is in the first fall out from the scene just above

See Miss Izzy on the film as by a black woman director: “But perhaps the refusal to be nicer to the big famous white guy in the story illustrates why this film is important … ”

Although Fergusson occurred after the filming or late in during it, this incident and so many others across the US, is what this film is about. Historical films are ways of taking a usable past and speaking to audiences about that past in terms of the present. Not just Fergusson, and all the countless other racial protest marches and mass assemblies and demonstrations around the Us, and not just what happened to the Occupy movement now almost 3 years ago – but by metaphor when these public demonstrations and the beatings and state terror tactics that destroy them occur across the earth in all the places the US and its allies occupying forces beat down (not to omit Israel on the Palestinians, now ISIS, Boko Haram and the boss of that state who lets them do what they want). I say possibly because these other places and forces are there by analogy and the protests against them are quite different from the racial ones in the US which Selma is about (analogy works only so far).

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In the talk between the Kings we do hear references to the affairs he was accused of using vile language — and how these were communicated to his wife through phone, anonymous letters …

It is a kind of odd thrill (to me) to see re-enacted John Lewis (by Stephan James) when young, how he came to join King too. These are my heroes too. Other people are enacted (Andre Holland as Andrew Young, Reuben Santiago-Young as Bayard Rustin and almost not recognizable small parts well done: Alessandro Nivola as Johnson’s political operative trying to persuade King to cool it and protect himself, Tim Roth in the thankless role of the snake-sleaze Wallace) but the plaudits have to go to David Oyelowo who I’ve seen a number of times before: most notably in memory, Small Island. He made the daring intelligent choice not to do a virtuoso imitation but act the part from within himself; he is in physical type like King, round face, stocky body, and he did when delivering some of King’s speeches allow himself (so to speak) suddenly to begin to imitate King’s speech patterns, tones, body language — well it was terrifically successful and then I felt a strong wave of wishing King had lived and wishing he had been permitted to do something far more than he was able.

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Those who were alive at the time (1960s) may remember King began to emerge as someone moving beyond racial issues. He began to argue eloquently against the vicious policies of the US abroad; and he began to become more widely popular, even with whites. That wouldn’t do and those who had the abilities and power to do so with impunity had him murdered.

It’s also good to go as a kind of political statement. At my local art house there was a considerable row of black people in the audience. It’s a movie house deep in Fairfax, hardly ever any black people. The audience was not full but they applauded afterwards as I’ve seen people do at political films and also when they want to express their approval intensely.

It has its problems. Overproduced, over melodramatic, glossy surface, too quick scenes. It’s getting so it’s hard to find a movie which doesn’t do these things and they ruin the experience, do not permit nuances. It’s not a very nuanced film — it reminded me of Lincoln, a pious parable. The worst thing is that the relationship between King and Johnson is apparently wrong. King did not have to force Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass the legislation which made it for about 50 years very hard — impossible — to stop black people voting. (No more. The present reactionary Supreme Court has eviscerated it. It must be re-enacted now in a contemporary form and soon.) They worked together.

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Tom Wilkinson who played Lord Mansfield in the film, Belle, seems to be this year’s idea of the benevolent well-meaning (but somewhat misguided) white patriarch (patriarchy not questioned in this film, or Belle, for that matter)

It would have been less dramatic to tell the truth. Still a historical film like this ought to have some conscience — and the real truth of how they worked together is probably of real interest instead of this heads-on melodrama. It would tell far more about human nature and how politics works, how such legislation came to be passed. There was no emphasis on the reporters except that they were there. None on lobbyists, there needed to be more intermediary people. Read Elizabeth Drew in the NYRB.

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You see the film showed those marches in an entirely different spirit from the way they were framed in the early 1960s. The film tried to suggest that in the 1960s the marches were fairly shown on TV.

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The Selma bridge that was filmed (CGI) to look like the original bridge

Not so. The depictions on TV were appalled but often very hostile. I was like many people moved by the outpouring of (in effect) protest and standing together on behalf of liberty and against barbarity (though we saw the French police practice murderering too, full-scale shoot-outs of the type that happen frequently in the US). The film does have a reference to Fergusson near its end, in the themed underscore music, but in the US we don’t frame marches that way — in the US after the horrors of Fergusson we did have marches, people did come out to protest, to defy, to stand for all people (blacks included especially) mattering, but what it televised that way? Was it framed that way? not at all. The same holds true for our Occupy Movement three years ago now. (The French don’t murder each other daily the way US people do. It’s no use talking about the NRA — how did they get to be so powerful; they must have backers among the US population wide enough). So it was more than the marches which passed the legislation. Again the film didn’t want to go there — that’s why it remained unfortunately a child-like parable.

Sometimes I wonder why I study films. Well, because it is the medium in which our world communicates to one another. I liked that rap song that rightly won the Golden Globes last night: Stop and listen.

The director used a combination of means. There were realistic scenes, iconic emblematic large scenes, scenes where the actors spoke to one another in effect allegorically, all against a backdrop of recreated sixties-looking cities and towns and landscapes. The scenes were punctuated — across them appeared suddenly typed letters in white — the recordings of the FBI and other watchdogs onto machines keeping track of where the people under surveillance were and what they were doing. This too has resonance in 2014 — the methods were much cruder then; the people monitoring those acting could not capture their very conversations through digital technology.

