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Archive for the ‘romance’ Category


Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan) being brought out to be hanged (he is absolutely innocent of any crime and everyone knows this)

Dear Friends and readers,

A few days ago I provided a framework, perspective, synopsis and then summaries and commentary for the first half of the first season of the superlative Indian Summers. Now we turn to the second half of the first season, dominated by the mysterious murder of Jaya (Hasina Haque) from having been stabbed and drowned (by whom we are not quite sure even at the end of the season). The accusation is imposed on Ramu Sood; we watch how this comes about, the trial, and its conclusion in the British power murdering Sood.  They have colluded to exclude from evidence that Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) was Adam, her boy’s father and stood to lose everything if Jaya persisted in following him about with the son. It’s not that the idea that the parentage of Adam is the key to the murder simply does not surface.  This truth is repressed by those who know and lies about Sood are provided as a distraction from Ralph.

It’s shocking even today as it is made plain the British are doing this to rid themselves of a wealthy, proud “trouble-making” landlord.  We listen to several characters tell Sood’s one full supporter, Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), it does not matter if Sood is guilty or innocent. Sood is the kind of person the British want dead. They resent — Cynthia had already thrown Ian out of the club for working for Sood — and fear him. Sood tells McCleod the moral of his story is “keep your head down” if you are not a white and powerful male.


Jaya and Adam – she persistently abducts Adam from the missionary school where he was taken after rescue in the first episode so as to bring Adam before Ralph

Within this over-arching story, we watch Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel) become bitterly disillusioned with Ralph. At the end of the season Aafrin realizes that Ralph will do nothing to prevent the gov’t from hanging Sood. Aafrin had assumed that Ralph would recommend mercy in the form of a prison sentence and then leniency in later years to cut down the sentence. Ralph at first writes a letter to that effect, but Ralph, after letting it stay publicly on his desk, destroys it and instead lets the death penalty take its course immediately. We also see the full criminality and viciousness of Cynthia’s (Julie Walters) character, who beyond lying on the stand to convict Sood, is responsible for the death of Eugene (Edward Hogg) Mathers, Madeleine’s (Olivia Grant) beloved brother and plots to persuade Olivia to return to the US and never return (despite Ralph’s determination to marry Olivia in order to give some moral pattern to his existence). Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb) emerges as a hero risking all to try to save Sood, and when he does not, siding with the Indians to rally viscerally against the injustice in a funeral.

I admit I had not realized that WETA has placed online recaps of all the episodes of the first and second seasons, and left them available (here is one place you can reach these), but as these are not easy to click on in chronological order and are told neutrally (though concisely, concretely, accurately) I will carry on providing summaries and evaluations of the series.

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Episode 6 brings together all the threads we had come to understand in a violent open near murder by Ralph of a Irish soldier-hunter, Captain Billie Farquhar (Jamie McLaughlin), a character out of Kipling, because Farquhar is threatening Alice (Jemima West) with blackmail (she can pay him off with sex). We also see in a memory flashback the death of Jaya — who dies screaming, screaming. Her body shows multiple stabs (plus much abuse from earlier years as an outcast beggar).

Jaya had started to show herself, to come to Ralph’s house and with Adam, their son; he goes to her and proposes that if she agrees to go somewhere else, he would support her, but he appears to do nothing about this.  Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) as the missionary teacher who loves Adam repeatedly wrests Adam back from this half-mad mother: Java threatens the boy, puts him at risk; she confides to Ralph that beyond her life in the streets, all she has known from men since Ralph abandoned her has been abuse. At the end of Episode 6 Jaya is apparently waiting for Ralph by the river (it seems like an appointment was made) and looks eager and then (apparently it’s not Ralph) because this person is doing something which horrifically frightens her, and next thing we see her drowning and screaming.

A second thread is that of McCleod’s relationship to Ramu Sood. Jaya has strayed into Sood’s house and finding a woman’s beautiful wedding clothes in a closet, takes them and puts them on.  These turn out to be Sood’s dead wife’s dress, and he becomes very angry. Sood is a lonely man who sits on his porch, half asleep with a gun across his knees — we learn in the trial his wife had died in childbirth. The gun shows he feels that his life is continually under threat. Now it was McCleod who, sorry for Jaya, let her work in what were McCleod’s uncle’s and are now Sood’s tea fields. McCleod’s good nature and naivete contribute to the tragedy.  Sood had looked at her impersonally and thought she would not be an effective worker and felt she might bring trouble. By this time Sood is training McCleod and they are working together.

In David Gilmore’s The British in India (cited in my first blog on Indian Summers) Gilmore says that a disproportionate number of Scots people came to India for work and became successful businessmen working closely with the Indians. We see the two men forming a friendship, Sood training McCleod: a mentor-father relationship forms. They sit and drink and Sood tells of the beggar woman and wedding dress.  Sood invites McCleod to stay, but McCleod insists on going home alone and hears the screaming nearby at the river — having seen Sood on the porch waving to him a few minutes before.


Farquhar’s first appearance: he is showing the ladies the head of the snake which he just killed

A separate thread is the discomfort and on again off again relationship of Alice and Aafrin. The absence-presence of her husband, Charlie, looms again. Irish Captain Billie Farquhar (James Maclachlan) comes out of nowhere to shoot and kill a snake who terrifies Madeleine, Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden) and maybe frightens Alice (Jemima West), all taking a sort of stroll in the bush (as it were). He is Irish, and presents himself as a mountain climber needing permission to climb the Himalayas. We are told this climb is extremely dangerous physically, and it quickly emerges that in fact Farquhar is not there to climb these mountains: when Ralph gives permission, Farquhar suggests Ralph wants to get rid of him. He reveals he is a friend of Alice’s husband, Charlie, and soon Alice is again in a abject position. She is susceptible to bullying; is bullied continually by Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott) who also knows of the marriage and her flight, and threatens to reveal she is not a widow but has (in law) kidnapped her son.


Sarah and Alice — this frenemy relationship is continuous — Alice is actually the friend of Leena, and tries to help at the missionary school

Ralph watches from afar, at first thinking Alice is “leading Farquhar on,” and when she denies this, Ralph literally throws Farquhar down the stairs, bashing Farquhar’s head on a wall in such a way as possibly to cause a serious concussion. Farquhar leaves in haste, but not before he has threatened to tell Charlie what actually is the condition of Alice and reminded her the boy belongs to the father.

A lighter note: Dougie Raworth’s (Craig Parkinson) keeping to his wife, puts her in a better temper and we see her for once on a roof accepting drink from her son and husband (playfully) instead of enacting incessant bitterness, aggression and pride and snobbery, envy, and spite.

That Ralph can risk murder of Farquhar shows his violence. We see him remove Madeleine from tea at one point and he forcibly in effect rapes her from the back (buggers) her and we see her submit to the pain (no pregnancy would happen). Then Ralph’s close servant, Bhupinder (Ash Nair) goes after his wife, Sumitra (Anitha Abdul Hamid?) who is Alice’s servant and nanny to Alice’s baby son, Percy — from the back, but she has the courage to refuse him and run away. We do see Ralph grieve over Jaya’s body in the morgue, but continue the lies he does not know who she is.

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Complicity would be a perfect title for S1, Episode 7. We see how Superintendent Rowntree (Guy Williams) leaps on McCleod’s naive bringing forth of information about a link between Jaya and Ramu Sood — specifically her taking his wife’s wedding dress and his anger over this — to accuse Sood of premeditated murder. Then the complicities slowly emerge:


Ian (Alexander Cobb) in his flat realizing he has been badly used

It takes time for Leena to realizes Raworth is holding back information which might help Sood: Raworth and she both know that Jaya was Adam’s mother, but more importantly that Ralph is the father. Raworth keeps saying he is not telling to protect Adam; but the reality is he is afraid to expose the Private Secretary for fear of reprisals. Ralph has sent him a huge check for the school (soon after Jaya began to be seen around the compound). Our respect for Raworth ought to go way down: his abjection before his wife is matched by his cowardice before British authorities.

