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offtowork
The best moments are the quiet ones: characters walking and talking, so here are Mr and Mrs Bates off to work (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggart)

Moseleyselilingtickets
Mr Moseley in the village square self-reflexively selling tickets to come see ….

Mr Carson: “Do other butlers have to contend with the police arriving every 10 minutes?”
Answer: No, but most are not part of moribund mini-series.

Friends and remarkably patient readers,

Despite outbreaks physiological and psychological of intense distress, surely you’ve noticed we are on our way to as happily ever after as human beings ever know:

I take out my crystal ball developed out of not-so attentive watching (I would open a book and take bets only that I don’t understand betting):

crystalball

Our princess Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is going to marry the self-indulgent drone Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) and run Downton Abbey efficiently as a cross between a tourist attraction and generous farm rental site; Barrow will become head butler and spend his declining years indulging all Lady Mary’s children; our secondary heroine Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) will marry Bertie Pelham (Henry Haddon-Patton, a double-moniker there) despite Lady Mary’s final spiteful attempt to use her knowledge that Marigold is an illegimate child. Pelham is not a prince in disguise, but he is not the total shit Lady Mary had hoped. Mr and Mrs Bates (the one truly aggressive man in the series and his very long-suffering wife) will have that baby, which will be healthy and retire to their property to become prosperous landlords. Lord Grantham will not die young because Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) is just too soothing and complacent a presence to allow an early death once Violet Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) despite her Methuselah-like great age settles down to supporting Miss Dencker (Sue Johnston)’s matching spite and Spratt’s stamp-collecting habits (Jeremy Swift).

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A single housekeeper, skeletal staff, and “day help” will replace “downstairs”

Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) will show yet more extraordinary patience as she endures married life with that self-indulged prig of the patriarchy, Mr Carson (Jim Carter) who is not capable of going to bed without looking to see if the sheet corners are expertly done nor eat if his dinner is not eternally hot and as exquisitely cooked as if he were a Shah of Saudi Arabia. Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) will marry Mr Mason (Paul Copley), bringing to his tenant farm her dowry of her property. Now married, a highly educated Daisy (Sophie McShea) and Andy (reading and writing too as the best of them, certainly no one knows pig theory better) will come to live with them.

Have I left anyone out? Tom Bransom (Allen Leech)’s fate is as yet obscure. Isabel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) have been granted an intermediary in the person of an astonishingly kind prospective daughter-in-law (what I can’t figure out is how she can marry that vicious son of his?).

While I just know in the longer run Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) will marry Mr Moseley (Kevin Doyle) who will become a teacher in a school (he takes a test next to Daisy in Episode 6), there is another bit of a twist and turn down the road as it seems after all she had some feelings for the crook who arranged his theft in such a way as she went to prison. Both such good souls, they will work it out.

How easy some of them have it now? Lady Edith’s interviews of prospective women employees are without tension? No rivalry whatsoever. How is it that this newspaper is so easy to run?

Interviewee (2)

Interviewee (1)
What a gentle time of it they all have

As to Talbot, are there no aggressive males left on the planet? When with Lady Mary, he behaves as if he were in school assembly.

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In Downton Abbey only servants are harshly treated …

So why are we carrying on? in this excruciating slow motion? (For recaps see Anibundel: 5, Who would have thought the old man had so much blood?, 6: Downton Abbey as Antiques Roadshow lacks information). Because the ratings were so high and potential audience and money from advertisers were too tempting.

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On Episode 5: I admit to being a viewer whose emotions have at times been deeply engaged with these characters, so when the hospital debate came a crisis with Violet’s coercing Neville Chamberlain himself to come to luncheon in the hope he will not permit the local hospital to be amalgamated to a county-wide organization and yet another of these tension-filled meals became too much for Lord Grantham — and his ulcers burst. What a comment upon 6 years of these dinners and luncheons, not to omit the occasional strained breakfast. I found myself distractedly distressed, tears running out of my eyes, to see this man coughing up huge goblets of blood.

