Archive for the ‘social criticism’ Category

The Studio, Vanessa Bell’s Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex

Dear friends and readers,

I know I told of how on one of my listservs, we are reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a group with each of us reading different other related works or watching films; on the other, WWta (Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo) we’ve started a similar project (far few people alas) around Virginia Woolf. Our central focus is a slow read through another massive volume: Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and have talked at length about the art of biography, Woolf’s own life writings and writing about biography (her Memoirs of a Novelist, her “Sketch of the Past” in Moments of Being). One of us read To the Lighthouse; we’ve discussed Gaston Bachelard’s perhaps now-dated Poetics of Space; I’ve watched the remarkably complex )(novel-like? biography-like) Carrington and am now determined to make Dora Carrington my next woman artist in that blog series.

First impression:

From Christopher Hampton’s Carrington: this is based on an actual photo of the house (Emma Thompson who is made to look like Carrington as Jonathan Pryce looks like Strachey in the photos of him)

Strachey asked Woolf to marry him at one point; they were close. Strachey was much older than Carrington and I was thinking about the extraordinary convoluted tortured sexual and marital relationships in this wider group. Leonard and Virginia look conventional from the outside, but look in and you see her several deep lesbian relationships.

Jonathan Pryce who was such a wonderful Wolsey, is perfect for Strachey, and Emma Thompson takes on her stout boyish persona to play Carrington. I’ve only got half-way through: it’s a very long movie. What I wanted to say is that in a way it’s lacking:  Hampton wrote and directed it, and he is following Holroyd’s book and therein is the problem. Carrington is such a painful spectacle. The whole menagerie at her and Lytton’s home are wholly outside the mainstream. She loved Strachey because his homosexuality took the form of no sexual intercourse with a woman, so he was not aggressive at all. For someone who wants safety I am now puzzled (not rereading Holroyd) why she ever went to Mark Gertler (played by the then spectacularly handsome Rufus Sewell) who demanded rough sex as central to the relationship (not painful but agressive) and Sewell plays him as a man driven wild by her. The audience is allowed to see this clearly and Gertler’s attack on Lytton when it becomes obvious Carrington loves Lytton. But to keep Lytton she had to allow this reactionary hulk, Reginald Patridge (renamed Rafe by Strachey) to live with them and to keep him she had to have sex with him; in turn he’d have sex with Strachey.  This is not shown clearly in the film. Gerald Brennan (the young excellent actor Samuel West) who left for Spain and wrote two wonderful travel-memoirs of his life in Spain is brought in; but as I’ve not read Holroyd in a while I forget the bargain, but think Carrington was also required to have sex with Brennan to please someone.

Thompson says over and over this is an abject love. Hampton together with these remarkable actors conveyed something different than I’ve read before. Hitherto it was see how abject this woman was, what a mystery but it was Lytton’s kindness, gentleness and their shared love of art that made her invest her very life in his life.

This film shows him a cool egoist who uses her; he may not admit it to himself but he does. All the sex scenes after Mark are her degenerating, allowing her body to be used by man after man to get them for Strachey. That is what the film shows. She goes so far even to marry Partridge who in the film she sees as a macho male reactionary horror though fun as a man to dance with, handsome to draw. She endures his ugly jealousy and infidelities. She leads Gerald Brennan to lie in ways that violate his character — all for this Lytton. It gets to the point she wants to validate her body and gets involved with a man (Jeremy Northam turns up to do it) who just takes her cruelly for sex, getting pregnant by him she gets an abortion. Thee’s a dialogue where Lytton says why not have the baby.I think the film suggests had she, she might have had something else to live for. But she only wants his baby and he never fucks her it seems.

Pryce plays Strachey as realizing how he is using her, but being unable to resist it and enjoying her company, now and again guilty — as when he will advise her to leave off a man, or have a baby, or makes his will to leave her a pension. A very young Alex Kingston as Patridge’s partner after he tires of Carrington plus Strachey. A younger Penelope Wilton does Ottoline so well. The men in the film do seem attached to Carrington and enduring Strachey for the sake of Carrington except the stud last played by Northam. Thompson and Pryce impeccably involving. I grieved over Carrington’s death yet understood. It ends with a series of images of those of her paintings she did not destroy.

It’s a deeply searing portrait of a on the surface beautiful love but just below deeply destructive of her. We are told nothing of her family or childhood. She turns up sui generis and all film long she is without any group but this Bloomsbury one attached to Strachey and her art school. She goes off to London where she finds characters like Patridge and brings him back as a trophy or fodder for Lytton. Was she promiscuous in London somewhere. Patridge’s questioning of her in fact is understandable.

I want to read the screenplay, watch again and have now bought a book (natch) recent, Gerzina’s Carrington (who wrote on FrancesHodgson Burnett if I’m not mistaken).

As a result of the debate on the art of biography and novels (peel them off and you have an autobiography), we debated (a bit) Tim Parks’s iconoclastic theses about novel writing and reading in yet another thinking book from him, The Novel: A Survival Skill on both listservs.