Towards the end of the film you get footage and when the last huge march to the Alabama courthouse happened and the marchers had many whites among them and star black people — you will see a young Harry Belafonte marching, Sammy Davis Junior over to the side apparently not wanting to call attention to himself, but there.

March
Note the little girl

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.; DR. RALPH BUNCHE;  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel;  Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

Vote for it. Go.

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Martin Luther King day is soon — he gave up his life

Ellen

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Derek Jacobi as Alan Turning being interviewed (1996 Breaking the Code, directed by Herbert Wise, script by Hugh Whitmore)

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Victor McLaglen as Gypo Nolan (1935 The Informer, directed by John Ford, script by Dudley Nichols)

Dear friends and readers,

While I bought in New Year’s Eve quietly, alone with my cats, I watched two films: both unexpectedly great: Breaking the Code, a 1996 90 minute British TV film, based on Andrew Hodges’s 1983 biography of Alan Turning, and John Ford’s The Informer which was so powerful, a piece of German expressionist art turned to popular movie account I was astonished.

You can watch all of Breaking the Code on line instead of (wasting your time) seeing The Imitation Game:

I hope you took the hour and one half out. If not, here are a few notes which perhaps might tempt you. Instead of presenting Alan Turing as a kind of (freakish) autistic person never getting long with anyone after a brief youthful friendship in school with a young man who died of TB, Derek Jacobi plays a complex man who has a number of relationships, but is unable to fulfill himself as centrally part of his life because of the cruelties of the anti-homosexuality of English culture, the lack of understanding of a sensitive unconventional mind.

Breaking the Code is set mostly in the 1950s. There are flashbacks to the 1930s in school (a young Blake Ritson plays the friend who died from TB) and then to 1940s when Turing is hired (no atmosphere of paranoia or heroism; no justifications of murdering people to protect the “enigma code,” no silly team of a few men saving the world who also happen to be spies); in the 1996 film we see a slow building of relationship with his immediate boss (who is not crazily hostile, but half-sympathetic, played by Richard Johnson), and the woman he engaged himself to who did love him and he loved (played by Amanda Root), but he did not want a sexless or false-front marriage. I found very touching the depiction of Jacobi as a homosexual man trying to find companionship and the lack of dignity and threat, the sordidness and contempt of what he had to endure in the one person he could find to spend time with him.

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I could understand deeply how someone brought up in the 1950s looking at homosexuality might say I don’t want to be that, I don’t want to know that and hide away. He is seen having an affair on Corfu (where he could have some safety). Equally gripping was the way he was treated in 1951. Pinter plays the M16 person who begins to have Turing monitored and put pressure on him after the trial: yes for national security it’s said. As we look at the desk where he slowly he gathered the drugs he used to kill himself we have a sense of how this came from a process across his life. Prunella Scales is brilliant as his genteel mother who has no understanding of her son and repeats the world’s cant to him but loves him; Alun Armstrong as the relentless narrow police officer (he reprised a verision of this as Inspector Bucket in Andrew Davies’s mini-series Bleak House).

Here is an account of the staged play and the awards it won. Herbert Wise’s work includes I, Claudius; High Whitemore many different stints writing one-time plays for British TV, and 1970s to today’s mini-series (including Stevie [Glenda Jackson as Stevie Smith], A Dance to the Music Of Time, recently The Gathering Storm.

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Then I turned my attention to a novel, by Liam O’Flaherty, DVD, a redigitalized The Informer with a feature describing the filming (means, cost, people involved, goals, first reception), George Bluestone’s famous essay comparing the book and film (Novels into Films). Unfortunately this film is not on the Net, but a thorough defense and explication of in lucid terms (it has been attacked) is:

A Ford Crucible by Blake Lucas. It’s long interested me as an exploration of a role once regarded as abhorrent to all people fighting oppressive gov’ts, tyrannies, wars (when E. M. Forster said he hoped he’d betray “his country” before his friend”), informing for monetary or other rewards on friends, colleagues, family to powerful people. The opposite of the today reviled and hounded-down and punished “whistleblower.”

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I was deeply moved by McLaghlen’s performance of a non-thinking hulk of a man driven by poverty, a desire to stop his girlfriend from selling herself on the streets as a prostitute, a momentary blindness to all the consequences of his act (not just the immediate murder of the man he informs on, but the results on the organization of which they are part, the man’s family) and unawareness of his own feelings. Yes the movie is a lot more sentimental: in the novel the characters are far harder, selfish, his girlfriend is treacherous, the man he informs on a treacherous murderer himself; to make the movie more widely appealing Ford turns ordinary people into exemplary heroes and heroines, but this does not detract from the central fable of the awakening of this man’s remorse and the relentlessness of others around him to his act. The use of fog, of mist, the black-and-white interfused medium of the few streets, and rooms and archetypal direction is daring — Gypo Nolan is a sort of Frankenstein monster rejected by all a seething and bewildered humanity. He cumulatively gains dignity and forgets what he has done because it is too unendurable.

