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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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


Ashoke on the train reading Gogol’s The Overcoat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested:

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

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

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

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


Ashoke on the train reading Gogol’s The Overcoat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friends and readers,

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


The subtitle, Repeat the sounding joy, functions ironically

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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

(published 1964)


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

Friends and readers,

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

By contrast:

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

And now the movie by Peter Weir


What Weir looked like at the time

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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

Dear friends and reader,

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

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

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

https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries

or

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

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

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

For the week beginning Sunday,

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

So we finish just as February is rolling round …

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


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

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


Group photo of actors in 2018/29 Les Miserables

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

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


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

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


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

Join us

https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries

or

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

Ellen

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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


The audio book

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Ada (Tara Fitzgerald, the Alice Roland of film story) and Flora (Anna Paquin, the Asia of the film story) — from Jane Campion’s 1993 The Piano, a very free appropriation of Mander’s 1920 novel)

Dear friends and readers,

I do not remember what year it was when I first came across Jane Mander’s traditional novel of the trials and ordeals of colonialism for the European colonizers, credited as one of the first true New Zealand novels (a product of this new culture), The Story of a New Zealand River. I found it in the Second Story bookstore in Alexandria, one of two such used book stores: one in DC (Georgetown); and this one in Alexandria, which took up a whole block, all sides and was two floors high. Long gone now such attics of “used” literature where I could rummage in past ages through their left-over books. I might have been attracted by the cover.

I recall being wholly absorbed by it, and recognizing it (not Emily Bronte, as was suggested by some film critics) as a central story source for a movie that made quite a splash with its teasing erotic content. Campion’s English heroine, a mute, coerced into marriage, with a white timber man in New Zealand, is persuaded to go through a slow strip-tease by his assistant, a white man gone native — she removes an item of clothing and in return gets to “own” a small part of her piano until she owns the whole thing), Jane Campion’s The Piano. My reaction to the movie this summer has been very different.

This summer when I decided to try to teach a course in colonialist writings, it leapt to mind as the one book I must do. As I told the people in the zoom space with me, this, together with her Allen Adair, are as worthy to be taught as regularly as the over-rated Heart of Darkness by Conrad and a couple of other favorites by men as classic colonialist books. Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) is on record more than once inveighing against the deep racism of Conrad’s book. Mander at least meant not to be, and you can learn a lot more about colonialism from her for real than you can from Conrad’s mystic pompous vague ominousness. I am writing this blog in the same spirit as I taught the book: I would like more people to know about it and its contexts.

Its plot-design tells two stories. On the level of primary action, it tells of an epic romantic journey through time, experience, a river and hard adventures (including giving birth many times in a cabin in the rural woods of Nothern New Zealand in the 1870s through 80s) by Alice Roland. She is a woman whose stiff-necked estrangement from others (later understandable), narrow-minded class-based puritanism, the same suspicious authoritarianism towards others that in the book she allows to spoil her life, is in the book changed to assimilation, a broader minded toleration and understanding, an acceptance of her own and others’ sexual love life. The context for this is the difficulty of living with Tom Roland, a white timber man with whom she has little sympathy, himself creating a successful timber business from the ground up (literally) in the wilderness. When we meet her, she has married him to escape her lot as a widow with three children living in Australia (with a piano in tow — she had tried to make a living as a music teacher). She had hoped comradeship. Instead she falls in love with David Bruce, his gentlemanly assistant (also a physician), who does not go native, but becomes her friend and support of her and whole white community. The three, man, wife, friend, are at the center of all that happens. The inner core of this Campion took for her stark but (contradictorily) pessimistic movie; the outer is about people coping with the situations of colonial life and winning, just.

On the level of structure and character relationships, it is the story of a mother and daughter. The first two of the four books dramatize Asia’s growing up, struggling with and loving her mother. The third and fourth books occur ten and then fourteen years later where Asia, now grown up, turns round to teach this same mother as she achieves independence and a far more free fulfilling life than her mother is capable of. It’s a bifurcated tale. Asia is a kind of Jo March modernized — I am morally convinced the novel Mander was most influenced by was Little Women. Asia falls in love with a man married but unable to divorce, and her mother has to accept Asia’s going to live with him as the source of her happiness and life’s strength. This structure and these themes mark The Story of a New Zealand River as very much a woman’s novel. Many of the inward recognitions both women go through are the kind of thing one finds in subjective novels by women which have nothing to do with where they are particularly.

To parse the bifurcation:

Book 1 sets our scene and the themes and character paradigms that will be developed. The arrival. Alice, Asia, two small children and piano ferried deep into bush on the river by David Bruce; Asia falls overboard and Bruce saves her life. Alice’s first impulse to snub Bruce (he not being dressed as the gentlemen). She finds herself very afraid, very alone, has to give birth – this marks the woman’s birth and it’s David Bruce who is there in intimate moments. Her antagonism, her aversion turns to dependency on her part and his pity for her to love, which is acknowledged at the end of Book I. Tom takes a mistress (on the side, in town). She makes friends with a Mrs Brayton, a cultivated and wise woman who helps her learn to live in a rough environment; she clashes with her daughter at each stage in which the daughter asserts a separate and questioning identity. She learns everything she needs she must make herself. One of the things our characters are doing is “clearing the bush” and making a new society mostly in imitation of what they knew in England only shaped by the different climate, flora, fauna, kinds of foods available and grown.