Bondarchuk’s War and Peace: Kutusov after defying everyone and ordering a retreat so as to save as many men and as much of Moscow as he can (1966)

Let me say upfront there is no woman author in Parks’s universe in this book who counts, who he discusses at length. He might mention a woman now and again. He focuses on five males and when he has any examples they are all males. He has a history of Italian literature organized by great authors. Apparently in Italy since the Renaissance there has been but one woman writer of note. Something like 25 authors, one is a woman.

I wonder what women do with themselves when I read Parks. It’s important to the man’s outlook, tells us what he reads, how he reads. So by no means is he a guru when he leaves out half the human race; women do write differently, they make art differently — from social life and from innate elements.

Parks’s idea that novels threaten us has some powerful explanatory force; this is why people talk (and perhaps) think consciously about novels so moralistically. They inveigh against characters who do not obey social norms because they don’t want to articulate why those who don’t don’t, nor admit to identification. He follows this up with the iconoclastic idea we love books which are substitutes for the presence and sense of real person they contain, stand for. This a complete refutation of the “biographical fallacy.” Kraggsby says she becomes so emotional when she has to write or feel about Woolf after a bout with a book. This helps explain that. I so agree with it.

With Parks I really feel a mind thinking, not just putting together the platitudes and nouns referring to theoretical positions which the author then aligns him or herself with. He offers this possible description of what’s meant by creativity: “the ability to produce …. The emotional tone and the play of forces in whch the narrator lives, the particular mental world in which he moves …. “ Parks doesn’t need to have Coetzee in front of him, in fact the Coetzee we meet (as Proust would say) is the partial social man, not the man who counts. The greatness of such works, the triumph “we find their work drenched with their personalities, supreme expressionof theirmanner and character and behavior, each absolutely recognizable, triumphantly unmistakable … He does cite Woolf a little way down; her understanding is just so to the point, and what she does. Paradoxically l’ecriture-femme (women’s texts) exemplify much more centrally than men’s what he begins with.

When you say that a novel threatens the reader, and that therefore we need to learn actually how to survive them (really taken into consciousness what they can show) and that the author’s identity (I’ll call it) is everywhere there in different ways, you are set on a very different road than most books on the novel. I just love how he does not repeat cant and situate himself next to it or with it — not that a great books don’t do this: Jerome de Troot’s two books on historical fiction do it, but he examines these theories often to show their fallacies, not always.

Tim Parks is consistent with his view that the great writer conveys an authentic specific self across his or her work, asks about the writer’s tension when he or she thinks of who is reading this text. Parks says the novel is “officially addressed to everyone,but in reality they are not thinking of today’s Ph D student in say Korea addressing scholarly conversations in 2016; the actual circumstances the writer writes in frames his or her perception of what is being written; relatives do often complain and are hurt, as well as friends; t often he or she is thinking of some subgroup of readers alive at the time, “the implicit reader”. He proposes we think of ourselves as overhearing the author’s address to his or her audience at the time. Park then goes over specific details in a Becket text and they come so much more alive when you nail who specific savage ironies are aimed at. Lee quotes Woolf’s life-writing a lot and Woolf assumes her readership knows what the life of the upper class at the time was; her tales of childhood assume familiarity.

Parks says it is not a retreat from the text to be interested in the author’s patterns of behavior, relationships at the time of a text writtten, but rather it can increase our engagement. He then goes on to Gregory Bateson who argues that personality differentation ,how we establish our identities to ourselves are in relation to others aroud us which often are binaries and are reactions against. he is not talking about one-on-one equivalencies but a general presence surrounded by particulars then transposed but often more transparently than we like to allow.

helen mirren the last station
Helen Mirren as Sonya in Jay Parini’s The Last Station (which is part of our Tolstoy matter)

Now to apply Parks’s thesis to The Last Station, for example, you have to know about Hoffman and his life and relationship to the film (which he does bring in in the feature to the film, also Parini, not to forget Tolstoy, Cherthov, the various actors who inhabit the roles.

It is a complex film and now I’ve got to find time to read the book. A good performance can make a character come alive: In the screenplay Hoffman worked to condense, make a coherent POV (Valentine, the most invented of the characters) and in general sort of gave more meaning to what’s in the book and made me wonder if a movie because of its form often does simplify. It’s hard to fight it as successful as Bergman did. He didn’t care if his films made money when he started out. I thought I’d mention that the train was to be much much more important: it was to open with Valentine on the train; the deleted scenes are of Tolstoy fleeing on the train, Sofya following. It now only ends with the train. Hoffman says he wanted it to be a symbol but as he proceeded he decided the characters and their relationships were what he should spend time on. More practically I have watched enough honest features to have heard directors say you have to cut and you have to choose, and many he saw this skein or thread one he could eliminate neatly — to make the movie marketable. This was to be an allusion to Anna Karenina, with Sofya as our Anna who survives. I suspect so.

Also from our Tolstoy group: I am finding A. N. Wilson’s biography on Tolstoy without bothering to argue this in effect bases his biography and assessment of Tolstoy’s novels on a perspective like Parks; Lee is more reticent but then we’ve hardly gotten Virginia born. Wilson thinks Tolstoy is addressing other Russian writers, how he conceives of the cultural and political situation in Russia, but deeply by the time of Anna Karenina moved inward and dealing with his own many layered psyche through her.