Since this past summer when I began once again to watch American-made movies from the 1930s to 40s, I have been so startled at how many were superb, not because of the Hays Code but in spite of it. These were pre-1950s, pre- the successful attempt of reactionary and rightist groups in the US to remove all pro-social feeling, all history from a working class point of view honestly represented. This is tale of Irish people as they seek, violently, crudely, to achieve political independence. O’Flaherty’s Famine, a novel set in the the 1840s is part of this history, and John Ford and Dudley Nichols committed to making films of integrity and intelligent art.

On one of my listservs, a member argued how important it is to pay more attention to how history is rewritten. What is erased and subsituted. Look at the difference between The Imitation Game and Breaking the Code, at The Informer versus Zero Dark Thirty.

Ellen

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Haunting presences which fill stage again and again

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The soothsayer (Nafessa Monroe)

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Central presences: Brutush (Anthony Cochrane) and Cassius (Louis Butelli)

Dear friends and readers,

If you are anywhere near the DC area, you’ve got five days left to see this stirring and visionary production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar directed by Robert Richmond with its striking stage design by Tony Cisek, costume Mariah Hale, lighting Jim Hunter. As Kate Havard writes (for once this is an accurate description), this is a dramatization of Shakespeare’s play which speaks home to us in 2014 as about war’s futility and cruelty, the ambition of self-blinded men, the destruction of a republic (however ill led by a vain man, aka Caesar played vaingloriously by Michael Sharon), with hooded figures everywhere. People on the watch for surveillance and ambush. The costumes of the war scenes in the second half were those of WW1, the gassing of populations was invoked (this has been a year of memorials of 1914), but the highlighting (rightly) of the aka-47 (killed more human beings than any other) invented first in 1945/6 shows that the reference is universal. had they the courage, Brutus should have been dressed as an Arab (bin Laden would have shocked, but what say you to one of the leaders of the Arab Spring in Egypt), with Mark Anthony in Western garb, or vice versa.

The women are minor or secondary presences who plead with their men to keep away, and the solution was to choose actresses who looked alike and like the soothsayer

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Portia (Shirine Rabb)

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Calpurnia (Deidra LaWan Starnes)

who turn turn up as women in the chorus as destroyed as well as easily led and suffering people.

It is at the same time a testament to the vitality and intelligence of this production, the play is still centered on a relationship as the text is: that between Cassius and Brutus, with Brutus, the conflicted hero-villain whose later grim thoughts anticipate Macbeth’s:

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I’ll remember to my dying day, my father saying to me when I was around 10 and we had gone to see this play somewhere or other and he had read it afterward, how brilliant and astonishing was the scene between Cassius and Brutus where the Cassisus says, hurt, petulant, “What cold to me,” and Brutus replies when accused of not liking Cassius as his friend anymore, “I do not like your faults.” How human, how real the utterances, my father said. The slow awakening of Brutus to what is evil, the deterioration of this pair’s relationship, their individual noble suicides are kept intact. Perhaps Mark Anthony is made corrupt too quickly; in the play Anthony does care for Caesar, is angered, even if we quickly see what he admired in Caesar was not his republicanism as Anthony pricks off who to kill and who to bribe. As a character he was more sidelined than usual, since his indignation and modicum of idealism was not believed in:

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He seemed too much a tough guy (who one could see in Titus Andronicus)

But the touching boy-like sleepiness and innocence (to Brutus) of Lucius (William Vaughn) is kept, and his loyalty to Brutus, so human nature’s better potentials are here too, though the overall effect is nihilistic. The actors playing the tertiary roles were effective here, especially Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Casca/Messala.

The production did remind me of last year’s Richard III in its use of straight-forward traditional large gestures and symbolic staging, both had highly theatricalized acting. When the lights were on, this set was beautiful in its grey marble.

The last time I saw Julius Caesar was at the 14th Street Shakespeare company (many years ago now), and it was just saturated in blood. The imagery of the play does call for it; this production kept blood to a discreet minimum. I understood that, but thought the substitution of the leafs from red poppies had the unfortunate effect of somehow valorizing the hideous slaughter of WW1; I know that was not meant but recently I’ve watched a profound Future Learn MOOC on “Trauma and Memory” in World War One, one which focused on those who survived, just, wounded horribly, on those hardest hit (millions) by the loss of family members and friends, and whole neighborhoods decimated. I’m just not keen on these fields of beautiful poppies. But it’s a small flaw.

The exhibit in the Great Hall linked in: it was about a pair of scholars who undecoded some manuscripts said to prove that Bacon and not Shakespeare wrote the plays, and as context, there were cases showing the history of codes for surveillance, and one showing how kings and queens in the Renaissance used codes for spying on one another and communication.

This staging made me recall the famous MGM production on film, and I rewatched (a YouTube), James Mason as a more sensitive Brutus, John Gielgud a humane Cassius, Marlon Brando a noble Mark Anthony, Deborah Kerr Portia, and Greer Garson Calpurnia as again interchangeable, with Louis Calhern as an arrogant Caesar, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. It was far more personal, more hopeful.

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Mason as a much softer sensitive Brutus

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Gielgud as Cassius frantically hurt, angry at Brutus

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Brando as a seethingly dignified Anthony

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The two women, Kerr and Garson again made interchangeable

Still time to make it there.

