Archive for the ‘satire’ Category

“Is it the poor house, yer honor?” (Rod Walters, illustration for Folio Society Castle Richmond)

Dear friends and readers,

This is my fourth and last report of the papers given at the Trollope Bicentennial Conference in Leuven, Belgium (see 1, 2, 3). I combine late Friday afternoon, early Saturday morning (Sept 18th-19th). I was not able to stay for Saturday afternoon, nor J. Hillis Miller’s videotaped talk, on the pleasures of Trollope’s obstinacy, and no one has (as far as I can tell) put a full YouTube up onto the Net, so I will end on an account of some of the questions and discussions that occur after and between sessions. The last panels I was able to hear were Mother (Frances), Irish (or Anglo-Irish) and Formal Trollope (his art and forms).

Frances Trollope as painted by Auguste Hervieu

Panel 9: Mother Trollope. Helen Blythe discussed specific and general parallels of which there are many between Frances and Anthony Trollope’s fictions. Frances began her career in her 50s, and saved the family from financial ruin, herself from a destroyed life with a half-mad destroyed man by writing a huge number of novels over the years. She began with how the story of an uncontrollably hot-tempered husband in Frances’s One Fault has striking parallels with Trollope’s novel of sexual anxiety, madness and competition for marital dominance, He Knew He Was Right, with its brief reprise, this time with an accent on a secret clandestine relationship, and who gets to control whom in Kept in the Dark. The underlying suggestion is the derivation of these stories from the near-breakup of Trollope’s parents marriage and her flight with Hervieu. (All discussed ably in Helen Heineman’s excellent biography, Mrs Trollope.) Ms Blythe’s theme though was Frances’s use of the “mother’s voice” in her fiction. Frances presents what it means to be a woman or man, and she took this opportunity to connect Helene Cixous’s urging of women to seize the occasions of sexual experience as a core launching pad for novel writing.

Lucy Sheenan also spoke of mothers in Frances’s fiction: while they fulfill their task of producing adults, in character they are alienated, estranged, seek to flee their immediate environment. Slave women are mother machines, but we see in Jefferson Whitlaw a mother who survives by hardening herself and resembles the mothers on Trollope’s factory floors. Women are seen as consummate actresses, containing their energy for revolt inside themselves. Martha Barnaby, at first a widow, and then remarried, is a comic version of mothering who supports a useless husband, saving her deepest affection for her children; we are told the Widow Barnaby will surely write a book defending slavery for money; when she cries we see she is not de-humanized. The mortality statistics of the era reveal agonies of exhausted underfed hard-word dying children; Frances’s factory town is pregnant with wasted bodies: the imagery of the books shows their origin in l’ecriture-femme too.

Contemporary illustration of Frances Trollope’s Michael Armstrong, Factory Boy.

Greg Vargo and Elsie Michie discussed this maternal groundwork in Frances Trollope’s fiction from other angles. Mr Vargo discussed Frances Trollope’s politically controversial condition of England novels. In 1838 Trollope wrote Jessie Philips: A Tale of the Present Day, showing us the social roles imposed on women through individual researched stories. He suggested Anthony Trollope’s criticisms of Dickens could easily be applied to Frances’s but Dickens’s Oliver Twist ends where Michael Armstrong begins. An upper class woman saves a boy suffering degrading abuse and violence in a factory; he has to leave his brother behind. Advertised in the Northern Star (1859) it was widely read as a Chartist appeal despite her denials. Frances’s novels show survivor guilt; they are contradictory, have convoluted endings, tell tales of emigration.

Picture Shows: LAURA FRASER as Emily Trevelyan and BILL NIGHY as Colonel Osborne TX: TBA  Following the award-winning success of his adaption of Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, Andrew Davies brings a surprisingly new perspective in his reworking of Trollope's searing novel, He Knew He Was Right. "This is an unusual Trollope" says Davies. "A dark and edgy portrait of a marriage in trouble which feels startingly modern - it's Trollope's take on the Othello story".  A tale of a man who allows his jealousy to become a tragic obsession. The timeless issues of jealousy and marital breakdown provides the backdrop for this compelling story, pitching the demanding and traditional Louis (OLIVER DIMSDALE) against his strong-willed wife Emily (LAURA FRASER),  a thoroughly modern heroine.  Warning: Use of this copyright image is subject to Terms of Use of BBC Digital Picture Service.  In particular, this image may only be used during the publicity period for the purpose of publicising HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT and provided BBC is credited. Any use of this image on the internet or for any other purpose whatsoever, including advertising or other commercial uses, requires the prior written approval of the BBC.
Laura Fraser as Emily Trevelyn and Bill Nighy as Colonel Osborne: Louis’s insecurity and madness is Andrew Davies’s emphasis

Elsie Michie offered a detailed analysis of He Knew He Was Right, showing how the novel channels changes in custody law and custom; how matrimonial cruelty is redefined so it does not depend on physical cruelty. Michie went over contemporary court cases (Bulwer-Lyttons, Caroline Norton) where the husband’s cumulative cruelty over time is at least taken into consideration. Troubled relationships and agency brought into court where legal process takes over. Ms Michie did not look at the novel from a feminist standpoint nor the more recent outlook of Mark Turner, from that of the sophisticated male reader who might see in Osborne a dark portrait of himself. Hers was like the papers earlier in the day on teaching Trollope from the angle this time of Frances Trollope as pioneer for custody and marital reform generally understood.

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19th century depiction of Irish farmers stopping the aristocratic hunt

Panel 10: Irish Trollope. The speakers in this panel were in genuine disagreement. Gordon Bigelow argued Trollope’s Irish novels fail because 1) he failed to find an audience for them; and 2) he never established a set of significant tropes to present his vision through. Mr Bigelow felt many editors today do not think the Irish novel added anything different or significant to the Victorian novel; the Irish experience cannot be adapted to worlds of privilege; plots of abduction, murder, violent cutthroat action are needed. In Landleaguers we have such incidents centrally but otherwise we otherwise see purposeless activities: law gets nowhere (nullified); the hunt (which requires the preservation of the vermin, foxes, the sport was originally set up to kill) does not bring any commnity together except as protest and push-back. Trollope’s usual way is to decode tension inside a created harmony; the hunt cannot work this way because the people doing it are desperate and these is no single unified community to sustain it. There are many such riffs across these 5 novels Macdermots of Ballycloran, Kellys and OKellys, Castle Richmond, An Eye for an Eye, Landleaguers). They thus falter when it comes to speaking for the Irish. Ireland captivated Trollope; it freed him from the imprisonment of stigma, but Trollope justifies things as they are, as he did not in say The Warden where everyone is self-serving.

Ardkill Cottage in An Eye for an Eye (Elisa Trimby illustrator for Folio Society edition)

John McCourt felt that while Trollope’s Irish novels are problematic, there is much richness in them; they are successful Irish art. In the Macdermots we find an attempt to write the language according to 19th century Irish phonetics, with one of its heroes a Catholic Irish priest. It is a penetrating depiction of the destruction of an old Irish family by the Catholic Irish speculating class; Keegan is a disguised version of Trollope himself. (Mr McCourt did not mention how the house is a version of Julian Hills, the father Trollope’s father to.) When Trollope found himself “at home” in Ireland, welcomed, he set about to tell truths; intertwined the Protestant Anglo-Irish with the Catholic Irish, exposed the British colonialist police practices. The theme of hospitality and forgiveness are treated comically in his two Irish short stories, tragically in An Eye for An Eye: Neville, the English officer is the villain; though all the characters use one another. The Kellys and OKellys use the intertwining patterns and character types rich and complicated; the places described vivid with life (from kitchen to race course); we have a murderous brother, with a plangent Irish heroines who is virtuous. Mr McCourt included the two Phineas books in Trollope’s Irish oeuvre; Phineas is kept in surveillance, and thrown out when he tries to become his own man in parliament. Accused of murdering the ultimate trimmer, Bonteen, he learns how much of an outsider he remains, and cannot get himself to accept Gresham’s offer of yet another place among the English. Madame Max like Phineas is an outsider, drained of her Jewishness, can be taken in.

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Fred Walker, The Vagrants, 1868

Claire Connolly meditated the image and uses of lanes in Trollope’s Irish fiction. The new systems of carriage transport and work like Trollope’s for the post office were revolutionizing and connecting the roads; these improvements represent a means of controlling people as well as the power of the British state. Good roads benefited the landowning classes; its corollary is a national school system to replace local (forbidden Catholic) hedge schools. Yet roads are where bad encounters happen; in the Macdermots they are black, desolate, muddy. Thady flees to a band of ribbon-men in the hills. Trollope remembers Scott’s Waverley and Maria Edgeworth’s Irish novels; in Kellys and OKellys the roads are part of a public network, even if we find starved, dead, mutilated bodies (Castle Richmond) along the way. In some moments roads are where people are hanged; Father John avoids walking on them after Thady’s execution. Trollope described travel in Ireland as having people acting with warmth, geniality, but it is also harsh: Ccrpse-like women and dead babies are found alongside the road. She said “these are scenes of potential connectivity and dangerous failed infrastructure. They reflect social change, lived realities.” She even brought geological time in Ireland in.

At this point the day came to an end and people went off to have dinner.


Lady Glencora (Susan Hampshire) and Madame Max (Barbara Murray) waiting for Phineas to return from London to Matching Priory after his acquittal (Palliser 9:19, scripted Simon Raven, from Phineas Redux)

Panel 11: Formal Trollope. I heard the first two papers of the day. Claire Jarvis’s “Almost Trollope” traced Trollope’s uses of the word “almost,” which she found were in one novel “almost 285 times. She close read the typical sentence forms and content in which this word occurs. Trollope becomes a kind of Henry James novelist, with Trollope also preferring incident to event. Almost a reference to something not quite happening, to being at one remove, to not completing something, to sheering away from violence (characters are “almost angry”). “Almost” signals a narrative attention, carefulness. It signals detachment, deflation. There has to be something uncanny in creating enveloping realism; a schism at the heart of the novels. Phineas is “almost silenced;” he “almost” sets down his office; Mary Flood “almost” reads his letters. The narrator therefore can’t see the letter. He is not sure of the vividness of something; the word captures an energy just out of reach. Lady Glencora “almost hesitates” as she is fleeced or cheated or nearly run away with by Burgo (nearly). D.A. Miller says there is no need for police in Trollope or for the reader or Trollope to take sides; we don’t care about who wins, the point is to collude in the surveillance in order to embed yourself. But does Finn not fear his desire to kill Bonteen? and need to exorcise this by re-enacting the murderer’s walk. He “almost” killed Mr Bonteen. It’s an unfinished murder as Emilius is dismissed from the narrative. At the level of the sentence Trollope offers us depth through eluding us.

Daniel Wright’s paper analyzed Trollope’s formal logic in his narratives. He argued Trollope’s famous dictum that the novelist should get all his meaning into his sentences, and leave none out, and be totally transparent is a fantasy. But as a goal of his novel’s craft we begin to see he wants the sentence to be a transparent medium at any rate. He wanted certainty (not almosts). He sought ease for the reader, directness himself, clarity as a way to rivet the reader. George Eliot practiced a contrasting art with her desire to escape the vigilance of the reader, her multivalent use of language, with subtle shades of suggestive meaning.