Lastly (since I’m going away for a week — to Cornwall, where Woolf spent summer holidays for years on end — and have little time) I thought I’d just briefly call attention to an excellent review essay in TLS by Francesca Wade on the rebuilding of all sorts of house space the various Bloomsbury people had in different sites and museusm: “Interior Designs, Interior Desires: examing the inside of Bloomsbury homes as a guide to their owners’ artistry and personality.”

Wade begins with Bachelard and then goes on to show how the Bloomsbury group utterly defied conventions not just in painting happy pictures of what they were doing on their walls, and but in scattering all the things they used over a day freely around the house, making rooms serve real and different functions peculiar to the people living there all at once. In the movie Carrington we see the house Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) and Carrington (Emma Thompson) live in have her paintings on the wall, and a couple of the rooms are clearly shown to be reflective of how they live. Outsiders thought the decorations were lascivious or salacious because of the unconventional sexual relationships people who came and lived there had, but not at all. Nudes were not sexy nudes — as in the film. They were gay (old use of word), defying the colors, atmosphere of the homes these people had been brought up in.

Most houses today and apartments too are set up in conventional ways with several rooms sometimes given over “to making a show.” More time and energy making the room a symbol of the expected social life and status than the comfort of people living in it. The purpose of the US family room is to have a place where people can do their own thing but even there I’ve seen status and money the criteria for decorations — how many Xs you did of this or that.

Jim and my house was and today mine alone with his presence as memory and filling the objects is not like that. There is no room for show, the rooms have — or had (he’s gone now) several functions. I have been told if I wanted to sell it and/or sell it for a high priceI would have to empty it out and make it a soulless display. So that’s what the average person wants: plus and a soulless display. No thank you I said. Either it’s sold the way it looks or not sold. So Bloomsbury space is still iconoclastic.

Ellen off for a week on holiday in Cornwall

Charles Camoin, Cat before the Open Window — from Sixtine, one of the lights of my existence

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Shylock (Matthew Boston) about to extract his pound of flesh from Antoine (Craig Wallace)

Dear friends and readers,

Although Izzy and I got to Aaron Posner’s District Merchants, a daring adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice directed by Michael John Garces, at the end of its run, I write a brief review to recommend going to any revivals, or other productions of this new play you might hear of. It’s a triumph made out of indictment, empathy and humor.

Posner has taken up the challenge of a play whose plot-design is anti-semitic, by making the anti-semitism of all the characters but Shylock’s daughter an explicit issue: Shylock self-consciously argues his rage comes out of an alienation forced on him, reinforced by his hurt at how his daughter has been taken from him.

Shylock’s refusal to allow Jessica to go out among non-Jews estranges her

He is thus given more specific reason for resentment as he believes there was a conspiracy among these characters to remove his daughter from him — as well as take the money he relies on to live. Posner sets the play in the District of Columbia during re-construction (Ulysses S. Grant is president) and re-imagines all characters’ interactions and personalities along analogous lines so as to dramatize equally unjustifiable racism, class snobbery and disdain, and by extension hatred of the other in whatever form cruel emotional violence may take. Antony is now Antoine, a free black and prosperous businessman.

I found myself wishing Posner could have made one of the character a stray Islamic person. I was also puzzled as to why he did not include homosexuality as in fact Shakespeare’s play not so hidden text is the displacement of a semi-betray of Antony’s love by Bassanio so as to get enough money to court and marry the richly endowed Portia. The RSC production of The Merchant last year brought this out. The new play is clearly not bothered anachronistic thought, so why erase the original play’s depiction of thwarted repressed homosexuality?

A choral moment with Lancelot (Akeen Davis) to the fore

Still, given the recent massacre at Orlando (which included hatred of gays, of latinos, a man who abused his wife and was himself Muslim), it’s a remarkably timely re-write, and part of the strong response the audience gave to the play came out of the whipping up of hatred and fear we’ve seen in present political campaigns in the US and UK. There was even an unintended frisson in the theater when Lancelot become an ex-slave servant of Shylock, after having been asked by Jessica to help her run away from her father and steal his money and jewels (very dangerous for him) asks himself the question, “To leave or not to leave.” Posner could not have foreseen how that would resonate just after Brexit. Ryan Taylor wrote of how heartening such a production feels.

four lovers
There is a star-gazing scene where two different levels of time are brought together: Bassanio (Seth Rue) and Portia Maren Bush) at the back, Jessica (Dani Stoller) and Lorenzo (William Vaughan) at the front

I don’t want to give the impression the play was simplistic rhetoric or even crude; except towards the end when Posner seemed not to know how to end his play, and had too many soliloquys of hurt, distress, anger, the experience is not preach-y. Like a number of the appropriations of Jane Austen novels into films set elsewhere and in modern times I’ve seen, he follows closely the outline of Shakespeare’s play where he can, omitting excrescences like the choice of caskets ritual, and developing much further the meeting, courting, and wooing scenes between Jessica and Lorenzo become a southern country boy on the make.

