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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.

1029505.
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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For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: Wednesay mid-day, 11:45 to 1:15 pm,
Mar 30 to May 18
8 sessions online (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va, Tallwood)
Dr Ellen Moody

Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, its Aftermath, and the Diaspora:

In this class we will read E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown (Raj Quartet 1), and Jumpa Lahiri’s Namesake. We’ll explore a tradition of Anglo-India literature, colonialist and native cultural interactions, migrancy itself, gender fault lines, what we mean by our identity, belonging, and castes. We’ll include in our discussions Anglo-Indian movies as a genre, and see parts of and talk specifically about David Lean’s Passage to India, the Granada British TV Jewel in the Crown, Mira Nair’s Namesake and perhaps end with Merchant-Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah. We will not omit talking of Indian novels and movies too (Bollywood and Tamil). We’ll take historical and contemporary perspectives on this rich material.

Required Texts (in the order we’ll read them):

Forster, E.M. A Passage to India, ed. Paul B. Armstrong. Norton Critical Edition. NY: Norton, 2021. 978-0-393-65598-8. A Passage to India (first published 1924) seems to me needs notes to be fully understood; this edition offers best text & superb background. There’ve been many editions; some in print today have good introductions (e.g., an Everyman introduced by P. N. Furbank, with chronology and select bibliography).

Scott, Paul. The Jewel in the Crown. The Raj Quartet 1. 1966; Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1998. 978-0=226-743490. The book has been printed in a couple of different editions (the first, Avon, mass market paperback), none come with notes or introductions that I can find.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin (Mariner), 2003 978-0-618-48422-2. This edition has been reprinted many times, & with different covers. There is a translation into Marathi, the third widest language spoken in India after Hindu and Bengali. English is still a semi-official language.

Suggested Reading:

Forster, E.M. “The Machine stops” a short story, a pdf I’ll send to the class.
Golgol, Nicholas. “The Overcoat”, trans. Constance Garnett. A short story. Online: http://www.fountainheadpress.com/expandingthearc/assets/gogolovercoat.pdf
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “A Temporary Matter,” first story in Interpreters of Maladies, a pdf for which book I’ll send to the class.

Movies we’ll discuss (all available on Prime Amazon, as DVDs from Netflix):

A Passage to India. Dir, scripted David Lean. Independently produced. Featuring: Victor Banerjee, Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, 1984.
The Jewel in the Crown. Dir. Christopher Morahan, scripted Ken Taylor. Granada TV. Featuring: Art Malik, Geraldine Jameson, Peggy Ashcroft, Saeed Jaffrey, Tim Piggott-Smith, Eric Porter. 1984 14 episodes.
The Namesake. Dir, Mira Nair, scripted Sooni Taraporevala. Independently produced. Featuring: Irfan Khan, Tabu, Kal Penn. 2006.
Shakespeare Wallah. Dir James Ivory, scripted Ruth Jhabvala. Producer Ismail Merchant. Featuring: Sashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Geoffrey Kendal. 1965

The train scene from Passage to India
Daphne and Hari meeting in Bigighar Gardens (Jewel in the Crown)


Ashoke on the train reading Gogol’s The Overcoat

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. The syllabus is not engraved in cement; we can alter it and spend more time or have different emphases than the syllabus is written for.

Mar 30: 1st week: Introduction: Brief history of India, the Raj, of E.M. Forster. Begin A Passage to India. I will send the class a copy of his “What I Believe.”

Apr 6: 2nd week: Forster’s A Passage to India.

Apr 13: 3rd week: Lean’s film adaptation& Forster’s novel: I will talk about Damon Galbut’s Arctic Summer, a post-text or sequel to Forster’s own Arctic Summer (Galgut is now known for winning Booker Prize for The Promise). History: The partition

Apr 20: 4th week: Paul Scott. Historical background in book, 1942-47. Begin A Jewel in the Crown.

Apr 27: 5th week: Scott’s A Jewel in the Crown

May 4: 6th Week: Contextualized by the Raj Quartet (as we experience it in the Granada TV serial, The Jewel in the Crown) and Staying On (a Booker Prize winner). Tales of the Indian diaspora, and Jhumpa Lahiri and Mira Nair

May 11: 7th week: Lahiri’s The Namesake and Mira Nair’s movie

May 18: 8th week: Merchant-Ivory Jhabvala’s Shakespeare Wallah). And if time permits, Forster’s “The Machine Stops” and Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter.”


From Shakespeare Wallah: whole troupe of actors on the rainy hot road (shot in India)

Recommended outside reading (if you want to read further):

Allen, Charles, ed. Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the 20th century. 1976; rpt. London: Deutsch, 1986. A compilation of memoirs gathered by the BBC; the source for a couple of their programs. The title a play on Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills.
Banerjee, Jaqueline. Paul Scott. UK: Northcote, 1990.
——————-. “Abinger Ironist: E.M. Forster,” Literary Surrey. Headley Down, Hampshire: Self-published 2005. 1-873855-50-8. Delightful.
Batra, Jagdish. The Namesake: A Critical Study. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2010.
Brower, Reuben. “Beyond E.M. Forster: the Unseen,” Chicago Review, 2:3 (Fall-Winter 1948):102-112.
Cavafy, C. P. Poems, ed. trans. Avi Sharon. NY: Penguin, 2008
Forster, E. M. The Hill of Devi. London: Harvest HBJ, 1953. Autobiographical accounts of Forster’s time in the court of Dewas (1922-22).
Gascoigne, Bamber, ed. The Making of the Jewel in the Crown. London: Granada Publishing, 1983. Unexpectedly this book about the film series contains an excellent essay on the film-making of the book (Bamber Gascoigne) and one on the political history of this era (James Cameron) dramatized by Scott’s novel. The photography is also evocative. Each of the 14 episodes is outlined. Highly recommended.
Golgol, Nicholas. The Overcoat, trans. Constance Garnett. Online: http://www.fountainheadpress.com/expandingthearc/assets/gogolovercoat.pdf
Gorra, Michael. After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, and Rushdie. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1997.
Galgut, Damon. Arctic Summer. NY: Europa, 2014. A fictionalized biography of E.M Forster’s times in India. It is a continuation of a fragment of a novel Forster wrote called Arctic Summer.
Gilmore, David. The British in India: Three Centuries of Ambition and Experience. London: Penguin, 2009.
Haag, Michael. Alexandria: City of Memory. New Haven: Yale, 2004. Alexandria during WW2 and just before.  Wonderfully evocative book.
Lynn, David H. Lynn, “Review-essay of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri,’ The Kenyon Review, New Series, 26: 3 (Summer, 2004):160-166
MacMillan, Margaret. Women of the Raj. NY: Random House, 2007
Metcalf, Barbara and Thomas. A Concise History of India, 3rd edition. Cambridge, UP, 2012
Moody, Ellen. My blog on early Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala films. https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2021/06/12/early-merchant-ivory-jhabvala-films-the-householder-shakespeare-wallah-to-roseland-heat-and-dust/
Moffatt, Wendy. A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster. NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010.
Moore, Robin. Paul Scott’s Raj. London: Heinemann, 1990. Also about Forster’s Indian experience and book.
Nityanandam, Indira. Jhumpa Lahiri: A Tale of the Diaspora. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2004.
Paxton, Nancy. Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947. New Brunswick: Rutgers U, 1999.
Pym, John. The Wandering Company: 21 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala Films. London: British Film Institute, 1983
Rao, K. Bhaskara. Paul Scott. Boston: Twayne, 1980.
Rubin, David. After the Raj: British Novels of India since 1947. Self-published posthumously, 2018
Scott, Paul. On Writing and the Novel, ed. intro. Shelley C. Reece. NY: William Morrow, 1987.
Schusterman, David, “The Curious Case of Professor Godbole: A Passage to India Re-examined,” PMLA 76:4 (1961):426-35
Sharpe, Jenny. Allegories of Empire: The Figure of the Woman in Colonial Texts. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993. A chapter each on A Passage to India and the Raj Quartet.
Singh, Amardeep. The Films of Mira Nair: Diaspora Vérité. Jackson: Univ of Mississippi, 2018.
Song, Min Hyoung, “The Children of 1965: Allegory, Postmodernism, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake,” Twentieth Century Literature, 53:3, After Postmodernism: Form and History in Contemporary American Fiction, (Fall, 2007):345-370
Spurling, Hilary. Paul Scott: The Life of the Author of the Raj Quartet. NY: Norton, 1990.
Summers, Claude, “A passage to India: ‘The Friend who Never comes,'” in his E.M. Forster. NY: Ungar, 1983.
Tharoor, Shashi. Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. Australia: Scribe, 2017
Tunzelmann, Alex Von. Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. NY: Picador, 2007.

Other novels and memoirs and films which belong to the subgenre Anglo-Indian or British Indian writing and films:

Anne Cherian, A Good Indian Wife; Larry Collins and Dominic Lepierre, Freedom at Midnight; Emily Eden, Up the Country:  Letters written to her sister from the Upper Provinces of India [1836-1842]; J.G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur; Eliza Fay, Original Letters from India, ed. E. M. Forster; Godden, Rumer, No Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and The River;Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust and An Experience of India; M. M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions and Share of Summer (an autobiography); most of Kipling’s fiction and verse; Kamala Markandaya, The Golden Honeycomb, The Coffer Dams; John Master’s Bhowani Junction; Bharati Mukherjee, The Middleman and Other Stories; V.S. Naipaul, Enigma of Arrival; George Orwell, Burmese Days; Fanny Parkes, Begums, Thugs & White Mughals (journals ed by William Dalrymple); Mistry Rohinton, A Fine Balance; Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Imaginary Homelands, Essays and Criticism, 1981-91; Viram Seth, A Suitable Boy; Rabindranath Tagore, The Home and the World, trans. Surendranath Tagore (a Penguin book); P.J.O Taylor’s A Star Shall Fall. Also writing by N. C. Chaudhuri, Anita Desai, Amitav Ghoshm R.K. Narayan; films of Satyajit Ray, Lagaan (translates as Taxes, a classic Bollywood film); Mani Ratman’s Guru (a Tamil hit); Richard Attenborough and John Briley, Ghandi; and 2014-25 Paul Rutman’s Indian Summers (Channel 4 and PBS)


2020 Map

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For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Thursday afternoons, 1:45 to 3:15 pm,
Mar 10 to May 12
10 sessions online (location of building: 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20016)
Dr Ellen Moody

Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, its Aftermath, and the Diaspora:

In this class we will read E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown (Raj Quartet 1), and Jumpa Lahiri’s Namesake. We’ll explore a tradition of Anglo-India literature, colonialist and native cultural interactions, migrancy itself, gender fault lines, what we mean by our identity, belonging, and castes. We’ll include in our discussions Anglo-Indian movies as a genre, and see parts of and talk specifically about David Lean’s Passage to India, the Granada British TV Jewel in the Crown, Mira Nair’s Namesake and perhaps end with Merchant-Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah. We will not omit talking of Indian novels and movies too (Bollywood and Tamil). We’ll take historical and contemporary perspectives on this rich material.

