Archive for the ‘social criticism’ Category

The team (Elizabeth Moss, Topher Grace to the left) intensely anxious as they watch their TV journalism play out (2015 Truth, scripted, directed James Vanderbilt, out of Mapes’s memoir)

Dear friends and readers,

The climax of James Vanderbilt’s Truth (directed and scripted by him) is a conversation Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) have on a terrace in New York City. Very glamorous setting. Rather has decided to retire to protect himself; he is telling Mary she must knock under to pressure because she’s too young to give up the investigative journalist career ahead of her. Mapes had just delivered a documented story of the horrors at the Abu Graib prison tortures by Americans — and seemed to have such potential.

But Rather does not argue that. Instead he goes off on a tangent which relates to his own career. He tells Mary stories of early news shows, of how he was among the first to start up Sixty Minutes, and how Sixty Minutes showed a TV channel could make money on the news. The irony here is rich. The reason for the existence of new shows had been to satisfy the FCC demands that all “sides” have equal time. But now they could turn a profit. Redford as Rather looks intensely wry. His next words imply what happened was the profit motive took over other news-shows, so they all now are the product of their advertiser’s advertisements galore and exist in a universe where other news-shows have become forms of entertainment and no serious investigative reporting is done. It’s not wanted.

This movie is not getting the attention it should get nor the positive reviews for its content. It has flaws, but they are of the artistic kind (too much melodrama, too much hype), but it’s retelling of the story puts the emphasis on the right place: the rot in news shows themselves. At its center is a courageous woman.

Truth is about the rot within that we see the full results of in 2015 on not only Fox and CNN but new shows that are still respectable. We see how one reason Mary Mapes rushed her story was it was necessary to keep the ratings of Sixty Minutes high. We see how her high-powered pressuring methods were a product of this system and worked successfully within it as long as she didn’t expose the wrong group of people. It indicts the news-papers that repeated the ploy and method of the Bush administration at the time to attack the story that would have exposed Bush’s lack of any military experience just as Kerry was smeared by distorted stories of his experience of the realities of actual military life.

Thus the strongly qualified praise meted out to exploration of what investigative journalism via a TV medium has become, which is what Vanderbilt’s film, Truth, tries to dramatize unbiasedly, is disquieting. The New York Times appears to want to uphold the establishment’s judgement that these reporters at a minimum exercised bad judgement (she is “not exonerated” — from what, pray tell?), and suggests the movie is a detective story as propaganda out of political bias. In the film Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) avers that for her she was bringing out the truth, but it undermines her too: for ambition; as family bread-winner. Read also Roger Ebert’s Brian Tallerico half-dismissal; Tim Robery in the Telegraph (the actors focused on); Peter Travers strange short Rolling Stone review. David Edelstein for the Vulture at lease explains the situation, what is said to have happened, and the result : not Bush exposed, but Rather’s departure from CBS and Mary Mapes unable to work in journalism for a long time afterward — recalling Nina Tottenberg who was fired after in the 1980s she bravely exposed lies about marijuana.

I recommend seeing it though I have mixed feelings about the film. The continual hectic pace and hyped-up melodrama is at times over the top (not that TV producers don’t need to make a deadline), the message speech (true enough) shouted by Mike Smith, about to be dismissed to homelessness once again (Topher Grace as Mary’s aide), that Viacom profits are protected here is intended as deep background. But it does come across as hysteria, and the dialectic gives the man firing Mike the opportunity to call him a fool for thinking all the people in the office are evil. Mike was not saying that.

The film was also marred by its closing scenes, which included an insistent upbeat presentation of Redford as Dan Rather walking away surrounded by admiring loving compassionate faces. Those who fired Mary and were working to push Dan out, were represented as remorseful (!), and as having acted only because they had to, as nearly (the film makers did draw back) overcome with guilt because they feel for their ex-friends and associates. Right. As with a protest novel, a protest film needs at a minimum to reach the wider audience and such sentimentality is one crowd-pleaser.

I was moved at its penultimate scenes. The performances were very good: Stacey Keach as the opaque whistleblower Bill Burkett and Noni Hazlehurst as his wife.


Hazlehurst lights into Mapes for pretending to care about her husband’s health with the implication they have used and are now discarding him for no good reason. Some watching the film may come away believing her perspective, holding to it.

In the film’s scenes nuances get nowhere. Still I can be manipulated. I was touched as the film-maker intended me to be when Mary leaned on her husband (Conor Burke), and agreed to go out for walk with him now: she’ll have plenty of time to recuperate. Vanderbilt and Mapes (as it’s her book) are presenting material much less socially acceptable than the coming film (I want to see badly) Suffragette. Who is against the rights of women to fight wars? A general political witch-hunt has been dramatized too in the story of Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston, no less) “coming soon.”

Perhaps Mapes’s caustic memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power does suggest that she became an aggressive reporter after facts and documents because her father had physically abused her, and she was standing up to him. That she worshipped Rather as a father substitute in the form of a mentor.
Real Mary Mapes — as I looked at the photo I remembered this moment of distress, harassment, shock, sheer tiredness registered on her face

The film needed to provide a usable past for understanding the new shows’ behavior towards their journalists, and the scapegoating (witch-hunt) of these journalists as their framework. It did come close. It’s not a propaganda but a political film and the reason it may not fully convince is its melodramatic mode, not its content.

Redford, Vanderbilt and Keach on set — Redford has done strong political films in his life

The full context of 2004 was the Iraq war, its falseness, and we do see in the film Tony Blair saying how much he wants peace (two weeks ago we read his memorandum to Bush a year before the war that Blair would support attacking Iraq), early footage from the Iraq war. The film could have emphasized this context more as when I watched it this afternoon in November 2015 I couldn’t forget the refugee crisis in Europe, the massacres in Syria, the raw violence of Afghanistan, ISIS; the Bush presidency as another step in the direction of chaos in the colonized lands, and the impoverishment blight engineered across Europe and the western hemisphere. Its topic was spot on: the origin and develpoment of “news” shows like Fox (liars), CNN & MSNBC (compromised), which are influential.

This image is seen in the movie — it was shown by Mapes as the photo of one of the people tortured at Abu Graib, a human being suffering horribly standing as he is humiliated, de-humanized and then laughed at by that outfit


For me the worst thing about the film had nothing to do with its news and war politics or art: it is Cate Blanchett’s new rubbery mask-face, which her inner experience of intense drama managed to project through:

Also Mary at worship of Dan

Poor woman (I mean Blanchett), she’s had some kind of cosmetic surgery or face-lift or used some kind of wax on her face: her face can’t do subtlety any more the way it could. In this film’s scenes nuances get nowhere anyway, but she might want to do great stage plays again. I also felt her American accent as disconcerting because together with the new false flesh mask fitted around what used to be the old facial structure, the actress I’m familiar with him seemed hidden away. Surely she did not have to do this to keep getting good roles.

