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The translator, like the original poet, is a Narcissa, who chooses to contemplate [reality, herself] not in the spring of nature, but in the pool of art — Renato Poggioli, On Translation

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I heard a conversation (sort of) between Jhumpa Lahiri and Nicoletta Pereddu on Lahiri’s latest book — so it was about translation. It came from a building once a synagogue, now a community center for the arts, via zoom, under the auspices of Politics and Prose bookstore. Despite my being irresistibly drawn to her, I didn’t expect much since the last talk I heard her give was so evasive and stilted (so it seems to me because I find the compelling nature of her texts for me inexplicable). She is a very guarded presence in her books too, more than ever in her new identity as an writer in Italian, writing in the tradition of intensely subjective women’s novellas and mostly concise memoirs.

This latest book, according to John Self of The Guardian, is another with holes in it: like Dove Mi Trovo and In Altre Parole she does not explain why she threw off English, her previous post-colonial and diasporic content, moved to Italy, became (as far as she can) Italian. They reminded me of Joan Didion in her Blue Nights: why write about something if you’ve no intention of writing about it (her daughter’s death from alcoholism, a condition she partly picked from Joan as mother and the father, both of whom drank heavily).

I’m writing this blog because I was very pleasantly surprised. She attempted to be candid, and when offered questions whose assumptions were unexamined reactionary-isms, she went to the trouble to undermine them and produce a humane reason for writing and reading good books. She was tactful and kind: it was a marvelous talk.

She said that for her translation is an origin story, an art that brings the writer back to her origins. The point of origin for her was once and still is Bengali/American. The book is a collection of essays of what she was thinking about translation while translating and writing originally in Italian. She feels you engage most deeply with an author when you translate him or her. She has been drawn by what Italo Calvino wrote of translation, Gramschi, and Ovid (strangely I thought to myself in this context — these are ceaseless stories of rape). Translators are transforming texts, says she. Echo and Narcissus provide central metaphors Narcissus is the first self, self-centered, and Eco the stronger re-producer. She quoted Borges on the idea that it’s the original that’s unfaithful to the translation — he’s giving translation priority and treating it as an original imaginative work.


Daffodils are narcissus flowers — from my very own garden on the front lawn

By moving onto Italian, it seemed she was re-alienating herself because in writing in Italian she is said to be using someone else’s language, as people claim ownership of a language if they grow up speaking it. Only if it’s your mother tongue (note the metaphor) are you free and deep with it automatically. So by doing this she made her identity an open question. In the case of the language she chose (for love of it, she says in In Altre Parole, from sound to world view), the reality is Italian is so diverse. Even now there are many dialects beyond the Tuscan, which has become standard Italian. In any case she never felt she owned English (or Bengali) — these are questions that belong to discourses in nationalism (imagined delusions in part I’d add).

She was naturally asked the question about whether she had the right to translate another language with one that was not her own. Of course the person had fallen into the trap Lahiri said she denied or was avoiding. She answered that by saying, when you ask the question, Who has the right, you are flying in the face of all she believes as a writer, reader, teacher. A text (when incandescent? — that’s Woolf’s term) transcends such categories; they are irrelevant, we are all human beings together, it seems.


A recent photo

Here I would have liked to challenge her: she insisted that when she translates a man, say Domenico Starnone whose Ties (Englished version) she has translated, it does not matter that she is a woman. Implied here is there is no gender fault-line in texts. This argument is why I am putting this talk on this blog rather than my Austen Reveries one. She is wrong, and having myself read her translation of Ties, I know she’s turned it into a feelingful woman’s book despite the story being one about a man who easily drops one wife and picks up another. (His book is in dialogue with his wife, Elena Ferrante’s, or a kind of refutation of them.) By making this claim, she escapes the accusation (at the time) that when in her first book she made the center of it a traditional older woman and then a young man, she avoided delving into herself at the time, for in The Namesake we now see she was Moushumi whose identity in the end is French through the language she studied, and country and culture she went to live in. Self is probably correct to say her latest book shows curious self-blindnesses. I have bought it (from ebay) and await it eagerly.

Then as a translator, she said, face with your text you are translating: you are always just arriving, upon arrival. I thought of Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival, a beautiful book about his time spent near Stonehenge in a cottage, deeply burying himself in the English world he wants to be part of. So the act of translating is an enactment of the diasporic condition after all. For her in the act of two languages coming together in her head, there is an intensely compelling experience, a crucible. She re-enacting the intensely passionate stories of her Bengali-American career by acting out language in a different way. It emerged that she has also been studying Latin, and she is not just reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but translating the text — presumably into Italian! What she finds, even in two tongues so close in linguistic forms, is the text resists her, it resists her modern substitution. Getting inside a new language challenges your/her reality. She cannot learn to talk it as she has Italian, for there is no world where people are talking Latin any more.

There was a modesty and humility in some of her comments and tone. She said each translation is an attempt and so an original text can be re-attempted, and it is is as ages pass — the mystery of how an original text remains itself but when you are translating it, somehow you need to put it in contemporary target language or it’s pastiche. This line of thought of course would seem to move in direct opposition to Borges’s claim. Still translation remains transformation and what happens is the previous text (the original) disappears, or at best, lies behind the translated text and only someone who knows the original language can see the previous peeping out as it strains against the translated language.


I’m reading Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth in the Italian version/translation for the sake of Anita Raja’s (Elena Ferrante) postscript …

But Borges was there again in her idea that translations erode the idea of authorship, especially when they are masterpieces in their own right or occasionally better than the original text — I saw that in the Italian translation I read of Goncharov’s Oblonsky. To this day I don’t know the name of that Italian translator but dolce vita values of Italian itself made the Russian book lyrical. She offered the idea that the translator is liberating the original text from its first author. (For myself I think some literary critics do that for primary imaginative texts and great movies for great books.) She came out with this idea in response to someone who in her question has talked about how a translator must “honor” the original author (reminding me of the demand people sometimes make of movies that they be “faithful” to the original source book).

Lahiri’s idea is that there are a range of ways of translating — of course there are. This brings us back to Dryden with his distinguishing the metaphrase (very close, nearly word for word, the danger here is the translator can fall into translationese), the paraphrase (free enough to write in the target language in a creative way appropriate to the genius of that language) and the imitation (or freer adaptation we might say, the appropriations of modern transposed into other times movies and 18th century satires called Imitations). The writer-translator is paying attention to the original text for the sake of the readers who want to reach that original insofar as it’s possible. The translator has to allow the text to read the reader or the reader to find in the text what he or she can read.

She did talk in abstract ways and showed that she has led a privileged life — there was an austerity and idealism about her approach which suggested someone who has not had to bend to the commercial world or the limits of understanding in undergraduates, or average readers. But I suppose that was refreshing in itself — the professor questioning her produced these roundabout self-grandiose commentaries filled with flattery of her. I thought it admirable that Lahiri could pick out of Pereddu’s gobbledyguk a clear point or points and questions. Pereddu’s hair (so I’m catty) was a vast mop of overdone curls obscuring her face; her clothes ever-so-elegant. The present style for tenured women faculty who want to look young is sexy-fashionableness. So here was a European version.

At one point Lahiri compared the translator’s encounter with a new or other language to an encounter with a landscape: as you learn the language through translating into it, and deeply study, become your text through translating faithfully. I liked that idea very much you see. I translated 600 of Vittoria Colonna’s sonnets and poems into English, 90 of Veronica Gambara’s (see my essay from many years ago), some twenty years of my life in study — using French as an intermediary sometimes.


A reimagined land- and seascape of the island Procida, Italy

I’ll never actually meet this woman (Lahiri) nor would she offer me the respect I’d like, but I have myself followed a similar path (even to ending in the same language) to create an identity of sorts for myself.

Ellen

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Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and Mrs Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) arriving at the Indian station

When Aziz reads a poem at dinner to assembled friends, who most of them don’t understand it very well, we are told “it voiced our loneliness nevertheless, our isolation, our need for the Friend who never comes but is not entirely disproved … (A Passage to India, Ch 9, p 77, Norton edition)

Dear friends and readers,

As my wonderful course (if I do say so myself) draws to a close, I feel I must give tribute to Forster’s stirring masterpiece, A Passage to India: talking of Forster by the end of the first day, and reading and discussing his book (and other writing by him) together for nearly the next three sessions began our 10 week journey wonderfully well. There seemed to be so much to say that was meaningful to us, so many beautiful and intriguing and witty and poignant passages to read aloud and decipher, with Forster himself as a humane prophetic voice outside his novel too. We kept coming back to him and his book too, as having laid new bases of developing thought against colonialism, in the context of a genuinely realized (if narrowly glimpsed) Raj context. David Lean’s film brought the book visually before us, helped us to see what Forster was describing:


Crossing the bare rock mountains using an elephant on the way to the Marabar Caves …

I’ve been surprised to discover I’ve never written on A Passage to India: I’ve blogged on A Room with a View, Howards End, and Maurice, books and film adaptations (sometimes there are two) together, on his anti-fascist politics, aesthetic theory, and connections to Bloomsbury. My guess is I’ve been intimidated by the book’s reputation, and now that I’ve recognized the flaws, strengths, the characteristics A Passage to India has, along with other Anglo-Indian novels, I grow braver. It belongs to a kind (discussed ably by David Rubin in his After the Raj:  British Novels of India after 1947 — also before).