Book 2 includes a gale-level storm, a flood which threaten and almost destroys Tom’s hard-built business site; David Bruce’s drinking bouts (he is a depressive). Tom Roland thinking he is facing ruin, takes poison, and is saved by David and Alice’s united efforts – tremendous inward scene between Alice and Bruce as they are tempted to let him die. Bruce becomes an uncle-father to Asia. Alice’s deep self-repression, guilty, rigidity over sex, and wanting to own her children, her Victorianism, the attitude so reprehended by Bloomsbury is also reprehended by Mander but through a Victorian fiction.

The problem throughout all this is our heroine, Alice Roland, is persistently in the wrong. She needs the putative hero, David Bruce, continually to teach her better values, among these to be nicer to her husband. It seems it’s her fault the husband treats her badly; her fault he goes into these drinking bouts (as does David himself but she cannot be blamed for that). She is told she is intolerant when he visits his mistress. And she is to consider how much of the whole encampment (all the people working for him, their families) is riding on his strength of character; it’s due to his physical and moral stamina that the timber mill is succeeding and creating wealth for him and her and money for all. Ironically what makes the book unpalatable to some readers today, scandalized her New Zealand readership until the 1930s because what Alice is being taught and Asia lives out are modern attitudes towards sex, class, parent-child relationships, work.

Books 3 & 4 (more briefly): 10 years later, Asia 18 and insists on independent life for herself, a terrible wrench for Alice. At first Alice cannot accept this modern way of life for her daughter. Bruce and Mrs Brayton enable Asia to leave, to become a sort of concert pianist going round New Zealand, but Alice again pregnant and now ill (endures yet another stillbirth), Asia returns home for a few months to nurse her. Then 2 and 1/2 years later, we find Asia now living at home (not explained) and she falls in love with Allen Ross. This part of the novel contains the most extensive descriptions of the realities of colonial life, the people who come as failures elsewhere and fail again; the landscape. Here we find the only mentions of the Maoris in the book (very traditional to leave the indigenous peoples out).

The novel’s non-modern techniques: back stories emerge. Alice had Asia as illegitimate child and punished herself all her life by his marriage; Mrs Brayton had rejected daughter who married someone Mrs B didn’t approve of, w/o help daughter died. Bruce himself did not save a man whose wife he loved and blames himself as a passive murderer (this reminded me of George Eliot, and Bruce seemed to me a Daniel Deronda).

Roland finally catches Bruce and Alice in compromising position and it emerges he thought they were lovers all these years –- especially after Bruce told him to leave Alice alone, for these pregnancies were killing her. A sub-textual argument of the book is on behalf of contraception (for which it was attacked). Does she want a divorce? No! but our noble lovers are saved when Tom dies in an accident nobly trying to save others. At novel’s end Asia and Ross have gone to live in Sidney where they hope to do good in politics. Alice and Bruce leave for Auckland to marry and find contentment as older adults together.

The book brings you into its world deeply; it is rich in description of New Zealand at the time. The characters are convincing (if contrived because of the romantic lesson-learning structuring). I find it to be melancholy: life is little to be enjoyed and much to be endured (there are various utterances which are variations on Samuel Johnson, mostly when Alice is thinking of what is to come. What is most striking to me is how the daughter is presented as more reasonable, more able to function in modern society, more daring than the mother, and they get into hard conflicts over opposed values — including directly sexual (against her daughter’s deep pleasures with Ross) as well as about a daughter’s independence.

I’ve seen this in a number of women’s books. I cite 18th century books: Elizabeth Inchbald’s A Simple Story, with two volumes each about the different heroine; Charlotte Smith’s Young Philosopher — at the time I thought of so many others where the mother-daughter paradigm was presented in just this way. In the 19th century there’s Gaskell’s work, Margaret Oliphant has several — Oliphant had her most important relationship with her mother. Oliphant’s greatest grief was the loss of a 9 year old daughter. This dual view enables a dual perspective in such books: here in Mander early colonial experience and then 20 years later where so many changes as the white settlers succeed have been made. Marianne Hirsh’s insightful and important book (still) The Mother-Daughter Plot begins with the idea that for many women, they read as mothers (this is Gaskell) or daughters (say Austen and Bronte and Alcott). Mander begins with the mother as central and crosses over to the daughter (as do Inchbald and Smith).

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Jane Mander, 1923, one of her emigration documents

She was born in 1877, so close in age to Virginia Woolf. Mander grew up in New Zealand, part of its middle class. There is a good literary biography by Dorothy Tucker. Like Asia in the novel, she had little official schooling. Mander’s father was a member of the early New Zealand parliament, a pioneer, sawmill owner, who purchased a newspaper, The Northern Advocate where Jane first wrote as a journalist. There was little audience or opportunity for a modern novelist; so first she went to Sydney and in 1912 traveled thousands of miles to New York City, to go to Columbia University. She joined the suffrage movement. She was politically active as feminist and socialist labor all her life.

It was in New York City she wrote The New Zealand River. 1923 she moves to London and gets involved with familiar names of literature today (and some less familiar) from Bloomsbury to writers of the 1920s; then she works for Harrison Press in Paris. She is fluent in French. She wrote three other novels. She had a very lively life and enjoyed it but there were bad pressures. There are parallels with Katherine Mansfield, also from the upper class of New Zealand, but much much wealthier (whom Mander still resembles in startling ways and who was one of the first reviewers of Mander’s first book). Mander might have been bisexual too — there is no record of heterosexual romance.

She seems to have missed New Zealand, and her parents in were in bad health too, so in 1932 she returned home and stayed. A long trip. She became friendly with New Zealand writer whose work is more widely known than hers: Ngaio Marsh – whose great passion was theater direction though she also wrote the detective stories for which her name is more widely known.

