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Archive for the ‘romance’ Category

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Hugh Grant as St Clair Bayfield when we first see him, cavalierly, knowingly, giving an inadequate rendition of one of Hamlet’s speeches before his wife comes on stage

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Meryl Streep as Florence singing ecstatically (2016, Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears, scripted by Nicolas Martin)

Dear friends and readers,

Just as I began to give up hoping for a truly good absorbing film for cinemas this summer, along came three: in July Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words urging us to give over unreal ethnicities; in early August Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople in rural impoverished worlds, and now the extraordinary Stephen Frears and Nicolas Turner’s Florence Foster Jenkins, with a little help from Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep.

At first the film seems to be about an over-dressed, naively happy, fatuously absurd Florence, a wealthy woman kept apart from most other people by her somewhat younger, carefully preserved coolly impossibly husband: since she is a philanthropist most institutions are prepared to indulge her in whatever she wants in the way of concerts, no matter how corny, creaking or badly done. St Clair has hired a voice coach and we watch him hire Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) a piano-player musician to play and give her voice lessons. When Florence is not around, St Clair’s face goes hard and asks brief cynical questions about what we’ve seen him smile pleasantly and coo over. We begin to suspect a pervasive underlying studied hypocrisy when at night St Clair wishes Florence a good night’s rest, and himself goes to a Greenwich village or lower Manhattan slum block where he finds his mistress a young beautiful Kathleen (Rebecca Fergusson) waiting for him. He lives another different life with this mistress: wild modern dancing, late night parties, strong drinking promiscuous sex going on around him. He is then just so sweetly affectionate to her, so controlled, hiding from her life’s unpleasant truths that it feels like a performance. Then we discover Florence cannot sing, her voice is reedy, awful, she can’t hold a tune.

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As the movie progresses we begin to see that this steely-performance of St Clair where he protects this wife of his from every adverse criticism made of her is not hollow. It cannot be as he gives over his whole being to it: he has to work very hard to prevent anyone who would laugh at or heckle her from coming to any of her performances. He does not have to do any of this to remain rich; she need not perform to be worshipped. Her singing lessons do keep the two of them busy, and her pre-occupied, seeing herself as endlessly working at something beautiful. To silence or get people to cooperate, he hand white envelopes stuffed with cash to people. Those who will not cooperate are excluded from performances and their drawing-room.

Their back story emerges as he, and then she, confide in McMoon: as a 19 year old she married a cad who had syphilus, the cad de-camped, died, and one day in an audience she spotted St Clair who she says had the kindest most generous smile she’d ever seen on a face. They abstained from sex lest he become diseased or she have a diseased child. There’s an intense pathos to the story as she tells it to Cosme whom she has visited on one of St Clair’s golf weekends (we know he has gone to the Hamptons with Kathleen). Cosme is continually on the edge of quitting lest he lose all respect as a serious musician, and when Florence comes up with the idea of playing at Carnegie Hall to thousands, balks; in response St Clair tells Cosme he must not obey the tyranny of ambition to be great, or respected as wonderful, or his art even understood — all egoistic delusions in probability: he found himself a failed stage actor when he met St Clair, and when she married him, he liberated himself from ambition to live this comfortable life.

But is it? is it comfortable? is he in a prison of performances to get his hands on her will (which she carries about her in a briefcase). The movie asks, how far is all life a performance? what are worthy goals?

If the mark of a summer movie is non-seriousness underlying the performance, Frears has never in all the films I’ve seen by him resorted to such obvious broad caricatures: the sexy blonde vulgar noisy young wife is just one. OTOH: when St Claire reads aloud to Florence Shakespeare’s cliched 116th sonnet (“Let me to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”), the joke is Shakespeare was ironic (most readers seem not to know this), making fun. Anyhow Florence falls asleep before he’s finished the first eight lines. Late in the movie he reads aloud Keat’s “Bright Star” sonnet: same response from Florence, pathetically grateful but in actuality bored so falls asleep.

Streep and Grant deliver as exquisitely perfect performances as I remember Grant doing as a young man in Remains of the Day (where Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins were the pitch perfect people who missed out). Grant is underrated as an actor since he made his place in Hollywood films as a fine comic actor in Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and in beloved costume dramas like Sense and Sensibility or Maurice. I first saw him and Bob Hoskins in a filmed version of Thomas Middleton’s brilliant Jacobean play, The Changeling. Grant was corrupt weakling duke who nonetheless becomes a relentless murder out of sexual jealousy; Hoskins the hired thug killer who himself lives out seething resentments. I felt Grant saw some of his own choices in his role. He left the serious stage for Hollywood and has not looked back.

Streep’s role was harder to play” as Grant melts into tenderness, opens his face up to recognize “Bunny’s” dependency on him to her, she has to seem mostly obtuse and yet capable of the finest feeling, at once ridiculous and courageous. She is our American version of the British grand-dame actresses (e.g., Lindsay Duncan, Emma Thompson).

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Reviews have been generous, noting the sentimentality at the close: far too forgiving and benign, sliding over after pointing to the cruelty of crowds, the stupidity of audience mob-like reactions, how no one really cares what this music is. The New York Times reminds us these were a real couple in the 1940s and that Helberg stole the show with his shock, distress, and at the end sparkling identification with his two bosses. We are left in two minds about the principals: how far was she fooled? she has a wise desperate look on her worn face as she lies dying in her closing moments. Did or how far did St Clair Bayfield love her and his life as her tender protector? he seems never to hurt her which is way beyond probable if it was just the money. The credits afterward included photos of the real original people. Cosme never became a great musician; his reached his heights in venues at Carnegie hall with Florence. St Claire late in life looks utterly non-pretentious; after that last performance and her illness killed her, he never remarried.

To return to my first paragraph: there is something delightful in all three, Kind Words, Wilderpeople, Florence, and we are badly in need of delight this August.

Ellen

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Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) looking into Farrell’s shop window in a highland village

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(Outlander 1, scripted Ronald Moore)

People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money, and a taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually. Strange, the things you remember. Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years. Like the moment I realized I’d never owned a vase. That I’d never lived any place long enough to justify having such a simple thing. And how at that moment, I wanted nothing so much in all the world as to have a vase of my very own. It was a Tuesday afternoon. Six months after the end of the war (taken direct from Gabaldon’s Outlander, opening.

Friends,

It’s time. Overdue. It may be my readers think I am above Outlander. I am not. I love it. I have now watched all sixteen episodes of the first season three times. I’ve read Gabaldon’s novel, I’ve read her Outlandish Companion. It connects to so much I’m deeply engaged by: it’s Daphne DuMaurier in the high romance mode, elegant, controlled wildness. Outlander is a cross between DuMaurier’s The Hungry Hill where the hero travels back and forth between the mid-20th and 14th century, and her historical romances, say King’s General (set in the 17th century civil war), Frenchman’s Creek, or Jamaica Inn (smugglers as misunderstood free-trader outlaws set in the very early 19th). Claire is the many times great-grandaughter of Sophia Lee’s Elinor and Matilda, the twin daughters of Mary Queen of Scots in her The Recess. I’ve been reading about Scotland and its civil wars, diaspora (to among other places, Canada), poetry and fiction by its writers (from Anne Murray Halkett to RLS Stevenson and Margaret Oliphant and onto Margaret Atwood) for years and years.

The immediate inspiration though is the new Poldark. Outlander reflects mores of the last few years far more frankly explored, and unlike the new Poldark thus far is a woman’s mini-series, a proto-feminist series of films. I’ve learned the second season of Poldark is going to depart so radically from Graham’s books as to change a crucial thread across all twelve novels and one of my favorite characters (though like Jane Austen over Emma it seems no one but me will much like), Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan. So I thought I might sustain a comparison of the two similar mini-series: Poldark drawn from historical novels, Outlander from historical romance, both obeying naturalism and verisimilitude once the terms of the fiction are set up). I don’t say I won’t compare the 1970s Poldark nor the two books, Jeremy Poldark (1950) and Warleggan (1953), but I will keep in mind and bring in this contemporary comparable series. Run them on this blog in tandem.

The Outlander resembles the new (2015) Poldark in its grimness, brutal violence, grimyness, the POV from below, the peasants and outlaws, not the elegant and fringe people of the older (1975) Poldark, Oneddin Line. But this is Claire’s story, make no mistake about that. The central consciousness, the voice-over in this season in all but one episode (when it is Jamie’s [Sam Heughan] and that very unusual, as “real” men don’t do over-voice). By keeping the central consciousness a woman’s, the narrator a heroine, Gabaldon kept all the intense ambiguity about a woman’s helplessness in pre-19th century eras against males, who then in reaction to the heroine manifest unashamed or shall I say unhidden attitudes towards her sexuality (the film is written, directed and produced mostly by men): upon meeting Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) the film’s 18th century men, British soldiers and aristocrats, Irish thugs and clansmen alike promptly think her or ask if she is a whore because she is alone. Jonathan Wolverton Randall aka Black Jack (Tobias Menzies, also Frank, Claire’s gentle husband in the mid-20th century, a descendant of Black Jack, whom he has been researching) proceeds to try to rape her. But she is a 20th century woman, pro-active on her own and others’ behalf, not inclined to regard herself as secondary person or take punishment, self-confident, with a sense of what she is entitled to.