Phineas (Donal McCann) and Lord Chiltern (John Hallam) sharing a bottle of champagne in their club as they become friends (4:7, scripted Simon Raven, from Phineas Finn)

Speaking in general, the talk afterward was mostly in praise of the papers or the person speaking (yes): no surprise as this was a conference made up even largely of people who had spent years reading and/or writing and researching Trollope. There were far fewer graduate students, Victorianists and mid-level career people as well as fewer people from the Trollope society than there had been at Exeter. Even if the organizer kept saying how Leuven was so available to the all the world, it’s not. Many people had to make three connections at least to get there, had traveled many hours and it had been expensive. If you lived in the UK in 2006, you had only to take the train (or drive); from Ireland you could ferry and then take a train.

So, on Ordinary Trollope (Panel 1) The person who argued that Melmotte could not have gotten away with what he managed, cited a good deal of legislation 1856 the Limited Liabilities Act, 1874 the Fraudulent Trustees Act, and that no one objected to the thesis. Francis O’Goorman did say that TWWLN could be regarded as a proto-thriller. Someone asked about the 1844 Bank Act which made the UK banks the only legitimate producers of bank notes, and these had to be backed by bullion. Trollope was interested in what backs up a bill, in the person who co-signed. Deborah Morse offered the idea that Trollope maintained deep feelings about his personal life and experiences across the decades and these were poured into his novels.

For Political Trollope (Panel 2) Helen Small had cited many particulars of the Beverley election, and many reform bills to stop bribery, describing a number of individuals beyond Henry Edwards; there were questions about this material. To me the more interesting ones were conceptual. Who stood for negative and for positive liberty in Trollope’s Phineas Redux? People asked Mr Aguirre about the Eyre controversy (the indiscriminate punitive slaughter of native people in Jamaica). Trollope was for uniting the world, but for what purpose? (was a question I tried to ask and didn’t get a chance). Someone asked (politely) how can you say Trollope pro-northern, and pro-abolition, and yet not bring in as contradictory how he wrote about the post-emancipation problem as wrecking the US economy, just like Carlyle (with the same insinuating inferences)? Mr Aguirre fell back (so to speak) on suggesting that (for Trollope?) “colored people” as they were then “could not help society move into progress.” Of course the reply which was not forthcoming is (as impolite, pressing too much), progress for whom?

Gopnik’s essay in the New Yorker was quoted on Monk as a mouthpiece for Trollope’s political vision (at its best?) Lauren Goodlad replied that with the whigs losing out (the liberals), Trollope feared a Disraeli take-over. Prof Skilton spoke of The Fixed Period as a satire on coercing people for “their own good,” and on utilitarianism. H.M.S Bright: the ultimate weapon is to destroy the whole country with one shot. Did Bonteen represent the new reliance on a technological world? someone said the regional and provincial worlds wanted machines too: they made for great wealth for some. Laura Goodlad asserted that we must see two Trollopes: “a different man writes the political writing, non-fiction and autobiography.”

Onto the Psychological/Epistemological Trollope (Panel 3): This was one of the panels where there was “almost” (to use a Trollopeian word) no time to say anything afterward. More than one of the papers had gone over the time limit. So I am left to voice my own objections to parts of Prof Polhemus’s paper. The thrust of the argument was Trollope was in effect in his fiction questioning and undermining marriage. I’m not sure about the latter, but the real problem in the paper (as I saw it) was he justified Trollope in salivating over women’s sexuality, especially the stories in the canon where an older man dominates a young girl (this is the thrust of his book Lot’s Daughters). Andrew Davies in his film adaptation saw this as the center of the Palliser-Lady Glencora marriage itself. How dare Sir Roger demand Henrietta marry him in HKHWR? Clara is at a severe disadvantage and doesn’t begin to know that love is conducted a series of negotiations in public. The arguments present women as gaining something in the “Editor’s Tales” and in this novel as compliant which is flat contradicted by the picture: Jael drives a nail through Sisera’s head. I wondered how Effie felt about Millais’s portrait of her sister — I would not have liked that if it had the meaning suggested. I wanted to ask if this is feminism? Feminism has become the unspeakable and dread word so a protest against sexuality presented in this light could (as it was in the 1960s) be seen as priggish, when the problem is the female powerlessness.

The Dormer residence (which they lose) in Ayala’s Angel (Folio Society illustration)

I was surprised that he had not brought up Ayala’s Angel where we again have a portrait of an artist that alludes to Millais: I asked him about it later. It’s a Proustian book, half-defending erotic enthrallment, but it also exposes the indifference of the artist to his family (especially on money matters), and approves of sexuality in art as a pleasure when it’s controlled by conventional marriage patterns.

The Technoscience Trollope session (Panel 4) had to be cut short as the president of the Irish College was coming to speak to and welcome us, and then we segued right into the Printed Trollope (Panel 5) which ended in a “launch” of the graphic novel, Dispossession. Useful questions were asked of Simon Grennan and David Skilton during their talks so (given it was so late) there was no need for further talk. I regretted there was no questioning of Prof Skilton about what he was pointing to when he suggested people are not reading the words in front of them when they read Trollope’s Autobiography.

Both the first two panels on Friday (Teaching Trollope and Australian Trollope, 6 and 7) ran over time. There was a brief moment where someone asked Mark Turner about the effect of seriality and he replied that modern younger adults “stick with it,” and that it’s a form of reassurance (against I’d say chaos and death). It’s become a crucial way people experience a cultural event. On my paper, I regret earnestly that I had no sense of what anyone thought of my paper for real: you do get hints and suggestions by the talk afterward. I was congratulated kindly by Prof Polhemus and thought that Laura Goodlad was talking about my paper when she objected shortly after I finished to these “literalist” kinds of readings. I had worked hard and hoped mine would be a contribution since I was invited to come. I worry that my range was too broad, my references too dense. But I have put the text online if anyone wants to read it slowly.

The response to Modern Trollope (Panel 8) was quiet astonishment and appreciation — or so I thought. I had heard some squawks (in protest) to Prof Kincaid’s satiric burlesque of literary scholarship and his (more earnestly delivered) radical critical reading and indirect comments on the present audience as typical of a scholar’s conference. Prof Kincaid replied to one comment that “reading is a professional set of agreements; not all agreements are bad,” but awareness of them controls our behavior. He was suggesting we should admit to this and to the ludicrousness of some of our “discourses” to those outside the world of these parameters. Maybe we should listen to those who talk very differently about reading and Trollope. Someone said that Elizabeth Bishop’s protest poem (in effect, from its 1950s political content) drew out aspects of Trollope’s personality the mainstream reader finds it difficult to discuss, much less try to understand. She and Frances Trollope both defied the hegemonic (macho) male and upbeat viewpoint. John Bowen saw Trollope as enacting insensitivity to fool us. I loved the passages Mr Caddia had quoted.

There was not enough time after Mother or Frances Trollope (Panel 9), but the talk after the “Irish Trollope” (panel 10) was long, meandering but of real interest as fundamental questions arose about how we define and de-limit Trollope. I was too tired to get down details by that time — mostly Irish politics today, some comments on Thackeray’s books of touring in Ireland. The following morning I could not stay beyond the “Formal Trollope” (Panel 11) as we had to make our cab to get to our train, to get to the first of two planes, before we were to reach another train.

So, if this reaches anyone at all with the power to make Hillis Miller’s lecture on YouTube available to all on the Internet, I hope that person or people can and will do the right thing.

In the meantime I thought I end on a poem mentioned by Claire Connolly (but not read aloud) in her “Lane-ism” Eavan Boland’s “The Famine Road.” Trollope insisted that the gov’t should not simply give food or help to the starving Irish in 1847 but that the starving people work on these useless roads (lest they get used to not working for money, lest they “disrupt the “economy” by bypassing capitalist networks), and there are scenes of this roadwork being done in Castle Richmond where Trollope portrays these people semi-hostilely:

The Famine Road

‘Idle as trout in light Colonel Jones,
these Irish, give them no coins at all; their bones
need toil, their characters no less.’ Trevelyan’s
seal blooded the deal table. The Relief
Committee deliberated: ‘Might it be safe,
Colonel, to give them roads, roads to force
from nowhere, going nowhere of course?’

    ‘one out of every ten and then
    another third of those again
    women – in a case like yours;

Sick, directionless they worked; fork, stick
were iron years away; after all could
they not blood their knuckles on rock, suck
April hailstones for water and for food?
Why for that, cunning as housewives, each eyed –
as if at a corner butcher – the other’s buttock.

    ‘anything may have caused it, spores,
    a childhood accident; one sees
    day after day these mysteries’

Dusk: they will work tomorrow without him.
They know it and walk clear; he has become
a typhoid pariah, his blood tainted, although
he shares it with some there. No more than snow
attends its own flakes where they settle
and melt, will they pray by his death rattle.

    ‘You never will, never you know
    but take it well woman, grow
    your garden, keep house, good-bye.’

‘It has gone better than we expected, Lord
Trevelyan, sedition, idleness, cured
in one; from parish to parish, field to field
the wretches work till they are quite worn.
then fester by their work; we march the corn
to the ships in peace; this Tuesday I saw –
out of my carriage window, your servant Jones.’

    ‘Barren, never to know the load
    of his child in you, what is your body
    now, if not a famine road?’

Not only the people under the gun but the animal life should bear some witness. When I came to the end of my reading for my paper, I found myself at the close of Trollope’s Australia where he goes hunting and he and the others gun down kangaroo. How horrible, how truly terrible was the behavior of Trollope and his fellow hunters. Trollope records the traumatic distress and crazed behavior of these animals under such an assault, and also their tenacious love for their young. How I wished that the kangaroos had been able to kill the men with their guns (yes I did) who were ferociously terrorizing them so as to elicit frantic savage helpless self-protection and then murder them.

We killed, I think, seven in two days, – and had other runs in which we lost our prey. The ‘old man’ kangaroo when hard pressed will turn round and fight the hounds, – or fight the man who comes up to knock him over. And he fights with great power, inflicting terrible wounds with his fore paws. In New South Wales I saw a kangaroo which we were hunting catch up a terrier in his arms, and carry the little animal in his embrace throughout the run. He was not, however, able to hurt the dog, who, when the affair was over, seemed to come quite undismayed out of his difficulty. And I saw also a female kangaroo, when the hounds were after her, throw her kid out of the pouch in which she carried it. On that occasion the kid was killed and the mother escaped. They will carry their young one as long as it is possible for them, and then throw him out almost without losing a stride (Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand, from “Sports” 741).