I’m continuing to watch and listen to Bate’s Shakespeare and His World, another fine MOOC, well worth reading the plays for and watching more than once. To these two blogs: Weeks 1-3; Weeks 4-8, I add here another commentary on the final week of Jonathan Bate’s Shakespeare and his World

Week 10, 12/3/2014: This was a concluding week in which Bate attempted to account for the transformation of Shakespeare into a much respected playwright, but one among his fellows to his present domination and ubiquity, something not far off from idolatry; he moved from how popular Shakespeare’s plays were in his era, to the later 17th century when Shakespeare held his own, however adapted into the 18th century, the first serious editions, lives of Shakespeare by Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Johnson. Here he did pause to go over a few of the adaptations of the era. The clincher or turning point was Garrick’s Jubilee in which he brought together the continuous stage traditions and these editions, and the reading of Shakespeare (the sonnets had begun to be paid attention to) into a outward public series of ceremonies at Stratford which became a site de memoire. He hastened over the 19th century to our own time and wandered among shelves to show us how many languages Shakespeare is now translated into.

Watching this spurred me to write about the Julius Caesar presently at the Folger here in DC, a play much played over the century.

There was a 300 word assignment in which we were asked to write about a creative text coming out of Shakespeare (a post-text) and how it reflected some of the themes of the course. I was tempted to write but did not spend enough time on it. I cut down my blog on Shakespeare Restored and talked about how interesting it was to see these adaptations had some merit. Also that I had wished he had gone over Shakespeare’s sonnets as in these we feel we reach this remarkable man’s mind and presence, seen in his open vulnerability, candor: it’s this self that has made these plays what they are.

Ellen

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Mary, Lady Mason deep in thought (Orley Farm): “There was less of beauty, less of charm, less of softness; but in spite of all that she had gone through there was more of strength, — more of the power to resist all that this world could do to her.”

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Crosbie encounters Mr Harding and listens to him (vignette in Small House at Allington)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been re-immersed in Trollope’s fiction and reading contemporary writing about him these past couple of years, and this term I re-read Phineas Finn for an umpteenth time. As people say of great writers, this time through I discovered elements, patterns, thematic apprehensions in Trollope’s Phineas Finn I hadn’t noticed before, or hadn’t connected up to the rest of his fiction.

There is a real problem in Phineas Finn, one which needs explanation, a feature at its close which doesn’t make quite enough sense in terms of all that has happened before. In Chapters 55-56 of a 76 chapter book Phineas does a reverse turn-around. Phineas suddenly buys into as a firm adherent Irish tenant rights, declares he must give up his official position as a salaried employee since he disagrees with the gov’t, and pleads with Mary Flood Jones to marry him. The last proposal (marrying Mary) might be called a driving in the nail on the coffin of a career he has worked so hard and cost such money to sustain over hundreds of pages.

How to account for Phineas’s withdrawal? It’s just not the same as say Mr Harding’s and Lily Dale’s which have been prepared for all their novels long. Mr Harding has grown sick with distress at finding himself castigated in public for taking such a huge sum for the little effort it takes him to live with 12 paupers while they get a pittance (partly the product of a couple of hundred years of inflation and partly the church making sure its one members get well paid). Lily Dale has been humiliated by Adolphus Crosbie, and like the “Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne,” if she accepts him now on his terms, he will treat her with disrespect, painfully; she has discovered Johnny unable to be faithful and a boy-man she cannot rely on. It’s not the same as Lady Mason as all her novel long she has been fighting to win a case where she forged a document to win her son a property and the wherewithal to act the part of gentleman with; Mary Lady Mason is pronounced not guilty but has been so publicly shamed (and knows she is guilty) she is exclude herself from social life.

Trollope sees his difficulty: he has made Phineas into someone after the main chance continually, in politics, in love life (he chases four women over the course of PF), everywhere, and with obtusely seen motivation: it’s one of the irritants of the novel we are told so little about Irish Tenant Rights and then in so derisory a tone, you’d think Trollope was against it. Phineas hardly discusses it; Monk gives us its signficance while deprecating its possibility. So what is Phineas’s conscience burning about? it will be said from Chapter 1 on Phineas mentioned his conscience, and this mention disgusted Barrington Erle but Phineas never acted on it, to the point of duelling with Chiltern.

Therefore Trollope in the concluding chapters of his book produces a plethora of explanations. If this were an academic paper, I’d now proceed to describe and quote from scenes and analyse words but I’ll spare everyone and keep this blog reasonably sized and just cite the inferences from scene after scene starting with “What the people of Marlebone thought about it:” Phineas discovers these people, voters don’t give a damn about an issue enough to understand it for real, and if you ask them their opinion on an issue they spout ill-informed egotistic nonsense (about Canada). Phineas feels deeply suddenly he has been phony through and though (in an agon in front of Lady Laura — which makes him look bad before his own eyes). Suddenly he feels and sees his insecurity (Lord Brentford shows him this, and then the boroughs are eliminated). He is acutely aware he has no money and is draining his father. When he works at his job which he shows a real propensity for (not oration alone, but really trying to set up railways say), then there’s his delight in debate and how he enjoys arguing for what he believes (alas again we are not told these beliefs); more deeply we feel an impulse in him to self-destruct. This recalls Josiah Crawley but the problem again is Crawley regularly sabotages himself, Phineas does not.