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As our story begins, Claire Randall has been a nurse in WW2 and presided over and helped in horrifying operations, and the war now over, she and her her academic archaeologist husband, Frank (set for a professorship in Oxford), meet again after a near 5 year absence. They visit Scotland for its ruins, look at neolithic sites. They are trying hard to recreate what they once had, but it’s not quite working. The whole section, the way the bed-sit room looked, reminded me of women’s films of the 1940s, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard stuff. The two actors convey the strain the couple is trying to overcome:

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I thought of V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival

All photographed with soft brown lights too, stark dark and bleak blacks for the houses, yet in gentle light grey light. He explores genealogy, ruins of ancient fortresses, clans, primitive neolithic stone sites; she half ironically goes along.

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Sunlit

Frank has made friends with a local scholarly vicar, genealogist a Reverend Wakefield, as in Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, played exquisitely fine, with subtle humor and gravity by James Fleet. Our honeymooning (in effect) couple take to visiting this gentle vicar and Mrs Graham (Tracy Wilkinson), his wry housekeeper. Again I was so reminded of say Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers material before the murder occurs. The men discuss Scots and English aristocracy, Scots clans, the injustices of the 18th century, the patronage system, speculate that perhaps Jonathon Wolverton Randall could act with inpunity because his patron was the Earl of Sandringham. Claire goes off for women’s gossip and tea; Mrs Graham asks to read her palm and finds odd marks on Claire’s hand, and tells of rituals she participates in by Crag na Dunn, a circle of standing stones.

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They are allured by these woman’s midnight rituals.

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Here I was not only reminded of Dorothy in Oz, but the language in the book and series alludes to Frank L. Baum, especially later when Claire-Dorothy wants to get back to the stones as gateway to Kansas, but there is something new here: this is a tale of national identity, of seeking who one is by asking what group one belongs to, and it’s done from a post-colonial perspective, highly critical of the British. Whence the title: Claire is an outsider, a Brit, from elsewhere we know. A Scottish film company is a major producer, Scots actors, venerable (Bill Paterson as the lawyer, Ned Gowan) and new (Duncan Lacroix as the faithful Murtagh, so we are not far from Scott after all) are everywhere. Geography, landscape, blended time frames, intense interiority, mix with lessons in clans, Jacobitism, and the medicine and witchcraft of the era.

What I hope to do is apply to Outlander, several studies of DuMaurier, the gothic, women’s films and Scottish studies, and then by transference see how what is said today about films and books like Outlander relates to the new Poldark mini-series and what is being done to Graham’s Poldark books in them. So this is film, historical fiction, historical romance and delvings into time-traveling fantasies research in progress. It fits into post-colonial patterns too.

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We begin for real and earnest when we move into the time-traveling sequence. Gabaldon knows that women in the 18th century went in for botany, studying herbs and so does our Claire so while Frank is buried in papers, she goes back to the stones and touching one she melts into another realm, coming out somehow into the year 1743.

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She leaves her car

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She has to come close to the stones of Crag Na Dunn to reach the flowers and herbs she wants

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She hears something, music, looks up, and moves to touch the wondrous tall neolithic stone

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The transported moment

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Waking

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An empty world, different older trees, no city in the distance (this is straight from Hungry Hill)

At first Claire thinks she has stumbled onto the set of costume drama (wonderful self-reflexity here) but no the bullets are real and she finds herself having to account for herself. So a re-naming, using her birth name, Beauchamp, she has to deal with everyone looking at her as stray whore: who else wanders in the wood in just her shift. This is an extraordinary moment that can only be done by a film: having the same actor, Tobias Menzies, play the hard mean ancester, Black Jack. Claire does a double take: he is but he is not Frank

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So it’s a re-encounter

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He now the 18th century educated man

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she still the mid-20th century educated woman

The drums of sudden movement, excitement, she flees, he after and so her adventure begins. A snarling redcoat, upholder of a vicious colonialist order, and she finds herself shot at, nearly raped (this will repeat and repeat) by Randall, is taken up by one of the Scotsmen (Murtagh we later realize), rescued (or herself takes up, saved) by the Scots clansmen, and is paired with the wounded Jamie Fraser, whose arm she correctly sets (and thus saves), and soon she is riding in front of him (anticipating Turner and Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza), warning the clan from her memories of what Frank told her of ambushes, becomes one of them. She resists at first and we get the most old-fashioned of gentle abductions:

Claire: [having fled during the ambush, Jamie having gone back to retrieve her] I hope you haven’t been misusing that shoulder. You’re hurt.
Jamie: This lot isna my blood.
She: Not much of it, anyway.
He: Dougal and the others will be waiting further up the stream. We should go.
She: – I’m not going with you.
He: – Yes, you are.
She: What, are you going to cut my throat if I don’t?
He: Why not? But You don’t look that heavy. Now if you won’t walk, I shall pick you up and throw you over my shoulder. Do you want me to do that?
She: No.
He: Well, then I suppose that means your coming with me.
She – [Climbing, he Grunting] – Serves you right. Probably torn your muscles as well as bruising.
He: Well, wasna much of a choice. If I dinna move my shoulder, I’d never have moved anything else ever again. I can handle a single redcoat with one hand. Maybe even two. Not three. Besides, you can fix it for me again when we get to where we’re going.
She: That’s what you think.
He: Here’s to you, lass. For tipping us to the villains in the rocks and giving us a wee bit o’ fun! [All speak Gaelic] [Speaks Gaelic] Have a wee nip.It willna fill your belly, but will make you forget you’re hungry.

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One blanket, one whiskey pouch

The band comes to a stone castle that she and her 20th century husband explored now become fully inhabited. I thought I was back with Frank Yerby’s The Border Lord, Book-of-the-Month club special (from the early 1950s like the Poldark series. I though of Radcliffe’s Emily coming up to Udolpho:

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Only the voice again is wry, prosaic, slightly comical:

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, if you consider it uneventful to ride fifteen miles on horseback through country at night, frequently without benefit of roads, in company with kilted men armed to the teeth, and sharing a horse with a wounded man. At least we were not set upon by highwaymen, we encountered no wild beasts, and it didn’t rain.

When they get inside we are not in a gloomy, grand place, but a busy courtyard where everyone is going about her or his daily business. From the next episode:

Mrs Fitzgibbon [Annette Badland]: Mwah! Ye’ll all be needing breakfast, I reckon. Plenty in the kitchen. Away in, and feed yerselves. [chuckles] Murtagh, you look and smell like a rat that’s been dragged through sheep dung.
Murtagh: Gi’ us a kiss, then.
Mrs Fitzgibbon: Oh, no! A kiss, then! [laughing] And what do we have here?
Jamie: Claire Beauchamp, Mistress Fitzgibbons. Murtagh found her, and Dougal said we must bring her along with us, so So.

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Mrs Fitzgibbon looks at Claire in ways the men do not, sees what the men do not see

Mrs F: Well Claire. Come with me. We shall find you something to eat, something to wear that’s a bit more Well, a bit more

It’s the voice-over that held me especially in this first episode, compellingly, Catrionia Balfe’s voice perfect for a DuMaurier Rebecca too. A sophisticated use of old-fashioned realism smashed together with fantasy gothic and superb cinematography, a richly colored Scotland complete, with the themed music part minor key bagpipes, make for an undercurrent of thrill. I will be concentrating on the women in the series.

As for the book, the source, this first episode is lifted directly from the novel. Many of the lines are taken from Gabaldon; it’s as if she wrote the book with a film in mind. She began in earnestness from an online experience, a Literary Forum in the Net’s earliest days. In her Outlandish Companion her language gives away hat when she started, Gabaldon had Now Voyageur, the old Bette Davis trope in mind but was also thinking of “the Age of Enlightenment,” i.e., the realities of the 18th century.

I love her illustration are soft-focus photographs or line-drawing illustrations, evoking imagination on the part of the reader: emblems, herbs, older symbolic pictures (the zodaic for example). Much richness for us to explore for quite a number of weeks to come.

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From the site of Castle Leogh in Scotland today

Ellen

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (the first season)

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Aidan Turner as Ross

As all those who have been waiting for the second season of Poldark to air know, there has been an unexpected delay in the airing of the second season of Poldark. Usually when a series is a real hit, the producers, channel, film-maker strike while the iron is still hot. The second season of Outlander came before the end of another year, and a third and possibly fourth season have already been announced.

I am among those eager to see the new second season. So late last spring I noticed a column by Debbie Horsfield containing a carefully worded statement (around the time a second season might have ended) that they had decided to present the sexual events of the coming season discreetly. They were going to be suggestive, not graphic. All who have read the books knew a rape was coming and I took this to mean that as in the 1975 Poldark, we would only see the prologue to rape, and then the screen would go dark. She was saying that modern film-making customs would not be followed, and explicit sex scenes would not be developed.

Not that Ross’s rape of Elizabeth would be obliterated altogether.

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Robin Ellis as Ross in the scenes prologue to the rape

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Jill Townsend as Elizabeth in the same scenes (1975-76 Poldark)

That is what has been done. A suddenly timid BBC has perhaps pressured the film-makers of the new Poldark series to destroy a central event that makes for a meaningful plot design with a first climax at the end of the 7th book (The Angry Tide) and the final denouement of the whole cycle, at the close of the 12th book (Bella):

The BBC and film-makers say they feel that the modern audience could not accept a rape from a hero. It’s too shocking, rape. Have they not been watching other TV series of late? read any recent contemporary novels?