Miss Drake

Abram Louis Buvelot (1814-88), Australian landscape (much idealized)

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The whole cast: Carolyn Burke, Jordan De Bona, Harry Lester, Katie McManus, Carli Smith

Dear friends and readers,

Would you believe in the wilds of Falls Church (driving back you pass streets where there are no lights and sidewalks are unwanted for vast stretches), a New York song fest. In the case of the Folger Theater, one can hope the production will go elsewhere, but in this Creative Cauldron (as the stage theater produced and directed by Laura Connors Hull calls it), there is little chance precisely these five people will get together again to sing and enact this set of songs. There was no money for any fancy stage furniture, the set was a minimum. As one reviewer of the program/stage event says, this production of “The World Goes Round,” is intimate cabaret at its best — dependent on the individuals, their capacity to sing or talk a song through, a few props, a piano and saxophone and the costumes.

I thought the actor-singers conveyed a deep sense of the underlying romance of several of the songs as well at the same time as scepticism and disillusion. A wry tone colored the most upbeat songs, a sense of the necessity of putting on pizzazz. Individual numbers: “Money, money,” “cabaret,” “A Quiet Thing,” and the whimsical New York ones, “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” “Sara Lee” (cakes). Carolyn did “colored lights” so touchingly, Jordan as a dancing body (flexible, graceful) and can enact ironies. He does the pathos of “I don’t remember you” and its jokes (he disappears) my friend recognized “Mr Cellophane.” I never heard of it before. They do numbers as pairs, trios, women with women:


They don’t quite get the New York accents right in “Class” (“How lucky can you get”) and when they ended on “New York, New York,” they did right not to imitate Sinatra too closely. Songs from Chicago. Cabaret. Katie McManus belts out numbers Ethel Merman style; the group does exhilaration too.

We do “all that jazz” at the Dance Fusion workshop most days. One night in the 1980s Jim and I woke around 2 in the morning, put the TV on and watched the movie. Here’s a montage of Fosse:

So rush out if you live within range (October 1-25), go and see and hear them, we need more of this kind of thing in the remote outposts of Fairfax county (Falls Church is alongside Fairfax county — I know it’s all confusing, but then I’m told it’s one of the richest counties in the US so why should they want anyone to know how to get about in it?). It was I who suggested to my friend, Phyllis, we go to this particular show: afterward we went back to her flat and drank wine, talked and looked at her art work — she’s a painter. I drove home by myself near midnight — the first time I’ve been out at that time of night and by myself for years, now listening to Simon Vance reading aloud mesmerizingly Mantel’s riveting Bring Up the Babies.

Jim delighted in Kander and Ebb songs at Signature and would talk of the effective voicing in their lyrics whenever they were threaded in.


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Ross and Demelza (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson, 2015) — wordless

(From invented commentary/choral scenes) Francis (Kyle Soller): ‘Ross, surely you must see with such a wife, you cannot hope to have entry into any respectable gathering … You will cut yourself out of society, consign yourself to …’ Ross: ‘a life of peace and seclusion, I must try to bear it as best I can …’ //Margaret (Crystal Leaity), sitting down near Ross: ‘I never thought you the marrying kind … is she wealthy? He: ‘Not at all’ She: ‘Is she beautiful? He: ‘In a way’ She, puzzled: ‘So, you love her? He: we get on … //George Warleggan (Jack Farthing): ‘I’ve puzzled you out … Ross: ‘Was I so hard to fathom? George: ‘Well, I thought so, but your recent nuptials have made everything clear It delights you to thumb your nose at society because you consider yourself above the niceties by which it operates … ‘ Ross: ‘Not above, just indifferent … ‘ (all invented scenes and lines)

Ross and Demelza (Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees, 1975) — also wordless

He (earlier in the scene): ‘Look at me … look at me’ (taking her head in his hands and making her face face his) ‘tell me the child is not yours and mine … tell me … ‘ She: ’tweren’t nuthin … it just happened … tweren’t made out of love … ‘ He: ‘It was made out of yours’ (sob from her) … ‘come’ … She: ‘Please Ross, let me go, ‘taint nothing to do with you, ‘taint nuthin you should think of … tomorrow it’ll be gone’ … He: ‘And you too.’ She: ‘take more than that to see me off, oh Ross, please … that’s the first time I called you Ross .. ‘taint nothing to do with you. ‘taint your fault ’tis mine’ (camera on his sympathetic face) ‘What would I do with a babe all alone?’ He (suddenly his voice loud and firm): ‘You won’t be alone .., we’ll be married.’ She shakes her head ‘No … no, you don’t want that … I will come back with you but not for that’ (she now caressing his hand). He: ‘The child’s mine too it’ll have a name my name … now there’ll be no more arguing … come … (lines from Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan as memory, though scene wholly invented)

Dear friends and readers,

I remarked when I first set out to compare the new Poldark mini-series (2012, of Ross Poldark and Demelza) with the older one (1975, first four of sixteen episodes also Ross Poldark and Demelza), and Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the two first Poldark novels (1946-47), my obstacle would be my deep emotional investment in the books. A film is a work of art in its own right, realizing the vision of its creators, what statement they want to make about the book (among many other things), and in most cases I have not judged a film by its literal faithfulness, and instead demonstrated countless times that films adaptations must be valued on how they speak to the issues of the time in which they are made, as well as commentaries on the original book (or books).

I can’t quite do that here. I found myself hit where I live to this day by the new Demelza and Ross’s first euphoric months of love in their marriage (so were mine with my husband), identifying, bonding with both, wishing Horsfield had dared to be more visionary in her depiction of the Pilchard harvesting by moonlight,

pilchardsshe (2)

pilchardsshe (1)

wishing that more had been made of the difficulty Verity and Demelza had in overcoming the difference of their status, education, Verity’s deep loneliness and Demelza’s need of someone to boost her self-esteem, not just by teaching manners, but how to speak to people who are in class and type above you: we see them confide,


dance and shop together a bit too quickly:



But I was gratified with the length of the depiction of that first Christmas, including Elizabeth on the harp, listened to in the book by Francis with exquisite appreciation and enjoyment, Demelza’s frightened luminous folk singing,




and the walk back:


It feels churlish to complain that in the book at Christmas Ross is deeply erotically attracted to Elizabeth, that she is no friend to Demelza, but jealous, and that far from drawing them together, the rich furnishings and historical paintings, the very heritage of the house for a time pulls Demelza and Ross apart again. Only when they return to Nampara and are within its grounds and walls does night and the “old peculiar silence” cease to make a barrier and “become [their] medium.” Their different pasts and personalities “could not just then break their companionship for long. Time had overawed them. Now it became their friend” as Ross Poldark ends.

Horsfield’s rendition was in fact not thematically faithful to Graham’s Ross Poldark. Nowhere in Graham’s book is there this continual carping at Ross’s choice of a woman beneath his class.

In no scene does Ross express any regret to any man about his decision to marry Demelza (as he does in this scene and to people beneath him in rank)

No one in Graham’s book threatens to withhold investment money, no one sneers; Ruth Teague is spiteful (and as in the 2015 film) gratingly mocks Demelza as our “reclusive” Ross’s “Friday,” but the way Horsfield continually voices the competitive (nowadays) and hierarchical (then) view that Ross has destroyed his future is anachronistic. Ross cannot lose his status as the son of an ancient family, and as long as Demelza can learn to parrot the manners of her “betters,” speak less demotically, dress right, with functional literacy, she could theoretically and does except for the abrasive sexual encounters she is subjected to because of her gender do very well.

The lines I quoted above are a product of Horsfield’s own buying into opportunistic careerism. The way up, the way to win wealth and position is through marriage, but as the younger son of an impoverished branch of a Cornish (marginalized exploited semi-colony within Britain), with no sympathy or desire to network or politick in his class, Ross was not likely to do better than Ruth Teague (in the book a fifth daughter of very much declining pseudo-gentry). I exulted in what I admit are the replies Horsfield dialogically supplied Ross with.

I had one insight important to me because Horsfield refused to qualify the love between Ross and Demelza during the sequence leading up to and concluding Christmas. Films can bring out graphically what is deeply appealing in a novel without discussing this explicitly: I have wondered why I love these books so. I saw in Horsfield’s fourth episode that what I love so is the relationship between Demelza and Ross Poldark: I identify utterly with her and find him intensely appealing through her eyes. Jim and my early relationship went utterly against norms: we married with no money at all, 2 pound 10 for a license, his parents took out out for dinner that night and left. He and I danced the night away in a pub and the next day went to work because we had 10 shillings between us. Those first months of my life with him were as euphoric as Ross and Demelza experience in the last part of Ross Poldark, from the pilchard sequence to when they are alone. Nothing could break out companionship we felt; everything outside was the junkyard of what did not matter. That’s how it was for us.


Demelza’s supposedly “saved” father and religious step-mother reveal their hypocrisies

Paradoxically the 1975 episode 4 with its grating and (to those who know the books and films) infamous departures from the story is often closer to the radically communitarian, anti-hierarchical, pastoral and pro-underdog atmosphere of the closing quarter of Ross Poldark. It is true that Graham’s book exposes the hypocrisies of fundamentalist religion (as does this and the fifth episode of the 1975 mini-series). But it’s ludicrous to make Demelza pregnant after one night’s sex — apparently to absolve her of becoming Ross’s partner for two months before the marriage as she does in the book. The 2015 film also compresses time so we will not observe this — apparently it’s still not acceptable in a mainstream TV film for a heroine who is not promiscuous to have sex freely with a man before marriage. The anachronistic depiction of Demelza actually saying that she is not sure who the father of her child aloud would be beyond belief for the 1950s; much less the 1780s, when such talk would land her in the streets of London as the lowest of abandoned prostitutes.

Demelza’s absurd nonchalance

To do what Pullman did is to erase what is beautiful about Ross’s choice to marry Demelza: Ross marries Demelza voluntarily even though he is still in love with Elizabeth at that point, because it is the right thing to do for her as a human being needing him (as she has nowhere else to turn to and nowhere else to go), and because he likes her very much, enjoys her company: in the book she has grown to be part of his life, his very being (as he realizes at the close of dawn after the pilchard harvest). It is an act of rebellion against his class’s norms, fostered by his anger at his peer’s throwing away of Jim Carter (whom he Ross identified with); he is not just indifferent to “society’s niceties” (since when is marriage a nicety?), but wants to be seen to scoff successfully at them. Which he does. In the 1970s Pullman and his team made the Poldark film engage in the contemporary debate on abortion: when Demelza takes the one coin she gets from Ross and crosses the heath to find a laywoman abortionist she is risking her life. There were abortionists in the 18th century but it was rare to attempt this once quickening (regarded as when life began) started which the film pictures Rees as into.