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Lord Grantham’s ulcer bursts — he has clearly had enough (Hugh Bonneville enters fully into the role assigned every time, DA 6, Episode 5)

So the first time I watched, I was started into upset, and my emotions rose strongly; but if a movie has real depth in it and has earned belief, adherence, the second time through should be stronger as you notice more. Alas (almost), the second time through I felt indifference; the contrived nature of the scene once the shock wore off and especially since Fellowes had relied on this melodrama. I read somewhere that the genuine shock on Elizabeth McGovern’s face came from her gown, face and hands being spattered with the false blood from across the room. That was not supposed to happen and you can do only so many takes with such a scene. In the event, they did two takes only. I could see how it neatly ties up with the hospital debate in such a way as the Dowager must lose, but I felt that a sensitive fine actor (Bonneville) who let himself go into the part was exploited by this use of him.

MosleleyBaxter
Mr Moseley helps Miss Baxter put on her coat after she has learned her ex-lover has pled guilty thus sparing her a confession of her complicity on the stand

As to Miss Baxter’s continuing agon, with the ever compassionate sensible Mr Moseley (who can put things into perspective with the joke — do you want me to go back and see if he will plead “not guilty”). What saves this series is not the humor (which is often not funny) but that continually as an undercurrent and some times rising to the surface (in coughed up blood?) are tensions, strains, disappointment, conflicted desires beneath the tranquil surface of life for these privileged lucky characters.

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Downton Abbey | Series Six We return to the sumptuous setting of Downton Abbey for the sixth and final season of this internationally acclaimed hit drama series. As our time with the Crawleys begins to draw to a close, we see what will finally become of them all. The family and the servants, who work for them, remain inseparably interlinked as they face new challenges and begin forging different paths in a rapidly changing world. Photographer: Nick Briggs HARRY HADDEN-PATON as Bertie Pelham
The people on line are beginning to think somehow one group waiting has been favored over another, and the staff is doing what they can to push out such thinking from their minds.

On Episode 6: One of my favorite PBS shows has long been the Antiques Road Show on PBS as done in Britain; there is an American version, but for me not as much fun as these visits to large country houses and estates. And I have come to expect as a matter of course, that detailed knowledge of the most obscure objects will be forthcoming.

Taken as a gentle satire on the usual display of conjectured (they are careful to say it’s conjectured) information with prices that make the sellers unexpectedly happy, Episode 6 was worth a watch. There was a mild pleasure to be had in seeing how people really don’t know the facts wanted (or bogusly invented). Lady Edith couldn’t say who was in the picture; Cora, Lady Grantham did not know why one set of imitation shields over a fireplace had not been carved with any letters but over there was a bona fide Reynolds.

Doesntknow
She never thought to ask why the shields are not carved — the false importance such tours give to brick-a-bracks, making them numinous because “gazed at” in this ritual way is felt

Robert: “What on Earth can we show them to make it worth their money? Lady Grantham knitting? Lady Mary in the bath?”

The dialogue where a tourist boy stumbles into Lord Grantham’s room to ask why he doesn’t get somewhere much more comfortable to live a bit heavy-handed but not all that improbable — if you think children are not alive to class and how rich people live differently. Mine and I knew by kindergarten.

Granthamandboy
Lord Grantham will soon tell the boy he lives this way because that’s what he is used to

What was registered was Fellowes’s looking askance at those people who come to gawk; and his quiet sneer that to keep such places going you have to let people in who envy a style of life they have misapprehended as exciting but who are really endlessly thinking of whether their egos have been assuaged.