I wonder how much or if they fought over this. Robin Ellis tells us that in Making Poldark the script-writers and director were in conflict with some of the actors over the way in the 1970s mini-series Ross’s marriage to Demelza was presented as a shot-gun wedding, the result of a pregnancy which she first tried to abort, none of which is in Graham’s books.

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Anghared Rees as Demelza protesting the morning after sex, declaring she wants to leave

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With Ellis as Ross, she struggles to free herself so as to go for her abortion (again 1975 Poldark, wholly invented and unlike the book)

In Graham’s books Ross rebels against hierarchy, rank, status norms to marry a servant in his house because he and she have started to go to bed together, and he feels he is destroying her future unless he stops this before she gets pregnant or marries her. He finds himself comfortable with her, does not want to give her up as a servant, companion, and bed-mate, and is deeply angry against the social order. So defies it. Was this an important change? thereafter the script-makers and director kept faithfully to the books until near the end of Warleggan (Episodoes 14 to 15 in the first season, 1975-76) when they again departed radically, causing problems for the second season two years later (1977-78).

How important is the rape? I’d argue it’s far more important than the initial precipitating cause for Ross and Demelza’s marriage, as nothing else hinged on it. Not so the rape. To put it abstractly, in what ways can a film adaptation depart from a novel in order to erase or betray it? well, it can expunge a crucial plot-event that gives rise to a succession of climactic and centrally thematic fraught consequences in this or later novels, in other words further crucial plot-events. A series of consequences that make for the very ending of novels that are turning points in the novel series. You might say, this would not be easy to do. If A (so we’ll call the final moment in a novel) is the result of B, C, D, and E, and they came as a direct result of F, and F is missing (the rape), what happens to B, C, D, and E? Especially if they are particularly moving and tragic and give the characters acting these events depth and intense interest?

True. events A, B, C, and D will not come until the 3rd season. The results of Ross’s rape of Elizabeth about 2/3s the way through Warleggan (Poldark Novel 4) do not emerge until the birth of Valentine, Ross and Elizabeth’s son in The Black Moon (Poldark Novel 5), i.e, Season 3. The intense jealousy of Warleggan, and his abuse of Elizabeth, and her misery and wretchedness begin only when Warleggan has reason to suspect Valentine is Ross’s much later in The Four Swans (Poldark Novel 6). Indeed the script writer, Debbie Horsfield will not have to trouble herself over the final tragedy in say Episode 8 or 10 since it is only at the close of The Angry Tide (Poldark Novel 7) that desperate to make Warleggan think her present pregnancy is by him and accept Valentine’s his, Elizabeth decides she will make Warleggan believe she tends to give birth early and goes to a doctor for a dangerous concoction of herbs to precipitate early parturition and her own death. Never can tell, there might not be a Season 3.

But if there is (and I hope there will be), how will all this be handled? In Graham’s books Elizabeth was left to deal with it on her own. In the older Poldark mini-series ditto.

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Jill Townsend as Elizabeth, this time pregnant by Warleggan, ashamed as she visits a doctor

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The unsympathetic suspicious doctor who supplies the needed abortifacient

If there is a third season, and say, we actually reach a last season, and the 12th and final book of the series, Bella, what will they do with the plangent meaningful tragic close (our hypothetical E)? What guilt could Ross have over how Valentine became twisted and isolated if he did not for all these books and all these years evade his responsibility, refuse to admit to anyone that the boy was his, he was the father who left the boy fatherless? The gut-wrenching nightmares, Valentine’s turn to a pet orangutan (don’t laugh, the last books do justice to characters with disability, and develop an animal rights point of view implicit in the early books), Valentine’s own choice of death or self-destruction?

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A very young David Hemmings and Samantha Egg in the 1970 Walking Stick

Graham has been credited with being an instinctive feminist, and with presenting women in transgressive and iconoclastic roles. Not just in his historical novels, but also his spy thrillers and modern mysteries and a few remarkable novels centering on mental disorder and disability (i.e., Marni (1964, Hitchcock film), The Walking Stick, both of which were filmed, the second brilliantly). I knew much of this was erased in the new first season, including any undermining of male gender stereotypes, but the protest level of feminism had been at least embodied to some extent in Verity’s story as well as Demelza’s. The first season saw the character of Elizabeth, in the original books and series, an insecure and ambitious woman, who found more joy in motherhood than she did understanding or support in her husband Francis; who didn’t care for sex particularly, turned into a pious moral exemplar, whose every thought was to make her husband a good entrepreneur and imitator of his father, Charles and every waking act to nurture her baby.

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Heida Reed as Elizabeth near tears because Francis is not coming up to masculine norms (2015 Poldark)

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Kyle Soller as a moving Francis Poldark in considerable distress because he’s come down in the world as he can’t manage the work ethic (wholly unlike the aristocratic Francis of the books and 1970s series)

Henry James said what a character does is central to how we know a character’s psychology and ethical character. I am wondering now how they will change this character so that she falls into adultery with Ross? If they have an affair, that means sex with some frequency, no? If we are to see a succession of days and nights of sex between Ross and Elizabeth, what does that do to his character? his relationship with Demelza? In the original books and mini-series, the Scots Captain McNeill almost succeeds in seducing Demelza; she backs away at the last moment. Will she “have an affair in turn.” I hope not because she does have a real love romance in The Four Swans that is meaningful: as a young girl she never had a romantic courtship nor a man near her age, respect and courtesy and poetry she yearned for comes her way. No one is expecting Graham’s hero to be as believable as Tolstoy’s Pierre (from War and Peace) I suppose, but the books do contain a real man as protagonist, a complex enough character to interest us. Real men who are not utter villains rape women — this even happens the statistics tell us often. This is an issue that should not be swept under a rug.

In the first season Horsfield boasted that she was closer to the original books than the 1970s mini-series. She’s given that up — or was forced to. Could it be that the BBC read fan sites where people have argued fiercely that Ross could not have raped Elizabeth; or, that Elizabeth is to blame for the night of sex; or anything rather than Graham’s disquieting novel for mature adults. No longer do fans have nowhere to voice their displeasure. They were worried lest sticking to the original books mar their ratings. Recent film studies have shown that further seasons of a series will alter intentions and characters to please on-line fan groups or at least exert considerable pressure (Andrea Schmidt, “The Imaginative Power of Downton Abbey Fan Fiction” in Julie Taddeo and James Leggott’s collection, Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume TV Drama: The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey). So perhaps the BBC was willing to mar their matter and pressured Horsfield to change her stance towards faithfulness. Whether the result will deprive the central heros and heroines of a complexly develping consistent personalities over a long series of books or (if it should come to pass) series of films remains to be seen.

I had been planning to write about the second season without referring to the 1970s mini-series. Now I will compare the two series with the books as I did last year (see my blog and an essay, Poldark Rebooted, 40 Years On). I may even teach the second trilogy of Graham’s books (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide, 1973-77) as last and two years ago I taught the first quartet (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, Warleggan, 1945-53)

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From the cover illustration of the first paperback edition of Graham’s Black Moon

Ellen

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The Cornhill Magazine opened to the place where installments of Trollope’s Framley Parsonage was appearing, prefaced by an illustration by John Everett Millais

Dear friends and readers,

Since I’ve had an unusual number of people subscribing to my blog as followers since I put up the summer syllabus for reading Trollope Small House at Allington together, and a couple of people have said they look forward to it, or compliment me by saying they wish they were in the class, and the opening lecture of the term was (for me) unusually coherent, I thought I would share it here.

I reviewed Trollope’s life and career up to the success of the Barsetshire books, and his move to London, the first four Barsetshire books, and we discussed “The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne” as an introduction or framing of one of the central issues in The Small House. I find knowing the author’s life and experience central to understanding his art: Trollope’s books emerge from his imagination and experience and abilities of their author. What I call seeing them as lamps. They reflect, rework and comment on the era they are written in. Books as mirrors. (From Abrams’s famous The Mirror and the Lamp). The Small House has another kind of source: a previous literary work: I’ll show that SMA is a re-working, a more realistic and full and frank maturation of the characters and situation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and how Trollope’s art relates to Austen’s.

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The sisters: Lily Dale as a re-worked Marianne Dashwood, Bell Dale, Eleanor (Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett)

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The lone widow: Trollope brings out Mrs Dale’s loneliness, sacrifice of herself (1995 S&S, scripted Emma Thompson, directed Ang Lee)

Authors and what they write are also constrained by the place they are published in, the imagined audience that is to be pleased — and, in the case of a periodical, buy again. I’ve discovered ordinary readers don’t think of that enough; they remember it in the case of movies — but books are a commodity too, paper, ink, printers, costs of distribution, stores to place books in matter.

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Lilies, illustration in Good Words (from The Victorian Web, scanned in and text by Simon Cooke)

I’m just now reading on line with a group of people Trollope’s two volume somewhat idyllic novel, Rachel Ray. “The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne” (1861) is one of two short stories written just around this time that dwell on love, sex, marriage — as The Small House does (begun 1862) and Rachel Ray, the novel he wrote next (1862). He had a contract or understanding from Good Words, a magazine intended for evangelically-minded readers run by a Rev Dr Norman Macleod; Trollope submitted for Macleod’s perusal about half the first volume, and Macleod was shocked, wrote back, how could you write this for my audience? Trollope had warned Macleod that he thought the kind of novel he wrote and his outlook might not be suitable to an evangelical audience. It appeared Macleod thought that Trollope would alter himself almost radically. In the event, Trollope had to find another publisher: happily, he was doing so well by that time that Chapman and Hall, a very respectable publisher took the novel on. But there was a 2 year hiatus between the time of writing Rachel Ray and its publication.