Jessica and Lorenzo

We see Portia growing up under a kind of tutelage by Nessa (Celeste Jones)

Portia and Nessa

Scenes of funny (and painful) wit when Bassanio overcome by honesty in his love for Portia, tells her he has been passing for white and is half-black. She herself has been training as a lawyer at Harvard (in Boston) by dressing as a man.

Bassanio proposes to Portia, blurts out the truth about himself, Nessa looking on …

The different characters are given depth by having them as the play unfolds tell us their pasts. Chris Klimek found the whole mix “marvelous” and sobering. Jeannette Quick does justice to the complexity of what’s satirized (for example, lip-service to progressivism) and the way the different levels of memory, story, and interaction veer between “ridiculous hilarity and despondency.”

It makes us rightly criticize Shakespeare’s play. Posner probably means it as a sort of correction. We see Shakespeare’s Shylock from this renewed humane angle, from the world seen from below (except for Portia all identify as potentially and really outcast, powerless, reviled). At the same time I have to admit that after all when Posner does include Shakespeare’s lines, they stand out as having more purchase on why we must renounce insensibility to the sufferings of others, for our own sake show how dangerous is sowing mistrust, wrong and dangerous violence for violence. We must be merciful to expect mercy:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

Shylock’s famous “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech is hurled at the audience. Lines from Shakespeare here and there raise and complicate the play’s perspectives. I especially liked how Antoine refused to accept rescue through a quibble — because he reminded me of Trollope’s Mr Harding who wanted to be morally right and justified. So Shylock could have killed Antoine, but at the last moment, the stage goes dark, and we learn at its close Shylock suddenly turned and walked away.

Quick and Barbara Mackay describe the suggestive symbolic setting (Tony Cisek) : an attempt was made to make us feel a civilization and place under make-shift construction, with columns (one still wrapped), ropes with hooks (suggesting ships). There was a real attempt to give a feel of what DC was like in the later 19th century: mud, much of it empty; that it had been a place where free black people lived before the war. I found the costumes a fun combination of musical-hall stage 1890s, accurate women’s dress and today’s fashions. Lots of music: a banjo, percussion, spirituals. Life has charm, it is good.

Another proposal scene

Posner has done this kind of adaptation twice before: the “excellent Stupid F—ing Bird (an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull) debuted Woolly Mammoth in 2013); Life Sucks (or the Present Ridiculous Situation (an adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, in 2015).

I had not thought until writing this review how appropriate this play was as a choice near Independence Day, July 4th, and will now link in Frederick Douglas’s famous speech: “What to the Slave is the fourth of July,” as read by James Earl Jones.

Antoine remembers his past too


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Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) going over the manuscripts together

Maggie (Greta Gerwig) and Georgette (Julianne Moore) plotting to trick John (Ethan Hawke) to go to a conference with Georgette (where Zizek is speaking! — John’s favorite) – two women plotting over worthless man

Dear readers and friends,

Reviews of Michael Grandage’s Genius (script Joshua Logan) haven’t been exactly ecstatic (come to think of it an embarrassing title); like the reviews of Rebecca Miller and Maggie’s Plan, we are told to rejoice that this is not another senseless alpha male action-adventure, or Marvel cartoon.

In her Maggie’s Plan, Rebecca Miller has given us 2nd rate Woodie Allen (3rd rate is closer to the mark but would be unkind) from a story by Karen Rinaldi. It’s good-natured — mostly from the warmth and awareness Gert Getwig endowed her generous (all-giving) heroine with, but tepid in its unwillingness to make it clear what a self-indulgent narcissistic male is Ethan Hawke’s thankless John, whom the two women were supporting, giving themselves bodily to and fighting over. What did occur that revealed this (and other aspects of their lives) was then made nonsense of by a tacked-on sudden switch to your happy ending, nostalgic music to the fore, no not a wedding, but everyone happily ice-skating in Central Park. Maggie’s core is that of a woman’s film, the dream of a single woman to have a child without having to marry a man since she is not inclined to stay “in love” with anyone she meets, and the great joke that after all the prowess of John did not impregnate Maggie, some artificially inseminated sperm from a pickle dealer (Travis Fimmel) did. Critics have been unduly kind, though Roger Ebert’s continuing blog recognized tired romance.

Your falling in love scene

I concede it did not aggress at me, and there was occasionally some wry wisdom on display (Julie Delpy’s feminization of Allen, Two Days in Paris, was actually witty). At his best and in his prime Allen’s films made serious statements about American mores and culture (and recently he did one about British culture: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). This movie represents an off-day, a retreat from her career thus far That Miller is daughter to Arthur Miller and his long-time photographer wife, Inge Morath, and her previous work might account for the critical “delight” in Maggie’s Plan. Maybe we are not meant to find the film pleasant but probably we are.

Genius (a seeming team effort) reminded me of Trumbo: a fine idea turned into a mainstream film where the character preach to one another in ways no one would in life, so that the audience can understand some subtle unusual ideas, ending in an inspirational moment: here after Wolfe’s death, a letter by Wolfe reaches Perkins where Wolfe thanks him. Suffragettes suffered from having been turned into a ratcheted up chase thriller. Two ostensibly art movies I’ve seen this summer (which will go unnamed) were insufferably pompous, over-produced, literally hard-to-follow, and sexed up in an misguided attempt to make them widely appealing commodities. The result: no one is pleased. Love and Friendship (click for my review), the third endurable film still playing at my local “better” movie theater, is a disappointing timid period drama. Women are going and men accompanying them because it’s billed as a Jane Austen film and looks and feels like what’s expected. It’s what PBS is not doing any more.