Required Texts (in the order we’ll read them):

Forster, E.M. A Passage to India, ed. Paul B. Armstrong. Norton Critical Edition. NY: Norton, 2021. 978-0-393-65598-8. A Passage to India (first published 1924) seems to me needs notes to be fully understood; this edition offers best text & superb background. There’ve been many editions; some in print today have good introductions (e.g., an Everyman introduced by P. N. Furbank, with chronology and select bibliography).

Scott, Paul. The Jewel in the Crown. The Raj Quartet 1. 1966; Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1998. 978-0=226-743490. The book has been printed in a couple of different editions (the first, Avon, mass market paperback), none come with notes or introductions that I can find.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin (Mariner), 2003 978-0-618-48422-2. This edition has been reprinted many times, & with different covers. There is a translation into Marathi, the third widest language spoken in India after Hindu and Bengali. English is still a semi-official language.

Suggested:

Forster, E.M. “The Machine stops” a short story, a pdf I’ll send to the class.
Golgol, Nicholas. “The Overcoat”, trans. Constance Garnett. A short story. Online: http://www.fountainheadpress.com/expandingthearc/assets/gogolovercoat.pdf
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “A Temporary Matter,” first story in Interpreters of Maladies, a pdf for which book I’ll send to the class.

Movies we’ll discuss (all available on Prime Amazon, as DVDs from Netflix):

A Passage to India. Dir, scripted David Lean. Independently produced. Featuring: Victor Banerjee, Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, 1984.
The Jewel in the Crown. Dir. Christopher Morahan, scripted Ken Taylor. Granada TV. Featuring: Art Malik, Geraldine Jameson, Peggy Ashcroft, Saeed Jaffrey, Tim Piggott-Smith, Eric Porter. 1984 14 episodes.
The Namesake. Dir, Mira Nair, scripted Sooni Taraporevala. Independently produced. Featuring: Irfan Khan, Tabu, Kal Penn. 2006.
Shakespeare Wallah. Dir James Ivory, scripted Ruth Jhabvala. Producer Ismail Merchant. Featuring: Sashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Geoffrey Kendal. 1965

The train scene from Passage to India
Daphne and Hari meeting in Bigighar Gardens (Jewel in the Crown)


Ashoke on the train reading Gogol’s The Overcoat

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. The syllabus is not engraved in cement; I can alter it and we can spend more time on Passage to India or Jewel in the Crown if people want to. I’ve put aside the 10th session for other Indian films and books in order to make wiggle room.

Mar 10: 1st week: Introduction.  History of East India Company & British Raj; E.M. Forster.

Mar 17: 2nd week: Forster’s A Passage to India. David Lean’s film adaptation, A Passage to India

Mar 24: 3rd week:  Finish Passage to India;  Forster’s Aspects of the Novel & writing from 1930s on.

Mar 31: 4th week: Paul Scott. Historical and Political background to A Jewel in the Crown.

Apr 7: 5th week: Scott’s A Jewel in the Crown

Apr 14: 6th Week:  Jewel in the Crown contextualized by the Raj Quartet (via discussion of Granada TV Jewel in the Crown).

Apr 21: 7th week:  Finish Jewel in the Crown, about Staying on; then Indian diaspora and Jhumpa Lahiri and Mira Nair.

Apr 28: 8th week: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake

May 5: 9th week: Lahiri’s Namesake and Mira Nair’s film adaptation.

May 12: 10th week: Merchant-Ivory Jhabvala w/Satyajit Ray, Shakespeare Wallah; Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (a pdf), and if we have time the first story in Lahiri’s collection, Interpreters of Maladies, “A Temporary Matter.”


From Shakespeare Wallah: whole troupe of actors on the rainy hot road (shot in India)

Recommended outside reading (if you want to read further):

Allen, Charles, ed. Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the 20th century. 1976; rpt. London: Deutsch, 1986. A compilation of memoirs gathered by the BBC; the source for a couple of their programs. The title a play on Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills.
Banerjee, Jaqueline. Paul Scott. UK: Northcote, 1990.
——————-. “Abinger Ironist: E.M. Forster,” Literary Surrey. Headley Down, Hampshire: Self-published 2005. 1-873855-50-8. Delightful.
Batra, Jagdish. The Namesake: A Critical Study. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2010.
Cavafy, C. P. Poems, ed. trans. Avi Sharon. NY: Penguin, 2008
Forster, E. M. The Hill of Devi. London: Harvest HBJ, 1953. Autobiographical accounts of Forster’s time in the court of Dewas (1922-22).
Gascoigne, Bamber, ed. The Making of the Jewel in the Crown. London: Granada Publishing, 1983. Unexpectedly this book about the film series contains an excellent essay on the film-making of the book (Bamber Gascoigne) and one on the political history of this era (James Cameron) dramatized by Scott’s novel. The photography is also evocative. Each of the 14 episodes is outlined. Highly recommended

Gorra, Michael. After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, and Rushdie. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1997.
Galgut, Damon. Arctic Summer. NY: Europa, 2014. A fictionalized biography of E.M Forster’s times in India. It is a continuation of a fragment of a novel Forster wrote called Arctic Summer.
Gilmore, David. The British in India: Three Centuries of Ambition and Experience. London: Penguin, 2019.
Haag, Michael. Alexandria: City of Memory. New Haven: Yale, 2004. Alexandria during WW2 and just before.  Wonderfully evocative book.
Lynn, David H. Lynn, “Review-essay of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri,’ The Kenyon Review, New Series, 26: 3 (Summer, 2004):160-166
MacMillan, Margaret. Women of the Raj. NY: Random House, 2007
Metcalf, Barbara and Thomas. A Concise History of India, 3rd edition. Cambridge, UP, 2012
Moody, Ellen. My blog on early Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala films. https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2021/06/12/early-merchant-ivory-jhabvala-films-the-householder-shakespeare-wallah-to-roseland-heat-and-dust/
Moffatt, Wendy. A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster. NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010.
Morey, Peter. Fictions of India: Narratives of Power. Edinburgh: Univ of Edinburgh Press, 2000.
Moore, Robin. Paul Scott’s Raj. London: Heinemann, 1990. Also about Forster’s Indian experience and book.
Nityanandam, Indira. Jhumpa Lahiri: A Tale of the Diaspora. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2004.
Paxton, Nancy. Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947. New Brunswick: Rutgers U, 1999.
Pym, John. The Wandering Company: 21 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala Films. London: British Film Institute, 1983
Rao, K. Bhaskara. Paul Scott. Boston: Twayne, 1980.
Rubin, David. After the Raj: British Novels of India since 1947. Self-published posthumously, 2018.
Scott, Paul. On Writing and the Novel, ed. intro. Shelley C. Reece. NY: William Morrow, 1987.
Schusterman, David, “The Curious Case of Professor Godbole: A Passage to India Re-examined,” PMLA 76:4 (1961):426-35
Singh, Amardeep. The Films of Mira Nair: Diaspora Vérité. Jackson: Univ of Mississippi, 2018.
Sharpe, Jenny. Allegories of Empire: The Figure of the Woman in the Colonial Text. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Contains a chapter each on A Passage to India and the Raj Quartet.
Song, Min Hyoung, “The Children of 1965: Allegory, Postmodernism, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake,” Twentieth Century Literature, 53:3, After Postmodernism: Form and History in Contemporary American Fiction, (Fall, 2007):345-370
Spurling, Hilary. Paul Scott: The Life of the Author of the Raj Quartet. NY: Norton, 1990.
Summers, Claude, “A passage to India: ‘The Friend who Never comes,'” in his E.M. Forster. NY: Ungar, 1983.
Tharoor, Shashi. Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. Australia: Scribe, 2017
Tunzelmann, Alex Von. Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. NY: Picador, 2007.

Other novels and memoirs and films which belong to the subgenre Anglo-Indian or British Indian writing and films:

Anne Cherian, A Good Indian Wife; Larry Collins and Dominic Lepierre, Freedom at Midnight; Emily Eden, Up the Country:  Letters written to her sister from the Upper Provinces of India [1836-1842]; J.G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur; Eliza Fay, Original Letters from India, ed. E. M. Forster; Godden, Rumer, No Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and The River; Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust and An Experience of India; M. M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions and Share of Summer (an autobiography); most of Kipling’s fiction and verse; Kamala Markandaya, The Coffer Dams, The Golden Honeycomb; John Master’s Bhowani Junction; Bharati Mukherjee, The Middleman and Other Stories; V.S. Naipaul, Enigma of Arrival; George Orwell, Burmese Days; Fanny Parkes, Begums, Thugs & White Mughals (journals ed by William Dalrymple); Mistry Rohinton, A Fine Balance; Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children‎ and Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-91; Viram Seth, A Suitable Boy; Rabindranath Tagore, The Home and the World, trans. Surendranath Tagore (a Penguin book); P.J.O Taylor’s A Star Shall Fall. Also writing by N. C. Chaudhuri, Anita Desai, Amitav Ghosh, R.K. Narayan; films of Satyajit Ray, Lagaan (translates as Taxes, a classic Bollywood film); Mani Ratman’s Guru (a Tamil hit); Richard Attenborough and John Briley, Ghandi; 2014-15 Indian Summers, scripted Paul Rutman (Channel 4 & PBS).


2020 Map

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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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Untitled (Still Life) — Alma Thomas


[Pine] Trees [from Maine series] — David Driskell

Today I saw with a friend, a dual exhibit at the Phillips Collection of the marvelously luminous and comforting paintings, puppets, costume, and prints of Alma Thomas and the visionary, sorrowful, African American paintings, prints and stained glass window work of David Driskell


Alma W. Thomas, 1963


David Driskell, recently

I’ve been to the Phillips many times before, the last time to see the exhibit made from Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. This earlier one was on the theme of global displacement. Here we concentrated on the work of two individual geniuses, African-American both, lifelong teachers of art both, with Driskell, a student of Thomas’s. I didn’t buy the heavy expensive catalogue books, so cannot share images except those I’ve found here on the Net. No matter. If you live close by, you can go, and the two exhibits have been traveling about the US for some time now.

It includes two excellent movies, the one about Alma Thomas focusing more on her life and how her work emerged form that; the one about David Driskell focusing on details of his art, how he did the prints, his religion. She found great solace and fulfillment in her 35 years in one classroom; he spoke of the ugly things he saw in social worlds in his experience and sought to escape. One of the most frightening moments in the two exhibits was a clip from his film showing a gang of Ku Klux Klan people in white sheets in the dark of night setting on fire icons on the grounds of the traditionally Negro college Driskell attended. One of the most poignant moments of of hers was her gladness at never having married, at having been a Miss Thomas all her life, and the independence that meant; at one point late in life she had a bad case of arthritis and was bedridden for two years; when she started painting again, she used pillows and whatever came to hand to paint huge canvases (some seen at the exhibit).