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It was intended that Millais would illustrate Rachel Ray; he did but one: Rachel meditating

In the case of The Small House, the Cornhill started to serialize it before Trollope was finished so the ending was not written until well after readers had begun to read and react to the book. In the fourth week of this course I will send along another essay on the connection of the Cornhill to The Small House. I sent one last summer on the Cornhill and Framley Parsonage. The Cornhill I remind those who were here and tell newcomers was the New Yorker of its day. Framley Parsonage helped make it. It was a central text for an imagined community aimed at mostly middle class financially well-off or genteel at any rate (like the Dale women) people, many complacent about their world. They like a little intelligent criticism but don’t want to be too disturbed or disquieted. The New Yorker has articles which ought to disturb and disquiet (say conditions in prisons in a May essay, how we treated mentally distressed people), the drone killing program. But you don’t have to read those. It’s upbeat entertainment. It puts you in the swing of things: the first article in the Talk of the Town tells you what was this week’s important story to “everyone:” everyone in a narrow group who can afford to, reads, and enjoys this magazine.

The Cornhill was perhaps more intellectual, hard to say. It was a different time: but the Crimean war was not a central topic for the Cornhill, nor workers strikes in Manchester. That was for Dickens’s Household Words. Happily and I’m going to say this there was no vocal social media on the Internet to object this or that, and reviewers first wrote about The Small House in 1864, 2 years later. So Trollope had no vocal interference. But he was writing for his audience and making himself a career precisely through this series, and his success in this endeavour may be seen: these six books are those most readers who know Trollope know first — or at least. Last summer when I read Framley Parsonage with many of the people I made the point several times that FP was shaped, its tone, what Trollope could present by a mostly middle class financially fine audience and that it differed considerably from some other novels he wrote at that time. Trollope’s others were much franker, one questioned religion centrally, another autobiographical, included Dickensian attacks on institutions. Nonetheless within its limits So too SHA.

It matters that “The Parson’s Daughter” was printed in the London Review: Captain Broughton is a Londoner, a man about town with whom male readers might identity.

For example, maybe this will whet appetites as you might feel yourself wading through the minute description of Squire Dale’s house and the roads around Allington and Guestwick, with the sentimentality of the love of the mother and her daughters in the book’s opening: a few modern critics argue that Lily Dale lost her virginity well before Adolphus Crosbie took off. It’s presented very discreetly but I agree it’s there and it explains a lot of what happens and understanding this shapes how we see Crosbie, at least ought to. In 1862 when a couple engaged it was understood they might indulge sexually, even going (that old fashioned) phrase “all the way;” that’s why when a man jilts a girl her family can litigate. But the pressure to remain a virgin was strong and in some circles (doubtless the evangelical readers of Good Words) this would be utterly unacceptable. For all the novel is so fat it’s a set of simple stories that delve very deeply young love in all its varieties, sex, and what marriage is in their and today too our society — for the very deep feeling, to the shallow, from the socially conventional to transgessors. Trollope questions marriage as a solution to anyone’s desire for happiness given how it’s conducted: this book offers no (blessed relief to me) no wedding. We watch people haggle irritatedly over the price of carpets as what’s necessary for a marriage. An indirect presentation. “Parson Daughter” printed in the London Review, so city people is a lot more downright. Only one story where in The Small House we have at least 7 couples, 8 if you include Plantagenet Palliser, Lady Griselda and her Dumbello as one triangle with Lady Glencora and Burgo Fitzgerald just introduced as the engaged couple made to break it off, the core opening of the Pallisers.

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John Millais, “Christmas Story-Telling,” “Christmas Supplement,” for the London News, 20 December 1862

So Trollope’s inner self his experience, the era, and its ways of doing things, and the magazine will form our context for this book. If you look at our online syllabus you’ll find I’ve added the Barsetshire map drawn by Trollope himself late in the series. It includes where Allington is. I’ve also offered a choice at the end, instead of the hard-to-read article on the Cornhill I’ve linked in the second short story on love and marriage written immediately before Small House, “A Journey to Panama,” a colonialist story, in my view one of his greatest – as is “Parson’s Daughter” so fine. As with “Parson’s Daughter” “A Journey to Panama” is short, on the Net, and about how marriage is practiced in the era, the pressures to do it, and an escape.

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Contemporary illustration of a story about emigration

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So an abbreviated version of Trollope’s life up to the time of Barset and a little after this time to remind some some – people need more to be reminded than informed – and to situate others, with a brief resume of the four Barsetshire books before The Small House .If you’ve seen the mini-series called Barchester Chronicles (1983, Nigel Hawthorne, Alan Rickman, Susan Hampshire) you will at least have been introduced into a close enough version of what is in the first two. Fellowes’s Dr Thorne is a travesty, but it sort of gives the essentials of the outline of the story, and most of the characters — leaving out alas the doctors (Fillgrave, Reerchild, Century, and there has never been a film adaptation of FP. There was a BBC mini-series of Small House in 1960 but it was wiped out. Video tape was expensive then, and the BBC simply wiped out or recorded over brilliant dramas, hard-worked earnest mini-series with popular junk (sports shows).

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A photo of Anthony Trollope (age around 40?)

So Trollope’s life quickly told.

Born April 24, 1815.  He was the fourth son, in a age of primogeniture that’s not a good number; the fifth child of six children, four of whom barely lived into adulthood, ie., all but two died near young adulthood, one after she married, all of TB a terrible disease. When Trollope was in his later teens Frances Trollope began to support them as best she could — because the father was incompetent to do this – by writing. So Trollope had her example before him, and she got him his first publisher as she did his first job, in the post office. He did not go to university, and identifies as both in insider and outsider

Trollope’s father failed at everything he tried, not because he was stupid or lazy, or not well connected: he was very bad at social life, obstinate and eventually violent and half-mad. He is seen again and again in Trollope’s fiction, beginning with Larry MacDermot in the Macdermots of Ballycloran; Joshua Crawley is a deep seeing of this ravaged man. His parents married late, at first a love match too, but when they went downhill (literally from grand house to nearby farm in a dump) she fled to America, with a French book illustrator, Auguste Hervieu, 4 children in tow. Not including Trollope; he was left behind with said father and Tom, his older brother by right of primogeniture sent to college for a while. He had very ambivalent feelings about his mother – these are part of the background of his animus against controlling worldly women.

Anthony Trollope’s writing career came out (he tells us) out of his compensatory habit of building daydreams, stories in which he was the hero. He escaped to these and they mirrored his inner and outer life again and again. He was academically gifted at school but the social life at a public school for a poor boy who clearly couldn’t afford it was not fun: he just couldn’t hold up his head – very snobbish hierarchical place.  His brother Tom bullied him by whipping him. 

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Frances Trollope by Auguste Hervieu

Fanny Trollope pulled herself out by traveling one might say, and so did Anthony. When Frances escaped with an Hervieu she was hoping to build a new life for herself with the help of a radical political friend, Frances Wright who had set up a idealistic communitarian camp or community which included free slaves. It failed, abysmally. Fanny just had no idea what America was like. She was astonished at the Mississippi; where she thought the rural world would accept her bohemianism it didn’t. She had to turn to her husband for money (he sent some) and head north to try to survive and joined a bazaar in a mall in Cincinnati, inventing a mountebank act for her son, Henry, to act out  She needed to return, and wrote a searing kind of ethnographic account of the US she saw, The Domestic Manners of the Americans, much as the satire of America in Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit English people gobbled this put-down up. It’s not so much inaccurate as distorted by Frances’s values – the US had these uppity servants: she saw some things very clearly, like the strong stream of religious  emotionalism in US life and its hypocrisies.

She came back to debt at Julians, the farm house the family had sunk into, and she had to flee creditors or her husband would be put in debtors’ prison (Trollope in his Autobiography remembers driving the carriage with his father in it, the family passing things over a fence to a house next door); so there was a desperate flit. Imprisonment for debt has made something of a comeback in parts of the US lately. They went to Belgium a terrible time, Emily down with TB and dying, father too, and Fanny held the family together by writing in the nighttime into dawn readable radical novels – condition of England like Gaskell’s North and South: Jessie Philips about a girl who has a baby outside marriage and goes to one of these punitive institutions meant for such girls; Michael Armstrong, Factory Boy. She took time out to nag connections she had into giving Anthony a job at the post office at age 19 and left him in London. she was a courageous and gallant women and determined, individual in thought and action. She and Tom eventually moved to Italy where they did make a successful life for themselves: Tom married well.

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Recent photograph (relatively) of one of the large country houses the Anglo-Irish built for themselves: Moore Hall, burnt down by the IRA and then abandoned

How did Anthony life himself up. He suffered bad depression from the time of his early teens until he moved to Ireland. Ireland was not known for cheering people up at the time. But he was freed of being looked down on, of his family, of the disgrace, of the pain and hurt, and of the humiliation of being a low level post office clerk. We will meet some low tax office clerks in The Small House: Johnny Eames is in some ways an idealized version of Trollope himself. Where in London he was despised, in Ireland he was in charge. He was incorruptible and worked hard to de-corrupt the post office, helped set up pillar posts or mailboxes as we call them. He loved the physical life of riding on his hourse as a surveyor. Fox-hunting. He married a woman just that much lower than he not to abuse his image, and began to write himself. It was natural to start with novels set in Ireland and by the end of his career he had written 5 set in Ireland, with the two Phineas Finn Palliser books having an Anglo-Irish Catholic hero. The Irish novels, dark, about colonialism, the famine, were not commercial successes at all, but he was noticed, gained respect through a ten year slog of working 10 hours a day and writing from 4 to 9:30 or so in the morning and in interstices of time while on his job (say when he was traveling on a train).