First how it relates to the other well-known fictional work — the realistic novels.  All but one was published in a short period, that is, 5 novels (the two I’ve not mentioned are Where Angels Fear to Tread, and The Longest Journey) between 1905 and 1924.   The 6th and in some ways least flawed (least inconsistent) is Maurice, published posthumously in 1971 (a year after Forster’s death) because it tells the tale of a homosexual young man growing up, falling in love, and like other novels of manners has a very hard time choosing the life he truly wants to live, with the partner he truly loves. Its central dilemma or preoccupation resembles that of the other 5:  can his characters resist society’s perversion of their heart’s desires, think and feel clearly for themselves. Even A Passage to India manifests this dilemma — in Adela Quested’s case.

But A Passage to India also goes beyond this:  it dramatizes how we are as individuals products of encompassing group cultures we cannot escape, no matter how contradictory that culture is.  So it’s not enough that Fielding defies those around him.  Deeper attachments limit the ways and the whole society as a presence prevent him and Aziz from forming a long-lasting close-by relationship.

1029505.
Dinner at Fielding’s gov’t college gardens: Aziz (Victor Bannerjee), the book’s central consciousness, Muslim, a trained physician, Adela, who has come out to India to discover it so she can decide whether she cope with the role of memsahib and become the identity asked of her by her bethrothed, Ronny More (Nigel Rivers) and Prof Godbole (Alec Guiness), not to be trusted, evasive, undermining, a Hindu, two feeling congenial

Then how does it relate to the author’s life: A Passage to India directly mirrors Forster’s own experiences twice in India: 1912-13, with friends touring and visiting; and 1921-22 , living as a private secretary in a princely state. Aziz is a portrait of two men Forster loved and the maharajah he worked for, and the uneasy time he experienced there, plus of course probably much reading. He poured himself into it; he struggled to present his own experience of sexuality transposed to a publishable fiction. Here you must read his Hills of Devi, and Wendy Moffatt’s biography of Forster, A Great Unrecorded History (see the bibliography).

The novel is divided into three parts: Mosque, Caves, and Temple – with the longest section the middle; all three begin with a deep dive immersing us into landscapes, the first immediate realistic; the second geological, geographical moving wide and far; the third turning inward to show ceremonies and rituals’ affect on those participating and watching.

The first section is a varied and graphic comedy of manners, where we experience the prejudices of the English, the way they inflict humiliation (as a minimum) in the way the English interact with Indians. An intuitive and unusual rapport emerges between Mrs Moore (Adela’s fiancé’s, Ronny Heaslop’s mother) and Aziz, between Aziz and Fielding. We see Aziz’s profession of doctor, his friends; the crass officials; Ronny and Adela are groping their way into becoming a pair (they are deeply alike in some ways).

The second section is the trip to the caves, the misapprehension of Adela which results in an accusation of assault and rape by Aziz, the tremendous explosion of the British into such distrust, and near hysteria. We experience the trial, Aziz’s acquittal when Adela is courageous enough to defy everyone and say nothing happened that mattered, the ostracizing of Fielding when he responsibly, humanely, sides with Aziz, Fielding’s having to leave, Mrs Moore choosing leaving (in her case death), the intense anger of Aziz and his distrust of Fielding.


Fielding, worried, looking out to see what is happening to his friend …

Third section, two years later, Fielding returns with Mrs Moore’s daughter, Stella, as his wife, and her son, Ralph, who seems weakly autistic, but gentle, meaning kindness and homoerotic in his behavior. So many lies told Aziz which he wanted to believe (he has gone to a princely Hindu state), are barriers Fielding must break down. Their friendship seems to be returning, but as ever then end in a quarrel with Aziz demanding the British get out and leave the Indians free to be fully dignified, in charge of themselves

Major Characters: Aziz — filled with good feeling, meaning well, wanting to trust people, to love them. He doesn’t think. He is prejudiced – and distrusts profoundly English people and their values. Sees them as very mercenary. Has he bought into the idea he might be inferior? He over-reacts his eagerness to please. You find that Masood, a beloved Indian friend who came to study at Cambridge, to whom the novel was originally dedicated, lies behind parts of Aziz’s character, was the muse of the book.

Fielding — our enlightened man, basically an atheist – he says quietly at one point he goes along with things but believes little.

Adela is searching to make for herself a livable identity.  Does she want to be a memsahib? As Ronny’s wife? there was a rapport, but could she have endured the social life? What was there for her in England.  It’s arguable Ronny Heaslop is a major character; he is left reactive, but I’d like to note that he is made more understandable and sympathetic in Lean’s movie.  A letter forgiving everyone at the end of the novel from him justifies Lean’s treatment.

Mrs Moore. It’s hard not to be fond of Peggy Ashcroft in the film (especially as Barbie Batchelor in Jewel in the Crown film) and there is a carry-over . How does she appear at first? Very enlightened? Yes, she is fundamentally a kind reasonable woman, but aging and now under pressure easily irritated. She has been married twice and has two grown children, Stella and Ralph. It seems she has more affection for the other pair, is hostile to her older son, Ronny. She speaks against marriage more than once – one theme across Forster’s work is the absurdity of heterosexual courting patterns and reasons for marriage.  Forster very good at inhabiting women characters here and in previous books (Lucy Honeycomb, Margaret and Helen Schlegel) and we like her and believe in her, but she is no goddess.

Godbole — fundamentally untrustworthy (a caricature possibly of a Brahman type personality?) He lies a lot, and lets other down. He is given more presence than any of the other non-British characters but Fielding.

The characters and narrator engage in conversations of some depth: about metaphysical issues (death, ghosts, memories) and everyday ones as how to cope with this other person; with a job requirement, with the food, heat. They shout at one another, they cry. There is also a wider and deeper dimension to this fiction – It’s been called an existential meditation. Most of the time they are woven into a character’s thoughts or a scene. Claustrophobic codes for western women, purdah for eastern. How each of the characters responds to Adela after the accusation and also after she tells the truth a measuring stick, men dizzy with outrage. How very hard it is for people to socialize for extended periods of time. But sometimes it’s the narrator there frequently and importantly commenting, switching our POV, ironic, passionately there, with striking original thoughts as we move through the experience.

More on its themes: it’s arguable that while the novel dramatizes the failure of the liberal humanistic POV literally and often in life, it also dramatizes its source in the kindest, sensitive, intelligent and loving-loyal hearts and that without this producing friendship and sustaining order life is not worth living even if your surroundings are beautiful.

There is also an important vein of mysticism or transcendence in Forster’s ideas about art and life and his art here and elsewhere. Something ineffable and beyond what words can explicitly reach or explain that makes for beauty and the finest moments of experience. I capture it best in a small vignette from Howards End that Reuben Brower points to:

The heroine Margaret Schlegel goes Christmas shopping with the book’s Mrs Moore (her name is Ruth Wilcox) and is depressed because the inadequacy of buying and selling (profanation) and worse yet sometimes gift giving as an expression of some sublime event that gives meaning to lives: “in public who shall express the unseen inadequately? It is private life that holds out the mirror to infinity, personal intercourse and that lone hints at something beyond … “ The inner life the two women have lived in this house together … At several turns Fielding and Aziz have conversations where they too try to reach for some deeper insight or companionablenss


Fielding and Aziz in the film’s closing adieu: they have no social space allotted them in which to form a relationship

Problems in the book: Forster is a homosexual man masquerading as heterosexual and the drive in the book is to dramatize his experience of sex, so that the deepest friendships are male; each part ends with talk frustrated and longing between Fielding and Aziz. Caricatures and condescension towards Indians as well as the Anglo-English characters.  The depictions of sexual interaction are veiled because this is territory Forster is not allowed to speak for real in. He adumbrates the political dimensions of the ongoing crisis between powerless and many abysmally impoverished Indians (as yet) and British blindness, insularity, prejudice, wealth, but he fails to explore any level of gov’t seriously, name or describe any realities on the ground then (heaps of blackmail, injustice, gouging of people), not even the 1919 Amritsar Massacre.