I’ve linked in the two excellent wikipedia and Phillips’ articles about their lives and work. I will find articles and more modest books, obtain them and add to this blog.

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Two of the galleries with Alma Thomas’s art

For now what I’d like to emphasize about Alma Thomas, is she lived a long life as an African-American, with all its hardships and painful experiences, but also embedded in communities of Black people in DC and of artists (once she grew older and had gone to Howard University), these gradually including the finest artists of the century. So when she says “everything is beautiful,” and declares so roundly on the joys of creativity and how much she rejoiced in teaching and her experiences of life, she is speaking from the heart. Her art developed from a quiet realism, some of it a kind of naive school,


Alma Thomas’s Mandolin

to her own brand of abstract expressionism — thousands of squares of color making figures and designs her titles give concrete allusive meaning to. This is from her Journey to Abstraction:

This is just a gorgeous pink when literally seen on the wall:

From her Flower Garden:

The many circles are a transposition of deeply rooted memories of a garden she saw as a child; she loves controlled precise forms too

I like realism more and wish I could share with you her pictures of her grandfather’s house, of a neighborhood of quiet private houses seen from the POV of their back yards (you see above her mandolin). Each of her drawings has a consistency with the others in mood and tone. Her mother was a dressmaker, she participated in putting on plays, making costumes herself, drawing some figures that looked like dreams of historical romance, and made a puppet set once:


Clown and woman marionettes, Fabric, wood, paint, and strings

The touching qualities of these, with their hints of African-American life in enslavement must be seen live.

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Here is David Driskell, surrounded by his paintings in his studio

Driskell’s art is a lot more aggressive, and troubling, much more African motifs, strong contrasting colors:

He presents his own image here and there, very somber:

He seems to love trees:


Winter Trees, this is called

Here is Driskell’s obituary with hard pictures of African-American men, far angrier than anything seen in the Phillips. In the Phillips’ exhibit there were a number of modern versions of writhing Christs and the film showed stained glass windows with modern Church imagery in African-American churches

Here he is surrounded by his work once again, this time in a Maine Contemporary Center for Art

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What to say? how to conclude, now that I know the history of lynching and repeated massacres and arson burn-outs of African American people and communities — Thomas’s grandfather was born enslaved, and as a girl she lived in Georgia where she could not progress in school past the 9th grade. That was one reason her parents moved with her and her sisters to DC. Here is what she wrote in 1970:

“Creative art is for all time and is therefore independent of time. It is of all ages, of every land, and if by this we mean the creative spirit in man which produces a picture or a statue is common to the whole civilized world, independent of age, race and nationality; the statement may stand unchallenged.”
-Alma Thomas

Here is his hopeful strong statement:

“I was not looking for a unified theme,” he told The Times in 1977. “And this, of course, usually upsets the critics because they want to see a continuous kind of thing. I was looking for a body of work which showed first of all that blacks had been stable participants in American visual culture for more than 200 years, and by stable participants I simply mean that in many cases they had been the backbone.”

Both went to Howard University; for both education, what happened to them in schools and then churches (though she was not herself personally religious at all) were central to achieving, and pride of recognition and belonging to a world of superior spirits. And all that the Civil Rights Era has won for all of us which groups of deeply harm-driven people are trying to undermine.


Thomas’s depiction of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King uttered his famous “I have dream” speech

Ellen

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The mid-19th century novel (1859) reprinted by NYRB, introd Pramoedya Ananta Toer

(published 1964)


Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan and Mel Gibson, Guy Hamilton (Year of Living Dangerously, 1982)

Friends and readers,

A strange coincidence led to this blog. This past winter on TrollopeandHisContemporaries @groups.io we read the stunningly revealing history by Eduard Dekker (often using the protective pseudonym, Multatuli), called Max Havelaar. It’s a novel in the Trolstoy tradition of novelistic examination and dramatization painstakingly studying what are the realities of an era, a place, milieus. Although written in an frequently apparently whimsical and digressive manner, a Dutch captain and then resident mine manager (Max) thoroughly outlines for us the structural, economic and (to some extent, less this way) military underpinnings of systematic stripping away of people’s rights to their land, to grow food for themselves. The reader sees how enslavement evolved from local structures run by numinous bosses. These native leaders collaborated with the people put in charge by capitalist and industrial companies backed by armies. There followed an imperialist extractive exploitation of the land with its people doing the work for starvation wages. A colonialist culture is what Max Havelaar finds himself in when he comes out to Indonesia to be a resident manager. The story of this man is the front part of the novel; an almost equally long series of comments, clarifications, and notes the back half. We learn how a prosperous tribal world was turned into a famine-ridden groundwork for growing, buying and selling what the Dutch wanted and could trade with — the shamelessness of the brutality is even today shocking.

I reluctantly decided not to write about this novel as its art is so complicated: Dekker is imitating Walter Scott in the way he has narrators distance us from the story; and the way the story is continually interrupted is reminiscent of Tristram Shandy; he moves from whimsical to searingly catastrophic matter, going back and forth between Netherlands and Indonesia and other colonialized countries between them, in time as well as space, with several groups of characters, one belonging to the trading company and the other the gov’t officials. Yet I wanted to inform “the world” this novel exists and you can learn so much about what has ruined and is continuing to ruin so many people in what’s called the third world today from it.


There is a film (1967); you can get a DVD reading aloud of the book — it is a classic admired novel

Then in my Foreign Films class (OLLI at AU where I also teach), the teacher assigned Peter Weir’s 1982 The Year of Living Dangerously, part of the startlingly rich flowering of Australian film-making in the 1960s through 80s (supported by the Australian gov’t, Australian new wave cinema). It’s an adaptation of an angry and banned novel by Christ Koch, with the same title, written 18 years earlier. Both dramatize the appalling condition of the same native peoples and corruption of what had become many Europeans and coopted natives 120/140 years after the publication of Max Havelaar. The book was promptly banned in Indonesia, never given a prize (though its author was much honored), so dismissed as far as was possible; Weir attempted to film in Indonesia and found himself under attack, so had to move to the Philippines.

Weir’s film concentrates on the difference between the tumultuous Indonesian world of the time (police-ridden, half-crazed with despair and compensatory escapist religions) and the culture of wealthy administrators and newspaper reporters to which our main characters belong. Their job is to scrutinize, report on and film this world for the delectation and control of the European masters. Among other creative acts of Weir’s was to hire a woman to play the part of the central character, the male dwarf-like deeply compassionate photographer, who we see in the earliest moments of the film in his work-apartment and whose fraught (suicidal) death concludes it. Spirituality tells you the story concisely and well. Roger Egbert emphasizes what helped make the film popular: exotic locale, to which I’ll add a remarkable musical score (includes the use of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, Jessie Norman, singing while Billy mourns the death of a young child he/she was supporting as well as the child’s mother. And erotic love story between two conventionally (Hollywoodesque) erotically attractive actors:


Signourey Weaver and Mel Gibson — unhappily this is one of those films where the female lead exists mostly to be a sex object

All three should be perused, read, and then watched and re-watched (at least once) by anyone who wants to understand (for example) what happened in Vietnam, then the massacres and slaughters of eastern Europe in the 1990s, Iraq in the early 2000s and Afghanistan for another 20 years:  before the US, there were the Russians, before the Russians, the British — a now ironically famous first line of one of the early short Sherlock Holmes adventures is his when he lays eyes on the wretchedly suffering Mr Watson just back: “I perceive you have been in Afghanistan.”

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What I can tell you in brief that will add to your knowledge of the 1859 novel you won’t find elsewhere?


Eduard Douwes Dekker (Multatuli) who risked his life trying to bring to light what was going on in Indonesia and then writing this novel

In Chapter 11 we have Havelaar and a Dutch character, Verbrugge telling 4 stories that are connected by injustice, the bizarre behavior the powerful can inflict on the powerless, then distracting whimsy (as a kind of cover-up). So Havelaar suddenly imagines himself in 1587 and watches in slow-motion the execution (beheading) of Mary Stuart in Fotheringay. This was not an uncommon practice in these countries Havelaar is working for this company in. We switch to present-time Sumatra where he watches a girl stringing beads. This reminds him of Arles where he’s just been, a very beautiful place with a long history. The LRB had a piece by Lydia Davis, of scraps of imagination she has written about Arles while she did a “project” there; she is known as a translator from the French. Then we move to Naal — not far from Indonesia, an African stopover. Horrific deeds keep the natives in subjection and frighten everyone else not super-powerful. Finally, a story of a Japanese stonecutter which resembles the fable of the fisherman and his wife and their three wishes. Probably it is hard to make a novel out of horrific cruelty exercised on people day after day as they labor in the fields and die — the people forcing this are thugs and criminals, extravagantly selfish princelings and their courts. Dekker is presenting the material of the type we see from afar in the Heart of Darkness through the art of fable.

By contrast:

In Chapter 14, an important investigation into brutal uses of lies (to extract money people haven’t got) is both muddled and distorted by the overt way of talking about it by the perpetrators and their assistants and then put a stop to. I followed the ins and outs of hypocrisy and vicious revenge, but the concrete details are useless — because continually Dekker is obfuscating, and not telling the hard core of truth — lest he get in trouble. What this chapter needs – and several others, is a companion book which explicates what actually happened in these places so that we can understand the nature of Havelaar’s irony — I can’t get quite what he is satirizing in the different instances except of course profound lying, inhumanity, vain, idle ridiculous behavior. One quarter in we suddenly switch to Tina, Havelaar’s wife (who is characterized just enough with her baby to lead us worry about her), and the previous resident manager’s widow, Mrs Slothering (her husband was probably murdered and she has nowhere to go) and the present time and the men are playing cards and Duclari (the military man) asks Havelaar if it’s true Havelaar has fought many duels. Oh yes says Havelaar, and the results of these (or maybe the causes) have embittered him. He says how the General at the time appreciated duels. Perhaps we are to infer that again and again other people have tried to murder Havelaar this way, but are we to think Havelaar has murdered quite a number of people also? I suggest that we are not supposed to think this through — that it might be these duels did not come off, and to tell them now is just braggadaccio. So ought Dekker not to tell us this. So we can breathe a sigh of relief that Havelaar is not a murderer.

And now the movie by Peter Weir


What Weir looked like at the time

I studied his masterpiece movie, Picnic at Hanging Rock (scroll down to see a full analysis) a close adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s remarkable novel (of the same name) where Weir mystifies an ordeal coming out of an environment deeply hostile to people’s bodies and social needs. It is crucially maintained that no one knows how the death of the girls came about so a common response is simply to feel awe. The features to the DVD of Picnic at Hanging Rock include Weir’s idea that the girls were murdered by marauding men whom the sexual repression of the girls drew them to. This kind of reductive sexist explanation suggests why Lindsay prefers not to discuss how the girls came to disappear. But in fact people in the story as well as Margaret Atwood’s similar “Death by Landscape” are also responsible for what happened.