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Donald Pleasance as Mr Harding, absorbed in his violin (1983 Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

What made the change were what one might say a combination of three Barsetshire books. One of the things he was doing was mapping Ireland, he rode all over and saw much misery, much injustice, but he did it so well, he was invited to do this for southwestern England – Devonshire, Dorsetshire. The story he told goes that while walking one evening ijn the beautiful purlieus of Salisbury Cathedral, the story of Mr Harding, The Warden just came to him. This conveniently leaves out the themes of this book: it’s a political satire on church caste systems. Trollope told his friend and first biographer, T.H. Escott more fully that he had been reading in the Times about egregious cases in he church where a man was paid a huge sum for doing nothing, a sinecure; the money was supposed to go to support aging poor people; while another a curate starved on money not enough to live. He was also grated upon by the newspapers way of reporting the Crimea. All three came together: he attacks the Times as the Jupiter, exposes church injustices. The combination of his characters and these themes and the milieu of Barsetshire as you have it provided a success d’estime. The upper class has never wanted its secrets to be revealed, and Trollope was against anonymity which he regarded as allowing for non-accountability; but otherwise perhaps we have especially today in the US to deplore Trollope’s lack of apprciation of a free press (where a man is running for president who makes it clear he will do all he can to censor and take revenge on revelations about himself which are true). The Times was becoming a daily imagined community device. He said he still would have made more breaking stones, but when he went on in effect to repeat the story in a 3 volume Victorianization, Barchester Towers, there was a commercial success. BT has a love story, flamboyant Stanhope characters with scintillating satire: I describe Madeline Neroni (subversive yet crippled), Bertie (anti-work ethic exposes others as cheerful jokes), and the ambitious driven Mr Slope.

Trollope did not immediately write Barsetshire 3: he did not see himself as writing a series, but when he wrote Dr Thorne, he got 700£. Dr Thorne is set in Barsetshire but it has characters in another area: a strong and passionate rather like The Small House at Allington. Dr Thorne is a deeply dramatic about issues of class and status or rank; about a clash of a county hierarchy with new money people; it has a brilliant portrait of a wealthy industrialist banker who had been a cement worker, he’s an alcoholic. The heroine is an illegitimate dowerless girl. The hero, her uncle, a country doctor – like our Dr Crofts in Small House. Trollope seems to favor doctors. (Excursis on medicine in the era in answer to questions). Both Dr Thorne and Small House are about characters off to the side of the main characters of Barsetshire. When Trollope came to collect the novels, he had thoughts not to include The Small House but as we shall see it is so rooted in Barsetshire that he relented. To me it’s interesting he never doubted Dr Thorne belonged.

Nor did Thackeray; the break came from the Cornhill. Thackeray was chief editor of this new magazine which was aiming for big success and they wanted a central novel as the piece de resistance, to set them off. He was at the time writing Castle Richmond, about the famine in Ireland, and if English people didn’t want to hear about it, the rest of Europe did, it was published separately around the time of FP and quickly translated into 5 languages. Thackeray told him, my dear Trollope what we want is another of those Barsetshire books. Think of Trollope working for the post office, and writing two novels. One critic said Mr Trollope has taken to having twins. But it was FP that made him, and on the strength of his new income, he moved to just outside London to be part of the literary world at last. 

How sum up Framley Parsonage: very hard, it’s a very rich, more varied book than Small House. Gaskell said she wished Mr Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage forever. She didn’t see why he should ever stop. I’ll come back to that comment. There is a great increase in intimacy of characterization from Dr Thorne which is yet further subtilized in Small House. In PF Trolliope fills his imagined space out, maps carefully for the fist time; it bifurcated so it can be politicized into East and West Barsetshire. The story of Mark Roberts the hero, is the about the problem of how to go about a career, who succeeds and who fails and encompasses parliament, the problem of making ends meet as you spend money to reach that success so debt, how someone can become corrupted, what we might call the price of the ticket – not just in the church, but in ordinary social life where you want to shine, what relationships you desire to have and with whom. It’s most fascinating character becomes Mr Sowerby, brilliant, but weak; in his effort to secure his comfortable life and rise, he loses everything. Another female festive subversive character: Miss Dunstable. It’s about what ambition does to you and we will see that theme in spades not in electoral politics but sexual politics in Adolphus Crosbie.

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Trollope’s own map of Barsetshire

How do you tell a series: there are recurring characters and it’s set in the same imagined space. Both are important and it is true that we have hardly any glimpse of characters from the previous novels: one important one I put a vignette of on the syllabus. When Adolphus Crosbie leaves the Small House and goes to Courcy Castle, he meets Mr Harding in Barchester cathedrale and they talk. But all the characters in Small House then recur in the last Barsetshire book, The Last Chronicle includes plus most of the characters we’ve had in the four previous. It’s a long book. The imagined continuous space — or imaginary matters. Characters can drift away, move and yet not be lost sight of in the minds of the characters still on stage, sometimes for years, and then be brought back. Central ritual parties are moments of transition, connection, epitomizing and occur throughout.

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I chose “Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne” as it rehearses in little conflicting attitudes of mind towards marriage and the nature of love we are going to find in Small House at Allington.

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Joseph Wright, Landscape with Rainbow (very late 18th century) — Trollope insists on the beauty of Devonshire

What happens in the story? The way you tell it will probably show something of your response – One neutral way of putting it is the story is an exploration of the nature of marriage. We may say we marry for love or because we desire the personally physically (that’s not so common nowadays as the taboo on sex outside marriage for most of us is gone – not all) but that’s not what this story shows – nor will The Small House. What does Captain Broughton want from marriage? Something far more than love and sex. How does he judge Patience as a wife? For me Trollope is leading us to ask, Why is it better to marry? Not necessarily is the idea or in all or some cases? What do we give up if we don’t?

Another way of looking at it, this is a story about the cost of pride, about the cost of holding onto one’s self-esteem, subtle or intangible as Patience’s concept of this reality may seem to someone who can measure such things only by the clothes she gets to wear and furniture she can wander among. And it gets to where the matter gnaws at the heart. Before we condemn the captain as the only person to whom status matters, let us recall Patience refuses the farmer first. But she does not play with him; she does not try to tell him he is inferior and must be grateful to her for marrying him – of course in the convention she would go down, and the Captain thinks he is bringing Patience. To which the aunt, Miss Le Smyrger objects. Note she never married.

May be the words pride and self-esteem may perhaps not be strong enough to convey all of what Patience would have to give up to marry Captain Broughton; she would lose her soul by marrying the man. She would either have to consent to being his slave or try to dominate him by pretending coldness and aloofness for him to marry her. The latter strategy, even if it resulted in marriage, would backfire on her, as Broughton would doubtless take his revenge once they were safely married. Patience, of course, has no intention of becoming either a slave or a slavemaster. She does not want a relationship where one is dominant and the other submits. Is that possible?

Patience refuses to allow herself to be bullied, to be drawn into a relationship in which she would have to act the part of the inferior person, the person who has to be grateful, who has so much to learn about “what counts” and “how to behave” in the world where powerful “connections” may be garnered, meaning how to please, I had almost said cater to people with access to money, positions.

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George Bellowes (1882-1925), Geraldine Lee (1914) — much later, but the expression on her face seems to me to fit that of the bearing-up guarded Patience at the close of the story

The whole story is in fact a piece of subtle psychology — the psychology of disillusionment and quiet despair. She chooses to stay alone. We delve into the sexual longings of Patience in the most delicate and pictorial manner:

“There she would sit, with the beautiful view down the winding river below her, watching the setting sun, and thinking, thinking, thinking– thinking of something of which she had never spoken. Often would Miss Le Smryger come upon her there, and sometimes would pass her by even without a word; but never–never once did she hdare to ask her of the matter of her thoughts. But she knew the matter well enough. No confession was necessary to inform her that Patience Woolsworthy was in love with John Broughton–ay, in love, to the full and entire loss of her heart” (p 236).

The poignancy of this is contrasted to the “hot” desires the Captain had pressed upon her during his stay:

“On the day before he left Oxney Colne, he had in set terms proposed to the parson’s daughter, and indeed the words, the hot and frequent words, which had previously fallen like sweetest honey into the ears of Patience had made it imperative on him to do so” (p 238).

But let’s look at it from the Captain’s point of view. Trollope offers a very back-handed summing up: he never said the man was not a “brute;” at another point when the Captain seizes Patience’s giving of herself in some way to manipulate her, he has “base thoughts,” a base mind when he thinks of how to manipulate Patience because she is of lower status – so he thinks. Aunt disagrees.

He’s young man from London who is at first attracted to Patience simply by virtue of their propinquity, and then because she holds out. Austen’s Willoughby is a son of Lovelace, and as such can be dismissed ever so slightly as “shaped,” as not quite what we meet in life. Captain Broughton is someone I have met many times; he is himself unaware that he is attracted to Patience because of the challenge she presents; he only feels bored and then letdown because he has, as he sees himself, bought goods which are not quite serviceable for his ambition, goods which are “inferior” as the world would have it, to what he could have gotten–“that great heiress with whom his name was once before connected.”