Here is what Forster said of his book to a contemporary Indian critic:

this book is not really about politics, though it is the political aspect of it that caught the general public and made it sell. It’s about something wider than politics, about the search of the human race for a more lasting home, about the universe as embodied in the Indian earth and the Indian sky, about the horror lurking in the Marabar caves [of nothingness, no meaning, and despair at what is] … It is — or rather desires to be — philosophic and poetic.


The scenes of the excursion itself, the train across the landscape are among the most striking of the book — and the film captures these

I’ve enjoyed all the movies made thus far enormously — perhaps David Lean’s A Passage to India less so (I don’t care for the way Adela is turned into a neurotic sexually twisted woman, maybe I’m not much for the epic approach) than the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s (A Room with a View, Howards End, Maurice), Andrew Davies’ (A Room with a View), and Kenneth Lonergan’s (Howards End).

I admit in the end I just loved Forster’s A Passage to India, the way I’ve learned to love all his books, and long to go on to read more. Jim loved Forster’s biography of Lowes Dickenson; I find I love his criticism, his short biographies, his essays (Abinger Harvest, Two Cheers for Democracy) and talks for the BBC from 1939 (“What I Believe”) to the end of WW2. I love reading the best critics about him and his books. And I love Forster’s taste in poetry, reading his favorites (Cavafy), about what his friends wrote of him, about the places he traveled through and what he felt (Alexandria, Italy, Greece, India).

The sky settles everything … (A Passage to India, Ch 1, p 2, Norton edition)

Ellen

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Millais’s Good Samaritan (one of the illustrations by Millais for work other than Trollope’s I showed and discussed)

Dear friends and readers,

I am again very gratified to be able to say I gave a online talk to the London Trollope Society on-line reading group (a fourth), and it went over very well. People were interested by the pictures themselves (remember Alice in Wonderland on pictures and conversations in books), and asked questions about book illustrations in Trollope and other Victorian writers (“did people really like these?”). I was asked if I’d do another, and came up with two (!).

I’m not sure how much I’ve sufficiently emphasized the motive for all four has been more than partly personal. I just love Cornish films, film adaptations, and “Malachi’s Cove” overturns so many stereotypes about Trollope’s fiction that bother me; Dr Thorne was really the book that started me on this long journey into reading, writing, sharing something of what I’ve known and felt for Trollope (original title: On rereading Dr Thorne a half century later); I am a strong defender of Josiah Crawley, one of the many solitary semi-outcasts of Trollope’s fiction,


Frances Arthur Fraser’s “Dogged as Does It” (for a later edition of The Last Chronicle of Barset) — one of the illustrations I discuss in my talk

and was felt so moved by Lindsay Duncan’s performance as an updated version of Crawley’s long-suffering wife (The Modernity of the Last Chronicle of Barset — and The Rector’s Wife).


Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie

“The Original Illustrations to Trollope’s Novels” have been dear to my heart since I wrote my long chapter in my book, Trollope on the Net on them (1999). I spent long weeks and hours in the rare book room of the Library of Congress starting at few hundred of them, and was chuffed when in Mark Turner’s review of my book he singled out this chapter to discuss as peculiarly excellent. As you know if you visit this blog with any regularity, I love pictures, studying art history (and on my other blog, women artists), and writing about film adaptations (moving pictures). And the only chance I’ve had since my book to share any of the visual art and realization in the original illustrations was in paper I gave at a Sharp-l conference some years ago now I called “Mapping Trollope; or, Georgraphies of Power. When we were a larger group on my Trollope and his Contemporaries list, we’d have people describe the original illustrations as part of what we volunteered to do — especially when the pictures are good, people showed curiosity and were comfortable talking about what they see — in the way people are about movies.

So without further ado, here it is:

Here’s the transcript on the Trollope Society website. And the page itself

Last, a brief synopsis: I present why Trollope said he so valued Millais’s pictures, described some of the obstacles in the way of understanding or appreciating them and the other central style of illustrations in the period (idyllic naturalistic versus caricature emblematic), then talk about the nature of Millais’s basic thrust (expressionistic), how far more daring than one realizes, and stunning some of them are outside the characteristic novels of the era (e.g., defying taboos) and finally describe and discuss the series on Lady Mason: as a group they create sympathy for her and reveal the cost to her of attempting to provide her son with a gentleman’s education and income, and herself with the respect and dignity and space for herself of a lady’s life: a life alone, a life apart. Mary Lady Mason is another of Trollope’s solitaries inside a fiction with radical implications about society and the nature of justice and law in court cases.


“Farewell:” the penultimate Millais illustration for Orley Farm: there is no literal basis for this scene in the novel

Ellen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested:

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

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

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

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


Ashoke on the train reading Gogol’s The Overcoat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


2020 Map

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The two friends, Susan Hamilton as the Duchess and Barbara Murray, as Mrs Flynn (The Pallisers 1974, BBC, scripted Simon Raven, Episode 20)


Philip Latham as the Duke wandering about on the grounds of Gatherum Castle, being told it is not for him to question what the Duchess is doing (Episode 20)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Monday, mid-day, 11:45 to 1:15 pm,
Sept 20 to Nov 22
10 sessions online (location of building: 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20016)
Dr Ellen Moody


Stuart Wilson as Ferdinand Lopez visiting his friend, and business associate


David Riall as Sexty Parker (The Pallisers, Episode 20)

Description of Course:

The 5th Palliser refocuses us on Plantagenet & Lady Glen, now Duke & Duchess of Omnium, Phineas & Marie (Madame Max) Finn are characters in the story of the Duke & Duchess’s political education as he takes office and she becomes a political hostess. We delve practical politics & philosophies asking what is political power, patronage, elections, how can you use these realities/events. A new group of characters provide a story of corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. And what power have women? Trollope eschews the realities of most women’s lives and their political, economic and social activities during this period so we will also read as true contexts, selections from Susan Hamilton’s collection of Victorian Women’s Non-fiction writings on women, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: these writers are Anna Jameson, Harriet Martineau, Francis Power Cobb, Eliza Lynn Linton, Margaret Oliphant, Helen Taylor, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Mona Caird.

Required Texts:

Trollope, Anthony. The Prime Minister, ed., introd, notes. Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: OxfordUP, 20011. Or
—————————————–——————————–, ed., introd, notes David Skilton. NY: Penguin Classics, 1994.
There is a readily available relatively inexpensive audio-recording of the novel read by Timothy West; an earlier one by Simon Vance. West’s more genial ironic voice is the one many people say they prefer.

Strongly recommended:

Hamilton, Susan, ed. Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. 2nd Edition Broadview Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1-55111-608-2. Available new from Amazon and used from various used bookstore sites.

Suggested supplementary reading or the best life-story and handbook:

Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography and Other Writings, ed, introd., notes Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: Oxford Classics, 2014; see Trollope’s “A Walk in a Wood,” on my website online: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.WalkWood.html
Gerould, Winifred Gregory and James Thayer Gerould. A Guide to Trollope: An Index to the Characters and Places, and Digests of the Plots, in All of Trollope’s Works. 1948: rpt Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987 (a paperback)

I will discuss briefly at the opening of our session the 1974 BBC Palliser series, which covers all 6 Palliser novels in 26 episodes, and in general is more or less faithful. They may be found in older and recent digitalized form on Amazon; they also available to rent as DVDs from Netflix; each disk contains 3 or 4 episodes. There is a considerably abridged version on YouTube (4 hours) and one can find on YouTube single episodes here and there. The Prime Minister in the full version (26 episodes) begins at Episode 20 and ends at 23. It is only four episodes of all 26 as one of two majors stories, Wharton and Lopez is cut, and ends quite differently. I think this abridgement and new ending a sort of contemporary take and will discuss it at in our last session. You do not need to have seen any of these, but if you can manage to see some, these are splendid experiences and can add considerably to your enjoyment and understanding of Trollope’s Parliamentary novels as a story about the Pallisers and Phineas Finn primarily.


Ferdinand has to apply to Brewster Mason as his father-in-law, Mr (Abel) Wharton for money (Episode 22)


The Duke with Sheila Keith as Lady Rosina DeCourcy escaping and talking of cork sole boots (Episode 22)

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. You don’t have to follow the specific chapters as I’ve laid them out; I divide the book to help you read it, and so we can in class be more or less in the same section of the book. I hope everyone will be interested in women in the era as part of the context of this book, but you do not have to read the selections from Hamilton, I will tell what is in them and discuss the issues brought up. Similarly you don’t have to read the on-line essays and columns by Trollope (but they are very good), my own, and others. I will again tell what’s in them — they will form part of our background for topics brought up by The Prime Minister. It’s entirely up to you what you’d like to do, if anything, beyond reading The Prime Minister.