Having been attacked by the local community for this and subsequent books, and for not living conventionally (she never married), Mander grew depressed yet stayed on. She was part of the local higher literary culture of her country – but just could not get her act together for another novel or long work. She wrote reviews; people suggested she return to London, that she write autobiographically. She would not. She produced magazine pieces — very fresh vivid accounts you could call regional writing. Her mother had died and her father became very ill. That she lived with her father in her later years reminds me of Louisa May Alcott who lived with Bronson Alcott and died with in a few months of his death.

She lived through WW2 – and New Zealand, like Australia, was very involved. New Zealand was an independent commonwealth country by 1947. The present enlightened fine PM, Jacinda Ardern, a social democratic progressive, is no surprise; women had the vote in New Zealand in 1893; unions protected, and with an outlook like that of the British labor party after war & Australia’s progressive party, New Zealand throve.

In this first novel one can see many autobiographical connections. It’s in the 1870s when our story begins – there are a few references now and again to situate the narrative. Mander was born in 1877, so from her grand-parents and what she knew of her great-grandparents she remembers an earlier world. Jane Mander lived in the very area she brings her characters to when she was around the age of Asia -– three years before she was 12. This is period of childhood where deepest memories are etched and she continually in her imagination (according to Tucker) returns to this landscape in all her novel writing. Here Asia is she, a bridge into this novel.

Part of the reason for the book’s impact was its authenticity – it is described in books about New Zealand literature as among the first genuine culturally New Zealand books written – like Nathanial Hawthorne in the US, Emerson, Alcott – they don’t sound British any more. The places named all existed and the description of the timber industry is said to be accurate. There was never a mill at Pukekaroro or township but there was one in Puhipuhi near Kaiwaka (Maori names) a town, access in the 1970s when Dorothy Turner wrote her book on Mander was still through waterways. You can trace where the owner of the timber company (Roland) lived; there was a real wealthy Englishwoman living there, Mrs Clayton – and she had a house like Mrs Brayton’s and doubtless a fine book collection. Its specific setting is an obscure smaller arm in Kaipara Harbour, which Mander sailed into and out of herself (like Asia).

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There is an audiobook, LibriVox, so unabridged and for free

The Story of a New Zealand River is a woman’s novel as well as good and important colonialist writing — as some of the classics of colonialist writing, where the man has won a Nobel prize are arguably misogynist and racist: this is true of some of V. S. Naipaul’s novels: A Bend in the River has the hero beating up his female partner and there is no real criticism of this. Action-adventure stories characterize a good deal of Kipling (who is painfully racist and prejudice against non-white cultures). I just loved how Mander showed the way women were part of the colonialist project, central to it, and what they endured, their friendships, networks, deeper relationships with female relatives.

Mander does neglect the Maoris: they are seen only from afar when the reality is in this period a series of wars had been concluded, but feeling between the indigenous people and the interlopers was hostile, with outbreaks of violence on all sides. I discussed in the class and encouraged everyone to see The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, to be sure about an aborigine man in Australia, but a rare movie for depicting the horrifying treatment of indigenous people. Mander’s brother marred a Maori woman.

I’ll end on the use of the piano in The Story of a New Zealand River. It’s not a chance move by Campion to focus so on this symbol of middle class, settled, white upper class life, gentility. In “The Piano as Symbolic Capital in New Zealand Fiction, 1860-1940,” Journal of New Zealand Literature (JNZL) 28 (2010):34-60, Kristine Moffat shows the depiction of the piano in most novels and movies in the later 19th and most of the first half of the 20th century is as particularly a woman’s instrument, an instrument through which women can express deeper and unconventional longings, as her symbolic capital, her status, distorts the history of the piano.  It’s partly false. Evidence shows that the piano was played by men and it functioned not just in the home where there was no radio. Historical records shows that pubs, music halls, clubs, brothels, working men as part of music making groups – it is a versatile percussive instrument (a harp on its side) – means of entertainment; in the first decades of the 20th century Maori people took to having pianos, military camps, concerts.

Towards the end of Moffat’s essay, she focuses on Mander’s novels; in New Zealand River, for Alice the piano is also a symbol of “home,” which is of course England. In one of Alice’s first visits to Mrs Brayton she is drawn irresistibly to this Broadview Grand and starts playing Beethoven’s sonatas with deep feeling and is embarrassed to have let go so – how much had been repressed – the journey is so difficult. She had tried to make a living teaching music; when Asia grows up we are told that she succeeds as a concert pianist in an orchestra that travels around Australia and New Zealand, to places of entertainment. I was not that surprised to read about that Katherine Mansfield’s short stories (Mander’s first reviewer as I said) fit into this paradigm.

Ellen

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The Householder (1963): husband, Prem (Shashi Kapoor) and wife, Indu (Leela Naidu) not getting along


Shakespeare Wallah (1965): daughter Lizzie (Felicity Kendall) and mother Carla Buckingham (Laura Liddell, Felicity’s real mother) playing Shakespeare


Roseland (1977): a few of the chief presences sitting around one of many tables just outside the dance floor


Heat and Dust (1983): chief characters: Nawab (Shashi Kapoor) and his kept man, Harry (Nickolas Grace) and the English Official’s Wife, Olivia (Gretta Scacchi) out for a picnic

Friends and readers,

Over the course of my life, I’ve seen at least 16 of some 40 films (and some several times) made by the whole M-I-J team or two of the three over half a century. A few are bound up with memories that matter: going out to the cinema one summer’s day with Thao, a young woman I am motherly towards, and Izzy and seeing the Chekhovian The City of Your Final Destination (2009, so very late, after Merchant’s death); one night very late, Jim asleep, I burst into hysterical tears at the sense of a life thrown away, in The Remains of the Day (1993) and rushed into a room in the front of the house so as not to awaken Jim; during our trip into Quebec one summer, about (I thought at the time) retreat, Heat and Dust (1983), and now I’ll remember Shakespeare Wallah (1965), studying, trying to understand the work of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for a course I’m about to teach, and feelings about England deeply awakened by the poignancy of the characters having to leave India to go home …