I have put it too strongly because Trollope’s close is enigmatic; when we are told the Captain is “now a useful member of Parliament, working on committees three or four days a week with a zeal that is indefatible,” we cannot be sure whether he is not happier with his heiress. What do you make of that “gratified” smile that crosses his face when he thinks of the unmarried Patience in the last line of the story. I took it  the man is glad he didn’t marry her, and glad he that far triumphed over her and glad she did not marry too

Anyone want to argue for compromise? An abstract way of putting it is it’s a clash between what we could call the mercantile and romantic understandings of marriage. Is the primary nature of marriage companionate and emotional, or is marriage an institution by which economic welfare is secured or increased? It looked as though we had in Patience (and note that given name) an example of the romantic point of view, whereas the young man from London emphatically had his eyes on worldly advantage. Worldly advantage, of course, is something the parson’s daughter will not give him, despite Miss Le Smyrger’s intention to make her at least a moderate heiress. Money aside, she brings no useful connections, and lacks the social deftness, the polish that will impress his associates back home. Would she have been unhappy? We must not write a fan fiction and imagine children — we don’t know that she would have had them, she could die.

A final level: the story is a look at the plight of women on the fringe of middle-class life in England, where pride can come at a painful price. Not everyone has a dowry of 30,000 pounds; not everyone has influential relatives, or dwells in an area where plenty of suitable partners are on offer. Patience has the education and self-image of a member of the gentry, who will bring no shame on any family into which she marries. She cannot agree that it would need condescension for a gentleman to have her in marriage. This puts her above the touch of the men in her sparse neighborhood, but she cannot offer much to attract men of her own caste. Her sense of self places her above the station of a neighborhood farmer. And yet, from the viewpoint of the fashionable young man from London, Patience lies as much below him socially as she felt the farmer to be below her. Here lies the central tension in the story, when a social gulf that didn’t exist for her mattered too much for him.

Trollope does cheat or make it easy for us to see Patience left alone. She is an heiress after all; the Captain is punished by his hopes for a legacy going to her. They could make her unhappy. The ending is made easier because her aunt leaves her the fortune the Captain came down to try to wedge from the aunt. In real life the plight of most spinsters was poverty, dependence on others whom you had to please and serve. Yes much is left out: for example, we don’t know the inner life of the Captain’s new marriage, only that in a worldly way it worked. In The Small House, we are going to see that the other choice for the high born and well-connected might turn out even worse.

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John Singer Sergeant (1856-1925), anonymous gentleman (1880s), man about town: is he too dark for Crosbie as later met in The Last Chronicle?

Ellen

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Vignette for “Mr Crosbie meets an old clergyman on his way to Courcy Castle” (John Everett Millais, Chapter 6 of The Small House at Allington)

A Syllabus

The Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: 6 Wednesdays, 11:50 am to 1:15 pm, Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax
Dates: June 15 – July 20.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

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Trollope’s own late map of Barsetshire, which indicates where to place Allington (look at top lefthand corner: Allington is between Silverbridge station and Guestwick Village)

Barsetshire 5: Trollope’s Small House at Allington

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Geroulds’ map of Allington

We will read The Small House at Allington and Trollope’s short story, “The Parson’s Daughter at Oxney Colne.” Rumor hath it (she isn’t always treacherous) this ripely-mature psychologically subtle novel is still cited when someone asks, “Which Trollope novel should I read first?”, and it’s one that has never fallen out of print. I encourage those who take this course to first watch the 1983 BBC mini-series, Barchester Chronicles and read Dr Thorne (Barsetshire 3) before the course begins. Alas the recent ITV mini-series, Dr Thorne (by Julian Fellowes is poor and Framley Parsonage (Barsetshire 4) has never been filmed. Trollope himself resisted including The Small House in the first publication of the whole Barsetshire series, so an attempt will be made to see the book in the context of his wider oeuvre, and time permits but one great relevant short story of the parson’s daughter (set in Devonshire), will enable us to see its themes more clearly from the different setting. The usual Barsetshire semi-comic resolution in both The Small House and “The Parson’s Daughter” is derailed entirely with the London world so aggressive that the conflicts in failure and price of success for a kind of existence (wealthy, powerful, prestigious) rip apart the earlier fractured pastoral world – for our uncomfortable contemporary consideration. We will also have Millais’s delicately beautiful illustrations to look at. Please have read “The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne” before term begins. 6 weeks.

Required: Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington, ed. Dinah Birch. London: Penguin, 1984. Also excellent intro in previous Oxford SHA, ed. James Kincaid ISBN 0192815520; and essay in back of Everyman SHA, ed. David Skilton (“Trollope and His Critics”) ISBN 9460877944

To view all Millais’s full page illustrations and vignette, go to Project Gutenberg.

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The bull (Millais, “Lord de Guest at Home,” Ch 22)

For “The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne,” there are on-line etexts:

The Literature Network
From The University of Adelaide collected edition of Trollope

Also recommended “A Journey to Panama”
University of Adelaide collected edition of Trollope

If you’re wanting to read more Trollope, “Parson’s Daughter” and “A Journey to Panama” both are also found in the superb Anthony Trollope: Early Short Stories, ed. notes John Sutherland. NY: Oxford, 1994. ISBN 019282984

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Lady Alexandria and her mother pick out the carpets as Crosbie watches: “That won’t do” (Millais, “Preparations,” Ch 40)

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

June 15: Trollope’s life, career; 1st 4 Barsetshires books; “The Parson’s Daughter.”
June 22: SHA, Chs 1-12: “Squire of Allington” to “Lilian Dale … a Butterfly”
June 29: SHA, Chs 13-24: “Guestwick” to “A Mother & Father-in-law”; read also McMaster on “The Unfortunate Moth.”
July 6: SHA, Chs 25-36: “Adolphus Crosbie spends an Evening at his Club” to “‘See the conquering hero, comes!'”; read also Turner on The Small House & the Cornhill
July 13: SHA, Chs 37-48: “Old Man’s Complaint” to “Nemesis” and “Trollope’s “A Journey to Panama.”
July 20: SHA, Chapters 49-60, “Wedding” to end; read also Gilead on “Trollope’s Orphans.”

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Johnny talks to Lady Julia: “She has refused me and it is all over” (Millais, “The Second Visit,” Ch 54)

Suggested outside reading and sources (articles will be sent by attachment) and two films:

Barchester Chronicles. BBC mini-series, 1983. Dr. Gilles. Script Alan Plater. Featuring Donald Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne, Alan Rickman, Susan Hampshire.
Bareham, Tony, ed. The Barsetshire Novels: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1983.
Dr Thorne. ITV mini-series, 2016. Dr.Niall McCormick. Script Julian Fellowes. Featuring Tom Hollander, Stephanie Martini
Gerould, Winifred Gregory and James Thayer. A Guide to Trollope: Index to Characters and Places, Digests of Plots. Princeton UP, 1987.
Gilead, Sarah. “Trollope’s Orphans and ‘the Power of Adequate Performance,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 27:1 (1985):86-105.
McDonald, Susan Peck. Anthony Trollope. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
McMasters, Juliet. “The Unfortunate Moth: The Unifying Theme of The Small House at Allington, Nineteeth Century Fiction, 26:2 (1962):127-44
Overton, Bill. The Unofficial Trollope. NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1982.
Snow, C. P. Trollope: An Illustrated Biography. New York: New Amsterdam, 1975.
Turner, Mark. “Gendered Issues: Intertextuality and The Small House at Allington in Cornhill Magazine, Victorian Periodicals Review, 26:4 (1993):228-34

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Ford Madox Brown (1821-93), Hampstead from my Window

On-line group readings and blogs:

From my website on Anthony Trollope
A group reading of The Warden
A blog on Barsetshire Towers
Shoverdosing on Barchester Chronicles: the BBC mini-series
Dr Thorne
Julian Fellowes’s Unwitting Dr Thorne: not quite hijacked by the elite
Framley Parsonage
A group reading of The Small House at Allington

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Tom Hollander as a film Dr Thorne (he is right for the part as written in the book)

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Margaret (Daniela Denby- Ashby) first making friends with Nicholas (Brendan Coyle) and Bessy Higgins (Anna Maxwell Martin) (Sandy Welch’s 2004 North and South, Part 2)

yet men set me down in their fool’s books as a wise man, an independent character, strong-minded and all that cant — Mr Bell, North and South

Dear friends and readers,

This past spring I taught a course I called “Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South in context.” Although I had spent over a year with a group of friends reading Gaskell’s short stories and a couple of novellas together on Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo, and had before read and responded intensely to Mary Barton, North and South and Wives and Daughters, I’d never really studied a Gaskell text the way I do when I teach it, and experience (as I do at the OLLIs at Mason and AU) true dialogue in a class room give-and-take. I listened to brilliant readings aloud on CD of Cranford, Mary Barton (Juliet Stevenson for Cover-to-cover), North and South itself (Clare Wille for Naxos) and Wives and Daughters. I wish there were a good one available for the Life of Charlotte Bronte. I could not find one. As with Fielding’s Tom Jones the fall before I also assigned some good essays which I’d never read before either, as we went along. I read Felicia Bonaparte’s half-mad biography too — the more I read Gaskell, the more I came to agree with her, to the point that I agreed Molly had in effect killed herself when she decided to follow Roger’s advice and accept and subdue herself to her new stepmother. The result of this immersion: I feel I got closer to Gaskell than I ever did before.