Sept 20: 1st week: Introduction: Trollope’s life and career. The Barchester and Parliamentary or Palliser novels. “The Woman Question.” Read for coming week, Prime Minister, Chapters 1-9 and in Hamilton, Anna Jameson, “The Milliners” and Trollope’s “The Young Women at the Telegraph Office,” on my website at: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.TelegraphGirls.html

Sept 27: 2nd week: The two stories: their connections and subtexts. Read for next time, PM, Chs 10-18. In Hamilton, Harriet Martineau’s “Female Industry.”

Oct 4: 3rd week: For next time, PM, Chs 19-27. In Hamilton, Margaret Oliphant, “The Grievances of Women” and Trollope’s “The Uncontrolled Ruffianism of London” on my website: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/Ruffianism.html

Oct 11: 4th week: For next time, PM, Chs 28-35; Courtney C. Berger, “Partying with the Opposition: Social Partying as Politics in the Prime Minister,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 45:3 (fall 2003):315-336.

Oct 18: 5th week: For next time, PM, Chs 36-44. In Hamilton, Frances Power Cobbe, “The Education of Women” and “Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors,” Frances Power Cobbe, “Wife-Torture in England” (one of the most famous of women’s polemics, its topic is male violence in marriage). I also sent a copy of the Jacobean play, John Fletcher’s Women Pleased as one possible source for Lopez story.

Oct 25: 6th week: For next time, PM, Chs 45-53. On Trollope’s politics conventionally considered: Trollope’s Duke of Omnium and the Pain of History: A Study of the Novelist’s Politics,” Victorian Studies (24)1981):204-227; Ellen Moody, “”On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism,” Antipodes, 31:1 (2017):89-119.

Nov 1: 7th week: For next time, PM, Chs 54-62. on Victorian attitudes towards suicide: Barbara Gates, “Victorian Attitudes Towards Suicide and Mr Tennyson’s “Despair,” Tennyson Research Bulletin, 3:3 (1979):101-110; Lynette Felber, “”The Advanced Conservative Liberal:” Victorian Liberalism and the Aesthetics of Trollope’s Palliser’s Novels.” Modern Philology, 107:3 (February 2010): 421-446; and Mona Caird, “Marriage” (this too caused a stir) in Hamilton.

Nov 8: 8th week: For next time, PM, Chs 63-72. Helmut Klinger, “Varieties of Failure,” The Significance of Trollope’s Prime Minister,” English Miscellany, 23 (1972):167-83; Trollope’s “A Walk in the Wood,” online at:  http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.WalkWood.html.

Nov 15: 9th week: For next time, PM, Chs 73-80. If you are interested, Ellen Moody, “Trollope on TV: Simon Raven’s Adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Parliamentary Novels,” Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, edd. Abigail Bloom and Mary Pollock (NY: Cambria Press, 2011) online at: https://www.academia.edu/6438191/Trollope_on_TV_Simon_Ravens_adaptation_of_Anthony_Trollopes_Parliamentary_novels_as_the_Pallisers;

Nov 22: 10th week: The 4 episodes in The Pallisers: Trollope and Henry James (as in his novella, Washington Square) and Ferdinand Lopez. For next fall, a return to the Barchester novels, The Last Chronicle of Barset and Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife


Sheila Ruskin as Emily realizing whom she has married, her mistake (Episode 22)


The Duchess at night, hard at work, nervously tired of “shaking hands and smiling” (Episode 22)

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

Godfrey, Emelyne. Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature: Duelling with Danger. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Halperin, John. Trollope and Politics: A Study of the Pallisers and Others. Macmillan Press, 1977.
Harvie, Christopher. The Centre of Things: Political Fiction in Britain from Disraeli to the Present. London: Unwin, 1991.
Kincaid, James. The Novels of Anthony Trollope. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. Old-fashioned close reading of the novels. One of the best general books on Trollope’s novels.
McMaster, Juliet. Trollope’s Palliser Novels: Theme and Pattern London: Macmillan, 1978
Mill, John Stuart, The Subjection of Women. Broadview Press, 2000. Online at: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645s/
Steinbach, Susie. Understanding The Victorians: Culture and Society in 19th century Britain. London: Routledge, 2012.
Snow, C. P. Trollope: An Illustrated Biography NY: New Amsterdam Books, 1975. A fairly short well written biography, profuse with illustrations and a concise description of Trollope’s centrally appealing artistic techniques.
Vicinus, Martha. Independent women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850-1930. Virago, 1985. See my summary and analysis: https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/martha-vicinuss-independent-women-work-community-for-single-women-1850-1930/
Wilson. A.N. The Victorians. NY: Norton, 2003. The chapter on chartism provides the best explanation I’ve read for the movement, who were its leaders, the body of people, and why they failed to secure universal suffrage (who and what got in the way).


Donal McCann as Phineas Finn defending the Duke in Parliament (Episode 23)


The Duchess and Roger Livesay as the Duke of St Bungay conferring as coalition comes to an end: considerable relief (Episode 24)

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

To parse the bifurcation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jane Mander, 1923, one of her emigration documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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David Nicholls’ Us — Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves) in the present time summer of the novel as shown in the spectacular travel scenes of the movie (2015)

Gentle reader, Us, the book, works like Austen’s Emma; near the end a sudden unexpected revelation (if I’m reading aright, which I might not be as the information is delivered ambiguously) makes what we have been assuming all along sufficiently a blunder so a second reading uncovers clues we had not recognized. In order to explicate the book, and suggest why it is superior to the movie, Us, I tell this revelation in my 4th paragraph. For those not planning to read the book, this transformative information is left out of Us, the movie, so it won’t matter to you, except as you learn upfront you have been fobbed off with a far more superficial or at its end shallow experience (that hardly makes sense) or, aka, you are missing out …

Dear friends and readers,

Mid-summer is here and I’ve yet to record even one summer movie or book! The last time I wrote a blog on “summer movies” seems to be in 2018 (includes a summer adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream) and before that, 2015 (Mr Holmes — if this be not a summer movie ….). The specific criteria might be that the summer film gives sensual pleasure (be partly a travelogue), that the catastrophic calamities of what’s called (somewhat absurdly) “the third world” not be visited on our characters, and immediate deaths and long-range historical dire events be for the duration of the film excluded. I called last summer’s movies, “Uplift” because as a group they were so earnest.

But, it will be said by those who’ve seen the movie or read the book, a death occurs in Us, Douglas and Connie’s first-born child, a daughter they name Jane, born prematurely, dies not long afterwards of sepsis; and there’s no denying that our hero, Douglas Petersen (Tom Hollander and Iain de Castecker in the film) undergoes strong trauma caused by his wife, Connie (Saskia Reeves and Gina Bamhill).


Us — Douglas (Iain de Caestecker) and Connie (Gina Bramhill) some 25 or so years ago in the movie

The story is initiated when Connie tells Douglas one night (after some 25 years of apparently contented enough marriage) she “thinks our marriage has run its course … ” and thinks (again the hesitating word) she “wants to leave” him. She just can’t explain herself further. She wants to be free; she’s tired of her life with him. Albie is leaving for college/university in the fall. It’s a good time to do this is implied. The rest of the book and film is an extended set of Douglas’s memories leading up to how this 25th summer he and Connie are so unadmittedly (is there such a word?) estranged and strangers that the statement, her desire is wholly unexpected. These memories are interwoven with one last summer tour together with their son, Albie (Tom Taylor) in which Douglas attempts to win his wife over again to get her to stay with him for the rest of their lives. This then (the action of the story) becomes a tour in which he finds he must mend a broken relationship with his son, because it’s clearly the dysfunctional elephant in the room of the marriage that has been helping tear himself and Connie apart.


The trio in a museum (the Louvre?), Albie (Tom Taylor) closest to us (and clearly bored)

What then makes it qualify as a summer book and movie? The deeply sensuous enjoyment of visiting with film-makers in charge, the actors, camera crew, and all those active together to make a film, experiencing many glorious and famous places across six different countries, and several major European cities. 162 sets worth, not excluding filming on trains and in train stations. The continual laughter – yes laughter, for the book is irresistibly funny as Douglas and (no omitting this) Nicholls continually deliciously sends up, brings out the absurdities of our daily life’s arrangements, and shows a extraordinary facility with sheer language – he emits cornucopias of wit — as some of the jokes are out of sheer language, or marvelous intuitive reductive send-ups of what we actually see in pictures, hear in music, how we dress, talk eat, drink, sleep is not left out. I’m a very jaded reader and it is so hard or rare for me to laugh, but I find myself not only laughing and beginning to giggle and stay laughing aloud for extended passages, but on my re-reading the book (I like it so much and feel it has riches not revealed the first time round, or probably only after several times and then repeatable) I laugh all over again.