In this The Year of Living Dangerously, Weir somewhat misrepresents the story of how the Communists came to be massacred, Sukarno (who had little interest in the West and its capitalism) overthrown (which the US wanted) and the Indonesian military put in charge (with the religionists sidelined). So there is weakness in Weir’s work. We see a wayang puppet show where shadows of souls are supposedly coping with sheerly being — a kind of mysticism. For myself I feel the love story was a distraction and there to create popular appeal; Weir did not compromise this way in Picnic at Hanging Rock or Gallipolli.

The teacher of the class emphasized the film’s threads of morality: how it showed the reporters to be frivolous, corrupt, indifferent to the plight of the desperately impoverished everywhere; one of the reporters, Peter Curtis stands for the ugly American. The British officer Signourey Weaver’s character at first appears to be living with is an old-line Tory type; one of the Australia reporters is a homosexual man who takes advantage of a male servant. Kumar and Tiger Lily who work for Guy Hamilton are genuine devoted PKI people (communists). The focus of the camera is on these starved bodies, hollow eyes, crippled people in rags in contrast to the wealth of the whites. Billy Kwan asks more than once: “What then must we do?” The answer is not try for any large solution but help those who we come into contact with whom we can help. The same answer is found in LeCarre’s novel, The Constant Gardener. In this film an analogous atmosphere of displacement and breakup, desperate lives, corrupt payoffs everywhere, is meaningful in itself — there is no good way of life as long as you belong to these groups.

A valuable subject in the movie is the press: it’s a satiric view where no one but Billy Kwan and our hero are trying to tell the truth.  Anyone who does risks his life.  We can ask the question, what should the press do? what is their role? obviously, try to get the real truth of what’s happening out.  In the last few years (unsurprisingly) any journalists doing this have been imprisoned and murdered and the numbers keep going up.  The most famous case is that of Julian Assange where a 19th century law is being used to try to outlaw publication of hard factual news files.

You must (it seems) opt out to find yourself. Flee. The closing scenes at the airport very like what we recently saw in Afghanistan and before that in Vietnam. Those who profit mightily from all this have no reason (I fear) not to repeat it and it makes them enormous profits. So through their GOP agents they are now trying to destroy the hitherto stable world of the US and (before the 1980s) a generally prosperous and hopeful one.

Ellen

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Frank Fenwick faces the community and the Marquis of Trowbridge, defying them on behalf of the working class Sam Brattle whom they are about to keep in prison for crime there is no evidence he committed (Henry Woods, first illustrator of Vicar of Bullhampton)


John Caldigate glimpses and is attracted to the independent Mrs Euphemia Smith seen for the first time aboard their shared ship going to Australia (Francis Moseley, 20th century illustrator of Folio John Caldigate)

Friends and readers,

Several months ago now on Trollope and his Contemporaries at groups.io I read with a group of people Trollope’s colonialist (even if much of it does not take place in Australia) novel, John Caldigate, together with Simon Grennan’s graphic novel post-text (it changes the story in several important ways) to the book, Dispossession.


One of the houses in John Caldigate as imagined and drawn by Grennan, probably the Caldigates — the endpapers to the graphic novel

Then about two months ago now, a rather intensive reading and discussion of Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, took place on a facebook page run by a couple of people who opened a general page called The Way We Read Now I’ve read both before (see group read of John Caldigate on my website), and especially the first time was much drawn to The Vicar of Bullhampton: my father gave me a Dover copy to read during when I landed in Metropolitan Hospital on the upper East Side of NYC after a car accident, and it fully absorbed me.

These novels are alike in being lesser known novels, not overly long for Trollope, not widely read, with (as I realize now) The Vicar of Bullhampton having a distorted reputation as a sub-Barchester novel (it is very unlike these), and when it is remembered at all, John Caldigate the one novel where Trollope deals at length with bigamy: he wanted to call it Mrs John Caldigate, which would have called attention to the question, which of the two central female characters, Euphemia Smith or Hester Bolton is legally Caldigate’s wife.

But there is another angle on these books which leads me to want to write about them together and here. They both broach taboo topics and controversial issues in Trollope’s era and show him analysing and looking for revealing cracks and contradictions, cruelties, blind prejudices and injustices, at the same time as he is disappointingly deeply unfair to the central women characters of both. In The Vicar of Bullhampton (1868) Trollope was in fact way ahead of his time in his attitudes towards prostitution, working class people, and policing (the criminal justice system he did understand and was very sceptical about how it worked).

But when it comes to making inferences from his own rather different premises than the average person,Trollope goes right back to misogyny, especially sexual controlling and shaming and blaming of women. He presents an impossibly abject and self-hating young woman as Carry Brattle, a young woman no longer chaste, possibly quietly for a time living with this or that young man outside marriage, in the lingo of the time, a “castaway” as apparently the only way he could get himself to sympathize with such a young woman. He allows his central heroine, Mary Lowther, to take on the blame for acceding to an engagement all around her conspired to pressure her into (including by downright lies), and refuses to give her any solution to what to do with her existence except be sure she is in love with the man she is to make her master. The unfortunate male she engages herself to is berated by everyone in the book who encouraged him to stalk her. By contrast, the depiction of the prejudice and suspicion surrounding Sam Brattle for (in effect) simply walking about while working class is simply shown for the class bias it is. When the powerful man of the town angry that his prejudice is not going to reign supreme, encourages the dissenting minister of the town to build a church abutting the Vicar’s and spreads salacious rumors about the Vicar’s relationship with Carry — all to punish the Vicar for his courageous candor in defending both Brattles, there is a unbiased complexity about the various components of what we could call the Vicar’s authentic selfhood (similar to but not as brilliant as the one found within Josiah Crawley in The Last Chronicle of Barset.

In John Caldigate (1877) Trollope may be said to question marriage itself, and partly make a case for people being able to break a marriage if they find they are incompatible with or can do better elsewhere or are just tired of the person they chose, but when it comes to a trial and a judgement (and prison sentences) he only allows the male to be pardoned, and puts the woman in prison: this is one of the changes Grennan feels he must make — Euphemia Smith in his graphic novel goes as free as John Caldigate, and Grennan is a lot more candid than Trollope in dramatizing what happened in Australia and the probably clandestine marriage Caldigate entered into. At no time does Trollope’s hero ever show any remorse for his lies to various women he flirts with rather callously), to Hester’s family. Once he returns from Australia he is automatically his father’s darling because the father was so lonely for him even though before he left he had driven up high gambling debts, would not allow his father to see him reading or doing anything intelligent (just rat-catching, and womanizing) because it seems he was determined to be seen to exercise his own will. After an initial even-handed presentation of Euphemia, when she returns to England, she is treated with the kind of calumny Trollope intends to scold readers for treating the Carry Brattles of the world. It seems the woman is not allowed to be at all successful in an aggressively competitive life while the man who returns with wealth is ultimately rewarded.

You could call these books problem novels where Trollope is examining extremely problematic behavior in societies towards conventionally tabooed behavior as well as conventionally applauded, showing the perniciousness (especially cruelty to vulnerable impoverished single women) inadequacies, even egregious injustices of society’s behavior (and who wins in courts) — at the same time as he upholds the white male patriarchy. They therefore function in a somewhat different way than he might have intended, depending on the reader. People who have the courage to engage with the topics broached by Trollope often tell more about themselves as they approve and accept or critique and reject what Trollope has dramatized. Trollope deliberately creates situations which de-stabilize accepted codes and norms: through the stories he rips open the contradictions and also morally awful behavior or standards or ideas to make us look at these.

I’ve put off writing about them since in both cases, I wrote individual postings on both novels, sometimes at length, sometimes several on different angles, and sometimes not just in response to the chapters at hand or their context, but also to the other person or people posting too. It would be a lot of work to distill them. into a blog. I have done this for other of the Trollope novels, but so much is omitted, and in these two novels’ cases the controversies Trollope meant to bring up and be discussed would have to be flattened or lost. It’s this that drove me to make the large sections on my website for some of the Trollope novels I read with others. I just reprint all the postings under the chapters they are about, occasionally festooned with illustrations, photographs or stills from relevant movies, e.g., this one on The Small House at Allington. I have been putting my postings on The Vicar of Bullhampton on my groups.io listserv just so there will be a place on the Internet where they can be found (as long as the archives are online). I also had promised myself I would make no more overlong blogs.

My solution this time is just reprint a couple of the postings from each group read that I hope will be of interest to a reader and leave him or her to find the rest on Facebook or groups.io or read the novels (and Grennan’s Dispossession if so minded). Since the Vicar was written earlier, is a mid-career Trollope book, I’ll put the postings about this novel first.

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Carey Mulligan as Bathesheba in Far from the Madding Crowd: she is subjected to similar pressures as Mary Lowther, also supposed beautiful — one important difference is Bathesheba has property, Mary has not enough to rent lodgings and buy food …

Vicar of Bullhampton, Chapter 2: Flo’s Red Ball:

The center of the chapter is intense pressure on Mary, the heroine, to marry a man she says she does not love. Here is Trollope’s narrator: “The parson and his wife were altogether of one mind in this matter, and thought that Mary Lowther ought to be made to give herself to Harry Gilmore.” She should be coerced, give herself means go to bed with him, give her body to him. Again, Trollope as narrator: “She knew very well that she would not accept him now” after he has her thinking is “was she not wrong to keep him in suspense.” We see she does also because he is encouraged to come and nag her. All the next paragraph is about how “she did not think she could ever bring herself to say she would be this man’s wife” (think what wife meant in that era) and “because she still doubted, she was told by her friend she was behaving badly.” Of course he behaves sweetly; he wants her, and he is encouraged to carry on, and pay no attention for real to her not wanting him. It has been suggested that Mary is a readerly type and he no intellectual. I think of Fanny Price deeply irritated when Henry Crawford carries on after she has said no several times — Crawford’s appetite was whetted by the no (that’s from Mansfield Park). In his introduction Skilton remarks critics in the period saw parallels between the two heroines (Carrie Brattle who has been mentioned once), but instead of focusing on Mary’s emotional life and needs (just emerging here), I’ll call our attention to the game of consent which is what is being put before us. That’s what we are looking at: coerced consent will turned be into just or plain consent once she says yes, for they will forget they coerced her on the grounds they know better what she is or what she needs than she does. Do they? We have before us the injunction that a woman must be willing turned into forced willingness. It’s forced consent that’s the problem (and allows rape to be not-rape). Mary has to be ever so careful not to seem to promise anything or they will leap on it. And how easily a ball falls into the water. Too much attention is paid to “no” when often in reality situations actually arise over consent itself where consent is used as a weapon. All this politeness (and Janet is not very polite) is a screen. As it happens, the latest issue of NYRB has Anne Enright talking about “the burden of ‘yes'” (so the issue yesterday is still the issue today), and I’ll end on a wonderful phrase where she sums up the larger perspective here: “you cannot assert an equivalence of desire between men and women when there is no equivalence of power.” Gilmore has inherited income, power, land, respect, can serve in powerful offices; Mary must live with relatives, and is dependent on their kindness to her. Are we told if she has any income of her own? Let us recall what frees Lily Dale at the end of her story is her uncle leaves her 3000 pounds a year.