Cate Blanchett when she still had her real face: 2013, Blue Jasmine


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19th century illustration: Mudie’s Circulating Library

Dear friends and readers,

A full week has gone by since I posted my first report on the recent Trollope Conference held in Leuven, Belgium, at the Irish college. I covered somewhat less than half the papers given on Thursday, 17 September. As in my last report, I am giving the just gist of what was said in the talk itself. I will bring together what was said afterward the talks in a final general summary plus give some sense of what the general experience was like outside the sessions. I now conclude that first day of session; we are in mid-afternoon.

Panel 3: Psychological/Epistemological Trollope (cont’d). Robert Polhemus spoke last and on “Trollope’s Picturesque Chroniclette and John Millais’s Portrait of Sophie [Grey]” Artists as Young Swains.”

Millais’s portrait of Sophie Grey, Millais’s wife Effie’s sister

Prof Polhemus covered one of the subplots of Last Chronicle of Barset; the story of the nandsome Conway Dalrymple, a stand-in for a Pre-Raphaelite painter, and the beautiful Clara Van Siever, who is in love with him and whom Dalrymple paints in a tableau as Sisera: among others Artemisia Gentileschi painted as a dramatic vignette of Jael, a married woman driving a nail into the head of a warlord, Sisera. He had fled the successful Israelite armies of Barak and Deborah and thought found refuge in the tent of her tent. She was seen as a type of treacherous women because she did not inform her husband of what she intended to do; in Gentileschi we see a feminist reading of her as anticipating Judith, as someone killing a warlord to save her own people.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) Jael and Sisera

Prof Polhemus placed this pictorial allusion in the context of the story in the novel where Clara is seeking liberty from a tyrant mother to marry Dalrymple, an artist whom her mother disapproves of, and whom Clara is in love with, and to Millais’s portrait of his wife’s sister presented as a deeply sensuous woman looking for a sexually fulfilled life. Millais had himself married Effie after she freed herself from the control of her first husband, Ruskin (previously a good friend to Millais) whom she claimed was impotent. Prof Polhemus found in this story as seen through these two paintings “an explosion of femininity:” although the novel’s painting is destroyed

G. W. Thomas’s vignette for the chapter

the process of painting brings Clara and Dalrymple together and enables her to enact her desire. In this parable we find Trollope transcending the usual stereotypes to defend hedonistic art. Trollope and Millais were close friends, and Trollope wrote in Orley Farm that Millais’s illustrations enabled Trollope to understand his art and characters better.

A generic image of a 19th century printing press

Panel 4: Technoscience Trollope. Richard Menke chaired and his paper, “Trollope, Mimesis, and Media Archeaology,” began with Trollope’s relationship (what he did) to the literal printing aspects of his books. He then turned to the how at the close of John Caldigate, a postal clerk, Samuel Bagwax, using the impression of a postal stamp proves that Eugenia Smith perjured herself in her testimony on the stand when she said that she had sent a letter to John Caldigate on a certain date as his wife. Trollope understand the importance of the physical book as well as metadata. Jay Clayton discussed how the technological apparatuses or incremental improvements to obtain any kind of Utopia in The Fixed Period were satirized. The novella testifies to a dream of liberty through geography, through being far away from the center of power. Mr Clayton moved to how characters in other novels, specifically Adolphus Crosbie The Small House of Allington, attempts to use technology’s ability to help him manipulate time to his advantage. But what matters for people remains love, life itself, fear of death, aging.

A Phiz illustration for Can You Forgive Her?

Tamara Ketabgian’s talk on “Sport, Technique and Late Trollope,” brought together Trollope’s drive to fox-hunt with the way cricket is presented in The Fixed Period. Both are (she said) strategic games, but hunting is not susceptible to systematizing and highly competitive play the way cricket is. Cricket links people across countries, but fox-hunting is local (it’s debatable whether it unites different classes of people as Trollope claimed). Susan Ziegler’s paper was on Trollope’s logistical subjects: she talked of how Trollope uses the ways a letter in the novels moves from place to place; how difficult it is for an intimate act in a letter to bypass or overcome impersonal systems in which commodities move. We experience Mary Thorne’s deep pain when her letter is not answered quickly; how Trollope shows us characters dwelling over when they should send a letter; the delight someone may feel in writing one, but the novels show how the logistics of our everyday life trumps our desires and takes over.

The two Trollope graves in Bruges

Panel 5: Printed Trollope. David Skilton chaired this panel and how many people read and quote from Trollope’s An Autobiography, but often neglect to pay close attention to Trollope’s words. Prof Skilton suggested the book is about how Trollope came to choose his profession and his successes and failures as a professional writer. He looks to see how critics and readers reacted to his books); it’s filled with professional advice. Marysa Demoor’s talk was for me revelatory as I had not considered the effect on Trollope of his time in Bruges: she asked where did Trollope’s sense of his identity come from, and answered that for Anthony Trollope this may have been Bruges where the family fled to escape the father’s creditors, and where his brother and father died and are buried, and his mother took up seriously and continuously a money-making career as a novelist. She became Trollope’s model and introduced him to a publisher. It was after this when they returned to England (and Julians Hill) that their destinies began to form. She understood how important Ireland was, but felt we were underestimating the effect of this early first experience for Anthony outside England. The Noble Jilt, the first attempt at Alice Vavasour’s story is set in Bruges. The sad story of the family’s desperate experiences in Bruges are not retold in the novels but the effect lingered in his mind. She remarked the Trollope Society has spent money improving the gravesites at the chateau (still standing). She also mentioned Trollope’s trips to Jerusalem and many autobiographical connections of The Bertrams to Trollope.

End papers of Simon Grennan’s Dispossession: a graphic novel adaptation of John Caldigate

The day ended with Simon Grennan’s talk about his book, with a little help from Skilton (who chimed in as someone who had been on the committee to commission the book and participated in some of the shaping decisions). The team chose this novel as a less familiar one, one never adapted before. They cut the post office sections of the novel as they felt a graphic novel could not make these appealing Grennan decided he would try for pictures that projected what he thought were the aesthetic emphases of the novel. He wanted to visual equivocation, to keep readers and viewers at a distance from the characters in the way Trollope does: there would be no close-ups and even few middle distance shots and the point of view would be of a camera low-down. He was seeking a rhythmic roundtable of points of view; all the costumes reflect the way 19th century people of that decade dressed, the kinds of rooms they lived in. He did not want to use styles associated with classic comic; he wanted to capture this previous time as something strange. He developed a story of aborigines, practiced historical verisimilitude.

Pages from a graphic novel 'Dispossession' by Simon Grennan. Based on John Caldigate by Anthony Trollope

Pages from a graphic novel ‘Dispossession’ by Simon Grennan.
Based on John Caldigate by Anthony Trollope

Grennan later told me he dressed Mrs Smith so she would have been recognizable in the era as a “Dolly Varden:” she is a character in Barnaby Rudge whose coy highly-sexualized self-presentation (Dickens just salivates over her) was taken up by music hall performers — after all Mrs Smith has been and returns to the stage (though the reader never see her do this). (I admit I prefer to imagine Mrs Smith in her more somber outfits as a mature woman who confronts life and men frankly as their equal.) Simon chose dark deep rich colors (purples and browns) whereever appropriate, and reserved yellows and golden browns and greens for suggesting seasons and landscapes. There is an French edition if anyone is interested, but be warned there are very few words.