In Genius, there are no women authors even to be heard of. The mid-20th century is an era replete with great women writers. Perhaps Perkins didn’t edit any of them, but I can’t believe Scribner’s didn’t publish any. Not to mention even one in passing gives the falsity of the picture of publishing away. It’s a curiously empty story, as if the production people had insisted on few characters in order to have few actors to pay. The second woman in the film would not pass the Bechtel movie test either: no woman talks to another, and Nicole Kidman is another brittle possessive woman who has given all her to her man, including leaving her husband, and children and supporting him (as the women in Maggie’s Plan support their shared man). Prestige pandering (like the two supposed art films I saw earlier this season) is what Rolling Stone magazine accused this film of? But I see an insistent erasure of women which is unreal today.

Both films have spirited performances (as does Love and Friendship), Moore as the erudite professor:


Firth as usual scrupulously not over-acting a character presented as reserved without vicariously enacting, living out the passion he reads and crosses out (though his accent was not quite American)

with Laura Linney as his long-suffering, half-neglected but convincingly loving loyal wife (who writes plays which he seems not to publish)

Genius does have something more and so I recommend going (though don’t drive major distances) before it disappears (rapidly I fear) from theaters. What you will see are characters genuinely concerned to make good books. No small thing. The film-makers dare to make the process of revision of a gargantuan text to a recognizable “classic” central to the plot-design. Logan’s script make the inner psychology of authors however simplified the story –cameo appearances of a depressed Scott Fitzgerald, desperately woebegone Zelda, Hemingway as the apparently firm male icon whose self-control doesn’t require editing. the story.

The relationship of Wolfe with the famed editor, Maxwell Perkins is proverbial (I suppose that’s why the film was dared in the first place): Perkins was far more ambitious and driving than appears in the film (though we see how beautifully paid he is by the mansion he lives in, and well-educated comfortable lives he is providing for seven daughters), while Wolfe’s madly self-enthusiastic fits (as enacted by Jude Law) are said to have happened: he would burst from his apartment, wild with pleasure from something he had written, and run downstairs to the street to tell passers-by of his joy, maybe share the passage. The profit motive is there: Perkins is cutting and shaping Wolfe’s manuscripts so they will be coherent and sell, but he is not re-making them, not demanding they be other than they are, say another genre, in a different mood, with language smoothed out to be easy — which is what editors demand of authors before they will even accept a script for consideration that a film whose aesthetic core is a belief in the effectiveness and staying power of beautifully written, (we have to take this on credit) visionary poetic prose is not to be overlooked. And Firth and Linney were convincing as a couple who understood why they were living the way they did and valued high literary careers and considerate behavior to other people and one another. I felt uplift and cheered in a way Maggie’s Plan failed at (though Maggie’s Plan was trying ever so hard as Genius was not) and finally not disappointed.

I went home and read for the first time the chapter in Alfred Kazin’s On Native Grounds [on American prose writers of the 20th century, one chapter only on women] about Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner, the first of whom I’ve never read and Faulkner I dislike very much (violent, like Flannery O’Connor something mean-spirited there). I took a course in American literary naturalism and the 1920s and as a result since then have read and liked Upton Sinclair, Dreiser, Stephen Crane, and Elinor Wylie, Ambrose Bierce. I felt Hemingway all about broken American males and not much more, though “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” is a story which hits centrally at American myths; Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby also, but over-assigned to students and read because it’s so slender. Jim did not read much American literature: I remember him reading e.e. cummings, Truman Capote, American historians and contemporary essayists; mostly he turned to British and European writers. So I have in my house only a few books by Fitzgerald and Hemingway and of Wolfe only an old copy of a old-fashioned 50 cent paperback (New American Library, Signet) of Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again (published posthumously by Harper, with another editor shaping and cutting).

I found this: Kazin says like other male American writers he admires so much: as did Henry Miller (this appallingly bad writer is discussed seriously by Kazin), Melville, Whitman, Saul Bellow (Kazin’s chapter on two American women writers shows he has little use for them as they are apolitical — he does not understand Ellen Glasgow or Willa Cather), “Just so did Wolfe burn himself out trying to bring all the rivers, sights, sounds, pleasures, torments, books in America within a single compass of the long long novel he wrote all his life. Just so did he express his final contempt in You Can’t Go Home Again, for ‘the world’s fool-bigotry, fool-ignorance, fool-cowardice, fool-faddism, fool mockery, fool-stylism, and fool hatred for anyone who was not corrupted, beaten and a fool'” (468). The world is the enemy. Genius left out Wolfe’s frantic critique and self-ironic disillusionment: all we were told (by one of the two women. perhaps Linney as Mrs Perkins) is Wolfe is searching for a father, and Perkins a son (pop psychology).