Yes, she is poor- her whole fortune is 1200 lbs, perhaps 50/annum.

I thought of another analogous Victorian text which might be of interest: the other night I watched the 2015 film adaptation of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, and it seemed to me there too the issue was this one of forcing Bathsheba to consent — also placing the story in a rural area. I can see Carey Mulligan as Mary Lowther

Chapter 17: The Marquis of Trowbridge

Thank you to Scott; as all others have said we are one-third through and have an important scene, moment, linchpin occurrence. This chapter contains one of the Vicar’s great heroic moments. He stands up against the powerful in the community to demand that a man against whom there is no evidence for any crime be freed. We are told leading up to the scene that the Marquis of Trowbridge is a bully who likes to inflict his power on others, and is insulted by the idea (with him the suspicion and class of the man, a son of a tenant, means he did it) Sam murdered someone on land near his. Gilmore and the Vicar are meanwhile called Damon and Pythias, a curiously homoerotic note here, but it does also mean constant close friendship. What Trowbridge really hates is anyone defying him. By contrast we are told how Fenwick tolerates the dissenting chapel right near the Anglican church he presides over at the same time as emotionally he resents Puddleham (given one of these allegorical reductive names); but Fenwick holds to a principle of toleration. The scene repeats one from Last Chronicle of Barset where Crawley stands up against the magistrates but cannot defy them because the “evidence” which supposedly proves he stole 20£ was found upon him. Fenwick takes his stand not on Sam’s innocence because we cannot know this, but the complete lack of evidence for any arrest or conviction. It’s a long scene with Trowbridge insisting he has an interest in arresting Sam because he owns so much property. He is backed up by that same dissenting minister, Puddleham (who it’s implied is doing this to gain power against Fenwick by enlisting himself under Trowbridge). Fenwick with Sam’s lawyer wins. But what really incenses Trowbridge is Fenwick has the “gall” (nerve, what an outrage) to mention Trowbridge’s daughters in the same breath as the Brattles because the Brattles are further bad-mouthed by the existence of a daughter, Carrie Brattle (who we know is a castaway). It seems like Sam’s walking about at night, his friendships, that she’s his sister is another insinuation to help arrest (and convict) him. It’s this mention of Trowbridge’s daughter which brings the scene to an end, thus intertwining the intense sexual plot-designs with this murder one. In both instances the Vicar is our hero and for once on the wholly right or moral side. I will remark here that one of the ironies Trollope wants us to see all along is that the Vicar has continually acted as if he were a powerful man, and gains power because of his position and his belief in himself, but Trollope wants us to see that the Vicar is relatively powerless against many forces and people in his community — not as powerless as the Brattles of course, or any “mere tenant” or any woman w/o control of property (none of them in this book thus far). The Vicar in other words has won this scene literally (Sam will be freed) but there is no indication he will win this larger battle with injustice as he seem to be losing gaining Mary for the convenience or desires of his wife and Gilmore. So the title of the book is partly ironic.

Chapter 36 – Sam Brattle Goes Off Again

I just loved how Sam was allowed to speak, and how his argument is cogent and persuasive. Also some of his motives & behavior. Says he, Is he not to be allowed an independent life because the police have not found out who killed Trumbull? can that be (just is his point) law? “a chap can’t move to better hisself, because them fellers can’t catch the men as murdered old Trumbull? That can’t be law — or justice.” The Vicar does begin by telling Sam that having been with this group of men trespassing a garden, he “has no just cause of complaint at finding his own liberty crippled (what a strong word), but then he agrees (narrator’s voice intermingled here too): “no policeman could have the right to confine him to one parish;” no shred of evidence he could give information. We’re told Sam argued the matter so well (“sharp and intelligent”) that Fenwick was convinced (it’s implied as long as Sam is available because bail was paid). Beyond wanting to escape very hard work at little pay in a hostile atmosphere, Sam has wanted to help Carry. He has infuriated the old man by trying to get the father to let Carry come back: “I just said a word to him, as a word was right to be said,” to the Vicar: “she ought to be let come home again, and that if I was to stay at the mill,I’d fetch her. The father said get out. Then the problem of where she went, how to find her, in talk brings out this kind of abject self-hatred from Sam paralleling Carry when the Vicar says he’ll take her in: “The likes of you won’t likely have a sister the likes of her.” We already know Janet won’t allow this: her excuse: the servants will object (worried about their reputations?) Sam says “she is not a bad ‘un,” to which the Vicar replies: “And as for bad, which of us isn’t bad? The world is very hard on her offense” (he separates the person from the act). Sam again gets the truly eloquent statement: “Down on her, like a dog on a rat” (I am sorry for the metaphor as it maligns dogs – but Trollope is not alive to animals as fully sentient beings and uses them as symbols). Then, as Melody says, back to the Vicar’s fight. I agree with John, all religious groups are entitled to worship, but that kind of hidden prejudice in the Vicar and his wife, is lost among what really makes it openly unbearable to the Fenwicks: the chapel is an eyesore, “a hideously ugly building, roofless, doorless, windowless.” Of course, the Anglican church has a lot more money and time to build pretty buildings. The bishop repeats his early performance by refusing to go into details (reminding me of the US supreme court with its “shadow” allowing laws to pass into being without having the courage to tell their unacceptable opinions). Then Gilmore tells the friend seeking support, well, he doesn’t see why the Vicar is so annoyed. Comically Janet is growing thin with this aggravation: it’s more than snobbery, it’s being made manifest that she is not as invulnerable and powerful in her own right (as Vicar’s wife) as she likes to think. What’s interesting to me here is how the Vicar finds his friends will not support him if it’s inconvenient to them. Now, Sam has acted in ways that show he does not always consult his own convenience.

“It went forth through the village that Mr. Puddleham had described Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel, and the torch of discord had been thrown down, and war was raging through the parish.” Sad though all the discord is, imagining Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel has to be worth a chuckle. “It went forth through the village that Mr. Puddleham had described Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel, and the torch of discord had been thrown down, and war was raging through the parish.” Sad though all the discord is, imagining Mrs. Fenwick as Jezebel has to be worth a chuckle. Ginny

How absurd is Puddleham. Janet a Jezebel … but then this fits into low church imagery and he has no ability to think at all so he uses what he has read.

Trollope had input into what scenes would be illustrated (as well as which illustrator would be chosen). What is telling here is the way in which George Thomas pictured Crawley anticipates the way Henry Woods pictures Fenwick. First Crawley facing the magistrates

Then parallel to Crawley Fenwick facing Trowbridge. In both cases we see our hero from the back in what seems the subject position, the vulnerable person. Fenwick as drawn by Henry Woods for Vicar of Bullhampton facing the powerful of the community.


Carry Brattle at the window of her parents’ house, climbing in — one of the way the society inflicted punishment on young woman was if she was in the street, alone, she could be picked up as vagrant and put to hard labor and little food for three months (a character in Gaskell’s North and South dies from this treatment)

Chapter 69 (almost the end of the book): The Trial

I find many of Trollope’s court trial scenes fascinating: The Macdermots of Ballycloran, The Three Clerks, Orley Farm — to the non-lawyer they reveal the venality and pretenses that courts go through: in two of the above cases, the verdit is deeply unjust or just literally wrong, but it’s what the lawyer has maneuvered the community into agreeing to (Orley Farm) or is a product of the community’s desire to scapegoat a vulnerable person to assuage their fears (Macdermots). In Three Clerks, there is no punishment for the truly bad man, Undy Scott. It’s not my turn and I’ve not got the time it would take to go through all the turns of the scene which bring to an ironic or fitting climax what happened to the characters over the course of the book. I disagree and find this the fitting conclusion for what has gone on before. I’ll pinpoint one piece. I happen to be beginning Les Miserables just now and the exemplary priest who opens the book sees an analogous scene where the agent of the state (here the defense lawyer) behaves as manipulatively, and ultimately amorally as this man: Monseigneur Bienvenu’s one remark is: “And where will the crown prosecutor face judgement?” The prosecutor had caught the man who counterfeited money by tricking the woman who loved him (after torturing her to no avail) into thinking he had another lover. So she told all. The person who ought to be punished is the defense attorney for his viciousness; he did not succeed in destroying Carry altogether (if there is a character in the books whose suicide would be understandable it’s hers — indeed she ought to be admired for not killing herself) because the immediate emotions of those in the court were on her side; they would not last of course and do her no good. His way of defending his client has nothing to do with what the client did. This is one of Trollope’s brilliant analyses and exposes of what happens in courts. I The scene also justifies and exemplifies what Margaret Oliphant wrote in her brilliant “The Grievances of Women,” where she says the core one is that whatever their pretended worship of women (she has no use for chivalry), men treat women with contempt, as of no value beyond what they use them for, with their main technique being ridicule just as this attorney throws at Carry. As for Acorn earlier in the book we are told that he had some decent qualities but that after he went to prison he came out a much worse and desperate man. His life is one of those thrown away by the Bullhampton community.

Yes (in response to someone who said the trial turned into a trial of Carry, as sister to one of the witnesses). A woman accuses a man of rape; he did it, and she is the one the public punishes; it is common for him to get off. And how to do it? well, ridicule her as in the case of Christine Casey Ford.

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Iconic 19th century Austalian watercolor: Ashton, A Solitary Ramble — a respectable white colonialist woman of the era

At the Leuven Trollope conference, Grennan told me he dressed Mrs Smith so she would have been recognizable in the era as a “Dolly Varden:” she is a character in Barnaby Rudge whose coy highly-sexualized self-presentation (Dickens just salivates over her) was taken up by music hall performers — after all Mrs Smith has been and returns to the stage (though the reader never see her do this). I admit I prefer to imagine Mrs Smith in her more somber outfits as a mature woman who confronts life and men frankly as their equal.

Pages from a graphic novel ‘Dispossession’ by Simon Grennan.
Mrs Smith dressed in a Dolly Varden outfit: cf the typical white colonialist woman of the era, and Francis Moseley’s portrait

John Caldigate, the first three chapters

We open with Daniel Caldigate who we are told is a stern man and made his daughter’s lives a trial, and wasn’t nice to his wife. They all died around the same time and then he regretted his behavior but it was too late and anyway had he had it to do all over again, Trollope tells us, he would have behaved the same. This is a realistic depiction of a Sir Thomas Bertram type.