At the close Millais’s portrait of Phineas accepting the derisory and ironic job (you care about Irish tenants, all right then, be a poor house inspector)

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“‘Oh Phineas; surely a thousand a-year will be very nice'”, Phineas Finn

resembles George Housman’s depicton of Josiah Crawley and his wife poring over Archdeacon Grantley’s humilitating way offering a needed position to Crawley

Psychiatrists say rightly in this instance when a person starts to invent reasons for what he wants to do, and comes up with many, they are rationalizations for something deeper. Phineas doth protest too much.

Raven saw this problem and made Mary pregnant; thus Phineas’s withdrawal does not need to be explained. He must not leave Mary to be publicly shamed (along with himself in Ireland). Did anyone ever read a more painful scene than Chapter 72 where Madame max repeatedly offers herself to Phineas – It’s an extraordinary chapter, 72, p 311 in my book, second volume, where Madame Max hinting continually she is on offer (she is not gauche like Mr Kennedy but ends up doing the same sort of thing) and having to move step-by-step to offer herself. Phineas longs to reach out for this woman who understands, who would give him the right setting, be all adoration and not get in the way (European icon from Brideshead let’s recall, Stephan Audan, Lord Marchmain’s mistress), Phineas turns her down! In the 1974 Pallisers, it’s made obvious: he must return to marry the pregnant Mary; by doing this Raven spares us all of the above, but also loses Trollope.

Trollope does not offer a reason which convinces. Why does he do this continually, have his most sympathetic characters perform an escape maneuver, sometimes while winning, act out a reluctant withdrawal? We’ve see in An Eye for an Eye, Fred Neville sabotaging himself, even returning to Ireland to be toppled over a cliff; and powerfully and convincingly in “The Parson’s Daughter.

I connect this pattern to two others in Trollope: I call these the self-flagellation and the person under “joint attack.” Everyone around the characters agrees to browbeat, bully, tempt and otherwise insist our hero or heroine act out what the world admires and wants (marry the lord not the tailor in Lady Anna), no matter what the personal cost or gyrations this demands.

The self-flagellation is seen most plangently in “The Spotted Dog,” where a gifted man has sabotaged his life and now that he must find some employments, presents himself openly as a shameful creature no one in their right mind would interview, much less hire to deal with fragile paper indexes and scholarship. Julius Mackenzie unable to cope ends up drunk rolling in the streets, his talents utterly thrown away. For myself one of the most moving pieces of prose in a novel I’ve ever read is the letter he writes for the interview. When he says he does not expect an interview, it bowls me over. The only competition is Josiah Crawley’s letter accepting a job offered him on humiliating terms because he must. Phineas at the close is offered a derisory job with courteous words, but it’s a derisory job, a kind of ironic laugh: you wanted to help tenants, well now go and inspect the houses the gov’t sets up for the poor. In “Fred Pickering” We get this writer who is forced to admit he must write the tripe or indexes or whatever it is that sells that the public wants, and the story shows the central character punished hard to be taught this. The adventures of Fred Pickering, provides George Bertram with a lesson in theological controversy and how a spirit of integrity can lead to suicide in The Bertrams. Mary Gresley destroys her manuscript. George Bertram’s learns hard lessons about attacking the Bible – even discussing it in The Bertrams where this is another realistic visit to Palestine.

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When we first meet Madame Max in Phineas Finn and the Palliser films, she is snubbed (Volume 4, Episode 7, the first reception of Lady Glen) — she is just beginning her career fight

On one level Trollope is at once teaching himself he is doing the right thing to compromise and living out vicariously the act of integrity and the escape. His characters who are punished often make their strongest arguments on the side of utter integrity, of refusal, they get to walk away and display courage doing it. It’s the others’ joint attacks which speak the world’s cant wisdom, prudence and the like. Mr Harding is not supposed to be a saint, but has the courage to walk away. The greatness of William Styron is he does have as heroic acts men who walk away. Plantangenet Palliser as Duke of Omnium and Prime Minister is in constant agons over his desire to walk away and not deal. Not that Mr Trollope wanted to do that, but he is releasing something within him he needs to get out of his system again and again and again … On Trollope19thCStudies @hyahoo.com, a fellow reader agreed with me: “both in terms of Phineas and Trollope. Anyone who is successful must also feel the same way – that they have succeeded in exchange for not in some sense being true to themselves.”

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The interview as a manipulative hazing experience (in Barchester Towers, the book, and again in Barchester Chronicles, the mini-series): Alan Rickman as an inimitable Slope and Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding

The courage to walk away is underrated terrifically in US society. You are to go out for the team if everyone else does even if it means permanent brain damage. If someone bullies you, you are to take it, take that punishment and whatever the psychic cost in later life triumph – in public. Look upon cruel self-shattering forms of training as “boot camp,” a word which puzzlingly is used as a honorific. Then take pills when no one is looking. Maybe die of an overdose? Never mind the psychic penalties that warp your personality, break up your marriage. The loss of integrity, an authentic existence? you end up not knowing what are the true instincts of your nature.