Thomas Wolfe in 1937

Several things are going badly wrong with better films in the movie-houses this summer. In the three mentioned disrespect for the audience (at least 50% women), failures of nerve, and a curious indifference to the very matter (Wolfe’s text, Maggie and her baby, Lady Susan’s inhumanity) chosen to be filmed.


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

lonewidow (1)
The lone widow: Trollope brings out Mrs Dale’s loneliness, sacrifice of herself (1995 S&S, scripted Emma Thompson, directed Ang Lee)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary illustration of a story about emigration


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

A photo of Anthony Trollope (age around 40?)

So Trollope’s life quickly told.

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

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

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

Frances Trollope by Auguste Hervieu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trollope’s own map of Barsetshire

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Syllabus

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

Description of Course

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

Barsetshire 5: Trollope’s Small House at Allington

Geroulds’ map of Allington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On-line group readings and blogs:

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

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

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Ross and Demelza (Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees) trying to mislead prevention men looking for smugglers

Jim Carter (Stuart Doughty) dying of an unjust system, Jinny (Gillian Bailey) grieving (1975 Poldark)

Dear friends and readers,

Though I wrote most of my earlier blogs on the 1970s Poldark mini-series and quite a number of my more recent blog here on Jim and Ellen have a blog, Two, I switched to Austen Reveries last year when I began to teach the novels as historical fiction set in the 18th century, with my accent on the content as about the 18th century. Consequently, the list of the new blogs is on Austen Reveries, as well a summary of the paper I wrote comparing the two mini-series for a recent ASECS (American 18th century society conference), the panel: the 18th century on film. I put Marriot’s book, The World of Poldark here, but linked the paper into Austen reveries.

But since I know a sizable number of readers here used to be interested in this series, I offer this short blog announcing that a beautifully formatted abbreviated version of the paper (complete with stills) has been published by ABOPublic: an interactive forum for women in the arts, 1640-1830. I also took the liberty of publishing the full paper on my page on academia.edu

Morwenna Chynoweth (Jane Wymark) falling in love with Drake Carne (Kevin McNally) — her coerced marriage shown to be a form of nightly rapes (1977 Poldark)

I demonstrated a plethora of 1960-70s films have been re-made within this time-frame and that with a couple of exceptions, the new films are using real or fantasy history to create a past with different emphases from the one realized earlier in order to project and/or construct an imposed or perceived group identity intended to allay insecurities of our era. I used the Poldark pair as a particularly lucid example of typical changes: the 1970s mini-series series dramatizes exploitative inexorable conflicts along class, political and gender and generation lines. Far from from presenting a strong community identity as way for individuals to solve their lives’ problems, the older mini-series centers on characters presented as individuals escaping – or failing to escape from – invisible coercive and sometimes unjust norms (prisons). The 1970s films identify with the radical, the rebel, and take a strongly feminist (sometimes anachronistically so) stance. The 2015 series reveals a single script-writer using film technologies to make mythic matter for an idealized perceived indwelling heroic community identity as a solution to individual problems. The women are now subordinated to, work for their families and working businesses, and their children, wherein they find their meaning and safety. The mine has become a central site with which almost each episode begins. Horfield adds incantatory speeches like Jud’s:

Jud: ‘Tis in the blood your father‘d say mining tis in the blood … the vein of copper ‘tis the bread of life . . . eat sleep live and breathe it, she’s your salvation and your downfall, make you bold, many a friend did break and many more will follow … Tis a fool’s game … twill end in tears … your father died before his time … So his mining did for him… Well he won’t be the last neither, if he were here today he’d tell you not to make the same mistake …

The parallel for the first series is The Onedin Line, where there is much trust in existence itself, high scepticism towards religionm trust in technology; the parallel for the second Outlander where characters live in a spiritualized landscape, what happens in life mysterious, often monstrous, and the future something to be guarded against, potentially dark and grim. The actuating idea is people need to hold together, stay in a single imaginary space, and yet experience is centrifugal, now and again the strength of community as powerful when united against single or small groups of much more powerful individuals is shown to be a delusion.


Robin Ellis as the Rev Halse and Aidan Turner as Ross (2015 Poldark)

“Halse: “No doubt the common people you mix with have blunted your faculties as to what may or may not be said in polite society.”
Ross: “No I agree they alter one’s perspective, sir … have you ever been in a jail sir it’s surprising the stench thirty or forty of God’s creatures can give off when confined to a squalid pit without drains, water, physicians care.”
Halse: “The matter of your performance at Bodmin jail has not gone unnoticed, sir. There will be shortly be a meeting of the justices of whom I should say I am one … You offensive young drunkard. You’ll be hearing from us presently.”


Ross and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) seen across a spiritualized landscape


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There are, who to my person pay their court:
I cough like Horace, and, though lean, am short,
Ammon’s great son one shoulder had too high,
Such Ovid’s nose …

The Muse but serv’d to ease some friend, not wife,
To help me through this long disease, my life …
— Pope’s Horatian Epistle to Dr Arthbutnot

Dear friends and readers,

I’m glad to be able to report my review of Martha Stoddard Holmes’s Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture has now become available on the Victorian Web. I single out Trollope’s depiction of Madeline Neroni’s ways of coping with her disability as unusual and worth thinking about.