Yes, the ending of the book has a dark unexpected revelation (omitted from the film) that it’s possible that what motivated Connie that first night the film begins was her lover previous to Douglas, one Angelo, whom on a second reading one realizes is mentioned far more than we had realized throughout the book, her “ex” from whom she said was on the rebound, deigned to show up and offer to renew the relationship. This suggests to Douglas (and us), she had indeed taken Douglas as some kind of super-superior husband material — kind, money-earning, responsible, loyal, hard working, very intelligent, well educated — whom she could spend a comfortable life with (just taking a part time job in a non-profit art museum) and bring up a son to enter the upper middle class through very good schooling. A fun tame-able convenience she could lead, having so much better social skills and daring ways. Not because she loved him deeply the way he had her. He knows the only way he can hold onto his son’s regard is to let him go live a life with no room for his father in it. Abie is Connie’s son. It’s only then and only briefly – but sincerely – in the book Douglas considers killing himself. Connie in the film 20 years later is not character I was much in sympathy with; she seemed shallow rather than “with it,” after all, what was she doing all these 25 years when she stopped painting. Douglas would have had her carry on. In the book there are hidden aspects of her discontentment and lack of inspiration that at least imply a thinking mind and heart, not just a pillow mother who enters into conventional life with child-like zest.

But Douglas pulls back; he tells us of the routine he builds up after Connie is gone, and then or nonetheless, in the book he types Freya’s name into his computer’s search engine. In the movie he turns up in a museum (the museums and a use of relevant old master paintings are a repeated motif of the film) and there she is, sitting, gazing at the picture waiting for him. Both book and movie offer the possibility of a partner for Douglas who actually sympathizes with and understands his socially awkward ways and high serious values. A woman newly divorced (flat left herself suddenly for a younger woman), Freya (Sofie Grabol), whom he met in Florence and spent the most pleasant congenial compatible day he’d spent in a long time — without fooling himself or being asked to be other than he is.


Freya and Douglas exchanging notes on this strange breakfast — cake and/or cheese slices with coffee

It should be obvious that as with the other summer movies I’ve urged readers here not to miss, my deepest pleasure in reading came from a depth of emotion that is carried so lightly and spoke home to me about myself and others. Nicholls’s crisp lucid analyses bring us recognition (not everyone is humble enough to enjoy this), and the kind of quiet or undirected ethical teaching and insight that have lost status of late (so Booker Prize books have turned into fashionable games too). But they are on offer especially in the book. I’ve discovered reviewers (Mark Lawson of The Guardian on the book in 2014) regularly condescend to Nicholls (there must be something suspect in a novelist and screenplay writers whose works sell so widely). Alex Robins of the New York Times is especially above this movie (Nicholls “wrings a certain amount of comedy out of Douglas’s hopeless squareness”). Rebecca Nicolson (again The Guardian) is similarly disdainful. I say especially in the book because (alas) Nicholls himself rewrites the book into a film where he endorses laughing at and rejecting Douglas for at least half the movie because he knows in social life the person who is all heart openly, is despised.

For myself I bond with, identify or maybe just am especially drawn to the personality type other laugh at, the kind of person so serious and earnest about life and his feelings for others and what they are doing together (as a worthy task to be done to the best of our abilities), and it’s that terrain Douglas inhabits. In book and film What his wife and son continually, sometimes unconsciously but often consciously do is exclude Douglas. Connie colludes in this; she precipitates the deepest crisis of the movie when she sides wholly with her son in an incident in a restaurant where Albie, rightly incensed at the obnoxious treatment by men full of themselves (fancy suits) of a waitress, carries this too far by going over to the table and provoking a physical encounter; Douglas seeking to calm things and appalled at Albie’s aggression, apologizes for this. Connie treats this as betrayal like that of Brutus to Caesar. The boy, awash with money he’s ever provided with, flees leaving behind a letter saying he will not get into contact with them for a long time to come.

Both then, but especially Douglas, become hysterically worried about the boy – he might be in danger — and Douglas’s psychological state becomes so revved up he begins an impossible quest to find the boy, apologize and bring him back home — to Connie (who, pragmatic woman, has returned home). The quest has its own traumas (losing all his stuff and being w/o money and a working cell phone at one point); it’s killing on his feet, but also exhilarating experiences. His son’s behavior when he finally catches up to him turns from utter rejection to comradeship when he sees all he means to his father and his father has a serious heart attack.


Douglas in Florence, soaking his blistered feet

It’s important to insist this sequence is not just a (ho hum) clichéd rehash of the character on the edge. Douglas has been hurt repeatedly — the person whose generous hearted gifts are not just turned back, but accepted on sufferance. To say he is underappreciated does not get to it. One typical incident: they blame him for not being adventurous in eating, and he goes with them to a restaurant where Albie knowingly orders him very hot spicy soup, and then hands him a very hot overcooked meat on a stick — and Douglas is driven wild with burning sensation in his mouth. He sees wife and son laughing at the table, ignoring whatever he has gone through in a bathroom to cope. If he shows an inability to understand mindless fun (with legos, at a quiz over celebrity items that pass as knowledge) he has given his all, to put it in philistine terms, pre-paid for all this with hard-earned large sums of money.

Given a chance, Douglas is liberal; his looking askance at an art major comes from his worry his son won’t be able to make a living out of strange photographs. I note that while the film ends with an exhibition of Albie’s art, implying Douglas was over-cautious, not trusting to his son’s special abilities, the book has no such scene. When Douglas discovered Albie is homosexual, there is not a second’s pause in his acceptance of his son’s sexual orientation. Matt Cain (The Independent) who wrote the film and book are heart-breaking and joyous has it right. Candace Carty-Williams of The Guardian in a short notice about the film said by film’s end she could not control her tears

At the book’s end for three pages, our usual narrator, Douglas, vanishes, and Nicholls as narrator or author retells Albie’s story from a very different point of view, and instead of the over-indulged upper class white male, naively self-confident (if he is only let be!) becomes an unconventional young man who had an unusual relationship with an artistic mother, who finally frees himself of an over-bearing well-meaning father (he sees this). Connie’s story is retold too as that of the frustrated artist who somehow (as a woman?) held back for 24 years now wants to fulfill herself before it’s too late, and resisting her husband’s pleas, separates herself from him, goes to London, and lo and behold begins to paint and not only that reconnects with this lover (now afterward for sure); she loves this man’s bohemian nature (all the pictures in the room Douglas saw in the first days of their relationship were of Angelo) and finds happiness with him “just in time.” (So as with Austen’s Emma, which contains very different stories of the characters besides Emma that Emma can never see, so here.) Nicholls says these might have made better stories than his own, that is, Douglas is a surrogate for him. We then trace Douglas’s anguish (as I outlined above), leading to near suicide, but holding out, to type in Freya’s name, with the words of the next unwritten chapter “dentist Copenhagen” (her profession and where she lives). For my part I disagree with Nicholls’ sudden startling turnabout and reversal, for it is Douglas’s story of ordinariness, of everyday failures, of the enemies of his promise (he has not been able to become that great scientist he dreamt of over his fruit flies either), of trying so hard and meaning so well, earnest seriousness, of ethical giving that can provide us with strength to carry on.

Several summers ago I saw a 2015 Far from the Madding Crowd (Hardy’s book adapted) with Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and just loved it (though I never wrote a blog) and tonight have discovered Nicholls wrote the screenplay for that too. It’s the one time I have been able to appreciate Hardy.


Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene

Ellen

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Frances McDormand as our thoughtful Fern – she recites a Shakespeare sonnet by heart, and at other moments shows herself to be well-read (Nomadland)


The owner, boss, chief of the glass-making factory who permitted American Factory to be made

Dear friends and readers,

This might be labelled now for something somewhat different. Most of the contemporary movies and plays I review on this blog take a liberal, sometimes radical, left-wing, anti-racist, social humanist stance: these are the kinds of stories I enjoy. Theatre I look for something profoundly (if possible) exploratory of the human spirit, especially in distress, on the edge of not coping (Uncle Vanya: scroll down). For tonight I’ve a film to recommend as mesmerizing, whose not-so-hidden agenda is libertarian enabled by sleights-of-hand. Nomadland, scripted & directed by Chloe Zhao, featuring Frances McDormand, based on a book of the same title by Jessica Bruder, resembles Mudbound, in being a movie made by, coming from material by women, and much be-prized. I had been sleepy and the experience projected woke me up.