Downton Abbey | Series Six We return to the sumptuous setting of Downton Abbey for the sixth and final season of this internationally acclaimed hit drama series. As our time with the Crawleys begins to draw to a close, we see what will finally become of them all. The family and the servants, who work for them, remain inseparably interlinked as they face new challenges and begin forging different paths in a rapidly changing world. Photographer: Nick Briggs MAGGIE SMITH as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham

Miss Dencker comes near to be fired for too much loyalty. When Dr Clarkson (David Robb) defected, she accosted him. He writes a letter of complaint to the dowager. So we see whose feelings count. Whose life matters. The Dowager’s response is not gratitude. What? did Dencker think she had a right to be loyal. to have any feelings at all? On the spot, the Dowager will fire her. The way Dencker holds on is to threaten to tell the Dowaer that Spratt hid his crook-nephew, so Spratt must go upstairs and ask for her reinstatement. When Spratt succeeds (so quickly it’s probable the Dowager did not want to sack Dencker), far from promising never to threaten again, Dencker says she will use short blackmail whenever she has to.

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Thomas Barrow contemplates suicide as his utterly selfless teaching of Andrew Parker is sleazily misread (Rob James-Collier and Michael Fox, DA 6, Episode 6

Thomas is beginning to have had it. After all these years of faithful service and self-control on his part, he is still not trusted enough so that if he strikes up a friendship with a footman the first thought all have is he’s buggering him. And he is continually nagged to find a job where he might have something useful to do. Had this been imitative of life either he or Andy would have said he was teaching Andy to read.

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Strolling
Lady Edith and her suitor stroll through St James Park — or is it Kensington Gardens we are to suppose we are entering into (Episode 5)

So what have we gained from Episodes 5 & 6: And they all headed to live happily ever after despite the occasional strong strains

I did remember this poem while watching some of the quietly strained moments amid the engineered systematic indifference of most to most between characters who pass through much splendor and have who at times have something to me:

Musee de Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
— W. H. Auden

MrsCrawleysfaceregisteringfearofsuchamarriage
Mrs Crawley facing Lord Merton’s persistence registers on her prudent face fear of what her marrying Lord Merton might cause them to experience

Ellen

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Pericles (Wayne T Carr) and Thais (Brooke Parks), tempest-tost, he grieving, she dead (Shakespeare’s Pericles, directed by Joseph Haj, scenic design Jan Chambers, Folger 2015)

… your present kindness/makes my past miseries sport … (Pericles)

AnitaMaria
Anita (Natascia Diaz) and Maria (Mary-Joanne Grisso (from this season’s West Side Story by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, choreographer Parker Esse, directed by Matthew Gardiner, Signature 2015)

Friends and readers,

Any one who comes to this blog regularly could come to the conclusion that here in the Washington DC area we’ve had a spate of politically-atune, actuated, effective films and stage plays from Antigone to Trumbo, or this blogger is obsessively seeking these out and writing about them. Where I went has of course not been pure serendipity, nor do I deny enjoying telling others what I’ve seen and recommending what’s significant. Nevertheless I have here mirrored without making any effort the reality that the last few months in DC and Virginia have seen staged and screened as many or more relevant, pertinent, and grounded as deeply in human psyches and family and socially pressured-dramas as in any time I’ve been here over a few years (or in New York City, where I came from in 1980).

This year’s Pericles and West Side Story are en rapport too. Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre was not written with the refugee exodus from the Middle East into Europe of 2015 in mind; Sondheim and Bernstein’s West Side Story was written and a stupendous hit more than 40 years before the endless war abroad, spread of guns with daily massacres, whipped up hatred for “the other” in the last year or so of the Republicans running for President. But effortlessly the first was made to speak to us about powerless wandering individuals in a vast world of treachery, betrayal, exploitation and nature’s indifference, and the second couldn’t help but show us the same violence intrinsic to American male culture as is found in the Oxbow Incident (for example), or city streets then and movie theaters (or agencies, stores, malls, wherever today), the power of the gun to kill so easily, and ethnic hatred.