While they are quite varied, I’d say at the core what makes them so often so compelling, so memorable is the true feeling caught or theatricalized in their actually usually quietly understated films; themes like memory, inexplicable longings, an undercurrent of melancholy. Film stories carefully developed, so the hidden life of social scenes is revealed before us. I didn’t chose the most striking shots from the many many brilliant actors who have performed for them, some of them almost unrecognizable by the time they were swept up into the film world (especially once Maggie Smith transformed) though the shots released to the public bring out the actor from the part to sell the picture:


A young Shashi Kapoor as Prem, the intensely frustrated, repressed (before his mother) and occasionally distraught husband in The Householder


Julie Christie as Anne supposed independent young woman come to India to research the life and places her great-aunt Olivia ended up in India in Heat and Dust

Ismail Merchant in one of the many short films he made with Ivory abut their work, and now to be found (if you are lucky), as features in re-digitalized DVDs, said what differentiated their work was they all worked with “heart, intelligence, art.” They were earnest as well as playful about their trade (Wallah can be translates into a trade). I find in their best moments, they approach the work of Ingmar Bergmann; there are also many fallings away, as they stumble, try for non-cinematic almost non-dramatic material (Roseland), attempt to please an audience with simply lush photography (The Bostonians). There is a love affair with the English southern countryside, though three continents, three cultures are their groundwork: India first (Southasia), then England (and Anglo places wherever found), then NYC (very late South America) and Italy (Europe). They could take a photograph: in their very first movies, The Householder and Shakespeare Wallah, they had the direct help of Satyajit Ray and his cinematographer from whom they learned much about cutting, editing. I feel they were drawn to the misty and intangible currents emanating from characters to one another


Felicity Kendall, the wandering half-broke troupe’s daughter, and Shashi Kapoor, the young Indian aristocrat in Shakespeare Wallah


Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil Vyse and Helen Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch in Room with a View (1985)

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I have vowed to make these blogs shorter and so readable; my aim here is to encourage the reader (and watcher) to watch the earlier films (1962-83), perhaps in the black-and-white versions off-putting at first (little is compromised, they are not bland)go to Amazon prime or YouTube (where many are to be found), rent one of the older DVDs from Netflix (or better yet, splurge and buy a newly re-digitalized version with features as long as the movie), so perhaps the best thing, swiftest is to make a picture worth a thousand words by linking in the whole of Householder from YouTube

with a precise, carefully observed detailed study of the film’s art and the human story’s appeal. What I can add as to the story:

The Householder is a close adaptation of Jhabvala’s apparently fourth novel (in books on her The Householder is said to be her first). Now I realize it has in embryo central motifs and types of characters she has throughout her fiction, from beginning (all India) to middle (English women drawn into India and their original personality destroyed by the experience) to end (cool stories of corrupt individuals exploiting vulnerable ones across the Indian/American divide), — you can see a parallel plot in way (putting aside too literal alignments) in Heat and Dust (which I chose as the end of the early films as it was their first true hit, and ever after they were too often tempted into cream and enigmatic evasion).

The Householder is also a utterly believable story of two young Indian people put into an arranged marriage, and then left to make it on their own with the husband, Prem, having a low level job as teacher on a small salary. One of the aspects of all Jhabvala’s novels is that as we begin (and in many of her novels this does not change) in pairs of characters supposed to spend their lives together at least one, sometimes both have no concern or love for one another, are not congenial and what’s more don’t expect to be (particularly true here). Prem is having a very hard time adjusting to teaching in a crude place with no help from colleagues, no education in education, students absolutely w/o any real motivation to learn what he’s teaching (a dialect of Sanskrit); Indu (Leela Naidu, also an actress in France) is given nothing to do, no one to be with, her only function to serve him and he’s gone all day. One of his big mistakes is to bring his mother to live with them — a greedy, self-centered woman, rather stupid. The wife flees back to her parents and what she remembers as a happy household of sisters when she discovers she is pregnant. It’s this period away that awakens our hero to his need of her and desire to be a successful husband (householder). Amanda Vickery did a three part series on men in the 18th century and one of hours was how men wanted and needed to marry to belong, to have status, to be seen as successful males. So often 18th century England resembles 20th century India.

There are remarkable scenes of fights between teachers, of his attempt to get a rise in salary and get his rent put down, a friendship with a young man very like himself, but having an easier time adjusting to what the society has given him as his fate. We are shown that marriage is no picnic at all — The Namesake of Jumpha Lahiri (a writer whose franker work teaches you much about Jhabvala’s) is an idealized depiction — in Jhabvala these males are just so rude and commanding to the imprisoned females whose feeble weapon is to strike back by being awful in conversation. Prem gets involved with very ego centered Americans who have come to India to escape to some sublime nirvana (as does Anne in Heat and Dust) and we meet both sincere gurus and crooks. This is a sketch of the kinds of people and social interactions which matter which she repeatedly, almost obsessively develops at length in her later stories. I hope women today in India in some classes are offered far more in life for real individual fulfillment.