Susan Hampshire as Madeline having stage-managed this, Alan Rickman as Slope at the center (Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

Although published some 6 to 7 years ago, the book has not been superseded. It remains as relevant as it was in 2009; sadly, what is described and analyzed are attitudes of mind and feeling towards those labelled disabled widely prevalent today.

I am personally and academically interested in this topic. Just now teaching Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, I hope eventually to write and to publish either here on the Net or conventionally in paper an examination of Gaskell’s treatment of mental as well as physical disability in her fiction. Her perspective is that of the caregiver. There are quite a number of essays on disability in Gaskell’s fiction, e.g., by Martha Stoddard Holmes herself: “Victorian Fictions of Interdependency: Gaskell, Craik, and Yonge,” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 1 (2007): 29-42. (“Well at Pen Morpha”). Deborah Fratz has written one out of Ruth, as well as an excellent review of Holmes’s book: “Fictions of Affliction,” Nineteenth Century Gender Studies 3:3 (Winter 2007); “‘A feminine morbidness of conscience’: disability, gender, and the economy of agency in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth.” Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature, 127 (2015):4ff.

Chris Hammond, illustrator for Mary Barton and Cranford: a scene from Mary Barton where a female character is too weak to stand


I took extensive notes on Holmes’s book as well as other essays, secondary studies and the novels of the era discussed by Holmes. A sample of some themes in Holmes I was not able to include in my review:

William Lindsay Windus (1822-1907), Too Late (a rare depiction of TB in its last stages: Windus was attacked and the picture hurt his career badly)

Preface: Holmes asks, What cultural texts inform the meanings we give disability? what kinds of bodies raise our hackles? Which ones evoke fear, pity, desire, disgust? How does all this end in our limiting the way our bodies are allowed by us to feel? She tells of the tension, awkwardness, and cant she saw in classrooms trying to discuss disabilities. The students could not see themselves as disabled — among those who spoke. It usually ended in everyone expressing compassion, inspiration and then defensiveness and boredom.

Dickens is so typical in his drenching of such a character in melodrama, sentimentality and healing. She instances the movie An Affair to Remember and how it was alluded to in Sleepless in Seattle. Holmes wants to disrupt this connection of melodrama with disability. Apparently a trope of Victorian novels is the disabled woman who cannot marry and becomes a conduit for another woman to marry; tremendous emotional excess surrounds the figure because she cannot marry or should not. How terrible (Victorians thought) to transmit disability. Orphans of the Storm a silent film that harked back to a popular Victorian story. Why was, is it so dangerous to imagine a disabled woman as desiring or a biological mother? In the body of her book she provides extensive detailed analyses of the novels and/or novelists’ work, and of the those people with disabilities who wrote memoirs or about whom biographies were written.

Holmes connects the treatment of disabled people to perceptions of disability as an issue about work: who works and who doesn’t. One problem, what is work anyway? What people then (and today too) look at is who is an “imposter” (thus villainous, not deserving) and who “really” disabled; what is cared about is the relationship of such a person to income and work as “innocent” or “guilty.” Disability is not cared about as such, but only as it impinges on what’s thought important. Mayhew’s London Labor and the London Poor is a major document.

1870 Education Act included a provision that poor law guardians were to send blind, dumb, lame, deformed, idiotic, insane children to charitable institutions to be educated; no money was provided and in fact nothing done. In 1893-4 a provision making it compulsory that blind and deaf children go to school. Not clear if it was enforced (I know what services are available cease in the US when the person finished high school — so 12th grade, around age 18.) Raymond Williams makes short work of nostalgia over Elizabethan treatment of crippled, disabled.
Holmes’s book makes Foucault emerge as not only irrelevant and unreal but doing yet more harm to attitudes – justifying simply putting the disabled on the streets after you close their “prison-asylum”. (In many 18th century historical studies, his evidence is said to be wholly inadequate).

Is disability less speakable today? Holmes seems to think so. The disabled person not recognized as disabled is freer – but at the same time, it’s the person who is “near normal” but needs help that is the person most people resist recognizing – lest it threaten their own self image.


Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Johnson reading

Chris Mounsey’s superb collection of essays: The Idea of Disability in the Eighteenth Century. (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2014).

Disability is used as a perspective to examine culture – as we examine culture from the perspective of class, gender, race, sexuality. All these different groups are made to define themselves negatively against the hegemonic “norm”. The norm defines itself by what it is not. We find that excluded people either acquiesce or they become victims. People look for activities whihc bring about change to improve the excluded person’s experience. He maintains this way of defining the self does not help disabled people create better attitudes towards themselves

He made me remember distinctly — though I know it to be so — that Pope was a crippled person, called a cripple, ill of a central disease in his body frame, disabled, and that Johnson was disabled too. The two men after whom ages have been name: as in The Age of Pope (alternative: Augustan) and The Age of Johnson (alternative: Sensibility). The only novel I can think of which from the 18th century which has a disabled or crippled character is Burney (in Camilla) and it’s she who left the most graphic (unpleasant) pictures of Johnson. Austen only presents disability fleetingly in an encounter in her letters (if the man she makes signs to is that). She also has Mrs Smith. Mounsey discusses Helene Deutsche’s books, Resemblance and Disgrace and Loving Dr Johnson – both are book length studies of a disabled person

He argues we must talk about and think about disability in terms of limitations; how it limits the person and help them cope with these limitations . Accept that these are their limitations. Antidiscrimination laws for both people marginalized importantly helps. Not worry ourselves about hegemonic norms.