Yet in the book Ross does love Elizabeth and erotically and intensely and there is a scene in the Christmas sequence where he admits this. Without acknowledging this and Elizabeth’s materialism, Elizabeth’s hypocrisy in trying to use Ross as a rope to escape from Francis’s gambling, drinking and inability to please her culturally — how will Horsfield later account for Ross raping Elizabeth. She has made Elizabeth so pious, exemplary and without rancour towards Demelza that I am almost glad that Horsfield changes Francis’s character so at least he is naggingly jealous (and registers that there is love between Ross and Elizabeth). In the 1975 film Francis is rather hurt, unable to reach his wife because of his own lack of self-esteem (this is closer to the book and more in line with Francis’s sense of himself as the heir to the estate, an aristocrat with a lineage):

Clive Francis as Francis appealing to a cold Jill Townsend as Elizabeth

In the film unlike the book Elizabeth wants to leave Francis and anachronistically offers to go and live with Ross elsewhere (again a reflection of 1970s norms), and he agrees; but Elizabeth’s shock and horror (equally not in the book) when she comes the next day intending to make plans to come and live with Ross, only to discover he means to marry Demelza because he is pregnant does convey Graham’s Elizabeth’s resentment, anger, alienation, and Ross’s defense of Demelza as “no trollope” but the girl she ever was, prepares the way for Ross’s rage at Elizabeth’s entrenched snobbery and her later (as he sees it) betrayal of him and the resulting rape.

Elizabeth (2)

Elizabeth (1)

Pullman also conveys what is in the book: Demelza’s knowledge that Ross loves Elizabeth at least as much as he does her, something Horsfield omits. As directed and filmed, Townsend in that huge dress with her high hair is a physical obstacle as well as an intangible one to a fulfilled marriage for Ross and Demelza.


In fact this confrontation is central to the next seven books. For seven books Demelza will have to live with the reality that Ross loves Elizabeth as much as if differently than the way she loves her. By dramatizing this at the point of the marriage, Pullman and his director bring this out.

More to the point of filmic art, the theatricality of the clashes between Demelza and Ross over her pregnancy, Ross and Elizabeth three different times, Demelza and Elizabeth’s face-to-face silent confrontation and most of all Ross’s ride after Demelza across the wasteland, wrestling her down, and sudden tenderness and care for her in bringing her home is among the most memorable and effective sequences of both the 2015 and 1975 mini-series — and the language given them from the book voices the deepest of promises and obligation more forcefully than the 2015 lyrical use of montage however deeply pleasing







In effect the feelings are the same in 1975 and Graham’s book: by the end of the novel Demelza is aware Ross still loves Elizabeth intensely, or at least wants her as much as she, Demelza; she has been faced with the heritage and elegance of his house and family. There is much for them as a couple to overcome, and that is true to the book and true to life.


I have omitted the death of Charles Poldark. In spirit the 1975 film is quieter, it is more pious (Graham mocks the pretense and hypocrisy of the neighborhood grievers). I found the graveyard scene with the “man that is born of woman” speech moving. Francis behaves in a dignified manner at Trenwith just after; we see the desolation of Verity and how the self-centered Elizabeth cannot understand that her frustration is analogous to meaningless life (except for caring for Geoffrey Charles who in the 1975 film Elizabeth is seen as neglecting) she and her father-in-law and husband have imposed on Verity.



Horsfield builds up the death scene itself much more considerably. Nowhere in the book does Charles hand the responsibility for his family to Ross over his son. Horsfield uses it to convey her Francis’s bitterness: he is relieved his father is dead as there is no one around to denigrate, mortify and insult him (as we have seen Charles continually do). Horsfield’s really mean and sordid-minded Charles is as much responsible for Horsfield’s Francis’s wounded psyche as any demands on him that are outside his ability:


I find it interesting that in 2015 less piety surrounds the dead and there the film can return to more of the feel of the mid-century book.

In both episodes the desperately needed copper is found, and in both it has been voiced that this will only save the community if Ross and his partners can get a decent price for it. In 1975 Ross thinks he has staved off the Warleggan monopoly, that all his partners are keeping secret from Warleggan who are the members of the Carnemore Copper Company. In 2015 George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) has begun to break down the company because Dr Choake (depicted as a nasty evil-tending man — a child-like use of a character) has agreed to sell his shares to George. There are many things I respect about the book and both mini-series, but the most important is the attempt at a serious depiction of economic relationships and structures as the center of daily life.


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Wm Frederick Yeames (1835-1918), On the Boulevard, Brittany

Dear friends and readers,

As with Barchester Towers, since I and my class had such a good time over Dr Thorne, even though I’ve already put on my website more than enough on a reading and discussion of Dr Thorne, my “Trollope and his Contemporaries listserv” enjoyed years ago, I’ve decided to share some of my notes from my lectures and the class discussions over four weeks. We also had special topics, on illustrations (which when well done I love), Trollope’s epistolary art (which I’m interested in and have written and published about, and the effect of The Cornhill on his books, and Mary’s illegitimacy. Here I include only these last two: as Trollope and The Cornhill; and Women and Property Rights.

Among the joys of doing this is I can share what my younger daughter, Isobel wrote at age 14 about the novel. She was asked in a middle school class to pick a book (it needed to be approved), read and answer questions about it. She said that the teacher was a bit surprised at her choice but also delighted: here she is on Dr Thorne versus Dr Fillgrave; and on that most painful of chapters, the abjection of Augusta Gresham before the cold treachery of Lady Amelia de Courcy.

As most people interested in Trollope or mini-series costume drama know, Julian Fellowes is now scheduled to do a 3 part film adaptation for ITV of Dr Thorne. Despite what I say of Lady Arabella Gresham as a character below, I hope that Fellowes does not make her the witch of the piece, like her daughter, Augusta, she is a creature of values that actually help to ruin her own life (in the brilliant epistolary chapter, “De Courcy Precepts and Practice,” which my daughter treats of just above and I and my class do further below).


Arthur Clifton Goodwin, View of a Garden in Boston (1866)

The difference between Dr Thorne and The Warden; The Warden and Barchester Towers; and Barchester Towers and Dr Thorne, reminds us of how when Trollope set out, he did not think of himself as a writing a roman fleuve or serial at all, and in this novel he eschew recurring characters (essential to romans fleuves). OTOH, the second “sign” you are in a roman fleuve or series of novels is the imaginary place and in this opening we begin to see a map emerge (see map on syllabus).

The place. Suddenly Barsetshire subdivides (like a zygote) and we have a west and east Barsetshire. Trollope says this was not very good for the county, soon they were having antagonisms between them, but in order to obey the reform bill and have more equal representation this was done. Of course it’s a joke as it’s he who has subdivided it.

West Barsetshire is Whig, great whig magnate lives there, the Duke of Omnium in Gatherum Castle. Trollope rightly identifies the great country house first by its political function. Pleasant as books about them often are – because of the beauty of the places – they were there to enforce a hierarchy, maintained considerable controls over their tenants and farmers, the people in the houses were magistrates, JPs, controlled institutions; you had to get letters to go to a house, needed a “character” if you were to get another job (overwhelmingly most people were servants still in the first half of the 19th century). Chaldicotes, Sowerby’s house is there (comes out in Framley Parsonage), an appendage of the duke’s as Sowerby is a client, and we hear a lot about Courcy. Both will emerge full and complete in Framley Parsonage. On the other side of the divide is Greshambury and Boxall Hill; they are northerly with Barchester itself, the cathedral town close to the center. In a map drawn later we find St Ewolds, Puddingdale. Plumstead Episcopi, and the other more obviously comically named places to the south (Crabtree Canicorum). Plumstead is a plum; puddings are hearty things and so on.

People love a stable place and ongoing characters. It gives us a sense of security and permanence and beliefs in survival. There’s been a terrific resurgence in this form in the last 10-15 years and not just because it fits the TV medium.

This political map is going to count in the story. Now the clerical world is encased in a larger one. There is a railway to London too – as well as an Old Coach Road. This is the first of many novels where Trollope’s visualized  amps central means by which he organizes and expresses the social, political and psychological relationships of his characters and themes. What you own expresses you; what you lose expresses you; we can plot where a character is in life and how he or she is doing by his or her relationship to a place. So when Mary is for a time exiled that is very hurtful – and Dr Thorne very mad about it. Later on Trollope will grow more explicit about these geographies of power. But we see it start here.

Deep past. We are to be immersed in the feelings and thoughts of fully realized presences. Trollope here signals his allegiance to the idea that character or personality is not just the result of an evolution of the particular person’s circumstances, class, and background (family, genes), but shows how we are the product of a long evolutionary development over time. Freud said he learned a lot from novelists, well Marx’s idea of how there is this class struggle and antagonisms and development interacting with changes in means of production and social realities came from the 19th century novel, beginning Scott. This are Marxist chapters – and throughout the book Trollope notices change and how it effects everyone and everything. He did read Marx who wrote in newspapers. But it was more from Bulwer Lytton.

In the 18th century and in Barchester Towers character emerge full blown and there is a sense in which their characteristics stand for types, like archetypes. Not here. We might ask what is the difference between a historical fiction (one written today and set in earlier times – Wolf Hall in early 16th century and Poldark in later 18th) and historic fiction, like Dr Thorne, fiction written in the 19th century. I suggest we strongly tend to read them the same way – we watch the characters as products of time and place, circumstance, slow change. George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Hardy all do this, Bronte in her Shirley, Dickens not so much because his characters are not psychological sociological studies in the same way. We enter into the characters as if they think and feel as we do inflected by the time, space, events.

So what happened in the pre-history of this book? Chapter 1 opens on Frank Gresham’s 21st birthday, supposed to be a day of great celebration for the heir. Is it? Why not? We move back to learn some recent history. It seems that Frank’s father was not the firm large able and generous spirited man his father had been, father could not fill the shoes of the grandfather. Is weak (Ch 1, pp 4-6). He has hankered after false gods: married rank, a woman, the Lady Arabella whose idea of happiness is showing off to others, vanity and pride, and he has allowed himself to be lured by the whigs and become their friend and yet he is running as a Tory (p 5). It won’t do. Elections cost – though laws against bribery increasing enormously. That’s why you need campaign managers like NeartheWind and Closerstill. No longer can you just say this is my county, only these people can vote and if they don’t vote the way I want I cancel their leases. There are too many of them. He is also not personable, does not easily know how to make himself hail fellow well met.

My theory (not published except here!) is the Greshams are very realistic versions of Austen’s Mr and Mrs Bennet, he in his library and she all about the mercenary and rank values, materialistic, and shallow, and nagging too. Trollope shows us that such incompatibility is no joke, that a woman with the values of Mrs Bennet taken seriously can wreak far more havoc than stopping a courtship. Squire Gresham is complicit (as is Mr Bennet ultimately): he wants to enact the traditional hierarchy and get its rewards, but at the same run with the new big money world. He finds he or one can’t. When he has no occupation, he takes over the hunt . But apparently not being paid for it as a Master of the Hounds (pp 14-15). This does give him a place among people like himself and those of his tenants and farmers who can afford to ride sometimes too. She resents his occupation – one of his joys. She poisons many wells over the course of the novel (like her tabooing of Mary, stopping her husband’s friendship with Dr Thorne, a mainstay of their family economically through the loans from Scatcherd). The costly expedients are borrowing money at high interest.