Paradoxically since North and South is a book that is doing so many different things and has a wide range of topics or subject matters, often but not always from the perspective of someone questioning authority, it’s the kind of book that you need a book to write about adequately. This blog is a series of notes towards such chapters.

To begin with, the book often takes unexpected turns. For example, it opens unexpectedly for a condition of England novel, partly based on the Preston cotton strike and the locks-out. Gaskell first creates lovingly the atmosphere of a sheltered home in an elegant London, where Margaret Hale, our heroine, her sleeping beauty rich cousin, Edith, and the shallow Aunt Shaw, and most of the women around them (it’s a household of women) seem ignorant of the hard realities of life — like the need to make or have access to money to support yourself. We are intent on beautiful shawls and clothes, a coming extravaganza of a wedding, and subtle controlling codes of manners.

When we move to Helstone which our heroine declared was idyllic, we find a pair of parents who hardly share an interest, the father a depressive, anxious, and seeking to throw off his job as a vicar and responsibilities because he has lost his belief in the Anglican system of thought and gov’t, a mother who is incompetent when it comes to anything practical and deeply dissatisfied with her life as affording her no companionship with people like herself; the neighbors around them are desperately poor. When Mr Hale allows his crisis of conscience to become public and insists on moving to the North to an uncertain precarious future as a tutor, what Gaskell emphasizes is how he need not explain himself. What he says goes, no matter how weak a man he is. They repine, but they obey.

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Bessy in the factory when first seen (North and South, Part 2)

In Milton (Manchester), we meet a strange (unexpected) secondary heroine, a dream-figure alter-ego for Margaret, Bessy Higgins, a desperately poor factory worker, dying of a lung disease, and learn the reason her father, Nicholas, Higgins put Betsy in the factory (where she contracted a fatal lung disease), did not leave her where she was in a household sewing was he worried she would be sexually harassed. The gender ideology and practices throughout limit all the women’s choices. The first thing our heroine did in the early phase of the book is refuse an offer of marriage from Henry Lennox, an intelligent sharp lawyer, sceptical, cold (who comes from that hard world and is clearly successful). She found the wedding otiose, but she finds her friendship with Bessy fulfilling. We see her and her mother’s life-long maid cope together over the course of the rest of the book. Dixon is not invisible; where she sleeps, what she thinks and feels shape the novel too. There’s a servant in Mrs Thornton’s household who affects the action, so too Thornton’s sister who marries a stock speculator whose offer of saving himself from bankruptcy Thornton will refuse. The private worlds of women are also the public worlds of men. but we are not simply given a gendered female world as well as the class, industrial/agricultural, economic and religious worlds and conflicts; at each turn the plot-design is set up to thwart the usual expectations.

In each phase of this early part of the book room is left to dramatize experiences of life that don’t usually come up as important in the conventional plot-design. Gaskell here, and again later concentrates on what it’s like to move from one home or place to another, how traumatic this can be. The family will have to live on a small income and find aplace to live they can be comfortable in and afford. Margaret has bad dreams the night before they go off to Milton: these are partly sexual in nature and show that she refused Henry Lennox out of an inability to face her sensuality and sexuality. Late in the book when so many deaths have occurred as to make Margaret’s place and life in Milton no longer viable, she has a similar hard time moving back to London.

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Thornton (Richard Armitage) arguing his side (North and South, Part 2)

Then the book is organized as a series of conversations or debates on ideas that control the character’s behavior and the options their society allows everyone. There is no climax but ideas are debated and we are left to think for ourselves, comparing the ideas the characters have to the dramatic scenes in which the debate occurs and placed nearby. One is about the responsibilities of owners to workmen: these are dialogues about power, about recognizing obligation, about how people regard one another when they are part of groups in conflict. When the book’s romance hero, Mr Thornton, stands up for rigid “political economy” (laissez-faire ideas) and denies he has anything to do with the time allowed his workers when they are not working for him, we see that he is not admitting to his power, but neither he or Margaret, or the workman, Nicholas Higgins, who presents the chartist and burgeoning socialistic point of view of the union, take into account Bessy who we meet in the next chapter. Beyond how ill she is, why she became ill, how she spends her life, there are her religious mystical visions from the Bible which give her what comfort she has. These so irritate Higgins as they are presented as making lived life unimportant, that he produces an atheistic vision of the world, one pessimistic, cynical, grim: how could any good God or rational consciousness have produced this world? The book may be read as a series of tableaux, debates, dialogues, dramatic scenes – or dream thoughts as in the presentation of Bessy, a kind of deep or hidden self for impulses and feelings in Gaskell herself in debate with the scepticism and disillusion of her father, Nicholas.

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Matty (Judi Dench) and Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon) read Matty’s brother, Peter’s letters together (Heidi Thomas’s 2007 Cranford Chronicles)

It also drives towards primal scenes that repeat across Gaskell’s oeuvre. For example, the way the theme of injustice in the military, specifically naval world, is brought forward is through primal memeory dream scenes. First, letter-reading — just as in Gaskell’s Cranford where Gaskell’s Matty and her niece, Mary, are enacting Gaskell’s own loss of her brother when he went to sea as a young man. He was the only member of her nuclear family who remained loyal and alive and wrote her letters from far away, encouraging her, a deeply congenial spirit; when he died at sea, the loss was profound. In North and South, Margaret and her mother go over Frederick’s sea-stained letters to introduce why Frederick cannot come home to England ever again. There is another letter scene in he film where Margaret is remembering when they first got news of the mutiny: through her memory’s eye (flashback), we see Mrs Hale frantically tear up the newspaper.

Margaret’s father who himself felt he must buck church authority and lost his position now has to persuade Margaret that Frederick cannot go to court to explain why the men aboard ship mutinied and he deserted (a cruel captain who needled and risked his men’s lives, causing one of them to nearly become crippled, flogged mercilessly for minor infractions): the authorities will support their tyrannical control by never admitting to any wrong. There is no debate here, only another primal scene where Margaret is standing on a train station, attempting to help Frederick flee to London, and they are accosted by an angry embittered man who thinks to turn Frederick in for a ransom. Frederick sees him as insulting Margaret and as drunk, hits him back and the man falls down the steps, hurting himself sufficiently so that he dies soon after. Meanwhile Frederick vanishes into the dark night of the train. The scene at the train station is deep with longing – Gaskell’s dream thoughts well up. No film adaptation of North and South could leave out Frederick, the train scene.

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Margaret’s terror as she realizes she and Frederick are seen and are about to be accosted (North and South, Part 3)

For the rest of the novel Gaskell has Margaret brood over this scene ostensibly because she tells a lie to a police magistrate that she was not there and knows nothing about this man to protect Frederick (“strange, wild, miserable feelings”). She is suspected of a sexually clandestine relationship with a strange man by a possessive Thornton who has asked her to marry him — she refused him too. She is deeply attracted to Thornton and intensely regrets that she seems to have lost his respect. Hated by Mrs Thornton, the mother, for having rejected her son at the same time as Mrs Thornton is bitterly possessively jealousy, Mrs Thornton takes the opportunity of supposedly warning her to frame Margaret to her face as possibly unchaste. What an extraordinary way to present the idea give people power and they abuse it – it’s understood how desertion is bad, and discipline needs to be maintained but it should not be disproportionate, not torture (which flogging was). And how vulnerable Frederick is to someone who wants a bribe. We see how vulnerable women are to perpetual sexual suspicion.

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Osborne Hamley’s death, Squire Hamley (Michael Gambon) and Molly (Justine Waddell) (Andrew Davies’s 1999 Wives and Daughters, Part 4 of 75 minute episodes)

Everyone who reads Gaskell knows that many of her character die. She once joked the best title for her book (North and South was Dickens’s choice) would be Variations on Death. The characters learn about life through their encounters with death. All the deaths are linked to depression too. Margaret’s mother dies of cancer — brought on by stress; Bessy of her illness and wild dreams; Mr Hale of grief after his wife’s death and a sense that he has lost all occupation and meaning when he begins to lose his pupils; Mr Hale’s mentor, friend, and a third man attracted to Margaret (who Gaskell meant to make an older suitor), Mr Bell of an inexplicable but real depression. Early in the novel we are told Mr Thornton’s father killed himself when he became a bankrupt failure from gambling and alcohol. Shortly after the strike is over, one of the workers, Mr Boucher, kills himself, driven by his wife’s grief over her children’s “clemming” during the strike, and his own despair. Gaskell’s belief that death brings people together, makes their individual humanity plain to one another is shown over and over. I tried to get at some of this material by explicating a few of Gaskell’s epigraphs.

Gaskell quotes from the 4th chapter of Job. “Man that is born of women is of few days and full of trouble.” First half insists that all nature renews itself, but the individual person does not come back. “A tree may sprout again, a flower. Question is where does his “ghost” go? Job wishes to hide himself, everything washes away, ends on how man grieves and mourns. No answer given. She quotes Wordsworth. People tend to remember these things how they want to. Traditional one would be from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (Book 5)

What though the sea with waves continuall
Does eate the earth, it is nor more at all:
Nor is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto an other brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.