My desire to demonstrate the moving marvel that is the Oregon production of Pericles re-created here at the Folger is made easy for me by directing the reader to Susan Galbraith’s A Magical Pericles, DC Theater Scene. If you don’t believe her, Kate Wingfield is grudging; I’ve read the play several times (I once planned to write my dissertation on one of Shakespeare’s late tragic romances, of which this is the first, the others Cymbeline, Winter’s Tale, The Tempest) and was re-persuaded the first two acts are by him but from a very bad or corrupt quarto where what we have is half-remembered scenes (the man is trying hard): many lines here and there his, passages, the fishermen’s language jokes, e.g.,

    The blind mole casts
Copped hills towards heaven, to tell the earth is thronged
By man’s oppression, and the poor worm doth die for’t …

They say they’re half fish, half flesh. A plague on them! They ne’re come but I look to be washed. I marvel how the fishes live in the sea … Why, as men do a-land — the great ones eat up the little ones …

Die, koth-a? Now gods forbid’t, an I have a gown here, come put it on; keep thee warm … a handsome fellow … we’ll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting days, and moreo’er puddingg and flapjacks

    the rough seas, that spares not any man,
Took it in rage — though, calmed, have given’t again
I thank three for’t.

The which hath fire in darkness, none in light,
Whereby I see that Time’s the king of men;
He’s both their parent,and he is their grave,
And gives them what he will, not what they want.

the whole conception his, reminding me of The Merchant of Venice and as a first full run of the motifs of the late romances.

Pericles1609Quarto

The production turns into self-reflexive parodic comedy (with an unacknowledged wink) some of the more stilted passages, and into semi-dumb show the paradigmatic moments, investing what adult emotion fairy tales allow until the moment Shakespeare’s text emerges at the first great tempest. Carr is up to it:

thegodosthisgratvast

The god of this great vast, rebuke these surges,
Which wash both heaven and hell; and thou that hast
Upon the winds command, bind them in brass,
Having called them from the deep! O, still
Thy deaf’ning dreadful thunders; gently quench
Thy nimble sulphurous flashes! — O, how, Lychorida,
How does my queen? — Thou stormest venomously;
Wilt thou spit all thyself? The seaman’s whistle
Is as a whisper in the ears of death,
Unheard — (III:1)

Pamela Roberts also is eloquent and makes detail about the production by me unnecessary. I should add the use of computer-generated movie-like images in across the walls (as seas, stars, islands) worked beautifully (as these did in Antigone earlier this year).

In addition, the Folger team has had the intelligence to put on-line stills from some of the more wondrous, narrative:

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Amando Duran as Gower comes from the grave and ancient (even to Shakespeare) poetry to play narrator —

tragic and funny moments from the play.

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The three fishermen, in the center Michael J Hume who also plays Pericles’s wise moral mentor, Helicanus, and then turns into the vamp-bawd, of Mytilene:

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U. Jonathan Toppo one of the fishermen, now her sidekick pimp, Boult.

It’s more than a wondrous production. I saw something as deeply uplifting from Pericles at the Delacorte with Jim in the 1970s. It taught me what I know about books: years later the same work speaks to you in a way consonant with your life in a new time. This time watching people who died or were thought to be dead brought back, death conquered, I was brought to tears. Pericles is Lear in reverse. When Pericles says to his daughter, Marino, now found , “Thou beget’st him that did beget thee,” and “This is rare dream that e’er dull sleep/Did mock sad fools” (V:1) I thought of Jim he appears to me in my dreams. If you want to have your spirits cheered for this winter solstice, and live in the DC area or can get there, you can do no better.

But I also liked how they managed to do (as in The Tempest and Cymbeline) capture the malice, envy, indifference to suffering, sale of souls and bodies that is the world in other of the scenes, from hired assassins, to fishermen, to pimps:

Marine: “Thou hold’st a place for which the pain’st fiend/Of hell would not in reputation change/Thou are a damned doorkeeper …
Boult: “What would you have me do? go to the wars, would you? where a man may serve seven years for the loss of a leg, and have not money enough in the end to buy him a wooden one (IV:6)

I wish I could find as accurate reviews of Eric Shaffaer’s most recent Sondheim (he is ever in charge, and this was his choice for the Christmas mainstream-enough program). I can find none. Nor are they generous with photos (foolish). Esse and Gardiner do little that is original or different or especially inspired. They try to follow the original Broadway production, with the difference that they have a lot less to work with (props, space, dancers, money for supremely good dancers and minor roles). They also alter some of the silent staging so that Tony and Maria are seen to go to bed together the one night they are together, and the white gang just about rapes Anita when she comes to warn Tony that Chino has a gun. I assume my reader knows the story and characters of this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet story.