Cynthia keeps up the drumbeat of false stories, including that Sood killed Armitage, when it was Armitage who attacked Sood. But then (like Leena slowly about Raworth) I realized Cynthia suspected Ralph did it and he suspects her. So Sood is a screen for both of them. (What do they care about him?) Aafrin seems as yet indifferent to what is happening in the trial, caring only that the Muslim girl (Sati) he found himself engaged to (through his father’s behavior) lied to him and endangered his position as a trusted Parsi among the whites.

Sood cries after being beaten into confession — as he says his crime was to behave as if he were equal; he should have kept his head down and not taken over the tea plantation. It ends on Ralph also (yet another person) telling McCleod it’s no use to offer any alibi, you will not be thanked. I did not realize that the whites and the passive obedient Indian community really meant to hang Sood when they knew it was a false charge probably because such a program as this would have poetic justice (so I thought).


The players — one of the more savagely ironic stills in the series

There is a play within the play going on: the British are putting on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Cynthia as Lady Bracknell. Events happening within the play and the behavior of the players to one another reveal their characters and parallel events leading up to the trial. Cynthia tries to win McCleod back by welcoming him into the club and giving him a major part in the play (one she removes from Eugene Mathers out of spite), but he gradually sees through this and returns to the police to tell what he saw and insist he is Sood’s alibi. The large analogy (not obvious and thus probably lost to an American audience) is that Cynthia is Lady Bracknell and cares intensely about Ernest, who in this paradigm would be an allusion to the orphaned Ralph.

The larger event referred as happening off stage is Ghandi’s threat to go on a hunger strike and Ralph objects to staging the play as bad politics (the British will look bad); but the Viceroy (Patrick Malahide) who has a major role, and is much flattered throughout, insists the play go on (in effect he threatens Ralph with loss of his position). Ralph fears this ignoring the suffering of thousands and Ghandi’s symbolic recognition will cost them the parliamentary votes they need. Viceroy laughs at him.

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Episode 8: The Trial. The first time I watched the framing (very weak) and then trial and conviction of Ramu Sood, I didn’t realize quite how “guilty” was a foregone conclusion. The Indian judge had never for a moment considered coming up with a “not guilty” verdict. I admit that still I couldn’t take in that in the next episode this innocent man would be killed before our very eyes.


Raworth suddenly standing up at the trial, stopping Leena (whose POV we are in) from giving evidence that Ralph Whelan is Adam’s father

Some striking moments: Raworth protected Ralph Whelan so closely and then sent back Ralph’s check. Raworth cannot face his own lack of integrity, but to send the money back is as useless (one might say) as both Ian and Leena’s evidence on behalf of Sood in the trial. When Raworth signals to Leena on the stand that she should not utter Whelan’s name that made her evidence no evidence. She has come courageously to the Indian lawyer to tell him that Adam is Jaya’s son and that an important part of the evidence is who the father is. But on the stand she does not identify Ralph. She also made the mistake of criticizing Jaya (ironic that this is used against her). The Indian lawyer on behalf of Sood, suggests that she herself might have murdered the boy because she so yearned to be Adam’s mother, and then the unscrupulous British lawyer repeats the idea. So she is triply betrayed: by both lawyers and in effect by Raworth. Raworth fails Leena as McCleod does not fail Sood. Now whether telling the truth would not harm Leena, we cannot know ….

The worst villainess of the piece is Cynthia Coffin — ruthless, supposedly for Whelan, she ceaselessly blackens Sood. When it’s insinuated that Raworth might be Adam’s father, she says oh no, it was Armitage — no sleaze is beneath her. She (we realize wrongly) fears that Raworth might tell the truth were he accused – and the accusation is obvious when he stands up in the trial to stop Leena’s evidence. I probably should reread The Importance of Being Earnest to understand Lady Bracknell’s full relationship with Ernest; it is parallel with Cynthia’s with Ralph. She has now consigned Eugene to an early death by putting him in her club basement because she wants to get rid of both Mathers people and find for Ralph a much wealthier wife.

I did begin to feel there is misogyny in the way Cynthia is continually fingered as so powerful and so cruel. Sarah Raworth’s behavior reinforces this misogyny. She seems to vomit during the trial when Raworth stands up to defend Leena – all she cares for is is she acceptable by these racist imperialists. She comes home after the trial exposes Raworth and Leena has having some relationship to Jaya and Adam, and she rages at Raworth on the grounds she will now be stigmatized and excluded again. She tells him how boring, boring are his sermons. Against this is that when Aafrin breaks with Sati and tries to reach Alice, we are to feel for Sati who now will have her reputation utterly compromised — so not a misogynous script.


Sooni seated by the Indian lawyer; the snide insinuating English lawyer badgering Sood to confess …

Also the character of Sooni (Aysha Kala) shows us a feminist paradigm  — as does the story of Alice who has no rights or power or ability to earn an income it seems.  Sooni supports Sood, helps the Indian lawyer, gets McCleod to the court sober to give his evidence on behalf of Sood. Sood tries to persuade Ian not to give evidence; Sood pretends hostility to Ian, and insults him, and in Ian’s emotional hurt, Ian runs off to get drunk. Sood is the unselfish good man — who understands the way the Raj works but (as he said) assumed he could be an exception. We see him on the stand treated disrespectfully and played with by the lawyer — and realize the full extent of his personal tragedy: a man who lose a beloved wife and child only a few months ago.

It’s not an overtly violent, over dramatic ratcheted up drama — it is utterly believable.  At the end the last shot of the episode is of Ralph’s feet. The British lawyer used as evidence incriminating Sood that a filthy old sandal was found near the river. The lawyer scoffed at the idea a British man could wear sandals. But could this be Ralph’s sandal? We are given a clue here: the sandal was in too bad a shape to be Ralph’s. So who could the murderer have been if not Ralph, and an Indian man? Stay tuned.

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Cynthia justifying herself to Ralph …


As Sood is taken to his death, Ian jumps up and attempts to hug Sood, and stop this killing — very moving moment

See the comments for Episodes 9 or “Secrets Out”, and 10: Temporary Resolutions and the Hanging of Sood.

In another week or so I’ll write about the second season. For now Indian Summers might be considered an answer to the critiques of The Jewel in the Crown. Here we genuinely see the Raj from several different Indian POVs, and its power and cruelty are before us. It also much to its credit gives us a deeper sense of the permeations between England and Indian culture — no matter how hard the English tried to insulate themselves, they cannot. The little instruments are here too: it’s also the first one I’ve seen showing how ostracizing someone from the club could be used. Without the club, Ian has no friends, no where to go. These ever so civil upper class types, high cultured, are a bunch of ruthless murderers. But all are equally capable of evil and harm. An Indian man comes up to Aafrin and lets him know he knows about how Aafrin stole the document — he is demanding money to stay silent. I became intensely involved with all the characters; part of my grief at the cancelling of the series was to lose their presences and their full stories over the projected 50 episodes.