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Margaret in mourning (North and South, Part 4)

But Gaskell’s references are to sceptical works. At one point she alludes to Byron’s poem called The Island; or Christian and his comrades. It’s a satire on Pilgrim’s progress and Robinson Crusoe rolled into one. I read aloud the whole of the epigraph for the chapter (33) from the poem by Henry King is one of the most moving poems in the English language I know of where a spouse mourns the death of another. Exequy is a funeral rite or ceremony. There’s a stanza where he says he will soon overtake her and that’s what he lives for

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay;
I am already on the way,
And follow thee with all the speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed.
Each minute is a short degree,
And every hour a step towards thee.
At night when I betake to rest,
Next morn I rise nearer my west …

I loved the ending of the book. Yes Gaskell was forced to cut and probably would have given us far more of a courtship for Thornton and Margaret. But look at what she didn’t cut, what she took out time to dramatize. There are the debates between Mr Thornton and Mr Bell, with Mr Thornton emerging sympathetically as the person openly taking life seriously. The second is the development of a relationship of respect and friendship (for what else is it) between Thornton and Higgins, however improbable. Gaskell shows how comforting Margaret finds it to be alone, not to have to answer to anyone, she finds herself growing firmer and she can tell herself if only Thornton weren’t so cold and they could be friends, she could live with his not knowing – what she can’t see is he feels he must be cold or he will allow his feelings for her to surface and he’s had enough too. She reads Francois de St Sale, the passage is French is from one of these religious meditative books people, especially women read before their were novels. Disguised as religious exhortations, they are often about coping with depression and seek to help someone all alone, no one to talk to, they had no language with with to discuss depression without blaming someone as having done wrong. She sits on the beach at Cromer looking out at the sea and thinks again. When she returns to London, she refuses to give up all her time to the rituals of shallow social life, and instead becomes a female visitor Gaskell writes: “she had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it and she tried to settle that difficult problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority, and how much might be set apart for freedom in working.” I daresay for the modern reader the first idea (utterly merged) will get a strong “none,” and the second seem to lack enough sense of pleasure. In one of her letters on the ending of the novel in swift romance, Gaskell suggests that the relationship could easily “go smash,” and has the last words of the novel Margaret’s remembering she will have to deal with Mr Thornton’s mother.

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A dream-like moment of Margaret in Helstone (North and South, Part 4)

Lest we read the book too hopefully there is more primal matter: Gaskell also brings us back to Helstone (to show how it’s again changed), also a re-enactment of her childhood brought up in county by her single aunt Lumb and disabled cousin. Gaskell takes out time to tell the story of how Margaret discovers that the neighbor of one woman she visits boiled a living cat until it died in an agon of pain while drowning. Why: the neighbor was afraid her husband would be angry as she gave his clothes to a fortune teller. The story is even worse in this sense: the woman telling it is not indignant and horrified for the cat, no she’s just bothered that it was her cat. Gaskell sees the horror that people are too – what they are capable of. She puts it down to ‘a want of imagination … and therefore of any sympathy with the suffering animal.” When one attributes the vast evils people do or tolerate to a failure of the imagination it seems so mild a thing to say, but this failure is central.

I hope this series of notes on the novel has conveyed something of its nature (the kinds of texts it offers), the sources of its power and content too. I strongly recommend watching Sandy Welch’s film too. North and South is, as are all Gaskell’s texts, deep l’ecriture-femme, whose forms, motivations, and greatness are not well understood. Feminist criticism talks generally about this faultline in books, but hesitates before specific examples. I’ve presented a specific 19th century example which passes muster in the male worlds of publishing and respectable books as a condition of England novel about a series of outwardly objective themes.

Ellen

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Sondra Radvanovsky as a ghastly aging Elizabeth in the final moments of Roberto Devereux

Dear friends and readers,

If the play itself, the acting and singing, production design, direction, even most of the costumes (not all) had not been so splendidly pitch perfect, I’d have rested content with Izzy’s take on what we saw and heard yesterday. This is another of these opulent yet pared down presentations. She offers insights into so many of the choices of casting and camera shots by viewing the opera as being done to be part of the New Met Opera Experience on display for most of this year’s operas: The Modern Opera Experience II. While the stills available on the Net are except for a very few resolutely of Sonya Radvanofsky in her most trussed up and be-wigged moments, and concentrate on the heterosexual antagonistic lovers:

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Matthew Polenzani as Devereux making up to the Radvanovsky’s creepily over-made up butterfly winged Elizabeth

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Marius Kwieccien as the seethingly jealous Duke of Nottingham threatening Elina Garanca as his adulterous Duchess (in corset and shift and underskirt),

what the production did was show the aging woman declining and thrillingly bring back the homosocial pair of males from Les Pecheurs de Perles transposed to the Jacobean world:

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It is my argument that Tudor Matter has been so ceaselessly popular because it undermines the usual male stereotypes and rips apart its taboos to show us vulnerable, emotional, woman-like men subject to strong women (see my Tudor Matter: Overturning Gender Stereotypes). This subversion and transgression is so unusual in any where but high opera, it’s no wonder people flock to The Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall, Henry VIII (where even Ray Winstone crumbles before the onslaught of his obsessive insecurities. Nottingham as played by Kwiech, Devereux as played by Polenzani broke many taboos on the way males are supposed to  be self-controlled, all guarded triumph and conventional domineering strength. There was but one strong woman in this one: Elizabeth, but it’s an opera and must pare down the number of characters. Notably too Radvanosky played the character not as a Machiavellian frustrated malicious old maid (which from Scott on was the way this magnificent queen was seen), nor the recent sentimentalizations we’ve seen (as in Helen Mirren’s film or before her Bette Davis with Errol Flynn in Elizabeth and Essex) but a woman of genuine feeling that has been searingly violated and betrayed and is now shattered, can barely walk, is bald, near death. Radvanosky was not at all ashamed to mime death.

As Izzy remarks, one has to divest one’s mind of much that is known of the real Elizabeth and Essex’s relationship at this point and why she executed him: he was incompetent militarily but he made up for this by networking conspiracy, and he was ambitious. He attempted with a group of understandably rebellious Irishmen to take over England as its leader. But there are more than grains psychological truth in story of Elizabeth’s self-indulgent demands for erotic adoration from her courtiers.  I would now like to re-see Maria Stuarda and Anna Bolena with Radvanosky under McVicar’s direction.

Roberto Devereux is (as I”ve just alluded to) the third in what has since Beverly Sills revived the Donizetti “three queens” as a series (Maria Stuarda, ultimately from Schiller; Anna Bolena, the product of an Italian poet from the 19th century working on sensibility romantic poet’s vision of the 18th century). Radvanofsky sang the tragic heroine of all three. The excellent New York Times review by Anthony Tommasini has a slide show and links.

What they have omitted to say though is wherein this opera differs from the other two beyond the sources. It is a deeply melancholy work, the music eerily distraught by end of the second act. Yes, the libretto for Devereux is based on an early 19th century romantic play, itself drawn from a later 18th century sentimental French subjective novel whose ultimate source is La Calprenede; that is, one of these enormously long 17th century French romances where a woman is made into a sort of goddess, who exists to be worshiped and emotionally tortured. But the source of the emotion is Donizetti himself. In the two years before this opera was produced (and while he was presumably writing it), his parents died, his wife gave birth to a stillborn baby and then herself died. This autobiographical origin is the source of the strange beauty of much of the music, even in the less inspired first half. I felt more genuine emotion in it than I ever have before. The translation of the libretto left thoughtful lines one didn’t have to stick to that story to respond to. Not everyone can respond to depth of grief (see James Jorden’s snark in the Observer).

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One of the reviews I read complained about the stage as boring. It is modeled on the Wanamaker theater in London, newly brought back to life (where Izzy and I saw Farinelli and the King last September in London) in all its original later 17th century proscenium stage glory. As in that play, the rest of the cast, here the chorus, acted as an audience to the main action, so suggestively we saw the faces of these nameless courtiers and ladies watching the faces of these too-often named characters. Another friend who goes to opera frequently (in England) says more attention is paid to innovative and allusive production design than even the acting and trying for stars who look right, which nowadays can trump superlative singing. (Deborah Voigt is a perpetual hostess, sings no more because she is deemed too heavy and old for the mezzo-soprano roles her voice suits.)

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Still Eric C. Simpson is surely right when he praises this latest product of the new mode of opera as much for the historical detail, symbolic figures and replications, striking costumes: McVicar has outdone himself and that’s saying something.

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Garanca

We were in a theater where the equipment has not been kept up, so while most of the time, I disagree whole-heartedly with the reiterated absurdity the HD-Met hosts and hostesses repeat obediently that there is nothing like experiencing these operas in the opera house live (yes, especially when you are at the back of the orchestra or anywhere from the second tier up), this time we were at a disadvantage and may next year go to a different movie-house. A second assumption voiced now and again is that these operas are not staged with the film audience in mind. Patently untrue. The staging is inflected to give the cameras full opportunity to do close-ups at climactic moments, far away shots as the opera say comes to a transition, medium range for allegorical effect. Again it was Gary Halverson who was listed as film director. We’ve one opera to go for this season: Strauss’s Elektra, directed for the stage by Patrice Chereau, a great film director. Doubtless he was chosen for his fame as well as expertise in film.

As we were talking about the opera over our supper later on, I wondered to myself if there is some way I could commemorate Jim’s love for opera that would somehow center on him. Alas there is not except if I regard my continual going now for the third year without him, and plans to keep this up and keeping the writing about this up as originally actuated by him and partly kept up to remember him. He would have loved this one.

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Garanca singing of her love for Devereux

Ellen

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