A Daphnis and Chloe archetype underlies this story, for at its end we are asked to believe they are making a happy adjustment at last


Returning home together on the train

I’ve not got a video of the whole Shakespeare Wallah for free online, but I can supply some remarkable reviews, from the New York Times archive; in The Guardian, the professional Chris Weigand approaches with concision some adequacy on the film’s complicated arts: Bollywood and the Bard

In his Guardian obituary for Geoffrey Kendal in 1998, Ivory wrote about the tensions during the production with the veteran actor (Geoffrey Kendal): “He let me know how he despised the cinema – that the cinema was his enemy, causing theatres to be empty and tours to be cancelled.” But Kendal – who has an ease in front of the camera despite his lack of film experience – came to recognize that thanks to Ivory “it was the despised cinema that told the world of my existence and to a certain extent of my fight”.


Geoffrey Kendal doubting the value of what he has spent his life so beautifully on

And the despised cinema is here undeniably beautiful. Shot in black and white (for budgetary reasons) by Subrata Mitra, the film has a stately pace, is sensitively written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and comes with music by the esteemed director Satyajit Ray. The bumpy travels of theatre troupes often make for bittersweet comic escapades

And now my words:

A wandering troupe of actors have made a living traveling around parts of India doing Shakespeare and other classics (as the film opens we see a Sheridan play in progress before a mass group of boys in suits — white, Indian and one Black).


In 18th century costume performing on a bike

But they find they are no longer wanted in the same numbers or way. Gigs dwindle: the local places would rather Sanskrit poetry; the British schools are closing; they are paid much less. We see their truck break down on the road. They are aging, one man dies. The Gleneagles Hotel (pitch perfect that Scots name) that used to accommodate them – very British – is closing. Felicity Kendall is not comic in this and she is not thin — no need to be near anorexic in the 1960s. She and Sanju, an Indian man who rescues them on the road fall in love ad who has as his mistress, Manjula, a Bollywood star who performs one of their sexualized songs, Madhur Jaffrey (she is the Begum in Heat and Dust).


Manjula performing a Bollywood song and dance for Sanju

The poignant question is, Can They Stay On?


Exhausted, on the road, rainy, hot ….

So this is a version of Paul Scott’s famous masterpiece, Staying On, a story retold by Olivia Manning in The Rain Forest (franker and nowhere as well know, and yet more visionary, acerbic, yet in Manning our hero and heroine after some scarifying ordeals escape back; in Scott’s the man dies and we leave our heroine in a desperate situation, just holding on in a beauty shop and hostile hotel. They and this are all autobiographical: the Kendalls did live this way and in one of the features, a mature Felicity tells us at first her father was disappointed with the film as it did not show their triumphs, the fantastical fun they had living the way they did, it too emphasized the ending and sense of loss

We see several famous scenes from Shakespeare done very well in what seems an old-fashioned 19th century way (disrupted now).
Saying goodbye; her parents know it’s best for Lizzie to return to an aunt in the UK; they will follow when they find they must — now they will go round just doing “gems from Shakespeare”. The way it is discussed off-hand by ordinary people suggests a rollicking comedy (!), but while it does not end tragically and there are very comic moments, it is a melancholy and oddly realistic film.

It’s very realistic in the sense that we get feel for India. Jhabvala is the author of the script which while not as subtle as her later ones is very good — no book behind it. I am slowly beginning to appreciate her stories for the very first time ever –understanding her better and being older less emotionally involved, more distant myself.

These two films are a pair.

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Roseland, the place and marquee


The dancefloor

I would call Roseland one of the team’s noble failures. They actually filmed in the real Roseland theater, and with some professional actors, used the aging and ordinary people dancing of an evening: the idea seems to have been to concentrate on the dancing itself, with the stories barely sketched and the repetitive obsessions of those who come to such places regularly emphasized. It has its moments (Geraldine Chaplin of the professionals manages best); there are some professional dancers who catch our attention now and again, but it is fatally unrealized because it is trying to show us that the shell of these places is quite other than what is unexaminedly celebrated briefly in commercial films and histories.

This evening’s task is nearly done. I am passing over the effective The Europeans (1979): sorry to do this as it features a young Robin Ellis (also Lee Remnick — see just below) is a Henry James story, about clashing cultures, which is picked up later on, as just the sort of thing that M-I-J were particularly good at. Its themes differ from those of the other early films and the film anticipate other Henry James stories as well as several of the later, E.M. Forster stories — all set in England — or the US as The Europeans seems to be. It is not one of their best; they grew better at this type as they went on.

Heat and Dust has been if anything over-reviewed. Jhabvala’s novel had won the Booker Prize (so it sold fantastically well). Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian

After 37 years, Heat and Dust stands up as an intelligent, ambitious, substantial picture – with flaws but also intriguing aspects that were perhaps not sufficiently understood at the time. Is the movie’s love story a diversionary heterosexualisation of something else?


Anne after reading her aunt’s letters seems (mysteriously) taken by their content, next to her Chidananda allowed back in (he lives off her)

Yes, the Nawab is homosexual (the team also had real empathy for homosexual men), and the ending is not happiness; Olivia and now Anne turn out not to be free spirits but frustrated women who allow themselves to become the sexual partners, Anne, for example, as deluded as the successfully for a bit stubborn shaved American with his faux-Indian name, Chidananda (Charles McCaughan), and her landlord Inder Lal (Zaki Hussain, another less scrupulous Prem). She does not know who the father of her child is, and her retirement for help in the transformed building that Olivia ended her isolated life in as far from self-actualization as Olivia. The Nawab we have learned is a corrupt thug.