Thackeray’s self-image at the close of Vanity Fair: Trollope much admired his novels and liked the man very much

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Anthony Trollope as painted by Samuel Lawrence

Dear Friends and readers,

As I’ve written about too often on this blog, a conference on the occasion of Trollope’s 200th birthday was held in Leuven, Belgium from 17-19 September 2015. There was no keynote speech, and only one panel at a time presented papers. It was all held in one place: a large chapel auditorium in the Irish college. If you had the stamina you could hear every paper and get to know the people there, many of whom were among the most knowledgeable people on Trollope anywhere. One result was you could get a sense of overall trends and what was dominant in these people’s thinking. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered one trend or prevailing attitude of mind towards Trollope’s art was not about his politics, nor was it that he was ironic, satiric (comic); rather those speaking emphasized how artful his texts are, how much autobiographical or life-writing is in them, and that his art is plangent, deeply felt, emotionally earnest, serious. Izzy (my daughter came with me) and I were not able to stay a fourth night so I could not make a record for the panels and papers occurring after 10 in the morning on Saturday, but I have a record of the gist of each paper that was delivered until that time. I offer brief summaries (these omit many details) and begin with Thursday morning.

Robert Macbeth Walker, A Rainy Day

Panel 1: Ordinary Trollope. Kate Flint chaired and gave the first paper: “Shoddy Trollope.” She suggested that Trollope in his most ordinary moments cared deeply about the workmanship of his stories, of his art, and he wanted to offer the best novel “product” he could, e.g., the clearest style (containing all the meaning he could project). Thus his work contrasted to what was seen as “shoddy” (her paper dwelt on this) by which Victorians meant cheap ill-made goods, raw poor materials, especially about cloth; Carlyle wrote an article condemning all selling of inferior, filthy, dust-laden junk-cloth; Trollope uses the word more neutrally (as do Gaskell and Eliot). Francis O’Gorman took as her topic how critics continue to praise Trollope’s depiction of capitalism in The Way We Live Now when Trollope’s portrayal of the banking business is superficial and misleading. The critics of the Times and Examiner liked the novel but said that Trollope did not know the way the financial world worked from within. By the the time of the novel there were enforced laws demanding minimum disclosure as Parliament tried to control and stamp out fraud. Melmotte in reality could not begin to cheat everyone the way he does. Claire Pettit’s “Inbetween Times” was about Trollope’s interest in psychological chronology; in TWWLN social public time is carefully plotted; a lot of things happen at the same time so Trollope develops a kind of holding pattern where he drops one story and then picks up another, leaving the first to wait. She used terms like fast forward and switch-back (rewind, anyone?) but this kind of thing is found in other older fiction too.

Walter Greaves, Chelsea Regatta (1871)

Panel 2: Political Trollope. Robert Aguirre suggested that The West Indies and the Spanish Main is a racist atavistic book whose route and business enabled Trollope to do some good: he worked to increase the speed with which letters reached people, their reach, to create long communication networks (these are crucial for empire building). Railway stations made non-places become places. Tax per letter would be replaced by tax per annum; an adhesive postage stamp would be used. In 1858 Trollope went to Suez similarly to forge agreements for mail delivery (to Australia). He was overcoming the “forces” of immobility; answering a genuine hunger in people living at great distances for intimacy. At the same time it’s just such self-communings (He had “realized”) that makes the characters come alive .Helen Small’s “Trollope at the Hustings” was about Trollope’s campaign at Beverley and its results. While Beverley was not far from his home, he knew nothing about the place as a community, which reacted with indignation as he was an outsider coming in. She contrasted politicking to hunting (which she called socially inclusive). Trollope knew he was being used, that he would not win, that Henry Edwards, the wealthy Tory, an entrepreneur was a local favorite, says his political views remained the same over his life, and yet he was bitter at the loss. Ms Small suggested that Mr Bonteen is Trollope’s portrait of a modern politician.

Lauren Goodlad chaired; her paper, “Trollopian Politics” was intended to show that the more we abandon “traditional liberalism,” the more coherent and less reactionary Trollope’s political stances become. There is a bleak political pessimism in TWWLN, Phineas Redux, Prime Minister. Commercial activities make for progress, comfort, and time (historical) alertness. Trollope kept his views on specific issues (e.g., Governor Eyre) to himself and affirms political dialectic. She covered various real politicians in the books (Turnbull, John Stuart Mill, Disraeli) with Monk representing an ideal. In 1874 the radicals were stunned by this loss. Money is altering everything. As to gender, in Barchester Towers, the Stanhopes are exceptional figures, but in this and CYFH? the men are impecunious and weak, and the women strong and rich and sought out by the men for support.

We all adjourned for lunch.

John Everett Millais, An Excluded Woman (from Irish Melodies)

Panel 3: Psychological/epistemological Trollope. Jenny Bourne Taylor chaired and she introduced the papers by quoting Amanda Anderson’s essay on depth psychology in Trollope, and talked of his interest in how we know what we know. He was one of the founding group of The Fortnightly Review where he worked with G. H. Lewes. Patrick Fassenbecker’s talk was about how Trollope characters slowly learn to shape their fates by teaching themselves to do or think this or that; we witness them overcoming earlier instincts and exerting self-control. Sometimes the characters refuse to accept beliefs that are not supported by evidence (or that are). Bad consequences ensue. The characters have a duty to be honest with themselves, and are aware others can deceive them. So we watch a form of character management. You have to learn not to let your preference for something shape your over-all view. Sophie Gilmartin’s “Trollope on the Face of It” was a discussion of Trollope’s use of language, the surface style which flows, is filled with direct and free indirect speech, narration, description; how he builds subjective sensory images which subjectivities and character’s body actions and feelings and thoughts inhabit and swirl around. The reader pauses when the data of the utterance exceeds what the scene needs, and visualization and poetic apprehension envelop the reader. She felt Trollope hardly considers how painful his scenes can become, though he is aware how he suggests what is beyond the edge of consciousness for his characters. Her examples included Alice Vavasour’s green room, her trip with Kate and George down the Rhine, Marie Melmotte’s painful subterfuges and sudden direct demands.

It was then time for coffee and in the later afternoon so I’ll stop here. Next blog report will include Robert Polhemus’s paper which took Panel 3’s general topic in a different direction and the rest of the day’s panels.

VictorianCats (Small)

Susan Herbert, Victorian Cats


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Trollope and the other “mastiffs” (the people on the ship taking a tour to Iceland’s geysers) — by Mrs H. Blackburn

It was now about ten o’clock and it was of course broad daylight — Trollope at Reykjavik

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight Trollope’s last travel book, How the Mastiffs Went to Iceland (privately printed, 1878; available good edition by Arno Press, introd. Coral Lansbury), and a terrain aka library of books for exploring the political novel, a subject dear to the heart of those who read Trollope. The Mastiffs are not dogs. I thought that there were dogs aboard. No, this is his comical name for the people in the group. There was a faux naive (half-apologetic) query on Victoria (Patrick Leary’s listserv) on, did people think there was a political novel, the problem of defining it into existence which morphed into citations of novels and lists of secondary books/essays.