So his son is a disappointment. John Caldigate. I am assuming others have read the text or will be by early this week — I see already in the description of John’s misdemeanours and bad behavior signs offered he has it in him to be better. But he isn’t — the idea I feel thrown out is John Caldigate is one of these people who resents control, resents anyone trying to enforce on him behavior that does not come easy or natural. Like studying, like reading, like behaving virtuously. Not only does he spend his time in rat contests and killing animals (here Trollope is not pro-hunt) but he gets into debt with a man called Davies and while we are told it’s gambling and over-spending, I see plenty of hints he is sexually promiscuous — spends his money on prostitutes. We are told how tall he is, how handsome. He spends his time at the Babington relatives’ house where they are similarly frivolous people. What he does not realize is they are tolerating him the way they do because he is a rich heir and they want him for one of their daughters, Polly. Polly is all right but he is not attracted but he finds himself just about engaged to her because of his aunt’s maneuvers. At the Shandy house he overtly teases Maria over a book later on, manipulating her into confessing how much she’ll miss him.

Trouble is he is in debt — who will pay his debts. He owes to the college and if he doesn’t pay will not get his degree. His father does pay this but he will not pay anything else. Young John will show no remorse and keeps his bad behavior up. Father is so hurt — he’s lonely — that he thinks to leave the property elsewhere! He hates primogeniture because, like his son, he hates to be controlled. Things going from bad to worse and now John is attracted to the idea of going to Australia to get rich quick mining gold. One needs money to go, he has these debts. Well the father will pay if he gives up his right to the property.

So what the hell, he agrees. Steps in the Boltons. Mr Bolton a lawyer who advises the father against this but he agrees to do what his employer wants and John comes to visit and there is Mrs Bolton, another one of these harridan puritan women whom Trollope hates and she is this beautiful daughter — ever so pure, ever so represssed, ever so innocent – -and of course John decides he will go to Australia, get rich, come back and in effect buy her

Wonderful descriptions of houses — the Boltons a real “puritan” group with 4 brothers who have followed the straight and narrow and prospered. The two chapters are named after the houses, Folking (this is an imagined specific place but you can find the area of Cambridge on the map) and Puritan Grange. Symbolic and effectively believable towns and cultures.

John Caldigate is a stud who thus far turns me off. I couldn’t care less what happens to him, and think he deserves whatever is coming to him (Trollope wants us to think this I suggest) and yet I know I am supposed to care – John Caldigate is supposed to matter to me. Trollope wants me to care about John Caldigate as a significant person.


When after Caldigate returns from Australia, marries Hester, she has a baby (all very rapidly) in the book, he tries to hold onto her as his property, but when she visits her parents and they are determined to keep her prisoner, she lays on the floor near the front door with her baby (from Dispossession)

It is getting to be an overlong blog so I must put the other two postings I’ve chosen and coda in the comments. Here are Chapters 33-36; 49-54; Diana Archibald’s wise commentary in her Domestic Imperialism and Emigration in Victorian Literature.

Ellen

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Caryl Phillips (born 1958)

There are those who are willing to pay the highest price imaginable to resist people who would police their identities. And there are those who will pay the highest price imaginable to secure an identity — Phillips, “Color Me English”

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve another author, Caryl Phillips, specific quietly stunning novel by him, Crossing the River (short-listed for the Booker the year it was published, 1993) to urge you to read. Until you do, you are missing out! and thus far (what I’ve read) the novels, Cambridge (1991, powerful double journal of white European woman and young enslaved well educated Black man, brought to a violent brutal Carribean plantation), The Lost Child (2015, a sequel to Wuthering Heights, aka Heathcliff’s story), and original biographical fiction of Jean Rhys’ life, A view of the Empire at Sunset 92018); two books of essays, The European Tribe (a sort of travel book), and Color Me English (more autobiographical, about memory), and all the occasional essays I’ve come across (e.g.”One Grim Winter Evening,” TLS 2012, on the Windrush generation, now being harassed or threatened with deportation!, upon he occasion of the Olympics in London, TLS). I am thus explicit because it’s been my experience than when I mention this man’s name, I get a blank look! Nowadays you need to have a movie made of your book to achieve more instant recognition. But he is well-known enough; here he is speaking to a group of people at a Canadian institution in Vancouver on The City and the Newcomer:

Phillips says he presents “migrant experience in its broadest context; he is draw to the intense frustration and destructive laws, customs and hurt the non-white child knows, the insuperable difficulty of truly participating. What are in a culture true signs of inclusivity and change. Why do immigrants refugees when so punished by the place they come to persist in wanting to stay –- it’s question that could be asked of the Kendalls in the movie Shakespeare Wallah. Why do they want to be loyal (and then of course appreciated, understood as belonging) when they go out and fight for this place and culture and be willing to lose their very lives because it is their country too …

For myself I think what caught my eye or attention was the information he was brought up in Leeds (so I first bought Color Me English), where I spent over 2 and one half transformative years of my life with Jim: where I went to university, married him, and stayed on to work at John Waddington (at the time a card and game company), to wander around the West Riding on buses, see York Minister one day, and just become part of the Northern Yorkshire culture for a brief fulfilling (sometimes hard) moment of my life. The above video will show you how formative Phillips’s experience of Leeds was in his life.


Jim sitting on the gate in front of Leeds Church, 1968

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Crossing the River, is, like a number of Phillips’s novels, a historical fiction, one not made up of one long stories, but several intertwined, with a framing that makes his book, though clearly out of the African diaspora, one which is deeply invested in the vulnerable powerless subaltern person of any race, all genders, from a linked group of imagined interinvolved communities. Three of the four stories are about enslavement, enslaved people, two 19th century, one mid-18th. The fourth is about a young working class woman in England during World War Two, given little opportunity to develop her gifts, find herself, thwarted by her class, then ignorant husband; she meets a young Black man in the American military and they fall in love.

“The Pagan Coast,” centers on the relationship between Nash Williams, a freed enslaved man who is sent by the American Colonization Society to Liberia, and his beloved and loving patron and former master, a father, and once lover, Edward Williams. Nash is repatriated there in the 1830s to establish a Christian mission and colony. And much to his deep sense of loss and grief, he fails. As he story opens, it is seven years since Nash was freed by his master, Edward Williams and sent to Liberia. Now a letter arrives, which Edward reads and teaches him that all the letters Nash had sent had been destroyed before he could see them by his recently deceased wife, Amelia (who just drowned herself); in these letters Nash had at first asked for help of all sorts (money, equipment, advice, support) and then increasingly desperate cried out in despair and loneliness, missing his home and all the people he knew so badly; we read them eventually and learn of the impossibility of the task set before him – the unreality given the circumstances of this country and culture of the people. The novella is about these two men, their characters, their relationship, the painful nature of what each does to try to come up to the ideals the other has of him, and in the case of Edward to himself go to Africa, and rescue Nash — too late.

They are deeply appealing characters whom we see embedded in, unable to extricate themselves from the evils and failures of several different groups of people they encounter on their journey in time and space.

“West” is the tale of the life of an enslaved Black woman, birth to death: like the first, it is told through a flashback – we begin in present time when Martha is old, sick, dying, exhausted, and has been left to freeze or starve to death but in a central street in a town where it’s hoped (supposedly by those fellow “colored pioneers” who had to abandon her they felt as too much of a burden) she will be rescued. She is taken to a bare cold room with a thin bed (the stove cannot be got to work) by a kindly woman who appears to be part of some group who rescue the homeless, and as she lays there that night she dreams of her life. I am telling the story in more straight chronological order than it is told — it weaves beautifully from experience to experience. She was snatched from her mother with her two brothers, put onto a slave ship, brought to the US and sold to a plantation owner who names her Martha — she becomes Randolph as that is his family name (we wonder if we are near the Jeffersons). Sold and the second set of scenes is of her married to a loving man, Lucas, who we first met in exhausted silent despair (suicidal, drunk) because the present owner has died, and he, Martha, and their young child, Eliza Mae are to be sold with the other property. He must tell her: “he took me in the circle of his arms and laid me down” — She also remembers the fear and bewilderment of her daughter, and her inability as mother to provide any protection for her child: “I did not suckle this child at the breast nor did I cradle her in my arms and shower her with what love I have, to see her taken away from me …. My Eliza-Mae holds on to me, but it will be of no avail. She will be a prime purchase. And on her own she stands a better chance of a fine family. I want to tell her this, to encourage her to let go, but I have not the heart. . . . ‘Moma’ Eliza-Mae whispers the word over and over again, as though this were the only word she possessed. This word. This word only.”
This is the moment her mind returns to throughout the story; what she longs for most of all is to be reunited with a dream of this daughter grown up, strong, beautiful, living in a fine house, on a broad avenue — towards the end in California.

What happens is she is sold to a couple, the Hoffmans, who themselves seem to own only a very few people, up close to her they see how traumatized she is, and try to help her by taking her to some evangelical events; these do not take her out of her abject state of mind; then they do poorly and must they plan sell her and with the money they hope to make return to the east. At the last minute, they relent and allow her to escape (with nothing but her clothes a bundle of things she gathers together before fleeing). She knows some happiness once again: next scene shows her working with a beloved Black woman friend, Lucy, both cooks in a shop and laundresses, somewhere in the west, protected by Chester, a man who is kindly, generous, the lover of Martha. The story is dated by her saying during this time she is told she is now free because of the emancipation proclamation, but says it has little influence on her life as far as she can tell. Alas, Chester gets into a card game with some white men, they cheat him, he complains and they return and shoot him to death. She and Lucy are no longer safe; Lucy has a man willing to take her with him to California, but not willing to bring Martha along. That’s how she ends up with a group of pioneers making their way west, and for quite a while worked very hard for them (washing, cooking, ordering things) but finally grew ill, and they feel they cannot keep her, whence she is sitting where we come upon her when the story opens.

The story is deep tragedy – she dies, with dreams of Eliza Mae ahead of her, and unknown to her is given a yet another name by the woman who does not know her name. She has more than once voiced how she dislikes being renamed — it is a form of not having an identity when she has one. Or had. All of Martha’s geographical journeys are also journeys in search of family, and journeys that create and perform kinship ties. She finds other daughters (Lucy) and other husbands (Chester) and they all echo her original family. She mothers the pioneers in their trail westwards, “rallying them to their feet” in order that they may realize their dreams of freedom in California. What emerges from Martha’s story is diaspora of connectedness via the pain of original loss.


Dorothy Lange photo of a elderly Black woman in the 1930s

Two more. I can be brief about the third: it is based on captain’s journal, John Newton, whom we might see or argue is the lowest of low human beings – doing just horrific things to all the people he seeks to control, from his officers, to the impressed men, to the enslaved people in chains (or instruments of torture around their necks), a man who resorts to the lash continually, a slave trader, named by Phillips James Hamilton. For some who have not imagined this or read deeply detailed historical accounts (I recommend Clifford D. Conner’s biography of Colonel Despard, who briefly turns up in Winston Graham’s Poldark novels as Anglo-Irish rebel turned revolutionary who is guillotined for his pains, as a scapegoat but also spent years as the leader of British men in the Carribean trying to steal the Native’s lands from the ferocious Spanish and build communities in the fiercely hot diseased ridden islands using enslaved people.) How hard a business his was – he has difficulties picking and buying enslaved people, they run away, they rebel, they also get sick and die; his men get drunk, humiliate the enslaved, insurrections, disease, diarrhea (he feeds everyone rice) aboard ship as well his life (letters home to a beloved woman whom he treats with dainty kindness, discretion, courtesy) is strewn with difficulties.