Bradshaw concentrates on the wonderful performances, and hidden meanings that leap out today, as well as the facile nature of the Anne parallel (just compare a real depiction of such a household, with the wife subject to epileptic fits, the mother-in-law supplying counterproductive punishing remedies). I want to add that what helped make people keep coming to the film after they satisfied an early Booker Prize enthusiasm, is the simplicity with which the stories is filmed — almost the hollowed out nature. Like The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah (and the quietly complex The Europeans), nothing is over-produced or over-emphatic at all, even if feel of the film’s images and music is so sensual — which gave our film-makers their nuggets for turning to a commercially successful second half (later M-I-J).

What people remember best — who saw it — is the parallel plot, exquisitely dove-tailed into the same places — Anne (Julie Christie) comes back to India to see the place her great-Aunt Olivia’s (Gretta Scacchi) life played out, to understand it better by inhabiting the living context – and we go back and forth between the 1920s elegant Raj (once again Shashi Kapoor) with its desperate people and high violence (not seen by us but heard about off-stage) and the 1970s in exactly same places in India. The parallels including both women getting pregnant by the India man closest by, only Olivia has an abortion and the disgrace leads her to desert her (boring) English husband, Douglas (Christopher Cazenove doing a serious job a la Leonard Woolf) for the alluring (to Olivia glamorous because strange) Raj — a retreat which deepens when he is said to visit her only 3 times a year — in deference to his mother, the Begum (Madhur Jaffrey from Householder now grown 20 years older), and then stop altogether. Like so many of the women in Jhabvala’s stories, Olivia is utterly alienated from all the women she meets, and some have good advice, try to support her. Anne is your liberated young woman, but supposed sensible, with her affair with her landlord (Inder Lal) emerging slowly. But unlike Olivia, she stops short of an abortion


Anne stops the woman in mid-performance

and is seen joyously retreating to a building now a hospice institution, hospital, where we last watched Olivia live her life playing the piano, until the very end when (it is hinted) Olivia ended in desperate poverty. It seems the Begum has won at long last


Jhabvala presents these Indian mothers-in-law as vengeful when given any power

We have the saturninely bitter-witty gay companion, kept and bullied the Raj — Harry (Nickolas Grace, young in the 1920s, and made up to be very ancient in the 1960s; Grace played this type too many times — Brideshead Revisited, Dance to Music of Time. He can convey no wisdom to Anne now grown old, back in England so safer and more comfortable, but storyless — we learn nothing of the inbetween time — it is story which thickens out characters in films.


The two take tea many years later, miraculously Anne has aged little

Maybe what was liked were the scenes of playful social activity, rituals done so quietly (not much gossip) and dinners at length, Anglophilic with the important qualification none of the white men or women show any understanding or sympathy for the people they are supposed to be governing, except maybe Douglas at his table in the heat trying to dispense justice.


Maybe it’s his stiff white shirt and tie that make Douglas (Christopher Casenove) so unappealing to Olivia (Gretta Scacchi)

But unlike the stories of her later career, Jhabvala is willing to grant her heroines a refuge with the implication they have accepted being women alone or subject to others.

I recognize the types and themes  elsewhere in Anglo-Indian art (novels and films): people performing, a foolish American following gurus, who at the film’s end, somewhat unusually escapes relatively unscathed — like Lizzie, he is headed home to his aunt, in his case it seems almost a Kansas of Dorothy-like security and safety.

This is the paradigm for Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love who gives the story post-colonial politics, with dollops of feminism, strong heroines in the past and present and the central heroine at book’s end her own person, bringing up a daughter, companion to her deceased husband’s elderly (kind and gentle) father in middle class Kensington.

*******************************************

Early in the partnership

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s most central theme in her books (as also Jhumpa Lahiri) comes from her thoroughly post-colonial roots; born in Germany of a Polish father whose nuclear family were killed in German concentration camps (he later killed himself), brought up in England (she writes in English), studying literature, she married to an Indian Bengali man, spending 25 years in India (read “Myself in India”), and the last phase of her existence in New York City. She was a perfect fit for the Englishman James Ivory who had come to India, and Ismail Merchant.  A major theme of her fiction — searching for, building an identity, which even people who stay put at first sometimes must do when the one nuclear family and community they live among seeks to impose an identity that violates their innermost nature which seeks actualization. This is the central theme of The Namesake (Lahiri also has a multiple identity now: Indian, English, US, and now Italian. It fits the Merchant-Ivory perspective as seen in the writing and interviews by and about them. She died in 2013.

Merchant appears to have personally been a secular man, but as an Indian born he grew up in a religiously-laden society, with opposing groups (Muslim, Hindi). In the online biography at wikipedia His father, a textile manufacturer, was the head of the Muslim League, and he refused to move to Pakistan at the time of independence and partition. “Family networks” enabled him at a young age to become friends with people influential and in the film industry. He studied at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and received BA degree of University of Bombay, moved to New York City where he worked as a messenger for the UN, and showed his talent for attracting funds from Indian delegates for film projects. He was the producer, the man who made the money come, and when he died, Ivory turned out not have the capacity to generate funds. He and Ivory had met in 1961 when he was in the US on a scholarship in a New York coffee shop; at the time Ivory was an Ivy Leaguer with aims to work in artful cinema. He died in 2005.

Ivory’s biography in wikipedia tells us he came from middling people in Oregon, where he first went to University; he moved to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, where he directed the short film Four in the Morning (1953). He wrote, photographed, and produced Venice: Theme and Variations, a half-hour documentary submitted as his thesis film for his master’s degree in cinema. The film was named by The New York Times in 1957 as one of the ten best non-theatrical films of the year. He graduated from USC in 1957. Here we are told Ivory met producer Ismail Merchant at a screening of Ivory’s documentary The Sword and the Flute in New York City in 1959; they formed their company in 1961. He wrote and or collaborated with all four books on them as a team.