It’s not often I get to read a new Trollope text, one I’ve not read before — not that I’ve read them all. Two days ago I thought to myself while working on my paper centering on colonialism in Trollope I ought to read this one. So I played hookey for three hours. And how enjoyable it is — this little book is just filled with a deep sense of enjoyment and camaraderie.

Holding hands ritual

There was an amateur woman artist, Mrs H. Blackburn, aboard and her drawings are part of the pleasure: in most she is sure to include a figure readily identified as Trollope — with a beard, glasses, tall, looking intransigent. There are also two photographs in which he is included. Alas I own a xerox of the Arno Press edition — I am not sure there is a Trollope Society edition — and my xeroxes of these photos came out dark so I share but one which I attempted to brighten — and a few of the drawings. If you click on it, it enlarges and you will make out Trollope leaning over on a heavy large horse, clearly intently listening to or watching something.

What is hard to capture is conveyed in Trollope’s poised tone of his prose, the slightly arch quality of his involvement; how he is half-pretending to join in, I sense a feel of a spirit entering into “the fun,” and yet keeping itself apart, distanced to evoke what he notices. This double-sort of spirit enables him to pull off sense of a magical time, that the people because this was a time apart, out of the norm, entered into some kind of special compact of mood for a time, which comfort dissolved when they returned on shore again (lest anyone try to continue what had been vouchsafed precisely because it was contained within the moment and put no liens on the future or past).

The trip proper began in the Scottish Hebrides, took its way through islands leading up to Iceland, then how they reached the famous geysers and returned.

Map of trip

The start: Castle Wemyss

Trollope tells of individuals on the ship, especially from the angle of their social roles (a la Chaucer then) and conveys as sense of the group as a whole, and then interacting with the people in the places they stop at, how life is lived in these different places, the places themselves, their landing, stay at Iceland’s capital city and slow ride to the Geysers. Trollope invents funny role names for each of the people, so this captain was their Providence (carried food and tea for them as they rode); another person, parliamentary man off duty, their Ancient Mariner; another friend, Our Australian Authority. He is “Our Chronicler.” He seems in unusually high spirits. He finds daylight at ten o’clock a marvel and how one has no desire to go to sleep until exhaustion suddenly hits.

He opens with a practical and specific description of their ship; early politics included Trollope standing up for a man’s right to smoke apart from women with other men (and having space given over to them for this habit)


At the same time he is ever earnest and probably if they ever saw it, would have dismayed the first set of indigenous or emigrant islanders who the Mastiffs visited. At St Kilda he says of the people ought not to live there; it’s freezing, it depends on the charity of a very rich lord, they are endlessly vulnerable and in need, cut off from most other people. It’s not wise. He is no believer in Robinson Crusoe’s comforts. He inveighs against the small salary the pastor gets.


As he goes from place to place he is the earnest anthropologist and sociologist, to say nothing of his mapping and geographical, geological descriptions. He finds (mysteriously if you took his political theses seriously) there has been much improvement in their lifestyle. Clean houses, warmed for winter. He meets Scots middling people. The Faroe islands, Thorshavn,


its dependent relationship to Denmark, the post office is looked into. Since there is no night, he, Mr Trollope, continues his investigations until his body cannot hold out against sleep. He tells of the stories the Faroe Islanders invent about how they never sleep in summer. We get a careful presentation of the people’s cattle, farms, mines, water and light, salaries, the illness of the miners, where everyone gets his or her money from. The Mastiffs interact with the people there and (he feels) gets to know more about these islands than any of the patrons wanted us to know. Everyone but has her agenda.

I’ve seen Reykjavik from an airport terminal several times now and long to see Iceland outside those glass doors and walls. We learn about farming, cattle, socializing, birds in Iceland: Trollope is quietly poignant at how man’s practicalities break the heart of the mother bird he exploits:

The proprietor … took us out to show us his birds. One we found seated on her nest, made of her own feathers. The maternal victim plucks the down from her breast and makes her intended nursery. Then the down is taken away, and she does it again. A second time the robbery is committed, and she makes a third nest. Beyond that she will not go. If pillaged she abandons her intentions in despair. The third nest is therefore left, and the young birds are reared. But when she has taken out her young ones, there is a third crop to be garnered, as good as ever

Long sermons, bowing to royalty who have come to be bowed at. The festivities in the mastiff’s honor. But also how the people do what they can to make the largest profit they can at each turn of the trip and place they go to. Trollope is sluiced now and again for small items. The city itself. Then the trek away and to the geysers begins:

Rest period

How the backpacks are overfilled, the servants and others over-dressed, with far too much luggage than they need. Including himself who needs more than a weak pony.

The same rocks and faultline as today

There is a round funnel about eight feet broad, descending, as far as the eye can judge, into the very bowels of the earth; up this the boiling water is emitted. There is always a supply coming, for a certain amount of hot water is always running out on the two opposite sides of the pool. Here the” Mastiffs” amused themselves by dabbling with naked feet, scalding their toes when they were too near the pool, warming them comfortably at an increased distance. Excavations suitable for bathers there are none, — as there are so delightfully formed and so deliciously filled at the Geysers in New Zealand. At a little distance, in a ravine, there was a hole in which some of us endeavoured to sit and wash ourselves. Occasionally, perhaps once in every four hours, a large and violent supply of hot water is thrown up the funnel of the Great Geyser which has the effect of disturbing the basin and ejecting the hot water from it rapidly. This occurs with a noise, and is the indication given of a real eruption, when a real eruption is about to take place; but the indication too frequently comes without the eruption. This, when it does take place, consists of a fountain of boiling water thrown to the height of sixty, eighty, some have said 200 feet. During the twenty-four hours that we remained at the place there was no such eruption, — no fountain, although the noise was made and the basin was emptied four or five times.

About a furlong off from Geyser Primus, which is called the Great Geyser, is Geyser Secundus, to which has been given the name of Strokr, — or Stroker, as I may perhaps write it. Stroker is an ugly ill-conditioned, but still obedient Geyser. It has no basin of boiling water, but simply a funnel such as the other, about seven feet in diameter, at the edge of which the traveller can stand and look down into a cauldron boiling below. It is a muddy filthy cauldron, whereas the waters of the Great Geyser are pellucid and blue. This lesser Geyser will make eruptions when duly provoked by the supply of a certain amount of aliment. The custom is to drag to its edge about a cart load of turf and dirt, and then to shove it all in at one dose. Whether Stroker likes or dislikes the process of feeding is left In doubt. He bubbles about furiously with the food down. In his gullet for half an hour, and then rejects it all passionately, throwing the half-digested morsels sixty feet into the air with copious torrents of boiling muddy water.