Phineas has the courage to walk away, and the ending chapters of his novel are made up of attacks. Several times groups of characters attack him. End of chapter 67, Mrs Finn joins Bunce and Low as choral voice: now she is against him giving up his job, “Fiddlesticks!” she says about his conscience. Dr Finn suspects how hard it will be for Phineas to be allowed to begin again. Ever give up a promotion and others know it – do they respect you? They are suspicious. Why are you doing this? By the way same attitudes can be found towards people who take volunteer unpaid jobs. Note the words Trollope uses for Mary Lady Mason: all that the world could do to her would not make her give in. In Lady Anna, she is under ferocious pressure and she holds out for her beloved childhood sweetheart, though he is a tailor.

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In the first phase of their relationship in the Pallisers and in Phineas Finn, Lady Glenn and Madame Max are rival (Volume 5, Episode 10)

Which by contrast (Lady Anna Lovel aka Anna Murray and Mary Flood Jones are not interested in power or influence or individual lives at all) takes me to the second pattern I noticed in Phineas Finn: a depiction of a woman’s career when not invested in or though a marriage or as a mother (Lady Lufton of Framley Parsonage). Trollope sees that such a career takes a very different shape from a man’s; even more rare is that in PF he presents such a career with empathy. He is usually intensely hostile and presents such a woman as a dominating vixen (e.g., Mrs Proudie).

I’m talking of Madame Max Goesler as we first meet her in Trollope’s novel — imaged by the 19747 Pallisers well after she is introduced:

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Time is pressing us all very hard, Mr Finn, says Madame Max, pushing him out as she’s expecting the Duke of Omnium (Volume 5, Episode 9)

It’s a truism that women’s careers look different from men’s — as writers, as mid-level professionals, as elite types. The criteria and things you judge a man’s success by won’t do as women often don’t have big monetary success on their own, rarely hold high public office, don’t have a forward trajectory in the same way. One of the strengths of Phineas Finn, not repeated in Phineas Redux is to show us a woman having a career not based on a man’s job — though a man’s money: Madame Max Goesler. We see her tempted — I reread “Madame Max’s generosity” (in the chapter in PF where she offers herself to Phineas), not as a tempter but as the one tempted to opt out because forsooth she’s lonely.

The explanation for her offer to Phineas is that she is intensely lonely and has a heart (not common in the world by the bye) — the narrator has told us three times that she is lonely, she has no intimate friend, and by that in a way what’s meant is a woman friend. She becomes intimate with Lady Glen sometime during Eustace Diamonds (it happens offstage in the novel while Raven puts the development of their friendship on-stage). Madame Max recognizes in Phineas a fellow-outsider, a person on the make, but also a person who wants to have integrity and act on it, he’s handsome (how often do we have to be told this); they are just gut-level congenial.

In Madame Max in PF Trollope shows us the cost of such a career to a woman: she must be intensely and continually performative, keep no one close to her. To enjoy life and be free she is of the demi-monde, but then no woman of high respectability will visit her easily and she must endure the Mrs Bonteens. Finally Lady Glen does visit Madame Max, but that is to stop the Duke from getting too close to Madame Max in an intimate dinner party, to prevent a marriage. Trollope does present Lady Glen attempting a career in The Prime Minister but as a wife, with a family to fall back into, and in a real sense Lady Glen fails (over Ferdinand Lopez among other bad choices) and is taught a harsh lesson against doing all she did. At the same time Trollope recognizes that women do this kind of thing in politics — elite women do.

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Lady Glen trying to influence an election by buying expensive shoes (Volume 10, Episode 21)

It is important to recognize this saloniere business (whether respectably married or on her own) is a conservative approach to a woman’s career as she upholds the patriarchal order by complying with the demand she work, facilitate and do all sorts of things without an office or salary or without any real means of independence. Marie has independence. For a man to look at the price and say walk away is radical, not supporting “progress” as Trollope sees this. He cannot bring himself to reveal that his male hero wants to walk away, that it takes courage to do this because he knows the average reader does not like that. The average reader has sold him or herself or believes in the cant of fighting on, doing what others do, boot camp. He can show the woman opting out — for Trollope is for marriage.

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In Phineas Finn, Phineas is nagged to quit and become a lawyer by the Lows and Mr Bunce; but the real contrasts to him are on the one side, Chiltern who will not be bought but has no place in the world, and Laurence Fitzgibbon who has no character to uphold; and on the other, Barrington Erle who has no soul and Mr Slide who does not understand how corrupt he is

Millais’s drawings of Lady Mason was so great for Trollope because (he said) of the psychology of the drawing; it’s the pattern of her holding out against the world he is riveted to, her emotional distress and strain. And yet once he got into Ireland and broke out of his depression, he fought and fought and was coopted — and knew the stress of that selling of his talent, renting it, too.

A personal note: I admire Phineas and Mr Harding because I know the emotional distress of such a choice and in a way that’s one of the draws of Trollope’s texts for me: he dramatizes that distress again and again. Mr Harding’s long day in London (a favorite chapter with me) shows the distress Mr Harding experiences in having been attacked, in realizing he was doing wrong from a standpoint of integrity, and in holding out under great stress to be coopted (from Archdeacon Grantly) or be destroyed. Some of Trollope’s characters give in to the world and are destroyed … or partly succeed (Lady Glen gave up the instincts of her heart and Burgo Fitzgerald and tries the saloniere out and remains safe too).