Neither man seems ever to have married or had a public partner.


The three continual creative spirits grown older …

In Robert Emmet Long’s wonderful (full of wonders) and useful book, The Films of Merchant-Ivory:there are good biographies (much better than the ones I’ve provided), insightful details about stages in their careers, the gifts they showed, where learned their crafts, then descriptions and accounts of many of the films, many beautiful and thought-provoking photographs and stills. Long calls these three “unique uncommon individuals” who make “unique uncommon films.”

Ellen

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Haylet Atwell as Margaret Schlegel in HBO Howards End (scripted Kenneth Lonergan)


Anthony Hopkins as Mr Stevens and Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton in 1993 Remains of the Day (scripted by Harold Pinter, then revised Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 1993)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Days: Monday mornings, 11:45 am to 1:15 pm,
June 7 to 28,
4 sessions online, zoom meeting style (location of building: 4801 Massachusetts Ave, NW) 20016
Dr Ellen Moody


Peppard Cottage used for Howards End in M-I-J 1993 (here it is not photographed in prettying up light) – the house in the novel is Rooksnest which Forster and his mother lived in for many years


Dyrham Park (South Gloucester) used for Darlington Hall in 1993 Remains of the Day

Description of Course: SG 1620 Summer 2021 Two novels of longing at two ends of an Imperialist century

The class will read as a diptych E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989). Both examine class, race, war, fascism and colonialism; family, sex, and property relationships from the “empire’s center,” England, from a post-colonial POV. The core center of both novels is the human needs of their characters against capitalist, gender- and class-based backgrounds. I urge people see on their own either or both the 1992 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film Howards End (w/Thompson & Hopkins) and 2015 HBO serial, Howards End (Kenneth Lonergan w/Atwell & Macfayden); and the 1993 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film The Remains of the Day (also w/Thompson & Hopkins). We can ask how ironic romances can teach us fundamental lessons about how to survive and thrive in today’s worlds.

Required Texts:

E. M. Forster, Howards End, ed Abinger Edition, introd, notes David Lodge. London: Penguin, 2000. ISBN 978-0-14-118231-1
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day. NY: Knopf, 1989; or Vintage International, 1990. ISBN 978-06-7973172-1
There are readily available relatively inexpensive MP3CD sets of the Howards End read by Nadia May (Blackstone) and Remains of the Day by Simon Prebble (Tantor). Both are superb. A more expensive CD audio of Howards End by Colleen Prendergast. All unabridged.
All three movies (films? streaming videos?) are available on Amazon prime (small price for viewing or none at all).

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

June 7: Introduction: Forster, his life & other writing, Bloomsbury (kept short), Forster’s Howards End

June 14: Howards End and the 2 film adaptations

June 21: Transition from Howards End to The Remains of the Day

June 28: The Remains of the Day, the one film adaptation, and if time permits Ishiguro’s other novels (esp. A Pale View of the Hills, Never Let Me Go, When We Were Orphans) & 2 films made from Ishiguro’s books beyond what’s cited above, viz., The White Countess (Ishiguro wrote the screenplay) and Never Let Me Go.


Emma Thompson seen from afar as Miss Kenton, walking as much in the corridors of Mr Stevens’ mind as those of Darlington Hall (she also plays Margaret Schlegel in the 1993 Howards End)


Helena Bonham Carter as Helen Schlegel (the younger sister, a Marianne Dashwood type) (1993 Howards End)

Outside reading or watching:

There is an enormous literature on Forster and he himself left a large body of writing. The best biography because it’s the one candid one about Forster’s sexual orientation and his life is Wendy Moffatt’s A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life by E.M. Forster NY: Farrar, Strauss, an Giroux, 2010. Then I recommend for the text and the rich backgrounds and criticism section, The Norton edition of Howards End, ed. Paul B. Armstrong, who brings together remarkable material both on and by Forster, and includes Forster’s “What I Believe” (central to understanding him and his relevance to us today). I’ll also sent as attachments or URLs: Barbara C. Morden, “Howards End and the condition of England,” May 2016, Literature 1900–1950, British Library, Oliver Tearle, “Revisiting Howards End: Notes towards an Analysis of Forster’s Novel, Interesting Literature, n.d; on the 4 part HBO film scripted by Lonergan, Roslyn Sulcras, “A Howards End: True to Then and Now, the New York Times, online: https://tinyurl.com/37s564xf. See also my blog on Howards End, book & movies.

There are many essays on Ishiguro, his novels, and especially The Remains of the Day (and not a few on the various films too), but many seem not to understand him or this and his other earlier seemingly realistic book (s) or to be beside the point — perhaps because the post-modern post-colonial perspective and Ishiguro’s mix of realism, symbolic allegory and surrealism, different genres and anti-realism (symbolism) gets in the way of understanding this particular story as told by the butler. I will send along Wroe, Nicholas, “Living Memories: Kazuo Ishiguro,” The Guardian (biography entries), 18 February 2005, online at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/feb/19/fiction.kazuoishiguro …; Lee, Hermione, “Books & the Arts: Quiet Desolation,” The New Republic, 202 (January 1990):36-39; Deborah Guth, “Submerged Narratives in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day,” Modern Language Studies, 35:2 (1999):126-37; Meera Tamaya, Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day”: The Empire Strikes Back,” Modern Language Studies, 22:2 (Spring 1992):45-56. See also my blog on Remains of the Day, the book and movie. We’ll also use the fascinating online interview of Ishiguro at YouTube (TIFF Bell Lightbox for a post-screening discussion of the film adaptation of The Remains of the Day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1P6c3yomp0

Recommended for both books:   Jacqueline Banerjee’s Literary SurreyHampshire:  John Owen Smith, 2005; and Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Big House,” in her Collected Impressions. NY: Knopf, 1950.