These are the two Great Geysers. Around are an infinite number of small hot springs, so frequent, and many of them so small, that it would be easy for an incautious stranger to step into them. All the ground sounds under one’s feet, seeming to be honey-combed and hollow, so that a heavy foot might not improbably go through. Some of these little springs are as clear as crystal. In some the appearance is of thick red chocolate, where red earth has been drawn into the vortex of the water. Sometimes there is a little springing fountain, rising a few inches or a foot. Had there been no other Geysers, no other little lakes of boiling water known in the world, those in Iceland would be very wonderful. When they were first visited and described such was perhaps the case. Since that the Geysers in New Zealand have become known; and now the Icelandic Geysers, — if a “Mastiff” may be allowed to use a slang phrase, — are only second-class Geysers.

What time we went to bed I do not remember. As we intended to remain at the Geysers all the next day, waiting for eruptions if they would come, and then to start on our back journey in the evening, we were not very particular as to hours. At some early morning hour, when we were in bed, J. B. arrived, having been riding all the night, and riding all the night in the rain. In Iceland they say it generally rains when it does not snow. This night’s bad weather was all that we had. What we should have done, had it been wet, with our tents, or,
worse again, sometimes without our tents, with ladies wet through, with everything foul, draggled, and dirty, no “Mastiff” can guess. Luckily not a drop fell except during those early morning hours through which poor J.B. was on his solitary ride.

On the next day there was more dabbling among the hot springs, and the ladies essayed to wash their stockings and handkerchiefs .. (pp. 39-40)


On the way back amid the joking (they sleep in a church one night, the ladies in the aisles, the gentleman near the alter), he returns to talking about the social burdens they see, their own bedraggled state. Also more strange and picturesque places eloquently caught in words — Trollope’s visual powers are rarely done justice to.

It was again in the evening that we stared on our last day’s ride, and I own I left Thingvalla with soft regrets, as I told myself that i should never again see that interesting spot. Thrice I had bathed in its rivers, and had roamed about it till I seemed to know all its nooks. It is a place full of nocks, because of those wonderful rifts, — and full of greenness. I had not cared much for the Geysers [!], but Thingvalla and the Bruara [see first drawing at head of blog] had been very charming to me. It was strange to me that there should be a place in Iceland so beautiful and so soft as Thingvalla with its lake.

One photo:

You can make Trollope out, to the right of the middle, a heavy white horse, heavy over which Trollope’s heavy body leans, as he listens to and watches something intently. There’s his top hat. (Click to enlarge.)

The return to Wemyss Bay, with some last statistics, political observations on current events caught up with, their speed. The sadness of parting, and how quickly it happened, “each hurrying away to his or her home,” and a few last ironic comical depictions of behavior of fish, men and birds. He congratulates their Photographer (George Burns, a naturalist) who would wake “at five minutes’ notice” to take a photograph of them.

a little eating of cream and strawberries at castle Wemyss, a little attempt at ordinary shorte courtesies, a returning as it wee to the dull ways of life on shore. But we all felt this was to be done painfully, each by himself in solitude …


Disraeli and Gladstone, “Rival Stars,” Punch 14 March 1868 — by Tenniel (from cover of Harvie’s book)

It feels almost inappropriate to add this dry list of books intended to shed light on this magical realm, but I was prompted to cite them on the Victoria listserv this morning when someone asked if there is a thing as a political novel (!) because he was wanting books to help him on Eliot’s Felix Holt. I have been reading about and works by Trollope for months now, beyond Barsetshire, Barsetshire and now, colonialist and travel writing. I wrote:

Yes there are novels where the focus is on overt politics in say parliament and elections as well seeing experience from a political angle — however varied your emphasis or definition may be. And there are a number of books (studies older and more recent) which gather such books together as a group and show how reading them as political novels illuminates them. Among the more famous are Irving Howe’s Politics and the Novel, an older one by Munro Speare, The Political Novel, Michael Wilding’s Political Fictions. All of these mention Trollope (Speare at length); it’s telling the same novels are studied or authors again and again.

Two recent perceptive books enjoyable to read:

Christopher Harvie’s The Centre of Things: Political Fictions in Britain from Disraeli to the Present. Despite Disraeli’s name in the subtitle, Harvie sees Trollope’s books as central and transformative in the “mid-Victorian political novel.” He doesn’t stay just with the obvious Pallisers, but discusses Macdermots of Ballycloran and lesser known books. There is a longish discussion of George Eliot and Felix Holt is the book featured. A longish section just on Meredith’s Beauchamp’s Career.

Harriet Martineau – not included in Harman’s book as she wrote political books as travel writing (though Deerbrook may be considered medical politics whose hero is a doctor)

Barbara Leah Harman’s The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England: while Eliot may be included in books which still study mostly books by men, this one illuminates women’s ways of writing political novels and what you find there. Harman includes Gaskell North and South (there is also Sylvia’s Lovers, a historical novel), Bronte’s Shirley and suffragette novels, viz. Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert. These last blend with “new woman” novels.

Some of the studies of historical novels of the Victorian period cross over to politics because the historical novel of the era was often seriously political (this goes back to Lukacs’s book on the historical novel out of Scott, an older Marxist study). So going for studies of the historical novel turns up interesting discussions on political novels; our own era, the mid- [the Poldarks and Paul Scott’s books fit here] to later 20th century shows a return to using history for political perspectives instead of the women’s romances or a boys’ adventure stories they devolved into at the beginning of the 20th century: A Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction, ed James F. English, has a good essay on this very late 20th century return to history as politics, especially post-colonial by Suzanne Keen (“The Historical Turn”). Film studies of historical costume drama take this into account too, from contemporary war (Danger UXB to medieval serials: see several essays in Leggott and Taddeo’s collection, Upstairs and Downstairs.


Stills from 2011 Upstairs Downstairs where Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson), the chauffeur and Lady Percy (Claire Foy) join the black shirts, and a refugee Jewish maid has a heart attack, leaving her daughter a homeless orphan to the care of Amanjit Singh, another displaced person, the Indian servant of Lady Maud (Art Malik)

Last night re-watching the newer Upstairs Downstairs, the second episode where the upstairs family is getting involved with Nazis in gov’t, and the lower stairs family has a Jewish refugee fled from Germany (who dies), her child, the chauffeur joining the street bands of Nazi thugs is all about politics in the way a woman presents this (Heidi Thomas) and fits into both Harman’s and Leggott and Taddeo’s studies. Stevenson’s The Real History of Tom Jones finds richness in Tom Jones by pulling in and putting in all the political doings of the day which are in the novel. All political texts.

On Trollope19thCStudies we have been reading Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian, a historical-political Italian book (cross between Hugo, Tolstoy, Scott and Italian traditions) teaching much about Italy and the rigorismento in the first half of the 19th century (continuing to today). Trollope knew a lot about this world (see “The Last Austrian who left Venice”) from visits to his brother and mother and his own incessant reading and consuming interest in politics and history.

“like all good Trollopians, we secretly believe that Trollope did not write enough. Even after 47 novels, the short stories, the journalism and travel books, there is the lurking wish that somewhere there is another novel, another instance of that sane voice speaking to a less than rational world — Cora Lansbury.

When I was young and just started on Trollope I was so glad there were so many novels, I didn’t know there was enough to last a lifetime.