Ellen

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Julie Walters playing Cynthia Coffin, mistress of Ceremonies, hypocritically welcoming everyone to the club, her right-hand man, Kaiser (Indi Nadarajah) by her side

Noticeably: the kind of motifs, themes, and some character types you see in 19th century Anglo-Indian books and still in EM Forster and Paul Scott are not here (rape of white woman not central, but rather badly mistreated Indian women – murdered, imprisoned, no sneaky sly non-white characters but rather relentless white corrupt officials …) — a modern Anglo-Indian set of stories

Dear Friends,

Six years too late. How typical of me. I first watched the first Poldark series twenty years after it aired (1995 when I began to read Winston Graham’s books). Indian Summers aired for two years (or two seasons), ten episodes each from 2015-2016 when it was unfortunately cancelled, supposedly for not high enough ratings. Indian Summers is astonishingly even-handed: it is the first Anglo-Indian film to dramatize centrally the stories and characters of as many Indian characters (Parsi, Muslim, Hindu) as it dramatizes Anglo white (English, Scottish, American, some Australian, one Irish) characters. It candidly shows the cruelly unjust behavior of the white characters in front of us to the Indian ones. Jewel in the Crown, fine as it was, does not come near this. It’s superbly acted, fully realized production values (as this is put), beautifully written complex dialogue, on location (or near enough).

I’ve been watching and re-watching it for several months – I bought it when I began to prepare for the Anglo-Indian novels course I gave in two places this past spring 2022. I felt so sad when it came to an end and I realize that several threads were developing towards the second season, and (from the second feature at the end of that season before the series was cancelled), the series was supposed to be fifty episodes or five seasons, covering the period from 1932 to 1947: the first season was set in 1932, the second 1935, the third was going to show us the characters another three years later.

If it has a fault, it was that it introduced the character too slowly, allowing them only gradually to present their full selves and predicaments, the way we meet characters in complex novels, requiring that you re-watch to get the full and ironic significance of earlier episodes in the first season. Several of the Netflix commentaries include complaints and puzzlements because viewers did not understand what was happening until they reached later episodes and one must remember that at the time streaming, and having available all episodes at once to watch and re-watch as we do today was not common then.


Paul Rutman speaking of the Parsi family in the show

There are other problems in trying to write about it. Since it was cancelled after two years, and there are no books for a fan base to rally around, I have had a hard time finding out anything substantial about it. For example, I suspect it’s based on a novel sketched out by Rutman or several found by him (a kind of composite), but cannot prove it without some evidence. Here is a rare column on it: The thematic aim of the series is to lay bare the repressive policies and laws of the British gov’t that ruled India before Independence. This idea shapes and holds the several story lines together. Paul Rutman’s wife is from the sub-continent; he taught there in 1993; later he visited and lived there; after the topic was suggested to him, he read many many books (he cites histories and memoirs). He became convinced the relationship between the two umbrella cultures (there are more cultures in Indian than the upper class English/Scots and Parsi families the series centers on) is of vital importance for understanding Indian history and India and later 19th century UK and the UK until recently. He was drawn to the mood of nostalgia he found in these writings, and stories of people fighting for individual and group survival.

Too many years have gone by to retrieve it (sometimes the producers relent and a series is revived within 2-3 years), the only hope would be to do it again with different actors, and TV and film techniques and dramaturgies have moved on again. As with the Poldark seasons, and Foyle’s War (and other series I’ve written about here and on Austen reveries), I thought perhaps the best thing I could do to draw attention to it once again, for its own sake (watch for enjoyment and what you can learn about India) and to encourage other films of this type, is to retell the stories. The full complex depth, and empathy one can feel for the flawed central character of Cynthia Coffin, played magnificently by Julie Walters, takes two seasons to develop …

One becomes intensely involved with most of the characters, whether you love, identify, laugh at, cry for or hate them: a friend told me he hated the chief white male, Ralph Whelan (played by Henry Lloyd Hughes). I felt his Parsi counterpart, and subordinate, by the end brother-in-law, Aafrin Dalal (played by Nikesh Patel) was the series’ true hero.


The two men shaking hands when Whelan first hires and promotes Dalal to be his chief clerk and secretary (a general dogsbody for Whelan who is private secretary to the viceroy)

I can’t do it episode by episode since they are not self-contained (like the Foyle’s War ones and many of the Outlander episodes) and you only understand what you were watching in the first when you get to say the fourth (the second season this is no longer a problem and when new characters are introduced, they are somehow explained as much as they need to be right away).

The first season, Episodes 1-4. The first opens with a group of people seen on a train, all on their way to an Indian station near or in Simla, the summer retreat of the upper class British leaders. We see a half-caste child (part Indian, part white) whom other Indian children are throwing stones at, who seems homeless and ends up putting himself on the train track (thus inviting death). The train stops in time, and the child is rescued by a white missionary, Dougie Raworth (Craig Parkinson) and an Indian woman we later learn works for him in a school as a teacher, Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Reevah). They take him into the missionary school and think up a name for him: Lazarus is too obvious, and they chose Adam. What we learn by the fourth episode is this child is Ralph Whelan’s illegitimate son by a village girl whom he loved but never married, Jaya (Hasina Haque), now a homeless beggar, thrown out of her birth-place. On the train we meet Dougie’s racist wife, Sarah, a mean petty coarse nasty woman (Fiona Glascott), whose son rides next to her.

We also meet Alice Whelan (Jemima West) on her way “home” from England with her young baby son; we learn quickly she is fleeing a British husband, and seeking the love and protection of her brother: another key moment to this episode is when she climbs the stairs of the family mansion, Chotipool, and the two embrace. We are introduced to the racially segregated society of the club, with our first impression of Cynthia as the crude amoral, if hard-working, manager of the summer activities centered in the club building called the Royal Simla Club (“no Indians or dogs allowed,” says the sign).


The reasonable intelligent Dalal father (Roshan Seth), too much a compromiser though) and the mother (Lillette Dubey) whose world-view is narrow but passionate, a woman of integrity

This first episode also introduces us to the Dalal family before us — Parsi, pro-British, the most family-like conventional (warm) group of people for the first few episodes. Aafrin is shown as still under parents’ control and yet supports them. Aafrin thinks that he is in love with a Hindu girl, Sati (Elllora Torchia). He has a sister, Sooni Dalal (Aysha Kala) who in the series is the Indian romantic heroine, a sort of counterpart to Alice whose life has taken a bad turn by the time we meet her. Several of the young men in the series will fall in love with Sooni. Two older brilliant actors are the parents (see just above). An assassin following Whelan confronts him, with a gun, and in a scuffle shoots Aafrin in the chest; Aafrin would have died but that Ralph gets Cynthia to organize an ambulance and take Aafrin to the hospital. Aafrin and Alice’s love affair begins when she comes to the hospital to visit this man who saved her brother.


Sooni with Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), a Scotsman who gradually emerges as humane just man fighting for vindication of Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan), literally murdered by the British because he gets in their way as a landowner who thinks he has rights ….

The episode ends with Ralph having dinner on a porch at Chotipool, and carelessly, ruthlessly fucking Madeline Mathers (Olivia Grant), an American woman there to find a husband. Cynthia has enabled this relationship under the wrong impression the Matthews are rich, and when Cynthia finds out she relegates Madeleine’s crippled desperate and beloved brother, Eugene (Edward Hogg) to a room where he contracts typhus and dies (at the end of the first season). Madeleine’s character develops relative to Ralph and Cynthia’s story the way Sarah’s does Dougie and Leena’s (who share outlooks, goals, and love one another) so they remain secondary if complex important characters.

Of Episodes 2 through 4, it’s enough to say the action and scenes develop the characters we have been introduced to, with new ones adding on. The political realities and some of the characters’ secrets are gradually revealed; the literal circumstances of their lives and nuances in characters thickened. For example, we meet Ian’s maternal uncle, Armitage (I can’t find a first name), played by Richard McCabe, a drunken, overtly bigoted owner of a tea plantation, whom Ian has come out to help; the plantation is doing so badly and so much in debt to Sood that we see Sood take it over in the season, much to the uncle’s rage; the uncle attacks Sood when Sood asks him for money owed, and Armitage dies of a heart attack brought on by his own alcoholism and violence. Eventually Ian is excluded from the club when he protests the hideous treatment of Sood (who is even accused of attacking Armitage when it was the other way around), and, together with Sooni, joins protest demonstrations on Sood’s behalf after Sood is hung. In the second episode there are climaxes in the hospital and over Adam running away; we see Jaya and realize she is following Ralph and, from his POV and that of loyal Indian servant, Bhupi (Ash Nair), endangering Ralph’s reputation and career, his standing.