The decision which seemed to me most right was to turn the production as much as possible into sheer dance and song. The story and characters became part of an expressionist dance.

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The white male gang

Anita
Anita (Natascia Diaz was the strongest performer on stage, she exhilarated the audience as no one else did)

But (as with Shakespeare), the work can carry itself if everyone will but try, and that’s what happens in this production. The crowd of dancers, actors, singers are there in front of you interacting in visceral ways.

You also see what makes for a lasting classic: the older work gets new electric relevancy when it’s redone in another era. When Chino gets a gun and kills Tony the meaning now is different: we see how much easier it is to kill. They had Maria take the gun from Chino and her words cursing it had a new resonance. Also the speech of Doc against whipped up hatred. There is no place for these lovers and their ideals. This is one not to miss this year too.

Haj says in his program notes that Pericles is a play of survival, loss, maturation, and reconciliation. There’s not much to reconcile. Shakespeare opened with a cruel incestuous king and his daughter; Pericles left his baby, Marina, with a queen out of Snow White; having buried his beloved wife, he wanders griefstruck, alone. When the gods or fortune are finished playing their games with him, he exhibits acceptance, resignation, expansive relief. Gower has told us again and again what we are seeing is “in the old story” if you cannot believe. If it is all improbable, including several abandonments, the actors on the stage filled the roles with an intense enough identfication from somewhere.

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A balancing act on a swing

The program notes for West Side Story tell of the 1950s gangs in NYC, the immigration into the northern cities of the US from the south, and into NYC in particular, hispanic people from Latin and South America (listen to Juan Gonzalez about Puerto Rico’s position as a century-old colony), the destitution and poverty of the slums, the violence resorted to by the males excluded from economic hope. We all know homicides, racism, inequality, violence is as intrinsic to American experience today as it was then. Signature sees this musical as “plea for tolerance, acceptance and love.” I was impressed by how it ended on another widow — like Natalie Wood in the movie, Mary-Joanna Grisso who gives the most moving performance of the ensemble, genuinely convincing, plangent, trembling, leaves the stage swathed in a widow’s cape and shawl. Her brother, lover and fiancee all dead, Anita last seen racing away in a seething rage for having tried to forgive, and been near raped for her efforts.

black cashmere silk scarf
No lack of women in widow’s scarves today

Ellen

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Bryan Cranston as Trumbo — who did write in a tub, while drinking alcohol and smoking …

Dear friends and readers,

I recommend not missing this film. Whatever the flaws, this is a strong film I wish everyone in the US would see. Alas, it’s a film for our Trump time.

To begin with, qua film it’s better than Truth (a story of the destruction of Mary Mapes’s career upon her attempting to expose Bush Jr’s lies about his military career), which never ceases to be presented in a hyped melodramatic fashion that prevents the viewer from having any sense of the real character of Mapes, though it does project the (today important) political message that news organizations have been hijacked and corrupted by political organizations and the profit motive. See “Why TV News must die:”: Bad tv news outlets cheer on horrendous candidates in sickly parodies of journalism, and those monstrous campaigns make money for the tv outlets.” It’s also dangerous for they promote bad people to office.

This is due largely to Cranston’s persuasive enactment of the man through a script that does trace his private as well as outward political and screenplay-writing life over a thirty-year period. Jordan Mintzer of Hollywood Reporter:

Cranston, who sheds the mimicry and pontificating of earlier scenes to turn Trumbo into a wry, self-deprecating and somewhat cheeky older man, even if he continued to stand up for what was right

Ty Burr of The Boston Globe:

Cranston’s performance is the motor that runs Trumbo, and that motor never idles, never flags in momentum or magnetism or idealistic scorn.