Volumes of wonderful close readings of wonderful novels and discussions of issue include: Claude J Summers, E.M. Forster. NY: Ungar,1983; Barry Lewis and Sebastian Groes, Kazuo Ishiguro: New Critical Issues of the Novels. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. On Forster from the standpoint of all his writings: John Colmer, E.M. Forster: The Personal Voice. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.


Hugh Grant as Lord Darlington’s nephew, young Mr Cardinal confronting Mr Stevens (1993 Remains of the Day)

Samuel West as Leonard Bast, wandering in a vision he has of a park he walks in (1993 Howards End)

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Alan Plater (1935-2010), screenplay writer extraordinaire, playwright, musician-composer

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight in my efforts to watch a Region 2 version of the 1987 Fortunes of War, a brilliant 7 episode serial adaptation of Olivia Manning’s brilliant trilogies, The Balkan Trilogy and Levant Trilogy, I was driven to use my multiregional player attached to my flat TV. My vlc viewer just was not strong enough to get through the occasional damage on the disks (in this set there are 3), and I clicked by mistake on something called “Timeshift.” I just could not get out of this program, and was irritated until within a minute or so I realized it was BBC documentary, lovingly and intelligently done, appreciative, of the life’s work of Alan Plater: Hearing the Music (unfortunately not available from the site it’s now announced on).

In the 1960s (many one and two hour plays) and early 1970s he wrote over 50 screenplays for the BBC; he wrote fewer in the later 1970s and into the 1990s running up to 2000 (his last) but these include the memorable whole of the Barchester Chronicles, this Fortunes of War, and one of the best of the episodes of the important Danger UXB; his work includes Misterioso, The Good Companions (J. B. Priestley novel turned into a musical), A Very British Coupso many it’s hard to look them all up. With many stunning performances, from Judy Dench to my favorite, Barbara Flynn, playing Jill Swinburne, whom Plater said was a version of himself.

Although this Guardian obituary does justice to Plater by beginning by naming him as one of the screenplay writers for British TV who made an important difference in the quality of its drama, and changed what you could represent and how ever after, in the tone of respect and felt appreciation for his work, the writer does not emphasize sufficiently Plater’s love of music, jazz and modern rock, his use of it in his work — and his political point of view (socialist). According to Timeshift (and other pieces I’ve read), Plater was a highly original writer for TV in the 1960s strongly because of his Hull and musical background (he studied to be an architect and that probably helped his sense of structure). At the time most shows displayed upper class accents and working class people were given cockney accents, with the dialogue often stiff or naive, or utterly conventionalized so as not to be realistic. With his roots in Northern England, especially Hull, he was one of those who changed all that, writing dialogue for the real spoken voices, kinds of accents different idiolects across Britain. He slowed down the action, and often wrote scenes between two or three characters conceived of as the core of the drama. Most of all he integrated music into his plays, conveying meaning through music. Music told the identity, the culture, the past, the feel of his characters; in talking of how he wrote his plays he called his process like that of Jazz; he has 12 bars, and within that he provides variations.

Here is one 10 minute segment on him, together with a discussion of a four season series made for Yorkshire ITV, the much respected and popular Beiderbecke Trilogy:

You hear and see Barbara Flynn talking too.

He conveyed how people really talk by writing less dialogue too and leaving spaces for pause, for really felt enacting by the actors together. He loved to develop what the author of a novel might have left out — what was the sermon the Reverend Slope spoke from Barchester Chronicles — it’s not in Trollope but improvised as the script developed by Plater.

Plater is not alone unsung. I cannot express how often I have had the experience of identifying a wonderful TV drama show by its writer, and been greeted by a blank look. If I’ve tried to tell the person who was the writer, what his or her career, what other programs he or she wrote, they politely wait for me to finish. They don’t seem to realize their love of Dickens is a love of Alexander Baron (prolific screenplay writer of the 1980s with some of them peculiarly fine, and a good novelist too) or Andrew Davies or Arthur Hopcraft or Simon Raven (of the Pallisers). Nowadays many women write these screenplays, Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend 1999) is an older practitioner, so too Fay Weldon (1979 Pride and Prejudice) more recently, Fiona Seres (2018 Woman in White). In the BBC until recently the screenwriter was the linchpin or (as the position is now called) one of the showrunners of the series. In cinema they are now named early in credits and paid much better; so too in some more prestigious (or pushed) serial adaptations (Poldark, Deborah Horsfield; Downton Abbey, Jerome Fellowes), but not as much (how many people know the names of the remarkable team writing Outlander under the general direction of Ronald Moore). Misterioso is perhaps one of his finest later dramas (1991, based on his own novel.

Hours, days, months, years of fine entertainment are due to such people — of course the cinematographer, the directors, producers, costumers, but in the case of the writer you can find biographies and you can trace a personality and point of view that is interesting across the work. I wish more people would pay attention to these unsung heroes and heroines. I hear in my head for hours afterwards the music that plays across The Fortunes of War

As a coda treat, it is said of Plater he combined Coronation Street with the feel and outlook of Chekhov story or play. I cannot locate Misterioso (the name is after a Jazz number), nor anything more than the kind of 2 to 10 minute clip included in the above interview so instead here is one of those Play of the Month productions (not by Plater) but of how Chekhov has been seen and done on the BBC: Francesca Annis and Ian Holm, 1974 in The Wood Demon (I believe it’s the whole thing)

Ellen

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