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I know of one academic essay which discusses this withdrawal pattern, not in terms of Trollope’s life, his career, and not as a pattern across the fiction, but as opting for failure not quite as a noble choice (that gets us to Henry James whose uses this theme again and again), but as the better part of valour: Sarah Gilead, ‘Trollope’s Orphans and the “Power of Adequate Performance”‘, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 27 (1985): 86-105 (she brings together Mr Harding, Lily Dale and Mary, Lady Mason). Nowadays there are numerous on the depiction of the career in Trollope’s fiction but not the ambivalence with which he present this. To see the pattern as a reluctant withdrawal and relate it to Trollope’s own awkwardnesses in social life, his carapace and refusals to play along in company is to see deeply into his fiction’s fuel. To see the rarity in Trollope of a depiction of a woman’s career when not married in a patriarchy, and its accuracy is to assess his acute perception of social life and his limitations.

Ellen

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Omar and Klinghoffer (from the National English Opera production)

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Protests at the Metropolitan Opera house on opening night

Dear friends and readers,

It’s hard to know how to treat this opera since as a result of intense pressure from Jewish, particularly those supporting the present and previous right-wing Israeli organizations put sufficient relentless financial and social pressure on the Met as to cause them to not air it on the HD network (thus depriving thousands of people around the globe to see the opera for themselves) and to bring an halt to productions at the Met itself. (It has played in many others, from England to Scotland to Prague, and doubtless will continue to do so all the more.) At any rate Yvette and I saw the last big production in the US for some time to come, this past Saturday afternoon, November 15th.

What I have to tell those who come to this blog is that far from being a provocative, anti-semite inciting viscerally dramatic opera, The Death of Klinghoffer bends over backwards not to be overtly empathetic towards any group of people or individuals aboard ship. It’s a choral piece, much in the tradition of Copeland’s The Tender Land and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, only there is even less dramatic action and creation of individual personalities. Only 4 characters are made individual: Klinghoffer, his wife, Marilyn (Micheala Martens), a woman now famous for having hidden out in her cabin the whole time (Theodora Hanslowe?); a British dancer (Kate Miller-Heidke) by happenstance one of Omar’s prisoners who is eager for “ciggies” from him.

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The Palestinians remain archetypes and are presented as teaching killing (while Jewish armies are forgotten). Death of Klinghoffer is a mild, indeed in some ways tame meditative and lyric opera: its center is the captain (Paul Szot) as neutral narrator (he has a podium he sings from) and the story and action, such as it is (beautiful filmed waters on three sides of the stage, graffiti filled walls, light and dawn and evening shows) is punctuated continually by the beautiful music and singing of the Palestinian chorus of exiled people, and the Jewish one of people come to Israel after horrific misery in Europe during WW2.

The actual history behind the incident is well-known, easy of access: 4 young Palestinian men in 1985 hijacked a ship and 400 passengers and threatened to kill everyone unless Israel exchanged these captives with his brother and other male relatives. In the event they killed but one man, but the elderly helplessly crippled one: all else emerged unharmed. The opera takes into account the English-sidekick to US role: the Palestinians threaten UK as well as US and Jewish people. Three of the Palestinian men were later arrested and tried and allowed to go to their homeland (relatively free). Adams presents so little about the Palestinian case (so we learn very little about what was at stake in the negotiating bargain) — for every Palestinian chorus there is a Jewish one.

I immediately asked myself, why this incident when there are so many others of thousands and thousands killed and murdered Palestinians and “other Arab people”: 250 at one blow (on Reagan’s “watch”) is more like it. Why nothing of Jewish conscription and the constrained lives of Jews in this “fortress” state? In lieu of a continuous storyline, the three walls of the stage had a light show taking us through announced years (sometimes just the year showed, as in 1967), graffiti on walls, the waters of the sea rising and falling, night and then dawn. There was a chorus of male dancers representing writhing Palestinian young men; the four hijackers were archetypal presences (Aubrey Allicock as Mahmoud sung of his bonding with migrating birds). The concentration though was on Klinghoffer and his wife, ever focused on by light and given the individuating startling and moving arias.

A scene from The Death Of Klinghoffer by English National Opera and Metropolitan Opera

Though the poignant figure etched in the visual memory is of the Jewish man who dies facing the sky in his chair (providing the advertisement poster) and in sound memory his wife’s two arias.