The pace of the film is also much slower than Truth, Trumbo boasts scenes longer than the usual of popular-style movies nowadays. Jay Roach was the director, probably appropriately the person to give credit to here is the writer, John McNamara. I say appropriately for an important phase of Trumbo’s career was his work was his writing for The Screen Writer where for years he was (rightly) scathing about the film industry’s bathetic scripts, crude commercialism, and significantly reactionary politics. The first subject is dear to my heart as anyone who reads my blog will know: I wrote a paper last spring on “The Importance of Screenplays” as a central instrument to making and understanding a fine film.

Trumbo also does not succumb to the mystery-suspense thriller plot-design increasingly ubiquitous to the extent it forms the spine of the recent Suffragette, a third political film for this season. (A fourth is Bridge of Spies, which apparently boasts a remarkable performance by Mark Rylance as the British spy working for Russians.)

Instead it harks back to the very 1940s style films Trumbo himself wrote: an “inspirational struggle of our Horatio Alger hero against the forces of darkness” (I quote from Bruce Biskind’s review in Cineaste). Incessant hard work, earnest caring about his fellow human beings, controlled courage when humiliated (in a powerful prison scene Trumbo is stripped naked and forced to display his private body parts to a heavily-armed guard on the other side of bars), over-worked in prison (and jeered at, insulted by an ironic black man who “hates” communists because they don’t “love this country” which has done so much for him), a strong talent which he manages to sell to D-film-makers carries our hero through to breaking the blacklist (we are told). And at the close of the film we get the final rousing speech, in this film moving delivered in a film clip of Trumbo himself in an interview he gave after it was revealed he had written Spartacus. The film harked back to 1930s and 40s films I’ve seen where Ronald Colman (Talk of the Town) and Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird) take this role and it can still be seen in the still watched Jimmy Stewart telling us It’s a Wonderful Life!.

Beyond Cranston’s performance (and the actors playing with him, especially Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird), the film interweaves the present film with documentary film from the 1950s through 70s. These are startlingly revealing and make the analogous points the film-makers surely meant: HUAC insists in these documents cuts on its right to invade the privacy of US citizens “to protect the nation” from “enemies;” the first amendment is laughed at. We see a young ever so plausible Ronald Reagan. We see John Wayne haranguing people. I went with a friend who said substitute the word “Muslim” for communist and we could be in 2015. We glimpse the murder of the Rosenbergs. Some of the actors are dressed successfully to look close to, and act like the original people. Towards the end of the film when Cranston is an aging Trumbo he looks like him. These give needed ballast to the central threads.

I say needed because there is a great deal here that is gratingly untrue or evaded. The impression is given Trumbo just about single-handedly undermined and destroyed the blacklist by writing so many money-making screeplays and at least two academy award winners. He did support himself by writing scripts that sold movies under a pseudonym and at least three of these were nominated or given prestigious awards, but the blacklist had begun to deteriorate slowly with the advent of TV. He did nothing single-handedly which I’ve a hunch he’d have been the first to say.

One thing Nora Gilbert’s Better Left Unsaid shows is that the production code as much as political censorship was responsible for the inanities of popular films until the middle 1950s, and films like those made by Kazan (On the Waterfront no matter how rightist and Streetcar Named Desire), as importantly, The Pawnbroker (1964) ended vigilant vigilance, preparing the way for a more adult presentation of political ideas. The full truth would have to take into account the effect of British and other European films of the 1980s (My Beautiful Laundrette); only recently have films like Trumbo become common once again. it is untrue that Edward G. Robinson named names; he testified three times and called himself “a dupe of the communists” but he never named anyone.