In the third episode, Sooni involves herself in a radical, revolutionary demonstration supporting an Indian woman’s speech (Nalini Ayer) and ends up in prison; the theme of the speech is that the idea that something is better than nothing is worse than no enfranchisement at all. Sergeant Rowntree recommends beating the people taken into prison. Alice visits the Raworth school which lacks all sorts of essentials and becomes friendly with Leena. Aafrin learns to ride horse so as to join in on the British way of life (what Ralph wants); Indians in suits watching are intimidated by Ralph standing next them; Ralph invites Aafrin into the club (!) for drinks. Raworth is all abjection in front of the endlessly gardening obnoxious Sarah who does not want the son, Matthew, to go to her husband’s school or a “ghastly” fair at the club (because they are low ranked people); she takes advantage of her husband by put-on crying about how she lives so far away from everything (I realize some viewers would sympathize with her).


The Viceroy is the center of all parties, with Cynthia the endless jolly entertainment (it’s an act)

In the fourth episode, we meet the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) who is not in himself a bad man, but goes along with all that the UK gov’t deems necessary to dominate and extract as much profit as possible from India and the Indians. He has a sour sense of humor: Am I the only one here without a martyr complex left over from 1857 (he asks)? There’s a mixed race (but all upper class) dinner party with everyone all dressed up: Aafrin explains his family came from Persia centuries ago; Eugene claims the Mathers family got out of the stock market before the crash.


Ralph as Louis XIV and Madeleine as Marie Antoinette — it is not uncommon among the super-rich for people to dress themselves extravagantly as royals of the past (in NYC at the turn of the century robber barons and their families did this)

Episode 5: Ralph’s engagement party to Madeleine where they dress up as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. A number of threads are now also developing minor characters and side stories, some of them epitomizing, some interesting in themselves. I emphasize how Cynthia in this episode emerges as a basically murderer — she is spreading as truth the idea that Ramu Sood killed Armitage; she is threatening McCleod with banishment from the club if he works for Sood (who tells McCleod he wants him for his name and as a decent manager); she has discovered the Mathers are broke (she will steathily attempt to undermine and destroy Ralph’s engagement); Ralph says he is not sure he loves Madeleine. We see he has a mother-son relationship with Cynthia; in the second season we learn both are badly in debt, with Ralph much more deeply in.


Ralph (Henry Lloyd Hughes) and Cynthia (Julie Walters) in an unguarded moment, confiding …

Leena is a Cinderella who finally puts on a dress to go to the ball (a party at the club to which she as a teacher at Raworth’s school can come) but retreats because she truly loves Raworth and does not want to distress him. His awful wife, Sarah, has discovered Alice is married, and by threatening to expose her bullies Alice continually: we see how susceptible Alice is to cruelty. The club secretary, Ronnie Keene (Rick Warden) is a sycophant who has shown that nothing is beneath him is in the later episodes of this season attracted to Sarah and she to him.


Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) at the school — in season 2, she is sent to prison for 9 years after a proposed new viceroy sexually harasses her and Ralph’s son, Adam, fiercely loyal to her set him on fire ….

Ralph manages to get an untouchable accepted into the club assembly — Ralph is a complicated ambiguous character whose larger political vision includes an aim of integration with the Indians since he personally regards India as his home (his family has been there for generations — this did happen) and does not want the British to give up central power over India. He is trying for a India bill which he thinks might lead to unification through nationalism (not to divide the religious groups); what stands in his way among other things are the 600 princely states (and the story of these will be embodied in the second season).


Alice and Aafrin later in the first season, very much drawn to one another

Dalal’s father suddenly seems to allow Aafrin to love Sati — he is far more reasonable than the Dalal wife-mother whom Sooni has not yet broken from — I am wondering how much he suspects Aafrin is attracted to Alice and this is a ploy to stave the Alice affair off — and an open English and non-Indian connection. The episode ends with Aafrin and Alice kissing in the gardens (party going wild now), while Bhupi kicks out the nervy Jaya and Adam (trailing around after Ralph). Sati we know destroyed a letter which Aafrin gave her to give to Sooni to get rid of evidence in the Dalal home that Aafrin sometimes works with Indian rebels in ways that undermine Ralph.


This summer house in Penang, Malaysia was filmed as the British Hill station in Simla (see a slideshow of all the houses & places used)

To be continued …

Ellen

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John-Alexander Sakelos as Peter Quince, Jacob Ming-Trent as Bottom, John Floyd as Flute, Sabrina Lynn Sawyer as Snug

Friends and readers,

The summer is more than half over and I’ve not recommended any summer movies. I have urged as a perfect summer book the treat of an ironic romance, shadowing the gothic at its edges off-stage of Valerie Martin’s Italian Fever, and tonight add (in haste, lest you miss it) the unmeaning (in the best sense) broad farcical fun at the National Building Museum of a Folger production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. A high compliment I can pay it is I felt at moments like I was back in New York City in the Central Park theater watching a Shakespeare play, for this MND like to many Central Park Shakespeare plays was doused in a feeling of local culture (African-American city style) and sentiment (here DC).  How happy those nights were for me in the 1970s in NYC under the stars.  This one had a little of that wondrous starlight at moments, and was also (not unrelated) a community event:


Danaya Esperanza as Puck at the top; Rotimi Aghablaka and Nubia M Monks as Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta on top; the four lovers on either side

I agree with Peter Marks it’s another savagely cut-down Shakespeare, and was done very broadly (precious little nuance was felt, so no sense of intimacy). Still, those central moments for the lovers in the forest, the players’ practicing and production, with the frame of Theseus/Hippolyta as Oberon/Titania(only it is he who falls in love with an ass) was enough. The best lines survived and then some.

Peter Marks omitted what was the fun: filled in was a lot of African-American and recent rock music, Jacob Ming-Trent mimicked a lot of African-American slang phrases and pop culture allusion as well as the culture itself (this Bottom rode an invisible motorcycle) as did the players to some extent and the framing of the noble and squabbling faery lover. Our Athenian pairs were left to be their usual selves. The dance and music performed by everyone immersed us. The faeries’ outfits were magical fantastical:


The same actors played the players as the faeries

I liked some of the costumes as outlandish bizzare: for example, Snug as Thisbe in the play


The red wigged braided hair is Thisbe; the other extravagant lady is Helena (Renea S. Brown)

I suggest that you do not expect a lot of serious philosophic feeling about dreams and/or love despite what is interestingly (in the program notes for the production) claimed by Michele Osterow; what we are given rather is elusiveness and self-conscious self-reflexive ironic highjinks, e.g., Lilli Hokama as Hermia may be little but she is fierce, and tosses Hunter Ringsmith up to the sky.  My favorite moments came with Kathryn Zoerb as Moon and Brit Herring as Wall (for whom, alas, I can find no photos). The director was Victor Malana Maog; Alexandra Beller, choreographer; and Tony Cisek (long time Folger person) did the production design.

When I could still see to drive at night and could come to night-time productions, pre-pandemic at the Folger itself, they had another of these Midsummer Night’s Dreams, this one a movie with more sweet sadness and melancholy, elements missing here. But we are (I am) aging and in this at-risk-world of ours, don’t miss out on this gaiety (however vigorous — think robust).