Yet I have not been so sincerely moved by an opera in years. It was a bold courageous move not to offer us a mythic metaphor of a story, but at least give us the outlines of a story that really happened. Thus the realities of rich middle class people, here a number of Jews and British who can afford to go on an expensive cruise (ship fuelled by oil, the natural resource the the elite powerful of the US and other NATO countries have been destroying all social and democratic movements to keep control of) is simply part of the givens. Each of the characters spoke as individuals; I was rendered riveted by Mrs Klinghofer’s final widow grieving aria, especially lines, “I live in him” and “I wanted to die,” and thought I heard the voice of Adams in her words about the medical establishment’s indifference to his suffering — all everyone cared for was their payment, their profit, with a sudden interjection about profit centered research (as such a woman would put it.)! I understood why the Palestinians picked on Klinghoffer: Klinghoffer’s scolding is that of the ignorant man: he inveighs against the hijackers as simply killers, thugs; he denies they have any justification, that their houses were worth anything. Adams had the courage to show the man to have been obnoxious against the Palestinians harassing and terrifying the hostages with threats of death, blindfolds, guns held to their heads and the like.

harassinghostages

The opening Palestinian chorus a stunner protesting the originating incidents in 1948 a stunner. No as powerful as the Jews fleeing Europe and the death camps with a few thing or none to the promise of the desert where they would irrigate and make a new world. The Palestinians were treated as equal human beings — there was a remarkably beautiful aria by two singers who represented Palestinian women, one whose house had been destroyed in 1948 and the other the mother of Omar, one of the highjackers (an angry one, urging him to kill if needed in order to get the demands taken seriously).

OmarMotherKlinghoffer
From the opera: Omar Jesse Kovarsky), his mother (Maya Lahyani), and Klinghoffer (Alan Opie) seen in the picturesque distance

Omar has a sort of friendship with one of the British dancers who sings — there were 6 British dancers on board. The dancing of Omar was wrenching; the music beautiful and light and water and film effective, melancholy.

Jewishchorus
A matching Jewish chorus: remembering the holocaust

We had come to NYC for Yvette to experience the real opera house, and since The Death of Klinghoffer was removed from HD operas broadcast (and the mediocrity of a Rossini concoction substituted) we chose this weekend. We were in dress circle seats an experience in itself: it was hard to get to them, and we were in an overhang on the third tier so we saw both stage and (if this were still done) the opera house itself beautifully. We were cut off from the left side of the stage (partial view). Yvette’s blog-review worth reading in this regard (her experience from her spot). There was a kind of strangeness and stiltedness as if Adams was continually pulling his punches lest he offend someone important somewhere. It was a kind of staged masque:

THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER

How to account for the tameness of this piece? fear of reprisal if too truthful and searing? I object to the lack of hard violence by both sides and the situating of the Jewish chorus too early so later realities and cruelties beyond shame (in Gaza and the West Bank) omitted. Such an opera if people would watch would be useful: yet I am told there are Americans who Foxnews and the like have taught to looks upon Palestinian people as “cockroaches.” Operas are supposed to reveal grief, teach compassion, sing out the vulnerability of its characters (and occasionally even composers), though they rarely set their action in the here and now and an actual incident.

It was stimulating to really be there; Yvette said the voices sounded better and she seemed to enjoy being there: I dislike the elitism one comes up against as part of each experience from eating (each cafe callibrated to a specific income group), to lingering on the balcony; you can’t just go into the central cafe but must reserve and have tickets for that day; the shop was a replica of the Kennedy Center in its commercialism. It did seem to have far more CDs and DVDs. More: the way this incident was hyped up in the program notes unreal. Phrases like “horrible barbaric” and others suggesting some catastrophe of immeasurable proportions when it was a case of 400 people all of whom but one survived unharmed. No talk whatsoever about atrocities for real. Instead the program notes had a story about Stalin’s repression of Verdi’s Don Carlos as if to deflect attention. None of this Adams’s doing. He came on stage that afternoon Yvette and I were there. I hope the opera was filmed and eventually can come out on DVD and thus be shown to a much wider segment of the US population.

Adams

It is a disgrace that the Met did not broadcast this opera as an HD presentation, and has shut down further performances — the direct result of the relentless political powers and economic realities (no one dares to buck anyone connected into the 1% of US media and money today). I foolishly became a member of the Met this year. I thought to be sure and get tickets to HD operas this way, but there is no need and I won’t do so again. I understand the Met’s economic difficulties but they demanded their tech people take cuts in salaries and benefits while the stars were politely asked if they would …

I can’t deny it was something to be there literally though the misery of young Palestinian man forced to shoot (reminding me of Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad) and the cries of the cancerous woman (Mrs Klinghoffer is dying of cancer) whose crippled suffering husband could have been so easily taken out would have been more accessible (oddly) had we seen it in a plain movie-house, though then again we would have had to endure the hype in the form of interviews in the intermissions.

Confiteor

I heard something out by the gate
and went to look.
Dead of night; new snow, the larch woods
filling slowly, stars beneath the stars.

A single cry it was, or so it seemed,
though nothing I had recognised as native;
and when it came again, I knew for sure.
No badger there. No gathering of deer.

Forgive me, if! choose not to believe
the snow would fall like this, were I not here
to see it.
There might be snow, of course, but not like this,

no hush between the fence line and the trees,
no sense of something other close at hand,
my dwindling torch-beam flickering between
a passing indigo and lux aetema.

I stood a while to listen; nothing moved
– and then I turned and walked back to the house,
the porch light spilling gold for yards around,
snow at the open door and then, again,

that far cry in the dark
behind my back
and deep in the well of my throat
as I live and breathe.
— John Burnside

Read Alice Goodman Reflections on her libretto.

Ellen

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