But then I recommend that the next night as contrast you watch on Netflix, American Factory (made partly because of the Obamas’ presence, also an independent film, directed by Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert). You will discover what is the true context for Nomadland and how what is presented are desperate self-induced romantic delusions, which people tell themselves as in: they have made a good choice in their apparent willingness to flee inside their van-homes from a ruthless asocial society to wander about deserts, snow belt, and forests. (There are those who refuse to consider they will end up with this kind of job as a life choice.)

At the center of the Nomadland is a widow, or should I say wife whose husband has died a hard death of cancer: asked her status, Fern says she is married, only her husband is dead. His death has not parted her from him. Her memories, the decades she spent living with him in the way he wanted (in factory jobs), in a house he preferred (tract house), situated in a place he liked (at the edge of a desert), surround her mind, keep her company. To be fair, this emphatic inward shaping is not brought forth at first: what we are immediately confronted with is a factory sign which tells us the factory is shut down, and intertitles inform us that upon that factory closing the community vanished. No jobs, no way for the people to stay and to survive. She appears to be living a subsistence life, near destitute, in an old “ratty” van; caging the lowest sorts of jobs (a packer at an Amazon warehouse, a cleaner in a campsite, a cook and washer-up in a huge fast food place (turns out to be a sort of Disneyland store-as-mall called Drug Wall), at which she works for as long as they need her, and then is either fired or she quits. She has made enough money to live for say weeks on end in her van traveling about the west in the midst of spectacular scenery (beautifully photographed of course — never dingy, never just grey, when it rains it rains impressively). We see her looking at her pictures remembering happy moments – I’ve seen this in many films centering on older women.


The life of Fern and Dave presented as if they were on a perpetual sunny picnic (see the review it appears in)

Only gradually do we see the hardships of such a life, but they do not seem to bother our heroine. What if she urinates or defecates in a bucket – she can empty it the next day. What if her van lacks heat: she has plenty of blankets. She has a TV, radio. Once a tire goes, and she is almost stranded: but a woman she has the nerve to ask help from relents and they become close friends for a while — until it’s time for the friend to move on, probably to a hospital for she is dying of untreated cancer. Once when she is told to move on, this is not a place to park overnight, her car stalls. Turns out to fix the car she needs $2300 and she is told the car is worth $5000 — but it is she says her home. (She has told someone she is not homeless, only houseless.) She doesn’t have it, and on the phone, her sister refuses her, so we see her somehow take a long journey by bus and foot to that sister living in a beautifully appointed middle class home. The sister would clearly keep her, and the sister’s friends sort of accept her, but Fern will not stay; she gets the money in an envelope and promises to pay it back, and return to her truck. We see her disappoint herself and a small dog by refusing to take the poor creature into her truck with her. She stiffens herself and walks away.

There are some “feel-good” compensations. She travels to real life gurus about whom people like herself gather and learn how to survive from, as well as in groups celebrate together their existence

She attends several such events during the movie. Enjoys dances. Becomes friends with a man she is clearly compatible with, one Dave (David Straitharn) who she travels with for a while: they take hard jobs together; then his 30+ year old son shows up, and asks his father to return home with him and see a grandchild. Dave confides to Fern he’s been a lousy father and seems unwilling to go with his son, asks Fern to come with him, or later on; the son (miraculously) seems to hold nothing against the father and when she does take Dave up on the invitation, we find ourselves in another beautiful middle class home, the food just gorgeous and originally cooked; she is told she is welcome to stay. But she foregoes this. As with her sister, she says she cannot. It’s not her? When the movie is over, we are told the charismatic leader whom she returns to more than once (and he has his tale of hard grief) and many of the people she meets are real “nomads” like herself.

The movie was just showered with awards. Rotten tomatoes gave it a rating of 98%. Most reviews give high praise with little qualification: Ebert’s reviewer just “loved it”:. Ditto as “the critic’s pick” for the NY Times. I began to wonder what was wrong with this film? My mind was very tired by the time I came to it at 11 pm (nowadays you can watch films into the wee hours w/o worrying about how you are to get home, or the movie theater’s hours). But then I found what I was troubled by expressed by Richard Brody of the New Yorker: A nostalgic portrait of itinerate America, he calls the film. He noticed all the characters were presented in a simplified way and kept at a distance from us through Fern’s mind. Read what he has to say. Here’s how I’d put it

The way the subsistence existence of these people is presented is that this is their choice — as Fern chose to live with that husband and not stay with her sister (who complains she could have and she left a hole in their family). They seem to want to live this way, and indeed the real people say this – but real people in social life do not like to present themselves as impoverished and near destitute, especially at the end of their lives. Ask about the company they work for and they will often excuse its hard behavior to them, identify with the company that is gouging them. Fern clearly chooses this because in front of us she has a new right now (romantic) offer from Dave who could go live with his son, who (as I say) seems to have forgiven his father for a boy- and young manhood of total neglect and be living in very nice middle class circumstances — as do Frances’s sister and relatives. Amazon looks a horrible place to work, so too the kitchens of a restaurant stop on some big highway, or as someone who is the cleaner of a campsite for RVs — but our Fern needs only work there for as long as she needs to get together enough money to go out on the road again.

Who needs Biden’s infrastructure or plan to make good jobs, bring industry back when we can spend weeks in the mountain moon light? There are a couple of lines now and again by someone very old who implies he or she was given no chance for anything else once the job was up. Could save nothing. I remembered Willie Loman of The Death of a Salesman; Arthur Miller has him say in anguish, am I to be thrown away after a lifetime of hard work? We are confronted with a refrigerator engineered to last as long as it takes to pay for it. I remembered Grapes of Wrath where the people go on strike; where they are relieved when for a short time they can go inside a gov’t run camp and live better (if there are rules to abide by).

I don’t say there isn’t enough here to show you what the economic reality is. But all but one or two people who if they offer no help, look very sorry over Fern’s plight and tell Fern of a bed in a near by church — of course she is not bothered, remember she is houseless, not homeless. A friend recognized in this movie “an American spirit, a sort of go it on our own mentality in opposition to going along with a government plan for everyone, though it also avoids being very political. These people have a sense of pride that doesn’t want to take charity.” He did remark he had never seen Wall Drug from the harsh point of view we were shown it in this film (a hot kitchen, a place where garbage mounts up).

Brody notices all the things the film leaves out: practicalities: how do they pay their taxes? He says the film omits in the case of Dave’s brief stay in a hospital how before a hospital will perform a procedure on you you must sign a document accepting any and all related charges. I wondered also where they kept any money they might have? do they vote, ever? In the large scheme what is left out is the salary structure and price of goods in a society that disabled them from ending up with savings or pension. Of course the people are on a spiritual quest now. Right.

When I was identifying with the heroine as a woman who choses to be alone rather than re-marry or get a new partner, there is a huge difference between me and this woman. I own a house, have widow’s annuity (2/3s of my late husband’s federal gov’t pension), my social security, and both my parents’ savings — I can afford to say no to someone like Dave — who himself is apparently going to live of the charity of a son he was a lousy father too. Maybe it’s foolish and useless to complain about this kind of (in effect) libertarian propaganda, but maybe not. It is not my mentality to live liminally continually, oh no, and not (I submit) most people’s.


Miss Pettigrew before putting on attractive clothes …

I am wondering if Frances McDormand makes a specialty of portraying white working class type women. The last movie I saw her in, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she was a very violent woman and very angry and working class essentially — what I remember best about the film is the continual profanity and anger and abysmal poverty — cars loaded down with guns in the back. Mississippi Burning was a whitewash (pun intended). It was years ago I saw her in witty comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, again a person with low expectations, so very appealing in a very non-feminist film.


Workers

Earlier this spring I saw a documentary, American Factory, recently about a Chinese company — huge corporation — who came to the US and took over an empty US factory that had failed the capitalist demands of high profits — very like the what the factory in Nomadland. did When it closes, almost everyone in the town is unemployed. I recommend it because it exposes the workings of capitalism from the inside of the work day, from the point of view of American and Chinese workers, the long hard hours (Chinese will endure hardly any time off and long periods away from their children), the required worship of a boss, high efficiency demands, no vacation for long periods, demands of utter loyalty and pretend obedience rituals. What people in the class said was they were amazed the company allowed the camera in — the answer was it was supposedly fair — showed “both sides.” Well it did show how the boss regarded his profit, but it made clear how his company (very like Amazon) thwarted an attempt to unionize (forced meetings, constant propaganda against it, threats made good to fire people). The real thrust was to expose the ruthless stealing of people’s very lives so one man or several can make huge sums. What enabled the making of it was the Obamas backed it. Here is an excellent review by Peter Bradshaw (from The Guardian), e.g.,

the workforce realised that to show their gratitude they were expected to conform to the Chinese culture of regimentation and submission, uncomplainingly working six or seven-day weeks, pushing up productivity at all costs and declining to make a fuss about decadent and lazy American indulgences such as lunch breaks and safety precautions …

He found this “solution” for a stable life “discomforting and desperately sad.”