What is another? His son. And he has ruined his son – as he sees. By among other things these costly expedients. When Frank says he will “study like bricks” before you despise the meanness of the countess de Courcy’s response, remember she is probably right, for as to making money from his studies at Cambridge it does not at present seem probable. He is not studious and making money from law say requires going to live in London at the Inns of Court and working your way up on the job.

Do we have another deep feeling man who is deeply flawed? Roger Scatcherd. The most brilliant of characters in this novel is Scatcherd: an alcoholic because he doesn’t fit in anywhere. Turn to Chapter 10, p 139: the man “shrieks.” He has real genius and understanding, the kind that does make money. He can do construction well, and recognize others who can, organize teams, and so build a business, and then with his money he lends money out for further people to build railways. But no manners, no reading. I dislike the way he treats his wife: it’s criticized but not enough. I suggest we are to accept his behavior to Lady Scatcherd.

There is a contradiction at the heart of the book: Trollope does honor “blood” (gentility in the genes), does not eschew the violence that put the hierarchical order in place originally (as in his talk about the heraldry), at the same time as he invents a plot-design and characters designed to make us value merit and human bonds and truth to one’s heart. We see this especially in his treatment of Sir Roger’s son, Louis Scatcherd, the way he’s characterized makes Trollope’s writhing condescensions to Slope seems the height of egalitarian decency (Ch 10, p 142). To be a gentleman or lady is a high aspiration, and not everyone has it “in” him or her to do it.


Manliness, what is it? One of the themes of this book is what makes for manliness, and how the male characters react to its demands; this is a question Trollope comes back to throughout his career though in different permutations. Here Trollope contrasts a man who bullies his abject wife with an inferior son (the Scatcherds), a man who allows his wife to overrule his better judgement and whose son will emerge eventually as “the better man” (Greshams) with our exemplary Dr Thorne.

J. Pettie, “The Country Surgeon,” Good Words, 1862

We learn about the Thorne family; two brothers and a proud father. When the “lousy son” – and we are never told anything good about Henry Thorne – is rejected by the Thornes of Ullathorne, father rejects them. This hurts second son, our hero. We move to violence over sex. Henry Thorne impregnates Mary Scatcherd and when Roger is told he marches off to Henry, sees his insouciant attitude and takes a stick and hits him hard. Does he mean to kill him? (p 24). Trollope suggests we as readers will think a punishment of six months (for manslaughter) too severe! (Connect up to honor-killing). Our Dr Thorne (Thomas his name) is at first mad for vengeance but learning the provocation, “his heart changed.” How does he behave? On one level, beautifully. He takes responsibility and acts to help and support everyone. Manliness includes seeing what is a true priority and exerting self-control. He works to pay for everything. So he is strong. But his strength has its characteristics too: he is very proud. Will not accept overtures from Thornes of Ullathorne. Not wise but human. He is not given to kowtowing, to suffering stupidity easily – patients feared he was laughing at them – that’s for false complaints, for real ones he is tenderness itself (P 37) He does make a connection with Squire Gresham who invites him over and is open and humane (p 25). A respectable tradesman agrees to marry Mary if she will go away from the area where she’s been disgraced — far far away – but will not take the child. I fear this attitude towards another’s man’s child especially when young is not gone from us – and not gone from many societies at all. Older people remarrying and accepting one another’s adult children is different, p 29. The question of manliness with respect to the male’s control over the female’s body is still part of the unwritten code of what’s not admirable or admirable. Notice the language: he was very proud as to family, as to blood, as to respect – in his later years he mellows, but “now promised to take to his bosom as his own child a poor bastard whose father was already dead” (p 29).

Dr Thorne makes the book questioning.

Our heroine is a bastard and she is the person we are to care intensely about, root for. How beautifully Dr Thorne welcomes her to their home” (p. 39). It matters what you are within not what your rank is – is that the burden of Trollope’s song? Well we have the terrific hurt of Dr Thorne as a young man when the girl he loves rejects him for being concerned in such a scandal (P 31). We feel his intense grief at the girl’s dropping of him. The emphasis in the book falls on the hurt people feel when such arrangements are inflicted on them. A very moving chapter in this first quarter of the book occurs in Chapter 7, The doctor’s garden, p 95. What has happened? Of course Frank and Mary have fallen in love and now Mary for the first time thinks is she a fit partner for him? She has great self-esteem based on herself; we see that in her scene with the DeCourcys and Patience Oriel too, but what if she is illegitimate? That’s the question, pp 99-101. It’s very hard for them to talk about; they use euphemisms. Does she really have the right to call Dr Thorne uncle?

Rights of this type are central to our self-esteem, whether when we know in law someone is not supposed to treat us badly and we see them do, do we protest? Our sense of what rights we really have in daily life is not from law but from something within that develops over time and comes from how others regard us, how we are treated ( ch 7 p 99). That sense of self Dr Thorne develops in Mary Thorne.

Dr Thorne finds he must tell Scatcherd that his will as worded would leave his money in the case of his son’s death to “Mary’s eldest child.” In the chapter called The Two Uncles (Ch 13, p p 169): Roger comes off very well. Why? He wants to see her, his emotions not yet that perverted by the values and norms of his society (Richard Holt Hutton said this was a central thrust of Trollope’s fictions).


A 19th century semi-comic illustration of a lady come to Mudie’s library to take out a book

Frank goes to Courcy Castle and visits West Barsetshire: Miss Dunstable and Sir Roger Scatcherd; Mr Romer and Mr Harding.

What kind of character is she? Some characteristics? She’s smart, she’s perceptive – who else in the book is smart and perceptive who is an important character? Dr Thorne. I call her an ironic festival figure. She’s on the wrong side of 30, has ridiculous hair (never mind bad hair), big teeth, broad nose, little black eyes, high color, and she’s irremediably vulgar. What she does is what nobody does: she talks money, she does not skirt this topic which others wish she would. When she does, they say, such a card Miss Dunstable and try to change the subject. Now the countess de Courcy wants Frank, aged 21 to propose to Miss Dunstable. : An Ironic Festival Figure She is continually exposing the hypocrisies of everyone else. She deflates everyone around her, all their pretensions. Our joy in her – if you do joy in her has little to do with her spunk or aggression — because she isn’t very aggressive. She fits in. But in this first novel at least she remains untouched by the venality around her, is not angered or embittered, keeps her honest values and integrity and can recognise and become friends with those she recognizes as spirits like her — say Frank and later Dr Thorne and Mary. Is hers really a fun position? An old maid people want to marry who couldn’t give a shit about her for her money. Doe she have any rank? None what so ever. She’s like Sir Roger. They even think no one could possibly marry her for anything else. It’s really hurtful.

Why does she like Frank? He is not yet corrupted at his core. Who is corrupted at his core: the Honorable George for one. Never mind your governor might just pop off any minute now and then you’ll get to spend as you please. What did you think of his proposal letter (p. 242-43). Frank is young and as yet noble-hearted and innocent; how did he get that way? We are back with Tom Jones, that’s his nature but it could be changed. It’s Frank’s business to propose to her and is he doing this? Not quite. Probably he wants a younger beautiful girl too – anyway he’s in love with Mary (inoculated). But he does try to obey. In the Rivals (Ch 18, p 198), things are heating up between these suitors. It’s time for Frank to act and he does make the attempt, but Miss Dunstable cuts him off with how fond of him his aunt seems. Oh yes says he. Tell me, she asks, what was the countess talking to you about last night?

“What did she say?” That Miss Dunstable was beautiful. And her virtues. “How very kind” of her. (p. 239)
“Virtues and prudence! She said I was prudent and virtuous?’
‘Yes’. ‘And you talked of my beauty. That was so kind of you! You didn’t either of you say anything about other matters?’
‘What other matters?’
‘Oh! I don’t know Only some people are sometimes valued rather for what they’ve got than for any good qualities belonging to themselves intrinsically’ (p. 190).

Frank is lying. And suddenly Miss Dunstable’s tone changes, becomes quite sharp. She says sharply out it’s quite out of the question anyone at Courcy castle would value people for what they’ve got.

We are told that Frank doesn’t get it, doesn’t think what he’s doing, he is heir to embarrassed property and as a male he sees other males going after Miss Dunstable so like some lemming to the sea he does so too (p. 24)0
She seems to forgive him – because he does not ask her to marry him because he does not want her, to his aunt (p 250): the aunt says Miss Dunstable is “very fond of you.” “Nonsense Aunt he says.” By the end of his sojourn – I’m skipping the visit to Gatherum Castle – he does ask Miss Dunstable to marry him (Ch 22, p. 269): what happens is when she breaks the code, he tells the truth. She appeals to the better man in him (p 271): she had hoped he was better than all around her; she cannot laugh at the world if there is no one around to laugh with her (p. 271). Has the aunt “blackened you so foully as to make you think of such a vile folly as this?” oh for shame.

I’ve learned in life “shame on you” often doesn’t work as a formula, but it does here: Frank boldy says he never for moment meant to make Miss Dunstable his wife (p 272). He didn’t think it out, and now they can be friends as they have a basis for the friendship (p 273) – truth. How does he feel after this interview? Revolted at himself. Deep sense of disgust at himself. One of his best moments in the whole book (Ch 20, p. 274): when the countess taps him on the shoulder, he looks at her. She knows it’s all over. Her reaction is to get rid of Miss Dunstable – no longer wanted.

The very naive John Bold as we first see him in Barchester Chronicles (John Gwillim)

The Election.  Mr Romer is a barrister, greatly interested in liberal causes, he’s there to assist Roger. How does he assist Sir Roger to win. There were still few people who could vote in 1858 (first larger franchise comes ten years later); polling places were places where people were pressured and thugs hired to intimate, violence went on until the secret ballot was passed in 1872. And suddenly they vanished. Who says people’s behavior cannot be changed is not very observant. It seems that Mr Reddypalm’s whole bill had not been paid by Mr Moffat or Closerstill. And Mr Romer pays it (p 236): our narrator admonishes us to pay the whole bill, and if you feel you are overcharged, you are getting at least friendly service. “Why make a good man miserable for such a trifle” – irony is you say one thing and mean another. Problem is people don’t always get your message.

Trollope wants you to see the egregious hypocrisy of the unseating of Sir Roger – the reason Mr Reddypalm’s bill surfaces is the Duke of Omnium and DeCourcys cannot bear that their power be overlooked: “Mr Moffat had been put forwad by the De Courcy interest; and that noble family and all its dependents was not going to go to the wall because Mr Moffat had had a thrashing (Ch 22), Sir Roger is unseated (p 290). All that over-the-top talk against bribery means nothing. It’s cant. Now it must be admitted that Sir Roger buys into the code.When he is unseated, he pretends not to care (p 295), ”And the blow to him was very heavy … “ read it. In the wake of this blow little people get blown over, the employees, like Mr Romer,ends up in Hong Kong, (p 295).

Mr Romer is unfairly destroyed (pp. 296-97, Chapter 22) You may pass a law as they did in 1832 against bribery and the Courcys committed bribery as did Sir Roger – stayed just within the limits of the law. But they are not going to stand there and let someone beneath them, with less powerful connections, no rank take a seat. They go to court – if they can’t have it, no one will (p. 294). The election is null and void. The district is not disenfranchised as too corrupt by law. That did happen after 1868 – Trollope lost at Beverley in Yorkshire; went to court, and the place was disenfranchised. Read about in in Ralph the Heir, a novel which reflects his experience directly.