How can you leave out the colonialist slaver? the nightmares might not have happened had such people not been possible, not existed …. not somehow been allowed to ply their vileness almost globally. I could have gone over the injustice and cruelties step-by-step. Like reading a day in the life of a guard in a concentration camp in Europe during WW2 – maybe not as – a day in the life of police force in the famous ghetto Lodz. But I spare myself and my possible readers.


Scene from a World War Two movie focusing on a heroine ….

Then the last. I unravel a story told in the Faulkner-Graham Swift mode by voice and diary entries arranged not chronologically but thematically so we must slowly work out the outer story as we confront the inner hidden life of Joyce Kitson — whose name also only gradually is told.

The novella-length piece is presented in a journal or diary form in the voice of Joyce, a young woman during the years leading up to and through World War II. Consistent with the title, the small town and smaller village from which Joyce observes wartime England remains unnamed. Joyce has had a hard childhood continually pressured by her hostile mother who has never gotten over the death of her military husband in the First World War and has taken refuge in religious zealotry. Her mother makes her leave school when she is very bright and loves to read – her mother resent this one pleasure of hers. She goes to work in a factory, and does not fit in. One night she goes to a theater to see the Christmas pantomime and meets an actor named Herbert playing in Mother Goose. Suffice to say she gets pregnant, and when she gets no answers for her letters, has an abortion out of fear of ostracizing and pressure from others, but goes to London to find Herbert. When she does, what a disillusion! He flees her within ten minutes (July 1936 to February 1938 but her relationship with her mother is interwoven throughout the letters from the very opening to her mother’s death). When the story opens Joyce has married a working class (it turned out thuggish, violent) young man, shopkeeper named Len from a small village near the town where she lives with her mother. We eventually discover Len beats her, and Joyce knew almost immediately that the marriage is a mistake Len eventually goes to prison for dealing in the black market during the war, leaving Joyce to run the village shop. She feels for him over this as an injustice.

There is a parallel story: a friend, Sandra has a similar experience of marriage (maybe not as bad) but her husband is also gone to war and either she had married him because she was pregnant by him (or another) and has had a child, Tommy, whom she cannot breast-fed (partly anxiety partly lack of nourishing food) and whom she seems anxious to hide from her husband. She says that she has never been able to deal well with people (she thinks Joyce does) and becomes pregnant again (with a friend of Len’s). Joyce advises her to write and tell her husband. Among other things, she cannot put the baby up for adoption without the husband’s permission. Alas he returns and kills her, shoots her dead instantly. As Joyce’s one friend, Joyce never forgets her or that Tommy, the child, was taken away.

Not long after Joyce’s job has enabled her to meet a young Black (colored) man from the US. The U.S. Army stationed a detachment of black soldiers near the village where Joyce lives, and she falls in love with one of the officers named Travis. He is kind, courteous, fun to be with; they lead off a dance one night. He is beaten once by some white officers for returning late (or perhaps for going out with a white woman). She becomes pregnant by Travis just before he is shipped off to Italy. He is able to return on leave to marry Joyce – whose divorce from Len is finally settled (after scenes of his rage beating of her, demanding she give him the shop — Travis intervenes in one beating) – just days before the birth of their baby, Greer. Travis is killed in Italy, and Joyce is forced to give Greer up to the county as a war orphan. (A parallel to Martha and Eliza Mae.) The only time she sees him again is in 1963, when he comes as a young man to visit her in a new life. Joyce secretly continues to love Travis, even in her new better life, still a working class woman, now with 2 children, and she is portrayed as a good person, caught up in bigotry and circumstances beyond her control.

I have probably not conveyed how this story told another way could take 500 pages and how it wrung my heart. The story includes the bombing and destruction of part of her village – which she registers fully the horrors and ordinariness of — which bombing her mother dies in as she will not flee to a shelter.

The book has a prologue and coda spoken by a symbolic father who has foolishly sold his children into slavery, driven to it he says by starvation. He turns into a universal figure standing for those who give into society, who simply provides as children and then grown-ups the characters whose suffering we live through across the centuries. The coda connects Edward and Nash, Martha, Joyce, Travis, to specific cases and types of the hurt and victimized in the 20th and 21st century. All his children. Phillips brings back some of the most painful poetry in each of the sections.

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Poster Art on the Banks of the Gaza Strip

Orwell said “who controls the past (the way it is described, discussed, taught), controls the future.” There has been and continues to be a real drive to erase the injustices of the past and create self-glorifying – or justifying tales for the winners and powerful to tell of their power, well-meaning good acts. Phillips realizes common ground among the subalterns of the world. – subaltern is a person of low or lower status – those excluded from the hierarchy of power. They may get to row a boat but no say in how or why it’s rowed or for what or whom. I love how he often has women at the center of his books – not that common for male writers and I give him the great compliment that he does not see them from a masculinist POV at all. Why do we read colonialist, post-colonialist writing? So we may understand what we are seeing happening in our world all around us today — and we hope be able to do something to improve matters however small.

Ellen

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Mudbound: Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) handing the letter from Resl (German woman) meant for Ronsel t(Jason Mitchell) to his family; Laura (Carey Mulligan) alone on the Jackson porch

Friends,

My theme tonight is adequate movies or films. Over the last couple of months I’ve been watching a number of films adapted from books — I’m not sure what to call them any more as I reach them by different technologies, or software, all of which are accommodated by my computer or my TV (which is after all a computer too). They stream in, I use DVDs, I watch via YouTube. There’s vimeo. I am exploring what makes for excellent film adaptation, without which you have poor hollow movies — or travesties.


The two friends, Jamie and Ronsel

The most recent and one dwelling on my mind is Mudbound, streaming in from Netflix who produced it, a film by Dee Rees, adapted from a book by Hillary Jordan. It is a gripping tale, very hard to watch for me because I was in a perpetual state of anxiety, worried that the members of the Black family would be killed or maimed from the constant threat or menace from the cruel violent whites they (and other Black families) are living among, or that the whites themselves would turn on one another, as in the opening scene where two brothers are burying their father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks playing evil man), and it’s not clear that the older brother will rescue the younger one who appears to be drowning, sucked in by the mud the grave turns into as it starts to rain hard. The movie and book show you how racism under Jim Crow worked a constant demand from whites on blacks that they kowtow, humiliate themselves, with an ever menacing threat, every once in a while made good — as at the end of the film and book. The story has been reviewed as a movie far more often than as a book (New York Times; Odie Henderson of Roger Ebert’s site, with the story told and retold. The cinematography by Rachel Morrison is breath-taking in its artful suggestiveness.

The book itself reminds me of Faulkner or Graham Swift crossed by Toni Morrison: it’s told in turn by narrators in deeply subjective ways, all of which add up to an eloquent rendering of the misery and deprivation, impoverishment of the best of the human spirit in a racist, deeply inhumane capitalist racist order — Mississippi in the 1940s. The women are utterly subject creatures — in a secondary white family the father beats his wife and rapes his daughter and they have no recourse. We see whites cheat whites; and the way the whites makes money is to exploit the Blacks. We see Laura, the white wife (whose husband takes the car keys from her as a punishment), and Florence (Mary J. Blige), the Black one (whose husband relies on her) create meaning and beauty for themselves through piano playing or doing for their families; they form a supportive friendship; Hap (Rob Morgan), the Black father is a preacher and kind to his family; two sons, Jamie, white, and Ronsel, Black, learn that life can be far more decent and rewarding even during the terrors of war in Europe, and through friendship almost bring upon themselves annihilation but also escape at the film’s end.

But my theme tonight is not the message about how racism and patriarchy work in the US even now (subtler except when it comes to the police), nor even the relationship of the book and film, nor even the splendid art of the film (patterned scenes at the core), but rather that element so hard to gauge, to measure, to explain: why a given film is adequate to the content it seeks to visualize, give sound to, human presences, life, realization.


Stuart Wilson as a viscerally deeply felt Vronsky

I’ve watched several of these over this winter into spring time which are as it were forgotten (not even an adequate wikipedia entry; a 1977-78 BBC Anne Karenina by Donald Wilson (who also wrote the Forsyte Saga), with Eric Porter, Nicola Paget, Stuart Wilson, Robert Swann; the 1979 Rebecca, directed by Simon Langton (the best of them all), with Joanna David as Rebecca, Jeremy Brett as Mr de Winter, Anna Massey. The 1987 BBC Fortunes of War, written by Alan Plater (from Olivia Manning’s masterpiece epics, Balkan and Levant Trilogies), with Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Ronald Pickup, Rupert Graves (among others.


Joanna David (her daughter, Emilia Fox, played the part in 1997) showing that the quiet second Mrs de Winter of the book, is the strong woman

We dwell on these actors but it’s the embedded film world that is made for them as much as the enactment of their characters in that matters. What is it that makes for this depth of apprehension and detailed lived realization? Faithfulness (as it’s called) to the literal surface of a book or psychologies of actors and mood are the means. Each of the characters on a separate journey within groups of characters in a situation. There is the jelling together of the actors as they make the story realized. But more central I find is the inner drive to maintain an integrity of thematic vision, truth to a complex moral on the part of the central film-makers (writer, director, cinematographer, producer).

I stay with my paper written so long ago, the importance of the screenplay — that’s why we should study. In all these cases, that’s what I’ve been paying attention to — as well as watching how the director elicited from the actors the emotions wanted moment by moment. Look upon this as an interim attempt to suggest what I might write more at length once again.

Re-watching Mudbound, reading the book and studying Martin Scorcese notes for his masterpiece Age of Innocence over the past few days too: I’ve been studying Martin Scorcese’s for his 1997 adaptation of Wharton Age of Innocence, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel-Day Lewis, and there the give-away are the lengthy descriptions of setting, gestures — and the use of a narrator. And re-watching the magnificent 2004 BBC The Way We Live Now, scripted Andrew Davies, featuring David Suchet — I mention Davies in the same breathe as Plater — in both cases shooting scripts are often available. A signal of the same core resolution and good strong book which can be so parsed.


There is a beautiful still of the Black church open to the sky with stained glass window covering half the space and Hap preaching so movingly in front of it but I cannot find a still among those online

And watching Rachel Morrison discuss the cinematography of Mudbound tonight brought me to bring together these nightly experiences over these weeks and what unites them even if the only stills commercially available on the Net are the far shots of landscapes, medium shots of people and close-ups of actors.