Sheelah Kolhatkar places the film against the backdrop of our political polarization as US society is confronted, as the New Yorker puts it, with challenges of a global economy, i.e, mass unemployment, menial jobs, or the harsh regimen of non-unionized corporate work.

So here is your alternative. Get yourself a van, try to live in the most minimum way possible, take jobs as you need them (the way the boss hires you) and call it liberty. Only a romantic movie like this can persuade anyone you will not soon get into hard trouble. How many popular and be-prized books quietly urge the same alternatives dressed up as this Nomadland. How rare to get a real look at the factory or capitalist life increasingly inflicted on US people?

Ellen

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Required Texts:

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

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

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

June 14: Howards End and the 2 film adaptations

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

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


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


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

Outside reading or watching:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Hellman photographed next to her probably beloved typewriter


Jane Fonda in similar posture, as Julia (in the movie of the same name) typing her plays — calling to Hammett — an enjoyable moving film

Friends and readers,

It was in December 2013 that I wrote a blog here on Hellman’s four part memoir: An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento (with Julia), Scoundrel Time and Maybe. My husband Jim had died two months earlier, and somehow I found this brave, stalwart, candid self-portrait of a genuinely strong woman, and its plain style strength of mind, integrity of behavior, with portraits of non-conformists (misfits, so-called), her own identification with these, was an appealing consolation. I was so foolish as to find in her portrait of Dashiell Hammett, my Jim, and in their life-long relationship a mirror of mine with Jim.

At the time I vowed to read the plays. Easier said than done. My inexpensive edition (1979 last reprint) has no notes, no annotations, and I found the psychological complexity of the characters and quite what they were doing on stage did not come across: I needed a narrator. I bought the biography by Alice Kessler-Harris, but tired of it as I have again as it is shaped by knee-jerk anti-communism when it comes to dealing with Lillian’s politics and political activity: K-H is perpetually apologizing for Hellman, and not conveying her beliefs. This time though I am teaching Hellman as a woman political writer of the 20th century, and the spur of standing (or sitting) in front of others (zoom on my computer) has pushed me into doing more work than that astute blog I wrote.


From Watch on the Rhine, where unusual for all plays, the dialogue is specifically anti-fascist, with fascism exposed — the noble Paul Lukas is risking his life to fight Hitler, with Bette Davis as the achingly loyal wife to a husband not appreciated


The Little Foxes Davis is the woman in the family who is far more a capitalist exploiter than her bumbling brothers or (to her) weak ill (from living with her) husband

So I read through three of her plays, The Children’s Hour (1934), The Watch on the Rhine (1943), The Autumn Garden (1951), and watched four via DVD or YouTube videor, The Little Foxes (1941), Watch on the Rhine (1943, this script mostly by Dashiell Hammett), Another Part of the Forest (1948) The Children’s Hour (1961) — and the superb film adaptation of the inset story of her memoir, Pentimento, Julia (1977). Each of these films is either adapted (which means real changes), or revised to some extent, but they all thoroughly reflect her spirit, are what she wanted on the stage or screen. I read some startling criticism of these, much of it hostile, but some perceptive about her concerns. I also read in a book called Conversations with Lillian Hellman, edited by Jackson R. Bryer. The plays held my interest intensely despite creakiness of sets, obsolete attitudes: they are driven by intense passions working themselves out unexpectedly but compulsively.

Then I went back to a intelligent unbiased true analysis of the McCarthy era, setting it in the long history of the US against any kind of socialism in thought or political action by many powerful groups of people: David Caute’s The Great Fear and skim-read that. It is apparent that today Hellman is being erased and forgotten partly as a woman but more because she once was a communist, remained strongly committed to socialism — and offended the Partisan Review and other centrist democratic types who were for the capitalist establishment where they were themselves thriving. They wanted mild reforms no more; they colluded and could not bear that she should show up their lukewarm wishy-washyness; their chummy careerisms. I know from the Conversations she is not the kind of writer who analyses herself so it would not be easy for her to defend herself. Politics she can talk penetratingly; but is careful to say nothing about individuals in conversation and most of the time in her writing. So she is a partly unconscious writer, letting herself go, reticent about autobiographical elements too raw for to confront. I can believe she appreciated Hammett’s help as an empathetic editor.

You can watch the whole of Another part of the Forest unabridged on YouTube for free: I hope it stays linked in here:

So — if you’ve watched the film, or now go back to it, see if you agree with some of my general usual critic-like conclusions. Hellman was a powerful insightful writer who has much to tell us about American culture, human beings, gender relationships, with her characters driven by intense desires for power, love, respect and money (the two go together in her universe), sexual desire, beautiful things; they are often fiercely aggressive, or self-protective against the expected aggressions of others; they do yearn for love; they can have strong ideals and stick to them and work hard to defeat what they see as evil beliefs and ways. They may be dressed anachronistically to us, be surrounded by absurd settings, over-emote in the sentimental way expected in the the 1940s and still in popular movies and theater. Hellman is not a writer for small subtle coteries. She gets them quickly into emotional imbroglios which we (or I) watch or read with fascination — sometimes appalled. Another Part of the Forest woke me up to the continual racism of 1940s movies — it was such another as Gone With the Wind with its recreation of this Southern world still mourning the defeat of the confederacy. Black people are only there as servants, sometimes good strong people (especially older woman) but also presented as childlike, doing only menial tasks. Maybe all the more they are not at all obsolete because they teach us about attitudes held towards Black people as late as the 1940s, though for some of the films you’d have to cut scenes, and for others you could color-blind cast and get an even stronger play.

I’d like to devote the rest of this blog just to The Children’s Hour, as it reveals some of Hellman’s more hidden values & feelings not usually discussed.

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Shirley MacLaine as Mabel Dobie and Audrey Hepburn as Karan Wright (1961 Children’s Hour, directed by Wm Wyler)

Half-way through reading the play:

I’m often struck by what people don’t talk about in literary (or other art) works. I’ve read half-way through Hellman’s now semi-famous The Children’s Hour, and while I would acknowledge the (in the play) the centrality of “ugly,” unacceptable, “unnatural” (a word used hedged with horror) desires of one female teacher for another (Martha for Karen and probably vice-versa), what’s really striking is until near the end of the second act is everything else — the motivations and behavior of a group of girls in a school ruled over by unmarried women. The school lying bully, Mary Tilford is the a girl who finds it conduces to increase her power over other girls (threats, intimidation, physical hurting, demands they become her obedient instruments) by saying and do anything, the more outrageous the better as long as she backs it up, doubles down on it, and her presence in the school brings out the worst in all around her. One man, single, Dr Joseph Cardin is the only male in the play half way through — it’s all women, very unusual — only unlike Cukor’s The Women, there is no soft affection for these characters at all. Then the lesbianism is never named; it seems to me at this point Lillian Hellman shows deep hostility to all girls’ schools, and sees females as likely to torment one another emotionally; the school itself is disciplining the girls to be obedient and gives them no reason why they should memorize what they are memorizing.

I thought of Martha Vicinus’s book on how independence was gained for the first time by numbers of women in later Victorian period, and how important it was for a girl to be allowed to go away to a school. And yes how appalled I was at her detailing and approval (it seemed) to how some girls took power over other girls through sexual relationships (not always consummated in any way) as this would form networks and mentors later on. Vicinus said such relationships were feared by parents perhaps more than a relationship with a boy, even if not sexual. Nowhere in Vicinus is the reality of mean emotions that such groups form on — this is what Hellman is after and the intimidation structures at the heart of schooling.

Curious that this is Hellman’s first original full length play — she denies writing as a woman in a way but she always is doing this. She does say she never makes a man the center of her works, it is always the female who is her important character. The real powerhouse of this play is Mary Tilford’s rich grandmother (a lot of prestige) who told that the two teachers are “unnatural” in their desires immediately phones the others parents who immediately withdraw their daughters. The girl Mary Tilford is getting back at Karen who tried to divide the nasty clique that had grown up by re-assigning bedrooms. Last thing I recognize aspects of Hellman in this worst character: like Mary, Hellman ran away, had this tight relationship with a powerful maternal grandmother, was a determined strong character ….