Mr Romer parallels Mr Harding; it may be the law is right to be against bribery in elections, p 292 – a lot of overdone sarcasm about people caring about “purity,” but who gets hurt? In The Warden did the old men get the money they should literally have – no. They were worse off. They have no power for real. Mr Bold was a foolish young man who didn’t understand how the world works – he got a lesson to some extent in The Warden. He was lucky – we are told does not have really to work as a doctor, which he doesn’t much care for.

A poor illustration from an early edition of Dr Thorne, but the moment chosen is right: Sir Roger rasping to Dr Thorne over his will

Sir Roger goes home to drink himself to death. Had he been allowed in, he might have been able to rise to the crown of a career and whether other men drank with him or not been active and proud. Now he will drink alone as he has not been allowed a place. He has been deprived of fulfilling work.

How did they do in their speeches? Well Sir Roger held his own a lot better (pp 229-30). He knows these people, indeed he represents them, can pretend to have the skin of a rhinoceros. It is Sir Roger tells the crowd Mr Moffat’s motive for engaging himself to Augusta Gresham (p 232). Mr Moffat ends up pelted with eggs. He has no motive for getting into parliament beyond getting in. Sir Roger at least has pride and is engaged directly and deeply with economic realities. And then when this crowning achievement of his life is gotten it is taken from him. Whatever chance he had to function as a genius of sorts among his peers – Mps included people from Manchester, he never made it. Trollope waxes quietly sardonic on the phony obituary, portraying Scatcherd as just the happiest, as “serene” – the word serene is used of men because he was such a business success. Sir Roger was anything but. We are told he would have seen the monument put up to him as showing no understanding of what his work was (Ch 25, p 341). Where do these obituaries come from; when someone dies not expected to make the news, one is produced too.


For the last two weeks of our class discussion, see Dr Thorne and the Cornhill and Novels of Manners; the last quarter of the novel: blood versus true merit; no multiplot and making Pride and Prejudice real; Women and Property Rights; Kincaid and Polhemus: an all-out class war & the moral center; the Barsetshire series on the periphery & re-framed.


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On their way to Pompeii (2014)

Somewhere in the West Riding (2010)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been wanting to see Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy, featuring Steve Coogan and Bill Brydon a second time before writing about it as what is referred to as “a summer movie,” but summer is just about over and I’ve not made it back to Cinema Art this week when it opened there (and a few other movie theaters). I have, though, now watched The Trip twice (a DVD from Netflix), the previous travel-film, near two-hour feature made by the same director, with the same pair of males, and even female friends and lovers (Rebecca Johnson as Rob’s wife) and associates (Claire Keelan as Emma) in 2010. They went to Yorkshire or the West Riding, so that reinforcement and slow re-watching (pleasurable) will have to do.

The Trip to Italy is not a great film in the way of Richard Linklater’s 1995 Before Sunrise, with Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, as the loving and then vexed friends, with each reprise (Before Sunset [2004], and Before Midnight [2013]), not quite as fine; but it’s in the same mode, and unlike most sequels, an improvement on The Trip: all five seem to move us deeply into an intimate relationship (not sexual in the case of Coogan and Brydon as they keep reminding us and themselves) which we are glimpsing continual outward signs and conversation about. One of the joys of all five is you are made to feel you are listening to real spontaneous conversation and have to remind yourself that, to stay just with Coogan and Brydon, this is a fiction and this is not Brydon’s wife to whom he is sexually unfaithful while away, nor is this Coogan’s somewhat estranged son (in the fiction of the second movie, having been separated from her mother, his ex-wife). And the conversation is almost perpetually stimulating, often intelligent, fun, touching. Coogan and Brydon have some advantages over Delpy and Hawke as both are superb mimics and their patter in the second movie is a matter of their competing with transforming themselves into familiar male actors, and they visit superbly beautiful places.

It speaks well of Linklater’s three movies that he does not rely on offering us a deeply pleasurable travelogue, but this summer I could not resist it. Jim and I and our two daughters in 1994 spent five weeks in Italy, mostly in and around Rome, but we were in Pompeii, to Naples, and three days in Ischia and I had to admit we were immersed in nothing so beautiful, a salutary admission as films eliminate the hard realities of travel, the real world one is surrounded by.

As a dream fantasy of photography the earlier film was as spectacular. Brydon says they are in a Turner painting, but to me (like Alan Bennet) it’s John Atkinson Grimshaw (a famous 19th century painter of Leeds) who captured the area best and this time, having lived in Leeds and traveled across the West Riding for 2 years I did experience some of the scenes captured.

Landscape (1)
I’ve walked and driven through landscapes like this

Landscape (2)
Stone pubs look like that on a sunny day

They do omit Leeds itself with its hard older parts of the cityscape (some impoverished), and towns that are barely surviving today,and the bourgeois heavy mansions in the outskirts of cities but not in the countryside:

John Atkinson Grimshaw - An Autumn Idyll
John Atkinson Grimshaw’s forte: An Autumn Idyll

But then to me parts of Naples looked like the Bronx circa 1950s.

Both films have been reviewed favorably, Maohla Dargis in the New York Times (June 2011), and David Denby in the New Yorker (September 2014). Both reviews underline the vexed abrasions the men have now and again, and the undercurrents of melancholy, especially in the second film where the men are older, and Brydon no longer presented as happily married. The films are self-reflecting and in the second film Brydon remarks he was thought to be too “affable” in the first film: it’s been fixed, as Brydon betrays his lovers more than Coogan, and is every bit as wounded over his career losses as Coogan (who after all was in last year’s “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” Philomena with Judi Dench). I also found the increased level of sexual talk (bodily jokes) at times distasteful and (to be expected I suppose) masculinist: the hurts are those of males, women seen as objects, comfort dolls, or irritating bosses. At the Cinema Art Film Club where I saw The Trip to Italy, Gary Arnold (the Washington Post film critic who chooses the films and leads the discussion afterward) said if you didn’t like the actors’ characters you would hate the film; that’s one way of putting it without referring to gender. Some might be bored by Delpy and Hawke.

Perhaps The Trip to Italy had realer fuller (because darker) emotions than The Trip: the moving sequence at Pompeii is the film at its best — the talk over the stone corpses and how we relate to them. In The Trip Coogan and Brydon rely on reciting poetry by Coleridge and Wordsworth to make ironic some of their passing through tourist places; in The Trip to Italy the awareness of mortality, almost a fixation (it comes out in the 2010 film when the two are standing in a grave side and Brydon gets Coogan to anticipate what Coogan will say over Brydon’s tomb), comes out as one man wanting to open himself to his loss and vulnerability (Brydon) and the other bitterly walking away (Coogan), suggesting this sensitivity is phony.


Winterbottom made a great film out of Jude the Obscure where he similarly meditated loss, death, and in The Trip to Italy Winterbottom’s use of Strauss’s Four Last Songs was pitched just right. For me who nowadays see in Before Sunrise a re-enactment of Jim and my first week together,

Before Sunrise: the young Delpy and Hawke

there was here a personal connection to our first ceremony ending (I intend to scatter his ashes in England), as Jim loved these songs and I made them part of the soundtrack for the video that played at Jim’s funeral.

Denby tells us the two films are derived from six part mini-series made for British TV. He felt nothing was missing and you could hardly tell this origin; I can’t agree. Now and again references seem to be made to something in the film we had not experienced (not just a between chapter) and especially the second film where there was much more sexual interaction with women along the way perhaps I would have not reacted to the talk negatively had the full time of the relationships been presented. At the very least the films profited enormously from their cyclical structure. In the second especially we are made to feel this is not closure: Coogan has to go home to cope with the son he has in part failed, and Brydon wishes he could avoid returning home and suggests a hope, however improbable, of coming back. Improbable is part of the movie’s wit: they are supposed on a hard assignment to eat these exquisitely cooked meals it’s almost an embarrassment to watch being made, so detailed is the luxury appointment of the plates, and so hushed the waiter’s descriptions.

Yorkshire being photographed

Yet another wine-savored feast

A testament to the world of the 1%? That’s my one serious objection to the second film. The first seemed to avoid that: maybe it had less fancy meals, less luxurious surroundings, there was a sense of roughing it. If you define a summer movie as escapism, metaphysically and psychologically at least they are not that, with the second funnier and yet sadder than the first.

Both sets of films have prompted caricature:

Eating your way through

Waking up: “I keep thinking about something you said.” “Something I said?”


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Happiness is the state of being well deceived; the serene peaceful state of being a fool among knaves — Jonathan Swift, The Tale of a Tub, 1704, alluded to in Magic in the Moonlight, 2014

Clarence: Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? — screenplay for It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946

Colin Firth as Stanley Crawford and Emma Stone as Sophie Baker, soaked from rain, gaze out at the sky in an observatory (Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen film)

Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey looking up at the sky from a town degraded by misery, with people debased from lack of economic opportunity his Building Company had given him, as the angel Clarence has changed the past so that he never existed (It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra film)

Dear friends and readers,

Surely sheer coincidence that I, for whom these topics have a direct personal anguish, should have watched in tandem two films which either assert (It’s a Wonderful Life) or debate (Magic in the Moonlight) if there is a God, if prayers are answered, if there is some meaning in existence, a pattern beautiful imposed by a supernatural realm beyond the natural. I knew a belief that this is so (however comically enacted by Henry Travers as the prosaic Angel looking for a promotion, Clarence) was the central assertion of Capra’s famous Christmas movie, but I had long ago forgotten how this was demonstrated and how George Bailey came to know such anguish as is seen on the mobile face of the great actor, Jimmy Stewart, and I neglected to read the reviews of Allen’s latest summer movie project so didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.

George dreaming over travel literature

As Joseph (an angel who appears as a twinkling star in the firmament) tells it to Clarence, George Bailey’s life is one where one enemy of promise after another takes away each of George’s ambitious dreams. He dreamed of leaving the dull small town, Bedford Falls, of taking a trip around the world. He couldn’t because his father’s business, a Building Association which loaned money to people, needed his expertise. Four years pass and he is now hoping to go to college. He can’t because his father dies, and that business will go to pieces if he doesn’t sustain it. Instead his brother uses the money he earned to become an engineer, meet a rich young woman and take a well-paying job in her father’s firm far away from Bedford Falls. At each turn in his life some promise, some ambition, some average expectation is thwarted. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Mary (Donna Reed) and hopes to take a luxurious cruise honeymoon, and there is a rush on the association so all their money must go to satisfy their customers’ demand for their money. He and his wife take over the ruin of a house and fix it.