The stage and auditorium as a whole set up in a playhouse space:


Behind the scenes pre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream stage play.

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,
June 22 – July 27
6 sessions In Person (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va, Tallwood)
Dr Ellen Moody

Sensation and Gothic Novels, Then and Now

In this course we will read Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White (4 1/2 sessions) and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a post-text to RLStevenson’s Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, the novella retells story from a POV of the housemaid (1 and 1/2 sessions). We will discuss what is a sensation, what a gothic novel — what are their characteristics? how do they overlap? — and how both evolved out of the later 18th century, into the Victorian and now in our contemporary era. Many movies and plays have been adapted from Collins’s and Stevenson’s novels; we’ll discuss some of these, and I’ll ask the class to see the latest BBC 2018 Woman in White 5 part serial, featuring Jessie Buckley, scriptwriter Fiona Seres; and Stephen Frear’s 1996 film, featuring John Malkovich, Julia Roberts, scriptwriter Christopher Hampton

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

Collins, Wilkie. The Woman in White, intro, ed, notes John Sutherland 1999; rpt. Oxford, 2008, ISBN 9780199535637. This Oxford is the one I’ll be using, but just as good is the recent Collins, Wilkie, The Woman in White, intro, ed, notes Matthew Sweet. Penguin, 1999. ISBN 978014143961

Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly. NY: Vintage, 1990. Reprinted many times.

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

The Woman in White. Dir. Carl Tibbetts, script Fiona Seres. Perf. Jessie Buckley, Ben Hardy, Olivia Vinall, Charles Dance. Art Malik. BBC One, 2018. 5 episodes.
The Woman in White. Dir Tim Fywell, script David Pirie. Perf. Tara Fitzgerald, Justine Waddell, James Wilby, Simon Callow, Ian Richardson. BBC One, 1997 2 hours.
Mary Reilly. Dir Stephen Frears, script Christopher Hampton. Perf John Malvovich, Julia Roberts, Michael Gambon, Glenn Close. Sony, 1996. 108 minutes


Marian Halcombe (Jessie Buckley) — Portrait shot


Marian Fairlie (Tara Fitzgerald) — Another portrait shot


Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts) and Hyde (John Malkovich) — from the movie

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Jun 22: 1st week: Introduction: Sensational and Victorian Gothic Novels; Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Jun 29: 2nd week: The Woman in White

July 6: 3rd week: The Woman in White

July 13: 4th week: Two movie versions of The Woman in White: 1997 story itself changed; 2018 structure altered.

July 20: 5th week: Gothic subgenres (vampire, ghost; horror v terror; female gothic), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde; Valerie Martin; Mary Reilly

July 27: 6th Week: Mary Reilly, the book, ending on the an excerpt from Frears’s film. Last thoughts on genre.


19th century book illustration for story of a haunted house …

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

Collins, Wilkie. Three other of his novels: No Name, Armadale, and The Moonstone. All in print and available in good editions.
—————. Rambles Beyond Railways. Dodo Press, ISBN 978-1409-965749 An illustrated edition of this enjoyable journey around Cornwall
Davenport-Hines, Richard. Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin. NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998.
Makowsky, Veronica. The Fiction of Valerie Martin: An Introduction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ, 2016.
Martin, Valerie. Four more of her novels: The Great Divorce, Italian Fever, Property, and The Ghost of the Mary Celeste
Peters, Catherine. The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. Princeton UP, 1991.
Showalter, Elaine. “Victorian Women and Insanity,” Victorian Studies 23:2 (Winter, 1980):157-181. Everyone will get a copy of this by attachment.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, ed, intro, notes Martin Danahay. Broadview Literary, 1985. The best text of them all.
———————–. The Amateur Emigrant. Introd. Fanny Stevenson. NY: Carroll and Graf, 2002.
———————–. “A Lodging for the Night,” and “Markheim:” https://archive.org/details/lodgingfornight00stev/page/n9/mode/2up http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Mark.shtml
Taylor, Jenny Bourne. In the Secret Theater of Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth Century Psychology. Victorian Secrets, 2018.
Tichelaar, Tyler. The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. Modern History Press, 2012.
Williams, Anne. Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. University of Chicago, 1995


Goya, The Sleep of Reason, 1799

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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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All Creatures Great and Small, Christmas episode, 2021 (closing scene … )

Friends and readers,

A long while ago, a new subgenre emerged — it may have occurred before TV, but certainly with TV: the Christmas special. At first the kind was a variety show, comedy and songs, with our weekly host/hostess, but didn’t take long for the filmed drama, serial style, to enter our lives directly into this holiday season everyone (seemingly) in the northern (and now even the southern — witness Australia) hemisphere seems determined to act out. In all the Christmas blogs I’ve done over the years, I have among the classic movies (1951 Scrooge, 1946 It’s a Wonderful Life), ghost, romance (Poldark), and popular Christmas movies, probably “done” a Christmas special. Indeed I remember writing about Downton Abbey in Scotland. There’s no use condescending, for some of these hours are brilliant and sustain us today still, for example, the early Sesame Street Christmas, the one where Mr Hooper and Bert and Ernie played out the O.Henry story, and Big Bird talked of Santa “stacked over Kennedy”.

Though James Herriot’s books have now provided at least one fine movie (1974, with Anthony Hopkins as Siegfried Farnon), and I’m told of eight entertaining years of British TV, beginning a few years after that (1978-90, with Robert Hardy as Farnon, and Christopher Timothy as Herriot, Peter Davison as Tristan), and last year was an unexpected hit (“Snuggling down in the Yorkshire Dales to save a few cows turned out to be just what the doctor ordered last winter.” , — I don’t know if anyone paid any special attention to Episode 7. I wasn’t inclined to until I started watching it. This evening I helped myself loosen the tightness I feel as I work at being cheerful under the prolonged strain of Covid — the isolater — by watching it twice!


Opening scene with James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) opening gate in fence to move on through the beautiful countryside to a worn old house where an aging couple, white farmer with a black English wife, have called him because she is worried over a dog having trouble producing her puppies


Matching first scene with Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley, superb in the part), far more than housekeeper, to one side, and Siegfried Farnon (now Samuel West) to the other of a perfect tree: she is urging him not to open Tristan’s veterinarian test results, for looking won’t change them, and knowing (he’s failed once again) may spoil the days to come

By this time or as of this evening, I confess to having watched this new and third iteration of a first season (2021) through twice, its second season (2022) once (minus the Christmas episode which has not been played yet on British TV), a segment on YouTube of the 1974 movie once, and about 8 episodes of the first season of the 1975 version, once each. At first I was slightly hostile, instinctively alienated by the self-conscious pastoralism of the paratexts (please no meretricious Arcadias was my thought):


In the Christmas episode underneath the refrain associated with, framing the series, could be heard lightly Christmas bells …

Then the events occurring seemed dismayingly predictable.  But as I became involved with the animal care, and then the developing relationships and personalities, especially that of Mrs Hall, I was drawn in, and then amiably addicted. I remembered the paratexts from the 2016 Durrells and how I learned to love that series, and eventually bought the books by Gerry, a group biography, then a wonderful travel meditative book on Corfu, and before you know it, I was reading another of Lawrence Durrell’s travel books with different eyes, understanding where they came from far more. I am a fan of Keeley Hawes for life now.

As the first season went on, not only did it move beyond its kind conventions, the film-makers defied, went against the way the comic-emotional tropes are usually developed. This Christmas episode outdid itself. Most Christmas stories end with the characters getting some version of their heart’s desires, having clearly become life’s winners, not quite here. We learn eventually in fact Tristan (the puzzlingly marvelous Callum Woodhouse — also an unexpected mainstay of The Durrells) has not passed his exams, but when Siegfried opens the letter and reads pass/fail, he lies and then puts the letter in the fire. He will (at least for now) treat his younger brother insofar as he can as a certified veterinarian.  During this episode we watch Tristan learning on the job, not only to care for animals (a donkey requisitioned for the Christmas pageant) but the human being who is its caretaker and is in as much need of alert attention if any good is to be done for the donkey.