HeddaHopper
Helen Mirren as the vicious Hedda Hopper (she was)

Evaded also is Trumbo’s long career as a eloquent polemicist: he was himself targeted, a scapegoat on the basis of his own fierce hostility to the preponderance of terrible films in The Hollywood Spectator. He made enemies. Roach’s films shows Trumbo standing up for the rights of production crews to strike for higher wages. But Trumbo attacked the inflated incomes of the movie owners: he was a pre-2015 attacker of egregious inequality (see Tim Palmer, “Side of the Angels: Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood Trade Press and the Blacklist,” Cinema Journal 14:4 (2005):57-74). I would be surprised the movie didn’t bring this out to make more analogies, but have read it’s based on Bruce Cook’s biography where fundamental research into other aspects of Trumbo’s career does not appear to have been done, or if so, used. There is no serious examination of the 1950: Trumbo’s great work is the tract, The Time of the Toad, comparable to Lilian Hellman’s Soundrel Time. The experiential emphasis of the film is on the trajectory of Trumbo’s admirable endurance of prison, years of incessant demeaning effort, ostracism, and (made into a comedy) final break-through when his apparently mindless bosses throw the persecutors out using a large heavy stick.

louisck
Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird

Still as a political statement and viscerally moving story, Trumbo is as good as Suffragette, and like Suffragette better than most films I’ve seen all year — especially if you consider its theme. It shows the destruction of many lives; it reminds me of Kenneth Johnson’s Pitt’s Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1970s in conveying how little it takes to rob someone of a decent place to live, to ruin someone’s private relationships, make sure they never fulfill their talents or are useful to society.

This is where the story of Arlen Hird comes in: the movie shows everyone continually smoking, and this man develops cancer. The disease goes into remission but he finds himself unable to produce shlock under a false name rapidly and the stress and misery of his existence (his wife leaves him) leads to an early death. You see how easily hatred and fear is whipped up among people. The film ends on the real Trumbo talking in an interview with a powerful statement that now he has gotten back his name.

If only it were as easy to get rid of those who can put people into prison for political beliefs and activities as John Goodman as Frank King manages:

It’s a condescending easy quip making fun to call it “a B-movie about an A-list screenwriter”. Like Suffragette because of the way it’s made it will reach a large audience and appeal to their sympathies, to what they admire, what they would like to believe is true, that an individual can “win against the system.” We need more of this kind of didacticism if that’s what it takes to teach or reach people. Peter DeBruge of Variety:

Trumbo may be clumsy and overly simplistic at times, but it’s still an important reminder of how democracy can fail (that is, when a fervent majority turns on those with different and potentially threatening values), and the strength of character it takes to fight the system

Earlier this year I strongly recommended Diane Johnson’s biography of Dashiell Hammett: A life and I reiterate that. Johnson demonstrates that in the immediate post WW2 period: very quickly persecutions began, quickly committees formed to “root” out communism (really FDRism), a number of laws passed which parallel Hitler’s early years (outlawing the communist party — freedom of speech means no outlawing parties).  Making the world safe for the fascism to bloom we’ve seen since; the McCarthy era was this brought to a high pitch of terror. He was eventually helplessly ill, destroyed by thugs, a poignant story.

Having watched the film I found myself taking down from my shelves Trumbo’s The Time of the Toad, subtitled (by the way) A Study of Inquisition in America and putting it on my TRB pile as necessary to recall and blog about in this world where Donald Trump is said to be a front-runner in Republican polls for the President of the US and has advocated shutting down or severe controls on who can use the Internet.

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Toad as in toadies

Ellen

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Truth
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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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

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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:

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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.

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

Ellen

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Susan Herbert, Victorian Cats

Ellen

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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.

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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.

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Map of trip

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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)

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Beseiged

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.

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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,

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:

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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.

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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)

strokur
Strokur

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:

lastphoto
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 …

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

Gladstone-Disraeli-Punch-Cartoons
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.

harrietMartineau
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.

harry-in-black-shirt

ClaireFoyUpDown2
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.

Ellen

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