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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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Mary, Lady Mason deep in thought (Orley Farm): “There was less of beauty, less of charm, less of softness; but in spite of all that she had gone through there was more of strength, — more of the power to resist all that this world could do to her.”

Crosbie encounters Mr Harding and listens to him (vignette in Small House at Allington)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been re-immersed in Trollope’s fiction and reading contemporary writing about him these past couple of years, and this term I re-read Phineas Finn for an umpteenth time. As people say of great writers, this time through I discovered elements, patterns, thematic apprehensions in Trollope’s Phineas Finn I hadn’t noticed before, or hadn’t connected up to the rest of his fiction.

There is a real problem in Phineas Finn, one which needs explanation, a feature at its close which doesn’t make quite enough sense in terms of all that has happened before. In Chapters 55-56 of a 76 chapter book Phineas does a reverse turn-around. Phineas suddenly buys into as a firm adherent Irish tenant rights, declares he must give up his official position as a salaried employee since he disagrees with the gov’t, and pleads with Mary Flood Jones to marry him. The last proposal (marrying Mary) might be called a driving in the nail on the coffin of a career he has worked so hard and cost such money to sustain over hundreds of pages.

How to account for Phineas’s withdrawal? It’s just not the same as say Mr Harding’s and Lily Dale’s which have been prepared for all their novels long. Mr Harding has grown sick with distress at finding himself castigated in public for taking such a huge sum for the little effort it takes him to live with 12 paupers while they get a pittance (partly the product of a couple of hundred years of inflation and partly the church making sure its one members get well paid). Lily Dale has been humiliated by Adolphus Crosbie, and like the “Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne,” if she accepts him now on his terms, he will treat her with disrespect, painfully; she has discovered Johnny unable to be faithful and a boy-man she cannot rely on. It’s not the same as Lady Mason as all her novel long she has been fighting to win a case where she forged a document to win her son a property and the wherewithal to act the part of gentleman with; Mary Lady Mason is pronounced not guilty but has been so publicly shamed (and knows she is guilty) she is exclude herself from social life.

Trollope sees his difficulty: he has made Phineas into someone after the main chance continually, in politics, in love life (he chases four women over the course of PF), everywhere, and with obtusely seen motivation: it’s one of the irritants of the novel we are told so little about Irish Tenant Rights and then in so derisory a tone, you’d think Trollope was against it. Phineas hardly discusses it; Monk gives us its signficance while deprecating its possibility. So what is Phineas’s conscience burning about? it will be said from Chapter 1 on Phineas mentioned his conscience, and this mention disgusted Barrington Erle but Phineas never acted on it, to the point of duelling with Chiltern.

Therefore Trollope in the concluding chapters of his book produces a plethora of explanations. If this were an academic paper, I’d now proceed to describe and quote from scenes and analyse words but I’ll spare everyone and keep this blog reasonably sized and just cite the inferences from scene after scene starting with “What the people of Marlebone thought about it:” Phineas discovers these people, voters don’t give a damn about an issue enough to understand it for real, and if you ask them their opinion on an issue they spout ill-informed egotistic nonsense (about Canada). Phineas feels deeply suddenly he has been phony through and though (in an agon in front of Lady Laura — which makes him look bad before his own eyes). Suddenly he feels and sees his insecurity (Lord Brentford shows him this, and then the boroughs are eliminated). He is acutely aware he has no money and is draining his father. When he works at his job which he shows a real propensity for (not oration alone, but really trying to set up railways say), then there’s his delight in debate and how he enjoys arguing for what he believes (alas again we are not told these beliefs); more deeply we feel an impulse in him to self-destruct. This recalls Josiah Crawley but the problem again is Crawley regularly sabotages himself, Phineas does not.

At the close Millais’s portrait of Phineas accepting the derisory and ironic job (you care about Irish tenants, all right then, be a poor house inspector)

“‘Oh Phineas; surely a thousand a-year will be very nice'”, Phineas Finn

resembles George Housman’s depicton of Josiah Crawley and his wife poring over Archdeacon Grantley’s humilitating way offering a needed position to Crawley

Psychiatrists say rightly in this instance when a person starts to invent reasons for what he wants to do, and comes up with many, they are rationalizations for something deeper. Phineas doth protest too much.

Raven saw this problem and made Mary pregnant; thus Phineas’s withdrawal does not need to be explained. He must not leave Mary to be publicly shamed (along with himself in Ireland). Did anyone ever read a more painful scene than Chapter 72 where Madame max repeatedly offers herself to Phineas – It’s an extraordinary chapter, 72, p 311 in my book, second volume, where Madame Max hinting continually she is on offer (she is not gauche like Mr Kennedy but ends up doing the same sort of thing) and having to move step-by-step to offer herself. Phineas longs to reach out for this woman who understands, who would give him the right setting, be all adoration and not get in the way (European icon from Brideshead let’s recall, Stephan Audan, Lord Marchmain’s mistress), Phineas turns her down! In the 1974 Pallisers, it’s made obvious: he must return to marry the pregnant Mary; by doing this Raven spares us all of the above, but also loses Trollope.

Trollope does not offer a reason which convinces. Why does he do this continually, have his most sympathetic characters perform an escape maneuver, sometimes while winning, act out a reluctant withdrawal? We’ve see in An Eye for an Eye, Fred Neville sabotaging himself, even returning to Ireland to be toppled over a cliff; and powerfully and convincingly in “The Parson’s Daughter.

I connect this pattern to two others in Trollope: I call these the self-flagellation and the person under “joint attack.” Everyone around the characters agrees to browbeat, bully, tempt and otherwise insist our hero or heroine act out what the world admires and wants (marry the lord not the tailor in Lady Anna), no matter what the personal cost or gyrations this demands.

The self-flagellation is seen most plangently in “The Spotted Dog,” where a gifted man has sabotaged his life and now that he must find some employments, presents himself openly as a shameful creature no one in their right mind would interview, much less hire to deal with fragile paper indexes and scholarship. Julius Mackenzie unable to cope ends up drunk rolling in the streets, his talents utterly thrown away. For myself one of the most moving pieces of prose in a novel I’ve ever read is the letter he writes for the interview. When he says he does not expect an interview, it bowls me over. The only competition is Josiah Crawley’s letter accepting a job offered him on humiliating terms because he must. Phineas at the close is offered a derisory job with courteous words, but it’s a derisory job, a kind of ironic laugh: you wanted to help tenants, well now go and inspect the houses the gov’t sets up for the poor. In “Fred Pickering” We get this writer who is forced to admit he must write the tripe or indexes or whatever it is that sells that the public wants, and the story shows the central character punished hard to be taught this. The adventures of Fred Pickering, provides George Bertram with a lesson in theological controversy and how a spirit of integrity can lead to suicide in The Bertrams. Mary Gresley destroys her manuscript. George Bertram’s learns hard lessons about attacking the Bible – even discussing it in The Bertrams where this is another realistic visit to Palestine.