Tristan (dressed in the elf outfit to please his brother, Siefgfried) congratulating a small boy dressed as a wise man on telling that he fed the donkey mistletoe – now Tristan can try to figure out how to help the creature’s obvious pain

All episode long Mrs Hall is expecting, waiting, watching, eagerly anticipating the return of her son, Edward, to her (after a jail sentence in which her evidence helped convict him), only to about 3/4s through realize he is not coming. We see her hold up in church, the singing forcing her to control her crying (Siegfried holding her hand over the song book), and while appearing to accept, still in that last still not forgetting him. Because this is the way most Christmas stories end, like her I kept expecting him, but no miraculous forgiveness and reconciliation, only a growing awareness of the hardness of what his reality might now be.


The subtitle, Repeat the sounding joy, functions ironically

Most striking of all, after all Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) does not marry Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis). Several episodes seem to have brought them together, and now a main motive of this episode is her coming wedding, complete with bachelor’s party for him, the beautiful dress, the congratulations, the ceremony to be performed tomorrow as a key community event. But she cannot face it, and has apparently herself understood she loves Herriot; she urges Herriot to take her with him as he returns late in the evening to the the aging couple and their distressed female dog. The birth takes several hours, fog comes in, they cannot return until morning. We learn of how this couple came to marry, how they loved and have been true to their love against much prejudice and ostracizing.


A Black English woman was always an outsider says the wife, Hattie Edkins (Hetty Rudd)

First Helen and then James settle down to sleep on separate couches. With real difficulty he manages to start the car (it is very cold) and return her to her waiting dress, father. Then taking the kindly meant but conventional advice of Mrs Hall and Siegfried, James starts to drive away back to Glasgow (for Christmas with his parents), but at a symbolic crossroads, reverses and drives back. He discovers that Helen did not go through with the wedding, and now sits on a bench, alone, maybe waiting for him?


James sits next to her, and we watch them from the back, gradually talk, and hold hands, walking out of the church, the right couple at last

Hugh vanishes from the stage after his brief appearance at the party, on his way to a bachelor’s party — he has lost a lot of money as well as pride and his heart’s desire.

Of course it’s not all quiet trauma and doubt. The actresses are all very pretty, Helen especially in her melancholy and strong stasis


Helen brooding at a window (same posture seen in Anna Maddeley as Mrs Hall), standing in front of the car on the cold morning, enduring the coming wedding still

There are two other romances, which while moving at glacial paces, seem to be getting somewhere. Lovely ceremoniousness between Siegfried and an older woman friend of Mrs Hall, Dorothy (Maimie McCoy); like my present hero, Christopher Foyle (who knows not Michael Kitchen?), Siegfried says he is having difficulty forgetting his deceased wife. Tristan is perhaps more than flirting with Maggie (Mollie Winnard).


James and Helen with Connie (Charlie May-Clark) who has hopes of Herriot and finds everything so festive


Preparations for the coming feast — Siegfried overlooking what Mrs Hall has set out in the kitchen

Throughout the episode there is much happy activity, Christmas party, Christmas dancing, Siefried as Santa in green and white; the farmer’s market, Mrs Hall’s food, her shopping for Brussel sprouts. The dog does give birth finally and we watch the first puppy struggle for life and survive. Christmas carrolling in church (de rigueur in such films). Scenes of people eating together, drinking, just (as at the end) being together. All well-meaning. That does seem to be a universal tendency of these Christmas stories; when we meet a genuine evil man, like Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) in It’s a Wonderful Life, he is hated by all and thwarted, to the great satisfaction of all viewers, including this one.

If you are like me, home alone, you can vicariously join in to a Christmas that is believable. I do most days need some cheering up, so often so sad that right now my movie-watching includes this year’s All Creatures Great and Small, the set of DVDs sent me by my friend Rory. They still my heart with the strong projection of love, understanding, kindness between one another. I am especially fond of the direct emphasis on the animals the Vets and everyone else too are caring so tenderly for. That the first episode of the second season (about to start on US TV on PBS) opened with an temporarily ill but still adorable cat being taken care of by James was perhaps overdoing it …


Mrs Pumphrey (Diana Rigg) and Tricky-Woo — alas they are not in the Christmas episode

A few words about the differences between this 21st century version and the 20th: The 1978 serial is realer, its pastoral qualities quieter or not so determined, for money comes up right away, people have vexed and unforgiving temperaments.  The housekeeper is not so pretty or obliging and motherly (she keeps her distance, is a paid servant). There is far less depth of emotion. The literal events are much closer to the book.  This 21st century version has added characters (Helen’s sister for example, Herriot’s mother), usually a sign of strong change. I’m glad to see the overbearing dictatorial mother of the 21st century is not in the book. The women in the first series simply go to work, and are less self-conscious about it — dare I say the 20th century version is more quietly feminist? The 1978 series makes no strong effort to be pro-family the way this new series does — everyone does not become a honorary family member somewhere. Hugh’s role is smaller; he is simply preferred by Helen’s family for his higher rank and money. Much less is made of Mrs Pumphrey (Diana Rigg in the new iteration) and Tricky-Woo, the pampered pug. It seems in the 21st century the film-makers assume we long for imagined strong communities where people live up to some social obligations they usually don’t in real life. The 1978 is quicker in pace; I don’t feel it’s more comic though it’s trying to be. We might say the 2020/21 is a more romantic familial series (following in the steps of the 21st century The Durrells?)

Both series show the characters caring for the farm animals and pets, but as far as I watched of the 1978 version (I stayed only for a trial week) the cameras don’t come up as close to them, and I feel at more intensely caring approach is felt in the 2021 episodes. The wikipedia articles tells you that Nicholas Ralph had to do quite a bit of training to enact his role. Mrs Hall (Audrey) is centrally involved in all the veterinarian business too (all personal and professional issues). The impersonal minor presence on the typewriter, in the kitchen in the old 1978 series in this 2021 version holds up the light by which Herriot performs a dangerous operation on a cow.

I would say the 2021/2 version of All Creatures Great and Small is far more theatrical than any of the previous (including the original movie)

Gentle reader, you could do far worse than spend one of these holiday evenings watching the Christmas episode of the 2021 All Creatures Great and Small.

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.”

*****************************************
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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So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age – the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night – are not solved; as long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
Victor Hugo, preface to Les Misérables (Hauteville House, 1862)

Dear friends and reader,

As I started to read it, the text seems to me utterly contemporary and referring itself to what is all around us today; a book again
for our time … I became so excited with the beauty of the prose and the incisive suggestively rich allegorical underpinnings …

I’m hope I am not giving an impression that I spend my life making schedules for reading with other people: this the sixth such calendar I’ve put on this blog this year. In four cases they were part of syllabi for classes I teach (this year all online) but in two they are schedules for me and several other people (thus far we have 7) to read together over several weeks (here months) on a listserv. I put this one on because most unexpectedly when I shared a previous schedule for this book with two FB pages I found a couple of people joined the listservs where we are reading them, and more people were planning to read along than I thought would. It is a famous book, many movies, a stupendously successful musical, many editions, many translations, and a full secondary literature.