Upon finishing the play:

It is outdated because of the persistent even horror invested in the idea that Martha and Karen are sexually entangled and perhaps even had some physical intimacy. The implicit inference to the play is how horrible that two lives — actually 4 if you include beyond Martha and Karen, the suitor Joe, and the cousin to Martha, Mrs Mortar (what a name). In the third act there has been a trial for libel, and we come into the room where once there was a school seeing three desolated people. I was reminded of the close of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. The school has been destroyed; Karen and Martha appear to have lost a libel case against Mrs Tilford, who did the phoning to all the parents to tell them they must whisk their daughters away. Tellingly all these women but the super-wealthy Mrs Tilford fear homelessness — so did I until sometime after Jim died and I still did when Trump used to talk of terminating social security and more gov’t jobs (that’s what Izzy has). Until this generation of women who are brought up to work outside the home for remuneration and demand a living wage, have a career, this was a common fear.

However, they are not giving up. Plans are afoot for Joe and Karen to marry and go with Martha to Vienna, but as the act evolves, these fall to pieces as each of the three suspects the other of lying (or telling the truth about lesbian feelings and even acts as the case may be). After protesting undying loyalty to Karen, Joe seems readily persuaded to leave Karen for ever. Mrs Mortar comes in: the nerve, she never showed up at the trial and would have been a help. She is shameless and has nowhere else to go and Karen and Martha are apparently not prepared to throw her on the streets. This happens before Martha confesses to Karen she really loves her horrifies Karen who nonetheless lets slip that she, Karen, may also have sexual desire for Karen. Martha leaves the stage, overwrought. Soon after we hear a shot — Martha has killed herself off stage. I thought of Jocasta hanging herself. Mrs Tilford arrives to apologize, to explain how she has learned that Mary was lying and had bullied another girl, Rosalie into backing her up. There is a hint Mrs Tilford still suspects that Karen and Martha are susceptible to such a dreadful love — nonetheless, they had not behaved that way, and she offers money to Karen who relents to say maybe she’ll take it — she now has nowhere to go. What’s striking though is how lesbianism is never once defended. It is telling somehow that this is Hellman’s first play, the first matter she chose to imagine and bring it before the public. A bad dream out of Vicinus’s book. I mentioned Mary, the thug lying child who spread the rumor, has aspects of Lillian Hellman as a child running away, her aggression too.

I’ll mention a role for a Black woman, Agatha, Mrs Tilford’s cook/maid/housekeeper. Very circumspect, acting on behalf of her employer while trying not to hurt anyone — very moral as all the Black characters are in all Hellman’s plays and prose. The play’s list of characters does not call for a black woman but it seems to me the character as envisaged is how Black people are seen Hellman’s texts.


The male is there central to the exposure of the girl’s lies

The 1961 movie

So now I’ve watched the 1961 movie adaptation with Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner — directed by William Wyler, if I’m not mistaken with Hellman working on the script too. Unlike the 1934 movie, which ludicrously eliminated the central element of lesbianism, this one presents it as fully as Hellman apparently dared to in the year she wrote it 1934.

What I wanted to record is my amazement that as late as the 1960s the topic of lesbianism is treated with a sense of appalled horror — in the written play and now this movie, the word is never used. The characters speak of sexual love between women as just something deeply perverse and horrific. Reading about the play, it’s one of her first produced and that is fascinating because at the same time she claimed she wrote “as an exercise.” That is, she was not engaged with the topic; she further absolved herself (so to speak) by saying the story was suggested the Dashiell Hammett who came across it as something that happened in real life and told it to her.

In Kessler-Harris’s book she talks of how the original girl in the story was part of a minority group treated very badly by the majority, and thus had good reason to do what she did to disrupt the school.  The girl herself had been treated with disdainful discrimination. Hellman eliminated all that (what a shame) but wanted to claim her real interest was this girl. It is true reading the play she is exposing the pettiness and cruelty of girls to one another, but I did not realize that Hellman’s changes in the girl’s ethnicity and motives and insisting on this clash between “good and evil” works to ignore in discourse what most of the powerful ending of the play is — the two women admitting to sexual feeling. In fact only one does and she kills herself — in both the play and movie. The girl’s bullying and lies are made much of when they are exposed, and Martha kills herself off stage never to be seen again. I recalled how E.M. Forster said that he could have published Maurice far earlier had he been willing to have punitive ending for his pair of young men. What was not acceptable was the happy ending — and now I know in classrooms the “problem” here for Maurice is readers can dismiss it as unrealistic. But here Karen is erased altogether

In the written play as far as I can tell it is all crushing misery for poor Karen, though she seems likely to take the money the grandmother of the mean girl offers her as compensation. In the movie there is an attempt to present Karen (Hepburn) as rising above all that happened, as somehow escaping this conformist society whose children she was schooling to be conformist. We see her walking proudly away from Karen’s funeral as if she is washing her hands and body of all this foulness. It might be too that with James Garner watching her from the sidelines the movie watcher would say, ha, see they’ll marry. I remember someone interpreting Winston Graham’s Cordelia so as to have the transgressive heroine marrying one of the male family members at the end. No sense that if this is so, it negates the whole novel.

The 1961 movie is still powerful. Since Hellman would not discuss the lesbianism as important and said it was an exercise, and that Dash gave her the story there is no easily getting beyond the barrier she builds to stop questions — unless you are a Hellman scholar and know where to look. It’s not a pleasant movie and to the modern viewer — me — off putting because of the awed sense of taboo everywhere. As late as 1961 you could present middle class people are over-dressed and living in super-elegant houses as if it were 1931.

There have been more recent play productions; as radio plays: in 1971, the play was produced for the radio by the BBC in its Saturday Night Theatre series starring Jill Bennett and Prunella Scales; in 1994, the play was again produced for the radio by the BBC in its Monday Play series, starring Clare Holman, Buffy Davis, Miriam Margolyes and Margaret Robertson.

The critics:


A beautiful still of Julia and Lillian talking — I am aware that the story of their relationship is highly fictionalized, and take it to be autofiction

I worried I was being a bit hard on Hellman for suggesting she was wiping away lesbianism, showing far more hostility than ambivalence towards women’s sexuality — well last night I read three articles on this play — not a bit of it. One critic, Mary Titus (Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature) argued Hellman was murdering lesbianism, that she was exorcising out what she feared she’d be accused of for separating herself from her first husband and living independently. She linked The Children Hour to the story of Julia where it’s apparent a deep loving relationship emerged from Hellman’s and Julia’s childhood — one could call its continuance homoerotic love. Hellman would not have wanted the relationship to be seen that way.

Julia is the story of two women in love with one another, especially Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) and Julia is destroyed — like Marttha. There is a scene in the movie where one of Lillian’s old friends, a male (possibly representing Dorothy Parker’s husband who annoyed Hellman), accuses her and Julia of having lesbian feelings from childhood; she gets up and smashes him across the face and walks out.

Benjamin Kahan (Criticism) takes a different tack and suggested Hellman’s open stance as semi-promiscuous, acting like an aggressive man when it came to initiating relationships, was also a guarded performance against being accused of being a prig, a dike, a man-hater. In the 1930s audiences would regard all girls’ schools as possibly luring a girl into relationships which would get in the way of the important marriage. I do not think this play an insincere disguise — Judith Butler’s idea that behavior is one long performance has a lot to answer for. Hellman punishes the one open lesbian hard.

In a third essay, this one reviewing the history of films meant for a wider public daring to deal with issues of homosexuality and lesbianism, Chon Noriega (Cinema Journal) found that lesbianism was less accepted than male homosexuality, at the same time it was seen (in the play and film from the point of view of aimed-at watcher-response) as showing the dangers of putting girls together in all women environments. I felt there was hostility in Hellman’s original play to the whole idea of an all girl school taught all by women. I would here agree with Vicinus how unfortunate this reaction is — for it was in such schools and environments women were given the first chance they had to train and hope for professional lives outside marriage.

I do know that nowadays with all the talk of Hellman as a great playwright it is very hard to get copies of her plays. Hardly any of her screenplays are in print — only the one she is said to have written with Hammett. And there is such emphasis on how he wrote with her, corrected her stuff. Her prose memoirs are what’s wanted. My edition of her plays is old and has no notes. The one summer Jim and I and Izzy rented a house in Vermont and each evening took a drive to see a great play we saw a production of Autumn Garden. Jim thought it the best play we saw all summer. Unfortunately neither of us remembers much as we were sitting way in the back and it was a long drive.


1977: Lily (Jane Fonda) and Dash (Jason Robards)

Ellen

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