When we first meet Madame Max in Phineas Finn and the Palliser films, she is snubbed (Volume 4, Episode 7, the first reception of Lady Glen) — she is just beginning her career fight

On one level Trollope is at once teaching himself he is doing the right thing to compromise and living out vicariously the act of integrity and the escape. His characters who are punished often make their strongest arguments on the side of utter integrity, of refusal, they get to walk away and display courage doing it. It’s the others’ joint attacks which speak the world’s cant wisdom, prudence and the like. Mr Harding is not supposed to be a saint, but has the courage to walk away. The greatness of William Styron is he does have as heroic acts men who walk away. Plantangenet Palliser as Duke of Omnium and Prime Minister is in constant agons over his desire to walk away and not deal. Not that Mr Trollope wanted to do that, but he is releasing something within him he needs to get out of his system again and again and again … On Trollope19thCStudies @hyahoo.com, a fellow reader agreed with me: “both in terms of Phineas and Trollope. Anyone who is successful must also feel the same way – that they have succeeded in exchange for not in some sense being true to themselves.”

The interview as a manipulative hazing experience (in Barchester Towers, the book, and again in Barchester Chronicles, the mini-series): Alan Rickman as an inimitable Slope and Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding

The courage to walk away is underrated terrifically in US society. You are to go out for the team if everyone else does even if it means permanent brain damage. If someone bullies you, you are to take it, take that punishment and whatever the psychic cost in later life triumph – in public. Look upon cruel self-shattering forms of training as “boot camp,” a word which puzzlingly is used as a honorific. Then take pills when no one is looking. Maybe die of an overdose? Never mind the psychic penalties that warp your personality, break up your marriage. The loss of integrity, an authentic existence? you end up not knowing what are the true instincts of your nature.

Phineas has the courage to walk away, and the ending chapters of his novel are made up of attacks. Several times groups of characters attack him. End of chapter 67, Mrs Finn joins Bunce and Low as choral voice: now she is against him giving up his job, “Fiddlesticks!” she says about his conscience. Dr Finn suspects how hard it will be for Phineas to be allowed to begin again. Ever give up a promotion and others know it – do they respect you? They are suspicious. Why are you doing this? By the way same attitudes can be found towards people who take volunteer unpaid jobs. Note the words Trollope uses for Mary Lady Mason: all that the world could do to her would not make her give in. In Lady Anna, she is under ferocious pressure and she holds out for her beloved childhood sweetheart, though he is a tailor.

In the first phase of their relationship in the Pallisers and in Phineas Finn, Lady Glenn and Madame Max are rival (Volume 5, Episode 10)

Which by contrast (Lady Anna Lovel aka Anna Murray and Mary Flood Jones are not interested in power or influence or individual lives at all) takes me to the second pattern I noticed in Phineas Finn: a depiction of a woman’s career when not invested in or though a marriage or as a mother (Lady Lufton of Framley Parsonage). Trollope sees that such a career takes a very different shape from a man’s; even more rare is that in PF he presents such a career with empathy. He is usually intensely hostile and presents such a woman as a dominating vixen (e.g., Mrs Proudie).

I’m talking of Madame Max Goesler as we first meet her in Trollope’s novel — imaged by the 19747 Pallisers well after she is introduced:

Time is pressing us all very hard, Mr Finn, says Madame Max, pushing him out as she’s expecting the Duke of Omnium (Volume 5, Episode 9)

It’s a truism that women’s careers look different from men’s — as writers, as mid-level professionals, as elite types. The criteria and things you judge a man’s success by won’t do as women often don’t have big monetary success on their own, rarely hold high public office, don’t have a forward trajectory in the same way. One of the strengths of Phineas Finn, not repeated in Phineas Redux is to show us a woman having a career not based on a man’s job — though a man’s money: Madame Max Goesler. We see her tempted — I reread “Madame Max’s generosity” (in the chapter in PF where she offers herself to Phineas), not as a tempter but as the one tempted to opt out because forsooth she’s lonely.

The explanation for her offer to Phineas is that she is intensely lonely and has a heart (not common in the world by the bye) — the narrator has told us three times that she is lonely, she has no intimate friend, and by that in a way what’s meant is a woman friend. She becomes intimate with Lady Glen sometime during Eustace Diamonds (it happens offstage in the novel while Raven puts the development of their friendship on-stage). Madame Max recognizes in Phineas a fellow-outsider, a person on the make, but also a person who wants to have integrity and act on it, he’s handsome (how often do we have to be told this); they are just gut-level congenial.

In Madame Max in PF Trollope shows us the cost of such a career to a woman: she must be intensely and continually performative, keep no one close to her. To enjoy life and be free she is of the demi-monde, but then no woman of high respectability will visit her easily and she must endure the Mrs Bonteens. Finally Lady Glen does visit Madame Max, but that is to stop the Duke from getting too close to Madame Max in an intimate dinner party, to prevent a marriage. Trollope does present Lady Glen attempting a career in The Prime Minister but as a wife, with a family to fall back into, and in a real sense Lady Glen fails (over Ferdinand Lopez among other bad choices) and is taught a harsh lesson against doing all she did. At the same time Trollope recognizes that women do this kind of thing in politics — elite women do.

Lady Glen trying to influence an election by buying expensive shoes (Volume 10, Episode 21)

It is important to recognize this saloniere business (whether respectably married or on her own) is a conservative approach to a woman’s career as she upholds the patriarchal order by complying with the demand she work, facilitate and do all sorts of things without an office or salary or without any real means of independence. Marie has independence. For a man to look at the price and say walk away is radical, not supporting “progress” as Trollope sees this. He cannot bring himself to reveal that his male hero wants to walk away, that it takes courage to do this because he knows the average reader does not like that. The average reader has sold him or herself or believes in the cant of fighting on, doing what others do, boot camp. He can show the woman opting out — for Trollope is for marriage.

In Phineas Finn, Phineas is nagged to quit and become a lawyer by the Lows and Mr Bunce; but the real contrasts to him are on the one side, Chiltern who will not be bought but has no place in the world, and Laurence Fitzgibbon who has no character to uphold; and on the other, Barrington Erle who has no soul and Mr Slide who does not understand how corrupt he is

Millais’s drawings of Lady Mason was so great for Trollope because (he said) of the psychology of the drawing; it’s the pattern of her holding out against the world he is riveted to, her emotional distress and strain. And yet once he got into Ireland and broke out of his depression, he fought and fought and was coopted — and knew the stress of that selling of his talent, renting it, too.

A personal note: I admire Phineas and Mr Harding because I know the emotional distress of such a choice and in a way that’s one of the draws of Trollope’s texts for me: he dramatizes that distress again and again. Mr Harding’s long day in London (a favorite chapter with me) shows the distress Mr Harding experiences in having been attacked, in realizing he was doing wrong from a standpoint of integrity, and in holding out under great stress to be coopted (from Archdeacon Grantly) or be destroyed. Some of Trollope’s characters give in to the world and are destroyed … or partly succeed (Lady Glen gave up the instincts of her heart and Burgo Fitzgerald and tries the saloniere out and remains safe too).