I then discovered I had been far too optimistic or naive about quite how long Victor Hugo’s profound masterpiece is. In the 2013 Deluxe Penguin edition I am reading the text in it’s 1416 pages, including notes bit excluding the introduction. So I revised it, and will now put it here and the URL to this blog in those two places as an amendment. I am also inviting people to join us this way. Go to:

https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries

or

https://groups.io/g/18thCWorlds

The novel is divided into 5 books, corresponding (as David Bellos shows in his wonderfully lucid nformative and enjoyable book on Les Miserables as The Novel of the Century) to five stories or narratives, the first three centered more or less on three of the major characters: 1) Fantine; 2) her daughter, Cosette; 3) the young man who falls in love with Cosette, Marius; 5) and our hero whose lifeline is the general backbone of the book, Jean Valjean. 4 appears to be centered on the rebellion that occurs in the novel in Paris, which all our still living major characters, even Javert, the police guard who goes in pursuit of Valjean, take part in. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 5 are 8 to 9 books each, with Part 4, 15 books.

I will be reading the recent Penguin translated by Christine Donougher (used by Bellos, recommended by him) and have followed the numbers I found there but also have the older Penguin Norman Denny (where two chapters said to be straight history are placed in the back of the book). This time I do not have the text in French (as I did when on these same listservs we read Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris).

For the week beginning Sunday,

Oct 3: Part 1, Bks 1-2
Oct 10, Part 1, Bks 3-5
Oct 17, Part 1, Bks 6-8
Oct 24, Part 2, Bks 1-3
Oct 31, Part 2, Bks 4-6
Nov 7, Part 2, Bks 7-8
Nov 14, Part 3, Bks 1-3
Nov 21, Part 3, Bks 4-6
Nov 28, Part 3, Bks 7-8
Dec 5, Part 4, Bks 1-3
Dec 12, Part 4, Bks 4-6
Dec 19 Part 4, Bks 7-9
Dec 26 Part 4, Bks 10-12
Jan 2, Part 4: Bks 13-15
Jan 9, Part 5, Bks 1-3
Jan 16, Part 5, Bks 4-6
Jan 23, Part 5, Bks 7-9

So we finish just as February is rolling round …

As you can see we’ve started already but we will take a longer time over the first Part (Fantine) to give people a chance to join in, get the book and catch up, become (we hope) immersed.


Harriet Walter reading aloud poetry (so did Tobias Menzies) from Simon Schama’s The Romantics and US: the third part includes an impressive meditation on Hugo

Translations and editions. For what it’s worth, here is an article about the merits and flaws of several central translations. The Wilbour translation is contemporary with Hugo, and the Isabel Hapgood is another good 19th century text (with pictures), but Hugo sanctioned and gave advice on a translation by Sir Lascelles Wraxall, which is online at Gutenberg. If you go to Part 1, Fantine, that will take you to the later books. Hugo’s original French is also online at Gutenberg: you begin with Part 1, Fantine. There is a venerable Everyman whose translator is not named. Here is my old Denny, quite lively English, with a good introduction. And the latest, an award winner by the highly praised Julie Rose for Modern Library


Group photo of actors in 2018/29 Les Miserables

Movies galore: I’ve watched several and think nothing competes with the most recent, however too short, by Andrew Davies, 2018/19: Dominic West, David Oyelowo, Adeel Akhtar; Lily Collins, Olivia Coleman; Ron Cook. Dir: BBC/Masterpiece. I’ve never seen a more terrifying poignant depiction, Lily Collins astonishing, unforgettable, without hair, without teeth, laughed at, spurned and finally dying without retrieving her child in time.

The musical needs no description here. Here is a blog where they read Les Miserables one chapter a day and compared the movies (it includes clips).


Signature theater production in Arlington (my husband, Jim, loved this one and wrote a now lost blog on it)

Here is Peter Brooks’s just, apt, enthusiastic review of David Bellos’ book (you can find none better in the new biography of a book mode) through having read about Hugo thoroughly and Les Miserables too. I’m also reading slowly as we go Graham Robb’s suave biography


Victor Hugo on the terrace of Hauteville House, Guernsey, where he wrote Les Misérables, 1868

Join us

https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries

or

https://groups.io/g/18thCWorlds

Ellen

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Cherry Blossoms (Elmar Wepper as Rudi Angermeier, and Aya Irizuki [de] as Yu)

“What I love most about this book, as about all of Downie’s nonfiction works about France, is the way the reader is brought intimately into the adventure of his discoveries as he performs his intrepid research. We are spared, of course, the many hours of reading in dusty libraries he has done for us. But when he sets out into the Paris of today in search of its ghosts of yesteryear, he takes us along with him. We are there with him as he interviews the archivist at the Victor Hugo Museum, and the director of the Arsenal Library–a gathering place for such Romantic age luminaries as Dumas, Liszt, de Musset, Delacroix, Balzac, and Gautier—a place which, Downie tells us, “hasn’t changed much since the 1820s.” We are there with him as he sneaks up back stairways and into private courtyards in his furtive attempts to connect with Romantic heroes of the past, to look out the same windows they looked out of, gaze upon the same courtyards they would have seen. We are there with him in those rare moments when he is able to commune with those spirits of the past” (Janet Hulstrand)

The impermanence of life is at the core of Cherry Blossoms, an exquisite German film directed by Doris Dorrie (How to Cook Your Life). A wonderful sequence in the story takes place during the cherry blossom season at the beginning of spring in Japan. Hanami is celebrated for about ten days as families, friends, and visitors gather under trees while their pink and white flowers are in full bloom. The cherry blossom is seen as a symbol of beauty, awakening, and the transience of life … (Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat)

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is slowly turning into autumn, and I’ve written only once of this year’s summer reading and movies: David Nicholls’s Us, book & film, probably because I’ve only read and seen one I’d so characterize, and now as the days begin to shorten more quickly, I feel I’ve been remiss, partly because my spirits have been again rejuvenated by a movie and a book.


The audio book

First, the book, which will require my speaking first of David Downie as I encountered him in his earlier Paris to the Pyrenees last spring, and providing contexts with other books, and French movies. I took a course at Politics and Prose (the DC bookstore) called A Literary Tour of France, it was somewhat disappointing as the teacher refused to discuss any serious topics (!), and seemed to live in dread of offending people in the classroom, but she did offer two books, with real merit, the equivalent of Steve Coogan and Bill Brydon’s first and second Trip movies, the one where they drive around Derbyshire, into the Lake District ending at Bolton Abbey before returning to London, and the second a journey through Italy, from Rome past Pompeii to Naples.


Somewhere in the West Riding — an idyllic dream vision of what I remember of the rare walks Jim and I took out into the Yorkshire moors

Travel books encompass books about people making a home usually in what is to me a “foreign” country; they can be the encyclopedia type Trollope favored in Australia and New Zealand, the let’s analyze this country, his North America, or his jolly When the Mastiffs Went to Iceland (the nearest he got to popular travel books). I think the genre is invented in the 18th century where the idea of truly telling the truth of what you are seeing, of cultures being different, of trying to discover history this way began with Johnson and Bowell’s twin tours; a second variant is Susannah Moodie’s 30 Years in the Bush, a classic first Canadian book, about how she settled into the countryside to become Canadian.

Jeffrey Greene’s French Spirits: A House, A Village, and A Love Affair in Burgundy, was assigned first, and begins well, but David Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees sustains the type. Greene’s French Spirits is similarly replete with intelligent insight into places, objects, people. He and his partner are marrying and decide to buy and renovate as a place to live an ancient church: they have plenty of money, live upper class educated lives (whose values Greene never questions, the source of the money never told): Greene is trying to capture his sense of what life against history is, French culture in history, and uses these “odd people” in the countryside to bring this out. Greene’s book is light and half-way through falls off when he goes into these chapters (to me tasteless) on his wedding but it is picturesque and evocative of middle France. He and his wife renovated a presbytery to make it into a home: the history of the building and the real problems of trying to renovate such a structure are absorbing, teach one about buildings.

Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees is a sort of sceptic’s pilgrimage across that part France and down to the Pyrenees. He’s more somber in spirit, and the character he comes across made less eccentric at the same time more locally embodied. He has rejected much that Greene is content to accept: the materialism, hierarchies, fashion-laden admiration for what reeks of rank, monetary success. Downie is exploring his own mind (quietly, not that openly), his past, and the past of the countryside he and his wife are walking through. One needs courage and a partner to do what they are doing — — just walking following an old route and not sure whether they will find an inn in a given place, or the kind of food and drink they might require. They are doing their journey in an entirely non-commercial way.

Gradually his book turns into a more political polemic attached to French history (eons back) and the recent political events (1871 and the French occupation in WW2, Algeria, modern emergence of fascism). An emerging theme is how much is left across the French countryside of WW2. We saw that in Calais and Brittany. Downie describes so much left of the Resistance (and Nazis’ atrocities) and so criss–crosses for me A French Village (and Come What May). It’s a pilgrimage, in which the French landscape seems to contain almost no one, they have to find taverns and even once stay in someone’s home, take chances, depend on themselves and other people. It put me in mind of Anne Radcliffe’s gothics at their spiritual landscape best. Colleen’s Paris (a blog reviewer) captures the book very well, telling you the details of the story too. Downie’s book is more genuinely worked out than Greene’s.

Both are a long distance from VS Naipaul’s masterpiece, The Enigma of Arrival (Salmon Rushdie finds it too sad), but they move in this direction of deep meditation in a landscape about the history of the place through what’s physically left there and what we can know (and in Naipaul’s case) dream deeply and re-create to make of himself (to the person) embedded in this foreign landscape — through his memories too. For Naipaul it’s the landscape around Stonehenge, as a strong antidote to the culture he was born in and has rejected. Karen Langley in her Kaggsy’s Ramblings writes of a lighter gay variant, Hugo Charteris’s Marching with April (introduced beautifully by Frederic Raphael), the writer and his family determine to leave London and takes root in an ancient place, the Highlands (out of his background) and attempt to build a new life: this time the Highlands. It will come after Downie’s Paris Paris, is lower on onw my night-table’a pile.

To be honest, I’m only half-way through Paris, Paris but I’m just loving it. One problem with many travel books is they fail to convey a deep sense of what it feels like to be in the place — Downie has this ability. Each area of Paris the reader is taken to, is fitted into a larger coherent picture of the city, and then itself explored visually, physically, and mentally. The photographs are beautifully done (black-and-white) and epitomize a mood, the kinds of history that occurred in the place and/or what is there now, the people he sees. I’ve been to Paris three times now, once long ago for 6 weeks on my own in a cold winter, and twice with Jim and Izzy, 2 weeks around Christmas time and the New Year (2000), and the following summer. I am learning more, getting a better feel of the place than I’ve ever done and think if I could go back how much more I’d benefit. Each chapter is a little Eleanor Clarke, Rome and a Villa. Each one forms a walking tour; you are exploring with him. A shorter review by Kirkus. Janet Hulstrand says rightly there is so much here of history, literature, art, that it’s almost impossible to capture in a couple of paragraphs, but I believe she comes near and regales us with the details evocatively.

Downie himself, talking in France, about the book. He begins slowly, and has trouble getting into contact with the audience but as he goes on he’s extraordinary: the romanticism of Paris is the result of its negativity, that it make each visitor invisible, and conveys amid its austere life suffering, time past, darker passions contained.

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Hannelore Elsner as Nadja Uhi, with either one of the film’s younger actresses or perhaps the director? or costume maker?

I had confided in a friend how much I was again missing Jim this summer, and my friend recommended to me a 2008 German film, Cherry Blossoms, about an older man whose wife dies suddenly. I looked up the reviews and found most reviews to be vitriolically hostile or indifferent. For the record, I watched The Toyko Story and found it to be frozen, creepy, too long, too still, absurdly over-rated. The only parallels are the angry children and the deaths.

Cherry Blossoms opens with Nadja, the wife (a wonderful German actress, Hannelore Elsner) listening to doctor’s tell her that Rudi, her husband has not got long to live. She cries silently; they tell her to take him on a trip and she says he hates adventures. He follows the same narrow routine everyday of his life, including the sandwich she makes him for lunch. It would seem despite her staying home, being there for him all the time as he forges forth in the world, he stays within her sphere.

So no surprise when he follows her advice as she proposes a trip to visit their grown children in Berlin or some other German city (they live in a country town or suburb) and to the beach by a hotel. We see how much they do love one another, are dependent on one another, also glimpse the hostility to them of their grown children who slowly it’s revealed find their presence even so briefly an encumbrance, annoyance. Her favorite son lives far away in Tokyo — later we learn he moved there, that far to escape the domination of her quiet presence.

Quiet mood on a boardwalk; they move to the beach, by the shore, and suddenly she dies.

The film is half an hour in. The rest is Rudi’s very hard adjustment, then a chosen trip to Tokyo to see the son who fled them. At first he is bewildered and this son also hostile; they adjust to one another; he gets lost early on, but soon he is finding his way. Tokyo seemed to me as inhumane as I’ve thought it. The son says everyone works weekends, long days, all the time. They live in small boxes in high look-alike buildings, where everything looks the same. Their talk reveals that indeed the wife had always had this inexplicable desire to visit Japan, had wanted to be a Japanese stylized dancer. We have seen photos of her when young so dancing.

He has brought with him his wife’s clothes, at first he puts them on the bed beside him to sleep (what he started at home) but then he puts them on under his coat. He sees and then introduces himself to a street performer, Yu, an 18 year old girl who turns out to be homeless. She does a dance where she appears to get into contact with the dead; she says she is with her mother this way. She wears white make-up on her face — as the aborigine did in Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith as a sign he was willing to die, to let the whites murder him rather than flee them some more. He and she bond, form a friendship, she says she is an orphan and he suddenly cuts loose from this son (who has said he moved to Tokyo to get away from his mother who he loved so much but was overwhelming).

He takes the girl to Mount Fuji which his wife dreamed of going to. She dreamed of being a dancer, of going to Japan. He feels very badly that he stood in her way. We do see how middle class people in Japan take holidays: in a vast hotel-like structure where they live semi-communally — all eat in the same vast room. He and Yu are failing to see the Mount as each day it is so cloudy; and one morning he gets up very early and sees the mount: a vision. He hurries back, dresses in a Japanese dancing costume for a man that he has brought, and returns to the shore. As he dances, we see a hand reach his, and his wife is there, visible, similarly dressed. They dance intensely together. The camera moves away to Yu, just waking up. She discovers Rudi is gone, a couple of hours go by and he does not return. Now she too goes to the shore and finds him dead, laying by the shore. There follows a Japanese style funeral with his son and Yu presiding over his ashes in an urn, and then another funeral in Germany. The film ends quietly with the camera returning to the girl who has returned to the park to dance for money and to reach her mother. There is a dedication at the movie’s close, apparently by Dorrie remembering someone who perhaps died.

I use the phrase very moving so often, so let me say very very touching. Here is a review by Frederick and MaryAnn Brussat which begins to do the film justice. It’s beautifully tastefully filmed, written, the music just perfect, everything, tactful, controlled. I found it uplifting.

I do have one (many) regrets from my marriage: I never went to the shore or the beach with Jim enough. I knew how he burnt, and I’d get bored. Now I wish I had gone every summer with him — we’d go when we went to England to the Chitterings beach, once we went to Brighton. This summer I didn’t get to the shore at all. It is a three hour drive from my house to reach a public beach.

So these are the summer books and movies I have experienced this season of 2021; Nicolls at mid-summer and these at journey’s end.

Ellen

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