Unlike real life though these enemies of promise turn out to be good things: each time George is led to do good — he fights Mr Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) the mean capitalist banker, the film’s villain, who seeks to make everyone else live poorly, work for little, have no decent place to live so they will be vulnerable, weak, serve him abjectly as he grows richer and richer. George Bailey on the surface looks the selfless man who has provided a beautiful village of small houses for the people of this town, seen his brother become a WW2 hero, but we are to see he feels his lack of a fancy car, beautiful home; he never goes to Europe (a dream of upper middle class fulfillment found in the last season of Breaking Bad too: Marie tells Hanjk Walt and Skylar are planning to go to Europe but this is thwarted when Walt is found out by Hank and his cancer returns).

Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy abject before his loss of the important money

Then on Christmas eve during some excitement either he or his faithful kind honest uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) puts a desperately needed $800 in an envelope which gets wrapped up in a newspaper and into the hands of the evil Mr Potter, who keeps it. George has been financing all he does on tenuous grounds and when the bank examiners come that night, there is no money in the till. He is bankrupt; Mr Potter as chief banker, is able to call in loans and demand a warrant for his arrest. George will be exposed as a failure, crook, shamed, and there wells up in him the years of personal sacrifice. He screams at his loving family (4 children who cost), his endlessly hard-working selfless wife (decorating the tree, making food for all), and for once tells those around them what underneath his kind exterior what he thinks of them. Fools, incompetent, irritating. He has given up his time to support others not as smart as he. He then sees how useless it is to them them these truths, apologizes, and rushes out into the street.

We next see him in a bar run by an Italian man who owes the happy physically comfortable existence of his family to George’s generous trust in him. George is getting very drunk. Heaven, though, is alerted to his suicidal thoughts because so many people in the town pray to God (we hear these prayers) and Clarence is sent down to help. Just as George is about to jump off a bridge, into teeming cold water, Clarence jumps. Naturally George jumps in also to save Clarence, and both are taken to a local station house to dry off. After some initial comic dressing by the angel (changing a heavenly gown for a suit), the two go walking, Clarence carrying a favorite book, Tom Sawyer.

Henry Travers as Clarence listening to George

As Clarence listens to George’s immiseration, he comes up with a radical way to prove to George his life has not been wasted, worth nothing, achieved nothing: he puts a spell on the world so that George will see what would have happened to many in Bedford Falls had George not existed: George is deaf in one ear because he saved his brother from drowning in ice one winter; his brother would have died at age 8. The Building Association would have failed and the whole town resemble the impoverished huge population in the US today: dives for drunkenness, wretched food, oblivion sought, hopelessness, everyone biting at everyone else.

It’s a movie which denies Mrs Thatcher’s famous contention (today often repeated as a canny truth) that there is no such thing as society only individuals and families, each a unit apart from the other units. It demonstrates that people matter to each other. That we are all “in it” together. George’s Building Association is the New Deal, a genuinely pro-people gov’t as we’ve not seen in the US since FDR, only in fits and starts since then up to the 1970s, when an anti-people group of powerful associations began to turn the US back to the pre-WW1 era socially as far as is possible. And it does show the underside of poverty and despair: depression era places and dress abound when George’s existence is subtracted.

Stewart becomes hysterical as he sees what the town became. It’s a deeply sexist film so Mary is envisioned as a uptight virgin librarian who never married and is horrified when Stewart attempts to approach her.

What Donna Reed must’ve been had George not married her

A secondary sexually unchaste young woman Violet (Gloria Graham) who he helped escape the punished existence she had been living


Gloria Graham as all glistening gratitude to the kindly man who rescues her ..

is seen as just about a prostitute being beaten up and taken off to jail by cops. George is now seen as a danger to all, a crazy man, and (really sad this), the one place where what is happening in this 1946 film corresponds to US society today is when a cop pulls out a gun and starts to shoot to kill Stewart who flees back to the bridge where he had originally intended to jump. George stands there praying hard that Clarence will make it that he did exist, and the magic happens and suddenly the cop recognizes him. Meanwhile Mary has visited all the people George ever helped and they have all contributed what they could and the debt will be paid. What a contrast to Breaking Bad: no one in Breaking Bad gives anything to anyone without expecting something monetarily valuable back (it can be prestige, respectability). If Walter White wants to make enough money to afford effective chemotherapy for his cancer, he must turn to selling something that commands a big price: meths.

No American value is questioned. Mr Potter is a twisted evil man, not presented as representative of usual humanity. War is a good thing in It’s a Wonderful Life: George’s brother Henry’s heroism saving people by his airforce work is not seen to kill people at the same time. We see George help one seriously presented black man, but otherwise black people are represented as comical and contented — especially in the “colored” maid the Bailey family seems to be able to afford to keep. It is a fable controlled by the Hays Code.

Famously people cry over this film. I became hysterical as I watched — it seemed to give me a license to wild crying.

There is something indescribably touching in Stewart’s face as he is made to feel he had a valuable life

Yes if I had never existed this house which we bought would probably not be here (have been bought and pulled down by someone far richer), Jim would not have moved to the US, and would have died years earlier from the very unhealthy life he was living. No Laura, no Izzy. I suppose on some level the argument is silly, but its radically root-and-branch evacuation of an existence make a radical point. Maybe others when they watch Stewart travel the huge trajectory of extravagant emotions their losses or yearnings come out too. For me I thought about how I just don’t have the strength I once did any more, as all happiness is gone from life for me. I see myself as trying hard and then as repeatedly finding it’s no use, stomach ache, so exhausting this being alive without him, nothing I do gives me any surcease. I will never now have the dreams I hoped to fulfill: I can’t travel, am all anxiety, am excluded from real companionship as much as ever. He alone assuaged that, he was my friend, so now for me it’s deep loneliness and frustration, true silence. I surmise others who cry do not cry with delirious joy, but because they know the film’s fulfillment for George Bailey is a fairy tale they wish were true

Izzy has told me the fable is told in many forms in various places since 1946, and when in some films one is going to get a version, of here’s what the world would have been without you, the film turns black-and-white. I know there are other classic popular films and musicals where suddenly the audience is presented with characters in heaven looking down at and affecting the people “below.” Carousel for one. The egoistic outlook which imagines that a single person (“I”) inside the vast universe can control or interfere with complicated events across a big earth suddenly so they change to satisfy that person’s needs through wishing which reaches some super-power is apparently one many people still fantasize with. When I taught ghost stories to my students each term there would be a couple of students who’d during their talks assert a belief in ghosts. They did not go on to witches, werewolves or vampires, but ghosts are enough.


Simon McBurney is the jealous magician who with Sophie deludes Firth as Stanley into believing in her medium powers; there they are, all complacent with Eileen Atkins as rich pampered loving and loved aunt

First, let me not be misunderstood. It’s a Wonderful Life is a great film fable; Magic in the Moonlight is often tiresome, exasperating (to me especially when I had to watch the half-embarrassed actor, Colin Firth fold his hands, look up piously and pray for his aunt’s life), and self-indulgent. Lazy. At the end of the movie after lengthy discussion, finally Sophie is found to be hiding in Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins)’s house, ready to kiss and marry Stanley. The young woman-older man couple is too close to Allen’s own marriage to his young step-daughter for comfort. Firth is not the first male matinee idol type actor to stand in for Allen too closely in these last years as Allen faced the reality he is even too old looking to be the heroine’s father; he needs to play the grandfather at least. As with other of Allen’s last films (not last year’s Blue Jasmine), this film occurs in a never-land of luxury, idleness and gorgeous landscapes and ceaseless effortless vacations:


no one has any hard work to do: jobs are all of the art-y type (including being a magician); clothes are lavish (especially Atkins’s wardrobe which seems tactlessly over-designed to hide her aging body and face). The laziness is in having the actors tell one another at the opening of the film what they have been doing these last years, what they are now planning to do (go off to a rich estate and expose a fake medium), fill us in repeatedly (like Prospero in the first act of The Tempest). And everyone praises Firth’s art and Aunt Vanessa’s existence to the extent I thought of the characters in Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison’s excruciating open praise of him and later Harriet. And Emma Stone is lifeless; she looks like a Woody Allen heroine, but she can’t act.

Sophie and Stanley discuss nature of existence

Yet if you are intrigued by an ironic debate on the issues presented in It’s a Wonderful Life, interested in Allen’s films (as the New York Times critic immediately noted) which present and debate the problem of the existence of the paranormal, superstition (as in fortune-tellers — often found in Allen films), doubt and faith, whether life is worth living given how cruel are the fates of so many people, how unfeeling people are to one another, rampant injustice everywhere (not seen in this film), desperate poverty (which we are told Sophie and her mother experienced until they took up their fake trade) — the film has the suspense of whether we will end up in preferring the fatuous contentment of the deluded (go to the fortuneteller and hold to what she says) or the desperate bleakness of recognizing death as meaningless annihilation after a life of mostly failure and distress with performative lies as one way to get through knowingly. Some of the talk is absorbing with Firth playing the disillusioned misanthrope.

Conor Langton liked it, thought that Firth’s performance carried it.

The haughty reserve, the perfectly phrased disdain, the deeply romantic nature hidden beneath the chill: Firth does this sort of thing better than anyone. But this time the character’s name is Stanley Crawford … At times, the movie sounds like an overwritten drawing-room comedy from eighty years ago, or like Shaw without the irony … The renowned cinematographer Darius Khondji, shooting on 35-mm. film, with old CinemaScope lenses, achieves a soft, lemon-tinted light .. the swank is held in place by Allen’s instinctive classicism: the camera that gently recedes as the actors walk toward it; the long-lasting immovable shots as people talk and talk. It’s an accomplished, stately movie—unimpassioned but pleasing.

The movie stands up to intellectual scrutiny and aesthetically is intelligent. When Firth finally figures out how the delusion is achieved, he’s not keen to return to his arid hopelessness. The film connects to It’s Wonderful Life because Allen and Firth both want to long to believe in faery and understand it is not so, but in understanding it’s not so realize something else has to be substituted: love, kindness, toleration of those who need illusions, recognizing you do have illusions of your own in other areas, need some reassurance there is some enjoyment and at least some comradeship to be hoped for.

The final problem with Allen’s new film is it lacks of sense of humor, Allen is taking himself so seriously. Now Capra in It’s a Wonderful Life does the same thing: takes the issues and American icons of family life seriously. For myself I bothered to write this because I wanted to recognize people’s serious involvement. Yet our public visions of can’t accept more than fleeting moments


To please today’s public, Allen needed more of the spirit of his 1972 New Yorker piece called “Examining Psychic Phenomena, “There is no question that there is an unseen world … The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?”  And Capra needed to let the dark side of his movie — what we are shown is the reality with no George Baileys about — come out more dominantly had he not had the Hays Code to contend with.

I neglected to mention the elderly very rich widow in Allen’s film who is paying huge sums to be made to believe she is getting in touch with her dead husband’s spirit. She is not quite made merciless fun of.

Jacki Weaver as Brice’s (Hamish Linklater) mother (he is the super-rich young man about to marry Sophie)

Other widows: George Bailey’s mother who with George having lived is presented as mostly worrying about money; without George she would have ended childless, a bleak lonely woman who takes in boarders; Sophie Baker’s career is dependent on the efforts of her widowed mother to secure clients and keep the sceptical at bay. We never learn whether Aunt Vanessa ever married.