He distinguishes this way: Homosexuality is socially constructed, blindness is not. Sexuality is partially socially constructed; so too racism . You want to imagine the lived experience of the disabled person irrespective of abled people. You don’t worry yourself about their lack of intersection with these large acts or events that are said to be normal.

On some histories of disability: Kim Neillsen’s history cannot divest itself of this binary of abled versus disabled people no matter how rich her refusal to fall into generalities and abstractions. David Turner on disability in the 18th century focusing on deformity (probably because that is what was recognized) but still uses class race and gender as tools of analysis. 1999 Elizabeth Bredberg said that accounts of the live experience of disabled people is underrepresented. There is more work published about deaf people than any other disability – we need people with “interpretive competence.” Much of their history has been a fight to use sign language as their means of communication. Now sign language is ephemeral and individual —

William Hay (1695-1755), was small man with a deformed spine, a poet, politician, husband and father, Whig member of parliament. Hay tells of mocking terms for himself: did he take them seriously, Mounsey asks, The ODNB by Taylor does not mention the man was a “born a hunchback dwarf” until penultimate paragraph. We are not told of the marriage beyond it was one showing loyalty to Whig party. Hay wrote treatises on laws for the poor with suggestions for better relief, a long poem, on principles of morality and Christianity, on civil gov’t, left extensive diaries, translation of Martial. Hay published his essay on “Deformity” a year before his death when he said he was never free from casual abuse, and says we cannot treat disabled people as if disability were marginal to their lives. Hay attacked Bacon for saying people with irregular bodies have twisted minds. At one point he scorns a woman who is deeply sick and allows someone to marry her for her money (Lady Mary Belair).Meanwhile the Critical Review called Hay good-natured and ignores barbed Martial epigrams where Hay took Pope as a his model. Why? Hay waited until he was dead and his victims too to publish. Hay wrote about how he waited.

Mounsey was partially sighted when young and is now wholly blind. Blind people have fought for more braille texts ;now Mounsey could read when a child and now he uses audiobooks and text-to-voice mechanisms. He now relies wholly on aural and finds the experience itself very different and equally valid 15 – it took 2 years to learn to do well. He is disabled in reading the way a deaf person mostly is not – he is stressing people are variable and we should all help one another He has a friend who will not accept her blindness; refuses to go places, insists on reading using a kindle with the letters hugely magnified but soon tires 18. This reminds me of many widows who refuse to go out. People need to build a capability to live with an altered capacity – to find alternatives. Yes I agree.

Then come the essays in the volume.


Barnaby Rudge and his one friend, a raven (Phiz) — seen as uncanny

A few notes on Janet Lyon’s extraordinarily insightful “On the asylum road in Mew and Woolf:”

I can’t even begin to do justice to this essay. It is a deeply anti-asylum argument. This is just one small note from it, and a recommendation to read it yourself (bibliography included in the review). Lyon includes the startling cruel insults Woolf will hurl at disabled people (such as when she sees a group of downs syndrome people walking down a road they are “idiots” who ought to be “killed”. These remind me on tone and intensity of Austen’s harsh jokes — women in childbed and dead babies. I wondered if Austen’s closeness to disabled people, to the wretched of her society,her own lesbian-spinster or just spinster state formed part of her alienating way of presenting human bodies in her letters. Both acutely sensitive people.

Lyon quotes the great and powerful poems of Charlotte Mew that Penelope Fitzgerald’s late 20th century biography grew out of. Fitzgerald wanted to look and to look away. She identifies vulnerability with disability. Woolf identifies the disabled on the street with the wretchedly poor and miserable there too. With old lone women.

The early history of asylums in the 19th century not only went about to lock up unwanted people but would ferret them out of neighborhoods to fill these places. The strongest thrust of these places and the culture that produced them is to control the person defined as disabled, to keep them apart from everyone else, and then to dismiss them from life. Unlike Holmes and even Chris Mounsey Lyon concentrates on mental disability which is more threatening to the average person — thus the horror, the assertion of something uncanny.

From Charlotte Mew’s “The Changeling”

Sometimes I wouldn’t speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel’s feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat’s black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell’s sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That’s why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn’t do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything …


We all remember the early treatment of Brendan Coyle as the disabled Mr Bates (2010, Downton Abbey)

As a general final note here: There is a problem when one uses novels or films as evidence for serious psychiatric or neurological or sociological problems. We do this so often since it’s become an accepted way of reading novels, as part of cultural studies. But novels are written to sell and to a wide public and obey conventional plot-designs. We should remember that the writer no matter how perceptive, humane, acute, is a product of his or her era, is making up the evidence, and the novel is intended to be read as a novel, the film (with actors playing parts) seen as a film.


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