I know of one academic essay which discusses this withdrawal pattern, not in terms of Trollope’s life, his career, and not as a pattern across the fiction, but as opting for failure not quite as a noble choice (that gets us to Henry James whose uses this theme again and again), but as the better part of valour: Sarah Gilead, ‘Trollope’s Orphans and the “Power of Adequate Performance”‘, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 27 (1985): 86-105 (she brings together Mr Harding, Lily Dale and Mary, Lady Mason). Nowadays there are numerous on the depiction of the career in Trollope’s fiction but not the ambivalence with which he present this. To see the pattern as a reluctant withdrawal and relate it to Trollope’s own awkwardnesses in social life, his carapace and refusals to play along in company is to see deeply into his fiction’s fuel. To see the rarity in Trollope of a depiction of a woman’s career when not married in a patriarchy, and its accuracy is to assess his acute perception of social life and his limitations.


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Kevin Kline as Matthias Gold and Maggie Smith, Matilde Girard (no she is not his mother after all) in My Old Lady 2014)

Have you ever listened
to the steps of your mother
walking around the whole house
during the night

    without putting the lights on,
    knowing her way in the dark by heart,
    quite quietly,
    step by step,
    as drop by drop
    from a leaking roof?

How she runs her fingers on the walls,
to make out the features
of her past life,
turned into a house.
Blaga Dimitrova, trans. Ludmilla Popova-Wightman, from poems to her mother, Scars

Dear friends and readers,

I went to see this film because after having been told by one of the three students left in my gothic class “don’t miss it, Ellen, I loved it,” and noticing it was play in only one theater in all my area, and that the theater which specializes in good unusual films because there is no parking around it, except maybe weekday mornings (Shirlington); after noticing all this, I say, I saw the author, director, and part producer is Israel Horovitz. Well Jim and I used to know him: Israel was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English at the Graduate Center while I was there. I remember Jim talking to him, then telling me “we must see The Line” (we never did, nor Indian Joe wants the Bronx). I knew Israel was a gifted dramatist. As the film came to its close, I thought to myself, Jim would have said, “it’s okay, a win.” He’d have liked the movie as a whole.

It’s the story of Matthias, a sad man just over 57 who has nothing, no money, no friends, no career, but whose father has left him a large old beautiful house and garden in one of the more exquisitely preserved neighborhoods of Paris — part of the pleasure of the film is these streets, the bridges, the waters, the houses, furniture, all we see. Twice Jim rented an apartment for us and Izzy in just such a courtyard in Paris.


Matthias arrives from NYC to find his father’s aging mistress, Mathilde Girard, living there with the right to stay until she dies and to be paid 2400 Euros a month by the house’s owner (by French law). She has living with her, a daughter, Chloe, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, an English teacher, who we gradually come to see is as lost as to any joy in her life, or hope for something she finds sustaining to do, as he is. She is more than irritated by Matthias’s presence and the threat he represents (he wants to sell the place to a developer); she is angry


It was originally a stage play, and the characters emerge through their talk, with the sets (albeit real places) used symbolically,

A cultured boathouse (filled with books) on the Seine

The gradually compelling interest is the unfolding of these three characters’ pasts, especially that of aging old woman, Matilde, who puts on quite a performance as a woman of the world, all savoir faire, adjusted to all the hard truths of life, as she spends her last years in a civilized pattern of dining, drinking, reading, teaching too (young French adults to read English. specifically James Joyce), all equability. Maggie does not break down quite as far as both Kline and Thomas (I feel impelled to use their real names somehow) as they all slowly make out the features of their painful shared pasts to one another — Matthias’s mother killed herself after years of living marginalized while her husband was the faithful lover and companion of Matilde; Chloe could be the daughter of Matthias’s father and not her mother’s husband who lived not far from the house most discreetly (and mostly broke). Matilde insists her long life with Mattias’s father was a deeply happy and fulfilled one, that he was a kind, generous, tactful, loving man. Well not to me, declares Matthias. Matilde would prefer him to believe his miserable state at this point is all his fault (for being an egoistic depressive you see). Confronted with Chloe’s suddenly open feelings of how her legitimate father hated her (discreetly of course), and how Chloe has given up her life to her mother by living with her (I never asked you to, replies Matilde), Matilde has nothing to offer as compensation — except life itself. That she says is enough.

As I watched I felt that Horovitz was examining and releasing his own self-doubt, rage, hurt, and using the desperate attempts of Matthias to re-establish himself (he visits antique shops with furniture taken from the house to sell it) as part of a quiet reflection of the middle years of his life — Matthias it emerges is a failed American playright, has endured divorces too many. Chloe is reactive (during the course of the film she breaks off a long standing affair she had been having with a married man with two children and a grandchild to boot). Each of them finds old photos and brings them out to show the others. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, taking down his bundle to open and going over the things in it. There is something “old Woody-Allenish” about this film; Horovitz in this first film (he’s 75) is much influenced by Woody Allen.

Kline has the most lines, Thomas the strong sudden movements, but Smith has more presence than either. At one point she forces herself up the stairs (the first time in years it seems) to find and comfort her daughter, to take back something she has said, the walk itself bringing to mind her journey. She ends up dominating the film. We feel for her as she holds on to her cherished memories, with more effort we begin to see than she’s showing (a quiet moment shows her reading in bed, tiring, and as she falls asleep to the side, Thomas coming in and taking off her glasses, covering her). Yes, she says, she lies (a lot). Her dignity is a daily act that keeps her going.


It does fall off at the close, a “pat denouement” Glenn Kenny calls it. Of course Mattias and Chloe turn to one another, become lovers and we are in a romance; when it seems possibly they are half-brother-sister, Matilde is still unperturbed: what’s the harm (both past breeding), if you find happiness …, the film punts, and we are shown Kline collecting some DNA results from Matilde’s doctor to show Chloe is after all not his half-sister: her legitimate was her biological father. Happily this part of the film is short. The point is everyone’s better instincts are brought forth, and Mattias decides not to sell, and to stay, Chloe to cooperate, and all may build a life here among the flower beds near the Seine — where people sing songs from Mozart’s Don Giovanni as they walk.

The good and genuinely moral message of the film is give of yourself, forgive others, keep with them if they will have you and are themselves good people (not destroyers) and stay alive. The real problem may be seen by contrasting it with Allen’s better films. My Old Lady needed to be funnier. There is not enough self-irony, not enough distance nor reaching out to the audience. Delpy did that in her imitation of Allen set in Paris: reached out. Horovitz is too guarded.

The reviews have not been generous. Not enough insight into themselves is brought out; this is no Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (with Burton, Taylor, Sondra Dee tearing themselves and one another truly apart). It’s gentle, like the effective background music. (One person near me stayed through all the credits, not to see the surprise comic last scenes interpersed, but learn who sung which songs.)

As a light comic play taking a deep plunge below the surface of what has been now and again turned into a grave movie, My Old Lady will yield some analogies and parallels, like the one I find in the poetry of Dimitrova characterizing her mother. This room here had some splendid parties, that there we ate and read in, over there we played the piano … such are some of the lines Matilde murmurs and speaks aloud now and again



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