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Macauley (Mike) Connor (Jimmy Stewart) carrying the drunken Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) back from mid-night time at pool, encountering her nearly divorced husband, CK Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and soon-to-be-husband, George Kittredge (John Howard) (Philadelphia Story, 1940)

Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) bullying into bewildered madness the anxiety-ridden Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) (Gaslight, 1944)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been watching, reading about, and contextualizing George Cukor films with other films by him, other films in the same genre over the past week and a half. I’ve read Gavin Lambert’s On Cukor: filled with remarkable stills, photos and interviews of Cukor. He was a brilliant film-maker, really an elegant controller of a camera, a man who could form an archetypal image or picture on film and build a story from this. I especially much enjoyed and laughed at, was moved by his screwball comedy-romance, Philadelphia Story,

Tracy looking at Dexter’s handmade replica of the boat they had their first loving honeymoon on

and found his psychological gothic, Gaslight, which conforms to the Bluebeard female gothic type, as subtle and grippingly worrying until near its end as Robert Wise’s later heart-terrifying Haunting (1960). No technological gadgetry or overproduction, nothing wildly theatrical, no bodily taboos broken, yet Gaslight similarly gets to the attentive viewer where he or she lives — until its last 20 minutes or so.

Scenes in quiet greys of gaslight pull the viewer in, symbolic of this haze the husband surrounds the wife with.

I assume the storylines of both are familiar to my readers (if not, see Philadelphia Story; Gaslight). So let me cut to the chase, as with Preston Sturges’s Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, far from agreeing with the book I’m reviewing that the greatness of these films partly stems from the coping with the repressive Hays code, I felt the Hays Code only codified and strengthened some of the troubling aspects of the screwball comedy, and hopelessly enfeebled the conclusion of the gothic.

Philadelphia Story resembles Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (as well as the very early screwball comedy, The Awful Truth, also with Cary Grant, but this time the errant wife is Irene Dunne). Its crucial turning point is a scene of possible sexual intercourse off screen which (as in Miracle of Morgan’s Creek) our heroine cannot remember because she was too drunk; sometimes it’s insinuated she and Connor (your brash but literate newspaper man) had full sexual intercourse by poolside, but sometimes not and at the close Connor says there are rules and limits to what a man can do with reference to her drunken state (which is supposed to imply to have had full sexual intercourse would have been a rape, as it was in case of Betty Hutton as Trudy Kockenlocker).

In Miracle of Morgan’s Creek we never learn who the man was — the erasure of a specific identity robs the function of an imagined presence so we end up feeling most decent men would never rape a drunken woman (the indecency here is felt in the cowardly man not coming forward at all; he took advantage and fled). But even if we go with Stewart’s sincerely-uttered explanation, Tracy proceeds to apologize: she apologizes to both ex-husband and husband-about-to-be, to Connor, and to her father for giving him a hard time when he was merely having a long-time affair with a Broadway dancer-star. When the father comes home for the wedding (to which Tracy did not invite him), her mother does not seem to have minded either his continued adultery or absence enough to separate herself from him. All all Tracy’s fault: she is told off by Dexter especially for her coldness, for imagining herself a goddess (and thus above all others, she should do like them), for being a spinster (this is a low blow in the film). (Trudy also apologizes to Norval, her father, and whoever else is around.)

Tracy telling her mother Margaret (Mary Nash) and sister Dinah (Virginia Weidler) they will not have her father at the wedding

It didn’t help Philadelphia Story to obscure the central incident; it would have been more effective if we could have known for sure that sexual intercourse happened with the third man or not. I don’t see that making the woman character drunk both times added to my pleasure or promoted anything meaningful for women except that the films accepted women being drunk or not just they accepted men – there was no special angry prejudice against women such as I’ve observed too often. I have discovered that not all screwball or romantic comedies of the 1940s have a heroine apologize or go through a humiliation ritual. Arguably Barbara Stanwyk in The Lady Eve (Sturges) does not; at the close of The Awful Truth Irene Dunne does not apologize, but then Cary Grant is not asked to account for his week away which we know he lied about while Irene Dunne is.

The acting of the principals in The Philadelphia Story overcomes the worst thing about all these screwball comedies done under the Hays Code: a superficiality in the relationship between men and women. By having the characters people who were once married, that endows them with an automatic depth knowledge of one another but nothing we see in most of these gives them any depth of feeling. The lack of honest sexual feeling is central to this. Grant and Hepburn give the pair real emotion by having him insult her for not having enough feeling; Grant and Stewart use the class issues between them (he is supposed lower class, though it turns out of course he really is middle) and he is made an author she reads. But the others I’ve watched, and especially the more recent of the type, Love in the Afternoon (1957) with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper never give any sense of feeling over his having a liaison and her love for him remains girlish, sentimental.

The ending of a film matters (no matter how much David Lean famously downplays that). People who want to trivialize, scoff at and use Thelma and Louise as yet another warning lesson for women, use the ending in suicide — for that’s what it is practically speaking. See what happens to women like that. (Thelma and Louise is another movie where one heroine’s experience of rape and the attempted rape of the other is hardly mentioned.) At any rate by the end of Philadelphia Story, Katherine Hepburn as Tracy is parroting all that Cary Grant as Dexter says and is now his obedient grateful wife (Taming of the Shew anyone?). Dexter monitors Tracy’s activities throughout. The relationship between the two is not much different than that between Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Cukor’s 1950s Adam’s Rib.


There are some continuities between Philadelphia Story and very recent films worth noticing: the lawyer type in all three movies (Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, The Awful Truth, and The Philadelphia Story) resembles Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad; an unscrupulous shyster who we don’t fear because when push comes to shove he’s a coward (not favorable at all). This is probably the way most Americans accept the way lawyers are shown in mass media. It’s utterly inadequate, if it was not tragic (as lawyers are so important) it’s pathetic. Tracy’s uncle ( we are supposed to laugh and find this funny) enjoys pinching Hepburn’s behind – the way the uncle did in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Philadelphia Story have a wry younger sister who speaks a few home truths; again her role reminds me of the vestigial Margaret in Austen’s S&S

It’s said that Cukor made women’s films, he was a woman director in disguise. He once made a film which had no men actors in it, The Women, and I remember it as excellent — feminist and yet with a fashion show because for women looks matter in our world. He himself disliked this label and said it was not true. I’d like to agree with him, and say while he had a number of strong-women actresses play ove and over again in his films, the strongest effectively subversive and comic presence across all the screwball comedies is Cary Grant. He could deliver a line that undercut whatever piety was going, lightly, suggestively, effectively.


Anthony John, the aging actor (Ronald Colman) and his mistress, Pat Kroll whom he kills (Shelley Winters) (A Double Life, 1947): also a film where the central character seems half-insane

Gaslight is much less a studio product. It’s is based on a play; its script is literate and fine the way Philadelphia story is. But unlike Philadelphia Story until near the end when the Hays code kicks in, it does not fit into preconceived genres in the way most of Cukor films finally do — from Little Women to Lost Horizon, the ending must be uplifting, optimistic, providential. The Double Life, a film noir re-make in modern terms of Othello featuring Ronald Colman which comes closest to Gaslight in its unnerving feel suffers very badly by its redemptive ending. (All these I’ve watched before and rewatched these past couple of weeks.) Cukor could not be the auteur in his films for most of his life: later films, especially when aspects of the story reflected Cukor’s own internal story of himself, say A Star is Born, escaped this stifling.

For Gaslight is not a horror (monster) movie, it’s not a thriller either. Cukor was evolving the modern film gothic (seen best in ghost stories turned into films): psychologically disquieting and suspenseful. Cukor manages to make you fear for the wife who is being closed in, driven, quietly slowly bullied into continual isolation and humiliation, and persuaded she is mad. The sets, the lighting, the quiet dialogues, the use of servants to thwart Paula are all discreetly done, repetitive, crowded. She is crowded out.


A young Angela Lansbury as a sexy hostile London cockney maid sides with the master and frustrates the old-world courtesy of Paula. The film does capture what a man in charge of a woman can do to her — cultures where the woman is under the control of someone.

The film’s power is then choked off. In no time at all, Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotton) who knew the Paula’s aunt and somehow works for Scotland yard (though he has an American accent) is able to track Anton in Anton’s nightly treks up to his own attic to terrify his wife, to reach the wife while Anton is in said attic, convince her, and then easily capture, tie up and take Anton away. Ingrid Bergman as Paula gets to torment Boyer as Anton for a few moments, and holds a knife to his head, but her jeering is lame and her act tame.


And as the film closes the neighborly like lady (Dame May Whitty) who comforted Ingrid on the train and while she enjoys reading about bloodthirsty people, believes all is fine with the world and police can and so solve everything, is seen coming to visit Ingrid again. Cukor’s little joke?


In talking of Gaslight, Cukor said that its style came out of its story, a near murder “in a Victorian house.” He meant to make it “claustrophobic” and stir up emotion. He again says he followed the Van Druten script and tried to erase himself. If he had been allowed to take the logic of the story of a woman made a hostage to its conclusion, how great the film would have been.


I honestly would prefer to like, to revel in these early much-praised films, but I find they grate. I watched as much as I could stand of My Man Godfrey (1936 version). I can see why William Powell stood out: he is a genuinely sardonic presence as a hobo turned into a butler for the amusement of a super-rich family who are presented (naively) as simply frivolous and naive, idle, doing nothing (including not much harm if you don’t ask how the expensive parties with their luxuriously dressed guests got there). I find I can’t take watching the supposedly elegantly mannered somewhat effete matinee idol type men and fat-cat salacious but somehow bullied older men by their fat stupid wives, with the heroines looking adoringly at the hero: I hadn’t realized how much Jean Arthur does just that, much to my surprise — from my favorite 1942 Talk of the Town to Frank Capra’s 1939 Mr Smith Goes to Washington which fits the type except for Jimmy Stewart’s agonized face now and again).

Cukor claimed that what irreparably weakened The Double Life was Colman lacked a sense of the demonic. I find the older films only reach this when they are made in Europe and left to be expressionistic of trauma and cynicism. The Hays Code clamped down on these but nowadays American films often flounder still when it comes to the gothic and are crassly melodramatic, over-produced with much bodily horror (e.g., Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Ironically (or perhaps in character) the US films which have been able to project the darker prevailing ironies and metaphysics of American culture are the gangster to modern melodramatic crime films, from James Cagney’s psychopathic killer in White Heat (unforgettable, his bullying of Virginia Mayo, and his blowing himself upk, “Top of the World, ma”) to last year’s Breaking Bad. Cukor does not seem to have made this kind of film at all. From On Cukor he seems to have been too sensitive (and oddly) too self-effacing a man.

He is said not to be identified or remembered enough because he did not develop a single style you could trace throughout his films. He couldn’t — he had too many constraints. He also wanted to contain a lot, so I chose this photo as capturing that ideal.

cukor (in 1945)


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