Short tonight, but I hope adequate … Do see the six films I’ve cited and read the six books alluded to in this blog. I want to say stick especially with the BBC later 1970s and early 1980s serials but again and again since then, as in Mudbound, one finds the crew and film-makers doing it again. A sign of seriousness is the published shooting script and in it real essays and thoughts in the appendix about what inspired the people — in Age of Innocence it appears to have been other brilliant costume dramas. Read what Mary J Blige has to say where she discusses why the most horrifying scene in the film is her favorite.


How they all stay in character too: Jamie is to me super-handsome but he is not the actor; and Mary J Blige is Florence throughout

Ellen

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For a US person I infer an analogy to these South African trials is the present trial in Minneapolis of the murderer of George Floyd (who thinks he will get off).  I’ve learned (I watched only the briefest clips but have read what is said) that police protocols in Minnesota and in much of the United States are intended to intimidate and murder Blacks — to hold them in terror so as to bully them at will. Not as searingly cruel as So. African militaries, but very much the same behavior in principle. And it’s upheld: in the court no one questions the police protocol; the only question is did Chauvan “overdo” it.

An article in Guardian by Oliver Laughland describes how the trial of Chauvin is being conducted as a way of assuaging a traumatized community

Dear Friends and readers,

Over the last three or four nights I embarked on a journey through four films telling the story of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After Apartheid finally ended, and Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa, in 1996 a commission of concerned and able citizens was set up to hold public trials where people could come and tell of the horrific wrongs they and their friends and relatives suffered during the long decades apartheid was imposed on South Africa.

It was mostly Black people who testified about such experiences. I notice in each case a second person sits next to the victim witness there to soothe — and control — them. The people telling what had happened grieve, and occasionally become hysterical. The people who had perpetrated the wrongs the specific Black people were describing were invited to come to the same trial and if they admitted the whole truth of what had happened (which before this had been egregiously lied about, not told at all, distorted and falsifying details presented) and could demonstrate convincingly they were actuated by a political motive, a jury might grant them amnesty. This is not the same as forgiveness: it means a court has pardoned someone for an offense, which he or she can then not in law be blamed for again.


Four young South African men who were brutally murdered (Long Night’s Journey into Day, produced, directed by Deborah Hoffman, Frances Reid)

It was expected that the perpetrator should show remorse and apologize, and most did; a few became genuinely grieved and talked of how they had not since the time they did these deeds been able to sleep or live with themselves easily, but at least four men justified what they were doing by saying that is what they understood to be effective and necessary deeds at the time to achieve “stable gov’t” — and two of these were clearly in their hearts fiercely angry at being forced (if they wanted pardon) to own up. One white woman who came to complain about the death of her white son at the hands of a Black man was livid with hatred, indignation, and not for a moment accepted his explanation that he was driven by the deprived life and ferocious punishments that had been visited upon him. Yet of the three men all received amnesty. The people who did not receive amnesty were the ones where the torture they inflicted on the people they were murdering was hideously in excess in pain and suffering of what was needed to say “extract information” subdue or kill them.

When I first read about these commissions and what they were doing (in the 1990s), and have come across articles since, I was dismissive of what they could achieve. I thought that in reality by telling these terrible acts to those who have been mortally wounded basically for the rest of their lives, those listening would and could never forgive but would generally be made more angry. I now realize I was wrong; I had not read deeply enough, not read any descriptions of these trials at length and especially not seen any enactment. After watching the fictionalized retelling, Boorman and his team’s In My Country (1994); the shaped documentary Hoffman and Reid’s Long Night’s Journey into Day; and a two part report-like documentary made in 1997 by the South African Truth Commission, I’ve changed my mind.


Langston Whitfield (Samuel Jackson), Anna (Juliette Binoche) and Dumi (Menzi Ngubane) in John Boorman’s In My Country (1994, scripted Ann Peacock, Antji Krog)

On my own behalf, as an excuse I suppose for my obtuseness, one problem was the aim of the commission and the results were not being told clearly: the point isn’t forgiveness. Most of the anguished people I’ve now watched over some six hours of film could not forgive the people who did what they did; there was hardly a human relationship between them. The aim was something far more practical and less personal. In In My Country, it was called ubuntu (if I’ve the word correctly), a word which refers to a recognition that all must live together in one community and are bound together as one people, and must live in peace side-by-side. The aim was to achieve understanding of what had happened by uncovering all the details no matter how painful. Catharsis.  I now see tha good was done.  The person who had been so hurt at least had his (or her) day in court even if by proxy.  Also a hand was held out by the Black people who had so suffered for decades to the whites to be reconciled.

Of the three movies I’ve watched thus far, only the SA Commission Documentary admitted that few whites were in the audiences of these trials, that many whites refused to believe that the trials were telling the truth. Alas, for the most part the only whites who showed were the police and other militarized men seeking amnesty, telling of their deeds, and the relative of a rare white murdered either by gov’t death squads (let’s call them all) or a sudden uprising of mob rage by Black people (uncommon because of the terrible reprisal policies).


From Long Night’s Journey into Day: a rare young white woman, Canadian, who came to South Africa to help work against apartheid was mistakenly murdered
in a hysterical mob action simply on the grounds she was white — we see her anguished parents come to the commission, describe what happened, listen to the Black men who did that deed admit it and say they were grossly wrong and apologize profusely.

There is a fourth film I mean to see, but find The Power of Forgiveness by Martin Doblmeier, yet another documentary, is available as a DVD to be bought. I must wait for it to arrive by regular mail from the post office or Amazon.  The film is said to explore the nature and examples of forgiveness, including personal stories about Northern Ireland, the Amish, 9/11 and the Garden of Forgiveness, Thich Nhat Hanh, Elie Weisel; to use scientific studies, and of course humanistic discourse. I’m glad I watched the others first, for the implied demand here (you must forgive) skews the nature of what these trials meant to achieve: the aim is not forgiveness of the people who committed such horrific acts by the people wronged; rather it is an attempt by a people to live to live with their past and with those who have inflicted hideous damage on them by asking them to tell the truth and ask for legal pardon.

What I concluded is that the tiny number of white people in South Africa determined to set up a white supremacist state with whites wholly in charge, with all the wealth at their disposal, took horrendous and just cruel weapons of all kinds and hired and kept active armies who treated all Black South Africans as if they lived in a concentration camp where gov’t thugs were free to arrest, beat up mercilessly, torture, desecrate Black people’s bodies at will – and did. They did this because they were such a tiny minority — they used Blacks too as part of their police and surveillance: these were collaborators.

Similarly in Minneapolis, the prosecutors are allowing all the Black people who were forced to stand around and watch a fellow Black person murdered before their very eyes are testifying to the world what they experienced. If this protocol of intimidation and terror forced on Black people and communities all over the is not being openly admitted to, we are seeing it. That this is the way it is being understood can be seen in a British reporter for a far away newspaper picking the reality up and explaining it. The people being reconciled are themselves also potential victims and victims’ families — not all of them are up to it — they are of course hoping that at long last some justice may be done, and if this protocol not be done away with, the man who used it excessively, exultingly, will be judged rightly guilty of gross murder. Many weep as they tell what happened and then have to listen to the excuses and insulting of them and the victim the perpetrator’s lawyer. Apparently the ranks are breaking and some police officers are coming forward to say Chauvan used excessive force.

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I’d like to offer a few details of the three films I’ve seen thus, and when I’ve seen the fourth, add my commentary on it to this blog in the comments.


Anna and Langston at a trial as a South African TV reporter and American reporter for the Washington Post

In My Country is a fictional film, or a historical film fictionalized by the story of an Afrikaner white poet-reporter, Anna (Juliette Binoche) who has come with Dumi (Menzi Ngubane), a Black African man to cover the trials for a TV station and Langstan Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson) an Black American reporter who strikes up a relationship them. What conventional suspense we experience is worry for their safety and watching their relationships develop. Anna belongs to an Afrikaner family most of whom disapprove of the trials and her empathy with Black people; her husband supports her and she leaves him with their children to follow the trials as they occur around Africa.


Anna and Dumi

Gradually she becomes friends with the young Black South African man assigned to her as technician, and lovers with the Black American reporter: it is a witty and tender relationship, beginning in antagonism and ending in understanding. She does return to her family and there is tension and loss. Dumi in the one false note in the film at its end is made to confront his past in a brutal scene with other Black Africans.

Juliette Binoche is another actress who appears in films and plays with a social conscience which are beautifully well done; she was a moving Antigone at the Kennedy Center years ago. Samuel Jackson is a well-known multi-faceted star.

But we are also — I was — riveted by the stories told in the hearings and seeing the white men as portrayed by white and black actors.  What happened is I realized that the commissions did succeed in what they set out to do for many. In fact the point was to allow hundreds of Black people to confront their hideous oppressors and tell them to their faces in front of a crowd what they had done — the point was a kind of tranquil shaming. If a particular officer or person showed he was politically motivated (had to do it) and did not go about the job with disproportionate cruelty (which many did), he could achieve amnesty — and the Black person learned what had happened to their beloved relative, friend or heard it said aloud and believed. Brendan Gleeson played the white Afrikan officer whose crimes were so disproportionate and whose remorse so ambivalent he is not granted amnesty but must stand trial for 63 murders.

I have found the whole of In My Country and been able to link it in here, and hope the people who put it on YouTube do not remove it.

Long Night’s Journey into Day was much tougher because the four cases (out of 22,000) detailed were real and there was no sweetening romance.  You learn more seriously the horrors of what Black people were subjected to for decades in South Africa. What I came away remembering best was that there are still many white who are not only unremorseful but angry that either one of their relatives/friends were killed and see themselves as having no responsibility to other people. One white man who did horrific things clearly was as cruel and brutal as ever and he was granted amnesty – for telling the truth. I also saw so many Black people and especially the mothers of those murdered years later still living maimed lives. I saw their continuing poverty. And I saw one white Canadian mother, father and brother, attempting to live up to what their white daughter in her idealism had tried to achieve. I thought this emphasis on women was perhaps a result of having two female director/producers.


One of the mothers of the four murdered young men featured in the posters (see above)

It’s a vimeo:


A young Deborah Hoffman — I can find no image of Frances Reid

Last, the straight two hour documentary made by the SA Commission. It is here we most often meet and listen to Archbishop Desmond Tutu — he speaks of the white people who refuse to participate as missing an important chance to admit knowing what happened, to become better by doing so, to function more effectively in the true worlds of South Africa. It is a powerful film; I’d see it over two nights.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_QZO_onxlo (50 MIN)

I regret I have read so few books by South Africans about South Africa. I keep trying to persuade my WomenWriters@groups.io to read Nadime Gorimer with me. As of tonight I’ve only read a couple of marvelous short stories by Gorimer. I have read much Doris Lessing, but most of it not set in South Africa. One exception is The Grass is Singing

Ellen

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